"Samizdat: Publishing the Forbidden."

Category: Chaldeans

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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: Introducing the Apkallu Odakon

“In the first survey of the Sumerian tablets found in Tell Haddad, ancient Meturan, from 1993, A. Cavigneaux and F. Al-Rawi call attention to two pieces containing the Adapa Myth in Sumerian. They are dated to the Old Babylonian period.

Since the manuscripts are not yet published, we have to rely on the description of content given in this survey. The Sumerian version is close to to the Akkadian Amarna tablet and the Nineveh tablets already known (we return to this issue below).

What is of interest in our context here is that in the Sumerian version of the Adapa Myth proper is preceded by an introduction of about 100 lines. In this fragmentary introduction there is a reference to the flood, and the central concern is the feeding of the gods and the organization of humankind from the end of Atrahasis; the Royal Chronicle of Lagash describes the reorganization of humankind after the flood.

Since the fragmentary beginning of the manuscript is not published, we can, however, not be certain at what stage the feeding of the gods and the organization of humankind took place.

We have seen in the Eridu Genesis that there seems to be a pairing of the situation of humankind at the very beginning when they lived without proper culture with their situation after the flood when they had to start from the beginning again.

Anyway, the Sumerian version of the Adapa Myth demonstrates that Berossos was not the first to include the myth about the great primeval apkallu, Adapa, in the primeval history. This was already done in the Old Babylonian period.

The god Ea at far left, wearing the horned headdress indicative of divinity, with water coursing from his shoulders. 

A fish-apkallū is in the iconic posture with right hand raised in blessing or exorcism, with the banduddu bucket in his left hand. 

The next apkallū wields an indistinct and as yet undefined angular object in his right hand, with the typical banduddu bucket in his left. 

The entity at far right, which appears to be wearing a horned tiara indicative of divinty, remains unidentified and undefined.

The god Ea at far left, wearing the horned headdress indicative of divinity, with water coursing from his shoulders. 

A fish-apkallū is in the iconic posture with right hand raised in blessing or exorcism, with the banduddu bucket in his left hand. 

The next apkallū wields an indistinct and as yet undefined angular object in his right hand, with the typical banduddu bucket in his left. 

The entity at far right, which appears to be wearing a horned tiara indicative of divinty, remains unidentified and undefined.

Berossos had nothing specific to say about the other five monsters / sages, except that their appearances were like Oannes. About the seventh sage, he has a special report:

“During his reign (Enmeduranki’s) there also appeared from the Red Sea (Persian Gulf) another man-fish being whose name was Odakon. Berossos says that this monster explained in detail what Oannes originally had said in summary fashion.”

(Eusebius, (Arm.) Chronicles p. 4, 8-6, 8 and Syncellus 71, 3).

This information is a bit confusing, because Oannes had already taught everything necessary to know. In some strange way, Odakon seems to be a double twin of Oannes.

Antediluvian apkallū portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men, with Oannes and Odakon from Berossos the exemplars. These specific statuettes were buried in the foundations of the home of an exorcist, where they were positioned beneath doorways and against particular walls to exert a prophylactic effect, warding off evil.  The antediluvian type of apkallū, the so-called paradu fish, are often grouped in sevens.

Antediluvian apkallū portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men, with Oannes and Odakon from Berossos the exemplars.
These specific statuettes were buried in the foundations of the home of an exorcist, where they were positioned beneath doorways and against particular walls to exert a prophylactic effect, warding off evil.
The antediluvian type of apkallū, the so-called paradu fish, are often grouped in sevens.

Berossos does not record sages or scholars after the flood, but there is one exception that is attested both by Josephus in Jewish Antiquities I, 158 and Eusebius in Praeperatio Evangelica 9.16.2. We quote from Josephus:

“Berossos records our father Abraham. He does not mention him by name but reports the following. After the flood, in the tenth generation, among the Chaldeans there was a man, great, just, and all-knowing about the heavens.”

Now, if we had not known the Uruk tablet, we would have deemed Josephus’ information as an unhistorical theological speculation. Of course, it would have been nice to find the father of Israel whose origin according to Genesis 11-12 is Chaldean, listed among the great sages of the past in a Babylonian document.

The Uruk tablet draws, however, on a tradition very similar to the one we can recognize in Berossos: listing kings and sages together, the sages in the same order, and seven before the flood.

