Christopher Rollston and Robert Cargill have both posted reflections on the Jerusalem1 Akkadian cuneiform fragment recently published by Mazar et al. I’ve already commented on this fragment in a couple of posts. You will recall that Mazar et al. more or less assumed that they were dealing with a letter fragment.
Rollston is justifiably skeptical that the fragment is a letter. While my own skepticism was not as deep as Rollston’s, I too expressed skepticism that it was a letter. Rollston does do a better job of spelling out the reasons for his skepticism than I did. Rollston concludes, “Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that it could be one of various things…e.g., an epistolary text, a legal text, an administrative text, a literary text.” For what it is worth, I endorse this conclusion only adding these do not exhaust the choices.
Cargill, following Rollston, is also skeptical that we are dealing with a letter fragment. He is so skeptical of it being a letter that he is willing to commit himself to it being a fragmentary administrative text. He says, “It is an administrative text, very fragmentary in nature, and wholly non-descriptive.” The evidence for thinking Jerusalem1 is an fragmentary administrative text is no better than for thinking it a fragmentary letter..
I let me first throw a little dirt at the problem. Before the discovery of this fragment, we knew of 34 LB Akkadian tablets or fragments of tablets that were discovered in Canaan. See Horowitz and Oshima, 16. 13 were administrative texts, 6 of these from Taanach, and 13 were letters. Of the remainder, there 5 are academic texts, and 3 texts, all from Aphek, all fragmentary, defy classification. Yuval Goren et al, 164-165, have argued, persuasively I think, on mineralogical grounds that the tablet on which the letter purportedly from the governor of Ugarit to the governor of Aphek was written was made from clay local to Aphek and not local to Ugarit. I’ll have more to say about this in an upcoming post. Even assuming that some or many of the letters found in Canaan were not written near their find spots, the raw numbers likely do not statistically favor any genre. For one thing, the sample is too small to be meaningful. And while it is true that second person predicates do occur in some administrative texts, such things are not all the frequent in general and a quick survey did not find a single one in LB administrative texts from Canaan. Because of the small sample sizes, most of this is more gratuitous than substantive.
There are thousands of administrative texts from dozens of cites to compare. Surveying other administrative texts, including those from Canaan, is instruction and not particularly supportive of the idea that Jerusalem1 is an administrative text. I see next to nothing on Jerusalem1 that would make me think it is an administrative text.
The truth is, without the unlikely discovery of a duplicate text or a joinable fragment, it is unlikely that we will ever know the genre of Jerusalem1. Identifying it as an administrative text is every bit as unlikely as identifying it as a letter.
Update: July 21, 2010
Added “LB” in “34
Akkadian tablets or fragments” for clarification
Horowitz, Wayne and Takayoshi Oshima, Cuneiform in Canaan, Cuneiform Sources from the Land of Israel in Ancient Times, Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2006, 97-98.
Mazar, Eilat, Wayne Horowitz, Takayoshi Oshima and Yuval Goren, “A Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel in Jerusalem,” IEJ, 60:1 (2010), 4-21