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Selz: Enoch Derives from 3d Millennium BCE Mesopotamia

” … [He who saw the deep, the] foundation of the country, who knew [the secrets], was wise in everything! …

he saw the secret and uncovered the hidden,

he brought back a message from the antediluvian age.”

From the introduction to the Gilgamesh Epic, A.R. George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts (2 vols.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 1:539.

“The general framework of the “Mesopotamian Background of the Enoch Figure” is quite well established.

Since the initial comparison of Berossos’ account of Mesopotamian antediluvian kings and heroes to the biblical patriarchs a vast literature has evolved that discusses the possible transfer and adaptation of such Mesopotamian topics as ascent to heaven, the flood story, primeval wisdom, dream-vision, divination and astronomy.

I argue in this paper that the respective traditions reach back to a third millennium “origin.”

Enoch, described in Genesis 5:22-25 as great-grandson of Adam, father of Methuselah and great-grand-father of Noah, lived 365 years and “he walked with God: and he was not, for God took him.”

William Blake, Enoch, lithograph, 1807 (four known copies). William Blake's only known lithograph illustrating Genesis 5:24,

William Blake, Enoch, lithograph, 1807 (four known copies).
William Blake’s only known lithograph illustrating Genesis 5:24, “Enoch walked with God; then was no more, because God took him away.”
This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bereshit_(parsha)#/media/File:William_Blake_Enoch_Lithograph_1807.jpg

Enoch became a central figure in early Jewish mystical speculations; Enoch, or the Ethiopic Enoch, is one of the earliest non-biblical texts from the Second Temple period and, at least in part, was originally written in Aramaic as demonstrated by the fragments found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

(See H.S. Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic: The Mesopotamian Background of the Enoch Figure and the Son of Man (WMANT 61, Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchner, 1988), p. 35: “Astronomy, cosmology, mythical geography, divination . . . are subjects which in a Jewish setting appear for the first time in the Enochic sources, at least in a so extensive form.”)

(J.C. VanderKam, An Introduction to Early Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), pp. 88-94; see also J.J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (New York: Crossroad, 1992), esp. the chapter on “The Early Enoch Literature,”pp. 43-84.)

(On 1 Enoch see J.T. Milik, The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of Qumrân Cave 4 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976) and cf. the review by J.C. Greenfield and M.E. Stone, “The Books of Enoch and the Traditions of Enoch,” Numen 26 (1979): pp. 89-103.

A modern translation of the text is now published by G.W.E. Nickelsburg and J.C. VanderKam, Enoch: A New Translation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004).

For the religious-historical framework of the book see J.C. VanderKam and P. Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002); cf. also VanderKam, Introduction.

William Blake, Jacob's Dream, c. 1805 AD. Currently held at the British Museum, London. Commissioned and acquired from William Blake by Thomas Butts. Also available at the William Blake Archive. This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blake_jacobsladder.jpg

William Blake, Jacob’s Dream, c. 1805 CE. Currently held at the British Museum, London. Commissioned and acquired from William Blake by Thomas Butts.
Also available at the William Blake Archive.
This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blake_jacobsladder.jpg

A thorough study of the Enochic literature should, of course, also take into consideration the many references to Enoch in the so-called apocryphal literature. There are presently two recommendable translations: OTP and AOT.)

They prove that the Astronomical Enoch and the Book of the Watchers are among the earliest texts collected in Enoch.

Enoch belongs to the Old Slavonic biblical tradition—a tradition that is still very much alive in the popular religion of the Balkans.

(At the time when I finished this article I was not yet able to check The Old Testament Apocrypha in the Slavonic Tradition: Continuity and Diversity (ed. L. DiTommaso and C. Böttrich with the assistance of M. Swoboda; TSAJ 140; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, forthcoming 2011).

Indeed, as F. Badalanova Geller was able to demonstrate, there is an oral tradition still alive in contemporary Bulgaria, incorporating various pieces from the Jewish and apocryphal traditions, which has also considerable impact on orthodox iconography.