Then the Uruk tablet lists ten new sages / scholars after the flood and makes the surprising remark that the tenth of these was known by the Arameans, in Aramaic language, in the West, as Ahiqar.

We are in the fortunate position to verify this; both a novel about and proverbs by Ahiqar were circulating in the West both prior to the Uruk tablet and prior to Berossos. We must assume that Berossos knew what the author of the Uruk tablet knew: there existed in the West traditions about this great, righteous, and knowledgable man.

It seems thus likely that Berossos placed this man in the tenth generation, as Josephus claims. That Berossos had Abraham in mind is of course not correct. However it could be that the author of the priestly document to Genesis in his computation of ten generations from the flood to Abraham had Babylonian traditions in mind. This needs further reflections to which we will return.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 114-6.

Barbarian Wisdom and Berossus

“Tiamat’s monsters were characterised by a mixture of animal and human features. If my reconstruction is broadly correct, Berossos filled the void left by their demise with separate creation accounts for each of these categories of being.

The Enūma Eliš has nothing to say about the creation of animals, but does describe human creation in some detail. Berossos agrees broadly with its account of human creation, though some details differ.

Above all, Berossos claims that Bel used his own blood to create mankind whereas in the epic Marduk uses that of another god. Berossos may or may not have found this version of events in now lost Mesopotamian texts, but the question remains why he introduced it here, against the pull of his main source.

The answer, one suspects, was once again that he was keen to cater for the tastes of his Greek readers. In Enūma Eliš, as in other Mesopotamian texts, mankind descends from a rebel against the emerging order of the universe.

Among other things, that explains why we must shoulder the gods’ work and lead a life of misery. In Berossos, this typically Babylonian view of human life is developed into one that would have spoken to educated Greeks: the blood that flows in our veins is not after all that of a devil but of Zeus no less: and so it is that we are endowed with νους (‘intelligence’), and divine φρόνησις (‘understanding’).

De Breucker points out that Berossos is here elaborating on an idea which he found in the Babylonian Poem of the Flood or Atrahasis, where the god (W)ē, ‘who has intelligence’ (Akkadian tēmu) is slaughtered to create man.

This is an interesting detail, for it shows that Berossos creatively combined diverse Babylonian sources. But he did more than merely cut and paste what he found: in the Babyloniaca the ruling god himself gives of his intel­ligence.

One last time, the preferred version of the story seems chosen for its resonances with Greek, and more specifically Stoic, thought. The Stoic god is himself νους, or νοερός. The same must be true of Bel in Berossos, for as recipients of his blood we too are νοεροί.

Indeed, we are also endowed with divine understanding, φρόνησις. In allegorical terms, Athena is φρόνησις, sprung from the head of Zeus, which may explain why decapitation becomes an issue in Berossos whereas it plays no role in Enūma Eliš or Atrahasis: the story which describes Zeus giving birth to Athena / Phronesis from his head was much-discussed in Stoic circles from Greece to Babylon itself. Berossos, it would seem, alludes to it here.

There is much in the Babyloniaca that will remain forever lost to us. The extant fragments are scanty, and often do not allow us to reconstruct with certainty what Berossos wrote, or even what he intended. That is a fact which must be accepted.

But I also hope to have shown that progress can be made; and that, through careful and sympathetic reading, we can often gain a fairly good sense of what Berossos was trying to achieve. I have argued that Book 1 of the Babyloniaca was in many ways Berossos’ signature piece. It is here that he establishes his credentials as a conveyor of barbarian wisdom, one of the few subject positions that were available to a non-Greek wishing to address a Greek audience.

Already Aristotle thought that the Chaldaeans were among those who invented philosophy, so for once Berossos had a positive stereotype with which to work. He embraced the project with gusto, conjuring up the super-sage Oannes, who was equally at home in water and darkness as in daylight and air (who better to describe how these principles coalesced to form the cosmos?); and putting in the mouth of this creature a cosmogonic myth that could literally not have been more ancient: after all, Oannes appears in year one of human history.



Yet, ancient as it is, Oanneslogos becomes philosophically fresh when read through Berossos’ rationalising lens. What is on display here is both age-old barbarian wisdom and cutting-edge Greek philosophy, or rather, a pretence to cutting-edge philosophy.

