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Selz: Plant of Birth or Plant of Life in the Etana Legend?

“The story of Etana, one of the oldest tales in a Semitic language, was, as I have argued elsewhere, modeled after the then extant Sumerian tales of the Gilgamesh Epic.

Gilgamesh’s search for “the plant of life,” the ú-nam-ti-la (šammu ša balāti) was, however, replaced by Etana’s search for the plant of birth-giving (šammu ša alādi). The entire story runs as follows:

British Museum K. 19530, Library of Ashurbanipal (reigned 669-631 BCE), excavated from Kouyunjik by Austen Henry Layard. Neo-Assyrian 7th Century BCE, Nineveh.  This cuneiform tablet details the legend of Etana, a mythological king of Kish.  http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=287204&partId=1&searchText=WCT28297&page=1 http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_legend_of_etana.aspx This image is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.

British Museum K. 19530, Library of Ashurbanipal (reigned 669-631 BCE), excavated from Kouyunjik by Austen Henry Layard. Neo-Assyrian 7th Century BCE, Nineveh.
This cuneiform tablet details the legend of Etana, a mythological king of Kish.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=287204&partId=1&searchText=WCT28297&page=1
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_legend_of_etana.aspx
This image is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.

The gods build the first city Kish, but kingship is still in heaven. A ruler is wanted (and found). Due to an illness, Etana’s wife is unable to conceive. The plant of birth is wanted.

In the ensuing episode eagle and snake swore an oath of friendship. Suddenly the eagle plans to eat up the snake’s children; a baby eagle, with the name of Atrahasīs opposes this plan, but eagle executes it.

Now, the weeping snake seeks justice from the sun-god. With the god’s help the eagle is trapped in a burrow, and now the eagle turns to the sun-god for help. He receives the answer that, because of the taboo-violation he cannot help, but will send someone else.

Etana prays daily for the plant of birth and in a dream the sun-god tells Etana to approach the eagle. In order to get the eagle’s support Etana helps him out of his trap.

BM 89767, Limestone cylinder seal illustrating the myth of Etana, shepherd and legendary king of Kish, who was translated to heaven by an eagle to obtain the plant of life.  This seal portrays Etana’s ascent, witnessed by a shepherd, a dog, goats and sheep. Dated 2250 BCE, this seal was excavated by Hormuz Rassam, and came from an old, previously unregistered collection acquired before 1884.  Dominique Collon, Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum: Cylinder Seals II: Akkadian, Post-Akkadian, Ur III Periods, II, London, British Museum Press, 1982.  R.M. Boehner, Die Entwicklung der Glyptic wahrend der Akkad-Zeit, 4, Berlin, 1965.  Alfred Jeremias, Das Alte Testament im Lichte des Alten Orients: Handbuch zur biblisch-orientalischen Altertumskunde, Leipzig, JC Hinrichs, 1906.  Also AN128085001, 1983, 0101.299.  This image is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.  © The Trustees of the British Museum. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=128085001&objectid=368707

BM 89767, Limestone cylinder seal illustrating the myth of Etana, shepherd and legendary king of Kish, who was translated to heaven by an eagle to obtain the plant of life.
This seal portrays Etana’s ascent, witnessed by a shepherd, a dog, goats and sheep. Dated 2250 BCE, this seal was excavated by Hormuzd Rassam, and came from an old, previously unregistered collection acquired before 1884.
Dominique Collon, Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum: Cylinder Seals II: Akkadian, Post-Akkadian, Ur III Periods, II, London, British Museum Press, 1982.
R.M. Boehner, Die Entwicklung der Glyptic wahrend der Akkad-Zeit, 4, Berlin, 1965.
Alfred Jeremias, Das Alte Testament im Lichte des Alten Orients: Handbuch zur biblisch-orientalischen Altertumskunde, Leipzig, JC Hinrichs, 1906.
Also AN128085001, 1983, 0101.299.
This image is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=128085001&objectid=368707

Now the eagle, carrying Etana on his back, ascends to the heavens. On the uppermost level of the heavens Etana becomes afraid and the eagle takes him back to the earth.

The end of the story is missing, but that Etana finally got hold of the plant of birth is very likely, since other sources mention his son.

To summarize: I have tried to show that some features of the Enoch tradition are a re-writing of very ancient concepts. I do not claim that they all can be explained assuming dependencies, as earlier scholarship has done.

I do not intend to idolize “origins,” but what might eventually come out of such a research—if the topics mentioned here are thoroughly worked out and elaborated in detail—is, that our texts implicate many more meanings than tradition may have supposed.

In my opinion there can be little doubt that the official transmission of texts in Mesopotamia was supplemented by a wealth of oral tradition. Indeed, the situation may be comparable to the one attested in the (still) living oral tradition on Enoch in the Balkanian vernaculars.”

This Akkadian clay tablet, dated to circa 1900-1600 BCE, preserves a partial version of the Sumerian Legend of Etana.  Held by the Morgan Library.  http://www.codex99.com/typography/1.html

This Akkadian clay tablet, dated to circa 1900-1600 BCE, preserves a partial version of the Sumerian Legend of Etana.
Held by the Morgan Library.
http://www.codex99.com/typography/1.html

(See G.J. Selz, “Die Etana-Erzählung: Ursprung und Tradition eines der ältesten epischen Texte in einer semitischen Sprache,” Acta Sumerologica (Japan) 20 (1998): pp. 135-79.

A different opinion is expressed by P. Steinkeller, “Early Semitic Literature and Third Millennium Seals with Mythological Motifs,” in Literature and Literary Language at Ebla (ed. P. Fronzaroli; Quaderni di Semitistica 18; Florence: Dipartimento di linguistica Università di Firenze, 1992), pp. 243-75 and pls. 1-8.

Further remarks on the ruler’s ascension to heaven are discussed by G.J. Selz, “Der sogenannte ‘geflügelte Tempel’ und die ‘Himmelfahrt’ der Herrscher: Spekulationen über ein ungelöstes Problem der altakkadischen Glyptik und dessen möglichen rituellen Hintergrund,” in Studi sul Vicino Oriente Antico dedicati alla memoria di Luigi Cagni (ed. S. Graziani; Naples: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 2000, pp. 961-83.)

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. 799-800.

Selz: Enūma Anu Enlil and MUL.APIN

“My contribution is an outsider’s view, neither pretending to do justice to the ongoing discussions in biblical studies, in particular in the studies of the Dead Sea Scrolls, nor dwelling on the highly complicated matter of the Babylonian background of the astronomical Enoch tradition.

O. Neugebauer, one of the pioneers working on Babylonian astronomical texts wrote in 1981:

“The search for time and place of origin of this primitive picture of the cosmic order can hardly be expected to lead to definitive results. The use of 30-day schematic months could have been inspired, e.g., by Babylonian arithmetical schemes (of the type of ‘Mul-Apin’), or by the Egyptian calendar.”

