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Category: Bel-Marduk

The Priest of Bel was Actually a Greek Philosopher

“Clearly, we need to allow for the possibility that some of these apparent similarities are fortuitous, just as we also need to allow for historically grown similarities between Ancient Greek and Mesopotamian thought: after all, these two cultures had long been part of the same Eastern Mediterranean world.

But there are at least two reasons for believing that Berossos really did cast himself as a philosopher in the vein of a Zeno. First, his reading of the Enūma Eliš was not the only possible one, nor was Berossos the first to isolate cosmic principles from the poem.

A generation or so earlier, Aristotle’s pupil Eudemos of Rhodes had already had access to a Greek text of the Enūma Eliš and had taken it to encapsulate the principles of Babylonian philosophy as follows:

Among the barbarians, the Babylonians appear to pass over the idea of a single principle in silence and instead to assume two principles of the universe, Tauthe (~ Tiamat) and Apason (~ Apsu), making Apason the husband of Tauthe, and calling her the mother of the gods.

Of these was born an only-begotten son, Moumis (~ Mummu) who, it seems, brought about the intelligible universe from the two first principles.

The same parents also gave rise to another generation, Dache and Dachos (~ Lahmu and Lahamu); and yet another, Kissare and Assoros (~ Kišar and Anšar), who in turn had three sons, Anos (~ Anu), Illinos (~ Ellil) and Aos (~ Ea).

Aos and Dauke (~ Damkina) begot a son called Bel who they say is the demiurge.

Like Berossos, Eudemos reads the Enūma Eliš as an account of physics and singles out two cosmic principles, one male one female.

However, unlike Berossos he identifies these principles with Tiamat and Apsu, rather than Tiamat and Bel, and focuses on the opening genealogy of the gods rather than on tablets 4-6 of Enūma Eliš, which describe the battle among the gods and the creation of the world and man.

Tiamat and Bel-Marduk

Segell cilíndric i la seva impressió, representant una escena mitològica: Asshur atacant un monstre és aclamat per una deessa. Segles IX-VIII aC
http://ca.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asshur#/media/File:Cylinder_seal_mythology_Louvre_AO30255.jpg
British Museum 89589.
A black serpentinite cylinder seal portrays a snout-nosed, horned Tiamat as a dragon.
A bearded god, Ninurta or Bel-Marduk, runs along the reptile’s body with crossed, wedge-tipped quivers on his back. In his right hand he holds a six-pronged thunderbolt below which is a rhomb, while in his left he holds two arrows.
Behind the god, a smaller bearded god in a horned head-dress holds a spear.
On the tail of the dragon stands a goddess, to the left of her head is the eight-rayed star of Istar and the inverted crescent of the Moon God Sin.
The seal may illustrate a scene from the epic of creation in which the forces of chaos, led by Tiamat, are defeated by a god representing cosmic order, Ninurta, or Bel-Marduk.
© The Trustees of the British Museum
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=159863&objectId=277961&partId=1

Judging by Polyhistor’s summary, Berossos seems to have skipped over those early genealogies; or at least to have shifted the main weight of his paraphrase elsewhere. It may seem hazardous to argue from absence in a text as badly mutilated as the Babyloniaca.

However, the entire thrust of Polyhistor’s narrative, including the framing account of Oannes, seems to suggest that the primordial soup of BNJ680 F lb(6), and the monsters in it, really did come first.

There is another feature of Berossos’ narrative which sets him apart from Eudemos: he translates the names of Babylonian deities into their Greek equivalents rather than merely transliterating them. Unlike his forerunner, Berossos was clearly interested in making his account accessible — and meaningful — to a wider Greek audience.

This leads me to my sec­ond reason for thinking that Berossos was quite actively modelling himself on contemporary Greek philosophers like Zeno, and that is his method of reading myth, as encapsulated in the phrase, ‘but he says that this amounts to an allegorical account of physics’.

The phrasing here has been deemed late, though Demetrius, On Style, already uses similar language, and Zeno’s pupil and successor as head of the Stoa, Cleanthes, may have done too.

Whether or not Berossos actually said άλληγορικώζ πεφυσιολογήσθαι, the sentiment is clearly his — for he must be the one who translated Omorka/Tiamat into Greek θάλασσα, hardly a fully fledged mythological character in the Greek imagination.