Stoic el­ements are predominant, partly because Stoicism was the best-selling brand of philosophy at the time, and partly, one suspects, because it lent itself to the project of educating a king. But Berossos does far more than simply default to the Stoa. He shows that he can do Empedocles too. Above all, he throws in outrageous intellectual feats of his own, none more outrageous than his numerical equation of Omorka / Tiamat with Selene, the moon (BNJ 680 F lb (6)).

This too has sometimes been branded an interpolation, but it strikes me as quintessential Berossos, precisely the kind of thing this author would do. Book 1 of the Babyloniaca was his opportunity to shine, and he made sure he took it. Abydenos was right to summarises the contents of the book as ‘the wisdom of the Chaldaeans’ (BNJ 685 F2b). That is surely how Berossos intended it.”

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. 41-3.

A Digression on Berossus and the Babyloniaca

“The books written by Berossus, priest of Marduk at Babylon in the early third century B.C., have been lost, and all that we know about them comes from the twenty-two quotations or paraphrases of his work by other ancient writers (so-called Fragmenta), and eleven statements about Berossus (Testimonia) made by classical, Jewish and Christian writers.

We learn that he wrote for Antiochus I (280-261 B.C.) a work generally referred to as the Babyloniaca, a work divided into three rolls, or books, of papyrus.

Ea, or Oannes, depicted as a fish-man.

Ea, or Oannes, depicted as a fish-man.

In the first book he told how a fish-like creature named Oannes came up from the Persian Gulf, delivered to mankind the arts of civilization, and left with them a written record of how their world had come into existence; according to this record, Berossus went on, Bel had created the world out of the body of a primeval female deity. This story of the creation of the world and mankind, otherwise familiar from Enūma eliš, filled out the first book of the Babyloniaca and ended with the statement that Bel established the stars, sun, moon and the five planets.

In book two Berossus (Frag. 3) described the 120-sar (432,000-year) rule of the ten antediluvian kings, and then the Deluge itself, with some detail on the survival of Xisuthros. The postdiluvian dynasties down to Nabonassar were baldly listed in the remainder of book two.

A prism containing the Sumerian King List. Borossus cites ten antediluvian rulers.

A prism containing the Sumerian King List. Borossus cites ten antediluvian rulers.

The third book, apparently beginning with Tiglath-Pileser III, presented the Late Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian and Persian kings of Babylon, and ended with Alexander the Great.

And that, according to Felix Jacoby’s edition of the Fragmenta and Testimonia is in sum what the Babyloniaca contained. There are eight quotations dealing with astronomical and astrological matters, but these he attributed not to our Berossus, but to Pseudo-Berossus of Cos.

It was to the latter, according to Jacoby, that Josephus referred as “well known to educators, since it was he who published for the Greeks the written accounts of astronomy and the philosophical doctrines of the Chaldaeans”; or who claimed, said Vitruvius, that by study of the zodiacal signs, the planets, sun and moon, the Chaldaeans could predict what the future held in store for man.

And it was Pseudo-Berossus, according to Jacoby, to whom Seneca referred in his discussion of world-floods:

Berosos, who translated Belus (qui Belum interpretatus est), says that these catastrophes occur with the movement of the planets. Indeed, he is so certain that he assigns a date for the conflagration and the deluge. For earthly things will burn, he contends, when all the planets which now maintain different orbits come together in the sign of Cancer, and are so arranged in the same path that a straight line can pass through the spheres of all of them. The deluge will occur when the same group of planets meets in the sign of Capricorn. The solstice is caused by Cancer, winter by Capricorn; they are signs of great power since they are the turning-points in the very change of the year.”

Pseudo-Berossus of Cos”, I believe, is not only an inconvenient but an utterly improbable scholarly creation. A century ago all of our fragments were assigned to one and the same Berossus, although those dealing with the stars were segregated from those of a mythological or historical characters.

Thus the notion was fostered that Berossus wrote two works, one on Babylonian history, another on astrology. By the turn of the century E. Schwartz found unlikely Vitruvius‘ statement that Berossus eventually settled on the Aegean island of Cos, where he taught the Chaldaean disciplina.”

Robert Drews, “The Babylonian Chronicles and Berossus,” Iraq, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring, 1975), pp. 50-2.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Babylonian Cuneiform Share No Common Ancestor

Ea was [ … ] the source of their culture. He was symbolised, it would seem, by a serpent; … the primeval seat of the worship of Ea was the city of Eridu, now represented by the mounds of Abu Shahrein on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, and not far to the south of Mugheir or Ur.

