Mesopotamian Monday: Shalmaneser in Ararat

Shalmaneser III (c. 858 – 824 BCE) was a Neo-Assyrian king, known for his military incursions into Syria, Anatolia, and (possibly) the Urartian kingdom. The Urartian kingdom is possible because one of the texts contains records of his incursion into Urartu. This text is traditionally titled Shalmaneser in Ararat.

This text describes the campaign of an Assyrian king into Urartu. Lambert, Grayson, Foster, and others take this Assyrian king to be Shalmaneser III [2]. Identification of the Assyrian king as Shalmaneser III, though, is not necessarily obvious. After providing discussion of the historical issues surrounding this campaign, Reade comments: “Clearly the date and the historical validity of the campaign described in STT 43,” namely Shalmaneser in Ararat, “remain arguable” [2].

The historical validity of the text is problematic, in particular, because the text is a poetic account. As a poetic account, it is first-and-foremost literature, not historical documentation. So, in what follows, I will describe the text while paying close attention to the literary structure of it.

Following Foster’s division, the text may be divided into five sections. First, a narrator invokes Aššur, Ištar, Anu, and a few other deities, who are said to approve of Shalmaneser III. Subsequently, brief reference is made to Shalmaneser III’s success concerning his incursion into northern Syria (lines 7-10). By referencing this incursion as having happened, it may strengthen the legitimacy of Shalmaneser’s speech/actions or provide a historical time-frame for the time at which the poetic account takes place (or perhaps both).

Second, lines 11-24 contain a speech by Shalmaneser III to his general and officers.

Third, the people of Assyria ‘shout’ something, providing encouragement to the king [3]. What we have thus far, then, is an interesting development within the first half of the text:

Shalmaneser III / His general (11-16)
Shalmaneser III / His officers (17-25)
Assyrian people / Shalmaneser III (26-30)

This brief overview suggests that the text moves from a specific individual to a broader group. Only after this does the text transition into battle (lines 31-32 mark the transition; lines 33-60 describe the battle), which is the fourth section.

Now, description of the battle is spoken by Shalmaneser III, the most drawn out, uninterrupted speech in Shalmaneser in Ararat. Its length, at least in comparison to the short speeches in lines 11-30, suggests that it is the most central aspect to the poem. This is reinforced by the fact that it is narrated in the style of Assyrian royal inscriptions.

Thus, what appears to happen is a sort of crescendo in terms of the amount of people. Shalmaneser III speaks to a specific individual, to a small group of important military leaders, and then Assyrian people revere Shalmaneser III. In each case, though, Shalmaneser III is the central character in the text. Moreover, the shift to Assyrian people revering Shalmaneser III is significant because it is in the very center of the text, making for a nice structure wherein the Assyrian praise marks a shift from Shalamaneser III preparing to Shalmaneser III going on the campaign.

Finally, the fifth section suggests a festival for Ištar of Arbela upon Shalmaneser III’s return to Aššur after the campaign. 

What is readily apparent in this text, then, is the centrality of Shalmaneser’s speech and actions. For, each section either features a past action of, speech by, or speech revering Shalmaneser III:

Speech about (lines 1-9)
Speech by (lines 10-25)
Speech revering (lines 26-32)
Speech by (lines 33-60)
Speech about (lines 61-65)

In short, this poetic account of an alleged incursion by Shalmaneser III fronts Shalmaneser’s speech as a way of legitimizing his role as the king of Assyria. Although the historical validity of the text is questionable, it is, nonetheless, reflective of an era wherein Mesopotamian kings enjoyed bragging about their exploits in order to strengthen their legitimacy as divinely ordained kings.


[1] W. G. Lambert, “The Sultantepe Tablets, VIII. Shalmaneser in Ararat,” in AnSt 11 (1961), 143-158; Kirk Grayson, RIMA 3, 84; Foster, Before the Muses, 3rd Edition (Bethesda: CDL Press, 2005), pg. 779.

[2] Julian Reade, “Shalmaneser or Ashurnasirpal in Ararat,” in SAAB 3 (1989), 97.

[3] The text in these lines is unclear. Grayson, RIMA 3, 84, suggests shouted, whereas Foster, pg. 780, suggests heard. On the basis of the genre, ‘shouted’ is preferable. This will be explained below.




