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Category: Library of Nineveh

Nergal the Destroyer

“The library of Nineveh contained the copy of a tablet which, according to its concluding lines, was originally written for the great temple of Nergal at Cutha. The words of the text are put in the mouth of Nergal the destroyer, who is represented as sending out the hosts of the ancient brood of chaos to their destruction.

Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.  In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.  The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld.  The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lions suckling at her breast.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.  The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.
In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.
The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld.
The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lions suckling at her breast.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Nergal is identified with Nerra, the plague-god, who smites them with pestilence, or rather with Ner, the terrible “king who gives not peace to his country, the shepherd who grants no favour to his people.”

We are first told how the armies of chaos came into existence.

“On a tablet none wrote, none disclosed, and no bodies or brushwood were produced in the land; and there was none whom I approached.

Warriors with the body of a bird of the valley, men with the faces of ravens, did the great gods create. In the ground did the gods create their city. Tiamat (the dragon of chaos) suckled them. Their progeny (sasur) the mistress of the gods created.

In the midst of the mountains they grew up and became heroes and increased in number. Seven kings, brethren, appeared and begat children. Six thousand in number were their peoples. The god Banini their father was king; their mother was the queen Melili.”

It was the subjects and the offspring of these semi-human heroes whom the god Ner was deputed to destroy.

The reverse side of the god Nergal,  drawn by Faucher-Gudin. This is the back of the bronze plate above; the animal-head of the god appears in relief at the top of the illustration. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0018

The reverse side of the god Nergal, drawn by Faucher-Gudin. This is the back of the bronze plate above; the animal-head of the god appears in relief at the top of the illustration.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0018

It is clear that the legend of Cutha agrees with Berossos in the main facts, however much it may differ in details. In both alike, we have a first creation of living beings, and these beings are of a composite nature, and the nurselings of Tiamat or Chaos.

"Bird men" are depicted.

“Bird men” are depicted.

In both alike, the whole brood is exterminated by the gods of light. A curious point in connection with the legend is the description of chaos as a time when writing was as yet unknown and records unkept. Perhaps we may see in this an allusion to the fact that the Babylonian histories of the pre-human period were supposed to have been composed by the gods.

The date to which the legend in its present form may be assigned is difficult to determine. The inscription is in Semitic only, like the other creation-tablets, and therefore cannot belong to the pre-Semitic age. It belongs, moreover, to an epoch when the unification of the deities of Babylonia had already taken place, and the circle of “the great gods” was complete.

Ea, Istar, Zamama, Anunit, even Nebo and “Samas the warrior,” are all referred to in it. We must therefore place its composition after the rise not only of the hymns of Sippara, but also of the celebrity of the Semitic god of Borsippa.

On the other hand, the reference to the pateśi or priest-king in the concluding lines seems to prevent us from assigning too late a date to the poem. Perhaps we shall not be far wrong in ascribing it to the era of Khammuragas.”

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. 372-4.

Sargon and the Observations of Bel

“We know that Sargon’s patronage of science produced the great standard Babylonian work on astronomy and astrology, in seventy-two books, which went under the name of the Observations of Bel. It was translated into Greek by the Chaldean historian Bêrôssos, and large portions of it, including a table of contents, are among the tablets found on the site of the library of Kouyunjik.

This illustration is from a page on Babylonian astronomy hosted by the science faculty of the Mathematical Institute of Utrecht University.  http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl_fixedstars.htm A dedicated work assessing the influences of Chaldean astrology on later Greek and Roman knowledge can be found in Franz Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, 1912.  Full text available for download at several locations on the net, including: http://theosnet.net/dzyan/miscpubs/Astrology_and_Religion.pdf

This illustration is from a page on Babylonian astronomy hosted by the science faculty of the Mathematical Institute of Utrecht University.
http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl_fixedstars.htm
A dedicated work assessing the influences of Chaldean astrology on later Greek and Roman knowledge can be found in Franz Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, 1912.
Full text available for download at several locations on the net, including:
http://theosnet.net/dzyan/miscpubs/Astrology_and_Religion.pdf

In the course of centuries it had undergone a large amount of interpolation and addition; marginal glosses had crept into the text, and new paragraphs had been inserted recording the observations that had been made by the astronomers and astrologers of Babylonia during the whole length of the historical period.

