Oaths and Curses: A Study in Neo- and Late Babylonian Legal Formulary.

Author:Wells, Bruce
Position:Book review
 
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Oaths and Curses: A Study in Neo- and Late Babylonian Legal Formulary. By MALGORZATA SANDOWICZ. Alter Orient und Altes Testament, vol. 398. Munster: UGARIT-VERLAG, 2012. Pp. xiii + 542. 41 pits. [euro]92.

There have recently appeared several important monographs on ancient Near Eastern oaths and curses (e.g., Ziegler 2008, Conklin 2011, Christiansen 2012, Kitz 2014), and this book is a most welcome addition to the list. In her investigation, Sandowicz seeks to identify the formulas used in oaths and curses from the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods. She also explores the reasons behind the choice of some formulas over others. About two-thirds of the book contains editions or summaries of 269 oath texts and 140 texts with either curses or what Sandowicz calls "oath notations" (on which see below). She includes the latter with the curses because both figured mainly in contracts as ways of securing transactions. The book also has forty-one copies of newly published tablets (all are oath texts). The dates of the texts range from the time of Esarhaddon to that of Artaxerxes II. Of the 269 oath texts, fully 70% derive from the Persian period, with over half of those coming from the reign of Darius I. Only about 19% of the curse texts and oath notations date to the Persian period, while 47% come from the time of the Neo-Babylonian kings, with half of those dating to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II. The remaining texts in both categories either come from the late Neo-Assyrian period or have date formulas that are too badly broken to decipher.

Sandowicz's examination of the oath texts is extensive and enlightening. To begin with, she makes several key distinctions. First, she distinguishes between assertory oaths (sworn assertions about some past event) and promissory oaths (sworn commitments concerning the future); promissory oaths dominate, occurring in about 65% of the oath texts (excluding oath notations). Second, she delineates five genres or text types in which oaths can occur: 1) records of oaths, which contain the actual swearing of the oath and very little beyond that; 2) juridical oaths, which are part of longer records related to litigation and sometimes do not cite the wording of the oath but merely the fact that it was sworn; 3) oath clauses, usually final clauses found in contracts, settlements, or other agreements; 4) summonses, which "set the date or deadline by or on which an oath (assertory only) is to be taken" (p. 8); and 5) oath notations or "abbreviated, sworn quitclaims" (p. 73), which usually introduce a text and occur in contractual contexts.

In her examination of the formulas in oath texts, Sandowicz divides what she calls the oath clause into two parts: the introductory formula and the oath formula. The most common introductory formula is ina... tamu ("to swear by..."). One typically finds the name of one or more gods, the name of the king, the expression ade sa sarri, or some combination of these following the preposition ina. About 70% of Sandowicz's oath texts use this formula; it occurs in assertory and promissory oath texts and mainly in the first three text types.

The next most common introductory formula is nis... zakaru ("to swear by the life of..."). The term nisu ("life") is usually spelled syllabically and always occurs in a genitival relationship with another noun (e.g., a divine or royal name, ili/ili ["god/gods"], or sarri ["king"]). This formula appears with both assertory and promissory oaths and is used...

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