How Mesopotamian Scribes Learned to Write Legal Documents: A Study of the Sumerian Model Contracts in the Babylonian Collection at Yale University

Author: Bodine, Walter R.
A remarkable and important work that provides insight into social and economic activities provided to us in the cuneiform records of ancient periods revealing how these activities were negotiated and regulated by laws and contracts, through records of the Sumerian model contracts from the Mesopotamian scribal school curriculum. An essential reference work for any student of ancient Mesopotamian history and comparative law.


“Dr. Bodine has therefore judiciously confined his attention to one group of them [model contracts], namely those of the Babylonian Collection at Yale University…In each case, he has photographed and hand-copied the texts, restored missing or broken cuneiform signs on the basis of parallels among functional contracts of comparable import, provided an up-to-date survey of the entire genre of model contracts, and exhaustively studied the legal implications of their various types.”
-Dr. William W. Hallo,
The William M. Laffan Professor Emeritus of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature,
Former Curator of the Babylonian Collection,
Yale University

"W. Bodine's (WB) book represents an important step on the path to a full edition of the corpus of Old Babylonian model contracts, which remains still little known; it is a shared opinion that a comprehensive study of this aspect of scribal education would fill a gap in the assyriological knowledge on Mesopotamian education."
Dr. Gabriella Spada, Universita di Roma

“This book brings forward a genre of ancient cuneiform tablets which, at first impression, appears very mundane: a collection of formularies used in drafting a variety of ancient Sumerian contracts…Bodine’s careful, detailed, and insightful work and his deep exploration of genres of actual contracts makes possible at times amazing restorations of badly damaged lines, where only fragments of cuneiform writing are preserved.”
-Drs. Samuel Greengus and Julian Morgenstern,
Emeritus Professor of Bible and Near Eastern Literature,
Hebrew Union College,
Jewish Institute of Religion

“Walter Bodine has written a model book of its kind – a thorough edition and discussion of six tablets, about two dozen texts, of the type that is known as model contracts…The texts are all Sumerian and written for the most part in the Old Babylonian period. They not only open a window on how law can facilitate life; these tablets show with abundant clarity how scribes were educated in writing law – by copying and assimilating the work of the masters.”
Bodine’s edition and copies of the texts are meticulous. His commentary covers every aspect of the documents, from law to paleography. The discussion is carefully reasoned and gracefully written. In sum; a model study of textual models.”
-Dr. Edward Greenstein,
Professor of Biblical Studies and Straus Distinguished Scholar,
Bar-Ilan University
Coeditor, The Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society

Table of Contents

Foreword by William W. Hallo
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Past Study
Chapter 3: Texts
YBC 263/YBC 11121/NBC 7800/NBC 8630/YBC 12074/NBC 8623
Chapter 4: Commentary
Loan: YBC 263
Model Contracts: YBC 11121
Model Contracts and Loss of a Seal: NBC 7800
Field Maintenance: NBC 8630
Loss of a Seal: YBC 12074
Exchange / Sale: NBC 8623
Chapter 5: Genre
Distinguishing Features
Inclusion in the Curriculum
Chapter 6: Conclusion
Appendix: Palaeography
YBC 263
YBC 11121
NBC 7800
NBC 8630
YBC 12074
NBC 8623
Offices and Professions
Sumerian Words and Morphemes
Akkadian Words
Cuneiform Signs
General Subjects