Eridu is a contracted form of the older Eri-duga, or “good city,” which appears in the non-Semitic texts of northern Babylonia as Eri-zêba,with the same meaning. The place was thus a peculiarly holy spot, whose sanctity was established far and wide throughout the country.

But it was not a holy city only. It is often termed, more especially in the sacred tests, “the lordly city,”‘ and we are told that one of its titles was “the Iand of the sovereign.”

In historical times, however, Eridu had sunk to the condition of a second-rate or even third-rate town; its power must therefore belong to that dimly remote age of which the discoveries at Tel-loh have enabled us to obtain a few glimpses. There must have been a time when Eridu held a foremost rank among the cities of Babylonia, and when it was the centre from which the ancient culture and civilisation of the country made its way.

Along with this culture went the worship of Ea, the god of Eridu, who to the closing days of the Babylonian monarchy continued to be known as Eridúga, “the god of Eridu.” At the period when the first elements of Chaldean culture were being fostered in Eridu, the city stood at the mouth of the Euphrates and on the edge of the Persian Gulf.

If the growth of the alluvium at the mouths of the Euphrates and Tigris has always been the same as is the case at present (about sixty-six feet a year), this would have been at the latest about 3000 B.C.; but as the accumulation of soil has been more rapid of late, the date would more probably be about 4000 B.C.

Already, therefore, the cult of Ea would have been established, and the sea-faring traders of Eridu would have placed themselves under his protection.

It will be noticed that the culture-myths of Babylonia, like the culture-myths of America, bring the first civiliser of the country from the sea. It is as a sea deity that Oannes is the culture-hero of the Chaldeans; it is from the depths of the Persian Gulf that he carries to his people the treasures of art and science.

Two questions are raised by this fact. Was the culture of Babylonia imported from abroad; and was Ea, its god of culture, of foreign extraction?

The last great work published by Lepsius was an attempt to answer the first of these questions in the affirmative. He revived the old theory of a mysterious Cushite population which carried the civilisation of Egypt to the shores of Babylonia.

But to all theories of this sort there is one conclusive objection. The origin of Babylonian culture is so closely bound up with the origin of the cuneiform system of writing, that the two cannot be separated from each other.

Between the hieroglyphics of Egypt, however, and the primitive pictures out af which the cuneiform characters developed, there is no traceable connection.

Apart from those general analogies which we find in all early civilisations, the script, the theology and the astronomy of Egypt and Babylonia, show no vestiges of a common source.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 134-6.

Herodotus on E-Sagila

“181. This wall then which I have mentioned is as it were a cuirass for the town, and another wall runs round within it, not much weaker for defence than the first but enclosing a smaller space.

And in each division of the city was a building in the midst, in the one the king’s palace of great extent and strongly fortified round, and in the other the temple of Zeus Belos with bronze gates, and this exists still up to my time and measures two furlongs each way, being of a square shape: and in the midst of the temple is built a solid tower measuring a furlong both in length and in breadth, and on this tower another tower has been erected, and another again upon this, and so on up to the number of eight towers.

An ascent to these has been built running outside round about all the towers; and when one reaches about the middle of the ascent one finds a stopping-place and seats to rest upon, on which those who ascend sit down and rest: and on the top of the last tower there is a large cell, and in the cell a large couch is laid, well covered, and by it is placed a golden table: and there is no image there set up nor does any human being spend the night there except only one woman of the natives of the place, whomsoever the god shall choose from all the woman, as say the Chaldeans who are the priests of this god.

182. These same men say also, but I do not believe them, that the god himself comes often to the cell and rests upon the couch, as happens likewise in the Egyptian Thebes according to the report of the Egyptians, for there also a woman sleeps in the temple of the Theban Zeus (and both these women are said to abstain from commerce with men), and as happens also with the prophetess of the god in Patara of Lykia, whenever there is one, for there is not always an Oracle there, but whenever there is one, then she is shut up during the nights in the temple within the cell.

183. There is moreover in the temple at Babylon another cell below, wherein is a great image of Zeus sitting, made of gold, and by it is placed a large table of gold, and his footstool and seat are of gold also; and, as the Chaldeans reported, the weight of the gold of which these things are made is eight hundred talents.

