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Category: Yahweh

Melvin: Human Knowledge is Sinful

“Similarly, when considering whether to grant immortality to Gilgamesh, Enlil notes his recovery of antediluvian knowledge, specifically such arts of civilization as the “rites of hand-washing and mouth-washing,” from his meeting with Ziusudra (= Atrahasis).

(The Death of Bilgames, M 49–62 (George, The Epic of Gilgamesh, pp. 198– 99). See also Andrew R. George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition, and Cuneiform Texts (2 vols.; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 1:98.)

Although he does not receive immortality, Enlil affirms Gilgamesh’s divine status and assures him that he will become a chief deity of the Underworld.

Thus, there is a well-established background for the association of knowledge with divinity in Genesis 3:1–7. The first humans, by eating the forbidden fruit, have attempted to become divine by appropriating divine knowledge.

This is an act of defiance which results in their expulsion from paradise, but Yahweh’s confession to the divine council in Genesis 3:22 that the humans “have become like one of us, knowing good and evil” indicates that their attempt has been to some extent successful.

William Blake (1757-1827 AD), God Judging Adam, 1795 AD.  Currently held at the Tate Gallery, generous gift of W. Graham Robertson, 1939.  Also held by the William Blake Archive.  This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less. http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=but294.1.cprint.01&vg=cpd&vcontext=cpd&java=no

William Blake (1757-1827 AD), God Judging Adam, 1795 AD.
Currently held at the Tate Gallery, generous gift of W. Graham Robertson, 1939.
Also held by the William Blake Archive.
This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=but294.1.cprint.01&vg=cpd&vcontext=cpd&java=no

By placing humanity’s reception of the divine knowledge which leads to civilization as humanity’s first act of sin in the Eden story, Genesis 1–11 has removed the need for divine mediators. Humanity has already accessed divine knowledge without the help of divine mediators (unless one considers the serpent a divine mediator), and there is no longer any role for them.

The elimination of divine beings by transferring their roles to other beings (i.e., convergence) has been noted as a key component in the development of monotheism.

The transfer of the attributes and roles of other deities to Yahweh during the First Temple period set the stage for the elimination of those deities at the end of that period and into the exilic and post-exilic periods.

(Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel􏰙􏰋􏰊􏰉􏰇􏰋􏰂􏰃􏰓􏰆􏰈􏰎􏰇􏰒 (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990), pp. 145–60.

Click to zoom.  Thomas Cole (1801-48), Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, 1828. Held by the Waleska Evans James Gallery 236, generous gift of Martha C. Karolin for the M. and M. Karolin Collection of American Paintings, 1815-1865 AD. http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/expulsion-from-the-garden-of-eden-33060

Click to zoom.
Thomas Cole (1801-48), Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, 1828. Held by the Waleska Evans James Gallery 236, generous gift of Martha C. Karolin for the M. and M. Karolin Collection of American Paintings, 1815-1865 AD.
http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/expulsion-from-the-garden-of-eden-33060

It would seem that in its final form Genesis 1–11 has performed a similar move with regard to divine mediators. They have been eliminated by the transfer of their roles, not to Yahweh, but to humans.

The result is that the cultural achievements in Genesis 4–11 are human achievements, without divine intervention, although they are ultimately the result of humanity’s reception of divine knowledge.

At the same time, by associating divine knowledge with the sin in Eden, Genesis 1–11 negatively portrays the civilization which arises as a result of that knowledge.”

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 14-5.

Melvin: Divine Knowledge was Sexual Knowledge

The Eden Story and the Demythologization of the Rise of Civilization

“I would now like to propose that the conspicuous absence of divine mediation of civilization from Genesis 1–11, in light of its prominence in Mesopotamian literature, may be explained with reference to the tradition of the origin of evil found in Genesis 3.

Here the reception of forbidden knowledge by the first human couple leads not only to their becoming “god-like” but also to their fall into a corrupt, sinful state and expulsion from paradise. Genesis 4–11 then portrays the long-term consequences of the at least partially-successful attempt by Adam and Eve to obtain divinity by procuring this knowledge.

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Adam and Eve, dated 1504, currently held in the British Museum (1868,0822.167).<br /> At top left on the plate, it states: "ALBERT DVRER NORICVS FACIEBAT AD 1504."<br /> Which means: "Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg made this 1504."<br /> https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adam_and_Eve_standing_on_either_side_of_the_tree_of_knowledge_with_the_serpent_by_Albrecht_Dürer.jpg

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Adam and Eve, dated 1504, currently held in the British Museum (1868,0822.167).
At top left on the plate, it states: “ALBERT DVRER NORICVS FACIEBAT AD 1504.”
Which means: “Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg made this 1504.”
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adam_and_Eve_standing_on_either_side_of_the_tree_of_knowledge_with_the_serpent_by_Albrecht_Dürer.jpg

Included among these consequences are not only obvious examples of sin (murder, violence, etc.) but also the rise of civilization. The implication is that civilization too is an outgrowth of the forbidden knowledge obtained by Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.

