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Astronomy and authorship

  • M. J. Geller


A new edition of the astronomical compilation MUL.APIN follows closely upon the recent publication of two sections of the large compendium of Babylonian astronomical omens known as Enūma Anu Enlil. The text of MUL.APIN likewise includes a section of astronomical omens, as well as a catalogue of stars, including the ‘fixed’ (ziqpu) stars, and information regarding the planets, heliacal risings, the path of the moon, calendrical intercalations, and a shadow table and water clock. This modern edition is clearly presented nd well-translated, and includes notes on both the philology and astronomy of the text.



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1 Hunger, H. and Pingree, D., MUL.APIN, an astronomical compendium in Cuneiform (Archiv füur Orientforschung, Beiheft 24, 1989), and Reiner, E. and Pingree, D., Babylonian planetary omens [BPO] (Bibliotheca Mesopotamia, 11, vols. 12, Malibu, 1975; 1981). A text edition of further sections of Enūma Anu Enlil by Rochberg-Halton, C., Aspects of Babylonian celestial divination: the lunar eclipse tablets of Enūma Anu Enlil (Afo, Beiheft 22) has now appeared.

2 MUL.APIN, 141; the crucial phrase is ina mehret irti nāṣir šame ‘opposite the breast of the observer’ (MUL.APIN, I iv 2). Cf. also ibid., 10, and BPO, II, 6.

3 ibid. 9. As for the date of the canonical text of Enūma Anu Enlil, Reiner and Pingree state simply that the sources are from seventh-century Kuyunjik and ‘the date of their composition in their present form cannot be much earlier’ (BPO, 11, 1). See also Pingree, D. and Walker, C. ‘A Babylonian star catalogue: BM 78161’, apud Leichty, E. et al. , A scientific humanist. Studies in memory of Abraham Sachs (Philadelphia, 1988), 313 ff., giving ziqpu stars, calculated by the authors as –700, for which MUL.APIN serves as the terminus post quem, – 1000, for dating of the text.

4 cf. MUL.APIN, 145, in which the authors are less definitive in their conclusion, referring to data which ‘firmly supports the hypothesis that MUL.APIN originated at a place (such as Nineveh) whose latitude was about 36° N'’. The authors may be using the date – 1000 as a round number for computation purposes, without considering the figure to be an exact dating.

5 Civil, M., Sumerological studies in honor of Thorkild Jacobsen (Assyriological Studies [AS], 20, 1976), 128, Rochberg-Halton, C., in Language, literature, and history, [E. Reiner Festschrift] (New Haven, 1987), 327. E. Reiner's own comments on the history of the text of Ŝurpu are worth noting, cf. Ŝurpu, AFO, Beiheft 11 (1970), 2.

6 Lambert, W. G., JAOS, 107, 1987, 94 f. Cf. Brinkman, J. A., A political history of post-Kassite Babylonia (Rome, 1968), 387, and Grayson, A. K., Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles (Locust Valley, N.Y., 1975), 189:12.

7BPO, II, 81 f. = KAV 218; Tablet 51 of Enūma Anu Enlil is assumed to derive from Astrolabe B, cf. BPO, II, 1 and MUL.APIN, 11.

8 Hunger, H., Babylonische und assyrische Kolophone [BAK], 1968, no. 43. This feature of Babylonian scholarship in Assur also appears in two tablets copied and collated by Mardukbalassu- eriš and his brother Bel-aha-iddina, which is copied from a Vorlage from Nippur and Babylon, ‘according to a tablet (a-na pi-i tup-pi ša-ṭa-ri) which Iqiša-Ninkarrak wrote’ (KAR 15 and 16), cf. Hunger, BAK, no. 44. One might even entertain the possibility that Marduk-balassu-eriš belonged to a Babylonian scribal family living in Assur. Babylonian tablets were, in any case, found in the Assur libraries, cf. Pedersén, O., Archives and libraries in the city of Assur (Uppsala, 1985), 31 ff., and Lambert, JCS, 16, 1962, 64.

9 AS 20, 128.

10 Van Dijk, J. J., Lugal Ud Melam-bi Nergal (Leiden, 1983), II, 42, 151, and 181.

11 ibid., li, 12.

12 J. S. Cooper, The return ofNinurta to Nippur (Rome, 1978), 50 ff., and idem., JAOS, 97, 1977, 508 ff.

13 ibid., 43. Cf. B. Alster, ‘The textual history of the legend of Etana’, JAOS, 109,1989,81 ff., in which he points out distinctive differences between the Old Babylonian, Middle Assyrian, and Late Assyrian recensions of the epic, for which it is impossible to establish clear lines of transmission between the versions.

14 Hunger, BAK, no. 43.

15 Surviving copies of Middle Assyrian tablets can be defective and relatively erroneous, cf. W. G. Lambert, AS, 16, 284, and the present writer, Iraq, 42, 1980, 26. However, the presence of errors in Assur manuscripts does not discount the ability of Assur scribes to edit or reconstruct texts. This can be demonstrated from the Middle Assyrian bilingual incantation cited above (BM 130660 = Iraq, 42,1980,23 ff.) which is now known to belong to KAR 24 (as a non-contiguous join) from an Assur library. The Assur tablet in a significant number of lines preserves a better text tradition than that of the later duplicates, such as the fuller version of the standard Marduk-Ea dialogue (cf. Iraq, 42, 1980, 29, 11, 84’–85’, 95’–96’, lO4–107’).

