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Category: Epic of Erra

Selz: The Dream of Gudea

“Whereas the giants sent Mahway to Enoch for an interpretation of their dreams, in earliest parallels from Mesopotamia the deities undertake this task:

(“Thereupon] all the giants [and monsters! grew afraid 15 and called Mahway to them and the giants pleaded with him and sent him to Enoch 16 [the noted scribe]” (Q II:). Translation taken from the Book of Giants edition of The Gnostic Society Library.)

Cylinders of the Sumerian ruler Gudea with cuneiform texts, now in the Louvre.  Dated to 2125 BCE, they recount the Building of Ningursu’s temple in Sumerian. The cylinders were made by Gudea, ruler of Lagash, and excavated in 1877 during digs by Ernest de Sarzec beneath the Eninnu temple complex at Telloh (ancient Girsu).  The complete name of the temple complex was “E-Ninnu-Imdugud-babbara,” meaning “House Ninnu, the Flashing Thunderbird,” a reference to a thunderbird in the second dream that compelled Gudea to build the temple.  They are now in the permanent collection of the Louvre Museum. They are the largest cuneiform cylinders to-date, and they contain the longest known text written in the Sumerian language.  Labelled cylinders A and B, the cuneiform was intended to be read with the cylinders in a horizontal position with a perforation in the middle for mounting.  The text has been translated by Jeremy Black, G. Cunningham, E. Robson and G. Zólyomi, available from The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford, 1998.  http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section2/tr217.htm Accession numbers MNB 1511 and MNB 1512.  Photo by Ramessos.  I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In some countries this may not be legally possible; if so: I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gudea_cylinders

Cuneiform cylinders of the Sumerian ruler Gudea. Dated to 2125 BCE, they recount the Building of Ningursu’s temple. Made by Gudea, ruler of Lagash, and excavated in 1877 during digs by Ernest de Sarzec beneath the Eninnu temple complex at Telloh (ancient Girsu), the complete name of the temple complex was “E-Ninnu-Imdugud-babbara,” meaning “House Ninnu, the Flashing Thunderbird,” a reference to a thunderbird in the second dream that compelled Gudea to build the temple.
Now in the permanent collection of the Louvre Museum, the pair are the largest cuneiform cylinders ever recovered, and they contain the longest known Sumerian text. Anomalous shards recovered on the same site indicate that a third cylinder did not survive the ravages of time. Labelled Cylinders A and B, the cuneiform was intended to be read with the cylinders in a horizontal position with a perforation in the middle for mounting.
The text has been translated by Jeremy Black, G. Cunningham, E. Robson and G. Zólyomi, available from The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford, 1998.
http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section2/tr217.htm
Accession numbers MNB 1511 and MNB 1512.
Photo by Ramessos.
I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gudea_cylinders

The Sumerian ruler Gudea had difficulties to understand the precise meaning of his dream and addresses the goddess Nanshe, firstly describing his visions:

“(4:8) Nanshe, mighty queen, lustration priestess, protecting genius, cherished goddess of mine, . . . You are the interpreter of dreams among the gods, you are the queen of all the lands, O mother, my matter today is a dream.

There was someone in my dream, enormous as the skies, enormous as the earth was he.

That one was a god as regards his head, he was the Thunderbird as regards his wings, and a floodstorm as regards his lower body. There was a lion lying on both his left and right side . . . (but) I did not understand what (exactly) he intended. Daylight rose for me on the horizon.

(4:23) (Then) there was a woman—whoever she might have been—she (the goddess Nissaba[k]) held in her hand a stylus of shining metal, on her knees there was a tablet (with) stars of heaven, and she was consulting it.

(5:2) Furthermore, there was a warrior who bent (his) arm holding a lapis lazuli plate on which he was setting the ground-plan of a house. He set before me a brand-new basket, a brand-new brick-mould was adjusted and he let the auspicious brick be in the mould for me.”

