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Category: Persian Gulf

Kvanvig: Introducing the Apkallu Odakon

“In the first survey of the Sumerian tablets found in Tell Haddad, ancient Meturan, from 1993, A. Cavigneaux and F. Al-Rawi call attention to two pieces containing the Adapa Myth in Sumerian. They are dated to the Old Babylonian period.

Since the manuscripts are not yet published, we have to rely on the description of content given in this survey. The Sumerian version is close to to the Akkadian Amarna tablet and the Nineveh tablets already known (we return to this issue below).

What is of interest in our context here is that in the Sumerian version of the Adapa Myth proper is preceded by an introduction of about 100 lines. In this fragmentary introduction there is a reference to the flood, and the central concern is the feeding of the gods and the organization of humankind from the end of Atrahasis; the Royal Chronicle of Lagash describes the reorganization of humankind after the flood.

Since the fragmentary beginning of the manuscript is not published, we can, however, not be certain at what stage the feeding of the gods and the organization of humankind took place.

We have seen in the Eridu Genesis that there seems to be a pairing of the situation of humankind at the very beginning when they lived without proper culture with their situation after the flood when they had to start from the beginning again.

Anyway, the Sumerian version of the Adapa Myth demonstrates that Berossos was not the first to include the myth about the great primeval apkallu, Adapa, in the primeval history. This was already done in the Old Babylonian period.

The god Ea at far left, wearing the horned headdress indicative of divinity, with water coursing from his shoulders. 

A fish-apkallū is in the iconic posture with right hand raised in blessing or exorcism, with the banduddu bucket in his left hand. 

The next apkallū wields an indistinct and as yet undefined angular object in his right hand, with the typical banduddu bucket in his left. 

The entity at far right, which appears to be wearing a horned tiara indicative of divinty, remains unidentified and undefined.

The god Ea at far left, wearing the horned headdress indicative of divinity, with water coursing from his shoulders. 

A fish-apkallū is in the iconic posture with right hand raised in blessing or exorcism, with the banduddu bucket in his left hand. 

The next apkallū wields an indistinct and as yet undefined angular object in his right hand, with the typical banduddu bucket in his left. 

The entity at far right, which appears to be wearing a horned tiara indicative of divinty, remains unidentified and undefined.

Berossos had nothing specific to say about the other five monsters / sages, except that their appearances were like Oannes. About the seventh sage, he has a special report:

“During his reign (Enmeduranki’s) there also appeared from the Red Sea (Persian Gulf) another man-fish being whose name was Odakon. Berossos says that this monster explained in detail what Oannes originally had said in summary fashion.”

(Eusebius, (Arm.) Chronicles p. 4, 8-6, 8 and Syncellus 71, 3).

This information is a bit confusing, because Oannes had already taught everything necessary to know. In some strange way, Odakon seems to be a double twin of Oannes.

Antediluvian apkallū portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men, with Oannes and Odakon from Berossos the exemplars. These specific statuettes were buried in the foundations of the home of an exorcist, where they were positioned beneath doorways and against particular walls to exert a prophylactic effect, warding off evil.  The antediluvian type of apkallū, the so-called paradu fish, are often grouped in sevens.

Antediluvian apkallū portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men, with Oannes and Odakon from Berossos the exemplars.
These specific statuettes were buried in the foundations of the home of an exorcist, where they were positioned beneath doorways and against particular walls to exert a prophylactic effect, warding off evil.
The antediluvian type of apkallū, the so-called paradu fish, are often grouped in sevens.

Berossos does not record sages or scholars after the flood, but there is one exception that is attested both by Josephus in Jewish Antiquities I, 158 and Eusebius in Praeperatio Evangelica 9.16.2. We quote from Josephus:

“Berossos records our father Abraham. He does not mention him by name but reports the following. After the flood, in the tenth generation, among the Chaldeans there was a man, great, just, and all-knowing about the heavens.”

Now, if we had not known the Uruk tablet, we would have deemed Josephus’ information as an unhistorical theological speculation. Of course, it would have been nice to find the father of Israel whose origin according to Genesis 11-12 is Chaldean, listed among the great sages of the past in a Babylonian document.

The Uruk tablet draws, however, on a tradition very similar to the one we can recognize in Berossos: listing kings and sages together, the sages in the same order, and seven before the flood.

Then the Uruk tablet lists ten new sages / scholars after the flood and makes the surprising remark that the tenth of these was known by the Arameans, in Aramaic language, in the West, as Ahiqar.

We are in the fortunate position to verify this; both a novel about and proverbs by Ahiqar were circulating in the West both prior to the Uruk tablet and prior to Berossos. We must assume that Berossos knew what the author of the Uruk tablet knew: there existed in the West traditions about this great, righteous, and knowledgable man.

It seems thus likely that Berossos placed this man in the tenth generation, as Josephus claims. That Berossos had Abraham in mind is of course not correct. However it could be that the author of the priestly document to Genesis in his computation of ten generations from the flood to Abraham had Babylonian traditions in mind. This needs further reflections to which we will return.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 114-6.

Kvanvig: Berossos and Primeval History

“Berossos does not only list the sages in succession. He is especially interesting because of the information he gives about the first sage, Oannes, who parallels Uan in the two other lists. Berossos’ account is here so noteworthy that we quote it as a whole:

“In Babylonia there was a large number of people of different ethnic origins who had settled in Chaldea. They lived without discipline and order, just like animals.

In the very first year there appeared from the Red Sea (the Persian Gulf) in an area bordering Babylonia a frightening monster named Oannes, just as Apollodoros says in his history.

It had the whole body of a fish, but underneath and attached to the head of the fish there was another head, human, and joined to the tail of the fish, feet, like those of a man, and it had a human voice.

Its form has been preserved in sculpture to this day.

Berossos says that this monster spent its days with men, never eating anything, but teaching men the skills necessary for writing and for doing mathematics and for all sorts of knowledge: how to build cities, found temples, and make laws.

It taught men how to determine borders and divide land, also how to plant seeds and then harvest their fruits and vegetables. In short, it taught men all those things conducive to a stalled and civilized life.

Since that time nothing further has been discovered.

At the end of the day, this monster, Oannes, went back to the sea and spent the night. It was amphibious, able to live both on land and in the sea.

Later also other monsters similar to Oannes appeared, about whom Berossos gave more information in his writings on the kings. Berossos says about Oannes that he had written as follows about the creation and government of the world and had given these explanations to man.”