More generally, the entire thrust of his reading of Enūma Eliš seems to me to be self-evidently rationalising, and, in a rather loose sense of the word, allegorising too.”

Johannes Haubold, “The Wisdom of the Chaldaeans: Reading Berossos, Babyloniaca Book 1,” 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. 35-7.

Babyloniaca Book 1

“What, then, does it mean for Berossos to introduce himself as a Babylonian, and a priest of Bel? The question may seem odd, for it suggests a choice which prima facie Berossos did not have: was he not simply stating a fact?

And yet, I shall argue that Berossos did have a choice as to how he presented himself, and that both his profession as a priest and his self-portrayal as a Babylonian can be read as examples of carefully calibrated role play.

Let us first have a look at ethnicity. As a Babylonian, Berossos was a barbarian in Greek eyes, and broadly speaking that was not an auspicious starting point. Yet, non-Greek cultures could also carry more positive connotations.

By the Hellenistic period, Greek intellectuals had become accustomed to regard barbarian priests as commanding a privileged knowledge of history. Berossos very directly plays on that stereotype when he rejects the untruths spread by ‘Greek writers’ in Babyloniaca Book 3.

Greek readers would have appreciated that, as a priest of Bel, Berossos was in a good position to set the record straight; though the gesture would have had little resonance in a purely Mesopotamian context.

Indeed, we now know that from a Mesopotamian perspective there was no such thing as ‘a priest of Bel’ in Babylon, though there was of course a wide range of personnel associated with the main temple of Marduk, the Esagila.

Berossos, then, does not simply state a neutral fact when he introduces himself as a Babylonian and a priest of Bel. Rather, he masquerades as a figure from Greek oriental­ising lore so as to lodge a very specific claim to cultural authority: Babylonian priests (‘Chaldaeans’, as they were known), were not just seen as masters of time but also as sources of esoteric knowledge, essentially a society of proto-philosophers.

That cliche, I suggest, informs Berossos’ paraphrase of Enūma Eliš in Babyloniaca Book 1.

Battle between Marduk (Bel) and Tiamat. Drawn from a bas-relief from the Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal, King of Assyria, 885-860 B.C., at Nimrûd. British Museum, Nimrûd Gallery, Nos. 28 and 29. http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/06/tablet-of-destinies.html

Battle between Marduk (Bel) and Tiamat. Drawn from a bas-relief from the Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal, King of Assyria, 885-860 B.C., at Nimrûd.
British Museum, Nimrûd Gallery, Nos. 28 and 29.
http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/06/tablet-of-destinies.html

In his account of creation, Berossos describes the universe as being created from two main forces, Tiamat and BelTiamat provides the matter from which Bel shapes all things. She is female, he is male; she is passive, he is active; she is chaotic, dark and watery, he is orderly, active, bright and airy.

In Babylonian terms, this is not a bad paraphrase of Enūma Eliš, though it skips over the opening genealogies and radically condenses the rest of the narrative. Much of this work of condensation will be down to Alexander Polyhistor, the first-century BCE excerptor who had little incentive to preserve details of Berossos’ account that did not suit his sensationalist agenda.

British Museum 89589. A black serpentinite cylinder seal in the linear style portrays a snout-nosed, horned reptile, probably Tiamat as a dragon. The upper third of its long body rises from two front paws or hands, one of which is raised; the remainder of the body runs around the bottom of the seal and supports three figures; there are no hind legs.  A bearded god, Ninurta or Bel-Marduk, runs along the reptile's body with crossed, wedge-tipped quivers on his back. In his right hand he holds a six-pronged thunderbolt below which is a rhomb, while in his left he holds two arrows.  Behind the god, a smaller bearded god in a horned head-dress holds a spear before him.  On the tail of the reptile stands a goddess, who holds her arms open to seize the snout of the reptile.  To the left of her head is the eight-rayed star of Istar and the inverted crescent of the Moon God Sin.  The seal may illustrate a scene from the epic of creation in which the forces of chaos, led by Tiamat, are defeated by a god representing cosmic order, Ninurta, or Bel-Marduk.  © The Trustees of the British Museum http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=159863&objectId=277961&partId=1

