Lenzi: Authority Rooted in Divinity
by Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez
“As for the political aspect of the agenda, there are at least three points that require attention. First, we know that the locus of scholarship had shifted from court to temple, thereby removing (as far as we can tell) scholars from regular influence within the centers of political power.
(See, e.g., Francesca Rochberg, “The Cultural Locus of Astronomy in Late Babylonia,” in Die Rolle der Astronomie in den Kulturen Mesopotamiens: Beiträge zum 3 Grazer Morgenländischen Symposium (23-27 September 1991), ed. Hannes D. Galter, Grazer Morgenländische Studien 3 (Graz: Graz, 1993), 31-45, here 44.)
Invoking the association of scholarship with memorable kings and their mythical sages or famous human scholars in the ULKS attributes to the Seleucid-era scholarly professions a venerable history, which in turn implies the scholars deserved a higher level of political influence or support than in fact they were enjoying at the time (see also the discussion of line 21 below).
Second, by emphasizing their historical connection to the antediluvian sages—the agents of Ea—the scholars were granting themselves authority rooted in divinity, a particularly difficult kind of authority to dispute.
Less systematic formulations of this genealogical idea in earlier materials provide us with the evidence to see that these Seleucid-era scribes were not inventing something new. Rather, their systematic and explicit formulation demonstrates their concern to make their position well-understood.
No longer wandering the halls of the palace at a time when scholarship’s importance went without saying, these men could assume nothing was self-evident. The fact that Berossus includes something of the same idea in his work, which was probably written during the reign of Antiochus I, points to this conclusion as well.
The scholars, it seems, were deploying a mythmaking strategy to elevate their position and importance in society, even if achieving imperial-level influence was not their ultimate goal.
Third and finally, the genealogy suggests a position of both antiquity and prominence and thus implicitly authority to Sin-leqi-unnini, the first human ummânū in the list and ancestor of the scribe who copied the present tablet.
I doubt that it is a coincidence that this same figure is the eponymous ancestor of the scribe writing the tablet.
(For a discussion of scribal ancestors and their four clans in Uruk, see Lambert, “Ancestors, Authors, and Canonicity” and “Ancestors, Authors, and Canonicity (JCS XI, 1-14): Additions and Corrections.”)
In its present form, therefore, alongside the more general points of exalting the cult of Anu and attributing importance to scholars, we note for the sake of completeness that this list is clearly biased toward the Sin-leqi-unnini scribal clan.
(See likewise van Dijk, “Inschriftenfunde,” 50. It would not be surprising to someday find a list contemporary with the ULKS that places a rival ancestor/clan, Ekur-zakir, for example, in a similarly prominent position.
It is interesting that a number of members of the Ekur-zakir clan actually owned apkallū-seals. So it is clear that the apkallū tradition was utilized by other scribal clans. See Ronald Wallenfels, “Apkallu-Sealings from Hellenistic Uruk,” Baghdader Mitteilungen 24 (1993), 309-24 and Tafeln 120-23.)
But are the scholars who created and copied this list really trying to manipulate the Seleucid court? Are they trying to insinuate that the traditional association of kings and scholars should continue under a non-native king?
Although this is possible, it is difficult to imagine how the scribes would ever have acquired an audience for their ideas. Moreover, the identification of the person in the last line of the text before the colophon indicates a negative answer to these questions and suggests a more subtle tactic from the scholars.
As is often the case, the culmination of an Akkadian list occurs in its final line where matters are summarized or its telos obtained. Thus, as van Dijk already recognized, the contemporary purpose of the ULKS probably rests precisely here.
(“Inschriftenfunde,” 45-46, 52. Concerning the reading of the last line, see also van Dijk’s later comments in his brief note “Die Tontafelfunde der Kampagne 1959/60,” Archiv für Orientforschung 20 (1963), 217.)
Unfortunately, the last line of our text is extremely frustrating. Unlike previous lines naming kings and scholars, all we have in this line is a break hiding one or two signs, a broken IŠ sign, and a name.
No one has yet been able to provide an acceptable restoration for the beginning of the line. The following interpretation, therefore, must remain tentative.”
Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian Scholarship, JANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 161-3.