The British Museum Nuzi Tablets

By Maidman, M. P. | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, April-June 2004 | Go to article overview

The British Museum Nuzi Tablets


Maidman, M. P., The Journal of the American Oriental Society


The very first Nuzi text to be published appeared 108 years ago. (1) That tablet had been acquired by the British Museum. By the time the volume under review appeared, about 160 British Museum Nuzi tablets had been published. (2) Gerfrid Muller's Londoner Nuzi-Texte (hereafter LNT) more than doubles that number. For this achievement and for the industry it represents, (3) we must be thankful to the author. Some thirty-eight additional British Museum texts now remain to be published.

LNT consists of an introduction, catalogue, copies, translations, and notes to 163 texts, assorted indices, and hand copies of the texts. Among the plates, and following the hand copies, there are also drawings of seal impressions. These should make the text publications and editions more useful still.

With such labor expended and broad coverage achieved, one would expect that LNT would quickly become an indispensable tool in the study of the important archives derived from illicit digs prior to 1925. (4) Unfortunately, it must be reported that LNT is a severely defective work and that Muller's copies and transliterations are frequently unreliable, sometimes painfully so.

The general level of the introduction and notes is also shallow and thus unhelpful. Comments are often jejune and betray less than adequate mastery of the literature. However, I shall not dwell on or specify those weaknesses (the heart of the book could, in theory, still pass muster despite those weaknesses). Rather, I shall focus on failures in the copies and transliterations; these are far more serious flaws. These failures are ubiquitous and particularly harmful to the scholar who wishes to employ this material for the reconstruction of ancient history or for other Assyriological aims. Though, ideally, the work should be redone and the results republished, I cannot see this happening within the foreseeable future. Therefore, the bulk of this review consists of corrections of major errors, this in order to render LNT at least minimally reliable. In this way, LNT might still achieve utility.

Corrections are based on my collations of the tablets. Actually, I have collated all the relevant material twice, once before the appearance of Muller's work and once with this volume in hand.

Apart from specific errors, enumerated below, there are general defects in the copies and transliterations which I usually do not note in detail. Sign fragments are frequently--and mistakenly--transliterated as if the signs were completely preserved. Conversely, fully-preserved signs are sometimes rendered as if they were partially broken. In the hand copies, anomalous sign forms are "normalized" as typical forms, yielding inaccurate "copies." (5) Often, cracked, damaged, or otherwise imperfect tablets are "copied" in an idealized form, failing to reflect idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of the object. (6)

There are occasional errors of interpretation which not even a novice to the Nuzi texts should make. Thus, in 22:3, Muller (hereafter, M) interprets the personal name Se-en-na-BE as Se-en-na-til, although this common name is correctly rendered elsewhere in the literature as "Sennape"; the final BE alternates with BI. Other transliterations also betray unfamiliarity with Nuzi scribal practice. (7) This is also troubling, given M's occasional unexplained restorations of lines. (8)

Less serious, but annoying, ends of lines running over from the obverse onto the reverse at times are not copied as ends of the obverse, but upside down as part of the reverse. (9)

Hundreds of minor errors or debatable interpretations have been noticed but not pointed out in this review. These are relatively harmless and probably do not greatly affect primary or secondary interpretation of texts. (10) However, when considered cumulatively, these defects undermine confidence in the text publication as a whole. Having stated the categories of error sometimes, but not generally, noted below, what kinds of mistakes are enumerated? …

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