"Samizdat: Publishing forbidden literature."

Month: February, 2015

The Schism Between Biblical and Mesopotamian Studies

“Some scholars of Mesopotamia sought to declare independence from biblical studies in the 1930s, insisting that Mesopotamia be studied on its own terms, even in isolation, but for most people the main interest of Mesopotamian religions lies in their historical interest and comparison with ancient Greece and the Bible.

Studies regularly appear on the Near Eastern background of Greek mythology and culture. Some, such as the work of Cyrus Gordon, are strongly critical of a perceived tendency of Classicists to assume that Greece stood alone in the eastern Mediterranean and was not significantly influenced by Near Eastern (or ‘Semitic’) peoples (Gordon 1965).

With respect to the Bible, the ‘contextual approach,’ advocated by scholars such as William W. Hallo, makes both comparisons and contrasts, recognizing the autonomy and interdependence of ancient Israel and Mesopotamia (Hallo 1997).

This steers a middle course between the extremism of the Pan-Babylonianists and of those who would build a fence around the Bible and claim that Israel was somehow exempt from the dynamic influences of Mesopotamia, the greatest cultural centre in Western Asia during the first millennium BCE.

No serious student of the Bible can ignore Mesopotamian civilization, but the religious experiences of both Mesopotamia and the Hebrews have to be understood in their own terms before they can be profitably compared or contrasted.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Mesopotamian Religion and the Bible,” John R. Hinnells, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, 2007, pp. 209.

Semites vs. Sumerians

“Each new discovery of cuneiform tablets elicits a wave of publications asserting biblical ‘parallels,’ many of them uncertain and farfetched, even when a millennium or more may have elapsed between the tablets and the relevant portion of the Bible.

The biblical scholar M. Dahood, for example, saw parallels betwen the Bible and cuneiform tablets from Ebla in northern Syria, which date to approximately 1300 years before the kingdom of David. E. A. Speiser insisted that the ‘patriarchal age’ of the Bible was reflected in tablets from Nuzi in northern Mesopotamia (early fourteenth century BCE), although most of his analogies have been discarded in recent years.

The discovery of prophetic documents at Mari (eighteenth century BCE) attracted much discussion, as did comparison of ancient treaties with the biblical covenant.

A subtler interconnection between the worlds of the Hebrews and of the Babylonians was provided by what might be called ‘Pan-Semitism,’ the idea that the Semitic peoples had certain innate mental and emotional characteristics and limitations in common that conditioned their religious values.

A concise statement of this view, which is traceable, for example, to the works of the influential French thinker Ernest Renan, will be found in S. A. Cook’s contribution ‘The Semites, Temperament and Thought’ in the Cambridge Ancient History (1924), chapter V.

Cook held that Semitic thought was verbal rather than visual, emotional rather than systematic or speculative, and so could not have created such a grand astral system of beliefs as the Pan-Babylonianists had imagined underlay modern Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

To Pan-Semitists, Greece, with its alleged superior visual and speculative thought, albeit comparatively shallow religion, was as essential to understanding Christianity as was Judaism.

Scholars wrote of the ‘Hebrew’ and the ‘Greek’ element in Christianity and European culture. The Pan-Semitists bracketed Judaism, Islam and Babylonia as ‘Semitic’ in type, but not Christianity. This left the place of the Sumerians in the equation Babylonian = Semitic difficult to define.

The early twentieth-century historian Eduard Meyer, for example, therefore argued that the Semites were the original inhabitants of Mesopotamia and the Sumerians were later invaders, thereby maintaining the originally ‘Semitic’ character of Mesopotamian civilization.

In the period after World War I, some scholars tried to distinguish ‘Sumerian’ from ‘Semitic’ thought in Mesopotamian culture. Thus discussion of the relations between Babylonia and the Bible proceeded in an atmosphere charged with faith, scepticism and anti-Semitism.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Mesopotamian Religion and the Bible,” John R. Hinnells, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, 2007, pp. 208-9.

Assyro-Babylonian Studies in Modern Context

“Mesopotamian religion has been of interest to biblical scholars since the discovery in 1872 by George Smith of a flood story in an Assyrian tablet. This proved that non-biblical ancient Near Eastern documents contained material directly pertinent to the Bible. To some thinkers, the uniqueness and integrity of the Bible could therefore no longer be maintained.

Leading philologists, especially in Germany, such as Hugo Winckler, Hermann Gunkel, Heinrich Zimmern and Friedrich Delitzsch, staked out different and sometimes contradictory positions in what became known as ‘Pan-Babylonianism’ or the ‘Astral-mythological’ school. The basic tenet of this group was that the civilization of Israel was essentially Babylonian in origin, including its religious ideas, such as monotheism.

Winckler, for example, argued that Joshua, Saul and David were actually Babylonian astral deities. Zimmern went on to suggest that Marduk was a forerunner of Jesus. Peter Jensen, a distinguished Assyriologist, argued that Abraham, Jesus and John the Baptist, for example, were borrowed from Babylonian mythology and that the Gilgamesh epic, to him a kind of astral saga, was the basis for the New Testament and the Koran.

Outside of Germany more moderate positions were taken, but still implying a strong cultural and religious dependency of Israel upon Babylonia. The extravagant claims of the Pan-Babylonianists eventually collapsed and are not taken seriously today.

A broader and more moderate view held that Babylonia was part of the ancient Near Eastern context of the Hebrew Bible (Lambert 1988). Committed Christian and Jewish scholars, for example, often put the Bible first, so to them ancient Near Eastern ‘parallels’ helped to clarify or even ‘prove’ the validity of the Bible because they were independent witness to biblical passages.

Mesopotamian studies, especially in the United States, became effectively an adjunct of biblical studies. In the period 1880–1940 the majority of leading American scholars in the discipline were Protestant clergymen, very much interested in possible biblical connections.

To some scholars, such as W. F. Albright, the ‘biblical world’ came to include the whole of the ancient Near East. There was therefore no need to separate Mesopotamian studies from biblical studies; they were aspects of the same agenda. In this spirit, Albright could entitle one of his most popular books From the Stone Age to Christianity (Albright 1940).

According to this, Mesopotamian religion was a ‘preparatio’ for the more profound religion of Israel, itself a preparation for Christianity. Today, because of the accumulation of new material, a panoramic grasp of the languages and civilizations of the ancient Near East such as Albright enjoyed is impossible to attain, but Albright’s fundamental approach remains influential, especially among conservative Christian scholars.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Mesopotamian Religion and the Bible,” John R. Hinnells, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, 2007, pp. 207-8.

Specialization of the Priesthood

” … The growth of the temple organizations along the lines above set forth naturally resulted in a differentiation of priestly functions. Besides a number of general names for priest, such as sJiangu, enu, “votary” and ummdnu (expert), with gradations of rank as indicated by the title shangu makliTihu, “high priest”, we find over thirty classes of priests recorded in the material at our disposal.

The “exerciser” (mashmashu or dsMpu) is separated from the “diviner” (baru, literally “inspector”), and these two from the “singer” (zammeru), “anointer” (pashishu), and “musician” (Ualu, lallaru, naru, etc.) and from the “snake charmers” (mushlakhkhu) , who formed a class by themselves and perhaps had other functions than the name suggests. Each of these had numerous subdivisions such as “libationist” (ramku, nisakku), “anointer” (pashishu), [5] “dream interpreter” and “oracle” (sha’ilu) and others such as urigallu, and the abkallu, abarakUu, whose exact functions still escape us. [6]

Women also took a large part as priestesses of one kind or another in the temple service [7] as singers, “howlers” (chanting the lamentations), musicians, exercisers and furnishing oracles. We find also several classes of holy women leading a secluded life in special homes which would correspond to our cloisters and nunneries, and who were regarded as constituting in a measure the harem of the god to whose service they were dedicated.

Some of these were “sacred prostitutes”, and it is in connection with this class of priestesses that rites were practised in the temples which, while probably regarded as purely symbolical to promote fertility among mankind and in the animal world, were unmistakably obscene, or at least degenerated into obscene rites.

In addition to the purely religious duties in connection with the temple service, the priests were also the scribes, the judges and the teachers of the people all three functions following naturally from the religious point of view involved in writing, in legal decisions and in knowledge in general.

The tradition once established, the priests continued to act as the official scribes in the case of the thousands upon thousands of legal and commercial documents that have come down to us from all periods, though, to be sure, in later days we occasionally come across a scribe who does not appear to have been a temple official.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 272-3.

The Rise of the Priests

” … Corresponding to the growth of the temples, we find the organization of the cult extending its scope; and with this extension, the steadily increasing power and authority of the priests. In the small beginnings of the Euphratean cities, the priestly and secular functions no doubt rested in one and the same person.

The ruler of a city or district, as we have seen, [3] was regarded as the representative of the deity. As such he stood in a special relation to the deity, acting as a mediator between the latter and the people, while upon his good standing with the god, the general welfare of the people depended. On the very ancient monument of Ur-Nina [4] we find the ruler himself offering the libation to the god, though behind him stands an attendant who is probably a priest to assist in carrying out the rite.

As early, however, as the days of Gudea (c. 2450 B.C.) the ruler himself is led into the presence of the deity through the mediation of a priest. Gudea is so depicted on seal cylinders and other monuments, and presumably therefore the marked differentiation between priest and ruler thus illustrated was at the time an established custom of long standing.

The mediatorship may, indeed, be set down as the chief prerogative of the priest in Babylonia and Assyria. With this as a starting-point, his other functions as sacrificer, as exerciser, as inspector of the liver for the purpose of ascertaining the disposition of the deity, as astrologer and as diviner in general, interpreting birth-signs, dreams, and furnishing the answer as to the meaning of all kinds of occurrences that deviated from the normal or that in any way aroused attention, may be derived.

The people could proceed as far as the inner court of the temples, where an altar stood, but beyond that the priests alone could venture, and the rulers only if accompanied by a priest who as the privileged servitor of the deity had access to the divine presence.

Intercession is thus a distinguishing function of the priest, as a corollary to his role as mediator.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 271-2.

Temples of the Cults

” … We have already indicated, in connection with the discussion of the chief figures in the pantheon, the tendency to group around the cult of the patron deity of an important centre the worship of other gods, and we have seen that this tendency goes hand in hand with the political expansion of such a centre, but that the centre is apt to retain a considerable portion at least of its religious prestige even after the political decline has set in.

The force of tradition, playing so effective a part in religion everywhere, would help to maintain rituals and practices once established, even if the conditions giving rise to such rituals and practices no longer prevailed. Confining ourselves to the larger centres and to those best known to us, like Nippur, Lagash, Uruk, Ur, Kish, Eridu, Sippar, Babylon and Borsippa in the south, and Ashur, Calah and Nineveh in the north, we note the gradual extension of the area within which the main temple stood to become a more or less extensive sacred quarter.

So in Nippur E-kur, the name of Enlil’s sanctuary, becomes such a designation to include the temples and shrines erected to the numerous deities grouped around Enlil and brought into a relationship of subserviency to their master, as his sons, daughters, servants, body-guard, ministers and officials. Similarly in Babylon, E-sagila, as the name of Marduk’s temple, grows to be a spacious quarter with numerous sanctuaries, large and small, to Nabu, Ninmakh (or Ishtar), Shamash, Ea, Nergal, Ninib to name only the most important.

The general arrangement of these temples, as we shall have occasion to see in more detail in the chapter on the architecture and art, [1] was in all cases the same, following an ancient prototype which provided an outer and an inner court of almost parallel dimensions, with a corridor leading from the inner court to the innermost smaller chamber, reserved for the priests and the rulers and in which, enclosed in a niche, the image of the.deity in whose honor the temple was erected stood.

Grouped around the three divisions was a series of rooms, varying in number according to the size and importance of the edifice, for the accommodation of the priests and for the administration of the temple, while in the case of the largest centres, special buildings were erected as store-houses for the temple possessions, stables for the animals, and dwellings for the numerous attendants and officials incident to the growing complications of the larger temple organizations. A feature of the main temple in every centre that was never lacking was a stage-tower, consisting of from two to seven stories, and placed either behind or at the side of the temple proper.” [2]

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 269-70.

Divination and Dreams

“The three systems of divination which we have analyzed all entered directly into the religious life of the people and illustrate some of the religious practises which were maintained, like the incantation rituals, throughout all periods. The longing to pierce the unknown future, to pull aside the veil which separates us from a knowledge of coming events, is so strong in man as to have all the force of an innate quality an instinct of which he himself only gradually becomes fully conscious.

It plays an unusually prominent part in the religion of Babylonia and Assyria, indeed so prominent as to justify us in asserting that by the side of the ever present fear of the demons, the significance attached to omens was the most conspicuous outward manifestation of the religious spirit of the people taken as a whole.

