Stefan Maul has presented Assyriology with a model study of an important genre of liturgical texts, the so-called eršahunga-prayers designed to still the heart of an angry god. The texts appear in autograph copies and transliterations, with lucid translations, useful philological notes, and a comprehensive glossary. The present reviewer has not checked the copies, since M.-C. Ludwig has collated the British Museum tablets for her own review of this volume.
Maul's introduction to the eršahunga-prayers offers a brief survey of the genre, although the discussion is somewhat too specialized for the general reader unfamiliar with Assyriology. There is a need for a review of both Sumerian and Akkadian prayer which addresses the relationship between prayer and incantation, since both genres can appear together in certain types of apotropaic rituals. The problem of appeasing an angry god, for instance, was a theme common to both liturgy and incantations. The eršahunga, ‘lament to still the heart’, is paralleled by incantations known as dingir-šà-dib-ba gur-ru-da ‘(incantations) to appease the angry god’, composed as a confessional of unwitting sins. It is not clear when one would recite an eršahunga-prayer or a dingir-šà-dib-ba incantation, since both types of texts attempt to appease a god who is angered by some unspecified or unknown transgression. The eršahunga is typically composed in the Emesal dialect of Sumerian associated primarily (but not exclusively) with prayer and cultic texts, while exorcistic incantations are composed in the main Sumerian dialect (Emegir) of literary texts; both of these genres appear in the first millennium with Akkadian translations. It is possible that the distinction between prayer and incantation simply represents professional divisions between the kalû (lamentation priest) and the āšipu (exorcist), but it is not easy to define the conditions in which the various types of prayers and incantations were employed.