Outside this cell is an altar of gold; and there is also another altar of great size, where full-grown animals are sacrificed, whereas on the golden altar it is not lawful to sacrifice any but young sucklings only: and also on the larger altar the Chaldeans offer one thousand talents of frankincense every year at the time when they celebrate the feast in honour of this god.

There was moreover in these precincts still remaining at the time of Cyrus, a statue twelve cubits high, of gold and solid. This I did not myself see, but that which is related by the Chaldeans I relate. Against this statue Dareios the son of Hystaspes formed a design, but he did not venture to take it: it was taken however by Xerxes the son of Dareios, who also killed the priest when he forbade him to meddle with the statue. This temple, then, is thus adorned with magnificence, and there are also many private votive-offerings.”

G.C. Macaulay, trans., The History of Herodotus, 1890, pp. Book 1, Clio, 180.

E-Sagila, The Great Temple of Bel in Babylon

The temple or “tomb”of Bêlos, as it was also called by the Greeks, was one of the wonders of the world.

Hêrodotos, quoting probably from an earlier author, describes it in the following terms :

“The temple of Zeus Bêlos,with bronze gates which remained up to my time, was a square building two furlongs every way. In the middle of the temple was a tower of solid masonry, a furlong in length and breadth, and upon this tower another tower had been erected, and upon that again another, and so on for eight towers.

And the ascent to them was by an incline which wound round all the towers on the outside. About the middle of the incline are a resting-place and seats, where those who ascend may sit and rest. In the topmost tower is a large shrine, within which is a large and well-appointed couch, with a golden table at its side.

But no image is set up there, nor does any one pass the night there except a single woman, a native of the country, whom the god selects for himself from among all the inhabitants, as is asserted by the Chaldeans, the priests of the god.

They further say, though I cannot believe it, that the god himself visits the shrine and takes his rest upon the couch. … There is another shrine below belonging to this Babylonian temple, and containing a great statue of Zeus [Bêlos] of gold in a sitting posture, and a great golden table is set beside it.

The pedestal and chair of the statue are of gold, and, as the Chaldeans used to say, the gold was as much as 800 talents in weight. Outside the shrine is a golden altar. There is also another great altar upon which full-grown sheep are sacrificed, for upon the golden altar only sucklings are allowed to be offered.

Upon the larger altar also the Chaldeans burn each year a thousand talents of frankincense at the time when they keep the festival of the god. In this part of the temple there was still at that time a figure of a man twelve cubits high, of solid gold.”

It is clear from this description that the great temple of Babylon resembled a large square enclosure formed by huge walls of brick, within which rose a tower in eight stages. Below the tower was a shrine or temple, and outside it two altars, the smaller one of gold for special offerings, while the larger one was intended for the sacrifice of sheep as well as for the burning of incense.

We learn a good deal about this temple from the inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar, which show that although Hêrodotos was correct in his general description of the building, he has made mistakes in the matter of details.

The Temple itself stood on the east side of Babylon, and had existed since the age of Khammuragas (B.C. 2250), and the first dynasty which had made Babylon its capital. It bore the title of E-Sagila or E-Saggil, an Accadian name signifying “the house of the raising of the head.”

Its entrance also bore the Accadian title of Ka-khilibu, which Nebuchadnezzar renders “the gate of glory.”

 A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 92-4.

Commonalities Between Sargon and Moses

” … I will conclude this Lecture with a few illustrations of the extent to which the study of Babylonian religion may be expected to throw light on the earlier portions of Scripture. We have already noticed the curious parallelism which exists between the legend of Sargon’s exposure in an ark of bulrushes and the similar exposure of the great Israelitish leader Moses on the waters of the Nile.

The parallelism exists even further than this common account of their infancy. Sargon of Accad was emphatically the founder of Semitic supremacy in Babylonia; he was the great lawgiver of Babylonian legend; and to him was assigned the compilation of those works on astrology and augury from which the wise men of the Chaldeans subsequently derived their lore.

Moses was equally the legislator of the Israelites and the successful vindicator of Semitic independence from the exactions of Egyptian tyranny, and future generations quoted the books of the Hebrew law under his name.

As we have seen, Sargon was a historical personage, and popular tradition merely treated him as it has treated other heroes of the past, by attaching to him the myths and legends that had once been told of the gods.