This conclusion is strengthened by the knowledge that we now have of other forms of divination, such as pouring a few drops of oil into a basin of water, and according to the action of the oil in forming rings and bubbles that sink and rise and the directions in which they spread, conclusions were drawn of a more or less specific character, and suggested by a more or less artificial association of ideas with the action of the oil bearing either on public affairs or on private matters, according to the questions asked of the diviners, to which they were expected to give an answer. [1]

Within the other category of involuntary divination where the sign is obtruded on your notice, falls the importance attached to dreams, the interpretation of which formed in fact one of the most important functions of the Babylonian-Assyrian priests acting as diviners. References to dreams are frequent both in the older and later inscriptions of Babylonian and Assyrian rulers. [2]

A majestic figure reaching from earth to heaven appears to Ghidea in a dream ; it turns out to be the god Ningirsu. A female figure also rises up with a tablet and a stylus who is the goddess Nisaba.

The sun mounting up from the earth is explained to be the god of vegetation, Ningishzida. Various utensils and building material and an ass to carry burdens which the ruler sees in his dream leave no doubt as to the interpretation of the vision. It is the order to Gudea to build a temple according to the plan drawn on a tablet by a second male figure appearing to him, and who turns out to be the god Nin-dub. The interpretation is given to the ruler in this instance by the goddess Nina as whose son he designates himself.

Ordinarily, however, it is to a priest to whom rulers and people go to learn the meaning of dreams, in the belief that dreams are omens or signs sent by the gods as a means of indicating what is about to happen ; and even in Gudea’s case we may safely assume that the interpretation ascribed to the goddess directly was furnished to him through the mediation of the priests.

At the other end of Babylonian history, we find Nebuchadnezzar and a goddess appearing to Nabonnedos, the last king of Babylonia, in dreams to explain certain strange signs that had lately been reported. In the inscriptions of Ashurbanapal, the great king of Assyria, there are several references to dreams.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 266-7.

Chimeras in Babylonian-Assyrian Divination

” … The factor of fancy manifests itself in these handbooks of the Babylonian-Assyrian diviners in a form which is especially interesting, because of the explanation it affords for the widespread belief in antiquity in hybrid creatures such as satyrs, mermaids, fauns, harpies, sphinxes, winged serpents and the many fabulous monsters of mythology and folk-lore.

We have long lists of the young of animals having the features or parts of the body of another animal. Instead, however, of being recorded as a mere resemblance, an ewe giving birth to a lamb having a head which suggests that of a lion, or of a dog, an ass, of a fox or a gazelle, or ears or eyes which suggest those of another animal, it is stated that the ewe has given birth to a lion, dog, ass, fox gazelle, as the case may be.

In the same way, since it often happens that the face of an infant suggests a bird, a dog, a pig, a lamb, or what not, the fancied resemblance leads to the statement that a woman has given birth to the animal in question, which thus becomes an omen, the interpretation of which varies according to the ideas associated with the particular animal.

A lion suggests power and enlargement, and therefore a lamb or an infant with a lion-like face points to increase and prosperity in the land and to the growing strength of the ruler, and is also a favorable sign for the stall or house in which such a creature is born.


The Tree of Life with Assyrian King and with winged creature as guardian and fertilizer of the Tree — Symmetrically repeated.

The Tree of Life with Assyrian King and with winged creature as guardian and fertilizer of the Tree — Symmetrically repeated.

Favorable ideas, though of a different order, are associated with the lamb, pig, ox and ass, whereas with the dog as an unclean animal in the ancient as well as in the modern Orient, the association of ideas was unfavorable, and similarly with the serpent, wild cow and certain other animals, the interpretation refers to some misfortune, either of a public or private character, and occasionally of both.

This feature of a fancied resemblance between one animal and another and between an infant and some animal was the starting-point which led, through the further play of the imagination, to the belief in hybrid creatures and all kinds of monstrosities. The case of an infant being born with feet united so as to suggest the tail of a fish is actually recorded in our lists of birth-signs, and from such an anomaly to the belief in mermaids and tritons, half human and half fish, is only a small step, rendered still more credible by the representation in art which convents the resemblance to a fish tail into a real tail.

Since we have the direct proof [2] of the spread of the Babylonian-Assyrian system of divination from birth-omens, as of the two other systems above discussed, to Asia Minor, Greece and Rome, there is every reason to believe that we are justified in tracing back to this system the belief in fabulous beings of all kinds, though it may of course be admitted that there are also other factors involved.

We find this belief in Babylonia and Assyria, where we encounter in the ancient art hippocentaurs as well as bulls and eagles with human faces, and in the Assyrian art the winged monsters with human faces and the bodies of bulls or winged human figures with eagle faces. The process once begun would naturally lead to all kinds of ramifications and combinations.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 263-6.

Ritual Sacrifice in Babylonian Exorcism

” … In addition, however, to burning the images of demons or sorcerers or throwing them into the water, a large variety of other symbolical actions are introduced in the incantation series, all falling within the category of sympathetic magic. The image is bound, hands and feet, so as not to be able to move, its eyes are pierced or filled with spittle, its tongue pulled out or tied, its mouth covered, or poison dripped into it or stuffed with dust, its body slit open [9] and the like; and thus mutilated, it is thrown into water or fire or on a dust heap.

From such rites it is not a long step to the endeavor to transfer the demon from the victim to some substitute a lamb, a pig or a bird, which appears then to have been offered up as a vicarious sacrifice for the life of the victim. [10]

“The lamb as a substitute for a man,
The lamb he gives for his life.
The head of the lamb he gives for the head of the man,
The neck of the lamb he gives for the neck of the man,
The breast of the lamb he gives for the breast of the man.”

The underlying thought is that the demon passes out into the animal which is offered to the gods, to appease their anger against the human sufferer. We are justified in drawing this conclusion from the caution expressly given [11] not to eat the animal which is declared to he taboo:

“Take a white lamb of Tammuz, [12]
Place it near the sick man,
Tear out its insides.
Place in the hand of the man,
And pronounce the incantation of Eridu.
That lamb whose insides thou hast torn out,
Cover it up as forbidden food for that man,
Consign it to the flame or throw it into the street.
That man shut up in a room and pronounce the incantation of Eridu.”

The animal has become unclean through the demon that has been transferred to it ; therefore it is not to be eaten, and while it is offered to the gods as a means of diverting their anger from the man on whom it has been visited, it is not a sacrifice in the ordinary sense. The demon may be also transferred to a bird which is caught for the purpose, slaughtered and cut up, after which the blood together with its skin and some portions of the body is burned in the fire [13] to the accompaniment of an incantation.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, np.

The Nusku Fire Rite of Exorcism

” … As the Ea ritual revolves around the use of water, in all kinds of variations, so the Nusku ritual is primarily concerned with the use of fire as a means of exorcising the demons, or of destroying the sorcerer and sorceress. The most direct method was to make an image of the demon and burn it, in the hope that the imitation might bring about the reality. [6]

“I raise the torch, their images I burn,
The images of the Utukku, Shedu, Eabisu, Etimmu,
Of Labartu, Labasu, Akhkhazu,
Of Lilu, Lilit and maid of Lilu,
And all evil that seizes men.
Tremble, melt and dissolve,
Your smoke rise to heaven,
Your limbs may the sun-god destroy.
Your strength may Marduk, the chief exerciser, the son of Ea, restrain!”

Or for the sorcerer and sorceress: [7]

“On this day step forward to my judgment,
Suppress the uproar, overpower evil,
As these images flutter, melt and disappear
So may the sorcerer and sorceress flutter, melt and disappear!”

The images were made of various materials such as pitch, clay, dough and bronze. A variation of this fire ritual consisted in taking substances such as onions, dates, palm cones, bits of wool, and seeds, and throwing them into the fire to the accompaniment again of magic formulas. A single specimen of such an incantation will suffice. [8]

“As the onion is peeled and thrown into the fire,
Consumed in the flaming fire,
In a garden will never again be planted,
In furrow and ditch will never be imbedded,
Its root will never again stick in the ground,
Its stalk never grow, never see the light of the sun,
Will never come on the table of a god or king,
So may the curse, ban, pain and torture,
Sickness, aches, misdeed, sin, wrong, transgression,
The sickness in my body, in my flesh, in my muscles,
Be peeled as this onion,
This day be burned in the flaming fire.
May the ban be removed, may I see the light!”

Similar formulas are prescribed for the other substances.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, np.

The Ea-Rite of Exorcism by Water

“We have already had occasion in discussing the views held of Ea, the water-god, [3] and of Nusku (with various other designations), [4] the fire-god, to point out that water and fire constitute the two chief elements in the symbolical rites for exorcising the demons. The Ea-ritual involved washing or sprinkling the body of the victim with water that is to be taken from the Euphrates or Tigris as the sacred streams, or from some bubbling source coming directly out of the earth.

So we read: [5]

“With pure, clear water,
With bright, shining water,
Seven times and again seven times,
Sprinkle, purify, cleanse !
May the evil Rabisyu depart !
May he step to one side !
May the good Shedu, the good Lamassu, remain in my body!
By heaven, be ye forsworn,
By earth, be ye forsworn.”

An image is frequently made of the demon or of the sorcerer or sorceress, placed on a little boat and sent over the waters to the accompaniment of formulas, voicing the hope that as the image passes along the evil spirit may depart. The little boat is made to capsize and the image is drowned, or it is directly thrown into the water and thus again the hoped for release is dramatically reproduced.

The variations in the rites are naturally endless. It is merely a further modification of the Ea ritual if we find elsewhere directions to surround the bed on which the sick man lies with some kind of porridge made of water and barley, to symbolize the isolation of the individual, and with this isolation to secure his release from the torturing demons.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, np.

Exorcising Babylonian Demons

“The methods of obtaining release from the demons are as various as the demons themselves, though they all rest on two motifs: the power supposed to reside in certain formulas urging the demons to leave their victim, and the performance of certain rites based on sympathetic or symbolical magic, either mimicking the hoped-for release or applying certain remedies; but always with the idea that they will drive the demon away, rather than that they will have any direct beneficial effect on the patient.

The magic formulas invariably involve the invocation addressed to some divine agent or to a group of deities. The names of the gods have a certain power, the name being, according to a widely prevalent view, part of the essence of the being.

Besides, words as such are also imbued with power: a thought naturally suggested by the command of a superior which is obeyed by the one dependent upon a chief, and reinforced by the mystery of writing as the reflex of the spoken word.

A few specimens of the formulas will not be out of place. A brief and comprehensive one that is frequently found is:

“By the name of heaven be ye forsworn, by the name of earth be ye forsworn,”

Or the exerciser appeals to all the gods as:

“By the name of the gods, I adjure you”

Or certain gods are specifically named as at the close of a rather elaborate command to the demons to leave the body: [1]

“Away, away, far away, far away,
Be ashamed, be ashamed ! Fly, fly away !
Turn about, go away, far away,
May your evil like the smoke mount to heaven ! [2]
Out of my body away,
Out of my body far away,
Out of my body in shame,
Out of my body fly away,
Out of my body turn away,
Out of my body go away.
To my body do not return,
To my body do not approach,
To my body draw not nigh,
My body do not afflict.
By Shamash, the powerful, be ye forsworn,
By Ea, the lord of the universe, be ye forsworn,
By Marduk, the chief diviner of the great gods, be ye forsworn,
By the fire-god, who consumes you, be ye forsworn,
From my body be ye restrained!”

The magic formulas with the invocation to the gods constitute, however, only half of the exorcising ritual, the other and in many respects more important half being marked by ceremonies, accompanying the formulas, which as suggested either represent dramatically and symbolically the destruction or driving out of the demons, or fall within the category of medicinal charms that are supposed to have a direct effect on the demons.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, np.

The Seven Babylonian Demons

“A group of seven frequently occurring in the texts and depicted on monuments [3]  is described as follows: [4]

“Seven, they are they seven,
In the deep they are seven,
Settling in heaven they are seven.
In a section of the deep they were nurtured;
Neither male nor female are they,
Destructive whirlwinds are they,
They have no wife, they produce no offspring.
Mercy and pity they know not,
Prayer and petition they hear not,
Horses raised in the mountains [5] are they.
Hostile to Ea [6] are they,
Throne bearers of the gods are they,
To hem the way they set themselves up in the streets.
Evil are they, evil are they,
Seven are they, they are seven, twice seven are they.”

Their universality as well as their function in seizing hold of their victims, taking up their seat in any part of the human body, is emphasized in another description.