What is Akkadian?

When I tell folks about the material that I work with, people understand what I mean by Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and Biblical Hebrew; however, far fewer people know what I mean by “Akkadian” or “cuneiform.” So, in this blog post, I will concisely define “Akkadian” and “cuneiform.”

“Akkadian” is primarily a semitic language which was used in ancient Mesopotamia. The most well known literature originally written in Akkadian is the Epic of Gilgamesh. 

Because Akkadian was around since the 3rd millennium, though, it developed like any other language. So now, for example, scholars refers to different dialects of Akkadian, such as Old Babylonian, Old Assyrian, Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and more. Each of these titles reflects a single language (Akkadian) with various dialects which were spoken in different time periods and locations.

How do we know, though, that Akkadian was a spoken language in ancient Mesopotamia and how do we determine the dialects? In the 19th and 20th centuries, archaeology in the Middle East became popular. As folks discovered ancient Mesopotamian artifacts, part of these artifacts was an abundance of dried clay tablets with a cryptic script. This script was called “cuneiform,” referring to the wedge shaped incisions on the clay tablets.

See, for example, this receipt tablet:


When this script was decoded in the 19th century, scholars realized that the language reflected in the cuneiform script was Akkadian. As more texts were discovered throughout Mesopotamia, this picture became more complicated. Sometimes the cuneiform script is used for languages other than Akkadian. Such is the case for Ugaritic, Hittite, and Elamite.

In short, Akkadian is a language. It was written in cuneiform, a script which looks like patterns of wedges on the surface of a clay tablet.  And although cuneiform was typically used in Akkadian, the same writing script is also used in some other languages.

Summary and Reflections on Onomastics Training Week

This previous week, I attended an Onomastics Training Week in Venice, Italy. The program was sponsored by Leiden University and funded by an ERC project at Leiden University. Click here to read more about the Persia and Babylonia ERC project.

After the Neo-Babylonian Network meeting on Monday, Tuesday-Friday consisted of a series of lecture concerning personal names and family names in Babylonia during the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods. Put simply, two primary questions were addressed. First, how do we identify the language of a personal or family name? Second, by tracking the spread of those names, how can we begin to better understand the social-economic situation in Babylonia?

Throughout the week, the following topics were presented:

  • A general introduction to how onomastics work (Caroline Waerzeggars)
  • Babylonian names
  • Names of women in Babylonia
  • Babylonian family names
  • The spelling of Babylonian personal names
  • Assyrian person names in Neo-Babylonian texts
  • West Semitic, especially Aramaic, personal names in Neo-Babylonian texts
  • Hebrew names in Neo-Babylonian texts
  • Elamite names in Neo-Babylonian texts
  • Egyptian names in Neo-Babylonian texts
  • Anatolian names in Neo-Babylonian texts
  • Old Iranian names in Neo-Babylonian texts
  • Greek names in Neo-Babylonian texts
  • Problematic names in Neo-Babylonian texts

Although one may initially argue that the work is all unnecessary, complicated scholarly study concerning the linguistics of names, it is much more than that. This is because the Neo-Babylonian period in Babylonia was a period of great diversity, especially with voluntarily immigration and forced immigration, namely “exile” or deportation. So, by understanding the original language of personal names, and therefore (possibly) the origin of the individual, we can begin to track patterns in how such groups are represented in relation to others within economic texts and administrative texts. Subsequently, by synthesizing this material, we can illustrate the economic and social conditions of various immigrant groups. Consequently, we can write a more nuanced history of that period (NB and Persian) in Babylonia.

For those interested in the Hebrew Bible and Judeans, this is extremely important work. Much of the social and economic situations in Babylonia do, after all, impact the social and economic situations in the Levant, and thereby Judah. Therefore, in order to develop a better understanding of Judah during the NB and Persian periods, it is necessary to engage in work like socio-onomastics. For, socio-onomastics provide a way to track the economic and social situation in Babylonia. Subsequently, one may track how the situation in Babylonia ripples out and impacts other regions, such as the Levant and Judah.