He then continues: “But [sc. in Astronomical Enoch] there is no visible trace of the sophisticated Babylonian astronomy of the Persian or Seleucid-Parthian period.”

The Neo-Assyrian star map K 8538, from H. Hunger, ed., Astrological Reports to Assyrian Kings (SAA 8, Helsinki: Helsinki University Press: 1992), p. 46.<br /> K8538 is held in the British Museum collection, excavated by Austen Henry Layard from the Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh.<br /> The curator's comments state that the text and depicted constellations are interpreted in Koch, 1989.<br /> A celestial planisphere with eight sections, representing the night sky of 3-4 January 650 BCE over Nineveh.<br /> Also Figure 1, Gebhard Selz, Of Heroes and Sages, p. 785. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=303316&partId=1

The Neo-Assyrian star map K 8538, from H. Hunger, ed., Astrological Reports to Assyrian Kings (SAA 8, Helsinki: Helsinki University Press: 1992), p. 46.
K8538 is held in the British Museum collection, excavated by Austen Henry Layard from the Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh.
The curator’s comments state that the text and depicted constellations are interpreted in Koch, 1989.
A celestial planisphere with eight sections, representing the night sky of 3-4 January 650 BCE over Nineveh.
Also Figure 1, Gebhard Selz, Of Heroes and Sages, p. 785. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=303316&partId=1

(Cf. M. Albani, Astronomie und Schöpfungsglaube: Untersuchungen zum astronomischen Henochbuch (WMANT 68; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirche 1994), pp. 1-29; cf. furthermore the works of Milik, Books of Enoch, and O. Neugebauer, The “Astronomical” Chapters of the Ethiopic Book of Enoch (72 to 82) Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab: Matematisk-fysiske Meddelelser 40.10; Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1981).

The opinion “that the astronomical part of the Book of Enoch is based on concepts extant in the Old Testament is simply incorrect: the Enoch year is not an old semitic calendaric unit; the schematic alternation between hollow and full months is not a real lunar calendar, and there exists no linear scheme in the Old Testament for the length of daylight, or patterns for ‘gates,’ for winds, or for ‘thousands’ of stars, related to the schematic year. The whole Enochian astronomy is clearly an ad hoc construction and not the result of a common semitic tradition.

Neugebauer’s opinion sharply contrasts the statement of VanderKam that “Enoch’s science is a Judaized refraction of an early stage in the development of Babylonian astronomy—a stage that finds varied expression in texts such as the astrolabes, Enūma Anu Enlil, and mul APIN.

Enuma Anu Enlil is a series of about 70 tablets dealing with Babylonian astrology. These accounts were found in the early 19th century by excavation in Niniveh, near present day Bagdad. The bulk of the work is a substantial collection of omens, estimated to number between 6500 and 7000, which interpret a wide variety of celestial and atmospheric phenomena in terms relevant to the king and state. The tablets presumably date back to about 650 BCE, but several of the omens may be as old as 1646 BCE. Many of the reports found on the tablets represent ‘astrometeorological’ forecasts (Rasmussen 2010).<br /> http://www.climate4you.com/ClimateAndHistory%205000-0%20BC.htm

Enuma Anu Enlil is a series of about 70 tablets dealing with Babylonian astrology. These accounts were found in the early 19th century by excavation in Niniveh, near present day Bagdad. The bulk of the work is a substantial collection of omens, estimated to number between 6500 and 7000, which interpret a wide variety of celestial and atmospheric phenomena in terms relevant to the king and state. The tablets presumably date back to about 650 BCE, but several of the omens may be as old as 1646 BCE. Many of the reports found on the tablets represent ‘astrometeorological’ forecasts (Rasmussen 2010).
http://www.climate4you.com/ClimateAndHistory%205000-0%20BC.htm

In it astronomical and astrological concepts are intermingled and schematic arrangements at times predominate over facts.”

Here VanderKam comes back to an early view of H. Zimmern from 1901, who saw the Enochic tradition anchored in stories around the primeval king Enmeduranki, to whom the gods granted mantic (related to divination or prophecy) and astronomical wisdom.

BM 86378, cuneiform tablets from the library of King Ashurbanipal, circa 687 BCE, held in the British Museum.<br /> MUL.APIN includes a list of thirty-six stars, three stars for each month of the year. The stars are those having a helical rise in a particular month. The first line lists the three stars, which have the helical rise in the first month of the year, Nisannu, which is associated with the vernal equinox. <br /> In the second line, three other stars are listed, with a helical rise in the second month, Ayyāru, and so on.<br /> I MUL.APIN sono testi antichi su tavolette di argilla, comprendono un elenco di trentasei stelle, tre stelle per ogni mese dell’anno. <br /> Le stelle sono quelle aventi ciascuna la levata eliaca in un particolare mese. Si ha perciò questo schema: nella prima riga sono elencate tre stelle, che hanno la levata eliaca nel primo mese dell'anno, Nīsannu (quello associato all'epoca dell'equinozio di primavera). <br /> Nella seconda riga sono elencate altre tre stelle, ancora ciascuna avente levata eliaca nel secondo mese, Ayyāru, e così via.<br /> http://www.lavia.org/italiano/archivio/calendarioakkadit.htm

BM 86378, cuneiform tablets from the library of King Ashurbanipal, circa 687 BCE, held in the British Museum.
MUL.APIN includes a list of thirty-six stars, three stars for each month of the year. The stars are those having a helical rise in a particular month. The first line lists the three stars, which have the helical rise in the first month of the year, Nisannu, which is associated with the vernal equinox.
In the second line, three other stars are listed, with a helical rise in the second month, Ayyāru, and so on.
I MUL.APIN sono testi antichi su tavolette di argilla, comprendono un elenco di trentasei stelle, tre stelle per ogni mese dell’anno.
Le stelle sono quelle aventi ciascuna la levata eliaca in un particolare mese. Si ha perciò questo schema: nella prima riga sono elencate tre stelle, che hanno la levata eliaca nel primo mese dell’anno, Nīsannu (quello associato all’epoca dell’equinozio di primavera).
Nella seconda riga sono elencate altre tre stelle, ancora ciascuna avente levata eliaca nel secondo mese, Ayyāru, e così via.
http://www.lavia.org/italiano/archivio/calendarioakkadit.htm

(VanderKam, Enoch and the Growth, p. 101. H. Zimmern, Beiträge zur Kenntnis der babylonischen Religion: Die Beschwörungstafeln Šurpu, Ritualtafeln für den Wahrsager, Beschwörer und Sänger (Assyriologische Bibliothek 12; Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1901).

The main arguments against Neugebauer’s position are provided by the Enochic Aramaic fragments from Cave 4, the careful evaluation of which prompted Milik already in 1976 to suggest that the astronomical parts of the Enoch tradition do belong to the oldest stratum of the Enoch literature in concordance to the  (originally) year life span allotted to Enoch in Genesis 5:23.”