In the form, therefore, in which it was edited for the library of Nineveh, it was very different from the original work that had been composed by the orders of Sargon. Old and new matter had been mixed up in it, and the enlargements introduced into it had probably nearly doubled its original size.

In the Fifth Tablet of the Creation Series (l. 2) the Signs of the Zodiac are called Lumashi 12  , but unfortunately no list of their names is given in the context. Now these are supplied by the little tablet (No. 77,821) of the Persian Period of which a reproduction is here given. It has been referred to and discussed by various scholars, and its importance is very great.  The transcript of the text, which is now published (see p. 68) for the first time, will be acceptable to the students of the history of the Zodiac. Egyptian, Greek, Syriac and Arabic astrological and astronomical texts all associate with the Signs of the Zodiac twelve groups, each containing three stars, which are commonly known as the "Thirty-six Dekans."   The text of line 4 of the Fifth Tablet of the Creation Series proves that the Babylonians were acquainted with these groups of stars, for we read that Marduk "set up for the twelve "months of the year three stars apiece." In the List of Signs of the Zodiac here given, it will be seen that each Sign is associated with a particular month. http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/blc07.htm http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/img/015.png

In the Fifth Tablet of the Creation Series (l. 2) the Signs of the Zodiac are called Lumashi 12 , but unfortunately no list of their names is given in the context. Now these are supplied by the little tablet (No. 77,821) of the Persian Period of which a reproduction is here given. It has been referred to and discussed by various scholars, and its importance is very great.
The transcript of the text, which is now published (see p. 68) for the first time, will be acceptable to the students of the history of the Zodiac. Egyptian, Greek, Syriac and Arabic astrological and astronomical texts all associate with the Signs of the Zodiac twelve groups, each containing three stars, which are commonly known as the “Thirty-six Dekans.”
The text of line 4 of the Fifth Tablet of the Creation Series proves that the Babylonians were acquainted with these groups of stars, for we read that Marduk “set up for the twelve “months of the year three stars apiece.” In the List of Signs of the Zodiac here given, it will be seen that each Sign is associated with a particular month.
http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/blc07.htm
http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/img/015.png

But the original work was itself a compilation of records and observations that had been made during an untold number of previous years. These records and observations had for the most part been written in Accadian; the result being that, although the astronomy of the Chaldeans, as we know it, is purely Semitic in form and character, many of its technical terms are non-Semitic, as well as the names of the celestial bodies.

Hence it is that we find a remarkable inconsistency between certain facts reported by the astronomical tablets and the astronomical system which they set before us. This astronomical system is based upon the assumption that the sun enters the first point of the constellation Aries at the time of the vernal equinox.

http://doormann.tripod.com/asssky.htm Assyrian star map from Nineveh (K 8538). Counterclockwise from bottom: Sirius (Arrow), Pegasus + Andromeda (Field + Plough), [Aries], the Pleiades, Gemini, Hydra + Corvus + Virgo, Libra. Drawing by L.W.King with corrections by J.Koch. Neue Untersuchungen zur Topographie des Babilonischen Fixsternhimmels (Wiesbaden 1989), p. 56ff.

http://doormann.tripod.com/asssky.htm
Assyrian star map from Nineveh (K 8538). Counterclockwise from bottom: Sirius (Arrow), Pegasus + Andromeda (Field + Plough), [Aries], the Pleiades, Gemini, Hydra + Corvus + Virgo, Libra. Drawing by L.W.King with corrections by J.Koch. Neue Untersuchungen zur Topographie des Babilonischen Fixsternhimmels (Wiesbaden 1989), p. 56ff.