Now, because the Hebrew Bible was at least compiled in the Persian period, it is imperative to understand the historical developments which lead to the serialization of the Hebrew Bible. An understanding of the historical developments ultimately provide insight into the underlying social and economic situations in the Levant which contributed to how scribes framed and understood the Hebrew Bible.

Reflections on “Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative” by Mieke Bal

At base, narratology “is the theory of narratives, narrative texts, images, spectacles, events; cultural artifacts that ‘tell a story'” (3). What Mieke Bal offers, then, is a basically a method for describing narrative. It is divided into three, large chapters: “Text: Words,” which focuses on how to describe various levels of texts; “Story: Aspects,” which focuses on various aspects of a narrative fit together; “Fabula: Elements,” which focuses on how chronology works in a narrative. Each chapter is full of helpful terminology, fleshed out with thorough discussion, which can easily be utilized for describing narratives in Near Eastern and Biblical texts. In this reflection, though, I will only focus on a few things which stood out to me.

First, Bal describes the levels of narration (pp. 44-56). Here, she describes various ways in which levels of narration may be understood depending on the particular text. In terms of my own work, this is interesting on one front. As is any literature, the Hebrew Bible is teeming with levels of narrative. The most basic example appears at the beginning of much prophetic literature, such as Micah:

(1) The word of Yahweh came to Micah, a Mosharite, in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, when he had a vision concerning Shomron and Jerusalem. (2) “Listen, all you peoples // Pay attention, Oh land and all within it…”

In this text, the speaker of vs. 1 is clearly distinct from vs. 2. Whereas vs. 1 is spoken by an external narrator, vs. 2 is spoken by the character. One way we can identify this is because the shift from a 3MS verb (the word came) to a 2MP and 2FS verb (Listen… Pay attention). Now, although this is a very basic example, the same narratological technique is used through the Hebrew Bible and all literature. I am  pointing it out because attentiveness to various layers of narrative can clarify confusing or problematic elements of texts.

Second, the issue of levels in narration is interesting for grammar, as a few scholars as discussed the issue of embedded text in light of the Hebrew verbal system (cf. Pardee, 2012). In 1 Sam. 1:20, for example, a waw-retentive PC can introduce a circumstantial clause which is embedded into the narrative line (Pardee 2012, pg. 303). This use of a waw-retentive PC in BH is common. Thus, it appears that analysis in terms of morphosyntax of biblical Hebrew can overlap with narratological concerns. And while they should not be conflated into one thing as analytical categories, it appears to me that narratology is a fundamental aspect of any language, BH included.

So, in Bal’s discussion on what marks personal and impersonal language she distinguishes between I/you and first and second person (personal) and he/she and third person (impersonal). Although these are only the first two distinctions she provides, it stands that narratology is (may be?) a fundamental aspect of BH, for BH uses grammatical person markers. The implication is that BH has narratological components built into it.

Third,  Bal’s description of how one defines an “event” was interesting in light of the Hebrew verbal system. According to Bal, an event is “the transition from one state to another state, caused or experienced by actors” (182). She continue on by describing three criterion for defining an event. What I am interested in seeing flesh out, though, is how her understanding of “event” does (or does not) fit with the H stem in BH. Roughly defined, the H stem expresses is causative. Drawing from my memory (I don’t have access to the three major grammars at the moment), I wonder how often the causative notion connotes an event (i.e. the transition from one state to another state as part of the fabula in a narrative) as opposed to a mere process, unimportant to a fabula.

These are just musings. I am still working them out in my head. So, if you are unsure of what I am saying, don’t worry. I am also not sure what I am saying.


MA is (almost) Complete

I just finished my final exam for my MA at University of Chicago in Bible. Next week, I will attend an onomastics training week in Venice, Italy. When I get back, I will officially graduate

Before applying to PhD programs, though, I will be taking off about 2 years. In that time, I hope to be more active on The Biblical Review, especially in terms of providing introductions to a variety of ancient texts. That said, I hope whoever is reading this starts to see the fruit of my time at U of C.


LXX Reader Edition by William Ross

I have been keeping a secret. Now it’s out. For the last several years, I have been working alongside Gregory R. Lanier (RTS Orlando) to produce a “reader’s edition” of the entire Septuagint. And finally, it’s (almost) finished. It’s been listed on ChristianBook and will be available in November. You are probably familiar with the […]

via Book Announcement – Septuaginta: A Reader’s Edition — Septuaginta &c.


