The scholarly texts of ancient Mesopotamia in the first millennium BCE, specifically commentaries written in Akkadian on cuneiform tablets, were the work of priests who also performed cultic activities in the temple. The proposed project seeks to demonstrate how these scholarly and cultic activities were interrelated and how they shaped the self-identity of the priestly-scholarly community that was in charge of both. The project thus aims to bridge the gap between the study of intellectual history and the study of priesthood in ancient Mesopotamia, which are treated as two separate fields in Assyriology.
The project innovatively treats Mesopotamian scholarship and Mesopotamian priesthood as complementary aspects of one phenomenon: “scholasticism.” This concept, which originally referred to the scholarly activities of Catholic priests in the Middle Ages, has recently been applied to the study of non-European communities of priestly scholars with great success. Using the scholastic model to study the priestly-scholarly community of ancient Mesopotamia will reveal the intricate connections between the ritual and textual activities of this community and illuminate the holistic and systematic worldview of its members.
Combining traditional philology and the comparative approach, the project investigates how, like other scholastic communities, the scholar-priests of ancient Mesopotamia “internalized” the liturgical texts they studied and performed, how they attributed authority to these texts, and how their study of the liturgical corpus generated new exegetical texts. Key points of comparison between the scholar-priests of ancient Mesopotamia and various ancient and contemporary scholastic communities include their interest in language, textual authority, commentaries, and rituals. By applying the comparative method to the study of cuneiform tablets, the project aims to reconstruct the social, religious, and intellectual reality in which they were written.