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Category: Syriac

Sargon and the Observations of Bel

“We know that Sargon’s patronage of science produced the great standard Babylonian work on astronomy and astrology, in seventy-two books, which went under the name of the Observations of Bel. It was translated into Greek by the Chaldean historian Bêrôssos, and large portions of it, including a table of contents, are among the tablets found on the site of the library of Kouyunjik.

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

In the course of centuries it had undergone a large amount of interpolation and addition; marginal glosses had crept into the text, and new paragraphs had been inserted recording the observations that had been made by the astronomers and astrologers of Babylonia during the whole length of the historical period.

In the form, therefore, in which it was edited for the library of Nineveh, it was very different from the original work that had been composed by the orders of Sargon. Old and new matter had been mixed up in it, and the enlargements introduced into it had probably nearly doubled its original size.

In the Fifth Tablet of the Creation Series (l. 2) the Signs of the Zodiac are called Lumashi 12  , but unfortunately no list of their names is given in the context. Now these are supplied by the little tablet (No. 77,821) of the Persian Period of which a reproduction is here given. It has been referred to and discussed by various scholars, and its importance is very great.  The transcript of the text, which is now published (see p. 68) for the first time, will be acceptable to the students of the history of the Zodiac. Egyptian, Greek, Syriac and Arabic astrological and astronomical texts all associate with the Signs of the Zodiac twelve groups, each containing three stars, which are commonly known as the "Thirty-six Dekans."   The text of line 4 of the Fifth Tablet of the Creation Series proves that the Babylonians were acquainted with these groups of stars, for we read that Marduk "set up for the twelve "months of the year three stars apiece." In the List of Signs of the Zodiac here given, it will be seen that each Sign is associated with a particular month. http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/blc07.htm http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/img/015.png

In the Fifth Tablet of the Creation Series (l. 2) the Signs of the Zodiac are called Lumashi 12 , but unfortunately no list of their names is given in the context. Now these are supplied by the little tablet (No. 77,821) of the Persian Period of which a reproduction is here given. It has been referred to and discussed by various scholars, and its importance is very great.
The transcript of the text, which is now published (see p. 68) for the first time, will be acceptable to the students of the history of the Zodiac. Egyptian, Greek, Syriac and Arabic astrological and astronomical texts all associate with the Signs of the Zodiac twelve groups, each containing three stars, which are commonly known as the “Thirty-six Dekans.”
The text of line 4 of the Fifth Tablet of the Creation Series proves that the Babylonians were acquainted with these groups of stars, for we read that Marduk “set up for the twelve “months of the year three stars apiece.” In the List of Signs of the Zodiac here given, it will be seen that each Sign is associated with a particular month.
http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/blc07.htm
http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/img/015.png

But the original work was itself a compilation of records and observations that had been made during an untold number of previous years. These records and observations had for the most part been written in Accadian; the result being that, although the astronomy of the Chaldeans, as we know it, is purely Semitic in form and character, many of its technical terms are non-Semitic, as well as the names of the celestial bodies.

Hence it is that we find a remarkable inconsistency between certain facts reported by the astronomical tablets and the astronomical system which they set before us. This astronomical system is based upon the assumption that the sun enters the first point of the constellation Aries at the time of the vernal equinox.

http://doormann.tripod.com/asssky.htm Assyrian star map from Nineveh (K 8538). Counterclockwise from bottom: Sirius (Arrow), Pegasus + Andromeda (Field + Plough), [Aries], the Pleiades, Gemini, Hydra + Corvus + Virgo, Libra. Drawing by L.W.King with corrections by J.Koch. Neue Untersuchungen zur Topographie des Babilonischen Fixsternhimmels (Wiesbaden 1989), p. 56ff.

http://doormann.tripod.com/asssky.htm
Assyrian star map from Nineveh (K 8538). Counterclockwise from bottom: Sirius (Arrow), Pegasus + Andromeda (Field + Plough), [Aries], the Pleiades, Gemini, Hydra + Corvus + Virgo, Libra. Drawing by L.W.King with corrections by J.Koch. Neue Untersuchungen zur Topographie des Babilonischen Fixsternhimmels (Wiesbaden 1989), p. 56ff.

The system must therefore have come into existence later than the 26th century before the Christian era, when Aries first became the starting-point of the Zodiacal signs. But the signs themselves were named, and the path of the sun through them was mapped out, when the vernal equinox still coincided with the sun’s entrance, not into Aries, but into Taurus.

The whole pre-Semitic nomenclature of the Zodiacal signs, and the months of the year that correspond to them, rests on the supposition that the Zodiacal bull ushers in the vernal year. Its Accadian name was “the directing Bull,” the bull that directs the course of the year; and the sign which faced it, the Scorpion of a later age, was correspondingly termed the star “that is opposite to the foundation” of the year.

We can now understand why the Sun-god Merodach, whom even the astronomers of the historical period continued to identify with the typical constellations of the twelve months of the year, should have been entitled “the Bull of Light” in the primitive astronomical records.

He was, in fact, the celestial bull who ploughed the great furrow of the sky, and from whom the first sign of the Zodiac borrowed its name. We may see in him the prototype of that famous bull of later legend whom Anu created in order to avenge upon Gisdhubar the slight offered by the latter to Istar.

The Sun-god eventually became the monster slain by a solar hero. Such are the results of time working upon the half-forgotten beliefs and tales of an earlier age.

Whiie in some instances the old totemistic conceptions were evaded by the degeneration of a god into a mere animal, in others the reverse process took place, the bestial element being eliminated from the nature of the god.”

