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Tag: 1999

On the Ineffable

yama_tibet

This 18th century depiction of Yamantaka, a violent expression of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, defeats Yama, god of death, and demolishes the cycle of samsara on the path to enlightenment. This painting, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was purchased in 1969 courtesy of a bequest by Florence Waterbury. Its Accession Number is 69.71. This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional public domain work of art. 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.

This is my review of Nick Stockton’s “Time Might Only Exist in Your Head. And Everyone Else’s.” From Wired, 26 September, 2016. Published at 0600 hrs. I later modified this piece on 17 October, 2016. It keeps bothering me like a splinter in my mind. In its current revision, it comprises 2,537 words.

“Some physicists blame gravity for time. Others blame observers. Time, the arrow of time, the linearity of time flowing from the infinite past through the present into the indefinite future, cannot exist unless an intelligence, something sentient, exists to observe it, they say.

The moment when particle physics and classical mechanics merge is called “decoherence,” and it also happens to be the moment when time’s direction becomes mathematically important.

Mr. Stockton’s article points out that superposition in quantum mechanics means that an electron can exist in either of two places, a property called probability, but it is impossible to say where an electron is until that electron is actually observed.

Some physicists also say that what matters is not whether time exists, but what direction that time flows. (Claus Kiefer, “Can the Arrow of Time Be Understood From Quantum Cosmology?” in L. Mersini-Houghton and R. Vaas, The Arrow of Time, Springer, Berlin, 2010.)

I marvel that anything can move at all, as any distance can incorporate an infinitude simply by holding your fingers a centimeter apart.

Your fingertips are not necessary, of course. You can imagine an infinite digression between any two points. You can even imagine the digression without the points, which is where things get interesting for me.

Not surprisingly, this reminds me of Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), in the academic tradition of droll footnotes, citing “the last magician,” Isaac Newton, saying that “Each particle of space is eternal, each indivisible moment of duration is everywhere.” Principia, III, 42. (Isaac Newton, Newton’s Principia, New York: Daniel Adee, 1846. Borges wrote his 1946 revision of “A New Refutation of Time” in Sur, 1944. Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Non-Fictions, Penguin, 1999.)

How anything can leap across the infinitudes separating all things from everything else mystifies me, and how we can imagine infinity without beginning or without end leaves me without words.

Miraculously, everything in this multiverse can leap infinities, and so we have progression, which is synonymous with time. Even using a term like “infinity” forces a compromise upon us, it is a convention, and these are the paradoxes that compel some physicists to suspect that time emerges from decoherence.

Mr. Stockton’s article explains that the most prominent theory addressing decoherence is the 1960’s-era Wheeler-DeWitt equation, by Dr. Bryce DeWitt and Dr. John Archibald Wheeler. Dr. Wheeler claimed that this equation “erases the seams between quantum and classical mechanics.”

Then Mr. Stockton acknowledges the weirdness underlying decoherence and “so-called quantum gravity.” I love the fact that physicists use a term like “weird” and nobody thinks that it is strange. Because these matters are supremely weird.

The second law of thermodynamics ordains that the amount of disorder, or entropy, in our multiverse will always increase. In 1865 Rudolf Clausius (1822-1888) infamously observed: “The energy of the universe is constant; the entropy of the universe tends to a maximum.” This is the source of the directionality of time: disorder always increases, so time can only move in one direction.

The Wheeler-DeWitt equation notoriously does not include a variable for time. Time, it says, is something that cannot be measured in terms of itself: in physics it is measured as correlations between an object’s location.

In this article, however, the writers (Dr. Robert Lanza and Dr. Yasunori Nomura) insist that gravity is too slow to account for a universal arrow of time.

Worse, because the Wheeler-DeWitt equations do not explain why time moves from the past through the present to the future–in other words, the directionality of time is not explained by the Wheeler-DeWitt equations–all that remains to be examined is us, meaning we, the observers.

One of the writers, Dr. Robert Lanza, founded biocentrism, a theory that space and time are constructs of biological sensory limitations.

Dr. Lanza speculates that time moves as it does because humans, and other sentient beings, for that matter, are biologically, neurologically and philosophically hardwired to experience time in that way.

In fact, Dr. Lanza says, “In his papers on relativity, Einstein showed that time was relative to the observer.”

I do not see how it could be otherwise. While you can claim that mathematics exists independently of human perception, because equations do not depend upon witnesses to observe them, we obviously only know about mathematics because we perceive such equations.

I will go one step further and say that equations, all the equations in an infinitude of mathematics, already exist, and merely await a conjunction of time and sentience to be discovered. But they are already there. We are just not yet smart enough to discern them.

Tibetan Buddhism, in fact, features a category of knowledge of this kind, calling it terma. It refers to objects or ideas which are surfaced to human knowledge when we as a species are ready for them. Some believe that we knew this information in earlier incarnations, and we forgot it, as we submerged into ignorance and amnesia. Now we are gradually, slowly, reawakening.

Dr. Lanza, this article says, goes even further, saying that we the observers create time and its directionality. This is actually a very old idea, and I discuss it in an article that I published on this site almost a year ago, Smoke Signals: Borges, Tzahi Weiss, Kabbalah.

Is it possible to say that there is an independent time, a time that exists without anyone or anything to perceive it? I suppose so. Is there also a time that exists because we perceive it? I think that this is inescapable.

Borges says:

” … Denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations.

Our destiny (as contrasted with the hell of Swedenborg and the hell of Tibetan mythology) is not frightful by being unreal; it is frightful because it is irreversible and ironclad.

Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”

(Jorge Luis BorgesSelected Non-Fictions, 1999, p. 290.)

The time that you experience is not the same time that I experience. Neither of us experiences time as Borges did. Can “the concept of time be defined mathematically without including observers in the system?”

One stance says no, as there is no way to subtract observers from the equations, as equations by default, almost by definition, you could say, are performed by sentient intelligences.

Dr. Yasunori Nomura states that these equations also fail to consider that the entire multiverse as we perceive it exists in a medium that we call spacetime.

By definition, when you talk about spacetime, he says, “you are already talking about a decohered system.”

This article concludes, like most interpretations of spacetime, that everything is relative, everything is subjective.

We are in self-defined prisons of perception, but we imagine paradises where we share the same perceptions, the same spacetime, and we perceive the same physics. The sad thing is, this is maya, or illusion. Some of us know better, and we have been told.

We do not need these physics, not for awakening from the stupor of the mind to anatta, the emptiness of the self, the realization of the non-duality of the absolute and the relative.

Think on this for a moment. The absolute and the relative form a duality that is artificial, this is a construct that we create to help us understand what we perceive. It is, in a sense, a filter. We need no such filters.

Borges, in the quote above, in a denial of denial, refused to renounce temporal succession, rejected the renunciation of the self, repudiated the rejection of the astronomical universe, and dismissed the effort as an “apparent desperation,” slyly condemning it as a “secret consolation.”

It was long a secret, as Tibet was closed to mankind for centuries, but Borges understood what he was rejecting. Borges referred to “the hell of Tibetan mythology” for precisely this reason, and that is why I illustrated this article with a painting depicting Yamantaka, just one aspect of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, vanquishing Yama, the god of death. Borges was telling those of us with eyes to see that he was an idealist, not a nihilist. Borges concluded that we manifest everything.

It is useful, I think, to consider Borges’ reference to fire by juxtapositioning it to this excerpt from the Buddha’s Fire Sermon:

Bikkhus, form is burning, feeling is burning, perception is burning, volitional formations are burning, consciousness is burning. Seeing this, bikkhus, the instructed noble disciple experiences revulsion towards form … feeling … perception …. volitional formations … consciousness …Through dispassion [this mind] is liberated…”

Adittapariyaya Sutta, or the Aditta Sutta, aka The Fire Sermon

In Theravada Buddhism, anatta is considered the no-self or no-soul doctrine. In Mahayana Buddhism, true knowledge is comprehending emptiness.

It is not understood by laymen, much less by our physicists in this article, but Buddhism is inimical to the concept of a soul. Nirvana is the state attained when the practitioner realizes that he has no self, and he has no soul. Self-negation attains its ultimate realization as it vanishes.

In Sanskrit and Pali, nirvana means “blown out,” in the same sense that a candle flame is snuffed. I am certain that Borges knew. Borges knew everything, he read all books, and he made few mistakes.

These ideas contradict the Western philosophical tradition, our mathematics, our physics, our spacetime, even though Hinduism insists that there is an eternal atman, and an ultimate metaphysical reality. Contradictions and confusions abound.

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.1, the atman is expressed as “I am” at an eternal moment when nothing existed at the beginning of the multiverse. Because we built the Hubble telescope, we estimate that this eternal moment transformed into the Big Bang and this multiverse approximately 13.7 billion years ago.

