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Category: Robert Drews

End of the Digression on Berossus and the Babyloniaca

“Can the Babyloniaca tell us anything about the chronicles? It is the one work which demonstrably made use of them. We have Berossus‘ own word that he transcribed “the records which had been kept with great care by the priests in Babylon for a long time, embracing more than 2,150,000 (var. 150,000) years, and that these records contain the history of the sky and sea, and the first creation, and of the kings, and of the deeds done under them”.

That the chronicles were among these records cannot be doubted …

Surely the chronicles were not compiled to be published in a work like the Babyloniaca. In fact, Berossus‘ publication may have been looked upon with disfavour by his fellow-scholars, and it may be that Berossus did indeed end his days on the island of Cos.

But Berossus‘ presentation of their contents in the Babyloniaca increases rather than diminishes the probability that they were drawn up in the service of astrology.

Both the chronicles and the Babyloniaca, I would suggest, were based on the presupposition that since what had happened in the past would happen again, it would be useful to have compiled a record of the past.”

This illustration is cited as appearing as Figure 446 in “Cook (1964 Vol. 1 p.576-7),” which I take to refer to Cook H. J., “Pekah," Vetus Testamentum 14 1964, figure 446, "Ramman the Bellowing One,” pp. 576-7. I have not been able to confirm this.  It allegedly portrays Ramman, “The Bellowing One,”or Adad, who is “commonly represented on the cylinders as standing on the back of a bull (Figure 446) or as planting one foot on a bull.”  To my eye, this illustration portrays the Moon God, Sin, whose inverted crescent appears above his head. The Assyrian national god Ashur appears in his winged conveyance, next to the seven celestial bodies of Babylonian cosmogony.  The goddess Ishtar appears at far right, her eight-pointed star at her head, and her typical warlike regalia on her back. Before her is a tree of life, or a tree of knowledge. I do not know who the figure at the center of this illustration portrays.

This illustration is cited as appearing as Figure 446 in “Cook (1964 Vol. 1 p.576-7),” which I take to refer to Cook H. J., “Pekah,” Vetus Testamentum 14 1964, figure 446, “Ramman the Bellowing One,” pp. 576-7. I have not been able to confirm this.
It allegedly portrays Ramman, “The Bellowing One,”or Adad, who is “commonly represented on the cylinders as standing on the back of a bull (Figure 446) or as planting one foot on a bull.”
To my eye, this illustration portrays the Moon God, Sin, whose inverted crescent appears above his head. The Assyrian national god Ashur appears in his winged conveyance, next to the seven celestial bodies of Babylonian cosmogony.
The goddess Ishtar appears at far right, her eight-pointed star at her head, and her typical warlike regalia on her back. Before her is a tree of life, or a tree of knowledge. I do not know who the figure at the center of this illustration portrays. I note that she stands on the ground, she is not elevated as the deities are, and she has no regalia or insignia of divinity. She is not a goddess. 

(Editorial Note: Here is a long footnote, with which Robert Drews ends his article. I include it for obvious reasons).

“W. G. Lambert, whose insights I have long admired, and on whose Assyriological expertise I have so often depended in this article, recently wrote (Orientalia 39 (1970), 175, n. 7): “The reviewer would like to take this opportunity to say that he does not and has never accepted the idea that the Babylonians conceived history cyclically.”

In making this statement Lambert relied on Jacoby’s well-founded authority on historiographical fragments. For on p. 177 he writes, “The only evidence for any Babylonian concept to an end to history occurs in a quotation ascribed to Berossus by Seneca, where it was taught that the world would end in a cosmic cataclysm when the stars all converged on Cancer.

Jacoby attributed this to Pseudo-Berossus, and certainly there were faked versions of Berossus in the ancient world.”

To these statements I would offer three objections:

(1) Frag. 21 does not, strictly speaking, teach that the “world would end” in a cosmic conflagration, but only that cosmic conflagrations and deluges do occur; the world, the passage assumes, went on.

(2) There is evidence only for interpolations (by a Jew or a Christian, in Berossus‘ account of creation) and not for “faked versions” in the sense that Jacoby implies with his “Pseudo-Berossus“. And, of course, a Jewish or Christian interpolator was not the source of Seneca’s quotation.

(3) If by “cyclical” one means what the fourth-century Greek, Eudoxus, attributed to the Pythagoreans (a belief that in the Eternal Return of things I will once again be writing this article, and you–God help us all–will again be reading it), then the Babylonians did not have a “cyclical” view of history.

If, on the other hand, the term means only that what happened to x under such and such celestial circumstances will happen to y when those circumstances again obtain, and that those circumstances will obtain in regular periods, then I would not consider “cyclical” a misleading description of the Babylonian scholars’ view of history.”

Robert Drews, “The Babylonian Chronicles and Berossus,” Iraq, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring, 1975), pp. 54-5.