(A creation story based on Enuma Elish follows.)

(Eusebius, (Arm.) Chronicles, p.6, 8-9, 2 and Syncellus p. 49, 19).

It is not difficult to recognize the Sumerian concept of civilization in Berossos’ account. We have met this several times earlier in the way it also permeated some of the Babylonian literature.

Fish-man known as a Kulullû. Terracotta figurine (8th-7th BCE) in the Louvre collection, Nr. 3337.  The Kulullû is distinct from the fish-Apkallū. They are not the same.

Fish-man known as a Kulullû. Terracotta figurine (8th-7th BCE) in the Louvre collection, Nr. 3337.
The Kulullû is distinct from the fish-Apkallū. They are not the same.

In Atrahasis we met it in the relation between the lullû-man and the ilu-man. In the Eridu Genesis we met in it the description of human’s first uncivilized state, before the gods had given the human race kingship and they had established cities.

Sowie Museum 9-1796, sun-dried clay figurine of a suhurmaššu, probably from Aššur. Previously published: H.F. Lutz, University of California Publications in Semitic Philology 9/7 (1930), Rittig, 97.  Sowie Museum 9-1795, sun-dried figurine of a kilīlu, allegedly from Aššur. Previously published: Lutz, op. cit., Rittig, 95f. Plate XV.

Sowie Museum 9-1796, sun-dried clay figurine of a suhurmaššu, probably from Aššur. Previously published: H.F. Lutz, University of California Publications in Semitic Philology 9/7 (1930), Rittig, 97.
Sowie Museum 9-1795, sun-dried figurine of a kilīlu, allegedly from Aššur. Previously published: Lutz, op. cit., Rittig, 95f. Plate XV.

In the Royal Chronicle of Lagash this wrecked state of humankind was transposed to the period after the destruction by the flood. In condensed form, we find it in the Sumerian concept of me, which is linked to the names of both antediluvian kings and sages.

In many ways Berossos’ account is a description of how the me first was bestowed on the human race after they had lived like animals.

In the sources we have dealt with so far, Berossos is the first who explicitly combines the tradition of the apkallus with other blocks of tradition from primeval time. This may be suggested in Bīt Mēseri in the transition from the seven to the four sages, but it is not explicitly stated.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 113-4.

A Digression on Berossus and the Babyloniaca

“The books written by Berossus, priest of Marduk at Babylon in the early third century B.C., have been lost, and all that we know about them comes from the twenty-two quotations or paraphrases of his work by other ancient writers (so-called Fragmenta), and eleven statements about Berossus (Testimonia) made by classical, Jewish and Christian writers.

We learn that he wrote for Antiochus I (280-261 B.C.) a work generally referred to as the Babyloniaca, a work divided into three rolls, or books, of papyrus.

Ea, or Oannes, depicted as a fish-man.

Ea, or Oannes, depicted as a fish-man.

In the first book he told how a fish-like creature named Oannes came up from the Persian Gulf, delivered to mankind the arts of civilization, and left with them a written record of how their world had come into existence; according to this record, Berossus went on, Bel had created the world out of the body of a primeval female deity. This story of the creation of the world and mankind, otherwise familiar from Enūma eliš, filled out the first book of the Babyloniaca and ended with the statement that Bel established the stars, sun, moon and the five planets.

In book two Berossus (Frag. 3) described the 120-sar (432,000-year) rule of the ten antediluvian kings, and then the Deluge itself, with some detail on the survival of Xisuthros. The postdiluvian dynasties down to Nabonassar were baldly listed in the remainder of book two.

A prism containing the Sumerian King List. Borossus cites ten antediluvian rulers.

A prism containing the Sumerian King List. Borossus cites ten antediluvian rulers.

The third book, apparently beginning with Tiglath-Pileser III, presented the Late Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian and Persian kings of Babylon, and ended with Alexander the Great.

And that, according to Felix Jacoby’s edition of the Fragmenta and Testimonia is in sum what the Babyloniaca contained. There are eight quotations dealing with astronomical and astrological matters, but these he attributed not to our Berossus, but to Pseudo-Berossus of Cos.

It was to the latter, according to Jacoby, that Josephus referred as “well known to educators, since it was he who published for the Greeks the written accounts of astronomy and the philosophical doctrines of the Chaldaeans”; or who claimed, said Vitruvius, that by study of the zodiacal signs, the planets, sun and moon, the Chaldaeans could predict what the future held in store for man.

And it was Pseudo-Berossus, according to Jacoby, to whom Seneca referred in his discussion of world-floods:

Berosos, who translated Belus (qui Belum interpretatus est), says that these catastrophes occur with the movement of the planets. Indeed, he is so certain that he assigns a date for the conflagration and the deluge. For earthly things will burn, he contends, when all the planets which now maintain different orbits come together in the sign of Cancer, and are so arranged in the same path that a straight line can pass through the spheres of all of them. The deluge will occur when the same group of planets meets in the sign of Capricorn. The solstice is caused by Cancer, winter by Capricorn; they are signs of great power since they are the turning-points in the very change of the year.”

Pseudo-Berossus of Cos”, I believe, is not only an inconvenient but an utterly improbable scholarly creation. A century ago all of our fragments were assigned to one and the same Berossus, although those dealing with the stars were segregated from those of a mythological or historical characters.

Thus the notion was fostered that Berossus wrote two works, one on Babylonian history, another on astrology. By the turn of the century E. Schwartz found unlikely Vitruvius‘ statement that Berossus eventually settled on the Aegean island of Cos, where he taught the Chaldaean disciplina.”

Robert Drews, “The Babylonian Chronicles and Berossus,” Iraq, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring, 1975), pp. 50-2.

More Totemism

“We can learn a good deal about this totemism from the old ideographic representations of the names of the chief deities. They are like fossils, embodying the beliefs of a period which had long passed away at the date of the earliest monuments that have come down to us.

The name of Ea himself affords us an example of what we may find. It is sometimes expressed by an ideograph which signifies literally “an antelope” (dara in Accadian, turakhu in Assyrian, whence perhaps the Biblical name of Terah).

Ishtar is depicted at far left, wearing the horned headdress of divinity, with weapons on her back and a long knife in her hand.  A worshipper presents a sacrificial animal, next to an uncertain goddess depicted with water flowing from her vase.  Ea appears with a fishtail hanging behind him, and an antelope bucking beside him.  I am not certain which goddess appears at far right.