More specific is the description of the demon Ti’u, the demon of head troubles and of fevers. [7]

“The head disease roams in the wilderness, raging like the wind,
Flaming like lightning, tearing along above and below,
Crushing him who fears not his god like a reed,
Cutting his sinews like a khinu-reed,
Maiming the limbs of him who has not a protecting goddess,
Glittering like a star of heaven, flowing like water,
Besetting a man like a whirlwind, driving him like a storm ;
Killing that man,
Piercing another as in a cramp, [8]
So that he is slashed like one whose heart has been torn out,
Burning like one thrown into the fire, [9]
Like a wild ass whose eyes are clouded, [10]
Attacking his life, in league with death,
So is Ti’u, who is like a heavy storm whose course no one can follow,
Whose final goal no one knows.”

Elsewhere the invisibility of the demons is dwelled upon. Of the Ashakku it is said [11] that, sweeping along like a storm, driving through the streets and highways

“He stands at the side of a man, without anyone seeing him,
He sits at the side of a man, without anyone seeing him,
He enters a house, without anyone seeing his form,
He leaves a house, without anyone observing him.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 243-4.

The Demons Named

” … The existence of several elaborate incantation series in Ashurbanapal’s library, prescribing a large number of formulas to be recited in connection with symbolical rites to get rid of the demons, furnishes the proof for the practical significance attached to incantations in both Babylonia and Assyria.

These series, Babylonian in origin, revert to Sumerian prototypes and represent compilations stretching over a long period, with additions intended to adapt them to conditions prevailing in Assyria.

The scribes of Ashurbanapal were not indulging in a purely academic exercise in copying the archives of Babylonian temples ; their purpose, as was also the aim of the king, was to make Nineveh the central religious authority as well as the political mistress by having in their control the accumulated experience of the past, in dealing with the religious needs and problems of their own age.

A feature which these incantation series [1] have in common is the recognition of a large number of demons, with special functions assigned in many cases to the one class or the other.

So, for example, there is a demon Labartu, represented as a horrible monster with swine sucking at her breasts, [2] who threatens the life of the mother at childbirth; a group known as Ashakku who cause varieties of wasting diseases, another demon Ti’u, whose special function was to cause diseases, manifesting themselves by headaches accompanied by fever, and so on through a long list. It will be apparent that there is no differentiation between the demon and the disease. The one is the synonym of the other, and accordingly in medical texts the demons are introduced as the designations of the diseases themselves.

The names given to the demons in many cases convey the “strength” or “size” ascribed to them, such as Utukku, Alu, Shedu, Gallu, or they embody a descriptive epithet like AkKkhazu, “seizer” (also the name of a form of jaundice); ‘Eabisu, the one lying-in-wait; Labasu, “overthrower”; Lilu and the feminine Lilitu, “night-spirit;” Etimmu, ghost or shade, suggesting an identification of some demons with the dead who return to plague the living, Namtar, “pestilence,” and more the like.

The descriptions given of them, cruel, horrible of aspect, blood-thirsty, flying through space, generally invisible though sometimes assuming human or animal shape or a mixture of the two, further illustrate the conceptions popularly held.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 241-3.

Assyro-Babylonian Demonology

“From this point of view it is therefore significant to find the large place taken in the practice of the religion by incantation rituals and divination practices. It is inconceivable that the hymns and the incantations should be the product of the same order of thought, and as we proceed in our study of the religion of Babylonia and Assyria the evidence increases for the thesis that the incantation texts, growing by accumulation from age to age, represent the older products which are retained by the side of compositions expressive of more advanced thought.

The power appealed to to furnish relief must be addressed, and naturally the priests will endeavor to embody in this address the conceptions of the god or goddess that have been developed as a result of their speculations and attempts at systematization. The technical term shiptu for “incantation” is therefore attached to the hymns as a further indication that they form an ingredient part of this subdivision of the religious literature.

Taking up the incantations proper, we find the basic idea to be the theory that sickness and all forms of bodily suffering are due to the activity of demons that have either of their own accord entered the body of the victim, or that have been induced to do so through the power exercised by a special class of sorcerers or sorceresses who are able to bewitch one with the aid of the demons. This theory of ailments of the flesh is of course the one commonly held among people in a primitive stage of culture, and which is carried over to the higher phases.

That aches and fevers should be ascribed to the activity of demoniac forces within one is a natural corollary to the animistic conception controlling the religion of Babylonia and Assyria, and which ascribes life to everything that manifests power. A cramp, a throbbing of the head, a shooting pain, a burning fever naturally give the impression that something to speak indefinitely is inside of you producing the symptoms; and modern science curiously enough with its germ theory to account for so many diseases comes to the aid of the primitive notion of demoniac possession.

To secure relief, it was therefore necessary to get rid of the demon to exorcise the mischievous being. It was also natural to conclude that the demons, ordinarily invisible, lurking in the corners, gliding through doors, hiding in out of the way places to pounce upon their victims unawares, should be under the control of the gods as whose messengers they thus acted. The presence of a demon in the body was therefore a form of punishment sent by a deity, angered because of some sin committed.

But besides the gods, certain individuals were supposed to have the power over the demons to superinduce them to lay hold of their victims.

Giants and dwarfs, the crippled and deformed, persons with a strange expression in their eyes, inasmuch as they represented deviations from the normal, were regarded as imbued with such power, and curiously enough women were more commonly singled out than men, perhaps because of the mysterious function of the female in harboring the new life in her womb. As a survival from this point of view, we find the witch far down into the Middle Ages a commoner figure than the sorcerer, and in fact surviving the belief in the latter.

In whatever way the demon may have found his way into the victim, the appeal had to be made to a god or goddess to drive him out; nor was the theory that the demon represented the punishment sent by an angered deity affected by the power ascribed to certain individuals to bewitch individuals, for it was also in this case because the deity was offended that the sorcerer or sorceress could exercise his or her power. With the good will and favor of the gods assured, one was secure from demons and sorcerers alike.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 239-41.


” … Both phases of the goddess, as the gracious mother and as the grim Amazon, are dwelt upon in one of the finest specimens of the religious literature of Babylonia in which a penitent sufferer, bowed down with sickness and misfortune, implores Ishtar to grant relief. [3] The hymn is addressed to the goddess of Uruk but she has become the general mother-goddess and is instead of Nana addressed as Ishtar. Ishtar is here identified with the planet Venus and assigned to a place therefore in the heavens.

As such she is called “the daughter of Sin,” the moon-god. She is thus the daughter of Anu, of Enlil and of Sin at one and the same time, a further indication that such epithets merely symbolize a relationship to various gods, according to the traits assigned to her. The composition, too long to quote entirely, begins:

“I pray to thee, mistress of mistresses, goddess of goddesses,
Ishtar, queen of all habitations, guide of mankind,
Irnini [4] praised be thou, greatest among the Igigi [5]
Powerful art thou, ruler art thou, exalted is thy name,
Thou art the light of heaven and earth, mighty daughter of Sin,
Thou directest the weapons, arrangest the battle array,
Thou givest commands, decked with the crown of rulership,
lady, resplendent is thy greatness, supreme over all gods.

Where is thy name not! Where is thy command not!
Where are images of thee not made! Where are thy shrines not erected!
Where art thou not great? Where not supreme!
Anu, Enlil and Ea have raised thee to mighty rulership among the gods,
Have raised thee aloft and exalted thy station among all the Igigi.
At the mention of thy name, heaven and earth quake,
The gods tremble, the Anunnaki quake.
To thy awe-inspiring name mankind gives heed,
Great and exalted art thou!
All dark-headed ones, [6] living beings, mankind pay homage to thy power.

I moan like a dove night and day,
I am depressed and weep bitterly,
With woe and pain my liver is in anguish.
What have I done, my god and my goddess — I ?
As though I did not reverence my god and my goddess, am I treated.

I experience, my mistress, dark days, sad months, years of misfortune.”

As the planet Venus, the movements of Ishtar in the heavens form a basis for divining what the future has in store. [7] The prominent part taken by the observation of Venus-Ishtar in Babylonian-Assyrian astrology is reflected in many of the hymns to her. The influence of the priestly speculations in thus combining the popular animistic conceptions of the gods and goddesses with points of view derived from the projection of the gods on to the starry heavens is one of the features of the religion of Babylonia and Assyria.

Ishtar under one name or the other becomes a favorite subject for myths symbolizing the change of seasons, her period of glory when the earth is in full bloom being the summer followed by the rainy and winter months when nature decays, and which was pictured as due to the imprisonment of the goddess in the nether world. She takes her place in popular tales, half legendary and half mythical, and we have a number of compositions [8] further illustrating how the popular myths and tales were embodied into the cult.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 234-6.

Mother Goddess of Love, Goddess of War

” … The oldest cult of the mother goddess, so far as our material goes, appears indeed to have been in Uruk where she is known as Nana, but we may be quite sure that the cult was never limited to one place. The special place which Nana has in the old Babylonian pantheon is probably due to the peculiar development taken by the chief deity of that centre, Anu, who as we have seen became an abstraction, the god of heaven, presiding over the upper realm of the universe. Her temple at Uruk known as E-anna “the heavenly house” and revealing the association of the goddess with Anu as a solar deity became one of the most famous in the Euphrates Valley.

It is in connection with the cult of Nana that we learn of a phase of the worship of the mother-goddess which degenerates into the obscene rites that call forth the amazement of Herodotus. [1] As the mother-goddess, Nana or Ishtar is not only the source of the fertility displayed by the earth and the kind, gracious mother of mankind, but also the goddess of love, the Aphrodite of Babylonia. The mysterious process of conception and the growth of the embryo in the mother’s womb gave rise at an early period to rites in connection with the cult of the mother-goddess that symbolized the fructification through the combination with the male element.

There is, however, another side to Ishtar which comes particularly to the fore in Assyria, though it is also indigenous to Babylonia. She is not only the loving mother but, as the protector of her offspring, a warlike figure armed for the fray and whose presence is felt in the midst of the battle. She appears to her favorites in dreams and encourages them to give battle. It is she who places in the hands of the rulers the weapons with which they march to victory. To Ashurbanapal she thus appears armed with bow and arrow and reassures him: “Whithersoever thou goest, I go with thee”. [2] As far back as the days of Hammurapi, Ishtar is thus viewed as the one who encourages her followers for contest and battle.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 223-4.

Origins of the Name Nina, Synonymous with Ishtar

” … In the case of each triad, a fourth figure is often added, Ninlil, originally the consort of Enlil, or Nin-makh (“the great lady”) to the first, and Belit (“the lady”) or Ishtar to the second, both, however, symbolizing the female element which, fructified by the male, is the indispensable complement to the production of life, vegetation, fertility and all blessings that go with the never ending process of vitality, growth, decay and regeneration in nature.

This leads us to a consideration, before leaving the pantheon, of one notable female figure, the great mother-goddess, frequently identified with the earth viewed as a fruitful mother but who should rather be regarded in a still wider sense as the mother of all that manifests life, embracing therefore the life in man and the animal world as well as in the fields and mountains in nature in general.

This natural association of a female element as a complement to the male one leads to assigning to every deity a consort who, however, has no independent existence. So Enlil has at his side Nin-lil, Ninib has Gula A (“the great one”), Ningirsu has Bau, Shamash has A, Sin has Nin-gul, Nergal has Laz, Anu a female counterpart Antum, to Ea a consort Shala (“the woman”) is given, to Marduk, Sarpanit or Nin-makh (“the great lady”), to Nabu, Tashmit (“obedience”), while Ashur’s consort appears as Nin-lil or Belit and at times as Ishtar.

All these figures with the single exception of Ishtar are merely shadowy reflections of their male masters, playing no part in the cult outside of receiving homage in association with their male partners. Ishtar, however, although assimilated in the Assyrian pantheon as the consort of Ashur, is an independent figure, who has her own temples and her distinct cult. She appears under a variety of names: Nana, Innina, Irnini, Ninni, Nina all of which contain an element having the force of “lady,” as is also the case with Nin-makh and Nin-lil, likewise used as epithets of the great mother-goddess. Corresponding to the Sumerian element, we have in Akkadian Belit, “lady” or “mistress,” as one of the generic designations of Ishtar.

All this confirms the view that Ishtar is merely the symbol of the female element in the production of life, and that the specific name is of secondary significance. The circumstance that Ninlil, the consort of Enlil, is also (though in texts of a later period) identified with the mother-goddess would seem to show that the female associate of the head of the pantheon was always an Ishtar, though in a certain sense, as we have seen, the consorts of all the gods were Ishtars.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 232-4.

Seize the Day

“Death in Mesopotamian religious thought did not mean the total extinction of the individual, only of the physical self and of those qualities of a person that made him productive and attractive to other human beings (Bottéro 1992: 268– 86).