(F. Badalanova Geller, “Cultural Transfer and Text Transmission: The Case of the Enoch Apocryphic Tradition” (lecture delivered at the Conference “Multilingualism in Central Asia, Near and Middle East from Antiquity to Early Modern Times” at the Center for Studies in Asian Cultures and Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, 2 March 2010). I wish to express my gratitude to Dr. Badalanova Geller for fruitful discussions and additional references.)

She further calls the underlying (oral) stories “the Epic of Enoch,” arguing methodologically along the lines of V. Propp’s Morphology of the Folk Tale.

(V. Propp, Morphology of the Folk Tale (trans. L. Scott; 2nd ed.; Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968).

This “epic” was certainly also related to the tradition of the kabbalistic-rabbinic Enoch which, like other hermetic literature, describes Enoch as Metatron, featuring him as the “Great Scribe” (safra rabba: Tg. Yer.).

(Tg. Yer. to Genesis 5:24; see also b. Hag. 15a; see further A.A. Orlov, The Enoch-Metatron Tradition (TSAJ 107; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), pp. 50-9, esp. 51.)

It cannot be the purpose of this paper to take the entire Enochic tradition into consideration; the references to Enoch are manifold in the so-called apocryphal tradition.

(Concerning the book of Jubilees, Kvanvig, Roots, p. 146, writes e.g.: “Jubilees deals with a tradition about the origin of Babylonian science. This science was revealed to men in primordial time. The revelators were angels who descended from heaven and acted as sages among men. Enoch as the first sage is found in Pseudo-Eupolemus.”)

We only mention here that “the instructor” Enoch, Idris in Arabic, is attested in the Qur’an (19:56–57; 21:85–86) as a prophet, and that in Muslim lore, like in Judaism, he is also connected with the invention of astronomy.

We may further mention persisting traditions in Classical Antiquity, especially Claudius Aelianus, who mentions the miraculous birth of Gilgamesh.”

(Claudius Aelianus, De Natura Animalium 12.21: “At any rate an Eagle fostered a baby. And I want to tell the whole story, so that I may have evidence of my proposition. When Seuechoros was king of Babylon the Chaldeans foretold that the son born of his daughter would wrest the kingdom from his grandfather.

Frontispiece of Claudius Aelianus, dated 1556. Born circa 175 CE and died circa 235 CE, he was born at Praeneste. A Roman author and teacher of rhetoric, his two chief works are cherished for their quotations from earlier authors, whose works are lost to history. He wrote De Natura Animalium and Varia Historia, though significant fragments of other works, On Providence and Divine Manifestations, are also preserved in the early medieval encyclopedia, The Suda. http://www.summagallicana.it/lessico/e/Eliano%20o%20Claudio%20Eliano.htm

Frontispiece of Claudius Aelianus, dated 1556 CE. Born circa 175 CE and died circa 235 CE, he was born at Praeneste. A Roman author and teacher of rhetoric, his two chief works are cherished for their quotations from earlier authors, whose works are lost to history. He wrote De Natura Animalium and Varia Historia, though significant fragments of other works, On Providence and Divine Manifestations, are also preserved in the early medieval encyclopedia, The Suda.
http://www.summagallicana.it/lessico/e/Eliano%20o%20Claudio%20Eliano.htm

This made him afraid and (if I may be allowed the small jest) he played Acrisius to his daughter: he put the strictest of watches upon her. For all that, since fate was cleverer than the king of Babylon, the girl became a mother, being pregnant by some obscure man.

So the guards from fear of the king hurled the infant from the citadel, for that was where the aforesaid girl was imprisoned. Now an Eagle which saw with its piercing eye the child while still falling, before it was dashed on the earth, flew beneath it, flung its back under it, and conveyed it to some garden and set it down with the utmost care.

But when the keeper of the place saw the pretty baby he fell in love with it and nursed it; and it was called Gilgamos and became king of Babylon.”)