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. 784-6.

Kvanvig: Assurbanipal Studied Inscriptions on Stone from Before the Flood

“The first thing to notice is the strange expression salmīšunu, “their images.” The pronoun refers back to the primeval ummanus / apkallus. They had “images,” created by Ea on earth. A line from Bīt Mēseri sheds light on the issue.

šiptu šipat Marduk āšipu salam Marduk

“The incantation is the incantation of Marduk, the āšipu is the image of Marduk.”

(Bīt Mēseri II, 226. Cf. Gerhard Meier, “Die zweite Tafel der Serie bīt mēseri,” AfO 14, 1941-4, pp. 139-52, 150).

In his role as exorcist, the āšipu is here an image of the deity itself. In the Poem of Erra something similar must have been thought. The āšipu and other priests with responsibility for the divine statues were the earthly counterparts of the transcendent ummanus / apkallus. They were their images on earth.

"Sometimes animal hybrids ... appear to take part in rituals....some types are clearly minor deities, since they wear the horned cap as a mark of their divinity...others may be human. A ...winged god, standing or kneeling, holds a bucket and cone ... in the scenes of "ritual" centered on the stylized tree. A similar female figure holds a chaplet of beads....A third figure carries a flowering branch, sometimes also a sacrificial (?) goat. Sometimes he wears the horned cap, and even when does not he often has wings. Presumably, therefore, such figures are also non-mortal; they may represent the Seven Sages in human guise." From Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, pp. 86-8.

“Sometimes animal hybrids … appear to take part in rituals….some types are clearly minor deities, since they wear the horned cap as a mark of their divinity…others may be human. A …winged god, standing or kneeling, holds a bucket and cone … in the scenes of “ritual” centered on the stylized tree. A similar female figure holds a chaplet of beads….A third figure carries a flowering branch, sometimes also a sacrificial (?) goat. Sometimes he wears the horned cap, and even when does not he often has wings. Presumably, therefore, such figures are also non-mortal; they may represent the Seven Sages in human guise.”
From Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, pp. 86-8.

We must admit that the following text from line 34 is not very clear. Does the ummanus from line 34 mean the primeval apkallus, or does it refer to the priests as ummanus? If we follow the interpretation underlying Foster’s translation, the second option is preferable.

“He himself gave those same (human) craftsmen

great discretion and authority;

he gave them wisdom and great dexterity.

They have made (his) precious image radiant,

even finer than before.”

(Poem of Erra II, pp. 34-6. Foster, Before the Muses, p. 892).

The text thus describes how Ea equips the earthly ummanus with wisdom and dexterity to make them able to restore Marduk’s statue.

To care for the divine statue, to make sure that it is qualified for the manifestation of the divinity, is to secure cosmic stability. This was the great responsibility of the āšipu when they acted as earthly images of the apkallus, the guardians of the cosmic order.

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, which he overpowered when he defeated Tiamat, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods.<br /> In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat's (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).<br /> This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk's serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur.<br /> Marduk's robe depicts the heavenly night sky with all its stars.<br /> I believe that the circular medallions hanging from his neck are among the few portrayals of the me, the tablets of destinies, in all Assyrian art.<br /> Marduk was also called "the son of the Sun," "the Sun" and "bull-calf of the Sun" (Babylonian amar-utu).<br /> http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, which he overpowered when he defeated Tiamat, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods.
In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat’s (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).
This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk’s serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur.
Marduk’s robe depicts the heavenly night sky with all its stars.
I believe that the circular medallions hanging from his neck are among the few portrayals of the me, the tablets of destinies, in all Assyrian art.
Marduk was also called “the son of the Sun,” “the Sun” and “bull-calf of the Sun” (Babylonian amar-utu).
http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

The supreme responsibility on earth for cosmic stability rested on the king. Therefore the king needed to be depicted as wise, having insight into the hidden laws of the cosmos. This is a reoccurring topic in descriptions of kings and their own self-presentations.

It reaches as far back as the third millennium, but shows an increasing tendency in the first millennium.

(Cf. R.F.G. Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature: A Philological Study,” in The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East, eds. J.G. Gammie and L.G. Perdue, Winona Lake, 1990, pp. 45-65, 51-7).

In their boasting of superior wisdom the kings of the first millennium compared their own wisdom with the wisdom of the primary apkallu, Adapa:

Sargon claims to be: “a wise king, skilled in all learning, the equal of

the apkallu, who grew up in wise counsel and attained full stature in good judgement.”

(Cylinder Inscription, 38. Cf. David Gordon Lyon, Keilschriftentexte Sargon’s Königs von Assyrien, (722-705 v. CHR), AB. Leipzig, 1883, pp. 34-5. Translation according to Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature,” p. 53).

Sennacherib presents himself as one to whom “Ninšiku gave wide understanding and equality with the apkallu, Adapa, and granted profound wisdom.”

(Bull Inscription, 4. Cf. D.D. Luckenbill, The Annals of Senacherib, Chicago, 1924, p. 117; translation according to Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature,” p. 53).

Prism of Sennacherib, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1924. https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/oip2.pdf

Prism of Sennacherib, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.
Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1924.
https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/oip2.pdf

Assurbanipal describes his comprehensive wisdom in the following way:

Marduk, the apkallu of the gods, gave me wide understanding and extensive intelligence (and) Nabu, the scribe (who knows) everything, granted me his wise teachings ….

I have learned the art of the apkallu, Adapa, (so that now) I am familiar with the secret storehouse of all scribal learning, (including) celestial and terrestrial portents.

I can debate in an assembly of ummanus and discuss with the clever apkal šamni (oil diviners) (the treatise) “if the liver is a replica of the sky.” I used to figure out complicated divisions and multiplications that have no solutions.

Time and again I have read the cleverly written compositions in which the Sumerian is obscure and the Akkadian is difficult to interpret correctly.

I have studied inscriptions on stone from before the Flood which are sealed, obscure and confused.”

(Tablet L4 obv. I, 10-8. Cf. M. Streck, Assurbanipal und die letzen assyrischen König bis zum Untergange Nineveh’s, vol. II, Leipzig, 1916, 254-7.)

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 138-9.

Lenzi: Strabo, Pausanias and Pliny All Have Agendas

“The Seleucid attention to indigenous traditions as well as their support of Mesopotamian temples—whether directly or indirectly—is the second element in understanding the Hellenistic context from which our text arose.

Historians of Hellenistic Mesopotamia in recent decades have successfully countered earlier, largely Helleno-centric scholarly opinions about Seleucid neglect or disinterest in and thus demise of traditional Babylonian settlements and institutions.

The alleged neglect, in fact, originates with modern historians who had not adequately factored the cuneiform evidence into their accounts and rather too eagerly believed the tendentious reports concerning Babylon given by such classical authors as Strabo (Geography 16.1.5), Pausanias (Description of Greece 1.16.3), and Pliny (Natural History 6.26.122).

