Do any fedi friends have access to a theological library?

I'm trying to find someone to help me get a photocopy of a page or two from this book:

It allegedly contains a photo of a cuneiform tablet which records history's oldest joke.

As a clown, I need a copy. :)

I'm also interested in having a copy of the book, though it seems to be looooooong out of print.

Any help, including boosts, appreciated!

@RussSharek there's a Twitter that linked to digitizing of sumerian texts regularly... I might be able to dig them up again.

@RussSharek failing that, I have access to a library that purports to contain it and wouldn't mind looking for the relevant page.

@RussSharek not taking any of the offered courses on sumerian was one of my regrets in my time here. :)


I can imagine it would be interesting, and you'd have an excuse to make cuneiform tablets.

I'd appreciate any help you are willing to offer on finding the tablet in question. I'm attaching a copy of the joke someone re-cuneiform'ed (is that a word).

Would love to have a photo of the original, and any backing information.

Dr. Alster was an esteemed Assyrian scholar. May he Rest In Peace.
- simple search ‘Alster’
- for pictures of tablets… more info on Wiki page:

-from journal ‘Iraq’ - published by The British Institute for the Study of Iraq 2012. Streck & Wasserman tackled cuneiform translation issues and cite Alster

Below is an article re alleged jokes

Good luck!


Hmmm,.. I don’t know Russ

Something tells me that this proverb is certified fake… cuneiform inscriptions and all!

Where did you find this?


This is one of those that keeps coming up for me. I finally decided to buckle down and research "the world's oldest joke" a bit and got just enough leads to re-ignite this thread. I've been at least able to verify that the proverb exists, and was listed in Alster's out-of-print book.


If I’m wrong I’ll buy you a bag of skittles !! 🌈

I’ll be waiting !! 😊


If I end a decade-long mystery by getting to play internet sleuth with smart people all over the world over a mistranslated cuneiform fart joke I'll still consider it a worthy bit of research.


I agree my friend

On another note … it’s been 10 years, huh? I totally relate


It hasn't been a full-time search.

Periodically someone sees a comedy or a clown thing, and sends it my way along with a message that says it made them think of me. I'm always flattered, and a few times it's led to interesting adventures like this ongoing research project.

I had bubkis for a year on this one until a couple of days ago, when a friend who knows about the tablet story found a legit reference to it...and the rest is this thread. :)


I've wanted a photo of the original tablet to frame over my desk.

I thought it would be a nice reminder that, in all these years, the job of comedy hasn't changed that much.


Who needs Netflix when we have you Russ ?! 😆

You’re like a brother from another mother ! Mad respect! 🙌🏼


Happy to help provide a little entertainment.

If you really want to have some fun conversations, look for my posts about circus practice jitsi calls. :)

Writing prompt: A six-line AAABBB rhyming chant about Russ, ends in "he even federates".
Ah, there we go:

You've been clowned
He's profound
Re-examines common ground

He relates
He even federates

He is Russ



The CDLI is amazing. Sadly, most of the tablets listed offer no translation.


I noticed that a majority of CDLI links lead to…nothing

What’s the big secret around here ?? Academic snobbery ruffles my freaking feathers !! 😤

And what’s with Iraq “losing” tablets?? The buffoonery !!

Wow ! 🙄

@AlohaPilgrim @RussSharek Entirely a coincidence I'm sure (I assume the name Alster is a variant of Alistair?), but "alster" means "piece of art" in Swedish.


I haven't had a twitter account in a few years now. Mind giving them a ping?

I've been fascinated that this has been an easy to find-out-about thing, but so difficult to actually find thing.

@RussSharek They only had Alster's 'Wisdom of Ancient Sumer' (2005), which it isn't in. I'll check at the library.


Yeah, frustrating point of confusion. It's in Proverbs of Ancient Sumer from 1997, and I really appreciate you looking for me.


The table of contents doesn't show anything promising. Thank you though!

@RussSharek @TeddyTheBest the index is terrible. I’ll have to borrow both volumes and manually search through the entire text.

@g @TheGibson

I'm still hunting...thank you for asking your friend for help!

@RussSharek I have both a physical copy available in our library at work, and apparently access to it online (checking now).

The joys of working at an Academic Library :)

@RussSharek Oh scratch the online copy, it's actually in the references of some other book by Ruth Finnegan.

But I still have access to the physical copy.


I'm impressed that I got this far. Any chance you'd be willing to look for the tablet in question, or references to it?

@RussSharek I'm in the office on Tuesday (it's currently Sunday night). So I'll try to remember to pop over to the central library and scan the relevant pages :)


You will have a clown in your debt.

Thank you so much!

@RussSharek well it is definitely in this tome. Now to correlate with the photos and drawings.

@RussSharek my initial perusal of the photographs in the book seems to suggest several are missing, compared with the text collection, and it looks like the proverb you’re after is one of them :-(

I’ll keep trying to decode the mystical references though in case I’m mistaken.

@RussSharek and according to the museum index, the Museum Numbers for the three fragments you are interested in are: Ni 9084 + 4085 + 4432 SP 1 A.

Ni is for the Nippur Collection of the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul.

It definitely appears this tome does not have the photo you are after though.

@RussSharek The email address for the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul is:

Maybe they have and would be willing to share, a hi-res photo of the pieces previously noted.


The amount of research you've done here is absolutely amazing, and I cannot thank you enough. As soon as I have a moment, I'll put together a coherent email and send it off to Istanbul in hopes of completing the journey.

Thank you again for everything!


This one has been with me a while, and only recently did I get enough clues to even ask for help.

@clacke @RussSharek apparently. Seems like a lot but I’m not a cuneiform expert by any means.

@RussSharek don't know where you are, but WorldCat may give you an option for a library with a copy nearby . For me, several university libraries have it near me. Follow the link and replace the location for search.


Thank you for the link!

I was already sourcing the same list.

Unfortunately, I hit two stumbling blocks:

1. Where I am is a little...covid-y...for visiting universities right now.
2. Said places are also famously not-keen on granting public access to their shelves.

Thankfully, a couple of academic-adjacent fedi-friends said they'd take a look for me next week.

@RussSharek excellent news. Do let me know if you continue to run into problems and I may be able to swing by a library soon that has it. I have access to a few theological libraries as well.

Though, the closest one for me is not quite as close as I initially thought, looking at the list.


Thank you. I'll consider you a part of the clown research reserves list. :)

@keelancook @RussSharek I know someone upthread said they could go get it from their work library but also goddamn I was two miles from the Ann Arbor library literally yesterday and 100% would have made that detour :neko_cry:

@sashakovich @keelancook

I feel like we're going to get some very weird looks when people all over the world descend on libraries asking for cuneiform tablet translations and tell the librarians they're for a clown.

@RussSharek @keelancook nah I know enough librarians that would say “hell yeah take me with you on this journey”

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