Iteration, citation and citationality in the Mesopotamian scholastic dialogue the class reunion

Justin Johnson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


It has long been assumed that the iteration and reiteration of the sprawling lexical list tradition in ancient Mesopotamia was the primary goal of the Old Babylonian (ca. 1800–1600 BCE) Tablet House. What we know about Sumerian mythology and epic, indeed, nearly everything we know about intellectual life at the end of the first long millennium of the cuneiform textual record (ca. 3300–2000 BCE), we know from schoolboy copies of Sumerian literary texts that were produced in these Old Babylonian schools. This picture of Old Babylonian ‘scribalism’ {nam.dub.sar} is largely rooted in Samuel Noah Kramer’s path-breaking edition of the Sumerian literary text known as Schooldays (1949). Text-­artefactual iteration and reiteration was in fact a key activity in the Old Babylonian Tablet House, but it was not the primary intellectual goal. The copying and recopying of written textual artefacts was only the central preoccupation of students as they memorized the received tradition. The real goal of elite scholastics in the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1800–1600 BCE) was not the simple repetition or reiteration of the received tradition, but rather the use of their knowledge of the written tradition in largely oral dialogue and debate. And just as Kramer’s edition of Schooldays serves as the touchstone for this type of text-­artifactual iteration, I would like to suggest that a Sumerian scholastic dialogue entitled The Class Reunion (also known as Dialogue 1 or Streit zweier Schulabsolventen) can serve as the primary textual basis for a superordinate stratum of “citational” practice that builds on and presupposes the iterative textual apparatus of the Tablet House.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWissen in Bewegung
Subtitle of host publicationInstitution - Iteration - Transfer
EditorsEva Cancik-Kirschbaum, Anita Traninger
Place of PublicationWiesbaden
PublisherHarrassowitz Verlag
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9783447194143
ISBN (Print)9783447104982
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jan 2016

Publication series

NameEpisteme in Bewegung: Beiträge zu einer transdisziplinären Wissensgeschichte
ISSN (Print)2365-5666


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