The dialogue between the woman and the serpent, her eating of the fruit, and her giving of the fruit to her husband turn upon two primary points. First, the fruit of the tree is associated with knowledge of some sort.

Second, the serpent responds to the woman’s statement that Yahweh has forbidden them to eat from the tree in the center of the garden by saying that if she eats of the fruit of this tree, she will become like a god, which the woman presumably desires since she decides to eat the fruit. Thus, there is an implicit connection between knowledge and divinity in Genesis 3.

Gilgamesh and the Plant of Eternal Youth

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh finds a plant that renews youth at the bottom of the ocean.
Taking it back to Erech, he falls asleep, and a serpent, again, a serpent, eats the plant and promptly sheds its skin.
While the serpent is the agent of evil in the Eve myth, the serpent thwarts human immortality in Gilgamesh.
https://konekrusoskronos.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/dreams-and-myths-crossing-the-waters-of-knowledge-archetypes-of-wisdom-an-inner-journey/
https://therealsamizdat.com/category/serpent/

A number of possible understandings of the “knowledge” השכיל which results from eating the fruit present themselves. Gunkel understands the “knowledge” to be primarily, though not exclusively, sexual awareness.

Thus, before eating the fruit, the primeval couple is not aware of their nakedness, suggesting that they likewise did not engage in sexual intercourse prior to this moment, and may possibly have been unaware of the difference between their sexes.

(Gunkel, Genesis, pp. 14–15. So also Speiser, Genesis, pp. 26–27; Jarich Oosten, “The Origins of Society in the Creation Myths of Genesis: An Anthropological Perspective,” Nederlands theologisch tijdschrift 52 (1998), pp. 116–17.)

The significance of such a motif in the Paradise episode would suggest that humanity’s attainment of this “knowledge” forms a necessary step in their becoming fully human (cf. the “humanizing” of Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh).

(The Epic of Gilgamesh, SBV I.197–202 (George, The Epic of Gilgamesh, p. 8).

While the awareness of nudity, making of clothing, and sexual activity which follow the eating of the fruit do support this interpretation, a number of other elements weigh against it.

The objects טוב􏰢􏰣􏰟 and רע􏰠􏰜 in Genesis 3:5 make little sense in relation to sexual awareness, even if one understands them (correctly) not as moral terms but as referring to that which is helpful or harmful for humanity.

There is nothing else which suggests that human reproduction is inherently negative in Genesis 1–11, and indeed, it is explicitly commanded in Genesis 1:28 and 9:1, 7.

(While Genesis 1 and 9:1–17 are both P texts, Genesis 2–3 belongs to JE according to the classical Documentary hypothesis, and thus it is possible that they had different views on sexuality and reproduction, the positive view of human fruitfulness in the final form of Genesis 1–11 rules out Gunkel’s interpretation for the present form of the Paradise episode in its literary context.)”

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 12-3.

Melvin: On the Tower of Babel

“The story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1–9 provides further evidence for the human origin of civilization in the form of city-building. As Theodore Hiebert notes, the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1–9 is not chiefly concerned with the construction of a tower, but rather with the founding of the city of Babylon.

(Wenham finds it odd that an individual condemned to wander as a nomad would be the founder of city-life, and he suggests that Enoch built the city and named it after his son, Irad. Thus, the name of the first city would have been “Irad”, which is very close to “Eridu”, the oldest city and the first cultural center of the world, where Enki / Ea dwelled (Genesis 1–15, p. 111).

The Birs-i-Numrud, alleged to be the ruined remains of the historical Tower of Babel.  Current dimensions are 150 feet high with a circumference of 2300 ft.  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/206180489165185035/

The Birs-i-Numrud, alleged to be the ruined remains of the historical Tower of Babel.
Current dimensions are 150 feet high with a circumference of 2300 ft.
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/206180489165185035/

(“The Tower of Babel and the Origin of the World’s Cultures,” JBL 126 (2007), pp. 34–35.)

The biblical text portrays the entire enterprise as an expression of human hubris in the face of the divine command to “fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28; 9:1; cf. Genesis 11:4), and their efforts are met with direct divine opposition.

Here postdiluvian humanity resolves to: 1) build a city and a tower “with its top in the heavens”, and 2) make for themselves a “name”, so that they will not be scattered upon the face of the earth (Genesis 11:4).

Traditional interpretation has viewed this as an act of prideful defiance of Yahweh, although a number of post-colonial interpreters see the story of Babel as an attack on imperial domination.

(See, for example, Christoph Uehlinger, Weltreich und “eine Rede”: Eine neue Deutung der sogenannten Turmbauerzählung (Genesis 11, 1–9) (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990), pp. 514–58. By way of contrast, Hiebert contends that the account is not about pride and punishment at all, but rather seeks to provide an explanation of the origin of the various cultures of the world (“The Tower of Babel,” p. 31).

