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Category: Mummu

The Priest of Bel was Actually a Greek Philosopher

“Clearly, we need to allow for the possibility that some of these apparent similarities are fortuitous, just as we also need to allow for historically grown similarities between Ancient Greek and Mesopotamian thought: after all, these two cultures had long been part of the same Eastern Mediterranean world.

But there are at least two reasons for believing that Berossos really did cast himself as a philosopher in the vein of a Zeno. First, his reading of the Enūma Eliš was not the only possible one, nor was Berossos the first to isolate cosmic principles from the poem.

A generation or so earlier, Aristotle’s pupil Eudemos of Rhodes had already had access to a Greek text of the Enūma Eliš and had taken it to encapsulate the principles of Babylonian philosophy as follows:

Among the barbarians, the Babylonians appear to pass over the idea of a single principle in silence and instead to assume two principles of the universe, Tauthe (~ Tiamat) and Apason (~ Apsu), making Apason the husband of Tauthe, and calling her the mother of the gods.

Of these was born an only-begotten son, Moumis (~ Mummu) who, it seems, brought about the intelligible universe from the two first principles.

The same parents also gave rise to another generation, Dache and Dachos (~ Lahmu and Lahamu); and yet another, Kissare and Assoros (~ Kišar and Anšar), who in turn had three sons, Anos (~ Anu), Illinos (~ Ellil) and Aos (~ Ea).

Aos and Dauke (~ Damkina) begot a son called Bel who they say is the demiurge.

Like Berossos, Eudemos reads the Enūma Eliš as an account of physics and singles out two cosmic principles, one male one female.

However, unlike Berossos he identifies these principles with Tiamat and Apsu, rather than Tiamat and Bel, and focuses on the opening genealogy of the gods rather than on tablets 4-6 of Enūma Eliš, which describe the battle among the gods and the creation of the world and man.

Tiamat and Bel-Marduk

Segell cilíndric i la seva impressió, representant una escena mitològica: Asshur atacant un monstre és aclamat per una deessa. Segles IX-VIII aC
British Museum 89589.
A black serpentinite cylinder seal portrays a snout-nosed, horned Tiamat as a dragon.
A bearded god, Ninurta or Bel-Marduk, runs along the reptile’s body with crossed, wedge-tipped quivers on his back. In his right hand he holds a six-pronged thunderbolt below which is a rhomb, while in his left he holds two arrows.
Behind the god, a smaller bearded god in a horned head-dress holds a spear.
On the tail of the dragon stands a goddess, to the left of her head is the eight-rayed star of Istar and the inverted crescent of the Moon God Sin.
The seal may illustrate a scene from the epic of creation in which the forces of chaos, led by Tiamat, are defeated by a god representing cosmic order, Ninurta, or Bel-Marduk.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Judging by Polyhistor’s summary, Berossos seems to have skipped over those early genealogies; or at least to have shifted the main weight of his paraphrase elsewhere. It may seem hazardous to argue from absence in a text as badly mutilated as the Babyloniaca.

However, the entire thrust of Polyhistor’s narrative, including the framing account of Oannes, seems to suggest that the primordial soup of BNJ680 F lb(6), and the monsters in it, really did come first.

There is another feature of Berossos’ narrative which sets him apart from Eudemos: he translates the names of Babylonian deities into their Greek equivalents rather than merely transliterating them. Unlike his forerunner, Berossos was clearly interested in making his account accessible — and meaningful — to a wider Greek audience.

This leads me to my sec­ond reason for thinking that Berossos was quite actively modelling himself on contemporary Greek philosophers like Zeno, and that is his method of reading myth, as encapsulated in the phrase, ‘but he says that this amounts to an allegorical account of physics’.

The phrasing here has been deemed late, though Demetrius, On Style, already uses similar language, and Zeno’s pupil and successor as head of the Stoa, Cleanthes, may have done too.

Whether or not Berossos actually said άλληγορικώζ πεφυσιολογήσθαι, the sentiment is clearly his — for he must be the one who translated Omorka/Tiamat into Greek θάλασσα, hardly a fully fledged mythological character in the Greek imagination.

More generally, the entire thrust of his reading of Enūma Eliš seems to me to be self-evidently rationalising, and, in a rather loose sense of the word, allegorising too.”

Johannes Haubold, “The Wisdom of the Chaldaeans: Reading Berossos, Babyloniaca Book 1,” from Johannes Haubold, Giovanni B. Lanfranchi, Robert Rollinger, John Steele (eds.), The World of Berossos, Proceedings of the 4th International Colloquium on the Ancient Near East Between Classical and Ancient Oriental Traditions, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2013, pp. 35-7.

The Cuneiform Puzzle of the Creation

” …  George Smith recovered the opening lines of the First Tablet, which describes the condition of things before Creation when the primeval water-gods, Apsû and Tiamat, personifying chaos, mingled their waters in confusion.

The text then briefly relates how to Apsû and Tiamat were born the oldest of the gods, the first pair, Lahmu and Lahamu, being followed after a long interval by Anshar and Kishar, and after a second interval by other deities, of whose names the text … only preserves that of Anu.

