Before NatureCuneiform Knowledge and the History of Science

Before NatureCuneiform Knowledge and the History of Science

Francesca Rochberg

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226406138

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Before the concept of nature took shape across the long history of European and Islamic natural philosophy and science, for an equally long period beginning in the early second millennium B.C.E. a learned cuneiform world in the ancient Near East engaged in activities manifestly kindred with science in some of the ways it observed and understood phenomena, yet did not seek to ground its understanding in physical nature. This book raises and explores questions about observing and interpreting, theorizing and calculating what we think of as natural phenomena in Assyrian and Babylonian scholarship. Although the object of cuneiform knowledge, as seen in divination, magic, astronomy/astrology, and medicine, was not defined in terms of, or identified with, nature, an axis of knowledge was formed between the knower and an ordered, regular, and intelligible world. Assyro-Babylonian investigation of regularity and irregularity, norms, and anomalies was structured within the epistemic and ontological bounds of that axis. Despite our assumptions as to the attachment of science and scientific knowledge to nature, this book argues that cuneiform knowledge systems that are patently not directed at describing or understanding nature as such can nevertheless be usefully counted as part of the history of science. How to understand cuneiform knowledge and consider its philosophical character, both in relation to the history of science and without recourse to later ideas of nature, is the leitmotif of this book.