Using Hubble, we can measure the speed and distances of galaxies, and hence how fast our multiverse is expanding. Comparing these measurements to the age of the oldest globular star clusters gives us a figure of 13 billion years, which compares favorably to the 14 billion years of our observable multiverse.

Due to the speed of light, Hubble cannot see further than 14 billion years away. When the James W. Webb telescope comes online, we expect to confirm that our observable multiverse represents a tenth of the theoretical galaxies on the near side of our cosmological horizon.

But when you consider that the Big Bang might have been just the latest in an infinite series of singularities, interspersed by an unknowable number of periods of quantum potential, the possibility that the multiverse is infinite, literally without end, looms.

So is consciousness 14 billion years old? The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is one of the oldest, dated to approximately 700 BCE, but this is a compromise, as scholarly estimates range between 900 BCE to 600 BCE, preceding Buddhism.

Human consciousness is very young, even assuming that the priests of Neith who admonished Solon in the Timaeus were correct, the Timaeus is dated to 360 BCE, and I am mindful that when the Temple of Neith in Sais was excavated no records of ancient conflagrations or deluges were recovered. But how old is cosmic consciousness? It is absurd that we even imagine the question.

When the atman awakes, the Hindu say, it is synonymous with Brahman, the basis of everything, indistinguishable in my mind from God, and this is the path to liberation, or so they say.

It is helpful to cite this Upanishad’s verse 1.4.1 in its entirety, as it redolently presages Genesis.

“In the beginning, this (universe) was but the self (Virāj) of a human form. He reflected and found nothing else but himself. He first uttered, ‘I am he.’ Therefore he was called Aham (I). Hence, to this day, when a person is addressed, he first says, ‘It is I,’ and then says the other name that he may have. Because he was first and before this whole (band of aspirants) burnt all evils, therefore he is called Puruṣa. He who knows thus indeed burns one who wants to be (Virāj) before him.”

(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.1.)

As perplexed as I am by yet another reference to fire, the Buddhist Suttas, or Sutras, as I prefer, insist that everything, especially nirvana, is non-self, total non-attachment. The Suttas in Pali refer exclusively to the scriptures of the early Pali Canon, the canonical works of Theravada Buddhism, which are said to be the oral teachings of the Buddha.

The Buddha himself admonished the Sangha not to deify his person, so I prefer the Sutras, the less exclusive, more encompassing genre of ancient Indian texts, which include the foundational works of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

The Buddha started the Wheel of Karma turning as he preached his first sermon at  the Deer Park in Sarnath near Benares, early in the 5th century BCE. It was in his second sermon that he expounded on the no-soul thesis, anatta-vada, which some Western academics criticize as “an extreme empiricist doctrine.” (Brian Morris, Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction (London: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 51.)

Anatta is one of the three characteristics of existence in Buddhism, with anicca, or impermanence, and dukkha, or suffering. The three comprise the samsara cycle of existence, addressed in canonical Buddhist texts like the Dhammapada.

The Four Noble Truths insist that there is a way out of samsara. I interpret spacetime as samsara, yet another filter created by subjective consciousness, to help us make sense of our multiverse.

In anatta, the mind returns to its original prelinguistic emptiness of non-attachment, non-discrimination, and non-duality, and the awakening, as it is described, entails the absorption of cessation: it is tantamount to the dissolution of the self.

This “pure consciousness event” is wakeful, without content, and completely non-intentional. It goes without saying that our spacetime and our cosmological horizon are irrelevant to it: It is ineffable. (Yaroslav Komarkovski, Tibetan Buddhism and Mystical Experience, (London: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 28.)

As Borges said, we are indistinguishable from spacetime. We do not need eyes to see, so death, transformation, is dissolution into nothingness, which many religious traditions summarize as the godhead.

Ironically, it was William James who said:

“The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words.”

(William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (New York: Penguin, 1982.)”

Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez, “On the Ineffable”

Bangkok, 17 October, 2016

Kvanvig: On Šēp lemutti, Averting Evil

“The apkallus were also an essential part of the composition Šēp lemutti. The composition starts by defining the purpose of the ritual as to avert evil from the house.

Then the text prescribes the types of figures to be fashioned and buried at set locations in the house. This section contains a long passage describing wooden figures of seven apkallus, from seven Babylonian cities. Since these figures should be made of wood, no remains of them are found, of course.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, 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, the so-called purādu-fish, 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.

The next passages describe apkallus with well-known features; seven figures with faces and wings of birds and seven figures cloaked in the skin of a fish. (Cf. Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” 87-96, 87-90.)

In total the apkallus as groups of seven are described five times according to where they should be buried: at the head of the bed, in the foundation of the house, at the threshold to the chapel, in front of the door behind the chair and in the middle of the house in front of the chair (the chair may here be the throne of the palace).

 As noted by Professor Dalley, "The type occurs as a group of six or more clay figurines placed in brick boxes in foundations at Assur, Nimrud, and Nineveh," citing Dessa Rittig as her source (Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom 13.-6. Jh. v. Chr. München, 1977).


As noted by Professor Dalley, “The type occurs as a group of six or more clay figurines placed in brick boxes in foundations at Assur, Nimrud, and Nineveh,” citing Dessa Rittig as her source (Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom 13.-6. Jh. v. Chr. München, 1977).

The first invocation addresses the arrival of the apkallus: “the apkallus have arrived at the first location.” (Cf. P. Hibbert in Kolbe, Die Reliefprogramme, 200-1.) Then follows an invocation that is similar in all the other four instances: šiptu attunu salmānu apkallu massarī, “Incantation: “you are the statues of the apkallus, the watchers.” (Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, 48.)

The designation massaru follows the intention of the whole ritual closely: the apkallus are invoked to protect the palace or the house. Accordingly, there is a close correspondence between the invocation of the apkallus as watchers and how they were represented materially.

The statues of them were initiated through proper rituals and either placed in the room of the ill person to free him from evil demons, or they were buried in a house, to guard the house against demonic attack.

As monumental reliefs at the entrances to palaces they remind people and demons that the palace, the king, and the inhabitants of the palace lived in a house which was protected against evil intruders through the proper rituals.

Since the apkallus appear in apotropaic rituals, they are closely connected to the practice of the āšipū, the exorcists. In an ancient Babylonian myth the sixth sage An-enlilda made poultices for medical means. They would be brought to the upper world of humans as protection against diseases. (Lambert, “The Twenty-One “Poultices,” obv. 11-4, 78.)

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

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

We know that experts in medicine and incantations against disease demons could either designate themselves as apkallu, or place themselves as a descendant of an apkallu, in this case used as honorary title for an expert of highest rank. (Cf. A. Tuskimoto, “By the Hand of Madi-Dagan, the Scribe and Apkallu-Priest,” in Priests and Officials in the Ancient Near East, K. Watanabe, ed., Heidelberg, 1999, pp. 187-200. Also Finkel, “Adad-apla-iddina,” 144f.)

In the commentary to diagnostic omens that explains the word pirig that occurs in the names of the postdiluvian apkallus meaning “light,” it is also stated that ka.pirig means āšipu.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 132-3.

Dalley: Apkallu-6, IDD 2011

Iconography of Deities and Demons (IDD).

Apkallu (continued). 

Type 3 Bird-of-Prey-Headed Apkallu, Problematic Identifications. 

“The three types are identified from ritual texts and labels on figurines, but because the evidence is uncommon and sometimes ambiguous there are uncertainties. Change over time may also account for some difficulties. Some overlap in the iconography with Tiamat’s composite monsters from the theme of the Epic of Creation is possible, as mentioned above.

Single objects such as bucket or sprig may be held by figures who do not share other characteristics with definite sages. WIGGERMANN (1992: 75) identifies Apkallus in scenes in which figures resembling types 1 and 3 carry weapons and attack animals and monsters.

The Anzu bird.

The Anzu bird.

This is not certain, as the bird-headed Apkallu may overlap in form with the Anzu bird in its 1st millennium appearance, and various winged or wingless man-figures may be hero-gods rather than Apkallus.

