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Category: 432000 Years

On the Date of The Flood

“I now turn to Berossos’ account of the Flood as the central narrative of book 2. The extant fragments contain the following elements:

  • – Kronos reveals the destruction of mankind in a dream
  • Xisouthros is told he must bury the tablets in Sippar
  • – He must build a boat and embark together with family, friends, and animals
  • – The coming and receding of the deluge (mentioned in only one sentence)
  • – Bird scene
  • – Disembarking
  • – Worship and ritual offering
  • – Disappearance of Xisouthros, who will henceforth live with the gods
  • Xisouthros’ friends and relatives are told (not by Kronos, but a ‘voice’) to go to Sippar and dig up the tablets, and to hand them over to mankind.
  • – Landing place in Armenia, in the Korduaian mountains. The remains of the ark are still there, and people scrape off bitumen for magic purposes.

In Mesopotamian accounts of the deluge the Flood marks a break between a mythic prehis­tory and a history closer to the world as it is today. According to Manfried Dietrich, many mythical texts from Mesopotamia reflect this view of history, whereby an embryonic phase in the development of the world (‘embryonaler Status’) is followed by what he calls the ‘Jetzt-Zeit’, i.e. the present time.

The extant fragments of Berossos follow the same overall scheme. For Berossos too, the time before the Flood is a period of revelation, when the basis for all later knowledge was laid. Writings originating in this period would accordingly have a special authority and ‘the history which follows is the time when this revelation is transmitted and unfolded.’

Berossos was not the first to connect an antediluvian king list with the Flood story: al­ready the Sumerian version of the Flood story mentions five primeval cities known also from copies of the Sumerian King List.

Among all the extant exemplars of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum cuneiform collection represents the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List.  In this depiction, all four sides of the Sumerian King List prism are portrayed.  It lists rulers from the antediluvian dynasties to Suen-magir, the fourteenth ruler of the Isin dynasty (ca. 1763–1753 B.C.).   The prism contains four sides with two columns on each side. Perforated, the prism must originally have a wooden spindle going through its centre so that it might be rotated and read on all four sides. http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=the_sumerian_king_list_sklid=the_sumerian_king_list_skl

Among all the extant exemplars of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum cuneiform collection represents the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List.
In this depiction, all four sides of the Sumerian King List prism are portrayed.
It lists rulers from the antediluvian dynasties to Suen-magir, the fourteenth ruler of the Isin dynasty (ca. 1763–1753 B.C.).
The prism contains four sides with two columns on each side. Perforated, the prism must originally have a wooden spindle going through its centre so that it might be rotated and read on all four sides.
http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=the_sumerian_king_list_sklid=the_sumerian_king_list_skl

Berossos’ own knowledge of primordial kings probably goes back to sources that were available in Hellenistic times. The Sumerian King List itself was still known in the Seleucid era, or rather versions of king lists that echo, structurally and stylistically, their ancient forerunners from the early second millenium.

In matching up the primordial kings with the seven sages, the apkallu, Berossos once again works in the vein of contemporary scholars, who demonstrably constructed lists with kings and apkallu in order to advertise their own importance, and the primordial roots of their knowledge, as Alan Lenzi has recently shown (Editorial note: this link is to Alan Lenzi, “The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian Scholarship,” JANER 8.2, 2008, which will be serialized in its own posts shortly).

Detail, Apkallu head, from a frieze in Nimrud.  http://non-aliencreatures.wikia.com/wiki/Apkallu

Detail, apkallu head, from a frieze in Nimrud.
http://non-aliencreatures.wikia.com/wiki/Apkallu

Yet, Berossos does not merely translate ancient documents, but rather selects and reframes what he finds, thus constructing his own version of the past. For a start, he locates the beginnings of kingship in Babylon and not in Eridu as the first city of Mesopotamian tradition.

Moreover, he reckons the overall duration of pre-flood history at 432,000 years (120 saroi = 120 x 3600 years), a sum that reflects the sexagesimal count­ing system of ancient Mesopotamia but which, as far as we know, is unique in Mesoptamian tradition.

432,000, however, is no arbitrary accumulation of individual reigns, but rather represents an astronomical ‘great year’, or an exact fraction of it. A great year is the period of time it takes for all heavenly bodies to return to their original place in the sky.

