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Category: ummanus

Kvanvig: Dates the apkallu to the Beginning of the 1st Millennium BCE

“Most of the sources we have to these imaginations developed around the apkallus are Assyrian. This does not, however, mean that the imaginations only belonged to Assyrian mythology. Of the three lists of the apkallus known, two are Babylonian, and Bīt Mēseri was known in Babylonia. The most extensive description of their role we find in Berossos and the most systematic transition from apkallus to ummanus exists on the Uruk tablet.

This photograph of Tablet IV of the Poem of Erra is dated to 629-539 BCE.  https://tourguidegirl.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/img_0744.jpg

This photograph of Tablet IV of the Poem of Erra is dated to 629-539 BCE.
https://tourguidegirl.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/img_0744.jpg

The apkallus play an important role in the Poem of Erra, which according to most scholars is Babylonian. The tendency to ascribe compositions to apkallus is also attested in Babylonian sources. Berossos knows the reliefs of fish-apkallus existed. This motif is generally well attested in Late Babylonian representations.

(Cf. Green, “Mischwesen,” p. 252.)

Excerpt from Anthony Green, "Mischwesen. B." (Fish-garbed figure). Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1994, p. 252.

Excerpt from Anthony Green, “Mischwesen. B.” (Fish-garbed figure). Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1994, p. 252.

Clay figurines of the apkallus are found at Ur. There is also no reason to think that these imaginations were esoteric, belonging to a limited class of scholars. Imaginations of the apkallus are not limited to a certain genre of literature, but appear in all sorts of written compositions and in a variety of practices and depictions.

(Cf. Rittig, Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik, pp. 72, 83.)

When I first gathered and analyzed the sources to the apkallus preparing for my dissertation in 1984, later published in Roots of Apocalyptic in 1989, I concluded:

“The distinction between the group of seven sages and the group of four in Bīt Mēseri, and between apkallus and ummanus in W 20 030, 7, demonstrates a special way of interpreting history: the primeval history is “the history of revelation,” and the history which follows is the time when this revelation is transmitted and unfolded.”

(Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic, p. 201.)

Parpola explicitly supported this argument in his edition of the Assyrian and Babylonian letters.

(Parpola, Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars, XVIII.)

The textual and iconographic basis for understanding this part of Assyrian and Babylonian mythology is now considerably widened. But this extension of the source material has not undermined the assumption in the quotation above, but has provided the opportunity to give a much more refined and comprehensive presentation of a fairly late development in Mesopotamian religion.

At the present it is difficult to draw a diachronic picture of the origin and development of the apkallu tradition. We find the oldest reference to the seven apkallus in Eridu in a Sumerian temple hymn, where the tablet is dated to the Old Babylonian period.

(Cf. A.W. Sjöberg and E. Bergmann, The Collection of the Sumerian Temple Hymns, New York, 1969, p. 25.)

The text is hard to interpret, but the context of the apkallus is both the apsû, the me, and Enki’s son Asarluhi. The time is about the same as the date of the Sumerian tablet with the Adapa Myth, Adapa also coming from Eridu. The fact that these two sources are Sumerian does not necessarily indicate that the concept of the apkallus in Eridu is older than the Old Babylonian period.

All the other sources come from the first millennium. The archeological evidence also points in the same direction; the depictions of apkallus in figurines, on cylinder seals and on reliefs start in the beginning of the first millennium.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have prophylactic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have prophylactic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

The first textual witness from the first millennium might be the Poem of Erra. Here the apkallus are placed in the framework of primeval history. They were responsible for Marduk’s attire before the flood; they survived the flood and were sent back to the apsû after the flood.

This composition is held to be Babylonian. Thus it is not likely to regard the development of the apkallu tradition as simply an Assyrian matter. The pairing of kings and apkallus as found in the two Babylonian lists, Berossos and the Uruk tablet, seems to reflect the position of the ummanus at the royal courts also in Babylonia.

As shown, there existed a chronography pairing Assyrian kings and ummanus, which demonstrated their position in the first millennium. Thus the expansion of the apkallu tradition seems intimately connected to the increasing importance of the scholarly guilds, in their attempt to systemize and legitimize the lore of their professions from the beginning of the first millennium.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 156-8.

Kvanvig: Earthly Counterparts of the Divine Watchers

“It is important to notice that the connection between the ummanus and the apkallus was not only imagined as a line of transmission, running from antediluvian time through history. The connection was not only horizontal, but also vertical.

When the ummanus participated in the “mouth washing” ritual of the divine statue, they acted on behalf of the apkallus, as we have seen it in the Poem of Erra. This implies that the apkallus were not only great figures of wisdom in the past; they were powerful transcendent forces in the present.

The maintenance of the divine statue was a necessary prerequisite for the upholding of the power of the king and the survival of the empire. In this role the earthly ummanus are called “the images” of the apkallus belonging to the divine realm; they are the representatives of these transcendent forces on earth.

We find the same imagination of the apkallus as acting transcendent forces in rituals directed against demons. This is evident both in the ritual texts themselves and in the practice accompanying them. In the rituals the apkallus were invoked to expel the demons.

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112).

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112).

In the dedication of palaces and houses figurines of the apkallus were deposited in the foundation to protect the house against demonic attack. When a person became ill, representations of the apkallus were placed in the room to signify their active presence in the ritual to dispel the evil.

Their presence is even carved into an Assyrian bronze tablet, which shows the sick man lying on his bed with his hand raised toward heaven and the demon Lamaštu lurking just under his bed, the bed is surrounded not by āšipū; what these in reality represented were the apkallus.

This is the actual bronze frieze of the illustration above, held in the collection of the Louvre as AO 22205.

