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Category: Wisdom and the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia

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.

Lenzi: Human apkallū are a Later Inclusion

“Sanders suggests this discrepancy indicates the four human apkallū are “extraneous” while Wiggerman gives it a source critical interpretation, suggesting “the list of apkallū does not originate from bīt mēseri but from another text—a chronicle ?—, from where it was adapted by bīt mēseri.”

(Sanders, “Writing, Ritual, and Apocalypse,” 117; Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, 108. They do appear extraneous in the incantation when viewed from the perspective of the ritual instructions, and the four human apkallū almost certainly were taken from some other traditional context, though we have not yet identified it.)

This design is perplexing. I am uncertain whether it depicts a human apkallū, an ummânū,  or, as earlier analysts assessed, the god Anu.<br /> 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.  They appear to be poppies.<br /> The rosette design in the large ring around his waist appears elsewhere in Neo-Assyrian symbolism, though its significance is undetermined. In no other case have I seen a ring surrounding the waist of such a figure.<br /> The wings on the apkallū are typical.<br /> The fact that this figure stands on a bull, however, suggests that this is a depiction of a deity, rather than a human apkallū.<br /> Further, the disc atop the headdress is problematic. In no other example does a human apkallū appear with a disc surmounting a horned headdress.<br /> Indeed, it is unclear whether the disc is just worn with time, or whether the lower part of the disc portrays the inverted horns of the Moon, indicative of the Moon god Sin.<br /> This is one of the most dramatic examples of Neo-Assyrian art, but my scholarship is too meager to explicate it.<br /> http://transfixussednonmortuus.tumblr.com/image/32382020729

This design is perplexing. I am uncertain whether it depicts a human apkallū, an ummânū, or, as earlier analysts assessed, the god Anu.
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. They appear to be poppies.
The rosette design in the large ring around his waist appears elsewhere in Neo-Assyrian symbolism, though its significance is undetermined. In no other case have I seen a ring surrounding the waist of such a figure.
The wings on the apkallū are typical.
The fact that this 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.
Indeed, it is unclear whether the disc is just worn with time, or whether the lower part of the disc portrays the inverted horns of the Moon, indicative of the Moon god Sin.
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

Building on these interpretations, I suggest that the absence of the four human apkallū from the ritual instructions is a textual clue that they are in fact a later addition to the incantation.

According to this interpretation, the text provides evidence that someone deliberately associated the two groups of apkallū, human and mythic, sometime in the early first millennium.

This depiction of a human apkallū, or ummânū, portrays the right hand raised in the greeting gesture, and the banduddū bucket in the left hand.<br /> This ummânū displays the rosette design on bilateral wristbands and on a headband, which differs from the usual horned headdress.<br /> The wings are typical, further indicative of divinity or partial divinity.

This depiction of a human apkallū, or ummânū, portrays the right hand raised in the greeting gesture, and the banduddū bucket in the left hand.
This ummânū displays the rosette design on bilateral wristbands and on a headband, which differs from the usual horned headdress.
The wings are typical, further indicative of divinity or partial divinity.

That is to say, the disconnect between ritual and incantation provides a hint at alteration or innovation—i.e., an active interest—in the apkallū tradition attested here.

(For a much more detailed example of finding literary and socio-religious data in the discrepancies between an incantation and its associated ritual, see Tzvi Abusch, “Ritual and Incantation: Interpretation and Textual History of Maqlû VII:58-105 and IX:52-59,” in “Shaharei Talmon:” Studies in the Bible, Qumran, and the Ancient Near East Presented to Shemaryahu Talmon, ed. Michael Fishbane and Emanuel Tov with the assistance of Weston W. Fields (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1992), 367-80; reprinted in Tzvi Abusch, Mesopotamian Witchcraft: Toward a History and Understanding of Babylonian Witchcraft Beliefs and Literature, Ancient Magic and Divination 5 (Leiden: Brill / Styx, 2002).

This depiction of a human apkallū, or ummânū raises the mullilu cone in the right hand, in the prototypical gesture of blessing and exorcism, releasing all sin.<br /> The gesture is one of sprinkling water, with the water contained in the banduddû bucket in the left hand.<br /> This ummânū wears wristbands with the undefined rosette design, but in this example the headdress is the horned tiara indicative of divinity.<br /> Wings reflecting divinity or semi-divinity are also present.<br /> In this bas relief, the ummânū is blessing or purifying a sacred tree.<br /> It is possible that the blossoms on the sacred tree are related to the rosette design on the wristbands, though I am unaware at this time of any scholarship drawing the similarity.

This depiction of a human apkallū, or ummânū raises the mullilu cone in the right hand, in the prototypical gesture of blessing and exorcism, releasing all sin.
The gesture is one of sprinkling water, with the water contained in the banduddû bucket in the left hand.
This ummânū wears wristbands with the undefined rosette design, but in this example the headdress is the horned tiara indicative of divinity.
Wings reflecting divinity or semi-divinity are also present.
In this bas relief, the ummânū is blessing or purifying a sacred tree.
It is possible that the blossoms on the sacred tree are related to the rosette design on the wristbands, though I am unaware at this time of any scholarship drawing the similarity.

We must recognize, however, the fact that the tradition exemplified in bīt mēseri differs in a significant way from the ULKS: in bīt mēseri the tradition occurs in a ritual.

(Besides the generic difference the text also has a difference with regard to the included content: kings are only mentioned with two of the human apkallū and none is mentioned with the mythic apkallū. Since Bīt mēseri is a ritual, we would not expect the sage-king association to appear.

