Akkadian Prayers in Ancient Mesopotamia

Posted in: Ancient Near East Today, ASOR
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01002 By: Alan Lenzi Prayer is ubiquitous in human societies, including ancient Mesopotamia, but it often appears alien or distant to our modern sensibilities. A closer look shows that this seemingly arcane topic tells us much about Mesopotamian hopes, fears, rituals, and history, sometimes in deeply human ways. How do we identify Akkadian prayers? The Mesopotamians never defined “prayer,” though they had a number of words that we translate with the term (e.g., Akkadian supû, teslītu, and ikribu). Votive statues showing the attitude of prayer, found at Tell Asmar, Iraq, ca. 2900-2500 BCE. Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. Although the scribes sometimes labeled their texts with superscripts and rubrics, these usually designated a text’s function (e.g., for impotence) rather than genre. Thus, when Assyriologists sort through the thousands of Akkadian texts that have come down to us from ancient Mesopotamia, they must decide for themselves what counts as a prayer and what does not. And to do this, they have to use a contemporary definition of “prayer,” which ideally is altered in conversation with the Mesopotamian data. Tailoring their definition in light of the ancient data keeps scholars from simply projecting their own ideas onto the texts and thereby misunderstanding the ancient materials. A preliminary definition of prayer (as found in texts) might run something like this: when a text

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