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Category: 1950

Melvin: Human Civilization is a Gift of the gods

“At other times, the gods create civilization directly, either through the birth of the patron deities of aspects of civilization (e.g., agriculture) or by means of themes.

(This phenomenon is especially prevalent in Sumerian creation accounts, which often emphasize the importance of agricultural technology by placing the creation of tools prior to and even necessary for the creation of humans (see, for example, The Song of the Hoe [COS 1.157]) and by presenting the development of agriculture as a theogony in which the patron deities of various agricultural technologies are born. See Cattle and Grain in Samuel N. Kramer, Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium B.C. (rev. ed.; New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961), 72–73.)

(See Enki and Inanna (COS 1.161). See also Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 64–68; Bottéro, 238–39.)

In The Song of the Hoe, Enlil invents the hoe, first, in order to prepare the ground for sprouting humans, and second, for humans to use in their work of temple-building.

(In Mesopotamian Creation myths, the origin of humans is usually described in one of two ways. The first is that they are fashioned from clay, usually mixed with the blood of a slain god (cf. Enuma Elish; Atrahasis). The second is that they sprout up from the ground like plants, as is the case here.)

Similarly, in Cattle and Grain the arts of animal husbandry and agriculture are tied to their patron deities, Lahar and Ashnan. In another text, Enki decrees the fates of the cities of Sumer, blessing them and causing civilization to develop.

Batto notes that a number of texts present the earliest humans (i.e., humans prior to the divine bestowal of the gift of civilization) as animal-like. Thus, in Cattle and Grain, early humans walk about naked, eat grass like sheep, and drink water from ditches.

A fragment of The Eridu Genesis. <br />  The earliest recorded Sumerian creation myth is The Eridu Genesis, known from a cuneiform tablet excavated from Nippur, a fragment from Ur, and a bilingual fragment in Sumerian with Akkadian, from the Library of Ashurbanipal dated 600 BCE. The main fragment from Nippur (depicted above) is dated to 1600 BCE. <br />  http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.1.7.4# <br />  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumerian_creation_myth <br />  It was Thorkild Jacobsen who named this fragment. As he says, “…it deals with the creation of man, the institution of kingship, the founding of the first cities and the great flood. Thus it is a story of beginnings, a Genesis, and, as I will try to show in detail later, it prefigures so to speak, the biblical Genesis in its structure. <br />  The god Enki and his city Eridu figure importantly in the story, Enki as savior of mankind, Eridu as the first city. Thus “The Eridu Genesis” seems appropriate." <br />  In a footnote, Jacobsen observes, “The tablet was found at Nippur during the third season’s work of the Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania (1893-6) but was not immediately recognized for what it was. The box in which it was kept was labeled “incantation.” Thus it was not until 1912, when Arno Poebel went through the tablet collection, that its true nature was discovered.” <br />  He continues, “Poebel published it in hardcopy ... and furnished a transliteration, translation and penetrating analysis .... He convincingly dated the tablet (pp. 66-9) on epigraphical and other grounds to the latter half of the First Dynasty of Babylon.” <br />  “Little further work of consequence was done on the text for thirty-six years—a detailed bibliography may be found in Rykle Borger, Handbuch der Keilschriftliteratur I (Berlin: de Gruyter, p. 411 ... but in 1950 Samuel N. Kramer’s translation was published in ANET (pp. 43-4) and again, almost twenty years later, Miguel Civil restudied the text in his chapter on Atra-hasīs (pp. 138-47). <br />  The interpretation here offered owes much to our predecessors, far more than would appear from our often very different understanding of the text." <br />  https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=g5MGVP6gAPkC&amp;pg=PA129&amp;dq=Eridu+Genesis.+Nippur&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0CCEQ6AEwAGoVChMI4ImL2PiCxwIVhNWACh01nwD6#v=onepage&amp;q=Eridu%20Genesis.%20Nippur&amp;f=false

A fragment of The Eridu Genesis.
The earliest recorded Sumerian creation myth is The Eridu Genesis, known from a cuneiform tablet excavated from Nippur, a fragment from Ur, and a bilingual fragment in Sumerian with Akkadian, from the Library of Ashurbanipal dated 600 BCE. The main fragment from Nippur (depicted above) is dated to 1600 BCE.
http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.1.7.4#
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumerian_creation_myth
It was Thorkild Jacobsen who named this fragment. As he says, “…it deals with the creation of man, the institution of kingship, the founding of the first cities and the great flood. Thus it is a story of beginnings, a Genesis, and, as I will try to show in detail later, it prefigures so to speak, the biblical Genesis in its structure.
The god Enki and his city Eridu figure importantly in the story, Enki as savior of mankind, Eridu as the first city. Thus “The Eridu Genesis” seems appropriate.”
In a footnote, Jacobsen observes, “The tablet was found at Nippur during the third season’s work of the Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania (1893-6) but was not immediately recognized for what it was. The box in which it was kept was labeled “incantation.” Thus it was not until 1912, when Arno Poebel went through the tablet collection, that its true nature was discovered.”
He continues, “Poebel published it in hardcopy … and furnished a transliteration, translation and penetrating analysis …. He convincingly dated the tablet (pp. 66-9) on epigraphical and other grounds to the latter half of the First Dynasty of Babylon.”
“Little further work of consequence was done on the text for thirty-six years—a detailed bibliography may be found in Rykle Borger, Handbuch der Keilschriftliteratur I (Berlin: de Gruyter, p. 411 … but in 1950 Samuel N. Kramer’s translation was published in ANET (pp. 43-4) and again, almost twenty years later, Miguel Civil restudied the text in his chapter on Atra-hasīs (pp. 138-47).
The interpretation here offered owes much to our predecessors, far more than would appear from our often very different understanding of the text.”
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=g5MGVP6gAPkC&pg=PA129&dq=Eridu+Genesis.+Nippur&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAGoVChMI4ImL2PiCxwIVhNWACh01nwD6#v=onepage&q=Eridu%20Genesis.%20Nippur&f=false

Both The Rulers of Lagash and The Eridu Genesis present early humanity as similar to animals in that they slept on straw beds in pens because they did not know how to build houses and also lived at the mercy of the rains because they did not know how to dig canals for irrigation.

