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Category: Nungalpiriggaldim

Kvanvig: The Apkallu are on the Borderline Between the Human and the Divine

“Our assumption is therefore that there existed two versions of the Adapa Myth in the Nineveh archives. Since the Nineveh fragments C and E follow fairly close to the Amarna text in fragment B where they overlap, we suppose, as quite commonly in scholarship (sic), that a story like fragment B was known to the Assyrian scholars.

At the same time they had received, or composed themselves, a different version of the outcome of the story: Adapa was not returned to the earth, but remained in heaven as the ultimate sign of divine wisdom.

We use this hypothesis as a backdrop for the following discussion of the relationship between the Adapa Myth and Bīt Mēseri, being aware of the possibility of other explanations of the close similarities between the texts.

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the Nisroc bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.  The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities.  The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.  The anthropomorphic qualities of the purādu-fish and the Nisroc apkallu remain unexplained, though the eagle is sacred to Enki / Ea.

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the Nisroc bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.
The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities.
The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.
The anthropomorphic qualities of the purādu-fish and the Nisroc apkallu remain unexplained, though the eagle is sacred to Enki / Ea.

The place where the connection between Bīt Mēseri and the Adapa Myth is most clear is in the fate of the seventh apkallu. According to Bīt Mēseri he is described as: utuabzu ša ana šamê ilū, “Utuabzu, who ascended to heaven” (I. 9).

In the subsequent list it is said about the same apkallu that he descended from heaven. In the myth an essential part of the plot is that Adapa, because of his interruption of the divine order by breaking the wing of the South Wind, had to ascend to Anu: a[n]a šamê īt[ellim]a, “he ascended to heaven,” repeated in the next line: ana šamê ina ēlišu, “when he ascended to heaven” (Amarna fragment B rev. 37-38).

As we have already seen, the final fate of Adapa, according to fragment B, was that he was sent back to the earth. So there are good reasons to assume that the fate of Adapa according this version of the myth is reflected in the seventh sage in Bīt Mēseri.

There are descriptions similar to the one of the seventh apkallu connected to all the apkallus in the list of Bīt Mēseri. The descriptions connected to the first seven are very brief; those connected to the next four are a bit longer, almost like a line from a story.

If we for the moment exclude the first apkallu, to whom we will return, the problem is that we do not know what these descriptions refer to. If we use the description of the seventh apkallu as a point of departure, especially the longer ones could in the same manner be allusions to stories known to the readers.

(Cf. V.A. Horowitz, “Tales of Two Sages—Towards an Image of the “Wise Man” in Akkadian Writings,” in Scribes, Sages, and Seers: The Sage in the Eastern Mediterranean World, ed. L.G. Perdue. Göttingen 2008, 64-94, 66.)

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed "genies," as they were long described, are now known to be apkallū, "bird-apkallū," in this case, mixed-feature exorcists and creatures of protection created by the god Ea. They traditionally served as advisors to kings. Their association with sacred trees, as they are often portrayed, remains somewhat perplexing.  This apkallū makes the iconic gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin with the mullilu cone in his raised right hand, and the banduddu water bucket in his left hand.  There are three known types of apkallū: the human, with wings; the avian-headed, with wings, and the fish-apkallū, with carp skin draped over their heads.  https://www.flickr.com/photos/lanpernas2/8606000868/

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed “genies,” as they were long described, are now known to be apkallū, “bird-apkallū,” in this case, mixed-feature exorcists and creatures of protection created by the god Ea. They traditionally served as advisors to kings. Their association with sacred trees, as they are often portrayed, remains somewhat perplexing.
This apkallū makes the iconic gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin with the mullilu cone in his raised right hand, and the banduddu water bucket in his left hand.
There are three known types of apkallū: the human, with wings; the avian-headed, with wings, and the fish-apkallū, with carp skin draped over their heads.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/lanpernas2/8606000868/

There is a common denominator in these allusions; they all tell about quite extraordinary events, demonstrating the power of the apkallus:

“14-15: Nungalpiriggaldim, the apkallu of Enmerkar, who brought down Ištar from heaven into the sanctuary;

16-17: Piriggalnungal, born in Kiš, who angered the god Iškur / Adad in heaven,

18-19: so he allowed neither rain nor growth in the land for three years;

20-23: Piriggalabzu, born in Adab / Utab, who hung his seal on a “goat-fish” and thereby angered the god Enki /Ea in the fresh water sea, so that a fuller struck him with his own seal;

24-25: the fourth, Lu-Nanna, two-thirds apkallu,

26-27: who expelled a dragon from É-Ninkiagnunna, the temple of Ištar and Šulgi;”

(Bīt Mēseri III, 14’-27’).

