Assyrian Dictionary | The Helsinki Neo-Assyrian Dictionary
Posted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 04:01 PM CT
(From the inside cover)
5000 years of Writing
Writing is Humankind's most far-reaching creation. No other invention has had a longer and greater impact. The history of writing and the history of mankind are synonymous. Everything that happened prior to the invention of writing we label prehistory. Non-verbal communication started with cave paintings. The oldest of these are found in Chauvet, a cave in France. The drawings there were made in 35,000 BC. Some five billion people can read and write today, about 85 percent of the world's population. The invention of writing provided a foundation upon which all subsequent intellectual and technological progress has been built. We enjoy the benefits of modem civilization today because of that foundation.
The transition from the spoken to the written word occurred because writing meets certain needs so much more effectively. Subway ads, priceless first editions, speedy e-mail — all can be traced to clay tokens, precursors of writing, used to count goods in the Middle East. It gradually became, among the people of Mesopotamia, first a form of memorandum, then a system for recording spoken language, and, above all, an alternative medium for communication, thought, and expression. Called cuneiform, it is a written form of the Sumerian language. Developed from pictographic script, when pictures represented words, cuneiform was a syllabic system. A wedge shaped instrument was impressed into soft clay tablets. Cuneiform was used for over 3,000 years. While cuneiform signs were spreading throughout Mesopotamia, other writing systems were appearing and being developed in nearby and distant lands. From one end of the world to the other, people, seeing writing as a divine gift, set themselves to record their past on stone, clay, and papyrus. Among many other significant achievements, the invention of cuneiform allowed the preservation of hymns, divination texts, and what we have to describe as literature. Writing permits analysis, precision, and communication with future generations in a way not possible via the spoken word. It has helped preserve the three major monotheistic religions. The invention of writing laid the foundation for the development of a system of formal education.
Once cuneiform writing was fully evolved, it was sufficiently flexible to be able to record other languages in addition to Sumerian, like Akkadian. In time this writing system became that of the mighty kingdom of Assyria and of the kingdom of Babylon, which rose to power in the 18th century BC. Written fragments have been recovered, largely from the library of Assyrian king Assurbanipal at Nineveh, of great Epics. These epics, which anticipate the great Greek myths, in particular the Labors of Hercules, also contain an extraordinary retelling of the flood story, which foreshadows the account in the Bible. Writing has become the vehicle for the recording of historical events and for the expression of the deepest religious and philosophical concerns of humanity.
Aramaic Dictionary (search online)