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Tag: 1935

Kvanvig: The Bīt Mēseri Ritual

“The study of F.A.M. Wiggermann on protective spirits has contributed considerably to the understanding of the apkallus in Bīt Mēseri.

(Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits; Wiggermann deals with Bīt Mēseri especially on p. 105f. The connection between the apkallus and prophylactic rituals was already noticed by Oliver Robert Gurney, “Babylonian Prophylactic Figures and their Rituals,” Annals of Archeology and Anthropology 22, Liverpool University Press, 1935, pp. 35-96.)

Bird-Apkallū statuettes in characteristic poses, right hands on their breasts, banduddu buckets in their left hands.

Bird-Apkallū statuettes in characteristic poses, right hands on their breasts, banduddu buckets in their left hands.

In Bīt Mēseri it is clear that there is already a sick man in the house. The ritual prescribes both how paintings of protective figures and small statues of them should be placed in the room of the sick man, and what incantations should be used. The ritual should be performed by the āšipu, the magician or exorcist operating against evil spirits causing diseases.

Three kinds of apkallus are also represented in Bīt Mēseri: ūmu-apkallus, fish-apkallus, and bird-apkallus. The designation ūmu can mean both “light” and “day;” Wiggermann opts for the second solution; they are “day-apkallus.”

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

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

The fish-apkallus and the bird-apkallus are bīnūt apsê, “creatures of apsû.” They have divine origin.

Nothing similar is said about the day-apkallus. They seem to be of human descent. Nevertheless, Wiggermann considers them to have their origin from the antediluvian period as well.

The instructions concerning the invocation of the apkallus are introduced in the following way in Bit Meseri:

“To the seven figures of carp apkallus, painted with gypsum and black paste that are drawn at the side of the bedroom at the wall.

To the seven figures of apkallus of consecrated cornel; they stand in the gate of the bedroom nearest the sick man at the head of the bed.

To the seven figures of apkallus of tamarisk, kneeling, that stand at the foot of the bed.”

Thus, protective spirits surrounded the sick man. The first group is fish-apkallus, which is explicitly mentioned; the second is day-apkallus, on the basis of the material used; most likely the third is the bird-apkallus.

This well-preserved bas relief retains incredible detail. The daggers carried in the Umu-Apkallu's waistband are clear, as is the rosette styling on his wristbands. The earrings are more distinct than most other examples, and the headdress appears to be of the horned-tiara type. The umu-apkallu appears to wear bracelets on his upper arms. Tassels are apparent on the fringes of his robe, as well as behind the neck.

This well-preserved bas relief retains incredible detail. The daggers carried in the Umu-Apkallu’s waistband are clear, as is the rosette styling on his wristbands. The earrings are more distinct than most other examples, and the headdress appears to be of the horned-tiara type. The umu-apkallu appears to wear bracelets on his upper arms. Tassels are apparent on the fringes of his robe, as well as behind the neck.

The list of seven and the subsequent four apkallus that we have been dealing with come after the first invocation. We therefore notice that these apkallus are fish-apkallus, which also is apparent in the description of them in the list. There is, however, an incongruity between the invocation and the list.

The invocation deals with seven apkallus; the list has in total eleven. This seems to indicate that the list is adapted into the ritual from another source.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, p. 131.

Carolyn Nakamura on the Figurines

Mastering Matters: Magical Sense and Apoptropaic Figurine Worlds of Neo-Assyria

Introduction: Magical Figures from the Past

“When contemplating certain deposits unearthed during the excavations at Nimrud in the 1950s, Max Mallowan remarked, “this magical practice had an immensely long survival, as witness the nursery rhyme:

Four corners to my bed,
Four angels round my head,
One to watch and one to pray,
And two to bear my soul away.” (1966:226)

Mallowan’s commentary, rather typical of his time, concerned the discovery of numerous brick boxes encasing figurines made of sun-dried clay, found buried underneath the corners, thresholds, and central spaces of room floors, possibly where a bed once stood.

Excavations during the late 1800s to mid 1900s located such deposits in residences, palaces, and temples at important political and religious capitals of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, including Nimrud, Assur, Nineveh, Khorsabad and at Ur in Babylonia under Assyrian rule; they first appeared during the reign of Shalmaneser III and generally persisted up through the reign of Sin-shar-ishkun (ca. 858–612 B.C.).

One can imagine an excavator’s delight in finding such deposits, and there was apparently considerable competition and excitement surrounding their discovery and unveiling (Oates and Oates 2001:253–254).

But, locating such boxes did not always promise the discovery of figurines. Numerous “empty” brick boxes contained nothing more than a thick layer of sandy material, possibly remnants of decomposed organic matter such as wood or food.

Deposits from Ur contained offerings of animal bones, remnants of grain and a pottery sherd along with the clay figures (Woolley 1926:692). And at Assur, some of the buried boxes entombed miniature bronze weapons (Rittig 1977).

But perhaps the most curious finds were the figurines of “warrior” men, mythological fish- and bird-apkallū sages, human-beast hybrids, horned snakes, and other fantastical beings (Figure 2.1).

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).

