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Category: God of Wisdom

Oannes and the Apkallu, the Seven Sages of Sumeria

“Placed between two other books, Babyloniaca 2 takes on the function of a narrative pivot in Berossos’ work. It has connections with book one and book three, by way of recapitulation (e.g. Oannes and the sages) and anticipation (mention of kings who are treated in book three); and it brings into contact two fundamentally different periods in history: the mythic prehis­tory of book 1, which is cast as a revelation transmitted by the semi-divine sage Oannes; and the political history of book 3, which bears out Oannes’ revelation in a setting where gods and humans are much more clearly separate.

Book 2 of Berossos’ Babyloniaca contains, as far as we can tell, the history of Babylonian kingship organised according to a very tra­ditional pattern. Broadly speaking, it comprises the ten kings before the Flood, the deluge narrative and a concise history of rulers down to Nabonassar.

Among all the extant exemplars of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum cuneiform collection represents the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List. It lists rulers from the antediluvian dynasties to Suen-magir, the fourteenth ruler of the Isin dynasty (ca. 1763–1753 B.C.). The prism contains four sides with two columns on each side. Perforated, the prism must originally have a wooden spindle going through its centre so that it might be rotated and read on all four sides. http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=the_sumerian_king_list_sklid=the_sumerian_king_list_skl

Among all the extant exemplars of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum cuneiform collection represents the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List. It lists rulers from the antediluvian dynasties to Suen-magir, the fourteenth ruler of the Isin dynasty (ca. 1763–1753 B.C.). The prism contains four sides with two columns on each side. Perforated, the prism must originally have a wooden spindle going through its centre so that it might be rotated and read on all four sides.
http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=the_sumerian_king_list_sklid=the_sumerian_king_list_skl

The structural backbone of the book is a king list, more specifically, the so-called Sumerian King List in a version which contains sections before and after the Flood. The time before the Flood is structured by the succession of antediluvian kings, that after the Flood traces the reigns of postdiluvian kings, thus forming a narrative diptych around the central Flood narrative. Eusebius describes the overall effect as follows:

“This Berosos narrated in his first book, and in the second he wrote ordering the kings one after another… In collecting the names of the kings he collects [that] alone, but he tells nothing pre­cise of their deeds, indeed he did not consider them worthy of mention […].”

Eusebius’ complaint notwithstanding, Berossos does seem to have fleshed out the skeleton of his king list with some narrative interludes. For example, he inserts references to the antediluvian sages, a peculiarity paralleled in cuneiform sources of the Hellenistic period.

The combination of the list itself and the Flood narrative continued unchanged down to the first millennium BCE and is also attested in some fragments from the Neo-Assyrian and Late Babylonian period.

More specifically, Berossos connects the beginnings of humanity with the Oannes theme from book one. As far as we can tell, that theme appeared twice in the Babyloniaca: near the beginning of the work, Berossos introduces Oannes as the ‘paragon of Mesopotamian scholarly mysticism and wisdom’.

‘In the very first year’, a fearsome beast named Oannes appears out of the Red Sea and teaches humankind the arts of civilisation. In book 2, we learn that he is only the first in a series of other such beasts (F3a).

This protective spirit (Apkallu or Abkallu) guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud. A fish's head can be seen on Apkallu's head, and its skin hangs down over the back of Apkallu's body.  Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE. From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London). Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg) http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

This protective spirit (Apkallu or Abkallu) guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud. A fish’s head can be seen on Apkallu’s head, and its skin hangs down over the back of Apkallu’s body.
Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE. From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg)
http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

Oannes, however, is clearly the most important: he is depicted as more than a mere culture hero but acts as some­thing very close to a creator god himself, shaping amorphous matter and turning mindless creatures into human beings with an identity and creative intelligence.

Oannes alone is responsible for the growth of human civilisation and its manifestations in history. Moreover, in describing his intervention, Berossos combines what in Sumero-Akkadian tradition were known as divine acts of creation with the teachings that humanity traditionally attributed to the apkallu, the mysterious seven sages who were created and inspired by Enki/Ea, the god of wisdom.

Part of the reason here, I suspect, might be that Berossos tried to make Oannes more plausible to a Greek audience by giving him some of the attributes of the Platonic δημιουργός (dēmiurgós), who acts ‘like a versatile artist or craftsman, creates his work from available materials according to a predetermined plan (PI. Resp. 507c; 530 a; 597b ff.; PI. Soph. 265c ff.; PI. Pit. 269c ff.; 272e ff.; PI. 7V.)’.

