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Izre’el: Origins of the Adapa Myth

Adapa the Sage

Adapa was known in Ancient Mesopotamia as The Sage. The original etymology of the name Adapa may not have reached us. A lexical text lists a term adapu as meaning “wise” (Igituh I: 107), an attribute that is further attested in another late text (Lambert 1962: 74). This adjectival noun is undoubtedly derived from the name of the mythological figure Adapa (CAD A/I 102 s.v. adapu B; AHw 1542 s.v. adapu III).

This lexical text has ù.tu.a.ab.ba “born in the sea” as the Sumerian equivalent of adapu, an equation that may have resulted from folk etymology (Lambert 1962: 73-4). In any case, whether primary or secondary, this possible etymology shows the mythological characteristics attributed to Adapa by the Mesopotamians, since he, as one of the first antediluvian sages, was thought to have emerged from the sea.

At some point, the name Adapa was interpreted as an epithet rather than as a proper noun, and as such it co-occurs with the name Uan(na), “the light of An” (see below).

Whether the word was originally an epithet or a name is hard to tell, especially since one cannot draw any sound conclusions regarding the origin of the myth or of any individual mytheme from the chronology of its occasional textual finds.

K 5519, British Museum. E.A. Wallis Budge, ed., Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum, part XXX, British Museum, London, 1911. Plate 8.  http://www.etana.org/sites/default/files/coretexts/17079.pdf

K 5519, British Museum.
E.A. Wallis Budge, ed., Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum, part XXX, British Museum, London, 1911. Plate 8.
http://www.etana.org/sites/default/files/coretexts/17079.pdf

In a Sumero-Akkadian bilingual account of the first sages, a priest of Eridu is mentioned as one who ascended to heaven:

“[PN,] the purification priest of Eridu

[. . .] who ascended to heaven.

They are the seven brilliant apkallus, purãdu-fish of the sea,

[sev]en apkallus “grown” in the river,

who insure the correct functioning of the ordinance of heaven and earth.”

(K 5519: I’ – 9’ after Reiner 1961: 2, 4).

Reiner (1961: 6-7) suggested that the subject here was Adapa. However, taken in its context as part of the bīt mēseri ritual, the name of the apkallu mentioned is Utuabzu (“born in the Apsu”), who comes seventh in a list of apkallus (Borger 1974: 192-4).

A fish-apkallu drawn by A.H. Layard from a stone relief, one of a pair flanking a doorway in the Temple of Ninurta at Kalhu.  This example is identical to illustration 55 in Dalley's article on the apkallu, which she cites for the dual daggers in his waistband.  British Museum. 

Reproduced in Schlomo Izre'el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001.

 https://books.google.co.th/books?id=MbwwROVGl7UC&pg=PA3&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

A fish-apkallu drawn by A.H. Layard from a stone relief, one of a pair flanking a doorway in the Temple of Ninurta at Kalhu.
This example is identical to illustration 55 in Dalley’s article on the apkallu, which she cites for the dual daggers in his waistband.
British Museum. 

Reproduced in Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001.


https://books.google.co.th/books?id=MbwwROVGl7UC&pg=PA3&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

In another place in the same text, the last of seven sages is Utua-abba, mentioned as one who descended from heaven (Borger 1974: 193-4; see also Borger 1994: 231 and p. 232 n. 37).

The name Uan is listed as the first apkallu, who served during the time of the king Ayyalu (van Dijk 1962: 44). It is he who is mentioned as the one who “completed the ordinance of heaven and earth.”

The Greek variant of the name Uan, namely Oannes, is known from the account of Babylonian history by Berossus, The Babyloniaca, where it is said that before civilization was introduced to the people of Mesopotamia,

“…there was a great crowd of men in Babylonia and they lived without laws as wild animals. In the first year (i.e., of the reign of Alorus) a beast named Oannes appeared from the Erythrean Sea in a place adjacent to Babylonia. Its entire body was that of a fish, but a human head had grown beneath the head of the fish and human feet likewise had grown from the fish’s tail. It also had a human voice. A picture of it is still preserved today.”

(Burstein 1978: 13-4).

The evidence in our possession thus seems to point to at least two different original traditions (cf. Wiggermann 1986: 153) that have become a single unified tradition in the most prominent remaining texts (cf. the remarks by Denning-Bolle 1992: 44-5).

