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Tag: Baghdad

Howl for Malcolm Forsmark

allen-ginsberg-incipit-howl-1954

The incipit of Allen Ginsberg (1926-97), Howl, City Lights Books: San Francisco, 1959, as presented by Christopher Skinner on his Lestaret blog. This rendering © 2010 Lestaret.

For Malcom Forsmark

(Because Allen Ginsberg wrote Howl for Carl Solomon.)

“It is the belief in the art of poetry that has gone hand in hand with this man into his Golgotha, from that charnel house, similar in every way, to that of the Jews in the past war. But this is in our own country, our own fondest purlieus. We are blind and live our blind lives out in blindness. Poets are damned but they are not blind, they see with the eyes of the angels.”

William Carlos Williams, from Allen Ginsberg, Howl, City Lights, San Francisco, 1959.

I realize now that the multiverse nudged me to contemplate Moloch, as I watched several YouTube documentaries about the Bohemian Grove.

I finally ended reading Shakespeare‘s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, scene 2, “Weaving spiders, come not here!”

For the crux of Ginsberg’s Howl is this excerpt from the midpoint of part II, the literal halfway point of the poem:

Moloch whose name is the Mind!”

You can argue that Howl is a paean to Moloch, but like most long poems Howl is many things. One thing that it is not, with no apologies to William Carlos Williams, is angelic.

It took me a couple of tries to reread it today, I last read it years ago, and at first I loathed it. I hated the description of “negro streets,” and worst of all, the word “Mohammedan” made me stop reading and write this commentary.

It felt like Ginsberg used those words because he thought that they were edgy in 1954, and all those words did for me was confirm that Ginsberg was talking about things that he did not know. The terms “negro streets” and “Mohammedan” feel prosaic and inauthentic as I write this in 2016.

What did Allen Ginsberg know about Islam? Nothing in 1954 when he began Howl, nothing compared to what we know now, courtesy of YouTube, in anno 2016.

I carried a gun in Baghdad myself in 2003 and 2004, aware that I was stalking in the land of the four rivers, the Pison, the Gihon, the Euphrates and the Tigris, where Sumerian cuneiform blossomed out of oral traditions some four thousand years before.

A young lady who ran my office, born Sunni, explained that Islam made her feel loved, not oppressed, even as she wore sunglasses in the office to avoid tormenting men with the vision of her eyes.

Then I remembered Patti Smith proclaiming that she was a Moslem, in her immortal babelogue, circa 1978. This was Ginsberg’s Islam of 1954, but 24 years later:

” …  I wake up. I am lying peacefully I am lying peacefully and my knees are open to the sun.

I desire him, and he is absolutely ready to seize me.

In heart I am a Moslem; in heart I am an American; in heart I am Moslem, in heart I’m an American artist, and I have no guilt.”

Patti Smith, babelogue, Easter, Arista Records, 1978.

I always loved babelogue for Patti Smith‘s unrepentant sluttiness and the irony that certain Muslim sects chant: “the sun is not God!”

Then Ginsberg wrote this:

” … who wandered around and around at midnight in the railway yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts,

who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night … “

Allen GinsbergHowl, City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1959.

Yes, “boxcars” is a poetic gimmick, but it works. The more that you read the sentence, the more that you admire it. “Grandfather night” is so good that I intend to steal it.

I am also stealing Ginsberg’s description of poets whose “heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion,” as we are all of us destined for oblivion. Indeed, “Writing for oblivion” is the tagline on all of my websites.

I also admire the irony of Ginsberg writing,

” … who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish…”

As this happens to every poet. I also remember Oscar Wilde, with Lord Darlington’s caveat in Act III of Lady Windermere’s Fan, writing that “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.”

Indeed.

I also liked this part:

” … the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death,

and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America’s naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio

with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years.”

Which brings us back to Moloch, reminding me that legalized, systemic infanticide is indistinguishable from state-sponsored Satanic child sacrifice.

