Dr J. Cale Johnson PhD

Dr J. Cale Johnson

Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology
Senior Lecturer in Assyriology

Contact details

Department of Classics, Ancient History & Archaeology
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am an Assyriologist, specialising in the intellectual history of the ancient Near East. I am particularly interested in scholasticism and scholarly identity in Early Dynastic and Old Babylonian Sumerian literatures, the origins of scientific thought in Mesopotamia and the interaction between intellectuals and the institutions that support them.

Feedback and office hours

  • Tuesday 12:00-13:00
  • Friday 10:00-11:00
  • Also by appointment


  • PhD in Assyriology (UCLA)


I studied Assyriology, Comparative Semitics and Linguistics at UCLA, receiving my PhD in 2004, with a dissertation on applicative constructions in literary Sumerian. I moved to Berlin in late 2008 to work at Freie Universität Berlin and also taught for one year at Universiteit Leiden before coming to the University of Birmingham in 2018. My first book, Unaccusativity and the Double Object Construction in Sumerian, was published in 2010 and my second, in collaboration with M. Geller, The Class Reunion—An Annotated Translation and Commentary on the Sumerian Dialogue Two Scribes, in 2015. I served as Deputy Head of the BabMed Project at the Freie Universität Berlin (2012–2018), where I supervised the creation of the online corpora of therapeutic, diagnostic and physiognomic texts made available at the BabMed website.


I teach several ancient languages written in cuneiform, primarily Sumerian and Akkadian, as well as courses on Mesopotamian mythology and literature, the history of Mesopotamia and Syria, and Mesopotamian scientific thought. I’m currently teaching the following:


  • Early Civilisations of Western Asia
  • Ancient Near Eastern Mythology (including Sumerian, Akkadian, Hurro-Hittite and Ugaritic materials)
  • First-year Seminar on the Origin of Writing and/or Uruk
  • First- and Second-year Akkadian


  • Convenor: MRes Cuneiform and Ancient Near Eastern Studies

Postgraduate supervision

I am currently supervising several PhD dissertation projects. I welcome research projects that focus on:

Sumerian language and literature
Babylonian medicine, pharmacology and physiognomy
Early Mesopotamian administrative and legal history
Linguistics / discourse analysis of the languages of the ancient Near East
Current PhD students
Muhsen Alyami
Eleanor Bennett
Guy Kirkham-Smith
Kerrie Myers

Find out more - our PhD Classics and Ancient History  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


I am finishing up two projects, a new edition of Babylonian medical treatments for gastrointestinal disease, Gastrointestinal Disease and Its Treatment in Ancient Mesopotamia, and an edition of Middle Assyrian administrative archive M6. In future, I hope to continue my work on Babylonian medicine, while at the same preparing several new editions of Sumerian literary works.

Other activities

I am a series co-editor of Cuneiform Monographs at Brill; Deputy Head of the BabMed Project in Berlin, including management of the on-line corpora and the Rereading BabMed Blog.


Select publications. For a full list please see: https://bham.academia.edu/JCaleJohnson


  • Johnson, J. Cale., and M. J. Geller. 2015. The Class Reunion—An Annotated Translation and Commentary on the Sumerian Dialogue 'Two Scribes' (Cuneiform Monographs 47). Leiden: Brill.
  • Johnson, J. Cale. 2010. Unaccusativity and the double object construction in Sumerian. Vienna: LIT.
  • Johnson, J. Cale. (ed.). 2015. In the Wake of the Compendia: Infrastructural Contexts and the Licensing of Empiricism in Ancient and Medieval Mesopotamia (STMAC 3). Berlin: De Gruyter.
  • Garfinkle, S. J., and J. Cale Johnson (eds.) 2008. The Growth of an Early State in Mesopotamia: Studies in Ur III Administration: Proceedings of the First and Second Ur III Workshops at the 49th and 51st Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, London July 10, 2003 and Chicago July 19, 2005 (BPOA 5). Madrid: CSIC.


  • Johnson, J. Cale. 2018. Towards a New Perspective on Babylonian Medicine: The Continuum of Allegoresis and the Emergence of Secular Models in Mesopotamian Scientific Thought. In: Ulrike Steinert, ed., Assyrian and Babylonian Scholarly Text Catalogues (BAM 9, De Gruyter), 55-88
  • Johnson, J. Cale. 2017. The Stuff of Causation: Etiological Metaphor and Pathogenic Channeling in Babylonian Medicine. In: John Z. Wee, ed., The Comparable Body: Analogy and Metaphor in Ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greco-Roman Medicine (SAM 49, Brill), 72-121
  • D'Anna, M. B., C. Jauß, and J. Cale Johnson (eds.). 2016. Food and Urbanization: Material and Textual Perspectives on Alimentary Practice in Early Mesopotamia. Origini 37: 8–14.
  • Johnson, J. C. 2015. Iteration, Citation and Citationality in the Mesopotamian Scholastic Dialogue 'The Class Reunion'. In: E. Cancik-Kirschbaum and A. Traninger, eds., Wissen in Bewegung: Institution — Iteration — Transfer (Harrassowitz), 105–132
  • Johnson, J. Cale. 2015. Depersonalized Case Histories in the Babylonian Therapeutic Compendia. In: J. Cale Johnson, ed., In the Wake of the Compendia (STMAC 3), 289–316
  • Johnson, J. Cale. 2015. Late Uruk Bicameral Orthographies and their Early Dynastic Rezeptionsgeschichte. In: Reinhard Dittmann and Gebhard J. Selz, eds., It's a Long Way to a Historiography of the Early Dynastic Period(s) (AVO 15, Ugarit-Verlag), 169–210
  • Johnson, J. Cale. 2014. Towards a Reconstruction of SUALU IV: Can We Localize K 2386+ in the Therapeutic Corpus? Le Journal des Médecines Cunéiformes 24: 11–38.
  • Johnson, J. Cale. 2014. The Origins of Scholastic Commentary in Mesopotamia: Second-order Schemata in the Early Dynastic Exegetical Imagination. In: Shai Gordin, ed., Visualizing Knowledge and Creating Meaning in Ancient Writing (BBVO 23, PeWe, 2014), 11–55.
  • Cancik-Kirschbaum, E., and J. Cale Johnson. 2013. Middle Assyrian Calendrics. State Archives of Assyria Bulletin 19: 87–152.
  • Johnson, J. Cale. 2013. Indexical Iconicity in Sumerian Belles Lettres. Language and Communication 33: 26–49.

View all publications in research portal