In two of the cases it is said that this power angered the gods: Pririggalnungal angered Adad and Piriggalabzu angered Ea. In these cases there is an analogy to the Adapa Myth.

Adapa was equipped with the power of speech, so when he cursed the South Wind, the curse became reality, the wing was broken, and the Wind was paralyzed. This interruption of the divine order angered Anu in heaven, which was the reason why Adapa had to ascend to heaven to appease him.

There is, accordingly, something ambiguous in this power. The apkallu exist on the borderline between the human and the divine. They can overstep this line and trespass into the realm of the divine, and thus anger the gods.

On the other hand, this is not purely negative; if so it would hardly have been included in the text; the power reveals the fearless and courageous nature of the apkallus, certainly necessary when they shall fight the terrifying demons.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 123-5.

Kvanvig: The Apkallu List from Bīt Mēseri

“Reiner numbers the lines 1’-31’, which covers the lines 9-31 in Weiher’s edition. Borger knew Weiher’s work on the Uruk recension of Bīt Mēseri when he translated the text, even though Weiher’s final edition was published afterwards. We will return to the different aspects of the text later.

  • 1-2: Incantation: Uanna, who completed the plans of heaven and earth;
  • 3-4: Uannedugga, who is given broad understanding;
  • 5: Enmedugga, to whom a good fate is decreed;
  • 6: Enmegalamma, who was born in a house;
  • 7: Enmebulugga, who grew up on a river-flat;
  • 8: Anenlilda, the purification priest from Eridu;
  • 9. Utuabzu, who ascended to heaven;
  • 10-11: the pure carps, the carps from the sea, the seven,
  • 12-13: the seven apkallus, born in the river, who keep in order the plans of heaven and earth.
  • 14-15: Nungalpiriggaldim, the apkallu of Enmerkar, who brought down Ištar from heaven into the sanctuary;
  • 16-17: Piriggalnungal, born in Kiš, who angered the god Iškur / Adad in heaven,
  • 18-19: so he allowed neither rain nor growth in the land for three years;
  • 20-23:Piriggalabzu, born in Adab / Utab, who hung his seal on a “goat-fish” and thereby angered the god Enki / Ea in the fresh water sea, so that a fuller struck him with his own seal;
  • 24-25: the fourth, Lu-Nanna, two-thirds apkallu,
  • 26-27: who expelled a dragon from É-Ninkiagnunna, the temple of Ištar and Šulgi;
  • 28-29: the four apkallus, of human descent, whom the Lord Enki / Ea has endowed with broad understanding.

(Bīt Mēseri III, 1’-29’).

Now compare this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre: an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone in his right hand, holding his banduddu bucket in his left. This ummânū wears bracelets with a concentric circular design, and rosettes are not apparent. This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress of Anu, but with three stacked layers of horns. As noted elsewhere, this headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis. From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.  Louvre, AO 19845

Now compare this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre: an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone in his right hand, holding his banduddu bucket in his left.
This ummânū wears bracelets with a concentric circular design, and rosettes are not apparent.
This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress of Anu, but with three stacked layers of horns.
As noted elsewhere, this headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis.
From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.
Louvre, AO 19845

We have a stable tradition extending over several hundred years about the names and order of the seven apkallus living before the flood. The list in Bīt Mēseri is the oldest one, and is Neo-Assyrian; the list in Berossos is from around 290; the Uruk list is dated to 164 / 165.

It is, however, clear that the Greek text of Berossos’ Babyloniaca is in no way part of a line of transmission. In this respect Berossos is of interest because his list is a witness to a cuneiform textual tradition that existed in Babylon at this time.

It shows, together with the Uruk tablet and the Babylonia recension of Bīt Mēseri, that the list of antediluvian sages did not only belong to the Assyrians, but was adopted by the Babylonians in later centuries.

The names of the apkallus are not as old as the names of the antediluvian kings. They have similarities with the names of known literary works.

(cf. W.W. Hallo, “On the Antiquity of Sumerian Literature,” JAOS 83 (1963): 167-76, 175f.)

