ANE tabular accounts after the Flood

by koot van wyk    (Seoul    South Korea 27 October 2008)

Eleanor Robson wrote a chapter on mathematics and accounting in Sumer, Babylonia and Assyria between 2500 BCE and 50 CE (Eleanor Robson, "Tables and tabular formatting in Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria, 2500 BCE - 50 CE"). It is part of a book that she published.
The chapter is very illuminating and thus we will extrapolate information from her findings and rework it in our own scheme.
Robson focussed on the phenomenon of using tables to represent accounting practices. She noted overall that it appeared that patterns were invented, then sometimes partially adopted, at times disappeared and to be later re-invented (Robson 20).
She intended to look at this phenomenon in Administrative circles, private schools and also in libraries of the ANE times.
Robson pointed out that tables were used as a reference tool.
Although Robson did not used the scheme of the Flood 2523 BCE to describe her findings, we will "park" her findings conveniently in this biblical pattern.
Directly after the Flood 2523 BCE, Robson's findings indicated that the people did use receipts for their livestock and other items, but the texts normally had only horizontal boxes with each entry in one box. It included the number, the item and sometimes "complex accounting systems".
Robson described two kind of tables: formal and informal. The formal table "as having both vertical and horizontal rulings to separate categories of information" and the informal table "separate quantitative and qualitative data by spatial arrangement only, without explicit delimiters" (Robson 20).
A prose like text is one in which there are no tabular formatting. Headed tables have columnar headings and unheaded tables do not. Some tables are preceded by titles or introductiory preambles and others are followed by summaries and/or colophons (Robson).
In the Mesopotamian tables, any qualitative or descriptive information is contained in the final right-hand column. They were using row lables or they interrupted the tables as an explanatory interpolation.
When we talk about Mesopotamian tables, we are talking about the practices of Shem, Ham and Japhet and Noah, for at least 300 years after the flood (2523-2223 BCE). Robson has nothing to say about this and hardly any conventional scholar today will talk about this.
Mesopotamian tables overall, not only within the 300 year margin above, had two axes of organization: the horizontal axis where one can find the numerical information and the vertical axis where data deals with different individuals or areas.
Some tables had two axes of calculation but others only one (vertical usually or none).
The orientation of writing is from left to right and top to bottom. It is also the direction of the cuneiform script. Ancient Egypt could write from left to right, right to left, top to bottom and bottom to top. Later Hebrews only wrote from right to left.
For the period of 300 years of Noah's life after the Flood, there are no tables found in the records of Sumer. Nearly 5600 documents from Uruk (assigned by Robson by opinionated chronological guess to 3500 BCE) but all after the Flood (van wyk) indicate that the "needs of a complex administration included offices and quantitative data into separate cases" (Robson).
After the flood, there were only number signs and ideograms (pictures) which represented whole words or ideas.
Pictures were used in the time after the Flood since different languages were only started after 2523 BCE at the Tower of Babel. People could no longer understood each other and to say something, a picture had to be drawn. If they bought a sheep one circle will represent one item, namely the picture of a sheep.
It was placed within one case. After a some time after the Tower of Babel 2523 BCE, writing evolved with the capacity to represent syllables and thereby approximation of the sounds of speech. It appears as if the capacity to good memory faded as the generations continued and also their years of longitivity declined after the Flood.
Fading memories demanded more literacy to "remind them" to aid the memory.
The ability to write was thus not a development as much as a necessity to aid the increased shrinking of the memory capacities. "Book" keeping and archives became a necessity. People forgot their promises, their agreements and more arguments evolved since cultures and languages were also different.
The earliest pictographic and numerical annotations of receipts in the 300 years after the flood was replaced around the death of Noah in 2171 BCE. Sargon of Agade was around 2305 BCE and earlier Lugalzagezzi was in 2330 BCE. Ur-Zababa was in 2396 BCE, 91 years before Sargon and 66 years before Lugalzagezzi (Source is Sumerian Kinglist by Theodore Jacobsen).
Some time, even in the days of Noah maybe, there was a switch of logic so that the visual representation is not used. Pictograms were replaced by linear organization of writing with a syllabic system used. As A. Poebel indicated in the Sumerian Grammar, Sumerian developed and became an agglutinative language which means that syllables were strung together by simple juxtaposition. A number of words intended by a speaker was meant to contain a message. The name Methusalag illustrate Sumerian well. The verb methu and the verb for coming salag is placed adjacent each other to mean: "(when) he dies it (Flood) shall come". The word metu was well known in early Akkadian for dying or death. When Methusaleg died at 967 years, the Flood came.
As to the timing of this shift, it is possible that the Gutian invasion that is sandwiched between the Akkadian empire and the Ur III empire, may have brought this shift.
In the string of words E.MAH.MU.SHU E means house, MAH means sublime, MU means me, and SHU means towards. Thus the sentence means "towards my sublime house" (A. Poebel 3).
The administrative texts comprised 97% of the texts found so far for the period of Noah.
In the period after the death of Noah in 2171 BCE, namely the period of the empire of Ur, 45 500 administrative records were found (Robson for the number).
The period between 2171 BCE and 2004 BCE (destruction of Ur) the accounts were sometimes prosaic, "they record the day to day transfers of goods, livestock, and personnel from the responsibility of one official to another, and those records are made linearly across the surface of the tablet" (Robson 21).
Puzrish-Dagan was a Market depot about 20 km from Nippur and livestock were brought there for a period of 33 years.
As Robson showed in one example but also as it can be seen on the tablets from this market kept at Andrews University in the Horn Museum and translated by Marcel Sigrist, a typical text will read:
12 sheep, 11 goats, 7 goats day 20.
Robson found that such an accounting system would have been compiled from at least 30 daily records and for one year about 500 such tablets were used to account the year totals. She calls the system "inefficient" (Robson 21).
During the Ur III dynasty 2112 BCE until 2004 BCE a small number of accounting tables are known (Robson 21).
In fact, this example is at Andrews University in the Horn Musuem AUAM 73.0400 and is from Puzrish-Dagan. Marcel Sigrist published all the account texts of this market that is at Andrews University, the Seventh day Adventist University (M. Sigrist, Neo-Sumerian account texts in the Horn Archaeological Museum, vol. 1, Andrews University Press, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 1984, no. 56). Robson dated it to 2028 BCE.

The text reads:

3      3      3       2        1       lambs
93    93     93      6[2]     31      first-rate sheep
6      6      6       4        2       billy goats
102   102   102     68       [3]4

(Source: E. Robson 21-22).
Abraham was born in 2231 BCE and he overlapped Noah until Noah died in 2171 BCE.
Abraham already left Ur when this table was produced at Ur.
Robson indicated that this text at Andrews University is the earliest known tabular account (Robson 22).