Ishtar is depicted at far left, wearing the horned headdress of divinity, with weapons on her back and a long knife in her hand.
A worshipper presents a sacrificial animal, next to an uncertain goddess depicted with water flowing from her vase.
Ea appears with a fishtail hanging behind him, and an antelope bucking beside him.
I am not certain which goddess appears at far right.

Thus we are told that Ea was called ”the antelope of the deep,” “the antelope the creator,” “the antelope the prince,” “the lusty antelope;” and the “ship” or ark of Ea in which his image was carried at festivals was entitled “the ship of the divine antelope of the deep.”

Ishtar receives the worship of an Amazon. Ishtar stands on a lion, holding a bow with arrows at her back. Her eight-pointed star is atop her head.  Lusty antelopes rear on the right side, perhaps signifying the god Ea.

Ishtar receives the worship of an Amazon. Ishtar stands on a lion, holding a bow with arrows at her back. Her eight-pointed star is atop her head.
Lusty antelopes rear on the right side, perhaps signifying the god Ea.

We should, indeed, have expected that the animal of Ea would have been the fish rather than the antelope, and the fact that it is not so points to the conclusion that the culture-god of southern Babylonia was an amalgamation of two earlier deities, one the divine antelope, and the other the divine fish.

Perhaps it was originally as the god of the river that Ea had been adored under the form of the wild beast of the Eden or desert.

There was yet another animal with which the name of Ea had been associated. This was the serpent. The Euphrates in its southern course bore names in the early inscriptions which distinctly connect the serpent with Ea on the one hand, and the goddess Innina on the other.

It was not only called “the river of the great deep”– a term which implied that it was a prolongation of the Persian Gulf and the encircling ocean; it was further named the river of the śubar lilli, “the shepherd’s hut of the lillu” or “spirit,””the river of Innína,” “the river of the snake,” and “the river of the girdle of the great god.”

In-nina is but another form of Innána or Nâna, and we may see in her at once the Istar of Eridu and the female correlative of Anúna. Among the chief deities reverenced by the rulers of Tel-loh was one whose name is expressed by the ideographs of “fish” and “enclosure,” which served in later days to denote the name of Ninâ or Nineveh.

It seems clear, therefore, that the pronunciation of Nina was attached to it; and Dr. Oppert may accordingly be right in thus reading the name of the goddess as she appears on the monuments of Tel-loh.

Nina, consequently, is both the fish-goddess and the divinity whose name is interchanged with that of the snake. Now Nina was the daughter of Ea, her eldest daughter being described in a text of Tel-loh as “the lady of the city of Mar,” the modern Tel Id, according to Hommel, where Dungi built her a temple which he called “the house of the jewelled circlet” (sutartu).

This latter epithet recalls to us the Tillili of the Tammuz legend as well as the Istar of later Babylonia. In fact, it is pretty clear that Nina, “the lady,” must have been that primitive Istar of Eridu and its neighborhood who mourned like Tillili the death of Tammuz, and whose title was but a dialectic variation of that of Nana given to her at Erech.”

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. 280-2.

Totemic Depictions of the Gods

“It is only the demons and inferior spirits, or mythical personages like Ea-bani, the friend of Gisdhubar, who are portrayed as animals, or as composite figures partly human and partly bestial. Ea alone, in his character of “god of life,” is given the fish’s skin, and even then the skin is but thrown over his back like a priestly cloak.

A depiction of the God Ea, or Oannes.

A depiction of the God Ea, or Oannes.

The composite monsters, whose forms Bêrôssos saw painted on the walls of the temple of Bêlos, were the brood of chaos, not of the present order of the world. The legend of the creation preserved by the priests of Cutha declares that the creatures, half men and half birds, which were depicted in sacred art, were suckled by Tiamat, the dragon-like personification of anarchy and chaos. Their disappearance marked the victory of light over darkness, of the gods of heaven over the Titanic monsters of an extinct age.

The deities of Babylonia were emphatically human; human in character and human in form. They stood in marked contrast to the animal-headed gods of Egypt, and harmonised with the Semitic belief that made the deity the father of the human race, who had created man in his own image.

Even in pre-Semitic days, Chaldean art had already followed the same line of thought, and had depicted its divinities in the likeness of men; but in pre-Semitic days this was a tendency only; it was not until the Accadian came in contact with the Semite that he felt the full force of the Semitic conception, and allowed his ancient deities of light and life to take permanently upon them the human shape.

For there are many indications that it had not always been so. The very fact that the divine beings who in the Semitic era were relegated to the realms of chaos or the inferior world of subordinate spirits, were to the last represented as partly bestial in form, proves pretty clearly that the Babylonians had once seen nothing derogatory to the divine nature in such a mode of representation.

The winged bulls who guarded the approach to the temple and protected it from the invasion of evil spirits, or the eagle-headed cherubs who knelt on either side of the sacred tree, were survivals of a time when “the great gods of heaven and earth” were themselves imaged and adored in similar form.

Winged bulls with human faces guard the approach to the god Nebo.

Winged bulls with human faces guard the approach to the god Nebo.

The same evidence is borne by the animals on whose backs the anthropomorphic deities are depicted as standing in later art. When the gods had become human, there was no other place left for the animals with whom they had once been so intimately connected.

The evidence, however, is not borne by art alone. The written texts aver that the gods were symbolised by animals, like the Sun-god of Kis, whose “image” or symbol was the eagle. It is these symbols which appear on the Babylonian boundary-stones, where in the infancy of Assyrian research they were supposed to represent the Zodiacal signs.

A boundary stone. The eight-pointed star of Ishtar appears at top left, the crescent moon of the Moon God Sin is at top center, and the symbol of the Sun God Shamas appears at top right.

A boundary stone. The eight-pointed star of Ishtar appears at top left, the crescent moon of the Moon God Sin is at top center, and the symbol of the Sun God Shamas appears at top right.

That they were originally something more than mere symbols is expressly indicated in the myths about the goddess of love. Gisdhubar taunts her with her treatment, not only of Alála, the eagle, but also of the horse and the lion, whose names are not given to us.