(Claudius Aelianus, On the Characteristics of Animals [trans. A.F. Schofield; 3 vols.; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958-1959], 3:39–41). We may further note that in the subsequent text Aelianus explicitly refers to Achaemenes, the legendary founder of the first Persian dynasty, who is also said “to be raised by an eagle.”)

Gebhard J. Selz, “Of Heroes and Sages–Considerations of the Early Mesopotamian Background of Some Enochic Traditions,” in Armin Lange, et alThe Dead Sea Scrolls in Context, v. 2, Brill, 2011, pp. 779-781.

Kvanvig: On the Correspondences Between Antediluvian Myths

“Here he works along two lines: on the one hand, he demonstrates how the succession in the chain of written composition in the first millennium is dominated by Eaapkallusummanus; on the other hand, he shows how the written lore of the ummanus was collected and systematized as a secret revelation belonging to this alleged chain of transmission.

Apkallu type 3, illustration 36, Stephanie Dalley, IDD. Professor Dalley cites this illustration, number 36, for the apkallu standing at the flanks of a deity. In the first case, it is far from certain that the figure on the left of the central deity is an apkallu at all, as it lacks all indicators of divinity and most crucially, wings. This figure does raise what appears to be a mullilu cone in its right hand, and it does hold the usual banduddu bucket in his left hand, though it must be admitted that depictions of cones with leaves still attached are irregular. Unfortunately Professor Dalley does not identify the deity in the center of the illustration, though I am encouraged that she does consider it to be a deity, rather than an apkallu of high rank, which I will provisionally attempt to do. I have discussed elsewhere in captions to these illustrations the possibility that the deity at the center of this composition, which appears to adorn a necklace or breastplate, is the god Anu, who is allegedly never depicted in Mesopotamian iconography. The circular device at the apex of his crown, which is appropriately horned, is apparent in only one other example, a bronze face protector or frontal helmet. In that example, the circular device or disc is so worn that the lower portion of its mount mimics the inverted crescent of the Moon god Sin. The context is inappropriate for Sin, however, and it is more likely that the disc mount is simply worn from great age, with the circular portion along the top gone. In any case, a bird-headed type 3 Nisroc apkallu is on the right, with banduddu bucket in the left hand and an indistinct item in his raised right hand. It appears to be a mullilu cone, but with leaves or sprouting, as noted. As mentioned, the figure on the left side of the deity lacks wings, though it mimics the blessing gesture, cone and banduddu bucket of the right-side apkallu. The left side figure may not be an apkallu at all. Perhaps it is a priest. Or a human umu-apkallu. It lacks all symbols of divinity or semi-divinity. The central figure remains problematic for me, wearing a crown which reminds me of a depiction of the god Anu. The problem is that Assyriologists aver that no representations of Anu exist. Also significant for me, this figure, whether it is a deity or an apkallu, wears a large ring around the torso. My suspicion is that this ring would be decorated with rosettes, were sufficient detail available. This figure also holds a ring in his left hand, an item typically reserved for deities, while raising his right hand in the classical gesture of greeting.

