Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 15 (2015) - Review

Lenzi, Alan, Reading Akkadian Prayers & Hymns: An Introduction (Ancient Near East Monographs, 3; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011). Pp. 546. Paperback. €54.89. ISBN 1-589-83595-6.

The volume under review is a handbook for teaching and learning Akkadian. It is directed not only toward students and teachers of the ancient Near East, but also toward anyone interested in this topic. It is not meant to provide a complete exposition of the characteristics of prayers and hymns, but it will certainly help students to appreciate these literary masterpieces.

Lenzi is the main author, though other scholars have contributed: Abusch for “God of the Night 1” and Nergal 2; Cooley for “To the Gods of the Night,” Ea, Šamaš, and Asallui 1; Frechette for the introductory šuilla-discussions and Nisaba 1; Greenwood for Anu 1 and Marduk 2; Halton for “Eršaḫunga to any God” and Girra 2; Smith for Nusku 12, Šamaš 1, Šamaš 25, Šamaš 73 and, moreover, for the transformation of Unicode to cuneiform; Stackert for “Incantation-Prayer to the Cultic Agent Salt”; Zernecke for the introductory comparative discussions, Ištar 2, “The Great Ištar Prayer,” and Ištar 24.

As for the structure, the book is comprised of two parts. The first part explains the conceptual framework of the anthologized texts; the second part aims to facilitate their linguistic comprehension.

The first part (pp. 1–68) contains four thematic essays which treat Akkadian prayers and hymns from several points of view. They work well as a compendium: the main issues are covered and the reader is referred to fuller treatments via the footnotes, where bibliographical references are updated and helpful.

The first essay addresses general interpretative parameters for defining and understanding prayer and praise within the human activities we regard as “religious.” Though the cross-culturally oriented discussion may at times seem far from Akkadian prayers and hymns, it nonetheless offers interpretative tools which are applicable to the texts anthologized.

The second essay is an overview of Akkadian prayers and hymns. It defines “prayer” and “praise” within the context of ancient Mesopotamia, discussing differences between ancient and modern conceptions.

The third essay surveys the most significant typologies of Akkadian texts which scholars have generally categorized as “prayers” in accordance with scribal labels and rubrics (ikribu, tamītu, etc.) or formal features (such as structure and vocabulary).

The fourth essay is an inquiry into the role of Akkadian prayers in biblical scholarship. It presents a critical assessment of several research approaches from the late-nineteenth century to the present, emphasizing the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, and opening up new routes for comparative research.

The second part (pp. 69–501) collects 29 texts, a number which is small by the standards of the genre, but understandable in terms of Lenzi's pedagogical purposes. Each text is presented as follows: it begins with a description of the characteristics of the deity to whom the prayer/hymn is addressed, an outline of the ritual and literary elements of the prayer, and a bibliography listing key references. There follows, on a line-by-line basis, a transliteration of the text, its normalization, as well as philological and grammatical annotations. Finally, the reader is provided with the translation, a computer-generated cuneiform text (Old Babylonian or Neo-Assyrian), as well as suggestions for comparison with biblical literature.

It is most welcome that philological and grammatical annotations appear on the same page as the ancient text. This speeds up the learning process, and students can enjoy reading a sizeable number of texts quickly and easily. At present, there is no comparable tool available for Akkadian.

The selection of texts is motivated by three concerns. First, the selection seeks to reflect the variety of Akkadian prayers and the range of addressees. Second, it aims to use up-to-date editions (accordingly, older editions are used only infrequently).[1] Finally, the selection is also based on a preference for easier varieties of Akkadian (Old and Standard Babylonian rather than Assyrian or peripheral dialects).

Concerning the prayers, a good selection is provided: one Dingiršadibba; one Eršaḫunga; one Ikribu; seven Incantation-Prayers; one Letter-Prayer; two Namburbis; the Prayer to the Gods of the Night; one Royal Prayer; 11 Šuillas; one Tamitu. There are only two hymns (to Ištar and to Marduk; the latter corresponds to Ludlul I, 1–40), because the corpus is small and fragmentary, but Lenzi points out that most prayers have hymnic elements.

The linguistic-grammatical commentary gives the Akkadian equivalents of logograms, translates the first occurrence of each word (with brief definition), analyzes all difficult verbal forms, and offers help with difficult forms or complex constructions. Occasionally, there are slips. For example, in the Ludlul Hymn to Marduk: lines 2 and 4, we should probably read urrī (adverbial accusative, plural) rather than urri; line 8, tayyārat rather than târat; line 15, ikkelemmu-ma (with unexpected final—purely orthographic?—vowel, for earlier ikkelemme-ma; parallel to ippallas-ma in line 16) rather than ikkelemmû-ma; line 18, ālittuš rather than alittuš; line 26, most likely ušdapparū (plural, reflecting the two singular subjects, like inessû in line 15) rather than ušdapparu; line 28, musallim ili u ištari (genitive construct) rather than musallim ilu u ištaru; line 33, stative of *rēmēnīu, with the nisbe morpheme rather than rēmēnî.

In conclusion, this book is a useful tool for teaching and self-study, and will doubtless reach its goal of creating interest in Akkadian prayers and hymns among wide audiences. The philological glitches can be ironed out in a second edition. Let us hope that more such pedagogical works will appear for further Akkadian genres.

Michela Piccin, Sapienza University of Rome

[1] E.g., Erich Ebeling, Die akkadische Gebetsserie “Handerhebung” (Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, Institut für Orientforschung, 20; Berlin: Akademie, 1953). reference