The system must therefore have come into existence later than the 26th century before the Christian era, when Aries first became the starting-point of the Zodiacal signs. But the signs themselves were named, and the path of the sun through them was mapped out, when the vernal equinox still coincided with the sun’s entrance, not into Aries, but into Taurus.

The whole pre-Semitic nomenclature of the Zodiacal signs, and the months of the year that correspond to them, rests on the supposition that the Zodiacal bull ushers in the vernal year. Its Accadian name was “the directing Bull,” the bull that directs the course of the year; and the sign which faced it, the Scorpion of a later age, was correspondingly termed the star “that is opposite to the foundation” of the year.

We can now understand why the Sun-god Merodach, whom even the astronomers of the historical period continued to identify with the typical constellations of the twelve months of the year, should have been entitled “the Bull of Light” in the primitive astronomical records.

He was, in fact, the celestial bull who ploughed the great furrow of the sky, and from whom the first sign of the Zodiac borrowed its name. We may see in him the prototype of that famous bull of later legend whom Anu created in order to avenge upon Gisdhubar the slight offered by the latter to Istar.

The Sun-god eventually became the monster slain by a solar hero. Such are the results of time working upon the half-forgotten beliefs and tales of an earlier age.

Whiie in some instances the old totemistic conceptions were evaded by the degeneration of a god into a mere animal, in others the reverse process took place, the bestial element being eliminated from the nature of the god.”

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. 291-3.

Spence on the Gilgamesh Epic

“The Gilgamesh epic ranks with the Babylonian myth of creation as one of the greatest literary productions of ancient Babylonia. The main element in its composition is a conglomeration of mythic matter, drawn from various sources, with perhaps a substratum of historic fact, the whole being woven into a continuous narrative around the central figure of Gilgamesh, prince of Erech.

It is not possible at present to fix the date when the epic was first written. Our knowledge of it is gleaned chiefly from mutilated fragments belonging to the library of Assur-bani-pal, but from internal and other evidence we gather that some at least of the traditions embodied in the epic are of much greater antiquity than his reign.

Thus a tablet dated 2100 b.c. contains a variant of the deluge story inserted in the XIth tablet of the Gilgamesh epic. Probably this and other portions of the epic existed in oral tradition before they were committed to writing—that is, in the remote Sumerian period.

Assur-bani-pal was an enthusiastic and practical patron of literature. In his great library at Nineveh (the nucleus of which had been taken from Calah by Sennacherib) he had gathered a vast collection of volumes, clay tablets, and papyri, most of which had been carried as spoil from conquered lands.

He also employed scribes to copy older texts, and this is evidently how the existing edition of the Gilgamesh epic came to be written. From the fragments now in the British Museum it would seem that at least four copies of the poem were made in the time of Assur-bani-pal.

They were not long permitted to remain undisturbed. The great Assyrian empire was already declining; ere long Nineveh was captured and its library scattered, while plundering hordes burnt the precious rolls of papyrus, and buried the clay tablets in the debris of the palace which had sheltered them.

There they were destined to lie for over 2000 years, till the excavations of Sir A. H. Layard, George Smith, and others brought them to light. It is true that the twelve tablets of the Gilgamesh epic (or rather, the fragments of them which have so far been discovered) are much defaced; frequently the entire sense of a passage is obscured by a gap in the text, and this, when nice mythological elucidations are in question, is no light matter.

Yet to such an extent has the science of comparative religion progressed in recent years that we are probably better able to read the true mythological significance of the epic than were the ancient Babylonians themselves, who saw in it merely an account of the wanderings and exploits of a national hero.

The epic, which centres round the ancient city of Erech, relates the adventures of a half-human, halfdivine hero, Gilgamesh by name, who is king over Erech.

