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Tag: British Museum 89589

Babyloniaca Book 1

“What, then, does it mean for Berossos to introduce himself as a Babylonian, and a priest of Bel? The question may seem odd, for it suggests a choice which prima facie Berossos did not have: was he not simply stating a fact?

And yet, I shall argue that Berossos did have a choice as to how he presented himself, and that both his profession as a priest and his self-portrayal as a Babylonian can be read as examples of carefully calibrated role play.

Let us first have a look at ethnicity. As a Babylonian, Berossos was a barbarian in Greek eyes, and broadly speaking that was not an auspicious starting point. Yet, non-Greek cultures could also carry more positive connotations.

By the Hellenistic period, Greek intellectuals had become accustomed to regard barbarian priests as commanding a privileged knowledge of history. Berossos very directly plays on that stereotype when he rejects the untruths spread by ‘Greek writers’ in Babyloniaca Book 3.

Greek readers would have appreciated that, as a priest of Bel, Berossos was in a good position to set the record straight; though the gesture would have had little resonance in a purely Mesopotamian context.

Indeed, we now know that from a Mesopotamian perspective there was no such thing as ‘a priest of Bel’ in Babylon, though there was of course a wide range of personnel associated with the main temple of Marduk, the Esagila.

Berossos, then, does not simply state a neutral fact when he introduces himself as a Babylonian and a priest of Bel. Rather, he masquerades as a figure from Greek oriental­ising lore so as to lodge a very specific claim to cultural authority: Babylonian priests (‘Chaldaeans’, as they were known), were not just seen as masters of time but also as sources of esoteric knowledge, essentially a society of proto-philosophers.

That cliche, I suggest, informs Berossos’ paraphrase of Enūma Eliš in Babyloniaca Book 1.

Battle between Marduk (Bel) and Tiamat. Drawn from a bas-relief from the Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal, King of Assyria, 885-860 B.C., at Nimrûd. British Museum, Nimrûd Gallery, Nos. 28 and 29. http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/06/tablet-of-destinies.html

Battle between Marduk (Bel) and Tiamat. Drawn from a bas-relief from the Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal, King of Assyria, 885-860 B.C., at Nimrûd.
British Museum, Nimrûd Gallery, Nos. 28 and 29.
http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/06/tablet-of-destinies.html

In his account of creation, Berossos describes the universe as being created from two main forces, Tiamat and BelTiamat provides the matter from which Bel shapes all things. She is female, he is male; she is passive, he is active; she is chaotic, dark and watery, he is orderly, active, bright and airy.

In Babylonian terms, this is not a bad paraphrase of Enūma Eliš, though it skips over the opening genealogies and radically condenses the rest of the narrative. Much of this work of condensation will be down to Alexander Polyhistor, the first-century BCE excerptor who had little incentive to preserve details of Berossos’ account that did not suit his sensationalist agenda.

British Museum 89589. A black serpentinite cylinder seal in the linear style portrays a snout-nosed, horned reptile, probably Tiamat as a dragon. The upper third of its long body rises from two front paws or hands, one of which is raised; the remainder of the body runs around the bottom of the seal and supports three figures; there are no hind legs.  A bearded god, Ninurta or Bel-Marduk, runs along the reptile's body with crossed, wedge-tipped quivers on his back. In his right hand he holds a six-pronged thunderbolt below which is a rhomb, while in his left he holds two arrows.  Behind the god, a smaller bearded god in a horned head-dress holds a spear before him.  On the tail of the reptile stands a goddess, who holds her arms open to seize the snout of the reptile.  To the left of her head is the eight-rayed star of Istar and the inverted crescent of the Moon God Sin.  The seal may illustrate a scene from the epic of creation in which the forces of chaos, led by Tiamat, are defeated by a god representing cosmic order, Ninurta, or Bel-Marduk.  © The Trustees of the British Museum http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=159863&objectId=277961&partId=1

