Cooking in Cuneiform
Alice Slotsky, PhD Yale 1992 NELC
“When the lion makes soup, who says it’s not good?” (Sumerian proverb)
On behalf of scholarly standards, I do dare complain about the recent soup-making of the Yale Babylonian Collection: “What did ancient Babylonians eat? A Yale-Harvard team tested their recipes,” by Bess Connolly Martell (<https://news.yale.edu/2018/06/14/what-did-ancient-babylonians-eat-yale-harvard-team- tested-their-recipes>). It is astonishing to read that the culinary tablets “might have remained unused forever in a display case in the Yale Babylonian Collection were it not for an invitation to a cooking event…” Add a large cup of smelling salts to the numerous previous culinary events and research based on this material! Further, the brilliant, seminal work of Jean Bottéro on these difficult texts—deciphering, translating, interpreting, instructing— is not credited at all, but referred to as anonymous “old translations.” The following gives a representative sample of previous scholarship and cooking events, all of which acknowledged the essential impossibility of ever knowing exactly the ingredients, measures, and methods:
- Jean Bottéro, “The Culinary Tablets at Yale,” JAOS 107 (1987), his presidential address to the AOS annual meeting.
- “Mastering the Art of Babylonian Cooking,” New York Times, January 3, 1988.
- Jean Bottéro, Textes culinaires Mésopotamiens/Mesopotamian Culinary Texts (1995). Jean Bottéro, The Oldest Cuisine in the World, transl. Theresa Lavender Fagan (2004). Alice Slotsky, SBL Forum “Cuneiform Cuisine: History Reborn at Brown” (2007).
- Laura Kelly, “New Flavors for the Oldest Recipes,” Aramco World 63:6 (2012).
- Alice Slotsky, BBC Science Documentary, “Ideas That Changed the World” (2012). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAp-oA7Ypk4
- Prior cooking events in the U.S. include ones held on the following occasions: the AOS meeting in New Haven (1987); Brown University Department of Classics, Annual Cuneiform Cuisine (1999-2007); the Festschrift presented to B. R. Foster (2010); Harvard Semitic Museum, “A Taste of the Past” with Nawal Nasrallah (2015).
- Several cookbooks have been published, such as Flavours of Babylon by Linda Dangoor (2011), and there are many ongoing blogs, for example, “The Silk Road Gourmet” by Laura Kelly. More popularized articles include “The Cuisine of Babylonia Comes Back Again in Tablet Form,” People Magazine (1988). Jean Bottéro appeared on several French television programs and had wide press coverage.