One profane theme eulogized by Ginsberg is the hyper-sexuality of homosexuals. As Paris Hilton famously observed, “gay guys are the horniest people in the world.” Anyone who knows many homosexuals knows that Ms. Hilton had a point, and Ginsberg’s Howl parodies sacred sexuality.

I am less repelled by Howl’s eroticism, however, than I am by its junkies, as Ginsberg’s glorification of heroin addiction unmasks him as an effete poseur reveling in his own appetites.

I respect Ginsberg’s occidental Buddhism and his later popularization of Hindu mantra, for it needed to be done, but the final straw for me was Ginsberg’s defense of NAMBLA, and his apologia for pederasty.

Pedophiles may be programmed by nature with proscribed urges, but I have no patience for an advocacy organization that rationalizes statutory rape with, “age is just a number.” I tolerate the sexual exploitation of children by nobody, the child bride of the Prophet included (may peace be upon him).

At first reading I felt nothing beautiful from the first page of Howl, so I said the hell with it, why waste time reading it. I celebrate beauty, not vomitus, and prospecting for pearls in shit is irredeemable.

Then I remembered the pilgrimage that Malcolm Forsmark and I made to the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in 1979, just before I joined the Army. We arrived late. It was closed.

We were disappointed, because we lived in Boulder, and a journey to San Francisco was an expedition. We got drunk and we shouted Howl to the gleaming jewel lights of the city. I did not know then that I would live in San Francisco in 1986, and come to make that metropolis my own.

Sometime that night, Malcolm told me that he met Allen Ginsberg at a party in Boulder. The Naropa crowd thought that they were so countercultural. I did not understand this at the time, I was too young, but it is very clear to me now, with the hindsight of a lifetime focusing my memory. Ginsberg exclaimed, “ah, another up and coming young faggot!”

Actually, no. Malcolm Forsberg was a classicist and an autodidact, a scholar of Latin and Greek whose erudition was staggering. Malcolm eclipsed any academic on the Naropa faculty. I have not spoken to Malcolm in decades, but I knew him so well that I know that I know him still.

I know that wherever he is, he is writing poetry: the poetry of Malcolm Forsmark.

” … exhausted cigarette butts

nodding in opiate daze

burning down to grimy fingers.”

Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez

Bangkok, updated 5 May 2018.

Dalley: Apkallu, IDD 2011

Iconography of Deities and Demons (IDD).

Apkallu.

“Mesopotamian semi-divine figure. A Babylonian tradition related by Berossos in the 3rd cent. (BURSTEIN 1978: 13f) describes a creature called Oannes that rose up out of the Red Sea in the first year of man’s history. His entire body was that of a fish, but he had another head, presumably human, and feet like a man as well as a fish tail.

Apkallus type 1 and 2, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.<br />  Two forms of Apkallu are depicted here, the umu-apkallu or ummanu on the left, holding what appears to be a branch with poppy bulbs, and the puradu-fish type with banduddu bucket in left hand.<br />  The sacred tree appears at center, beneath a winged device whose meaning is unclear to me.<br />  The figure on the right is probably a king, as the rich garment is not topped by a horned tiara, indicative of divinity.

Apkallus type 1 and 2, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.
Two forms of Apkallu are depicted here, the umu-apkallu or ummanu on the left, holding what appears to be a branch with poppy bulbs, and the puradu-fish type with banduddu bucket in left hand.
The sacred tree appears at center, beneath a winged device whose meaning is unclear to me.
The figure on the right is probably a king, as the rich garment is not topped by a horned tiara, indicative of divinity.

He taught men to write, as well as many other arts, crafts, and institutions of civilization. He taught them to build cities and temples, to have laws, to till the land, and to harvest crops. At sunset he returned to the sea. Later there were other similar creatures who appeared on the earth. These were the sages.

The sage Adapa, a priest of Eridu created by the god Ea/Enki, was also called Oannes. The name Oannes was thus connected, by true or false etymology, with the common noun for a sage in early Akkadian ummiānum, later ummânum.

