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  • As dawn breaks in the Babylonian city of Sippar,

  • Beltani receives an urgent visit from her brother.

  • It's 1762 B.C.E., during the reign of King Hammurabi.

  • Beltani is a naditu— a priestess and businesswoman,

  • promised to the temple at birth.

  • At puberty, she changed her name

  • and gained her elevated naditu status in a ceremony where a priest

  • examined the entrails of a sacrificed animal for omens.

  • The naditu are an esteemed group drawn from Babylonia's most affluent families.

  • Though the rules are different for naditu in each city,

  • in Sippar they are celibate and never marry.

  • They live inside the gagum, a walled area inside the temple complex,

  • but are free to come and go, and receive visitors.

  • Beltani owns barley fields and a tavern.

  • Her brother manages these businesses while she fulfils her duties as a priestess.

  • This morning, he makes a troubling accusation:

  • her tavern keeper has been diluting wine with water.

  • If true, this means she's been undermining the business Beltani relies on

  • to sustain her in old age.

  • But the consequences would be even higher for the tavern keeper:

  • the punishment of diluting wine is death by drowning.

  • The temple court is meeting this afternoon.

  • Beltani has just a few short hours

  • to find out whether there's any truth to these allegations.

  • But she can't go to the tavern to investigate.

  • Taverns are off limits for priestesses, even priestesses who own them.

  • She could be burned to death for entering.

  • So she sends for the tavern keeper to meet her at the temple of Shamash,

  • the patron god of Sippar.

  • The temple is a stepped pyramid called a ziggurat,

  • in the heart of the city and visible from twenty miles away.

  • It symbolically connects heaven and earth

  • and is viewed as the literal home of the god Shamash,

  • who gave humanity the code of laws

  • and is the judge of the Babylonian pantheon.

  • Beltani leaves an offering of bread and sesame oil in a private room.

  • She never enters the inner chamber of the temple where the god lives,

  • a place so holy only high priestesses and kings visit.

  • Outside, worshippers play music and leave gifts,

  • which are later collected and used to feed temple workers, including the naditu.

  • The tavern keeper is waiting with grim news.

  • She says Beltani's brother has been altering the weights

  • used to measure payments to cheat customers.

  • When the tavern keeper confronted him,

  • he falsely accused her of watering down the wine.

  • If true, Beltani's brother is the dishonest one

  • and altering weights is another crime punishable by death.

  • Beltani is running out of time to get to the bottom of this.

  • Though she can't go to the tavern,

  • she can check on the barley fields her brother manages

  • to see if he's been honest there.

  • In the granary, she sees much more grain than he reported to her.

  • He's been cheating her out of her share.

  • Like all naditu in Sippar,

  • Beltani inherited the same portion of her father's property as her brother.

  • These were rare circumstances for women in a time and place

  • where property passed through men.

  • Still, their families didn't always honor their rights.

  • Although naditu traditionally went into business with male relatives,

  • the law stated they can choose someone else

  • if their brothers or uncles weren't up to the task.

  • With the evidence she needs, she hurries to court.

  • A judge presides over the temple court along with two naditu

  • the overseer of the gagum and a scribe.

  • Beltani asks to remove her brother as her business manager,

  • citing the granary as evidence that he is mismanaging her properties.

  • The judge grants her request.

  • The scribe records the new contract in cuneiform into a wet clay tablet,

  • and the matter is settled.

  • She's protected her income and spared her brother's life

  • by withholding the true extent of his crimes.

  • Perhaps it is time to adopt a younger priestess:

  • someone to take care of her in old age and inherit her property,

  • who might do a better job of helping with her business.

As dawn breaks in the Babylonian city of Sippar,

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B2 TED-Ed tavern temple keeper brother scribe

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/01/07
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