Writing Science before the Greeks: A Naturalistic Analysis of the Babylonian Astronomical Treatise.

Author:Steele, John M.
Position:Book review

Writing Science before the Greeks: A Naturalistic Analysis of the Babylonian Astronomical Treatise MUL.APIN. By RITA WATSON and WAYNE HOROWITZ. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East, vol. 48. Leiden: BRILL, 2011. Pp. xxvi + 222. $137.

The cuneiform astronomical treatise MUL.APIN is a two-tablet compendium of astronomical and astrological material dealing with stars, the sun, moon, and planets, the calendar, and time measurement. The text is known from more than forty sources, about two-thirds of which are written in Babylonian script on tablets most of which come from Babylon and the remainder in Assyrian script on tablets from Nineveh, Assur, Ka113u. and tluzirina. The colophon of the earliest dated source provides a terminus ante quem for the composition of MUL.APIN of 687 B.C., but there are good reasons to believe that many of the constituent texts which form MUL.APIN date to the late second millennium or early first millennium B.C. For example, some of the star lists contained in MUL.APIN are clearly linked to the tradition of the "Three Star Each" or "Astrolabe" texts, known already in the twelfth century B.C. Various astronomical arguments, though not always convincing, have also been adduced for a late second millennium B.C. date for the material found in MUL.APIN. It remains unknown, however, whether IviUL. APIN itself dates to this period, or whether the underlying texts were brought together into the compilation we know as MUL.APIN at a later time, perhaps even as late as the early Neo-Assyrian period.

The first tablet of MUL.APIN contains a series of texts dealing with various groups of stars (or star groups): lists of the stars in the paths of Enlil. Anu, and Ea (three bands of' declination which stretch across the sky), the dates of the first visibilities of stars, a list of fourteen culminating (zicipu) stars, and a list of the stars in the path of the moon (i.e., the stars in the band of the zodiac). The second tablet contains texts dealing with intercalation, the length of day and night, the duration of visibility of the moon, the length of the shadow cast by a gnomon at different times of day throughout the year, the periods of visibility of the planets, and astrological omens. Underlying most of these texts are basic concepts such as the ideal calendar of twelve thirty-day months totaling 360 days for the year.

An edition of MUL.APIN with philological and astronomical commentary was published by H. Hunger and D...

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