Here, at any rate, popular tradition has preserved a recollection of the time when the gods of Babylonia were still regarded as eagles and horses and lions. We are taken back to an epoch of totemism, when the tribes and cities of Chaldea had each its totem, or sacred animal, to whom it offered divine worship, and who eventually became its creator-god.

Not less clear is the legend of the first introduction of culture into the valley of the Euphrates. Oannes, or Ea, it was ever remembered, had the body of a fish, and, like a fish, he sank each night into the waters  of the Persian Gulf when the day was closed which he had spent among his favoured disciples of Eridu.

The culture-god himself had once been a totem, from which we may infer how long it was before totemism disappeared, at all events from southern Babylonia, where the contact with Semitic thought was less strong and abiding than was the case further north.”

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. 277-80.

On the Babylonian Winds

“The primitive inhabitant of Babylonia paid a special worship to the winds. He beheld in them spirits of good and evil. He prayed for (‘the good wind” which cooled the heats of summer and brought moisture to the parched earth, and he saw in the storm and tempest, in the freezing blasts of winter and the hot wind that blew from the burning desert, “the seven evil spirits.”

They were the demons ‘who had been created in the lower part of heaven,” and who warred against the Moon-god when he suffered eclipse. They were likened to all that was most noxious to man.

The first, we are told, was “the sword (or lightning) of rain;” the second, “a vampire;” the third, “a leopard;” the fourth, “a serpent;” the fifth, “a watch-dog” (?); the sixth, “a violent tempest which (blows) against god and king;” and the seventh, “a baleful wind.” But their power caused them to be dreaded, and they were venerated accordingly.

It was remembered that they were not essentially evil. They, too, had been the creation of Anu, for they came forth from the sky, and all seven were “the messengers of Anu their king.” In the war of the gods against the dragon of chaos, they had been the allies of Merodach. We read of them that ere the great combat began, the god “created the evil wind, the hostile wind, the tempest, the storm, the four winds, the seven winds, the whirlwind, the unceasing wind.”

Battle between Marduk (Bel) and Tiamat. Drawn from a bas-relief from the Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal, King of Assyria, 885-860 B.C., at Nimrûd. The winds that Marduk wielded in the combat are portrayed as tridents in his hands.  British Museum, Nimrûd Gallery, Nos. 28 and 29. http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/06/tablet-of-destinies.html

Battle between Marduk (Bel) and Tiamat. Drawn from a bas-relief from the Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal, King of Assyria, 885-860 B.C., at Nimrûd.
The winds that Marduk wielded in the combat are portrayed as tridents in his hands.
British Museum, Nimrûd Gallery, Nos. 28 and 29.
http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/06/tablet-of-destinies.html

When Merodach had slung forth his boomerang and hit the dragon, “the evil wind that seizes behind showed its face. And Tiamat (the dragon of the sea) opened her mouth to swallow it, but (the god) made the evil wind descend so that she could not close her lips; with the force of the winds he filled her stomach, and her heart was sickened and her mouth distorted.”

Down to the closing days of the Assyrian empire, the four winds, ”the gods of Nipur,” were still worshipped in Assyria (H.C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, 1886, iii. 66, Rev. 26), and Saru, the Wind-god, is mentioned as a separate divinity in the story of the Deluge.

Among the winds there was one whose name awakened feelings of dread in the mind of every Babylonian. This was the tempest, called mâtu in Accadian, and abub in Semitic. It was the tempest which had been once sent by Bel to drown guilty mankind in the waters of a deluge, and whose return as the minister of divine vengeance was therefore ever feared.

Nabu, or Nebo, sculpted bronze figure by Lee Lawrie. Door detail, east entrance, Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C. Photographed 2007 by Carol Highsmith (1946–), who explicitly placed the photograph in the public domain. - Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabu#/media/File:Nabu-Lawrie-Highsmith.jpeg

Nabu, or Nebo, sculpted bronze figure by Lee Lawrie. Door detail, east entrance, Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C.
Photographed 2007 by Carol Highsmith (1946–), who explicitly placed the photograph in the public domain. – Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabu#/media/File:Nabu-Lawrie-Highsmith.jpeg

As each year brought with it the month of Sebat or January, with its “curse of rain,” the memory of that terrible event rose again in the Babyonian mind. Mâtu was a god whose favour had to be conciliated, and whose name accordingly appears on numbers of early cylinders.

But though Mâtu was thus specially identified with the great tempest which formed an era in Babylonian history, it was not forgotten that he was but one of several storm-gods, who were therefore spoken of as “the gods Mâtu.

Like the clouds, they were children of the sea, and were thus included in the family of Ea. It is possible that this genealogy was due to the systematising labours of a later day; but it is also possible that the gods Mâtu were primarily adored in Eridu, and that Eridu, and not Surippak, was the original city of the Chaldean Noah.

It is at least noticeable that the immortal home of the translated Xisuthros was beyond the mouth of the Euphrates, near which Eridu was built.

If Eridu were the birth-place of Mâtu, it would explain why the god of the tempest was also the god of the western wind. Elsewhere in Babylonia, the western wind blew from across the desert and brought heat with it rather than rain.

But in those remote days, when the northern portion of the Persian Gulf had not as yet been filled up with miles of alluvial deposit, a westerly breeze could still come to Eridu across the water.

In a penitential psalm, Mâtu, the lord of the mountain” (mulu mursamma-lil), whose wife, “the lady of the mountain,” is mentioned on the monuments of Tel-loh, is invoked along with his consort Gubarra, Ea, “the sovereign of heaven and earth and sovereign of Eridu,” Dav-kina, Merodach, Zarpanit, Nebo and Nana--in short, along with the gods of Eridu and the kindred deities of Babylon.”

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. 199-202.

Ea, Father of Merodach

Ea developed with the centuries, and about the epoch of Khammurabi appears to have achieved a high standard of godhead, probably because of the very considerable amount of theological moulding which he had received.

In the later Babylonian period we find him described as the protagonist of mankind, the father of Merodach, and, along with Anu and Bel, a member of a great triad.

The priests of Babylon were the sole mythographers of these days. This is in sharp contradistinction to the mythographers of Greece, who were nearly always philosophers and never priests. But they were mythographers in a secondary sense only, for they merely rearranged, re-edited, or otherwise altered already existing tales relating to the gods, usually with a view to the exaltation of a certain deity or to enable his story to fit in with those of other gods.

It is only after a religion or mythological system has enjoyed a vogue more or less extended that the relationship of the gods towards one another becomes fixed.