This is the actual bronze frieze of the illustration held in the collection of the Louvre as AO 22205. The Lessing imprint covers much of the middle register where the sick man is portrayed with his arm raised to heaven. In the left corner is the lamp of Nusku, illuminating the proceedings. Puradu-fish apkallu are at both ends of the bed conducting the ritual. The creatures of the Mesopotamian pandemonium on the right half of the register have apotropaic functions, banishing the demons of evil, which were considered the cause of illness. 

Also, this side of the belief in apkallus had political consequences. When the king had protected his palaces through proper rituals and deposed the figurines of the apkallus, he could make large images of them at the entrances and in the halls to tell both demons and enemies, that his kingdom was protected from any evil.

This combination of the apkallus as messengers from the gods, revealing the insight of heaven and earth to humans in antediluvian time, and guardians of the cosmic order, the political order, and the life and health of individuals, may seem difficult to combine.

But as we have underscored many times, there is a clear interconnection. For the ummanus, insight into the divine secrets was necessary in order to fulfill their role as watchers, both communicating with the gods and using magic to fight demons. In both cases the wisdom was revealed from the gods and written down in compositions.

Those who revealed this knowledge once in antediluvian time were the apkallus; those who were ultimately, invisibly present when this knowledge was practiced were the apkallus. But of course, those who visibly and actually had this role on the earth were the ummanus. In relation to the king they should watch his life and empire as the earthly counterparts of the watchers in the divine realm.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 155-6.

Kvanvig: On the Correspondences Between Antediluvian Myths

“Here he works along two lines: on the one hand, he demonstrates how the succession in the chain of written composition in the first millennium is dominated by Eaapkallusummanus; on the other hand, he shows how the written lore of the ummanus was collected and systematized as a secret revelation belonging to this alleged chain of transmission.

Apkallu type 3, illustration 36, Stephanie Dalley, IDD. Professor Dalley cites this illustration, number 36, for the apkallu standing at the flanks of a deity. In the first case, it is far from certain that the figure on the left of the central deity is an apkallu at all, as it lacks all indicators of divinity and most crucially, wings. This figure does raise what appears to be a mullilu cone in its right hand, and it does hold the usual banduddu bucket in his left hand, though it must be admitted that depictions of cones with leaves still attached are irregular. Unfortunately Professor Dalley does not identify the deity in the center of the illustration, though I am encouraged that she does consider it to be a deity, rather than an apkallu of high rank, which I will provisionally attempt to do. I have discussed elsewhere in captions to these illustrations the possibility that the deity at the center of this composition, which appears to adorn a necklace or breastplate, is the god Anu, who is allegedly never depicted in Mesopotamian iconography. The circular device at the apex of his crown, which is appropriately horned, is apparent in only one other example, a bronze face protector or frontal helmet. In that example, the circular device or disc is so worn that the lower portion of its mount mimics the inverted crescent of the Moon god Sin. The context is inappropriate for Sin, however, and it is more likely that the disc mount is simply worn from great age, with the circular portion along the top gone. In any case, a bird-headed type 3 Nisroc apkallu is on the right, with banduddu bucket in the left hand and an indistinct item in his raised right hand. It appears to be a mullilu cone, but with leaves or sprouting, as noted. As mentioned, the figure on the left side of the deity lacks wings, though it mimics the blessing gesture, cone and banduddu bucket of the right-side apkallu. The left side figure may not be an apkallu at all. Perhaps it is a priest. Or a human umu-apkallu. It lacks all symbols of divinity or semi-divinity. The central figure remains problematic for me, wearing a crown which reminds me of a depiction of the god Anu. The problem is that Assyriologists aver that no representations of Anu exist. Also significant for me, this figure, whether it is a deity or an apkallu, wears a large ring around the torso. My suspicion is that this ring would be decorated with rosettes, were sufficient detail available. This figure also holds a ring in his left hand, an item typically reserved for deities, while raising his right hand in the classical gesture of greeting.

Click to zoom. Apkallu type 3, illustration 36, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.
Professor Dalley cites this illustration, number 36, for the apkallu standing at the flanks of a deity. In the first case, it is far from certain that the figure on the left of the central deity is an apkallu at all, as it lacks all indicators of divinity and most crucially, wings. This figure does raise what appears to be a mullilu cone in its right hand, and it does hold the usual banduddu bucket in his left hand, though it must be admitted that depictions of cones with leaves still attached are irregular.
Unfortunately Professor Dalley does not identify the deity in the center of the illustration, though I am encouraged that she does consider it to be a deity, rather than an apkallu of high rank, which I will provisionally attempt to support.
I have discussed elsewhere in captions to these illustrations the possibility that the deity at the center of this composition, which appears to adorn a necklace or breastplate, is the god Anu, who is allegedly never depicted in Mesopotamian iconography.
The circular device at the apex of his crown, which is appropriately horned, is apparent in only one other example, a bronze face protector or frontal helmet, which is posted lower on this page.
In that example, the circular device or disc is so worn that the lower portion of its mount mimics the inverted crescent of the Moon god Sin.
The context is inappropriate for Sin, however, and it is more likely that the disc mount is simply worn from great age, with the circular portion along the top gone.
In any case, a bird-headed type 3 Nisroc apkallu is on the right, with banduddu bucket in the left hand and an indistinct item in his raised right hand. It appears to be a mullilu cone, but with leaves or sprouting, as noted.
As mentioned, the figure on the left side of the deity lacks wings, though it mimics the blessing gesture, cone and banduddu bucket of the right-side apkallu. The left side figure may not be an apkallu at all. Perhaps it is a priest. Or a human umu-apkallu. It lacks all symbols of divinity or semi-divinity.
The central figure remains problematic for me, wearing a crown which reminds me of a depiction of the god Anu. The problem is that Assyriologists aver that no representations of Anu exist.
Also significant for me, this figure, whether it is a deity or an apkallu, wears a large ring around the torso. My suspicion is that this ring would be decorated with rosettes, were sufficient detail available.
This figure also holds a ring in his left hand, an item typically reserved for deities, called a chaplet by Anthony Green and Jeremy Black, while raising his right hand in the classical gesture of greeting.

