subject of the present paper is a new interpretation of RBC 2000
(originally published by Hallo in 1985), which suggests that it may
be a prayer for a dead person pleading to be admitted to the netherworld.
2000 is written in a beautiful hand that points to the latter part
of the third millennium. Paleography and orthography (in particular the
use of the verbal infix –ši- rather than -še3-)
may date the tablet to around the time of Gudea. It should be noted, however,
that the lack of comparable texts makes any more precise dating rather
hazardous, so that an Ur III date is certainly not excluded. As Hallo
pointed out, there is reason to believe that the text comes from the
Lagaš area, in particular because of the appearance of the goddess Nanše
final line. The lenticular format of the tablet is rather unusual and
puzzling by itself, and we will come back to this issue later. The following edition is based upon a reading of
McCormick’s copy as published in Hallo’s original edition. Collation from photographs, generously provided by Ulla Kasten,
Babylonian Collection, Yale Universtity Library, revealed the great reliability of that drawing.
§3. Edition and Translation
|e2-gal tir||May the palace|
|gu2-ur5mušen se12-a a sig ha-mu-ši-ib2-gar||provide
clear water to me in the forest where gur birds live.|
|ša3-bi gir4 mah izi ba-ra-a||Inside, where a great
oven is lighted,|
|a sig ha-ma-ab-su3||may it sprinkle clear water for me.|
|ig-bi ra-gaba haharran(KASKAL) <si>-sa2-a-ga2
||May its door, which is a courier, stand open when I finish |
| ha-gub|| my journey.|
|ze2-hi-bi lu2-kin-gi4-a-kam||May its bolt, which is a messenger,|
|šu ha-mu-ši-nigin||turn around for me.|
|giš-bala-bi lam a2 sa6-ga-mu ha-am3||May its crossbar
be the Lama at my favorable side|
|za3 zi-da-ga2 ha-kar2-kar2-ka||that shines brightly on my
|giš-ka2-ba gu2-bi ha-mu-da-zi||May its gate be proud because
|dinanna igi-du-mu he2-am3||May Inanna be my vanguard.|
|dingir-mu a2-dah-mu ha-am3||May my god be my helper,|
|egir-ga2 ha-gen||may he go behind me.|
|lu2-i3!-du-ga2 gu2-e ki ha-la2||May my gatekeeper bow down,|
|ga2 gu2-mu an-še3 ha-zi||so that I might raise my
neck on high!|
|eš3 den-ki dasar-re abzu-na||In the shrine of Enki, Asari in his
|nam-mu-da-bur2-e||will not be able to loose (this spell),|
|da-mu dnanše al-me-a||since Nanše is at my side.|
Passages discussed by Hallo are not repeated here.
§4. to line 2: The word gu2-ur5mušen
is unorthographic for buru4(NU11.BUR)mušen.
The reading buru4 is attested only in first millennium
lexical texts; an Ur III text from Umma (MVN 21,
an Old Babylonian lexical text indicate that the reading
was /gur(u)/. The
identity of this bird is a matter of debate. For Ur III and later the
meaning “crow” seems
reasonably assured. It has been argued, however, that in Ebla buru4mušen
means “raptor” or “vulture,” and
there are indications that this meaning was known in Babylonia, too.
In the late lexical tradition,
buru4-gimušen corresponds to nā’iru (“roaring
bird” Ur5-ra 18; MSL 8/2, 151: 339), suggesting a bird
of prey (this same translation is used for te8mušen-gu-lamušen in
Ur5-ra 18; MSL 8/2, 129: 193). The most telling third millennium reference is
UruKAgina 4 v 15-21 = 5 v 12-18
(see FAOS 5/1, 294-295) which refers
to “wings of a buru4-gi-bird” to be delivered
as tax by temple administrators (sanga). Here the translation “crow” is
indeed very unlikely. Finally, in the Old Babylonian commentary text
rev. i 12' (Sjöberg 1993) the word /numma/ is written with two BURU4
signs on top of each other: nu-um-ma = NU11.BUR/NU11.BURmušen
= zību (“vulture”). This entry on the one hand reflects
the well-known equivalence nu-um-mamušen = zību,
while on the other hand preserving the memory of an older meaning of
Since the exact date of RBC 2000 remains uncertain, both possibilities
(“crow,” or “raptor”) remain open.
The expression a sig means “clear water,” in opposition to a lu3-a “muddy
water;” see PSD A/1, 164.
The verbal form ha-mu-ši-ib2-gar implies an inanimate
agent, presumably “the
palace.” The prefix –ši- is understood here to have
a first person referent (“to me;” see also line 7). The interpretation
of the ha-/he2- forms in this text follows Civil forthcoming, who
defines this prefix as a subjunctive-optative with deontic and epistemic functions.
§5. to line 5: The reading of the signs basically follows Hallo,
who discusses the singular writing haharran(KASKAL). The
expression ig — gub (“to set a door open”) is constructed
here with a locative just as in ETCSL: Gilgameš and Akka 87: gišig-abul-la-ka
sila-ba bi2-in-gub “he put the door of the main gate in its street.”