Lahmu, “Hairy,” is a protective and beneficent deity, a first-born son of Apsu and Tiamat.  He and his sister Laḫamu are the parents of Anshar and Kishar, the sky father and earth mother, who birthed the gods of the Mesopotamian Pantheon. Laḫmu is depicted as a bearded man with a red sash--usually with three strands--and four to six curls on his head. He is often associated with the Kusarikku or “Bull-Man.” In Sumerian times Laḫmu may have meant “the muddy one”. Lahmu guarded the gates of the Abzu temple of Enki at Eridu. He and his sister Laḫamu are primordial deities in the Babylonian Epic of Creation-–Enuma Elis. http://foundfact.com/portfolio-view/lahmu/#!prettyPhoto http://foundfact.com/library/beings-people-and-gods/page/6/#!prettyPhoto

Lahmu, “Hairy,” is a protective and beneficent deity, a first-born son of Apsu and Tiamat.
He and his sister Laḫamu are the parents of Anshar and Kishar, the sky father and earth mother, who birthed the gods of the Mesopotamian Pantheon.
Laḫmu is depicted as a bearded man with a red sash–usually with three strands–and four to six curls on his head. He is often associated with the Kusarikku or “Bull-Man.”
In Sumerian times Laḫmu may have meant “the muddy one”. Lahmu guarded the gates of the Abzu temple of Enki at Eridu.
He and his sister Laḫamu are primordial deities in the Babylonian Epic of Creation-–Enuma Elis.
http://foundfact.com/portfolio-view/lahmu/#!prettyPhoto
http://foundfact.com/library/beings-people-and-gods/page/6/#!prettyPhoto

WIGGERMANN’s identifications are largely accepted (WIGGERMANN/GREEN 1993-97) and are followed here, but disagreement, and a proposal to identify the Lahmu-hero with three pairs of curls as a further type, are suggested by RUSSELL (1991: 312 n. 27; also ORNAN 1993: 60).

Amulet with a figure of Lamashtu, Mesopotamia, around 800 BC.<br />  A demonic divinity who preys on mothers and children.<br />  This protective image of Lamashtu, a fearsome female divinity of the underworld, was intended to keep evil at bay.<br />  Although she is usually described in modern works as a demon, the writing of her name in cuneiform suggests that in Babylonia and Assyria she was regarded as a kind of goddess.<br />  Unlike the majority of demons, who acted only on the commands of the gods, Lamashtu practised evil apparently for its own sake and on her own initiative. There is a cuneiform incantation on the reverse side of this amulet to frighten her away.<br />  Lamashtu's principal victims were unborn and new-born babies.<br />  Slipping into the house of a pregnant woman, she tries to touch the woman's stomach seven times to kill the unborn baby, or she kidnaps the child.<br />  Magical measures against Lamashtu included wearing a bronze head of Pazuzu. Some plaques show a bedridden man rather than a pregnant woman, so in some contexts Lamashtu is considered a bringer of disease.<br />  Lamashtu is described in texts as having the head of a lion, the teeth of a donkey, naked breasts, a hairy body, stained hands, long fingers, long finger nails, and the talons of a bird.<br />  Plaques also show her suckling a piglet and a whelp while she holds snakes in her hands, as in this case.<br />  She stands on her sacred animal, the donkey, which is sometimes shown in a boat, riding through the underworld.<br />  H.W.F. Saggs, Babylonians (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)<br />  J. Black and A. Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)<br />  http://utpress.utexas.edu/index.php/books/blagop#sthash.psbzCU3E.dpuf<br />  http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/a/amulet_with_figure_of_lamashtu.aspx

Amulet with a figure of Lamashtu, Mesopotamia, around 800 BC.
A demonic divinity who preys on mothers and children.
This protective image of Lamashtu, a fearsome female divinity of the underworld, was intended to keep evil at bay.
Although she is usually described in modern works as a demon, the writing of her name in cuneiform suggests that in Babylonia and Assyria she was regarded as a kind of goddess.
Unlike the majority of demons, who acted only on the commands of the gods, Lamashtu practised evil apparently for its own sake and on her own initiative. There is a cuneiform incantation on the reverse side of this amulet to frighten her away.
Lamashtu’s principal victims were unborn and new-born babies.
Slipping into the house of a pregnant woman, she tries to touch the woman’s stomach seven times to kill the unborn baby, or she kidnaps the child.
Magical measures against Lamashtu included wearing a bronze head of Pazuzu. Some plaques show a bedridden man rather than a pregnant woman, so in some contexts Lamashtu is considered a bringer of disease.
Lamashtu is described in texts as having the head of a lion, the teeth of a donkey, naked breasts, a hairy body, stained hands, long fingers, long finger nails, and the talons of a bird.
Plaques also show her suckling a piglet and a whelp while she holds snakes in her hands, as in this case.
She stands on her sacred animal, the donkey, which is sometimes shown in a boat, riding through the underworld.
H.W.F. Saggs, Babylonians (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
J. Black and A. Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)
http://utpress.utexas.edu/index.php/books/blagop#sthash.psbzCU3E.dpuf
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/a/amulet_with_figure_of_lamashtu.aspx

This wingless type is thought by WIGGERMANN (1992: 74f) to be sages before the flood, an identification based on a possible but unfounded connection with the Sumerian names of those early sages. Their human appearance might be more appropriate for mortal sages who lived after the flood, or they may not be sages at all.

Several possible identifications on West Semitic seals cannot be regarded as certain; ORNAN 1993: 60, figs. 11-12 show a kneeling atlantid figure not generally considered to be an Apkallu, and figs. 15, 17, and 18 are dubious because the seal cutting is so skimpy.

The number of wings shown may sometimes be misleading; perspective or spacing may reduce them, and some scholars think a pair of wings shown in side profile represent four. When a single wing is shown (71*, 76* ) a pair can be presumed.

Apkallu type 3, illustration 76, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.  Stephanie Dalley cites illustration 76 as an exemplar "with a long, high crest ... with two ringlets falling to the shoulder," which it indeed does portray.  She also writes, "For jewelry the figure may wear a necklace with seven strands (76*), which may also only be single-stranded with pendants. With my apologies to the professor, I detect no necklace or pendants on this illustration.  This illustration does depict a type 3 Nisroc apkallu in the apparent act of uttering a cry, with a visible tongue, though Professor Dalley does not cite it as an example of that.  Finally, she asserts the "so-called "fish-tail fringe" dangling from the kilt (76*) is not a fish part, and so does not indicate that the type is a  fish composite." With this statement, I am in utter agreement.  This particular illustration, its find site unknown to me, is atypical in other respects. The portrayal of the avian head is perhaps unique, and at variance with the typical versions from the palace walls of Ashurnasirpal II, for example.  The lone curl at the top of the head is unique, I think, as are the curls which Professor Dalley identified above.  In no other example does a nisroc-bird apkallu stand in front of a sacred tree, occluding it from view.  The armlet on this apkallu is unusual, as well, with a design that I have not seen elsewhere.  In all other respects, this depiction of a type 3 bird-headed apkallu is typical, with mullilu cone and banduddu bucket in their customary places.

Apkallu type 3, illustration 76, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.
Stephanie Dalley cites illustration 76 as an exemplar “with a long, high crest … with two ringlets falling to the shoulder,” which it indeed does portray.
She also writes, “For jewelry the figure may wear a necklace with seven strands (76*), which may also only be single-stranded with pendants. With my apologies to the professor, I detect no necklace or pendants on this illustration.
This illustration does depict a type 3 Nisroc apkallu in the apparent act of uttering a cry, with a visible tongue, though Professor Dalley does not cite it as an example of that.
Finally, she asserts the “so-called “fish-tail fringe” dangling from the kilt (76*) is not a fish part, and so does not indicate that the type is a fish composite.” With this statement, I am in utter agreement.
This particular illustration, its find site unknown to me, is atypical in other respects. The portrayal of the avian head is perhaps unique, and at variance with the typical versions from the palace walls of Ashurnasirpal II, for example.
The lone curl at the top of the head is unique, I think, as are the curls which Professor Dalley identified above.
In no other example does a nisroc-bird apkallu stand in front of a sacred tree, occluding it from view.
The armlet on this apkallu is unusual, as well, with a design that I have not seen elsewhere.
In all other respects, this depiction of a type 3 bird-headed apkallu is typical, with mullilu cone and banduddu bucket in their customary places.

Similarly, the number of horns shown on crowns of divinity may have been reduced due to considerations of space; they do not appear to distinguish different ranks of sage.

Color may have been used to differentiate between types and eliminate ambiguities, but is not preserved except as occasional traces of paint on foundation figurines.

On Urartian bronzes and on other media, e.g., MERHAV 1991: 144 and 309, a pair of winged, human-headed lions with cone and bucket on each side of a tree of life has a context and attributes identical to that of the Apkallus, but cannot be identified as such without textual support.

Figure 2.2 (from Nakamura). Apotropaic figures with associated features.  1. Drawing after Richards in Black and Green (1992:65).  2. The identification of the lahmu figure is controversial; it names both a cosmogonic deity and one of Tiamat’s creatures (Wiggermann 1992:155–156), and may also represent an apkallu sage (Ellis 1995:165; Russell 1991:184, fn. 27). 3. In register 2, ugallu, kusarikku and kulullu are portrayed.

Figure 2.2 (from Nakamura). Apotropaic figures with associated features.
1. Drawing after Richards in Black and Green (1992:65).
2. The identification of the lahmu figure is controversial; it names both a cosmogonic deity and one of Tiamat’s creatures (Wiggermann 1992:155–156), and may also represent an apkallu sage (Ellis 1995:165; Russell 1991:184, fn. 27).
3. In register 2, ugallu, kusarikku and kulullu are portrayed.