This ummânū uniquely presents with a feather in the raised right hand, and a kid goat held in the left.  I am unaware of any other depiction like this one. The bracelets of rosette design appear bilaterally on both wrists, as do bracelets around the upper arms.  The tassels are finely detailed, and a tassel can be discerned on the ummânū's upper back. This depiction is also perhaps unique in the degree of fine detail lavished on the wings, and on the fringe of the garment.  This ummânū also wears a headband with the rosette design, rather than the horned tiara.

This ummânū uniquely presents with a feather in the raised right hand, and a kid goat held in the left.
I am unaware of any other depiction like this one.
The bracelets of rosette design appear bilaterally on both wrists, as do bracelets around the upper arms.
The tassels are finely detailed, and a tassel can be discerned on the ummânū’s upper back.
This depiction is also perhaps unique in the degree of fine detail lavished on the wings, and on the fringe of the garment.
This ummânū also wears a headband with the rosette design, rather than the horned tiara.

Due to their association with Ea, the apkallū were “natural” candidates for invocation in apotropaic/exorcistic contexts (see, e.g., Benjamin Foster, “Wisdom and the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Orientalia 43 [1974], 344-54, here 349 and other examples below).

This portrayal of a human apkallū, or ummânū, wears the horned headdress indicative of divinity, and raises his right hand in the greeting gesture.<br /> Uniquely, this depiction carries an er'u stick, emblazoned with an un-circled rosette design that reflects the bracelet on the ummânū wrist.<br /> It also strikes me as possible that the stick is a mace.<br /> It should be noted that these rosette designs feature nine petals.<br /> This ummânū is unique, perhaps, in that bracelets on the upper arms are depicted.<br /> Likewise noteworthy are the tassels hanging from the apparel, which appear in other depictions but not, perhaps, with this degree of fine detail.<br /> Note the attention to detail revealed in the thumbnail of each hand.<br /> The wings, indicative of divinity, also portray uncommon detail.

This portrayal of a human apkallū, or ummânū, wears the horned headdress indicative of divinity, and raises his right hand in the greeting gesture.
Uniquely, this depiction carries an er’u stick, emblazoned with an un-circled rosette design that reflects the bracelet on the ummânū wrist.
It also strikes me as possible that the stick is a mace.
It should be noted that these rosette designs feature nine petals.
This ummânū is unique, perhaps, in that bracelets on the upper arms are depicted.
Likewise noteworthy are the tassels hanging from the apparel, which appear in other depictions but not, perhaps, with this degree of fine detail.
Note the attention to detail revealed in the thumbnail of each hand.
The wings, indicative of divinity, also portray uncommon detail.

But kings are not figures typically invoked in incantations. Thus, it is not really surprising that we do not see the connection made systematically in such a context. However, when a sage–king connection is mentioned, it is interesting to see signs of continuity with the later ULKS. For example, Nungalpirigal is associated with Enmerkar in both Bīt mēseri and the ULKS.)

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, V 110, VII 49, VIII 38 (though without names).

This ummânū kneels before the sacred tree, apparently depicted in the act of tending to it.<br /> This bas relief is perhaps unique in its fine detail which survived a long period of time.<br /> Note the care focused on the fingernails and toenails.<br /> The rosette design is mirrored on the bracelets, while this ummânū wears the horned tiara of divinity.<br /> The tassels from the apparel are finely detailed, and another tassel appears behind ummânu's neck, beneath his braided hair.<br /> The earrings are of an unknown design.

This ummânū kneels before the sacred tree, apparently depicted in the act of tending to it.
This bas relief is perhaps unique in its fine detail which survived a long period of time.
Note the care focused on the fingernails and toenails.
The rosette design is mirrored on the bracelets, while this ummânū wears the horned tiara of divinity.
The tassels from the apparel are finely detailed, and another tassel appears behind ummânu’s neck, beneath his braided hair.
The earrings are of an unknown design.

(7 apkallē sūt Eridu likpidūšunūti ana lemuttim: “May the seven sages of Eridu plan evil for them.” This counters the assertion that the sorcerers have planned evil for the patient in II 117.

See Gerhard Meier, Die assyrische Beschwörungssammlung Maqlû, Archiv für Orientforschung Beiheft 2 (Berlin, 1937), 17 for text and translation.)

(7 apkallē sūt Eridu [. . .]; see Gerhard Meier, “Studien zur Beschwörungssammlung Maqlu,” Archiv für Orientforschung 21 (1966), 77 for the text. Meier’s earlier edition contains nothing except the number 7 from the line (Maqlû, 38).

An ummânū, or sage of human descent. The ummânū raises his right hand in the iconic gesture of greeting, with uncertain plants in his left hand.  The rosette design on his wristband is perhaps uniquely not reflected on the opposite wrist. Bracelets appear on the upper arms.  The horned tiara headdress, indicative of divinity, is often worn by such figures.

An ummânū, or sage of human descent. The ummânū raises his right hand in the iconic gesture of greeting, with uncertain plants in his left hand.
The rosette design on his wristband is perhaps uniquely not reflected on the opposite wrist. Bracelets appear on the upper arms.
The horned tiara headdress, indicative of divinity, is often worn by such figures.

(7 apkallē sūt Eridu lipaššihū zumuršu, “May the seven sages of Eridu give his body relief” (Meier, Maqlû, 48).

(Broken context: [. . .] ši-ma apkallē ša Apsî (Meier, Maqlû, 54). Note the next line, also broken, has nēmeqi nikilti Ea iqbû, “the wisdom, the ingenuity of Ea they spoke.”)

Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian ScholarshipJANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 145-6.

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