Now the name of the great Hebrew legislator has long been a puzzle and a subject of dispute. In the Hebrew Old Testament it is connected with the Hebrew verb mashâh, “to draw out,” not, indeed, in the sense that Moses was he who had been drawn out of the water, for this would not be grammatically permissible, though Pharaoh’s daughter puns upon the idea (Exod. ii. 10), but in the sense of a leader who had drawn his people out of the house of bondage and led them through the waves of the sea.

The translators of the Septuagint, on the other hand, living as they did in Egypt, endeavoured to give the word an Egyptian form and an Egyptian etymology. With them the name is always Μωυσης, which Josephos tells us is derived from the Egyptian words , “water,” and usês, “saved from the water.”

But this etymology, apart from other imperfections, depends upon the change the translators of the Septuagint have themselves made in the pronunciation of the name.

Modern Egyptian scholars, equally willing to find for it an Egyptian derivation, have had recourse to the Egyptian messu or mes, “a son.” This word, it is true, when occurring in proper names is usually combined with the name of a deity; Rameses, for example, the Sesostris of the Greeks, being written in the hieroglyphics Ra-messu, “Lord of the Sun-god.”

But it is conceivable that we might occasionally meet with it alone, and it is also conceivable, though not very probable, that the daughter of the Egyptian king would assign to her adopted child the simple name of “son.”

It is much less conceivable that such an Egyptian name would be that by which a national hero would be afterwards known to his Semitic countrymen. It is difficult to believe that the founder of the Israelitish people would have borne a title which the Israelites did not understand, and which could remind them only of that hated Egyptian land wherein they had been slaves.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 43-5.

Chaldean Astronomy and Magic

“For more than two thousand years the records of Babylonian and Assyrian astronomy lay buried and forgotten under the ruins of Assyrian palaces, and all that was known of the subject came from a few passages in the Bible and in the works of Greek and Roman writers.

To the Hebrews the sorceries of Babylon were an accursed thing, and the prophet Isaiah scoffs at them in these words:

“Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail.

Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.” (Isaiah 47:12).

Among Greek writers Strabo (died a.d. 24) asserted that the Chaldeans were skilled in astronomy and the casting of horoscopes, and Aelian (3rd century a.d.) mentions the fact that both the Babylonians and Chaldeans enjoyed a reputation for possessing a knowledge of astronomy.

Achilles Tatius  (6th century) reports the existence of a tradition to the effect that the Egyptians mapped the heavens, and that they inscribed their knowledge on their pillars; the same tradition declared that the Chaldeans claimed the glory of this science, the foundation of which they attributed to the god Bel.

For this last belief there seems to be some evidence in a statement of Berosus, to the effect that the god Bel created the stars and sun and moon, and the five planets. Diodorus Siculus, a contemporary of Augustus, tells us that the Babylonian priests observed the position of certain stars in order to cast horoscopes, and that they interpreted dreams and derived omens from the movement of birds and from eclipses and earthquakes.

The general evidence of serious writers leads us to believe that astrology formed part of the religious system of the Babylonians, and it certainly exercised considerable influence over the minds of the dwellers between the Tigris and the Euphrates.

In any case, the reputation of the Chaldeans, i.e., the Babylonians and Assyrians, for possessing magical powers was so widespread, that the very name Chaldean at a comparatively early date became synonymous with magician.”

Reginald Campbell Thompson, The Reports of the Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon, Vol. II, London, 1900. pp. xiii-xiv.

Semiramis was Legendary, Mythical, and Real

“It was through the researches of Professor Lehmann-Haupt of Berlin that the true personal significance of Semiramis was recovered. Until the year 1910 the legends of Diodorus and others were held to have been completely disproved and Semiramis was regarded as a purely mythical figure. Old Bryant in his Antient Mythology, published at the beginning of last century, proves the legendary status of Semiramis to his own satisfaction.

He says :

“It must be confessed that the generality of historians have represented Semiramis as a woman, and they describe her as a great princess who reigned in Babylon; but there are writers who from their situation had opportunities of better intelligence, and by those she is mentioned as a deity. The Syrians, says Athenagoras, worshipped Semiramis, and adds that she was esteemed the daughter of Dercatus and the same as the Suria Dea. . .

Semiramis was said to have been born at Ascalon because Atargatus was there worshipped under the name of Dagon, and the same memorials were preserved there as at Hierapolis and Babylon. These memorials related to a history of which the dove was the principal type. It was upon the same account that she was said to have been changed to a dove because they found her always depicted and worshipped under that form. . . .