The appointment of Merodach to the supreme position in the Babylonian pantheon naturally necessitated a rearrangement so far as the relationship of the other deities to him was concerned. This meant a re-shaping of myth and tradition generally for the purpose of ensuring consistency.

The men fitted to accomplish such a task were to hand, for the age of Khammurabi was fertile in writers, scholastic and legal, who would be well equipped to carry out a change of the description indicated.

Ea had not in the past enjoyed any very exalted sphere. But as the chief god of the important country in the neighbourhood of the Persian Gulf, the most ancient home of Babylonian culture, Ea would probably have exercised a great influence upon the antiquarian and historic sense of a man like Khammurabi.

As the god of wisdom he would strongly appeal to a monarch whose whole career was marked by a love of justice and by sagacity and insight.

A bird man appears before a god, there are horns of divinity on some of these figures, as there are on the god, who could be Ea, with water coursing from his shoulders.

A bird man appears before a god, there are horns of divinity on some of these figures, as there are on the god, who could be Ea, with water coursing from his shoulders.

From a local god of Eridu, Ea became a universal deity of wisdom and beneficence, the strong shield of man, and his benefactor by the gifts of harvest and water. Civilized and softer emotions must have begun to cluster around the cult of this kindly god who, when the angered deities resolved to destroy mankind, interceded for poor humanity and succeeded in preserving it from the divine wrath.

As a god of medicine, too, Ea is humane and protective in character, and all the arts fall under his patronage. He is the culture-god of Babylon par excellence. He might not transcend Merodach, so he became his father. Thus did pagan theology succeed in merging the cults of deities which might otherwise have been serious rivals and mutually destructive.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 191-3.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Babylonian Cuneiform Share No Common Ancestor

Ea was [ … ] the source of their culture. He was symbolised, it would seem, by a serpent; … the primeval seat of the worship of Ea was the city of Eridu, now represented by the mounds of Abu Shahrein on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, and not far to the south of Mugheir or Ur.

Eridu is a contracted form of the older Eri-duga, or “good city,” which appears in the non-Semitic texts of northern Babylonia as Eri-zêba,with the same meaning. The place was thus a peculiarly holy spot, whose sanctity was established far and wide throughout the country.

But it was not a holy city only. It is often termed, more especially in the sacred tests, “the lordly city,”‘ and we are told that one of its titles was “the Iand of the sovereign.”

In historical times, however, Eridu had sunk to the condition of a second-rate or even third-rate town; its power must therefore belong to that dimly remote age of which the discoveries at Tel-loh have enabled us to obtain a few glimpses. There must have been a time when Eridu held a foremost rank among the cities of Babylonia, and when it was the centre from which the ancient culture and civilisation of the country made its way.

Along with this culture went the worship of Ea, the god of Eridu, who to the closing days of the Babylonian monarchy continued to be known as Eridúga, “the god of Eridu.” At the period when the first elements of Chaldean culture were being fostered in Eridu, the city stood at the mouth of the Euphrates and on the edge of the Persian Gulf.

If the growth of the alluvium at the mouths of the Euphrates and Tigris has always been the same as is the case at present (about sixty-six feet a year), this would have been at the latest about 3000 B.C.; but as the accumulation of soil has been more rapid of late, the date would more probably be about 4000 B.C.

Already, therefore, the cult of Ea would have been established, and the sea-faring traders of Eridu would have placed themselves under his protection.

It will be noticed that the culture-myths of Babylonia, like the culture-myths of America, bring the first civiliser of the country from the sea. It is as a sea deity that Oannes is the culture-hero of the Chaldeans; it is from the depths of the Persian Gulf that he carries to his people the treasures of art and science.

Two questions are raised by this fact. Was the culture of Babylonia imported from abroad; and was Ea, its god of culture, of foreign extraction?

The last great work published by Lepsius was an attempt to answer the first of these questions in the affirmative. He revived the old theory of a mysterious Cushite population which carried the civilisation of Egypt to the shores of Babylonia.

But to all theories of this sort there is one conclusive objection. The origin of Babylonian culture is so closely bound up with the origin of the cuneiform system of writing, that the two cannot be separated from each other.

Between the hieroglyphics of Egypt, however, and the primitive pictures out af which the cuneiform characters developed, there is no traceable connection.

Apart from those general analogies which we find in all early civilisations, the script, the theology and the astronomy of Egypt and Babylonia, show no vestiges of a common source.”

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. 134-6.

Sayce on the God Ea, or Oannes

“Ea, as we have already seen, was the god not only of the deep, but also of wisdom. Ancient legends affirmed that the Persian Gulf–the entrance to the deep or ocean-stream–had been the mysterious spot from whence the first elements of culture and civilisation had been brought to Chaldea.

Berossos, the Chaldean historian–so at least his epitomiser Alexander Polyhistor declared–had reported them as follows:

“At Babylon there was a great resort of people of various races who inhabited Chaldea, and lived in a lawless manner like the beasts of the field.

In the first year there appeared in that part of the Erythraean sea which borders upon Babylonia, a creature endowed with reason, by name Oannes, whose whole body (according to the account of Apollodaros) was that of a fish; under the fish’s head he had another head, with feet also below similar to those of a man subjoined to the fish’s tail.

His voice, too, and language were articulate and human; and a representation of him is preserved even to this day.

“This being was accustomed to pass the day among men, but took no food at that season; and he gave them an insight into letters and sciences and arts of every kind. He taught them to construct houses, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge.

He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and showed them how to collect the fruits; in short, he instructed them in everything which could tend to soften manners and humanize their lives. From that time, nothing material has been added by way of improvement to his instructions.

Now when the sun had set, this being Oannes used to retire again into the sea, and pass the night in the deep, for he was amphibious. After this there appeared other animals like Oannes, of which Berossos proposes to give an account when he comes to the history of the kings.

Moreover, Oannes wrote concerning the generation of mankind, of their different ways of life, and of their civil polity.”

[ … ]

The exact etymology of the name which appears under the Greek dress of Oannes has not yet been ascertained. Lenormant thought that it represented Ea-khan, “Ea the fish.” But whether or not this is the case, it is certain that Oannes and Ea are one and the same.

A depiction of Oannes, or Ea.

A depiction of Oannes, or Ea.

Ea, as we have seen, not only had his home in the waters of the Persian Gulf, he was also the culture-god of primitive Babylonia, the god of wisdom, the instructor of his worshippers in arts and science.

