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Category: Erra Epic

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.

Selz: Victory Steles, Dreams and the Erra Epic

“A further consequence is that the appearance of the ruler was perceived as perfect in every sense, physically and mentally, he is strong and wise, these being the preconditions for his rule.

(Compare, for example, I.J. Winter, “The Body of the Able Ruler: Towards an Understanding of the Statues of Gudea,” in DUMU-E2-DUB-BA-A: Studies in Honor of Ake W. Sjöberg (ed. H. Behrens, D. Loding, and M.T. Roth; Publications of the Samuel Noah Kramer Fund 11; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 1989), pp. 573-84.)

Such perfection is also mentioned repeatedly as a feature of the kings of Ur III; the best sources for this are provided by their hymns.

(See already S.N. Kramer, “Kingship in Sumer and Akkad: The Ideal King,” in Le palais et la royauté: Archéologie et civilization: Compte rendu de la XIXe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale organisée par le Groupe François Thureau-Dangin, Paris, 29 juin–2 juillet 1971 (ed. P. Garelli; Paris: Geithner, 1974), pp. 163-76.

J. Klein, The Royal Hymns of Šulgi, King of Ur: Man’s Quest for Immortal Fame (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 71.7; Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1981); and numerous other works.)

Therefore it does not come as a surprise that in the texts from the last years of his reign, king Shulgi-r was marked with the divine classifier, which was traditionally reserved for all sorts of deities.

Roughly two centuries earlier the Old Akkadian king Narām-Sîn established this practice when he asserts that after rescuing the land from dire straits the people from various cities asked their gods to name him as their god and built him even a temple in the capital city Agade.

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin Brought back from Sippar to Susa as a war prize in the 12th century BCE.  Louvre Museum Accession number Sb 4 Found by J. de Morgan Photo: Rama This work is free software; you can redistribute it or modify it under the terms of the CeCILL. The terms of the CeCILL license are available at www.cecill.info. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Victory_stele_of_Naram_Sin_9068.jpg

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin
Brought back from Sippar to Susa as a war prize in the 12th century BCE.
Louvre Museum
Accession number Sb 4
Found by J. de Morgan
Photo: Rama
This work is free software; you can redistribute it or modify it under the terms of the CeCILL. The terms of the CeCILL license are available at http://www.cecill.info.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Victory_stele_of_Naram_Sin_9068.jpg

Such (self-)deification of the ruler was not accepted unanimously in Mesopotamia: In the later cuneiform tradition Narām-Sîn’s attempt to obliterate the border between the human and the divine spheres was branded as blasphemous.

Like the giants, the rulers of Mesopotamia could have dreams. Dreams do, of course, play a major role all over the ancient Near East. For lack of space I just mention some very early examples here. The observable parallels may speak for themselves.

One fragment of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, called « Stele of Vultures ». Historical side. Limestone, circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec. Louvre Museum. Department of Mesopotamian antiquities, Richelieu, ground floor, room 1a AO 16 IO9, AO 50, AO 2246 and AO 2348 (for the whole stele) Donation of the British Museum. Eric Gaba (User:Sting), July 2005. Any use of this photograph can be made as long as you credit me (Eric Gaba – Wikimedia Commons user: Sting) as the author and distribute the copies and derivative works under the same license(s) that the one(s) stated below. A message with a reply address would also be greatly appreciated. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

One fragment of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, called « Stele of Vultures ». Historical side. Limestone, circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec.
Louvre Museum.
Department of Mesopotamian antiquities, Richelieu, ground floor, room 1a
AO 16 IO9, AO 50, AO 2246 and AO 2348 (for the whole stele)
Donation of the British Museum.
Eric Gaba (User:Sting), July 2005.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

The earliest attestation for a dream is attested in the famous stele of vultures of the pre-Sargonic king of Lagash, E’anatum. In E’anatum 1, 6:28 we read: “to the one who has lain down, to the one who has lain down (the deity) stood at (his) head.”

