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Alphabet Scribes in the Land of Cuneiform


Sēpiru Professionals in Mesopotamia in the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid Periods


This book treats the alphabet scribes in Mesopotamia in the Late Babylonian period (6th-5th centuries BCE). Bloch defends the understanding of the term sēpiru as a designation of alphabet scribes, discusses the functions of sēpiru professionals in Babylonia, and discusses their ethnic origins, with special attention to the participation of Judeans in Babylonia in this profession. The monograph includes translations of over 100 Late Babylonian economic, legal, and administrative documents.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
SKU (ISBN): 978-1-4632-0635-2
  • *
Publication Status: Forthcoming

Publication Date: Jul 3,2018
Interior Color: Black
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Page Count: 515
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-4632-0635-2
$165.00

This book discusses the alphabetic scribes (sēpiru) mentioned in Mesopotamian documents of the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid periods – specifically, of the 6th-5th centuries bce. The period in question saw a wide diffusion of writing in the Northwest Semitic alphabetic script – mostly in Aramaic – in Mesopotamia; yet, alphabetic texts were normally written in ink on perishable materials and did not survive to be discovered by modern archaeologists. In contrast, cuneiform tablets written on clay have been found in large numbers, and they document different aspects of the alphabetic scribes’ activities. This book presents evidence for understanding the Akkadian term sēpiru as a designation for an alphabetic scribe and discusses the functions of these professionals in different administrative and economic spheres. It further considers the question of the ethnic origins of the alphabetic scribes in Mesopotamia, with special attention to the participation of Judeans in Babylonia in this profession. Bloch also provides translations of over 100 cuneiform documents of economic, legal and administrative content.

This book discusses the alphabetic scribes (sēpiru) mentioned in Mesopotamian documents of the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid periods – specifically, of the 6th-5th centuries bce. The period in question saw a wide diffusion of writing in the Northwest Semitic alphabetic script – mostly in Aramaic – in Mesopotamia; yet, alphabetic texts were normally written in ink on perishable materials and did not survive to be discovered by modern archaeologists. In contrast, cuneiform tablets written on clay have been found in large numbers, and they document different aspects of the alphabetic scribes’ activities. This book presents evidence for understanding the Akkadian term sēpiru as a designation for an alphabetic scribe and discusses the functions of these professionals in different administrative and economic spheres. It further considers the question of the ethnic origins of the alphabetic scribes in Mesopotamia, with special attention to the participation of Judeans in Babylonia in this profession. Bloch also provides translations of over 100 cuneiform documents of economic, legal and administrative content.

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Contributor Biography

Yigal Bloch

Yigal Bloch obtained his doctorate in Jewish History and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2013, and pursued post-doctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the University of Haifa. He is currently a curator at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem.

Table of Contents (v)
Acknowledgments (ix)
Babylonian metrical units (xi)
Bibliographical Abbreviations (xiii)
Introduction (1)
   I. Alphabet meets cuneiform: the problem of alphabetic scribes in Ancient Mesopotamia (1)
   II. Previous research on the sēpiru professionals (20)
   III. The structure and the intended contribution of the present study (25)
Chapter 1. Sēpiru: specialists in alphabetic writing, and in cuneiform, too? (31)
   I. Persons and animals marked with alphabet letters (31)
   II. Documents of the sēpiru, written on parchment and papyrus (47)
      1. In Babylonian tablets of the 6th century BCE (47)
      2. In the Murašû family archive of the late 5th century BCE (59)
      3. Documents ‘of the sēpiru’—a general characterization (67)
   III. Were the sēpiru interpreters? (68)
      1. The logogram A.BAL, its use and meaning (68)
      2. Aramaic epigraphs on cuneiform tablets (79)
      3. Knowledge of the Northwest Semitic alphabet by scribes writing in cuneiform (88)
      4. A letter of a cuneiform scribe to a sēpiru (95)
   IV. Summary (99)
Chapter 2. Sēpiru in Babylonian temples (101)
   I. Sēpiru in the temples of Borsippa and Babylon (101)
   II. Sēpiru in the Ebabbar temple archive (108)
      1. In the period of the Neo-Babylonian empire (108)
      2. In the reigns of Cyrus and Cambyses (133)
      3. In the reigns of Darius I and Xerxes (147)
   III. Sēpiru in the Eanna temple archive (168)
      1. In the period of the Neo-Babylonian empire (168)
      2. In the reigns of Cyrus, Cambyses and Darius I (186)
   IV. Summary (216)
Chapter 3. Sēpiru in the state administration (223)
   I. In the period of the Neo-Babylonian empire (223)
   II. In the reigns of Cyrus and Cambyses (242)
   III. In the reign of Darius I (248)
      1. Sēpiru responsible for palaces and their personnel (248)
      2. Sēpiru responsible for troops and work gangs (254)
      3. Sēpiru responsible for crown-owned land (266)
      4. A sēpiru as a clerk in a court of law (274)
      5. Sēpiru in the service of high royal officials (277)
   IV. In the reigns of Artaxerxes I and Darius II (286)
      1. Sēpiru in the service of members of the royal family (286)
      2. Sēpiru in the service of Gubaru the satrap of Babylon (301)
      3. Sēpiru with the duty of service in the royal army (317)
   V. Summary (331)
Chapter 4. Sēpiru active in private business (337)
   I. In the 6th century BCE (337)
   II. In the reign of Artaxerxes I (342)
   III. In the reign of Darius II (344)
   IV. In the reign of Artaxerxes II (358)
   V. Summary (367)
Chapter 5. The ethnic background of the sēpiru professionals (371)
   I. General considerations (371)
   II. Judeans among the sēpirus (379)
A comprehensive list of sēpiru professionals in the Murašû archive tablets (381)
Concluding observations (399)
Appendix: Transliteration of previously unedited tablets (413)
Copies of previously unpublished cuneiform tablets (437)
Bibliography (445)
Index  (485)

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