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Simo Parpola

Simo Kaarlo Antero Parpola
Born July, 4, 1943, Helsinki

Bachelor of Arts 1963, Master of Arts, 1965, Licentiate 1969 and PhD 1971 (Assyriology), University of Helsinki

Professor extraordinary of Assyriology 1978–2009, University of Helsinki

Senior Epigraphist, Ziyaret Tepe expedition of the University of Akron, 2002–03
Research Fellow 1999, Institute for Advanced Studies, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Professore contratto 1995, University of Padova
Associate professor with tenure 1977–79, University of Chicago

Docent in Assyriology 1973–76, University of Helsinki

Scholarship for exceptionally talented young scientists 1972–76, University of Helsinki

Research Assistant, 1969–72, Heidelberg University

Research themes

Assyrian language and culture, history, religion, ideology of monarchy, rituals, cuneiform, literature, art, astronomy, medicine and magic, economy, administration, chronology, climate and geography; Jewish mysticism, gnosis; Sumerian language, lexicon and phonology; Indus script; Mesoamerican writing systems

Academic publications

122 academic monographs and articles on Assyrian Language and culture

Awards and special achievements

Honorary member of the American Oriental Society 2001

Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland 2001

The Assyrian American National Federation Award “Non-Assyrian Man of the Year” 2000

University of Helsinki J. V. Snellman Prize 1996

First Class Knight of the Order of the White Rose of Finland 1993

Finnish Union of Professors’ Professor of the Year 1992

Best Master’s Thesis Award 1965, University of Helsinki

Best Classic Award, Hufvudstadsbladet newspaper 1961

Photo: Juri Ahlfors
Written by Simo Parpola and Olli Siitonen (ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

State Archives of Assyria

When Assyria fell in 612 BC, its capital Nineveh was razed to the ground. All of the documents and literature written on papyri, parchments and wax tablets that were kept in the palaces were consumed by a great fire, but tens of thousands of cuneiform texts on clay tablets survived, albeit badly shattered. The State Archives of Assyria project, organised and led by Simo Parpola, has spent the last 30 years putting this enormous jigsaw puzzle together. When the project was launched in 1986, more than half of the archives remained unpublished, and no one could have formed a clear idea of their content, let alone have studied them as a whole.

Now almost 90 per cent of the material has been published in a series of critical text editions titled the State Archives of Assyria (SAA), which is also available on the Internet. The 23-part series is lacking but four parts; the work is in progress, and they will be published within the next few years. All the cuneiform texts found in Assyria (including those found outside Nineveh) have also been placed at the disposal of researchers as a closed database from the outset of the project. Analysis of the material has already greatly changed our ideas of Assyria, and the picture we have of this ancient superpower grows clearer every year. Below are only some examples of this.

Assyrian scribes at work: the bearded figure is writing in cuneiform on a clay tablet, the beardless in letters on leather. Photo from the picture archive of the State Archives of Assyria project.

Assyrian Prophets and the Tree of Life

As late as the 1970s it was commonly believed that the prophecy of the Old Testament was a unique phenomenon, without equivalent outside Israel and Judea. Information from the archives of Nineveh has proved this view to be entirely inaccurate. Now we know that similar prophets were also active and influential in Assyria, and that ecstatic prophecy was a common phenomenon all over Mesopotamia as early as 3000 BC. A critical edition of Assyrian prophecies edited by Parpola was published in 1998, and Martti Nissinen, the current professor of Old Testament Studies at the University of Helsinki and a former student of Parpola, has continued analysing this information and conveying it to Biblical scholars.

Behind the prophets and the entire religion and royal ideology of Assyria was an esoteric lore whose basic principles were illustrated by a symbol equivalent to the cross in Christianity, the “sacred tree.” In the article “The Assyrian Tree of Life,” published in 1993, Parpola showed that the symbolism employed in the Tree was the same as that of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, and that the latter tree was directly borrowed from Assyria. The Tree at once symbolised God as the sum of all natural forces and the king as the image of God and the “Perfect Man.” Thus it also marks the way to salvation through “perfection.” The Tree and its meditation was the key to Assyrian religion, philosophy and the doctrine of salvation, and it was revealed to be astoundingly similar to Jewish mysticism and early Christianity.

Assyrian Atlas, “Who’s Who,” and the English-Assyrian Dictionary

Assyrian sources mention thousands of place names, of which only a small fraction have been located on the map, and thousands of people and personal names, of which nothing was known before the State Archives of Assyria project. Now things have changed. The Assyrian Atlas—33 maps, 46 pages of text and a wall map—was compiled as part of the project, which shows the coordinates of almost 700 places important to the Assyrians (cities, villages, regions, mountains, rivers, waterways, roads etc.). A six-part personal name index—the “Who’s Who” of the Assyrian Empire—containing all the available information from the archives regarding people, was also published. With these tools, studying the texts will be considerably easier in future. Part of the project has also been the analysis of all the words that appear in the texts and then compiling a dictionary, which for the first time in the history of Assyriology makes it possible to search for Assyrian words of a specific meaning through their English equivalents.

The Melammu Project

After the First World War, there was a paradigm shift in the discipline of Assyriology which resulted in a greater emphasis on studying cuneiform sources based on information found only in the texts themselves. This led to Assyriology’s isolation from other fields and its development into a kind of esoteric science to which outsiders had virtually no access beyond introductory works.

To improve this situation, Parpola organised a long-term, multidisciplinary research project in 1998. The project was called Melammu after the Assyrian word for “divine radiance.” The name symbolised the cultural influence Assyria had on the surrounding region in 700-600 BC and later on the ancient world through the great powers of Persia and the Hellenistic kingdoms.

In 17 years Melammu has grown into a major project on an international scale, while erasing the boundaries between disciplines and deepening and altering our understanding of the past. Hundreds of scholars from various fields have participated in the annual Melammu conferences. Presentations from the conferences are published in a series of books, and the project maintains and develops an online database which acts as a bridge back and forth between Antiquity and the Mesopotamian source materials.

Parpola deciphering cuneiform tablets in Ziyaret Tepe, Turkey. Photo by Paola Pugsley.

The Library of Ashurbanipal

The majority of Mesopotamian literary works have traditionally been published in editions meant only for academic audiences, and there is no uniform collection of them comparable, for example, to the Loeb Classical Library. The State Archives of Assyria project aims to rectify this by publishing all literary and scientific texts found in Assyria in a single series, which is intended for educational purposes and therefore will also include printed versions of the original cuneiform texts. So far 10 volumes of myths, wisdom literature, spells and histographic texts have been published under the SAA Cuneiform Texts series, and more are on the way. The long-term goal of the series is to reconstruct, as far as possible, the most extensive collection of scientific and literary works of its time, “the Library of Ashurbanipal”.

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