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COLOPHONS AND SCHOLARS: TOWARDS A SOCIAL HISTORY OF KNOWLEDGE IN BABYLONIA DURING THE FIRST MILLENNIUM BCE

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Colophons-Scholars (COLOPHONS AND SCHOLARS: TOWARDS A SOCIAL HISTORY OF KNOWLEDGE IN BABYLONIA DURING THE FIRST MILLENNIUM BCE)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-08-31

COLOPHONS AND SCHOLARS: TOWARDS A SOCIAL HISTORY OF KNOWLEDGE IN BABYLONIA DURING THE FIRST MILLENNIUM BCE
Publishable summary
The scribal system was the primary vehicle for transmitting and preserving knowledge in Mesopotamia in the first millennium BCE. Writing and copying literary and scientific compositions was part of education in Mesopotamian schools. The entire career of a scholar, from his apprenticeship to becoming an “experienced scribe, who neglects nothing”, can be traced thanks to the colophons that he appended at the bottom of his works throughout his lifetime. Although they called themselves “scribes”, they were in fact scholars and scientists, the keepers of scribal lore, tradition and historical records. Many were affiliated to temples and royal courts, but others practised privately.
Their colophons contain a wealth of information on the transfer of knowledge. Firstly, by giving us the name of the scribe, his master, and the tablet’s owner, they shed light on the genealogies, real and imagined, of scholars and on their networks of patronage. Secondly, by indicating the date and place of the tablet’s production, they enable us to trace the transmission of knowledge through space and time. Some 1300 colophons have been preserved on tablets from all major Babylonian cities, ranging in time from the beginning of Assyrian domination in Mesopotamia (ca. 900 BCE) until writing in cuneiform ceased in the first century CE. The potential for ground-breaking research into the social contexts of one of mankind’s longest-living traditions of learning is beyond doubt, but until now this wealth of information has remained largely untapped. Colophons and Scholars project potential for ground-breaking research into the social contexts of one of mankind’s longest-living traditions of learning and scrutinizes this wealth of information that until now has remained largely untapped.
My project changed this state-of-art through two interventions: by compiling and publishing a complete digital database of all known first millennium Babylonian colophons https://colophons-and-scholars.web.app/ and by publishing a monograph with their editions. I significantly contribute to an improved infrastructure of the research. By analysing this data, I came to a better understanding of the social process of transmitting knowledge in the ancient Near East.
"In addition to preparing a monographic publication and creating a website, I disseminated the results of my research participating in international workshop and conferences with a number of lectures given “Women in Cult in Mesopotamia” at Gender and Methodology in the Ancient Near East 3, April 8–10, 2019, Gent. This lecture is also reflecting the gender dimension of the project. Lecture “The Imitators of the King and the Empire,” at The King as a Nodal Point of Neo-Assyrian Identity February 4–5, 2019, Helsinki demonstrated the spread of the Mesopotamian scholarship and scribal art over all of the Near East and its influence on the local politics of the region. A talk by Anne Gooddeeris (Gent Univ.) and myself ""The Sumerian Pride of Nippureans,"" at project research seminar “Colophons and Paratexts : Scholarship and Politics"" Feb 20, 2020, Leiden showed the diachronic development of the Babylonian scribal tradition at its most famous centre—Nippur. Lecture “Babylonian Scribes: Palaeographers and Forgers” on Ancient Worlds Network, Leiden investigated intriguing forgeries of Babylonian scribes, which they produced in order to get royal grants.
The Colophons and Scholars website and other project activities were presented on January 30, 2020 at NINO (The Netherlands Institute for the Near East) day in Amsterdam.
Some already prepared lectures have been postponed because of the COVID crisis. They will be delivered as soon as the situation permits it. Lecture “The Poem of Erra, the Epic of Healers” in the framework of the 19th International Conference for Ancient East-Mediterranean Studies ""Epic, Society and Religion in the Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean Cultures"" in Tartu (June 4-6, 2021), the Research Centre of Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean Cultures (CAEMC) in the spirit of time is dealing with the Mesopotamian god of pandemics and the healers that cured them.
My lecture; ""The Beginning: The Emergence of the Colophon in Mesopotamia and its Development in the World of Cuneiform"" in the framework of “Colophons in Middle Eastern Manuscripts Workshop,” Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, re-scheduled for 9-10 September, 2021 will make the scholars of the Middle East, ancient and modern acquainted with the emergence of the colophon tradition.
All these lectures will be made available for the public in peer-reviewed open-access publications.
N. N. May and Ilya Khait with “Colophons and Scholars Database” talk will introduce the project website and present the project results to the professional target audience July, 2021.
I organised in Leiden a research seminar “Colophons and Paratexts: Scholars and Politics” and invited the world’s leading experts in history of science, mythology and social history of Mesopotamia to share their knowledge with the audience of students, specialists, and wider public. Four actions of the this lecture series were carried on in 2019 and 2020 before the corona outbreak: lecture by Mathieu Ossendrijver (FU, Berlin) ""He Placed It in the House of His Lordship: Tablet Production in Seleucid Uruk"" Nov. 20, 2019; lecture by Andrew George (SOAS) ""Mythical Time in Mesopotamia"" Jan 28, 2020; lecture by Anne Gooddeeris (Gent Univ.) and myself ""The Sumerian Pride of Nippureans"" Feb 20, 2020; lecture by Wilemijn Waal (Leiden Univ. and NINO) ""The Distribution and Function of the Hittite Colophons in the Archives of the Hittite Capital Hattusa"" March 5, 2020.
The following four actions of “Colophons and Paratexts : Scholarship and Politics"" seminar will be rescheduled to the post-COVID period: lecture by Klaus Wagensonner (Yale) “Before Ahurbanipal: Mesopotamian Scholarship in the Early Periods;” lecture by Enrique Jiménez (Munich) “Schools and Scholars in Nippur during the First Millennium BCE”; workshop by Mary Frazer (Munich) “Using Vector Graphics Software for Copying Cuneiform Tablet;” workshop by Dr. Ilya Khait (Frankfurt Univ). “JTF and UqNU: A new approach to digital cuneiform editions.”"
Publicly accessible “Colophons and Scholars” website is a new product which provide services and reference materials to the scholarly community and the general public alike.
The exploitation of my results will have an impact on the attitude to cultural heritage in both Europe and the Middle East. The Colophons and Scholars project sheds light on the first millennium as a formative yet neglected period in the history of scholarship and science. It makes an important contribution in putting the history of European science in due perspective, as part of the global history of science, and thus help to restore the Near East to its rightful place in the development of modern European civilisation.
Potential users of my project results are appealing especially to historians of science, scholars of the Ancient Near East and of the Middle Easr, of the Old Testament and the Mediterranean, Semitologists, specialists in Antiquity Studies and related subjects and to general public interested in these subjects.
Presentation of the Colophons and Scholars project and website at NINO day
Project fellow N. N. May disseminating project results at the GeMANE International workshop
Project fellow N. N. May disseminating project results at the GeMANE International workshop