Batto concludes that Mesopotamian literature depicts the advancement of early humans as their evolution from a low, animal-like state to a higher, “civilized” state by means of gifts from the gods.

A further illustration of the role of the gods in the rise of civilization in Sumer is the myth Innana and Enki􏰓􏰋􏰎􏰋􏰋􏰎􏰃􏰎􏰋􏰐􏰃􏰔􏰋􏰝􏰉. In this text, Inanna steals the mes (in this case, corresponding to the arts of civilization) from Enki in Eridu and brings them to Uruk, thus transferring civilization to Uruk. The text mentions 94 individual elements of civilization, including:

“… the craft of the carpenter, the craft of the copper-smith, the art of the scribe, the craft of the smith, the craft of the leather-worker, the craft of the fuller, the craft of the builder, the craft of the mat-weaver, understanding, knowledge, purifying washing rites, the house of the shepherd,…kindling of fire, extinguishing of fire….”

Key in this myth is the fact that it is the divine mes, originally bestowed by Enki upon Eridu alone but subsequently transferred to Uruk by Inanna, which give rise to civilization.

What is nearly universal in the Mesopotamian literature, as far as the available texts indicate, is that the source of human civilization is divine, with humans acting primarily as recipients of divine knowledge.

Because of its divine origin and the clear benefits which it provides for humans—at least for those favored humans on whom the gods bestow it—civilization is portrayed in an overwhelmingly positive manner in these texts.”

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 6-7.

Carolyn Nakamura on the Figurines

Mastering Matters: Magical Sense and Apoptropaic Figurine Worlds of Neo-Assyria

Introduction: Magical Figures from the Past

“When contemplating certain deposits unearthed during the excavations at Nimrud in the 1950s, Max Mallowan remarked, “this magical practice had an immensely long survival, as witness the nursery rhyme:

Four corners to my bed,
Four angels round my head,
One to watch and one to pray,
And two to bear my soul away.” (1966:226)

Mallowan’s commentary, rather typical of his time, concerned the discovery of numerous brick boxes encasing figurines made of sun-dried clay, found buried underneath the corners, thresholds, and central spaces of room floors, possibly where a bed once stood.

Excavations during the late 1800s to mid 1900s located such deposits in residences, palaces, and temples at important political and religious capitals of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, including Nimrud, Assur, Nineveh, Khorsabad and at Ur in Babylonia under Assyrian rule; they first appeared during the reign of Shalmaneser III and generally persisted up through the reign of Sin-shar-ishkun (ca. 858–612 B.C.).

One can imagine an excavator’s delight in finding such deposits, and there was apparently considerable competition and excitement surrounding their discovery and unveiling (Oates and Oates 2001:253–254).

But, locating such boxes did not always promise the discovery of figurines. Numerous “empty” brick boxes contained nothing more than a thick layer of sandy material, possibly remnants of decomposed organic matter such as wood or food.

Deposits from Ur contained offerings of animal bones, remnants of grain and a pottery sherd along with the clay figures (Woolley 1926:692). And at Assur, some of the buried boxes entombed miniature bronze weapons (Rittig 1977).

But perhaps the most curious finds were the figurines of “warrior” men, mythological fish- and bird-apkallū sages, human-beast hybrids, horned snakes, and other fantastical beings (Figure 2.1).

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112).

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112).

Generally, such deposits comprised one, two, or seven figurines standing “at attention” in boxes facing in toward the center of the room.

These deposits, not simply buried but concealed and contained, amounted to the discovery within a discovery, the revelation of an ancient secret or desire that had remained hidden for thousands of years.

Other archaeological findings, however, had already anticipated these discoveries: ancient texts preserved instructions for an apotropaic ritual involving the burial of clay and wood figurines under room floors quite in the manner described above (Gurney 1935; Smith 1926; Wiggermann 1992).

The name of one text explicitly pronounced its purpose: šēp lemutti ina bīt amēli parāsu, “to block the entry of the enemy in someone’s house” (Wiggermann 1992:1); and the first twenty lines named the “enemy” to be almost any evil imaginable, from spirits, gods, and ancestors to disease, misfortune, Fate, and Death.

The text guided a priest-exorcist through a choreography of very specific and often protracted ceremonies involving various objects, gestures, substances, and locations, leading up to the final installation of the magically protective figures entombed underground.

Notably, another related text fragment, KAR 298, specifically detailed the making, function, character, number, and placement of the figurines (Smith 1926). The archaeological evidence proved to be remarkably consistent with these texts in terms of form and details of surface treatment, and to some extent, position and grouping of the figures.

So the Neo-Assyrians themselves revealed the secret of the figurine deposits: they were magically powerful deposits that protected the individual and his house from sickness and evil. The protective figures served to “watch,” “pray,” and “bear souls away,” as it were.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 18-19.

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