Similarly, Walter Brueggemann reads the story as a “polemic against the growth of urban culture as an expression of pride,” specifically, pride before Yahweh.

(Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (Interpretation; Atlanta: John Knox, 1982), p. 98.)

Needless to say, the biblical story of Babel does not depict the city of Babylon as a product of divine action, but rather the story appears to be a polemic against the tradition of the divine origin of Babylon represented in the myth Enuma Elish.

Click to zoom. Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530-1569), The Tower of Babel, 1563, held at the Kunsthistorisches Museum.<br /> This work is in the public domain in the United States and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less. This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.<br /> https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited.jpg

Click to zoom. Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530-1569), The Tower of Babel, 1563, held at the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
This work is in the public domain in the United States and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less. This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited.jpg

In Genesis 11:1–9, there is no divine assistance in the founding of the city, nor does Yahweh (or any other deity) bless or inhabit it, but rather Yahweh’s intervention to stop the construction by confusing the languages of humanity indicates direct divine opposition to the endeavor.

Westermann’s observations that civilization in Genesis 1–11 is depicted positively insofar as it is 1) actual human progress, without divine assistance as in the Mesopotamian myths, and 2) the working out of the divine blessing of Genesis 1:28–30 (and later 9:1–7) notwithstanding, it is clear that Genesis 1–11 has greatly muted the positive depiction of civilization found in Mesopotamian literature.

(Westermann, Genesis 1–11, pp. 60–61. Similar to Westermann’s is the evaluation of Batto, who reads the Yahwistic account of primeval history as, “the story of a continuously improved creation, which reached its culmination in the final definition of humankind at the conclusion of the flood in Genesis 8.”

Batto reads the J portions of Genesis 1–11 in tandem in the Atrahasis myth as portraits of the attempt of a naïve and inexperienced (and at times bumbling) creator deity to properly define the status and role of humanity. Most of Genesis 2–9 consists of humanity’s attempt to attain divinity by breaking free of the loosely and inconsistently established boundaries established by Yahweh.

At the same time, Yahweh must contend with humanity in order to force them to accept their divinely appointed role as creatures of the soil, only achieving success in Genesis 9:20, when Noah accepts his lot as a “man of the soil” (i.e., a farmer).

Batto compares this reading of Genesis 2–9 with Enlil’s creation of humans for the purpose of serving the gods (e.g., working the ground, digging canals, feeding the gods) in Atrahasis. In both Atrahasis and Genesis, “humankind’s refusal to accept its servant role, grasping at divinity instead” culminates in the flood and finally the concrete definition of humanity as mortal.

It is only with the later Priestly redaction of Genesis 1–11 in the exilic/post-exilic period that Genesis 2–11 becomes the story of “the fall” of humanity from its originally perfect created state in paradise (Batto, “Creation Theology,” 26–38).

Batto’s readings of both Genesis 1–11 and Atrahasis are faulty. Although Batto is correct to point out that the original setting of the creation of humanity in Genesis 2 is a dry, barren wasteland, rather than paradise, it does not follow from this fact that all of the Yahwistic Primeval History is a story of the continued improvement of creation.

Batto makes no attempt to account for how the expulsion of humans from the garden (which has by this time truly become paradise) and the cursing of the soil is an “improvement.” Neither is there as much similarity between the motives for the deity’s sending of the flood in Genesis 6–9 and Atrahasis as Batto maintains.

As Robert Di Vito points out, the argument that the boundary between the divine and the human and humanity’s repeated attempts to achieve divinity are the chief concerns of Genesis 2–11 has been greatly overstated.

The primary sin of the first human couple was that they disobeyed God, and the reason for the flood was the wickedness (especially “violence” חמם􏰗) of humanity—not “the violation of ontologically defined boundaries” (“The Demarcation of Divine and Human Realms in Genesis 2–11,” Richard J. Clifford and John J. Collins [eds.], Creation in the Biblical Traditions [CBQMS, 24; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1992], p. 50).

While Di Vito goes too far in his denial of the motif of human/divine boundaries in Genesis 1–11—transgression of the boundary between the human and the divine does seem to be an issue in Genesis 3 and in Genesis 6:1–4 (see David L. Peterson, “Genesis 6:1–4, Yahweh and the Organization of the Cosmos,” JSOT 13 [1979], pp. 47–64)—Batto’s attempt to see humanity’s refusal to accept its role as creatures of the soil and servants of the divine reads far too much into the text, while ignoring much of what is there.

Likewise, Batto’s contention that humanity’s refusal to accept its role as servants of the gods led to the flood in Atrahasis is puzzling. Although it is true that the Igigi gods protest against their subjection to labor prior to the creation of humans, there is no hint of such refusal on the part of humanity in the text, and the reason for the flood is not the attempt of humans to obtain divinity, but rather their noisiness (see Atrahasis, I.352–59). There is also no indication that humans sought to obtain divinity, not even Atrahasis, to whom the gods decide to grant immortality after the flood.)