An old Babylonian sermon on the duty of a prince to administer justice impartially and without bribes, declares that if “he speaks according to the injunction (or writing) of the god Ea, the great gods will seat him in wisdom and the knowledge of righteousness.”

Ea was, moreover, like Oannes, represented as partly man and partly fish. Sometimes the fish’s skin is thrown over the man’s back, the head of a fish appearing behind that of the man; sometimes the body of the man is made to terminate in the tail of a fish.

A depiction of the God Ea, or Oannes.

A depiction of the God Ea, or Oannes.

A gem in the British Museum, on which the deity is depicted in the latter fashion, bears an inscription stating that the figure is that of “the god of pure life.”

OannesGems

Now “the god of pure life,” as we are expressly informed by a rubrical gloss to a hymn in honour of the demiurge Ea, was one of the names of Ea.”

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. 131-3.

Elder and Younger Bel

The Bel of this legend, who has settled the places of the Sun and the Moon in the sky, is not the Babylonian Bel, but the older Bel of Nipur, from whom Merodach, the Bel of Babylon, had afterwards to be distinguished.

The Accadian original of the poem belongs to a very early epoch, before the rise of Babylon, when the supreme Bel of the Semitic inhabitants of Babylonia was still the god whom the Accadians called Mul-lilla, “the lord of the lower world.”

This Bel or Mul-lilla fades into the background as the Semitic element in Babylonian religion became stronger and the influence of Babylon greater, though the part that he played in astronomical and cosmological lore, as well as his local cult at Nipur, kept his memory alive; while the dreaded visitants of night, the demoniac lilu and lilat or lilith, from the lower world, preserved a faint memory of the spirits of which he had once been the chief.

Burney Relief, Babylon (1800-1750 BCE). The figure in the relief was sometimes identified with Lilith, based on a misreading of an outdated translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Modern research has identified the figure as either Ishtar or Ereshkigal. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Burney_Relief_Babylon_-1800-1750.JPG

Burney Relief, Babylon (1800-1750 BCE). The figure in the relief was sometimes identified with Lilith, based on a misreading of an outdated translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Modern research has identified the figure as either Ishtar or Ereshkigal.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Burney_Relief_Babylon_-1800-1750.JPG

 One by one, however, the attributes that had formerly attached to the older Bel were absorbed by the younger Bel of Babylon.

It was almost as it was in Greece, where the older gods were dethroned by their own offspring; in the Babylonia of Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidos, it was the younger gods–Merodach, Sin and Samas–to whom vows were the most often made and prayer the most often ascended.

Such was the latest result of the local character of Babylonian worship: the younger gods were the gods of the younger Babylonian cities, and the god of Babylon, though he might be termed “the first-born of the gods,” was in one sense the youngest of them all.

The title, however, “first-born of the gods” was of the same nature as the other title, “prince of the world,” bestowed upon him by his grateful worshippers. It meant little else than that Babylon stood at the head of the world, and that its god must therefore be the first-born, not of one primeval deity, but of all the primeval deities acknowledged in Chaldea.

According to the earlier faith, he was the first-born of Ea only. Ea was god of the deep, both of the atmospheric deep upon which the world floats, and of that watery deep, the Okeanos of Homer, which surrounds the earth like a coiled serpent.

All streams and rivers were subject to his sway, for they flowed into that Persian Gulf which the ignorance of the primitive Chaldean imagined to be the ocean-stream itself. It was from the Persian Gulf that tradition conceived the culture and civilisation of Babylonia to have come, and Ea was therefore lord of wisdom as well as lord of the deep.

His son Merodach was the minister of his counsels, by whom the commands of wisdom were carried into practice. Merodach was thus the active side of his father Ea; to use the language of Gnosticism, he was the practical activity that emanates from wisdom.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, p. 103-4.

Tracing Religious Ideas from Babylon to Judaism

“But it was not only through the Babylonian exile that the religious ideas of the Babylonian and the Jew came into contact with each other. It was then, indeed, that the ideas of the conquering race–the actual masters of the captives, who had long been accustomed to regard Babylonia as the home of a venerable learning and culture–were likely to make their deepest and most enduring impression; it was then, too, that the Jew for the first time found the libraries and ancient literature of Chaldea open to his study and use.

But old tradition had already pointed to the valley of the Euphrates as the primeval cradle of his race. We all remember how Abraham, it is said, was born in Ur of the Chaldees, and how the earlier chapters of Genesis make the Euphrates and Tigris two of the rivers of Paradise, and describe the building of the Tower of Babylon as the cause of the dispersion of mankind.

Now the Hebrew language was the language not only of the Israelites, but also of those earlier inhabitants of the country whom the Jews called Canaanites and the Greeks Phoenicians. Like the Israelites, the Phoenicians held that their ancestors had come from the Persian Gulf and the alluvial plain of Babylonia.

The tradition is confirmed by the researches of comparative philology. Many of the words which the Semites have in common seem to point to the neighbourhood of Babylonia as the district from which those who used them originally came, and where they called the fauna and flora of the country by common names.

Their first home appears to have been in the low-lying desert which stretches eastward of Chaldea–on the on the very side of the Euphrates, in fact, on which stood the great city of Ur, the modern Mugheir.

Here they led a nomad life, overawed by the higher culture of the settled Accadian race, until a time came when they began to absorb it themselves, and eventually, as we have seen, to dispossess and supersede their teachers.

The tribes which travelled northward and westward must, we should think, have carried with them some of the elements of the culture they had learnt from their Accadian neighbors. And such, indeed, we find to be the case.

The names of Babylonian deities meet us again in Palestine and the adjoining Semitic lands. Nebo, the Babylonian god of prophecy and literature, has given his name to towns that stood within the territories of Reuben and Judah, as well as to the Moabite mountain on which Moses breathed his last; Anu, the Babylonian god of heaven, and his female consort Anatu, re-appear in Beth-Anath, “the temple of Anatu,” and Anathoth, the birth-place of Jeremiah; and Sinai itself is but the mountain of Sin, the Babylonian Moon-god.

We may thus assume that there were two periods in the history of the Jewish people in which they came under the influence of the religious conceptions of Babylonia. There was the later period of the Babylonish exile, when the influence was strong and direct; there was also the earlier period, when the amount of influence is more hard to determine.

