This previously unpublished tablet contains a highly interesting commentary on a ritual that seems to have taken place during the month of Simānu. The commentary is preserved in two duplicating manuscripts. The best preserved one, BM 47458 (81-11-3,163), is an almost complete tablet from the British Museum’s 81-11-3 consignment. Although it contains no colophon, only a rubric, it very likely belongs to the tablet collection of the Achaemenid scribe Iprāʾya (formerly read as Šebāʾya or Šemāʾya), son of Marduk/Zababa-pirʾu-uṣru descendant of Ēṭiru. This is suggested first by the fact that many other tablets from the same 81-11-3 consignment belong to that scribe’s collection. In particular, the format and script of the commentary on “Marduk’s Address to the Demons” (BM 47529 = CCP 2.2.1.B), also written by this scribe, are remarkably similar to those of the present tablet. Secondly, the present tablet shares a series of peculiar epigraphical traits with other tablets of that collection, particularly the quadrangular shape of the šà sign. The second manuscript of the text is a small fragment from the same consignment, BM 47661 (81-11-3,366, CCP 7.1.6.A.a), which duplicates ll. 19-31 without any variant. It very likely stems also from the stylus of Iprāʾya.
Remarkably, many of the explanations of this commentary also feature in the commentary tablet BM 36595+ (80-6-17,324), edited as CCP 7.2.u103, a tablet written during the early Hellenistic period (between 315 and 311 BCE). Both the present commentary and the early Hellenistic tablet appear to be commentaries on rituals that take place during the month Simānu. Both quote the same line from an unknown text (perhaps the Love Lyrics) and perform the same etymographic analysis of it (ll. 8-9 in this text and 10-12 in BM 36595+), both contain the same notarikon explanations of the god names and of the name of the month Simānu (l. 11-12 here and 11 in BM 36595+). Moreover, each quotes a different line from one and the same text, namely the bilingual šuʾila Marduk 1. The overall impression gained from comparison of the two texts is that they both contain a somewhat serendipitous compilation of hermeneutical traditions chiefly relating to the month Simānu and the ritual actions that took place within it, rather than a coherent treatise. This impression is further supported by the rubric of the present text (l. 32), according to which the commentary is based on the oral teachings of a scholar.
The first part of the commentary (ll. 1-7) is concerned exclusively with the elucidation of the name of the god Madānu. The theonym is first said to mean “the builder of the house,” since it can be “etymographically” analyzed as ma (meaning “house”) and dà (meaning “build”). A different exegesis is then given, according to which Madānu is identical with the god Ennugi, and the latter’s name means “he who knows no wife” (ll. 3-4). Two further notarikon analysis of Madānu’s name are then given, which “etymologize” the god’s name as “the god who passes judgment” (ll. 4-5) and “the light of the lands” (ll. 5-7). Interestingly, the exegete justifies the latter interpretation by mentioning a ritual in the course of which a torch (whence “the light”) is ignited in the temple of Madānu (probably in Babylon, see below the note on l. 7).
The second section (ll. 8-9) is concerned with the explanation of a line, quoted perhaps from the ritual tablet of the Love Lyrics, and which also appears in BM 36595+ ll. 10-12. This is seamlessly followed by an etymographic interpretation of the hapax legomenon úr.sag.ga, ostensibly a temple of Šamaš (ll. 10-11), and of the name of the month Simānu (ll. 11-12), the latter of which also features in BM 36595+ l. 11.
The fifth section (ll. 13-16) focuses on providing an etymology for the name of Esangil, the main temple of Marduk in Babylon. According to this section, the foundations of the Esangil were laid on the 18th of Simānu, and the temple’s name means “in its midst installed a shrine the prince Marduk.”
The sixth section of the text (ll. 17-21), arguably the most ingenious, deals with the goddess Bēlet-Ninuʾa. By deconstructing the signs with which the goddess’s name is written, the commentary argues that the word “fruit orchard” is contained within it. It further argues that the “orchard” refers to the pine cone that a representation of the goddess, apparently made of saggilmud-stone, carried in her hand, and speculates that the pine cone symbolizes the role of Bēlet-Ninuʾa as wet nurse of Marduk, a role well attested in other texts.
The final section of the commentary (ll. 22-29) is devoted to providing several different etymologies of the name of Ea (ll. 22-27), of two hitherto unattested gods ([da]m.gar.ud and [dam].gar.a, ll. 28-30), and of the name of Šamaš or Šazu (ll. 30-31). Two different texts are quoted in this section: the above-mentioned bilingual šuʾila and the epic Enūma eliš.
In sum, this text is not a coherent treatise, but rather an omnibus compilation of traditional interpretations of names of gods, temples, months, and even trees, fruits, and stones. In its large array of notarikon analyses, it epitomizes the belief that, as formulated by Borges, “each word is defined by itself.”
The edition below has profited from repeated collation of the original by I. L. Finkel