Miscellaneous Babylonian Texts/The Oldest Religious Text From Babylonia

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Page 1[edit]

This cylinder, found by Dr. Haynes at Nippur, remained unpacked in the basement of the Museum until after Pro- fessor Hilprecht's connection with the Museum had been severed. It was apparently broken when found, for parts of it were obtained from three different boxes. These were identified by the writer, and the text pieced together from eight different fragments. The Museum attendant afterwards fast- ened them together. Parts of nineteen columns of writing remain. Not more than one whole column of writing is lost.

The beginning of column i is unfortunately lost. The only proper names beside those of deities that can be identified in it are those of Nippur, Kesh, and Khallab (Aleppo). The interpretation of an inscription written in pure Sumerian would be in any case difficult. In the present instance interpreta- tion is rendered doubly difficult by the loss of the opening sentences, whkh, perhaps, contained the name of the writer and certainly indicated the occasion of the composition. Under these circumstances it cannot be too strongly emphasized that the interpretation offered below is purely tentative. The con- clusion that the writer has reached is, however, that the inscrip- tion was written as a foundation cylinder at a time when the temple at Nippur was repaired, and that this repair was prob- ably undertaken because of a plague that had visited the city. Apparently the plague had made its way to Nippur from

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Kesh. While the occasion of the inscription appears, there- fore, to have been historical, the inscription itself is of the nature of an incantation.

The script in which it is written is that of the dynasty of Agade.1 It is slightly more archaic than the business docu- ments of this period,2 but similar differences are observable between the business scripts and those of religious texts in every period of Babylonian writing. As the dynasty of Agade ruled from about 2800 to 2600 B. C, the incantation here recorded is of equal if not greater antiquity than the Pyramid Texts of Egypt.

During the excavations a pavement of the temple terrace at Nippur laid by Naram-Sin and his successor Shar- galisharri was found.* It is, in the absence of definite informa- tion as to where Dr. Haynes found this cylinder, plausible to conjecture that it was written at the time of this reconstruction. The probability that our text comes from one of the two great kings of Agade mentioned above is increased by the fact that the hold of the later rulers of the dynasty upon Nippur seems to have been uncertain, and there is no evidence that they did any building there.* We now know that these two monarchs belonged to the dynasty of Kish and Agade that ruled Baby- lonia for 197 years, and the data published in 1914 by Dr. Poebel* and in rprj by Professor Clay' enable us to fix this period as from 2794 B. C. to 2597 B. C. Naram-Sin ruled for