dcclt Digital Corpus of Cuneiform Lexical Texts
University of California, Berkeley
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OB Nippur Lu=ša1

Jon Taylor
6 October 2005


OB Nippur Lu is a list of words almost 1000 lines long. Most of the items in the list belong to the semantic field of "Man." This list is attested in more than 150 sources, the majority of which come from Nippur although versions of this composition are known from other major sites, including Ur, Isin, Larsa, Uruk and Kish. The tablets bear the hallmarks of use early in the curriculum. For example, several sources are written from left to right on the reverse (the opposite direction to normal), and one tablet (CBS 15217 (MSL 12, 032 D3)) even turns along the vertical axis, like the pages of a modern book, rather than along the horizontal axis as was normal in ancient Mesopotamia.

History of the composition

The general idea of compiling lists of professional designations was not a new one in Mesopotamia. The list known as Archaic Lu A is found among the earliest examples of writing there, and is the most commonly copied list in the archaic lexical corpus; other lists of professions were composed during the course of the third millennium. OB Nippur Lu is not directly related to any of these earlier compositions, however. Very few terms are found in both this list and any of the earlier lists. When terms are shared between OB Nippur Lu and an earlier list, they typically appear in a different order in one list when compared to the other.

OB Nippur Lu is directly related to most of the later lists of professions, however. The list continued to be written long after the OB period. Versions are known from Nuzi, from Hattusa in Anatolia, and from Emar and Ugarit in Syria. Of course, the famous lu2 = sha list of professions as known from the library of Assurbanipal in Nineveh ultimately derives from OB Nippur Lu. It is on account of this relationship that OB Nippur Lu received the 'proto' element of its traditional name.

Title of the composition

OB Nippur Lu has commonly been referred to in Assyriology as "Proto-Lu." The 'proto' element of this label is misleading. It would make more sense to refer to this list as OB Lu but that label has traditionally been attached to another list; that list is referred to here as OB Lu2-azlag2. It is important to distinguish between OB Nippur Lu and the contemporary but entirely separate list, OB Lu2-azlag2. The latter is a shorter list containing exclusively terms related to "Man." While OB Nippur Lu contains professions such as "baker" or "smith," OB Lu2-azlag2 contains terms for specific activities, or referring to psychological states or medical conditions.

OB Nippur Lu was known in antiquity as lu2 = shu (or lu2 = sha). We know this from references to it in contemporary literary texts. On several occasions it is found in descriptions of a pupil's progress through the curriculum; for example:

mu didli {d}inanna-tesz2-ta en-na nij2-zi-jal2-edin-na zag lu2-szu-ka-sze3 i3-sar

"I have written all the lines from (the list of personal names) {d}inanna-tesh2 to the 'living things of the steppe' up to lu2 = shu." Edubba D 13-142

Mastery of OB Nippur Lu was clearly a landmark in a scribe's school career!

Monolingual and bilingual versions

Almost all sources of OB Nippur Lu are monolingual (Sumerian) in written form. Only one bilingual source is known. However, there is evidence to indicate that the unwritten Akkadian equivalents of the terms formed an integral part of the composition. Note, for example, that in antiquity this monolingual composition was referred to as though it were bilingual. After the OB period, while some monolingual versions are known, bilingual versions were the norm.

Contents of the composition

OB Nippur Lu differs from the thematic lists comprising OB Ur5-ra in that its contents are not restricted to terms with reference to a single theme, in this case "Man." For although OB Nippur Lu is commonly referred to as a "professions" list, less than half the entries are professions; and at least one third have no human reference at all. In addition to long sequences of entries describing family relationships (such as "mother" in lines 319ff, "spouse" in lines 753ff) and those suffering from diseases (lines 808ff), for example, there are lengthy sections of text containing musical (lines 587ff) or agricultural (lines 449ff) terms, among other things.

OB Nippur Lu makes significant use of the so-called "acrographic" principle, whereby entries are listed together when the written form of each contains a particular sign in common with the others, especially when this is the first sign in those writings. For example, the word ugula "overseer" (line 145) is written with the PA-sign PA sign. This sign is also used to write words with other meanings, not referring to types of person, such as jarza2 "royal prescriptions" (written PA.LUGAL PA.LUGAL sign line 170) and jarza "divine prescriptions" (written PA.AN PA.AN sign line 171), and the verb szab "to cut" (written PA.IB PA.IB sign lines 179ff). And when the sign(s) used to write a particular word could also be read as another word, that ambiguity was seized upon. For example, the word engar "cultivator" (line 445) is written with the APIN-sign. That same sign can also be read as absin3 "furrow." In OB Nippur Lu the section listing types of "cultivator" is followed by one listing types of "furrow" (lines 451ff). The image below (taken from CBS 02241+ (MSL 12, 028 A)) illustrates these lines, from line 445 to line 454.


