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Verbal System of Ancient Hebrew

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Alan Lenzi

Hi John, Thanks for the review. I've been largely absent from the blogosphere, spending my time on other things. But I got notice of the review. So here I am to make a couple of points in response:

I found out after our edition was printed that Takayoshi Oshima is producing a full critical edition in Leipzig (in German). I'm not sure of the projected completion date. His edition, unlike the SAACT series, will not be as pedagogically-oriented. The poem is enjoying a lot of interest.

The textual apparatus also includes references to the ancient scholarly commentary. Ludlul is one of only two compositions to have such commentaries, which are usually reserved for "scientific" texts.

In defense of my reading of LL II 33-38, I think this really is seminal agnosticism in that here we see for the first time in literary history a person reflect on whether the divine will is truly knowable by humans. True, this passage does not consider the possibility that one cannot know whether the gods exist--agnosticism in its technical sense. But the passage is much more than a human simply saying "the gods ways are higher than ours," which is where I'd place Job 28. LL II 33-38 is not about affirming divine mystery; it is much more cynical, at least as I read it. The sufferer seems to entertain the possibility that the gods do not really reveal their will to humans. Or, rather, if they do, we humans can't discern it. This is a kind of agnosticism in a less technical sense. Questioning the knowability of the divine will, in my opinion, seems like a step toward questioning the knowability of divine existence. Thus "seminal agnosticism."

Concerning the drawbacks:

Normalized text is not standard in the SAACT series. In fact, Assyriologists rarely use it in text editions. I think the commentary will probably have to include it (as a requirement of the series). But I'm not sure about that.

As for your concern about that first epithet: be-lu4 and be-lum are the same thing basically. There's no difference in the actual signs; they're both LUM. A lu4 is simply a reading for LUM adjusted toward our understanding of SB grammar: i.e., that Akkadian by this period had lost mimation (in fact, already in the late Old Babylonian period). The difference here really lies in the transliterator's philosophy of transliteration. Some Assyriologists think LU4 is how the sign would have been read in the later periods. Others think this over interprets what's on the tablet and presumes more certainty about phonology than we possess. Amar and I decided to go the more conservative LUM, TUM, TIM route. I may do it differently in the commentary. In some ways, it's six one way, half dozen another since no matter how you represent it, anyone who knows cuneiform will know that the LUM sign is what is on the tablet.

BTW, if you prefer bēlu (reading LUM in MSS AA and gg as lu4), then you need to be consistent and read ilu muštālu in the second half of lines 1 and 3.

The issue of be-LUM vs. the logogram EN, interpreted as bēl (bound to the following substantive), in line 1 is an interesting observation but not all that important to the translation of the text. Bēl X, where bēl is bound to a following substantive X, which denotes a profession, an object, or a quality, is a very common idiom in Akkadian. It is virtually certain that this is the proper understanding of the phrase, however one wishes to deal with that final vowel. About which, late MSS like gg (Neo-Babylonian Sippar) are notorious for their chaotic representation of final vowels. MS gg's reading is safely ignored in this matter. MS AA is a bit harder to explain. Significantly, however, it reads the logogram for the word in line 3.

As for your desire to see more poetic analysis: it just wasn't part of the purpose of this edition. As I mention in fn.58, Akkadian poetic prosodic analysis still lacks a solid consensus within the field. We were thinking about marking half-lines, but there were irregularities in places that led to more complications than were desirable for the purpose of this work. I plan to return to the issue of poetics in the commentary. But be patient. It's probably going to be a couple of years before I finish it.

Thanks again for the review.

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This is a great chance for us to read the message of the ancient people. This is very meaningful. Most of us can relate to it. There are still things in ancient manuscript that we don't know and this one can be a help. This is like having a translations that we are reading and be educated from.



Thanks for your rejoinder. We are already greatly indebted to you and Amar for this edition. I really don't see how any scholar of the Hebrew Bible can afford not to have your edition of Ludlul on their shelves.

My guess is that the "u" in belu nemeqi is an overhanging vowel whose purpose is to avoid stress clash. The grammar of course is as you say: a construct phrase (I translate otherwise for reasons of euphony).

On the other hand, I wouldn't read mushtalu because mushtalum is attested. It is my understanding that the scribes did a passable job of preserving standard Babylonian features even after said features were not current in the vernacular.

But not all scribes were so careful; I suppose the matter needs to be reviewed on a case by case basis.

Alan Lenzi

Just a couple of pts. of response.

