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Category: Abydenus

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.

I.P Cory on the Tower of Babel

” … Mankind appear to have dwelt some time in Armenia, and the Patriarch allotted to his descendants the different regions of the earth, with commands to separate into distinct communities.

His injunctions, however, were disobeyed, and great numbers, perhaps all the human race, started from Armenia in a body, and, according to the Scriptures, journied westward, but according to Berossus, travelled by a circuitous route to the plains of Shinar.

By combining the two narratives, we may conclude that they followed the winding course of the Euphrates, till they halted upon those celebrated plains, where the enterprising spirit of Nimrod tempted him to aspire to the dominion of the world, and to found the Tower and City of Babel as the metropolis of his future universal empire.

Upon the Tower of Babel and the events connected with it, will be found some very interesting fragments from Abydenus, from Hestiæus, a very ancient Greek writer, from the Babylonian Sibyl, and from Eupolemus. I have added also a curious extract from the Sibylline oracles.

In these fragments are detailed the erection of the Tower, the dispersion of its contrivers, and the confusion of the languages; with the additional circumstances of the violent destruction of the building,3 and the Titanian war, which forms so remarkable an event in all traditions of the heathens.

Previously to the erection of the Tower, men appear very generally to have apostatized from the patriarchal worship. About this time a further deviation from the truth took place; and upon the first and more simple corruption was engrafted an elaborate system of idolatry.

Some account of these deviations will be found in the extracts from Epiphanius, Cedrenus, and the Paschal chronicle. What is mentioned under the name of Barbarism, was probably the primeval patriarchal worship. lt was succeeded by a corrupted form of superstition which is known among the ancients under the name of Scuthism, or Scythism, which was most prevalent from the flood to the building of the Tower.

The new corruption, at that time introduced by Nimrod, was denominated Ionism,4 or Hellenism: and both are still flourishing in the East under the well-known appellations of Brahmenism and Buddhism; whose priests appear to have continued in an uninterrupted succession from the Brahmanes and Germanes, the philosophical sects of India mentioned by Megasthenes and Clitarchus.

By the introduction of a more degenerate superstition, Nimrod appears to have aimed at the establishment of an universal monarchy in himself and his descendants, of which Babylon was to have been the metropolis, and the Tower, the central temple of their idolatries.

All who attended him seem to have entered into the project, so far as he might have thought proper to divulge it, and to have assisted in the erection of the tower and city. But subsequent events shew that the proposed form of government and system of theology, though asquiesced in by the majority, did not command universal approbation. And the whole project was marred by the miraculous interposition of the Almighty.

What concurring circumstances might have operated to the dispersion, we have no clue to in the narrative of Moses. He mentions the miraculous confusion of the languages, and that the Lord scattered the people abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city.

But if we may credit the heathen accounts above referred to, with which the Hindoo, and indeed almost every remnant of traditionary lore concur; a schism, most probably both of a political and religious nature, was the result; a bitter war was carried on, or at least a bloody field was fought; from which the Scuths, defeated and excommunicated by their brethren, betook themselves, in haughty independence, to the mountains of Cashgar and the north:5 whilst some violent and supernatural catastrophe, by the overthrow of the Tower, completed the dispersion.”

I.P. Cory, Ancient Fragments, 1832, Introduction.

I.P Cory on Berossus

” … In the fragments of Berossus again we have perhaps some few traces of the antediluvian world. Like Sanchoniatho, Berossus seems to have composed his work with a serious regard for truth. He was a Babylonian by birth, and flourished in the reign of Alexander the Great, and resided for some years at Athens.

As a priest of Belus, he possessed every advantage which the records of the temple and the learning and traditions of the Chaldæans could afford. He appears to have sketched his history of the earlier times from the representations upon the walls of the temple. From written and traditionary knowledge he must have learned several points too well authenticated. to be called in question; and correcting the one by the other, and at the same time blending them as usual with Mythology, he has produced the strange history before us.

The first fragment preserved by Alexander Polyhistor is extremely valuable, and contains a store of very curious information. The first book of the history apparently opens naturally enough with a description of Babylonia. Then referring to the paintings, the author finds the first series a kind of preface to the rest.

All men of every nation appear assembled in Chaldæa: among them is introduced a personage who is represented as their instructor in the arts and sciences, and informing them of the events which had previously taken place. Unconscious that Noah is represented under the character of Oannes, Berossus describes him, from the hieroglyphical delineation, as a being literally compounded of a fish and a man, and as passing the natural, instead of the diluvian night in the ocean, with other circumstances indicative of his character and life.

The instructions of the Patriarch are detailed in the next series of paintings. In the first of which, I conceive, the Chaos is pourtrayed by the confusion of the limbs of every kind of animal: the second represents the creation of the universe: the third the formation of mankind: others again that of animals, and of the heavenly bodies.

The second book appears to have comprehended the history of the antediluvian world: and of this the two succeeding fragments seem to have been extracts. The historian, as usual, has appropriated the history of the world to Chaldæa.

He finds nine persons, probably represented as kings, preceding Noah, who is again introduced under the name Xisuthrus, and he supposes that the representation was that of the first dynasty of the Chaldæan kings.

From the universal consent of history and tradition he was well assured that Alorus or Orion, the Nimrod of the Scriptures, was the founder of Babylon and the first king: consequently he places him at the top, and Xisuthrus follows as the tenth.

The destruction of the records by Nabonasar left him to fill up the intermediate names as he could: and who are inserted, is not easy so to determine.2

Berossus has given also a full and accurate description of the deluge, which is wonderfully consonant with the Mosaic account. We have also a similar account, or it may be an epitome of the same from the Assyrian history of Abydenus, who was a disciple of Aristotle, and a copyist from Berossus. I have given also a small extract from the Fragments of Nicholaus Damascenus, relative to the deluge and the ark, whose wreck is said by him as well as Berossus, Chrysostom, and other writers, to have remained upon Ararat even at the very time in which they wrote.”

I.P. Cory, Ancient Fragments, 1832, Introduction.

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