The aim is to underline the enormous age of Babylonian culture, the beginnings of which coincide with the dawn of all human culture. It is significant therefore that Berossos recapitulates the Oannes theme when he finally starts his account of human history in Babyloniaca 2.”

Martin Lang, “Book Two: Mesopotamian Early History and the Flood Story,” from Johannes Haubold, Giovanni B. Lanfranchi, Robert Rollinger, John Steele (eds.), The World of Berossos, Proceedings of the 4th International Colloquium on the Ancient Near East Between Classical and Ancient Oriental Traditions, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2013, pp. 48-9.

Ea, Father of Merodach

Ea developed with the centuries, and about the epoch of Khammurabi appears to have achieved a high standard of godhead, probably because of the very considerable amount of theological moulding which he had received.

In the later Babylonian period we find him described as the protagonist of mankind, the father of Merodach, and, along with Anu and Bel, a member of a great triad.

The priests of Babylon were the sole mythographers of these days. This is in sharp contradistinction to the mythographers of Greece, who were nearly always philosophers and never priests. But they were mythographers in a secondary sense only, for they merely rearranged, re-edited, or otherwise altered already existing tales relating to the gods, usually with a view to the exaltation of a certain deity or to enable his story to fit in with those of other gods.

It is only after a religion or mythological system has enjoyed a vogue more or less extended that the relationship of the gods towards one another becomes fixed.

The appointment of Merodach to the supreme position in the Babylonian pantheon naturally necessitated a rearrangement so far as the relationship of the other deities to him was concerned. This meant a re-shaping of myth and tradition generally for the purpose of ensuring consistency.

The men fitted to accomplish such a task were to hand, for the age of Khammurabi was fertile in writers, scholastic and legal, who would be well equipped to carry out a change of the description indicated.

Ea had not in the past enjoyed any very exalted sphere. But as the chief god of the important country in the neighbourhood of the Persian Gulf, the most ancient home of Babylonian culture, Ea would probably have exercised a great influence upon the antiquarian and historic sense of a man like Khammurabi.

As the god of wisdom he would strongly appeal to a monarch whose whole career was marked by a love of justice and by sagacity and insight.

A bird man appears before a god, there are horns of divinity on some of these figures, as there are on the god, who could be Ea, with water coursing from his shoulders.

A bird man appears before a god, there are horns of divinity on some of these figures, as there are on the god, who could be Ea, with water coursing from his shoulders.

From a local god of Eridu, Ea became a universal deity of wisdom and beneficence, the strong shield of man, and his benefactor by the gifts of harvest and water. Civilized and softer emotions must have begun to cluster around the cult of this kindly god who, when the angered deities resolved to destroy mankind, interceded for poor humanity and succeeded in preserving it from the divine wrath.

As a god of medicine, too, Ea is humane and protective in character, and all the arts fall under his patronage. He is the culture-god of Babylon par excellence. He might not transcend Merodach, so he became his father. Thus did pagan theology succeed in merging the cults of deities which might otherwise have been serious rivals and mutually destructive.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 191-3.

Nebo, God of Wisdom, Scribe of the Gods, Patron of Writing

“The popularity of Nebo was brought about through his association with Merodach. His chief seat of worship was at Borsippa, opposite to Babylon, and when the latter city became the seat of the imperial power the proximity of Borsippa greatly assisted the cult of Nebo.

So close did the association between the deities of the two cities become that at length Nebo was regarded as the son of Merodach—a relationship that often implies that the so-called descendant of the elder god is a serious rival, or that his cult is nearly allied to the elder worship.

Nebo had acquired something of a reputation as a god of wisdom, and probably this it was which permitted him to stand separately from Merodach without becoming absorbed in the cult of the great deity of Babylon.

Nabu, or Nebo, sculpted bronze figure by Lee Lawrie. Door detail, east entrance, Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C. Photographed 2007 by Carol Highsmith (1946–), who explicitly placed the photograph in the public domain. - Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabu#/media/File:Nabu-Lawrie-Highsmith.jpeg

Nabu, or Nebo, sculpted bronze figure by Lee Lawrie. Door detail, east entrance, Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C.
Photographed 2007 by Carol Highsmith (1946–), who explicitly placed the photograph in the public domain. – Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabu#/media/File:Nabu-Lawrie-Highsmith.jpeg

He was credited, like Ea, with the invention of writing, the province of all ‘wise’ gods, and he presided over that department of knowledge which interpreted the movements of the heavenly bodies. The priests of Nebo were famous as astrologers, and with the bookish king Assur-bani-pal, Nebo and his consort Tashmit were especial favourites as the patrons of writing.