"My guess is that the "u" in belu nemeqi is an overhanging vowel whose purpose is to avoid stress clash."

The "overhanging vowel" is sort of a last resort explanation, but at least you see a poetic purpose for its presence here. One could also suggest that bēlu creates a phonological parallelism with ilu in the second half of the line.

"I wouldn't read mushtalu because mushtalum is attested."

What we have at the end of the line is one MS that reads muš-ta-LUM (actually in the parallel line 3. ALL CAPS means this is the sign name, not a reading). The LUM sign is read either as lu4 or lum. The fact that you want to read it as lu4 earlier in the line (be-lu4 instead of be-lum) suggests you should read it as lu4 here. Mimation is not a typical feature of SB Akkadian. So ilu muštālu is the better normalization.


Thanks, Alan, for being so patient as to correct me on these matters.

IMHO this proves my point, that normalization is something Assyriologists should offer to scholars who enjoy reading Akkadian but are rusty on the cuneiform sign values we once sweated blood to learn. We are not that small of a subset of the consumers of Assyriology if you think about it.

Alan Lenzi

I know. There is something to be said for normalization. But having now worked on a project where normalization was demanded by the (non-assyriologist) series editors, I can tell you that it is no silver bullet to the problems of transliteration-only kind of publishing. For example, what does one do when none of the case vowels in a line in a so-called Standard Babylonian shuilla is "right," according to SB grammar, because the only manuscript to preserve the SB prayer is a Late Babylonian tablet from Uruk with haywire final syllables?


The trick might be to discover method in the LB tablet's madness. If there isn't any, I guess one would have no choice but to correct to SB, and put the madness in the apparatus.

Alan Lenzi

One doesn't normally see an apparatus with normalization. . . . If one were to correct LB texts to SB grammar most Assyriologists would have a fit. Why not then correct SB case endings to OB standards? Where does it end? Why make one dialect the gold standard? So the habit is to leave the cases as is, educate Akkadian students about the fact that the case endings as written are often dubious, and allow one's translation (and notes) to explain.


Of course . . . in fact I meant to say that in an edition that provides a normalized text, the non-normalized raw data would be provided in the apparatus, better yet perhaps, in a parallel set of columns.

If the shu-illa prayer is thought to have been composed in SB, it would make sense to normalize it to SB.

This discussion is not unlike what obtains in Ugaritic studies. Some scholars are appalled that colleagues such as Pardee and Smith provide a reconstruction of the vocalization. But I'm with Pardee and Smith. It's a heuristic exercise, nothing more, nothing less, but an essential one.


Dr. Hobbins,

Switching up the gods involved was ingenius! It looked to me almost like blasphemy when I first saw it, but upon thinking about it I'm glad you did it. It caused me to compare the text with the Bible more seriously than I may have done had I simply known it was a Mardukcentric poem from the beginning.

It's great to be able to see conversations like in the comments above. It's like a chance to eavesdrop on people studying decades ahead of me.



I'm glad it got you thinking. If you read all of Ludlul, you will discover significant differences that separate the world of Mesopotamian religion from the world of Israelite religion. But it's important to ponder the similarities as well. In classical theological terms, it says something about "common grace" or "natural revelation."

Chris Taylor

It is interesting to me that the writer points out the changing nature of his god. It is interesting to me because the biblical text in the OT seems to express the opposite for the God of Israel - that He does not change. More so in some books than others of course. The tension between the natures of the God of Israel and the Babylonian god that is.


Hi Chris,

I think you're right in this sense, that Ludlul puts great emphasis on the fact that the God of reference brings low and lifts up.

But the God of the Bible is also described as one who responds to the cry of the afflicted. The point of departure of many psalms is a case of suffering without just cause. The psalmist pleads with God that God will not chastise him further. The Psalmists ask for a reprieve and usually a psalm ends with words that presuppose that a reprieve was granted.

There are enormous differences between biblical and Babylonian approaches to the divine, but there is also a lot of common ground.

Here is an interesting question: should we translate "God" or "god"? In both instances, I think, we should translate "God." That respects the transcendence the authors of the Bible and Ludlul ascribe to deity.

On the other hand, should a modern-day believer choose to translate "God" and "Lord" where appropriate in the Bible, but "god" and "lord" in Babylonian texts, okay, but that imports truth values of the modern reader that were alien to the ancient authors. It would be no less justified to translate "god" and "lord" in all cases - a fashion that is taking root in secularized contexts.

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