Two other characters figure prominently in the narrative—Eabani, who evidently typifies primitive man, and Ut-Napishtim, the hero of the Babylonian deluge myth. Each of the three would seem to have been originally the hero of a separate group of traditions which in time became incorporated, more or less naturally, with the other two.

The first and most important of the trio, the hero Gilgamesh, may have been at one time a real personage, though nothing is known of him historically.[1] Possibly the exploits of some ancient king of Erech have furnished a basis for the narrative.

His name (for a time provisionally read Gisdhubar, or Izdubar, but now known to have been pronounced Gilgamesh[2]) suggests that he was not Babylonian but Elamite or Kassite in origin, and from indications furnished by the poem itself we learn that he conquered Erech (or relieved the city from a besieging force) at the outset of his adventurous career.

It has been suggested also that he was identical with the Biblical Nimrod, like him a hero of ancient Babylon; but there are no other grounds for the suggestion.

So much for the historical aspect of Gilgamesh. His mythological character is more easily established. In this regard he is the personification of the sun. He represents, in fact, the fusion of a great national hero with a mythical being.

Throughout the epic there are indications that Gilgamesh is partly divine by nature,though nothing specific is said on that head. His identity with the solar god is veiled in the popular narrative, but it is evident that he has some connexion with the god Shamash, to whom he pays his devotions and who acts as his patron and protector.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 154-6.

More on Sargon

“But in spite of the atmosphere of myth which came to enshroud him, as it enshrouded the persons of Kyros, of Charlemagne, and of other heroes of popular history, Sargon was a historical monarch and the founder of a really great empire.

The British Museum actually possesses an inscribed egg of veined marble which he dedicated to the Sun-god of Sippara (ed note: Shamash), and the seal of his librarian Ibni-sarru is in the hands of M. Le Clercq of Paris. What may be termed the scientific literature of the library of Nineveh makes frequent reference to him, and we learn that it was for the great library which he established in his capital city of Accad that the two standard Babylonian works on astronomy and terrestrial omens were originally compiled.

Sargon's inscribed egg for the Sun God Shamash at Sippara in the British Museum.

Sargon’s inscribed egg for the Sun God Shamash at Sippara in the British Museum.

 The work on astronomy was entitled The Observations of Bel, and consisted of no less than seventy-two books, dealing with such matters as the conjunction of the sun and moon, the phases of Venus, and the appearances of comets.

It was translated in later days into Greek by the historian Berossus and though supplemented by numerous additions in its passage through the hands of generations of Babylonian astronomers, the original work contained so many records of eclipses as to demonstrate the antiquity of Babylonian astronomy even in the remote age of Sargon himself.

But besides our knowledge of Sargon’s patronage of learning, we also know something about the civil history of his reign. A copy of its annals has come down to us. We gather from these that he was not only successful in overthrowing all opposition at home, he was also equally successful abroad.

His first campaign was against the powerful kingdom of Elam in the East, where he overthrew the enemy and mutilated their slain. Next he turned to the West, laying his yoke on Syria, and subjugating “the four quarters” of the world. Then the rival kings of Babylon and other Chaldean cities felt his power; and out of the spoil of the vanquished he built the city of Accad and gave it its name.

From this time forward his attention was chiefly devoted to the West. Year after year he penetrated into Syria, until at last, we are told, “he had neither equal nor rival;” he crossed the Mediterranean to the island we now call Cyprus, and “in the third year,” at the bounds of the setting sun, his hands conquered all peoples and his mouth decreed a single empire.

Here on the shores of Cyprus the great conqueror erected images of himself, and then carried the booty of the island to the opposite coast of Asia. Such a glimpse into the history of what became afterwards a Grecian sea, when as yet no Greeks had made their ray to their later home, is startling to those whose conceptions of authentic history have been limited by the narrow horizon of the classical world. Its trustworthiness, however, has been curiously verified by a discovery made by General de Cesnola in the treasure-vaults of a Kyprian temple among the ruins of the ancient Kurion.

