Kvanvig: Bīt Mēseri and the Adapa Myth

by Esteban

“The exact form and meaning of the name of the first apkallu is not easy to decide. There are several reasons for this. On the one hand there seems to be a connection in the cuneiform sources between Uan as the name is given in the Uruk tablet and Bīt Mēseri, and the Adapa known from the myth.

Second, there is a connection between the name as attested in cuneiform sources and the Greek name Oannes in Berossos.

Third, there is a combined name that first seems to appear in the Catalogue of Texts and Authors I, 6, “ūma-an-na a-da-pà, which seems to play on both Uan and adapa (sic) in some mysterious way.

Fourth, there is a connection in the meaning of the name and the fate, related to the seventh apkallu, Utuabzu, and the first apkallu, Uan.

Now compare this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre: an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone in his right hand, holding his banduddu bucket in his left. This ummânū wears bracelets with a concentric circular design, and rosettes are not apparent. This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress of Anu, but with three stacked layers of horns. As noted elsewhere, this headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis. From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.  Louvre, AO 19845

Now compare this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre: an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone in his right hand, holding his banduddu bucket in his left.
This ummânū wears bracelets with a concentric circular design, and rosettes are not apparent.
This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress of Anu, but with three stacked layers of horns.
As noted elsewhere, this headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis.
From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.
Louvre, AO 19845

To the first issue, R. Borger, supported by F. Wiggermann, has claimed that Adapa from the myth and Uan from the lists were originally two separate figures. If this is the case, we first have to explain the meaning of the short form of the name, i.e. Uan, then the combination with adapu.

The short name form, Uan, in the two cuneiform lists is most easy (sic) explained as a Sumerian genitive, simply meaning “Light of An.” Since An is written with the Sumerian determinative for “god,” An is here the god of heaven.

Given the general and somewhat vague resemblances between the cuneiform and Greek names, we think Uan alone very well could form the background for Oannes in Berossos. Lambert has called attention to the fact that in a list of adjectives for “wise” the Sumerian ù.tu.a.an.ba, “born in the water,” is equated with a-da-pu.

The same Akkadian word is used in a royal prayer in which the king speaks of himself as “your wise (a-da-pà) slave.”  This could point in the direction that Uan is the proper name and adapu is an epithet designating Uan as “wise.” It is, however, difficult to equate myths with lexical texts and draw certain conclusions.

Reading the Adapa Myth from the Old Babylonian period clearly evokes the impression that Adapa was a proper name, and this proper name of the foremost wise among humans (sic) could very well have caused the use of the name as an epithet.

Finally compare this representation. Wings are missing. The horned headdress has two levels of horns, and is again surmounted with what appears to be a fleur-de-lis.  Like other examples, this figure holds what appear to be poppy bulbs, and raises his right hand in the greeting gesture.  Bracelets with rosettes are present, as are armlets on the upper arms.  The sacred tree before the figure varies from other depictions, as well.  It is not certain that this figure depicts an ummânū at all. It could portray a king. The lack of wings is clearly deliberate.  Bas-relief, Louvre, AO 19869

Finally compare this representation. Wings are missing. The horned headdress has two levels of horns, and is again surmounted with what appears to be a fleur-de-lis.
Like other examples, this figure holds what appear to be poppy bulbs, and raises his right hand in the greeting gesture.
Bracelets with rosettes are present, as are armlets on the upper arms.
The sacred tree before the figure varies from other depictions, as well.
It is not certain that this figure depicts an ummânū at all. It could portray a king. The lack of wings is clearly deliberate.
Bas-relief, Louvre, AO 19869

(Cf. the discussion in S. Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind. Language Has the Power of Life and Death, ed. J.S. Cooper, vol. 10, Mciv. Winona Lake 2001, 1-2.)

The combined name “‘ūma-an-na a-da-pà (sic) is a riddle. Adapa at the end can be part of the name, or it can be an epithet, “the wise one;” if so the real name is ūmanna. This name does not tell us anything, except that it could be an odd spelling of ummānu, “craftsman or scholar.” But why should the foremost sage, designated apkallu, bear a name similar to an expert of lower rank?

This points in the direction that both words belong together in the name. We see that the only element in the first name that separates from the name of the first sage in the Akkadian lists is the nasalization of u in um, umanna instead of uanna.

Why this is done is hard to figure out. It could have been to create a pun between the primeval Uan, “the light of heaven,” patron of the scholars, and these succeeding scholars, designated as ummānū.

In any case the proper name of the primary sage in the Catalogue would be Uanadapa, a combination of the first apkallu Uan from the lists and Adapa from the myth.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 117-9.