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Letter-Prayer of King Sin-iddinam to Nin-isina (1.164)

(1,052 words)

Author(s): Hallo, William W.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Prayers and Letter-Prayers Commentary The genre of letter-prayer combines the format of a letter with the function of a prayer. It is attested first for private petitions in Sumerian, and then developed into a royal mode of communication with the divine, as here. Later examples of the genre occur in Akkadian and perhaps even in Hebrew, notably the “writing” or “letter” of Hezekiah in Isaiah 38. Like that letter, this one is concerned with royal illness; it is addressed…

Ur-Ninurta (1.177)

(559 words)

Author(s): Alster, Bendt
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Instructions Commentary This composition is best known from a tablet found at Tell Ḥarmal (Baghdad), with two small duplicating fragments from Nippur and two of unknown provenance. The main source is written in a very difficult syllabic orthography, which makes the interpretation of a non–stereotype composition such as this one very difficult. The translation provided here is therefore very tentative. …

The Birth of Shulgi In the Temple of Nippur (1.172)

(1,422 words)

Author(s): Klein, Jacob
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Royal Focus; Royal Hymns Commentary This hymn1 is part of a rich corpus of Neo-Sumerian “royal hymns” pertaining to Shulgi (ca. 2094–2047 bce), the second and most important king of the Third Dynasty of Ur.2 The hymn is dedicated to Enlil, the supreme god of the Sumerian pantheon, and it falls into two main parts: the first part opens with a hymnic praise of Enlil, which is followed by a description of Shulgi’s birth and investiture in the Ekur tem…

A “Non-canonical” Incantation (1.167)

(394 words)

Author(s): Hallo, William W.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Incantations Commentary Incantations were among the earliest literary genres to be fixed in writing. Before they were collected into major canonical series, they circulated in individual formulations, as needed. Sometimes, as here, these were quite short, and to the point, even specifying the source of the problem by name. The name of the client who used the spell was inserted at the appropriate point. The …

The Disputation Between Bird and Fish (1.182)

(2,410 words)

Author(s): Vanstiphout, H. L. J.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Disputations Commentary This composition is remarkable not only because it stresses the importance of pleasant and beautiful things in life over dour seriousness,1 but also because of its peculiar format. It intentionally mixes the generic features of the disputation with those of a fable.2 Since fish is unable to win by force of argument, it attempts to do so by force tout court. Fish’s violent attack introduces an element of narrativity wh…

The Dialogue Between Two Scribes (1.184)

(956 words)

Author(s): Vanstiphout, H. L. J.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; School Dialogues Commentary This provisionally fragmentary1 composition focuses on the competition between two scribes, one being more advanced than the other, and using his seniority to bully and insult the younger one — after which the teacher, apparently a stickler for school tradition, takes the side of the senior student (the “Big Brother”). But in the meantime we learn a number of practical and meth…

Dumuzi-Inanna Songs (1.169)

(302 words)

Author(s): Sefati, Yitschak
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Love Poems Commentary The three poems translated below belong to the Sumerian love poetry composed during the Third Dynasty of Ur and early Old Babylonian periods (ca. 2100–1800 BCE). This poetry which is mainly cultic deals with the love affair and marriage of the divine couple, the gods of love and fertility, Dumuzi (the Sumerian name for Tammuz) and Inanna (the Sumerian name for Ishtar). This symbolic mar…

Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (1.170)

(1,525 words)

Author(s): Jacobsen, Thorkild
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Royal Focus; Epic Commentary The story of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta begins in legendary times, before many of the inventions of civilization — such as written communication by letter. Enmerkar ruled in Uruk as “priest-king” (en), and was the human husband of Inanna, with whom he united yearly in the rite of the sacred marriage. The lord of Aratta ruled in the fabled city of Aratta which lay in the mountains far away to the east. He also was the sp…

Love by the Light of the Moon (1.169C)

(1,151 words)

Contributor(s): Hallo, William W.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Love Poems Commentary This poem1 is a dialogue between Inanna and Dumuzi/Ama-ushumgalanna, who woo each other as a young couple prior to their marriage. The song opens with Inanna’s monologue, in which she tells of her chance meeting with Dumuzi and about Dumuzi holding her hand and embracing her (obverse lines 1–8) when spending the previous day in song and dance. Then a dialogue with Dumuzi develops (obverse lines 9–22): Inan…

The Song of the Hoe (1.157)

(1,956 words)

Author(s): Farber, Gertrud
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Myths Commentary The ancient scribe seemingly had a humorous purpose in mind when composing this text. It should probably be categorized as a satirical school text composed for use in the Edubba (= school) and for other learned people.1 The composition has no coherent topic or theme. The thread winding through the whole text is the syllable /al/ which is a Sumerian logogram meaning hoe but which also occurs as part of other words or as a gra…

From “Evil Spirits” (1.168)

(328 words)

