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Durham University

Department of Classics and Ancient History


Publication details for Dr Kathryn Stevens

Stevens, Kathryn (2013). Secrets in the Library: Protected Scholarship and Professional Identity in Late Babylonian Uruk. Iraq: Journal of the British Institute for the study of Iraq 75: 211-253.

Author(s) from Durham


Injunctions to secrecy in the colophons of scholarly cuneiform tablets offer potential insights into the classification and protection of knowledge in Mesopotamia. However, most models of a body of “secret knowledge” defined by the so-called “Geheimwissen colophons” have found it difficult to account for a seemingly disparate corpus of protected texts. This study argues first for an expanded definition of intellectual protection, which leads to a larger corpus of protected texts. Through a case study of Late Babylonian colophons from Uruk, it is suggested that there is a strong correlation between texts related to the professional specialism of the tablet owner, and the occurrence of protective formulae in the colophon. This implies that it is fruitful to consider “secret knowledge” less as an abstracted corpus of esoteric texts and more as a mutable categorisation strongly linked to professional and individual intellectual identity.