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. 291-3.

Ibn Wayshiyya and Magic

“Magic has always had a role to play in Islamic society. Its use has often been condemned by religious scholars, yet the efficacy of magic has never been contested; the early tenth-century religious scholar al-Ash’arī (d. 324/936), to take but one example, wrote in his dogmatical work Ibána (p. 19): «(…) and we belíeve that there are magicians and magic in this world, and that magic is an existing entity in this world».

During the Middle Ages magic always kept this role not only among common people but also among the learned. In the tenth century the Brethren of Purity wrote extensively on magic in their Rasā’il (esp. IV:283- 335) and magical elements can easily be detected from a variety of sources, including the biography of the prophet Muhammad.

One of the learned authors who was very much interested in magic and esoterica was the early tenth-century Abū Bakr Ibn Wahshiyya (alive in 318/930), the author or translator of many «Nabatean» books, among them the famous al-Filāha an-Nabatiyya, «the Nabatean Agriculture>.

The Nabatean books (also called the Nabatean corpus in the following) of Ibn Wahshiyya claim to be translations from «ancient Syriac». Both the author and his book, mainly Filāha, have been controversial since the nineteenth century, when the corpus was first enthusiatically received in Europe as deriving from the ancient Babylonians, though subsequently exposed as a forgery.

There is no need to cover once again the history of the controversy, and it is enough to draw attention to the present situation. The majority of scholars have more or less ignored both Ibn Wahshiyya and his works, whereas a few, especially Toufic Fahd, have courageously but not always coherently defended the authenticity of Filāha, not as a remnant of ancient Babylonian literature but as an authentic Arabic translation of a fourth/fifth century AD pseudepigraphic Aramic text.

The other works of Ibn Wahshiyya have received extremely scant attention, despite their obvious importance as a source for the almost unknown rural and parochial life in Iraq.

Hiéroglyphe reproduits par Ibn Wahshiyyah, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Arabe 6805 folios 92b. ff http://www.esoblogs.net/6946/ibn-wahshiyya-et-la-magie-2/

Hiéroglyphe reproduits par Ibn Wahshiyyah, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Arabe 6805 folios 92b. ff
http://www.esoblogs.net/6946/ibn-wahshiyya-et-la-magie-2/

In the final analysis the question of the texts’ exact provenence must still be left open, though the lack of any signs of translation in the texts as well as the absence of similar genuine texts in Aramaic argues against their authenticity.

Nevertheless, we must make a difference between the works and their material. Whether the works of the Nabatean corpus are authentic or not, that is whether they indeed derive from complete books written in Syriac or some other form of Aramaic or not, there are features that speak in favour of the authenticity of (some of) the material in these books.

First, there are several prayers in Aramaic, in Arabic script, in, eg., Sumūm, which clearly sound Aramaic; their present corruption is most probably due to later copyists. Ibn Wahshiyya himself could hardly have composed these prayers, so they must have come to him in either written or oral form.

Second, the local setting is given accurately, which proves that Ibn Wahshiyya did know the area he was speaking about and thus there is nothing ínherently improbable in presuming that he had access to local traditions.

Third, and most importantly, much of the material has to be genuine as parallels can be found in Babylonian and Assyrian sources—I am referring to the Tammūz/Dumuzi description in particular—which proves that it cannot be a product of Muslim fiction but a report of practices in semipagan rural areas.

Some of these descriptions are more detailed and accurate in the works of Ibn Wahshiyya than in any of the other extant Muslim sources, which makes it improbable that Ibn Wahshiyya could have found them in the Arabic literature at his disposal.

Thus they must stem from a living tradition—although obviously an already dying one.”

Jaakko Hāmeem-Anttila, “Ibn Wahshiyya and Magic,” Anaquel de Estudios Árabes X, 1999, pp. 39-41.

On Nectanebus, the Last Native King of Egypt, BC 318

“But of all the Egyptians who were skilled in working magic, Nectanebus, the last native king of Egypt, about B.C. 318, was the chief, if we may believe Greek tradition.

According to Pseudo-Callisthenes, and the versions of his works which were translated into Pehlevi, Arabic, Syriac, and a score of other languages and dialects, this king was famous as a magician and a sage, and he was deeply learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.

He knew what was in the depths of the Nile and of heaven, he was skilled in reading the stars, in interpreting omens, in casting nativities, in telling fortunes, and in predicting the future of the unborn child, and in working magic of every kind, as we shall see; he was said to be the lord of the earth, and to rule all kings by means of his magical powers.

Whenever he was threatened with invasion by sea or by land he succeeded in destroying the power of his enemies, and in driving them from his coasts or frontiers; and this he did by the following means.

If the enemy came against him by sea, instead of sending out his sailors to fight them, he retired into a certain chamber, and having brought forth a bowl which he kept for the purpose, he filled it with water, and then, having made wax figures of the ships and men of the enemy, and also of his own men and ships, he set them upon the water in the bowl, his men on one side, and those of the enemy on the other.

He then came out, and having put on the cloak of an Egyptian prophet and taken an ebony rod in his hand, he returned into the chamber, and uttering words of power he invoked the gods who help men to work magic, and the winds, and the subterranean demons, which straightway came to his aid.

By their means the figures of the men in wax sprang into life and began to fight, and the ships of wax began to move about likewise; but the figures which represented his own men vanquished those which represented the enemy, and as the figures of the ships and men of the hostile fleet sank through the water to the bottom of the bowl, even so did the real ships and men sink through the waters to the bottom of the sea.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 91-2.

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