Berossos evidently had at least some astronomical knowledge, and moreover was keen to display his knowledge. Indeed, another peculiarity of Babyloniaca 2, beside the exorbitant reigns of the pre-flood kings, is Berossos’ unusual and very specific reference to a date for the Flood:

Kronos stood over him in his sleep and said that on the 15th of the month of Daisios mankind would be destroyed by a flood.

The Armenian version (F4a) supplies some explanatory glosses inserted at a later stage (in italics):

He says that Kronos, whom they call the father of Aramazd and others call Time, revealed to him in his sleep that on the 15th of the month of De(s)ios, which is Mareri, mankind was to be destroyed by the Flood.

There is no mention of a specific date in cuneiform texts about the Flood, yet Berossos puts it on ‘the fifteenth of the month Daisios’. According to the Macedonian calendar introduced by the Seleucids, Daisios is the 8th month of the year, and comes in spring (April/May, Babylonian Ayyaru).

Perhaps Berossos inserted a Macedonian dating in order to make it more relevant to his readers who were familiar with Greek Flood narratives. The choice of date may not be entirely accidental, as the Tigris and the Euphrates burst their banks in spring.

However, extant cuneiform sources link the deluge with rains and a cosmic storm rather than natural inundations, and we may have to look elsewhere for an explanation.”

Martin Lang, “Book Two: Mesopotamian Early History and the Flood Story,” from Johannes Haubold, Giovanni B. Lanfranchi, Robert Rollinger, John Steele (eds.), The World of Berossos, Proceedings of the 4th International Colloquium on the Ancient Near East Between Classical and Ancient Oriental Traditions, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2013, pp. 49-51.

The Chaldaica and the Babyloniaca

“Before I focus on the work itself, I first discuss the text as it has come down to us, because this is essential for our understanding of the work. Berossos’ history of Babylonia has only been preserved in fragments. Two titles have been transmitted: Chaldaica and Babyloniaca.

It is almost certain that the latter is authentic, as this is the title used in antiquarian and lexi­cographical literature and is more in tune with Berossos’ subject, the history of Babylonia. The extant fragments have come down to us by a very complex process of transmission. Most of them derive from Jewish and Christian authors.

In this process the pagan polymath Alexander Polyhistor played a pivotal role, as the bulk of the fragments derives from the epitome he made of Berossos’ work in Rome between 80 and 40 BC. This ‘summary’, how­ever, also survives in fragments.

Flavius Josephus (2nd half 1st c. AD) almost certainly used it in his Jewish Antiquities and Contra Apionem. The Church Father Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 265-340 AD) excerpted Polyhistor’s epitome for the first book of his Chronicle.

This first book being lost too, the excerpts are known by an Armenian translation of the Chronicle (after 6th c.) and by the Byzantine monk Syncellus, who inserted them in his own chronographical work (around 810). A comparison of the Armenian translation and Syncellus shows that the Armenian text contains quite a number of corruptions and mistranslations. In gen­eral, Syncellus’ text is more reliable.

To these excerpts we can add the fragments transmitted under the name of Abydenus, an obscure historian, probably living in the 2nd or 3rd c. AD (BNJ 685). Although he mentions neither Berossos nor Alexander Polyhistor, it is clear that Abydenus did no more than rework Polyhistor’s epitome of the Babyloniaca and give it an Ionic veneer.

The fragments ascribed to Abydenus have come down to us through Eusebius, either directly — in his Praeparatio Evangelica — or indirectly — by the aforementioned Armenian translation and Syncellus, each using Eusebius’ Chronicle in this case too.

Another set of fragments survived through Greek learned literature: Athenaeus (BNJ 680 F2), Hesychius (BNJ 680 F 13) and the Oxyrhynchus Glossary (BNJ 680 F23a-b).

Josephus and the Christian authors were mainly interested in Berossos’ work for apologetic rea­sons. They aimed to prove the veracity of the Biblical account and Old Testament chro­nology. It is, therefore, no surprise that most fragments have a link with Biblical history, such as the Flood, the important period of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II and the beginning of its reconstruction under Cyrus.

