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Category: āšipu

Kvanvig: Initiation is a Restriction of Marduk

“We think van der Toorn is right in taking this as a comment to the tendency present in the Catalogue. This is still no absolute chronology, since apkallus are listed as authors in III, 7; IV, 11; and VI, 11.

Nevertheless, the commentary seems to underscore three stages in the transmission of highly recognized written knowledge: it starts in the divine realm with the god of wisdom Ea; at the intersection point between the divine and the human stands Uanadapa; and as the third link in this chain stands (we must presuppose) an ummanu, “scholar.”

Tablet of Uruk. The ritual of daily sacrifices in the temple of the god Anu in Uruk.  Seleucid period, 3rd-2nd Centuries BCE, Hellenistic, from Uruk.  Baked clay, 22,3 x 10,4 cm  Louvre, AO 6451.

Tablet of Uruk. The ritual of daily sacrifices in the temple of the god Anu in Uruk.
Seleucid period, 3rd-2nd Centuries BCE, Hellenistic, from Uruk.
Baked clay, 22,3 x 10,4 cm
Louvre, AO 6451.

A. Lenzi has called attention to a colophon to a medical text which reveals a similar kind of transmission:

“Salves (and) bandages: tested (and) checked, which are ready at hand, composed by the ancient apkallus from before the flood, which in Šuruppak in the second year of Enlil-bani, king of Isin, Enlil-muballit, apkallu of Nippur, bequeathed. A non-expert may show an expert. An expert may not show a non-expert. A restriction of Marduk.”

(Medical Text, AMT 105, 1, 21-5. Lenzi, Secrecy and the Gods, p. 117.)

The models of transmission in the commentary of the Catalogue and in this colophon are not exactly the same, but the tendency is. In this text, an expert, possibly an āšipu, has in his hands a tablet of high dignity: it belongs to the secrets of the gods (cf. below).

AM-102 ; No. #1 (K4023) British Museum of London 

Tablet K.4023  COL. I  [Starting on Line 38] . . .  Root of caper which (is) on a grave, root of thorn (acacia) which (is) on a grave, right horn of an ox, left horn of a kid, seed of tamarisk, seed of laurel, Cannabis, seven drugs for a bandage against the Hand of a Ghost thou shalt bind on his temples.  FOOTNOTES:  [1] - The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 54, No. 1/4 (Oct., 1937), pp. 12-40; Assyrian Prescriptions for the Head By R. Campbell Thompson 

 http://antiquecannabisbook.com/chap2B/Assyria/K4023.htm

AM-102 ; No. #1 (K4023)
British Museum of London 

Tablet K.4023
COL. I
[Starting on Line 38] . . .
Root of caper which (is) on a grave, root of thorn (acacia) which (is) on a grave, right horn of an ox, left horn of a kid, seed of tamarisk, seed of laurel, Cannabis, seven drugs for a bandage against the Hand of a Ghost thou shalt bind on his temples.
FOOTNOTES:
[1] – The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 54, No. 1/4 (Oct., 1937), pp. 12-40; Assyrian Prescriptions for the Head By R. Campbell Thompson 


http://antiquecannabisbook.com/chap2B/Assyria/K4023.htm

Therefore, if somebody not belonging to the initiated by accident should have such a tablet, he may show it to the expert, but the expert should never show it to an uninitiated person. The content of the tablet was secret; it went back to the ancient apkallus from before the flood.

Afterwards a distinguished sage, an apkallu in Nippur, inherited it, and from this line of transmission it arrived to the scholar writing this colophon. The division between the apkallus before the flood and the postdiluvian apkallu in Nippur may here be similar to the division of the first group of apkallus of divine descent and the next group of four apkallus of human descent in Bīt Mēseri.

As we have seen, the Late Babylonian Uruk tablet also had a division between a group of seven “before the flood” and a group of ten afterwards, but here the first seven were apkallus, and the next group (with one or two exceptions) were ummanus.

What we observe here is confirmed by two independent contributions with different scope that we already have called attention to, K. van der Toorn, Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible, and A. Lenzi, Secrecy and the Gods.

They are both concerned with the transition from oral transmission of divine messages to written revelations, and they both use Mesopotamian sources from the first millennium as an analogy to what took place in Israel in the formation of the Hebrew Bible.

(van der Toorn, Scribal Culture, pp. 205-21; Lenzi, Secrecy and the Gods, pp. 67-122.)

Enuma Elish means “when above”, the two first words of the epic.  This Babylonian creation story was discovered among the 26,000 clay tablets found by Austen Henry Layard in the 1840's at the ruins of Nineveh.  Enuma Elish was made known to the public in 1875 by the Assyriologist George Adam Smith (1840-76) of the British Museum, who was also the discoverer of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. He made several of his findings on excavations in Nineveh. http://www.creationmyths.org/enumaelish-babylonian-creation/enumaelish-babylonian-creation-3.htm

Enuma Elish means “when above”, the two first words of the epic.
This Babylonian creation story was discovered among the 26,000 clay tablets found by Austen Henry Layard in the 1840’s at the ruins of Nineveh.
Enuma Elish was made known to the public in 1875 by the Assyriologist George Adam Smith (1840-76) of the British Museum, who was also the discoverer of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. He made several of his findings on excavations in Nineveh.
http://www.creationmyths.org/enumaelish-babylonian-creation/enumaelish-babylonian-creation-3.htm

Van der Toorn is concerned about the broad tendency in Mesopotamian scholarly series from the end of the second millennium to classify these as nisirti šamê u erseti, “a secret of heaven and earth.” This expression, occurring in colophons and elsewhere, does two things to the written scholarly lore: on the one hand, it claims that this goes back to a divine revelation; on the other hand, it restricts this revelation to a defined group of scholars.

This tendency goes along with the tendency to date the written wisdom back to primeval time, or to the time before the flood. This also concerns the most well-known compositions from the end of the second millennium, Enuma Elish and the standard version of Gilgamesh.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 149-51.

Kvanvig: The Sacred Tree

“Parpola discusses the role of these experts in relation to the king. Did the experts form a clique that was in the position to manipulate the king according to its own agenda? Parpola denies this possibility; on the one hand the “inner circle” was not permanently present at the court; on the other hand there was clearly rivalry between the scholars. In addition, the advisory role of the scholars was overwhelmingly passive and “academic.”

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/

Nevertheless, the importance of the scholars for the king must not be underestimated. They represented a wisdom going back to the seven apkallus from before the flood, and this wisdom was indispensable for the king. The experts provided the royal family with medical care (physicians and exorcists), protection against demons and angry gods (exorcists and chanters), and they provided the king with insight into the future (haruspices and astrologers).

This appears to be an ummanu without wings, blessing the sacred tree with his right hand raised in the greeting gesture and his lowered left hand holding drooping poppy bulbs. This depiction of an apkallu wears a dual-horned tiara indicative of divinity or semi-divinity, but lacks all other indicators like wings. As the typical mullilu cone and banduddu bucket are absent, this could depict a king saluting the tree. Still, the figure wears a horned tiara, which is reserved for apkallu, and not worn by kings. <br />  The horned tiara is atypical with a distinctive fleur de lis at the apex. Indeed this frieze is remarkably detailed, with three separate bands visible on the rosette bracelets, and individual strands visible on the tasseled garment. <br />  The sacred tree is sparse and stark in comparison to other renditions, though it appears to be blossoming from a fleur de lis base.<br />  (Génie tenant une fleur de pavot - Genie carrying a poppy flower.)<br />  Bas-relief, 144 x 17cm.<br />  Louvre, AO 19869

This appears to be an ummanu without wings, blessing the sacred tree with his right hand raised in the greeting gesture and his lowered left hand holding drooping poppy bulbs. This depiction of an apkallu wears a dual-horned tiara indicative of divinity or semi-divinity, but lacks all other indicators like wings. As the typical mullilu cone and banduddu bucket are absent, this could depict a king saluting the tree. Still, the figure wears a horned tiara, which is reserved for apkallu, and not worn by kings.
The horned tiara is atypical with a distinctive fleur de lis at the apex. Indeed this frieze is remarkably detailed, with three separate bands visible on the rosette bracelets, and individual strands visible on the tasseled garment.
The sacred tree is sparse and stark in comparison to other renditions, though it appears to be blossoming from a fleur de lis base.
(Génie tenant une fleur de pavot – Genie carrying a poppy flower.)
Bas-relief, 144 x 17cm.
Louvre, AO 19869

Both on Assyrian reliefs and cylinder seals depictions of the apkallus together with a date palm, and in some instances the king, are common. The date palm is here a holy tree, the Tree of Life. It symbolizes the benefits the gods and kings were expected to supply for the people.

