Babylonian Theodicy

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Babylonian Theodicy is a poem written within ancient Babylonia.

The poem is inscribed onto clay in the Middle-Babylonian language,[1] which is a form of language dating to the period 1600 to 900 B.C.[2] The poem has also been referred to as An Akkadian dialogue on the unrighteousness of the world or The Babylonian Koheleth.[3]


The poem is an example of wisdom literature, which is a form of writing which shows two people providing contrary positions on a subject, in the form of a dialogue.[4]

The poem is a dialogue between two people who are friends. One of the persons is suffering, and the poem shows him revealing the acts of evil done by people in the society around him, while the other person is shown attempting to add perspective on these acts of dubious morality, by him stating the nature of the occurrence of justice within the order of everything that exists (in the universe), an order that exists because it was made by a divinity.[5]

The first line reads:[4]

O sage...come let me speak to you...let me recount to you...

and the speaker proceeds to recount first hand experiences and his grief, referred to as lumnu libbi which means, in literal translation, evil of the heart, but which in everyday lexicon might be called anguish or heartache, which is to say, a kind of emotional and psychological suffering. Having described his state of pain, the sufferer attributes this to an occurrence in his life, which is abandonment at an early age, when he was orphaned, in addition to which, he was abandoned and also deprived of any emotional and psychological support from another. The sufferer is confused and baffled by his suffering, and ultimately, the poem shows him failing to find any clarity as to why this misfortune in life should have befallen him. The sufferer hopes to gain a cathartic release purely by the act of anothers listening to his recounting of his tale of woe, if it is his companion might be amiable and therefore might provide of a form of compassion, the sufferer states, in the last stanza [4] (the translation made by Professor W.G.Lambert [3][4]):

....behold my grief-help me, look on my distress; know it.

and the last part of the last line reads:[1]

May the god who has thrown me off give help, may the goddess who has [abandoned me] show mercy, for the shepherd Šamaš guides the peoples like a god.

The Babylonian Theodicy is, with regards to its dialogic nature of a sufferer and friend(s), formally very similar to the Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible.[3][4][6]

Structural Analysis[edit]

The poem is acrostic, which means that the first syllabic sign of each line form words when read downwards, and the poem, in terms of its structure, is made up of twenty seven stanzas (or verses in other words) with each stanza consisting of eleven lines.[5][7]

The words constructed in the acrostic of the poem read:[5]

I, Saggil-kīnam-ubbib, the incantation priest, am adorant of the god and king

a-na-ku sa-ag-gi-il-ki-[i-na-am-u]b-bi-ib ma-áš-ma-šu ka-ri-bu ša i-li ú šar-ri


According to one source, the earliest manuscripts showing this poem date from the Ashurbanipal library, another source states the Theodicy originates slightly after the Cassite period, circa 1500-1100 B.C., more exactly, written apparently at about 1000 B.C.[3][5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b W. G. Lambert (translation of). 2nd, ed. Babylonian Theodicy. Electronic Tools and Near East Archives online publication of W.G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature. Winona Lake:Eisenbrauns 1996 , p. 63-89. Retrieved 2015-06-10.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  2. ^ Olof Pedersén; Eva Christiane Cancik-Kirschbaum; Margarete van Ess; Joachim Marzah. Excavated and Unexcavated Libraries in Babylonia in Babylon: Wissenskultur in Orient und Okzident (p.56). Walter de Gruyter, 2011, 379 pages, ISBN 3110222116, Volume 1 of Topoi - Berlin Studies of the Ancient World/Topoi - Berliner Studien der Alten Welt Series. Retrieved 2015-06-11. (via identification of < Middle Babylonian Period > in The Babylonian World edited by Gwendolyn Leick (Jon Taylor - p.440)
  3. ^ a b c d John Gwyn Griffiths. The Divine Verdict: A Study of Divine Judgement in the Ancient Religions. BRILL, 1991, 410 pages, ISBN 9004092315, Volume 52 of Studies in the history of religions: Supplements to the Numen Book Series. Retrieved 2015-06-10. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Carol A. Newsom. The Book of Job : A Contest of Moral Imaginations (p.91-92). Oxford University Press, USA, 6 Mar 2003, 320 pages, ISBN 0195348710. Retrieved 2015-06-10. 
  5. ^ a b c d Wilfred G. Lambert. Babylonian Wisdom Literature. Eisenbrauns, 1 Jan 1996 (reprint), 358 pages, ISBN 0931464943. Retrieved 2015-06-10. 
  6. ^ Edward L. Greenstein (2014) "Job" in Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler (eds.) The Jewish Study Bible (second edition). New York: Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ Barbara Chatton - Using Poetry Across the Curriculum: Learning to Love Language (p.43) ABC-CLIO, 2010, 241 pages, ISBN 1591586976[Retrieved 2015-06-10]

External Link (showing a translated copy of the poem)[edit]

Electronic Tools and Near East Archives and also permalinked also from E.T.A.N.A.