John Z. Wee

Assistant Professor of Assyriology

Ph.D. Yale University, 2012. Teaching at Chicago since Autumn 2012.

Special Interests

History of Ancient Medicine, Astronomy, and Mathematics; Mesopotamian Intellectual History

John Wee is a historian of medicine, astronomy, and mathematics in the ancient world, who works primarily with cuneiform manuscripts from Mesopotamia. He considers these histories relevant to our modernity, not only as a lineage to the present, but also as relatable strategies of problem solving in indigenous cultures of mathematics and science. Querying the normativity of modern terminology, concepts, and categories in these fields, he situates their meanings instead in the ways ancient authors imagined and narrated their world.

Recurring themes in his writing include the nature of observation claims, conceptual metaphors underlying scientific and mathematical language and theory, the creation, systematization, and interpretation of knowledge, professional hierarchies and self-fashioning, and the rhetoric and pragmatics of intellectual consensus or dissension.

John received an MA in (Classical) History and a PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Yale University, where he was also designated the Samuel K. Bushnell fellow (2010 – 2011) and awarded the William J. Horwitz Prize (2012). He was chosen as a Provost’s Career Enhancement Postdoctoral Scholar (2012 – 2014) at the University of Chicago, and has been invited to speak at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin), Université Paris Diderot, Brown University, the University of Notre Dame, and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

He teaches courses on Akkadian language and literature, cuneiform and Greek texts on medicine, astronomy, and mathematics, and their ancient commentaries, as well as the undergraduate core course Science, Culture, and Society in Western Civilization I (Ancient Period) in the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine (HIPS) program.



  • Medical Diagnosis in Ancient Iraq. In preparation.

  • Knowledge and Rhetoric in Medical Commentary: Mesopotamian Commentaries on the Diagnostic Series Sa-gig. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East. Leiden: Brill, 2016.


Articles and Essays:

  • Chapter on Mathematical Explanations and Cuneiform Commentary. Edited by L. Daston, K. Chemla, M. Geller, and G. Most. Project on Pre-Medieval Commentaries in Medicine and Mathematical Sciences at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin), 2016. In preparation.
  • “Cuneiform Text Series, Scientific Knowledge, and the Question of Canon.” Proceedings of the Session How to Build a Long-Term Text in the Ancient Near East at the American Oriental Society Meeting, 2015. Edited by S. L. Sanders. Forthcoming.

  • “Invisible Bubbles and Air Streams: Sacred Disease Rhetoric and the Physiology of Intelligence in the Hippocratics.” In The Comparable Body: Imagination and Analogy in Ancient Anatomy and Physiology. Edited by J. Z. Wee. Studies in Ancient Medicine. Leiden: Brill, 2016.

  • “A Late Babylonian Astral Commentary on Marduk’s Address to the Demons.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 75 (2016). 

  • “Virtual Moons Over Babylonia: The Calendar Text System, Its Micro-Zodiac of 13, and the Making of Medical Zodiology.” In The Circulation of Astronomical Knowledge in the Ancient World. Edited by J. M. Steele. Time, Astronomy, and Calendars. Leiden: Brill, 2016.

  • “Discovery of the Zodiac Man in Cuneiform.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 67 (2015) 217–233. 

  • “Phenomena in Writing: Creating and Interpreting Variants of the Diagnostic Series Sa-gig.” Pp. 247–287 in In the Wake of the Compendia: Infrastructural Contexts and the Licensing of Empiricism in Ancient and Medieval Mesopotamia. Edited by C. Johnson. Science, Technology, and Medicine in Ancient Cultures 3. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015.

  • “Case History as Minority Report in the Hippocratic Epidemics I.” Pp. 138–165 in HOMO PATIENS: Approaches to the Patient in the Ancient World. Edited by C. Thumiger and G. Petridou. Studies in Ancient Medicine 45. Leiden: Brill, 2015.

  • “Grieving with the Moon: Pantheon and Politics in the Lunar Eclipse.” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 14/1 (2014) 29–67.

  • “Lugalbanda Under the Night Sky: Scenes of Celestial Healing in Ancient Mesopotamia.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 73/1 (2014) 23–42.


Edited Volumes

  • The Comparable Body: Imagination and Analogy in Ancient Anatomy and Physiology. Edited by J. Z. Wee. Studies in Ancient Medicine. Leiden: Brill, 2016.