A recognizable winged spirit, resembling a dove, passed to the netherworld. This was a dreary, sombre domain ruled by a pitiless hierarchy of deities and demons. There the spirit languished, often in hunger, thirst and misery, unless family or friends remembered to leave offerings of food and drink for the spirit to partake of and prayed for the spirit’s rest and contentment (Foster 1996: 403):

Dust is their sustenance and clay their food,

They see no light but dwell in darkness,

They are clothed like birds in wings for garments,

And dust has gathered on the door and bolt.

A Sumerian poem recounting a visit to the netherworld refers to the dependence of the dead upon the living (Foster 2001: 141):

Did you see the ghost of him who has no one to make funerary offerings?

I saw him. He eats table scraps and bread crusts thrown into the street.

Ghosts and spectres of the dead could trouble the living, sometimes for no apparent reason, sometimes because they had not been properly interred or were discontented because of some human action or neglect. The city Cutha, in northern Babylonia, was considered the city of the dead and the centre of the cult of death.

The netherworld was organized like an earthly or heavenly kingdom, surrounded by walls with seven gates (Lambert 1990). A popular Mesopotamian poem (Dalley 1989: 163–81; Foster 1996: 410–28) told how the netherworld had once been ruled by a queen alone, Ereshkigal, but that she eventually found a husband, Nergal or Erra.

In one version of the story, he forces himself into the netherworld by violence and threatens her into submission. In another, he breaks her loneliness and sexual frustration with a passionate relationship that finally results in their marriage.

The gods of heaven and netherworld, separated, according to the Babylonian Epic of Creation, into two groups of 600 each, could not visit each other, though they could exchange messengers. Even the great gods feared the netherworld, which barred countless human dead from swarming onto the earth to devour the living in their eternal, unsatiated hunger.

The dead entered the netherworld naked and relinquished all hope of returning to life. How their ghosts escaped to plague the living is not clear. Various Mesopotamian stories told of human beings who learned what happened after a person died.

In one, the Sumerian hero Enkidu volunteered in a fit of bravado to go down to the netherworld to retrieve a favourite athletic object of the king, Gilgamesh. This was apparently a stick and a ball or puck that had fallen down there at the pleas of the people who were oppressed by the violent game that made use of them. The losers resented Gilgamesh’s bullying tactics in the game.

Enkidu recognized his relatives and saw certain distinctions among the dead: heroes were treated better than common folk, for example, and stillborn children had a sort of play area with miniature furniture. He barely escaped alive and forgot in the stress of the moment to bring back the objects (Foster 2001: 129–43).

Much later, an Assyrian dignitary described a vision of the netherworld that included an array of monsters, composites of humans and animals in shape. He, like Enkidu, recognized a dead spirit, but fled in an ecstasy of terror and grief, narrowly escaping permanent confinement (Foster 1996: 715–22):

He darted out into the street like an arrow and scooped up dirt from alley and square in his mouth, all the while setting up a frightful clamor, ‘Woe! Alas! Why have you ordained this for me?’

Mesopotamians honoured the dead of their families with a regular ceremony of remembrance and offering. Dead and sometimes even living kings were accorded divine honours and observances in special sanctuaries. Rulers and other powerful people could be buried in lavish tombs with grave gifts, perhaps more as a splendid way of dying than out of hope that they would need such gifts in the afterlife.

Some Sumerian rulers had chariots, animals and even court attendants buried with them; Assyrian queens might be buried with their finest jewelry. Clay or metal vessels might hold food, drink and cosmetics. Burial might be in vaults in royal palaces, under the floor of homes (especially for children) or in cemeteries outside the city.

Graves were not marked on the surface, so far as is known, and funerary inscriptions, naming the deceased or invoking blessings upon them from future descendants or passers-by, were very rare. One literary text describes an excavation to open an ancient tomb and the horrible shock the investigators felt when they beheld and reflected on the fate in store for them (Foster 1996: 436).

One of the major literary achievements of ancient Mesopotamia, the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh (George 1999; Foster 2001), tells the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, who sought immortal life. This was based on older Sumerian poems about various episodes in Gilgamesh’s life.

In the epic, Gilgamesh’s beloved friend, the wild man Enkidu, dies as the result of an expedition to achieve eternal fame for Gilgamesh by slaying a distant monster and cutting down a great tree. Terrified of dying himself, Gilgamesh abandons all in a desperate quest to find the survivor of the flood, Utanapishtim, to ask him his secret of immortality.

Gilgamesh eventually reaches Utanapishtim after unexampled heroism and hardships, not to mention the timely intervention of several kind-hearted women, but learns that his hope is vain – Utanapishtim was granted immortality for surviving the flood, but this was a one-time event that would not be repeated for Gilgamesh’s sake.

Neither he nor any other human being had any hope of achieving immortality. This poem was popular in learned circles; manuscripts have turned up throughout Mesopotamia, and from Syria and Asia Minor, dating to a time span of 1500 years.

There was no Mesopotamian paradise, no return of the soul in another body for another life, no judgement, and no sense that death might eventually end in a final consummation. Some Mesopotamians responded to this outlook by suggesting that the good for a human being was to enjoy life, love, family and vitality while they were within reach, for even a modest life was better than a grand death, as a tavern keeper advises Gilgamesh (Foster 2001: 75):

When the gods created mankind,

They established death for mankind,

And withheld eternal life for themselves.

As for you, Gilgamesh, let your stomach be full,

Always be happy, night and day.

Make every day a delight,

Night and day play and dance.

Your clothes should be clean,

Your head should be washed,

You should bathe in water,

Look proudly on the little one holding your hand,

Let your mate be always blissful in your loins,

This, then, is the work of mankind.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Mesopotamia,” in John R. Hinnels, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 188-90.

On the Mesopotamian Gods and Mankind

“According to the Babylonian Flood Story, the gods created the human race in order for it to maintain them in a comfortable and luxurious living standard. In this account, the first human was made in collaboration by the birth-goddess, Mami or Nintu, and Enki, god of wisdom.

They took a piece of clay, kneaded it with divine spittle, then mixed in the spirit, flesh and blood of a slain rebellious god (Foster 1996: 168):

They slaughtered Aw-ilu, who had the inspiration [for the revolt against the gods], in their assembly.

The [birth-goddess] Nintu mixed clay with his flesh and blood.

That same god and man were thoroughly mixed in the clay.

For the rest of time they would hear the drum,

From the flesh of the god the spirit remained.

It would make the living know its sign,

Lest he be allowed to be forgotten, the spirit remained.

To sustain the human race, birth, maturity, marriage and procreation were instituted. Later, when the population had grown too great, celibacy, infertility, still birth and social restrictions against childbirth for certain groups of people were imposed on the human race.

This was not the only Mesopotamian story of how human beings were created. In a Sumerian account, the god of wisdom produced various experimental but defective human beings until a satisfactory human was brought forth (Kramer 1961: 68–70).

In another Sumerian creation story, human beings grew from the earth after Enlil struck it with a pickaxe. Then he handed them the pickaxe and they set to work (Farber in Hallo 1997: 511–13).

In the Babylonian Epic of Creation, Enki/Ea’s role in creating the human race is subordinated to Marduk, who is said to have had the original idea for it (Foster 1996: 383):

I shall compact blood,

I shall cause bones to be.

I shall make stand a human being, let ‘Man’ be its name.

I shall create human kind.

They shall bear the gods’ burden that those may rest.

Humans in Mesopotamian thought were differentiated from animals in that they ate prepared foods, such as bread and beer, in preference to uncooked wild plants and water. Humans, unlike animals, wore clothes and treated and adorned their bodies with alien substances, such as oils and cosmetics, and cut their hair, rather than letting it grow to a natural length.

Humans were different from gods in that they had inferior mental and physical powers and had limited lifespans. What some later peoples deemed human characteristics, such as an immortal soul, language, social organization and use of implements, seemed to the Mesopotamians to be developments of human potential rather than distinguishing features of the race.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Mesopotamia,” in John R. Hinnels, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 185-6.

Cult of Sin, Moon God

“The cult of the moon-god was one of the most popular in Babylonia, the chief seat of his worship being at Uru (now Muqayyar) the Biblical Ur of the Chaldees. The origin of the name Sin is unknown, but it is thought that it may be a corruption of Zu-ena, “knowledge-lord,” as the compound ideograph expressing his name may be read and translated.

Besides this compound ideograph, the name of the god Sin was also expressed by the character for “30,” provided with the prefix of divinity, an ideograph which is due to the thirty days of the month, and is thought to be of late date.

With regard to Nannar, Jastrow explains it as being for Narnar, and renders it “light-producer.” In a long hymn to this god he is described in many lines as “the lord, prince of the gods, who in heaven alone is supreme,” and as “father Nannar.”

Among his other descriptive titles are “great Anu” (Sumerian /ana gale/, Semitic Babylonian /Anu rabû/)–another instance of the identification of two deities. He was also “lord of Ur,” “lord of the temple Gišnu-gala,” “lord of the shining crown,” etc.

He is also said to be “the mighty steer whose horns are strong, whose limbs are perfect, who is bearded with a beard of lapis-stone, [*] who is filled with beauty and fullness (of splendour).”

[*] Probably of the colour of lapis only, not made of the stone itself.

Besides Babylonia and Assyria, he was also worshipped in other parts of the Semitic east, especially at Harran, to which city Abraham migrated, scholars say, in consequence of the patron-deity being the same as at Ur of the Chaldees, where he had passed the earlier years of his life. The Mountain of Sinai and the Desert of Sin, both bear his name.

According to king Dungi (about 2700 B.C.), the spouse of Sin or Nannara was Nin-Uruwa, “the lady of Ur.” Sargon of Assyria (722-705 B.C.) calls her Nin-gala.

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 81-3.

Love, Babylonian-Style–The Tale of Ereš-ki-gal and Nerigal, Goddess and God of the Underworld

“As the prototype of Persephone, this goddess is one of much importance for comparative mythology, and there is a legend concerning her of considerable interest. The text is one of those found at Tel-el-Armana, in Egypt, and states that the gods once made a feast, and sent to Ereš-ki-gal, saying that, though they could go down to her, she could not ascend to them, and asking her to send a messenger to fetch away the food destined for her.

This she did, and all the gods stood up to receive her messenger, except one, who seems to have withheld this token of respect. The messenger, when he returned, apparently related to Ereš-ki-gal what had happened, and angered thereat, she sent him back to the presence of the gods, asking for the delinquent to be delivered to her, that she might kill him.

The gods then discussed the question of death with the messenger, and told him to take to his mistress the god who had not stood up in his presence.

When the gods were brought together, that the culprit might be recognised, one of them remained in the background, and on the messenger asking who it was who did not stand up, it was found to be Nerigal. This god was duly sent, but was not at all inclined to be submissive, for instead of killing him, as she had threatened, Ereš-ki-gal found herself seized by the hair and dragged from her throne, whilst the death-dealing god made ready to cut off her head.

“Do not kill me, my brother, let me speak to thee,” she cried, and on his loosing his hold upon her hair, she continued, “thou shalt be my husband, and I will be thy wife–I will cause you to take dominion in the wide earth. I will place the tablet of wisdom in thine hand–thou shalt be lord, I will be lady.”

Nerigal thereupon took her, kissed her, and wiped away her tears, saying, “Whatever thou hast asked me for months past now receives assent.”

Ereš-ki-gal did not treat her rival in the affections of Tammuz so gently when Ištar descended to Hades in search of the “husband of her youth.”

According to the story, not only was Ištar deprived of her garments and ornaments, but by the orders of Ereš-ki-gal, Namtar smote her with disease in all her members. It was not until the gods intervened that Ištar was set free.

The meaning of her name is “lady of the great region,” a description which is supposed to apply to Hades, and of which a variant, Ereš-ki-gal, “lady of the great house,” occurs in the Hymns to Tammuz in the Manchester Museum.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 78-9.

Nineveh, Cult Center of Ishtar Worship

“From the name /Nin/, which Ištar bore, there is hardly any doubt that she acquired the identification with Nina, which is provable as early as the time of the Lagašite kings, Lugal-anda and Uru-ka-gina.

As identified with Aruru, the goddess who helped Merodach to create mankind, Ištar was also regarded as the mother of all, and in the Babylonian story of the Flood, she is made to say that she had begotten man, but like “the sons of the fishes,” he filled the sea.

Nina, then, as another form of Ištar, was a goddess of creation, typified in the teeming life of the ocean, and her name is written with a character standing for a house or receptacle, with the sign for “fish” within.

