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Category: Diodorus Siculus

Who Was Berossus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from Diodorus follows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These were the events of this year.”

Diodorus Siculus, 17.112.

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

Johannes Haubold, “The World of Berossos: Introduction,” from Johannes Haubold, Giovanni B. Lanfranchi, Robert Rollinger, John Steele (eds.), The World of Berossos, Proceedings of the 4th International Colloquium on the Ancient Near East Between Classical and Ancient Oriental Traditions, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2013, p. 3.

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.

The Legend of Queen Semiramis

” … It was during this campaign, says Diodorus Siculus, that Ninus first beheld Semiramis. Her precise legendary or mythical origin is obscure. Some writers aver that she was the daughter of the fish-goddess Ataryatis, or Derketo, and Oannes, the Babylonian god of wisdom… Ataryatis was a goddess of Ascalon in Syria, and after birth her daughter Semiramis was miraculously fed by doves until she was found by one Simmas, the royal shepherd, who brought her up and married her to Onnes, or Menon, one of Ninus’s generals.

He fell by his own hand, and Ninus thereupon took Semiramis to wife, having profoundly admired her ever since her conduct at the capture of Bactria, where she had greatly distinguished herself. Not long afterward Ninus died, leaving a son called Ninyas.

During her son’s minority Semiramis assumed the regency, and the first great work she undertook was the interment of her husband, whom she buried with great splendour, and raised over him a mound of earth no less than a mile and a quarter high and proportionally wide, after which she built Babylon.

This city being finished, she made an expedition into Media ; and wherever she went left memorials of her power and munificence. She erected vast structures, forming lakes and laying out gardens of great extent, particularly in Chaonia and Ecbatana. In short, she leveled hills, and raised mounds of an immense height, which retained her name for ages.

After this she invaded Egypt and conquered Ethiopia, with the greater part of Libya; and having accomplished her wish, and there being no enemy to cope with her, excepting the kingdom of India, she resolved to direct her forces toward that quarter.

She had an army of 3,000,000 foot, 500,000 horse, and 100,000 chariots. For the passing of rivers and engaging the enemy by water she had procured 2000 ships, to be so constructed as to be taken to pieces for the advantage of carriage: which ships were built in Bactria by men from Phoenicia, Syria, and Cyprus. With these she fought a naval engagement with Strabrobates, King of India, and at the first encounter sunk a thousand of his ships.

After this she built a bridge over the river Indus, and penetrated into the heart of the country. Here Strabrobates engaged her. Being deceived by the numerous appearance of her elephants, he at first gave way, for being deficient in those animals she had procured the hides of 3000 black oxen, which, being properly sewn and stuffed with straw, presented the appearance of so many elephants. All this was done so naturally that even the real elephants of the Indian king were deceived.

But the stratagem was at last discovered, and Semiramis was obliged to retreat, after having lost a great part of her army. Soon after this she resigned the government to her son Ninyas, and died. According to some writers, she was slain by his hand.

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 25-7.

I.P. Cory on Egypt, the Basest of Kingdoms

” … The Laterculus or Canon of the Kings of Thebes, was compiled from the archives of that city, by Eratosthenes, the librarian of Ptolemæus Philadelphus. It is followed by the Old Egyptian Chronicle, with a Latin version of the same, from the Excerpta Barbara, and another from the Armenian Chronicle of Eusebius: they contain a summary of the dynasties of Egypt.

To these succeed the Egyptian dynasties of Manetho, whose introductory letter to king Ptolemæus, given in a subsequent page, explains the nature of his work, and the materials from whence it was compiled. I have placed the six different versions of the Dynasties of Manetho that are extant confronting each other.

The Canon of the kings of Egypt from Josephus, I have compiled from the historical fragments of Manetho: and I have thrown it into the form of a Canon to facilitate comparison. I have next given a very important Canon, the first part of which, from Mestraim to the end of the seventeenth dynasty, is preserved by Syncellus only: from the beginning of the eighteenth it is continued also in the fragments of Eusebius: and from hence to the conclusion, four different versions of it will be found.

To these are added the Canons of all the kings of Egypt, mentioned by Diodorus Siculus and Herodotus. They were originally compiled by Scaliger, but I have corrected them and given them with several very important additions in the original words of the authors, instead of in the words of Scaliger himself.

They are followed by the Canon of Theophilus Antiochenus. And after several very important chronological extracts upon the antiquities of Egypt, I have completed the Dynasties, with a Canon of the early Egyptian, Chaldæan, and Assyrian Kings, from the Syriac Chronicle of Bar-hebræus: which I have placed beside each other as they are synchonized by that author, and given them in the English letters corresponding to the Syriac, instead of adopting the Latinized names of the translators.

I have, therefore, comprised in this part of the work, no less than nineteen catalogues of the Egyptian kings, with all the various readings that occur in the different versions of the same. They have been compiled with the greatest care, and I have purposely abstained from all reference to the Hieroglyphics, that I might not be misled by any preconceived opinion.

At a time, when indefatigable research is every day bringing to light new and interesting circumstances, it would be absurd to attempt to give anything but the roughest outline of Egyptian history. I shall merely observe, then, that after the dispersion from Babel, the children of Mizraim went off to Egypt, of which they appear to have continued some time in undisturbed possession.

Menes Misor or Mestraim, the Mizraim of the Scriptures, and planter of the nation, is naturally placed as the first sovereign of the united realm, at the head of all the catalogues. And perhaps the dominion of Athothis was equally extensive; for his name occurs in the Laterculus of Eratosthenes, and as the Thoth or Taautus of Sanchoniatho.

After him the country seems to have been divided into several independent monarchies, some of whose princes may perhaps be found among the fourteen first dynasties. That the country was so divided, and that the first dynasties were not considered successive by the ancients, we have the authority of Artapanus and Eusebius.

The first historical fragment of Manetho, from Josephus, gives an account of the invasion and expulsion of a race of foreigners, who were styled Hycsos or Shepherd kings; whose princes are identified with the seventeenth dynasty of all the Canons except that given by Syncellus as the canon of Africanus, in which they are placed as the fifteenth.

Of what family they were, whence they came, and to what country they retired, have heen the subjects of almost as many hypotheses as writers; I shall not venture a remark upon a problem, of which there is every reason shortly to expect a satisfactory solution.

Josephus and the Fathers confound them with the Israelites, who appear rather to be referred to by the second fragment as the lepers, who were so cruelly ill-treated by the Egyptians, and afterwards laid waste the country, assisted by a second invasion of the Shepherds.

To these fragments I have subjoined six other very curious notices of the exodus of the Israelites and the final expulsion of the Shepherds; which events appear to have been connected with one another, as well as with the emigration of the Danaan colonies to Greece, not only in time, but by circumstances of a political nature, and to have occurred during the sovereignty of the eighteenth dynasty.

Tacitus has also noticed the exodus, but in terms evidently copied from some of those which I have given: we have but few and scanty notices of the kings of Egypt, even in Diodorus and Herodotus.

Its conquest by Nebucchadnezzar is related by Berossus, and after two or three temporary gleams of independence, it sunk at length into a province of the Persian empire, and from that day to the present, according to the denunciation of the prophet, Egypt has been the basest of kingdoms, and under the yoke of strangers.”

I.P. Cory, Ancient Fragments, 1832, Introduction.

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