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Category: Graßhoff

Selz: The Debate Over Mesopotamian Influence on Jewish Pre-History is 2000 Years Old

“The reports further continue with the famous account of the downfall of the Persian empire in the same year, after the battle at Gaugamela, north of Mosul (331 BCE).

“On the 11th of that month, panic occurred in the camp before the king. The Macedonians encamped in front of the king. On the 24th [1 October], in the morning, the king of the world [Alexander] erected his standard and attacked.

Opposite each other they fought and a heavy defeat of the troops of the king [Darius] he [Alexander] incited. The king [Darius], his troops deserted him and to their cities they went. They fled to the east.”

As I have learnt from the Swiss philosopher and historian of science, Gerd Graßhoff, these collections of data were systematically made in order to obtain knowledge about the possible connections of various events, and more specifically in order to get information of how one could interfere and prevent an otherwise probable future event.

The Fall of Babylon, John Martin, 1831 CE.  http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pd/j/john_martin,_the_fall_of_babyl.aspx John Martin (1789-1854 CE) first exhibited his painting The Fall of Babylon at the British Institution in 1819. He later supervised mezzotint reproductions, hence the date 1831 CE for this print.  Held by the British Museum.  This image is included under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.

The Fall of Babylon, John Martin, 1831 CE.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pd/j/john_martin,_the_fall_of_babyl.aspx
John Martin (1789-1854 CE) first exhibited his painting The Fall of Babylon at the British Institution in 1819. He later supervised mezzotint reproductions, hence the date 1831 CE for this print.
Held by the British Museum.
This image is included under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.

(I refer to Graßhoff, “Diffusion”; see also idem, “Babylonian Metrological Observations and the Empirical Basis of Ancient Science,” in The Empirical Dimension of Ancient Near Eastern Studies—Die empirische Dimension altorientalischer Forschungen (ed. G.J. Selz with the assistance of K. Wagensonner; Wiener Offene Orientalistik 6, Wien: Lit, 2011), pp. 25-40.)

The Astronomical Diaries are certainly a latecomer within the cuneiform tradition; there is, however no reason to postulate a fundamental change in the methodological attitude of Mesopotamian scholars, at least after the Old Babylonian period.

In comparison to our approaches, “there is no methodological difference for Babylonian scholarship compared to causal reasoning to obtain knowledge about causal regularities with causes indicated by signs. This counts for all sorts of domains of knowledge—from medical, over meteorological, economic to astronomical knowledge.”

(Graßhoff, “Diffusion.”)

Numerous articles and books deal with Enoch and “Enochic literature.” From the viewpoint of a cuneiform scholar, Helge Kvanvig’s book Roots of Apocalyptic: The Mesopotamian Background of the Enoch Figure and the Son of Man must be considered a major contribution.

The Babylonian surroundings of the forefathers of apocalyptic literature, Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah, led to the hypothesis that other apocalyptic texts may have their roots in the Babylonian exile.

Be that as it may, the great impact the Babylonian mantic and astronomical tradition had on the growing Hebrew apocalyptic texts remains beyond dispute.

(VanderKam, Enoch and the Growth, pp. 6-15; Robinson, “Origins,” pp. 38-51.)

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, The Earthly Paradise (Garden of Eden). Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516 CE) painted The Garden of Earthly Delights with oil on panel between 1480 and 1505 CE. This is the leftmost panel of three. It was acquired by the Museo del Prado, Madrid, in 1939.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jheronimus_Bosch_023.jpg This work is in the public domain in the United States and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, The Earthly Paradise (Garden of Eden).
Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516 CE) painted The Garden of Earthly Delights with oil on panel between 1480 and 1505 CE. This is the leftmost panel of three. It was acquired by the Museo del Prado, Madrid, in 1939.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jheronimus_Bosch_023.jpg
This work is in the public domain in the United States and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.

Since the times of Flavius Josephus, the first century Jewish historian who also recorded the Roman destruction of the second temple on 4 August 70 CE, the relationship of the Jewish prehistory to the similar traditions of the neighbouring cultures became a pivotal point for all sorts of discussions.

While not very widely distributed initially, the Babyloniaca of Berossos gained increasing influence on the picture of the earlier Mesopotamian history in antiquity, despite the fact that the primary source for all Hellenistic scholarship remained Ctesias of Cnidos (in Caria) from the fifth century BCE.

The interest in Berossos’ work was mainly provoked by his account of Babylonian astronomy, and, in the Christian era, by his record of the Babylonian flood lore.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1480-1505 CE, the complete triptych. It is in the collection of the Museo del Prado, Madrid.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jheronimus_Bosch_023.jpg This work is in the public domain in the United States and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1480-1505 CE, the complete triptych.
It is in the collection of the Museo del Prado, Madrid.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jheronimus_Bosch_023.jpg
This work is in the public domain in the United States and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.

(A Hellenistic priest from Babylon, living during Alexander’s reign over the capital (330-323 BCE), that is less than 200 years before the alleged earliest Qumran manuscripts!)

His report of the ten antediluvian kings was paralleled apologetically to traditions from the Hebrew Bible. In this way Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (circa 260-340 BCE), used the Babyloniaca in order to harmonize the biblical and the pagan traditions, whereas Flavius Josephus used it for Jewish apologetics.