In the Mesopotamian traditions, civilization arises via divine intervention, either directly in the form of a gift bestowed upon humanity, or indirectly through semi-divine mediators. Moreover, in these mythic texts human progress moves along an upward trajectory, from the earliest stages, in which humans are animal-like and incapable of harnessing the elements of nature for their benefit, to civilized life, in which they enjoy the blessings of divine gifts and a more “god-like” status.”

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 9-11.

Melvin: Who Built the First City? Cain? Enoch? Chousor? Or Nimrod?

“The portrayal of the rise of civilization in Genesis 1–11, on the other hand, is generally negative and is devoid of any hint of divine assistance or bestowal of the arts of civilization. A key text in this regard is Genesis 4:20–22, in which the descendants of Cain found the guilds of nomadic shepherding, music, and metallurgy.

The statements are brief, merely indicating that Jabal was the founder of nomadic shepherding, Jubal was the founder of the art of music, and Tubal-cain was the first to work with metals.

If one considers the entirety of Genesis 4, one may also add to the list of new developments animal husbandry (v. 2), agriculture (v 2), city-building and urbanism (v 17), and polygamy (v 19).

An aerial view of the Ziggurat of Ur.

An aerial view of the Ziggurat of Ur.

Gunkel, following Wellhausen, reads the account as brief fragments of what were originally much fuller mythological narratives and suggests that they may originally have referred to deities, but even if this reading is correct for the original myths, the text in its present form has been largely de-mythologized, and the individuals and their accomplishments are completely human.

(Hermann Gunkel, Genesis (trans. Mark E. Biddle; Macon: Mercer University Press, 1997), p. 50. Wellhausen argues that the genealogies in Genesis 4 and Genesis 5 refer to the same individuals and were originally identical.

See Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel􏰦􏰈􏰌􏰒􏰇􏰞􏰌􏰏􏰇􏰋􏰎􏰃􏰂􏰌􏰃􏰂􏰕􏰇􏰃􏰧􏰉􏰆􏰂􏰌􏰈􏰚􏰃􏰌􏰘􏰃􏰓􏰆􏰈􏰎􏰇􏰒 (New York: Meridian, 1957), pp. 308–09; see also E. A. Speiser, Genesis (AB 1; Garden City: Doubleday, 1964), pp. 35–36. If this is the case, then it is important to note that Cain’s genealogy has been distinguished from Seth’s by the insertion of episodes which give the entire list a negative overtone (e.g., Cain’s fratricide, Lamech’s murders).

See John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis (2d ed.; ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1930), p. 115. Since the statements concerning the arts of civilization appear only in the Cainite genealogy, it is likely that their inclusion is for the sake of bringing upon them “guilt by association” with the dark line of Cain.

Ruins and Plan of the Anu Ziggurat and the White Temple. Uruk ( Present-day Warka, Iraq). c. 3300-3000 BCE.

 https://www.pinterest.com/pin/168814686005734256/

Ruins and Plan of the Anu Ziggurat and the White Temple. Uruk ( Present-day Warka, Iraq). c. 3300-3000 BCE.


https://www.pinterest.com/pin/168814686005734256/

Seth’s genealogy, by contrast, includes a number of statements which give a more positive impression to the whole list (e.g., humans calling on the name of Yahweh, Enoch walking with God). However, Gordan J. Wenham makes a case against seeing the two genealogies as originally identical. See Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 (WBC, 1; Waco: Word, 1987), p. 110.)

Further indication of the human origin of civilization in Genesis 1–11 appears in the motif of city-building and urbanism. Interestingly, Mesopotamian myths attribute the origin of the earliest cities to the work of gods (e.g., Marduk’s construction of Babylon) or semi-divine heroes (e.g., Gilgamesh’s building of the walls of Uruk), while Genesis 4:17 attributes the first city to Cain, who names it after his first son, Enoch, with no indication of divine assistance.

(Westermann notes that the reading of the Hebrew text seems to indicate that it was actually Enoch who built the city, rather than Cain, until one reaches the phrase 􏰣􏰦􏰢􏰃כשם כנן “according to the name of his son,” which he suggests may originally have read simply כשמו􏰣􏰄􏰎􏰧 “according to his name” (Genesis 1–11, 327).

He further argues that it would be unusual for Cain to have been both the founder of agriculture and the first city-builder. Such accounts of the development of civilization typically do so by a succession of births in which each generation makes but one new contribution.

But this is not always the case, as The Phoenician History shows by attributing to Chousor (Kothar) the arts of magic, divination, prophecy, sailing, and fishing (see Albert I. Baumgarten, The Phoenician History of Philo of Byblos: A Commentary [Leiden: Brill, 1981], p. 143).)

Similarly, the building of several key cities in Mesopotamia, as well as the formation of the world’s first empire, is attributed to Nimrod in Genesis 10:8–12.”

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 7-9.