Generally, such deposits comprised one, two, or seven figurines standing “at attention” in boxes facing in toward the center of the room.

These deposits, not simply buried but concealed and contained, amounted to the discovery within a discovery, the revelation of an ancient secret or desire that had remained hidden for thousands of years.

Other archaeological findings, however, had already anticipated these discoveries: ancient texts preserved instructions for an apotropaic ritual involving the burial of clay and wood figurines under room floors quite in the manner described above (Gurney 1935; Smith 1926; Wiggermann 1992).

The name of one text explicitly pronounced its purpose: šēp lemutti ina bīt amēli parāsu, “to block the entry of the enemy in someone’s house” (Wiggermann 1992:1); and the first twenty lines named the “enemy” to be almost any evil imaginable, from spirits, gods, and ancestors to disease, misfortune, Fate, and Death.

The text guided a priest-exorcist through a choreography of very specific and often protracted ceremonies involving various objects, gestures, substances, and locations, leading up to the final installation of the magically protective figures entombed underground.

Notably, another related text fragment, KAR 298, specifically detailed the making, function, character, number, and placement of the figurines (Smith 1926). The archaeological evidence proved to be remarkably consistent with these texts in terms of form and details of surface treatment, and to some extent, position and grouping of the figures.

So the Neo-Assyrians themselves revealed the secret of the figurine deposits: they were magically powerful deposits that protected the individual and his house from sickness and evil. The protective figures served to “watch,” “pray,” and “bear souls away,” as it were.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 18-19.

Erica Reiner on the Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages”

“The bilingual text LKA No. 76 has been characterized by Ebeling, in the catalog LKA p. x, as “Zweisprachiger Text von den ‘sieben Söhnen von Nippur’, mystischen Inhalts.” The obverse of the text contains an unusual self-description given by the “sons of Nippur,” to which I have been unable to find a parallel, but the much smaller portion preserved of the reverse, which most likely is an altogether different composition, is a duplicate to two texts from Kouyunjik edited by O.R. Gurney, JRAS 1935 459 ff., which deal with the apkallu’s who, under the designation “Seven Sages” have received repeated attention in Assyriological literature.

Fish-Apkallu statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.

Fish-Apkallu statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.

The reverse of LKA 76, which shall be my sole concern in this paper, as well as an unpublished fragment from Kouyunjik copied by Geers, permits us to establish the historical and mythological significance of these personages. [ … ]

Translation

  • 1′-2′. [Adapa,] the purification priest of Eridu
  • 3′-4′. [ … ] who ascended to heaven.
  • 5′-6′. They are the seven brilliant apkallu’s, purādu-fish of the sea,
  • 7′-9′. [sev]en apkallu’s “grown” in the river, who insure the correct functioning of the plans of heaven and earth.
  • 10′-13′. Nunpiriggaldim, the apkallu of Enmerkar, who brought down Ištar from heaven into Eanna;
  • 14′-17′. Piriggalnungal, stemming from Kiš, who angered Adad in heaven so that he let no rain and (hence) vegetation be in the country for three years;
  • 18′-23′. Piriggalabzu, stemming from [Eridu] who . . . . and thus angered Ea in the Apsû so that he . . . [cut (?) the cords from (?) the seal around his neck (?)] . . .
  • 24′-27′. The fourth (is) Lu-Nanna, (only) two-thirds apkallu, who drove the ušumgallu-dragon from Eninkarnunna (var. Eninkiagnunna), the temple of Ištar of Šulgi.
  • 28′-31′. [ . . . ] of human descent, whom (pl.) the lord Ea had endowed with a broad understanding.

. . . If the restorations [MIN] in lines 3’ff are correct, this section enumerates or addresses apkallu’s . . . (See footnote 3, below).

(Footnote 3: While the main concern of these pages is to follow the apkallu’s into their mythological past, it should be mentioned that their role in the here edited text, as well as in other rituals to be mentioned presently, is an apotropaic one (having the power to avert evil influences or bad luck); indeed, copies … of the text under discussion may well represent a tablet of the series bīt mēsiri, for which see G. Meier, AfO 14 139 ff.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, 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, 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.

This is made likely by the content as well as the style of the invocations alternating with ritual directions, and the latter have been here restored on the basis of this similarity. Moreover, A rev. 5′ f. recalls the catchline of 4R 21 B, a recension of Tablet II of bīt mēsiri … the number, shape, and use of these apotropaic figures varies from text to text, apkallu being a general term for the fish-, bird-, or “Gilgameš“-like men (see Landsberger Sam’al 95 n. 227); thus, before the apkallu’s enumerated in lines 10′-27′, who are then summed up as being of human descent (ilitti amēlūti), the text mentions the seven apkallu’s who are purādu-fish and seven apkallu’s who were “created” (Sumerian “grown”) in the river.)

As A rev. 16’ff. shows, the rites were performed for the benefit of a patient (LÚ.GIG); they include, according to A rev. 10’f., fashioning of apotropaic apkallu-figurines, or, according to lines 3’ff. (in copy C), figurines of suhurmāšu-fish.”

Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages,” Orientalia, v. 30, No. 1, 1961, pp. 1-6.

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