Therefore, the controversial debate over the reliability of biblical stories about the patriarchs and their relation to the mytho-historical accounts of Mesopotamian prehistory have persisted for two millennia.”

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. 787-9.

Selz: On the Astronomical Diaries of Babylon

“I cannot discuss here the philological evidence that anchors the biblical tradition in the historical charts. This is a different, albeit very important field which may support my arguments: I just mention one recent example: Jeremiah 39:3 may go back to an eye witness’s account of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem in 589 BCE.

Tablet VAT 4956 in the Berlin Museum details the positions of the moon and the planets during the year 37 of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, 567 BCE. This tablet is famous for confirming the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. http://www.lavia.org/english/archivo/vat4956en.htm

Tablet VAT 4956 in the Berlin Museum details the positions of the moon and the planets during the year 37 of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, 567 BCE. This tablet is famous for confirming the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.
http://www.lavia.org/english/archivo/vat4956en.htm

This is indicated by my colleague Michael Jursa’s identification of the chief-eunuch Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, the biblical נכו שרםכים רכםרים or Nebu-Sarsekim, in an economic document from the sun-god temple in Sippar, dated to the “Month XI, day 18, year 10 Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.”

(M. Jursa, Nabû-šarrūssu-ukīn, rab ša-rēši, und ‘Nebusarsekim’ (Jeremiah 39:3),” NABU 5 (2008). Jursa’s translation of the document runs as follows:

“Regarding] 1.5 minas (0.75 kg) of gold, the property of Nabû-šarrūssu-ukīn, the chief eunuch, which he sent via Arad-Bānītu the eunuch to [the temple] Esangila: Arad-Bānītu has delivered [it] to Esangila.

In the presence of Bēl-usāti, son of Alpāya, the royal bodyguard, [and of] Nādin, son of Marduk-zēru-ibni. Month XI, day 18, year 10  [of] Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.”

We may note here that the evaluation of this document provoked a broad discussion in scholarly literature and in the Internet.)

The Babylonian exile had a major impact on the development of Judaism, possibly even on the moulding of the apocalyptic traditions.

(Jeremiah 39:3 gives account of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem and his victory over the Judean King Zedekiah: The passage reports that all of the officers of the king of Babylon made their entry, and occupied the middle gate.)

(Kvanvig, Roots, writes: “The emergence of the apocalyptic traditions and literature presupposes both a direct contact with Mesopotamian culture in the Babylonian diaspora, and the syncretistic tendencies in Palestine in the post-exilic centuries.” See also Sarah Robinson, “The Origins of Jewish Apocalyptic Literature: Prophecy, Babylon, and 1 Enoch,” MS Thesis, University of South Florida, 2005.)

The background of this “knowledge transfer,” however, is the scholarly situation as just described. I say this not to deny the contribution of mere story-telling and fantastic lore to the growth of the corpus of apocalyptic literature, but we cannot neglect the scholarly and even empirical background of the underlying world-view.

Indeed, this may provide the best explanation for why so many different topics and stylistic features are fused in the extant Enochic traditions.

The Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa, which is tablet 63 in the Enuma Anu Enlil sequence, preserves the astronomical observations of Venus during the 1st Millennium BCE. This tablet is dated back to the mid-7th Century BCE, during the reign of King Ammisaduqa. http://fineartamerica.com/featured/2-venus-tablet-of-ammisaduqa-7th-century-science-source.html

The Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa, which is tablet 63 in the Enuma Anu Enlil sequence, preserves the astronomical observations of Venus during the 1st Millennium BCE.
This tablet is dated back to the mid-7th Century BCE, during the reign of King Ammisaduqa.
http://fineartamerica.com/featured/2-venus-tablet-of-ammisaduqa-7th-century-science-source.html

What concerns us here is the heuristic attitude of Mesopotamian scholarship. Even in the late Seleucid period this scholarship remains basically “holistic” or “monistic” in the way that it links all sorts of empiricism, as may be demonstrated with examples from the famous “Astronomical Diaries.”

(We follow here the unpublished manuscript of G. Graßhoff, “The Diffusion of Knowledge: From Babylonian Regularities to Science in the Antiquity” (paper presented at the 97th Dahlem Workshop on Globalization of Knowledge and its Consequences at the Dahlem Konferenzen, Berlin, 18-23 November 2007).

In the fifth year of Darius III (331 BCE) we find a series of astronomical observations:

“Day 13 [20 September]: Sunset to moonrise 8. There was a lunar eclipse. Its totality was covered at the moment when Jupiter set and Saturn rose. During totality the west wind blew, during clearing the east wind. During the eclipse, deaths and plague occurred.

Day 14: All day clouds were in the sky …”

The reports then continue with observations from the “Burse of Babylon”; commodity prizes are given together with the positions of the planets in the zodiacal signs.

“That month, the equivalent for 1 shekel of silver was: barley . . . at that time, Jupiter was in Scorpio; Venus was in Leo, at the end of the month in Virgo; Saturn was in Pisces; Mercury and Mars, which had set, were not visible.”

The reports further continue with the famous account of the downfall of the Persian empire in the same year, after the battle at Gaugamela, north of Mosul (331 BCE).”

(H. Hunger, ed., Astronomical Diaries and Related Texts from Babylonia, vol. 2: Diaries from 261 BCE to 165 BCE (Denkschriften der philosophisch-historischen Klasse 210; Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1989), pp. 175-6.)

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. 786-7.

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