Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review

Beckman, Gary M., The babilili-Ritual from Hattusa (CTH 718) (Mesopotamian Civilizations, 19; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2014). Pp. xiii + 97. Hardback. US$42.50. ISBN 978-1-57506-280-8.

Gary Beckman's edition of this text is most welcome since it constitutes the first edition to gather together all the relevant manuscripts, duplicates, and fragments classified under Laroche's catalogue entry number 718.[1] Furthermore, Beckman notes that the extant manuscripts preserve 373 lines making this “one of the longest ritual compositions known from the Hittite capital” (p. 2). This edition follows a traditional approach to text editions providing all the philological data relevant for understanding the text as a whole and necessary for delving into any of its details.

The edition contains ten sections. After the ‘Acknowledgements’ section (p. ix) provides an interesting window into the challenges of undertaking a project like this one, Beckman lays out a very clear and helpful ‘Register of Texts’ in which he not only lists out all the tablet fragments, but also includes a table that collates the attested lines of every duplicate manuscript for Text 1. As there are 15 duplicate manuscripts for Text 1, this table will prove to be enormously helpful in keeping them all organized for future research. Following this ‘Register’ is an ‘Introduction’ (p. 1–6). Next comes the core of the book constituting the text of the ritual and philological commentary. ‘The Main Texts: Transliterations’ presents a score transliteration[2] of Texts 1 and 2 (CTH 718.1: p. 7–31; CTH 718.2: p. 32–4) followed by ‘The Main Texts: Translations’ (p. 35–41). Next are transliterations and translations of all the non-joined fragments (p. 42–62). ‘The Commentary’ contains selected notes on various philological issues in the main text and fragments (p. 63–72). The final chapter is a discussion on ‘The Incantations’ (p. 73–9). After these chapters are the ‘Bibliography’ (p. 80–84) and ‘Indexes’ (p. 85–97).

In the ‘Introduction’ Beckman briefly discusses several topics. His comments are brief, but informative. It must be noted that his discussion on genre presents a potential problem. He first distinguishes Hittite festivals (“labeled with the Sumerogram EZEN”) from rituals (“SISKUR or SÍSKUR,” p. 1). The former being periodic “ceremonies of the state cult” and the latter “responses to special crises affecting an individual or group” (p. 1). Interestingly, he states that CTH 718 “straddles the categories of festival and ritual” (italics original, p. 1). From the perspectives of literary genre classification as well as that of the study of religious practice, a hybrid type would provide fascinating comparative evidence to our knowledge. Beckman does not develop this topic much further than this, but simply argues that the text is a festival because “it is termed––or at least includes––a ‘festival’ (Text 1.A i 9)” (emphasis added, p. 1). He makes this argument based on a restoration of the Hurrian form “SISKURa[l-la-aš-ši(-)]” which he renders as “The Rite of Ladyship/Queenship.”[3] Aside from this argument being based on a restoration, which is perfectly acceptable here, what is remarkable about it is that the fully present logogram (and determinative) SISKUR is known to always refer to “ritual” or “offering” and never to “festival” as Beckman himself had just made clear. Therefore, we would like to see more evidence for SISKUR referring to festivals as support for Beckman's claim about the SISKURallašši.

The title Beckman gives this text, “The babilili-Ritual,” is due to its use of Akkadian for the various incantations which are introduced as follows: URUbá-a-bi-li-li ki-iš-ša-an me-ma-i “he speaks as follows in Akkadian.” Typical Hittite ritual texts will often begin with a description of a problem followed by a list of ingredients or elements to be used during the ritual as well as any other preparatory or ritual actions. After these things are gathered, prepared, and completed, an incantation by the ritual practitioner/officiant ensues. Ritual texts in the archive at Hattuša contain incantations in a variety of languages including Hittite, Luwian, Palaic, Hurrian, Hattic, and Akkadian where virtually all of the incantations are introduced by and concluded with Hittite, which is exactly how the present ritual is formulated.