The other Akkadian term for a sage, apkallu, can also mean a type of priest or exorcist. According to a Sumerian temple hymn, the seven sages came from Eridu, the first city in the Sumerian King List. Since Eridu was the city of Ea who lived in the Apsu, iconography involving water and fish is to be expected for the sages. According to late Assyrian and Babylonian texts, legendary kings were credited early on with having sages.

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/

The Epic of Erra and Ishum (probably 8th cent.) attributes to Marduk the banishing of the sages down to the Apsu, and not allowing them to return. He describes them as pure purādu-fish, perhaps carp, who like their master Ea are especially clever, and were put among mortals before their banishment.

The ritual text bīt mēseri, for encircling a house with protective magical figurines, gives names to the sages of some famous kings in various cities (REINER 1961; BORGER 1974; see also HUNGER 1983: nos. 8- 11). Some of those sages angered the gods.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called parādu-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 apotropaic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called parādu-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 apotropaic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

Ziusudra, also known as Utnapishtim and Atrahasis, was probably the last sage before the flood, the event which marks the division between immortal and mortal sages. Later sages were part mortal, part divine.

Kings credited with a sage include Enmerkar, Shulgi, Enlil-bani of Isin, Hammurabi, Nebuchadnezzar I, Sennacherib, and Esarhaddon, but this time span (legendary/Early Dynastic [26th cent.] to mid 7th cent.) does not match that of the identified iconography.

Certain texts are attributed to sages, notably two medical texts and a hymn (REINER 1961), the Myth of Etana, the Sumerian Tale of Three Ox-drivers, the Babylonian Theodicy, and the astrological series UD.SAR Anum Enlila.

Enuma Anu Enlil is a series of about 70 tablets dealing with Babylonian astrology. These accounts were found in the early 19th century by excavation in Nineveh, near present day Bagdad. The bulk of the work is a substantial collection of omens, estimated to number between 6500 and 7000, which interpret a wide variety of celestial and atmospheric phenomena in terms relevant to the king and state. The tablets presumably date back to about 650 BC, but several of the omens may be as old as 1646 BC. Many of the reports found on the tablets represent ‘astrometeorological’ forecasts (Rasmussen 2010).<br />  http://www.climate4you.com/ClimateAndHistory%205000-0%20BC.htm

Enuma Anu Enlil is a series of about 70 tablets dealing with Babylonian astrology. These accounts were found in the early 19th century by excavation in Nineveh, near present day Bagdad. The bulk of the work is a substantial collection of omens, estimated to number between 6500 and 7000, which interpret a wide variety of celestial and atmospheric phenomena in terms relevant to the king and state. The tablets presumably date back to about 650 BC, but several of the omens may be as old as 1646 BC. Many of the reports found on the tablets represent ‘astrometeorological’ forecasts (Rasmussen 2010).
http://www.climate4you.com/ClimateAndHistory%205000-0%20BC.htm

In Assyrian tradition the sages guarded the Tablet of Destinies for the god Nabu, patron of scribes. This information gives a possible link with the composite monsters in the tradition of the Babylonian Epic of Creation, which centers on control of the Tablet of Destinies.

Apkallu type 2. Stephanie Dalley, IDD.<br />  A puradu-fish apkallu appears to the left of the sacred tree, with two fish-men, apparently a merman and a mermaid, on the right.<br />  Wiggermann identified these composite beings as kullilu.

Apkallu type 2. Stephanie Dalley, IDD.
A puradu-fish apkallu appears to the left of the sacred tree, with two fish-men, apparently a merman and a mermaid, on the right.
Wiggermann identified these composite beings as kullilu.

Such a link would explain the scene that puts phenotype 1 (see § II.1) with composite monsters who fight as archers (24), and phenotype 2 (see § II.2) with mermen (44*, 51) and composite monsters (50*). However, in known versions of the Epic, the hero-god, not the composite monsters, is called a sage; thus the relationship is not clear.”

