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Re: ANE-2 BM41536 (LBAT1421)

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  • Robert M Whiting
    Posted on behalf of the undersigned (who is having difficulty chnanging his emil address). From furuli@vikenfiber.no Sat May 22 12:53:30 2010 Date: Sat, 22 May
    Message 1 of 1 , May 25, 2010
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      Posted on behalf of the undersigned (who is having difficulty chnanging
      his emil address).

      From furuli@... Sat May 22 12:53:30 2010
      Date: Sat, 22 May 2010 11:53:23 +0200
      From: Rolf Furuli <furuli@...>
      Subject: Re: ANE-2 BM41536 (LBAT1421)

      Dear Professor Hunger,

      When I compared the transliterations and translations of LBAT 1421 with
      the drawing of Pinches I was very surprised because of the differences I
      saw. The reason for writing my post was to hear the opinion of my
      colleagues regarding this situation. There is no doubt that I read the
      signs of Pinches' drawing correctly, but still I made a fundamental error.
      I studied the transliterations on the basis of a photocopy of the page,
      and for one reason or another only II' was visible in the photocopy and
      not the 'Flake'. I also used a photocopy of Pinches' drawing, and all the
      signs of II' and the 'Flake' occur on the same 8 lines without any ruling
      in between. So the additional signs of each line that I saw were on the
      'Flake. I appreciate very much that you wrote your response. Because
      after that I got hold of your book of 2001 and discovered my error. I have
      learned a lesson -- to be careful with copies.


      My words regarding LBAT 1421 were formed as a question, while my words
      regarding guesses and circular reasonings constituted a claim; so they
      need to be elucidated. These words do not imply a conspiracy theory or
      question the motives or qualifications of the scholars. But they relate to
      methodology and what is possible to achieve today regarding ancient
      history and chronology, which cannot be proven in the philosophical sense
      of the word.

      In order to show my high regard for modern astronomical works, I quote my
      own words in a recent publication: "I also accept the high scholarly
      quality of the publications of Strassmaier, Picnches, and Kugler a hundred
      years ago, and of the modern works of Sachs, Hunger, Walker, Steele,
      Aaaboe, Brack-Berntsen, and others. Their understanding of the cuneiform
      signs for chronological purposes and their archaeo-astronomical knowledge
      evidently are excellent, and their application of these to the cuneiform
      material seems to be sound." While the scholarly standard is high, we
      should realize that there are methodological problems as well.

      In connection with my claim I used the adverbial "often." As a linguist I
      realize that this is a strong word. However, the alternative is "some,"
      and that is too weak. So when I take into consideration the works of
      scholars with astronomical tablets from the middle of the 19th century
      until today, I stick to my claim that "often" we have seen guesses and
      circular reasonings. Because of the nature of the material, this is the
      way it must be, and there is nothing unscholarly in guesses -- but we
      should keep in mind that such exist when we consider the conclusions of
      others. Because research both in the natural sciences and the humanistic
      sciences build on axioms and assumptions, circular reasoning does exist,
      but we should of course try to avoid it as much as possible.


      When we consider the names of the celestial bodies in the Hebrew Bible, we
      find a lot of uncertainty regarding their references. But the opposite is
      true regarding Babylonian signs, where we today have long lists of clear
      identifications of the heavenly bodies. This was not the case 200 years
      ago, so how have these lists come about? They are the result of 1) the
      interplay of lists of the reigns of kings in ancient Babylonia and
      Assyria, 2) the interpretation of the cuneiform signs on astronomical
      tablets, and 3) the positions of the heavenly bodies represented by the
      signs on these tablets. The approach that started in the middle of the
      19th century was inductive, and therefore the Problem of Induction and
      Duhem-Quine's problem were at work. Nontheless, I personally accept that
      the modern identifications on the mentioned lists are correct and sound.
      But on the way guesses and circular reasonings have played a role -- and
      they still do.

      One of the parameters is the chronology of kings, and this may be a weak
      point, because the Persian chronology and the Babylonian chronology back
      to Nabu-Nasir in the 8th century B.C.E. were fixed once and for all before
      a single cuneiform tablet was unearthed. Thus, the very foundation of the
      identification of Babylonian celestial bodies and their positions was
      based on one basic assumption, namely, that the chronology of Claudius
      Ptolemy was correct. And an assumption is a guess. When we study the works
      of the fine scholars of the last part of the 19th century and the
      beginning of the 20th century, particularly the works of F. X. Kugler, we
      see how they, on the basis of induction were able to identify the
      celestial bodies. Sometimes they changed their minds, and sometimes the
      areas of the constellations were adjusted. This led eventually to the very
      fine lists we have today. Circularity may also exist here when a sign is
      used one hundred and more times with a uniform reference, but in one or
      two contexts it is used with a different reference, because otherwise the
      position would be wrong. The assumption is that the position is correct,
      but that is not necessarily so.

