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Category: Antediluvian Sages

Lenzi: The Uruk List of Kings and Sages

THE URUK LIST OF KINGS AND SAGES AND LATE MESOPOTAMIAN SCHOLARSHIP

ALAN LENZI

University of the Pacific

Abstract

“The Uruk List of Kings and Sages is best known for its genealogy connecting human scholars to antediluvian sages. Since its publication in 1962, however, questions pertaining to the text’s specific purpose within the context of Hellenistic Uruk have been neglected.

This study seeks to understand two such questions: why is the most explicit scholarly genealogy written in the Hellenistic period?; and who is the last named person in the text?

Seeking answers to these questions sheds new light on the text’s purpose: it is an attempt by scholars to gain support for themselves and their novel cultic agenda.

Keywords: Hellenistic Uruk, Mesopotamian scholars, Nicharkos, Antiquarianism, Anu cult

The cuneiform tablet (IM 65066) is in the Bagdad Museum.

 A.K. Grayson, from the Reallexikon der Assyriologie, s.v. "Königslisten und Chroniken". A.K. Grayson, 'Assyrian and Babylonian King Lists,' in: Lišan mithurti. (Festschrift Von Soden) (Kevelaer : Neukirchen-Vluyn : Butzon & Bercker; 1969) Plate III.

 http://www.livius.org/source-content/uruk-king-list/

The cuneiform tablet (IM 65066) is in the Bagdad Museum.


A.K. Grayson, from the Reallexikon der Assyriologie, s.v. “Königslisten und Chroniken”.
A.K. Grayson, ‘Assyrian and Babylonian King Lists,’ in: Lišan mithurti. (Festschrift Von Soden) (Kevelaer : Neukirchen-Vluyn : Butzon & Bercker; 1969) Plate III.


http://www.livius.org/source-content/uruk-king-list/

The “Uruk List of Kings and Sages” (ULKS) was discovered in Anu’s Bīt Rēš temple by German archaeologists during the 1959/60 season and published in 1962 by van Dijk. (The tablet bears the excavation number W.20030, 7. For an edition of the text, see Jan van Dijk, “Die Inschriftenfunde,” Vorläufiger Bericht über die . . . Ausgrabungen in Uruk-Warka 18 (1962), 44-52 and plate 27).

Since then Assyriologists have cited this Seleucid-era text as the clearest cuneiform evidence that Mesopotamian scholars (ummânū) traced their professional ancestry explicitly back to the mythological sages (apkallū) of antediluvian fame and thereby implicitly to a relationship with the god Ea.

Setting this evidence alongside earlier historical data, it becomes clear that this scholarly genealogy was already functioning in the Neo-Assyrian period but probably even earlier in the late second millennium. (See, e.g., Helge S. Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic: The Mesopotamian Background of the Enoch Figure and of the Son of Man, Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament 61 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1988), 202, etc.)

An ummânu, or sage of human descent. The ummânu raises his right hand in the iconic gesture of greeting, with uncertain plants in his left hand. Note the rosette design on his wristband, and the horned tiara headdress, indicative of divinity. 

Such human apkallū are invariably portrayed with wings.

An ummânu, or sage of human descent. The ummânu raises his right hand in the iconic gesture of greeting, with uncertain plants in his left hand. Note the rosette design on his wristband, and the horned tiara headdress, indicative of divinity. 

Such human apkallū are invariably portrayed with wings.

Despite its historical importance, this genealogical aspect of our text has over-shadowed other basic questions about the Seleucid historical context in which it arose. Two such questions provide the impetus for this study:

  1. Despite the well-known importance of scholars in the earlier Neo-Assyrian period and the abundance of materials relating to their activities, why does one find the most explicit and systematic connection between the ummânū and apkallū in the Seleucid period?
  2. How does the last named and oft-overlooked individual fit into this text’s plan and into the social context of Hellenistic Uruk? (Van Dijk recognized right away that this last person is of utmost significance for the interpretation of the text and offered tentative ideas about his identity and purpose (see “Die Inschriftenfunde,” 45-46, 50, 52). I know of no other explicit treatment of this particular issue since van Dijk’s. This study attempts to build on his suggestions.)

In order to formulate a plausible answer to these questions I raise three issues very briefly that provide context. First, I review some of the earlier first millennium evidence for the genealogical connection between the ummânū and apkallū; second, I survey the Seleucid dynasty’s relationship to indigenous institutions in Mesopotamia, especially with regard to temples; and finally, I consider aspects of the archaizing theological tendencies of Urukean scribes in the late Persian and Hellenistic periods.

