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Wisdom from the Late Bronze Age

Wisdom from the Late Bronze Age

Yoram Cohen
Edited by Andrew R. George
  • Book Info
    Wisdom from the Late Bronze Age
    Book Description:

    This volume presents the original texts and annotated translations of a collection of Mesopotamian wisdom compositions and related texts of the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1500–1200 B.C.E.) found at the ancient Near Eastern sites of Hattuša, Emar, and Ugarit. These wisdom compositions constitute the missing link between the great Sumerian wisdom corpus and early Akkadian wisdom literature of the Old Babylonian period, on the one hand, and the wisdom compositions of the first millennium B.C.E., on the other. Included here are works such as the Ballad of Early Rulers, Hear the Advice, and The Date-Palm and the Tamarisk, as well as proverb collections from Ugarit and Hattuša. A detailed introduction provides an assessment of the place of wisdom literature in the ancient curriculum and library collections.

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-754-6
    Subjects: Religion, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  2. Series Editor’s Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Theodore J. Lewis

    Writings from the Ancient World is designed to provide up-to-date, readable English translations of writings recovered from the ancient Near East.

    The series is intended to serve the interests of general readers, students, and educators who wish to explore the ancient Near Eastern roots of Western civilization or to compare these earliest written expressions of human thought and activity with writings from other parts of the world. It should also be useful to scholars in the humanities or social sciences who need clear, reliable translations of ancient Near Eastern materials for comparative purposes. Specialists in particular areas of the ancient...

  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvii)
  5. Part 1 Introduction

    • 1.1 A General Overview of the Compositions and Their Sources
      (pp. 3-6)

      This study includes five major wisdom compositions, three shorter works of proverbs (that lack any narrative frame), and a selection of proverbs deriving from letters. They are briefly described here so that the reader can appreciate from the very start of the book the nature and scope of the corpus. The numbers given below to each composition or group of proverbs will continue to designate these works throughout the book. First to be surveyed are the major wisdom compositions:

      1.Šimâ Milkaor Hear the Advice (sometimes called The Instructions of Šūpê-amēli) is the longest composition in the book, with over...

    • 1.2 Definitions and Approaches
      (pp. 7-20)

      When dealing with a collection of works brought together under the rubric of wisdom literature, there is no escape from the question, what is wisdom literature? Since the compositions in this book originated in Mesopotamia (regardless for the present of whether or not they underwent any editorial changes or modifications on their transmission route to or reception at Late Bronze Age sites), I will revise the question to, what is Mesopotamian wisdom literature? In the first part of this chapter, I will try to examine the different ways in which scholars have responded to this question in the past. As...

    • 1.3 The Historical and Social Contexts
      (pp. 21-36)

      In this chapter I examine the historical and social contexts of wisdom compositions of the Late Bronze Age. First, a very general overview will provide a basic picture of the geopolitical situation during the Late Bronze Age. Then I consider the unique scribal environment of the period. The second part of the chapter will gauge the social setting of the materials. I will look at the scribal schools of the period and try to understand by whom they were populated: who were the teachers, supervisors, and students of these institutions. Consideration will also be given to associating Late Bronze Age...

    • 1.4 The Archaeological and Archival Contexts
      (pp. 37-54)

      This chapter will consider the three sites from which all Late Bronze Age wisdom literature compositions derive: Ḫattuša will be introduced first, followed by the lesser-sized Ugarit, and then Emar, the smallest (by far). For each site a brief history of the excavations and general layout will be given; it will be followed by a more focused examination of the chief areas where archives or textual deposits were discovered. These will be described so that the reader will gain a picture of the rich textual world in which scholarly and schooling materials, wisdom literature included, are to be imagined. The...

    • 1.5 The Curricular Context: The Place and Role of Wisdom Literature within the Scribal-School Curriculum
      (pp. 55-78)

      In order to understand and properly assess the place and role of wisdom compositions within the scribal-school curriculum during the Late Bronze Age, a wider perspective must be taken. The place and role of wisdom compositions—proverbs and longer works, mainly in Sumerian but also in Akkadian—in the curriculum of the Old Babylonian school must be examined. This is important because the curriculum of the Old Babylonian period was to provide the basis of Late Bronze Age scribal education. In addition, the Old Babylonian curriculum offers us plentiful data concerned with the use of wisdom literature that can be...

  6. Part 2 Late Bronze Age Wisdom Compositions

    • 2.1 Šimâ Milka, or The Instructions of Šūpê-amēli
      (pp. 81-128)

      The wisdom compositionŠimâ Milka(“Hear the Advice”), also commonly named The Instructions of Šūpê-amēli, delivers a string of proverbs framed by the narrative device of a debate between a father and his son. After a brief introduction, the first and major part of the composition provides a set of instructions and admonitions spoken by a father, perhaps on his deathbed, named, or possibly titled, Šūpê-amēli (“most famous of men”), to his unnamed, presumably eldest, son. Hence, as previous scholarship has suggested, the father’s instructions or admonitions may be characterized as his will. The sayings are mostly concerned with the...