Digression on Berossus and the Babyloniaca, Continued

“Finally, there was no justification for Schwartz’ assumption that Berossus borrowed the doctrine of the Great Year from Greek philosophy. As P. Schnabel protested in 1923, Berossus‘ belief in a coming conflagration corresponded exactly to his lengthy account of a past Deluge, the two catastrophes marking the Great Year’s solstices in Cancer and Capricorn. There is to-date no evidence that the Great Year originated in Greek philosophy, and so no reason why it should be denied to the scholars of Babylon.

I do not know where Berossus published his statements about the Great Year and other astrological and astronomical matters. Since, however, no work other than his Babyloniaca is attested, it was most likely in one of the three books of that work that these subjects were discussed.

Berossus could have touched on these matters in Book Two. He did say that “in the tenth generation after the Deluge there was among the Chaldaeans a great and just man, skilled in celestial matters”, and the likely provenance of that Fragmentum is Book Two.

I have been unable to source the origin of this illustration, which resembles the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk, British Museum No. 90,858, in so many details. It is possible that the illustration is a modern artifice, integrating components from the Boundary Stone, which is dated to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, circa 1120 BCE. The subject matter is obviously of the Babylonian zodiac. If you locate the source of this illustration, please advise me so that I may update this page.  Along the top is stretched a serpent, signifying a particular constellation. Beneath its tail is the inverted crescent of the Moon God Sin, the Four-Pointed Star or rosette of Shamash, the Sun God, and the Eight-Pointed Star of Ishtar. Celestial figures, seven in number, perhaps illustrating the cosmos as understood by the Babylonians of that era, are followed by the Scorpion, which is opposite the Zodiacal Bull in Taurus, not depicted.  The remaining features in the lower register exceed my scholarship, which is meager. If you can interpret them, I would be grateful for assistance. I observe that the composite creatures in the lower register are seven in number, perhaps corresponding to the chthonic creatures associated with Tiamat. It also occurs to me that they may portray the great temples of the gods in their various cities and cult centers.  I found this illustration on this page:  http://www.google.co.th/imgres?imgurl=http://www.redicecreations.com/specialreports/2006/01jan/annunaki10.jpg&imgrefurl=http://pixshark.com/babylonian-zodiac.htm&h=206&w=480&tbnid=UtiwYm8SfNjwcM:&zoom=1&docid=BJ1iXAxTrNnHSM&ei=mTA9VbaUIILJuATc7YBA&tbm=isch&ved=0CCgQMygJMAk The link below is to the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk.  http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=135127&objectid=369364

I have been unable to source the origin of this illustration, which resembles the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk, British Museum No. 90,858, in so many details. It is possible that the illustration is a modern artifice, integrating components from the Boundary Stone, which is dated to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, circa 1120 BCE. The subject matter is obviously the Babylonian zodiac.
If you locate the source of this illustration, please advise me so that I may update this page.
Along the top is stretched a serpent, signifying the constellation Hydra. Beneath its tail is the inverted crescent of the Moon God Sin, the Four-Pointed Star or rosette of Shamash, the Sun God, and the Eight-Pointed Star of Ishtar. Celestial figures, seven in number, perhaps illustrating the cosmos as understood by the Babylonians of that era, are followed by the Scorpion, which is opposite the Zodiacal Bull in Taurus, not depicted.
The remaining features in the lower register exceed my scholarship, which is meager. If you can interpret them, I would be grateful for assistance. I observe that the composite creatures in the lower register are seven in number, perhaps corresponding to the chthonic creatures associated with Tiamat. It also occurs to me that they may portray the great temples of the gods in their various cities and cult centers.
I found this illustration on this page:
http://www.google.co.th/imgres?imgurl=http://www.redicecreations.com/specialreports/2006/01jan/annunaki10.jpg&imgrefurl=http://pixshark.com/babylonian-zodiac.htm&h=206&w=480&tbnid=UtiwYm8SfNjwcM:&zoom=1&docid=BJ1iXAxTrNnHSM&ei=mTA9VbaUIILJuATc7YBA&tbm=isch&ved=0CCgQMygJMAk
The link below is to the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=135127&objectid=369364

But I think it even more likely that the astrological doctrines came at the end of the third book. Berossus disposed of the last four kings of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty in a few paragraphs, and did not allot much more than that to Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar. One wonders what filled the rest of Book Three.

Semiramis‘ importance was denied. We shall presently see what Berossus had to say about Sennacherib and his successors, and here note only that it was not much; and Frag. 10 suggests that he did little more than list the regnal periods of the Persian rulers of Babylon.

If, like most, a book of the Babyloniaca ran to c. 2000 lines, almost two thirds of the book remains unaccounted for. I suggest that here, constituting about a quarter of the whole work, was to be found the “astronomy and philosophical doctrines of the Chaldaeans”, the presentation of which secured for Berossus whatever reputation he did enjoy in the classical world.

Such, I would argue, was the nature of the Babyloniaca. It has been customarily considered a work of history, and I do not doubt that it was presented as such: if they do not refer to it as the Babyloniaca, ancient authors call it the Chaldiaca, the Chaldaean History, or the History of the Chaldaeans.