Much will depend upon the view we take of the age of the Pentateuch, and of the traditions or histories embodied therein. Some will be disposed to see in Abraham the conveyer of Babylonian ideas to the west; others will consider that the Israelites made their first acquaintance with the gods and legends of Babylonia through the Canaanites and other earlier inhabitants of Palestine.

Those who incline to the latter belief may doubt whether the fathers of the Canaanitish tribes brought the elements of their Babylonian beliefs with them from Chaldea, or whether these beliefs were of later importation, due to the western conquests of Sargon and his successors.”

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. 41-3.

Sargon

“Sargon himself was a monarch whom both Accadian and Semite delighted to honour. Myths surrounded his infancy as they surrounded the infancy of Kyros, and popular legend saw in him the hero-prince who had been deserted in childhood and brought up among squalid surroundings, until the time came that he should declare himself in his true character and receive his rightful inheritance.

He was born, it was said, of an unknown father; as Mars had wooed the mother of the founder of Rome, so some god whom later tradition feared to name had wooed the mother of the founder of the first Semitic empire. She brought forth her first-born “in a secret place” by the side of the Euphrates, and placed him in a basket of rushes which she daubed with bitumen and entrusted to the waters of the river.

The story reminds us of Perseus launched upon the sea with his mother Danae in a boat, of Romulus and Remus exposed to the fury of the Tiber, and still more of Moses in his ark of bulrushes upon the Nile. The Euphrates refused to drown its future lord, and bore the child in safety to Akki “the irrigator,” the representative of the Accadian peasants who tilled the laud for their Semitic masters. In this lowly condition and among a subjugated race Sargon was brought up.

Akki took compassion on the little waif, and reared him as if he had been his own son. As he grew older he was set to till the garden and cultivate the fruit-trees, and while engaged in this humble work attracted the love of the goddess Istar.

Then came the hour of his deliverance from servile employment, and, like David, he made his way to a throne. For long years he ruled the black-headed race of Accad; he rode through subjugated countries in chariots of bronze, and crossed the Persian Gulf to the sacred isle of Dilmun.

The very name the people gave him was a proof of his predestined rise to greatness. Sargon was not his real title. This was Sarganu, which a slight change of pronunciation altered into Sargina, a word that conveyed the meaning of “constituted” or “predestined” “king” to his Accadian subjects.

It was the form assumed in their mouths by the Semitic Sarru-kinu, and thus reminded them of the Sun-god Tammuz, the youthful bridegroom of Istar who was addressed as ablu kinu or “only son,” as well as of Nebo the “very son” (ablu kinu) of thc god Merodach.

Sargina, however, was not the only name by which the king was known to them. They called him also Dádil or Dádal, a title which the Semitic scribes afterwards explained to mean “Sargon, the king of constituted right (sar-kinti), devisor of constituted law, deviser of prosperity,” though its true signification was rather “the very wise.”

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. 26-8.

Myths of Tammuz and Ishtar

“The myth of Tammuz is one of high antiquity, dating possibly from 4000 b.c. or even earlier.

Both Tammuz and Ishtar were originally non-Semitic, the name of the former deity being derived from the Akkadian Dumu-zi, ‘son of life,’ or ‘the only son,’ perhaps a contraction of Dumu-zi-apsu, ‘offspring of the spirit of the deep,’ as Professor Sayce indicates. The ‘spirit of the deep’ is, of course, the water-god Ea, and Tammuz apparently typifies the sun, though he is not, as will presently be seen, a simple solar deity, but a god who unites in himself the attributes of various departmental divinities.

An ancient Akkadian hymn addresses Tammuz as “Shepherd and lord, husband of Ishtar the lady of heaven, lord of the under-world, lord of the shepherd’s seat;” as grain which lies unwatered in the meadow, which beareth no green blade; as a sapling planted in a waterless place; as a sapling torn out by the root.

Professor Sayce identifies him with that Daonus, or Daos, whom Berossus states to have been the sixth king of Babylonia during the mythical period. Tammuz is the shepherd of the sky, and his flocks and herds, like those of St. Ilya in Slavonic folk-lore, are the cloud-cattle and the fleecy vapours of the heavens.

Ishtar has from an early period been associated with Tammuz as his consort, as she has, indeed, with Merodach and Assur and other deities. Yet she is by no means a mere reflection of the male divinity, but has a distinct individuality of her own, differing in this from all other Babylonian goddesses and betraying her non-Semitic origin.

The widespread character of the worship of Ishtar is remarkable. None of the Babylonian or Assyrian deities were adopted into the pantheons of so many alien races. From the Persian Gulf to the pillars of Hercules she was adored as the great mother of all living. She has been identified with Dawkina, wife of Ea, and is therefore mother of Tammuz as well as his consort.

This dual relationship may account for that which appears in later myths among the Greeks, where Smyrna, mother of Adonis, is also his sister. Ishtar was regarded sometimes as the daughter of the sky-god Anu, and sometimes as the child of Sin, the lunar deity.

Her worship in Babylonia was universal, and in time displaced that of Tammuz himself. The love of Ishtar for Tammuz represents the wooing of the sun-god of spring-time by the goddess of fertility; the god is slain by the relentless heat of summer, and there is little doubt that Ishtar enters Aralu in search of her youthful husband.

The poem we are about to consider briefly deals with a part only of the myth— the story of Ishtar’s descent into Aralu. It opens thus :

“To the land of No-return, the region of darkness, Ishtar, the daughter of Sin, turned her ear, even Ishtar, the daughter of Sin, turned her ear, to the abode of darkness, the dwelling of Irkalla, to the house whose enterer goes not forth, to the road whence the wayfarer never returns, to the house whose inhabitants see no light, to the region where dust is their bread and their food mud; they see no light, they dwell in darkness, they are clothed, like the birds, in a garment of feathers. On the door and the bolt hath the dust fallen.”

The moral contained in this passage is a gloomy one for mortal man; he who enters the dread precincts of Aralu goes not forth, he is doomed to remain for ever in the enveloping darkness, his sustenance mud and dust. The mention of the dust which lies “on door and bolt” strikes a peculiarly bleak and dreary note; like other primitive races the ancient Babylonians painted the other world not definitely as a place of reward or punishment, but rather as a weak reflection of the earth-world, a region of darkness and passive misery which must have offered a singularly uninviting prospect to a vigorous human being.