Based on a growing body of cuneiform and archaeological evidence, recent scholars have suggested that the Seleucids actually made significant investments in traditional Mesopotamia.

Chronicles, astronomical diaries, and administrative documents attest to the fact that Seleucid rulers took part, at least at times, in various traditional temple rituals and supported the temples through various projects of renovation or repair, especially in Babylon.

According to some interpretations, the death of the Persian king Darius III Codomannus in July 330 CE was foretold in the Dynastic Prophecy written on a clay tablet found at Babylon.  Heralding the end of the Achaemenid empire, the Macedonian conquerer Alexander the Great took over.  The tablets containing the Dynastic Prophecy are now in the British Museum, BM40623.

According to some interpretations, the death of the Persian king Darius III Codomannus in July 330 CE was foretold in the Dynastic Prophecy written on a clay tablet found at Babylon.
Heralding the end of the Achaemenid empire, the Macedonian conquerer Alexander the Great took over.
The tablets containing the Dynastic Prophecy are now in the British Museum, BM40623.

(See, e.g., A. Kirk Grayson, Babylonian Historical-Literary Texts, Toronto Semitic Texts and Studies (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975), 19-20, n.29, where he entertains the idea that the Dynastic Prophecy may have had an anti-hellenistic element in it but opposes S. K. Eddy’s idea of widespread anti-Hellenistic sentiment in Seleucid Mesopotamia (in his The King is Dead: Studies in the Near Eastern Resistance to Hellenism 334-31 B.C. [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961]) by listing the cuneiform evidence that records Seleucid patronage of traditional Babylonian cultic institutions.

See further Grayson’s Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles (Locust Valley, NY: J. J. Augustin, 1975; reprinted, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2000), 278, n.2, where he lists various kinds of evidence of Seleucid temple restorations, among other things.

(Grayson notes here renovations during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes [175-164 BCE], citing M. Rostovtzeff, “Seleucid Babylonia: Bullae and Seals of Clay with Greek Inscriptions,” Yale Classical Studies 3 [1932], 3-113, here 6-7, as evidence; but upon closer inspection of Rostovtzeff one will see that he has in fact dated the Kephalon inscription [now known to be from 201 BCE] to the reign of Antiochus IV.

Adam Falkenstein indicates that the proper reading for the date was established only some time after its initial publication [Topographie von Uruk: I. Teil Uruk zur Seleukidenzeit (Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1941), 7, n.3].

The relevant lines are quoted below in a translation by Bert van der Spek.

[Column 5]   4   For two years [he will exercise kingship]. [1].   5   That king a eunuch [will murder].   6   A certain prince [......] [2]   7   will set out and [seize] the thr[one]   8   Five years [he will exercise] king[ship]   9   Troops of the land of Hani [......] [3]  10  will set out a[nd? .. ]./-ship?\ th[ey will?  ...]  11  [his] troop[s they will defeat;]  12  booty from him they will take [and his spoils]  13  they will plunder. Later [his] tr[oops ...]  14  will assemble and his weapons he will ra[ise (...)]  15  Enlil, Šamaš and [Marduk(?)] [4]  16  will go at the side of his army [(...);]  17  the overthrow of the Hanaean troops he will [bring about].  18  His extensive booty he will car[ry off and]   19  into his palace he [will bring it]  20  The people who had [experienced] misfortune  21  [will enjoy] well-being.  22  The heart of the land [will be happy]  23  Tax exemption [he will grant to Babylonia]

 http://www.livius.org/aj-al/alexander/alexander_t49.html

The relevant lines are quoted below in a translation by Bert van der Spek.

[Column 5]
4 For two years [he will exercise kingship]. [1].
5 That king a eunuch [will murder].
6 A certain prince [……] [2]
7 will set out and [seize] the thr[one]
8 Five years [he will exercise] king[ship]
9 Troops of the land of Hani [……] [3]
10 will set out a[nd? .. ]./-ship?\ th[ey will? …]
11 [his] troop[s they will defeat;]
12 booty from him they will take [and his spoils]
13 they will plunder. Later [his] tr[oops …]
14 will assemble and his weapons he will ra[ise (…)]
15 Enlil, Šamaš and [Marduk(?)] [4]
16 will go at the side of his army [(…);]
17 the overthrow of the Hanaean troops he will [bring about].
18 His extensive booty he will car[ry off and]
19 into his palace he [will bring it]
20 The people who had [experienced] misfortune
21 [will enjoy] well-being.
22 The heart of the land [will be happy]
23 Tax exemption [he will grant to Babylonia]


http://www.livius.org/aj-al/alexander/alexander_t49.html

There is, therefore, currently no evidence to the best of my knowledge for renovation of Mesopotamian temples under Antiochus IV.)

Note also S. M. Sherwin-White, “Babylonian Chronicle Fragments as a Source for Seleucid History,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 42 (1983), 265-70 and her analysis in “Ritual for a Seleucid King at Babylon?” Journal of Hellenic Studies 103 (1983), 156-59, citing Grayson’s earlier work (159, nn.40-41).

The Cylinder of Antiochus I Soter from the Ezida Temple in Borsippa (Antiochus Cylinder) is an historiographical text from ancient Babylonia.  It describes how the Seleucid crown prince Antiochus, the son of king Seleucus Nicator, rebuilt the Ezida Temple.  

The cuneiform text itself (BM 36277) is now in the British Museum.

The document is a barrel-shaped clay cylinder, which was buried in the foundations of the Ezida temple in Borsippa.  The script of this cylinder is inscribed in archaic ceremonial Babylonian cuneiform script that was also used in the well-known Codex of Hammurabi and adopted in a number of royal inscriptions of Neo-Babylonian kings, including. Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus (cf. Berger 1973).  The script is quite different from the cuneiform script that was used for chronicles, diaries, rituals, scientific and administrative texts.

    Another late example is the Cyrus Cylinder, commemorating Cyrus' capture of Babylon in 539 BCE (Schaudig 2001: 550-6). This cylinder, however, was written in normal Neo-Babylonian script. The Antiochus Cylinder was found by Hormuzd Rassam in 1880 in Ezida, the temple of the god Nabu in Borsippa, in what must have been its original position,

The Cylinder of Antiochus I Soter from the Ezida Temple in Borsippa (Antiochus Cylinder) is an historiographical text from ancient Babylonia.
It describes how the Seleucid crown prince Antiochus, the son of king Seleucus Nicator, rebuilt the Ezida Temple.


The cuneiform text itself (BM 36277) is now in the British Museum.

 The document is a barrel-shaped clay cylinder, which was buried in the foundations of the Ezida temple in Borsippa.
The script of this cylinder is inscribed in archaic ceremonial Babylonian cuneiform script that was also used in the well-known Codex of Hammurabi and adopted in a number of royal inscriptions of Neo-Babylonian kings, including Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus (cf. Berger 1973).
The script is quite different from the cuneiform script that was used for chronicles, diaries, rituals, scientific and administrative texts.