Nevertheless, there is no independent scribal tradition from first millennium colophons or catalogues attributing text editions to Middle Assyrian scribes, comparable to the Babylonian tradition of scribal ancestors and the attribution of Gilgamesh, Erra, and the Babylonian Theodicy to well-known Babylonian scribes.

16 Lambert, Iraq, 38, 1976, 87 f., tries to demonstrate from internal evidence that the prayer originates from the reign of Tukulti-Ninurta I, by drawing attention to allusions in the prayer to the Assyrian King List (the oldest surviving exemplar of which comes from Assur). Lambert concludes (ibid., 86) that ‘the only Assyrian king before 1000 BC known to have had a scribe capable of original Sumerian literary composition is Tukulti-Ninurta I’, and that the scribe was a Babylonian scribe brought by the king to Assyria. One might, however, take the opposite view: the fact that Tukulti-Ninurta I plundered tablets from Babylonian sites, according to his own admission (AfO, 18, 1957–58, 44:2–11) might suggest that the Assur of his time was less likely to have a highly developed scribal tradition with indigenous expertise.

Moreover, it does not necessarily follow that hymns to Tukulti-Ninurta I must have been composed in his lifetime. The likelihood always exists that rulers were idealized in retrospect, but in the absence of colophons arguments dating a composition are difficult to prove on internal evidence alone.

17 Lambert, W. G. and Millard, A. R., Catalogue of the Kuyunjik collection of the British Museum, Second supplement (London, 1968), ix. It is also worth noting that the large god list tablet, K 4349 (CT 24 20–46) copied by Kidin-Sin, , a Middle Assyrian scribe known from Assur (cf. Pédersen, Archives, I, 41), was discovered in Ashurbanipal's Library.

18 BM 98745 + 122652 (Angim) and BM 122626 + 122651 + 123380 (Lugale).

19 Iraq, 38, 1976,93.

20 It is also possible that Marduk-balassu-eriš also copied the Assur pieces KAR 128 and 129, which are similar in content.

21 Sollberger, E., JEOL, 20, 1968, 5070. This is not the only example of Mesopotamian pseudepigrapha; cf. a bilingual inscription of Nebuchadnezzar I, found only in Late Assyrian and Late Babylonian copies, edited by W. G., Lambert in CRRAI, 19, 1971, 432 ff., and JCS, 21, 1967, 126 f., now also found in the Sippar Collection (BM 54765 ( + ) 54810). This text is likely to be a late composition, but see also Brinkman, PHPCB, 19.

22 Lambert, W. G., JCS, 16, 1962, 59 ff., and van Dijk, J. J., UVB, 18, 1962, 43 ff. The latter text ascribes some of the scribes to the Ur III or Old Babylonian Period, although Lambert, art. cit., 76 f., has shown that such dates are too early, and that the scribes probably flourished at the turn of the first millennium B.C. Scribes, particularly from Uruk and Babylon, occasionally traced their own lineage back to these same scribal ancestors, cf. W. G., Lambert, JCS, 11, 1957, 1 ff.

23 Finkel, I. L., apud Leichty, Scientific humanist, 143 ff.

24 ibid., 148 f. The colophon specifically states that no prior editon of SA.GIG existed.

25 ibid., 150, and KAR 44. The precise role of Esagil-kin-apli remains unclear, since it is unlikely that he could have been personally responsible for the edition of so many works. The likelihood is that Esagil-kin-apli was head of a scribal school which collected and copied numerous texts, and perhaps was ultimately responsible for new text editions. There are, however, no surviving autographs from Esagil-kin-apli himself, but only later references to him in colophons, etc.

26 JCS, 16, 1962, 60, 64, 68.

27 ibid., 64 f. and 68. All of these compositions are ascribed to the god Ea as ‘author’, as is the SA.GIG catalogue (note 23 above), and the poultice incantation published by Lambert (AnSt., 30, 1980, 78:16), but these are only to be understood as texts transmitted to scribes through divine inspiration. The question remains regarding the role of the scribe in this process, and whether he is credited with de facto authorship of the text, or merely serves as copyist. A clear statement ascribing the compilation of a text occurs in the colophon of the Old Babylonian copies of the collection of Temple Hymns (TCS 3 49: 543–4), which reads: lu-dub ka-kéšú-da en-hé-du,-an-na lugal-mu níg ù-tu na-me lú nam-mu-un-u-tu,‘the editor of the tablet is Enheduanna; my lord, what has been created no one else has created’; cf. W. W. Hallo, AS, 20,1976, 186. Since the process of composing temple hymns was much earlier (already present in Abu Salabikh tablets), the statement presumably refers to the editorial work of collecting and ordering the hymns, although composing individual hymns cannot be ruled out.

28 J. S. Cooper, Ninurta, 9. There are, however, other examples of literary texts surviving in bilingual form, such as Enlil and Ninlil and Enki and Ninhursag, but these are much briefer than Lugale and Angim.

29 Enūma Anu Enlil is also associated with Esagil-kin-apli in KAR 44 rev. 16.

30 BPO, II, 1, suggests that the original corpus of omens of Enūma Anu Enlil Tablet 50 predates –1000, perhaps back to the Old Babylonian period, but here again the editors Reiner and Pingree have not clarified the state of the text before 1000 B.C.; was there an actual corpus or compilation of astronomical omens known as Enūma Anu Enlil from an earlier period? Or were these simply isolated collections of astronomical omens?

31 The author acknowledges the advice and critique of Dr. Irving Finkel and Professor W. G. Lambert, without committing either of them to the conclusions expressed above.

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Astronomy and authorship

  • M. J. Geller


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