Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Examining the Emar Scholars

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Examining the Emar Scholars

Article excerpt

Since the publication of tablets from the excavations at ancient Emar (modern Meskeneh) by Daniel Arnaud in 1985-1987, their impact has grown gradually, avoiding the early phase of overreaching that can accompany flashier finds. Located on the great bend of the Euphrates River in northwestern Syria and roughly contemporary with the archives from Ugarit, the Emar texts fill gaps and offer novelties in ways that are still beginning to be appreciated. In spite of the considerable attention they have attracted, relatively few book-length studies have been devoted solely to the tablets from Emar.

Two recent volumes take up major investigative tasks related to these materials, each one offering a systematic framework for understanding the written assemblage as a whole from distinct yet complementary vantages. In the earlier work Cohen introduces us to all the named scribes associated with Late Bronze Emar, both from the excavated tablets and from the 300-400 tablets circulating after sale on the antiquities market. In contrast to this inclusive approach, Rutz gives priority to the largest single find with excavated context, the residential workplace of "the diviner of the gods."

Both volumes contribute substantially to the study of Emar and to the integration of its texts into larger questions about cuneiform writing in the ancient Near East. Each book substantially advances our grasp of the primary patterns and frameworks for writing at Emar and thus improves our ability to address wider questions of history, society, and culture. At the same time, both grapple with the published evidence as we have it, without collation of tablets now out of reach in Syria and with only preliminary reports of the excavations. Along with the clear progress, reading the two books will raise questions, a few of which I address here. With such material and interpretive challenges in hand, Emar calls for renewed attention, on its own terms and as a peculiar new entrant in the aggregation of cuneiform-producing sites.

Both of these volumes began as dissertations, revised over similar intervals: Cohen, Harvard 2003; Rutz, Pennsylvania 2008. In the revised form, Rutz had access to the finished book by Cohen, though it is occasionally evident that his dissertation did not. (1) In one crucial respect Rutz builds on the insight of Cohen, who first recognized that the scholarly texts of the diviner's archive display a diversity of script that suggests different training. This observation has far-reaching implications and is taken up by Rutz in his classification of all the tablets from the diviner's workplace.

My reference to the phenomenon of distinct script families at Emar requires a comment on my own choice of terminology. Upon first publication of the tablets by Daniel Arnaud, the mass of legal documents was separated into two groups labeled "Syrian" and "Syro-Hittite."* 2 Over time, it has been recognized that the immediate physical contrast between these groups is accompanied by corresponding differences in legal formulation, orthography and script, framework of authority and pattern of sealing, and even the communities who participate in the transactions. (3) As part of a long-term research project, my colleague Sophie Demare-Lafont and I have concluded that both these labels and the very duality they invoke are inadequate to the textual realities, and we have proposed a new terminology for which we will continue to advocate. (4)

It is indeed useful to identify two groups, but they do not represent two corresponding types. As a mode of document composition, the old-fashioned "Syrian" group truly constitutes a type or a style, shared by other Late Bronze Age sites in the Middle Euphrates valley: Ekalte (Tell Munbaqa) and Azu (Tell Hadidi). We identify such documents as in Conventional Format. These must be isolated from all the remaining legal texts, which are highly diverse, including a notable set drawn up for the Carchemish court and stamped deeply on the back with the royal seal. …

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