He admits that there are other voices, even in the first millennium, but this is the dominant tendency. One may object to Lenzi’s work, that he goes too far in his effort to systemize the material.

If influential ummanus first in Assyria and then in Late Babylonia saw it as a priority both to bring together their lore under specific rubrics, and to establish a theology of revelation and transmission, going back to one god, Ea, they had quite a task, given the vast variety in the material they inherited from the millennium before.

We think the most important aspect of Lenzi’s impressive detailed examination of the sources is that he manages to show that there was a strong tendency toward systematization. There was an attempt to bring together the lore of the different scholarly professions into series given distinctive labels: these compositions belong to the lore of this profession–bārûtu, āšipūtu, kalûtu, asûtu, tupšarrūtu.

There was also the clear tendency to claim compositions belonging to the lore of these professions as secrets revealed by the gods in antediluvian time and restricted to the ummanus in present time.

(Cf. also Francesca Rochberg, The Heavenly Writing: Divination, Horoscopy and Astronomy in Mesopotamian Culture, Cambridge, 2004, pp. 181-5.)

This design is perplexing. I am uncertain whether it depicts a human apkallū, an ummanu, or, as earlier analysts determined, the god Anu. The problem is that Assyriologists assert that Anu is never represented in illustrations or bas reliefs. The iconography is correct for an apkallū. The horned headdress is indicative of divinity, the plants held in both hands are not unprecedented, though they are not common. I believe that they are poppy bulbs. The rosette design in the large ring appears elsewhere in Neo-Assyrian symbolism, though its significance is undetermined. The large ring around the torso appears in the illustration above, as well. The wings on the figure are typical of an apkallu. The fact that the figure stands on a bull, however, suggests that this is a depiction of a deity, rather than a human apkallū. Further, the disc atop the headdress is problematic. In no other example does a human apkallū appear with a disc surmounting a horned headdress. The device at the top of the figure in the illustration above resembles this ring. Indeed, it is unclear whether the disc is just worn, or whether the lower part of the disc portrays the inverted horns of the Moon, indicative of the Moon god Sin. Or, it could just be a damaged ring, similar to the device above. This is one of the most dramatic examples of Neo-Assyrian art, but my scholarship is too meager to explicate it. http://transfixussednonmortuus.tumblr.com/image/32382020729

This design is perplexing. I am uncertain whether it depicts a human apkallū, an ummanu, or, as earlier analysts determined, the god Anu. The problem is that Assyriologists assert that Anu is never represented in illustrations or bas reliefs.
The iconography is correct for an apkallū. The horned headdress is indicative of divinity, the plants held in both hands are not unprecedented, though they are not common. I believe that they are poppy bulbs.
The rosette design in the large ring appears elsewhere in Neo-Assyrian symbolism, though its significance is undetermined. The large ring around the torso appears in the illustration above, as well.
The wings on the figure are typical of an apkallu, and indicative of divinity or semi-divinity.
The fact that the figure stands on a bull, however, suggests that this is a depiction of a deity, rather than a human apkallū. I would like to say that the bull is sacred to Anu, but Assyriologists insist that Anu is never depicted in Mesopotamian art. 
Further, the disc atop the headdress is problematic. In no other example does a human apkallū appear with a disc surmounting a horned headdress. The device at the top of the figure in the illustration above resembles this ring.
Indeed, it is unclear whether the disc is just worn, or whether the lower part of the disc portrays the inverted horns of the Moon, the “recumbent crescent,” as Black and Green describe it, indicative of the Moon god Sin. Or, it could just be a damaged ring, similar to the device above.
This is one of the most dramatic examples of Neo-Assyrian art, but my scholarship is too meager to explicate it.
http://transfixussednonmortuus.tumblr.com/image/32382020729

At the crucial point in this chain, we find the apkallus, above all Uanadapa, who were those who brought the divine knowledge to the humans.

The analyses carried out by van der Toorn and Lenzi are fully in accord with our own observations. There is a clear division between the first group of seven apkallus and subsequent sages and scholars in all three lists: Bīt Mēseri, Berossos, and the Uruk tablet.

They express this differently, but the tendency is clear. Bīt Mēseri lists seven apkallus “born in the river” and then four apkallus “of human descent.” Berossos lists seven apkallus before the flood and then one great scholar in the tenth generation after. The Uruk tablet lists seven apkallus before the flood, one afterwards, and continues with ummanus.

The antediluvian apkallus are closely connected to the divine realm, above all to the god Ea. “To be born in the river” means to be engendered in the abode of Ea. Oannes in Berosses (sic) goes to and fro the sea, the abode of Ea. But not only Ea is involved.

In our reading of the relationship between the Adapa Myth and Bīt Mēseri we found that the first apkallu, U-an, “the light of heaven” (An), was an echo of the fate of Adapa in the myth, fragment D, where Adapa is adopted sage by Anu.

This name of the first sage is reflected both in the Catalogue, in Berossos and on the Uruk tablet.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 153-4.

Kvanvig: The apkallus as Watchers and Guardians

“As demonstrated in the rituals, the apkallus were not only figures of the past. Surely, they visited the earth in antediluvian time to bestow wisdom on mankind, but they were still alive and invisibly present in the human world.

