Scribal Hermeneutics and the Twelve Gates of Ludlul bēl nēmeqi

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Alan Lenzi



In the final tablet of Ludlul bēl nēmeqi lines 42–53 Šubši-mešrê-Šakkan passes through twelve gates in or near the precincts of Marduk’s Esagila in Babylon. As the protagonist passes through these twelve gates he is symbolically rehabilitated and reintegrated into society, marking the end of his trials and the beginning of his Marduk-renewed life. One gate is named in each of the twelve lines. At each gate, identified in the first half of the line, the protagonist is granted something positive, which is described in the second half of the line. In the present study I argue that the author of Ludlul derived the substance of what the sufferer received at each gate—and therefore the textual substance of the second half of each of these poetic lines—from the names of the gates themselves via the same kinds of learned scribal interpretive methods used in commentary and explanatory texts. That is, the author of Ludlul connected the names of the gates and the descriptions of what the sufferer received at each by way of applied translations of the Sumerian gate names, sound plays on the words and syllables comprising the names of the gates (homonymy/etymology), graphic plays on the cuneiform signs with which the names are written (etymography), and in at least one case a mythological interpretation based on the gate’s name.

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