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The Babylonian Entitlement narus (kudurrus): A Study in Their Form and Function.

The Babylonian Entitlement narus (kudurrus): A Study in Their Form and Function. By KATHRYN E. SLANSKI. ASOR Books, vol. 9. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research, 2003. Pp. xxi + 362, illus. $29.95.

The approximately 160 inscribed and engraved stone artifacts originating in fourteenth through seventeenth century B.C.E. southern Mesopotamia and long designated as kudurrus, have been known in the West since the turn of the nineteenth century, and until recently have been considered "boundary stones." They report royal grants to certain high-ranking personages of land, tax exemptions, and priestly privileges, are decorated with divine symbols or cultic scenes, and conclude with imprecations protecting the items themselves and the grants. They have importance for the study of iconography, religion, and especially the society, administration, and economy of the period and area they represent, from the time of Kassite domination of Babylonia until the rule of Assyrian kings there. Often, they have been taken as relics of a feudal regime in which the king controlled land through a hierarchy of lesser nobility. As the term "boundary stone" indicates, the so-called kudurrus were thought to stand at the edges of fields as property markers.

Kathryn E. Slanski, in a slightly revised version of her 1997 Harvard Ph.D. dissertation, now presents a long-awaited and thoroughly convincing analysis of these objects, establishing their native designation not as kudurru but as naru (standing stone/stone monument; cf. Hebrew massebah), and their nature not as boundary stones standing in fields, warding off trespassers but as durable monuments displayed before the gods in temples to solicit divine protection of the privileges granted. Slanski, extensively building upon a new view of the artifacts proposed by Brinkman, (1) suggests calling them "entitlement narus (monuments)." Only time will tell whether this term will supplant the venerable and mellifluous kudurru in scholarly parlance, but one should note that three "entitlement monuments" refer to themselves as kudurrus, thereby permitting those bound by habit to adhere to tradition.

The book contains an introduction discussing scholarship from publication of the Caillou Michaux in 1801, through the works of Hinke, Steinmetzer, Seidl, and Brinkman (1980-83), and a conclusion, along with six other chapters. Chapter two, which lays the foundation of the book, determines through close reading of numerous passages given in transliteration and translation that the objects at hand were designated, with only two exceptions, naru, while kudurru means "boundary," "area within a boundary," or "boundary marker." Moreover, the texts indicate that narus were placed "before the god," i.e., in temples, and this is confirmed by archaeological evidence showing that all narus from excavations came from temples or secondary contexts which could confirm an origin in a temple. Chapter three, based on sixty-three datable inscriptions relating to entitlements of various and diverse nature (royal and non-royal grants of land, temple prebends, exemptions, adjudications, land purchases), identifies a unifying structure to all members of the genre.

Turning from text to artifact, chapter four reviews and rejects G. Buccellati's suggestion that the monuments in the temples were inscribed and decorated by-forms of similarly shaped stone objects placed in fields as boundary markers. It then investigates the function of the narus and the relationship between the text and the decoration. The entitlements established perpetual income or reduction in expenditures to the grantee and his heirs. The stone narus themselves could not be sealed, but they were based on clay documents bearing seal impressions which guaranteed the permanent validity of the grant. The divine symbols atop the monuments are invoked individually or in groups in the maledictions concluding the monuments, while reliefs are always related to some incident reported in the text, and in particular the moment epitomizing the good relationship between the king and the recipient.

All these elements function together, perpetuating by means of divinely enforced maledictions the grant made in gratitude for the king-subject relationship depicted or described in the text. Chapter five offers a formal definition of the genre, delineating the necessary physical, iconographic, textual, and functional traits necessary for including a given item as an entitlement naru. Put succinctly, an entitlement monument is a stele, tablet, or plaque-shaped stone artifact called a naru; originating in northern or eastern Babylonia circa 1500-700 B.C.E.; inscribed with a text reporting the issuing of a royal grant and imprecations to protect it; and sculpted with divine symbols to protect it and/or with a relief depicting the event it commemorates. This definition enables Slanski in chapter six to evaluate whether four items of doubtful genre are in fact entitlement monuments. The most famous of these items is BBSt 36, the "Sippar Samas Tablet of Nabu-apla-iddina," which she concludes matches all the criteria and, even with its plaque-like shape, does belong to the genre. (2)

Chapter seven attempts to delimit the entitlement narus' place in the history of Mesopotamian art and literature. The entitlement monuments of the fourteenth through seventh centuries B.C.E. resemble in form and function the so-called "ancient kudurrus" of the third millennium, but are too chronologically distant to be genetically linked. They also seem to be products of Kassite culture. On the other hand, the entitlement narus represent materially and iconographically a link in the long tradition of Mesopotamian royal monuments. Their appearance in the second part of the second millennium B.C.E. may indicate a weakening of monarchic power and a transfer of royal prerogatives to a broader group. The book contains numerous illustrations and maps, a useful explanation of areal measurements used in the monuments (p. xx), and concludes with several appendices containing classified catalogues of the items, a bibliography, and indices including a glossary of Akkadian terms (pp. 319-26).

This is a superb contribution that I dare say might satisfy A. Leo Oppenheim's wish (quoted on p. 10) to replace Steinmetzer's outdated volume with an "adequate and systematic up to date study." We eagerly await Slanski's promised corpus of all the texts.



1. Two of my own publications are noted by Slanski as relating to the poetics of the literary monuments. She should note, however, that my work starting in 1992, and preceding independently but in tandem with hers, also views kudurrus as monuments placed in temples to be read by the gods, and utilizes this as a major factor in literary and ideological interpretation of the inscriptions, thereby fully complimenting her work. See Hurowitz, "Some Literary Observations on the Sitti-Marduk Kudurru," ZA 82 (1992): 39-59, esp. 53-56; Divine Service and Its Rewards: Ideology and Poetics in the Hinke Kudurru (Beer-Sheva: Ben-Gurion Univ. of the Negev Press, 1997); "The 'Sun Disk' Tablet of Nabu-apla-iddina," in The Context of Scripture, vol. 2: Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World, ed. W. W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, Jr. (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 364-68; and "The Sun-Disk Tablet of Nebobaladan King of Babylon (BBSt 36)," in Hayim and Miriam Tadmor Volume, ed. I. Eph'al, A. Ben-Tor, P. Machinist. Eretz Israel 27 (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2003), 91-109, 286* (in Hebrew).

2. For this item, see in greater detail Slanski, "Classification, Historiography, and Monumental Authority: The Babylonian Entitlement narus (kudurrus)," JCS 52 (2000): 95-114.
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Author:Hurowitz, Victor Avigdor
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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