(The translation from Cylinder A follows D.O. Edzard, ed., Gudea and his Dynasty (RIME 3:1, Toronto: University of Toronto Press,1997), pp. 71-2. Emphases are mine, G.J.S.).

Using much the same words the goddess explains the dream:

“(5:12) My shepherd, I will interpret your dream for you from beginning to end: The person who you said was as enormous as the skies, enormous as the earth, who was a god as regards his head, who, as you said, was the Thunderbird as regards his wings, and who, as you said, was a floodstorm as regards his lower parts, at whose left and right a lion was lying—he was in fact my brother Ningirsu-k; he talked to you about the building of his shrine Eninnu.

The daylight that had risen for you on the horizon—that was your (personal) god Ningishzida-k: like daylight he will be able to rise for you from there.

The young woman coming forward, who did something with sheaves, who was holding a stylus of shining metal, had on her knees a tablet (with) stars, which she was consulting was in fact my sister Nissaba-k—she announced to you the bright star (auguring) the building of the House.

Furthermore, as for the warrior who bent his arm holding a lapis lazuli plate—he was Ninduba: he was engraving thereon in all details the ground-plan of the House.”

Certainly, the setting of this dream is very different from those of the Enoch tradition. We note, however, that the dreams in the Book of Giants also show a clear connection with the scribal art, especially the “Tablets of Heavens,” to the dreams as a message of God and also to the flood.

Black stone amulet against plague.  A quotation from the Akkadian Epic of Erra.  BM 118998, British Museum, Room 55.  Registration: 1928,0116.1.  Photo by Fae. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. You are free: to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work to remix – to adapt the work Under the following conditions: attribution – You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). share alike – If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

Black stone amulet against plague.
A quotation from the Akkadian Epic of Erra.
BM 118998, British Museum, Room 55.
Registration: 1928,0116.1.
Photo by Fae.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The latter motif as found in the Book of Giants shows a clear connection to the story of the Erra Epic, where to Marduk’s horror, the deity of pestilence and destruction, Erra, decides to annihilate mankind and its foremost sanctuaries.

The reason for the annihilation of the world and the expression of a certain degree of hope looks very similar indeed. It is important to note that this text from the eight century BCE had a considerable audience as can be deduced from the over 35 tablets unearthed so far.

In many respects, the wording of the text and its attitude ask for elaborate comparison with the Jewish apocalyptical tradition, but this would be another article.”

(For an overview of Mesopotamian “apocalyptic motifs” see C. Wilcke, “Weltuntergang als Anfang: Theologische, anthropologische, politisch-historische und ästhetische Ebenen der Interpretation der Sintflutgeschichte im babylonischen Atram-hasīs-Epos,” in Weltende: Beiträge zur Kultur-und Religionswissenschaft (ed. A. Jones; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1999), pp. 63-112.)

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. 797-9.

Why No Canonical Literature Regarding the Apkallu?

“In adducing the motif of the “wise vizier”, I have only meant to show that the “wise men” of a tradition are not necessarily kings, and furthermore, to show the complexity of a problem that, if I do not pretend to solve, I neither am inclined to embezzle.

In my opinion, the myth of the apkallu’s in all likelihood reflects the etiological story which the Greek accounts attempt to render, but which did not survive in the Mesopotamian canonical literature.

This winged umu-apkallū raises his right arm in the greeting gesture, with the banduddu water bucket in his left hand. The headdress is unusual, not the usual horned tiara, but a headband with a rosette insignia.

This winged umu-apkallū raises his right arm in the greeting gesture, with the banduddu water bucket in his left hand. The headdress is unusual, not the usual horned tiara, but a headband with a rosette insignia.

Beside the reference to the “old sages from before the flood” (AMT 105:22, last cited by Lambert, JCS 11 p. 8), an allusion to the presence on earth, before the flood, of apkallu’s, who after the flood regained the Apsû, is contained in the Epic of Era, where Marduk says that he “made these wise men go down to the Apsû” (ummânī šunūti ana apsî ušēridma, I 147), together with the precious materials needed to fashion the divine statute.