The garment of feathers is somewhat puzzling. Why should the dead wear a garment of feathers? Unless it be that the sun-god, identified in some of his aspects with the eagle, descends into the underworld in a dress of feathers, and that therefore mortals who follow him must appear in the nether regions in similar guise.

The description above quoted of the Babylonian Hades tallies with that given in dream to Eabani by the temple-maiden Ukhut (Gilgamesh epic, tablet VII).”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 126-9.

The Sumerians Considered the Deluge an Historic Event

” … It is, at all events, well known that the Sumerians regarded the Deluge as an historic event, which they were, practically, able to date, for some of their records contain lists of kings who reigned before the Deluge, though it must be confessed that the lengths assigned to their reigns are incredible. After their rule it is expressly noted that the Flood occurred, and that, when it passed away, kingship came down again from on high.

It is not too much to assume that the original event commemorated in the Legend of the Deluge was a serious and prolonged inundation or flood in Lower Babylonia, which was accompanied by great loss of life and destruction of property.

The Babylonian versions state that this inundation or flood was caused by rain, but passages in some of them suggest that the effects of the rainstorm were intensified bv other physical happenings connected with the earth, of a most destructive character.

The Hebrews also, as we may see from the Bible, had alternative views as to the cause of the Deluge. According to one, rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights (Gen. vii, 12), and according to the other the Deluge came because “all the fountains of the great deep” were broken up, and “the flood-gates of heaven were opened” (Gen. vii, ii).

The latter view suggests that the rain flood was joined by the waters of the sea. Later tradition, derived partly from Babylonian and partly from Hebrew sources, asserts, e.g., in the Cave of Treasures, a Syriac treatise composed probably at Edessa about the fifth or sixth century A.D., that when Noah had entered the Ark and the door was shut …

“… the floodgates of the heavens were opened it and the foundations of the earth were rent asunder,” and that “the ocean, that great sea which surroundeth the whole world, poured forth its floods. And whilst the floodgates of heaven were open, and the foundations of the earth were rent asunder, the storehouses of the winds burst their bolts, and storms and whirlwinds swept forth, and ocean roared and hurled its floods upon the earth.”

The ark was steered over the waters by an angel who acted as pilot, and when that had come to rest on the mountains of Kardô (Ararat),

“God commanded the waters and they became separated from each other. The celestial waters were taken up and ascended to their own place above the heavens whence they came. The waters which had risen up from the earth returned to the lowermost abyss, and those which belonged to the ocean returned to the innermost part thereof.”

Many authorities seeking to find a foundation of fact for the Legend of the Deluge in Mesopotamia have assumed that the rain-flood was accompanied either by an earthquake or a tidal-wave, or by both. There is no doubt that the cities of Lower Babylonia were nearer the sea in the Sumerian Period than they are at present, and it is a generally accepted view that the head of the Persian Gulf lay farther to the north at that time. A cyclone coupled with a tidal wave is a sufficient base for any of the forms of the Legend now known.

A comparison of the contents of the various Sumerian and Babylonian versions of the Deluge that have come down to us shows us that they are incomplete. And as none of them tells so connected and full a narrative of the prehistoric shipbuilder as Berosus, a priest of Bêl, the great god of Babylon, it seems that the Mesopotamian scribes were content to copy the Legend in an abbreviated form.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic of Gilgamish1929, pp. 27-8.

Sumerian Sacred Stories, c. 3500 BCE

” … it is quite as obvious that for the history of the progress of our civilization as we see and know it today, it is the tone and temper, the word and spirit of the ancient mythologies, those of the Greeks and Hebrews, of the Hindus and Iranians, of the Babylonians and Egyptians, which are of prime significance. It is the spiritual and religious concepts revealed in these ancient literatures which permeate the modern civilized world.

Still almost entirely unknown to this very moment is Sumerian mythology, the sacred stories of the non-Semitic, non-Indo-European people which in historical times, from approximately 3500 to 2000 B.C., inhabited Sumer, the relatively small land situated between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and stretching from the Persian Gulf northward approximately as far as modern Bagdad; a land that may be aptly described as the culture cradle of the entire Near East.

Should the reader turn, for example, to Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics29 and examine the very long article on the cosmogonic or creation myths of the world, he will find a large and relatively exhaustive list of peoples, ancient and modern, cultured and primitive, whose cosmogonic concepts are described and analyzed. But he will look in vain for Sumerian cosmogony.

Similarly, the collection entitled Mythology of All the Races 30 devotes thirteen volumes to an analysis of the more important mythologies in the world; here, too, however, there will be found few traces of Sumerian mythology. Whatever little is known of Sumerian mythology is largely surmised from the modified, redacted, and in a sense, garbled versions of the Babylonians who conquered the Sumerians toward the very end of the third millennium B.C., and who used the Sumerian stories and legends as a basis and nucleus for the development of their own myths.

But it is a known fact that in the long stretch of time between approximately 3500 and 2000 B.C. it was the Sumerians who represented the dominant cultural group of the entire Near East. It was the Sumerians who developed and probably invented the cuneiform system of writing; who developed a well integrated pantheon together with spiritual and religious concepts which influenced profoundly all the peoples of the Near East; who, finally, created and developed a literature rich in content and effective in form.

Moreover, the following significant fact must be borne in mind. By the end of the third millennium B.C. Sumer had already ceased to exist as a political entity and Sumerian had already become a dead language, for by that time Sumer had been overrun and conquered by the Semites, and it is the Semitic Accadian language which gradually became the living, spoken tongue of the land.

Nevertheless Sumerian continued to be used as the literary and religious language of the Semitic conquerors for many centuries to come, like Greek in the Roman period and like Latin in the Middle Ages. Indeed for many centuries the study of the Sumerian language and literature remained the basic pursuit of the scribal schools and intellectual and spiritual centers not only of the Babylonians and Assyrians, but also of the many surrounding peoples such as the Elamites, Hurrians, Hittites, and Canaanites.

Obviously, then, both because of their content as well as because of their age, the Sumerian mythological tales and concepts must have penetrated and permeated those of the entire Near East. A knowledge of the Sumerian myths and legends is therefore a prime and basic essential for a proper approach to a scientific study of the mythologies current in the ancient Near East, for it illuminates and clarifies to no small extent the background behind their origin and development.” i

Samuel Noah Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 1944, pp. 27-9.

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