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Category: Watchers

Kvanvig: The Maqlû Ritual Against Witchcraft

“The gods of the night play a particular prominent role in the ritual against witchcraft, Maqlû.

The ilū mušīti are here invoked in the opening sentence. In the same sequence the maccarātu ša mūši are invoked: “may the three watches of the night dispel her (the sorceress’) evil enchantments” (Maqlû I, 30. Cf. T. Abusch and D. Schwemer, Das Abwehrzauber-Ritual Maqlû (Verbrennung), in Texte aus der Umwelt des Alten Testaments, A. Krüger, ed., 2008: pp. 136-86.)

Excerpt from the entry on Nusku, Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, p. 145.

Excerpt from the entry on Nusku, Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, p. 145.

In Bīt Mēseri the invocation of the apkallus clearly takes place in the daytime. This ritual is followed by a nightly invocation to Nusku:

Nusku, king of the night, who illuminates darkness!

You are present in the night and behold humans.”

(Bīt Mēseri, rev. III, 3, Weiher, Spätbabylonische Texte, 49 and 52.)

Nusku is invoked that he may “appo[int] a watcher of health and life (for me)!” (III, 8). The text continues: “Let the protective spirit and the god who preserves health stand b[y my head(?)].”

Thus “the watcher of health and life” is not identified, other than to show that he belongs together with the two other divine figures protecting the ill man during the night.

The mentioning of the protective spirit, šēdu, together with an unnamed god may indicate that this god is the supplicant’s personal god, since this juxtaposition is quite common. (Cf. Black & Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols, 148).

Excerpt from the entry on personal gods, Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, p. 148.

Excerpt from the entry on personal gods, Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, p. 148.

As we will see below the apkallus played an important role in the ritual of breathing life into the statues of the gods. This ritual lasted during the day and the night as well. The apkallus belonged to the day part of the ritual.

In the night the statue was carried to the river bank and offerings were made to the nine great gods; then to the gods of the craftsmen who had made the statue; then to planets, fixed stars and celestial constellations. (Cf. Reiner, Astral Magic, 138-42.)

The stars and the planets were to irradiate the statue. In the Late Babylonian version of the ritual the appeal to the stellar powers is described in detail, naming the different groups; this part of the ritual is lacking in the earlier Assyrian version, which demonstrates a development toward astral religion in Late Babylonian times.

When the apkallus had the role of the watchers of the cosmos and human life during the day, the same role was assigned to the stars during the night.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 135-6.

Kvanvig: Limitations of Human Wisdom and the Loss of Eternal Life

“As we have seen, the fragments B and D then continue the story in different ways, although there is one common trait before they diverge: in both places Adapa is offered, and accepts “garment and oil” (Amarna fragment B rev. 60-5; Nineveh fragment D rev. 1-3).

We think Izre’el is right here pointing out that there is a difference between the “food and water” that Ea denied Adapa, and the “garment and oil” that he allowed Adapa in his instruction before Adapa went to heaven.

A bas relief in the Louvre.  In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.  This bas relief is in the Louvre.  Primary publicationNimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f) Collection	Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France  Museum no.	Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849  Accession no.	1903-10-10, 0002 (b) Provenience	Kalhu (mod. Nimrud) Period	Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

A bas relief in the Louvre.
In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.
This bas relief is in the Louvre.
Primary publication Nimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f)
Collection Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France
Museum no. Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849
Accession no. 1903-10-10, 0002 (b)
Provenience Kalhu (mod. Nimrud)
Period Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

“Food and water” symbolize eternal life, while “garment and oil” symbolize wisdom.

(Izre’el refers here to clothes as the distinctive marker of human civilization, as seen for instance in the myth about the creation of Enkidu, Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, pp. 122-3.)

Thus, according to both versions, the wisdom Adapa already has is confirmed in heaven. Then Adapa, according to fragment B, returns to the earth and his wisdom is confirmed, but he has lost the possibility for eternal life.

Fragment D continues:

Adapa, from the foundation of heaven to the summit of heaven,

looked at it all and saw his (Anu’s) awesomeness.