Reconstitution of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, called « Stele of Vultures ». Historical side. Limestone, circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec. AO 16 IO9, AO 50, AO 2246 and AO 2348 (for the whole stele) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Stele_of_the_Vultures#/media/File:Stele_of_Vultures_historical_side.jpg Eric Gaba (User:Sting), July 2005. Any use of this photograph can be made as long as you credit me (Eric Gaba – Wikimedia Commons user: Sting) as the author and distribute the copies and derivative works under the same license(s) that the one(s) stated below. A message with a reply address would also be greatly appreciated. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

Reconstitution of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, called « Stele of Vultures ». Historical side. Limestone, circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec.
AO 16 IO9, AO 50, AO 2246 and AO 2348 (for the whole stele)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Stele_of_the_Vultures#/media/File:Stele_of_Vultures_historical_side.jpg
Eric Gaba (User:Sting), July 2005.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

(We note that this passage follows the miraculous birth of the ruler E’anatum; presumably he was thus especially fitted for the dream message.)

For our purpose, here it is noteworthy, that a deity was the sender or transmitter of the dream. The dream was of divine origin, considered as revelation of the divine will.”

(The clearest reference to the divine revelation of a text is attested in the late Erra Epic with his evident “apocalyptic” theme where the author Kabti-ilāni-Marduk actually asserts in the colophon of the text: (5:40):

Reconstitution of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, called « Stele of Vultures ». Mythological side. Limestone, circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec. AO 16 IO9, AO 50, AO 2246 and AO 2348 (for the whole stele) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stele_of_Vultures_mythological_side.jpg Eric Gaba (User:Sting), July 2005. Any use of this photograph can be made as long as you credit me (Eric Gaba – Wikimedia Commons user: Sting) as the author and distribute the copies and derivative works under the same license(s) that the one(s) stated below. A message with a reply address would also be greatly appreciated. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

Reconstitution of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, called « Stele of Vultures ». Mythological side. Limestone, circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec.
AO 16 IO9, AO 50, AO 2246 and AO 2348 (for the whole stele)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stele_of_Vultures_mythological_side.jpg
Eric Gaba (User:Sting), July 2005.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

“For (the god) Erra had burned with wrath and planned to lay waste the countries and slay their peoples, but Ishum, his counsellor, appeased him and (Erra) left a remnant! Kabti-ilāni-Marduk, the son of Dabibi, (was) the composer of this tablet (= of this poem):

(The deity) revealed it to him during the night, and in the morning, when he recited (it), he did not skip a single (line) nor a single line (of his own) did he add to it ….” (5:55)

[Erra speaks] “The scribe who commits it to memory shall escape the enemy country (and) shall be honoured in his own country. In the sanctuary of (those) sages where they constantly mention my name, I will grant them wisdom.

To the house in which this tablet is placed—however furious Erra may be, however murderous the Sebettu (pleaiades or seven sisters) may be—the sword of destruction shall not come near.”

(English translation by L. Cagni, The Poem of Erra [Sources of the Ancient Near East 1.3; Malibu: Undena Publications, 1974).”

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. 796-7.

Selz: Patriarchs and Sages

“A central figure in the discussion about the alleged Mesopotamian model for the antediluvian patriarchs soon became Enoch, who lived for 365 (364) years and of whom we read in Genesis 5:24: “Enoch walked with God then he was no more, because God took him away.”

The verb lāqah in this context has received numerous comments. Biblical sources offer three interpretations:

a) The liberation of a dead person from the power of the underworld;

b) A final removal from earth (cf. Elijah); or

c) An act of temporal transference, as in dream visions.

Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647 CE), Elie nourri par le corbeau, 1624-5 CE. Oil on canvas, held at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Marseille, Accession number BA 451, photographed by Rvalette.  This faithful photographic reproduction of an original two-dimensional work of art is in the public domain where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647 CE), Elie nourri par le corbeau, 1624-5 CE. Oil on canvas, held at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Marseille, Accession number BA 451, photographed by Rvalette.
This faithful photographic reproduction of an original two-dimensional work of art is in the public domain where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

The name Enoch has found several interpretations: It has been argued that J derived the name from hānaq, “to dedicate” and “to train” which comes close to an interpretation of “the sage” (cf. also Arabic Idris!), and it may well be that the two values attributed to Enoch in Genesis are a “babilistic” interpretation of “a man dedicated to and trained by God.”