Flood Traditions

“Another point of connection with Mesopotamian traditions concerns the relationship between Genesis 6:1-4 and the flood story. Since Genesis 6:1-4 occurs immediately prior to the flood story, it is possible that the stories were more richly connected in other versions of these stories, whether oral or written.

One such possibility would be a version of the flood story in which the deeds and / or existence of the mixed breed demigods provoked God to destroy them in a great cataclysm–the flood. This possible story is not told in biblical or Mesopotamian texts of the flood, but an intriguing Greek text about the Trojan War (see below) raises the possibility of this combination of motifs.

Library of Ashurbanipal / The Flood Tablet / The Gilgamesh Tablet Date15 July 2010 Current location: British Museum Link back to Institution wikidata:Q6373 Source/Photographer	Fæ (Own work) Other versions	File:British Museum Flood Tablet 1.jpg British Museum reference	K.3375 Detailed description:	 Part of a clay tablet, upper right corner, 2 columns of inscription on either side, 49 and 51 lines + 45 and 49 lines, Neo-Assyrian., Epic of Gilgamesh, tablet 11, story of the Flood. ~ Description extract from BM record. Location	Room 55

 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Library_of_Ashurbanipal_The_Flood_Tablet.jpg

Library of Ashurbanipal / The Flood Tablet / The Gilgamesh Tablet
Date 15 July 2010
Current location: British Museum Link back to Institution wikidata:Q6373
Source/Photographer Fæ (Own work)
Other versions File:British Museum Flood Tablet 1.jpg
British Museum reference K.3375
Detailed description:
Part of a clay tablet, upper right corner, 2 columns of inscription on either side, 49 and 51 lines + 45 and 49 lines, Neo-Assyrian., Epic of Gilgamesh, tablet 11, story of the Flood. ~ Description extract from BM record.
Location Room 55


https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Library_of_Ashurbanipal_The_Flood_Tablet.jpg

In the versions of the flood recounted in Mesopotamian and biblical texts, the motives for the flood are several:

  • Old Babylonian Atrahasis: the “noise” (rigmu) of overabundant humans makes it impossible for Enlil to sleep. The flood is an extreme and, as Enki points out, morally repugnant method of population reduction.
  • Standard Babylonian Gilgamesh epic. Tablet XI and the flood tablet from Ugarit: the flood was sent for reasons impenetrable to humans: it is a “secret of the gods” (pirišta ša ili. XI.10).
  • The J flood story of Genesis: the evil of the human heart makes Yahweh regret that he created humans, and so he resolves to destroy them with a flood (Genesis 6:5-7).
  • The P flood story of Genesis: the violence of humans has corrupted the earth, and so God resolves to destroy them with a flood (Genesis 8:11-3).

None of these motives directly requires the existence of mixed-breed demigods or the sexual mingling of gods and humans. In its context as a prologue to the flood, Genesis 6:1-4 serves as one of several illustrations of human evil or corruption, but is not itself a necessary or sufficient cause of the flood.

Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic, Babylonian, about 17th century BC  From Sippar, southern Iraq  A version of the Flood story  The story outlines the structure of the universe according to Babylonian beliefs. Heaven is ruled by the god Anu, the earth by Enlil and the subterranean sweet water by Enki.  The text then explains how the minor gods work in the fields but then rebel. As a result, humans are made from clay, saliva and divine blood to act as servants of the gods. This does not prove a perfect solution, as the humans reproduce and their noise disturbs Enlil's sleep.  He decides to destroy them with plague, famine, drought and finally a flood. However, each time Enki instructs one of the humans, Atrahasis, to survive the disasters.  The god gives Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood, and he builds a boat, loads it with his possessions, animals and birds. He is subsequently saved while the rest of humankind is destroyed.  However, the gods are unhappy as they no longer receive the offerings they used to. There is a gap in the text at this point but it does end with Atrahasis making an offering and Enlil accepting the existence and usefulness of humans.  Copies of this story have survived from the seventeenth to the seventh century BC showing that it was copied and re-copied over the centuries. This is the most complete version.  There are clear similarities between this Flood story and others known in Mesopotamian literature, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh.  T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)  S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford University Press, 1991)  W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atra-hasis: the Babylonian story (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969)  http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_atrahasis_epic.aspx

Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic, Babylonian, about 17th century BC
From Sippar, southern Iraq
A version of the Flood story
The story outlines the structure of the universe according to Babylonian beliefs. Heaven is ruled by the god Anu, the earth by Enlil and the subterranean sweet water by Enki.
The text then explains how the minor gods work in the fields but then rebel. As a result, humans are made from clay, saliva and divine blood to act as servants of the gods. This does not prove a perfect solution, as the humans reproduce and their noise disturbs Enlil’s sleep.
He decides to destroy them with plague, famine, drought and finally a flood. However, each time Enki instructs one of the humans, Atrahasis, to survive the disasters.
The god gives Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood, and he builds a boat, loads it with his possessions, animals and birds. He is subsequently saved while the rest of humankind is destroyed.
However, the gods are unhappy as they no longer receive the offerings they used to. There is a gap in the text at this point but it does end with Atrahasis making an offering and Enlil accepting the existence and usefulness of humans.
Copies of this story have survived from the seventeenth to the seventh century BC showing that it was copied and re-copied over the centuries. This is the most complete version.
There are clear similarities between this Flood story and others known in Mesopotamian literature, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh.
T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)
S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford University Press, 1991)
W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atra-hasis: the Babylonian story (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_atrahasis_epic.aspx