(Click to zoom in)<br />  On the imprint from this chalcedony cylinder seal dated to the 9th Century BCE, an umu-apkallu, an ummanu, winged with mullilu and banduddu bucket, blesses (or pollinates) the sacred tree with an undefined female figure.<br />  Note that this more or less symmetrical rendition of the sacred tree is mounted on a pedestal with bulbs that resemble cones.<br />  Cylinder seal and imprint: Cult of the sacred tree. Chalcedony,<br />  H: 3,2 cm<br />  Louvre: AO 22348

(Click to zoom in)
On the imprint from this chalcedony cylinder seal dated to the 9th Century BCE, an umu-apkallu, an ummanu, winged with mullilu and banduddu bucket, blesses (or pollinates) the sacred tree with an undefined female figure.
Note that this more or less symmetrical rendition of the sacred tree is mounted on a pedestal with bulbs that resemble cones.
Cylinder seal and imprint: Cult of the sacred tree. Chalcedony,
H: 3,2 cm
Louvre: AO 22348

(“This palm in art then is not the symbol of a god or the whole pantheon of gods, but is a symbol of the benefits which gods and kings were expected to supply.” W.G. Lambert, “The Background of the Neo-Assyrian Sacred Tree,” in S. Parpola and R.M. Whiting, eds., Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East, XLVIIe Recontre Assyriologique Internationale, Helsinki, 2002, pp. 321-6.)

The role of the apkallus is to pollinate the tree. Through this guest (sic), fertility, vitality, and power were transferred to the tree; in the scenes where the king is present, he is a receiver of these benefits from apkallus.

(Cf. Kolbe, Die Reliefprogramme, 21, 29, pp. 83-8).

Parpola returns to this mythological representation of the role of the king in his new edition of the letters. The Assyrian kings had the position of the god’s representative on earth. This position was above all symbolized through the Tree of Life.

(Parpola, Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars, XIII-XXXV.)

Three superposed lotus flowers forming a "Sacred tree." Ivory (open-work, fragment)<br /> Right: Lotus flower with 5 petals.<br /> 11.3 x 3 cm, Louvre AO 11481;<br /> Left: Ivory plaque with top and bottom border from Arslan Tash, ancient Hadatu, Northern Syria.<br /> 7.6 x 2.1 cm, Louvre AO 11482.<br /> I believe that the sacred tree fragment on the left is upside down. The blossoms should be oriented upwards.

Three superposed lotus flowers forming a “Sacred tree.” Ivory (open-work, fragment)
Right: Lotus flower with 5 petals.
11.3 x 3 cm, Louvre AO 11481;
Left: Ivory plaque with top and bottom border from Arslan Tash, ancient Hadatu, Northern Syria.
7.6 x 2.1 cm, Louvre AO 11482.
I believe that the sacred tree fragment on the left is upside down. The blossoms should be oriented upwards.

The tree represented the divine world order maintained by the king. At the same time the symbolism of the tree was projected upon the king as the perfect image of the god. A king who could not conform to this role would automatically disrupt the cosmic harmony.

To execute this duty the king needed experts who could interpret the signs of the god. Therefore he needed the advisory circle of scholars: the tupšarru, “astrologer, scribe;” bārû, “haruspex / diviner;” āšipu, “exorcist / magician;” asû, “physician;” and kalû, “lamentation chanter.”

A memorandum from the reign of Ashurbanipal names 45 scholars from these professions. The scholars were mostly native, but could also include foreigners, such as Syrian, Anatolian, and Egyptian.

(Parpola, Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars, XIV.)

Click to zoom in.<br />  This reproduction of the bas reliefs in Room I of the Northwestern Palace of King Ashurnasirpal at Nimrud is remarkable for the sheer number of apkallus portrayed interacting with endless renditions of the sacred tree.<br /> All apkallu are winged, even the beardless specimens in I-16. All others are either bearded males, or griffin-headed bird apkallus.<br /> Samuel M. Paley and R.P. Sobolewski, The Reconstruction of the Relief Representations and Their Positions in the Northwest Palace at Kalhu (Nimrud) II. (The Principal Entrances and Courtyards). Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1992.<br /> From Mehmet-Ali Atac, The Mythology of Kingship in Neo-Assyrian Art, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 100.

Click to zoom in.
This reproduction of the bas reliefs in Room I of the Northwestern Palace of King Ashurnasirpal at Nimrud is remarkable for the sheer number of apkallus portrayed interacting with endless renditions of the sacred tree.
All apkallu are winged, even the beardless specimens in I-16. All others are either bearded males, or griffin-headed bird apkallus.
Samuel M. Paley and R.P. Sobolewski, The Reconstruction of the Relief Representations and Their Positions in the Northwest Palace at Kalhu (Nimrud) II. (The Principal Entrances and Courtyards). Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1992.
From Mehmet-Ali Atac, The Mythology of Kingship in Neo-Assyrian Art, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 100.

The Catalogue of Texts and Authors shows that the actual scholars at the royal court stood in a line of transmission; they performed a profession, the wisdom of which went back to famous ummanus of the past, and ultimately to the antediluvian apkallus.

These apkallus were, as we have seen in the rituals, imagined in three shapes. The fish-garb symbolized the connection with apsû, the ocean of wisdom; the head and wings of the eagle symbolized their connection to heaven.

The genies symbolizing the human apkallus often have crowned horns, indicating divine status. Parpola thinks that this symbolized their transformation from humans to saints after their death. (Ibid., XX). “

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 143-4.

Kvanvig: Five Specialties of Sages Communicating with the Divine

“There is no doubt that these assertions by the kings are tendentious; and one can discuss how wise the kings in reality were. They needed high competence in practical affairs; this is a matter of fact. They administered empires, warfare, economy, building of temples, palaces; this is not done without a high degree of skill.

(Cf. R.F.G. Sweet, “The Sage in Mesopotamian Palaces and Royal Courts,” in J.G. Gammie and L.G. Perdue, eds., The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East, Winona Lake, 1990, pp. 99-107, 99f.)

Nevertheless, the kings boast of knowledge of a higher order, a knowledge that shares in the divine wisdom, either represented through the gods themselves, or through the apkallus. This at least included knowledge about reading and writing.

(Click to zoom in). <br /> A king depicted with the sacred tree and his ummanu standing behind him with mullilu cone and banduddu bucket.<br />  Some analysts consider the cone blessing gesture to be fertilization or pollination of the stylized date palm.<br />  It is interesting to note that the depictions of the king mirror one another, but with differences.<br />  In both, symbols of sovereignty are grasped in their left hands. A scepter or mace, in either case. The other hand, the right hand, plucks or blesses the tree.<br />  The winged conveyance hovers above the tree. Note that the kings wear indistinct caps, while the ummanus wear horned crowns indicative of divinity. Also, the ummanu have wings.<br />  From the Northwest palace at Nimrud. Held in the collection of the British Museum, BM 6657.