At that time Anu estab[lished] Adapa as watcher.

He established his freedom from Ea.

[An]u se[t] a decree to make glorious his lordship forever:

[ … ] Adapa, seed of humankind,

[ … ] he broke the South Wind’s wing triumphantly,

(and) ascended to heaven, —so be it forever!

(Nineveh fragment D rev. 7-14).

The scene is a scene of inauguration. Immediately before, as we have seen, Adapa is given a new garment and is anointed. In light of what comes next, this is in D not only a confirmation of the wisdom Adapa already has; it is the preparation for introducing Adapa to the highest office any human was given.

Adapa, belonging to primeval time, and being the chosen one of Ea, already had a wisdom that superseded ordinary human wisdom, according to Fragment A. His broad understanding did, however, not include insight in the heavenly domain.

In our text Adapa is first equipped with the proper attire for the inauguration and then comes a description of the new insight he is given. Now his eyes are opened to the whole spectrum of divine understanding. If he previously only had insight into earthly matters, he now got what he was missing, full insight into the whole of Anu’s domain: “Adapa, from the foundation of heaven to the summit of heaven, looked at it all and saw his (Anu’s) awesomeness.”

Against the background of this new perception of the whole coherence, the proclamation of Adapa’s new status is given. He is inaugurated into massartu, “the office of being a watcher.” The expression has two contexts. On the one hand it refers to the cosmic order, which he now has received full insight into; on the other hand it refers to his magical competence, which is clear from the references dealing with illness that follow the inauguration.

Ishtar receives the worship of an Amazon. Ishtar stands on a lion, holding a bow with arrows at her back. Her eight-pointed star is atop her head.  Lusty antelopes rear on the right side, perhaps signifying the god Ea.  The portrayal of the tree is somewhat problematic, as it differs from the iconic depictions of the sacred tree common in Neo-Assyrian art.

Ishtar receives the worship of an Amazon. Ishtar stands on a lion, holding a bow with arrows at her back. Her eight-pointed star is atop her head.
Lusty antelopes rear on the right side, perhaps signifying the god Ea.
The portrayal of the tree is somewhat problematic, as it differs from the iconic depictions of the sacred tree common in Neo-Assyrian art.

There is no contradiction between these two competences; the one who has insight into the hidden divine realm is also the one who is capable of fighting the evil demons causing misery on earth.

The sentence, “[An]u se[t] a decree to make glorious his lordship forever,” can be interpreted in two ways. The bēlūssu, “his lordship,” can refer to Anu; through this act Anu establishes his lordship. This seems a bit odd, since nowhere in the myth is Anu’s lordship challenged. It seems more likely that the pronoun refers to Adapa. The lordship refers to Adapa’s role as watcher, since he broke the South Wind’s wing so triumphantly.

This is the version of the myth lying behind the first apkallu in Bīt Mēseri. The name of this apkallu is U-an, “the light of An.” This is simply a naming according to what takes place in the inauguration.

He was the one who could complete “the plans of heaven and earth,” because he was the heavenly watcher who had seen everything, from the foundation to the summit of heaven. On the other hand, the seven apkallus occur in a special setting in Bīt Mēseri; the apkallus were invoked to protect human beings from diseases caused by demons.

In a similar context, the incantation series “to block the foot of evil into a man’s house” (cf. below), the apkallus are repeatedly called massarū; they are the watchers of health and life. As already stated, there is no contradiction here, because the insight in the divine real is the precondition for fighting demons.

Thus we have reached the conclusion that the different versions of the Adapa Myth are reflected in two ways in Bīt Mēseri. The apkallu who went up to and down from heaven is the Adapa from fragment B; the apkallu who had the name “Light of An” was the Adapa from fragment D. This explains the curious twin roles between the first and seventh apkallu. It also explains the double name Uandapa, simply expressing this is the first Adapa, named Uan.

And it is to be noted that even though we must assume that this quibbling with versions, roles, and names was Assyrian, it is through the name Uan that the first apkallu is known both in Berossos and in the Uruk list in the Babylonian environment.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 126-9.