In the following rhetorical questions in which he regrets that neither the materials, nor the craftsmen needed to work them are available, Marduk finally deplores the absence of the sages who, most likely, were the only ones capable of infusing life into the divine statue: ali sibīt apkallī (NUN.ME) apsî purādī ebbūti ša kīma Ea bēlišunu uzna sīrtu šuklulu (I 162) “Where are the seven sages of the Apsû, the pure purādu-fish, who, just as their lord Ea, have been endowed with sublime wisdom?”. […]

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed “genies,” as they were long described, are now known to be apkallū, “bird-apkallū,” in this case, mixed-feature exorcists and creatures of protection created by the god Ea. They traditionally served as advisors to kings. Their association with sacred trees, as they are often portrayed, remains somewhat perplexing.
This apkallū makes the iconic gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin with the mullilu cone in his raised right hand, and the banduddu water bucket in his left hand.
There are three known types of apkallū: the human, with wings; the avian-headed, with wings, and the fish-apkallū, with carp skin draped over their heads.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/lanpernas2/8606000868/

The story here edited cannot be interpreted as an etiological myth. Neither the exploits of the apkallu’s, nor even their names suggest any literary figure known to us, with the exception of Adapa, nor are they said to have existed in the period before the flood.

Meager evidence is the mention of the apkallu from Ur, Lu-Nanna, in the colophon of a text (K 8080, see Lambert, JCS 11 p. 7) listing poultices for magical purposes and of Piriggalabzu in the incipit of a Sumerian t i g i -song. …

On the other hand, two apkallu’s not described among the heroes of our text — who, as the reader must have noted, are only five in number — are mentioned as authors: a certain Enlil-muballit, apkallu of Nippur under Enlil-bani of Isin, in AMT 105:24 (see Lambert, JCS 11 p. 8), and a certain Ur-Gatumduga in the subscript to the Šulgi-hymn PBS 1/1 No. 11 …

There is little hope that we will ever find more ample material dealing with the apkallu’s. Of the legend, or cycle of legends, concerning their exploits what our texts tells us alone survives.

Indeed, we may even assume that at the time of its redaction the details of the legendary events had already faded into the past. Only the legend of Adapa must have still been well known, for concerning him the text contents itself with an even briefer allusion than its report on the other apkallu’s.

The very terseness of the characterization of each apkallu reminds us of the style of the so-called “historical omens” attached to the early kings, many of which are better considered anecdotes, as has been suggested by Güterbock, ZA 42 57 ff.

Just as historical texts never mention the exploits of Narām-Sin, Sargon, and others, that are referred to in these omens, so literary texts, transmitting always the same written tradition, have not recorded the feats of the apkallu’s.

Antediluvian apkallū portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men.<br />  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.<br />  The antediluvian type of apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, are often grouped in sevens.

Antediluvian apkallū portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men.
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 purādu-fish, are often grouped in sevens.

It certainly seems as if the scribes deliberately suppressed a cycle dealing with those human beings who, at one or other of history, and no doubt with the connivance of Ea, revolted against the gods and “brought down Ištar from heaven into Eanna,” or “aroused Adad’s anger” by some forgotten or perhaps unmentionable act, or “angered Ea” through some form of challenge which is still obscure to us, in spite of the three duplicates we now have of this allusion.

Even the learned Lu-Nanna is not included for his literary achievements, but for a feat, we suspect, disrespectful to the goddess.

These acts of hubris seem quite irreconcilable with the picture we have formed of the Mesopotamian attitude towards the gods on the basis of traditional literature, and they must have been the cause of the eventual oblivion from which, however, the memory of some admirable human achievement persistently drew out again the figures of the “possessors of unsurpassed wisdom,” the sages.”

Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages,” Orientalia, v. 30, No. 1, 1961, pp. 9-11.

On the Apkallu

“During the course of the years studying and teaching the Primeval History as recorded in the literary texts of ancient Mesopotamia, this writer has been struck by certain similarities between the Akkadian apkallu (Sumerian algal / NUN.ME / EN.ME), creatures of the god Ea, the “sages of old,” and the biblical nēpīlîm of Genesis 6 who are introduced just before the flood account.

In the Mesopotamian king and sage lists, the apkallu occur in the pre-flood era, and in some texts for a limited time after the flood. In general, however, the pre-flood sages are called apkallu and their traditional number is seven, while the post-flood sages are called the ummiānu.

Apkallu portrayed with Ea, at far left, with water coursing from his shoulders.

Apkallu portrayed with Ea, at far left, with water coursing from his shoulders.

The apkallu are semi-divine beings who may be depicted as mixed beings, as priests wearing fish hoods, or who may, like Adapa, be called a son of Ea. Moreover, humans and apkallu could presumably mate since we have the description of the four post-flood apkallu as “of human descent,” the fourth being only “two-thirds apkallu” as opposed to pre-flood pure apkallu and subsequent human sages (ummiānu).

A depiction of the apkallu, Adapa, or Oannes.

A depiction of the apkallu, Adapa, or Oannes.

The short mythological “episode” in Genesis 6:1-4 tells us only that after the population increased, the nēpīlîm appeared on the earth after divine beings (sons of elohim) had mated with the daughters of men. The following verse (v. 5) states that Yahweh saw that men’s wickedness was great.

It can be assumed from this brief account that the nēpīlîm were the offspring of those divine fathers and human mothers, and that it was the nēpīlîm who somehow exemplified wicked mankind in general. Let us now turn to the Mesopotamian apkallu tales and lists to see how their behavior, as well as their parentage, may have some features in common with the nēpīlîm.

Antediluvian apkallu portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men.

Antediluvian apkallu portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men.

The most celebrated apkallu was Adapa, identified as a son of Ea. As we are told in the best known and best preserved myth about him, he executed an act of hubris by breaking the wing of the south wind; the end result, for him, of that wicked act was that he was denied immortality.

He is probably to be equated with the last antediluvian apkallu who was reported to have ascended to heaven. As we know from the late lists of sages, several other apkallu at the time of the flood or right after it also committed daring or wicked acts (the list that follows is abbreviated with respect to details and is conflated from the pertinent texts):

Antediluvian apkallu

  • Uanna — Who completed the plans of heaven and earth
  • Uannedugga — Who was endowed with comprehensive intelligence
  • Enmedugga — Who was allowed a good fate
  • Enmegaluamma — Who was born in a house
  • Enmebulugga — Who grew up on pasture land
  • Anenlilda — The exorcist of Eridu
  • Utuabzu (Utuabba) — Who ascended to heaven
  • [Total of] seven brilliant purādu fish . . . born in the river, who direct the plans of heaven and earth.

(Editorial note, source: Bit Mēseri III, 14’=27′)

Postdiluvian apkallu

  • (both Adapa and Nunpiriggaldim are associated with Enmerkir)
  • Nungalpiriggaldim — Who brought down Ishtar from heaven and who made the harp decorated with bronze and lapis*
  • Piriggalnungal — Who angered Adad*
  • Piriggalabsu — Who angered Ea*
  • Lu-Nanna (2/3d apkallu) — Who drove the dragon from Ishtar’s temple*
  • *[Total of] four of human descent whom (pl.) Ea endowed with comprehensive intelligence.

(Editorial note, also see source: Helge Kvanvig, Traditions of the Apkallus, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011.)

Thus we see that the traditions about the superhuman apkallu contained stories, most of them lost to us, about their famous and infamous deeds. But it is the latter ones, from Adapa to Piriggalabzu (sic), around whom the obvious misbehavior clusters.

