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Category: 1904

Nakamura: The Common Terrain Shared by Myth and Iconography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O Ea, King of the Deep, to see…

I, the magician am thy slave.

March thou on my right hand,

Be present on my left;

Add thy pure spell unto mine,

Add thy pure voice unto mine,

Vouchsafe (to me) pure words,

Make fortunate the utterance of my mouth,

Ordain that my decisions be happy,

Let me be blessed wherever I tread,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Identifies the Lahmu and the Ugallu

“Returning to the apotropaic ritual, after the fish-apkallē the text prescribes various kinds of wooden figures which cannot be identified among actual figurines, although some types may, as Dr. Reade suggested, be represented in Assyrian sculpture.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green determines in this article that the leonine-headed entity in the center is the ugallu, or "Great lion."

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green determines in this article that the leonine-headed entity in the center is the ugallu, or “Great lion.”

These wooden figures end, however, with those of the ugallu, “Great-lion,” of which clay examples do exist. The human-leonine figure of Plate XId, centre, is commonly portrayed in glyptic art from the Akkadian period onwards and in seventh-century Assyrian sculpture.

He has been identified by Karl Frank and, with reservations, Ursula Calmeyer, as an utukku-demon (K. Frank, MAOG 14 (1941), idem, Babylonische Beschwörungsreliefs (Leipzig, 1908) … Notice already a figurine of the type used to illustrate the edition of Utukkū Lemnūtu of R.C. Thompson, The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia and Assyria II (London, 1904)), but this view has been challenged by Dessa Rittig (Rittig, 108).

She is unable, however, to offer an alternative identification. Woolley once appears to interpret the creature as the ugallu, but elsewhere in the same paper as the urmahlīlu, “Lion-man,” apparently incorrectly identifying the two. Dr. Reade has suggested alternative identifications as the ugallu or the lahmu.

An ugallu, or "Great lion," ND 8190, courtesy of the Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Brussels, Plate XIa.

An ugallu, or “Great lion,” ND 8190, courtesy of the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels, Plate XIa.

But the latter creature, as we shall see, appears to have a different identity, and the identification of this human-leonine figure as the ugallu is apparently confirmed by the Nimrud fictile examples (Plate XIa). The inscription (Plate XIb) corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual.

Inscription on the right side of ND 8181 (IM 61854), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate XIb. Green states that the "inscription corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual."

Inscription on the right side of ND 8181 (IM 61854), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate XIb. Green states that the “inscription corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual.”

The type must probably be distinguished from the whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion’s pelt, of which a single example occurs in the Nimrud series (Plate XIIa).

ND 9342, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Plate XIIa. Green states that this is a "whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion's pelt," from the Nimrud series.

ND 9342, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Plate XIIa. Green states that this is a “whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion’s pelt,” from the Nimrud series.

The type, as R.S. Ellis has shown, is also distinguished on the palace reliefs (Plate XIIc).

BM 136773, British Museum, a clear representation of the ugallu or "Great lion." Plate XIIc.

BM 136773, British Museum, a clear representation of the ugallu or “Great lion.” Plate XIIc.

Perhaps yet another distinctive type is the Janus-figure of Plate XIIb, having both human and leonine faces, but with no parallels known to me. The identification of both types is unclear.

ND 5296, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Green terms this figurine "Janus-faced," with both leonine and human faces. Plate XIIb.

ND 5296, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Green terms this figurine “Janus-faced,” with both leonine and human faces. Plate XIIb.

The next passage of the ritual prescribes clay figures of the lahmu, inscribed and coated in gypsum, with “water painted on them in black wash.” The type of figure to which this passage refers, though not the reading of the Akkadian name, has been well recognized, since plaques from Aššur, inscribed as in the ritual, depict the figure in close conformity to his representation on the monumental reliefs (Plate XId, left).

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the "Great lion," and lahmu at left.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the “Great lion,” and lahmu at left.

The Nimrud “heroes” are in the main heavily bearded and bewigged men without the distinctive six spiral tresses (Plate XIIIa), but they are nevertheless often inscribed, in the same fashion, and so quite likely represent the same personage.

Green states that these figurines are inscribed with statements that they represent lahmu.  ND 7847, Royal Ontario Museum. Plate XIIIa.

Green states that these figurines are inscribed with statements that they represent lahmu.
ND 7847, Royal Ontario Museum. Plate XIIIa.

Most interesting, perhaps, is a Burnt Palace example on which much of the gypsum coating and painted water survive (Plate XIIIb), as on some similar figures from Ur.

ND 4111 (IM 59290), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Green, Plate XIIIb.

ND 4111 (IM 59290), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Green, Plate XIIIb.

