Scribal Play in the Twelve Gates of Ludlul IV

Document Type

Conference Presentation


Religious Studies

Conference Title

American Oriental Society Annual Meeting


American Oriental Society


Albuquerque, NM

Conference Dates

March 12-16, 2009

Date of Presentation

Spring 3-14-2009


In Ludlul IV 79–90 (according to Annus’ and Lenzi’s edition in preparation) Shubshi-Meshre-Shakkan, the sufferer in the poem, is symbolically rehabilitated as he passes through twelve gates in Babylon. Although all of the gates were either in or near Marduk’s E-sagil temple precincts, we can see no meaningful topographical course traced through the gates as the poetic lines proceed. It seems likely therefore that the author’s selection of gates was based on literary rather than topographical criteria (see George, OLA 40, 90–91). As is apparent in most lines, the Sumerian names of these gates correspond in some way with the Akkadian description of what the man does or receives at each. In some cases, the entire Akkadian description can easily and obviously be derived from the Sumerian name (see, e.g., lines 85–87). In others, however, a verb is used in the Akkadian description that does not obviously derive from the Sumerian name of the gate (e.g., 79–84, 88–90). My thesis, briefly stated, is that the author found a way to derive these from the name of the gate, too, by using scholarly techniques known in commentary and expository texts (see Livingstone, Mystical and Mythological Explanatory Works, chapter one) and making graphic plays on the appearance of signs used in the names of the gates. The substance of each Akkadian description, including the verbs, therefore, can be found in the gates’ Sumerian names. Besides adding another learned expository text to our list, this study provides further evidence that the author of Ludlul was a consummate literary artisan.

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