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On the Mythic Reigns of Antediluvian Kings in Sumeria

“Of the many fascinating and instructive artifacts that have been recovered from sites in Iraq where flourishing Sumerian cities once stood, few have been more intriguing than a prism now in the Weld-Blundell collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. Known more popularly as the Sumerian King List, it is held to have been compiled from as many as fifteen different texts.

Among all the extant exemplars of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum cuneiform collection represents the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List. It lists rulers from the antediluvian dynasties to Suen-magir, the fourteenth ruler of the Isin dynasty (ca. 1763–1753 B.C.). The prism contains four sides with two columns on each side. Perforated, the prism must originally have a wooden spindle going through its centre so that it might be rotated and read on all four sides. http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=the_sumerian_king_list_sklid=the_sumerian_king_list_skl

Among all the extant exemplars of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum cuneiform collection represents the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List. It lists rulers from the antediluvian dynasties to Suen-magir, the fourteenth ruler of the Isin dynasty (ca. 1763–1753 B.C.). The prism contains four sides with two columns on each side. Perforated, the prism must originally have a wooden spindle going through its centre so that it might be rotated and read on all four sides.
http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=the_sumerian_king_list_sklid=the_sumerian_king_list_skl

The King List traces the rulers of certain Sumerian cities in succession and is of immense value because it contains some very old traditions while at the same time furnishing an important chronological framework for the antediluvian period of the Near East. The original form of the List is thought to have gone back to Utu-Hegal, king of Uruk, perhaps about 2000 BC, but who was certainly flourishing during the early stages of the celebrated Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2070-1960 BC).

The List commenced with an “antediluvian preamble”: “When kingship was lowered from heaven, it was in the city of Eridu.” After two kings had ruled over Eridu, kingship was transferred to Badtibira (usually identified with Tell Medain near Telloh), where the reigns of three kings were duly recorded in succession.

The antediluvian portion of the King List concluded with three rulers who reigned in Larak (possibly Tell el-Wilaya near Kut el-Imara), Sippar (the modern Abu Habba, twenty miles southwest of Baghdad), and Shuruppak (identified with Tell Fara, some forty miles southeast of Diwaniyah) respectively.

At this point the narrative broke off with the terse words: “the flood swept over (the earth).”

Thereafter the prism continued with the postdiluvian dynasties of Kish and other cities, but this material comes from a much later period and translations are not entirely reliable in some areas. Because this section is not significant for the present discussion, it will be dispensed with.

Among all the extant exemplars of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum cuneiform collection represents the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List.  In this depiction, all four sides of the Sumerian King List prism are portrayed.  http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=the_sumerian_king_list_sklid=the_sumerian_king_list_skl

Among all the extant exemplars of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum cuneiform collection represents the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List.
In this depiction, all four sides of the Sumerian King List prism are portrayed.
http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=the_sumerian_king_list_sklid=the_sumerian_king_list_skl

It should also be noted that, some 2,000 years later, a Babylonian priest named Berossos furnished what has been regarded as a revised form of the Sumerian King List but reproduced the names in Greek rather than Sumerian.

Berossos compiled the material in the time of Antiochus I (281-261 BC) and cataloged ten rather than the eight rulers on the original list. The identities of the kings on the revised list are difficult to confirm for the most part, but as with the ancient record the one Berossos compiled ascribed very long reigns to each ruler.

While the antediluvian section of the Sumerian King List has usually been regarded as important for establishing a chronology of early Sumerian kings, their amazingly long tenure of regal office has provoked many attempts at interpretation. At one extreme was the desire to dismiss the astronomically large figures as “completely artificial” on the grounds that such a position could hardly be denied even by the most superficial examination.

Some other investigators, influenced by the mythological interpretation of Biblical and other ancient Near Eastern writings, relegated the numbers frankly to legend and folklore and regarded them as unworthy of serious consideration.

Other scholars, however, feeling that they had some sort of basis in reality, thought of them in terms of epic or monumental description. There were in fact some grounds for this position, especially when it was learned that in ancient Egypt the phrase “he died aged 110” was actually an epitaph commemorating a life that had been lived selflessly and had resulted in outstanding social and moral benefits for others (cf. Genesis 50:26; Joshua 24:29).

It was thus a poetic tribute and bore no necessary relation to the individual’s actual lifespan.”

R.K. Harrison, “Reinvestigating the Antediluvian Sumerian King List,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) 36 / 1 (March 1993), pp. 3-4.

Sippara, Pantibibla, Book Town

“It was as Kur(?)-nigin-gára, “the god who makes the palace (of the setting sun),” that the Sun-god of Larsa seems to have been known to his worshippers in pre-Semitic days.

But when the Accadian was superseded by the Semite, his special name was merged in the general title of Samsu or Samas, “the Sun.” He became the Baal of Larsa, who differed but little, save in the name by which he was addressed, from the other Baalim of Babylonia.

The fame of the Samas of Larsa, however, was obscured at an early period by that of the Samas of Sippara. Sippara in historical times was pre-eminently the city of the Sun-god. It was there that Ê-Bábara, the house of lustre,” the great temple of the Sun-god, had been erected in days to which tradition alone went back, and it was around its shrine that Semitic sun-worship in Babylonia was chiefly centred.

Sippara and its immediate neighbourhood had been the seat of early Semitic supremacy in Chaldea. It was, it is true, of pre-Semitic foundation; its primitive name Zimbir would show this, like the name of E-Bábara itself; and we know that Samas had once been worshipped within its walls under the Accadian title of Bábara or Birra.

