The Intellectual Context of Ludlul Bēl Nēmeqi (Medical Perspectives) and the Interpretation of Ludlul II 68-85 as Sleep Paralysis

Document Type

Conference Presentation


Religious Studies

Conference Title

Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting


Society of Biblical Literature


Baltimore, MD

Conference Dates

November 23-26, 2013

Date of Presentation

Fall 11-23-2013


This paper presents my ongoing efforts to plumb the intellectual context and literary interpretation of the Babylonian poem Ludlul Bel Nemeqi. In the first third of this presentation, I report on my studies of the medical terminology employed in the poem and how these terms help us situate the poem's author in the broader intellectual domain of Babylonian exorcism and medicine. In the remainder of the presentation I focus on a disturbing passage in Ludlul in which the sufferer describes his experience when, in his own words, "a malevolent demon clothed my body as a garment, sleep covered me like a net." Through an examination of the imagery in Ludlul II 68-85, appeals to similar accounts from other cultures, and my own personal experiences of the condition, I argue that these lines describe what is known today as sleep paralysis. I then discuss how this impacts our interpretation of Tablet II and, to a lesser extent, the poem as a whole. In my concluding comments, I reflect upon our attempts to understand subjective experience as presented in ancient theodicies (such as Ludlul and the biblical Book of Job) and the inevitable--and absolutely essential--role the contemporary interpreter's experience plays in this hermeneutical enterprise.

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