The scorpion-man (Girtablullu), the Kusarikku-bison, and the Ugallu-demon, who all fight in the army of Tiamat in the Epic of Creation, were attributed to the category of Apkallu by ORNAN (1993: 56) on a misunderstanding of GREEN (1984: 83).

The confusion may have validity in some contexts, since sages are said to guard the Tablet of Destinies for Nabu, a modification of a theme from the Epic of Creation. Possible links are mentioned under individual phenotypes above.

Umu-apkallu are portrayed in the top register, tending to a sacred tree.  In the lower register avian-headed apkallu use mullilu cones and banduddu buckets to bless the sacred tree.  John Malcolm Russell, The Writing on the Wall: Studies in the Architectural Context of Late Assyrian Palace Inscriptions, Eisenbrauns, 1999.

Umu-apkallu are portrayed in the top register, tending to a sacred tree.
In the lower register avian-headed apkallu use mullilu cones and banduddu buckets to bless the sacred tree.
John Malcolm Russell, The Writing on the Wall: Studies in the Architectural Context of Late Assyrian Palace Inscriptions, Eisenbrauns, 1999.

Stephanie Dalley, “Apkallu,” Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East (IDD), Swiss National Science Foundation, University of Zurich, 2011 (text updated 2011 and illustrations updated 2007), p. 4/7.

Kvanvig: Adapa Breaks the Wing of the South Wind

“Izre’el thus finds a structural level in the myth deeper than concerns about the figure of Adapa and his relationship to wisdom, language, and magic, and further, his role as the primary apkallu and patron of the magicians. In this deep level the myth symbolizes all humanity on their way to insight and maturity.

We will not object to the possibility of reading myths in this way. In this deeper level we see traits that combine myths with quite different plots in levels higher up in the structural hierarchy. We see a resemblance with Gilgamesh in his quest for eternal life, and not least, as Izre’el several places calls attention to, we see interesting parallels with biblical Genesis 2-3, humans initiated in wisdom, but denied eternal life.

This design is perplexing. I am uncertain whether it depicts a human apkallū, an ummanu, or, as earlier analysts determined, 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.  The rosette design in the large ring appears elsewhere in Neo-Assyrian symbolism, though its significance is undetermined.  The wings on the figure are typical of an apkallu.  The fact that the 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, 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

This design is perplexing. I am uncertain whether it depicts a human apkallū, an ummanu, or, as earlier analysts determined, 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.
The rosette design in the large ring appears elsewhere in Neo-Assyrian symbolism, though its significance is undetermined.
The wings on the figure are typical of an apkallu.
The fact that the 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, 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

What we do not see, however, is how the myth according to its plots has functioned in its history in Mesopotamian society. Izre’el is totally aware of this, hence the concluding remark of his book:

“As I have emphasized in the introduction to this chapter, I have limited the focus of this book to the speculative aspects of the myth. Tempting as it may be, an investigation of the implications of the fragments A and D for the study of the social aspects of Mesopotamian mythology must be left for the future.”

There is one more aspect implied in Izre’el’s analysis: although he clearly sees that the different fragments preserved from the myth are not broken pieces of the same composition, but fragments belonging to difference recensions or versions, he treats them synchronic.

He reads all the Neo-Assyrian fragments in the light of the Amarna fragment B. To some extent, he is right in the way that we often see the links from one fragment to another. When we do not see the links clearly because the tablet is broken, we cannot therefore assume that the fragments represent different versions of the story.

This water basin carved from a solid block of basalt was found in Nineveh near the temple of Ishtar. It is decorated with reliefs of apkallu – puradu-fish antediluvian sages.  (Pergamon Museum, Berlin)

 http://www.arcalog.com/image-library/museums/assyria/sennacherib/

This water basin carved from a solid block of basalt was found in Nineveh near the temple of Ishtar. It is decorated with reliefs of apkallu – puradu-fish antediluvian sages.
(Pergamon Museum, Berlin)


http://www.arcalog.com/image-library/museums/assyria/sennacherib/

We think that this is the case with the reference to magic extant in Nineveh fragment D, but missing in the extant part of the older Armana fragment B. The Old Babylonian Sumerian version has a reference to magic similar to the one found in the Nineveh text. A. Cavigneaux has also called attention to the fact that the tablets were found at Tell Haddad in a room together with a series of magical compositions.

(A. Cavigneaux, “A Scholar’s Library in Meturan?” in Mesopotamian Magic: Textual, Historical and Interpretative Aspects, ed. T. Abusch and K. van der Toorn. Groningen 1999, 253-76, 256.)

As a whole the Sumerian version closely follows what can be read out of the combination of the Amarna and Nineveh tablets: Adapa goes out on his boat to catch fish; his boat overturns; and in his anger he breaks the South Wind’s wings.

Then he is summoned by An to heaven to be judged and punished, but thanks to Enki’s advices and the benevolent aid of Dumuzi and Ningizzida, he manages to be received by An as a guest, not as a culprit, but he will not be able to enjoy eternal life.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 120-1.

Kvanvig: Discrepancies Between the Lists

“The Sumerian concept of me, “cosmic ordinances,” has a wide range of meanings connected to culture and human conditions. The myth Inanna and Enki has a list which gives good illustration of what is regarded as me: human relations, cultural relations, political relations, occupations, sciences, crafts, arts, deeds, etc. —in short, all the human characteristics that are connected to civilized life.

(Cf. also W. van Binsbergen and F. Wiggermann, “Magic in History: A Theoretical Perspective, and Its Application to Ancient Mesopotamia,” in Mesopotamian Magic: Textual, Historical, and Interpretative Perspectives, ed. T. Busch and K. van der Toorn, AMD, Groningen 1999, 3-34, 20-25.)

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, which he overpowered when he defeated Tiamat, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods.<br />  In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat's (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).<br />  This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk's serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur.<br />  Marduk's robe depicts the heavenly night sky with all its stars.<br />  I believe that the large circular medallions hanging from Marduk's neck are among the few portrayals of the me, the tablets of destinies, in all Assyrian art.<br />  Marduk was also called "the son of the Sun," "the Sun" and "bull-calf of the Sun" (Babylonian amar-utu).<br />  http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, which he overpowered when he defeated Tiamat, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods.
In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat’s (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).
This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk’s serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur.
Marduk’s robe depicts the heavenly night sky with all its stars.
I believe that the large circular medallions hanging from Marduk’s neck are among the few portrayals of the me, the tablets of destinies, in all Assyrian art.
Marduk was also called “the son of the Sun,” “the Sun” and “bull-calf of the Sun” (Babylonian amar-utu).
http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

These royal names seem to have been reinterpreted in the apkallu-lists: en-me-du-ga, “Lord of the good me;” en-me-galamma, “Lord who perfects me;” en-me-bulùg-gá, “Lord who refines me.”

(Cf. F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, vol. 1, CM. Groningen, 1992, 77.)

We will return to the names of the significant first and seventh sage in our discussion of Bīt Mēseri below.

The Uruk tablet contains two successive lists: first, the one of the seven apkallus; then, after a clear transition, a new list of ten scholars.

The new list of ten starts with the apkallu Nungalpiriggal who operated during the reign of Enmerkar. We have a similar division into two lists in Bīt Mēseri as well. There we find first a list of seven and then a list of four.

Also in Bīt Mēseri, Nungalpiriggal, operating under Enmerkar, is the first apkallu in the new list. There is a lacuna in the introduction to the second list on the Uruk tablet. Van Dijk restores here “after the flood,” but considers also the possibility “in Uruk,” since Enmerkar was king in Uruk.

The first restoration seems most likely, since the Uruk tablet does not mention cities in any other place. The notice of the flood belongs to the style of the Antediluvian King List, which the Uruk tablet is part of.

It is interesting to notice that also Berossos seems to have started the list of postdiluvian kings with Enmerkar, with the introduction, “after the flood.” Thus, there seems to be a stable tradition in these lists of scholars to start the postdiluvian period with the apkallu operating under Enmerkar, king of Uruk.

This is quite interesting, since it is in opposition to the order of the Sumerian King List, which starts with the dynasty of Kish, and lists Uruk as the second dynasty. Bīt Mēseri indeed includes Kish, but only after Uruk.

The Uruk tablet does not mention Kish, but continues with Gilgamesh as king, who according to the King List ruled in Uruk as well. The reason for this must be that the list of apkallus is generated according to the significance of the sages and only secondarily merged with the King List.

There is a clear division in rank between the scholars of the two lists, although this is expressed differently in Bīt Mēseri and the Uruk tablet. We concentrate first on the Uruk text. All the first seven in the Uruk tablet are designated apkallu, which is the highest honorary title for a wise man, “sage, expert.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 110-1.