Another late example is the Cyrus Cylinder, commemorating Cyrus’ capture of Babylon in 539 BCE (Schaudig 2001: 550-6). This cylinder, however, was written in normal Neo-Babylonian script.
The Antiochus Cylinder was found by Hormuzd Rassam in 1880 in Ezida, the temple of the god Nabu in Borsippa, in what must have been its original position, “encased in some kiln-burnt bricks covered over with bitumen” in the “doorway” of Koldewey’s Room A1: probably this was built into the eastern section of the wall between A1 and Court A, since the men of Daud Thoma, the chief foreman, seem to have destroyed much of the brickwork at this point.
Rassam (1897: 270) mistakenly records this as a cylinder of Nebuchadnezzar II (Reade 1986: 109). The cylinder is now in the British Museum in London.

 (BM 36277).
http://www.livius.org/cg-cm/chronicles/antiochus_cylinder/antiochus_cylinder1.html

Amélie Kuhrt and Susan Sherwin-White, “Aspects of Seleucid Royal Ideology: The Cylinder of Antiochus I from Borsippa,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 111 (1991), 81-2 survey the data (chronicles and diaries) for Seleucid work on Marduk’s temple in Babylon, dating between 322/1 to 224/3 and Kuhrt, “The Seleucid Kings and Babylonia,” 48 cites an astrological diary that proves Antiochus III engaged in cultic rites as late as 187 BCE.

For the diaries specifically, see, e.g., R. J. van der Spek, “The Astronomical Diaries as a Source for Achaemenid and Seleucid History,” Bibliotheca Orientalis 50 (1993), 91-101 and Wayne Horowitz, “Antiochus I, Esagil, and a Celebration of the Ritual for Renovation of Temples,” Revue d’assyriologie et d’archéologie orientale 85 (1991), 75-77.

Archaeology often confirms reports of temple renovation and perhaps equally significantly has yet to provide evidence for the Hellenization of temple architecture. In fact, quite the opposite case holds true: Seleucid rulers seem to have encouraged the continued use of traditional temple styles when renovation projects were undertaken.

(See Lise Hannestad and Daniel Potts, “Temple Architecture in the Seleucid Kingdom,” in Religion and Religious Practice in the Seleucid Kingdom, ed. Per Bilde et al.; Studies in Hellenistic Civilization 1 (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 1990), 107, who cite the Bīt Rēš temple’s (Temple of Anu) traditional design as evidence (a temple refurbished at least a couple of times during the Seleucid period).

They conclude with the following: “we can hardly escape the conclusion that there was no official programme of Hellenization of the religious sphere during Seleucid rule. The evidence from Babylonia points rather to the contrary, that the Seleucid kings, like many later colonizers, encouraged traditionalism in the religious sphere” (123).

See also Susan B. Downey, Mesopotamian Religious Architecture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 7-50, especially 11, 14, 16, and 38 (all concerning temples in either Babylon or Uruk).

Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian ScholarshipJANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 153-5.

Green Identifies the Lahmu and the Ugallu

“Returning to the apotropaic ritual, after the fish-apkallē the text prescribes various kinds of wooden figures which cannot be identified among actual figurines, although some types may, as Dr. Reade suggested, be represented in Assyrian sculpture.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green determines in this article that the leonine-headed entity in the center is the ugallu, or "Great lion."

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green determines in this article that the leonine-headed entity in the center is the ugallu, or “Great lion.”

These wooden figures end, however, with those of the ugallu, “Great-lion,” of which clay examples do exist. The human-leonine figure of Plate XId, centre, is commonly portrayed in glyptic art from the Akkadian period onwards and in seventh-century Assyrian sculpture.

He has been identified by Karl Frank and, with reservations, Ursula Calmeyer, as an utukku-demon (K. Frank, MAOG 14 (1941), idem, Babylonische Beschwörungsreliefs (Leipzig, 1908) … Notice already a figurine of the type used to illustrate the edition of Utukkū Lemnūtu of R.C. Thompson, The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia and Assyria II (London, 1904)), but this view has been challenged by Dessa Rittig (Rittig, 108).

She is unable, however, to offer an alternative identification. Woolley once appears to interpret the creature as the ugallu, but elsewhere in the same paper as the urmahlīlu, “Lion-man,” apparently incorrectly identifying the two. Dr. Reade has suggested alternative identifications as the ugallu or the lahmu.

An ugallu, or "Great lion," ND 8190, courtesy of the Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Brussels, Plate XIa.

An ugallu, or “Great lion,” ND 8190, courtesy of the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels, Plate XIa.

But the latter creature, as we shall see, appears to have a different identity, and the identification of this human-leonine figure as the ugallu is apparently confirmed by the Nimrud fictile examples (Plate XIa). The inscription (Plate XIb) corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual.

Inscription on the right side of ND 8181 (IM 61854), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate XIb. Green states that the "inscription corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual."

Inscription on the right side of ND 8181 (IM 61854), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate XIb. Green states that the “inscription corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual.”

The type must probably be distinguished from the whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion’s pelt, of which a single example occurs in the Nimrud series (Plate XIIa).

ND 9342, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Plate XIIa. Green states that this is a "whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion's pelt," from the Nimrud series.

ND 9342, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Plate XIIa. Green states that this is a “whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion’s pelt,” from the Nimrud series.

The type, as R.S. Ellis has shown, is also distinguished on the palace reliefs (Plate XIIc).

BM 136773, British Museum, a clear representation of the ugallu or "Great lion." Plate XIIc.

BM 136773, British Museum, a clear representation of the ugallu or “Great lion.” Plate XIIc.

Perhaps yet another distinctive type is the Janus-figure of Plate XIIb, having both human and leonine faces, but with no parallels known to me. The identification of both types is unclear.

ND 5296, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Green terms this figurine "Janus-faced," with both leonine and human faces. Plate XIIb.

ND 5296, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Green terms this figurine “Janus-faced,” with both leonine and human faces. Plate XIIb.

The next passage of the ritual prescribes clay figures of the lahmu, inscribed and coated in gypsum, with “water painted on them in black wash.” The type of figure to which this passage refers, though not the reading of the Akkadian name, has been well recognized, since plaques from Aššur, inscribed as in the ritual, depict the figure in close conformity to his representation on the monumental reliefs (Plate XId, left).

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the "Great lion," and lahmu at left.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the “Great lion,” and lahmu at left.

The Nimrud “heroes” are in the main heavily bearded and bewigged men without the distinctive six spiral tresses (Plate XIIIa), but they are nevertheless often inscribed, in the same fashion, and so quite likely represent the same personage.

Green states that these figurines are inscribed with statements that they represent lahmu.  ND 7847, Royal Ontario Museum. Plate XIIIa.