Click to zoom. Apkallu type 3, illustration 36, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.
Professor Dalley cites this illustration, number 36, for the apkallu standing at the flanks of a deity. In the first case, it is far from certain that the figure on the left of the central deity is an apkallu at all, as it lacks all indicators of divinity and most crucially, wings. This figure does raise what appears to be a mullilu cone in its right hand, and it does hold the usual banduddu bucket in his left hand, though it must be admitted that depictions of cones with leaves still attached are irregular.
Unfortunately Professor Dalley does not identify the deity in the center of the illustration, though I am encouraged that she does consider it to be a deity, rather than an apkallu of high rank, which I will provisionally attempt to support.
I have discussed elsewhere in captions to these illustrations the possibility that the deity at the center of this composition, which appears to adorn a necklace or breastplate, is the god Anu, who is allegedly never depicted in Mesopotamian iconography.
The circular device at the apex of his crown, which is appropriately horned, is apparent in only one other example, a bronze face protector or frontal helmet, which is posted lower on this page.
In that example, the circular device or disc is so worn that the lower portion of its mount mimics the inverted crescent of the Moon god Sin.
The context is inappropriate for Sin, however, and it is more likely that the disc mount is simply worn from great age, with the circular portion along the top gone.
In any case, a bird-headed type 3 Nisroc apkallu is on the right, with banduddu bucket in the left hand and an indistinct item in his raised right hand. It appears to be a mullilu cone, but with leaves or sprouting, as noted.
As mentioned, the figure on the left side of the deity lacks wings, though it mimics the blessing gesture, cone and banduddu bucket of the right-side apkallu. The left side figure may not be an apkallu at all. Perhaps it is a priest. Or a human umu-apkallu. It lacks all symbols of divinity or semi-divinity.
The central figure remains problematic for me, wearing a crown which reminds me of a depiction of the god Anu. The problem is that Assyriologists aver that no representations of Anu exist.
Also significant for me, this figure, whether it is a deity or an apkallu, wears a large ring around the torso. My suspicion is that this ring would be decorated with rosettes, were sufficient detail available.
This figure also holds a ring in his left hand, an item typically reserved for deities, called a chaplet by Anthony Green and Jeremy Black, while raising his right hand in the classical gesture of greeting.

He admits that there are other voices, even in the first millennium, but this is the dominant tendency. One may object to Lenzi’s work, that he goes too far in his effort to systemize the material.

If influential ummanus first in Assyria and then in Late Babylonia saw it as a priority both to bring together their lore under specific rubrics, and to establish a theology of revelation and transmission, going back to one god, Ea, they had quite a task, given the vast variety in the material they inherited from the millennium before.

We think the most important aspect of Lenzi’s impressive detailed examination of the sources is that he manages to show that there was a strong tendency toward systematization. There was an attempt to bring together the lore of the different scholarly professions into series given distinctive labels: these compositions belong to the lore of this profession–bārûtu, āšipūtu, kalûtu, asûtu, tupšarrūtu.

There was also the clear tendency to claim compositions belonging to the lore of these professions as secrets revealed by the gods in antediluvian time and restricted to the ummanus in present time.

(Cf. also Francesca Rochberg, The Heavenly Writing: Divination, Horoscopy and Astronomy in Mesopotamian Culture, Cambridge, 2004, pp. 181-5.)

This design is perplexing. I am uncertain whether it depicts a human apkallū, an ummanu, or, as earlier analysts determined, the god Anu. The problem is that Assyriologists assert that Anu is never represented in illustrations or bas reliefs. The iconography is correct for an apkallū. The horned headdress is indicative of divinity, the plants held in both hands are not unprecedented, though they are not common. I believe that they are poppy bulbs. The rosette design in the large ring appears elsewhere in Neo-Assyrian symbolism, though its significance is undetermined. The large ring around the torso appears in the illustration above, as well. The wings on the figure are typical of an apkallu. The fact that the figure stands on a bull, however, suggests that this is a depiction of a deity, rather than a human apkallū. Further, the disc atop the headdress is problematic. In no other example does a human apkallū appear with a disc surmounting a horned headdress. The device at the top of the figure in the illustration above resembles this ring. Indeed, it is unclear whether the disc is just worn, or whether the lower part of the disc portrays the inverted horns of the Moon, indicative of the Moon god Sin. Or, it could just be a damaged ring, similar to the device above. This is one of the most dramatic examples of Neo-Assyrian art, but my scholarship is too meager to explicate it. http://transfixussednonmortuus.tumblr.com/image/32382020729