Detail from a drawing of a bronze plaque held in the Louvre.  Puradu-fish apkallu minister to an ill patient in bed. The lamp of Nusku is depicted at far left, and ugallu attack with upraised fists in concert with Lulal, identified by Wiggerman as "a minor apotropaic god." I believe that this plaque portrays an exorcism.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.  The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Detail from a drawing of a bronze plaque held in the Louvre.
Puradu-fish apkallu minister to an ill patient in bed. The lamp of Nusku is depicted at far left, and ugallu attack with upraised fists in concert with Lulal, identified by Wiggerman as “a minor apotropaic god.”
I believe that this plaque portrays an exorcism.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

They were present as “guardian spirits,” as we have seen in the depiction of the sick man. We now see that they performed other roles as well. One of the most important was to purify the Tree of Life. This duty was closely connected to their role as cosmic guardians and formed a parallel to the maintenance of the divine statue, as in the Poem of Erra.

Click to zoom in. <br /> Ummanu and bird-apkallu tend the sacred tree.<br />  The bird-apkallu are portrayed in the iconic act of purifying or pollinating the sacred tree with mullilu cones and banduddu buckets.<br />  A fleur de lis is clearly portrayed at the base of the sacred tree. It is not known whether the fleur de lis was also portrayed atop the horned headdresses of the ummanu in the top register.<br />  It is worth noting that the ubiquitous rosette pattern is portrayed at the base of the sacred tree in the top register. The same detail is apparent upon scrutiny of the sacred tree in the lower register, partially occluded by a mount or platform for the tree.<br />  One further detail which may be of no import: the bird-apkallu on the right wears a bracelet, but unlike other bracelets portrayed on left wrists elsewhere in this frieze, the rosette is not visible. For whatever reason, this apkallu wore his rosette bracelet oriented towards his body. This could be no more than an oversight by the original artist, or realistic portrayal of a real life model.<br />  From Kalhu, Northwest Palace of Assurnasirpal II, Room I, Slab 30, inscribed wall relief, Metropolitan Museum 32.143.3. Photo Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., 1932.<br />  John Malcolm Russell, The Writing on the Wall: Studies in the Architectural Context of Late Assyrian Palace Inscriptions, Eisenbrauns, 1999. P. 18.

Click to zoom in.
Ummanu and bird-apkallu tend the sacred tree.
The bird-apkallu are portrayed in the iconic act of purifying or pollinating the sacred tree with mullilu cones and banduddu buckets.
A fleur de lis is clearly portrayed at the base of the sacred tree. It is not known whether the fleur de lis was also portrayed atop the horned headdresses of the ummanu in the top register.
It is worth noting that the ubiquitous rosette pattern is portrayed at the base of the sacred tree in the top register. The same detail is apparent upon scrutiny of the sacred tree in the lower register, partially occluded by a mount or platform for the tree.
One further detail which may be of no import: the bird-apkallu on the right wears a bracelet, but unlike other bracelets portrayed on left wrists elsewhere in this frieze, the rosette is not visible. For whatever reason, this apkallu wore his rosette bracelet oriented towards his body. This could be no more than an oversight by the original artist, or realistic portrayal of a real life model.
From Kalhu, Northwest Palace of Assurnasirpal II, Room I, Slab 30, inscribed wall relief, Metropolitan Museum 32.143.3. Photo Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., 1932.
John Malcolm Russell, The Writing on the Wall: Studies in the Architectural Context of Late Assyrian Palace Inscriptions, Eisenbrauns, 1999. P. 18.

When the apkallus purified the tree, they “insured the correct functioning of the plans of heaven and earth,” as it was expressed in Bīt Mēseri. The divine and human worlds overlap. The depiction of the sick man did not show the āšipū performing their ritual, but the apkallus, whom they represented.

In the Poem of Erra the human ummanus were called the images of the transcendent apkallus. Since the scholars emulate the role of the apkallus, the Tree of Life scene, with the apkallus, can also be interpreted as a symbolic representation of the scholar’s activity at the court.

The Tree of Life represents the king, whom the scholars protect with their wisdom. In many of the letters that Parpola has edited this is expressed through a recurring phrase: massartu ša šarri nasāru, “to keep the king’s watch.”

Click to zoom in. <br />  This reproduction of the bas reliefs in Room I of the Northwestern Palace of King Ashurnasirpal at Nimrud is remarkable for the sheer number of apkallus portrayed interacting with endless renditions of the sacred tree.<br /> All apkallu are winged, even the beardless specimens in I-16. All others are either bearded males, or griffin-headed bird apkallus.<br /> Samuel M. Paley and R.P. Sobolewski, The Reconstruction of the Relief Representations and Their Positions in the Northwest Palace at Kalhu (Nimrud) II. (The Principal Entrances and Courtyards). Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1992.<br /> From Mehmet-Ali Atac, The Mythology of Kingship in Neo-Assyrian Art, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 100.

Click to zoom in.
This reproduction of the bas reliefs in Room I of the Northwestern Palace of King Ashurnasirpal at Nimrud is remarkable for the sheer number of apkallus portrayed interacting with endless renditions of the sacred tree.
All apkallu are winged, even the beardless specimens in I-16. All others are either bearded males, or griffin-headed bird apkallus.
Samuel M. Paley and R.P. Sobolewski, The Reconstruction of the Relief Representations and Their Positions in the Northwest Palace at Kalhu (Nimrud) II. (The Principal Entrances and Courtyards). Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1992.
From Mehmet-Ali Atac, The Mythology of Kingship in Neo-Assyrian Art, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 100.

In the Akkadian phrase the element of “watching” is expressed twice, both through the noun massartu, and through the verb nasāru. The Akkadian massartu both has the connotation “guard, watchman, be awake,” and someone who watches for astronomical observation.

The noun corresponds closely to the verb nasāru, “guard, take care of, keep watch for celestial phenomena.” Used together in massartu nasāru, the phrase often means “to take care of a person’s interests.”

The two meanings “guard” and “watch for omens” come together in the tasks of the scholars; it was through their watching for divine signs that they guarded the king. A good illustration of this double meaning we find in the following letter:

“To the king, our lord: your servants, the scribes of Kilizi. Good health to the king, our lord! May Nabu and Marduk bless the king.