Author(s): Hallo, W. W.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Incantations Commentary The formation of systematic (“canonical”) series of incantations began as early as Old Babylonian times in the case of the “Evil Spirits” (UDUG-HUL = utukku lemnūtu). Again, the concern was with improper burial and its baneful consequences. The present example is a brief incantation out of a reconstruction of second millennium forerunners running to nearly 1000 lines, and these in t…

The Sacred Marriage of Iddin-Dagan and Inanna (1.173)

(3,119 words)

Author(s): Jacobsen, Thorkild
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Royal Focus; Royal Hymns Commentary This hymn was apparently written under Iddin–Dagan, the third king of the dynasty of Isin, for he is mentioned by name in it. It may even be that it was meant for use at the yearly rite of the sacred marriage in which the king took on the identity of the god Ama–ushumgal–anna and as such married Inanna, who was almost certainly incarnated in the reigning queen, as shown by the epithet N…

“Man and His God” (1.179)

(1,742 words)

Author(s): Klein, Jacob
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Pious Sufferer Compositions Commentary This Sumerian poem, of about 140 lines, tells a didactic story of a righteous sufferer who remains faithful to his personal god and ultimately is rehabilitated and restored to his former happy status. The poem opens with a brief didactic exhortation, that a man should faithfully praise his god, soothing his heart with lamentations, for “a man without a god would not …

The Disputation Between Ewe and Wheat (1.180)

(2,014 words)

Author(s): Vanstiphout, H. L. J.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Disputations Commentary This composition is presently the most accessible of the group of poetic disputations, a genre which was very popular in the Old Babylonian scribal schools and, according to the texts themselves, also at the royal court. This piece is remarkable for three reasons: it starts with a very long “cosmogonical” introduction,1 it is apparently occasioned by a festival (a banquet at harvest time?), and it is a prime example of a consci…

To Nanshe (1.162)

(4,058 words)

Author(s): Heimpel, Wolfgang
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Hymns To Nanshe (1.162) Subject: Num 28:26; Deut 19:14; 27:17; Lev 19:35; Deut 25:13–16; Amos 8:5; Mic 6:10; Prov 11:1; 20:10; Lev 19:15; Exod 22:21; Deut 10:18 Is it not the city, is it not the city, are its divine powers not proclaimed?Is it not the city Nina, are its divine powers not proclaimed?Is it not the city, the pure city, are its divine powers not proclaimed?Is it not a mountain carried above water, the city, are its divine powers not proclaimed? 5 Does not the day of the goo…

Proverbs Quoted In Other Genres (1.175)

(638 words)

Author(s): Alster, Bendt
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Proverbs Commentary The proverbs quoted in the Sumerian proverb collections are usually devoid of context indicative of the situations to which they were normally applied. Yet, in some lucky cases, the proverbs listed in the proverb collections coincide with those quoted in literary compositions.1 On the other hand, a number of proverbs found in literary compositions, in particular in Shuruppak’s Instructions (cf. below), were not included in…

Enki and Ninmaḫ (1.159)

(2,537 words)

Author(s): Klein, Jacob
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Myths Commentary This archaic and still partly incomprehensible myth praises Enki, the god of the subterranean fresh waters, wisdom and magic, for having planned and directed the creation of mankind and for having devised ways in which the physically handicapped could adjust to society. The myth seems to consist of two originally independent stories. The first part tells the story of the creation of man rat…

School Dialogues (1.SU.C.6)

(287 words)

Contributor(s): Hallo, William W.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus 6. School Dialogues This section has been included for a very special reason. The Scriptural parallels here might be are few in number, and inherently vacuous, if not nugatory. And that is precisely the point: the rich ‘school literature’ in Sumerian from Old Babylonian Mesopotamia shows a striking and very meaningful contrast between the two cultures. In the Mesopotamian case the perception, ordering and…

The Eridu Genesis (1.158)

(1,377 words)

Author(s): Jacobsen, Thorkild
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Myths Commentary The fragment here translated was written at some time around 1600 B.C. It constitutes the lower third of a six–column tablet, the upper part of which, containing roughly some 36 lines per column, is lost. The content of the lost sections can be restored to some extent from other versions of the same tradition, most of which are of later date. By the time of the Assyrian Empire the tradition…

The Blessing of Nisaba By Enki (1.163)

(1,153 words)

Author(s): Hallo, William W.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Hymns Commentary This hymn in honor of Enki, “the crafty god” (Kramer and Maier 1989), seems to commemorate his blessing of Nisaba, perhaps on the occasion of her (annual?) visit, in the guise of her statue, to his sanctuary at Eridu. As the personification of both reed and grain, Nisaba was patron-goddess of both scribal art and agriculture, and both characteristics are celebrated in this hymn. The Blessing of Nisaba By Enki (1.163) Subject: Prov 9:1; Job 33:6; 1 Kgs 7:23; 2 Chr 4:2; Ju…
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