Other fragments deal with Assyrian and Babylonian kings mentioned in the Old Testament: apart from Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus, Tiglath-pileser III (Pulu), Merodach-Baladan II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon and Amel-Marduk.

Even the long excerpt on Babylonian primeval history (BNJ680 F la-b), which has appar­ently no connection to Biblical history, has been transmitted for apologetic reasons — but in another sense. Eusebius used this fabulous story in order to refute Berossos’ chronology of the antediluvian period.

On the one hand, Berossos’ number of ten antediluvian kings agreed with that of the Biblical generations and patriarchs before the Flood — and thus confirmed Genesis. On the other hand, Berossos’ chronology of 432,000 years for the antediluvian period completely disagreed with the Old Testament and was thus problematic.

In his refutation, Eusebius discredits the Babylonian chronology by pointing to Berossos’ account of the primeval period, which was evidently fabulous. Those who accepted the Babylonian antediluvian chronology, Eusebius pointedly suggested, should also accept this nonsense as truth.

This refutation also explains why Eusebius treats the antediluvian kings first and then gives the excerpt on primeval times.”

Geert de Breucker, “Berossos: His Life and Work,” from Johannes Haubold, Giovanni B. Lanfranchi, Robert Rollinger, John Steele (eds.), The World of Berossos, Proceedings of the 4th International Colloquium on the Ancient Near East Between Classical and Ancient Oriental Traditions, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2013, pp. 20-2.

A Digression on Berossus and the Babyloniaca

“The books written by Berossus, priest of Marduk at Babylon in the early third century B.C., have been lost, and all that we know about them comes from the twenty-two quotations or paraphrases of his work by other ancient writers (so-called Fragmenta), and eleven statements about Berossus (Testimonia) made by classical, Jewish and Christian writers.

We learn that he wrote for Antiochus I (280-261 B.C.) a work generally referred to as the Babyloniaca, a work divided into three rolls, or books, of papyrus.

Ea, or Oannes, depicted as a fish-man.

Ea, or Oannes, depicted as a fish-man.

In the first book he told how a fish-like creature named Oannes came up from the Persian Gulf, delivered to mankind the arts of civilization, and left with them a written record of how their world had come into existence; according to this record, Berossus went on, Bel had created the world out of the body of a primeval female deity. This story of the creation of the world and mankind, otherwise familiar from Enūma eliš, filled out the first book of the Babyloniaca and ended with the statement that Bel established the stars, sun, moon and the five planets.

In book two Berossus (Frag. 3) described the 120-sar (432,000-year) rule of the ten antediluvian kings, and then the Deluge itself, with some detail on the survival of Xisuthros. The postdiluvian dynasties down to Nabonassar were baldly listed in the remainder of book two.

A prism containing the Sumerian King List. Borossus cites ten antediluvian rulers.

A prism containing the Sumerian King List. Borossus cites ten antediluvian rulers.

The third book, apparently beginning with Tiglath-Pileser III, presented the Late Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian and Persian kings of Babylon, and ended with Alexander the Great.

And that, according to Felix Jacoby’s edition of the Fragmenta and Testimonia is in sum what the Babyloniaca contained. There are eight quotations dealing with astronomical and astrological matters, but these he attributed not to our Berossus, but to Pseudo-Berossus of Cos.

It was to the latter, according to Jacoby, that Josephus referred as “well known to educators, since it was he who published for the Greeks the written accounts of astronomy and the philosophical doctrines of the Chaldaeans”; or who claimed, said Vitruvius, that by study of the zodiacal signs, the planets, sun and moon, the Chaldaeans could predict what the future held in store for man.

And it was Pseudo-Berossus, according to Jacoby, to whom Seneca referred in his discussion of world-floods:

Berosos, who translated Belus (qui Belum interpretatus est), says that these catastrophes occur with the movement of the planets. Indeed, he is so certain that he assigns a date for the conflagration and the deluge. For earthly things will burn, he contends, when all the planets which now maintain different orbits come together in the sign of Cancer, and are so arranged in the same path that a straight line can pass through the spheres of all of them. The deluge will occur when the same group of planets meets in the sign of Capricorn. The solstice is caused by Cancer, winter by Capricorn; they are signs of great power since they are the turning-points in the very change of the year.”