We watched the moon; on the 14th day the moon and the sun saw each other. (This means) well-being.

May Nabu and Marduk bless the king. Because of the ilku-duty (state service) and the corvée work we cannot keep the watch of the king, and the pupils do not learn the scribal craft.”

(Letter 143, Parpola, Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars, p. 111.)

The role of the earthly scholars at this point reflects the apkallus, as we have seen in many other instances. The scholars were “watchers” over the king’s well-being and health and in this instance over his kingdom, in the same manner as the apkallus who were invoked as “watchers” in the rituals.

The scholars should watch the king in order to maintain the cosmic order, just as the apkallus were watchers of the cosmic order in the divine realm.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 144-6.

Kvanvig: Five Specialties of Sages Communicating with the Divine

“There is no doubt that these assertions by the kings are tendentious; and one can discuss how wise the kings in reality were. They needed high competence in practical affairs; this is a matter of fact. They administered empires, warfare, economy, building of temples, palaces; this is not done without a high degree of skill.

(Cf. R.F.G. Sweet, “The Sage in Mesopotamian Palaces and Royal Courts,” in J.G. Gammie and L.G. Perdue, eds., The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East, Winona Lake, 1990, pp. 99-107, 99f.)

Nevertheless, the kings boast of knowledge of a higher order, a knowledge that shares in the divine wisdom, either represented through the gods themselves, or through the apkallus. This at least included knowledge about reading and writing.

(Click to zoom in). <br /> A king depicted with the sacred tree and his ummanu standing behind him with mullilu cone and banduddu bucket.<br />  Some analysts consider the cone blessing gesture to be fertilization or pollination of the stylized date palm.<br />  It is interesting to note that the depictions of the king mirror one another, but with differences.<br />  In both, symbols of sovereignty are grasped in their left hands. A scepter or mace, in either case. The other hand, the right hand, plucks or blesses the tree.<br />  The winged conveyance hovers above the tree. Note that the kings wear indistinct caps, while the ummanus wear horned crowns indicative of divinity. Also, the ummanu have wings.<br />  From the Northwest palace at Nimrud. Held in the collection of the British Museum, BM 6657.

(Click to zoom in).
A king depicted with the sacred tree and his ummanu standing behind him with mullilu cone and banduddu bucket.
Some analysts consider the cone blessing gesture to be fertilization or pollination of the stylized date palm.
It is interesting to note that the depictions of the king mirror one another, but with differences.
In both, symbols of sovereignty are grasped in their left hands. A scepter or mace, in either case. The other hand, the right hand, plucks or blesses the tree.
The winged conveyance hovers above the tree. Note that the kings wear indistinct caps, while the ummanus wear horned crowns indicative of divinity. Also, the ummanu have wings.
From the Northwest palace at Nimrud. Held in the collection of the British Museum, BM 6657.

As far as we know, only three kings claim to have been literate in two thousand years of Mesopotamian history: Šulgi, Lipit-Ištar, and Ashurbanipal.

(Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature,” p. 65.)

The kings claimed obviously to share in this higher degree of wisdom, not only because of personal reasons, but because of the royal ideology according to which they ruled.

The wisdom they needed was not only insight into how to rule a country, but insight into the divine realm, to read the signs of the gods, to appease the gods when necessary, and to secure divine assistance to conquer demonic attacks.

To secure this kind of wisdom the king associated with a body of experts professionalized in various fields of this higher form of wisdom that demanded communication with the divine. This is the ideology of the pairing of kings and sages / scholars in Berossos and more extensively in the Uruk tablet.

In order to rule, a king needed a scholar at his side. In a chronographic composition from about 640 BCE, listing the kings of Assyria and Babylon together, the kings are listed together with one or two ummanus.

(Cf. S. Parpola, Letters from Assyrian Scholars to the Kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal. Part II: Commentary and Appendices, vol. 5/2, AOAT, Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1983, pp. 448-9.)

An ummanu. In this case, the ummanu wears a headband with a rosette, rather than the usual horned tiara indicative of divinity, or semi-divinity. This must be an apkallu, an umu-apkallu, as it has wings, an indicator of supernatural status.

An ummanu. In this case, the ummanu wears a headband with a rosette, rather than the usual horned tiara indicative of divinity, or semi-divinity. This must be an apkallu, an umu-apkallu, as it has wings, an indicator of supernatural status.

Here we are in the historical reality lying behind the imagination of parallel kings and apkallus in antediluvian time. Historically, there existed ummanus of such a high rank that they were included in a list of rulers.

Due to the finding of numerous letters from the Assyrian royal court between the kings and these experts, we have gained profound insight into the duties of the experts. S. Parpola, who edited the letters, found that there are five special fields of expertise:

  1. “Scribe” (tupšarru)–expert in the art of interpreting celestial, terrestrial and teratological portents, and establishing the calendar and the ominous significance of days and months.
  2. “Haruspex” (bārû)–expert in the art of prognosticating the future, primarily by studying the exta of sheep sacrificed to oracle gods.
  3. “Exorcist” (āšipu)–expert in the art of manipulating supernatural forces (such as illness-causing demons) by magical means.
  4. “Physician” (asû)–expert in the art of curing diseases by means of drugs and other physical remedies.
  5. “Chanters” (kalû)–experts in the art of soothing angered gods (and thus averting calamities) by means of elaborate chants and lamentations.

Based on this correspondence, Parpola found that the experts could be divided into two groups, forming an “inner” and an “outer” circle in relation to the king.

During the reign of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal there were 16 men forming the “inner circle.” They were quite generally designated with the title rab, “chief:” rab tupšarrī, rab bārê, rab āšipī, etc.