George Smith perceived that this theogony had been reproduced by Damascius in his summary of the beliefs of the Babylonians concerning the creation of the world. 1

Now, since Damascius mentions Ἴλλινος and Ἀός along with Ἀνός, it was clear that the text of the poem included a description of the birth of the elder Bel (i.e. Enlil or Illil) and of Ea in the passage in which Anu’s name occurs. But as the text … breaks off … the course of the story after this point has hitherto been purely a matter for conjecture.

It appeared probable that the lines which followed contained a full account of the origin of the younger gods, and from the fact that Damascius states that Βῆλος, the Creator of the world, was the son of (i.e. Ea) and Δαύκη (i.e. Damkina), it has been concluded that at any rate special prominence was given to the birth of Bel, i.e. Marduk, who figures so prominently in the story from the close of the Second Tablet onwards.

The new fragments of the First Tablet show that the account of the birth of the gods in the Creation Series is even shorter than that given by Damascius, for the poem contains no mention of the birth and parentage of Marduk.

After mentioning the birth of Nudimmud (i.e. Ea), 2 the text proceeds to describe his marvellous wisdom and strength, and states that he had no rival among the gods; the birth of no other god is recorded after that of Ea, and, when Marduk is introduced later on, his existence, like that of Mummu and of Gaga, appears to be tacitly assumed.

It would seem, therefore, that the reference made by Damascius to Marduk’s parentage was not derived from the text of the Creation Series, but was added by him to complete his summary of the Babylonian beliefs concerning the origin of the gods.”

Leonard William King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, London, 1902. pp. xxxiii-xxxvii.

The First Zodiac

” … Not content with Ummu-Khubur’s brood of devils, Tiâmat called the stars and powers of the air to her aid, for she “set up” …

(1) the Viper,

(2) the Snake,

(3) the god Lakhamu,

(4) the Whirlwind,

(5) the ravening Dog,

(6) the Scorpion-man,

(7) the mighty Storm-wind,

(8) the Fish-man, and

(9) the Horned Beast.

These bore (10) the “merciless, invincible weapon,” and were under the command of (11) Kingu, whom Tiâmat calls “her husband.”

Thus Tiâmat had Eleven mighty Helpers besides the devils spawned by Ummu-Khubur. We may note in passing that some of the above-mentioned Helpers appear among the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac which Marduk “set up” after his conquest of Tiâmat, e.g., the Scorpion-man, the Horned Beast, etc.

This fact suggests that the first Zodiac was “set up” by Tiâmat, who with her Eleven Helpers formed the Twelve Signs; the association of evil with certain stars may date from that period. That the Babylonians regarded the primitive gods as powers of evil is clear from the fact that Lakhamu, one of them, is enumerated among the allies of Tiâmat.

The helpers of Tiâmat were placed by her under the command of a god called KINGU who is TAMMUZ. He was the counterpart, or equivalent, of ANU, the Sky-god, in the kingdom of darkness, for it is said in the text “Kingu was exalted and received the power of Anu,” i.e., he possessed the same power and attributes as Anu.

When Tiâmat appointed Kingu to be her captain, she recited over him a certain spell or incantation, and then she gave him the TABLET OF DESTINIES and fastened it to his breast, saying, “Whatsoever goeth forth from thy mouth shall be established.”

Armed with all the magical powers conferred upon him by this Tablet, and heartened by all the laudatory epithets which his wife Tiâmat heaped upon him, Kingu went forth at the head of his devils.

When Ea heard that Tiâmat had collected her forces and was determined to continue the fight against the gods which Apsû and Mummu had begun, and that she had made her husband Kingu her champion, he was “afflicted” and “sat in sorrow.” He felt unable to renew the fight against the powers of darkness, and he therefore went and reported the new happenings to Anshar, representative of the “host of heaven,” and took counsel with him.

When Anshar heard the matter he was greatly disturbed in mind and bit his lips, for he saw that the real difficulty was to find a worthy antagonist for Kingu and Tiâmat. A gap in the text here prevents us from knowing exactly what Anshar said and did, but the context suggests that he summoned Anu, the Sky-god, to his assistance. Then, having given him certain instructions, he sent him on an embassy to Tiâmat with the view of conciliating her.

When Anu reached the place where she was he found her in a very wrathful state, and she was muttering angrily; Anu was so appalled at the sight of her that he turned and fled. It is impossible at present to explain this interlude, or to find any parallel to it in other ancient Oriental literature.”

Illustration: Shamash the Sun-god rising on the horizon, flames of fire ascending from his shoulder. The two portals of the dawn, each surmounted by a lion, are being drawn open by attendant gods. From a Babylonian seal cylinder in the British Museum. [No. 89,110.]

Illustration: Shamash the Sun-god rising on the horizon, flames of fire ascending from his shoulder. The two portals of the dawn, each surmounted by a lion, are being drawn open by attendant gods. From a Babylonian seal cylinder in the British Museum. [No. 89,110.]

E.A. Wallis Budge, et al, & the British Museum, The Babylonian Legends of the Creation & the Fight Between Bel & the Dragon Told by Assyrian Tablets from Nineveh (BCE 668-626), 1901, pp. 8-9.

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