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Gods, Kings, and Merchants in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia.

Gods, Kings, and Merchants in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia. By DOMINIQUE CHARPIN. Publications de l'Institute de Proche-Orient Ancient du College de France. Leuven: PEETERS, 2015. Pp. 223, illus, [euro]41 (paper).

The volume under review is an updated version of eight articles that Charpin has written over the past twenty years. He sees this contribution as a continuation of his Writing, Law, and Kingship in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia (2010). One of the specific goals in this new collection is to show that the modern concepts of religion, politics, and the economy were not clearly defined in the ancient Near East during the Old Babylonian period. A larger purpose of this work is to rectify the lack of use of archival texts for understanding the history, society, and culture of Old Babylonian Mesopotamia. Three main genres of texts are represented in this study--legal texts, letters, and accounting documents, which often contain anecdotal information about cultural phenomena.

However, it is well known that these documents have been scattered in over 1200 publications throughout the world. Hence, Charpin has been instrumental in the ARCHIBAB project, which has brought these texts together to begin the enormous task of synthesizing the material. In addition, the publication of archival texts for this period has doubled in the past three decades, a fact that will transform and deepen our understanding of this period. There are now over 30,000 published archival texts from the Old Babylonian period (over five times the amount of similar texts from the Neo-Assyrian period).

Charpin in the first chapter ("Prophetism in the Near East according to the Mari Archives") makes the obvious but often ignored observation that the Mari archives do not present a group of prophetic texts, but rather are letters with prophetic content. This, of course, means that the information gleaned therefrom is haphazard and needs to be interpreted as such. He also mentions that the biblical prophetic narratives can only be studied in light of a larger ancient Near Eastern continuum.

Charpin argues in the second chapter ("Extradition and the Right of Asylum: The Case of the Storm-God of Aleppo") that asylum given by the Storm God of Aleppo was valid in the entire kingdom of Aleppo, not just at a particular sanctuary. The third chapter ("The Evocation of the Past in the Mari Letters") not surprisingly shows that monarchs evoked the past for their own purposes. Chapter four ("The King is Dead, Long Live the King! The Funerals of the Amorite Sovereigns and the Accession of their Successors") considers the nature of funerary practices in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia. Chapter Five ("The Living and Their Dead in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia: The Contribution of Archival Texts") explores the relationship of the living and the dead from assorted documents that include so-called "death certificates."

Chapter six ("Gods as Creditors in the Amorite Near East") discusses the over two hundred loan contracts in which a divinity (usually Shamash, even in texts found in temples of other gods) is listed as creditor. Often overlooked is the nature of many of these texts (usually concerning debts that have not been repaid). Charpin thus reminds us that we do not have a comprehensive view of the banking activities of temples; thus generalizations should be made with care.

Chapter seven ("Fine and Punishment Provisions in Old Babylonian Contracts") centers on the phenomenon of hot asphalt as a punishment (known almost exclusively in texts from Terqa, but now also from Harradum). Presumably the goal of this punishment was the humiliation of the recipient. Charpin's goal in chapter eight ("The Large Residences of the Old Babylonian Elite") is to assess the nature of the population of large houses, using the excavated units from Larsa as an example.

These eight chapters do not reveal any easily identifiable unifying feature, although Charpin attempts to tie this material together in a brief conclusion which summarizes the link between religion, politics, and the economy. He plans to continue this approach in the future by studying the function of temples in Mesopotamian society.

Archival texts do not permit easy summaries concerning the nature of Old Babylonian culture. However, we can learn about a myriad of aspects of religion and culture that are often not discussed in literary and religious texts from these sources. Charpin reminds us on nearly every page that information gleaned from archival documents cannot be taken without critical analysis. For example, family archives, so important for the understanding of socio-familial relationships, are usually the archives of the last representative of the family; thus they are of limited value for learning of the activities of earlier family members.

It is hard to imagine anyone who has a greater command of the archival source material of Old Babylonian (or Amorite) Mesopotamia. Charpin's contributions in this volume exhibit the vast range of his knowledge. I cannot recall the last time I read something by Charpin that did not cause me to think differently (or more clearly, rather) about a particular subject.


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Author:Chavalas, Mark W.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2019
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