(Click to zoom in).
A king depicted with the sacred tree and his ummanu standing behind him with mullilu cone and banduddu bucket.
Some analysts consider the cone blessing gesture to be fertilization or pollination of the stylized date palm.
It is interesting to note that the depictions of the king mirror one another, but with differences.
In both, symbols of sovereignty are grasped in their left hands. A scepter or mace, in either case. The other hand, the right hand, plucks or blesses the tree.
The winged conveyance hovers above the tree. Note that the kings wear indistinct caps, while the ummanus wear horned crowns indicative of divinity. Also, the ummanu have wings.
From the Northwest palace at Nimrud. Held in the collection of the British Museum, BM 6657.

As far as we know, only three kings claim to have been literate in two thousand years of Mesopotamian history: Šulgi, Lipit-Ištar, and Ashurbanipal.

(Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature,” p. 65.)

The kings claimed obviously to share in this higher degree of wisdom, not only because of personal reasons, but because of the royal ideology according to which they ruled.

The wisdom they needed was not only insight into how to rule a country, but insight into the divine realm, to read the signs of the gods, to appease the gods when necessary, and to secure divine assistance to conquer demonic attacks.

To secure this kind of wisdom the king associated with a body of experts professionalized in various fields of this higher form of wisdom that demanded communication with the divine. This is the ideology of the pairing of kings and sages / scholars in Berossos and more extensively in the Uruk tablet.

In order to rule, a king needed a scholar at his side. In a chronographic composition from about 640 BCE, listing the kings of Assyria and Babylon together, the kings are listed together with one or two ummanus.

(Cf. S. Parpola, Letters from Assyrian Scholars to the Kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal. Part II: Commentary and Appendices, vol. 5/2, AOAT, Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1983, pp. 448-9.)

An ummanu. In this case, the ummanu wears a headband with a rosette, rather than the usual horned tiara indicative of divinity, or semi-divinity. This must be an apkallu, an umu-apkallu, as it has wings, an indicator of supernatural status.

An ummanu. In this case, the ummanu wears a headband with a rosette, rather than the usual horned tiara indicative of divinity, or semi-divinity. This must be an apkallu, an umu-apkallu, as it has wings, an indicator of supernatural status.

Here we are in the historical reality lying behind the imagination of parallel kings and apkallus in antediluvian time. Historically, there existed ummanus of such a high rank that they were included in a list of rulers.

Due to the finding of numerous letters from the Assyrian royal court between the kings and these experts, we have gained profound insight into the duties of the experts. S. Parpola, who edited the letters, found that there are five special fields of expertise:

  1. “Scribe” (tupšarru)–expert in the art of interpreting celestial, terrestrial and teratological portents, and establishing the calendar and the ominous significance of days and months.
  2. “Haruspex” (bārû)–expert in the art of prognosticating the future, primarily by studying the exta of sheep sacrificed to oracle gods.
  3. “Exorcist” (āšipu)–expert in the art of manipulating supernatural forces (such as illness-causing demons) by magical means.
  4. “Physician” (asû)–expert in the art of curing diseases by means of drugs and other physical remedies.
  5. “Chanters” (kalû)–experts in the art of soothing angered gods (and thus averting calamities) by means of elaborate chants and lamentations.

Based on this correspondence, Parpola found that the experts could be divided into two groups, forming an “inner” and an “outer” circle in relation to the king.

During the reign of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal there were 16 men forming the “inner circle.” They were quite generally designated with the title rab, “chief:” rab tupšarrī, rab bārê, rab āšipī, etc.

An umu-apkallu at far left, with horned tiara indicative of divinity. The mullilu cone and banduddu bucket are in their customary places, rosette bracelets are displayed, and this ummanu is winged.<br />  This frieze is unusual for the fine detail lavished on the fringe and tassels of the garments. The sandals are portrayed with uncommon precision. <br />  On the right side, an ambiguous figure, perhaps a lesser order of ummanu, a specialist sage in service to the king. Beardless, the figure could be a eunuch, raising a royal mace or scepter surmounted with a rosette in its right hand. Could this be a woman at court? The facial characteristics are intriguing, the figure appears to wear a long fringed skirt rather than the robe portrayed on the apkallu at left, and appears to bear both a sword and a bow with a quiver of arrows. Perhaps this is the arms bearer of the king, holding the royal scepter for his convenience.<br />  From the Northwest Palace at Nimrud, in the collection of the British Museum.<br />  BM 6642.

An umu-apkallu at far left, with horned tiara indicative of divinity. The mullilu cone and banduddu bucket are in their customary places, rosette bracelets are displayed, and this ummanu is winged.
This frieze is unusual for the fine detail lavished on the fringe and tassels of the garments. The sandals are portrayed with uncommon precision.
On the right side, an ambiguous figure, perhaps a lesser order of ummanu, a specialist sage in service to the king. Beardless, the figure could be a eunuch, raising a royal mace or scepter surmounted with a rosette in its right hand. Could this be a woman at court? The facial characteristics are intriguing, the figure appears to wear a long fringed skirt rather than the robe portrayed on the apkallu at left, and appears to bear both a sword and a bow with a quiver of arrows. Perhaps this is the arms bearer of the king, holding the royal scepter for his convenience.
From the Northwest Palace at Nimrud, in the collection of the British Museum.
BM 6642.

The examination of their names and position demonstrated that they were high ranking men, and that only these few select “wise men” could be engaged in any sort of “regular” correspondence with the king.

Among the members of the “inner circle” there were several instances of family ties, giving the impression that these important court offices of scholarly advisors were in the hand of a few privileged families, “a veritable scholarly “mafia,” which monopolized these offices from generation to generation.”

The men of the “inner circle” did not reside in the palace area but in their own houses situated in downtown Nineveh. Occasionally they could leave their houses for visits to the palace and the king.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 141-3.

Kvanvig: Assurbanipal Studied Inscriptions on Stone from Before the Flood

“The first thing to notice is the strange expression salmīšunu, “their images.” The pronoun refers back to the primeval ummanus / apkallus. They had “images,” created by Ea on earth. A line from Bīt Mēseri sheds light on the issue.

šiptu šipat Marduk āšipu salam Marduk

“The incantation is the incantation of Marduk, the āšipu is the image of Marduk.”

(Bīt Mēseri II, 226. Cf. Gerhard Meier, “Die zweite Tafel der Serie bīt mēseri,” AfO 14, 1941-4, pp. 139-52, 150).

In his role as exorcist, the āšipu is here an image of the deity itself. In the Poem of Erra something similar must have been thought. The āšipu and other priests with responsibility for the divine statues were the earthly counterparts of the transcendent ummanus / apkallus. They were their images on earth.

"Sometimes animal hybrids ... appear to take part in rituals....some types are clearly minor deities, since they wear the horned cap as a mark of their divinity...others may be human. A ...winged god, standing or kneeling, holds a bucket and cone ... in the scenes of "ritual" centered on the stylized tree. A similar female figure holds a chaplet of beads....A third figure carries a flowering branch, sometimes also a sacrificial (?) goat. Sometimes he wears the horned cap, and even when does not he often has wings. Presumably, therefore, such figures are also non-mortal; they may represent the Seven Sages in human guise." From Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, pp. 86-8.

“Sometimes animal hybrids … appear to take part in rituals….some types are clearly minor deities, since they wear the horned cap as a mark of their divinity…others may be human. A …winged god, standing or kneeling, holds a bucket and cone … in the scenes of “ritual” centered on the stylized tree. A similar female figure holds a chaplet of beads….A third figure carries a flowering branch, sometimes also a sacrificial (?) goat. Sometimes he wears the horned cap, and even when does not he often has wings. Presumably, therefore, such figures are also non-mortal; they may represent the Seven Sages in human guise.”
From Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, pp. 86-8.

