Lenzi: Human apkallū are a Later Inclusion
“Sanders suggests this discrepancy indicates the four human apkallū are “extraneous” while Wiggerman gives it a source critical interpretation, suggesting “the list of apkallū does not originate from bīt mēseri but from another text—a chronicle ?—, from where it was adapted by bīt mēseri.”
(Sanders, “Writing, Ritual, and Apocalypse,” 117; Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, 108. They do appear extraneous in the incantation when viewed from the perspective of the ritual instructions, and the four human apkallū almost certainly were taken from some other traditional context, though we have not yet identified it.)
Building on these interpretations, I suggest that the absence of the four human apkallū from the ritual instructions is a textual clue that they are in fact a later addition to the incantation.
According to this interpretation, the text provides evidence that someone deliberately associated the two groups of apkallū, human and mythic, sometime in the early first millennium.
That is to say, the disconnect between ritual and incantation provides a hint at alteration or innovation—i.e., an active interest—in the apkallū tradition attested here.
(For a much more detailed example of finding literary and socio-religious data in the discrepancies between an incantation and its associated ritual, see Tzvi Abusch, “Ritual and Incantation: Interpretation and Textual History of Maqlû VII:58-105 and IX:52-59,” in “Shaharei Talmon:” Studies in the Bible, Qumran, and the Ancient Near East Presented to Shemaryahu Talmon, ed. Michael Fishbane and Emanuel Tov with the assistance of Weston W. Fields (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1992), 367-80; reprinted in Tzvi Abusch, Mesopotamian Witchcraft: Toward a History and Understanding of Babylonian Witchcraft Beliefs and Literature, Ancient Magic and Divination 5 (Leiden: Brill / Styx, 2002).
We must recognize, however, the fact that the tradition exemplified in bīt mēseri differs in a significant way from the ULKS: in bīt mēseri the tradition occurs in a ritual.
(Besides the generic difference the text also has a difference with regard to the included content: kings are only mentioned with two of the human apkallū and none is mentioned with the mythic apkallū. Since Bīt mēseri is a ritual, we would not expect the sage-king association to appear.
Due to their association with Ea, the apkallū were “natural” candidates for invocation in apotropaic/exorcistic contexts (see, e.g., Benjamin Foster, “Wisdom and the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Orientalia 43 , 344-54, here 349 and other examples below).
But kings are not figures typically invoked in incantations. Thus, it is not really surprising that we do not see the connection made systematically in such a context. However, when a sage–king connection is mentioned, it is interesting to see signs of continuity with the later ULKS. For example, Nungalpirigal is associated with Enmerkar in both Bīt mēseri and the ULKS.)
If this were the only instance of apkallū in a ritual context, this difference in genre would be of little consequence. But, in fact, it is not. The seven apkallū are mentioned, for example, in anti-witchcraft incantations in Maqlû II 124, V 110, VII 49, VIII 38 (though without names).
(7 apkallē sūt Eridu likpidūšunūti ana lemuttim: “May the seven sages of Eridu plan evil for them.” This counters the assertion that the sorcerers have planned evil for the patient in II 117.
See Gerhard Meier, Die assyrische Beschwörungssammlung Maqlû, Archiv für Orientforschung Beiheft 2 (Berlin, 1937), 17 for text and translation.)
(7 apkallē sūt Eridu [. . .]; see Gerhard Meier, “Studien zur Beschwörungssammlung Maqlu,” Archiv für Orientforschung 21 (1966), 77 for the text. Meier’s earlier edition contains nothing except the number 7 from the line (Maqlû, 38).
(7 apkallē sūt Eridu lipaššihū zumuršu, “May the seven sages of Eridu give his body relief” (Meier, Maqlû, 48).
(Broken context: [. . .] ši-ma apkallē ša Apsî (Meier, Maqlû, 54). Note the next line, also broken, has nēmeqi nikilti Ea iqbû, “the wisdom, the ingenuity of Ea they spoke.”)
Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian Scholarship, JANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 145-6.