Biblical Archaeology Review 45:2, March/April 2019

Strata: Acting Out Revenge: Babylonian Style

Revenge, deception, intrigue—The Poor Man of Nippur has it all. In June 2017, Dr. Martin Worthington of Cambridge University and students from his Assyriology class dramatized this ancient Babylonian story and captured it on film. Lasting about 20 minutes, their film was officially launched and made accessible to the public in November 2018. The tale is set in Nippur, a city in southern Iraq, during the second millennium B.C.E. The script itself follows a 160-line poem found on a tablet at Sultantepe, Turkey, and dated to 701 B.C.E.

The plot is fairly straightforward: The main character, Gimil-Ninurta, who is very poor and called a “truly wretched man,” brings a goat (his last possession) to the mayor of Nippur with the hope that the mayor will prepare a feast with the goat. The mayor does—but he gives the poor man only the gristle and bone before unceremoniously throwing him from the house. Gimil-Ninurta vows revenge as he leaves. The rest of the film follows Gimil-Ninurta’s revenge plan, where he pays back the mayor’s wrong threefold.

With a cast of 18 (plus the goat), the Cambridge team performed this ancient story entirely in Babylonian. Subtitles are available in 16 languages for those of us not fluent in the ancient language. It was filmed in various locations, including Cambridge’s campus, the British Museum, and Flag Fen Archaeology Park.

Interested in seeing how Gimil-Ninurta executes his revenge? View their film at

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