Green states that these figurines are inscribed with statements that they represent lahmu.
ND 7847, Royal Ontario Museum. Plate XIIIa.

Most interesting, perhaps, is a Burnt Palace example on which much of the gypsum coating and painted water survive (Plate XIIIb), as on some similar figures from Ur.

ND 4111 (IM 59290), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Green, Plate XIIIb.

ND 4111 (IM 59290), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Green, Plate XIIIb.

Figurines of a human deity with one arm raised in the air in similar fashion to the ugallu (Plate XIc) have not been found at Nimrud, but the identification of the ugallu from Nimrud figurines allows a possible identification of this personage also.

Oxford 1924.701, Ashmolean Museum. Plate XIc.

Oxford 1924.701, Ashmolean Museum. Plate XIc.

A common line-up at doorways in the North Palace at Nineveh involves a trio of this god, the ugallu and the lahmu (Plate XId). In the ritual text, moreover, the passages prescribing figurines of the ugallu and lahmu occur together, preceded by a prescription for figures of the “House god” who makes a gesture with his right hand and carries a weapon in his left.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the "Great lion," and lahmu at left. He speculates that the "House god" appears at far right. Plate XId.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the “Great lion,” and lahmu at left. The lahmu can be distinguished by his idiosyncratic six curled tresses. He speculates that the “House god” appears at far right. Plate XId.

It is possible, therefore, although it cannot be proved, that the three figures of these doorway reliefs are enumerated in the same order in this ritual.”

Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq, Vol. 45, 1983, pp. 90-2.

Tracing the Doctrine of Cataclysms of Berossus

“The context in Censorinus shows that the interval of 2434 years was in Aristarchus’s opinion the interval between alternate conflagrations and inundations of the world when the sun, moon, and stars all return to the same zodiacal sign.

It is very difficult to trace exactly the adoption of Babylonian ideas by the Greek astronomers. An active part in the diffusion of Babylonian astronomy is often ascribed to Berosus the Chaldaean, who was a contemporary of Aristarchus, and had a doctrine of cataclysms similar to his; for Berosus claimed that when all the planets were in Cancer the earth would be burned, and when they were in Capricorn there would be a flood.

But an examination of the astronomical fragments of Berosus suggests that he had a very inadequate knowledge of the subject. His views on the moon’s phases are reported by Vitruvius, who contrasts them with the explanation given by Aristarchus.

It looks indeed as though Aristarchus set out deliberately to refute the views of his Babylonian contemporary, who settled in Cos, not far from Samos, the home of Aristarchus. Berosus supposed that the moon had light of her own, one half of her orb being luminous and the rest of a blue colour. The moon’s phases thus in his view were caused by her luminous half being turned towards or away from the earth.

Aristarchus, however, maintained that the moon receives her light from the sun, so that on the fourteenth day of the month when she is in opposition to the sun, she is full and rises when the sun is setting.

Vitruvius shows that Aristarchus explained the first and last quarters and the new moons as well; and it is obvious from Aristarchus’s book on the sizes and distances of the sun and moon that Berosus had nothing to teach the Samian about the phases of the moon.

No doubt Aristarchus applied what he had learned from Strato and his own theory about light and shadow to the moon’s phases and to eclipses also. The most obvious objection to Berosus’s doctrine was that it failed to explain lunar eclipses, as Cleomedes [2.4] pointed out.

It is most unlikely that Berosus had anything worth while to teach the Greeks about theoretical astronomy, though he did have a cursory interest in the subject, having treated it in the first book of the Babyloniaca (P. Schnabel, Berossos und die babylonisch-hellenistische LiteraturLeipzig 1923, p. 19.)

We are told also that he maintained that Babylonian astronomical records did not go back before the time of Nabonasar, that king having destroyed the earlier ones. In view of this clear statement it is surprising to find that according to our texts of Pliny, Berosus held that observations of the stars had been inscribed on baked tablets for 480,000 (!) years (490,000 in some copies).

If we read CCCCLXXX for CCCCLXXX we can reduce the period to 480 years. Now Berosus dedicated his Babyloniaca to Antiochus I Soter, who reigned from 281/0 to 262/1 B.C., and if we add 480 to a year in the reign of that king we are brought close to the epoch of Nabonasar.

I think it likely therefore that Berosus stated that accurate observations had been made in Babylonia for 480 years from the time of Nabonasar, and that earlier observations were not available to him. This suggestion is supported by the failure of Ptolemy in the Almagest to cite any Chaldaean observations earlier than the time of Nabonasar.

If Ptolemy’s dating of the first year of Nabonasar to 747 B.C. was the same as Berosus’s, then we have a date for the publication of the Babyloniaca, 480 years after 747 B.C. or 267 B.C., a year well within the reign of Antiochus I to whom the work was dedicated.”

George Huxley, “Aristarchus of Samos and Graeco-Babylonian Astronomy,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, Duke University, Vol 5, No 2 (1964), pp. 125-7.

The Divine Book of Ptah

From a papyrus of the Ptolemaic period we obtain some interesting facts about the great skill in working magic and about the knowledge of magical formulæ which were possessed by a prince called Setnau Khâ-em-Uast.

He knew how to use the powers of amulets and talismans, and how to compose magical formulæ, and he was master both of religious literature and of that of the “double house of life,” or library of magical books.

One day as he was talking of such things one of the king’s wise men laughed at his remarks, and in answer Setnau said, “If thou wouldst read a book possessed of magical powers come with me. and I will show it to thee, the book was written by Thoth himself, and in it there are two formulæ. The recital of the first will enchant (or bewitch) heaven, earth, hell, sea, and mountains, and by it thou shalt see all the birds, reptiles, and fish, for its power will bring the fish to the top of the water. The recital of the second will enable a man if he be in the tomb to take the form which he had upon earth,” etc.

When questioned as to where the book was, Setnau said that it was in the tomb of Ptah-nefer-ka at Memphis. A little later Setnau went there with his brother and passed three days and three nights in seeking for the tomb of Ptah-nefer-ka, and on the third day they found it; Setnau recited some words over it, and the earth opened and they went down to the place where the book was.

When the two brothers came into the tomb they found it to be brilliantly lit up by the light which came forth from the book; and when they looked they saw not only Ptah-nefer-ka, but his wife Ahura, and Merhu their son.

Now Ahura and Merhu were buried at Coptos but their doubles had come to live with Ptah- nefer-ka by means of the magical power of Thoth.

Setnau told them that he had come to take away the book, but Ahura begged him not to do so, and related to him the misfortunes which had already followed the possession of it.

She was, it seems, the sister of Ptah-nefer-ka whom she married, and after the birth of her son Merhu, her husband seemed to devote himself exclusively to the study of magical books, and one day a priest of Ptah promised to tell him where the magical book described above might be found if he would give him a hundred pieces of silver, and provide him with two handsome coffins.

When the money and the coffins had been given to him, the priest of Ptah told Ptah-nefer-ka that the book was in an iron box in the middle of the river at Coptos.

