Friday, September 6, 2013


Martin Worthington, Complete Babylonian: A Teach Yourself Guide (Revised edition; first published 2010). Teach yourself. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012. Pp. xxi, 377. ISBN 9780071747370. $32.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Brit Kärger​, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen​ (

Version at BMCR home site


Martin Worthington's Complete Babylonian is a very helpful introduction to Babylonian/Akkadian. The present reviewer uses it as a primary handbook for teaching first year Akkadian students, though it is directed not only toward students and teachers of Akkadian, but also toward anyone interested in ancient languages. It is not meant to provide a complete Akkadian grammar and presentation of cuneiform writings, but "it will enable you to understand and enjoy the textual treasures which the Babylonians have left us..." (p. xxi). Already on the back cover of the book helpful hints are provided, including a summary of the author's goals. There are seven parts, which are divided into 47 sections.

Part I "Getting started" (chapters 1–5, pp. 1–20) gives a brief overview of Akkadian, further reading, user guide, pronunciation, writing as well as grammatical basics (roots, patterns).

Part II "Nouns and adjectives" (chapters 6–13, pp. 21–82) focuses on articles in Akkadian and cases (including vocative), gender, and number of nouns and adjectives as well as different ways to express genitival relations, possessive suffixes, prepositions and so forth. Thus, this part provides the significant elements concerning the nominal and adjective patterns. The basic rules are presented in a didactically clear way with the aid of mnemonic devices.

In Part III "Strong verbs" (chapters 14–22, pp. 83–149), Worthington offers a new way of learning how the Akkadian verbal system works. The Akkadian verbs operate in four main stems (i.e., G, D, Š, and N), each of which has its own subgroups. Normally, the verb forms (i.e., tense and mood) are taught according to these stems. Worthington presents the verb stems together but arranges them according to the tenses and moods (i.e., present, preterite, perfect, stative, imperative, precative, and infinitive, in chapters 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21 and 22 respectively). In the reviewer's opinion, Worthington's approach better clarifies the similarities and differences between the stems. However, the reviewer does not understand why he discusses the participle and the derived stems (i.e., Gtn, Dtn, Ntn, Štn, Gt, Dt, Št) in Part VI (chapters 33–34, pp. 215–229) of the book separately from the main treatments of the verbs. The accusative, dative, and ventive suffixes are discussed in Part III as well.

The grammatical basics in Part IV, "Weak and irregular verbs" (chapters 23–28, pp. 150–185) are taught very creatively. For instance, the way in which Worthington describes II-weak verbs in terms of their trying to imitate "strong" verbs is amusing and makes this difficult verb group more accessible than previous textbooks (pp. 166–167).

Part V "Clauses into sentences" (chapters 29–32, pp. 186–214) explains the most important rules of Akkadian syntax: verbless clauses, subordinate clauses, relative clauses, and so forth.

Part VI "Further topics" (chapters 33–42, pp. 215–259) treats the stems with -t- and -tan- infixes (chapter 33–34), participles (chapter 35), adverbs (chapter 36), independent pronouns (chapter 37), quadriliteral verbs (chapter 38), and numbers (chapter 39). It then includes a few short samples of cuneiform script (chapter 40) and an outline of the main features of the Assyrian dialect (chapter 41). It also offers references to dictionaries, sign lists, and online materials (chapter 42).

Part VII "Reference" (chapters 43–47, pp. 260–282) contains a selection of Akkadian vocabulary of all periods (chapter 43), an explanation of the "main features of syllabic spelling" (chapter 44); a "summary of strong verbs" (chapter 45), a survey of the formation of nouns and adjectives (chapter 46), and an overview of the main sound changes (chapter 47).

Apart from chapters 1–4 and 35–47, each chapter includes extensive exercises. Unlike in other textbooks of the Akkadian language, the exercises contain grammatical elements that are presented in later chapters. In these cases, translations of the words in unknown forms are given in round brackets. Through Worthington's Complete Babylonian, one can easily familiarize oneself with the broad repertoire of Akkadian sources. He has chosen original texts from different genres in Babylonian and Assyrian dialects from the second and first millennia BC, with bibliographical references in the chapter "Key to the exercises." Furthermore, readers are able to read original texts from different periods as soon as they start learning the Akkadian language. At the end of each chapter, Worthington presents the "most important facts" of the lessons. In addition to grammatical discussions of the Akkadian language, he offers many informative details on Mesopotamian culture.

The book concludes with a list of the most important Sumerograms (i.e., logograms) and their Babylonian equivalents, the key to the exercises, a Babylonian-English glossary, a list of abbreviations and an alphabethical index.

The main problem is the coverage of the cuneiform script. Specialists know that one can only learn to read cuneiform by tackling original texts as often as possible, but Complete Babylonian hardly treats cuneiform at all (only in chapter 40), and essentially teaches the language in transliteration only. To those who wish to learn cuneiform, I therefore recommend the parallel use of other textbooks, such as Michael P. Streck's recently published Altbabylonisches Lehrbuch (Wiesbaden, 2011), which includes cuneiform signs from the Old Babylonian and Neo-Assyrian Periods.

Furthermore, as Worthington's book is primarily intended for English speakers, important publications in other languages, such as Wolfram von Soden's Grundriss der akkadischen Grammatik, AnOr 33 (Rome, 1995, 3rd ed.) and the above-mentioned book by Streck, must be referred to as well.

The followings are remarks on minor shortcomings in various parts of the book.

P. 24: At the beginning of chapter 6, nouns and adjectives appear partly with and partly without mimation. This inconsistency is explained in chapter 6.11 but might confuse a layman. It would probably make a better sense to give the mimation in brackets: e. g., bēlu(m), šarru(m), and etc.
P. 31: Concerning vowel contraction — the vowel combination ia in the Old Babylonian dialect usually stays uncontracted. However, it should have been noted at this point that contraction of ia to ê was the norm in numerous texts from the Mari archive, e. g., kêm instead of kiam, and annêm instead of anniam. The author mentions this only in chapter 47.1 (p. 276).
P. 44: The singular endings should be damqa(m) and damqi(m) in accusative and genitive respectively.
P. 138 Table 15: The forms of the 2nd, sing. and pl. are scarcely attested and do not follow the regular rule of precative (i.e., lū+pret). If they must be discussed here, the precative forms for the 3rd fem. sing. in the so-called "hymno-epic" dialect should also be mentioned: i.e., ī + ta-... (pret).
P. 138 Table 16: It should be clarified why some words are in brackets: e.g., (ē niPRvS). The same is true for other tables: e.g., 23, 28, 30, 31–35, 38–41, and 43.
P. 152: Table 18: For the sake of consistency the complete forms should be presented here. See, e.g.,Tables 19, 22, and 23, etc.
P. 159: The correct writing of the verb is emēmum.
P. 167: The question should be: "why â?".
P. 175: Sometimes Worthington translates verbs in the 3rd sing. common gender "he/she/it", when the subjects cannot be determined with certainty, e.g., uwaššer "he/she/it released". This is not done consistently, however.
P. 219 Table 35: The 3rd sing. pret. Dtn and 3rd sing. perf. Dtn have been swapped around.

Of course, these criticisms do not detract in any way from the value of the book, whose author deserves the deepest respect.

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