Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Sumerian Roots of the American Preamble

The Prologue to the Law Code of Lipit-Ishtar (1934-1924 B.C.) sets out the purposes of the Sumerian King's Administration and resembles, in form and substance, the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States more closely than any document produced during the centuries that separate the two.

The Sumerian Prologue

When An (and) Enlil

Had called (on) Lipit-Ishtar,

The Wise Shepherd,

Whose name had been pronounced by Nunamnir,

To the Princeship of the Land,

In order to:

Establish Justice in the Land,

To Banish Complaints,

To Turn Back Enmity (and) Rebellion

By the Force of Arms, (and)

To Bring Well-being to the Sumerians and Akkadians, . . .

Then I, Lipit-Ishtar . . . procured . . . Amargi (Liberty)

Of the sons and daughters of Sumer and Akkad

Upon whom ... Slaveship had been imposed.

The American Preamble

We The People of the United States,

In order to form a more perfect Union,

Establish Justice,

Insure Domestic Tranquility,

Provide for the Common Defence,

Promote the General Welfare and

Secure the Blessings of Liberty

To Ourselves and Our Posterity,

Do Ordain and Establish

This Constitution for the United States of America.


(James T. McGuire, The Sumerian Roots of the American Preamble, Lough Erene Press, 1994, pp. v, 3, 5; contributor: Kramer, Samuel N.; illustrator: McGuire, Cecilia.)

Monday, August 30, 2010


The Ancient Near Eastern Background of Some Modern Western Institutions


William W. Hallo

Modern western culture owes much to ancient Near Eastern precedent. "Origins" documents that debt in specific terms, covering a variety of topics from the alphabet and its order to the system of dating by eras, and including many of the institutions most essential to contemporary life - and most often taken for granted.

Origins is the first fully comprehensive study of the debt owed by modern western culture to Ancient Near Eastern civilization - a debt touched upon by standard histories of the Ancient Near East but never as systematically investigated as here by William W. Hallo.

The author, who has devoted a lifetime to the study of the Ancient Near East, places the emphasis on the way the Ancient Near East continues to shape our Western world. He takes an in-depth look at the ancient origins of many institutions that are most essential to contemporary life - and most often taken for granted.

In the exploration of the "first half of history", Hallo shows that modern ideas of urbanism and the formation of capital were first developed between 3000-500 BC and that aspects of 20th-century agriculture, manufacturing and trade go back to ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and Israel.

Special attention is given to the role played by women, arguing that this was an often non-traditional one; for example, women are shown to have been among the first authors in history who are actually known by their names.

The scope of the work is vast: Hallo methodically examines a wide range of topics, from the order of the alphabet to the coronation of kings, and from schooling to the calendar. An intriguing touch is provided by sections on games and on the world's oldest cookbooks.

This ground-breaking study leaves the reader with a full appreciation of the legacy of the Ancient Near East to modern Western society, in all its aspects. It will be essential reading for researchers and general readers alike who are interested in the cultural history of the West as well as the history of the Ancient Near East.

William Wolfgang Hallo (born 1928) is an emeritus professor of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature at Yale University. He also used to be curator of the Babylonian collection at the same university. He is also responsible for an important translation, of Franz Rosenzweig's The Star of Redemption, into English.