Figurines of a human deity with one arm raised in the air in similar fashion to the ugallu (Plate XIc) have not been found at Nimrud, but the identification of the ugallu from Nimrud figurines allows a possible identification of this personage also.

Oxford 1924.701, Ashmolean Museum. Plate XIc.

Oxford 1924.701, Ashmolean Museum. Plate XIc.

A common line-up at doorways in the North Palace at Nineveh involves a trio of this god, the ugallu and the lahmu (Plate XId). In the ritual text, moreover, the passages prescribing figurines of the ugallu and lahmu occur together, preceded by a prescription for figures of the “House god” who makes a gesture with his right hand and carries a weapon in his left.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the "Great lion," and lahmu at left. He speculates that the "House god" appears at far right. Plate XId.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the “Great lion,” and lahmu at left. The lahmu can be distinguished by his idiosyncratic six curled tresses. He speculates that the “House god” appears at far right. Plate XId.

It is possible, therefore, although it cannot be proved, that the three figures of these doorway reliefs are enumerated in the same order in this ritual.”

Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq, Vol. 45, 1983, pp. 90-2.

The Great Year Doctrine of World Catastrophe

“In the Greek world the first distinct mention of the Great Year was made by Plato, who argued in his Timaeus that time is produced by the celestial bodies: the moon determines the month, the sun the year; but the times of the planets and of the sphere of the fixed stars are so great that it can hardly be known whether they are times at all.

In any case it is clear that the perfect number of time fulfills the perfect year at the moment at which the sun, the moon, the planets, and the fixed stars have all completed their courses and have again reached their starting point. (Plato, Timaeus, 39c, 39d).

By this is meant that the Great Year is completed when the celestial bodies have reached the same positions in relation to each other as they had at the beginning of that period. The identical conception is found in Cicero, qualified by the statement that the actual duration of such a period is a matter of controversy (Cicero, De natura deorum, II, 51-2).

But in his Hortensius, the book which was later to make such a strong impression on the young Augustine, Cicero equated the Great Year with 12,954 ordinary years, as we know from Tacitus and Servius (Tacitus, Dialogus de oratoribus, 16, 7. Maurus Servius Honoratus, Commentary on the Aenid of Virgil, I, 296. The same number is given by Solinus in connection with the phoenix, Solini Polyhistor, cap. xxxvi).

In addition to these opinions about the Great Year there is another according to which the sun, the moon, and the five planets all return at the end of the Great Year to one and the same sign of the Zodiac, the one under which they were when it began. According to Censorinus, Aristotle himself had put forward this same view, and preferentially indicated this period as “the Greatest Year.” This year, like the ordinary solar year, was thought to have a summer and winter too, the summer culminating in a world conflagration and the world in a world flood. (Censorinus, De die natali, 18, II. ).

How much of this really goes back to Aristotle cannot be said with certainty. (V. Rose, Aristotelis fragmenta, Lipsiae, 1886, 39, frg. 25). According to Seneca, Berossus, the Babylonian priest of Bel who wrote in the third century BC, propagated the same doctrine in a more detailed form: when the sun, the moon, and the planets came to lie in a straight line under the sign of Cancer, the world would burst into flames; and if they reached that position under Capricorn, the world would be inundated. (Seneca, Naturales Quaestiones, III, 29, I).

BM102485 - Boundary stone (kudurru) Kassite dynasty, about 1125-1100 BC Probably from southern Iraq A legal statement about the ownership of a piece of land The cuneiform inscription on this kudurru records the granting by Eanna-shum-iddina, the governor of the Sealand, of five gur of corn land in the district of Edina in south Babylonia to a man called Gula-eresh. The boundaries of the land are laid out; the surveyor is named as Amurru-bel-zeri and the transfer completed by two high officials who are also named. Nine gods are invoked to protect the monument, along with seventeen divine symbols. The symbols of the important Mesopotamian gods are most prominent: the solar disc of the sun-god Shamash, the crescent of the moon-god Sin and the eight-pointed star of Ishtar, goddess of fertility and war. The square boxes beneath these signs represent altars supporting the symbols of gods, including horned headdresses, the triangular spade of Marduk, and the wedge-shaped stylus of Nabu, the god of writing. A prominent snake is shown on many kudurru and may, like many of the symbols, be related to the constellations. The text ends with curses on anyone who removes, ignores or destroys the kudurru. L.W. King, Babylonian boundary stones and (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1912) © The Trustees of the British Museum http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/b/boundary_stone_kudurru-6.aspx

