Cuneiform Digital Library Notes
2014:003        «              »
A new “Letter to the Generals”*

Alexandra Kleinerman
Cornell University, Ithaca

MS 2041 (7.6×5.2×2.3) is a new recension of the so-called “Letter to the Generals.” The standard version of this letter was part of the Old Babylonian Sumerian literary curriculum, and is attested on nine manuscripts from Old Babylonian Nippur, one from Mari and one of unknown provenance. The “Letter to the Generals,” together with 17 other literary letters and four miscellaneous compositions, formed what modern scholars identify as the Sumerian Epistolary Miscellany (SEpM), and which had an established order, at least among the known Nippur schools (Kleinerman 2011: 21-2). I offer here a transliteration and translation along with a brief commentary of the new version of this letter. A hand copy will be published by K. Volk (forthcoming).

MS 2041: ...
 1.šagina-e-ne(To the) generals
 3.mdu-du nu-banda3-gu4(Thus) Dudu, the overseer of oxen
 5.gu2 i7buranunki‘The bank of the Euphrates
 6.<<i7>>tum-ma-al-še3towards Tumal
 7.u3 KA-ku5 mah-eand at the great flood control reservoir dug.
 9.a zi-daBut the flood waters
 10.1 1/2 kuš3 im-ma-zirose to 1 1/2 cubits.
 12.AN? x nu-ub-ta-e3-a(the sun?) does not come out
 13.[erin2(?) n]u-ni-gub-be2-e[the troops?] will not stand against it.
 3.šar2-gal GAN2-a mu-na-tum210,800 iku of land has already been carried away!
 4.ša3 1(bur3) GAN2 90 gur i3-gubOf 1 bur, only 90 gur (of grain?) remains.
 5.3(u) guru7 he-ni-dub-eMay you pile it up in 30 heaps!
 6.a la-ba-ab-de2-eDo not let the water pour out!’


Obv. 3: mdu-du, nu-banda3-gu4, is unattested in the Ur III corpus. In SEpM 11 the letter is from a šabra, a high ranking temple or household administrator.

Obv. 6: It is uncertain whether i7 is a scribal error based on line 5 (the interpretation followed here), or was intended to refer to the “Tumal canal” (i7 tum-ma-al), for which there are only limited archival references (e.g. SAT 3, 1845). The use of the geographic determinative, ki, is inconsistent in Ur III administrative texts, and so its absence does not pose a problem here.

Obv. 7: KA-ku5, in place of na?-ku5, is one of many scribal errors in this text.

Obv. 8: The verbal base appears to be a reduplicated form of the sign DUN written in a rather cursive fashion (see Mittermayer 2006: no. 438 dealing with similar sign forms). The verb dun, “to dig,” occurs several times in Sumerian literary compositions. In Pabilsag’s Journey to Nippur (ETCSL 1.7.8), for instance, the gods does digging work (nam-dun) in the meadows of Isin.

Obv. 9: The use of zi(d), “to be right, true,” is an orthographic variant for zi(g), “to rise,” (see the score in Kleinerman 2011: 261 with a-zi-ga in manuscripts N58, N85 and N94).

Obv. 12: One expects here the divine name dutu, but the second sign does not appear to be the sign UD.

Obv. 13: The restoration is based on the parallel line in SEpM 11: šar2-šar2 erin2 ugu-ba nu-ub-gub, “not even 7,200 troops will stand against it.”

Rev. 1: According to SEpM 11, line 16 should follow line 13. Thus, it is not possible at this time to restore line 14.

Rev. 2: Perhaps to be restored according to SEpM 11. However, in SEpM 11 this line follows our line 16.

Rev. 4: Lines 17 and 18 are not present in SEpM 11.

Rev. 5: Although it is tempting to see these as units of measurement, 1 guru7 is equivalent to 3,600 gur (Powell 1987-1990:497). It would be impossible to pile 90 gur of grain into 30 piles of 3,600 gur! For he(HI)- as a variant of he2- see Šulgi P Seg. C 37, Samsu-iluna B 22, and Samsu-iluna E 37.


Overall, MS 2041 presents a version of SEpM 11 with many mistakes and the addition of new lines. This is in contrast to the other eleven attested versions of the letter, which are remarkably consistent. In fact, the majority of SEpM tablets do not deviate, even those that come from outside Nippur. Nevertheless, the collection is a Nippur phenomenon and the order of the compositions attested at Nippur is not attested elsewhere (Kleinerman 2011: 21-2). Conversely, there are a number of Sumerian literary letters only preserved on tablets found outside Nippur (Kleinerman 2011: 8 fn. 41).

In light of this, the presence of alternate versions of Nippur texts should not come as a surprise. Indeed, the existence of variant recensions fits well with our current understanding of the advanced Sumerian literary curriculum in Old Babylonian schools. Although by the OB period there was certainly a well established corpora of Sumerian teaching texts, individual teachers chose which to teach and the order of study. This is clear not only across southern Babylonia but within Nippur as well. In the case of MS 2041, however, it is unclear whether the teacher taught this divergent recension or the student simply improvised.


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