Already more than 100 years since their decipherment and almost 50 years since their general availability in translation, the continued obscurity of Babylonian sources within the general history of science, as compared, for example, with those of ancient Greece, reflects a persistent historiography of science, influenced by a particular classification of knowledge and its implicit criteria. Although the argument for the legitimacy of Babylonian astronomy for the history of science has frequently been in terms of the degree to which it directly contributed to the European tradition, the classification and nature of Babylonian astronomy as “science” apart from its position in the patrimony of modern exact sciences still warrants discussion.
Largely through the work of Otto Neugebauer, efforts to reconstruct the history of science in ancient Mesopotamia have concentrated on the exact sciences. Neugebauer's focus on the relation between mathematics and astronomy, especially on the internal mathematical structures that distinguish the Late Babylonian astronomical texts, determined the tenor of research in Babylonian science for much of the twentieth century. His commitment to the recovery and detailed analysis of the Babylonian ephemerides stemmed from the belief that only specialization produces sound results. Indeed, the recovery of the contents of Babylonian mathematical astronomy and the subsequent work on this material by others, both before him (J. Epping and F. X. Kugler) and after (A. J. Sachs, A. Aaboe, B. L. van der Waerden, P. Huber, J. P. Britton, L. Brack-Bernsen, and N. M. Swerdlow), as well as the progress made in the study of what is sometimes referred to as the nonmathematical Babylonian astronomy by A. J. Sachs, H. Hunger, and D. Pingree, prove critical for our understanding of other aspects of Babylonian celestial inquiry, especially celestial divination and its relationship to astronomy.