By the time that the worship of Merodach had become recognised at Babylon, the cult of Nebo at Borsippa was so securely rooted that even the proximity of the greatest god in the land failed to shake it.

Even after the Persian conquest the temple-school at Borsippa continued to flourish.

But although Nebo thus ‘outlived’ many of the greater gods it is now almost impossible to trace his original significance as a deity. Whether solar or aqueous in his nature—and the latter appears more likely— he was during the period of Merodach’s ascendancy regarded as scribe of the gods, much as Thoth was the amanuensis of the Egyptian otherworld—that is to say, he wrote at the dictation of the higher deities.

A depiction of the Egyptian god of writing, Thoth.

A depiction of the Egyptian god of writing, Thoth.

When the gods were assembled in the Chamber of Fates in Merodach’s temple at Babylon, he chronicled their speeches and deliberations and put them on record. Indeed he himself had a shrine in this temple of E-Sagila, or ‘the lofty house,’ which was known as E-Zila, or ‘the firm house.’

Once during the New Year festival Nebo was carried from Borsippa to Babylon to his father’s temple, and in compliment was escorted by Merodach part of the way back to his own shrine in the lesser city. It is strange to see how closely the cults of the two gods were interwoven.

The Kings of Babylonia constantly invoke them together, their names and those of their temples are found in close proximity at every turn, and the symbols of the bow and the stylus or pen, respectively typical of the father and the son, are usually discovered in one and the same inscription.

Even Merodach’s dragon, the symbol of his victory over the dark forces of chaos, is assigned to Nebo.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 184-6.

Sayce on the God Ea, or Oannes

“Ea, as we have already seen, was the god not only of the deep, but also of wisdom. Ancient legends affirmed that the Persian Gulf–the entrance to the deep or ocean-stream–had been the mysterious spot from whence the first elements of culture and civilisation had been brought to Chaldea.

Berossos, the Chaldean historian–so at least his epitomiser Alexander Polyhistor declared–had reported them as follows:

“At Babylon there was a great resort of people of various races who inhabited Chaldea, and lived in a lawless manner like the beasts of the field.

In the first year there appeared in that part of the Erythraean sea which borders upon Babylonia, a creature endowed with reason, by name Oannes, whose whole body (according to the account of Apollodaros) was that of a fish; under the fish’s head he had another head, with feet also below similar to those of a man subjoined to the fish’s tail.

His voice, too, and language were articulate and human; and a representation of him is preserved even to this day.

“This being was accustomed to pass the day among men, but took no food at that season; and he gave them an insight into letters and sciences and arts of every kind. He taught them to construct houses, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge.

He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and showed them how to collect the fruits; in short, he instructed them in everything which could tend to soften manners and humanize their lives. From that time, nothing material has been added by way of improvement to his instructions.

Now when the sun had set, this being Oannes used to retire again into the sea, and pass the night in the deep, for he was amphibious. After this there appeared other animals like Oannes, of which Berossos proposes to give an account when he comes to the history of the kings.

Moreover, Oannes wrote concerning the generation of mankind, of their different ways of life, and of their civil polity.”

[ … ]

The exact etymology of the name which appears under the Greek dress of Oannes has not yet been ascertained. Lenormant thought that it represented Ea-khan, “Ea the fish.” But whether or not this is the case, it is certain that Oannes and Ea are one and the same.

A depiction of Oannes, or Ea.

A depiction of Oannes, or Ea.

Ea, as we have seen, not only had his home in the waters of the Persian Gulf, he was also the culture-god of primitive Babylonia, the god of wisdom, the instructor of his worshippers in arts and science.

An old Babylonian sermon on the duty of a prince to administer justice impartially and without bribes, declares that if “he speaks according to the injunction (or writing) of the god Ea, the great gods will seat him in wisdom and the knowledge of righteousness.”

Ea was, moreover, like Oannes, represented as partly man and partly fish. Sometimes the fish’s skin is thrown over the man’s back, the head of a fish appearing behind that of the man; sometimes the body of the man is made to terminate in the tail of a fish.

A depiction of the God Ea, or Oannes.

A depiction of the God Ea, or Oannes.

A gem in the British Museum, on which the deity is depicted in the latter fashion, bears an inscription stating that the figure is that of “the god of pure life.”

OannesGems

Now “the god of pure life,” as we are expressly informed by a rubrical gloss to a hymn in honour of the demiurge Ea, was one of the names of Ea.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 131-3.

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