British Museum 89589.
A black serpentinite cylinder seal in the linear style portrays a snout-nosed, horned reptile, probably Tiamat as a dragon. The upper third of its long body rises from two front paws or hands, one of which is raised; the remainder of the body runs around the bottom of the seal and supports three figures; there are no hind legs.
A bearded god, Ninurta or Bel-Marduk, runs along the reptile’s body with crossed, wedge-tipped quivers on his back. In his right hand he holds a six-pronged thunderbolt below which is a rhomb, while in his left he holds two arrows.
Behind the god, a smaller bearded god in a horned head-dress holds a spear before him.
On the tail of the reptile stands a goddess, who holds her arms open to seize the snout of the reptile.
To the left of her head is the eight-rayed star of Istar and the inverted crescent of the Moon God Sin.
The seal may illustrate a scene from the epic of creation in which the forces of chaos, led by Tiamat, are defeated by a god representing cosmic order, Ninurta, or Bel-Marduk.
© The Trustees of the British Museum
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=159863&objectId=277961&partId=1

But even the truncated version of Babyloniaca Book 1 which Polyhistor passed on to Eusebius still betrays signs of Berossos’ original ap­proach. What Berossos seems to have done in Babyloniaca Book 1 is to extract two cosmic principles from the jumble of divine characters in Enūma Eliš.

The resulting account of creation strikingly resembles Stoic physics as formulated by Berossos’ contemporary Zeno of Citium. For Zeno too, the universe was based on two entities, matter and god.

Like Bel in Berossos, Zeno’s god was active, male, the shaping principle that pervaded matter; and like Berossos’ Tiamat, Stoic matter was passive, female, waiting to be dissected and moulded.

Sceptics may object that this convergence between Berossos and Zeno may as well be pure coincidence; after all, there are only so many ways one can imagine a cosmogony, and the opposition between Marduk and Tiamat was of course prefigured in Enūma Eliš itself.”

Johannes Haubold, “The Wisdom of the Chaldaeans: Reading Berossos, Babyloniaca Book 1,” 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. 34-5.

Babyloniaca Book 1, Enuma Elis, Enuma Anu Ellil

“Of the many neglected aspects of Berossos’ work, his account of cosmogony in Babyloniaca 1 is easily the least well understood. The outlines of the narrative are of course well known: after an ethnographic introduction, Berossos reports how the super-sage Oannes emerged from the Southern Ocean in year one of human history, and how he taught mankind the arts of civilisation.

Nothing new was discovered since that time. Berossos then proceeds to give a taste of Oannes’ teachings by recounting the history of the world and, probably, much more beside. How much more has been subject to debate.

A depiction of the God Ea, Adapa, or Oannes.

A depiction of the God Ea, Adapa, or Oannes.

Some scholars have argued that Oannes covered astronomy in Book 1 of the Babyloniaca, and that many of our so-called astronomical fragments belong in that context. Others disagree.

There can be no disagreement about the cosmogonic parts of Oannes’ teachings because here we have Berossos’ Babylonian source text, the so-called ‘Epic of Creation’ or Enūma Eliš. Berossos adheres closely to this source, which is why Book 1 has always mattered to those scholars interested in Mesopotamian literature and its reception.

Beyond that, however, the book has not elicited much interest. Unlike Book 3, it contains no historical information; and unlike Book 2 it tells us little about Mesopotamian myth and literature that we did not already know from elsewhere.

As a con­sequence, one third of Berossos’ work tends to be ignored, or simply forgotten. With my chapter I aim to reverse this trend. I argue that Babyloniaca Book 1 forms a crucial part of Berossos’ overall project, his signature piece, no less.

I start with a simple question: why did Berossos see fit to open his work with the teachings of Oannes? Why have Book 1 at all? There are several ways of answering that question: we might, for example, point to the fact that Enūma Eliš was a staple of Babylonian scribal culture in Hellenistic times.

It was also crucially important to Babylonian religion, and to kingship as an institution: Babylonian kings answered very directly to the divine king Bel-Marduk at the New Year’s Festival, where the Enūma Eliš was solemnly performed on a regular basis.

In as much as the Babyloniaca was about kingship — and there can be little doubt that it was centrally concerned with this issue — it also had to be about Marduk and the story of how he gained control over the universe.

Berossos, then, was bound to touch on the Enūma Eliš at some point in his work. For similar reasons he was also bound to mention Oannes. Oannes was a famous Mesopotamian sage, and the author of important texts, though not, as far as we know, the Enūma Eliš.