It is of further interest to note that the pivotal role of the nēpīlîm passage in Genesis 6 occurs together with the theme of increased population growth on which Genesis 6 opens. If we compare the Mesopotamian material, we see a similar position in the storytelling for the importance of population increase and concomitant wickedness as a factor leading to the flood.

The Mesopotamian sages were endowed with wisdom and special powers because they were created by the god Ea and associated with the deep (as fish-men, etc.). Because of their powers they were capable of acts that could impress or offend the gods, that could cause beneficial or harmful natural phenomena.

It is the negative side of them that seems to be involved in the period just before and after the flood in the sage lists. A similar theme runs through the Atrahasis Epic; there, at each attempt of the gods to decrease men’s numbers by means of drought, etc., Ea instructs his son (?) Atrahasis, the Extra Wise and thus a sage figure in his own right but also to be equated with the king of Shuruppak, how to outwit the gods and overcome hardship.

Thus each god whose cult is neglected and deprived of offerings, as a result of those instructions, was sure to be angered. Their collective anger at such acts and their disgust at humanity’s increase and bad condition led to the joint decision to send the flood.

Table from Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, The Mesopotamian Counterparts of the Biblical Nephilim, 1985

Whereas the Mesopotamian myth and list traditions single out and keep distinct the sages and king-heroes, Genesis 6:4 speaks only of the “heroes of old, men of renown” and equates them with the nēpīlîm. In fact, it is possible that this verse intended to equate both the lines of Adam and Cain with the nēpīlîm. If so, the reintroduction of Noah four verses later would complete the line of thinking, since Noah was one of the heroes of old.

Yet the line of Cain (the Smith), juxtaposed as it is with the line of Adam, seems to operate in a manner similar to the Mesopotamian traditional list of the line of sages juxtaposed with the line of kings, as others have argued.

Like the apkallu who built the early cities and those who brought the civilized arts to men, the line of Cain performed the same service (or dis-service, in the biblical view). As to v 3 concerning man’s shortened lifespan, it may have its counterpart in the post-flood renegotiations of the terms for man’s continued existence as described in the Atrahasis Epic.

There, the fixing of a term of life for mortals was probably contained in the fragmentary section about controlling population growth. In the Sumerian King List it is only after King Gilgamesh (who was 1/3d divine) that rulers begin to have more normal longevity (beginning with the 126 year reign of his successor).

Postdiluvian advisors to kings who were men, the ummianu, were the successors of the antediluvian mixed-species Apkallu who were portrayed as fish-men. In this frieze now held in the British Museum they tend to a tree of life or a tree of knowledge. The antediluvian Apkallu were the so-called seven sages of Sumeria.

Postdiluvian advisors to kings who were men, the ummianu, were the successors of the antediluvian mixed-species Apkallu who were portrayed as fish-men. In this frieze now held in the British Museum they tend to a sacred tree. The antediluvian Apkallu were the so-called seven sages of Sumeria.

One other cuneiform text can be mentioned in which the sages may be associated with wicked acts, viz. The Epic of Erra (alternative full text of the Epic from Foster’s B is available). There the sages (called ummiānu) seem to be guilty by implication since we are told that they were dispatched for good to the apsu at the time of the flood and may have been deprived access to the mes-tree, “the flesh of the gods,” which provided them with the special material to make divine and kingly statues (as well as knowledge, skill and longevity?), but which was hidden from them (and all future mortals) forever when Marduk cast it into the deep.

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed “genies,” as they are often described, are now known to be apkallu, mixed-feature creatures created by the god Ea. They traditionally served as advisors to kings. They are often depicted in association with sacred trees.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/lanpernas2/8606000868/

If the flood is the same Abubu perhaps the mes-tree (see footnote 11 below) may be compared with the plant (of life) whose hidden location in the deep Utnapishtim revealed to Gilgamesh. If so, it leads us to suspect a further connection between the Mesopotamian mythological trees and plants and the tree(s) in Eden to which another sage figure, Adam, had once had access.

