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Category: The Etiological Myth of the ‘Seven Sages

Kvanvig: The Lists of the Seven Apkallus

“There are known three lists of apkallus, two cuneiform and the one in Berossos. The first known cuneiform list of seven apkallus was published by E. Reiner in 1961, and then reedited with new pieces added by R. Borger in 1974.

Already Reiner suggested that the broken tablet belonged to the Neo-Assyrian incantations series Bīt Mēseri, “protected house.” Borger made clear that the list belonged to the third tablet in this series, and that there are traces of two more lists of a similar kind.

(E. Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the ‘Seven Sages’,” Orientalia (NS) 30 (1961): 1-11. Borger, “Die Beschwörungsserie Bit Meseri,” 192-3.)

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

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

There are found two copies of of the apkallu list from Bīt Mēseri in late Babylonia. A. Cavigneaux published a tiny little fragment in 1979. In 1983, E. von Weiher published the transliteration of the full list as part of an Uruk recension of Bīt Mēseri.

The tablets were found in the house of what was most likely a priest specializing in astrology and divination. They can be dated to the 4-3 century, which means about the same time as Berossos wrote his Babyloniaca.

That there existed a Babylonian recension of the apkallu list in Bīt Mēseri is important, because it demonstrates that the tradition contained in this list was not an isolated Assyrian phenomenon.

As already stated, the Antediluvian King List from Uruk, W 20 030, 7, published by van Dijk in 1962, contained both seven kings and seven parallel apkallus. Berossos also paralleled kings and apkallus, but unlike the Uruk tablet it has one apkallu parallel to the first king, a=one to the fourth, four to the sixth, and one to the seventh.

Fish-Apkallū statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.  The so-called parādu-fish apkallū were the seven antediluvian sages of Sumeria.

Fish-Apkallū statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.
The so-called parādu-fish apkallū were the seven antediluvian sages of Sumeria.

The names of the apkallus and their successions are identical in Bīt Mēseri and the Uruk tablet, with small variations in spelling. We render the names in the Sumerian form they have in the Uruk tablet:

  • Uan
  • Uandugga
  • Enmedugga
  • Enmegalamma
  • Enmebulugga
  • Anenlilda
  • Utuabzu

There is a correspondence to the Greek names in Berossos, but it demands both scholarly quibbling and a bit of creative imagination to explain how exactly the Sumerian words were transformed to Greek ones. We have to bear in mind that it is far from certain that we have Berossos’s own spellings. His text has gone through many hands.

In Bīt Mēseri the list of the seven apkallus is succeeded by a list of four apkallus and built into an incantation. For the sense of convenience we bring here an English translation based on Reiner’s English edition of a part of the list and Weiher’s German edition of the full list.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 107-8.

Lenzi: A Fault Line Where Legend and History Collides

“If this were the only instance of apkallū in a ritual context, this difference in genre would be of little consequence. But, in fact, it is not.

The seven apkallū are mentioned, for example, in anti-witchcraft incantations in Maqlû II 124,36 V 110,37 VII 49,38 VIII 38 (though without names). (Note that the next line…has “the wisdom, the ingenuity of Ea they spoke.”)

They also occur in a medical incantation in LKA 146 that gives a mythological account of Ea communicating poultices to humans.

(W. G. Lambert, “The Twenty-one ‘Poultices,’” Anatolian Studies 30 (1980), 77-83. See also, e.g., Bīt rimki (Rykle Borger, “Das Dritte ‘Haus’ der Serie Bīt Rimki [VR 50-51, Schollmeyer HGS Nr.1],” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 21 [1967], 11:25 + a); the rituals treated by Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits; and the (overlapping) attestations noted by J. J. A. van Dijk, La Sagesse Sumero-Accadienne, Commentationes Orientales 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1953), 20, n.56.)

In this bas relief from Nimrud, human apkallū, the ummánū, kneel and tend to a sacred tree.<br />  Both ummânū wear horned tiaras and display rosette bracelets on their wrists. Bracelets are also apparent on their upper arms.<br />  In the lower register, bird-apkallū raise mulillu cones to sprinkle water in a gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin.<br />  As is typical, the banduddu buckets are in their left hands.<br />  Interestingly in this case, the bracelets are atypical, and only one rosette insignia can potentially be discerned. This sort of specificity must be deliberate. What it portends, however, remains speculative.

In this bas relief from Nimrud, human apkallū, the ummánū, kneel and tend to a sacred tree.
Both ummânū wear horned tiaras and display rosette bracelets on their wrists. Bracelets are also apparent on their upper arms.
In the lower register, bird-apkallū raise mulillu cones to sprinkle water in a gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin.
As is typical, the banduddu buckets are in their left hands.
Interestingly in this case, the bracelets are atypical, and only one rosette insignia can potentially be discerned. This sort of specificity must be deliberate. What it portends, however, remains speculative.