I believe that in the myth of Adapa and the South Wind, as it was interpreted in the traditions that have reached us, there is a strong case for such a unified tradition. Variation, it must be noted, is a part of the very nature of mythological traditions (cf. pp. 108-10 below).”

Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, pp. 1-2.

Kvanvig: The Adapa Myth Symbolizes the Initiation of Humanity into Civilization

“The relationship between the first and seventh sage is complicated as well. In Bīt Mēseri the seventh sage is said to have ascended to heaven. In the fragmentary two other lists of sages in Bīt Mēseri the seventh sage is also related to heaven: in the second list he ascends like in the first; in the third he descends from heaven.

(Borger, “Die Beschwörungsserie Bīt Mēseri, 192-3. In the text as it is edited now by Weiher this comes in the second list, II, 2 where only the Sumerian text is extant, cf. Weiher, Spätbabylonische Texte, 49 and 51.)

Also the first sage is related to heaven; he is the light of the god of heaven. Nevertheless, both in Bīt Mēseri and in Berossos all the sages are related to water; they are described as fish-men.

A fish-apkallu drawn by A.H. Layard from a stone relief, one of a pair flanking a doorway in the Temple of Ninurta at Kalhu.  British Museum. 

Reproduced in Schlomo Izre'el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001.

 https://books.google.co.th/books?id=MbwwROVGl7UC&pg=PA3&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

A fish-apkallu drawn by A.H. Layard from a stone relief, one of a pair flanking a doorway in the Temple of Ninurta at Kalhu.
British Museum. 

Reproduced in Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001.


https://books.google.co.th/books?id=MbwwROVGl7UC&pg=PA3&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

This is explicitly clear in the name of the seventh sage, Utuabzu, which means “born in the apsû,” the water deep under the earth where Ea / Enki has his abode. In the first two lists in Bīt Mēseri the seventh sage is given this name. In the third list he is called Utuaabba, which is the same as the Sumerian epithet equated with adapu above.

Utuaabba does not only mean “wise,” directly, it can mean “born in the water,” a slight variation of Utuabzu. The reason why “born in the apsû / water” could designate “wise” is obviously connected to the apsû as the abode of the god of wisdom, Ea /Enki. Uan and Utuabzu are clearly thought of as two distinct figures in the lists, but there is a close correlation between them.

We think that both the double form of the name and the close connection the first and the seventh apkallu have to heaven call for a closer examination of the relationship between the Adapa Myth and the earliest of the lists, Bīt Mēseri.

We cannot in this context go into a profound analysis of the myth, which would demand a publication of its own. We are primarily interested in the interconnections between this myth and Bīt Mēseri. S. Izre’el has made a new edition of the manuscripts, together with an in-depth analysis. Izre’el’s approach is characterized by being both synchronic and structural.

(Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, 107-11).

Instead of carrying out what he calls a “sociopolitical interpretation,” he seeks out the deepest structural layers of the myth, how it interprets basic challenges in human existence.

A comparison with Piotr Michalowski is interesting here. Michalowski also applies a literary theory to the structure of the myth, taken from ritual studies.

(P. Michalowski, “Adapa and the Ritual Process,” RO 41 (1980): 77-82.)

He comes to the conclusion that the structure of the Adapa Myth is “isomorphic to the form of a rite de passage.” It is in this form that the structure of the text elucidates the dominant meaning of the composition: “the problem of the institutionalization of magic.”

In this sense Michalowski considers the myth to be etiological, for it demonstrates a concern for man’s most potent weapon—language, and how this power has to be channeled into a specific context, the art of magic.

For Izre’el this kind of analysis still remains in the sociopolitical dimension of the myth. “In the mythology of ancient Mesopotamia, language symbolizes intellligence.” I would like now to proceed according to Michalowski’s line of thinking and suggest that the Adapa Myth, structured as a rite of passage, describes Adapa’s passage into full humanity, symbolizing humans becoming aware of their own knowledge.

Mesopotamian tradition tells us that the Adapa Myth not only marks Adapa’s initiation into maturity, into becoming a full-fledged human being, but further symbolizes the initiation of all humanity into civilization.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 119-20.

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