BM102485 – Boundary stone (kudurru)
Kassite dynasty, about 1125-1100 BC
Probably from southern Iraq
A legal statement about the ownership of a piece of land
The cuneiform inscription on this kudurru records the granting by Eanna-shum-iddina, the governor of the Sealand, of five gur of corn land in the district of Edina in south Babylonia to a man called Gula-eresh. The boundaries of the land are laid out; the surveyor is named as Amurru-bel-zeri and the transfer completed by two high officials who are also named.
Nine gods are invoked to protect the monument, along with seventeen divine symbols. The symbols of the important Mesopotamian gods are most prominent: the solar disc of the sun-god Shamash, the crescent of the moon-god Sin and the eight-pointed star of Ishtar, goddess of fertility and war. The square boxes beneath these signs represent altars supporting the symbols of gods, including horned headdresses, the triangular spade of Marduk, and the wedge-shaped stylus of Nabu, the god of writing.
A prominent snake is shown on many kudurru and may, like many of the symbols, be related to the constellations. The text ends with curses on anyone who removes, ignores or destroys the kudurru.
L.W. King, Babylonian Boundary Stones (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1912)
© The Trustees of the British Museum
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/b/boundary_stone_kudurru-6.aspx

These rather improbable theories were especially favored among astrologers, since Greek astronomy had already reached a point of development at which the doctrines of Berossus could not be accepted. (J. Bidez, Bérose et la grande année, in Melanges Paul Fredericq, Brussels, 1904, 9-19.)

These texts treating the views of Aristotle and Berossus say that world catastrophes corresponding to the summer and winter of the solar year can occur in the course of the Great Year. The period between two world catastrophes could also be seen as a Great Year, but only in the derivative sense. The true Great Year, which might with Aristotle be called the Greatest Year, coincided with a complete cosmic revolution, whether interpreted in the sense of Plato and Cicero or in that of Aristotle and Berossus.

The Great Year of the Classical world arose from the purely mythical conception of a cosmic periodicity ultimately traceable to Babylonia.” (B.L. van der Waerden, Das gross Jahr und die ewige Wiederkehr, in Hermes, 80, 1952, 135-43.)”

R. van den Broek, The Myth of the Phoenix: According to Classical and Early Christian Traditions, Brill Archive, 1972, pp. 72-6.

Footnote 55 on the Use of the Name Iao

“On the use of the name Iao in the magic of the age of syncretism there is an abundance of material. Most of the older examples have been collected by W. von Baudissin, Studien zur Semitischen Religionsgeschichte, vol. 1 (Leipzig, 1876), 179-254. The passage from Yesirah is not referred to by Baudissin, nor did R. Reitzenstein make use of it in his treatment of the Book Yesirah, for which he assumes an ultimately Hellenistic origin reaching back to the second century; his arguments are based on a comparative study of letter-mysticism in late antiquity; see Reitzenstein, Poimandres (Leipzig, 1904), 291.

As an historian with a broad perspective, Reitzenstein perhaps had a clearer view than many other Jewish scholars, who often regarded the Book Yesirah as if it were suspended in a vacuum in the midst of the history of religions. It should also be noted, in this connection, that in the Coptic Pistis Sophia, chap. 136, Iao appears in a similar context: Jesus calls out his name as he turns toward the four corners of the world.

The sealing of the six directions of space by means of the permutations of Iao corresponds to the idea that this name is the master of the four directions of the world, that is, the master of the cosmos. Cf. the material assembled by Erik Peterson, Heis Theos (Göttingen, 1926), 306-307. Peterson’s interpretation of the magical name Arbathiao as “the four Iao” is, however, utterly unconvincing. The magical name is nothing other than a syncretistic transcription of the Tetragrammaton as “the tetrad [of the four letters of the name YHWH upon which is based the name] of Iao.”

This is proven by the corresponding form Tetrasya, which we find in the Hebrew writings of the Hekhaloth and which was still unknown to Peterson; cf. my Major Trends, 56, 363. The terminology employed in the Yesirah for these three directions of space is also very ancient: the phrase “above and below, in front and behind, right and left” is used in exactly the same manner in Akkadian, and is evidently also behind the wording of the Mishnah Hagigah 2:1 (first century), where “in front” and “behind” are to be understood spatially.

This usage was no longer understood by the amoraim, and was in any case transferred from the spatial to the temporal, as S. E. Löwenstamm, “On an Alleged Gnostic Element in Mishnah Hagiga II, 1″ (in Hebrew) in M. Haram (ed.), Yehezkel Kaufmann Jubilee Volume (Jerusalem, 1960), 112-121, has shown, drawing upon Akkadian material. His explanations furnished additional linguistic evidence in support of the antiquity of the Book Yesirah, although precisely the passage under consideration here escaped his attention.”

–Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, 1987, pp. 33-4

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