An umu-apkallu at far left, with horned tiara indicative of divinity. The mullilu cone and banduddu bucket are in their customary places, rosette bracelets are displayed, and this ummanu is winged.<br />  This frieze is unusual for the fine detail lavished on the fringe and tassels of the garments. The sandals are portrayed with uncommon precision. <br />  On the right side, an ambiguous figure, perhaps a lesser order of ummanu, a specialist sage in service to the king. Beardless, the figure could be a eunuch, raising a royal mace or scepter surmounted with a rosette in its right hand. Could this be a woman at court? The facial characteristics are intriguing, the figure appears to wear a long fringed skirt rather than the robe portrayed on the apkallu at left, and appears to bear both a sword and a bow with a quiver of arrows. Perhaps this is the arms bearer of the king, holding the royal scepter for his convenience.<br />  From the Northwest Palace at Nimrud, in the collection of the British Museum.<br />  BM 6642.

An umu-apkallu at far left, with horned tiara indicative of divinity. The mullilu cone and banduddu bucket are in their customary places, rosette bracelets are displayed, and this ummanu is winged.
This frieze is unusual for the fine detail lavished on the fringe and tassels of the garments. The sandals are portrayed with uncommon precision.
On the right side, an ambiguous figure, perhaps a lesser order of ummanu, a specialist sage in service to the king. Beardless, the figure could be a eunuch, raising a royal mace or scepter surmounted with a rosette in its right hand. Could this be a woman at court? The facial characteristics are intriguing, the figure appears to wear a long fringed skirt rather than the robe portrayed on the apkallu at left, and appears to bear both a sword and a bow with a quiver of arrows. Perhaps this is the arms bearer of the king, holding the royal scepter for his convenience.
From the Northwest Palace at Nimrud, in the collection of the British Museum.
BM 6642.

The examination of their names and position demonstrated that they were high ranking men, and that only these few select “wise men” could be engaged in any sort of “regular” correspondence with the king.

Among the members of the “inner circle” there were several instances of family ties, giving the impression that these important court offices of scholarly advisors were in the hand of a few privileged families, “a veritable scholarly “mafia,” which monopolized these offices from generation to generation.”

The men of the “inner circle” did not reside in the palace area but in their own houses situated in downtown Nineveh. Occasionally they could leave their houses for visits to the palace and the king.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 141-3.

Kvanvig: Assurbanipal Studied Inscriptions on Stone from Before the Flood

“The first thing to notice is the strange expression salmīšunu, “their images.” The pronoun refers back to the primeval ummanus / apkallus. They had “images,” created by Ea on earth. A line from Bīt Mēseri sheds light on the issue.

šiptu šipat Marduk āšipu salam Marduk

“The incantation is the incantation of Marduk, the āšipu is the image of Marduk.”

(Bīt Mēseri II, 226. Cf. Gerhard Meier, “Die zweite Tafel der Serie bīt mēseri,” AfO 14, 1941-4, pp. 139-52, 150).

In his role as exorcist, the āšipu is here an image of the deity itself. In the Poem of Erra something similar must have been thought. The āšipu and other priests with responsibility for the divine statues were the earthly counterparts of the transcendent ummanus / apkallus. They were their images on earth.

"Sometimes animal hybrids ... appear to take part in rituals....some types are clearly minor deities, since they wear the horned cap as a mark of their divinity...others may be human. A ...winged god, standing or kneeling, holds a bucket and cone ... in the scenes of "ritual" centered on the stylized tree. A similar female figure holds a chaplet of beads....A third figure carries a flowering branch, sometimes also a sacrificial (?) goat. Sometimes he wears the horned cap, and even when does not he often has wings. Presumably, therefore, such figures are also non-mortal; they may represent the Seven Sages in human guise." From Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, pp. 86-8.

“Sometimes animal hybrids … appear to take part in rituals….some types are clearly minor deities, since they wear the horned cap as a mark of their divinity…others may be human. A …winged god, standing or kneeling, holds a bucket and cone … in the scenes of “ritual” centered on the stylized tree. A similar female figure holds a chaplet of beads….A third figure carries a flowering branch, sometimes also a sacrificial (?) goat. Sometimes he wears the horned cap, and even when does not he often has wings. Presumably, therefore, such figures are also non-mortal; they may represent the Seven Sages in human guise.”
From Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, pp. 86-8.

We must admit that the following text from line 34 is not very clear. Does the ummanus from line 34 mean the primeval apkallus, or does it refer to the priests as ummanus? If we follow the interpretation underlying Foster’s translation, the second option is preferable.

“He himself gave those same (human) craftsmen

great discretion and authority;

he gave them wisdom and great dexterity.

They have made (his) precious image radiant,

even finer than before.”

(Poem of Erra II, pp. 34-6. Foster, Before the Muses, p. 892).

The text thus describes how Ea equips the earthly ummanus with wisdom and dexterity to make them able to restore Marduk’s statue.

To care for the divine statue, to make sure that it is qualified for the manifestation of the divinity, is to secure cosmic stability. This was the great responsibility of the āšipu when they acted as earthly images of the apkallus, the guardians of the cosmic order.

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, which he overpowered when he defeated Tiamat, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods.<br /> In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat's (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).<br /> This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk's serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur.<br /> Marduk's robe depicts the heavenly night sky with all its stars.<br /> I believe that the circular medallions hanging from his neck are among the few portrayals of the me, the tablets of destinies, in all Assyrian art.<br /> Marduk was also called "the son of the Sun," "the Sun" and "bull-calf of the Sun" (Babylonian amar-utu).<br /> http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, which he overpowered when he defeated Tiamat, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods.
In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat’s (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).
This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk’s serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur.
Marduk’s robe depicts the heavenly night sky with all its stars.
I believe that the circular medallions hanging from his neck are among the few portrayals of the me, the tablets of destinies, in all Assyrian art.
Marduk was also called “the son of the Sun,” “the Sun” and “bull-calf of the Sun” (Babylonian amar-utu).
http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

The supreme responsibility on earth for cosmic stability rested on the king. Therefore the king needed to be depicted as wise, having insight into the hidden laws of the cosmos. This is a reoccurring topic in descriptions of kings and their own self-presentations.

