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Mesopotamien: Die altbabylanische Zeit.

Mesopotamien: Die altbabylanische Zeit. By DOMINIQUE CHARPIN; DIETZ OTTO EDZAKIX and MARTEN STOL. Annaherungen, vol. 4. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis, vol. 160/4. Freiburg, Switzerland: ACADEMIC PRESS, 2004. Pp. 1027. FS248.

"Annaherungen," the title of the series of publications commissioned by Pascal Attinger and Markus Wafler, now joined in this volume by Walther Sallaberger, means "approaches" (to knowledge), in the sense of "advances in knowledge." This volume on the Old Babylonian period of Mesopotamia follows predecessors on the Late Uruk and Pre-Sargonic periods (OBO vol. 160/1) and on the Old Akkadian and Ur III periods (vol. 160/3). These volumes are not intended to be histories, since they are not narratives nor explanations of the causes and effects of decisions, events, or circumstances. Rather, they are comprehensive presentations and categorizations of sources and learned commentaries on these groups of data.

This fat volume on the Old Babylonian period consists of three parts, really three books, by three great experts: Dominique Charpin on "Histoire politique du Proche-Orient Amorrite (2002-1595)" (pp. 25-480); Dietz Otto Edzard, whose passing is much lamented, on "Altbabylonische Literatur und Religion" (pp. 481-640); and Marten Stol on "Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft in altbabylonischer Zeit" (pp. 643-975). The fourth part of the volume includes a list of abbreviations and indices (pp. 979-1027; the page numbers in the index are often one page off the actual text). Each author uses his own mode of transcription of Akkadian and Sumerian names and terms, and each presents bibliographic citations and footnotes according to his own preference.

To say that this volume is indispensable for Mesopotamian historians is an egregious understatement.

Charpin's title "Amorite" period is provocative. Although not a single Old Babylonian text is written in Amorite, Charpin's list of Amorite kings' names and the titles chosen by some of them are clear indications of change in this period. But what kind of change was it? For Charpin (and others), it was first and fundamentally a demographic change, as Amorites migrated (from Syrian territory) into Mesopotamia (roughly modern Iraq), settled down from their nomadic ways, and seized political power in Akkadian/Sumerian cities. The situation is complicated, however, since there was no Amorite horde; there were many Amorite "tribes" and sub-sections of tribes ("clans"), and Amorite leaders conspired against and fought other Amorite leaders. Furthermore, many Amorites were present in the preceding Ur III period, and some were high officials of the Ur III state. In the Old Babylonian period, as in the time before it, many languages were spoken in Mesopotamia (and it is useful to read Stol's sections on "Die Bevolkerung" [pp. 643-53] as a summary of the situation). Amorites of all ranks and statuses, for the most part, apparently chose to be "Mesopotamian," and certainly wrote Akkadian and Sumerian. Rather than asserting an "Amorite" identity, they maintained identities as tribal or "clan" members and also as inhabitants of cities and devotees of the patron deities of these cities, which was the venerable Mesopotamian tradition. For about a century, Assyriologists have tried to identify "Amorite" customs and norms but without much success.

After his discussion of sources for political history, Charpin delineates the sequence of events and players in the early Old Babylonian period at Isin, Larsa, Kish, Sippar, and other cities great and small. His section on Eshnunna and relations with Mari, Assyria, Elam, and Babylon is especially important; of course, Charpin's delineation of political relations among various Syrian city-states is authoritative, and his sections on "political life," including discussions of divinization, divination, the clergy, the royal family, the palace, and warfare, are informed by his many previous studies on these subjects.

The middle part of the Old Babylonian period, the time of Hammurabi, and the end of the Old Babylonian period, which includes the period of Sealand kings and their rebellion against Babylon, the appearance of Kassites, and the raid of the Hittite king, require fewer pages, perhaps because royal inscriptions and other formal political statements are not as plentiful as in earlier times. Finally, Charpin provides tables of dynasties and kings and extremely useful bibliographic guides to research on textual and archaeological sources, which he has helpfully organized by regions and then by cities within regions. These last ninety-five pages of his section of this volume will not be the least appreciated.

Edzard's section on literature and religion, drawing considerably from his article "Literatur" for the Reallexikon der Assyriologie, begins with the author's meditations on the thorny issues of genre and how and whether literature should be grouped with religion. He settles on the term "beautiful language" ("schone Sprache") as the operative category for his discussions. Even the term "Old Babylonian" requires commentary since Sumerian literature referring to real and fictional characters of earlier times was composed in the Old Babylonian period and so must refer to Old Babylonian contexts as much as to the earlier events these texts purport to describe.

The description of literary texts, replete with examples in transcription and translation, covers songs of praise, lamentations, love songs, wisdom literature, royal inscriptions, and much else. Edzard also considers the problems of editing and translating texts and muses on the works of Jean-Paul Sartre, James Joyce, and Thomas Mann in the process. His section on religion is more modest, briefly delineating deities of cities, the tradition and meaning of lists of gods, and (briefly) state and folk religion. His concise discussion of "cult" performers--dancers, acrobats, and others--concludes one of the last published works by this gifted scholar.

In the various subsections of his part of this volume, Stol provides introductory lists of bibliographic sources on the economy and society of the Old Babylonian period. Although these are quite useful, and the footnotes are copious and detailed, there is no final bibliography to this section. It would have been useful to have one, although it would have increased the thickness of the volume considerably. There is precious little--texts and secondary literature alike--that Stol hasn't read, absorbed, and contextualized.

The Old Babylonian period is the first one in Mesopotamia in which sources from the private lives (of various kinds of elites who had access to and need for scribes) are plentiful. This allows Stol to comment expertly on (more or less in this order) law, trials, urban landscapes, the nature of the family, inheritance, service owed the state, including taxes. Stol also describes the army, agricultural production (including irrigation), prices, loans and credit, natural resources (e.g., grain, wool, dates, vegetables), and those products that were traded for by merchants (e.g., copper, tin, basalt, cloves). He discusses, too, the debates about markets, silver as money, and the role of the state in the economy of the time, particularly the commercialization of state-owned land and products. Stol doesn't discuss the well-documented roles of naditu-women in the economy and society of Mesopotamia. Not only is there a reliable and large literature on this subject, but even the indefatigable Stol (who has written on the subject) may have shrunk from the necessity of adding a large number of pages to his book-length section.

Since this volume consists of "approaches" to sources for the history of the Old Babylonian period, but does not itself pretend to be such a history, it would be inappropriate for me to do more than consider in passing how a history of the Old Babylonian period might be written. The following questions, for example, might be posed in order to structure the work: Why do the kinds of sources we have for the Old Babylonian period appear at this time? In what ways do political decisions and actions affect economy and society and even literary production? And, by the same token, how do institutions for and the practices of production, consumption, and exchange require political leaders to act? How can the study of material culture be used in historical research? Using both textual and archaeological data, can one write about lives, behaviors, beliefs, and decisions made by Mesopotamians of various ranks and statuses in the Old Babylonian period? How is power distributed between states and local authorities, and what are the consequences of this? Anyone attempting to confront these questions will now begin with the Annaherungen presented in this volume.


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Author:Yoffee, Norman
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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