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They Wrote On Clay: The Babylonian Tablets Speak Today Book Summary and Study Guide

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Published in 1938 and still in print, this is a classic layman's introduction to the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians. The fact that they mainly wrote on durable clay tablets and not papyrus has ensured that their bank loans, wills, business contracts, tax receipts, and literature has survived for 5,000 years. It is a very welcome book, as to this day these civilisations are generally overshadowed by the more glamorous Egyptians who built in stone, and the more talented Hebrew writer who penned the Old Testament.
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The book is easy to read and is written by an experienced archaeologist of the Ancient Near East, who is also a translator of Akkadian and related languages in the cuneiform scripts. It has 114 B&W photographs and illustrations, a few of which show items not frequently seen in this type of work. Good examples of this are: the inscribed clay 'nail' which the propaganda-conscious kings sank into the walls of temples and palaces to record their building exploits; and the security device of the clay 'envelope', developed for clay tablets and which contained valuable legal and business documents.

This book has stood the test of time very well and dated but little. In general, it is full of practical information and insights on how the clay tablets were made and used from at least 5000 years ago. Apart from its interest as straight history it gives some essential background for understanding the Old Testament. It is very clear on the accurate parallels to be drawn between the clay records and the OT versions of such things as the adoption of sons in the account of Abraham, and the true value of the teraphim (family idols) stolen by Rachel from her father Laban the Aramean, which conferred property rights to her husband Jacob. And, as an aside, the modern computer scientist will be interested to see that he describes a data handling technique know as the linked-list - invented by the scribes to chain series of clay tablets, used with a belt-and-braces index for good measure (chap. 9).

Indeed, so determined is Chiera to see everything from the Babylonian point of view, that he is not at all interested in the question of proving or disproving the Old Testament. In this respect he is much like Cyrus H. Gordon, who simply went where the facts led him, however much this upset the preconceived notions of those with axes to grind. This is an advantage from the point of view of confirming that the OT is generally very accurate in its portrayal of the culture of Abraham, Moses, David, etc. Unfortunately, it is a disadvantage from the point of view of exegesis, as a 'not bothered' attitude leads to an anodyne superficiality in analysing the subtle meanings and ambiguities of the texts, particularly Genesis. Philology and sociology alone just cause the reader to skid on the slippery clay surface. That said, it is full of good background and has good short overview chapters on Ebla, Ugarit, Nuzu, and the Hittites.
The review of this Book prepared by Michael JR Jose



Chapter Analysis of They Wrote On Clay: The Babylonian Tablets Speak Today

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Kind Of History

Time of history:    -   2000-0 BC    -   History of mankind    -   Ancient Egyptian Era History of a people?    -   Yes Nationality?    -   Other Asian History of words/phrases?    -   Yes

Subjects of this Historical Account

Ethnicity (if plays a major part)    -   Asiatic Is the portrayal sympathetic?    -   Sympathetic From a certain profession/group?    -   bureaucracy Intelligence of subject of history:    -   Smart

Setting

Asia/Pacific    -   Yes Asian country:    -   The 'stans    -   Iraq    -   Iran/Persia Big City?    -   Yes Middle East?    -   Yes Middle East    -   Israel If applicable, liberal/conservative?    -   Historian is very moderate

Writing Style

How much gore?    -   2 () How fast-paced is the book?    -   3 () Accounts of torture and death?    -   generic/vague references to death/punishment Book makes you feel...    -   thoughtful How much focus on stories of individuals?    -   Focuses mostly on the people/nation level How much romance?    -   1 () Is book humorous?    -   Yes If humorous, kind of humor    -   Dry-cynical Minor characters feature lots of:    -   blue collar types Pictures/Illustrations?    -   A lot Maps necessary?    -   Necessary maps provided Length of book    -   201-250 pages How much emphasis on small details?    -   5 ()

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Edward Chiera Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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