“The iron box is in a bronze box, the bronze box is in a box of palm-tree wood, the palm tree wood box is in a box of ebony and ivory, the ebony and ivory box is in a silver box, the silver box is in a gold box, and in the gold (sic) box lies the book.

The box wherein is the book is surrounded by swarms of serpents and scorpions and reptiles of all kinds, and round it is coiled a serpent which cannot die.”

Ptah-nefer-ka told his wife and the king what he had heard, and at length set out for Coptos with Ahura and Merhu in the royal barge; having arrived at Coptos he went to the temple of Isis and Harpocrates and offered up a sacrifice and poured out a libation to these gods.

Five days later the high priest of Coptos made for him the model of a floating stage and figures of workmen provided with tools; he then recited words of power over them and they became living, breathing men, and the search for the box began.

Having worked for three days and three nights they came to the place where the box was. Ptah-nefer-ka dispersed the serpents and scorpions which were round about the nest of boxes by his words of power, and twice succeeded in killing the serpent coiled round the box, but it came to life again; the third time he cut it into two pieces, and laid sand between them, and this time it did not take its old form again.

He then opened the boxes one after the other, and taking out the gold box with the book inside it carried it to the royal barge. He next read one of the two formula in it and so enchanted or bewitched the heavens and the earth that he learned all their secrets; he read the second and he saw the sun rising in the heavens with his company of the gods, etc.

His wife Ahura then read the book and saw all that her husband had seen. Ptah-nefer-ka then copied the writings on a piece of new papyrus, and having covered the papyrus with incense dissolved it in water and drank it; thus he acquired the knowledge which was in the magical book.

Meanwhile these acts had stirred the god Thoth to wrath, and he told Râ what Ptah-nefer-ka had done. As a result the decree went forth that Ptah-nefer-ka and his wife and child should never return to Memphis, and on the way back to Coptos Ahura and Merhu fell into the river and were drowned; and while returning to Memphis with the book Ptah-nefer-ka himself was drowned also.

Setnau, however, refused to be diverted from his purpose, and he insisted on having the book which he saw in the possession of Ptah-nefer-ka; the latter then proposed to play a game of draughts and to let the winner have the book.

The game was for fifty-two points, and although Ptah-nefer-ka tried to cheat Setnau, he lost the game. At this juncture Setnau sent his brother Anhaherurau up to the earth to bring him his talismans of Ptah and his other magical writings, and when he returned he laid them upon Setnau, who straightway flew up to heaven grasping the wonderful book in his hand.

As he went up from the tomb light went before him, and the darkness closed in behind him; but Ptah-nefer-ka said to his wife, “I will make him bring back this book soon, with a knife and a rod in his hand and a vessel of fire upon his head.”

Of the bewitchment of Setnau by a beautiful woman called Tabubu and of his troubles in consequence thereof we need make no mention here: it is sufficient to say that the king ordered him to take the book back to its place, and that the prophecy of Ptah-nefer-ka was fulfilled. (For translations see Brugsch, Le Roman de Setnau (in Revue Archéologique, 2nd series, Vol. xvi., 1867, p. 161 ff.); Maspero, Contes Égyptiens, Paris, 1882, pp. 45-82; Records of the Past, vol. iv., pp. 129-148; and for the original Demotic text see Mariette, Les Papyrus du Musée de Boulaq, tom. i., 1871, pll. 29-32; Revillout, Le Roman de Setna, Paris, 1877; Hess, Roman von Sfne Ha-m-us. Leipzig, 1888).

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 142-6.

A Tale of Isis from the Metternich Stele

“But apart from being the protector and friend of Osiris, Thoth was the refuge to which Isis fled in her trouble. The words of a hymn declare that she knew “how to turn aside evil hap,” and that she was “strong of tongue, and uttered the words of power which she knew with correct pronunciation, and halted not in her speech, and was perfect both in giving the command and in saying the word,” (Chabas, Revue Archéologique, 1857, p. 65 ff.; Ledrain, Monuments Égyptiens, pl. xxii. ff.; and for a recent translation see my First Steps in Egyptian, pp. 179-188) but this description only proves that she had been instructed by Thoth in the art of uttering words of power with effect, and to him, indeed, she owed more than this.

Metterniche Stele

Metternich Stele

When she found the dead body of her husband Osiris, she hovered about over it in the form of a bird, making air by the beating of her wings, and sending forth light from the sheen of her feathers, and at length she roused the dead to life by her words of power; as the result of the embrace which followed this meeting Horus was born, and his mother suckled him and tended him in her hiding-place in the papyrus swamps.

After a time she was persecuted by Set, her husband’s murderer, who, it seems, shut her and her son Horus up in a house as prisoners. Owing, however, to the help which Thoth gave her, she came forth by night and was accompanied on her journey by seven scorpions, (the story is told on the famous Metternichstele, ed. Golénischeff, Leipzig, 1877) called respectively Tefen, Befen, Mestet, Mestetef, Petet, Thetet, and Matet, the last three of which pointed out the way.

The guide of the way brought her to the swamps of Per-sui, (i.e., Crocodilopolis) and to the town of the two goddesses of the sandals where the swampy country of Athu begins.

Journeying on they came to Teb, (the city of the two sandals. The two sandals were made of leather from the skin of the god Nehes or Set, the opponent of Horus) where the chief of the district had a house for his ladies; now the mistress of the house would not admit Isis on account of the scorpions that were with her, for she had looked out of her door and watched Isis coming.

On this the scorpions took counsel together and wished to sting her by means of the scorpion Tefen, but at this moment a poor woman who lived in the marshes opened the door of her cottage to Isis, and the goddess took shelter therein.

Meanwhile the scorpion had crept under the door into the house of the governor, and stung the son of the lady of the house, and also set the place on fire; no water could quench the fire, and there was no rain to do it, for it was not then the rainy season.

Now these things happened to the woman who had done no active harm to Isis, and the poor creature wandered about the streets of the city uttering loud cries of grief and distress because she knew not whether her boy would live or die.

When Isis saw this she was sorry for the child who had been stung, and as he was blameless in the matter of the door of his mother’s house being shut in the face of the goddess, she determined to save him.

Thereupon she cried out to the distraught mother, saying, “Come to me, come to me! For my word is a talisman which beareth life. I am a daughter well known in thy city also, and I will do away the evil by means of the word of my mouth which my father hath taught me, for I am the daughter of his own body.”

Then Isis laid her hands upon the body of the boy, and in order to bring back the spirit into his body said—

“Come Tefen, appear upon the ground, depart hence, come not nigh!

“Come poison of Befen, appear upon the ground. I am Isis, the goddess, the lady of words of power, who doeth deeds of magic, the words of whose voice are charms.

“Obey me, O every reptile that stingeth, and fall down headlong!

“O poison of [Mestet and] Mestetef, mount not upwards!

