Samuel Chen


Associate Faculty Member; Research Fellow in Ancient Near Eastern Studies/History of Civilisation, Wolfson College 

Faculty / College Address:

Oriental Institute / Wolfson College


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.

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; 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.

Edited Volume: 

  • Historical Consciousness and the Use of the Past in the Ancient World (3000 BC - AD 600), ed. Y S Chen, John Baines, Henriette van der Blom, and Tim Rood (in progress).  

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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