From the above I think it is plain that Semiramis was an emblem and that the name was a compound of Sama-ramas, or ramis, and it signified ‘the divine token,’ a type of providence, and as a military ensign, (for as such it was used) it may with some latitude be interpreted ‘the standard of the most High.’ It consisted of the figure of a dove, which was probably encircled with the iris, as those two emblems were often represented together. All who went under that standard, or who paid any deference to that emblem, were styled Semarim or Samorim. It was a title conferred upon all who had this device for their national insigne.”

There is much more of this sort of thing, typical of the mythic science of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It is easy to see how myth became busy with the name of the Assyrian Queen, whose exploits undoubtedly aroused the enthusiasm not only of the Assyrians themselves but of the peoples surrounding them. Just as any great work in ancient Britain was ascribed to the agency of Merlin or Arthur, so such monuments as could not otherwise be accounted for were attributed to Semiramis. Western Asia is monumentally eloquent of her name, and even the Behistun inscriptions of Darius have been placed to her credit. Herodotus states that one of the gates of Babylon was called after her, and that she raised the artificial banks that confined the river Euphrates. Her fame lasted until well into the Middle Ages’, and the Armenians called the district round Lake Van, Shamiramagerd.

There is very little doubt that her fame became mingled with that of the goddess Ishtar: she possesses the same Venus-like attributes, the dove is her emblem, and her story became so inextricably intertwined with that of the Babylonian goddess that she ultimately became a variant of her. The story of Semiramis is a triumphant vindication of the manner in which by certain mythical processes a human being can attain the rank of a god or goddess, for Semiramis was originally very real indeed. A column discovered in 1909 describes her as “a woman of the palace of Samsi-rammon, King of the World, King of Assyria, King of the Four Quarters of the World.”

This dedication indicates that Semiramis, or, to give her her Assyrian title, Sammuramat, evidently possessed an immense influence over her husband, Samsi-rammon, and that perhaps as queen-mother that influence lasted for more than one reign, so that the legend that after a regency of forty-two years she delivered up the kingdom to her son, Ninyas, may have some foundation in fact. She seems to have made war against the Medes and Chaldeans. The story that on relinquishing her power she turned into a dove and disappeared may mean that her name, Sammuramat, was easily connected with the Assyrian summat, the word for “dove;” and for a person of her subsequent legendary fame the mythical connexion with Ishtar is easily accounted for.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 27-9.

Cult of Sin, Moon God

“The cult of the moon-god was one of the most popular in Babylonia, the chief seat of his worship being at Uru (now Muqayyar) the Biblical Ur of the Chaldees. The origin of the name Sin is unknown, but it is thought that it may be a corruption of Zu-ena, “knowledge-lord,” as the compound ideograph expressing his name may be read and translated.

Besides this compound ideograph, the name of the god Sin was also expressed by the character for “30,” provided with the prefix of divinity, an ideograph which is due to the thirty days of the month, and is thought to be of late date.

With regard to Nannar, Jastrow explains it as being for Narnar, and renders it “light-producer.” In a long hymn to this god he is described in many lines as “the lord, prince of the gods, who in heaven alone is supreme,” and as “father Nannar.”

Among his other descriptive titles are “great Anu” (Sumerian /ana gale/, Semitic Babylonian /Anu rabû/)–another instance of the identification of two deities. He was also “lord of Ur,” “lord of the temple Gišnu-gala,” “lord of the shining crown,” etc.

He is also said to be “the mighty steer whose horns are strong, whose limbs are perfect, who is bearded with a beard of lapis-stone, [*] who is filled with beauty and fullness (of splendour).”

[*] Probably of the colour of lapis only, not made of the stone itself.

Besides Babylonia and Assyria, he was also worshipped in other parts of the Semitic east, especially at Harran, to which city Abraham migrated, scholars say, in consequence of the patron-deity being the same as at Ur of the Chaldees, where he had passed the earlier years of his life. The Mountain of Sinai and the Desert of Sin, both bear his name.

According to king Dungi (about 2700 B.C.), the spouse of Sin or Nannara was Nin-Uruwa, “the lady of Ur.” Sargon of Assyria (722-705 B.C.) calls her Nin-gala.

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 81-3.