Berossos may have done a bit of creative tweaking here, perhaps because Oannes — or Adapa, as he was also known — was firmly associated with the art of legitimate kingship. Beate Pongratz-Leisten, (1999, 309-20), has shown that the Assyrian kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal systematically claimed the wisdom of Oannes-Adapa for themselves.

Later, under the Babylonian king Nabonidus, Oannes became the focus of heated debates regarding proper royal behaviour: texts favourable to Nabonidus show him as an expert reader of Oannes’ supposed main work, the astrological omen collection Enūma Anu Ellil.

Enuma Anu Enlil is a series of 70 tablets addressing Babylonian astrology.  The bulk of the work is a substantial collection of 6500 to 7000 omens, interpreting celestial and atmospheric phenomena relevant to the king and state. The tablets date back to 650 BC, but some omens may be as old as 1646 BC. Many reports represent ‘astrometeorological’ forecasts (Rasmussen 2010). http://www.climate4you.com/ClimateAndHistory%205000-0%20BC.htm

Enuma Anu Ellil is a series of 70 tablets addressing Babylonian astrology.
The bulk of the work is a substantial collection of 6500 to 7000 omens, interpreting celestial and atmospheric phenomena relevant to the king and state. The tablets date back to 650 BC, but some omens may be as old as 1646 BC. Many reports represent ‘astrometeorological’ forecasts (Rasmussen 2010).
http://www.climate4you.com/ClimateAndHistory%205000-0%20BC.htm

Hostile sources, on the other hand, allege that Nabonidus boasted to know better than Oannes and that he introduced a perverse cult unknown to the great sage. As Berossos himself points out, there is nothing of value that could be have been unknown to Oannes (BNJ F 1(4)).

So, by casting him as an internal narrator, Berossos shows that his work is far more than merely a handbook of Babylonian history and custom: it is meant as a Fürstenspiegel, a full-blown introduction to the art of legitimate kingship.

These are important considerations when it comes to determining the significance of Babyloniaca Book 1, but they leave one question unanswered: how, if at all, did Berossos cater for the tastes of his Greek readers?

Do we simply assume that he asked them to swal­low Babylonian literature neat, with no regard for their potentially very different horizons of expectation? That seems prima facie unlikely, given that Berossos did after all write in Greek, not in Aramaic or Akkadian or ‘Chaldaean’ (whatever that might mean) — which raises the question of what his Greek readers were supposed to gain from the experience, and how Berossos went about selling himself and his culture to them. That, it seems to me, is precisely where the cosmogony of Book 1 becomes important.”

Johannes Haubold, “The Wisdom of the Chaldaeans: Reading Berossos, Babyloniaca Book 1,” 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. 31-2.

Who Was Berossus?

“This volume is devoted to a man whose work is largely lost, whose life is shrouded in mys­tery, and whose real name we do not know.

(‘Berossos’ is a Greek rendering of an Akkadian name. Our best guess at the moment is that his fellow Babylonians would have known him as Bēl-rē ‘ûšunu (‘Bel is their shepherd’), but this is not certain; see further De Breucker’s contribution to this volume.)

What we do know is that ‘Berossos’ of Babylon was a contemporary of Alexander the Great and the first two Seleucid kings, Seleucus I and Antiochus I, and that he wrote a work about Babylonian history and culture, the Babyloniaca.

He describes himself as a Babylonian and a priest of Bel-Marduk, the national god of Babylon, though in practice this may mean no more than that he was in some way attached to the main temple of Babylon, the Esagila.

According to Vitruvius, Berossos later moved to the Greek island of Cos to open a school of astronomy.

Pliny mentions a statue which the Athenians set up to celebrate his powers of prophecy; and Pausanias makes him the father of the Sibyl. With Pausanias we are plainly in the realm of mythmaking.

Whether Vitruvius or Pliny are any more trustworthy has been debated. Whatever we make of their testimonies, it is not implausible that Berossos had connections with the astronomers of the Esagila while in Babylon, and he must certainly have had some connection with, or at least an interest in, the Seleucid court, because he dedicated his Babyloniaca to Antiochus I.

We know from a cuneiform chronicle that Babylonian religious experts acted as advisors to Antiochus I.