This design is perplexing. I am uncertain whether it depicts a human apkallū, an ummanu, or, as earlier analysts determined, the god Anu. The problem is that Assyriologists assert that Anu is never represented in illustrations or bas reliefs.
The iconography is correct for an apkallū. The horned headdress is indicative of divinity, the plants held in both hands are not unprecedented, though they are not common. I believe that they are poppy bulbs.
The rosette design in the large ring appears elsewhere in Neo-Assyrian symbolism, though its significance is undetermined. The large ring around the torso appears in the illustration above, as well.
The wings on the figure are typical of an apkallu, and indicative of divinity or semi-divinity.
The fact that the figure stands on a bull, however, suggests that this is a depiction of a deity, rather than a human apkallū. I would like to say that the bull is sacred to Anu, but Assyriologists insist that Anu is never depicted in Mesopotamian art. 
Further, the disc atop the headdress is problematic. In no other example does a human apkallū appear with a disc surmounting a horned headdress. The device at the top of the figure in the illustration above resembles this ring.
Indeed, it is unclear whether the disc is just worn, or whether the lower part of the disc portrays the inverted horns of the Moon, the “recumbent crescent,” as Black and Green describe it, indicative of the Moon god Sin. Or, it could just be a damaged ring, similar to the device above.
This is one of the most dramatic examples of Neo-Assyrian art, but my scholarship is too meager to explicate it.
http://transfixussednonmortuus.tumblr.com/image/32382020729

At the crucial point in this chain, we find the apkallus, above all Uanadapa, who were those who brought the divine knowledge to the humans.

The analyses carried out by van der Toorn and Lenzi are fully in accord with our own observations. There is a clear division between the first group of seven apkallus and subsequent sages and scholars in all three lists: Bīt Mēseri, Berossos, and the Uruk tablet.

They express this differently, but the tendency is clear. Bīt Mēseri lists seven apkallus “born in the river” and then four apkallus “of human descent.” Berossos lists seven apkallus before the flood and then one great scholar in the tenth generation after. The Uruk tablet lists seven apkallus before the flood, one afterwards, and continues with ummanus.

The antediluvian apkallus are closely connected to the divine realm, above all to the god Ea. “To be born in the river” means to be engendered in the abode of Ea. Oannes in Berosses (sic) goes to and fro the sea, the abode of Ea. But not only Ea is involved.

In our reading of the relationship between the Adapa Myth and Bīt Mēseri we found that the first apkallu, U-an, “the light of heaven” (An), was an echo of the fate of Adapa in the myth, fragment D, where Adapa is adopted sage by Anu.

This name of the first sage is reflected both in the Catalogue, in Berossos and on the Uruk tablet.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 153-4.

The Sexual Mingling of Gods and Humans

“Flavius Joseph noted in his Jewish Antiquities the affinities between Genesis 6:1-4 and Greek traditions: “In fact the deeds that tradition ascribes to them resemble the audacious exploits told by the Greeks of the giants.”

The sexual encounters between Greek gods and human women (and also between Greek goddesses and human men) are a common topic in Greek mythology. A work almost wholly devoted to this theme is the fragmentary Catalogue of Women, a work of the seventh or sixth century BCE, though drawing on earlier traditions. (M.L. West, The Hasidic Catalogue of Women: Its Nature, Structure, and Origins, Oxford, 1985; Ludwig Koenen, “Greece, the Near East, and Egypt: Cyclic Destruction in Hesiod and the Catalogue of Women,” TAPA 124 (1994), pp. 1-34.)

It begins with an invocation to the Muses: “Sing now of the tribe of women … who unfasten their waistbands … in union with gods.” (R. Merkelbach and M.L. West, eds., Fragmenta Hesiodea (Oxford: Clarendon, 1967), pp. 3-4. Fragment I)

At the beginning of this account, gods and mortals mingled and feasted together, a proximity that led to their sexual unions.

The Catalogue seems to conclude with a fragment that describes the end of this era of divine-human intimacy. Zeus conceives a plan to send a great destruction–the Trojan War–to bring to an end the easy mingling of gods and humans.

“For at that time high-thundering Zeus was planning tremendous deeds, stirring up <quarrel> throughout the boundless earth. For now he was hastening to annihilate the greater part of the human race as a pretext to destroy the lives of the demigods.”

(Merckelbach-West, Fragmenta Hesiodea, 101-2).