A modern depiction of Gilgamesh harvesting the Plant of Life from the ocean floor, guided by Utnapishtim, the deified survivor of the Deluge.  http://www.mediahex.com/Utnapishtim

A modern depiction of Gilgamesh harvesting the Plant of Life from the ocean floor, guided by Utnapishtim, the deified survivor of the Deluge.
http://www.mediahex.com/Utnapishtim

In short, we may be able to look to the Mesopotamian sage traditions for the mythological background of Genesis 6:1-4. While the ties between the apkallu and the nēpīlîm are hardly ties that bind, there are enough points of comparison—superhuman / semi-divine beings, acts of daring / hubris, acts that anger divinity, association with wickedness in men, their predominantly pre-flood existence—to encourage our consideration.

The Mischwesen sages seem at least to be closer to the nēpīlîm topically than the theogony materials concerning the generations of the gods. It is hoped that the circumstantial evidence for a remote connection between the apkallu and the nēpīlîm is strong enough to have been worth trying the case.”

(Footnote 11: Now that the bird-faced winged genies of Assyrian Palace art may be identified as apkallu (see Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq 45 (1983), pp. 87-96) the close association of apkallu with special trees is clear.)

(For other mixed-beings, creatures of Ea, note F. Köcher, “Der babylonische Göttertypentext,” Mitteilungen des Instituts für Orientforschung 1 (1953), pp. 72, 74, 78, 80.)

Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, “The Mesopotamian Counterparts of the Biblical Nephilim,” in Francis I. Andersen, Edgar W. Conrad, & Edward G. Newing, eds., Perspectives on Language and Text: Essays and Poems in Honor of Francis I. Andersen’s Sixtieth Birthday, 1985, pp. 39-43.

Worship of Idols and Graven Images

“Just as a great king might exercise wide dominion in the world but needed to sleep and eat, so too the Mesopotamian gods were ascribed universal dominion but had physical, social and aesthetic needs that their human subjects were created to serve (Oppenheim 1977: 183–98).

Thus temples of the gods were at first houses then palatial structures where the god ruled as a householder and dignitary (Oppenheim 1961: 158–69). The god’s house was provided with sleeping quarters, audience chambers, storerooms and dining halls in which choice foods were served and music performed. There were gardens for the god’s enjoyment and dalliance. Their homes were appointed in luxurious style with works of art, commemorative inscriptions and treasuries of offerings, gifts and valuables.

The gods travelled to visit other gods and entertained each other with feasts accompanied by speeches and heavy drinking. Like any good householder, the gods were concerned with the stewardship of their domains. The Sumerian goddess Nanshe, for example, is described in a hymn as searching out fraud and embezzlement in her household accounts ( Jacobsen 1987a: 131; Heimpel in Hallo 1997: 526–31).

The gods were understood to be physically present at will in an image (Hallo 1983) that was dressed and adorned with special clothing, jewelry and headdresses. Destruction of the image or its removal by an enemy was a disaster for the community, demanding a theological explanation: the deity was angry with his city or her people, even if no cause for this anger could be established, and had forsaken both the image and the community.

Return of an abducted image was a moment of jubilation and renewal of patriotic feeling, as when the lost statue of Marduk was returned from its captivity in Elam by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar I (twelfth century BCE).

Some Mesopotamian authors speculated on the relationship between an object produced by human craftsmanship and a universal cosmic power, asserting, as in the Epic of Erra, that the image was primeval and the craftsmen uncanny, with later human counterparts permitted by the gods to make repairs (Foster 1996: 765). However, reports of theft of divine apparel or jewelry suggest that not all Mesopotamians were awed by images of the gods.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Gods in Their Dwellings,” John R. Hinnells, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, 2007, pp. 181-2.

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