The only thing in it which was of value to Josephus and Eusebius was what Berossus had to say about the history and chronology of Babylon in post-diluvian times, and it is as an historian that Berossus has been classified for the last 1500 years.

But in Hellenistic and Roman times, when his work was still known, the subjects with which Berossus was identified were “astronomy and the philosophical doctrines of the Chaldaeans”.

No matter how his work is reconstructed, what is conventionally called history can be made to fill little more than a third of it. It is no wonder that Pliny the Elder reports that the Athenians set up a statue of Berossusob divinas praedicationes“; and that in Judaea there grew a legend that the name of the Sibyl’s father was Berossus, a legend no more improbable than its modern equivalent, that of “Pseudo-Berossus of Cos”.”

Robert Drews, “The Babylonian Chronicles and Berossus,” Iraq, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring, 1975), pp. 52-4.

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.

Babylonian Astrology

“With the Semitic domination of Sargon of Accad, however, Babylonian astronomy entered upon a new phase. To him, tradition ascribed the compilation of the standard work on Babylonian astronomy and astrology called the Observations of Bel, and afterwards translated into Greek by Berossos (Editorial note: a book by Johannes Haubold, et al, The World of Berossos, 2013, which presents material presented at an academic conference in 2010, can be downloaded in its entirety. Our gratitude is owed to Harrassowitz Verlag of Wiesbaden. A faster and shorter resource is Robert Drews, “The Babylonian Chronicles and Berossus,” Iraq, 1975, which is synopsized in the ensuing three posts).

But the edition of the work which we possess presupposes a much later date. Aries, and not Taurus, marks the beginning of the year, and the text contains references to political and geographical facts, some of which are probably not much older than the age of Assur-bani-pal. This is explained by the nature of the work. It was not so much a treatise on astronomy, as on the pseudo-science that had been evolved out of the observations of astronomy.

The Chaldean priests had grasped but imperfectly the idea of causation; their fundamental assumption was “post hoc, ergo propter hoc;” when two events had been noticed to happen one after the other, the first was the cause of the second. Hence their anxiety to record the phenomena of the heavens and the occurrences that took place after each; if a war with Elam had followed an eclipse of the sun on a particular day, it was assumed that a recurrence of the eclipse on the same day would be followed by a recurrence of a war with Elam.

Assyrian star planisphere found in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (Aššur-bāni-apli – reigned 668-627 BCE) at Nineveh.  The function of this unique 13-cm diameter clay tablet, in which the principal constellations are positioned in eight sectors, is disputed. The texts and drawings appear to be astro-magical in nature.  Kuyunjik Collection, British Museum, K 8538 [= CT 33, 10]. London. http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl.htm

Assyrian star planisphere found in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (Aššur-bāni-apli – reigned 668-627 BCE) at Nineveh.
The function of this unique 13-cm diameter clay tablet, in which the principal constellations are positioned in eight sectors, is disputed. The texts and drawings appear to be astro-magical in nature.
Kuyunjik Collection, British Museum, K 8538 [= CT 33, 10]. London.
http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl.htm

In this way a science of astrology was created whose students could foretell the future by observing the signs of the sky.

It is obvious that a work whose object was to connect astronomical observations with current events must have been constantly undergoing alteration and growth. New observations would from time to time be introduced into it, sometimes causing confusion or even omissions in the text. There are instances in which we can detect the presence of observations placed side by side, though belonging to very different periods, or of older records which have been supplemented by the calculations of a later age.

In their present form, therefore, the Observations of Bel have to be used with caution if we would argue from them to the beliefs and practices of early Babylonia.

But the astrological science, or pseudo-science, which underlies the whole work, shows that even in its earliest form it was a product of the Semitic epoch. Between the attitude of mind presupposed by this pseudo-science, and the attitude of mind presupposed by the magical texts and Shamanistic cult of Sumerian Chaldea, there lies an impassable gulf.

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

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

According to the latter, events are brought about by the agency of the innumerable spirits of earth and air, and can be controlled by the spells and exorcisms of the sorcerer; according to the astrologer of Sargon’s court, they are natural occurrences, caused and determined by other natural occurrences which can be discovered and noted by the observer. Out of the astrologer the astronomer could be born; between science and sorcery there can be only an eternal feud.

It does not follow, however, that the pre-Semitic population of Chaldea took no notice of the phenomena of the sky. Unusual phenomena, such as an eclipse, must necessarily excite the attention of superstitious and half-civilized tribes; and the formation of a calendar, the invention of the Zodiac, and the naming of the principal constellations, show that a rudimentary astronomy was already in existence.

Indeed, the Observations of Bel not only contain technical terms of Accadian origin, but embody notices of phenomena like eclipses which presuppose a long period of earlier observations.

Unless such observations had existed, even the first compilation of the work would have been impossible. It was astrology, not the rudiments of astronomy, for which the Semites of Babylonia can claim the entire credit.”

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. 398-400.

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