6. to lines 6-8: The technical terminology for parts of the door (ze2-hi-bi
= sahab2 and giš-bala) is rather confusing here. In
ETCSL: Hymn to Nungal 23, sahab2 is compared to a snake that slithers
into a hole, which argues for the meaning “bolt.” The expression šu — nigin
(“to circle,” “to make a round trip”) implies
a movement that comes back to its beginning. In this sense it is understandable
for a messenger who comes back to his place of origin, but how this image
applies to the bolt remains unclear to me.
7. to line 10: “May the neck of its gate rise with me.” In
my translation above, “because of me” renders the prefix –da-.
§ 8. to line 14: The text has lu2-KAK-du. I assume
that the intention is lu2-i3-du, for lu2-i3-du8,
9. to lines 16-17: For this formula see Schramm 2001, 13-18.
10. In his edition Hallo suggested that this prayer was meant for someone’s
release from “the big house,” which, according to Hallo,
may be a colloquial word for prison. I would like to consider another
option: the “palace” in this text may be “palace Ganzer,” the
entrance to the netherworld. In that case, the request to open the
doors is a request to be let in, rather than to be released. Several
of the text argue for such an interpretation.
11. In ETCSL: Inanna’s Descent her arrival at the netherworld is described
as follows (73-75):
dinanna e2-gal ganzer-še3 um-ma-te
gišig kur-ra-ka šu hul ba-an-us2
abul kur-ra-ka gu3 hul ba-an-de2
When Inanna arrived at the palace Ganzer,
she pushed the door of the netherworld in anger,
she shouted at the great gate of the netherworld in anger.
12. In the same composition Ereškigal instructs the doorkeeper
how to let Inanna in (119-120):
abul kur-ra imin-bi gišsi-gar-bi he2-ib-us2
e2-gal ganzer dili-bi gišig-bi šu
At each of the seven main gates of the netherworld the bolt should
the doors of the palace Ganzer should be pushed open one by one.
13. “Palace Ganzer” is the entry to the netherworld and therefore
closely associated with gates and doors – as in our text. The same association
is found in ETCSL: Gilgameš, Enkidu and the Netherworld 166, where we find Gilgameš crying
at the “gate of Ganzer, in front of the netherworld” (abul ganzer
igi kur-ra-ka). The name of the palace is identical to a word for flame (ga-an-ze(2)-er
= nablum). Although the two words are kept apart in spelling, they are clearly
identical in origin, reflecting the notion that the dead have to cross a fire
in order to reach the netherworld. As far as I know this idea is nowhere explicitly
formulated, except in the present text which speaks about a “great oven
in which a fire is lighted.” It should be emphasized that the evidence
does not allow an image of the netherworld as “hell.” The fire (or
the oven) is something that one has to cross or go through, it is one more way
to express the difficulty of accessing the realm of the dead, similar to a long
journey, to crossing a river or to passing through seven gates. The oven and
the forest (line 1) are images for the inhospitable terrain that the dead person
has to cross. The scorching heat relates to the supplicant’s desire for
water and to his or her request for being admitted to the “palace.” The
journey itself is mentioned in line 5: “may the door, which is a rider,
stand open when I finish my journey.”
14. The gu2-ur5mušen in line 2 of our text may call to attention the association
between birds and spirits of the dead. All texts where this theme occurs, however,
are first millennium in date; no such association is known from earlier sources.
If gu2-ur5mušen means “crow” the image invoked may be that of a body
being picked at by a crow. If the meaning “raptor,” or “vulture” is
applicable here, the image becomes more poignant.
15. The expression a sig or a si-ga (Old Babylonian), “clear water” is
often used for libation water. At several places it indicates the water for the
dead in the netherworld, as in the final lines of ETCSL: Nintinugga’s Dog:
u4 ti-la-ga2 igi hu-mu-un-du8
u4 ba-ug7-en kur-ra a si-ga hu-mu-un-na8-na8
May (Nintinugga) look after me while I live
and when I die may she provide clear water in the netherworld.
16. In lines 8-13 the deceased, while entering the netherworld, asks for
from all sides: the “crossbar (?)” on the side, Inanna in front,
and his family god to the rear. This is followed by a pair of expressions that
uses the opposition down – up: “May my gatekeeper bow down, so that
I might raise my neck on high!” The implication seems to be that there
is a doorkeeper who is less than welcoming – again a reference to the difficulty
of being admitted. In this context, Inanna’s position at the vanguard is
more than appropriate: she had experience in forcing her way into the netherworld.
The appearance of Inanna in this context strongly suggests a conscious reference
to the theme of Inanna’s visit to the realm of the dead.
17. Finally, one may speculate about the significance of the physical format
of RBC 2000. Lenticular tablets were used for specific administrative purposes
in the Ur III period and for school exercises in OB, but neither of these uses
is relevant here. The round format was called im-šu “hand
tablet,” since it is easily held in the hand. It may be, then, that this
tablet was given to the deceased person in the grave to be held by hand, to be
consulted and recited on his or her journey to the netherworld.
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