It is not entirely clear what Zeus’ intentions are, since it is impossible (depending on some restorations in the following fragmentary lines) that he does not actually destroy the demigods but rather removes them to an idyllic existence in the Islands of the Blessed, as happens in Hesiod’s Works and Days. (H.G. Evelyn-White, Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica (LCL: Cambridge, 1914), pp. 199-201.)

In any case, as L. Koenen observes, “he brings to an end the age of social and sexual intercourse between gods and mortal women.” (See Ludwig Koenen, “Greece, the Near East, and Egypt: Cyclic Destruction in Hesiod and the Catalogue of Women,” TAPA 124 (1994), p. 30).

This fragment, as scholars have noted, is remarkably similar to Genesis 6:1-4, particularly in the latter’s context as a prelude to the Flood story. (Ronald Hendel, “Of Demigods and the Deluge,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 1987, pp. 18-20) The Greek fragment includes the details of male gods having sex with human women, propagating a race of semi divine offspring, and the high god’s decision to send a great destruction.

In this case, Zeus’ decision to destroy “the greater part (pollen) of the human race” (or perhaps “the multitudinous human race”) is motivated by his desire to destroy (or remove) the race of mixed human-divine creatures, the demigods or heroes.

These are the great warriors who fight and die on both sides of the Trojan War. A separation between the human world and the divine world is established by Zeus’ plan, preventing the further sexual mingling of gods and humans and bringing to an end the age of heroes. (Ronald Hendel, “Of Demigods and the Deluge,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 1987, pp. 16-20).

R. Scodel has argued that the ideas in this fragment are in fact more suitable to a cosmic destruction than to the Trojan War:

“A war, no matter how long and how bitter, does not seem calamitous enough to have been an original form of the myth of destruction: it is, moreover, a normally human and local activity … It therefore seems likely that this aspect of the Trojan War is secondary, and that the theme has actually been borrowed from the Deluge.”

(Ruth Scodel, “The Achaean Wall and the Myth of Destruction,” HSCP 86, 1982, 42-3).

If it is plausible that this motive for the Trojan War (and there are others, including Zeus’ intent to reduce overpopulation, reminiscent of Enlil’s motive in Atrahasis) (See A.D. Kilmer, “The Mesopotamian Concept of Overpopulation and Its Solution as Reflected in the Mythology,” Or 41 (1972), p. 176) is related to Near Eastern traditions, in which Genesis 6:1-4 and the flood stories are mutually implicated.”

Ronald Hendel, “The Nephilim Were on the Earth: Genesis 6:1-4 and its Ancient Near Eastern Context,” in Christoph Auffarth and Loren T. Stuckenbruck, eds., The Fall of the Angels, Brill, 2004, pp. 30-2.

Seize the Day

“Death in Mesopotamian religious thought did not mean the total extinction of the individual, only of the physical self and of those qualities of a person that made him productive and attractive to other human beings (Bottéro 1992: 268– 86).

A recognizable winged spirit, resembling a dove, passed to the netherworld. This was a dreary, sombre domain ruled by a pitiless hierarchy of deities and demons. There the spirit languished, often in hunger, thirst and misery, unless family or friends remembered to leave offerings of food and drink for the spirit to partake of and prayed for the spirit’s rest and contentment (Foster 1996: 403):

Dust is their sustenance and clay their food,

They see no light but dwell in darkness,

They are clothed like birds in wings for garments,

And dust has gathered on the door and bolt.

A Sumerian poem recounting a visit to the netherworld refers to the dependence of the dead upon the living (Foster 2001: 141):

Did you see the ghost of him who has no one to make funerary offerings?

I saw him. He eats table scraps and bread crusts thrown into the street.

Ghosts and spectres of the dead could trouble the living, sometimes for no apparent reason, sometimes because they had not been properly interred or were discontented because of some human action or neglect. The city Cutha, in northern Babylonia, was considered the city of the dead and the centre of the cult of death.