Her earliest seat was the city of Nina in southern Babylonia, from which place, in all probability, colonists went northwards, and founded another shrine at Nineveh in Assyria, which afterwards became the great centre of her worship, and on this account the city was called after her Ninaa or Ninua.

As their tutelary goddess, the fishermen in the neighbourhood of the Babylonian Nina and Lagaš were accustomed to make to her, as well as to Innanna or Ištar, large offerings of fish.

As the masculine deities had feminine forms, so it is not by any means improbable that the goddesses had masculine forms, and if that be the case, we may suppose that it was a masculine counterpart of Nina who founded Nineveh, which, as is well known, is attributed to Ninos, the same name as Nina with the Greek masculine termination.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 75-6.

Cult of Ishtar

” … In all probability Ištar, the spouse of Tammuz, is best known from her descent into Hades in quest of him when with Persephone (Ereš-ki-gal) in the underworld.

In this she had to pass through seven gates, and an article of clothing was taken from her at each, until she arrived in the underworld quite naked, typifying the teaching, that man can take nothing away with him when he departs this life.

During her absence, things naturally began to go wrong upon the earth, and the gods were obliged to intervene, and demand her release, which was ultimately granted, and at each gate, as she returned, the adornments which she had left were given back to her. It is uncertain whether the husband whom she sought to release was set free, but the end of the inscription seems to imply that Ištar was successful in her mission.

In this story she typifies the faithful wife, but other legends show another side of her character, as in that of Gilgameš, ruler of her city Erech, to whom she makes love.

Gilgameš, however, knowing the character of the divine queen of his city too well, reproaches her with her treatment of her husband and her other lovers–Tammuz, to whom, from year to year, she caused bitter weeping; the bright coloured Allala bird, whom she smote and broke his wings; the lion perfect in strength, in whom she cut wounds “by sevens”; the horse glorious in war, to whom she caused hardship and distress, and to his mother Silili bitter weeping; the shepherd who provided for her things which she liked, whom she smote and changed to a jackal; Išullanu, her father’s gardener, whom she tried, apparently, to poison, but failing, she smote him, and changed him to a statue (?).

On being thus reminded of her misdeeds, Ištar was naturally angry, and, ascending to heaven, complained to her father Anu and her mother Anatu, the result being, that a divine bull was sent against Gilgameš and Enki-du, his friend and helper.

The bull, however, was killed, and a portion of the animal having been cut off, Enki-du threw it at the goddess, saying at the same time that, if he could only get hold of her, he would treat her similarly. Apparently Ištar recognised that there was nothing further to be done in the matter, so, gathering the hand-maidens, pleasure-women and whores, in their presence she wept over the portion of the divine bull which had been thrown at her.

The worship of Ištar, she being the goddess of love and war, was considerably more popular than that of her spouse, Tammuz, who, as among the western Semitic nations, was adored rather by the women than the men. Her worship was in all probability of equal antiquity, and branched out, so to say, in several directions, as may be judged by her many names, each of which had a tendency to become a distinct personality.

Thus the syllabaries give the character which represents her name as having also been pronounced /Innanna/, /Ennen/, and /Nin/, whilst a not uncommon name in other inscriptions is /Ama-Innanna/, “mother Ištar.”

The principal seat of her worship in Babylonia was at Erech, and in Assyria at Nineveh–also at Arbela, and many other places. She was also honoured (at Erech and elsewhere) under the Elamite names of Tišpak and Šušinak, “the Susian goddess.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 72-5.

Elements of the Cult of Tammuz

” … Whilst on earth, he was the one who nourished the ewe and her lamb, the goat and her kid, and also caused them to be slain–probably in sacrifice.

“He has gone, he has gone to the bosom of the earth,” the mourners cried, “he will make plenty to overflow for the land of the dead, for its lamentations for the day of his fall, in the unpropitious month of his year.”

There was also lamentation for the cessation of the growth of vegetation, and one of these hymns, after addressing him as the shepherd and husband of Ištar, “lord of the underworld,” and “lord of the shepherd’s seat,” goes on to liken him to a germ which has not absorbed water in the furrow, whose bud has not blossomed in the meadow; to the sapling which has not been planted by the watercourse, and to the sapling whose root has been removed.

In the “Lamentations” in the Manchester Museum, Ištar, or one of her devotees, seems to call for Tammuz, saying, “Return, my husband,” as she makes her way to the region of gloom in quest of him.

Ereš-ê-gala, “the lady of the great house” (Persephone), is also referred to, and the text seems to imply that Ištar entered her domain in spite of her. In this text other names are given to him, namely, /Tumu-giba/, “son of the flute,” /Ama-elaggi/, and /Ši-umunnagi/, “life of the people.”

The reference to sheep and goats in the British Museum fragment recalls the fact that in an incantation for purification the person using it is told to get the milk of a yellow goat which has been brought forth in the sheep-fold of Tammuz, recalling the flocks of the Greek sun-god Helios.

These were the clouds illuminated by the sun, which were likened to sheep–indeed, one of the early Sumerian expressions for “fleece” was “sheep of the sky.” The name of Tammuz in Sumerian is Dumu-zi, or in its rare fullest form, Dumu-zida, meaning “true” or “faithful son.” There is probably some legend attached to this which is at present unknown.

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 71-2.

The Myth of Tammuz, or Adonis

“The date of the rise of the myth of Tammuz is uncertain, but as the name of this god is found on tablets of the time of Lugal-anda and Uru-ka-gina (about 3500 B.C.), it can hardly be of later date than 4000 B.C., and may be much earlier.

As he is repeatedly called “the shepherd,” and had a domain where he pastured his flock, Professor Sayce sees in Tammuz “Daonus or Daos, the shepherd of Pantibibla,” who, according to Berosus, ruled in Babylonia for 10 /sari/, or 36,000 years, and was the sixth king of the mythical period.

According to the classic story, the mother of Tammuz had unnatural intercourse with her own father, being urged thereto by Aphrodite whom she had offended, and who had decided thus to avenge herself.

Being pursued by her father, who wished to kill her for this crime, she prayed to the gods, and was turned into a tree, from whose trunk Adonis was afterwards born.

Aphrodite was so charmed with the infant that, placing him in a chest, she gave him into the care of Persephone, who, however, when she discovered what a treasure she had in her keeping, refused to part with him again.

Zeus was appealed to, and decided that for four months in the year Adonis should be left to himself, four should be spent with Aphrodite, and four with Persephone; or, as a variant account makes it, he should spend six months with Persephone, and six with Aphrodite on earth. He was afterwards slain, whilst hunting, by a wild boar.

Nothing has come down to us as yet concerning this legend except the incident of his dwelling in Hades, whither Ištar, the Babylonian Venus, went in search of him.

It is not by any means unlikely, however, that the whole story existed in Babylonia, and thence spread to Phœnicia, and afterwards to Greece. In Phœnicia it was adapted to the physical conditions of the country, and the place of Tammuz’s encounter with the boar was said to be the mountains of Lebanon, whilst the river named after him, Adonis (now the Nahr Ibrahim), which ran red with the earth washed down by the autumn rains, was said to be so coloured in consequence of being mingled with his blood.

The descent of Tammuz to the underworld, typified by the flowing down of the earth-laden waters of the rivers to the sea, was not only celebrated by the Phœnicians, but also by the Babylonians, who had at least two series of lamentations which were used on this occasion, and were probably the originals of those chanted by the Hebrew women in the time of Ezekiel (about 597 B.C.).”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 69-70.

Were the Babylonian Kings … Gods?

“Though there is no proof that ancestor-worship in general prevailed at any time in Babylonia, it would seem that the worship of heroes and prominent men was common, at least in early times.

The tenth chapter of Genesis tells us of the story of Nimrod, who cannot be any other than the Merodach of the Assyro-Babylonian inscriptions; and other examples, occurring in semi-mythological times, are /En-we-dur-an-ki/, the Greek Edoreschos, and /Gilgameš/, the Greek Gilgamos, though Aelian’s story of the latter does not fit in with the account as given by the inscriptions.

In later times, the divine prefix is found before the names of many a Babylonian ruler–Sargon of Agadé,[*] Dungi of Ur (about 2500 B.C.), Rim-Sin or Eri-Aku (Arioch of Ellasar, about 2100 B.C.), and others.

It was doubtless a kind of flattery to deify and pay these rulers divine honours during their lifetime, and on account of this, it is very probable that their godhood was utterly forgotten, in the case of those who were strictly historical, after their death.

The deification of the kings of Babylonia and Assyria is probably due to the fact, that they were regarded as the representatives of God upon earth, and being his chief priests as well as his offspring (the personal names show that it was a common thing to regard children as the gifts of the gods whom their father worshipped), the divine fatherhood thus attributed to them naturally could, in the case of those of royal rank, give them a real claim to divine birth and honours.

An exception is the deification of the Babylonian Noah, Ut-napištim, who, as the legend of the Flood relates, was raised and made one of the gods by Aa or Ea, for his faithfulness after the great catastrophe, when he and his wife were translated to the “remote place at the mouth of the rivers.”

The hero Gilgameš, on the other hand, was half divine by birth, though it is not exactly known through whom his divinity came.”

[*] According to Nabonidus’s date 3800 B.C., though many Assyriologists regard this as being a millennium too early.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 13-4.

Was Marduk the Founder of Astronomy?

“In consequence of the determinative prefix for a god or a goddess being, in the oldest form, a picture of an eight-rayed star, it has been assumed that Assyro-Babylonian mythology is, either wholly or partly, astral in origin.

This, however, is by no means certain, the character for “star” in the inscriptions being a combination of three such pictures, and not a single sign. The probability therefore is, that the use of the single star to indicate the name of a divinity arises merely from the fact that the character in question stands for /ana/, “heaven.”

Deities were evidently thus distinguished by the Babylonians because they regarded them as inhabitants of the realms above–indeed, the heavens being the place where the stars are seen, a picture of a star was the only way of indicating heavenly things.

That the gods of the Babylonians were in many cases identified with the stars and planets is certain, but these identifications seem to have taken place at a comparatively late date. An exception has naturally to be made in the case of the sun and moon, but the god Merodach, if he be, as seems certain, a deified Babylonian king, must have been identified with the stars which bear his name after his worshippers began to pay him divine honours as the supreme deity, and naturally what is true for him may also be so for the other gods whom they worshipped.

The identification of some of the deities with stars or planets is, moreover, impossible, and if Êa, the god of the deep, and Anu, the god of the heavens, have their representatives among the heavenly bodies, this is probably the result of later development.[*]

[*] If there be any historical foundation for the statement that Merodach arranged the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars, assigning to them their proper places and duties–a tradition which would make him the founder of the science of astronomy during his life upon earth–this, too, would tend to the probability that the origin of the gods of the Babylonians was not astral, as has been suggested, but that their identification with the heavenly bodies was introduced during the period of his reign.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 11-3.

Origins of the Jews?

“Babylonia, on the other hand, continued the even tenor of her way. More successful at the end of her independent political career than her northern rival had been, she retained her faith, and remained the unswerving worshipper of Merodach, the great god of Babylon, to whom her priests attributed yet greater powers, and with whom all the other gods were to all appearance identified.

This tendency to monotheism, however, never reached the culminating point–never became absolute–except, naturally, in the minds of those who, dissociating themselves, for philosophical reasons, from the superstitious teaching of the priests of Babylonia, decided for themselves that there was but one God, and worshipped Him.

That orthodox Jews at that period may have found, in consequence of this monotheistic tendency, converts, is not by any means improbable–indeed, the names met with during the later period imply that converts to Judaism were made.

Thus we see, from the various inscriptions, both Babylonian and Assyrian–the former of an extremely early period–the growth and development, with at least one branching off, of one of the most important religious systems of the ancient world.

It is not so important for modern religion as the development of the beliefs of the Hebrews, but as the creed of the people from which the Hebrew nation sprang, and from which, therefore, it had its beginnings, both corporeal and spiritual, it is such as no student of modern religious systems can afford to neglect.

Its legends, and therefore its teachings, as will be seen in these pages, ultimately permeated the Semitic West, and may in some cases even had penetrated Europe, not only through heathen Greece, but also through the early Christians, who, being so many centuries nearer the time of the Assyro-Babylonians, and also nearer the territory which they anciently occupied, than we are, were far better acquainted than the people of the present day with the legends and ideas which they possessed.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 7-9.

Primacy of Marduk of Babylon

“Of equal antiquity with the religion of Egypt, that of Babylonia and Assyria possesses some marked differences as to its development.

Beginning among the non-Semitic Sumero-Akkadian population, it maintained for a long time its uninterrupted development, affected mainly by influences from within, namely, the homogeneous local cults which acted and reacted upon each other.