(R. J. van der Spek, Chronicle concerning Antiochus and the Sin temple: preliminary edition and translation, 1997.

A similar encounter is reported by Diodorus Siculus, 17.112: when Alexander returned to Babylon from India, an astronomer of the Esagila temple called Belephantes (Akkadian Bēl-apla-iddin?), advised Alexander not to enter the city.)

Excerpt from Diodorus follows.

17.112.1: After the conclusion of his war with the Cossaeans, Alexander set his army in motion and marched towards Babylon in easy stages, interrupting the march frequently and resting the army.

17.112.2: While he was still three hundred furlongs from the city, the scholars called Chaldaeans, who have gained a great reputation in astrology and are accustomed to predict future events by a method based on age-long observations, chose from their number the eldest and most experienced.

By the configuration of the stars they had learned of the coming death of the king in Babylon, and they instructed their representatives to report to the king the danger which threatened. They told their envoys also to urge upon the king that he must under no circumstances make his entry into the city; 

17.112.3: that he could escape the danger if he re-erected the tomb of Belus which had been demolished by the Persians, but he must abandon his intended route and pass the city by.

The leader of the Chaldaean envoys, whose name was Belephantes, was not bold enough to address the king directly but secured a private audience with Nearchus, one of Alexander’s Friends, and told him everything in detail, requesting him to make it known to the king.

17.112.4: When Alexander, accordingly, learned from Nearchus about the Chaldaeans’ prophecy, he was alarmed and more and more disturbed, the more he reflected upon the ability and high reputation of these people.

After some hesitation, he sent most of his Friends into Babylon, but altered his own route so as to avoid the city and set up his headquarters in a camp at a distance of two hundred furlongs. 

This act caused general astonishment and many of the Greeks came to see him, notably among the philosophers Anaxarchus.

17.112.5: When they discovered the reason for his action, they plied him with arguments drawn from philosophy and changed him to the degree that he came to despise all prophetic arts, and especially that which was held in high regard by the Chaldaeans. 

It was as if the king had been wounded in his soul and then healed by the words of the philosophers, so that he now entered Babylon with his army. 

17.112.6: As on the previous occasion, the population received the troops hospitably, and all turned their attention to relaxation and pleasure, since everything necessary was available in profusion.

These were the events of this year.”

Diodorus Siculus, 17.112.

Berossos may well have been one of them, or in any case have worked in a similar milieu.”

Johannes Haubold, “The World of Berossos: Introduction,” 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, p. 3.

Again, Berossus

“Versions in Greek of the Legends found by George Smith had long been known to classical scholars, owing to the preservation of fragments of them in the works of later Greek writers, e.g., Eusebius, Syncellus, and others.

The most important of these is derived from the History of Babylonia, which was written in Greek by BEROSUS, a priest of Bel-Marduk, i.e., the “Lord Marduk,” at Babylon, about 250 B.C. In this work Berosus reproduced all the known historical facts and traditions derived from native sources which were current in his day.

It is therefore not surprising to find that his account of the Babylonian beliefs about the origin of things corresponds very closely with that given in the cuneiform texts, and that it is of the greatest use in explaining and partly in expanding these texts. His account of the primeval abyss, out of which everything came, and of its inhabitants reads:–

“There was a time in which there existed nothing but darkness and an abyss of waters, wherein resided most hideous beings, which were produced on a two-fold principle. There appeared men, some of whom were furnished with two wings, others with four, and with two faces. They had one body but two heads; the one that of a man, the other of a woman; and likewise in their several organs both male and female. Other human figures were to be seen with the legs and horns of goats; some had horses’ feet; while others united the hind-quarters of a horse with the body of a man, resembling in shape the hippo-centaurs. Bulls likewise were bred there with the heads of men, and dogs with four told bodies, terminated in their extremities with the tails of fishes; horses also with the heads of dogs; men too and other animals, with the heads and bodies of horses and the tails of fishes. In short, there were creatures in which were combined the limbs of every species of animals. In addition to these, fishes, reptiles, serpents, with other monstrous animals, which assumed each other’s shape and countenance. Of all which were preserved delineations in the temple of Belus at Babylon.” (Cory, Ancient Fragments, London, 1832, pp. 24-26.)

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Legends of the Creation and the Fight Between Bel and the Dragon, 1921.

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