In the light of Genesis 4:17 the name was also thought to convey the meaning of “founder,” referring to the eponymous city Enoch. This Enoch is possibly entering the rank of those patriarchs who, according to biblical tradition, were perceived as a sort of cultural heroes.

Gerard Hoet (1648-1733 CE), Illustrators of the Figures de la Bible, P. de Hondt, The Hague, 1728 CE. God took Enoch, as in Genesis 5:24: "And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him." (KJV) illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible; illustrated by Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others, and published by P. de Hondt in The Hague; image courtesy Bizzell Bible Collection, University of Oklahoma Libraries. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Figures_God_took_Enoch.jpg

Gerard Hoet (1648-1733 CE), Illustrators of the Figures de la Bible, P. de Hondt, The Hague, 1728 CE.
God took Enoch, as in Genesis 5:24: “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” (KJV) illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible; illustrated by Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others, and published by P. de Hondt in The Hague; image courtesy Bizzell Bible Collection, University of Oklahoma Libraries.
This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Figures_God_took_Enoch.jpg

(Westermann, Genesis, pp. 443-45 suggests that Enoch may refer to the foundation of a city or sanctuary. Westermann writes: “In Israel wurde die Erinnerung daran bewahrt, daß der Städtebau zum dem gehört, was vor und außerhalb der Geschichte Israels geschah. Die Gründung der ersten Stadt gehört der Urgeschichte an” (p. 444).

("In Israel, the memory was preserved because of urban development, 
what happened before and outside of history. 
The founding of the first city belongs to prehistory.")

Discussing Genesis 4:17 most exegetes remark that it seems unlikely that Kain, the tiller, condemmed to a nomadic life, could be renowned as the founder of a city. In an attempt to harmonize the alleged discrepancies, they even assume that the said founder was originally Enoch (cf. e.g. Westermann, Genesis, p. 443).

With the publication of a Seleucid text from Uruk, W 20030,7 the comparison between Berossos, the Old Testament, and the Sumerian King List reached a new level:

Seleucid text, Uruk, W 20030,7.  Excerpt from Selz, Of Heroes and Sages, 2011, p. 793.

Seleucid text, Uruk, W 20030,7. Published by J.J.A. van Dijk, “Die Tontafeln aus dem Resch-Heiligtum,” in Uruk-Wanka Vorberichte 18 (1962): pp. 43-52, from which this transcription is taken. Also on Samizdat, in Lenzi: The Uruk List of Kings and Sages.
Excerpt from Selz, Of Heroes and Sages, 2011, p. 793.

This document establishes an important link between Berossos’ account of the primeval kings and his story of the sage Oannes.

In this text the names of Mesopotamian rulers are accompanied by names of advisors, sages, the so-called apkallū which play an important role in Mesopotamian iconography and have been known, up until now, chiefly from the so-called Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages” studied by Erica Reiner in 1961.

(E. Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the ‘Seven Sages,’Orientalia 30 (1961): 1-11; eadem, Astral Magic in Babylonia (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 85.4; Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1995).

(See further S. Parpola, “Mesopotamian Astrology and Astronomy as Domains of the Mesopotamian ‘Wisdom,’” in Die Rolle der Astronomie in den Kulturen Mesopotamiens: Beiträge zum 3. Grazer Morgenländischen Symposium (ed. H. Galter and B. Scholz; Grazer Morgenländische Studien 3; Graz: RM Druck-und Verlagsgesellschaft, 1993), pp. 23-7.)

This list is certainly fictional, it is, however, based on scholarly traditions: the name of the well-known compiler of the standard version of the Gilgamesh Epic, dsîn-liq-unninnī, functions as an apkallu to Gilgamesh himself.

Further, a certain Kabtu-il-Marduk, perhaps referring to the author of the Erra Epic Kabti-ilāni-Marduk, is mentioned as a sage during the reign of Ibbi-Sîn (ca. 2028-2004 BCE), unlucky last king of the Ur III empire.”

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. 792-4.

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