But it is in the nature of oral and mythological traditions that stories and myths can be combined and recombined–this is what Claude Lévi-Strauss (The Savage Mind, Chicago, 1966, pp. 16-22) calls the “bricolage” of myth making, and what Albert Lord (Singer of Tales, 2d ed., Harvard university Press, 2000,) calls the multiformity of oral narrative traditions.

It is possible that the birth and proliferation of the demigods signified a kind of chaotic disruption of the cosmic order that required a global destruction. But to find an example of such a combination of motifs, we must turn from Mesopotamia to Greece.”

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. 29-30.

The Children of El in Ancient Ugarit

“There is, of course, a logical problem with the twofold reference of the Nephilim to the antediluvian warriors and to the giant inhabitants of Canaan on the eve of the Israelite conquest. The flood intervenes, which kills all living creatures on earth: “Everything with life’s breath in its nostril, everything that lived on dry land, died” (Genesis 7:22 J).

The continuance of the Nephilim contradicts the testimony of the flood story (thus providing a lively subject for post biblical exegetes). The likely solution to this problem is that the writer was heir to traditions about the Nephilim that were not internally consistent, but was constrained by the audience’s horizons of expectations to relate these traditions accurately.

Such internal inconsistency is characteristic of oral traditions in many cultures, and we may point to this particularly inconsistency as a sign of the oral multiformity of the narrative lore of ancient Israel. As with the Sons of God, the Nephilim no doubt populated more stories in ancient Israelite culture than the brief texts that have been preserved.

To gain a richer understanding of Genesis 6:1-4–both of its content and its gaps–it is useful to consider the longer history (the discursive longue durée) of these narrative elements in ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures. The most immediate cultural context, for this and much else in ancient Israel, is the culture of Canaan from which early Israel emerged.

We have seen above that the term “Sons of God” has a direct antecedent in the Canaanite bn’il, “Sons / Children of El.” This group is referred to several times in Ugaritic literature of the Late Bronze Age and is carried on in several later West Semitic cultures of the Iron Age.

"22 alphabet" by Chaos - self-scan of old picture more than 10 years in syria (PD in syria). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Ugaritic text“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In the Ugaritic texts the “Sons / Children of El” are the members of El’s divine assembly (Mark S. Smith, trans., Simon B. Parker, ed., Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, 1997). They are described as the offspring of El and his chief wife, the goddess Asherah. One of El’s epithets is ‘ab bn ‘il, “Father of the Children of El,” indicating his paternity of the gods, and Asherah is called qnyt ‘ilm, “Creatress of the gods.”

The Children of El are often shown feasting in heaven, as is the wont of the gods. At one point Baal recounts an shameful–but obscure–event during a feast in the divine assembly:

“… He stood and abased me.

He arose and spat on me.

Amid the ass[em]bly of the Children of El bn’ilm” 

(Manfred Dietrich, Oswald Loretz, and Joaquín Sanmartín. Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras Íbn Hani and Other Places. (CAT). KTU 2d enlarged edition. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1995, 1.4.iii.12-4)

Usually the gods feast in heaven, but occasionally they attend feasts on earth in the company of humans, such as the wedding feast for King Kirta (CAT 1.15.iii).

The Children of El are immortal, as the goddess Anat affirms in her (probably spurious) promise of immortality to the mortal hunter Aqhat:

“Ask for life, Aqhat the Hero.

Ask for life, and I’ll give it.

Deathlessness–I’ll endow you.

I’ll let you count years with Baal.

Count months with the Children of El bn’il.”

(CAT 1.17.vi.26-9, after Mark S. Smith, trans., in Parker, ed., Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, 61, and Ronald Hendel, The Epic of the Patriarch: The Jacob Cycle and the Narrative Traditions of Canaan and Israel, 1987, pp. 74-81.)

Though immortal, the Children of El are less powerful than El. In the Kirta epic, El asks the divine assembly seven times if any among them can remove disease, but they are silent. Apparently El alone has the power to heal:

“Stay seated, my children (bny), on your seats.

On your elevated thrones.

As for me, I’ll use skills and create.

I’ll create a remover of illness.

A dispeller of disease.”

(CAT 1.16n.24-8).

Interestingly, this passage appears to equate the Children of El with the stars, comparable to the biblical concept in Job 38:7 and the biblical term “Host of Heaven” (see above).

