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Erica Reiner on the Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages”

“The bilingual text LKA No. 76 has been characterized by Ebeling, in the catalog LKA p. x, as “Zweisprachiger Text von den ‘sieben Söhnen von Nippur’, mystischen Inhalts.” The obverse of the text contains an unusual self-description given by the “sons of Nippur,” to which I have been unable to find a parallel, but the much smaller portion preserved of the reverse, which most likely is an altogether different composition, is a duplicate to two texts from Kouyunjik edited by O.R. Gurney, JRAS 1935 459 ff., which deal with the apkallu’s who, under the designation “Seven Sages” have received repeated attention in Assyriological literature.

Fish-Apkallu statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.

Fish-Apkallu statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.

The reverse of LKA 76, which shall be my sole concern in this paper, as well as an unpublished fragment from Kouyunjik copied by Geers, permits us to establish the historical and mythological significance of these personages. [ … ]

Translation

  • 1′-2′. [Adapa,] the purification priest of Eridu
  • 3′-4′. [ … ] who ascended to heaven.
  • 5′-6′. They are the seven brilliant apkallu’s, purādu-fish of the sea,
  • 7′-9′. [sev]en apkallu’s “grown” in the river, who insure the correct functioning of the plans of heaven and earth.
  • 10′-13′. Nunpiriggaldim, the apkallu of Enmerkar, who brought down Ištar from heaven into Eanna;
  • 14′-17′. Piriggalnungal, stemming from Kiš, who angered Adad in heaven so that he let no rain and (hence) vegetation be in the country for three years;
  • 18′-23′. Piriggalabzu, stemming from [Eridu] who . . . . and thus angered Ea in the Apsû so that he . . . [cut (?) the cords from (?) the seal around his neck (?)] . . .
  • 24′-27′. The fourth (is) Lu-Nanna, (only) two-thirds apkallu, who drove the ušumgallu-dragon from Eninkarnunna (var. Eninkiagnunna), the temple of Ištar of Šulgi.
  • 28′-31′. [ . . . ] of human descent, whom (pl.) the lord Ea had endowed with a broad understanding.

. . . If the restorations [MIN] in lines 3’ff are correct, this section enumerates or addresses apkallu’s . . . (See footnote 3, below).

(Footnote 3: While the main concern of these pages is to follow the apkallu’s into their mythological past, it should be mentioned that their role in the here edited text, as well as in other rituals to be mentioned presently, is an apotropaic one (having the power to avert evil influences or bad luck); indeed, copies … of the text under discussion may well represent a tablet of the series bīt mēsiri, for which see G. Meier, AfO 14 139 ff.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have prophylactic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have prophylactic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

This is made likely by the content as well as the style of the invocations alternating with ritual directions, and the latter have been here restored on the basis of this similarity. Moreover, A rev. 5′ f. recalls the catchline of 4R 21 B, a recension of Tablet II of bīt mēsiri … the number, shape, and use of these apotropaic figures varies from text to text, apkallu being a general term for the fish-, bird-, or “Gilgameš“-like men (see Landsberger Sam’al 95 n. 227); thus, before the apkallu’s enumerated in lines 10′-27′, who are then summed up as being of human descent (ilitti amēlūti), the text mentions the seven apkallu’s who are purādu-fish and seven apkallu’s who were “created” (Sumerian “grown”) in the river.)

As A rev. 16’ff. shows, the rites were performed for the benefit of a patient (LÚ.GIG); they include, according to A rev. 10’f., fashioning of apotropaic apkallu-figurines, or, according to lines 3’ff. (in copy C), figurines of suhurmāšu-fish.”

Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages,” Orientalia, v. 30, No. 1, 1961, pp. 1-6.

Wiggermann Defines the Lamassu

“The limited number of candidates available for identification with e’ru, libbi gišimmari and urigallu enables us to choose a denotation, even when the results of philology are not unequivocal in each case.

The sages and the lesser gods of NAss art share attributes and therefore functions: goat, sprig, greeting gesture, cone, bucket and mace. Both can occur with or without wings.

This umu-apkallū makes the iconic greeting gesture with his right hand while holding an e'ru stick in his left.  The tassels of his robe are clear around his ankles, as are bracelets just above his elbows.  Note the detail of the individually feathered wings. The rosette insignia on the e'ru and his wrist is not yet understood.  The headdress is a horned tiara, indicative of divinity.