A god in horned cap brandishes a mace and the forked lightening of Iva-Vul, Thunder God, and sets foot on a recumbent bull.  Behind him is a leaping ibex. In front, a man, perhaps the king, in a short coat, standing full face. Behind him a man on bended knee, possibly the owner of the cylinder. Above him, a small deer is recumbent and inverted.  Then a figure in a long garment, and 3 rows of cuneiform writing:  "Arba Istar: son of Ibu Beled: servant of the god Naram-Sin."  The king Naram-Sin, to whom a divine determinative prefix is given here, reigned in Babylonia no later than 2600 BCE.  Cyprus, plate 4300.  John L. Myres, Handbook of the Cesnola Collection of Antiquities from Cyprus, 1914.

A god in horned cap brandishes a mace and the forked lightening of Iva-Vul, Thunder God, and sets foot on a recumbent bull.
Behind him is a leaping ibex. In front, a man, perhaps the king, in a short coat, standing full face. Behind him a man on bended knee, possibly the owner of the cylinder. Above him, a small deer is recumbent and inverted.
Then a figure in a long garment, and 3 rows of cuneiform writing:
“Arba Istar: son of Ibu Beled: servant of the god Naram-Sin.”
The king Naram-Sin, to whom a divine determinative prefix is given here, reigned in Babylonia no later than 2600 BCE.
Cyprus, plate 4300.
John L. Myres, Handbook of the Cesnola Collection of Antiquities from Cyprus, 1914.

Here, among other hematite cylinders of early Babylonian origin, he found one the first owner of which describes himself as a ” servant” or ”worshipper” of “the deified Naram- Sin.” Naram-Sin was the son and successor of Sargon, and it is not likely that he would have received divine honours after the fall of the dynasty to which he belonged.

The fact that the cylinder was discovered in Cyprus seems to show that even after Sargon’s death a connection continued to exist between Cyprus and the imperial power of Babylonia. Naram-Sin, however, was more bent on the conquest of Magána, or the Sinaitic Peninsula, than upon further campaigns in the West.

Sinai, with its mines of turquoise and copper, had been a prize coveted by the Egyptians ever since the age of the Third Dynasty, and one of the first efforts of the rising rival power on the banks of the Euphrates was to gain possession of the same country.

Naram-Sin, so runs the annalistic tablet, “marched to the land of Magána; the land of Magána he conquered, and overcame its king.”

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. 29-31.

Ashurbanipal’s Great Library of Nineveh

“But if Assur-bani-pal was effeminate and lax in government, he was the first great patron of literature. It is to his magnificent library at Nineveh that we owe practically all that we have preserved of the literature that was produced in Babylonia.

He saw that the southern part of his empire was far more intellectual and cultured than Assyria, and he despatched numerous scribes to the temple schools of the south, where they copied extensively from their archives every description of literary curiosity— hymns, legends, medical prescriptions, myths and rituals were all included in the great library at Nineveh. These through the labours of Layard and Rassam have been restored to us.

It is a most extraordinary instance of antiquarian zeal in an epoch which we regard as not far distant from the beginnings of verifiable history. Nearly twenty thousand fragments of brick, bearing the results of Assur-bani-pal’s researches, are housed in the British Museum, and this probably represents only a portion of his entire collection.

Political motives have been attributed to Assur-bani-pal in thus bringing together such a great library. It has been argued that he desired to make Assyria the centre of the religious influence of the empire. This would derogate greatly from the view that sees in him a king solely fired with the idea of preserving and retaining all that was best in ancient Babylonian literature in the north as well as in the south, and having beside him for his own personal use those records which many circumstances prove he was extremely desirous of obtaining. Thus we find him sending officials on special missions to obtain copies of certain works.

It is also significant that Assur-bani-pal placed his collection in a library and not in a temple—a fact which, discounts the theory that his collection of literature had a religious-political basis.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 35-6.

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