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Tag: 1966

Eco: The Egyptian vs. The Chinese Way

kircher_093-653x1024

Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), frontispiece depicting Adam Schall and Matteo Ricci holding a map of China, China Illustrata, 1667, courtesy of Stanford University. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

“Although today many are still of the opinion that images provide a means of communication that can overcome language barriers, the explanation of the way in which images can accomplish this by now takes one of two forms: the Egyptian and the Chinese way.

The Egyptian way today belongs only to art history. We believe that visual media such as paintings, sequences in films, etc. are “texts” which convey emotions and feelings that could not be expressed verbally: we cannot represent by mere words Mona Lisa to a blind person.

The meanings that such texts can express are multiple, because there is no universal code: the rules of representation (and of recognizability) for an Egyptian mural, an Arab miniature, a painting by Turner or a comic strip are simply not the same in each case.

It is true that some ideograms have been used as characters of a universal code, for instances many road signals; in the same vein we are using more or less universal pictograms (think of the schematic crossed knives and forks which signal a restaurant in an airport, or of the stylized “ladies” and “gentlemen” on public lavatory doors).

Sometimes visual signs are merely substituting alphabetical letters, as happens with semaphores or flag signals; sometimes a yellow flag meaning “contagious disease on board” simply stands for a verbal sentence (cf. Prieto 1966).

Likewise, the gestural languages of Trappist monks, Indian merchants, gypsies or thieves, as well as the drummed and whistled languages of certain tribes (cf. Le Barre 1964), are equally dependent on the model of natural languages.

As useful, convenient and ingenious as some of these systems of communication may be, they make no claims to being “perfect” languages in which philosophers might one day wish to compose a treatise.

Any language of images is based on the alleged fact that images exhibit some properties of the represented things. Yet in any representable thing there will always be a multitude of properties, and there are infinite points of view under which an image can be judged similar to something else. Moreover, “that a picture looks like nature often means only that it looks the way nature is usually painted” (Goodman 1968: 39).

We can see this by looking at the various versions of a semiotic apparatus (if not a true language) which remained alive for centuries and which flowered in the same period when the western culture was looking for perfect visual languages: the arts of memory (cf. Rossi 1960; Yates 1966).

An art of memory establishes at its expression-plane a system of loci (that is, of places in the literal sense of the word) which may be imagined as the rooms of a building or palace, or as an urban street or square.

This system of loci is destined to house a set of images, drawn from the same iconographical field, which will play the role of lexical units. The content-plane is given by a system of res memoranda, in other words, of things to be remembered, usually belonging to the same conceptual framework. In this way, an art of memory is a semiotic system.

For instance, in mnemonic systems like those presented by the Congestorius artificiosae memoriae by Romberch (1520), the Dialogo del modo di accrescerce e conservare la memoria by Dolce (1575), or the Artificiosae memoriae fundamenta by Paepp (1619), the system of grammatical cases is expressed (and thus recalled) by the different parts of the human body.

Not only is this a case of one system expressing another system; it is also a case where the two planes are (in Hjelmslev‘s sense) conformal. It is not arbitrary that the head stands for nominative, the chest, which can receive blows, stands for accusative, and the hands, which possess and offer, stand for genitive and dative, and so on.

This shows that a mnemonic image, in order to express its content easily, should evoke it by similarity. But no mnemonic system was ever able to find a univocal criterion of resemblance.

The criteria are the same as those that linked the signature to its signatum. If we look back and see (ch. 6) what Paracelsus had to say about the language of Adam, the Protoplastus, we see that he represented him as naming one animal on the basis of a morphological similarity (from which a virtue derived), while, in another case, the name derived directly from a virtue not manifested by the form of the object.

In other cases, the name that Adam gave reflected neither morphology nor causal relations, but was inferred symptomatically: for instance, the horn of the stag permitted us to infer the age of the animal from the complexity of its branching.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 168-71.

Eco: Kabbalism and Lullism in Modern Culture

Marsilio_Ficino

Marsilio Ficino (1433-99), a bust published in “Marsilio Ficino and Renaissance Neoplatonism,” by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, on Rosicrucian.org. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“Hebrew was not the only beneficiary of the passion for archaic wisdom that gripped scholars from the end of the Middle Ages onwards. The dawn of the modern era also saw a revival of interest in Greek thought and in the Greek’s fascination with Egypt and its mysterious hieroglyphic script (see ch. 7).

Greek texts were rediscovered and enthusiastically assigned an antiquity they did not, in fact, possess. They included the Orphic Hymns, attributed to Orpheus, but, in fact, written probably between the second and third centuries AD; the Chaldean Oracles, also written in the second century, but attributed to Zoroaster; and, above all, the Corpus Hermeticum.

This was a compilation acquired in 1460 for Cosimo de’ Medici in Florence, and immediately rushed to Marsilio Ficino so that he might translate it.

This last compilation, as was later shown, was the least archaic of all. In 1614, by using stylistic evidence and by comparing the innumerable contradictions among the documents, Isaac Casaubon, in his De rebus sacris et ecclesiasticis, showed that it was a collection of texts by different authors, all writing in late Hellenistic times under the influences of Egyptian spirituality.

None of this was apparent in 1460, however. Ficino took the texts to be archaic, directly written by the mythical Hermes or Mercurius Trismegistus.

Ficino was struck to discover that his account of the creation of the universe resembled that of Genesis, yet–he said–we should not be amazed, because Mercurius could be none other than Moses himself (Theologica platonica, 8, 1).

This enormous historical error, as Yates says, was destined to have surprising results (1964: 18-9).

The Hermetic tradition provided a magico-astrological  account of the cosmos. Celestial bodies exercise their power and influence over earthly things, and by knowing the planetary laws one can not only predict these influences, but also manipulate them.

There exists a relation of sympathy between the universal macrocosm and the human microcosm, a latticework of forces which it is possible to harness through astral magic.

Astral magic was practiced through words and other signs, because there is a language by which human beings can command the stars. Such miracles can be performed through “talismans,” that is, images which might guarantee safe recovery, health or physical prowess.

In his De vita coelitus comparanda, Ficino provided a wealth of details concerning how such talismans were to be worn; how certain plants linked by sympathy to certain stars were to be consumed; how magical ceremonies were to be celebrated with the proper perfumes, garments and songs.

Talismanic magic works because the bond which unites the occult virtues of earthly things and the celestial bodies which instilled them is expressed by signatures, that is, formal aspects of material things that recall certain features (properties or powers) of the corresponding heavenly bodies.

God himself has rendered the sympathies between macrocosm and microcosm perceptible by stamping a mark, a sort of seal, onto each object of this world (cf. Thorndike 1923-58; Foucault 1966; Couliano 1984; Bianchi 1987).

In a text that can stand as the foundation for such a doctrine of signatures, Paracelsus declared that:

“The ars signata teaches the way in which the true and genuine names must be assigned to all things, the same names that Adam, the Protoplastus, knew in the complete and perfect way [ . . . ] which show, at the same time, the virtue, the power, and the property of this or that thing. [ . . . ]

This is the signator who signs the horns of the stag with branches so that his age may be known: the stag having as many years as his horns have branches. [ . . . ] This is the signator who covers the tongue of a sick sow with excrescences, so that her impurity may be known; if the tongue is impure so the whole body is impure.

This is the signator who tints the clouds with divers colors, whereby it is possible to forecast the changes of the heavens. (De natura rerum, I, 10, “De signatura rerum“).”

Even the Middle Ages were aware that “habent corpora omnia ad invisibilia bona simulitudinem” (Richard of Saint Victor, Benjamin Major, PL, 196, 90): all bodies possess qualities which give them similarities with invisible goods.

In consequence, every creature of the universe was an image, a mirror reflecting our terrestrial and supernatural destinies. Nevertheless, it did not occur to the Middle Ages that these images might speak in a perfect language.

They required interpretation, explication and comment; they needed to be enclosed in a rational didactic framework where they could be elucidated, deciphered, in order to make clear the mystical affinities between a symbol and its content.

For Renaissance Platonism, by contrast, the relation between the images and the ideas to which they referred was considered so intuitively direct that the very distinction between a symbol and its meaning disappeared (see Gombrich 1972: “Icones Symbolicae,” v).

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 117-9.

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.

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.

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.

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