But in these remote days Sippara was probably an insignificant town; at all events, the memory of later ages knew of Sippara only in connection with the empire of Sargon of Accad and the Semitic version of the story of the Deluge.

In the Old Testament, Sippara appears as a dual city–Sepharvaim, “the two Sipparas.” One of these has been discovered in the mounds of Abu-Habba by Mr. Hormuzd Rassam, who has brought from it a monument on which is carved a curious image of the divine solar disk.

The other has been found by Dr. Hayes Ward in the mounds of Anbar, an hour’s distance from Sufeirah and the Euphrates.

The fragment of a geographical tablet seems indeed to mention no less than four Sipparas–Sippara proper, Sippara of the desert, Sippara “the ancient,” and Sippara of the Sun-god; but since the historical texts know of two only–Sippara of Anunit and Sippara of Samas--it is best to regard the three first names as alike denoting the same place, Sippara of Anunit, the modern Anbar.

It must have been from this Sippara that the Euphrates received its title, “river of Sippara,” since Abu-Habba is seven miles distant from the present bed of the stream.

In the close neighborhood of this double Sippara, Sargon built or restored the city to which he gave a name, and from which the whole of northern Babylonia received its title of Accad. It is called Agadhé in the non-Semitic texts, Accad (Akkadu) in the Semitic; though whether the name is of Semitic or non-Semitic origin cannot at present be decided.

Sargon’s patronage of literature, and the celebrated library he founded in Accad, caused the district to be known as “the region of books.” A popular etymology afterwards connected the name of Sippara itself with sepher, “a book,” and the city accordingly appears in the fragments of Berossos as Pantibibla, or “Book-town.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 167-70.

The Genesis of the Kings List

“The single fact which has shaken it to its very foundations is the discovery of the date to which the reign of Sargon of Accad must be assigned. The last king of of Babylonia, Nabonidos, had antiquarian tastes, and busied himself not only with the restoration of the old temples of his country, but also with the disinterment of the memorial cylinders which their builders and restorers had buried beneath their foundations.

It was known that the great temple of the Sun-god at Sippara, where the mounds of Abu-Habba now mark its remains, had been originally erected by Naram-Sin the son of Sargon, and attempts had been already made to find the records which, it was assumed, he had entombed under its angles. With true antiquarian zeal, Nabonidos continued the search, and did not desist until, like the Dean and Chapter of some modern cathedral, he had lighted upon “the foundation-stone” of Naram-Sin himself.

The Foundation Stone of Naram-Sin.

The Foundation Stone of Naram-Sin.

 This “foundation-stone,” he tells us, had been seen by none of his predecessors for 3200 years. In the opinion, accordingly, of Nabonidos, a king who was curious about the past history of his country, and whose royal position gave him the best possible opportunities for learning all that could be known about it, Naram-Sin and his father Sargon I, lived 3200 years before his own time, or 3750 B.C.

The date is so remote and so contrary to all our preconceived ideas regarding the antiquity of the Babylonian monarchy, that I may be excused if at first I expressed doubts as to its accuracy. We are now accustomed to contemplate with equanimity the long chronology which the monuments demand for the history of Pharaonic Egypt, but we had also been accustomed to regard the history of Babylonia as beginning at the earliest in the third millennium before our era. Assyrian scholars had inherited the chronological prejudices of a former generation, and a starveling chronology seemed to be confirmed by the statements of Greek writers.

I was, however, soon forced to re-consider the reasons of my scepticism. The cylinder on which Nabonidos accounts his discovery of the foundation-stone of Naram-Sin was brought from the excavations of Mr. Hormuzd Rassam in Babylonia, and explained by Mr. Pinches six years ago.

Soon afterwards, Mr. Pinches was fortunate enough to find among some other inscriptions from Babylonia fragments of three different lists, in one of which the kings of Babylonia were arranged in dynasties, and the number of years each king reigned was stated, as well as the number of years the several dynasties lasted.

An Assyrian copy of a similar list had been already discovered by Mr. George Smith, who, with his usual quickness of perception, saw that it must have resembled the lists from which Berossos, the Greek historian of Chaldaea, drew the materials of his chronology; but the copy was so mere a fragment that the chronological position of the kings mentioned upon it was a matter of dispute.

Happily this is not the case with the principal test published by Mr. Pinches. It had been compiled by a native of Babylon, who consequently began with the first dynasty which made Babylon the capital of the kingdom, and who seems to have flourished in the time of Nabonidos. We can check the accuracy of his statements in a somewhat curious way.

One of the two other texts brought to light by Mr. Pinches is a schoolboy’s exercise copy of the first two dynasties mentioned on the annalistic tablet. There are certain variations between thc two texts, however, which show that the schoolboy or his master must have used some other list of the early kings than that which was employed by the compiler of the tablet; nevertheless, the names and the regnal years, with one exception, agree exactly in each.

In Assyria, an accurate chronology was kept by means of certain officers, the so-called Eponyms, who were changed every year and gave their names to the year over which they presided. We have at present no positive proof that the years were dated in the same way in Babylonia; but since most Assyrian institutions were of Babylonian origin, it is probable that they were.

At all events, the scribes of a later day believed that they had trustworthy chronological evidence extending back into a dim antiquity; and when we remember the imperishable character of the clay literature of the country, and the fact that the British Museum actually contains deeds and other legal documents dated in the rein of Khammuragas, more than four thousand years ago, there is no reason why we should not consider the belief to have been justified.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 21-3.

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