Moreover, three of the sages have names constructed of en-me. Three of the kings in the lists have similar constructions: Enmenluanna, Enmegalanna, Enmeduranna (Enmeduranki). These three names can tentatively be translated as follows: “Lord of the me, man of heaven; Lord of the great me, of heaven; Lord of the me, band of heaven.”

(Cf. Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic, 193, note 109 for a suggested translation of the whole Antediluvian King List, based on D. O. Edzard, “Enmebaragesi von Kiš,” ZA (NF) 19 (43) (1959): 9-26, 18.)

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 108-10.

Correspondences Between Apkallu and the Nephilim

“Mesopotamian literature provides some interesting glimpses into the conceptual background of Genesis 6:1-4. The most notable case is the famous hero Gilgamesh. As a great warrior-king, he would certainly fit the epithets “ancient warrior” and “man of renown.”

In the Gilgamesh Epic we are told that “two-thirds of him is god and one-third of him is human” (I.46 and IX.31), the son of the goddess Ninsun and the human king Lugalbanda. In this ancestry we see a divine / human marriage and the birth of a semi divine child.

Gilgamesh defeating the Bull of Heaven.

Gilgamesh defeating the Bull of Heaven.

There is also a pivotal scene in the Gilgamesh epic where the goddess Ishtar sees that Gilgamesh is beautiful and desires to marry him–but Gilgamesh refuses Ishtar’s advances (VI.5-80). Here is almost another divine / human marriage, again with a divine woman and a mortal man. The motif of Gilgamesh’s semi divine identity likely stems from the ideology of kingship in Mesopotamia, in which the king is often depicted as quasi-divine, sealed with greatness by the gods at birth.

For example, the Tukulti Ninurta Epic describes the Assyrian king as “the flesh of the gods” (šēr ilāni), the same phrase used to describe Gilgamesh in Gilgamesh IX.53. Royalty is rounded with divinity in Mesopotamian political ideology, as it is elsewhere in the ancient Near East.

In the top register, Ummiamu tend to a sacred tree, In the lower register, antediluvian apkallu tend to a sacred tree.  The pinecones and buckets in their hands are now understood to be standard devices used to sprinkle water.

In the top register, ummianu, postdiluvian apkallu, tend to a sacred tree, In the lower register, antediluvian apkallu tend to a sacred tree.
The pinecones and buckets in their hands are now understood to be standard devices used to sprinkle water in blessing.

It is entirely possible that the unknown legends of the Nephilim have something to do with stories of such ancient semi divine warrior kings. Another relevant example, mediating between Mesopotamian and biblical traditions, is Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-12; J), a mighty hunter and king of Babylon and Assyria.

A.D. Kilmer has suggested that the ancient sages of Mesopotamian tradition–the apkallu–may be related to the Nephilim. The grounds for this suggestion are the following: the apkallu lived immediately before and after the flood; some of the post-diluvian apkallu are described as angering various gods; and some apkallu are “of human descent,” one of them being only two-thirds apkallu. A Late Babylonian list of the apkallu alludes to several unknown episodes about the postdiluvian apkallu:

  • Nungalpiriggaldim–who brought down Ishtar from heaven and who made the harp decorated with bronze and lapis.
  • Piriggalnungal–who angered Adad
  • Piriggalabsu–who angered Ea
  • Lu-Nanna, only two-thirds apkallu–who drove the dragon from Ishtar’s temple
  • [total of ] four of human descent whom Ea endowed with comprehensive intelligence.

Of the apkallu before the flood, only Adapa can be said to have angered the gods, since Anu calls him to task for breaking the wing of the south wind.

The transgressions of the apkallu are intriguing, particularly those “of human descent.” Yet it is hard to see how these figures can be directly related to the Nephilim, since their identities and attributes are so different: the apkallu are ancient sages and culture heros, while the Nephilim are ancient warriors and giants.

It is plausible, as H.S. Kvanvig has argued, that tales of the apkallu became mixed with interpretations of the Sons of God and the Nephilim in post-exilic times, for in I Enoch and later texts the heavenly beings (the “Watchers”) that come to earth to marry human women are also culture heroes, teaching arts and sciences to their human wives. Adding to this possibility of influence are indications that parts of I Enoch are of Mesopotamian provenance.”

Ronald Hendel, “The Nephilim Were on the Earth: Genesis 6:1-4 and its Ancient Near Eastern Context,” in Christoph Auffarth and Loren T. Stuckenbruck, eds., The Fall of the Angels, Brill, 2004, pp. 27-9.

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