The Children of El in the Ugaritic texts, cognate to the biblical Sons of God, are subordinate to the high god El, just as the biblical Sons of God are subordinate to Yahweh. They are less powerful than El and they occasionally visit humans on earth. Nowhere in the extant texts, however, do the Children of El engage in sex with humans.

In one curious text, Baal may have sex with a cow, which bears “a bull for Baal” (CAT 1.10.35, see Smith, trans., Parker, ed., Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, 181-7), but there is no other inter-species sex that we can discern.”

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. 22-4.

On the Apkallu

“During the course of the years studying and teaching the Primeval History as recorded in the literary texts of ancient Mesopotamia, this writer has been struck by certain similarities between the Akkadian apkallu (Sumerian algal / NUN.ME / EN.ME), creatures of the god Ea, the “sages of old,” and the biblical nēpīlîm of Genesis 6 who are introduced just before the flood account.

In the Mesopotamian king and sage lists, the apkallu occur in the pre-flood era, and in some texts for a limited time after the flood. In general, however, the pre-flood sages are called apkallu and their traditional number is seven, while the post-flood sages are called the ummiānu.

Apkallu portrayed with Ea, at far left, with water coursing from his shoulders.

Apkallu portrayed with Ea, at far left, with water coursing from his shoulders.

The apkallu are semi-divine beings who may be depicted as mixed beings, as priests wearing fish hoods, or who may, like Adapa, be called a son of Ea. Moreover, humans and apkallu could presumably mate since we have the description of the four post-flood apkallu as “of human descent,” the fourth being only “two-thirds apkallu” as opposed to pre-flood pure apkallu and subsequent human sages (ummiānu).

A depiction of the apkallu, Adapa, or Oannes.

A depiction of the apkallu, Adapa, or Oannes.

The short mythological “episode” in Genesis 6:1-4 tells us only that after the population increased, the nēpīlîm appeared on the earth after divine beings (sons of elohim) had mated with the daughters of men. The following verse (v. 5) states that Yahweh saw that men’s wickedness was great.

It can be assumed from this brief account that the nēpīlîm were the offspring of those divine fathers and human mothers, and that it was the nēpīlîm who somehow exemplified wicked mankind in general. Let us now turn to the Mesopotamian apkallu tales and lists to see how their behavior, as well as their parentage, may have some features in common with the nēpīlîm.

Antediluvian apkallu portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men.

Antediluvian apkallu portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men.

The most celebrated apkallu was Adapa, identified as a son of Ea. As we are told in the best known and best preserved myth about him, he executed an act of hubris by breaking the wing of the south wind; the end result, for him, of that wicked act was that he was denied immortality.

He is probably to be equated with the last antediluvian apkallu who was reported to have ascended to heaven. As we know from the late lists of sages, several other apkallu at the time of the flood or right after it also committed daring or wicked acts (the list that follows is abbreviated with respect to details and is conflated from the pertinent texts):

Antediluvian apkallu

  • Uanna — Who completed the plans of heaven and earth
  • Uannedugga — Who was endowed with comprehensive intelligence
  • Enmedugga — Who was allowed a good fate
  • Enmegaluamma — Who was born in a house
  • Enmebulugga — Who grew up on pasture land
  • Anenlilda — The exorcist of Eridu
  • Utuabzu (Utuabba) — Who ascended to heaven
  • [Total of] seven brilliant purādu fish . . . born in the river, who direct the plans of heaven and earth.

(Editorial note, source: Bit Mēseri III, 14’=27′)

Postdiluvian apkallu

  • (both Adapa and Nunpiriggaldim are associated with Enmerkir)
  • 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 (2/3d apkallu) — Who drove the dragon from Ishtar’s temple*
  • *[Total of] four of human descent whom (pl.) Ea endowed with comprehensive intelligence.

(Editorial note, also see source: Helge Kvanvig, Traditions of the Apkallus, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011.)

Thus we see that the traditions about the superhuman apkallu contained stories, most of them lost to us, about their famous and infamous deeds. But it is the latter ones, from Adapa to Piriggalabzu (sic), around whom the obvious misbehavior clusters.

It is of further interest to note that the pivotal role of the nēpīlîm passage in Genesis 6 occurs together with the theme of increased population growth on which Genesis 6 opens. If we compare the Mesopotamian material, we see a similar position in the storytelling for the importance of population increase and concomitant wickedness as a factor leading to the flood.

The Mesopotamian sages were endowed with wisdom and special powers because they were created by the god Ea and associated with the deep (as fish-men, etc.). Because of their powers they were capable of acts that could impress or offend the gods, that could cause beneficial or harmful natural phenomena.

It is the negative side of them that seems to be involved in the period just before and after the flood in the sage lists. A similar theme runs through the Atrahasis Epic; there, at each attempt of the gods to decrease men’s numbers by means of drought, etc., Ea instructs his son (?) Atrahasis, the Extra Wise and thus a sage figure in his own right but also to be equated with the king of Shuruppak, how to outwit the gods and overcome hardship.