Wiggermann and Green call this composite being "Scorpion-tailed bird-man." He has a human upper torso, an avian body, and a scorpion tail.<br />  In this drawing from Dalley's article on the Apkallu, puradu-fish apkallu can be seen beneath them (Dalley, figure 50).<br />  Anthony Green, "Mischwesen. B," Reallexikon der Assyriologie (RLA), 1994, pp. 254-5. figure 15.

Wiggermann and Green call this composite being “Scorpion-tailed bird-man.” He has a human upper torso, an avian body, and a scorpion tail.
In this drawing from Dalley’s article on the Apkallu, puradu-fish apkallu can be seen beneath them (Dalley, figure 50).
Anthony Green, “Mischwesen. B,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie (RLA), 1994, pp. 254-5. figure 15.

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. 1/7.

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.

The Babylonian Zodiac is 1000 Years Older than Sargon of Accad

“The contents of the fifth tablet introduce us to a side of Babylonian religion which occupied an important and prominent position, at all events in the official cult. At the beginning of the present century, writers upon the ancient East were fond of enlarging upon a Sabaistic system of faith which they supposed had once been the dominant form of religion in Western Asia.

The accompanying illustration, which is reproduced from the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk (Brit. Mus., No. 90,858), supplies much information about the symbols of the gods, and of the Signs of the Zodiac in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, King of Babylon, about 1120 B.C..  Thus in Register 1, we have the Star of Ishtar, the crescent of the Moon-god Sin, and the disk of Shamash the Sun-god.  In Reg. 2 are three stands (?) surmounted by tiaras, which represent the gods Anu, Enlil (Bel) and Ea respectively.  In Reg. 3 are three altars (?) or shrines (?) with a monster in Nos. 1 and 2. Over the first is the lance of Marduk, over the second the mason's square of Nabû, and over the third is the symbol of the goddess Ninkharsag, the Creatress.  In Reg. 4 are a standard with an animal's head, a sign of Ea; a two-headed snake = the Twins; an unknown symbol with a horse's head, and a bird, representative of Shuḳamuna and Shumalia.  In Reg. 5 are a seated figure of the goddess Gula and the Scorpion-man; and in Reg. 6 are forked lightning, symbol of Adad, above a bull, the Tortoise, symbol of Ea (?), the Scorpion of the goddess Ishkhara, and the Lamp of Nusku, the Fire-god.  Down the left-hand side is the serpent-god representing the constellation of the Hydra. http://sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/img/016.png http://sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/blc07.htm

The accompanying illustration, which is reproduced from the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk (Brit. Mus., No. 90,858), supplies much information about the symbols of the gods, and of the Signs of the Zodiac in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, King of Babylon, about 1120 B.C..
Thus in Register 1, we have the Star of Ishtar, the crescent of the Moon-god Sin, and the disk of Shamash the Sun-god.
In Reg. 2 are three stands (?) surmounted by tiaras, which represent the gods Anu, Enlil (Bel) and Ea respectively.
In Reg. 3 are three altars (?) or shrines (?) with a monster in Nos. 1 and 2. Over the first is the lance of Marduk, over the second the mason’s square of Nabû, and over the third is the symbol of the goddess Ninkharsag, the Creatress.
In Reg. 4 are a standard with an animal’s head, a sign of Ea; a two-headed snake = the Twins; an unknown symbol with a horse’s head, and a bird, representative of Shuḳamuna and Shumalia.
In Reg. 5 are a seated figure of the goddess Gula and the Scorpion-man; and in Reg. 6 are forked lightning, symbol of Adad, above a bull, the Tortoise, symbol of Ea (?), the Scorpion of the goddess Ishkhara, and the Lamp of Nusku, the Fire-god.
Down the left-hand side is the serpent-god representing the constellation of the Hydra.
http://sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/img/016.png
http://sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/blc07.htm

 Star-worship was imagined to be the most primitive phase of Oriental religion, and the reference to it in the book of Job was eagerly seized upon as an evidence of the antiquity of the book. Dupuis resolved all human forms of faith into Zodiacal symbols, and Sir William Drummond went far in the same direction. That the first gods of the heathen were the planets and stars of heaven, was regarded by high authorities as an incontrovertible fact.

