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The Oracles of Ea

“How a water-god became the demiurge seems at first sight obscure. But it ceases to be so when we remember the local character of Babylonian religion.

Ea was as much the local god of Eridu as Merodach was of Babylon, or Assur of Assyria. His connection with the water was due to the position of Eridu at the mouth of the Euphrates and on the shore of the sea, as well as to the maritime habits of its population.

In other respects he occupied the same place as the patron-deities of the other great cities. And these patron-deities were regarded as creators, as those by whose agency the present world had come into existence, and by whose hands the ancestors of their worshippers had been made.

This conception of a creating deity is one of the distinguishing features of early Babylonian religion. Mankind are not descended from a particular divinity, as they are in other theologies; they are created by him.

The hymn to Ea tells us that the god of Eridu was the creator of the black-headed race-that is to say, the old non-Semitic population whose primary centre and starting-point was in Eridu itself. It was as creators that the Accadian gods were distinguished from the host of spirits of whom I shall have to speak in another Lecture.

The Accadian word for “god” was dimer, which appears as dingir, from an older dingira, in the southern dialect of Sumer. Now dimer or dingir is merely “the creator,” formed by the suffix r or ra, from the verb dingi or dime, “to create.”

A simpler form of dimer is dime, a general name for the divine hierarchy. By the side of dime, dim, stood gime, gim, with the same meaning; and from this verb came the Sumerian name of Istar, Gingira. Istar is said to have been the mother of mankind in the story of the Deluge, and as Gula, “the great” goddess, she is addressed in a prayer as “the mother who has borne the men with the black heads.”

It was in consequence of the fact that he was a creator that Ea was, according to Accado-Sumerian ideas, a dingir or “god.”

In the cosmology of Eridu, therefore, the origin of the universe was the watery abyss. The earth lay upon this like a wife in the arms of her husband, and Dav-kina accordingly was adored as the wife of Ea.

It was through her that the oracles of Ea, heard in the voice of the waves, were communicated to man. Dav-kina is entitled “the mistress of the oracular voice of the deep,” and also “the lady who creates the oracular voice of heaven.”‘

The oracles delivered by the thunder, the voice of heaven, thus became the reflex of the oracles delivered through the roaring of the sea.”

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. 142-4.

Men with Mystical Tendencies

“The similarities between this phenomenon and Christian monasticism on the one hand and the condition of the perfecti or bonshommes among the Cathars on the other, are especially striking, despite the clear divergences resulting from the different attitudes of Judaism and Christianity toward celibacy. The Nazirites are not simply hasidim in the well-defined sense of the Book of the Pious and German Hasidism.

But it is evident that we are dealing with a parallel stratum in the Jewish communities, many of whose members undoubtedly also inclined toward the more radical demands of German Hasidism. At the end of his halakhic work Rabad himself picked out of his talmudic material precisely that definition of hasiduth that most closely approximated the mentality of the German Hasidim.

R. Ezra of Gerona, in his commentary on the aggadoth, also calls Jacob the Nazirite by the name Jacob the Hasid. What is important for us is the existence of a stratum with society that by its very definition and vocation had the leisure for a contemplative life. It goes without saying that such a stratum could give rise to men with mystical tendencies.

Members of this group are also mentioned in the earliest kabbalistic sources after Jacob the Nazirite as representatives of a mystical tradition; the names may as well be those of historical personalities as of fictitious figures appearing in pseudepigraphic documents. Indeed, it is precisely the fictitious character of these names of perushim and nezirim that seems so characteristic of the mood prevailing in these kabbalistic circles.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 229-31.

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