Lenzi: On the apkallū–ummânū Association

“There are of course quite early precedents for king lists, antediluvian or otherwise; there are also several earlier examples of kings being listed with their chief scholarly advisor (see the overview in A. Kirk Greyson, “Königslisten und Chroniken,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie 6 (1980) 86-135).

But there is nothing that traces the royal scholars back through antediluvian times to the apkallū as clearly as does the ULKS. We need not require the evidence for the earlier viability of this tradition, however, to conform to this explicit and systematic presentation of the “mythology of scribal succession.”

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.  The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities. The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.
The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities. The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.

Our list’s formulation of the genealogical tradition should not be made the measure of its earlier existence. As others have done, we shall use one of the most basic features of the ULKS as our guide into earlier material: the close association between mythical apkallū and their human counterparts.

Finding this concept as well as hints of succession between the two groups in earlier cuneiform material gives us good reason to believe the “mythology of scribal succession” existed at an earlier time.

(The novel contribution here is to highlight two new evidential ideas, in Bīt mēseri and in “Advice to a Prince,” and to respond to an important objection raised by Seth Sanders, “Writing, Ritual, and Apocalypse: Studies in the Theme of Ascent to Heaven in Ancient Mesopotamia and Second Temple Judaism” (Ph.D. Dissertation, The Johns Hopkins University, 1999), 125, 144-45.

Many scholars treating the subject of scholarly genealogy often appeal to the Enmeduranki text (e.g., Beaulieu, “The Social and Intellectual Setting of Babylonian Wisdom Literature,” 15 and Rochberg, Heavenly Writing, 183-184; see W. G. Lambert, “The Qualifications of Babylonian Diviners,” in Festschrift für Rykle Borger zu seinem 65. Geburtstag am 24. Mai 1994: Tikip santakki mala bašmu . . ., ed. Stefan M. Maul; Cuneiform Monographs 10 [Groningen: Styx, 1998], 141-58 for an edition of this text).

Purādu-fish apkallū were antediluvian sages, the famous Seven Sages of Sumeria were purādu-fish.  The genotype is also attested in Berossus, as the form of the mentor of mankind, Oannes.

Purādu-fish apkallū were antediluvian sages, the famous Seven Sages of Sumeria were purādu-fish.
The genotype is also attested in Berossus, as the form of the mentor of mankind, Oannes.

Although that tradition is clearly related to the issue of antediluvian knowledge and its transmission to scholars, its formulation is a minority view that places an antediluvian king at the center of mediation to scholars rather than the antediluvian apkallū (see my Secrecy and the Gods, 122-127, which also shows the relevance of LKA 147 and its unique formulation of the issue). This tradition will not factor into the discussion below.)

The list of apkallū in an incantation belonging to the apotropaic series Bīt mēseri is sometimes cited as evidence for the connection between sages and scholars before the Seleucid era.

(See, e.g., Parpola, Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars, XVIII.) This text names the same seven apkallū as the ULKS, but here they are given an ichthyological (fish-like) description. (This recalls Berossus’ description of the sages.)

Tablet III 10-13 reads:

“They are the seven brilliant purādu-fish, purādu-fish from the sea, the seven sages, who were created in the river,

who ensure the correct execution of the plans of heaven and earth.”

The text continues with a list of four human apkallū, Nungalpirigal, Pirigalnungal, Pirigalabzu, and Lu-Nana, who are then described in lines 28-29 of the same tablet as:

Four sages of human descent, whom Ea,
the lord, perfected with wide understanding.

The presence of these four humans in this text, even though called apkallū, suggests several points of similarity with the ULKS that advance our understanding of the apkallūummânū association.

(The artificiality of the first three names in this list has been noted repeatedly in the literature; the pirig– element is probably related to the u4-element in some of the antediluvian sages’ names.

On these names, see, e.g., W. W. Hallo, “On the Antiquity of Sumerian Literature,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 83 (1963), 167-76, here 175; Sanders, “Writing, Ritual, and Apocalypse,” 117; and Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, 74 (each citing nearly the same earlier secondary literature).

In the present context, however, I will limit my comments to a textual feature that others have noted but not utilized as evidence for understanding the apkallūummânū tradition; namely, unlike the seven non-human sages, the four human sages in Bīt mēseri have no place in the ritual instructions associated with this incantation.”

Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian ScholarshipJANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 143-5.

Nakamura: Magic Enchants Us with the Possible Made Real

Conclusion

“An obscure memory of cosmic perturbations in the distant past and the dim thought of future catastrophes form the very basis of human thought, speech and images.”

M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World

“This obscure memory and dim thought of humankind vividly inhabited Neo-Assyrian mythologies, religious values, and social practices.

In Mesopotamian thought, dichotomies did not provide a fundamental way of organizing experience. Rational thought was neither dominant nor lacking in their system of knowledge; the medical use of plants, social ordinances and laws, city planning, and other cultural forms certainly exhibited strains of deductive reasoning.

But Mesopotamian thought also embraced the various shadows, symmetries, torsions, syncopations, ruptures, and reversals that punctuate the rich texture of human experience.

Two Kusarikku, or "bull-men," holding a sacred palm tree surmounted by the eight-pointed star of Ištar.  Note the horned headdresses, indicative of divinity.  From Eshnunna (Tell Asmar near Baghdad,Iraq). Early 2nd millennium BCE. Louvre, AO 12446

Two Kusarikku, or “bull-men,” holding a sacred palm tree surmounted by the eight-pointed star of Ištar.
Note the horned headdresses, indicative of divinity.
From Eshnunna (Tell Asmar near Baghdad,Iraq). Early 2nd millennium BCE.
Louvre, AO 12446

Magic traces a mode of thinking that is layered, reticular, and corporeal, rather than linear and abstract, and this mode provided the ground for Mesopotamian social and religious life in both its logical and sensory depth. Magic, then and now, enchants us not with the truth, but with the possible made real.

Neo-Assyrian magical figurine work conjures and materializes a primordial secret: if apotropaic magic names that which wards off and turns away evil, then evil is nothing other than the insidious reality that humans themselves create their own creators and make their own world.

But the exposure of this secret, which would seem to threaten the very dissolution of the religious belief and tradition at the core of Assyrian social life, instead serves to preserve these beliefs and traditions (cf. Taussig 1999).

In this way, the apotropaic device recalls that perverse disposition of the supplement: “a terrifying menace, the supplement is also the first and surest protection against that very menace” (Derrida 1974:153).

A pantheon.

A pantheon.

Figurine deposits secure the protection of the present by giving a future to the mythological past, a past in which the gods and spirits ground the condition for human social life.

This mimetic production does not reproduce the same, but discloses a new life through the figures of repetition, transfiguration, and burial; as such, it constitutes the processual enactment of a memorial gesture whereby a particular Neo-Assyrian mythohistory preserves its future in the material memory of itself.

The gods and spirits, like the dead, become our guardians, “we give them a future so that they may give us a past. We help them live on so they may help us go forward” (Harrison 2003:158).

As an art of doing, magic capitalizes on this strife between meaning and matter, life and death, past and future, and in it, grounds the authority of a desired social order.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 38-9.

Nakamura: Magic as Mimesis in Mesopotamia

“Merleau-Ponty’s (1968) notion of intertwining or chiasm between interior and exterior experience might provide a helpful ontological frame here.

This bare movement of perception posits the emergence of various social worlds from the sensuous interchange between interior and exterior phenomena, namely, nodes of self-organization (perception) and the “chaos” of indeterminacy (being).

There exists a necessary separation and continuum between the former and the latter as the very condition for perception, such that perceptual faith becomes a “strange attractor in the circulation of sense, in the interweaving of perceptual and material systems” (Mazis 1999:233).

And Merleau-Ponty (1968) conceives of the bare notion of flesh as providing the substrate or condition for this movement. Flesh posits a world of indeterminate being connected by an essential openness to becoming completed by the world, things, others, qualities and interrelations (Grosz 1999:151).

Such transactions are never “completed” per se, but rather engage in continuous exchange, in an ongoing process of becoming. This unity, therefore, conditions perception as “a communication or communion, the taking up or completion by us of some extraneous intention or, . . . the complete expression outside ourselves of our perceptual powers and coition, so to speak, of our body with things” (Merleau-Ponty 1962).

The notion of an original unity seems to inhabit a Mesopotamian worldview in which dreams, visions, abnormal events, internal organs, and entrails provided an “empirical” basis for reality. In this reality, interior events and natural and social phenomena were intimately and specifically related.

One could argue that this worldview maintained a certain interpenetration or continuity between the interiority of the mind and the exteriority of the world. This notion is supported in the polysemic and polyphonic character of the Mesopotamian writing systems.

According to Asher-Grève and Asher (1998:39), the Sumerian language and vocabulary offers no evidence for the radical bifurcation of mind and body that is so fundamental to Western intellectual thought.

They find support for this notion in the Sumerian word, Šà, a holistic term that denotes the mind, body, and heart; the body and heart are the seat of the will, “it thinks, feels, has power over the limbs and is open to the influence of the deities” (1998:39).

Moreover, they see the body as providing a fundamental point of reference in early Mesopotamia; Sumerians see the body as the total being, confirmed by the absence of a distinct Sumerian word for brain/mind (1998:40).

In later times, ancient scribes and scholars exploited the flexibility of the Akkadian language evidenced in plays and puns on words (see Alster 2002). It is notable that the formation and development of the cuneiform script (created by Mesopotamians for Sumerian and adapted also to Akkadian), always allowed for a number of permutations and ambiguities to intervene, on the level of things indicated as well as on the level of signifying words (Bottéro 1992:94).

This capacity for linguistic signs and phonemes to hold multiple and freely interchangeable values reveals an indeterminacy built into what Bottéro calls the concrete and polysemic character of a “script of things” (Bottéro 1992:100). In other words, linguistic thought also supports a material logic of correspondence.

Although Mesopotamians certainly made distinctions between various concrete and intangible phenomena — the supernatural and natural worlds were connected through a notion of divinity, but were not seen as the same — perhaps it was the potential for their connection or conflation that was significant in the context of magic.

The reorientation of classical mind–matter, subject–object divisions within a relation of continuity and mutual implication sets up an ontological frame that might better approach an ancient Neo-Assyrian worldview (following Meskell 1999; 2002; 2004).

Such a frame not only situates magic in a pre-discursive world of relations, but also grounds it in an aesthetics that discloses a powerful process of enacting correspondence.

It should come as no surprise, then, to find mimetic work as a principle technique of magic, since the recovery of the world in its pre-differentiated unity provides the condition for the mimetic process of getting into the skin of an other (cf. Taussig 1993), that way of making which is the occasion of magic.

If this unity becomes obscured by the habitual, purifying movements of social process, then magic seeks its recovery in secrecy, through the concrete work of mimesis.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 26-7.

Nakamura: Magic Produces Wonder

The Sensuous Metaphysics of Magic: Mutual Constitution and Correspondence

“The representation of a wish is, eo ipso, the representation of its fulfillment. Magic, however, brings a wish to life; it manifests a wish.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough (Miles and Rhees 1971)

“Implicit in Wittgenstein’s aphorism that magic “manifests a wish” is the notion that magic requires concrete demonstration: the fulfillment of the wish made real.

At first glance, magic as both the manifestation of a wish and its fulfillment seems to pose a contradiction in this act of making real. But magic is an exchange that seeks synthesis, and such exchange, “as in any other form of communication, surmounts the contradiction inherent in it” (Levi-Strauss 1987:58).

Mikhail Bakhtin (1984) surmised, “to be means to communicate” (287). And the movement of such exchange presumes a sensuous intimacy between the outside world and ourselves: “to be means to be for another, and through the other, for oneself. A person has no internal sovereign territory, he is wholly and always on the boundary; looking inside himself, he looks into the eyes of another or with the eyes of another” (Bakhtin 1984:287).

This is the human orientation of being amidst the constant flux of the world that provokes our fear as much as desire, and discloses the condition for a way of knowing directly and sensuously.

Giambattista Vico (1999[1744] ), a forward-thinking but marginalized philosopher of his time, implicated bodily sense in a critique of the Cartesian principle of Cogito; in response to the reductive logic of geometric certainty, he formulated the axiom: man can only know what he himself has made — “verum et factum convertuntur” — and to make is to transform oneself by becoming other (Vico 1999[1744]:160).

The implication of this premise posits that human knowledge cannot be exhausted by rationality; it is also sensory and imaginative. Although Vico’s project poses three progressive historical eras of man: the first ruled by the senses, the second by imagination, and the third by reflective reason, we now recognize that all three modalities of knowledge exist throughout human history albeit at different scales and intensities.

From this perspective, magic, which embraces bodily imitation and play, is better viewed as a poetic reinterpretation of the concrete reality of human action rather than the discovery of an objective reality that presumes to regulate it (Böhm 1995:117).

Indeed it is our sensory faculties and not our rational faculties that better apprehend certain complexities of the magical realm: we know when we feel.

In encounters with magic, we apprehend the apparent trickery of bodies, substances, and things. Our reaction to such events often betrays delight, horror, fear, disgust, attraction, and fascination simultaneously, and such disorientation is desired.

Magic produces wonder, and in doing so returns us to a state of apprehending the world that short-circuits those automatic processes of intellection that discipline the senses. And wonder is central to a mode of understanding that is “capable of grasping what, in ourselves and in others precedes and exceeds reason” (Pettigrew 1999:66).

Bodily sense is key here, since it can know something more than words express. The “trick” of magic, then, lies in attaining the unknown by disorganizing all the senses; in effect, it acts to deregulate relationships that are rigorously regulated by normative cultural forms.

The aesthetic experience of magic seeks the recovery of correspondences between people, things, and places in their pre-differentiated unity, a unity that becomes obscured through “habitual modes of perception” (Harrison 1993:180).

In this way, magic aims at the perceptual movements that continually render meaning rather than at meaning itself. In this intercalary register of experience, magic presumes a certain direct engagement with the world; specifically, it recalls a pre-differentiated world as an open possibility of interrelations constantly in flux.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 24-6.

Nakamura–Rimbaud’s Derangement of All the Senses, Magic, and Archeology

“Curiously, archaeological research has not fully exploited the evocative cooperation between text, iconography, material, and deposition in this apotropaic practice. Rather, it has been the art historical and Assyriological traditions that have provided the most thorough deliberations on the ritual.

Iconographic analyses present detailed visual descriptions of the figurines (Klengel-Brandt 1968; Rittig 1977; Van Buren 1931), and trace out a visual typology of apotropaic images (Green 1993; Wiggermann 1993), while textual analysis investigates the symbolic logic of apotropaic prescription and the mythological identities of the figures (Wiggermann 1992).

Two long-awaited volumes no doubt will provide further analyses of particular site assemblages (Green forthcoming) and the apotropaic figurines in general (Ellis forthcoming). Despite the richness of textual and archaeological data, an anthropological perspective is distinctly lacking; however, such research would considerably enrich our views of this remarkable ancient practice.

Regrettably, studies of previously excavated materials have not exploited the diverse range of approaches afforded by modern social sciences. While previously excavated sites and materials admittedly do not often lend themselves to the analytical and interpretive techniques most favored by archaeologists, such data should not be omitted from modern reconsideration and inquiry simply because they present a special challenge for substantive interpretation (see Meskell 1999).

There is, in fact, adequate data to perform detailed contextual and spatial analyses of the apotropaic practice at certain Neo-Assyrian sites. Furthermore, I would argue that conventional interpretations in archaeology — still oriented toward explanation and meaning — fail to get at the most compelling aspects of ancient magic, exactly that which makes it magical.

Magic surely presents something beyond the reach of representational or functional interpretations and thus demands a different perspective. What is required is an evocation of magic that aims directly at the caesura between meaning and matter and delves into the shadowy processes of materializing experience, belief, and value.

Perhaps it is not surprising that archaeology, with only material traces of human activity to work with, has left the critical study of magic to other disciplines. It is revealing that “magic” is generally invoked as an explanation for those slippery things, processes, and occurrences that our rational and linguistic varieties of logic can’t quite master.

From this vantage, magic has become something more suitable for explaining than for being explained. But as Mauss (1972) decisively observed in A General Theory of Magic, magic is as much a way of doing as a way of thinking.

We should consider, then, not a logic but an aesthetics of magical practice, as a particular way of making sense (Gosden 2001). And this way of doing engages a radical materiality that not only enacts the mutual constitution of subjects and objects, but provides the condition for such discursive practices.

A consideration of materiality vis-à-vis magic, then, does not presume and continue the anthropological pursuit of finding meaning in matter, the well-rehearsed terrain of discovering how various cultures construct and inscribe meaning in their artifacts.

What is magical or forceful in certain artifacts evades such fixed and flattened analyses since processes of abstraction do not account for the “untranscended materiality” or “plastic power” of the object that derives from the thing’s materialness itself (Pels 1998:101).

Impoverished attempts to discover the meaning or social context of a magical artifact, as it were, fall short not only because of an opacity of things, but also because our habituated ways of apprehending and constructing meaning threaten a veritable non-recognition of the things themselves.

This purifying analytical gaze effectively eviscerates matter of its very materiality — its innate capacity to continuously engage and enter into new relations. But recovering a recognition of things simply requires embracing the thingness of matter, namely, that insistent sensuousness of things that compels a confrontation with humans.

This move does not return us to problematic theories of materialism, but rather engages a notion of materiality as a dialectic and supplemental aesthetic of relating to.

Humans mime the animate in the inanimate, and the ideal in the real, to create and transform the world around them, only to be created and transformed right back. Such is the reality of matter: it “strikes back” (Pels 1998:91).

Within this framework I suggest that apotropaic figurine magic encompasses a process that enacts both a distinct mode of perception and a material event that renders a protected reality.

This discussion converges specifically on two aspects of magic: first, how magic capitalizes on a tension between the social construction of meaning and the radical autonomy of matter, and second, how magical perception, in the way of poetic action, masters the unknown by recovering and performing a “derangement of all the senses.” (Rimbaud 1967:302 and Deleuze 1993).

From such a viewpoint, Mesopotamian magic neither constitutes nor opposes a “rational” mode of knowing the world, but rather moves alongside in tandem, as counterpoint in a polyphonic system of knowledge. From this perspective, magic engages a sensuous metaphysics and grounds the possibility of a distinct socio-religious worldview.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 19-22.

Ibn Wahshiyya in Historical Context

“The magic as displayed in Filāha coincides with the common Near Eastern patterns and is in this sense genuine: whether the exact procedures were used by the pagan population —either in the tenth century or earlier, if we agree with Fahd—is another question.

The Aramaic prayers would perhaps seem genuine, but when strongly Neoplatonic formulae occur in the invocations, one may doubt whether the peasants indeed used these prayers. It may be that the material is partly descriptive, describing the religious practices of the rural population, partly prescriptive, i.e. composed by the author, following pre-existing patterns, to invent new formulae.

It may strike many as surprising that there could have been rites like burnt offerings to Zuhal in the countryside, sqwād, of Iraq until the tenth century —if we accept a late date for the Nabatean corpus— but the evidence from Harrān makes this not unprecedented, and the magical procedures throughout history have always retained archaic religious material.

Likewise, the mere existence of Mandaeans shows the tolerance of Islam towards ultimately pagan religions. Had someone translated the Mandaean books into Arabic in the tenth century and circulated them outside the community, the texts would have been just as incongruent with the surrounding Islamic society as the books of the Nabatean corpus.

As the main texts of the Nabatean corpus purport to be translations of old manuscripts, the dating of the religious material in them, if it mirrors real procedures, is of course problematic. But in some cases, like when speaking about the lamentations over Tammūz, Ibn Wahshiyya speaks as himself, adding a translator’s note to the main text.

Thus, at least the pagan rites described in these passages were being performed in the early tenth century.

Although ignored by compilers of biographical dictionaries, Ibn Wahshiyya was much respected by those interested in magic, esoterica and the Nabatean or Sabian inheritance.

Not only was his main work, Filāha, excerpted by persons such as the author of the Arabic Picatrix (Ghāyat al-hakīm) ([pseudo]-al-Majrītī) and later writers of agricultural works —the latter, though, usually showed little interest for the religious and magical material in the work— but he was also profusely used by Maimonides in his Dalāla, from which source, together with Picatrix, the magic of the Nabateans and the Chaldaeans was transmitted into European languages.

Thus, through Ibn Wahshiyya, the magic of the Nabateans diffused throughout the civilized world, and Ibn Wahshiyya became an important link in the world history of magic and esoterica.”

Jaakko Hāmeem-Anttila, “Ibn Wahshiyya and Magic,” Anaquel de Estudios Árabes X, 1999, pp. 47-8.

More on Ibn Wahshiyyah and Magic

“The magic of Ibn Washiyya consists of invocations to astral deities, magical recipes and forms of action. Most of the invocations are given only in Arabic, but a minority is also provided with the supposed Aramaic original.

The text of these is heavily corrupted, as far as the manuscripts are concerned, but in the original the Aramaic may well have been flawless; in any case, several Aramaic words and expressions may still be recognized.

The Arabic script and the inability of the later copyists to understand the foreign words make a mess of the text, as we know also happened to the romance kharjas, which were definitely originally composed by poets who knew, at least to some extent, the language they used.

The Nabatean corpus contains very many invocations to astral deities, often in connection with magical preparations. The Filāha provides a very forceful invocation to Zuhal, Saturn, in the beginning of the text (pp. 10-11).

One may draw attention to the association between Zuhal and black objects, animals, stones and plants (Filāha, p. 12), which is typical of chthonic deities, the planet Zuhal retaining his older chthonic connotations; throughout the book he is considered the god of agriculture.

The burning of fourteen black bats and an equal amount of rats —black ones I suppose— before praying to Zuhal over their ashes is to be seen as a magical preparation for an invocation for apotropaic reasons, to avoid the destructive and nefarious power of the deity.

As a Muslim, Ibn Wahshiyya naturally has to keep his distance from this prayer, but as he claims to be translating an old text, the discrepancy between his Islamic religion and the text’s paganism does not surface. On the other hand, he, as himself, the translator, vouches for the efficacy of similar prayers in many cases.

In Sumūm, fol. 22a, he comments on the language of a prayer, Aramaic in the original, and says that the prayer may also be read in his Arabic translation. In this case, one can hardly avoid the conclusion that Ibn Wahshiyya himself believes in the power of the prayer, thus actually compromising himself.

Yet in the tenth-century Būyid Iraq this was not an issue. This leads us to the question of the religious worldview of the author. In some earlier studies, the supposed piety of Ibn Wahshiyya, called a Sufi in, e.g., his Kitāb Asrār al-falak, fol. 87b, has been contrasted with the paganism of Filāha.

In a sense, the question has been wrongly posed: Ibn Wahshiyya is definitely not an orthodox Sunni scholar, but a narrow definition of Islam as Sunni orthodoxy certainly distorts the picture.

The tenth century was full of esoteric speculation, syncretism and doctrines far from the hadīth-oriented religion of the ‘ulamā’, and much of this took an Islamic garb and often especially a Sufi cloak; we are speaking of the time when al-Hallāj was executed (309/922), either for his wild utterances or, perhaps more probably, for some court intrigues.

Being a Sufi did not automatically certify orthodox beliefs. — In fact, the topic should be properly studied; in some passages of Filāha (esp. pp. 256-262), both the  supposed author and Ibn Wahshiyya, the translator, are very outspoken in their verdict against ascetism and Sufism.”

Jaakko Hāmeem-Anttila, “Ibn Wahshiyya and Magic,” Anaquel de Estudios Árabes X, 1999, pp. 44-6.

Ibn Wahshiyya and Black Magic

“Magic has a prominent role in the Nabatean corpus, especially in Filāha and Sumūm. Following the theme of the present conference, I would like to make some comments on the relation of Ibn Wahshiyya to magic.

First of all, it should be clear that there was no ban against such material in the early tenth century. Magic, and especially its practice, was not perhaps looked on benevolently by Ihe ‘ulamā’, but in the Shiite Iraq governed by the Būyids there was not much possibility for the Sunni ‘ulamā’ to react against those interested in magic, occult sciences and esoterica.

On the other hand, the open paganism and polytheism of much of Ihe material in Filāha and the other Nabatean books would make it necessary for the author to keep his distance from the material. In Ibn Wahshiyyas’ case this presented no great problem, since he purported only to translate, not to compose the material, and the open paganism of the text could always be labelled as merely vestiges of ancient paganism.

In fact, the translator often adds clearly and strongly monotheistic notes to the text (see esp. Filāha, pp. 405-406), thus safeguarding himself from any accusations of an over close identification with the polytheistic, Nabatean system.

Ibn Wahshiyya is also very careful, especially in Filāha, to keep his distance from black magic. In his toxicological work Sumūm, a more controversial book by its very nature, he is not so prudent. He also often refuses to speak of harmful uses of a plant (e.g. Filāha, p. 184, II. 6-7) and apologizes for speaking about poisons in Sumūm, fol. 5a. This recurrent motif shows that Ibn Wahshiyya was aware of the negative response his works might attract.

For Ibn Wahshiyya, magic is a real operative force in the universe. His world view is, generally speaking, Neoplatonic, and the cult he is describing is astral, which brings with it the idea of a correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm as well as other correspondences between different phenomena.

The thoroughly magical worldview of Ibn Wahshiyya is seen in the strong magical element in Filāha, a work dealing with agriculture. In this, Filāha resembles, and has perhaps been influenced by, similar Greek works, especially the book of Bōlos Dēmokritos, where magic, agriculture and folklore are found side by side—On the other hand, one should not forget the sober and often experimental attitude of Ibn Wahshiyya towards agriculture in general: he is not an obscurantist trading with talismans and amulets, but a learned and perspicacious observer.

The Nabatean books make a clear difference between black and white magic; the former harmed people, the latter protected them. In Filāha, lbn Wahshiyya constantly avoids black magic (see e.g. pp. 383-384), although he does refer, in the words of the purported authors of the Aramaic original, to passages in the original sources which belonged to black magic (e.g. p. 477, by Sughrīth). The same prudence may also be seen in his other texts, although he does give some examples of black magic, especially in Sumūm.

In Filāha, the supposed Aramaic author claims ignorance of magic (p. 147: wa- ‘ilmu s-sihri ‘ilmun lam a ‘rid lahu wa-lā uhibbu an atakallama bimā lā ‘ilma lī bihi). In Sumūm, black magic is somewhat more prominent. Some of the poisons described in the work belong to the sphere of black magic more than to toxicology. One of these magical operations is the grotesque recipe for creating an animal, whose sight kills. Much abbreviated the recipe goes as follows:

One takes a young, monocoloured cow, sprinkles it with human blood, has sexual intercourse with it and inserts a special dough into its vagina. Finally one anoints its vagina with ox blood. The cow is kept in a dark stall and fed with a spec¡al diet. When it gives birth, the born monster, which is described in detail, is sprinkled with another powder. Seven days after its birth, it is ready to kill by sight when it smells a wad of cotton soaked with wine and becomes upset.

The creation of a calf, although in not so colourful a fashion, is well known from early Jewish mysticism. In Filāha, p. 1318, there is also a mention of ‘Ankabūthā, the chief magician, creating an anthropoid which reminds one of the Golem tradition in Kabbalistic literature.”

Jaakko Hāmeem-Anttila, “Ibn Wahshiyya and Magic,” Anaquel de Estudios Árabes X, 1999, pp. 43-4.

On Ibn Wahshiyya

“However, it is not my intention to focus on the authenticity of the material in the present context, but to draw attention to the character of Ibn Wahshiyya himself. Even the authorship and existence of Ibn Wahshiyya have been doubted, but with little evidence other than the fact that he is not mentioned in the standard biographical dictionaries.

Yet he is mentioned as the translator of the works of the Nabatean corpus in an-Nadim’s Fihrist—albeit as a little known person—and there are no cogent arguments for claiming him to be a pseudonym for Ibn az-Zayyāt, his student, as has been done by, among others, Theodor Nöldeke (see below). —

The biographical dictionaries are very much Islamic and urban in character, and thus it is no wonder that a parochial author of works of pagan lore is absent from all major compilations.

More fruitful than joining the discussion concerning the authenticity of the íexts and the identity of lbn Wahshiyya would be to start by studying the stand of this person, «Ibn Wahshiyya» (in the following without quotation marks), and his attitude towards the material he is transmitting.

As the date of lbn Wahshiyya can be rather firmly fixed to the early tenth century, we may start with a comment on the general atmosphere of the period. When it comes to the interest of Ibn Wahshiyya in the occult sciences and ancient lore, one might draw attention to the many pseudepigraphical texts which we know from the same period and which also purport to be either translations or transcripts of long-forgotten texts, such as the highly interesting Daniel Apocalypse or the Prophecies of Bābā.

We might also mention the Ismaili movement which was born at about the same time (discounting the traditional narrative of its origin, I find more probable to date it to the time after the minor occultation). The early Ismailis were very much interested in esoteric lore, as can be seen in the collection of the Letters (Rasā’il) of the Brethren of Purity who, if not Ismailis themselves, had close relations with them.

The interest in Sabian, the last remnants of pagans in Harrān and elsewhere, was also growing in the times of Ibn Wahshiyya; in fact, the community he describes might well be labelled as «Babylonian Sabians», in contrast to both Harrānian Sabians and Mandaeans (the Sabians of al-Batā’ih), although the term Sabian is not often used in the works of Ibn Wahshiyya.

The doctrines of the Sabians of Harrān have received some attention both recently and in Mediaeval times: an-Nadim wrote profusely on them in his Fihrist and was able to quote from several, later lost works.

Their later offshoot in Baghdad, it might be mentioned in passing, is a problematic source for any real, living religious practices, as the Baghdadian Sabians were heavily influenced by Neoplatonic philosophy and seem to have freely developed the Harranian religion in the light of philosophical speculation.

This is the background against which we must consider the activities of Ibn Wahshiyya. Early tenth-century Iraq lived through an intensive period of wide interest in different religious phenomena, and especially in Neoplatonic speculations, and Muslim scholars with an indigenous background were eager to dig up the past legacy of their ancestors.

Ibn Wahshiyya himself often disavows ‘asabiyya «national pride» (see e.g. Filāha, p. 358; Sumūm, fols. 6b-7a) but his very refusal to see himself as a Nabatean nationalist shows the tenor of his work, which is remarkably pro-Nabatean.

Ibn Wahshiyya’s works remain unpublished with the exception of the recently edited al-Filāha an-Nabatiyya. Among his works which do not purport to be translations and which thus fall outside the Nabatean corpus, there are tractates on astrology and alchemy, but the Kitāb at-Tilismāt attributed to him is hardly genuine.”

Jaakko Hāmeem-Anttila, “Ibn Wahshiyya and Magic,” Anaquel de Estudios Árabes X, 1999, pp. 41-3.

Ibn Wayshiyya and Magic

“Magic has always had a role to play in Islamic society. Its use has often been condemned by religious scholars, yet the efficacy of magic has never been contested; the early tenth-century religious scholar al-Ash’arī (d. 324/936), to take but one example, wrote in his dogmatical work Ibána (p. 19): «(…) and we belíeve that there are magicians and magic in this world, and that magic is an existing entity in this world».

During the Middle Ages magic always kept this role not only among common people but also among the learned. In the tenth century the Brethren of Purity wrote extensively on magic in their Rasā’il (esp. IV:283- 335) and magical elements can easily be detected from a variety of sources, including the biography of the prophet Muhammad.

One of the learned authors who was very much interested in magic and esoterica was the early tenth-century Abū Bakr Ibn Wahshiyya (alive in 318/930), the author or translator of many «Nabatean» books, among them the famous al-Filāha an-Nabatiyya, «the Nabatean Agriculture>.

The Nabatean books (also called the Nabatean corpus in the following) of Ibn Wahshiyya claim to be translations from «ancient Syriac». Both the author and his book, mainly Filāha, have been controversial since the nineteenth century, when the corpus was first enthusiatically received in Europe as deriving from the ancient Babylonians, though subsequently exposed as a forgery.

There is no need to cover once again the history of the controversy, and it is enough to draw attention to the present situation. The majority of scholars have more or less ignored both Ibn Wahshiyya and his works, whereas a few, especially Toufic Fahd, have courageously but not always coherently defended the authenticity of Filāha, not as a remnant of ancient Babylonian literature but as an authentic Arabic translation of a fourth/fifth century AD pseudepigraphic Aramic text.

The other works of Ibn Wahshiyya have received extremely scant attention, despite their obvious importance as a source for the almost unknown rural and parochial life in Iraq.

Hiéroglyphe reproduits par Ibn Wahshiyyah, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Arabe 6805 folios 92b. ff http://www.esoblogs.net/6946/ibn-wahshiyya-et-la-magie-2/

Hiéroglyphe reproduits par Ibn Wahshiyyah, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Arabe 6805 folios 92b. ff
http://www.esoblogs.net/6946/ibn-wahshiyya-et-la-magie-2/

In the final analysis the question of the texts’ exact provenence must still be left open, though the lack of any signs of translation in the texts as well as the absence of similar genuine texts in Aramaic argues against their authenticity.

Nevertheless, we must make a difference between the works and their material. Whether the works of the Nabatean corpus are authentic or not, that is whether they indeed derive from complete books written in Syriac or some other form of Aramaic or not, there are features that speak in favour of the authenticity of (some of) the material in these books.

First, there are several prayers in Aramaic, in Arabic script, in, eg., Sumūm, which clearly sound Aramaic; their present corruption is most probably due to later copyists. Ibn Wahshiyya himself could hardly have composed these prayers, so they must have come to him in either written or oral form.

Second, the local setting is given accurately, which proves that Ibn Wahshiyya did know the area he was speaking about and thus there is nothing ínherently improbable in presuming that he had access to local traditions.

Third, and most importantly, much of the material has to be genuine as parallels can be found in Babylonian and Assyrian sources—I am referring to the Tammūz/Dumuzi description in particular—which proves that it cannot be a product of Muslim fiction but a report of practices in semipagan rural areas.

Some of these descriptions are more detailed and accurate in the works of Ibn Wahshiyya than in any of the other extant Muslim sources, which makes it improbable that Ibn Wahshiyya could have found them in the Arabic literature at his disposal.

Thus they must stem from a living tradition—although obviously an already dying one.”

Jaakko Hāmeem-Anttila, “Ibn Wahshiyya and Magic,” Anaquel de Estudios Árabes X, 1999, pp. 39-41.