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New archive from Jewish Babylonian exile released

In a major contribution to Biblical and Mesopotamian studies, the first extra-biblical archive from the exiled Judean community in Babylonia in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. has been published as part of a series edited by Cornell professor David I. Owen.

“Documents of Judean Exiles and West Semites in Babylonia in the Collection of David Sofer” (CDL Press, 2014) by Laurie E. Pearce of the University of California, Berkeley, and Cornelia Wunsch of the University of London provides complete editions, translations, copies and photographs of 103 cuneiform texts from the David Sofer Collection and an extensive commentary on hundreds of new Judean personal names with Yahwistic elements.

“These names add substantially to our understanding of Judean religious beliefs during this formative period in the development of exilic Judaism,” says David I. Owen, editor-in-chief of the series “Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology.” Owen is director of the Jonathan and Jeannette Rosen Ancient Near Eastern Studies Seminar and the Bernard and Jane Schapiro Professor of Ancient Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Emeritus in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences.

The documents provide new insights into the social and economic life of the Judeans (along with others groups forcibly settled in Mesopotamia by Nebuchadnezzar II, ca. 634-562 B.C.) in their community of Al Yahudu (Jewtown) and their interrelationships with and assimilation to their West Semitic and Babylonian neighbors.

The volume “offers many important additions and interesting insights into the hitherto limited knowledge of this community, the naming practices of immmigrant groups over several generations and, by implication, how other exiles in Babylonia might have been influenced by similar experiences after being forcibly resettled in a foreign environment,” says Owen. “This is an essential resource not only for Assyriologists, archaeologists and historians but also for biblical scholars interested in the history of Judaism in its Mesopotamian context.”

A two-day international symposium, “Jerusalem In Babylonia,” celebrating the publication of this volume, will be held Feb. 2-3 at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem.

Since 2007, no less that 27 major volumes in the CUSAS series have appeared under Owen’s direction as editor-in-chief. These volumes contain editions of thousands of cuneiform tablets from ancient Mesopotamia starting from the earliest written sources, ca. 3200 B.C. to to the Persian period 450 B.C.

“The publications have added greatly to our knowledge of the Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform languages, history, literature, religion, economics and society of ancient Mesopotamia,” says Owen, “and the series has produced an unprecedented number of cuneiform publications unmatched by any university.”

Owen formed an international team of scholars from the United States, Italy, Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Israel and France to produce the series, widely acknowledged as the major source of information on ancient Iraq to appear since the cessation of work in that country as a result of the two Iraq wars.