The plains of Shinar were held to be the earliest home of this Sabaism or star-worship. The astronomy and astrology of Babylonia had been celebrated even by Greek and Latin authors, and scholars were inclined to see in the “Chaldaean shepherds” the first observers of the heavens.

The “astrologers, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators” of Babylon, are enumerated in the Old Testament (Isaiah xlvii. 13); and the small cylinders brought by travelers from Bagdad, with their frequent representations of a star or sun, seemed to leave no doubt that the deities of Babylonia were in truth the heavenly bodies. The decipherment of the cuneiform inscriptions has shown that the belief in Babylonian “Sabaism” was, after all, not altogether a chimera.

Babylonia was really the cradle of astronomical observations. Long before the lofty zigurrâti or “towers” of the temples were reared, where the royal astronomers had their stations and from whence they sent their reports to the king, the leading groups of stars had been named, a calendar had been formed, and the eclipses of the sun and moon had been noted and recorded.

The annual path of the sun through the sky had been divided into twelve sections, like the twelve kasbu or double hours of the day, and each section had been distinguished by its chief constellation or star. It was thus that the Zodiac first came into existence.

The names given to its constellations are not only Accadian, but they also go back to the totemistic age of Accadian faith. The first sign, the first constellation, was that of “the directing bull,” so named from the solar bull who at the vernal equinox began to plough his straight furrow through the sky, directing thereby the course of the year.

The last sign but one was “the fish of Ea;” while midway between the two, presiding over the month whose name was derived from its “facing the foundation” or “beginning” of the year, was the great star of the Scorpion.

The fact that the year thus began with Taurus proves the antiquity of the Chaldean Zodiac, and of the months of thirty days which corresponded to its several signs. From about B.C. 2500 and onwards, the precession of the equinoxes caused Aries, and not Taurus, to be the asterism into which the sun entered at spring-time; the period when Taurus ushered in the year reached back from that date to about B.C. 4700.

The Zodiacal circle may therefore have been invented nearly a thousand years before Sargon of Accad was born; and that it was invented at an early epoch is demonstrated by its close connection with the Accadian calendar.”

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. 396-8.

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.

Sumerian Archeology

“Arriving in 1878, Rassam went to work with a will. Over a period of four years he opened excavations not only at Nineveh but at sites ranging from eastern Anatolia to southern Iraq, leaving the day-to-day excavation to his assistants and rarely visiting the sites.

Bronze band from the Palace Gates of Shalmaneser III in the British Museum.  The scenes show in the upper tier the king receiving tribute from Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon and in the lower tier the conquest of the town of Hazuzu in Syria. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balawat_Gates

Bronze band from the Palace Gates of Shalmaneser III in the British Museum.
The scenes show in the upper tier the king receiving tribute from Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon and in the lower tier the conquest of the town of Hazuzu in Syria.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balawat_Gates

His discoveries included panels of embossed bronze sheeting that had originally covered the great gates erected by Shalmaneser III at Balawat near Nimrud, and around 50,000 cuneiform cylinders and tablets in the Shamash temple at Sippar near Babylon. But times had changed since the cavalier days of the 1850s.

Relief image on the Tablet of Shamash, British Library room 55. Found in Sippar (Tell Abu Habbah), in Ancient Babylonia; it dates from the 9th century BC and shows the sun god Shamash on the throne, in front of the Babylonian king Nabu-apla-iddina (888-855 BC) between two interceding deities. The text tells how the king made a new cultic statue for the god and gave privileges to his temple. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tablet_of_Shamash#/media/File:Tablet_of_Shamash_relief.jpg

Relief image on the Tablet of Shamash, British Library room 55. Found in Sippar (Tell Abu Habbah), in Ancient Babylonia; it dates from the 9th century BC and shows the sun god Shamash on the throne, in front of the Babylonian king Nabu-apla-iddina (888-855 BC) between two interceding deities. The text tells how the king made a new cultic statue for the god and gave privileges to his temple.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tablet_of_Shamash#/media/File:Tablet_of_Shamash_relief.jpg

Considerable advances had been made in excavation techniques and recording methods. It was no longer enough to plunder sites for antiquities; buildings and other contexts had to be carefully investigated and recorded, and objects had to be recovered with care, without allowing them to “crumble to dust.”