The netherworld was organized like an earthly or heavenly kingdom, surrounded by walls with seven gates (Lambert 1990). A popular Mesopotamian poem (Dalley 1989: 163–81; Foster 1996: 410–28) told how the netherworld had once been ruled by a queen alone, Ereshkigal, but that she eventually found a husband, Nergal or Erra.

In one version of the story, he forces himself into the netherworld by violence and threatens her into submission. In another, he breaks her loneliness and sexual frustration with a passionate relationship that finally results in their marriage.

The gods of heaven and netherworld, separated, according to the Babylonian Epic of Creation, into two groups of 600 each, could not visit each other, though they could exchange messengers. Even the great gods feared the netherworld, which barred countless human dead from swarming onto the earth to devour the living in their eternal, unsatiated hunger.

The dead entered the netherworld naked and relinquished all hope of returning to life. How their ghosts escaped to plague the living is not clear. Various Mesopotamian stories told of human beings who learned what happened after a person died.

In one, the Sumerian hero Enkidu volunteered in a fit of bravado to go down to the netherworld to retrieve a favourite athletic object of the king, Gilgamesh. This was apparently a stick and a ball or puck that had fallen down there at the pleas of the people who were oppressed by the violent game that made use of them. The losers resented Gilgamesh’s bullying tactics in the game.

Enkidu recognized his relatives and saw certain distinctions among the dead: heroes were treated better than common folk, for example, and stillborn children had a sort of play area with miniature furniture. He barely escaped alive and forgot in the stress of the moment to bring back the objects (Foster 2001: 129–43).

Much later, an Assyrian dignitary described a vision of the netherworld that included an array of monsters, composites of humans and animals in shape. He, like Enkidu, recognized a dead spirit, but fled in an ecstasy of terror and grief, narrowly escaping permanent confinement (Foster 1996: 715–22):

He darted out into the street like an arrow and scooped up dirt from alley and square in his mouth, all the while setting up a frightful clamor, ‘Woe! Alas! Why have you ordained this for me?’

Mesopotamians honoured the dead of their families with a regular ceremony of remembrance and offering. Dead and sometimes even living kings were accorded divine honours and observances in special sanctuaries. Rulers and other powerful people could be buried in lavish tombs with grave gifts, perhaps more as a splendid way of dying than out of hope that they would need such gifts in the afterlife.

Some Sumerian rulers had chariots, animals and even court attendants buried with them; Assyrian queens might be buried with their finest jewelry. Clay or metal vessels might hold food, drink and cosmetics. Burial might be in vaults in royal palaces, under the floor of homes (especially for children) or in cemeteries outside the city.

Graves were not marked on the surface, so far as is known, and funerary inscriptions, naming the deceased or invoking blessings upon them from future descendants or passers-by, were very rare. One literary text describes an excavation to open an ancient tomb and the horrible shock the investigators felt when they beheld and reflected on the fate in store for them (Foster 1996: 436).

One of the major literary achievements of ancient Mesopotamia, the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh (George 1999; Foster 2001), tells the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, who sought immortal life. This was based on older Sumerian poems about various episodes in Gilgamesh’s life.

In the epic, Gilgamesh’s beloved friend, the wild man Enkidu, dies as the result of an expedition to achieve eternal fame for Gilgamesh by slaying a distant monster and cutting down a great tree. Terrified of dying himself, Gilgamesh abandons all in a desperate quest to find the survivor of the flood, Utanapishtim, to ask him his secret of immortality.

Gilgamesh eventually reaches Utanapishtim after unexampled heroism and hardships, not to mention the timely intervention of several kind-hearted women, but learns that his hope is vain – Utanapishtim was granted immortality for surviving the flood, but this was a one-time event that would not be repeated for Gilgamesh’s sake.

Neither he nor any other human being had any hope of achieving immortality. This poem was popular in learned circles; manuscripts have turned up throughout Mesopotamia, and from Syria and Asia Minor, dating to a time span of 1500 years.