In light of this contextualization, I interpret the ULKS as a tendentious document written by scholars who needed to reassert their importance to the community leadership in order to advance their cultic-political agenda. Unfortunately, due to the circumstantial and at times fragmentary evidence, this interpretation can only be offered as a plausible reading and must therefore remain tentative.”

Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian Scholarship, JANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 137-40.

On the Names of the Umu-Apkallu

“History.

The name-like designations of the ūmu-apkallū are artificial and systematic; they do not even pretend to be historical realities. The names all start with ūmu / UD and may have been grafted on the u4- and p i r i g – names of other apkallū (Güterbook ZA 42103, Hallo JAOS 83 175, Reiner OrNS 30 6).

Fish-Apkallū depicted on a cistern. The fish iconography is unmistakable, as are the banduddu buckets in their left hands. Objects in their right hands are indistinct, but the traditional gestures of warding or blessing seem clear.

Fish-Apkallū depicted on a cistern. The fish iconography is unmistakable, as are the banduddu buckets in their left hands. Objects in their right hands are indistinct, but the traditional gestures of warding or blessing seem clear.

 P i r i g in these names is explained in a commentary to the diagnostic omens as nūru (P i r i g – g a l – a b z u = nūru rabû ša apsî, RA 73 153:2, OrNS 30 3:18′) and also Berossos’ account of the activities of the first sage, Oannes (S. Mayer Burstein SANE 1/5 13f.), indicates that the common denominator of ūmu and p i r i g is “light” rather than a monstruous appearance; that personified ūmu denotes the personified day or weather, sometimes visualized as a lion (or leonine monster), in other contexts as well will be explained below (VII.4a).

For this reason we have translated ūmu in the names of the ūmu-apkallū as “day”. The ūmu-apkallū were either antediluvian or postdiluvian sages; without definite proof, we prefer the former possibility on the following grounds:

  1. Names of postdiluvian sages are known from a number of sources (JSC 16 64ff., UVB 18 44:8ff., text III B 8, Reiner OrNS 30 10) but no canonical list of seven has been formed.
  2. If our ritual needed postdiluvian sages, it could have chosen from the known names; it would not have needed to invent names.
  3. Postdiluvian sages are probably not prestigious enough to function as mythological foundation of exorcism.
  4. The cities of the ūmu-apkallū (Ur, Nippur, Eridu, Kullab, Keš, Lagaš, Šuruppak) can be considered to complement the cities of the fish-apkallū (Eridu, Bad-tibira, Larak, Sippar) as antediluvian centres.

The reason for the invention of a second group of antediluvian apkallū, attested only in ritual I/II and its close relatives (III.B. and III.C), may have lain in the necessity of mythologically underpinning the existence of a traditional Assyrian apotropaic figure without appropriate credentials.

Fish-Apkallu statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.

Fish-Apkallu statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.

Support for this view can be found in the combative character which they share with the bird-apkallū, but not with the fish-apkallū; the bird-apkallū are a similar group of Assyrian apotropaic figures, similarly underpinned, the fish-apkallū are genuinely Babylonian.

The iconographic history of the ūmu-apkallū is in view of his human appearance difficult to trace; forerunners perhaps are the figures briefly discussed by Rittig Kleinplastik 28, and specimens from MAss times may possibly be found on the seals Iraq 17 Pl. X/3, Iraq 39 Pl. XXViI/2A, XXIX/27, ZA 47 55:5, 56:9.

Bird-Apkallu statuettes in characteristic poses, banduddu buckets in their left hands.

Bird-Apkallu statuettes in characteristic poses, banduddu buckets in their left hands.

Speculation.

The name of the last apkallū before the flood, ūmu ša ana šagši balāta inamdinu, “day that gives life to the slain”, could conceivably be a learned interpretation of the name of the last king of Šuruppak before the flood z i – u d – s ù – r a; using Babylonian methods (cf. J. Bottéro Finkelstein Memorial Volume 5ff.), u d gives ūmu, š e ES of z i (for še) or r a (for s a g – g i š – r a) gives šagšu, r a gives ana, z i gives balātu, and s ù (for s u m) gives nadānu. That this possible derivation actually applies, however, cannot be proved.”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, p. 74-5.

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