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Department of Near Eastern Studies

Cornell University Cornell University Near Eastern Studies

Ancient Languages




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Ancient NES Languages


NES 1410: Akkadian I: Code of Hammurabi 
This course is a basic introduction to Akkadian, the language that dominated the writing of ancient Iraq for 2,500 years. It was the language of the empires of Babylonia and Assyria and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Students will become familiar with the basic grammar of Akkadian and will, by the end of the semester, be reading and translating the Code of Hammurabi in the original cuneiform script.

NES 1411 - Akkadian II: Historical & Literary Texts
This course continues basic instruction in the Akkadian language by translating some of the most important documents of Ancient Iraq, such as Sargon’s Eighth Military Campaign, the Cyrus Cylinder, the Descent of Ishtar, and the Epic of Gilgamesh.


NES 4440 Aramaic
Prerequisite: knowledge of Hebrew.  For at least a millennium, from the sixth century BCE to the Arab conquest, Aramaic was the international language of diplomacy and commerce in the Near East. In this introductory course we will read the Aramaic portions of the Hebrew Bible, and a selection of material drawn from old Aramaic inscriptions, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the letters from Elephantine, and the Targums. The analysis of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax will presuppose the student’s familiarity with biblical Hebrew.

Biblical Hebrew

NES 1111 Introduction to Biblical Hebrew   
This course is designed to introduce students to the language, grammar, and vocabulary of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.  By the end of the semester students will be able to read and understand a number of biblical narrative passages.  This course will benefit students interested in ancient Israel and the ancient Near East.  It will also permit students to read and understand the grammar of medieval and modern Hebrew. Emphasis will be placed on learning vocabulary in context so that students begin to understand the language of the Bible as a window on ancient Israelite religion, culture, and experience.

NES 4102 Biblical Hebrew Prose: Judges
This is a topics course. The book of Judges in the Bible contains an array of traditions about how the Israelites came to settle in the land of Canaan and their often violent encounters with their Canaanite neighbors. Through reading the book of Judges in the original Hebrew, this course will address issues such as the relationship between violence and identity, the intersections of text and archaeology, Israelite ethnicity, the social, religious and political function of the Judge as charismatic leader, and the way all of these illuminate the evolving relationship between Israel its God, Yahweh.  Close attention will be paid to matters of grammar, syntax, and vocabulary in order to develop students' skills in reading biblical Hebrew prose and to enhance their understanding of the Hebrew language itself as a window on ancient Israelite thought.  Students will be expected to utilize commentaries, biblical Hebrew grammars and lexicons in their preparation of assigned texts.  Prior training in Biblical Hebrew is required.

NES 6923 Intensive Biblical Hebrew
This is an intensive Biblical Hebrew course designed for advanced undergraduates and graduate students with no prior knowledge of Hebrew.  The goal of the course is to achieve a facility with Biblical Hebrew sufficient to read and understand biblical (and related) literatures in Hebrew. This course is limited to 8 students and is by permission only.


Hieroglyphic Egyptian

NES 1450 - Ancient Egyptian I: Introduction to Middle Egyptian Hieroglyphs
For over two thousand years, from the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2100 BCE) into the Roman era, Egyptian monuments were inscribed with hieroglyphs of the Middle Egyptian writing system. In this first of three courses in Ancient Egyptian, students are introduced to the script, phonetics and structure of this classic phase of ancient Egyptian writing. Working with excerpts from actual ancient Egyptian texts, students will learn to use a hieroglyphic sign list and dictionary, and transliterate hieroglyphs into a standardized form that facilitates study of the language’s grammar and syntax. In this first course students will translate nominal, adjectival, and adverbial sentences from Egyptian into English and vice versa, and be introduced to the verbal system, building an Egyptian vocabulary in the process. Having passed this course, students will be prepared for the more advanced verbal forms and more complete texts studied in the second course, Ancient Egyptian II.

NES 1451 - Ancient Egyptian II: Introduction to Middle Egyptian Hieroglyphs
For over two thousand years, from the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2100 BCE) into the Roman era, Egyptian monuments were inscribed with hieroglyphs of the Middle Egyptian writing system. In this second of three courses in Ancient Egyptian, students will learn the complete Middle Egyptian verbal system and continue to enrich their Egyptian vocabulary. We will also begin translating complete literary and religious texts, including the fantastic tale of a sailor’s maritime misadventures and divine encounters (“The Shipwrecked Sailor”) and a hymn in honor of the sun god (“The Litany of Re”). After passing this course, students will be prepared for the richer, more complex texts studied in the second course, Ancient Egyptian III.


NES 3661/6661 Sumerian Language & Culture
This course focuses on a intense introduction to Sumerian language and grammar with additional readings in literature in translation. Particular emphasis is placed on the reading and interpretation of original texts from the Cornell collection and their use in the reconstruction of Mesopotamian history and culture in the third millennium B.C.E.

NES 4769 Readings In Sumerian texts
This class serves as an introduction to Sumerian literature. We will read a sampling of texts in the original cuneiform according to the interests and requests of the students.


NES 1430-1431 Ugaritic I & II  
Study of the language and literature of ancient Ugarit, an important site in northern Canaan. Special attention is paid to the relationships between Ugaritic and Hebrew and between Canaanite literature and the Bible.