Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Archival Texts of the Priests of Borsippa

This project offers editions of 224 texts from the priestly archives of Borsippa, published by Caroline Waerzeggers in The Ezida Temple of Borsippa (2010). The texts are dated from the reign of Ashurbanipal (668–631? BCE) until the second year of Xerxes (484 BCE), and they are part of the archives of brewers, bakers, butchers, and oxherds working at the temple of Nabû. The cuneiform tablets originate from illicit excavations at Borsippa (Birs Nimrud) in the late 19th century, and they primarily belong to the collections of the British Museum.

The ziggurat of the Ezida temple in Borsippa

The ruins of the ziggurat of the Ezida temple in Borsippa. Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ezida was the temple of Nabû, the god of writing and the son of the Babylonian supreme deity Marduk. Because of Nabû's elevated status, Ezida was favored by the Babylonian kings in the sixth century BCE. It was the empire's most important sanctuary after the Esagil temple in Babylon, and royal funds were spent in sponsoring the temple and refurbishing its buildings.

Babylonian priests were people who participated in the temple cult in various functions, ranging from actual performance of rites and caretaking of the divine statue to preparing foodstuffs for the divine meals and guarding the temple gates. The social boundaries of this group were strictly defined, and participation in cultic activities required a share in a prebend (isqu), priestly lineage, and purity. A priestly family was typically specialized in a certain profession, a fact that is even reflected in some of the family names: at Ezida, the herding of the oxen was in the hands of the "Oxherd" family, Rē'i-alpi.

The texts edited in this project focus on four priestly professions, the brewers, bakers, butchers, and oxherds who provided foodstuffs for the meals served to Nabû four times a day. The texts shed light on their ritual tasks and the everyday cult of Nabû but also on the social organization and personal lives of Babylonian priests in the long sixth century BCE.

The Borsippa project is a joint effort by the ERC Starting Grant project BABYLON and the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires. For more information on how to cite and reuse the texts, please visit the page Credits and reuse.


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