The religious systems of other nations did not greatly affect the development of the early non-Semitic religious system of Babylonia. A time at last came, however, when the influence of the Semitic inhabitants of Babylonia and Assyria was not to be gainsaid, and from that moment, the development of their religion took another turn.

In all probably this augmentation of Semitic religious influence was due to the increased numbers of the Semitic population, and at the same period the Sumero-Akkadian language began to give way to the Semitic idiom which they spoke.

When at last the Semitic Babylonian language came to be used for official documents, we find that, although the non-Semitic divine names are in the main preserved, a certain number of them have been displaced by the Semitic equivalent names, such as Šamaš for the sun-god, with Kittu and Mêšaru (“justice and righteousness”) his attendants; Nabú (“the teacher” = Nebo) with his consort Tašmêtu (“the hearer”); Addu, Adad, or Dadu, and Rammanu, Ramimu, or Ragimu = Hadad or Rimmon (“the thunderer”); Bêl and Bêltu (Beltis = “the lord” and “the lady” /par excellence/), with some others of inferior rank.

In place of the chief divinity of each state at the head of each separate pantheon, the tendency was to make Merodach, the god of the capital city Babylon, the head of the pantheon, and he seems to have been universally accepted in Babylonia, like Aššur in Assyria, about 2000 B.C. or earlier.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 4-5.

Babylonian Religion

” … Outside the inscriptions of Babylonia and Assyria, there is but little bearing upon the religion of those countries, the most important fragment being the extracts from Berosus and Damascius referred to above.

Among the Babylonian and Assyrian remains, however, we have an extensive and valuable mass of material, dating from the fourth or fifth millennium before Christ until the disappearance of the Babylonian system of writing about the beginning of the Christian era.

The earlier inscriptions are mostly of the nature of records, and give information about the deities and the religion of the people in the course of descriptions of the building and rebuilding of temples, the making of offerings, the performance of ceremonies, etc.

Purely religious inscriptions are found near the end of the third millennium before Christ, and occur in considerable numbers, either in the original Sumerian text, or in translations, or both, until about the third century before Christ.

Among the more recent inscriptions–those from the library of the Assyrian king Aššur-bani-âpli and the later Babylonian temple archives–there are many lists of deities, with numerous identifications with each other and with the heavenly bodies, and explanations of their natures.

It is needless to say that all this material is of enormous value for the study of the religion of the Babylonians and Assyrians, and enables us to reconstruct at first hand their mythological system, and note the changes which took place in the course of their long national existence.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 2-4.

Hebrew and Babylonian Creation Myths

” … For the local Babylonian colouring of the stories, and the great age to which their existence can be traced, extending back to the time of the Sumerian inhabitants of Mesopotamia, 3 are conclusive evidence ….

On the other hand, it is equally unnecessary to cite the well-known arguments to prove the existence among the Hebrews of Creation legends similar to those of Babylonia for centuries before the Exile.

The allusions to variant Hebrew forms of the Babylonian Dragon-Myth in Amos ix, 3, Isaiah li, 9, Psalm lxxiv, 13 f., and lxxxix, 9 f., and Job xxvi, 12 f., and ix, 13, may be cited as sufficient proof of the early period at which the borrowing from Babylonian sources must have taken place; and the striking differences between the Biblical and the known Babylonian versions of the legends prove that the Exilic and post-Exilic Jews must have found ready to their hand ancient Hebrew versions of the stories, and that the changes they introduced must in the main have been confined to details of arrangement and to omissions necessitated by their own more spiritual conceptions and beliefs.

The discovery of the Tell el-Amarna tablets proved conclusively that Babylonian influence extended throughout Egypt and Western Asia in the fifteenth century B.C., and the existence of legends among the letters demonstrated the fact that Babylonian mythology exerted an influence coextensive with the range of her political ties and interests.

We may therefore conjecture that Babylonian myths had become naturalized in Palestine before the conquest of that country by the Israelites. Many such Palestinian versions of Babylonian myths the Israelites no doubt absorbed; while during the subsequent period of the Hebrew kings Assyria and Babylonia exerted a direct influence upon them.

It is clear, therefore, that at the time of their of Babylonian exile the captive Jews did not find in Babylonian mythology an entirely new and unfamiliar subject, but recognized in it a series of kindred beliefs, differing much from their own in spiritual conceptions, but presenting a startling resemblance on many material points.”

Leonard William King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, London, 1902, pp. xcv-xcvii.

Points of Correspondence Between Genesis and the Enuma Elish

” … It would be tempting to trace the framework of the Seven Days of Creation, upon which the narrative in Genesis is stretched, to the influence of the Seven Tablets of Creation, of which we now know that the great Creation Series was composed. The reasons for the employment of the Seven Days in the Hebrew account are, however, not the same which led to the arrangement of the Babylonian poem upon Seven Tablets.

In the one the writer’s intention is to give the original authority for the observance of the Sabbath; in the other there appears to have been no special reason for this arrangement of the poem beyond the mystical nature of the number “seven.”

Moreover, acts of creation are recorded on all of the first six Days in the Hebrew narrative, while in the Babylonian poem the creation only begins at the end of the Fourth Tablet. 1 The resemblance, therefore, is somewhat superficial, but it is possible that the employment of the number “seven” in the two accounts was not fortuitous.

Whether the Sabbath was of Babylonian origin (as seems probable) or not, it is clear that the writer of the narrative in Genesis was keenly interested in its propagation and its due observance. Now in Exilic and post-Exilic times the account of the Creation most prevalent in Babylonia was that in the poem Enuma elish, the text of which was at this time absolutely fixed and its arrangement upon Seven Tablets invariable.

That the late revival of mythology among the Jews was partly due to their actual study of the Babylonian legends at this period is sufficiently proved by the minute points of resemblance between the accounts of the Deluge in Genesis and in the poem of Gilgamesh. 1

It is probable, therefore, that the writer who was responsible for the final form of Gen. i-ii, 4a, was familiar with the Babylonian legend of Creation in the form in which it has come down to us. The supposition, then, is perhaps not too fanciful, that the connection of the Sabbath with the story of Creation was suggested by the mystical number of the Tablets upon which the Babylonian poem was inscribed.

Further resemblances to the Babylonian Creation legends may be traced in the second Hebrew account of the Creation which follows the first in Gen. ii, 4b-7. According to this version man was formed from the dust of the ground, which may be compared to the mixing of Bel’s blood with earth according to the account of Berossus, the use of the Creator’s blood in the one account being paralleled by the employment of His breath in the other for the purpose of giving life to the dust or earth.

Earth is not mentioned in the recovered portion of the Sixth Tablet, but its use in the creation of men is fully in accordance with Babylonian beliefs. Thus, according to the second Babylonian account of the Creation, 1 Marduk formed man by pouring out dust beside a reed which he had set upon the face of the waters. Clay is also related to have been employed in the creation of special men and heroes; thus it was used in Ea-bani’s creation by Arum, 2 and it is related to have been mixed with divine blood for a similar purpose in the fragmentary legend Bu. 91-5-9, 269. 3

To the account of the creation of woman in Gen. ii, 18 ff. we find a new parallel in l. 5 of the Sixth Tablet of the Creation Series, in the use of the word issimtu, “bone,” corresponding to the Hebrew ‘esem which occurs in the phrase “bone of my bones” in Gen. ii, 23.

In addition to the Babylonian colouring of much of the story of Paradise we may now add a new parallel from the Babylonian address to a mythical River of Creation, inscribed on S. 1704 and the Neo-Babylonian Tablet 82-9-18, 5311. 1

This short composition is addressed to a River to whom the creation of all things is ascribed, 2 and with this river we may compare the mythical river of Paradise which watered the garden, and on leaving it was divided into four branches.

That the Hebrew River of Paradise is Babylonian in character is clear; and the origin of the Babylonian River of Creation is also to be found in the Euphrates, from whose waters southern Babylonia derived its great fertility. 3 The life-giving stream of Paradise is met with elsewhere in the Old Testament, as, for instance, in Ezekiel xlvii, and it is probable that we may trace its influence in the Apocalypse.”1

Leonard William King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, London, 1902. pp. xci-xcv.

Creation of Mankind in Genesis and the Enuma Elish

” … The account of the creation of man, which is recorded as the eighth and last act of creation in the Hebrew account (Gen. i, 26-31), at length finds its parallel in the Babylonian poem upon the new fragment of the Sixth Tablet, No. 92,629. 2

It has already been pointed out that the Babylonian account closely follows the version of the story handed down to us from Berossus, 3 and it may here be added that the employment by Marduk, the Creator, of his own blood in the creation of man may perhaps be compared to the Hebrew account of the creation of man in the image and after the likeness of Elohim. 4

Moreover, the use of the plural in the phrase “Let us make man” in Gen. i, 26, may be compared with the Babylonian narrative which relates that Marduk imparted his purpose of forming man to his father Ea, whom he probably afterwards instructed to carry out the actual work of man’s creation. 1

A parallel to the charge which, according to the Hebrew account, Elohim gave to man and woman after their creation, has hitherto been believed to exist on the tablet K. 3,364, which was supposed to contain a list of the duties of man as delivered to him after his creation by Marduk.

The new Babylonian duplicate of this text, No. 33,851, proves that K. 3,364 is not part of the Creation Series, but is merely a tablet of moral precepts, so that its suggested resemblance to the Hebrew narrative must be given up. It is not improbable, however, that a missing portion of the Sixth Tablet did contain a short series of instructions by Marduk to man, since man was created with the special object of supplying the gods with worshippers and building shrines in their honour.

That to these instructions to worship the gods was added the gift of dominion over beasts, birds, and vegetation is possible, but it must be pointed out that the Babylonian version of man’s creation is related from the point of view of the gods, not from that of man.

Although his creation forms the culmination of Marduk’s work, it was conceived, not as an end and aim in itself, but merely as an expedient to satisfy the discontented gods. 2 This expedient is referred to in the Seventh Tablet, l. 29, in the phrase “For their forgiveness (i.e., the forgiveness of the gods) did he create mankind,” and other passages in the Seventh Tablet tend to show that Marduk’s mercy and goodness are extolled in his relations, not to mankind, but to the gods. 1

In one passage man’s creation is referred to, but it is in connection with the charge that he forget not the deeds of his Creator. 2

The above considerations render it unlikely that the Babylonian poem contained an exact parallel to the exalted charge of Elohim in which He placed the rest of creation under man’s dominion.

It is possible, however, that upon the new fragment of the Seventh Tablet, K. 12,830 (restored from the commentary K. 8,299) 3 we have a reference to the superiority of man over animals, in the phrase “mankind [he created], [and upon] him understanding [he bestowed (?) . . .]”; and if this be so, we may compare it to Gen. i, 286.

Moreover, if my suggested restoration of the last word in l. 7 of the Sixth Tablet be correct, so that it may read “I will create man who shall inhabit [the earth], 4” we may compare it to Gen. i, 28a in which man is commanded to be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” 1

Leonard William King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, London, 1902. pp. lxxxvii-xc.

Parallels Between the Enuma Elish and Genesis

“The close relation existing between the Babylonian account of the Creation and the narrative in Genesis i, 1-11, 4a has been recognized from the time of the first discovery of the former, 1 and the old and new points of resemblance between them may here be briefly discussed.

According to each account the existence of a watery chaos preceded the creation of the universe; and the Hebrew word tehôm, translated “the deep” in Gen. i, 2, is the equivalent of the Babylonian Tiamat, the monster of the deep personifying chaos and confusion.

In the details of the Creation there is also a close resemblance between the two accounts. In the Hebrew narrative the first act of creation is that of light (Gen. i, 3-5), and it has been suggested that a parallel possibly existed in the Babylonian account, in that the creation of light may have been the cause of the revolt of Tiamat.

From the new fragments of the poem we now know that the rebellion of the forces of disorder, which was incited by Apsû and not Tiamat, was due, not to the creation of light, but to his hatred of the way of the gods which produced order in place of chaos 2

A parallelism may still be found, however; in the original form of the Babylonian myth, according to which the conqueror of the dragon was undoubtedly a solar deity. 3 Moreover, as has been pointed out above, 4 day and night are vaguely conceived in the poem as already in existence at the time of Apsû’s revolt, so that the belief in the existence of light before the creation of the heavenly bodies is a common feature of the Hebrew and the Babylonian account.

The second act of creation in the Hebrew narrative is that of a firmament which divided the waters that were under the firmament from the waters that were above the firmament (Gen. i, 6-8).