    • 2.2 The Ballad of Early Rulers
      (pp. 129-150)

      The second wisdom composition chosen for this collection is nowadays named The Ballad of Early Rulers, although in antiquity it was titled after its opening line. The work is known from manuscripts found at Emar and Ugarit. It is written in Sumerian, syllabic Sumerian, and Akkadian. Although the Emar and Ugarit recensions are not identical in their arrangement of individual lines, it is obvious that we are facing a single composition, which in and of itself relies on a Sumerian forerunner, called here, following Alster 2005, the Standard Sumerian Version. The Standard Sumerian Version is represented by a few Old...

    • 2.3 Enlil and Namzitarra
      (pp. 151-164)

      The wisdom composition Enlil and Namzitarra expounds on one of the key themes we are concerned with—the shortness of human life and inevitability of death. Both of these themes were encountered in our presentation and discussion ofŠimâ Milkaand The Ballad of Early Rulers.

      In Babylonia, the composition Enlil and Namzitarra is represented by seven Old Babylonian Sumerian manuscripts. Sometimes other compositions were copied alongside Enlil and Namzitarra on the same tablet: lexical lists or a notable Sumerian wisdom composition titled Nothing Is of Value (Civil 1974–1977; Alster 2005: 327). It can safely be assumed that these...

    • 2.4 The Righteous Sufferer or A Hymn to Marduk from Ugarit
      (pp. 165-176)

      The partly broken tablet RS 25.460 found at Ugarit is a hymn to the god Marduk. Unsurprisingly it does not comfortably sit within the definition of wisdom literature; perhaps it would have found a better slot under the category of hymns or prayers dedicated to Marduk and other Mesopotamian gods. Although not as plentiful as in Mesopotamia, such hymns are not unknown from Late Bronze Age sites. There are hymns from Ugarit dedicated to Šamaš and other gods (Arnaud 2007, nos. 28–33; Dietrich 1988 and 1993). And from the archives of Ḫattuša several hymns were retrieved—dedicated to godheads...

    • 2.5 The Date Palm and the Tamarisk
      (pp. 177-198)

      The composition The Date Palm and the Tamarisk belongs to a subgenre of Mesopotamian wisdom literature—the debate or disputation poem. This type of wisdom composition is known chiefly from Sumerian compositions dating to the Old Babylonian period and from a few Akkadian pieces attested by manuscripts of a mostly later date. There are about ten Sumerian compositions and only about six known Akkadian compositions, which, so it is assumed, relied either wholly or partly on now-lost Sumerian antecedents (see below). The Akkadian compositions are usually shorter and less elaborate than the Sumerian debates. They are also represented by fewer...

    • 2.6 Proverb Collections from Ḫattuša
      (pp. 199-206)

      This chapter introduces two partly preserved proverb collections from Ḫattuša, the Hittite capital. These proverbs cannot be assigned to a larger work or attributed to some clear source. Because of the condition of the tablets it is also not clear if the proverbs stand here independently or were framed within a narrative like The Ballad of Early Rulers. The first collection, Text A, consists of proverbs written in Akkadian. The second collection, Text B, has only the Hittite translation of Akkadian proverbs, now almost entirely broken away.

      The fragmentary tablet published as KUB 4.40 contains a collection of Akkadian proverbs...

    • 2.7 An Akkadian-Hurrian Bilingual Proverb Extract
      (pp. 207-212)

      Wisdom literature was not only translated or adapted into Hittite as we previously saw (2.1 and 2.6 A) but also into Hurrian. Two compositions attest to this. The first work is a bilingual two-column fragment of The Instructions of Šurrupak. Although its provenance is unknown because it derives from the antiquity market, its origin is to be sought perhaps in Ugarit, Emar, or elsewhere in Syria. It is not included in our survey, however, for the reasons given in 1.1.

      The second piece is apparently an excerpt from a larger composition, containing two wisdom sayings, each no longer than a...

    • 2.8 Proverbs and Proverbial Sayings in Letters: The Mari Letters and Late Bronze Age Correspondence
      (pp. 213-232)

      The objective of this chapter is to supplement our knowledge about the expression of wisdom by venturing beyond the strict confines of the learned environments of scribal schools, its teachers and students. The chapter brings a collection of proverbs and proverbial sayings found in letters dating to the Old Babylonian period and to the Late Bronze Age.

      Old Babylonian proverbs and proverbial sayings found in this chapter are collected from the Mari letters. The proverbs that occur in the Mari correspondence provide us with an understanding of the type of wisdom circulating, either oral or written, during the Old Babylonian...

  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-248)
  8. Index of Sources
    (pp. 249-251)
  9. Index of Names
    (pp. 252-254)