Rassam was seriously criticized by other scholars in the field, and his departure largely saw the end of crude excavation methods in Mesopotamia—until the wanton destruction by bandits with bulldozers following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which threatens utterly to obliterate a huge number of sites.

As a native of the region, Rassam was very aware of the threat to the ancient cities from treasure hunters and brick robbers. When he left for Britain, therefore, he hired guardians to prevent future plundering in the important sites, including Kuyunjik and Sippar. Over the following decade, however, antiquities, and particularly tablets, that seemed likely to have come from these sites appeared in some numbers on the international market. The British Museum sent out Wallis Budge to investigate.

Budge arrived in Baghdad in 1888, armed with a permit to excavate Kuyunjik as a cover for his detective work. Within days, he purchased many tablets from local dealers, most of whom he found to be the very people appointed to guard the ancient sites, and skillfully foiled a plan to prevent him from exporting them.

Later in the year he reopened excavations at Kuyunjik, recovering some 200 tablets from the spoil of previous excavations. His luck turned the following year, however, when he excavated at ed-Der, part of ancient Sippar. The procedures involved in obtaining an excavation permit were long-winded and public: By the time Budge could start work, ed-Der had been thoroughly “examined” by the Vali of Baghdad, with the result that 10,000 tablets had found their way into the hands of dealers.

A similar fate befell the Frenchman Ernest de Sarzec, who excavated Telloh (ancient Girsu) in 1877–1881 and 1888–1900. This was the first serious investigation of a site belonging to Mesopotamia’s original Sumerian civilization, and the objects found here created great excitement in Europe, where they were displayed in the 1880s Paris exhibition.

     Stele of Vultures detail 01-transparent.png One fragment of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, Sumerian archaic dynasties. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stele_of_the_Vultures#/media/File:Stele_of_Vultures_detail_01-transparent.png


Stele of Vultures detail 01-transparent.png
One fragment of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, Sumerian archaic dynasties.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stele_of_the_Vultures#/media/File:Stele_of_Vultures_detail_01-transparent.png

The powerful and austere art style typified by the diorite statues strongly impressed European art critics, and a sculptured slab, dubbed the “Stele of the Vultures,” sparked great interest, because it showed for the first time in history an organized army going to war.

Telloh also yielded numerous tablets, some relating to border disputes with neighboring Umma, the fascinating first contemporary account of warfare—but most of them were not recovered by de Sarzec. During de Sarzec’s frequent absences, local people, often sponsored by Baghdad dealers, abstracted around 40,000 tablets from one of the mounds. These provided the first substantial body of works in the Sumerian language, whose very existence had been doubted in earlier decades.

The first U.S. expedition to work in Mesopotamia experienced an even more dramatic mixture of success and failure. Sponsored by Pennsylvania University, a team headed by John Peters arrived in 1887 to excavate Nippur, the holy city of ancient Sumer.

Hopelessly out of their depth in the complexities of dealing with the local villagers and authorities, their first season ended in an all-out attack in which their camp was set on fire, half their horses perished, and they lost $1,000 in gold—although they saved their antiquities.

Work resumed in 1890, under more auspicious circumstances, and continued intermittently until 1900. Among the 30,000 tablets recovered from Nippur were around 2,100 whose subject matter was literature, in contrast to the ubiquitous economic texts: These opened a window onto the fascinating world of the Sumerians and to this day form the bulk of known Sumerian literature.”

Jane R. McIntosh, Ancient Mesopotamia, 2005, pp. 30-2.