Reflections on “The Early History of God” (2nd Edition) by Mark Smith

The Early History of God  was a seminal work first published in 1990, wherein Mark Smith attempts to construct a history of god. Published in 2002, the second edition provides references to additional work from between 1990 and 2002. His basic goal is accomplished. He does well in presenting a history of ancient Israelite religion which employs relevant Canaanite evidence, demonstrating how Israel was remarkably similar to its neighbors. In time, though, various cultural and political factors led to the progressive establishment of monotheism, wherein Israel become truly unique among its neighbors.

In general, I found the book the be interesting; however, I struggled with getting on board with Mark Smith’s methodology. For example, his book is primarily focused on the Hebrew Bible and extant texts (i.e. inscriptions and Ugaritic materials) in order to construct a history of Israelite religion, particularly the history of God. For many of his claims were based on  Ugaritic literature, employing it as a way to understand the cultural inheritance taken on by ancient Israel, a Canaanite inheritance. In doing this, though, he often resorts to discussing “old traditions” rather than contemporary reflections on contemporary problems. This is a problem because new ideas tend to emerge from reflection on contemporary problems, even if older material is employed. Of course, claiming that older material, like texts, was employed in the case of ancient Israel is problematic because such material is not extant.

For example, he notes that a change in practice “reflect a religious reaction against Israel’s old Canaanite heritage” (146). Similarly, he claims that the language of Ps 29 “perhaps derives ultimately from old theophanic language of the storm” (143). In either case, the idea of “old” is problematic. For while it may have reacted to or been derived from something older, that elides an attempt to describe how the scribe himself conceptualized it. So, for example, did the scribe see himself as employed contemporary language, or maybe reacting against as contemporary concern? 

What this comes down to, then, is less an issue of reference that something is derived from an older traditions; instead, the issue is about the precision of terminology. In attempting to describe what may have occurred in history, for example, it would be helpful to employ a different term than that which describes the origin of such an idea through history. By distinguishing between the two, a more precise construction of the history of Yahweh would emerge.

Concerning the matters of Yahweh’s representation as sun, or the astralization of Yahweh, I found Other Keel and Christoph Uehlinger’s (1998) discussion to be much more convincing and helpful for understanding that development.

Reflections on “Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel” by Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger

In Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel, Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger provide a thorough discussion of the history of Judean and Israelian religion through the lens of iconography. In particular, they focus on seals because they are “more or less public artifacts and can thus serve as a sensitive seismograph to detect subtle shifts in religious history” (10). Why their approach ultimately yields results that are similar to the Hebrew Bible, the positions and arguments for the history of the region end up being very nuanced.

It covers the Middle Bronze Age IIB up to the Persian period. Although such an early starting date may be questionable for some it is the point at which “we can deal with a cultural continuum in Palestine that extends all the way to the time of the emergence of the Hebrew Bible” (17). Notably, though, he is against using too much Ugaritic material because of the geographic and chronological distance. Even so, the Middle Bronze Age IIB is assuredly chronologically distant from Iron Age Palestine. Subsequently, the logic as to why he is against the use of material from Mari, Ebla, and Ugarit becomes questionable.

As for the volume itself, it is, without a doubt, one of the most important volumes for any Hebrew Bible scholar. The history of religion which it reconstructs is based on dated, material evidence, whereas the Hebrew Bible is a bit more problematic. For this reason, all Hebrew Bible scholars should have a working knowledge of Palestinian iconography. For, as Keel discusses in the introduction, iconography is part of the constellation of symbols which is presented in mythic form. The jobs of the scholar is to describe these symbols. Therefore, by having a working knowledge of iconography, one has access to the symbols within ancient images, which may impact how history is constructed and texts are analyzed.

Reflections on “Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel” by Christopher A. Rollston

Needless to say, Rollston’s Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel is a valuable starting point for studies in (1) epigraphy and (2) inscriptions. Essentially, he employs epigraphy as “a window into the world of ancient Israelite scribalism, writing, and literacy” (xv). First, he offers a helpful introduction to the origins of alphabetic writing and how the script became employed in distinct languages (Phoenician script was employed for Hebrew, Aramaic, and Phoenician languages).