We must admit that the following text from line 34 is not very clear. Does the ummanus from line 34 mean the primeval apkallus, or does it refer to the priests as ummanus? If we follow the interpretation underlying Foster’s translation, the second option is preferable.

“He himself gave those same (human) craftsmen

great discretion and authority;

he gave them wisdom and great dexterity.

They have made (his) precious image radiant,

even finer than before.”

(Poem of Erra II, pp. 34-6. Foster, Before the Muses, p. 892).

The text thus describes how Ea equips the earthly ummanus with wisdom and dexterity to make them able to restore Marduk’s statue.

To care for the divine statue, to make sure that it is qualified for the manifestation of the divinity, is to secure cosmic stability. This was the great responsibility of the āšipu when they acted as earthly images of the apkallus, the guardians of the cosmic order.

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, which he overpowered when he defeated Tiamat, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods.<br /> In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat's (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).<br /> This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk's serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur.<br /> Marduk's robe depicts the heavenly night sky with all its stars.<br /> I believe that the circular medallions hanging from his neck are among the few portrayals of the me, the tablets of destinies, in all Assyrian art.<br /> Marduk was also called "the son of the Sun," "the Sun" and "bull-calf of the Sun" (Babylonian amar-utu).<br /> http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, which he overpowered when he defeated Tiamat, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods.
In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat’s (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).
This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk’s serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur.
Marduk’s robe depicts the heavenly night sky with all its stars.
I believe that the circular medallions hanging from his neck are among the few portrayals of the me, the tablets of destinies, in all Assyrian art.
Marduk was also called “the son of the Sun,” “the Sun” and “bull-calf of the Sun” (Babylonian amar-utu).
http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

The supreme responsibility on earth for cosmic stability rested on the king. Therefore the king needed to be depicted as wise, having insight into the hidden laws of the cosmos. This is a reoccurring topic in descriptions of kings and their own self-presentations.

It reaches as far back as the third millennium, but shows an increasing tendency in the first millennium.

(Cf. R.F.G. Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature: A Philological Study,” in The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East, eds. J.G. Gammie and L.G. Perdue, Winona Lake, 1990, pp. 45-65, 51-7).

In their boasting of superior wisdom the kings of the first millennium compared their own wisdom with the wisdom of the primary apkallu, Adapa:

Sargon claims to be: “a wise king, skilled in all learning, the equal of

the apkallu, who grew up in wise counsel and attained full stature in good judgement.”

(Cylinder Inscription, 38. Cf. David Gordon Lyon, Keilschriftentexte Sargon’s Königs von Assyrien, (722-705 v. CHR), AB. Leipzig, 1883, pp. 34-5. Translation according to Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature,” p. 53).

Sennacherib presents himself as one to whom “Ninšiku gave wide understanding and equality with the apkallu, Adapa, and granted profound wisdom.”

(Bull Inscription, 4. Cf. D.D. Luckenbill, The Annals of Senacherib, Chicago, 1924, p. 117; translation according to Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature,” p. 53).

Prism of Sennacherib, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1924. https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/oip2.pdf

Prism of Sennacherib, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.
Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1924.
https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/oip2.pdf

Assurbanipal describes his comprehensive wisdom in the following way:

Marduk, the apkallu of the gods, gave me wide understanding and extensive intelligence (and) Nabu, the scribe (who knows) everything, granted me his wise teachings ….

I have learned the art of the apkallu, Adapa, (so that now) I am familiar with the secret storehouse of all scribal learning, (including) celestial and terrestrial portents.

I can debate in an assembly of ummanus and discuss with the clever apkal šamni (oil diviners) (the treatise) “if the liver is a replica of the sky.” I used to figure out complicated divisions and multiplications that have no solutions.

Time and again I have read the cleverly written compositions in which the Sumerian is obscure and the Akkadian is difficult to interpret correctly.

I have studied inscriptions on stone from before the Flood which are sealed, obscure and confused.”

(Tablet L4 obv. I, 10-8. Cf. M. Streck, Assurbanipal und die letzen assyrischen König bis zum Untergange Nineveh’s, vol. II, Leipzig, 1916, 254-7.)

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 138-9.

Kvanvig: On Šēp lemutti, Averting Evil

“The apkallus were also an essential part of the composition Šēp lemutti. The composition starts by defining the purpose of the ritual as to avert evil from the house.

Then the text prescribes the types of figures to be fashioned and buried at set locations in the house. This section contains a long passage describing wooden figures of seven apkallus, from seven Babylonian cities. Since these figures should be made of wood, no remains of them are found, of course.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have prophylactic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have prophylactic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

The next passages describe apkallus with well-known features; seven figures with faces and wings of birds and seven figures cloaked in the skin of a fish. (Cf. Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” 87-96, 87-90.)

In total the apkallus as groups of seven are described five times according to where they should be buried: at the head of the bed, in the foundation of the house, at the threshold to the chapel, in front of the door behind the chair and in the middle of the house in front of the chair (the chair may here be the throne of the palace).

 As noted by Professor Dalley, "The type occurs as a group of six or more clay figurines placed in brick boxes in foundations at Assur, Nimrud, and Nineveh," citing Dessa Rittig as her source (Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom 13.-6. Jh. v. Chr. München, 1977).


As noted by Professor Dalley, “The type occurs as a group of six or more clay figurines placed in brick boxes in foundations at Assur, Nimrud, and Nineveh,” citing Dessa Rittig as her source (Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom 13.-6. Jh. v. Chr. München, 1977).

The first invocation addresses the arrival of the apkallus: “the apkallus have arrived at the first location.” (Cf. P. Hibbert in Kolbe, Die Reliefprogramme, 200-1.) Then follows an invocation that is similar in all the other four instances: šiptu attunu salmānu apkallu massarī, “Incantation: “you are the statues of the apkallus, the watchers.” (Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, 48.)

The designation massaru follows the intention of the whole ritual closely: the apkallus are invoked to protect the palace or the house. Accordingly, there is a close correspondence between the invocation of the apkallus as watchers and how they were represented materially.

The statues of them were initiated through proper rituals and either placed in the room of the ill person to free him from evil demons, or they were buried in a house, to guard the house against demonic attack.

As monumental reliefs at the entrances to palaces they remind people and demons that the palace, the king, and the inhabitants of the palace lived in a house which was protected against evil intruders through the proper rituals.

Since the apkallus appear in apotropaic rituals, they are closely connected to the practice of the āšipū, the exorcists. In an ancient Babylonian myth the sixth sage An-enlilda made poultices for medical means. They would be brought to the upper world of humans as protection against diseases. (Lambert, “The Twenty-One “Poultices,” obv. 11-4, 78.)

A bas relief in the Louvre.  In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.  This bas relief is in the Louvre.  Primary publicationNimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f) Collection	Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France  Museum no.	Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849  Accession no.	1903-10-10, 0002 (b) Provenience	Kalhu (mod. Nimrud) Period	Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

A bas relief in the Louvre.
In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.
This bas relief is in the Louvre.
Primary publication Nimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f)
Collection Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France
Museum no. Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849
Accession no. 1903-10-10, 0002 (b)
Provenience Kalhu (mod. Nimrud)
Period Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

We know that experts in medicine and incantations against disease demons could either designate themselves as apkallu, or place themselves as a descendant of an apkallu, in this case used as honorary title for an expert of highest rank. (Cf. A. Tuskimoto, “By the Hand of Madi-Dagan, the Scribe and Apkallu-Priest,” in Priests and Officials in the Ancient Near East, K. Watanabe, ed., Heidelberg, 1999, pp. 187-200. Also Finkel, “Adad-apla-iddina,” 144f.)

