Associate Faculty Member; Research Fellow in Ancient Near Eastern Studies/History of Civilisation, Wolfson College
Faculty / College Address:
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 (http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk) and the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (http://cdli.ucla.edu).
- 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.
- 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
The Primeval Flood Catastrophe: Origins and Early Developments in Sumerian and Babylonian Traditions. Oxford Oriental Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
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
- 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:
- “Major Literary Traditions Involved in the Making of Mesopotamian Flood Traditions.” In Opening Heaven’s Floodgates: The Genesis Flood Narrative, Its Contexts and Reception, ed. Jason M. Silverman, 159–208. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2013.
- “The Flood Motif as a Stylistic and Temporal Device in Sumerian Literary Traditions.” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions. 12 (2012): 158–89. The article won the second prize of the International Association for Assyriology in 2014 for the best first Assyriological article written after the Ph.D.
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"