This umu-apkallū makes the iconic greeting gesture with his right hand while holding an e’ru stick in his left.
The tassels of his robe are clear around his ankles, as are bracelets just above his elbows.
Note the detail of the individually feathered wings. The rosette insignia on the e’ru and his wrist is not yet understood. The headdress is a horned tiara, indicative of divinity.

The apkallū of the rituals share properties with some of the gods of the rituals: the šūt kakkī (II.A.3.4) hold the e’ru-stick/mace, the il bīti (II.A.3.8) greets and holds the gamlu-curved staff (attributes also of apkallū in art), the undeciphered intruders of text II Rev. 9f., probably gods since they are made of tamarisk, hold an ara gišimmari (cf. also text IV/1 ii 6’f.; held by apkallū of art), and the šūt kappī, “the winged ones”, of bīt mēseri (III.B.6) hold the e’ru and the libbi gišimmari.

The umu-apkallū at far left has his right hand raised in the iconic gesture of purification and exorcism, but no mullilu cone is present.  The banduddû bucket is present in the left hand. This umu-apkallū wears a horned tiara, indicative of divinity.  The next entity lacks wings, and so is probably not an umu-apkallū. The mace in the right hand could be an e'ru, as it is not yet clear precisely what e'ru means. I do not understand the object in his left hand.  The next entity holds a bowel and the curved staff, known as the gamlu-curved staff. While this entity wears a headdress, it is not horned, and wings are absent, suggesting that it is human rather than umu-apkallū.  The entity at far right wields a curved stick in his right hand, I am unsure how Wiggermann defines it, and I completely stumped by the object in his left hand, which appears to be a ladle.

The umu-apkallū at far left has his right hand raised in the iconic gesture of purification and exorcism, but no mullilu cone is present.
The banduddû bucket is present in the left hand. This umu-apkallū wears a horned tiara, indicative of divinity.
The next entity lacks wings, and so is probably not an umu-apkallū. The mace in the right hand could be an e’ru, as it is not yet clear precisely what e’ru means. I do not understand the object in his left hand.
The next entity holds a bowl and the curved staff, known as the gamlu-curved staff. While this entity wears a headdress, it is not horned, and wings are absent, suggesting that it is human rather than umu-apkallū.
The entity at far right wields a curved stick in his right hand, I am unsure how Wiggermann defines it, and I completely stumped by the object in his left hand, which appears to be a ladle. If I had to guess, I would surmise that the entity with the raised bowl is a king, and he is holding an offering which the figure at far right is blessing with the curved stick.

Like the (winged) gods and sages of art (Kolbe Reliefprogramme IIA, VII; above apkallū I and II) the gods of the rituals sometimes kneel (šūt kappī, III.B.6); kamsūtu, “kneeling figures”, probably gods since they are made of tamarisk in ritual II Rev. 11f., occur as well (Ritual II Rev. 11f., Text VI Col. B:25, BiOr 30 178:18).

The designations of these purifying and exorcising gods of the rituals are not names, but descriptions of function or appearance: šūt kakkī, “weapon-men”, it bīti, “god of the house”, šūt kappī, “winged ones”, kamsūtu, “kneeling ones”.

This um-apkallū holds a feather in his right hand, raised, and holds a small goat in his left hand.  The tassels on his robe are distinct, as are the bracelets on his upper arms, just above his elbows.  The headdress is unknown to me.  Wiggermann appears to favor the ür-term "lamassu" for all such apkallu figures.

This umu-apkallū holds a feather in his right hand, raised, and holds a small goat in his left hand.
The tassels on his robe are distinct, as are the bracelets on his upper arms, just above his elbows.
The headdress is unknown to me.
Wiggermann appears to favor the ür-term “lamassu” for all such apkallu figures.

Likewise the purifying and exorcising gods of art are not represented as individuals but as indistinguishable members of a group of lesser gods of similar function, holding more or less interchangeable attributes.

Although not an exorcist but an armed door keeper, the nameless god ša ištēt ammatu lān-šu, ” One Cubit” (II.A.3.5), might belong here; the winged goddess holding a bracelet (Kolbe VIII) may be a female member of the same group.

Without definite proof we propose to indentify the nameless exorcising gods of the rituals with the indistinct winged gods of the reliefs.

The “names” distinguish the members of this group according to form or function, but we ought to expect a term identifying these gods as similar lesser gods. The only term available is lamassu (also proposed by Reade BaM 10 36).

In view of the many difficulties surrounding this term (provisionally Foxvog/Heimpel/Kilmer/Spycket RiA 6 446ff.) definite proof would require a separate study.”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, p. 79.

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