Samuel Chen


Associate Faculty Member

Faculty / College Address:

Oriental Institute


Research Interests:

My research deals with the following areas related to ancient Mesopotamia and biblical Israel: intellectual, literary, political and religious history; historiography; history of interpretation; dynamic relationship between tradition and innovation; mythology; political and religious ideologies; wisdom literature; and cultural and intellectual exchanges.

In my recent research I focus on the conceptual, literary and socio-political processes through which ancient Mesopotamian and biblical traditions related to the origins of the world or early world history developed. The beginning or early stages of the world were considered vitally important for intellectual and social reasons in the ancient Near East. Understanding how early world history was conceived and represented in ancient Mesopotamia and biblical Israel will shed light on how historical consciousness was achieved as well as how early world history was constructed for the establishment of identity, power, wisdom and control in ancient Near Eastern societies.

My monograph, a revised version of the first volume of my D.Phil. thesis, tackles the development of ancient Mesopotamian flood traditions as one of the best documented examples illustrating the continuities and changes in Mesopotamian intellectual, linguistic, literary, political and religious history over the course of two and a half millennia (ca. 2500 B.C.–A.D. 100). The monograph traces not only the origins and early development of the primeval flood catastrophe motif and its mythological and chronographic representations but also the complex transmission history of the motif and representations in different strands of Sumerian and Babylonian traditions, such as the Instructions of Šuruppak, the Sumerian King List, and Sumerian and Babylonian traditions related to Gilgameš.

My research in Assyriology has contributed to two major scholarly on-line resources: the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature ( and the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (

Current Projects:

  • Development of understanding of early world history in ancient Mesopotamia and Israel
  • Transmission and composition history of Mesopotamian literature related to the Flood
  • Evolution of the Babylonian Gilgameš epic
  • Interaction between ancient Mesopotamian mythological and chronographic traditions
  • Conception of time in the ancient Near East
  • Cultural memory and the construction of political legitimacy during the early Isin dynasty (2017–1896 B.C.)
  • The economic nature of wisdom in the Book of Proverbs
  • Historical Consciousness and Historiography 

I serve as Principal Investigator of the Historical Consciousness and Historiography project with its launching conference held at Merton College, University of Oxford, 17 - 19 September 2014. The event is jointly sponsored by the Faculties of Classics and Oriental Studies; the Craven Fund; The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities; the John Fell Fund; the Jowett Copyright Trust; the Lancelyn Green Fund, Merton College; the Lorne Thyssen Research Fund for Ancient World Topics, Wolfson College; the Corpus Christi College Centre for the Study of Greek and Roman Antiquity; the Maison Française d’Oxford & the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS); the Hellenic Society; and the Classical Association.

Courses Taught:

  • Ancient Mesopotamian and Biblical Historiography
  • Mesopotamian Literature
  • Biblical Literature
  • Biblical Hebrew
  • History of Civilisation
  • Sumerian, Babylonian and Biblical Texts Related to Early World History
  • Historical and Historiographical Research

Recent Publications:


The Primeval Flood Catastrophe: Origins and Early Developments in Sumerian and Babylonian Traditions. Oxford Oriental Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

The Primeval Flood Catastrophe: Origins and Early Developments in Sumerian and Babylonian Traditions - front cover

Corrections: Please note that the cuneiform tablet image (UET 6/2 169 rev.) of Plate 16 in the book does not match the reference UET 6/2 132 obv. in the caption below. Also, the reference on the first line of the caption should be 'LSU 360-86a' instead of 'LSU 357-87'. Please cllck this link to access the correct cuneiform tablet image (UET 6/2 132 obv.) and the revised caption.

The monograph has been reviewed by Alan Millard in Strata 32 (2014): 144-46; B. R. Foster in Archiv für Orientforschung 53 (2015): 163–4; Jeffrey Morrow in Review of Biblical Literature 2 (2016): ; Alan Lenzi in History of Religions 55 (2016): 367-70; and Andrew George in Journal of the American Oriental Society 136.2 (2016):442-5.


'Chen’s  book  is  one  of  the  most  original  and  challenging  contributions  to  the  study  of  the  Flood  story  since   George  Smith’s  “Chaldaean  Account  of  the  Deluge”  of 1873 and the Lambert - Millard publication and edition of  Atrahasis  in  1969. . . .
Chen’s  study  is  a  model  of  careful,  judicious  argument  and  presentation  of  evidence  in  support  of  a  thesis,   based  on  wide  reading,  clearly  articulated  assumptions,  and deep reflections. Well aware that something new could turn  up  at  any  time  to  tangle  the  intricate  threads  he  has   laid  out,  Chen  has  nonetheless  amply  demonstrated  the   power  and  productivity  of  his  basic  method,  particularly   the  potential  of  what  might  be  called  holistic  intertextual   analysis,  rather  than  just  tracing  and  relating  one  or  two   “motifs”  or  “topoi,”  as  has  more  commonly  been  done.   There  is  always  some  risk  of  Systemzwang  or  carrying   the  parallels  too  far  and  some  readers  may  feel  the  stress   of  this  here  and  there  in  the  inquiry,  preferring  to  leave   more  room  for  messiness  and  individuality.  But,  just  as   no  one  has  juxtaposed  and  discussed  in  such  detail  the   assortment  of  Sumerian  and  Akkadian  compositions  and   passages  so  ably  treated  here  nor  placed  them  in  such  a  specific cultural and historical context, so too no one who follows  Chen’s  discussion  can  now  fail  to  see  the  connections  (and  omissions)  he  has  pointed  up,  whether  or  not   he  always  agrees  with  Chen  in  his  assessments  of  them.   The  book  is  nicely  produced  and  lavishly  illustrated  with   images  of  cuneiform  texts;  there  is  a  thoughtful  and  very   useful  index  that  responded  well  to  multiple  tests.   
Everyone  interested  in  the  interconnections  of  Sumerian  and  Old  Babylonian  Akkadian  literature  should   give  this  remarkable  and  meticulously  presented  inquiry   closest  attention.  Furthermore,  any  serious  study  of  the   Mesopotamian  Flood  story  hereafter  will  have  to  give  the   evidence  it  presents,  as  well  as  its  conclusions,  careful   consideration.' 

B. R. Foster in Archiv für Orientforschung 53 (2015): 163–4


Edited Volume: 

  • Historical Consciousness and the Use of the Past in the Ancient World, ed. John Baines, Henriette van der Blom, Yi Samuel Chen and Tim Rood. Sheffield: Equinox, 2019 (forthcoming).  

Article in an Edited Volume:

Journal Article:

Blog Article: 

Works in Progress:

  • “The Economic Nature of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs”
  • “Reflections on Human Destiny and Representations of Biblical Figures: A Comparative Study on the Testament of Abraham (Recension A) and Qohelet”
  •  “The Use of Negation in Mesopotamian and Biblical Myths of Origins”
  • “The Making of Prehistory in Ancient Mesopotamian Traditions”
  • “Dating the Flood Myth in Ancient Near Eastern Chronographic and Calendric Traditions”
  •  “Comparative Studies of the Mesopotamian and Biblical Flood Stories and the Comparative Methods”
  • “Conception of Time in Ancient Mesopotamia: A Preliminary Report"

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