It reaches as far back as the third millennium, but shows an increasing tendency in the first millennium.

(Cf. R.F.G. Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature: A Philological Study,” in The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East, eds. J.G. Gammie and L.G. Perdue, Winona Lake, 1990, pp. 45-65, 51-7).

In their boasting of superior wisdom the kings of the first millennium compared their own wisdom with the wisdom of the primary apkallu, Adapa:

Sargon claims to be: “a wise king, skilled in all learning, the equal of

the apkallu, who grew up in wise counsel and attained full stature in good judgement.”

(Cylinder Inscription, 38. Cf. David Gordon Lyon, Keilschriftentexte Sargon’s Königs von Assyrien, (722-705 v. CHR), AB. Leipzig, 1883, pp. 34-5. Translation according to Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature,” p. 53).

Sennacherib presents himself as one to whom “Ninšiku gave wide understanding and equality with the apkallu, Adapa, and granted profound wisdom.”

(Bull Inscription, 4. Cf. D.D. Luckenbill, The Annals of Senacherib, Chicago, 1924, p. 117; translation according to Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature,” p. 53).

Prism of Sennacherib, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1924. https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/oip2.pdf

Prism of Sennacherib, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.
Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1924.
https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/oip2.pdf

Assurbanipal describes his comprehensive wisdom in the following way:

Marduk, the apkallu of the gods, gave me wide understanding and extensive intelligence (and) Nabu, the scribe (who knows) everything, granted me his wise teachings ….

I have learned the art of the apkallu, Adapa, (so that now) I am familiar with the secret storehouse of all scribal learning, (including) celestial and terrestrial portents.

I can debate in an assembly of ummanus and discuss with the clever apkal šamni (oil diviners) (the treatise) “if the liver is a replica of the sky.” I used to figure out complicated divisions and multiplications that have no solutions.

Time and again I have read the cleverly written compositions in which the Sumerian is obscure and the Akkadian is difficult to interpret correctly.

I have studied inscriptions on stone from before the Flood which are sealed, obscure and confused.”

(Tablet L4 obv. I, 10-8. Cf. M. Streck, Assurbanipal und die letzen assyrischen König bis zum Untergange Nineveh’s, vol. II, Leipzig, 1916, 254-7.)

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 138-9.

Kvanvig: The mīs pî and pīt pî Rituals of Mouth Washing and Mouth Opening

“The āšipū did not only expel demons; they had one more important duty that they performed together with other specialists, the bārû, “haruspex / diviner” and the kalû, “lamentation chanter.”

They had the primary responsibility for consecration of the divine statue. In this duty they performed ina šipir apkalli, according to the “task” or “office” of the apkallu, apkallu (singular) here to be understood either as a general reference to the transcendent beings, or as R. Borger claims, as a concrete reference to the apkallu par excellence, Adapa.

The material form of the statue was animated in the way that the statue did not only stand for the represented god, but manifested this god.

(R. Borger, Die Inschriften Asarhaddons. Königs von Assyrien, vol. 9, Afo. Graz, 1956, p. 89. Cf. C. Walker and M. Dick, The Induction of the Cult Image in Ancient Mesopotamia, vol. 1, SAALT, Helsinki, 2001, pp. 4-19.)

The ritual had two stages, the mīs pî, “mouth washing,” and the pīt pî, “mouth opening.” The “washing of the mouth” purified the cult image from any human contamination; the “opening of the mouth” enabled the statue to function as a deity.

This is a photograph of Tablet IV of the Poem of Erra. The tablet is dated to 629-539 BCE.<br /> https://tourguidegirl.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/img_0744.jpg

This is a photograph of Tablet IV of the Poem of Erra. The tablet is dated to 629-539 BCE.
https://tourguidegirl.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/img_0744.jpg

The ritual was performed by consecrating a new or restored statue. The dwelling of the god in his statue was necessary to secure cosmic stability. If a god left his image, chaos broke loose. This is clearly illustrated in the Poem of Erra.

Black stone amulet against plague.<br />  A quotation from the Akkadian Epic of Erra.<br />  BM 118998, British Museum, Room 55.<br />  Registration: 1928,0116.1.<br />  Photo by Fae.<br />  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.<br />  You are free to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, to remix – to adapt the work, under the following conditions:<br />  Attribution – You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).<br />  Share alike – If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one. <br /> https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amulet_to_ward_off_plague.jpg

Black stone amulet against plague.
A quotation from the Akkadian Epic of Erra.
BM 118998, British Museum, Room 55.
Registration: 1928,0116.1.
Photo by Fae.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
You are free to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, to remix – to adapt the work, under the following conditions:
Attribution – You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
Share alike – If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amulet_to_ward_off_plague.jpg

The poem draws a clear parallel between the chaotic state of humankind and the poor condition of the statue of Marduk. The god Erra who aspires to take over lordship from Marduk approaches him:

“Why has your precious image, symbol of your lordship,

Which was full of splendor as the stars of heaven,

Lost its brilliance?

Your lordly diadem, which made the inner sanctum shine

Like the outside tower, (why is it) dimmed?”

(Poem of Erra I, 126-7. Translation according to Foster, Before the Muses, p. 887.)

Marduk explains that he once rose from his dwelling and sent the flood with the result that chaos prevailed. His divine statue was reshaped after the flood and he entered lordship again (I, 140-4). When this was done, he sent away the primeval ummanus, who clearly was in charge of the reshaping:

“I made those ummanus go down to the apsû,

and I said they were not to come back up.”