In the Babylonian poem the body of Tiamat is divided by Marduk, and from one-half of her he formed a covering or dome for heaven, i.e. a firmament, which kept her upper waters in place. Moreover, on the fragment S. 2,013 1 we find mention of a Ti-amat e-Zi-ti and a Ti-amat shap-li-ti, that is, an Upper Tiamat (or Ocean) and a Lower Tiamat (or Ocean), which are the exact equivalents of the waters above and under the firmament. 2

The third and fourth acts of creation, as narrated in Gen. i, 9-13, are those of the earth and of vegetation. Although no portion of the Babylonian poem has yet been recovered which contains the corresponding account, it is probable that these acts of creation were related on the Fifth Tablet of the series. 1

Berossus expressly states that Bel formed the earth out of one half of Omorka’s body, and as his summary of the Babylonian Creation story is proved to be correct wherever it can be controlled, it is legitimate to assume that he is correct in this detail also.

Moreover, in three passages in the Seventh Tablet the creation of the earth by Marduk is referred to: … “Since he created the heaven and fashioned the firm earth”; 2 the new fragment … states, “He named the four quarters (of the world)”; 3 and another new fragment … definitely ascribes to Marduk the title “Creator of the earth.” 4

That the creation of vegetation by Marduk was also recorded in the poem may be concluded from the opening lines of the Seventh Tablet, which are inscribed on the new fragment … and … ascribe to him the titles “Bestower of planting,” “Founder of sowing,” ” Creator of grain and plants,” and add that he “caused the green herb to spring up.” 1

Leonard William King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, London, 1902. pp. lxxxi-lxxxv.

Babylonian Creation Myths Echo Down the Centuries

” … The evidence furnished by these recently discovered tablets with regard to the date of Babylonian legends in general may be applied to the date of the Creation legends.

While the origin of much of the Creation legends may be traced to Sumerian sources, 1 it is clear that the Semitic inhabitants of Mesopotamia at a very early period produced their own versions of the compositions which they borrowed, modifying and augmenting them to suit their own legends and beliefs.

The connection of Marduk with the Dragon-Myth, and with the stories of the creation of the world and man, may with considerable probability be assigned to the subsequent period during which Babylon gradually attained to the position of the principal city in Mesopotamia.

On tablets inscribed during the reigns of kings of the First Dynasty we may therefore expect to find copies of the Creation legends corresponding closely with the text of the series Enuma elish. It is possible that the division of the poem into seven sections, inscribed upon separate tablets, took place at a later period; but, be this as it may, we may conclude with a considerable degree of confidence that the bulk of the poem, as we know it from late Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian copies, was composed at a period not later than B.C. 2000.

The political influence which the Babylonians exerted over neighbouring nations during long periods of their history was considerable, and it is not surprising that their beliefs concerning the origin of the universe should have been partially adopted by the races with whom they came in contact.

That Babylonian elements may be traced in the Phoenician cosmogony has long been admitted, but the imperfect, and probably distorted, form in which the latter has come down to us renders uncertain any comparison of details. 1

Some of the beliefs concerning the creation of the world which were current among the Egyptians bear a more striking resemblance to the corresponding legends of Babylonia. Whether this resemblance was due to the proto-Semitic strain which probably existed in the ancient Egyptian race, 1 or is to be explained as the result of later Babylonian influence from without, is yet uncertain.

But, whatever explanation be adopted, it is clear that the conception of chaos as a watery mass out of which came forth successive generations of primeval gods is common to both races. 2

It is in Hebrew literature, however, that the most striking examples of the influence of the Babylonian Creation legends are to be found.”

Leonard William King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, London, 1902. pp. lxxix-lxxxi.

The Cuneiform Puzzle of the Creation

” …  George Smith recovered the opening lines of the First Tablet, which describes the condition of things before Creation when the primeval water-gods, Apsû and Tiamat, personifying chaos, mingled their waters in confusion.

The text then briefly relates how to Apsû and Tiamat were born the oldest of the gods, the first pair, Lahmu and Lahamu, being followed after a long interval by Anshar and Kishar, and after a second interval by other deities, of whose names the text … only preserves that of Anu.

George Smith perceived that this theogony had been reproduced by Damascius in his summary of the beliefs of the Babylonians concerning the creation of the world. 1

Now, since Damascius mentions Ἴλλινος and Ἀός along with Ἀνός, it was clear that the text of the poem included a description of the birth of the elder Bel (i.e. Enlil or Illil) and of Ea in the passage in which Anu’s name occurs. But as the text … breaks off … the course of the story after this point has hitherto been purely a matter for conjecture.

It appeared probable that the lines which followed contained a full account of the origin of the younger gods, and from the fact that Damascius states that Βῆλος, the Creator of the world, was the son of (i.e. Ea) and Δαύκη (i.e. Damkina), it has been concluded that at any rate special prominence was given to the birth of Bel, i.e. Marduk, who figures so prominently in the story from the close of the Second Tablet onwards.

The new fragments of the First Tablet show that the account of the birth of the gods in the Creation Series is even shorter than that given by Damascius, for the poem contains no mention of the birth and parentage of Marduk.

After mentioning the birth of Nudimmud (i.e. Ea), 2 the text proceeds to describe his marvellous wisdom and strength, and states that he had no rival among the gods; the birth of no other god is recorded after that of Ea, and, when Marduk is introduced later on, his existence, like that of Mummu and of Gaga, appears to be tacitly assumed.

It would seem, therefore, that the reference made by Damascius to Marduk’s parentage was not derived from the text of the Creation Series, but was added by him to complete his summary of the Babylonian beliefs concerning the origin of the gods.”

Leonard William King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, London, 1902. pp. xxxiii-xxxvii.

The Enuma Elish

“THE great Assyrian poem, or series of legends, which narrates the story of the Creation of the world and man, was termed by the Assyrians and Babylonians Enuma elish, “When in the height,” from the two opening words of the text.

The poem consisted of some nine hundred and ninety-four lines, and was divided into seven sections, each of which was inscribed upon a separate Tablet. The Tablets were numbered by the Assyrian scribes, and the separate sections of the poem written upon them do not vary very much in length.

The shortest Tablet contains one hundred and thirty-eight lines, and the longest one hundred and forty-six, the average length of a Tablet being about one hundred and forty-two lines.

The poem embodies the beliefs of the Babylonians and Assyrians concerning the origin of the universe; it describes the coming forth of the gods from chaos, and tells the story of how the forces of disorder, represented by the primeval water-gods Apsû and Tiamat, were overthrown by Ea and Marduk respectively, and how Marduk, after completing the triumph of the gods over chaos, proceeded to create the world and man.

The poem is known to us from portions of several Assyrian and late-Babylonian copies of the work, and from extracts from it written out upon the so-called “practice-tablets,” or students’ exercises, by pupils of the Babylonian scribes.

The Assyrian copies of the work are from the great library which was founded at Nineveh by Ashur-bani-pal, king of Assyria from B.C. 668 to about B.C. 626; the Babylonian copies and extracts were inscribed during the period of the kings of the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods; and one copy of the Seventh Tablet may probably be assigned to as late a date as the period of the Arsacidae.

All the tablets and fragments, which have hitherto been identified as inscribed with portions of the text of the poem, are preserved in the British Museum.”

Leonard William King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, London, 1902. pp. xxv-xxvi.


“The close association of Enkidu and Gilgamesh which becomes one of the striking features in the combination of the tales of these two heroes naturally recalls the “Heavenly Twins” motif, which has been so fully and so suggestively treated by Professor J. Rendell Harris in his Cult of the Heavenly Twins, (London, 1906).

Professor Harris has conclusively shown how widespread the tendency is to associate two divine or semi-divine beings in myths and legends as inseparable companions or twins, like Castor and Pollux, Romulus and Remus, the Acvins in the Rig-Veda, Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau in the Old Testament, the Kabiri of the Phoenicians, Herakles and Iphikles in Greek mythology, Ambrica and Fidelio in Teutonic mythology, Patollo and Potrimpo in old Prussian mythology, Cautes and Cautopates in Mithraism, Jesus and Thomas (according to the Syriac Acts of Thomas), and the various illustrations of “Dioscuri in Christian Legends,” set forth by Dr. Harris in his work under this title, which carries the motif far down into the period of legends about Christian Saints who appear in pairs, including the reference to such a pair in Shakespeare’s Henry V:

“And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by

From that day to the ending of the world.”

–(Act, IV, 3, 57-58.)

There are indeed certain parallels which suggest that Enkidu-Gilgamesh may represent a Babylonian counterpart to the “Heavenly Twins.” In the Indo-Iranian, Greek and Roman mythology, the twins almost invariably act together. In unison they proceed on expeditions to punish enemies.

But after all, the parallels are of too general a character to be of much moment; and moreover the parallels stop short at the critical point, for Gilgamesh though worsted is not killed by Enkidu, whereas one of the “Heavenly Twins” is always killed by the brother, as Abel is by Cain, and Iphikles by his twin brother Herakles.

Even the trait which is frequent in the earliest forms of the “Heavenly Twins,” according to which one is immortal and the other is mortal, though applying in a measure to Enkidu who is killed by Ishtar, while Gilgamesh the offspring of a divine pair is only smitten with disease, is too unsubstantial to warrant more than a general comparison between the Enkidu-Gilgamesh pair and the various forms of the “twin” motif found throughout the ancient world.

For all that, the point is of some interest that in the Gilgamesh Epic we should encounter two figures who are portrayed as possessing the same traits and accomplishing feats in common, which suggest a partial parallel to the various forms in which the twin-motif appears in the mythologies, folk-lore and legends of many nations; and it may be that in some of these instances the duplication is due, as in the case of Enkidu and Gilgamesh, to an actual transfer of the traits of one figure to another who usurped his place.”

Morris Jastrow (ed.), Albert T. Clay (trans.), An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic on the Basis of Recently Discovered Texts, 1920, pp. 22-3.

Death is a Mystery

“Lastly, the twelfth tablet of the Assyrian version of the Gilgamesh Epic is of a purely didactic character, bearing evidence of having been added as a further illustration of the current belief that there is no escape from the nether world to which all must go after life has come to an end.

Proper burial and suitable care of the dead represent all that can be done in order to secure a fairly comfortable rest for those who have passed out of this world. Enkidu is once more introduced into this episode. His shade is invoked by Gilgamesh and rises up out of the lower world to give a discouraging reply to Gilgamesh’s request,

“Tell me, my friend, tell me, my friend, The law of the earth which thou hast experienced, tell me.”

The mournful message comes back:

“I cannot tell thee, my friend, I cannot tell.”

Death is a mystery and must always remain such.

The historical Gilgamesh has clearly no connection with the figure introduced into this twelfth tablet. Indeed, as already suggested, the Gilgamesh Epic must have ended with the return to Erech, as related at the close of the eleventh tablet.

The twelfth tablet was added by some school-men of Babylonia (or perhaps of Assyria), purely for the purpose of conveying a summary of the teachings in regard to the fate of the dead.

Whether these six episodes covering the sixth to the twelfth tablets,

(1) the nature myth,

(2) the killing of the divine bull,

(3) the punishment of Gilgamesh and the death of Enkidu,

(4) Gilgamesh’s wanderings,

(5) the Deluge,

(6) the search for immortality, were all included at the time that the old Babylonian version was compiled cannot, of course, be determined until we have that version in a more complete form.

Since the two tablets thus far recovered show that as early as 2000 B.C. the Enkidu tale had already been amalgamated with the current stories about Gilgamesh, and the endeavor made to transfer the traits of the former to the latter, it is eminently likely that the story of Ishtar’s unhappy love adventure with Gilgamesh was included, as well as Gilgamesh’s punishment and the death of Enkidu.

With the evidence furnished by Meissner’s fragment of a version of the old Babylonian revision and by our two tablets, of the early disposition to make popular tales the medium of illustrating current beliefs and the teachings of the temple schools, it may furthermore be concluded that the death of Enkidu and the punishment of Gilgamesh were utilized for didactic purposes in the old Babylonian version.

On the other hand, the proof for the existence of the deluge story in the Hammurabi period and some centuries later, independent of any connection with the Gilgamesh Epic, raises the question whether in the old Babylonian version, of which our two tablets form a part, the deluge tale was already woven into the pattern of the Epic.

At all events, till proof to the contrary is forthcoming, we may assume that the twelfth tablet of the Assyrian version, though also reverting to a Babylonian original, dates as the latest addition to the Epic from a period subsequent to 2000 B.C.; and that the same is probably the case with the eleventh tablet.”

Morris Jastrow (ed.), Albert T. Clay (trans.), An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic on the Basis of Recently Discovered Texts, 1920, p. 21.