There was no Mesopotamian paradise, no return of the soul in another body for another life, no judgement, and no sense that death might eventually end in a final consummation. Some Mesopotamians responded to this outlook by suggesting that the good for a human being was to enjoy life, love, family and vitality while they were within reach, for even a modest life was better than a grand death, as a tavern keeper advises Gilgamesh (Foster 2001: 75):

When the gods created mankind,

They established death for mankind,

And withheld eternal life for themselves.

As for you, Gilgamesh, let your stomach be full,

Always be happy, night and day.

Make every day a delight,

Night and day play and dance.

Your clothes should be clean,

Your head should be washed,

You should bathe in water,

Look proudly on the little one holding your hand,

Let your mate be always blissful in your loins,

This, then, is the work of mankind.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Mesopotamia,” in John R. Hinnels, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 188-90.

The Five Epagomenal Days

“But to the three hundred and sixty days given in the calendars of lucky and unlucky days must be added the five epagomenal days which were considered to be of great importance and had each its peculiar name.

On the first Osiris was born, on the second Heru-ur (Aroueris), on the third Set, on the fourth Isis, and on the fifth Nephthys; the first, third, and fifth of these days were unlucky, and no work of any kind was to be undertaken on them.

The rubric which refers to these days (See Chabas, op. cit., p. 104) states that whosoever knoweth their names shall never suffer from thirst, that he shall never be smitten down by disease, and that the goddess Sekhet (the Eye of Sekhet seems to have taken the form of noxious vapours in the fields at sunrise; see Chabas, op. cit., p. 78) shall never take possession of him; it also directs that figures of the five gods mentioned above shall be drawn with unguent and ânti scent upon a piece of fine linen, evidently to serve as an amulet.

From the life of Alexander the Great by Pseudo-Callisthenes (I. 4) we learn that the Egyptians were skilled in the art of casting nativities, and that knowing the exact moment of the birth of a man they proceeded to construct his horoscope.

Nectanebus employed for the purpose a tablet made of gold and silver and acacia wood, to which were fitted three belts. Upon the outer belt was Zeus with the thirty-six decani surrounding him; upon the second the twelve signs of the Zodiac were represented; and upon the third the sun and moon (quote from my History of Alexander the Great, Cambridge, 1889, p. 5).

He set the tablet upon a tripod, and then emptied out of a small box upon it models of the seven stars (i.e., Sun, Moon, Zeus, Kronos, Aphrodite, and Hermes; we must add Mars according to Meusel’s Greek text) that were in the belts, and put into the middle belt eight precious stones; these he arranged in the places wherein he supposed the planets which they represented would be at the time of the birth of Olympias, and then told her fortune from them.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 228-9.

Tracing the Kabbalistic Idea

Next came Guillaume Postel of Paris (1510-1581), who published the Sefer Yazira with a Latin translation and a commentary. He also translated several sections of the Zohar. Christian Knorr von Rosenroth compiled an extensive anthology of kabbalistic works in Kabbala Denudata (1677-1684), followed by the German mystic Jacob Boehme. Dan characterizes all of these as “Lurianic kabbalah.” He cites no specific texts by Boehme, but states that “In England, some thinkers in the Cambridge school of neo-platonists–Henry More and Robert Fludd, among many others–used kabbalah.”

He then refers to theologian Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont from Holland, and he claims that Mercurius “collaborated in this field with Gottfried Wilhem Leibnitz (1646-1716).” He introduces alchemy into the mix, saying that Gershom Scholem “described the work of the german philosopher Franz Josef Molitor (1779-1861) on the philosophy of tradition as “the crowning and final achievement of the Christian kabbalah.”

Dan then notes that after the seventeenth century, kabbalah, employing various spellings, became a “common term” that indicated in an “imprecise manner anything that was ancient, mysterious, magical, and to some extent dangerous.” The term “cabal” then emerged, describing secret groups engaged in conspiracies. He observes that interest in esoterica diminished during the Enlightenment, but then resurged in the nineteenth century.

Amazingly, he observes that “Carl Gustav Jung could…combine admiration of the kabbalah with enmity toward Jewish culture.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, pg. 66-70.

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