Reading and writing in Babylon /

Main Author: Charpin, Dominique.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2010.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

This introduction to the birth of cuneiform writing in the Babylonian empire is an engaging primer on the lexicon of linguistics. Cuneiform writing, with its three dimensional requirement of light and shade, included 600 characters, all possessing either a syllabic (phonetic) or logographic value that showed both sound and meaning. It's all about communication: clay tablets were put in clay envelopes; to learn characters, students traced them; and scholars copied manuscripts to preserve them. Tablets of contracts, laws, and even literary works were archived and collected in libraries. Thus we have the Epic of Gilgamesh from the second millennium, telling us the story of the deluge. By the first millennium, it wasn't only scribes who could read and write but also administrators, generals, and even their wives. The fires of war baked the clay tablets, safeguarding them for future research (there is an inventory of 500,000 texts). Charpin has written a scholarly work of incredible breadth; read with reference books at the ready to discover an ancient world not so different from our own. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review by Library Journal Review

Charpin (Mesopotamian history, Sorbonne, Paris) takes up a subject that's been debated by Assyriologists for many years: Did scribes alone have the knowledge to read and write cuneiform, the earliest writing, invented by the Sumerians around 3200 B.C.E.? Charpin focuses on what may be called the "classical" period of Mesopotamian civilization, the period between the Babylonian rulers Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.E.) to Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 B.C.E.). Charpin's work at Ur some 20 years ago convinced him that what was thought to be a school was in fact a residence for clergy who home trained their children and apprentices to read and write cuneiform. His research has convinced him that literacy was not limited to professional scribes. The depth and range of material Charpin includes is indeed impressive. In sections that will be of particular interest to lay readers and students, Charpin goes into detail about reading a cuneiform tablet and the apprenticeship of a scribe. He informs the reader that the oral, spoken word-Sumerian or Akkadian-was most important in Mesopotamian society, and it was the survival of the written over the spoken word that produced the expansion of writing. VERDICT Required reading for scholars in the field and their students.-Joan W. Gartland, Macomb Community Coll. Libs., Warren, MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.