Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Review of Keeping Watch in Babylon: The Astronomical Diaries in Context (ed. Steele et al.)

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Johannes Haubold, John M. Steele, Kathryn Stevens, Keeping Watch in Babylon: The Astronomical Diaries in Context. Culture and history of the ancient Near East, volume 100. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2019. Pp. vi, 315. ISBN 9789004397750. €160,00. Reviewed by Erlend Gehlken, Universit├Ąt Frankfurt/Main (
The so-called “Astronomical Diaries” (henceforth “Diaries”), whose last known exemplar was written in 61 BC, record in cuneiform astronomical events (partly precalculations corrected in accordance with actual observations), commodity values, river levels und historical events over a period of about 500 years. We owe the publication of these texts to Abraham J. Sachs and Hermann Hunger.1

The book is a collection of articles by scholars from various disciplines. Numerous facets of the Diaries are illuminated, ranging from astronomical to historical aspects, by way of astrological, religious, geographical and economic to social features; there is even a reference to the relevance of the astronomical observations for the present day. The introduction to the volume contains all the necessary background information. The first contributions are about the Diaries in their “intellectual context”, followed by those in their “institutional context”. The last four articles cannot be assigned to any particular group.
As I have said before, I like to keep track of research on late ancient Babylonia, because it often provides important background for Second Temple era Judaism.

This particular volume does not seem to have any direct connect with that subject, but I note it for completeness. There may be an indirect connection with the astronomical interests of the ancient Enochic literature, but I leave that to those who know more about such things than I.

For past PaleoJudaica posts on late-ancient Babylonia, see here and links.

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