In the commentary to diagnostic omens that explains the word pirig that occurs in the names of the postdiluvian apkallus meaning “light,” it is also stated that ka.pirig means āšipu.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 132-3.

Kvanvig: The Bīt Mēseri Ritual

“The study of F.A.M. Wiggermann on protective spirits has contributed considerably to the understanding of the apkallus in Bīt Mēseri.

(Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits; Wiggermann deals with Bīt Mēseri especially on p. 105f. The connection between the apkallus and prophylactic rituals was already noticed by Oliver Robert Gurney, “Babylonian Prophylactic Figures and their Rituals,” Annals of Archeology and Anthropology 22, Liverpool University Press, 1935, pp. 35-96.)

Bird-Apkallū statuettes in characteristic poses, right hands on their breasts, banduddu buckets in their left hands.

Bird-Apkallū statuettes in characteristic poses, right hands on their breasts, banduddu buckets in their left hands.

In Bīt Mēseri it is clear that there is already a sick man in the house. The ritual prescribes both how paintings of protective figures and small statues of them should be placed in the room of the sick man, and what incantations should be used. The ritual should be performed by the āšipu, the magician or exorcist operating against evil spirits causing diseases.

Three kinds of apkallus are also represented in Bīt Mēseri: ūmu-apkallus, fish-apkallus, and bird-apkallus. The designation ūmu can mean both “light” and “day;” Wiggermann opts for the second solution; they are “day-apkallus.”

Fish-Apkallū statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings. The so-called purādu-fish apkallū were the seven antediluvian sages of Sumeria.

Fish-Apkallū statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.
The so-called purādu-fish apkallū were the seven antediluvian sages of Sumeria.

The fish-apkallus and the bird-apkallus are bīnūt apsê, “creatures of apsû.” They have divine origin.

Nothing similar is said about the day-apkallus. They seem to be of human descent. Nevertheless, Wiggermann considers them to have their origin from the antediluvian period as well.

The instructions concerning the invocation of the apkallus are introduced in the following way in Bit Meseri:

“To the seven figures of carp apkallus, painted with gypsum and black paste that are drawn at the side of the bedroom at the wall.

To the seven figures of apkallus of consecrated cornel; they stand in the gate of the bedroom nearest the sick man at the head of the bed.

To the seven figures of apkallus of tamarisk, kneeling, that stand at the foot of the bed.”

Thus, protective spirits surrounded the sick man. The first group is fish-apkallus, which is explicitly mentioned; the second is day-apkallus, on the basis of the material used; most likely the third is the bird-apkallus.

This well-preserved bas relief retains incredible detail. The daggers carried in the Umu-Apkallu's waistband are clear, as is the rosette styling on his wristbands. The earrings are more distinct than most other examples, and the headdress appears to be of the horned-tiara type. The umu-apkallu appears to wear bracelets on his upper arms. Tassels are apparent on the fringes of his robe, as well as behind the neck.

This well-preserved bas relief retains incredible detail. The daggers carried in the Umu-Apkallu’s waistband are clear, as is the rosette styling on his wristbands. The earrings are more distinct than most other examples, and the headdress appears to be of the horned-tiara type. The umu-apkallu appears to wear bracelets on his upper arms. Tassels are apparent on the fringes of his robe, as well as behind the neck.

The list of seven and the subsequent four apkallus that we have been dealing with come after the first invocation. We therefore notice that these apkallus are fish-apkallus, which also is apparent in the description of them in the list. There is, however, an incongruity between the invocation and the list.

The invocation deals with seven apkallus; the list has in total eleven. This seems to indicate that the list is adapted into the ritual from another source.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, p. 131.

Nakamura: the āšipu was Master of the Figurines

The Buried and Enclosed

“The multiple layers of concealment in this Neo-Assyrian figurine ritual suggest a play on the hiding and receiving powers of the earth.

In Mesopotamia, burial constituted a pervasive and important ritual idiom; people buried valuables, sacrifices, foundation offerings, caches of various materials, and their dead.

Nakamura: "By burying figurines of powerful beings, the āšipu preserves an expressed belief in a present reality of supernatural power, mythological origin and divine order."

Nakamura: “By burying figurines of powerful beings, the āšipu preserves an expressed belief in a present reality of supernatural power, mythological origin and divine order.”

Such diverse practices surely supported an equally diverse range of meanings. But in a basic sense, burial can mean to store, preserve, and put the past on hold (Harrison 2003:xi). This concept of burial holds purchase in the way in which protection relates to memory.

By burying figurines of powerful beings, the āšipu preserves an expressed belief in a present reality of supernatural power, mythological origin and divine order.

Burial keeps things hidden and protected such that preservation binds memory to a specific locality, from which it can be retrieved in the future as a given past. And this preservation of the future configures protection as survival.

It is interesting to mention here a temporal particularity in the Akkadian language that designates the “past” as lying before and the “future” as lying behind (Maul 1997:109), a stark reversal of our modern notions.

Mythology also seems to corroborate the notion that Mesopotamians “proceeded with their backs to the future,” as it were. Berossos’ Babyloniaka presents the primordial sage Oannes as having taught humans all the arts of domestic and cultural life.

Other myths regard this knowledge of the civilized arts as a gift from the god Enki (Ea). What is striking in both of these accounts is that the Mesopotamians believed that all cultural achievements — be they architecture, writing, healing, metalwork, carpentry, et cetera — were endowed to humans at the beginning of time, and this notion locates the ideal image of society in a primordial and mythological past rather than in a hopeful future (Maul 1997:109).

Furthermore, the figurines were not only buried, but also placed appropriately under the earth, in the space of the Netherworld and the apsû, the primordial freshwater ocean.

A depiction of the underworld.  Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.  In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.  The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū.  The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.  The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

A depiction of the underworld.
Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.
In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.
The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū.
The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Numerous sources locate the underworld in the ground, beneath the surface of the earth (Black and Green 1992:180; Bottéro 1992:273–275). This idea follows from a traditional Mesopotamian conception of a vertical and bipolar universe where the earth, inhabited by living humans, separated the Heavens (šamû) from the Netherworld (ersętu) (Bottéro 1992:273).

And the borders of these domains were permeable, as entry to the Netherworld could be gained by way of a stairway leading down to the gate, while spirits could access the human world through cracks and holes in earth’s surface.

But importantly, the prevailing worldview of this time held that every being occupied a proper space in the world, with the lower hemisphere, symmetrical to the upper heavens, providing a discrete space and residence for the dead and other supernatural beings.

In this context, the burial of figurines of creatures from the underworld and apsû might constitute a mimetic gesture of placing or commanding such beings to their proper place in the world. This ritual practice not only reflects but reenacts the notion of an underworld located underground.

Furthermore, the strategic placement of the figurine deposits under certain architectural and household features may act to channel and focus the protective power of the beings, since they dwell in their “proper” realm.

The fact that the figurines were encased in boxes is also evocative of the important gesture of providing a “house” for the deities, and there could be no greater service rendered to a divine being than the building of his or her house (Frankfort 1978:267).

Additionally, the “immateriality” of a buried geography as an invisible, powerful presence is itself provocative.

The figurines, so installed, become effectively removed from the sensuous sphere of human–object relations. In this register of experience, they are “completed,” no longer engaging in processes of mutual constitution and becoming.

But the materiality of the figurine deposit endures and is powerful in this capacity to survive, virtually unmolested, performing its original duty; cut off from human relations, mute, blind, and restrained, they no longer strike back at human subjects, but can only direct their force to fighting off evil spirits in the Netherworld, as instructed by the āšipu.

There is a sense here of Derrida’s (1994) autonomous automaton, the animate puppet with a will of its own that yet obeys some predetermined program. By containing, concealing, and hiding these magical figures, the priest has made his mastery of their power complete.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 36-8.

