Lenzi: On the apkallū–ummânū Association

by Esteban

“There are of course quite early precedents for king lists, antediluvian or otherwise; there are also several earlier examples of kings being listed with their chief scholarly advisor (see the overview in A. Kirk Greyson, “Königslisten und Chroniken,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie 6 (1980) 86-135).

But there is nothing that traces the royal scholars back through antediluvian times to the apkallū as clearly as does the ULKS. We need not require the evidence for the earlier viability of this tradition, however, to conform to this explicit and systematic presentation of the “mythology of scribal succession.”

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.  The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities. The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.
The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities. The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.

Our list’s formulation of the genealogical tradition should not be made the measure of its earlier existence. As others have done, we shall use one of the most basic features of the ULKS as our guide into earlier material: the close association between mythical apkallū and their human counterparts.

Finding this concept as well as hints of succession between the two groups in earlier cuneiform material gives us good reason to believe the “mythology of scribal succession” existed at an earlier time.

(The novel contribution here is to highlight two new evidential ideas, in Bīt mēseri and in “Advice to a Prince,” and to respond to an important objection raised by Seth Sanders, “Writing, Ritual, and Apocalypse: Studies in the Theme of Ascent to Heaven in Ancient Mesopotamia and Second Temple Judaism” (Ph.D. Dissertation, The Johns Hopkins University, 1999), 125, 144-45.

Many scholars treating the subject of scholarly genealogy often appeal to the Enmeduranki text (e.g., Beaulieu, “The Social and Intellectual Setting of Babylonian Wisdom Literature,” 15 and Rochberg, Heavenly Writing, 183-184; see W. G. Lambert, “The Qualifications of Babylonian Diviners,” in Festschrift für Rykle Borger zu seinem 65. Geburtstag am 24. Mai 1994: Tikip santakki mala bašmu . . ., ed. Stefan M. Maul; Cuneiform Monographs 10 [Groningen: Styx, 1998], 141-58 for an edition of this text).

Purādu-fish apkallū were antediluvian sages, the famous Seven Sages of Sumeria were purādu-fish.  The genotype is also attested in Berossus, as the form of the mentor of mankind, Oannes.

Purādu-fish apkallū were antediluvian sages, the famous Seven Sages of Sumeria were purādu-fish.
The genotype is also attested in Berossus, as the form of the mentor of mankind, Oannes.

Although that tradition is clearly related to the issue of antediluvian knowledge and its transmission to scholars, its formulation is a minority view that places an antediluvian king at the center of mediation to scholars rather than the antediluvian apkallū (see my Secrecy and the Gods, 122-127, which also shows the relevance of LKA 147 and its unique formulation of the issue). This tradition will not factor into the discussion below.)

The list of apkallū in an incantation belonging to the apotropaic series Bīt mēseri is sometimes cited as evidence for the connection between sages and scholars before the Seleucid era.

(See, e.g., Parpola, Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars, XVIII.) This text names the same seven apkallū as the ULKS, but here they are given an ichthyological (fish-like) description. (This recalls Berossus’ description of the sages.)

Tablet III 10-13 reads:

“They are the seven brilliant purādu-fish, purādu-fish from the sea, the seven sages, who were created in the river,

who ensure the correct execution of the plans of heaven and earth.”

The text continues with a list of four human apkallū, Nungalpirigal, Pirigalnungal, Pirigalabzu, and Lu-Nana, who are then described in lines 28-29 of the same tablet as:

Four sages of human descent, whom Ea,
the lord, perfected with wide understanding.

The presence of these four humans in this text, even though called apkallū, suggests several points of similarity with the ULKS that advance our understanding of the apkallūummânū association.

(The artificiality of the first three names in this list has been noted repeatedly in the literature; the pirig– element is probably related to the u4-element in some of the antediluvian sages’ names.

On these names, see, e.g., W. W. Hallo, “On the Antiquity of Sumerian Literature,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 83 (1963), 167-76, here 175; Sanders, “Writing, Ritual, and Apocalypse,” 117; and Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, 74 (each citing nearly the same earlier secondary literature).

In the present context, however, I will limit my comments to a textual feature that others have noted but not utilized as evidence for understanding the apkallūummânū tradition; namely, unlike the seven non-human sages, the four human sages in Bīt mēseri have no place in the ritual instructions associated with this incantation.”

Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian ScholarshipJANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 143-5.