The Megiddo Gilgamesh Fragment As A Graded Exercise

Among my many unfinished projects is the series “How to recognize a scribal school.” I wrote my most recent post in the series, “Evidence for the training of scribes in Late Bronze Age Canaan,” in October of 2006. At that time, I projected at least three more posts. At present, they are somewhere between mere dreams and unfinished.
Sometime this summer, I may return to the issue of scribal training with renewed commitment. It still interests me but I’m a committed to other things right now. While researching something quite different, I ran across a 2007 paper by Ryan Byrne that I’d seen when it was first published but had forgotten. Byrne’s BASOR paper, “The Refuge of Scribalism in Iron I Palestine,” addresses several topics that I still need to cover if my scribal school series is ever to be completed. I may deal with those at some other time. But he also writes about several issues that I have already discussed. I’ll briefly take up one of those issues here, the issue of graded texts.
Byrne, 8, writes,

Izre’el (2001; 52) indentifies the Adapa recession from Akhetaten as a school text with the observation (among others) that it privileges Akkadian syllabic spelling over the frequent use of logograms. If this orthographic criterion indeed suggests a pedagogical character, then it is worth noting that the Gilgamesh fragment from Megiddo follows suit.

I noted the same with regard to “The Myth of Nergal and Ereškigal,” EA 357, from Alhetaten (Amarna), as well as with regard to Adapa, EA 356. Izre’el (1997; 55) called the writing style “plene.” I also suggested that scribes who knew little more than their Tu-Ta-Tis could copy such texts from dictation with relative ease. Whether or not these texts are actually the products of dictation is a different question. I went on to suggest that the “(Just) Sufferer,” RS 25.460, and “En Marge’ de Gilgameš,” RS RS 22.219+, both from Ugarit, required a little more training but not more than Series Izi or Diri. I further noted the possibility that other texts from Ugarit required more advance training to write but still not the full scribal course of study.
Byrne’s reference to the Megiddo Gilgamesh fragment from about the same time as the Amarna and Ugarit tablets is interesting in its own right but I think even more so if my observation about “En Marge’ de Gilgameš” from Ugarit is correct. I mentioned the Megiddo Gilgamesh fragment in one post but failed to notice that its writing is also “plene.” Abnormally interesting!
One might argue that the writing style of a mature scribe at Megiddo was less sophisticated than at Amarna or Ugarit or many of the other places where Late Bronze Age peripheral Akkadian was written. But a quick look at the Amarna letters from Biridiya of Megiddo, EA 242-246, shows them using a variety of different ideograms. On a cursory look, their writing does not appear as complex as what one might expect from some contemporary peripheral locations but it is far more complex than that of the Megiddo Gilgamesh fragment. Hmmm. This deserves more work and thought than I can give to it just now.

Byrne, Ryan, “The Refuge of Scribalism in Iron I Palestine,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 345 (Feb, 2007), 1-31.
Izre’el, Shlomo, The Amarna Scholarly Tablets, Groningen: Styx, 1997.
Izre’el, Shlomo, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Mesopotamian Civilizations 10, Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbraums, 2001.

2 thoughts on “The Megiddo Gilgamesh Fragment As A Graded Exercise”

  1. Of course, all of these suggestions assume that the so-called elementary scribal curriculum underwent the erstwhile revision after the OB period such that elementary scribes would be working on literary texts immediately after the elementary lexical lists

  2. Jay,
    You are correct. I’d rather say “in parallel with” rather than “after.” But that is a detail. We do know (suspect) that some Middle Assyrian/Babylonian/whatever scribal training on the Akkadian periphery differed from its Mesopotamian counterpart in other details of curriculum.

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