Thus each god whose cult is neglected and deprived of offerings, as a result of those instructions, was sure to be angered. Their collective anger at such acts and their disgust at humanity’s increase and bad condition led to the joint decision to send the flood.

Table from Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, The Mesopotamian Counterparts of the Biblical Nephilim, 1985

Whereas the Mesopotamian myth and list traditions single out and keep distinct the sages and king-heroes, Genesis 6:4 speaks only of the “heroes of old, men of renown” and equates them with the nēpīlîm. In fact, it is possible that this verse intended to equate both the lines of Adam and Cain with the nēpīlîm. If so, the reintroduction of Noah four verses later would complete the line of thinking, since Noah was one of the heroes of old.

Yet the line of Cain (the Smith), juxtaposed as it is with the line of Adam, seems to operate in a manner similar to the Mesopotamian traditional list of the line of sages juxtaposed with the line of kings, as others have argued.

Like the apkallu who built the early cities and those who brought the civilized arts to men, the line of Cain performed the same service (or dis-service, in the biblical view). As to v 3 concerning man’s shortened lifespan, it may have its counterpart in the post-flood renegotiations of the terms for man’s continued existence as described in the Atrahasis Epic.

There, the fixing of a term of life for mortals was probably contained in the fragmentary section about controlling population growth. In the Sumerian King List it is only after King Gilgamesh (who was 1/3d divine) that rulers begin to have more normal longevity (beginning with the 126 year reign of his successor).

Postdiluvian advisors to kings who were men, the ummianu, were the successors of the antediluvian mixed-species Apkallu who were portrayed as fish-men. In this frieze now held in the British Museum they tend to a tree of life or a tree of knowledge. The antediluvian Apkallu were the so-called seven sages of Sumeria.

Postdiluvian advisors to kings who were men, the ummianu, were the successors of the antediluvian mixed-species Apkallu who were portrayed as fish-men. In this frieze now held in the British Museum they tend to a sacred tree. The antediluvian Apkallu were the so-called seven sages of Sumeria.

One other cuneiform text can be mentioned in which the sages may be associated with wicked acts, viz. The Epic of Erra (alternative full text of the Epic from Foster’s B is available). There the sages (called ummiānu) seem to be guilty by implication since we are told that they were dispatched for good to the apsu at the time of the flood and may have been deprived access to the mes-tree, “the flesh of the gods,” which provided them with the special material to make divine and kingly statues (as well as knowledge, skill and longevity?), but which was hidden from them (and all future mortals) forever when Marduk cast it into the deep.

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed “genies,” as they are often described, are now known to be apkallu, mixed-feature creatures created by the god Ea. They traditionally served as advisors to kings. They are often depicted in association with sacred trees.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/lanpernas2/8606000868/

If the flood is the same Abubu perhaps the mes-tree (see footnote 11 below) may be compared with the plant (of life) whose hidden location in the deep Utnapishtim revealed to Gilgamesh. If so, it leads us to suspect a further connection between the Mesopotamian mythological trees and plants and the tree(s) in Eden to which another sage figure, Adam, had once had access.

A modern depiction of Gilgamesh harvesting the Plant of Life from the ocean floor, guided by Utnapishtim, the deified survivor of the Deluge.  http://www.mediahex.com/Utnapishtim

A modern depiction of Gilgamesh harvesting the Plant of Life from the ocean floor, guided by Utnapishtim, the deified survivor of the Deluge.
http://www.mediahex.com/Utnapishtim

In short, we may be able to look to the Mesopotamian sage traditions for the mythological background of Genesis 6:1-4. While the ties between the apkallu and the nēpīlîm are hardly ties that bind, there are enough points of comparison—superhuman / semi-divine beings, acts of daring / hubris, acts that anger divinity, association with wickedness in men, their predominantly pre-flood existence—to encourage our consideration.

The Mischwesen sages seem at least to be closer to the nēpīlîm topically than the theogony materials concerning the generations of the gods. It is hoped that the circumstantial evidence for a remote connection between the apkallu and the nēpīlîm is strong enough to have been worth trying the case.”

(Footnote 11: Now that the bird-faced winged genies of Assyrian Palace art may be identified as apkallu (see Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq 45 (1983), pp. 87-96) the close association of apkallu with special trees is clear.)

(For other mixed-beings, creatures of Ea, note F. Köcher, “Der babylonische Göttertypentext,” Mitteilungen des Instituts für Orientforschung 1 (1953), pp. 72, 74, 78, 80.)

Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, “The Mesopotamian Counterparts of the Biblical Nephilim,” in Francis I. Andersen, Edgar W. Conrad, & Edward G. Newing, eds., Perspectives on Language and Text: Essays and Poems in Honor of Francis I. Andersen’s Sixtieth Birthday, 1985, pp. 39-43.

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