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The World of Berossos.

The World of Berossos. Edited by Johannes Haubold; Giovanni B. Lanfranchi; Robert RollINGER; and John Steele. Classica et Orientalia, vol. 5. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2013. Pp. 332. 58 [euro].

Berossos is hardly a household name among Classicists and Assyriologists. When I published The Babyloniaca of Berossus in 1978, it was the first English translation in over a century and the first comprehensive study of Berossos since the publication of Paul Schnabel's Berossos und die Babylonisch-Hellenistische Literatur in 1923. Part of the reason for this neglect was the fact that Berossos' work survives only in fragments. The principal reasons, however, were twofold: the primacy of cuneiform texts as sources for Babylonian history and the general neglect of Hellenistic Babylon by historians of the ancient Near East at that time. The World of Berossos is clear evidence of renewed interest in Berossos and Hellenistic Babylonian culture. The extent of that interest is clearly indicated by the substantial bibliographies that follow each paper and the nineteen-page general bibliography that closes the volume.

The World of Berossos is the fifth volume in the series Classica et Orientaba and contains the Proceedings of the 4th International Colloquium on "The Ancient Near East between Classical and Ancient Oriental Traditions" held at Hatfield College, Durham on July 7-9, 2010. Like its predecessors in the series, the volume is devoted to the analysis and evaluation of the evidence concerning the ancient Near East provided by a Greek historian. After an introductory overview, the nineteen papers in The World of Berossos are divided into four groups, each containing four papers: Reading the Babyloniaca', Society, Religion, and Culture; Literary Contexts; and Transmission, Reception, Reconstruction. Running through all the papers are three questions central to scholarship on Berossos. First, do the fragments give a reliable picture of the Babyloniaca! Second, did Berossos significantly alter his sources in order to cater to the tastes of his Greek readers? Third, to what extent is it justified to categorize Berossos as either a Babylonian or a Greek writer?

The Overview consists of two papers. Johannes Haubold provides a general introduction to the main problems concerning Berossos and his work and outlines the main themes of the conference. In the second paper, Geert De Breucker, the author of an excellent new edition and translation of the fragments of Berossos in Brill's New Jacoby (BNJ 680), comprehensively analyzes the evidence for Berossos' life and work, arguing that Berossos' work cannot be dated more closely than to the reign of Antiochus I (295/4-261 B.C.E.) and that the Babyloniaca should be considered a Greek historical work. Specifically, Berossos followed the conventions of local history in writing a local history of Babylon.

The four papers in the first section provide close readings of the content and style of the fragments of the three books of the Babyloniaca. Johannes Haubold argues in the first paper that Oannes' speech in the first book was the signature text of Berossos' book, being not merely a summary of Enuma Elis but a sophisticated account of cosmogony shaped in terms of Greek philosophy in order to provide an example of "barbarian wisdom" as described by Aristotle. In the second paper Martin Lang contends that the flood story in the second book of the Babyloniaca reveals Berossos as a writer suspended between two literary traditions--Babylonian and Greek--who, on the one hand, adapted his account to Greek tastes and, on the other hand, situated his narrative in a tradition of cultural revelation that began with Oannes.

G. B. Lanfranchi reviews Berossos' treatment of first-millennium B.C.E. Babylonian history in the third book, demonstrating that he candidly treated the period of Assyrian domination of Babylon, recognizing Assyrian kings who ruled Babylon as legitimate Babylonian kings, while at the same time critiquing the exclusion of Babylon from the theory of the succession of empires from Assyria to the Medes found in Greek historians such as Herodotus and Ctesias. In the final paper of this section John Dillery analyzes Berossos' account of the reigns of Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar II, demonstrating how Berossos' anachronistic use of terminology characteristic of the Seleucid court strengthened the parallel implied by his narrative between the father and son relationship of Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar II and that of Seleucus I and Antiochus I.

The title of the second section is misleading since there is, in fact, no significant discussion of Babylonian society in these four papers. In the first paper in this group John M. Steele tackles the most contentious issue in Berossan studies, the authenticity of the so-called astronomical fragments, firmly asserting their Berossan authorship in the most thorough discussion of this problem that has so far appeared. He does so by separating the tradition that Berossos introduced Babylonian astronomy to the Greeks from the problem of the supposed spuriousness of the astronomical fragments. While the former is clearly a myth, the fragments, he argues, contain the sort of cosmogonic material that Berossos could have found in Babylonian literary texts such as Enuma Elis and should, therefore, be accepted as authentic.