Due to the use of Akkadian for the incantations, Beckman spends some time discussing the historical origin and transmission of the incantations (both in the ‘Introduction’ and in the final chapter ‘The Incantations’). He notes first that the quality of the Akkadian (e.g., “the consistent employment of the correct forms of verbs and pronouns of the second-person feminine singular in addresses to the goddess,” p. 5) and various dialectically revealing linguistic features show that the incantations were not composed by native Hittite speakers but that they were imported. These features include “a general indifference to the inherent voiced and voiceless value of a syllabic sign” and “a tendency to write, and probably pronounce, sameks with syllabograms indicating šin” (p. 5). He notes the best example of the latter is the writing of the verb mesû “to wash” as MI-I-šI (p. 5). He states that these two features indicate that the dialect used in the incantations “should be categorized as…‘West Peripheral Akkadian’” (p. 5). Further, he observes that these features and the quality of the Akkadian stand in contrast to the “dialect familiar from the treaties and diplomatic correspondence of the Hittite Empire” (p. 5).

As noted above, after the Introduction are the text, translation, and commentary of the ritual. After these sections, in the final chapter, entitled ‘The Incantations,’ Beckman makes a few other observations that are relevant for tracing the origin of the incantations. He notes first that while there are numerous texts containing magical incantations in first millennium Mesopotamia, there is precious little in the second and third millennia. The ones that have survived appear to be “one-off productions” rather than “standard addresses and orations” (p. 73). In spite of the dearth of available comparative evidence, Beckman observes, for example, that the epithet for Ištar as “Elamite Goddess” and other details in the text “could not have been contributed by a ritual author schooled only in traditional Hittite religious lore” (p. 73). A further correspondence can be seen in his ‘Group III’ passages (see next paragraph) to “a namburbi found at Küyünjik, a similar Sultantepe text, and one of the lišpur-litanies attested at both Küyünjik and Assur” (p. 74 and pp. 68–9). In all of these is “the idea that fish and fowl might carry off a sufferer's sins or afflictions” (p. 68).[4] Following Erica Rainer, Beckman assesses this evidence: “This is slight but very suggestive evidence for the existence already in the early second millennium of a native Akkadian tradition from which the bird and fish incantation of CTH 718 might have derived” (p. 74).

In this last chapter, Beckman draws closer attention to the contents of the incantations themselves. He highlights a few other details that indicate a northern Mesopotamian milieu (e.g., several of the labels for Ištar in addition to the above mentioned “Elamite Goddess,” p. 73). He then provides a summary of six main sub-types of incantations based on general subject matter: Group I: Invitation to Meal (including ritual actions to “wash, eat, and drink, and ultimately to be sated,” see p. 73–6); Group II: Worship and Praise (remarkable for an additional epithet for Ištar as “Queen of Heaven” as well as mentioning “subordinate goddesses who precede and follow IŠTAR” which is “unique to the Kizzuwatnaean religious system,” p. 74, 76–7); Group III: Request for Purification (“presents pleas for magical cleansing of the offerant” including the already mentioned fish and bird topos, p. 74, 7); Group IV: Request for Boon; Group V: Unintelligible; and Group VI: Fragmentary. He ends the summary with the three incantations written in Hittite.

In sum, in spite of the brevity of this book, Beckman's edition makes a lengthy and complex text accessible for the specialist and non-specialist alike and also provides an excellent entry point for further research on this text as well as on related matters via numerous suggestions for further reading on a variety of topics, whether cultural, religious, linguistic, or historical. While reading his discussions and arguments, one becomes aware, on the one hand, how little evidence there is to fully reconstruct the history of the development of the incantations while, on the other hand, one clearly sees how carefully and faithfully Beckman follows the evidence available to him and says no more than it allows.

Robert Marineau, University of Chicago

[1] Which is now kept up to date on the Konkordanz on the Hethitologie Portal Mainz:, as noted and reproduced by Beckman in his Register of Texts. See p. xi. reference

[2] A “score transliteration” delineates what each duplicate manuscript preserves for each line of the text. reference

[3] See Beckman's note on 1.A i 9 in ‘The Commentary’ on p. 64. The form is probably best analyzed as an adjectival form of allai “lady” meaning “ladyship/queenship” (normalized as all=a=šše), see Ilse Wegner, Hurritisch: Eine Einführung 2., überarbeitete Auflage (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2007), 246. reference

[4] See especially the text Beckman cites at length on p. 69 that was found in Nineveh and Assur. reference