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Melvin: Divine or Semi-Divine Intermediaries

The Divine Source of Civilization in Mesopotamian Myths

“The motif of the divine origin of civilization is common in the ancient Near East, especially in Mesopotamia, and it stands in stark contrast to the portrayal of the rise of civilization in Genesis 1– 11.

(Although many of my observations with regard to the view of the rise of civilization presented in Mesopotamian mythology could also be made within the mythic traditions of other ancient cultures (e.g., Egypt, Greece, Canaan), Bernard Batto notes, “[f]or reasons not entirely clear to us the opening chapters of Genesis are typologically and content-wise more akin to the mythic traditions of Mesopotamia than of territorially closer Canaan—the reverse of the normal situation in the Hebrew Bible.”

(Bernard Batto, “Creation Theology in Genesis,” R. J. Clifford and J. J. Collins [eds.], Creation in the Biblical Traditions [CBQMS, 24; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1992], 16).

For this reason, as well as the general consensus that the compilation of Genesis 1–11 occurred in the exilic or early post-exilic period, in large measure as a polemic against the Babylonian cosmological worldview in which the Jewish community found itself immersed, I have limited my comparisons of the biblical material to a number of Mesopotamian myths.)

In a number of mythological texts, civilization is portrayed as a gift bestowed upon humanity by the gods, and human advancement is generally a positive development. Often the arts of civilization come to humanity through divine or semi-divine intermediaries, such as the apkallus or heroes who are either semi-divine (e.g., Gilgamesh) or divinized humans (e.g., Lugalbanda, Utnapishtim).

This depiction of a fish-apkallū of the purādu-fish type guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud.  A fish's head can be seen on the Apkallu's head, and its skin hangs down over the back of his body.  It is important to recall that the so-called Seven Sages of Sumeria were apkallū of this type. Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE.  From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London). Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg) http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

This depiction of a fish-apkallū of the purādu-fish type guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud.
A fish’s head can be seen on the Apkallu’s head, and its skin hangs down over the back of his body.
It is important to recall that the so-called Seven Sages of Sumeria were apkallū of this type.
Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE.
From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg)
http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

According to the apkallu tradition, which comes to us from a wide array of sources ranging from the bilingual (Sumerian-Akkadian), “Etiological Myth of the Seven Sages” in the Bīt Mēseri 􏰀􏰁􏰂􏰃􏰄􏰅􏰆􏰇􏰈texts to the much later writings of Berossus (4th century BCE) and the Uruk Sage List (c. 165 BCE), as well as the Adapa myth and the epic myth􏰔􏰈􏰈􏰎􏰃􏰎􏰋􏰐􏰃􏰓􏰆 Erra and Ishum, semi-divine beings sent by Enki / Ea instructed antediluvian humans in the arts of civilization. The apkallus were teachers of early humanity whom Ea had endowed with “broad understanding” (uzna rapašta).

(Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the ‘Seven Sages,’” Orientalia 30 (1960), 4. See also Alan Lenzi, Secrecy and the Gods: Secret Knowledge in Ancient Mesopotamia and Biblical Israel (SAAS, 19; Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2008), 106–20. A similar description of the apkallus appears in the myth Erra and Ishum (COS 1.113:408).

(See the detailed description of the apkallus in Jean Bottéro, Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and the Gods (trans. Zainab Bahrani and Marc Van De Mieroop; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 246–49. For a discussion of the Uruk Sage List, see Lenzi, Secrecy and the Gods, 106–09.)

(See Helge S. Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic: The Mesopotamian Background of the Enoch Figure and the Son of Man (WMANT, 61; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag), 295–318; Paul D. Hanson, “Rebellion in Heaven, Azazel, and Euhemeristic Heroes in 1 Enoch 6–11,” JBL 96 (1977), 226– 29.)

