Secrets, Wisdom, and the Standard Babylonian Redaction of the Epic of Gilgamesh

Document Type

Conference Presentation


Religious Studies

Conference Title

American Oriental Society Annual Meeting


American Oriental Society


Houston, TX

Conference Dates

March 22-25, 2002

Date of Presentation

Spring 3-22-2002


Despite the enormous amount of critical attention focused on the Epic of Gilgamesh since the 19th Century, redaction criticism, that is, isolating and exploring the ideas motivating the creation of a particular recension of a text through the careful scrutiny of its extant language and literary form, remains an under-utilized critical tool in its study. In this paper, I will employ J. Tigay’s diachronic observations of the Epic’s textual development (The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982]) and T. Abusch’s example of close reading—utilizing both diachronic and synchronic perspectives as exemplified in his “Ishtar’s Proposal and Gilgamesh’s Refusal: An Interpretation of The Gilgamesh Epic, Tablet 6, Lines 10–79” (History of Religions 26 [1986]: 143–187)—to uncover some of the redactional motivations behind the Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. Specifically, I will show how the well-known wisdom orientation of the SB redaction of the Epic and its employment of language from the semantic domain of “proscribed knowledge” provide insight into the roles of Gilgamesh, Uta-Napishti, and Ea in the Epic. I will also suggest that my analysis reveals the influence of the traditional author’s sociological background on the SB redaction of the Epic.

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