The “Electronic Babylonian Literature” (eBL) Project: A general introduction
The Electronic Babylonian Literature (eBL) Project brings together ancient Near Eastern specialists and data scientists to revolutionize the way in which the literature of Iraq in the first millennium BCE is reconstructed and analyzed. Generations of scholars have striven to explore the written culture of this period, in which literature in cuneiform script flourished to an unprecedented degree, but their efforts have been hampered by two factors: the literature’s fragmentary state of reconstruction and the lack of an electronic corpus of texts on which to perform computer-aided analyses.
The eBL project aims to overcome both challenges. First, a comprehensive electronic corpus will be compiled, and legacy raw material now largely inaccessible will be transcribed into a database of fragments (“Fragmentarium”). Secondly, a pioneering sequence alignment algorithm (“cuneiBLAST”) will be developed to query these corpora. This algorithm will propel the reconstruction of Babylonian literature forward by identifying hundreds of new pieces of text, not only in the course of the project but also in the decades to come.
The eBL team will be composed of four members: the PI, a PhD student in Computer Science, a post-doctoral researcher and a PhD student in ancient Near Eastern studies. In addition, Turkish and Iraqi external collaborators will work on manuscripts kept in museums in Istanbul and Baghdad.
In order to answer several fundamental and much-debated questions about the nature of the Babylonian poetic expression and the composition and transmission of the texts, three tools will be developed to data-mine the eBL corpus. The first will search for patterns in the spelling variants in the manuscripts, the second will find rhythmical patterns, and the third will sift the corpus for intertextual parallels. The bottom-up study of the corpus by means of these tools will decisively change our conceptions of how Babylonian literature was composed and experienced by ancient audiences.
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