According to Berossus, they taught the people of Sumer “writing, science, and technology of all types, the foundation of cities, the building of temples, jurisprudence and geometry,” as well as such necessities as agriculture. In lists, they usually appear paired with the king whom they purportedly advised as a sort of vizier.”

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 3-4.

Melvin: Origins of Human Civilization–Divine Mediation or Human Endeavor?

“In the study of Genesis 1–11, it is common for scholars to make comparisons between the biblical material and ancient Near Eastern myths. The discovery of large numbers of texts from Mesopotamia and Ugarit during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries created a veritable deluge of comparative studies of the primeval history.

While the observation of the many continuities between Genesis 1–11 and Mesopotamian myths has contributed greatly to our understanding of this portion of the biblical text, it is also important to note the discontinuities between the biblical and extra-biblical material.

One such discontinuity relates to the origin of human civilization. In Mesopotamian myths, civilization arises via the intervention of gods or other divine beings. It is portrayed variously as a gift bestowed directly upon humanity, an institution preceding the creation of humanity (via the creation of patron deities of various technologies), or the bestowal of knowledge upon humans by gods, sometimes through intermediary beings.

In Genesis 1–11, on the other hand, there are no divine mediators, and there does not appear to be any divine assistance in the rise of civilization.

(Late Second Temple period expansions of the tradition preserved in Genesis 6:1–4, such as 1 Enoch 6–11 and Jubilees 4:15, 21–23a 8:1–4, do include angelic revelation of secret knowledge which contributes to human civilization.

Although a few scholars, most notably J. T. Milik and Margaret Barker, have argued that these works preserve elements of an earlier, more extensive tradition which Genesis 6:1–4 has abridged, their proposals have not met with much acceptance.

See J. T. Milik, The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of Qumran Cave 4 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976), 30–32a; Margaret Barker, The Older Testament: The Survival of Themes from the Ancient Royal Cult in Sectarian Judaism and Early Christianity (London: SPCK, 1987), 18–19a; see especially the review of Barker by Nickelsburg in JBL 109 (1990), 335–37. See below for a further discussion of this possibility.)

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530-1569), The Tower of Babel (circa 1563-1565, oil on panel, Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen, Room 06, Rotterdam. Accession number 2443 (OK). Bequeathed to the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen by Daniël George van Beuningen. Brueghel painted three versions of the Tower of Babel. This one is in the collection of the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. A second version is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. A third version, a miniature on ivory, is apparently held by a private collector. Its disposition is unknown.  The official position taken by the Wikimedia Foundation is that "faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain”. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Rotterdam)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Click to zoom. Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530-1569), The Tower of Babel (circa 1563-1565, oil on panel, Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen, Room 06, Rotterdam. Accession number 2443 (OK). Bequeathed to the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen by Daniël George van Beuningen.
Brueghel painted three versions of the Tower of Babel. This one is in the collection of the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. A second version is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. A third version, a miniature on ivory, is apparently held by a private collector. Its disposition is unknown.
The official position taken by the Wikimedia Foundation is that “faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain”.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Rotterdam)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Rather, civilization is the product of human endeavor. In Genesis 4:17–22, humans discover or invent various aspects of civilized life: city-building, animal husbandry, music, and metallurgy. The human source of city-building is further underscored in Genesis 10–11 with the construction of cities by Nimrod (10:8–12) and the building of the city and tower of Babylon (11:1–9).

I propose that the absence of divine mediation from Genesis 1–11 shifts the responsibility for civilization and the evils which accompany it onto humanity, particularly through the Eden narrative’s portrayal of civilizing knowledge as illicitly acquired divine knowledge.

In order to make this case, I will first examine the Mesopotamian literature to establish the mythological background which Genesis 1–11 rejects. Then, I will analyze the relevant biblical texts in order to demonstrate the absence of the instruction motif. Finally, I will argue that the Eden story in Genesis 3 is the key to understanding how and why the mythological motif of divine instruction was excluded from Genesis 1–11.”

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 1-3.

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