Kvanvig: On the Destiny of Adapa
“The problem in the fragments to the Adapa Myth is that there is one crucial place where Amarna fragment B and the Nineveh fragment D overlap and they are significantly different. The last visible part of fragment B reads as follows, according to Izre’el’s translation:
“Come Adapa, why did you not eat and drink? Hence
you shall not live! Alas for inferior humanity!” “Ea my lord
told me: “Do not eat, do not dr[i]nk!”
“Take him (?) and [retu]rn him to (his) earth.”
(Amarna fragment B, rev. 67-70. Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, p. 21).
In the crucial last sentence here, we must admit that the only clearly visible signs are ana qaqqarišu, “to the,” or “his, earth.” Together with the traces left of verbs they nevertheless show the destination: Adapa is returning to the earth. As we shall see below, the outcome in exactly the same scene in fragment D is the opposite: Adapa will remain in heaven as the chosen of Anu.
If we do not read the myths according to their deepest structures, synchronically, but according to their plots on a narrative level, the difference between the older preserved variant of the story, fragment B, and the younger preserved variant, fragment D, cannot be overlooked.
To safeguard the argument, if the version of the scene in fragment D in the future should be found in an older tablet, the version would still be different from fragment B. In reading plots in narratives the beginning and end of the narrative are crucial.
Here we approach a problem in the Adapa myth; we do not have the exact beginning and the end of the story in any of the fragments, and we do not know exactly how they relate to one another, so we must make assumptions.
If we presume that the order of the fragments is rightly put together, there seems to be a scholarly agreement at this point; we are close to a beginning in fragment A, starting in line 2:
“Let (?) his [s]peech be (?) … […] like the speech of [Anu.]
He perfected him with great intelligence, to give instruction about the ordinance of the earth.
To him he gave wisdom, he did not give him eternal life.
In those days, in those years, the sage, a native of Eridu,
Ea made him (his) follower among people.”
(Nineveh fragment A obv. i, 2-6. Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, p. 10).
Here the basic themes that continue in the other fragments are introduced: the power of speech that made Adapa capable of breaking the South Wind’s wing, and changing the order of nature; the question about what kind of wisdom Adapa got from Ea, since only “the earth” and not the all-encompassing “heaven and earth” is mentioned; and the relationship between wisdom and eternal life. The rest of the fragments, including D, follow the story line fairly smoothly in relation to this beginning.
We do not come so close to an end in either fragments B or D, because they are broken. In both places, however, we have a statement of the destiny of Adapa. In B this was to return to the earth, as we have seen; the last sentences in D concerning Adapa’s fate read as follows:
[An]u se[t] a decree to make glorious his lordship forever:
[ … ] Adapa, seed of humankind,
[ … ] he who broke the South Wind’s wing triumphantly
(and) ascended to heaven, —so be it forever!
(Nineveh fragment D rev. 11-14. Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, p. 38).
The end of a story matters. What takes place in a story moves between its beginning and end. If you change the end, you change the plot, even though the beginning and the events after the beginning are the same in a similar story.
Both the beginning and the succeeding events get another meaning when the end is totally different. In the fragment B the destiny was the return to the earth, which implies a dividing line between Adapa’s wisdom and eternal life, whatever structural level in the myth we place it in.
Adapa did not surpass the realm of the human getting eternal life, even with his extensive wisdom, and even though he became the patron of the magicians. Certainly, this has a meaning in relation to expelling demons, not only gods were able to do this; the power was given to humans, following the wisdom of Adapa.
The meaning of the destiny in D changes the plot. The focus is the elevation of Adapa as the one among humans who stayed in heaven with Anu forever.”
Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 121-3.