Nakamura: The Figurines as Magical Objects

The Hybrid

“The magical power of the āšipu also allows him to identify certain mythological and supernatural beings appropriate for the task of protection; these are ancient sages (apkallū), warrior deities and monsters, associated with civilized knowledge and the formidable forces of life, death, peace, and destruction of divine will and rule (Green 1993; Wiggermann 1993).

These figures take on different protective attributes depending on the nature of the represented being; the apkallū act as purifiers and exorcists to expel and ward off evil forces, while monsters, gods, and dogs tend to the defense of the house from demonic intruders (Wiggermann 1992:96–97).

Lahmu, “Hairy,” is a protective and beneficent deity, the first-born son of Apsu and Tiamat. He and his sister Laḫamu are the parents of Anshar and Kishar, the sky father and earth mother, who birthed the gods of the Mesopotamian Pantheon. Laḫmu is depicted as a bearded man with a red sash-usually with three strands- and four to six curls on his head. He is often associated with the Kusarikku or “Bull-Man.” In Sumerian times Laḫmu may have meant “the muddy one”. Lahmu guarded the gates of the Abzu temple of Enki at Eridu. He and his sister Laḫamu are primordial deities in the Babylonian Epic of Creation –Enuma Elis and Lahmu may be related to – or identical with- ‘Lahamu’ one of Tiamat’s Creatures in that epic. http://foundfact.com/portfolio-view/lahmu/#!prettyPhoto http://foundfact.com/library/beings-people-and-gods/page/6/#!prettyPhoto

All of these figures find some association either with the underworld or the freshwater ocean under the earth (apsû) which was the domain of Enki, the god associated with wisdom, magic, incantation, and the arts and crafts of civilization (Black and Green 1992:75), and notably, all but the lahmu portray composite human–animal physiognomies (Figure 2.2).

Figure 2.2. Apotropaic figures with associated features.  1. Drawing after Richards in Black and Green (1992:65).  2. The identification of the lahmu figure is controversial; it names both a cosmogonic deity and one of Tiamat’s creatures (Wiggermann 1992:155–156), and may also represent an apkallu sage (Ellis 1995:165; Russell 1991:184, fn. 27)

Figure 2.2. Apotropaic figures with associated features.
1. Drawing after Richards in Black and Green (1992:65).
2. The identification of the lahmu figure is controversial; it names both a cosmogonic deity and one of Tiamat’s creatures (Wiggermann 1992:155–156), and may also represent an apkallu sage (Ellis 1995:165; Russell 1991:184, fn. 27)

Such forms manifest a communion of things generally held to be opposed to each other. The blending of humans and animals in this context might capitalize on the tension between Mesopotamian conceptions of a structured, civilized human world and a chaotic, untamed natural world (Bottéro 1992).

Hybrids materialize a unity of self and other, human and animal as a strange being that is at once knowable and controllable and unknowable and incontrollable.

Fish-man known as a Kulullû. Terracotta figurine (8th-7th BCE) in the Louvre collection, Nr. 3337.  The Kulullû is distinct from the fish-Apkallū. They are not the same.

Fish-man known as a Kulullû. Terracotta figurine (8th-7th BCE) in the Louvre collection, Nr. 3337.
The Kulullû is distinct from the fish-Apkallū. They are not the same.

As beings in-between, hybrids embody potential, transition, and similarity in difference. Such liminality is often associated with dangerous power, a power that obeys the apotropaic economy of the supplement, since it terrifies and yet provides the surest protection against that terror (Derrida 1974:154).

Another depiction of the Kulullû, or fish-man.

Another depiction of the Kulullû, or fish-man.

By miming such beings in clay figurines, the āšipu brings forth their active life and force in petrified form. Capitalizing on the apotropaic logic of defense, this gesture captures self-defeating force and suspends it in space, material, and time.

Many of the figurine types are depicted in movement with hands gesturing and a foot forward to suggest forward movement. Following Susan Stewart (1984:54), I submit that the force of animated life does not diminish when arrested in the fixity and exteriority of the figurine, but rather, is captured as a moment of hesitation always on the verge of forceful action.

The apotropaic figurine is a magical object — what Michael Taussig calls a “time–space compaction of the mimetic process” — doubled over since its form and matter, creation and presentation capture certain inherent energies that humans desire to control.

The magical object, which encounters the unknown by presenting its form and image “releases a force capable of vanquishing it, or even befriending it” (Deleuze 2003:52). But as ritual texts and archaeological deposits confirm, it was not just the images themselves that rendered power, but something in the process of their creation.

While such apotropaic figures appear in grand scale and idealized form on wall reliefs flanking entrances of kingly palaces purifying all who passed through the gates, the figures standing guard in floor deposits performed an additional task.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 34-6.

Nakamura: Humans Make Up the gods Who Make Them

“The creation of powerful supernatural beings in diminutive clay form mimes the divine creation of being from primordial clay. But this figurine work enacts an idealized relation between the human and divine such that the mimetic act establishes a double appropriation.

Through mimesis, the āšipu appropriates the divine power of creation by making copies of protective beings that assume the powers of the original. In addition, his material relation to the figurine manifested in relative size also embodies a divine relation to humans.

The diminutive size of the figurine renders humans giant in comparison. The āšipu, as creator and master of the figurines, becomes creator and marshal of the divine power of protection, who then fashions, commands and deploys a small army of protective spirits.

A bird-apkallū of the Nisroc kind, plate IXb.  Sun-dried clay plaque-figurine of a bird-apkallu, one of seven discovered in a foundation box in the S.W. corner of room 27 of the Burnt Palace at Nimrud. Previously published: Mallowan, ILN Aug 15, 1953, Fig. 8, bottom left; Iraq 16 (1954), N&R I, 229; Cf. also Rittig, 71.

A bird-apkallū of the Nisroc kind, plate IXb.
Sun-dried clay plaque-figurine of a bird-apkallu, one of seven discovered in a foundation box in the S.W. corner of room 27 of the Burnt Palace at Nimrud. Previously published: Mallowan, ILN Aug 15, 1953, Fig. 8, bottom left; Iraq 16 (1954), N&R I, 229; Cf. also Rittig, 71.

This cunning reversal amounts to a self-realizing request for protection made possible by the exposure of a secret: that humans make up the gods who make them.

But this exposure finds certain cover in the opacity of the figurine object, which presents itself to the world as a small, doll-like object made of clay, as a king in beggar’s clothes, as it were.

This “auto-affection” enacted through the creation of objects galvanizes power in mimesis as idealized repetition; in Derrida’s words, “[it] gains in power and in its mastery of the other to the extent that its power of repetition idealizes itself ” (1974:166).

And repetition does not produce the same; rather it magnifies difference masked by the similarity it bears to the original. The miniature figurine then provides a locus for the human enactment of a variety of desires and actions that animate the being it represents; in the Neo-Assyrian case, humans control, protect, contain, and command powerful deities and spirits in this spatial and material production of simulacra.

The scale of the miniature invites activities of play and fantasy. According to Roger Caillois, play, as “pure form, activity that is an end in itself, rules that are respected for their own sake, constitutes an area of “limited and provisional perfection,” in which one is the master of destiny” (2001:157).

In the realm of play, humans are free to “master” any relation, being, reality, or power, immune to any apprehension or consequence regarding their actions; this is especially true when such play is circumscribed by human–object relations. The tableau of the miniature solicits a relation of human mastery through an idiom of play that thrives on transgressive maneuvers of inversion and appropriation.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 33-4.

Nakamura: An Idiom of Protection Arises in the Material Enactment of Memory

Mastering Matters

“In the material register, Neo-Assyrian figurine assemblages present a physical gesture of miniaturization, hybrid form, and concealment. I have intimated that such material gestures disclose a magic technology as a symbolic and sensual logic that conspires with and against conventional value-producing forms.