Giants Again, and Abraham


“The City of Babylon owes its foundation to those who were saved from the catastrophe of the Flood; these were the giants, (Heb. נפלים = fallen ones), and they built the tower which is noticed in history. But the tower being overthrown by the interposition of God, the giants were scattered over all the earth.

He says, moreover, that in the tenth generation, in the City of Babylonia, called Camarina (which, by some, is called the city Urie, and which signifies a city of the Chaldeans), there lived, the thirteenth in descent, (a man named), Abraham, a man of a noble race and superior to all others in wisdom.

Of him they relate that he was the inventor of astrology and the Chaldean magic, and that on account of his eminent piety he was esteemed by God. It is further said, that under the directions of God he removed and lived in Phoenicia, and there taught the Phoenicians the motions of the sun and moon, and all other things; for which reason he was held in great reverence by their king.” 121―Extracted from Eusebius, Preparatio Evangelica, 9.

E. Edmond Hodges, Cory’s Ancient Fragments, 3d ed., 1876, p. 77.

On the Deluge, from Berosus, via Alexander Polyhistor

” … Belus also formed the stars, and the sun and the moon, together with the five planets. (In the second book was the history of the ten kings of the Chaldeans, and the periods of each reign, which consisted collectively of one hundred and twenty-sari, or 432,000 years, reaching to the time of the Flood.

For Alexander, surnamed Polyhistor, as from the writings of the Chaldeans, enumerating the kings from the ninth, Ardates, to Xisuthrus, who is called by them the tenth, proceeds in this manner:)

After the death of Ardates, his son, Xisuthrus, succeeded, and reigned eighteen sari. In his time happened the great Deluge; the history of which is given in this manner. The Deity, Kronus, appeared to him in a vision, and gave him notice, that upon the fifteenth day of the month Daesia103 there would be a flood, by which mankind would be destroyed.

He therefore enjoined him to commit to writing a history of the beginning, progress, and final conclusion of all things, down to the present term; and to bury these accounts securely in the city of the Sun104 at Sippara; and to build a vessel, and to take with him into it his friends and relations; and to convey on board everything necessary to sustain life, and to take in also all species of animals that either fly, or rove upon the earth; and trust himself to the deep.

Having asked the Deity, whither he was to sail? he was answered, “To the Gods:” upon which he offered up a prayer for the good of mankind. And he obeyed the divine admonition: and built a vessel five stadia in length, and in breadth two. Into this he put everything which he had got ready; and last of all conveyed into it his wife, children, and friends.

After the Flood had been upon the earth, and was in time abated, Xisuthrus sent out some birds105 from the vessel, which, not finding any food, nor any place to rest their feet, returned to him again. After an interval of some days, he sent them forth a second time, and they now returned with their feet tinged with mud.

He made a trial a third time with these birds, but they returned to him no more; from whence he formed a judgment, that the surface of the earth was now above the waters. Having, therefore, made an opening in the vessel, and finding, upon looking out, that the vessel was driven to the side of a mountain, he immediately quitted it, being attended by his wife, his daughter, and the pilot.

Xisuthrus immediately paid his adoration to the earth, and, having constructed an altar, offered sacrifices106 to the gods.

These things being duly performed, both Xisuthrus, and those who came out of the vessel with him, disappeared. They who remained in the vessel, finding that the others did not return, came out, with many lamentations, and called continually on the name of Xisuthrus.

They saw him no more, but could distinguish his voice in the air, and could hear him admonish them to pay due regard to the gods. He likewise informed them that it was upon account of his piety that he was translated107 to live with the gods; that his wife and daughter, with the pilot, had obtained the same honour.

To this he added that he would have them make the best of their way to Babylonia, and search for the writings at Sippara, which were to be made known to all mankind: and that the place where they then were was the land of Armenia.108 The remainder having heard these words, offered sacrifices to the gods; and taking a circuit, journeyed towards Babylonia.

The vessel, being thus stranded in Armenia, some part of it yet remains in the Gordyaean 109 mountains in Armenia; and the people scrape off the bitumen,110 with which it had been outwardly coated, and make use of it by way of an alexipharmic 111 and amulet.

In this manner they returned to Babylon; and having found the writings at Sippara, they set about building cities, and erecting temples: and Babylon was thus inhabited again.” ―Syncellus. Chron. 28. Eusebius. Chron. 5, 8.

E. Edmond Hodges, Cory’s Ancient Fragments, 3d ed., 1876, pp. 60-3.

%d bloggers like this: