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Tag: Belus

Who Was Berossus?

“This volume is devoted to a man whose work is largely lost, whose life is shrouded in mys­tery, and whose real name we do not know.

(‘Berossos’ is a Greek rendering of an Akkadian name. Our best guess at the moment is that his fellow Babylonians would have known him as Bēl-rē ‘ûšunu (‘Bel is their shepherd’), but this is not certain; see further De Breucker’s contribution to this volume.)

What we do know is that ‘Berossos’ of Babylon was a contemporary of Alexander the Great and the first two Seleucid kings, Seleucus I and Antiochus I, and that he wrote a work about Babylonian history and culture, the Babyloniaca.

He describes himself as a Babylonian and a priest of Bel-Marduk, the national god of Babylon, though in practice this may mean no more than that he was in some way attached to the main temple of Babylon, the Esagila.

According to Vitruvius, Berossos later moved to the Greek island of Cos to open a school of astronomy.

Pliny mentions a statue which the Athenians set up to celebrate his powers of prophecy; and Pausanias makes him the father of the Sibyl. With Pausanias we are plainly in the realm of mythmaking.

Whether Vitruvius or Pliny are any more trustworthy has been debated. Whatever we make of their testimonies, it is not implausible that Berossos had connections with the astronomers of the Esagila while in Babylon, and he must certainly have had some connection with, or at least an interest in, the Seleucid court, because he dedicated his Babyloniaca to Antiochus I.

We know from a cuneiform chronicle that Babylonian religious experts acted as advisors to Antiochus I.

(R. J. van der Spek, Chronicle concerning Antiochus and the Sin temple: preliminary edition and translation, 1997.

A similar encounter is reported by Diodorus Siculus, 17.112: when Alexander returned to Babylon from India, an astronomer of the Esagila temple called Belephantes (Akkadian Bēl-apla-iddin?), advised Alexander not to enter the city.)

Excerpt from Diodorus follows.

17.112.1: After the conclusion of his war with the Cossaeans, Alexander set his army in motion and marched towards Babylon in easy stages, interrupting the march frequently and resting the army.

17.112.2: While he was still three hundred furlongs from the city, the scholars called Chaldaeans, who have gained a great reputation in astrology and are accustomed to predict future events by a method based on age-long observations, chose from their number the eldest and most experienced.

By the configuration of the stars they had learned of the coming death of the king in Babylon, and they instructed their representatives to report to the king the danger which threatened. They told their envoys also to urge upon the king that he must under no circumstances make his entry into the city; 

17.112.3: that he could escape the danger if he re-erected the tomb of Belus which had been demolished by the Persians, but he must abandon his intended route and pass the city by.

The leader of the Chaldaean envoys, whose name was Belephantes, was not bold enough to address the king directly but secured a private audience with Nearchus, one of Alexander’s Friends, and told him everything in detail, requesting him to make it known to the king.

17.112.4: When Alexander, accordingly, learned from Nearchus about the Chaldaeans’ prophecy, he was alarmed and more and more disturbed, the more he reflected upon the ability and high reputation of these people.

After some hesitation, he sent most of his Friends into Babylon, but altered his own route so as to avoid the city and set up his headquarters in a camp at a distance of two hundred furlongs. 

This act caused general astonishment and many of the Greeks came to see him, notably among the philosophers Anaxarchus.

17.112.5: When they discovered the reason for his action, they plied him with arguments drawn from philosophy and changed him to the degree that he came to despise all prophetic arts, and especially that which was held in high regard by the Chaldaeans. 

It was as if the king had been wounded in his soul and then healed by the words of the philosophers, so that he now entered Babylon with his army. 

17.112.6: As on the previous occasion, the population received the troops hospitably, and all turned their attention to relaxation and pleasure, since everything necessary was available in profusion.

These were the events of this year.”

Diodorus Siculus, 17.112.

Berossos may well have been one of them, or in any case have worked in a similar milieu.”

Johannes Haubold, “The World of Berossos: Introduction,” 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, p. 3.

A Digression on Berossus and the Babyloniaca

“The books written by Berossus, priest of Marduk at Babylon in the early third century B.C., have been lost, and all that we know about them comes from the twenty-two quotations or paraphrases of his work by other ancient writers (so-called Fragmenta), and eleven statements about Berossus (Testimonia) made by classical, Jewish and Christian writers.

We learn that he wrote for Antiochus I (280-261 B.C.) a work generally referred to as the Babyloniaca, a work divided into three rolls, or books, of papyrus.

Ea, or Oannes, depicted as a fish-man.

Ea, or Oannes, depicted as a fish-man.

In the first book he told how a fish-like creature named Oannes came up from the Persian Gulf, delivered to mankind the arts of civilization, and left with them a written record of how their world had come into existence; according to this record, Berossus went on, Bel had created the world out of the body of a primeval female deity. This story of the creation of the world and mankind, otherwise familiar from Enūma eliš, filled out the first book of the Babyloniaca and ended with the statement that Bel established the stars, sun, moon and the five planets.

In book two Berossus (Frag. 3) described the 120-sar (432,000-year) rule of the ten antediluvian kings, and then the Deluge itself, with some detail on the survival of Xisuthros. The postdiluvian dynasties down to Nabonassar were baldly listed in the remainder of book two.

A prism containing the Sumerian King List. Borossus cites ten antediluvian rulers.

A prism containing the Sumerian King List. Borossus cites ten antediluvian rulers.

The third book, apparently beginning with Tiglath-Pileser III, presented the Late Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian and Persian kings of Babylon, and ended with Alexander the Great.

And that, according to Felix Jacoby’s edition of the Fragmenta and Testimonia is in sum what the Babyloniaca contained. There are eight quotations dealing with astronomical and astrological matters, but these he attributed not to our Berossus, but to Pseudo-Berossus of Cos.

It was to the latter, according to Jacoby, that Josephus referred as “well known to educators, since it was he who published for the Greeks the written accounts of astronomy and the philosophical doctrines of the Chaldaeans”; or who claimed, said Vitruvius, that by study of the zodiacal signs, the planets, sun and moon, the Chaldaeans could predict what the future held in store for man.

And it was Pseudo-Berossus, according to Jacoby, to whom Seneca referred in his discussion of world-floods:

Berosos, who translated Belus (qui Belum interpretatus est), says that these catastrophes occur with the movement of the planets. Indeed, he is so certain that he assigns a date for the conflagration and the deluge. For earthly things will burn, he contends, when all the planets which now maintain different orbits come together in the sign of Cancer, and are so arranged in the same path that a straight line can pass through the spheres of all of them. The deluge will occur when the same group of planets meets in the sign of Capricorn. The solstice is caused by Cancer, winter by Capricorn; they are signs of great power since they are the turning-points in the very change of the year.”

Pseudo-Berossus of Cos”, I believe, is not only an inconvenient but an utterly improbable scholarly creation. A century ago all of our fragments were assigned to one and the same Berossus, although those dealing with the stars were segregated from those of a mythological or historical characters.

Thus the notion was fostered that Berossus wrote two works, one on Babylonian history, another on astrology. By the turn of the century E. Schwartz found unlikely Vitruvius‘ statement that Berossus eventually settled on the Aegean island of Cos, where he taught the Chaldaean disciplina.”

Robert Drews, “The Babylonian Chronicles and Berossus,” Iraq, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring, 1975), pp. 50-2.

Again, Berossus

“Versions in Greek of the Legends found by George Smith had long been known to classical scholars, owing to the preservation of fragments of them in the works of later Greek writers, e.g., Eusebius, Syncellus, and others.

The most important of these is derived from the History of Babylonia, which was written in Greek by BEROSUS, a priest of Bel-Marduk, i.e., the “Lord Marduk,” at Babylon, about 250 B.C. In this work Berosus reproduced all the known historical facts and traditions derived from native sources which were current in his day.

It is therefore not surprising to find that his account of the Babylonian beliefs about the origin of things corresponds very closely with that given in the cuneiform texts, and that it is of the greatest use in explaining and partly in expanding these texts. His account of the primeval abyss, out of which everything came, and of its inhabitants reads:–

“There was a time in which there existed nothing but darkness and an abyss of waters, wherein resided most hideous beings, which were produced on a two-fold principle. There appeared men, some of whom were furnished with two wings, others with four, and with two faces. They had one body but two heads; the one that of a man, the other of a woman; and likewise in their several organs both male and female. Other human figures were to be seen with the legs and horns of goats; some had horses’ feet; while others united the hind-quarters of a horse with the body of a man, resembling in shape the hippo-centaurs. Bulls likewise were bred there with the heads of men, and dogs with four told bodies, terminated in their extremities with the tails of fishes; horses also with the heads of dogs; men too and other animals, with the heads and bodies of horses and the tails of fishes. In short, there were creatures in which were combined the limbs of every species of animals. In addition to these, fishes, reptiles, serpents, with other monstrous animals, which assumed each other’s shape and countenance. Of all which were preserved delineations in the temple of Belus at Babylon.” (Cory, Ancient Fragments, London, 1832, pp. 24-26.)

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Legends of the Creation and the Fight Between Bel and the Dragon, 1921.

On the Deluge, from Berosus, via Alexander Polyhistor

” … Belus also formed the stars, and the sun and the moon, together with the five planets. (In the second book was the history of the ten kings of the Chaldeans, and the periods of each reign, which consisted collectively of one hundred and twenty-sari, or 432,000 years, reaching to the time of the Flood.

For Alexander, surnamed Polyhistor, as from the writings of the Chaldeans, enumerating the kings from the ninth, Ardates, to Xisuthrus, who is called by them the tenth, proceeds in this manner:)

After the death of Ardates, his son, Xisuthrus, succeeded, and reigned eighteen sari. In his time happened the great Deluge; the history of which is given in this manner. The Deity, Kronus, appeared to him in a vision, and gave him notice, that upon the fifteenth day of the month Daesia103 there would be a flood, by which mankind would be destroyed.

He therefore enjoined him to commit to writing a history of the beginning, progress, and final conclusion of all things, down to the present term; and to bury these accounts securely in the city of the Sun104 at Sippara; and to build a vessel, and to take with him into it his friends and relations; and to convey on board everything necessary to sustain life, and to take in also all species of animals that either fly, or rove upon the earth; and trust himself to the deep.

Having asked the Deity, whither he was to sail? he was answered, “To the Gods:” upon which he offered up a prayer for the good of mankind. And he obeyed the divine admonition: and built a vessel five stadia in length, and in breadth two. Into this he put everything which he had got ready; and last of all conveyed into it his wife, children, and friends.

After the Flood had been upon the earth, and was in time abated, Xisuthrus sent out some birds105 from the vessel, which, not finding any food, nor any place to rest their feet, returned to him again. After an interval of some days, he sent them forth a second time, and they now returned with their feet tinged with mud.

He made a trial a third time with these birds, but they returned to him no more; from whence he formed a judgment, that the surface of the earth was now above the waters. Having, therefore, made an opening in the vessel, and finding, upon looking out, that the vessel was driven to the side of a mountain, he immediately quitted it, being attended by his wife, his daughter, and the pilot.

Xisuthrus immediately paid his adoration to the earth, and, having constructed an altar, offered sacrifices106 to the gods.

These things being duly performed, both Xisuthrus, and those who came out of the vessel with him, disappeared. They who remained in the vessel, finding that the others did not return, came out, with many lamentations, and called continually on the name of Xisuthrus.

They saw him no more, but could distinguish his voice in the air, and could hear him admonish them to pay due regard to the gods. He likewise informed them that it was upon account of his piety that he was translated107 to live with the gods; that his wife and daughter, with the pilot, had obtained the same honour.

To this he added that he would have them make the best of their way to Babylonia, and search for the writings at Sippara, which were to be made known to all mankind: and that the place where they then were was the land of Armenia.108 The remainder having heard these words, offered sacrifices to the gods; and taking a circuit, journeyed towards Babylonia.

The vessel, being thus stranded in Armenia, some part of it yet remains in the Gordyaean 109 mountains in Armenia; and the people scrape off the bitumen,110 with which it had been outwardly coated, and make use of it by way of an alexipharmic 111 and amulet.

In this manner they returned to Babylon; and having found the writings at Sippara, they set about building cities, and erecting temples: and Babylon was thus inhabited again.” ―Syncellus. Chron. 28. Eusebius. Chron. 5, 8.

E. Edmond Hodges, Cory’s Ancient Fragments, 3d ed., 1876, pp. 60-3.

I.P Cory on Berossus

” … In the fragments of Berossus again we have perhaps some few traces of the antediluvian world. Like Sanchoniatho, Berossus seems to have composed his work with a serious regard for truth. He was a Babylonian by birth, and flourished in the reign of Alexander the Great, and resided for some years at Athens.

As a priest of Belus, he possessed every advantage which the records of the temple and the learning and traditions of the Chaldæans could afford. He appears to have sketched his history of the earlier times from the representations upon the walls of the temple. From written and traditionary knowledge he must have learned several points too well authenticated. to be called in question; and correcting the one by the other, and at the same time blending them as usual with Mythology, he has produced the strange history before us.

The first fragment preserved by Alexander Polyhistor is extremely valuable, and contains a store of very curious information. The first book of the history apparently opens naturally enough with a description of Babylonia. Then referring to the paintings, the author finds the first series a kind of preface to the rest.

All men of every nation appear assembled in Chaldæa: among them is introduced a personage who is represented as their instructor in the arts and sciences, and informing them of the events which had previously taken place. Unconscious that Noah is represented under the character of Oannes, Berossus describes him, from the hieroglyphical delineation, as a being literally compounded of a fish and a man, and as passing the natural, instead of the diluvian night in the ocean, with other circumstances indicative of his character and life.

The instructions of the Patriarch are detailed in the next series of paintings. In the first of which, I conceive, the Chaos is pourtrayed by the confusion of the limbs of every kind of animal: the second represents the creation of the universe: the third the formation of mankind: others again that of animals, and of the heavenly bodies.

The second book appears to have comprehended the history of the antediluvian world: and of this the two succeeding fragments seem to have been extracts. The historian, as usual, has appropriated the history of the world to Chaldæa.

He finds nine persons, probably represented as kings, preceding Noah, who is again introduced under the name Xisuthrus, and he supposes that the representation was that of the first dynasty of the Chaldæan kings.

From the universal consent of history and tradition he was well assured that Alorus or Orion, the Nimrod of the Scriptures, was the founder of Babylon and the first king: consequently he places him at the top, and Xisuthrus follows as the tenth.

The destruction of the records by Nabonasar left him to fill up the intermediate names as he could: and who are inserted, is not easy so to determine.2

Berossus has given also a full and accurate description of the deluge, which is wonderfully consonant with the Mosaic account. We have also a similar account, or it may be an epitome of the same from the Assyrian history of Abydenus, who was a disciple of Aristotle, and a copyist from Berossus. I have given also a small extract from the Fragments of Nicholaus Damascenus, relative to the deluge and the ark, whose wreck is said by him as well as Berossus, Chrysostom, and other writers, to have remained upon Ararat even at the very time in which they wrote.”

I.P. Cory, Ancient Fragments, 1832, Introduction.

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