Another significant difference between OB Nippur Lu and OB Ur5-ra is noticeable. While the latter typically contains long sequences of entries including a particular sign (often as a determinative, indicating what type of animal a word represented or what material an object was made from), such as MUŠEN ("bird") or GIŠ ("wood"), no one sign or set of signs runs through OB Nippur Lu. The relevant sign, LU2 ("Man"), occurs only very rarely in the list. In fact, less than one percent of OB Nippur Lu's entries contain the sign LU2. Thus the other common label for lists like this one — "Lu-list" — is also somewhat misleading.

Structure of the composition

OB Nippur Lu is constructed using the same principles as employed for the other OB lists: semantic, acrographic, phonological and various combinations of these. There is no apparent overall structure to the list, although many terms which could be seen to have reference to the king and his court occur near the start of the list, and another group of terms referring to temple personnel is found around the middle of the list.

Many groupings of entries are found in the list. For example, the various scribes (dub-sar; lines 47ff) are listed together, as are the shepherds (sipad; lines 463ff) etc. Other types of groupings are found, such as terms for friends and colleagues (lines 776ff) or those associated with 'money' (lines 693ff).

Numerous specifically female terms are found. Sometimes a profession is followed with the specifically female equivalent, following the standard principal of listing the simple entry before modifications of it (here the female term is formed by prefixing the MUNUS-sign). For example:

317 kisal-luh "courtyard cleaner"
318 MUNUS kisal-luh "female courtyard cleaner"

In addition, a group of female entries is found near the end of the list (lines 704a ff; note that the content of this group of terms varies widely between sources). However, the female entries are not systematically treated in this list. They are neither all entered individually after the male equivalent nor gathered together into one place. It is also not the case that the male equivalent will always be listed before the female; the "old woman" (um-ma; line 309) occurs before the "old man" (ab-ba; line 403).

The distribution of terms for "overseer" (ugula) follows similar principles to that found with female entries. Sometimes the overseer will be listed after those subordinate to him — again following the principal of listing the simple entry before modifications of it. For example:

95 muhaldim "cook"
96 muhaldim-gal "head cook"
97 ugula-muhaldim "overseer of cooks"

In addition, a section listing terms for types of overseer appears separately (lines 149ff). Again, there is no overall systematic treatment.

One source bears witness to a division of the composition into two more-or-less equal parts, referred to as "tablets"; this arrangement is known also from the Middle Babylonian peripheral versions. By the first millennium, two different versions of the composition are found: the Short recension and the Standard/Long recension. The former retains the same division into two tablets. The latter recension was divided into four (or possibly five) tablets3.

Combinations with Izi

As noted above, OB Nippur Lu often employed the acrographic principle, and partly on account of this included many terms not related to the semantic field of "Man." Catch-line (where the scribe notes which composition comes next) and other evidence shows us that at least sometimes OB Nippur Lu took its place in the scribal curriculum next to another list, known as OB Izi. This list was governed primarily by the acrographic principle, although making extensive use of thematic considerations. It is, then, perhaps little surprise that these two lists were sometimes combined together into a single composition.

Two sources represent combinations of OB Nippur Lu and OB Izi. Each contains a sequence of entries from Lu followed by another sequence of entries from Izi. Similar combinations are known after the Old Babylonian period; a version is known from Emar, and the Short recension of lu2 = sha constitutes another example. More complex types of combination are also known, where the Lu entries may follow or be integrated into the Izi entries. The later lists Lanu and Igituh are further examples of such combinations.


1 This list was first published in MSL 12, pp. 25-73, as "Old Babylonian Proto-Lu." An updated edition, including many sources not available to MSL 12, will appear soon in a forthcoming book by Jon Taylor. Extensive discussion of the list will also be found there.

2 See Miguel Civil, "Sur les 'livres d'écolier' à l'époque paléo-babylonienne," in Miscellanea Babylonica. Mélanges offerts à Maurice Birot, edited by J-M. Durand and J-R. Kupper (Paris 1985) pp. 67-78.

3 See, for the moment, MSL 12, pp. 87-89. An updated discussion will be found in the aforementioned book by Taylor.

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