Kušû: Crocodile after all?
The correct translation for the Akkadian word kušû has long remained mysterious. The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (vol. 8: K: 602) remains noncommittal by merely declaring it an “aquatic animal”; a near certainty in view of its frequent association with the fish determinative KU6. However, other scholars have long attempted to be more specific. The “crocodile” translation of kušû already appears in an early publication of von Soden (1936), but when the word was first studied in detail by Landsberger (1962), he switched his own initial belief in “crocodile” to a translation of “shark”. This suggestion was cautiously supported by Lambert (1971), but still failed to gain universal acceptance. A review of the textual evidence by Cohen (1973) instead argued that kušû meant “turtle”, while also acknowledging a case for it meaning “shark”, “seal”, or “crab”. This last translation, “crab”, was subsequently endorsed by Labat (1994), but the “crocodile” translation also began to tentatively re-emerge in the works of Livingstone (1989) and Foster (2005). To date, the last installment of this translation saga came when Cohen (2011) changed his opinion on kušû, no longer considering it as meaning “turtle”, but rather tentatively supporting “crocodile” or “crab”. The confusion has therefore continued unabated, not at all helped by the evidence not being reassessed in over forty years. This piece aims to set the record straight, pointing out the inherent strength of the recently rehabilitated “crocodile” translation and the inadequacy of the perceived alternatives.