From such evidence Sanders has argued that the seven apkallū are restricted to myths (they are found in Erra I 162 and Gilgamesh I 21 and XI 326 (called muntalkū)) and rituals during the Neo-Assyrian period (and earlier), and this fact, in his opinion, speaks against their use in a scholarly genealogy before the Seleucid era.

(He writes, “[t]he human sages, ummânu, appear for the first time in Neo-Assyrian king lists, and in the bīt mēseri fragments of the Neo-Assyrian period the superhuman apkallū are for the first time listed by name and correlated with legendary and historical kings.

While Mesopotamian kings remain on the throne, the apkallū remain confined to myth and ritual. In the Seleucid period, after the loss of native kingship, the apkallū enter history. . . .

Evidence of a historically developing identification between the Mesopotamian ritual practitioner and the apkallū in general and Adapa in particular finally emerges in Seleucid Uruk” (Sanders, “Writing, Ritual, and Apocalypse,” 144-45).

In this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone, holding his banduddu bucket in his other hand. This ummânū wears bracelets with a different design, as rosettes are not apparent. In this case, the design appears to consist of concentric circles.  This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress, but in this case the headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis. The detail on this bas relief is unusually good, revealing details about the earrings that are blurry in most other examples.  Bracelets are also apparent on the upper arms, and the banduddu bucket reveals cross-hatching detail which rarely appears on other depictions.  The realistic portrayal of fine detail on the fingernails, the toenails, and the tassels are singular. In no other example does the embroidery on the garment stand out as well.  The fine detail on the wings and the braided hair is exceptional, and this ummânū appears to be wearing a medallion or other object at his sternum, a detail not noted elsewhere.  From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.  Louvre, AO 19845

In this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone, holding his banduddu bucket in his other hand.
This ummânū wears bracelets with a different design, as rosettes are not apparent. In this case, the design appears to consist of concentric circles.
This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress, but in this case the headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis.
The detail on this bas relief is unusually good, revealing details about the earrings that are blurry in most other examples.
Bracelets are also apparent on the upper arms, and the banduddu bucket reveals cross-hatching detail which rarely appears in other depictions.
The realistic portrayal of fine detail on the fingernails, the toenails, and the tassels is singular. In no other example does the embroidery on the garment stand out so well.
The fine detail on the wings and the braided hair is exceptional, and this ummânū appears to be wearing a medallion or other object at his sternum, a detail not noted elsewhere.
From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.
Louvre, AO 19845

Sanders’ objection reminds us of the need for sensitivity to genre in adducing evidence, something few others have taken seriously when discussing the issue of scholarly genealogy.

There is, however, other non-ritual evidence that both alleviates the problem he raises and provides more support for the earlier apkallūummânū association suggested by the Bīt mēseri material.

A textual variant between the only two manuscripts of the Akkadian literary composition “Advice to a Prince,” which is clearly a non-ritual text, supports the close association of the apkallū and ummânū in the early first millennium. A comparison of the two tablets at lines 4 and 5 reveals our variant of interest.

(In the standard edition of the text, Lambert expresses the opinion that the text is from Babylon and should be dated to roughly 1000 to 700 BCE. He also notes, “(t)he text is written on a tablet from the libraries of Assurbanipal [i.e., DT 1], and no duplicate has yet been found” (W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960; reprinted, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1996], 110, 111).

Steven Cole has recently published a duplicate to DT 1 (Nippur IV. The Early Neo-Babylonian Governor’s Archive from Nippur, Oriental Institute Publications 114 [Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1996], no. 128 [= OIP 114 128]); the tablet was found among a cache from Nippur.)

(If) he does not listen to his sage, his days will be short.

(If ) he does not listen to (his) scholar, his land will rebel against him.

In the standard edition based on DT 1 (the Ninevite version), Lambert took the ME in NUN.ME-šú as a plural marker and read the word as rubû, “princes, nobles.” (Babylonian Wisdom Literature, 112-13.)

This is understandable in light of line 10 which sets NUN.ME alongside DI.KUD.ME (dayyānū, “judges”).

In the orthography of the latter term ME must indicate plurality. But Reiner has noted that DT 1 typically uses MES to express the plural (line 10’s DI.KUD.ME being the one indisputable exception); thus, it seemed likely to her that NUN.ME in both lines 4 and 10 should be read apkallū (singular.) (See Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the ‘Seven Sages,’” Orientalia 30 (1961), 9 and n.1.)”

Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian ScholarshipJANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 146-8.

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