This summer in the CFPRT I processed the Lloyd Cotsen Cuneiform Tablet Collection, focusing primarily on the literary and lexical texts in the collection. This item, the Kesh Temple Hymn (ca. 1900-1600 B.C.E.) is of particular interest because it represents a nearly complete version of the hymn, which was of continued importance in the Mesopotamian religious tradition for several centuries.
The hymn, which consists of eight strophes, is sung in praise of the temple in the city of Kesh and its primary occupants, the mother-goddess Ninhursag/Nintu (“Mistress of the Mountain Ranges”/”Birth Mistress”), and “the Hero,” Ashshirgi, her son. The Kesh Temple Hymn is well known from other Old Babylonian (ca. 1900-1600 B.C.E.) tablets, to which this prism, Cotsen #40740, can now be added as an almost complete witness.
The hymn’s eight sections proceed as follows: 1) Enlil, chief deity of Sumer, elects Kesh; 2) the temple is described in cosmic and celestial terms; 3) the temple is described in a series of statements of the type, “from top to bottom;” 4) the interior of the temple is described; 5) the divinities who reside in the temple are discussed; 6) detailed descriptions of specific parts of the temple (gate, door, cella, sanctuary, etc.) are given; 7) the human personnel are described; and finally 8) an exhortation to approach is given. Sumerian scribes composed multiple hymns to their temples, which they built to honor the native deities of Southern Mesopotamia. Temple building and instauration was a regular, and expected, activity of Mesopotamian kings, which can be seen in the many temple hymns as well as in the royal inscriptions left by kings of their deeds.
An advanced scribe might have undertaken to copy and preserve this important cultural hymn of Sumer, dedicating his particular copy to more current deities for his own sake. This prism is 130 lines long, and was copied in praise of several deities from what we can read in the colophon (a closing remark describing the time and purpose of composition/copying). The scribe’s name may have been lugal-gu enlil, “My king is Enlil,” which is the final line of the fourth side.
The first seven lines convey Enlil’s recognition of Kesh from amongst the lands:
1. egenune egenune eta namtabe (The exalted prince, the exalted prince came forth from the temple;)
2. enlil egenune eta namtabe (Enlil, the exalted prince, came forth from the temple.)
3. egenune namlugala eta namtabe (The exalted prince came forth from the temple in kingship.)
4. enlil kurkura igi minibilil (Enlil lifted his gaze over all the lands.)
5. enlilra kur niba munailil (To Enlil the land lifted itself.)
6. anubdalimmu enlilra kirigen munadur (For Enlil the four corners of heaven sat like an orchard.)
7. kesh sagil munaningal (Kesh lifted (its) head for him.)
The tablet will be on display in the Library Special Collections department lobby for a short time. It can also be seen on the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.
By Jared Wolfe, CFPRT Fellow