Correspondences Between Apkallu and the Nephilim

“Mesopotamian literature provides some interesting glimpses into the conceptual background of Genesis 6:1-4. The most notable case is the famous hero Gilgamesh. As a great warrior-king, he would certainly fit the epithets “ancient warrior” and “man of renown.”

In the Gilgamesh Epic we are told that “two-thirds of him is god and one-third of him is human” (I.46 and IX.31), the son of the goddess Ninsun and the human king Lugalbanda. In this ancestry we see a divine / human marriage and the birth of a semi divine child.

Gilgamesh defeating the Bull of Heaven.

Gilgamesh defeating the Bull of Heaven.

There is also a pivotal scene in the Gilgamesh epic where the goddess Ishtar sees that Gilgamesh is beautiful and desires to marry him–but Gilgamesh refuses Ishtar’s advances (VI.5-80). Here is almost another divine / human marriage, again with a divine woman and a mortal man. The motif of Gilgamesh’s semi divine identity likely stems from the ideology of kingship in Mesopotamia, in which the king is often depicted as quasi-divine, sealed with greatness by the gods at birth.

For example, the Tukulti Ninurta Epic describes the Assyrian king as “the flesh of the gods” (šēr ilāni), the same phrase used to describe Gilgamesh in Gilgamesh IX.53. Royalty is rounded with divinity in Mesopotamian political ideology, as it is elsewhere in the ancient Near East.

In the top register, Ummiamu tend to a sacred tree, In the lower register, antediluvian apkallu tend to a sacred tree.  The pinecones and buckets in their hands are now understood to be standard devices used to sprinkle water.

In the top register, ummianu, postdiluvian apkallu, tend to a sacred tree, In the lower register, antediluvian apkallu tend to a sacred tree.
The pinecones and buckets in their hands are now understood to be standard devices used to sprinkle water in blessing.

It is entirely possible that the unknown legends of the Nephilim have something to do with stories of such ancient semi divine warrior kings. Another relevant example, mediating between Mesopotamian and biblical traditions, is Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-12; J), a mighty hunter and king of Babylon and Assyria.

A.D. Kilmer has suggested that the ancient sages of Mesopotamian tradition–the apkallu–may be related to the Nephilim. The grounds for this suggestion are the following: the apkallu lived immediately before and after the flood; some of the post-diluvian apkallu are described as angering various gods; and some apkallu are “of human descent,” one of them being only two-thirds apkallu. A Late Babylonian list of the apkallu alludes to several unknown episodes about the postdiluvian apkallu:

  • Nungalpiriggaldim–who brought down Ishtar from heaven and who made the harp decorated with bronze and lapis.
  • Piriggalnungal–who angered Adad
  • Piriggalabsu–who angered Ea
  • Lu-Nanna, only two-thirds apkallu–who drove the dragon from Ishtar’s temple
  • [total of ] four of human descent whom Ea endowed with comprehensive intelligence.

Of the apkallu before the flood, only Adapa can be said to have angered the gods, since Anu calls him to task for breaking the wing of the south wind.

The transgressions of the apkallu are intriguing, particularly those “of human descent.” Yet it is hard to see how these figures can be directly related to the Nephilim, since their identities and attributes are so different: the apkallu are ancient sages and culture heros, while the Nephilim are ancient warriors and giants.

It is plausible, as H.S. Kvanvig has argued, that tales of the apkallu became mixed with interpretations of the Sons of God and the Nephilim in post-exilic times, for in I Enoch and later texts the heavenly beings (the “Watchers”) that come to earth to marry human women are also culture heroes, teaching arts and sciences to their human wives. Adding to this possibility of influence are indications that parts of I Enoch are of Mesopotamian provenance.”

Ronald Hendel, “The Nephilim Were on the Earth: Genesis 6:1-4 and its Ancient Near Eastern Context,” in Christoph Auffarth and Loren T. Stuckenbruck, eds., The Fall of the Angels, Brill, 2004, pp. 27-9.

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