“O poison of Petet and Thetet, draw not nigh! O Matet, fall down headlong!”

The goddess Isis then uttered certain words of the charm which had been given to her by the god Seb in order to keep poison away from her, and said, “Turn away, get away, retreat, O poison,” adding the words “Mer-Râ” in the morning and “The Egg of the Goose appeareth from out of the sycamore” in the evening, as she turned to the scorpions.

Both these sentences were talismans. After this Isis lamented that she was more lonely and wretched than all the people of Egypt, and that she had become like an old man who hath ceased to look upon and to visit fair women in their houses; and she ordered the scorpions to turn away their looks from her and to show her the way to the marshes and to the secret place which is in the city of Khebt.

Then the words of the cry, “The boy liveth, the poison dieth! As the sun liveth, so the poison dieth,” were uttered, and the fire in the house of the woman was extinguished, and heaven rejoiced at the words of Isis.

When Isis had said that the “son of the woman had been stung because his mother had shut the door of her house in her face, and had done nothing for her,” the words of the cry, “The boy liveth and the poison dieth,” were again uttered, and the son of the woman recovered.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 129-33.

Getting Laid in the Afterlife

“The texts inscribed on them contain extracts from the Heliopolitan Recension of the Book of the Dead, of which we know so much from the selections given in the Pyramids of Unas, Teta, and other kings, but side by side with these are copies of chapters belonging to Books of the Dead, which seem to have been originally composed at some anterior period, and which were intended to reflect the more popular and more materialistic religious views and beliefs.

Among such books must be mentioned the “Book of Two Ways,” or the “Two Ways of the Blessed Dead,” of which a version inscribed on a coffin in the Berlin Museum has been recently published. (Schack-Schackenburg, Das Buch von den Zwei Wegen des Seligen Toten, Leipzig, 1903).

The rubrical directions of this work show that it was compiled when implicit belief existed in the minds of the Egyptians as to the efficacy of certain “words of power” (hekau ) and of pictures of the gods, and it is clear that many portions of it are purely magical, and were intended to produce very material results. Thus concerning one passage a rubric says, “Whosoever knoweth this Chapter may have union with women by night or by day, and the heart (or, desire) of the woman shall come to him whensoever he would enjoy her.”

This rubric follows a text in which the deceased is made to pray for power of generation similar to that possessed by the god Beba, and for the will and opportunity of overcoming women, and it was to be written on a bandlet which was to be attached to the right arm. Moreover, the soul which had knowledge of certain sections of the work would “live among the living ones,” and would “see Osiris every day,” and would have “air in his nostrils, and death would never draw nigh unto him.”

The illustrations which accompany the texts on the coffins from Al-Barsha make it evident that under the XIth Dynasty the Egyptian theologian had not only divided the Under-world in his mind into sections, with doors, &c., but that he was prepared to describe that portion of it which belonged to the blessed dead, and to supply a plan of it!”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Heaven and Hell, 1905, pp. 12-4.

Footnote 55 on the Use of the Name Iao

“On the use of the name Iao in the magic of the age of syncretism there is an abundance of material. Most of the older examples have been collected by W. von Baudissin, Studien zur Semitischen Religionsgeschichte, vol. 1 (Leipzig, 1876), 179-254. The passage from Yesirah is not referred to by Baudissin, nor did R. Reitzenstein make use of it in his treatment of the Book Yesirah, for which he assumes an ultimately Hellenistic origin reaching back to the second century; his arguments are based on a comparative study of letter-mysticism in late antiquity; see Reitzenstein, Poimandres (Leipzig, 1904), 291.

As an historian with a broad perspective, Reitzenstein perhaps had a clearer view than many other Jewish scholars, who often regarded the Book Yesirah as if it were suspended in a vacuum in the midst of the history of religions. It should also be noted, in this connection, that in the Coptic Pistis Sophia, chap. 136, Iao appears in a similar context: Jesus calls out his name as he turns toward the four corners of the world.

The sealing of the six directions of space by means of the permutations of Iao corresponds to the idea that this name is the master of the four directions of the world, that is, the master of the cosmos. Cf. the material assembled by Erik Peterson, Heis Theos (Göttingen, 1926), 306-307. Peterson’s interpretation of the magical name Arbathiao as “the four Iao” is, however, utterly unconvincing. The magical name is nothing other than a syncretistic transcription of the Tetragrammaton as “the tetrad [of the four letters of the name YHWH upon which is based the name] of Iao.”

This is proven by the corresponding form Tetrasya, which we find in the Hebrew writings of the Hekhaloth and which was still unknown to Peterson; cf. my Major Trends, 56, 363. The terminology employed in the Yesirah for these three directions of space is also very ancient: the phrase “above and below, in front and behind, right and left” is used in exactly the same manner in Akkadian, and is evidently also behind the wording of the Mishnah Hagigah 2:1 (first century), where “in front” and “behind” are to be understood spatially.

This usage was no longer understood by the amoraim, and was in any case transferred from the spatial to the temporal, as S. E. Löwenstamm, “On an Alleged Gnostic Element in Mishnah Hagiga II, 1″ (in Hebrew) in M. Haram (ed.), Yehezkel Kaufmann Jubilee Volume (Jerusalem, 1960), 112-121, has shown, drawing upon Akkadian material. His explanations furnished additional linguistic evidence in support of the antiquity of the Book Yesirah, although precisely the passage under consideration here escaped his attention.”

–Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, 1987, pp. 33-4

Footnote 48, An Amulet

“Through 231 gates everything goes forth. It is found therefore, that every creature and every speech [language] goes forth out of one name” (2:5). Does this mean that the alphabet, in its sequence, constitutes a mystical name? Of such a conception of the alphabet, Franz Dornseiff (Das Alphabet in Mystik und Magie, 2d ed. [Leipzig, 1925], 69-80) collected abundant testimonies from the Greek and Latin sources; cf. also A. Dieterich, ABC—Denkmäler, Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 56 (1900): 77-105.

In the Wiener Jahres hefte 32 (1940): 79-84, Joseph Keil published an important Hebrew-Greek amulet that contains, with an obviously magical intention, the Hebrew alphabet in Greek transcription in the so-called at-bash order. In this order the alphabet is written in two rows boustrophedon and two letters are vertically connected in pairs.

The amulet should be dated between the second and fourth centuries, but certainly no later. (I was able to identify clearly, though with some effort, the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 28:58, which was in one of the three lines that neither Keil nor Ludwig Blau—to whom he showed the amulet in 1926—was able to decipher.

It is only natural that the view that the alphabet constitutes “One name, to wit the name of 22 letters” should have passed into the early Kabbalah, as is attested by the Commentary on the Prayer Book, composed about 1260, by the (anonymous?) commentator Sefer ha-Manhig on the Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer, Ms. British Museum, Mar-goliouth 743, fol. 96b.”

–Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, 1987, pp. 24-35.

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