Ludlul bēl nēmeqi and the Language of Akkadian Prayer

Document Type

Conference Presentation


Religious Studies

Conference Title

Mesopotamia in the Ancient World: Impact, Continuity, Parallels (Melammu Symposium 7)


University of Innsbruck


Obergurgl, Tyrol, Austria

Conference Dates

November 4-8, 2013

Date of Presentation

Fall 11-5-2013


The first part of this paper demonstrates that the author of Ludlul bēl nēmeqi drew heavily upon the typical form, themes, and language of the Akkadian incantation-prayer genre. The author, however, was no slave to this literary inspiration; rather, he adapted many of the formal elements and vocabulary in the genre to both the extreme situation of the protagonist of the poem, Shubshi--meshre-Shakkan, as well as his post-recovery, retrospective point of view. The second part of the paper interprets these literary comparative results. First, the results are set within Mesopotamian literary history and its authors’ propensities to compose new texts through incorporation and transformation of earlier material. I argue that Ludlul, which takes an exhortational tone with its audience, commends itself to those still suffering by presenting its thanksgiving under the heavy influence of the incantation-prayer genre, the very kind of prayer a suffering person would recite to gain wholeness. Thus, Ludlul is for them “proleptic thanksgiving.” I also interpret the literary results of the first part of the paper briefly through comparisons with the biblical individual psalm of thanksgiving and the Book of Job, both of which are broadly concerned with human hardship, suffering, and restoration. The pervasive influence of the language of prayer in both Ludlul and the Book of Job underline their common central theme: divine sovereignty.