Sumerian Sacred Stories, c. 3500 BCE

” … it is quite as obvious that for the history of the progress of our civilization as we see and know it today, it is the tone and temper, the word and spirit of the ancient mythologies, those of the Greeks and Hebrews, of the Hindus and Iranians, of the Babylonians and Egyptians, which are of prime significance. It is the spiritual and religious concepts revealed in these ancient literatures which permeate the modern civilized world.

Still almost entirely unknown to this very moment is Sumerian mythology, the sacred stories of the non-Semitic, non-Indo-European people which in historical times, from approximately 3500 to 2000 B.C., inhabited Sumer, the relatively small land situated between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and stretching from the Persian Gulf northward approximately as far as modern Bagdad; a land that may be aptly described as the culture cradle of the entire Near East.

Should the reader turn, for example, to Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics29 and examine the very long article on the cosmogonic or creation myths of the world, he will find a large and relatively exhaustive list of peoples, ancient and modern, cultured and primitive, whose cosmogonic concepts are described and analyzed. But he will look in vain for Sumerian cosmogony.

Similarly, the collection entitled Mythology of All the Races 30 devotes thirteen volumes to an analysis of the more important mythologies in the world; here, too, however, there will be found few traces of Sumerian mythology. Whatever little is known of Sumerian mythology is largely surmised from the modified, redacted, and in a sense, garbled versions of the Babylonians who conquered the Sumerians toward the very end of the third millennium B.C., and who used the Sumerian stories and legends as a basis and nucleus for the development of their own myths.

But it is a known fact that in the long stretch of time between approximately 3500 and 2000 B.C. it was the Sumerians who represented the dominant cultural group of the entire Near East. It was the Sumerians who developed and probably invented the cuneiform system of writing; who developed a well integrated pantheon together with spiritual and religious concepts which influenced profoundly all the peoples of the Near East; who, finally, created and developed a literature rich in content and effective in form.

Moreover, the following significant fact must be borne in mind. By the end of the third millennium B.C. Sumer had already ceased to exist as a political entity and Sumerian had already become a dead language, for by that time Sumer had been overrun and conquered by the Semites, and it is the Semitic Accadian language which gradually became the living, spoken tongue of the land.

Nevertheless Sumerian continued to be used as the literary and religious language of the Semitic conquerors for many centuries to come, like Greek in the Roman period and like Latin in the Middle Ages. Indeed for many centuries the study of the Sumerian language and literature remained the basic pursuit of the scribal schools and intellectual and spiritual centers not only of the Babylonians and Assyrians, but also of the many surrounding peoples such as the Elamites, Hurrians, Hittites, and Canaanites.

Obviously, then, both because of their content as well as because of their age, the Sumerian mythological tales and concepts must have penetrated and permeated those of the entire Near East. A knowledge of the Sumerian myths and legends is therefore a prime and basic essential for a proper approach to a scientific study of the mythologies current in the ancient Near East, for it illuminates and clarifies to no small extent the background behind their origin and development.” i

Samuel Noah Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 1944, pp. 27-9.

The Behistun Inscription

“In 1854 Sir Henry Rawlinson superintended diggings at Birs Nimrud (Borsippa, near Babylon), and excavated relics of the Biblical Nebuchadrezzar. This notable archaeologist began his career in the East as an officer in the Bombay army. He distinguished himself as a political agent and diplomatist. While resident at Baghdad, he devoted his leisure time to cuneiform studies.

One of his remarkable feats was the copying of the famous trilingual rock inscription of Darius the Great on a mountain cliff at Behistun, in Persian Kurdistan (the Behistun Inscription). This work was carried out at great personal risk, for the cliff is 1700 feet high and the sculptures and inscriptions are situated about 300 feet from the ground.

The Behistun Inscription

Bisotun Iran Relief Achamenid Period” by Hara1603 – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Darius was the first monarch of his line to make use of the Persian cuneiform script, which in this case he utilized in conjunction with the older and more complicated Assyro-Babylonian alphabetic and syllabic characters to record a portion of the history of his reign.

Rawlinson’s translation of the famous inscription was an important contribution towards the decipherment of the cuneiform writings of Assyria and Babylonia.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.