Pseudo-Berossus of Cos”, I believe, is not only an inconvenient but an utterly improbable scholarly creation. A century ago all of our fragments were assigned to one and the same Berossus, although those dealing with the stars were segregated from those of a mythological or historical characters.

Thus the notion was fostered that Berossus wrote two works, one on Babylonian history, another on astrology. By the turn of the century E. Schwartz found unlikely Vitruvius‘ statement that Berossus eventually settled on the Aegean island of Cos, where he taught the Chaldaean disciplina.”

Robert Drews, “The Babylonian Chronicles and Berossus,” Iraq, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring, 1975), pp. 50-2.

On the Deluge, from Berosus, via Alexander Polyhistor

” … Belus also formed the stars, and the sun and the moon, together with the five planets. (In the second book was the history of the ten kings of the Chaldeans, and the periods of each reign, which consisted collectively of one hundred and twenty-sari, or 432,000 years, reaching to the time of the Flood.

For Alexander, surnamed Polyhistor, as from the writings of the Chaldeans, enumerating the kings from the ninth, Ardates, to Xisuthrus, who is called by them the tenth, proceeds in this manner:)

After the death of Ardates, his son, Xisuthrus, succeeded, and reigned eighteen sari. In his time happened the great Deluge; the history of which is given in this manner. The Deity, Kronus, appeared to him in a vision, and gave him notice, that upon the fifteenth day of the month Daesia103 there would be a flood, by which mankind would be destroyed.

He therefore enjoined him to commit to writing a history of the beginning, progress, and final conclusion of all things, down to the present term; and to bury these accounts securely in the city of the Sun104 at Sippara; and to build a vessel, and to take with him into it his friends and relations; and to convey on board everything necessary to sustain life, and to take in also all species of animals that either fly, or rove upon the earth; and trust himself to the deep.

Having asked the Deity, whither he was to sail? he was answered, “To the Gods:” upon which he offered up a prayer for the good of mankind. And he obeyed the divine admonition: and built a vessel five stadia in length, and in breadth two. Into this he put everything which he had got ready; and last of all conveyed into it his wife, children, and friends.

After the Flood had been upon the earth, and was in time abated, Xisuthrus sent out some birds105 from the vessel, which, not finding any food, nor any place to rest their feet, returned to him again. After an interval of some days, he sent them forth a second time, and they now returned with their feet tinged with mud.

He made a trial a third time with these birds, but they returned to him no more; from whence he formed a judgment, that the surface of the earth was now above the waters. Having, therefore, made an opening in the vessel, and finding, upon looking out, that the vessel was driven to the side of a mountain, he immediately quitted it, being attended by his wife, his daughter, and the pilot.

Xisuthrus immediately paid his adoration to the earth, and, having constructed an altar, offered sacrifices106 to the gods.

These things being duly performed, both Xisuthrus, and those who came out of the vessel with him, disappeared. They who remained in the vessel, finding that the others did not return, came out, with many lamentations, and called continually on the name of Xisuthrus.

They saw him no more, but could distinguish his voice in the air, and could hear him admonish them to pay due regard to the gods. He likewise informed them that it was upon account of his piety that he was translated107 to live with the gods; that his wife and daughter, with the pilot, had obtained the same honour.

To this he added that he would have them make the best of their way to Babylonia, and search for the writings at Sippara, which were to be made known to all mankind: and that the place where they then were was the land of Armenia.108 The remainder having heard these words, offered sacrifices to the gods; and taking a circuit, journeyed towards Babylonia.

The vessel, being thus stranded in Armenia, some part of it yet remains in the Gordyaean 109 mountains in Armenia; and the people scrape off the bitumen,110 with which it had been outwardly coated, and make use of it by way of an alexipharmic 111 and amulet.

In this manner they returned to Babylon; and having found the writings at Sippara, they set about building cities, and erecting temples: and Babylon was thus inhabited again.” ―Syncellus. Chron. 28. Eusebius. Chron. 5, 8.

E. Edmond Hodges, Cory’s Ancient Fragments, 3d ed., 1876, pp. 60-3.

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