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Tag: Antediluvian Dynasties

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.

On the Date of The Flood

“I now turn to Berossos’ account of the Flood as the central narrative of book 2. The extant fragments contain the following elements:

  • – Kronos reveals the destruction of mankind in a dream
  • Xisouthros is told he must bury the tablets in Sippar
  • – He must build a boat and embark together with family, friends, and animals
  • – The coming and receding of the deluge (mentioned in only one sentence)
  • – Bird scene
  • – Disembarking
  • – Worship and ritual offering
  • – Disappearance of Xisouthros, who will henceforth live with the gods
  • Xisouthros’ friends and relatives are told (not by Kronos, but a ‘voice’) to go to Sippar and dig up the tablets, and to hand them over to mankind.
  • – Landing place in Armenia, in the Korduaian mountains. The remains of the ark are still there, and people scrape off bitumen for magic purposes.

In Mesopotamian accounts of the deluge the Flood marks a break between a mythic prehis­tory and a history closer to the world as it is today. According to Manfried Dietrich, many mythical texts from Mesopotamia reflect this view of history, whereby an embryonic phase in the development of the world (‘embryonaler Status’) is followed by what he calls the ‘Jetzt-Zeit’, i.e. the present time.

The extant fragments of Berossos follow the same overall scheme. For Berossos too, the time before the Flood is a period of revelation, when the basis for all later knowledge was laid. Writings originating in this period would accordingly have a special authority and ‘the history which follows is the time when this revelation is transmitted and unfolded.’

Berossos was not the first to connect an antediluvian king list with the Flood story: al­ready the Sumerian version of the Flood story mentions five primeval cities known also from copies of the Sumerian King List.

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.  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.
In this depiction, all four sides of the Sumerian King List prism are portrayed.
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

Berossos’ own knowledge of primordial kings probably goes back to sources that were available in Hellenistic times. The Sumerian King List itself was still known in the Seleucid era, or rather versions of king lists that echo, structurally and stylistically, their ancient forerunners from the early second millenium.

In matching up the primordial kings with the seven sages, the apkallu, Berossos once again works in the vein of contemporary scholars, who demonstrably constructed lists with kings and apkallu in order to advertise their own importance, and the primordial roots of their knowledge, as Alan Lenzi has recently shown (Editorial note: this link is to Alan Lenzi, “The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian Scholarship,” JANER 8.2, 2008, which will be serialized in its own posts shortly).

Detail, Apkallu head, from a frieze in Nimrud.  http://non-aliencreatures.wikia.com/wiki/Apkallu

Detail, apkallu head, from a frieze in Nimrud.
http://non-aliencreatures.wikia.com/wiki/Apkallu

Yet, Berossos does not merely translate ancient documents, but rather selects and reframes what he finds, thus constructing his own version of the past. For a start, he locates the beginnings of kingship in Babylon and not in Eridu as the first city of Mesopotamian tradition.

Moreover, he reckons the overall duration of pre-flood history at 432,000 years (120 saroi = 120 x 3600 years), a sum that reflects the sexagesimal count­ing system of ancient Mesopotamia but which, as far as we know, is unique in Mesoptamian tradition.

432,000, however, is no arbitrary accumulation of individual reigns, but rather represents an astronomical ‘great year’, or an exact fraction of it. A great year is the period of time it takes for all heavenly bodies to return to their original place in the sky.

Berossos evidently had at least some astronomical knowledge, and moreover was keen to display his knowledge. Indeed, another peculiarity of Babyloniaca 2, beside the exorbitant reigns of the pre-flood kings, is Berossos’ unusual and very specific reference to a date for the Flood:

Kronos stood over him in his sleep and said that on the 15th of the month of Daisios mankind would be destroyed by a flood.

The Armenian version (F4a) supplies some explanatory glosses inserted at a later stage (in italics):

He says that Kronos, whom they call the father of Aramazd and others call Time, revealed to him in his sleep that on the 15th of the month of De(s)ios, which is Mareri, mankind was to be destroyed by the Flood.

There is no mention of a specific date in cuneiform texts about the Flood, yet Berossos puts it on ‘the fifteenth of the month Daisios’. According to the Macedonian calendar introduced by the Seleucids, Daisios is the 8th month of the year, and comes in spring (April/May, Babylonian Ayyaru).

Perhaps Berossos inserted a Macedonian dating in order to make it more relevant to his readers who were familiar with Greek Flood narratives. The choice of date may not be entirely accidental, as the Tigris and the Euphrates burst their banks in spring.

However, extant cuneiform sources link the deluge with rains and a cosmic storm rather than natural inundations, and we may have to look elsewhere for an explanation.”

Martin Lang, “Book Two: Mesopotamian Early History and the Flood Story,” from Johannes Haubold, Giovanni B. Lanfranchi, Robert Rollinger, John Steele (eds.), The World of Berossos, Proceedings of the 4th International Colloquium on the Ancient Near East Between Classical and Ancient Oriental Traditions, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2013, pp. 49-51.

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