The question now becomes one of how this material reality presents protection. I would suggest that in the context of apotropaic performance, a material economy that produces a miniature, hybrid, and hidden reality anchors and accomplishes an experience of human mastery.

Furthermore, this suite of gestures skillfully sustains the belief in divine power and order through a cunning reversal. The collision of Neo-Assyrian socioreligious beliefs with this material making engenders a force that cannot be contained or mastered by narrative closure.

This resistance to such mastery, in effect, secures magic’s very power. Magic does not seek the restoration of balance or the resolution of contradiction (Taussig 1993:126), rather it renders such contradiction immaterial, and in doing so, masters the system which defines the conditions of its disclosure.

The slippage between meaning and matter, belief and practice, enshrouds magic in secrecy that is at once opaque and transparent. As both contingent and autonomous, the magical object secretes indeterminacy into the structure that conceives it, holds it at a distance and thereby masters it.

Artifacts congeal processes of making — the simultaneous forging of objects, selves, relations, cultures, and worlds — in a gesture of becoming. To make is to transform, and such transformation derives from the human enactment of both the self and the world.

If we accept Bakhtin’s idea that to be means to communicate, then figurines are self-creating works that specifically address communications among various beings, human, animal, divine, and supernatural.

They provide the material site for the human action of creation which moves back on the human creators themselves (Scarry 1985:310), and this reverse process acts in complicit as much as disruptive, subversive, and obfuscating ways.

Notably then, the process of material creation discloses a certain “mimetic excess” (cf. Taussig 1993) whereby reproduction amounts to metamorphosis, self-amplification to self-effacement, and divergence to unity.

Bird-apkallū, with hands on their chests, and banduddu buckets in their left hands.

Bird-apkallū, with hands on their chests, and banduddu buckets in their left hands.

The Neo-Assyrians crafted protective figurines as clay or stone copies of various mythological and supernatural beings. Their form as miniature, portable, durable, free-standing, three-dimensional objects confronts humans within a distinct relationship; namely, this material choreography reproduces powerful beings in a reality that assumes an anthropocentric universe for its absolute sense of scale (following Stewart 1984:56).

The materiality of the figurine thereby discloses the authority of humans over the copy, and hence over the original. Here, the production and reception of the copy itself becomes a “dramatic form of (social) experience” (Jenson 2001:23), namely, that of human mastery.

Whether deity, double, ancestor, spirit, or animal, the “original” comes to inhabit a material reality of human design. As petrified and choreographed “life,” the figurine recreates the human as master in this relation, a relation whereby humans, as all-powerful giants, assert and play out their desires within the diminutive tableau of the figurine.

The specific “bundling” of material properties of the figurine provides an enduring frame and anchor for the various ways in which other subjects relate to it thereafter. As a thing, the petrified miniature object will always encounter and constitute subjects as vigorous, gigantic masters with the capacity to possess, manipulate, command, and destroy.

Through this production of figurines, Neo-Assyrian apotropaic rituals trace out complex, and even disorienting, relations between humans, deities, and various supernatural beings in space and time.

Throughout the ritual, the āšipu priest creates protective beings in a perpetual mode of dedication to important deities who are the “creators” of humankind. I have previously argued that these acts of dedication constitute a giving that takes back (Nakamura 2004); here, dedication is a demand for protection, a dialectic of giving that gives back more in return.

Protection then arises from the “mimetic slippage” that exacts a brash assertion of human mastery over divine power, masked through a posed reality of servitude. Apotropaic rituals enact a radical synthesis of material work and belief that configures a force capable of surmounting contradiction.

The durable material gestures of miniaturized scale, hybrid form, and concealment inscribe the subterranean landscape, effectively preserving a desired past for the future. In this way, an idiom of protection arises in the material enactment of memory.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 31-3.

Nakamura: The Common Terrain Shared by Myth and Iconography

“After this “enlivening,” the āšipu then molds this clay into various figures of power and protection, in effect reenacting the divine creation of humans from the clay of the apsû, the primordial underground freshwater ocean.

(Similar narratives of the creation of humankind reiterate a trope of the divine formation of being from clay. In the Atrahasis epic (Tablet I, lines 210–213) humankind is born from the mixing of primordial clay and the blood of a slain god, and in Enki and Ninmah (lines 24–26) humankind is made from this clay only.)

Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic Babylonian, about 17th century BC From Sippar, southern Iraq A version of the Flood story The story outlines the structure of the universe according to Babylonian beliefs. Heaven is ruled by the god Anu, the earth by Enlil and the subterranean sweet water by Enki. The text then explains how the minor gods work in the fields but then rebel. As a result, humans are made from clay, saliva and divine blood to act as servants of the gods. This does not prove a perfect solution, as the humans reproduce and their noise disturbs Enlil's sleep. He decides to destroy them with plague, famine, drought and finally a flood. However, each time Enki instructs one of the humans, Atrahasis, to survive the disasters. The god gives Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood, and he builds a boat, loads it with his possessions, animals and birds. He is subsequently saved while the rest of humankind is destroyed. However, the gods are unhappy as they no longer receive the offerings they used to. There is a gap in the text at this point but it does end with Atrahasis making an offering and Enlil accepting the existence and usefulness of humans. Copies of this story have survived from the seventeenth to the seventh century BC showing that it was copied and re-copied over the centuries. This is the most complete version. There are clear similarities between this Flood story and others known in Mesopotamian literature, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh. T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1988) S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford University Press, 1991) W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atra-hasis (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_atrahasis_epic.aspx

Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic
Babylonian, about 17th century BC
From Sippar, southern Iraq
A version of the Flood story
The story outlines the structure of the universe according to Babylonian beliefs. Heaven is ruled by the god Anu, the earth by Enlil and the subterranean sweet water by Enki. The text then explains how the minor gods work in the fields but then rebel. As a result, humans are made from clay, saliva and divine blood to act as servants of the gods.
This does not prove a perfect solution, as the humans reproduce and their noise disturbs Enlil’s sleep. He decides to destroy them with plague, famine, drought and finally a flood. However, each time Enki instructs one of the humans, Atrahasis, to survive the disasters. The god gives Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood, and he builds a boat, loads it with his possessions, animals and birds. He is subsequently saved while the rest of humankind is destroyed. However, the gods are unhappy as they no longer receive the offerings they used to. There is a gap in the text at this point but it does end with Atrahasis making an offering and Enlil accepting the existence and usefulness of humans.
Copies of this story have survived from the seventeenth to the seventh century BC showing that it was copied and re-copied over the centuries. This is the most complete version. There are clear similarities between this Flood story and others known in Mesopotamian literature, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh.
T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)
S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford University Press, 1991)
W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atra-hasis (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_atrahasis_epic.aspx

And this mimetic act doubles back, for at the end of the incantation the āšipu invokes the creative utterance of Enki (Ea) and incants himself into the picture; here he blurs his position as both mime and mimed other: “in this way, as both chanter and person chanted about, as demonstrator and demonstrated, he creates the bridge between the original and copy that brings a new force, the third force of magical power, to intervene in the human world” (Taussig 1993:106).

(One creation myth (of many) also poses Enki (Ea) as taking on the organization of the entire universe and accomplishes this feat solely in the creative power of his word (Black and Green 1992:54)).

And it is the āšipu’s body that provides the ligature of this bond:

O Ea, King of the Deep, to see…

I, the magician am thy slave.

March thou on my right hand,

Be present on my left;

Add thy pure spell unto mine,

Add thy pure voice unto mine,

Vouchsafe (to me) pure words,

Make fortunate the utterance of my mouth,

Ordain that my decisions be happy,

Let me be blessed wherever I tread,

Let the man who I (now) touch be blessed.