Tom Boiy reviews in the second paper in this section the Classical and Babylonian evidence for the history of Babylon during Berossos' lifetime, arguing that the tradition found in Greek authors that

Seleucus I moved the population of Babylon to Seleucia on the Tigris is false and that, while Babylon lost its status as a capital city, it remained an important city and cult center, whose temples continued to be patronized by its new Seleucid rulers. In the third paper Bruno Jacobs subjects the three fragments--F2, F 11, and F 12--that purportedly prove that Berossos provided important evidence for the history of Persian religion to a thorough analysis and finds the thesis wanting. Specifically, he convincingly demonstrates that F 2 and F 12 are unreliable and that only the statement in F 11 that Artaxerxes II set up cult statues can be accepted, and that is insufficient to prove that Berossos provided evidence for the introduction of idolatry to Persian religion in the fourth century B.C.E.

In the final paper in this section Robert Rollinger compares Berossos' treatment of Nebuchadnezzar II's building activities to the cuneiform and Classical evidence, and finds a mixed picture. On the one hand, Berossos' emphasis on Nebuchadnezzar II's construction of palaces is supported by the king's inscriptions but not the Greek sources, which focus on temples and walls. On the other hand, Berossos' detailed account of the "Hanging Gardens" has no parallel in the cuneiform sources but was intended to attract his Greek readers, for whom they were already a popular topic.

The four papers in the third section attempt to contextualize the Babyloniaca within the intellectual culture of early Seleucid Babylon. As might be expected, Stephanie Dailey's paper is original and illuminating, arguing that it is a mistake to assume that only a single canonical version of works like the Epic of Creation or the Flood Story was available to Berossos but that, instead, he could have used any one of multiple versions of these and other texts that could be found in temple libraries in early Hellenistic Babylon. Equally illuminating is Christopher Tuplin's discussion of Berossos' engagement with Greek historiography. Tuplin reminds us that Berossos' access to Greek historical works at Babylon was limited to Ctesias and Seleucid writers, most notably Megasthenes, and, moreover, that the fragments strongly suggest both that the Greek coloring of his work was superficial and that his reaction to the works he did read was "dictated by the categories (and mind-set) of Babylonian literature ..." (p. 193).

Paul Kosmin's paper complements that of Tuplin, arguing that, although Berossos' work superficially resembles that of Megasthenes and other Seleucid historians in that it describes a part of the empire, it had a strongly didactic purpose, educating Antiochus I in the proper behavior of a Babylonian king by providing him with models of good kings such as Nebuchadnezzar II. In the final paper of this section Ian Moyer considers the relationship between Berossos and Manetho, maintaining that, contrary to general belief, Manetho wrote later than Berossos and had, therefore, no influence on the composition of the Babyloniaca.

The final four papers in the volume consider the reception of Berossos' Babyloniaca from antiquity to the present. Three of these papers--Irene Madreiter's discussion of Eusebius' use of Berossos, Walter Stephens' account of Annius of Viterbo's forgeries, and Kia Ruffing's review of scholarship on Berossos from the early nineteenth century to the present--are valuable surveys of their topics but break no new ground. That is not true, however, of Francesca Schironi's fascinating discussion of the Hellenistic reception of Berossos. Taking as her starting point the new fragments of the Babyloniaca in the recently published Oxyrhynchus Glossary, she convincingly demonstrates that Hellenistic readers of Berossos such as Alexander Polyhistor and Juba were primarily interested in his work as a source for exotic miribilia and not as a historical work.

Much has changed since I published my translation of the Babyloniaca in 1978. Although the big questions concerning Berossos and his work remain largely the same, the answers scholars give to them now are far more nuanced than was possible then. This is particularly true of questions concerning the Babylonian context of Berossos' work, thanks to the ongoing publication of new cuneiform sources concerning the history and culture of Seleucid Babylonia. While there has been no similar expansion of relevant Classical sources, study of the Babyloniaca has benefited from the outpouring of scholarship on Hellenistic historiography. For all scholars interested in these and other questions concerning Berossos and his work, therefore, The World of Berossos will be the essential starting point for future research.


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Author:Burstein, Stanley M.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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