Thursday, June 9, 2011

Editing over the Decades

Randall Stephens

I've worked, at most, 7 years on a single project. But, I'm just one person, toiling on my books and articles. The scholars at the Jefferson Papers--Bland Whitley is one of them--have been editing away for over 60 years. I wonder how long the researches at Yale have been doing the same with the Jonathan Edwards Papers? There must be a record for longest ongoing project. 100 years? 200 years? 1,000 years?

See the June 6 article in the NYT, "After 90 Years, a Dictionary of an Ancient World," by John Noble Wilford. Writes Wilford: "Ninety years in the making, the 21-volume dictionary of the language of ancient Mesopotamia and its Babylonian and Assyrian dialects, unspoken for 2,000 years but preserved on clay tablets and in stone inscriptions deciphered over the last two centuries, has finally been completed by scholars at the University of Chicago."

And the dictionary is more of an encyclopedia than simply a concise glossary of words and definitions. Many words with multiple meanings and extensive associations with history are followed by page after page of discourse ranging through literature, law, religion, commerce and everyday life. There are, for example, 17 pages devoted to the word “umu,” meaning “day.”

The word “ardu,” for slave, introduces extensive material available on slavery in the culture. And it may or may not reflect on the society that one of its more versatile verbs was “kalu,” which in different contexts can mean detain, delay, hold back, keep in custody, interrupt and so forth. The word “di nu,” like “case” in English, Dr. Cooper pointed out, can refer to a legal case or lawsuit, a verdict or judgment, or to law in general.>>>

The dictionary set costs a fortune, but can be downloaded for free in PDF form. So, if you're hankering to know what the earliest recorded wisdom was on love, food, work, law, and more, browse away!

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