The Deluge Tale of Utnapishtim and the Search for Immortality

“Gilgamesh now begins a series of wanderings in search of the restoration of his vigor, and this motif is evidently a continuation of the nature myth to symbolize the sun’s wanderings during the dark winter in the hope of renewed vigor with the coming of the spring.

Professor Haupt’s view is that the disease from which Gilgamesh is supposed to be suffering is of a venereal character, affecting the organs of reproduction. This would confirm the position here taken that the myth symbolizes the loss of the sun’s vigor. The sun’s rays are no longer strong enough to fertilize the earth.

In accord with this, Gilgamesh’s search for healing leads him to the dark regions in which the scorpion-men dwell. The terrors of the region symbolize the gloom of the winter season.

At last Gilgamesh reaches a region of light again, described as a landscape situated at the sea. The maiden in control of this region bolts the gate against Gilgamesh’s approach, but the latter forces his entrance. It is the picture of the sun-god bursting through the darkness, to emerge as the youthful reinvigorated sun-god of the spring.

Now with the tendency to attach to popular tales and nature myths lessons illustrative of current beliefs and aspirations, Gilgamesh’s search for renewal of life is viewed as man’s longing for eternal life.

The sun-god’s waning power after midsummer is past suggests man’s growing weakness after the meridian of life has been left behind. Winter is death, and man longs to escape it.

Gilgamesh’s wanderings are used as illustration of this longing, and accordingly the search for life becomes also the quest for immortality. Can the precious boon of eternal life be achieved?

Popular fancy created the figure of a favorite of the gods who had escaped a destructive deluge in which all mankind had perished. Gilgamesh hears of this favorite and determines to seek him out and learn from him the secret of eternal life. The deluge story, again a pure nature myth, symbolical of the rainy season which destroys all life in nature, is thus attached to the Epic.

Gilgamesh after many adventures finds himself in the presence of the survivor of the Deluge who, although human, enjoys immortal life among the gods. He asks the survivor how he came to escape the common fate of mankind, and in reply Utnapishtim tells the story of the catastrophe that brought about universal destruction.

The moral of the tale is obvious. Only those singled out by the special favor of the gods can hope to be removed to the distant “source of the streams” and live forever. The rest of mankind must face death as the end of life.

That the story of the Deluge is told in the eleventh tablet of the series, corresponding to the eleventh month, known as the month of “rain curse” and marking the height of the rainy season, may be intentional, just as it may not be accidental that Gilgamesh’s rejection of Ishtar is recounted in the sixth tablet, corresponding to the sixth month, which marks the end of the summer season. The two tales may have formed part of a cycle of myths, distributed among the months of the year.

The Gilgamesh Epic, however, does not form such a cycle. Both myths have been artificially attached to the adventures of the hero.

For the deluge story we now have the definite proof for its independent existence, through Dr. Poebel’s publication of a Sumerian text which embodies the tale, and without any reference to Gilgamesh. Similarly, Scheil and Hilprecht have published fragments of deluge stories written in Akkadian and likewise without any connection with the Gilgamesh Epic.

In the Epic the story leads to another episode attached to Gilgamesh, namely, the search for a magic plant growing in deep water, which has the power of restoring old age to youth. Utnapishtim, the survivor of the deluge, is moved through pity for Gilgamesh, worn out by his long wanderings.

At the request of his wife, Utnapishtim decides to tell Gilgamesh of this plant, and he succeeds in finding it. He plucks it and decides to take it back to Erech so that all may enjoy the benefit, but on his way stops to bathe in a cool cistern.

A serpent comes along and snatches the plant from him, and he is forced to return to Erech with his purpose unachieved. Man cannot hope, when old age comes on, to escape death as the end of everything.”

Morris Jastrow (ed.), Albert T. Clay (trans.), An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic on the Basis of Recently Discovered Texts, 1920, pp. 20-1.

On the Rejection of the Goddess Ishtar

“If, now, Enkidu is not only the older figure but the one who is the real hero of the most notable episode in the Gilgamesh Epic; if, furthermore, Enkidu is the Hercules who kills lions and dispatches the bull sent by an enraged goddess, what becomes of Gilgamesh? What is left for him?

In the first place, he is definitely the conqueror of Erech. He builds the wall of Erech, and we may assume that the designation of the city as Uruk supûri, “the walled Erech,” rests upon this tradition. He is also associated with the great temple Eanna, “the heavenly house,” in Erech.

To Gilgamesh belongs also the unenviable tradition of having exercised his rule in Erech so harshly that the people are impelled to implore Aruru to create a rival who may rid the district of the cruel tyrant, who is described as snatching sons and daughters from their families, and in other ways terrifying the population–an early example of “Schrecklichkeit.”

Tablets II to V inclusive of the Assyrian version being taken up with the Huwawa episode, modified with a view of bringing the two heroes together, we come at once to the sixth tablet, which tells the story of how the goddess Ishtar wooed Gilgamesh, and of the latter’s rejection of her advances.

This tale is distinctly a nature myth … The goddess Ishtar symbolizes the earth which woos the sun in the spring, but whose love is fatal, for after a few months the sun’s power begins to wane. Gilgamesh, who in incantation hymns is invoked in terms which show that he was conceived as a sun-god, recalls to the goddess how she changed her lovers into animals, like Circe of Greek mythology, and brought them to grief.

Enraged at Gilgamesh’s insult to her vanity, she flies to her father Anu and cries for revenge. At this point the episode of the creation of the bull is introduced, but if the analysis above given is correct it is Enkidu who is the hero in dispatching the bull, and we must assume that the sickness with which Gilgamesh is smitten is the punishment sent by Anu to avenge the insult to his daughter.

This sickness symbolizes the waning strength of the sun after midsummer is past. The sun recedes from the earth, and this was pictured in the myth as the sun-god’s rejection of Ishtar; Gilgamesh’s fear of death marks the approach of the winter season, when the sun appears to have lost its vigor completely and is near to death.

The entire episode is, therefore, a nature myth, symbolical of the passing of spring to midsummer and then to the bare season. The myth has been attached to Gilgamesh as a favorite figure, and then woven into a pattern with the episode of Enkidu and the bull. The bull episode can be detached from the nature myth without any loss to the symbolism of the tale of Ishtar and Gilgamesh.

As already suggested, with Enkidu’s death after this conquest of the bull the original Enkidu Epic came to an end. In order to connect Gilgamesh with Enkidu, the former is represented as sharing in the struggle against the bull.

Enkidu is punished with death, while Gilgamesh is smitten with disease. Since both shared equally in the guilt, the punishment should have been the same for both. The differentiation may be taken as an indication that Gilgamesh’s disease has nothing to do with the bull episode, but is merely part of the nature myth.”

Morris Jastrow (ed.), Albert T. Clay (trans.), An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic on the Basis of Recently Discovered Texts, 1920, pp. 19-20.

Contrasting Views of Women in Genesis and the Epic of Gilgamesh

“Tablet I, col. 2, 34-35: Creation of Enkidu by Aruru.

36-41: Description of Enkidu’s hairy body and of his life with the animals.

42-50: The hunter sees Enkidu, who shows his anger, as also his woe, at his condition.

3, 1-12: The hunter tells his father of the strange being who pulls up the traps which the hunter digs, and who tears the nets so that the hunter is unable to catch him or the animals.

19-24: The father of the hunter advises his son on his next expedition to take a woman with him in order to lure the strange being from his life with the animals.

Line 25, beginning “On the advice of his father,” must have set forth, in the original form of the episode, how the hunter procured the woman and took her with him to meet Enkidu.

Column 4 gives in detail the meeting between the two, and naïvely describes how the woman exposes her charms to Enkidu, who is captivated by her and stays with her six days and seven nights. The animals see the change in Enkidu and run away from him. He has been transformed through the woman.  . In the Assyrian version there follows an address of the woman to Enkidu beginning (col. 4, 34):

“Beautiful art thou, Enkidu, like a god art thou.”

We find her urging him to go with her to Erech, there to meet Gilgamesh and to enjoy the pleasures of city life with plenty of beautiful maidens. Gilgamesh, she adds, will expect Enkidu, for the coming of the latter to Erech has been foretold in a dream.  

The address of the woman begins in line 51 of the Pennsylvania tablet:

“I gaze upon thee, Enkidu, like a god art thou.”

This corresponds to the line in the Assyrian version (I, 4, 34) as given above, just as lines 52-53: “Why with the cattle Dost thou roam across the field?” correspond to I, 4, 35, of the Assyrian version.

There follows in both the old Babylonian and the Assyrian version the appeal of the woman to Enkidu, to allow her to lead him to Erech where Gilgamesh dwells (Pennsylvania tablet lines 54-61 = Assyrian version I, 4, 36-39); but in the Pennsylvania tablet we now have a second speech (lines 62-63) beginning like the first one with al-ka, “come:”

“Come, arise from the accursed ground.”

Enkidu consents, and now the woman takes off her garments and clothes the naked Enkidu, while putting another garment on herself.

She takes hold of his hand and leads him to the sheepfolds (not to Erech!!), where bread and wine are placed before him. Accustomed hitherto to sucking milk with cattle, Enkidu does not know what to do with the strange food until encouraged and instructed by the woman.

The entire third column is taken up with this introduction of Enkidu to civilized life in a pastoral community, and the scene ends with Enkidu becoming a guardian of flocks. Now all this has nothing to do with Gilgamesh, and clearly sets forth an entirely different idea from the one embodied in the meeting of the two heroes.

In the original Enkidu tale, the animal-man is looked upon as the type of a primitive savage, and the point of the tale is to illustrate in the naïve manner characteristic of folklore the evolution to the higher form of pastoral life. …

We now obtain, thanks to the new section revealed by the Pennsylvania tablet, a further analogy with the story of Adam and Eve, but with this striking difference, that whereas in the Babylonian tale the woman is the medium leading man to the higher life, in the Biblical story the woman is the tempter who brings misfortune to man.

This contrast is, however, not inherent in the Biblical story, but due to the point of view of the Biblical writer, who is somewhat pessimistically inclined and looks upon primitive life, when man went naked and lived in a garden, eating of fruits that grew of themselves, as the blessed life in contrast to advanced culture which leads to agriculture and necessitates hard work as the means of securing one’s substance.

Hence the woman through whom Adam eats of the tree of knowledge and becomes conscious of being naked is looked upon as an evil tempter, entailing the loss of the primeval life of bliss in a gorgeous Paradise.

The Babylonian point of view is optimistic. The change to civilized life–involving the wearing of clothes and the eating of food that is cultivated (bread and wine) is looked upon as an advance. Hence the woman is viewed as the medium of raising man to a higher level.

The feature common to the Biblical and Babylonian tales is the attachment of a lesson to early folk-tales. The story of Adam and Eve, as the story of Enkidu and the woman, is told with a purpose. Starting with early traditions of men’s primitive life on earth, that may have arisen independently, Hebrew and Babylonian writers diverged, each group going its own way, each reflecting the particular point of view from which the evolution of human society was viewed.

Leaving the analogy between the Biblical and Babylonian tales aside, the main point of value for us in the Babylonian story of Enkidu and the woman is the proof furnished by the analysis, made possible through the Pennsylvania tablet, that the tale can be separated from its subsequent connection with Gilgamesh.

We can continue this process of separation in the fourth column, where the woman instructs Enkidu in the further duty of living his life with the woman decreed for him, to raise a family, to engage in work, to build cities and to gather resources.

All this is looked upon in the same optimistic spirit as marking progress, whereas the Biblical writer, consistent with his point of view, looks upon work as a curse, and makes Cain, the murderer, also the founder of cities.

The step to the higher forms of life is not an advance according to the J document. It is interesting to note that even the phrase the “cursed ground” occurs in both the Babylonian and Biblical tales; but whereas in the latter (Gen. 3, 17) it is because of the hard work entailed in raising the products of the earth that the ground is cursed, in the former (lines 62-63) it is the place in which Enkidu lives before he advances to the dignity of human life that is “cursed,” and which he is asked to leave. Adam is expelled from Paradise as a punishment, whereas Enkidu is implored to leave it as a necessary step towards progress to a higher form of existence.

The contrast between the Babylonian and the Biblical writer extends to the view taken of viniculture. The Biblical writer (again the J document) looks upon Noah’s drunkenness as a disgrace. Noah loses his sense of shame and uncovers himself (Genesis 9, 21), whereas in the Babylonian description Enkidu’s jolly spirit after he has drunk seven jars of wine meets with approval. The Biblical point of view is that he who drinks wine becomes drunk; the Babylonian says, if you drink wine you become happy.”

Morris Jastrow (ed.), Albert T. Clay (trans.), An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic on the Basis of Recently Discovered Texts, 1920, pp. 17-8.

%d bloggers like this: