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Ancient Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice

ISBN: 978-1-4051-2652-6
234 pages
May 2010, Wiley-Blackwell
Ancient Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice (1405126523) cover image


Utilizing a great variety of previously unknown cuneiform tablets, Ancient Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice examines the way medicine was practiced by various Babylonian professionals of the 2nd and 1st millennium B.C.
  • Represents the first overview of Babylonian medicine utilizing cuneiform sources, including archives of court letters, medical recipes, and commentaries written by ancient scholars
  • Attempts to reconcile the ways in which medicine and magic were related
  • Assigns authorship to various types of medical literature that were previously considered anonymous
  • Rejects the approach of other scholars that have attempted to apply modern diagnostic methods to ancient illnesses
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations viii

List of Abbreviations x

Acknowledgments xii

Introduction to Babylonian Medicine and Magic 1

1 Medicine as Science 11

2 Who Did What to Whom? 43

3 The Politics of Medicine 56

4 Medicine as Literature 89

5 Medicine and Philosophy 118

6 Medical Training: MD or PhD? 130

7 Uruk Medical Commentaries 141

8 Medicine and Magic as Independent Approaches to Healing 161

Appendix: An Edition of a Medical Commentary 168

Notes 177

References 202

Subject Index 211

Selective Index of Akkadian and Greek Words 217

Index of Akkadian Personal Names 220

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Author Information

Markham J. Geller is Professor of Semitic Languages at University College London and Guest Professor at the Freie Universität Berlin. He is the author of Evil Demons: Canonical Utukkū Lemnūtu Incantations (2007) and co-editor of Disease in Babylonia (2007) and Imagining Creation (2008).
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“Ancient Babylonian Medicineis an important and fascinating book which not only provides a much needed introduction to the theory and practice of medicine in ancient Mesopotamia but also makes a significant contribution to the study of ancient Mesopotamian scholarship. It is clearly and elegantly written, nicely illustrated, and well produced.”  (Aestimatio, 1 June 2013) 

"This book is a rare achievement: as a scholarly work, it provides an important addition to the history of medicine; for the general reader, it is a fascinating introduction to the theory and practice of medicine in Mesopotamian society." (Antiquity Reviews, 2011)

"In sum, Geller has written a remarkably useful and thoughtful volume on what is an elusive topic. Assyriologists and historians of medicine will gain much from reading this work and it will certainly become required reading for the discipline." (Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 19 August 2011)

"Markham J. Geller brings a welcome, dual expertise now rather rare in medical history (he is an MD as well as a Rabbi and Professor of Semitic Languages), and some of his previous studies of Talmudic texts led him to the discovery of medical loan-words that turned out to be embedded Akka-dian dating from the period known as the "Babylonian Captivity". (Times Literary Supplement, 21 January 2011)

"He appends a commentary probably composed by the Uruk scholar Iqisa, who flourished in the latter part of the fourth century BC; the transcription, and possibly the translation, is from a 1924 edition by Campbell Thompson." (SciTech Book News, December 2010)

"A magisterial overview of Babylonian medicine, extremely well written. Geller is eminently successful in opening up the subject to non-experts and stimulating historians of medicine of other periods to engage with the field."
Philip van der Eijk, Humboldt University Berlin

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