      I will now give a few examples of problems related to the scholarly
      assumptions, and I start with Assyria. To the best of my knowledge, there
      is only one datum that can be used to create an absolute Assyrian
      chronology, namely the solar eclipse that is reported in the eponymate of
      Bur-Sagale. This is applied to the solar eclipse of 15 June 763 B.C.E. yet
      there are several other solar eclipses that can be connected with month
      III and which are alternative candidates. Why was this particular solar
      eclipse chosen? My understanding is that the basic reason is the
      chronology of Ptolemy, which is assumed to be correct. There are several
      Reports and Letters with astronomical contents from Assyria, and these
      have been dated by competent scholars. However, D. Brown, "Mesopotamian
      Planetary Astronomy-Astrology, 2000, p. 24 says: "I have reconsidered the
      dating of all the Reports and Letters. those texts which I now feel can be
      securely assigned a date accurate to within a year have been listed in
      Table 1. They number many fewer than those considered datable by Parpola
      and Hunger in SAAX and SAA8 respectively." Because different results were
      obtained, there must be some uncertainties regarding the astronomical
      material, and some assumptions (guesses) may be wrong. And -- if the
      regnal years of one or more kings were were changed, the basic assumption
      was changed, and that would create even more chronological problems.

      My second example relates to Persia. The chronology of Parker and
      Dubberstein was made on the assumption (guess) that the king lists and
      chronology of Ptolemy were accurate and correct. The Saros Tablets were
      their basic sources, and we see examples of circular reasonings, because
      Ptolemy's chronology was confirmed by the Saros Tablets, and the
      correctness of the Saros Tablets was confirmed by Ptolemy's chronology.
      Yet the Saros Tablets may be artificial constructions, and their
      chronological value is uncertain. We also see circularity in their scheme
      of intercalary months. After tablets from the British Museum and other
      institutions became searchable on-line, many "new" dates have appeared (I
      hope to return to this). A very strong case against the chronology of
      Ptolemy and of Parker and Dubberestein and an expansion of the years can
      be made in connection with the reigns of Cambyses, Bardiya, Nebuchadnezzar
      III, Nebuchadnezzar IV, and Darius I. If the assumption that Parker and
      Dubbertein are correct falls, that may have some impact on Achaemenid
      astronomical tablets before this time.


      I have studied your excellent works regarding Astronomical Diaries and
      other Astronomical Tablets. And I am convinced that your transliterations
      and translations are accurate (that was the reason why I posed the
      question regarding LBAT 1421 when it seemed that this was not the case
      here). But also in these works we find a few guesses -- which of course is
      legitimate. For example, the next last sign in line 8 i LBAT 1421 is
      partially broken, and you interpret it as ABSIN, which corresponds with
      what is seen in Pinches' drawing. The last sign of the line you transcribe
      as á/d/. This sign can have between 4 and 10 wedges, and the only thing
      we see is a small part of the head of one wedge. So this is a guess, and
      you mark this by using brackets. I do not object to this, I just take not
      of it.

      In your work you primarily read cuneiform signs, transliterate and
      translate them. In this you are a real expert with decades of experience!
      The tablets are also set in a chronological setting, and that may
      influence the interpretation of some signs, particularly broken tablets
      with few signs. For example, in the Achaemenid chronology I use,
      Artaxerxes I continued to reign in his year 42. LBAT 1421 refers to year
      42, and interestingly, the lunar eclipses and the relation of the second
      to Gamma Virginis fit this year just as well as in year 42 of
      Nebuchadnezzar II. Normally in astronomical studies, it is assumed that
      the traditional chronology is correct, but a different chronology could
      give different results.

      I would mention two final points where assumptions can influence
      interpretation. An expert on astronomical tablets knows the different
      shapes the same sign can have, and therefore he or she can identify a
      somewhat atypical sign correctly, while a non-expert would not be able to
      identify this sign. However, the bulk of the Diaries come from Seleucid
      times, and we cannot exclude the possibility that particular signs were
      written somewhat differently some hundred years before that, to the point
      that "strange" signs in older astronomical tablets or copies of these
      should not be identified in the light of Seleucid tablets. Another
      assumption is that the positions on astronomical tablets are correct, and
      some signs may be interpreted or some guesses made on this basis. But
      perhaps the positions are wrong and the interpretations therefore are

      By way of conclusion I will say that I have great confidence in the work
      of the scholars I have mentioned and others in relation to astronomical
      tablets. But we must never forget that all research is based on some
      axioms and assumptions. Therefore we should never express a categorical
      certainty, but be open for the possibility of guesswork and circular
      reasonings may be a part of some conclusions.

      Best regards,

      Rolf Furuli Ph.D
      University of Oslo
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