Writing Sumerian, Creating Texts: Reflections on Text-building Practices in Old Babylonian Schools

in Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions
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Sumerian lexical and literary compositions both emerged from the same social sphere, namely scribal education. The complexities of inter-compositional dependence in these two corpora have not been thoroughly explored, particularly as relevant to questions of text-building during the Old Babylonian period (c. 1800–1600 bce). Copying practices evident in lexical texts indicate that students and scholars adopted various methods of replication, including visual copying, copying from memory, and ad hoc innovation. They were not confined to reproducing a received text. Such practices extend to copying literary compositions. A study of compositions from Advanced Lexical Education in comparison with several literary compositions shows a complex inter-dialectic between the corpora, in which lexical compositions demonstrate dependence on literary compositions and vice versa. Thus, Old Babylonian students and scholars could experiment with multiple text-building practices, drawing on their knowledge of the lexical and the literary, regularly creating new versions of familiar compositions.

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  • 3

    Note P. Michalowski’s (2012) contention that training in reading and writing Sumerian had more to do with cultural literacy for elites (akin to training in Classical languages for Oxbridge schoolboys in Victorian England) and little or nothing to do with professional competence an argument in line with sociological work on academic capital (e.g. Bourdieu and Passeron 1979; Bourdieu 1988).

  • 8

    Tinney (1999) suggested a staged curriculum for the literary phase consisting of a group of four hymns called the Tetrad followed by a group of literary compositions called the Decad. This initial reconstruction has since been complicated by numerous studies that have demonstrated that the literary phase was more varied both in order and which compositions students reproduced (see above note 2).

  • 11

    On which see further Delnero 2010a.

  • 21

    See Veldhuis 2014: 182 with notes 384–387.

  • 34

    Contra Attinger 1993: 567.

  • 38

    B. Alster (Alster 2007: 2n4; Alster and Oshima 2006: 31–41) cautions against a solely pedagogically grounded reason for the sp. Alster (and Oshima) follows A. George (2003: 34–35) in recognizing the importance of proverbs in shaping something of a moral social perspective.

  • 42

    See also Johnson and Geller 2015: 19–24. For further on the Eduba texts see especially Volk 1996 2000. On the dialogues see Volk 2011–2012. I also note that the list Izi includes a number of rare words that occur only in the list and in the dialogues and Eduba texts such as da-gum “weak; crushing” (Izi II:92; Winter and Summer 272; Two Scribes 78; Eduba D 216 see Crisostomo 2014: 424–425).

  • 43

    Edition in Sjöberg 1973.

  • 45

    See also Böck 1999: 58.

Figures
  • View in gallery
    cbs 11067 (pbs 5, 145). Teacher’s copy on left; student’s copy on right.

    photo by author, courtesy penn museum.

  • View in gallery
    hs 1703 obv (tmh 8, 8), a teacher’s excerpt of Lu; student’s copy erased.
  • View in gallery
    hs 1703 rev, with an excerpt from a metrological list.

    photographs by the author, courtesy the hilprecht sammlung.

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