(Utukki Limnuti, III/VII:260 ff. Thompson 1903-04:27-9, added emphasis).

It is bodily sense — initiated by the āšipu’s voice, movement, and touch — that forges a correspondence between the natural and the divine.

Through the mimetic faculty, magical craft and performance invites a direct and sensuous relation with the open world capable of recuperating a pre-organized state of sensation and perception.

This visceral presentation of the self-becoming-other and spirit-becoming-substance, reproduces the original fold of being that encompasses divine, human, and natural worlds. The Mesopotamian world was indeed enchanted, and humans, always already engaged in such a world, needed only to feel or sense in order to retrieve such unity.

I have dwelled upon the bodily aspects of practice — namely, those gestures of relating and transforming through incantation, touch, and movement — to underscore magic as a technique, as a knowing and producing that choreographs a dis/re-organization of worldly relations.

Magical performance amounts to a mimetic demonstration of vital correspondences between ideas, essences, and things in the processual enactment of an ideal made real. The affective force of such bodily techniques arises from the kinetic communication and experience of the performance; but how are we to make sense of the power or force of ideal protection made real through the burial of miniature figurine deposits?

Most commonly, scholarship has approached this ritual practice and material assemblage by considering certain symbolic and conceptual linkages to Neo-Assyrian ritual, religion, and culture, for instance, the common terrain shared by myth and iconography (see Green 1983; 1993; Wiggermann 1992; 1993).

While such critical analyses get at important aspects and processes of ancient intellection, they ultimately fail to consider the devastatingly material logic of magic that often subverts (only to reinforce) such discursive productions of meaning. To redress this imbalance, I presently examine this concrete logic and how it discloses apotropaic power.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 30-1.

Nakamura: Magic’s Perception and Performance

Bodily Sense: Magic’s Perception and Performance

Mimesis asserts a gesture of expression that “retrieves the world and remakes it” (Merleau-Ponty 1973:78), and I am interested in how the Neo-Assyrian figurine deposits, as such gestures, retrieve and remake a protected world.

Figurines, as miniature bodily forms petrified in clay or stone, are distinct works of wonder; in the way of poetic disclosure, they project an idealized past and more desirable future. Figurines fascinate as they confront our gaze with something familiar in the unfamiliar, real in the counterfeit.

It is not only the object’s form or physicality that we identify and relate to, but something of the mimetic gesture: the faculty to create and explore ourselves, to encounter and become other (Taussig 1993:xiii).

Anterior to the organized knowledge of reflection, there is mimesis: this age-old and rather profound faculty that stands somewhere at the beginning of play, the beginning of language, and the beginning of self-making (Benjamin 1979).

With mimesis, we already have a sense that reality, at some level, is simply a matter of relations. Walter Benjamin conceived of the mimetic faculty as producing “magical correspondences” between persons and things, objects and essences: “a child not only plays at being a grocer or a teacher, but also at being a windmill or a train” (1979:65).

Relations forged through miming reveal remarkable correspondences between the material and immaterial; the copy assumes the power of the original, and a wish is “made real” in the material fabric of the world (Frazer 1957:55; Taussig 1993:47).

The elegance of the mimetic process lies in the way in which it always renders an imperfect copy, and it is this very intervention of imperfection that locates and captures creative force.

If Neo-Assyrian apotropaic magic reenacts a circulation of sense — a reorientation of perceptual and material systems — to disclose the protection of space and being in time, how might we consider a notion of protection constituted in the material gesture of placing numerous figurine deposits under Neo-Assyrian room floors?

Furthermore, what can we make of acts of burial, concealment, and containment in this context? Here, texts and archaeological materials considered together portray a remarkably detailed practice in the choreography of various mimetic acts.

Turning to the texts, we find they recount the exemplary life of these objects from creation to deposition. The ritual production of apotropaic figurines involved certain meaningful places, materials and gestures: one text instructs a practitioner, a high-ranking state āšipu (priest-exorcist) to go to the woods at sunrise to consecrate a cornel tree, recite the incantation “Evil [spirit] in the broad steppe” and then return to the city to make the figurines from the consecrated wood (see Text 1, 28– 44 in Wiggermann 1992).

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 28-9.

Editorial Note on the Apkallu and the Roadmap Ahead

I am breaking the narrative stream to speak directly to the process emerging from our reading on the apkallū, the antediluvian and postdiluvian sages of ancient Mesopotamia.

If you are reading along over my shoulder, you noticed that we digressed from Martin Lang, “Mesopotamian Early History and the Flood Story,” in a post titled On the Date of the Flood.

Martin Lang wrote:

“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 millennium.

In matching up the primordial kings with the seven sages, the apkallū, Berossos once again works in the vein of contemporary scholars, who demonstrably constructed lists with kings and apkallū in order to advertise their own importance, and the primordial roots of their knowledge, as Alan Lenzi has recently shown.”

I updated that post to include a link to Alan Lenzi, “The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian Scholarship,” JANER 8.2, 2008, which is serialized and linked in posts below.

I also changed the link to the Sumerian King List to point to the beautiful 1939 edition by Thorkild Jacobsen generously published by the University of Chicago Press, available for free download off the web.

We then dipped into Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, “The Mesopotamian Counterparts of the Biblical Nephilim,” in Francis I. Andersen, et al, eds., Perspectives on Language and Text: Essays and Poems in Honor of Francis I. Andersen’s Sixtieth Birthday, 1985, in a post titled On the Apkallū.

This is where I drilled in hard on the apkallū, incorporating bas reliefs and figurines held at the Louvre and the British Museum. Out of numerous posts addressing the apkallū, this one is well-illustrated, and lushly hyperlinked.

Moreover, Anne Kilmer synthesized the supporting research on the apkallū at the time of writing very effectively, so if you are overwhelmed by the other articles, just read this one. It goes without saying that you should not be intimidated by this academic literature. I have made it as readable and accessible as I can.

Yes, there is a lot of it. As I excavate the academic literature on the apkallū the hard way, mining references from footnote after footnote, I get a sense of what it might be like, to be an academic Assyriologist rather than an autodidact.

I do not include everything that I find. I assess and include just those pieces which accrue gravitas in that greater academic community. If you see glaring omissions, please let me know. This note is shaping up to be an academic survey of the literature on the apkallū, and it may save others treading these same paths some time.

Fair warning: our continuing digression into the apkallu will be deep.

As I complete serialization of source texts, I will include links to the posts beneath their citation below. These sources are sorted by date, so we can track the evolution of academic thinking on the apkallū. Our digression includes excerpts from:

After we complete our deep dive into the apkallu, we will return to the Sumerian King List, then resume with Berossos. This is the roadmap ahead.

Editorial note: In some cases citations above which are not followed by links in the bulleted list are internet dry holes, no digital versions are available. In other cases, links are to Google Books editions, which often limit visible pages. Google’s intent is to sell electronic versions of the texts that they scan.

Under these circumstances, I end up rekeying entire articles, at ruinous waste of time. If you have a moment, please send a sweet nastygram to Google asking them to post free and complete eBooks as they continue their vast project to digitize the entirety of human knowledge.

In other cases, I simply have not yet reviewed the articles and posted them. If you are following this project, you see that I post updates nearly every day. Stay tuned.

My purpose in publishing Samizdat is to highlight excerpts from the great books, mining synchronicities from legends and myths. As I point out in the About page, the Deluge was an historical event for the ancient Sumerians.

I now need to update that page, incorporating the research that we have already completed on the Sumerian King List, setting up a future digression into the concept of the Great Year, which Berossos associated with traditions of a Conflagration and the Deluge.

If you wondered where we were going, I wrote this for you.

 Updated 20 November 2015, 23:39 hrs.

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