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Tablet #36 by Sumerian Shakespeare

If you like a good mystery and if you’ve been swept up into the hullabaloo of the authenticity of Shakespeare’s works as a result of the movie Anonymous, then you’ll really gobble this stuff up, as it’s just as intriguing…

The mysterious “Tablet #36”. (Source)

This tablet, Tablet #36, is shrouded in mystery.

The only sure thing about it is that it is Mesopotamian, that it’s 4,000 years old, and that it bears Sumerian writing. The sureness stops there.

Ever since this tablet was acquired in 1929 by the Library of Congress from a private collector, it has given even the most seasoned of Sumeriologists a headache in deciphering its message. For years, scholars have speculated that it could be anything, from nothing but Sumerian gibberish to an administrative tablet, though in any case, the writing on it is incomprehensible.

Enter Jerald Jack Starr, who maintains a website dedicated to Mesopotamian history at He has come up with his own theory about Tablet #36, and writes that he believes it is a cryptogram of the world’s first work of literature; a murder mystery, dark comedy and political satire written entirely in code by nothing short of a Sumerian Shakespeare.

“There are some terrible things happening in this story, but it’s told in a humorous manner. No other Sumerian story is so completely comical throughout the text. This tablet is also the world’s first “murder mystery”. There are at least two attempted murders on this tablet. The perpetrators are never named, but clues to their identity and their motives are deliberately planted in the story (Hint: in this murder mystery, the butler didn’t do it).”

Starr points to one detail that led him to the idea that the tablet was encoded. That detail is a key, or a hint, inscribed on the tablet itself, which deciphers only one character, much like with today’s newspaper cryptogram-type puzzles. It was that little hint that helped him unlock what he believes is an ancient literary masterpiece consisting of 40 lines, and a missing ending, thanks to damage to that part of the tablet.

Through his work deciphering, Starr has titled the work as “The Great Fatted Bull.” (Language lovers, you can read the details of how he came to this title here.)

You might be wondering why a mere story much like any bestseller would be written in code. Starr writes that the reason such a story might have been encoded by its scribe is most likely because of its political satire aspect.

“When this tablet was written,” Starr writes, “Sumerian kings were worshiped as living gods; so it’s unlikely that they would allow themselves to be the objects of public ridicule. This is why the tablet is written in code; so it couldn’t be easily read by anyone, except the one who wrote it.”

I urge you to read Starr’s detailed explanation of how he came to the conclusion that Tablet #36 is a 4,000-year-old literary masterpiece. Just keep in mind that this is one individual’s interpretation of a piece that has baffled many for years.


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