Next, he offers a broad overview of the types of epigraphic records, primarily illustrating how inscriptions records demonstrate the variety of ways in which writing was employed in the world of ancient Israel.

Finally, having established a thorough introduction to epigraphy and the corpus, he argues that ancient Israel had formalized, scribal education [1]. Such scribal education was akin to what we find in other West Asian records. Namely, scribes were associated with private families or were state sponsored positions. At bottom, he argues that “Old Hebrew epigraphic data and the biblical data align and reveal that trained elites were literate and there is a distinct dearth of evidence suggesting that non-elites could write and read” (134).

Regarding the sometimes lack of detail in this volume, it is expected. As he notes near the beginning of the volume, his more detailed analyses of texts are available in the various articles which he has written. Furthermore, on the issue of how Hebrew came to function as a national language, that is an issue which Seth Sanders focuses on in The Invention of Hebrew (University of Illinois Press, 2009). What’s more, since this volume’s publication in 2010, much work has been done in terms of West Asian scribal practices and schooling practices [2].

[1] He prefers the term “formalized, scribal education” over “school” because the latter category assumes a model of education anachronistic the Iron Age.

[2] Most recently, see Uri Gabbay, The Exegetical Terminology of Akkadian Commentaries (Leiden: Brill, 2016), Niek Veldhuis, History of the Cuneiform Lexical Tradition, in Guides to the Mesopotamian Textual Record (GMTR), Volume 6 (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2014). As I move forward, I am working on collecting a more comprehensive bibliography of articles and books on scribal issues.

Reflection on “Grammatical Parallelism and its Russian Facet” by Roman Jakobson (1966)

For those who were with biblical poetry, Roman Jakobson is an incredibly important scholar. For, his understanding of parallelism shaped and formed the framework by which Adele Berlin (The Dynamics of Biblical Paralellism) treated Biblical poetry in her own book. One quote from the article stands above the rest:

Pervasive parallelism inevitably activates all the levels of language – the distinctive features, inherent and prosodic, the morphologic and syntactic categories and forms, the lexical unites and their semantic classes in both their convergences and divergences acquire an autonomous poetic value. This focus upon phonological, grammatical, and semantic structures in their multiform interplay does not remain confined to the limits of parallel lines but expands throughout their distribution within the entire context; therefore the grammar of parallelistic pieces becomes particularly significant.

It is these categories in particular which Berlin breaks down within biblical poetry. In the next few years, though, I do look forward to a dissertation being written within NELC at the University of Chicago. It may help to clarify much of what others, Jakobson, and Berlin argued, albeit with more clarity.

One things, though, stood out to me within this article: oral traditions. Essentially, a 19th century scholar recorded a many Russian folklore traditions and poems. Although many of these records had some variation, it was noted that many of these traditions were extremely similar. Scholars argued that these similarities were due to the usage of parallelism and its dominant role in oral traditions.  Such things are present throughout many modern cultures.

Additionally, they often times drew from parallelism as defined by Lowth. Down the road, it was argued that poetic and prose traditions in the Hebrew Bible reflect an oral culture preceding it. It is this point which I want to address. Without a doubt, the oral traditions of the Hebrew Bible are possible; however, comparison of 19th century oral traditions, such as a Turkish one which goes back to the 16th century, with those of the Hebrew Bible is methodologically flawed. The method is problematic because 2000 to 2300 years separate modern traditions and ancient traditions.

So, while it is possible to prove that modern folklore traditions tend to employ grammatical parallelism, it is harder to claim such a thing for the Hebrew Bible, as did Albright and many other scholars. That said, one must produce evidence and develop a method in order to bridge the gap between modern folklore traditions and ancient traditions, particularly with regard to the relationship between oral traditions and grammatical parallelism.

Cf. U. Gabbay / Dead Sea Discoveries 19 (2012) 267–312 (esp. p. 279), wherein here notes that Mesopotamian scholars had a sense they were the recipients of an oral tradition that allowed them to offer the best commentary on canonical texts.