(Poem of Erra I, 147).

Since then his statue had decayed. The ummanus, this time called sebet apkal apsî, “the seven apkallus of the apsû,” were no longer present to take care of his image:

“Where are the Seven apkallus of the apsû, the holy carp

who are perfect in lofty wisdom like Ea’s, their lord,

who can make my body holy?”

(Poem of Erra I, 162).

Entry on Girra, or Gerra, as Kvanvig prefers, from J. Black & A. Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, p. 88.

Entry on Girra, or Gerra, as Kvanvig prefers, from J. Black & A. Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, p. 88.

Consequently Erra persuades Marduk to leave his statue and lordship, and hand the power over to him until Marduk’s statue is restored:

“Prince Marduk, until you reenter that house

and Gerra cleanses your robes,

and you return to your place,

until then I shall rule and keep firm control of heaven and earth”

(Poem of Erra I, 180).

Marduk leaves his statue. This is commented by Ea in a passage with several interesting features (Tablet II):

“Now, the prince Marduk has arisen,

he has not commanded those ummanus to come up.

How can their images, which I created among the people,

approach his sublime divinity, where even a god cannot enter?

To those ummanus he gave a broad heart …”

(F.N.H. Al-Rawi and J.A. Black, “The Second Tablet of “Ishum and Erra,” Iraq 51, 1989, pp. 111-22, 114.)”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 136-7.

Kvanvig: The Apkallus had a Cosmic Function

“There is a clear difference between the group of seven and the subsequent group of four figures in Bīt Mēseri. The difference is not expressed in the same way as in the Uruk tablet in a general pattern of apkallus and succeeding ummanus. In Bīt Mēseri all the figures are apkallus with a curious exception of the last one, who is only two-thirds apkallu.

In Bīt Mēseri, there are thus two periods of transition, from the seven apkallus of divine descent to the four apkallus of human descent, and from the extraordinary apkallus to ordinary scholarship (we assume ummanus).

This depiction of a fish-apkallū of the parādu-fish type guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud.  A fish's head can be seen on the Apkallu's head, and its skin hangs down over the back of his body.  It is important to recall that the so-called Seven Sages of Sumeria were apkallū of this type. Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE.  From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London). Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg) http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

This depiction of a fish-apkallū of the parādu-fish type guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud.
A fish’s head can be seen on the Apkallu’s head, and its skin hangs down over the back of his body.
It is important to recall that the so-called Seven Sages of Sumeria were apkallū of this type.
Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE.
From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg)
http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

The last transition is exemplified with Lu-Nanna; he is a mixture of both apkallu and, we must assume, ummanu. The difference between the first two groups is expressed through their origin. At the end of the list of four it is stated: [seb]et apkallu ša Ea bēlum [u]zna rapašta ušaklilušunuti,” of human descent, whom the lord Ea has endowed with a broad understanding” (lines 30-31).

“Born in the river” means engendered in the abode of Ea, which shows divine descent, in opposition to the human descent of the four succeeding ones, who, nevertheless are given great wisdom.

The apkallus are given a cosmic function. This is repeated twice, first in connection with the first apkallu, then in connection with all seven apkallus at the end of the list in Bīt Mēseri.

In both cases their responsibility concerns usurāt šamê u erseti (lines 1 and 13). Akkadian usurtu means concretely, “drawing,” abstractly, “plan, regulation, destiny;” so the apkallus are in charge of the “plans of heaven and earth.”

We have met this concept in Atrahasis where the birth-goddess Nintu: usurāti ša niši ussar, “draws the drawings for the people,” (S, 14), i.e. creates the basic conditions and fixes the destinies.

(Text in Lambert and Millard, Atra-Hasis, 62-3).

There is, however, a difference in Bīt Mēseri, which is made clear by the two different verbs used. In the case of the first apkallu (line 1) the verb mušaklil, participle, of the verb šuklulu (Š stem), is used. The verb means both “complete” and “make perfectly.”

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 of the bird-apkallū are atypical. No rosettes are apparent.

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 of the bird-apkallū are atypical. No rosettes are apparent.

The first apkallu thus “completed” or “made perfectly the drawings of heaven and earth.”

In the summary about all the apkallus (line 13) the verb muštešer, participle, Št stem, of the verb ešēru is used, which has the meaning “keep in order.”

Thus there is a distinction between what the first apkallu initially did, and what all apkallus did together. The first apkallu completed the design of the world-order; the seven apkallus, as a group, maintained this world order.

The corresponding Sumerian line 12 (the tablet is bilingual) has a text close to what we find in a Sumerian hymn. We quote the text in the German translation by van Dijk:

Die urformen von Himmel und Erde

in rechter Ordnung zu halten, in die Weite von Himmel und Erde

den grossen Entscheidungen den Weg zu bahnen, 

die Kultordnungen vollkommen zu machen.”

(Hymn to Nusku I, 14).

(J. van Dijk, Summarische Götterlieder, AHAW, PH, abh. I. Heidelberg 1960, 14; transliteration, 108; translation, 111.).

What is said here about the god Nusku is in Bīt Mēseri said about the apkallus. It covers the wide aspects of culture and civilization listed by Berossos about the first and seventh apkallu; it brings us, however, even one step further. The apkallus had a cosmic function; they were cosmic guardians.

They were both in charge of the me, and they were in charge of people’s destinies. In the last role, they are also described in a Babylonian myth where they are the custodians of the tablets of destinies.”

(W.G. Lambert, “The Twenty-One “poultices,”” AnSt 30 (1980): 77-83; B.R. Foster, “Wisdom and the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Orientalia (NS) 43 (1974): 344-54.).

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 116-7.

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