British Museum 89589.
A black serpentinite cylinder seal in the linear style portrays a snout-nosed, horned reptile, probably Tiamat as a dragon. The upper third of its long body rises from two front paws or hands, one of which is raised; the remainder of the body runs around the bottom of the seal and supports three figures; there are no hind legs.
A bearded god, Ninurta or Bel-Marduk, runs along the reptile’s body with crossed, wedge-tipped quivers on his back. In his right hand he holds a six-pronged thunderbolt below which is a rhomb, while in his left he holds two arrows.
Behind the god, a smaller bearded god in a horned head-dress holds a spear before him.
On the tail of the reptile stands a goddess, who holds her arms open to seize the snout of the reptile.
To the left of her head is the eight-rayed star of Istar and the inverted crescent of the Moon God Sin.
The seal may illustrate a scene from the epic of creation in which the forces of chaos, led by Tiamat, are defeated by a god representing cosmic order, Ninurta, or Bel-Marduk.
© The Trustees of the British Museum
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=159863&objectId=277961&partId=1

But even the truncated version of Babyloniaca Book 1 which Polyhistor passed on to Eusebius still betrays signs of Berossos’ original ap­proach. What Berossos seems to have done in Babyloniaca Book 1 is to extract two cosmic principles from the jumble of divine characters in Enūma Eliš.

The resulting account of creation strikingly resembles Stoic physics as formulated by Berossos’ contemporary Zeno of Citium. For Zeno too, the universe was based on two entities, matter and god.

Like Bel in Berossos, Zeno’s god was active, male, the shaping principle that pervaded matter; and like Berossos’ Tiamat, Stoic matter was passive, female, waiting to be dissected and moulded.

Sceptics may object that this convergence between Berossos and Zeno may as well be pure coincidence; after all, there are only so many ways one can imagine a cosmogony, and the opposition between Marduk and Tiamat was of course prefigured in Enūma Eliš itself.”

Johannes Haubold, “The Wisdom of the Chaldaeans: Reading Berossos, Babyloniaca Book 1,” 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. 34-5.

Legends of Creation and Dragons

” … Both the source of the original form of the Legend of the Fight between Ea and Apsu, and Marduk and Tiâmat, and the period of its composition are unknown, but there is no doubt that in one form or another it persisted in Mesopotamia for thousands of years.

The apocryphal book of “Bel and the Dragon” shows that a form of the Legend was in existence among the Babylonian Jews long after the Captivity, and the narrative relating to it associates it with religious observances.

But there is no foundation whatsoever for the assertion which has so often been made that the Two Accounts of the Creation which are given in the early chapters in Genesis are derived from the Seven Tablets of Creation described in the preceding pages. It is true that there are many points of resemblance between the narratives in cuneiform and Hebrew, and these often illustrate each other, but the fundamental conceptions of the Babylonian and Hebrew accounts are essentially different.

In the former the earliest beings that existed were foul demons and devils, and the God of Creation only appears at a later period, but in the latter the conception of God is that of a Being Who existed in and from the beginning, Almighty and Alone, and the devils of chaos and evil are His servants.

The seal may illustrate a scene from the epic of creation in which the forces of chaos, led by Tiamat, are defeated by a god representing cosmic order, probably Ninurta.

The seal may illustrate a scene from the epic of creation in which the forces of chaos, led by Tiamat, are defeated by a god representing cosmic order, probably Ninurta.

Among the primitive Semitic peoples there were probably many versions of the story of the Creation; and the narrative told by the Seven Tablets is, no doubt, one of them in a comparatively modern form.

It is quite clear that the Account of the Creation given in the Seven Tablets is derived from very ancient sources, and a considerable amount of literary evidence is now available for reconstructing the history of the Legend.

Thus in the Sumerian Account the narrative of the exploits of the hero called ZIUSUDU 19  begins with a description of the Creation and then goes on to describe a Flood, and there is little doubt that certain passages in this text are the originals of the Babylonian version as given in the Seven Tablets.

In the Story of ZIUSUDU, however, there is no mention of any Dragon. And there is reason to think that the Legend of the Dragon had originally nothing whatever to do with the Creation, for the texts of fragments of two distinct Accounts 20 of the Creation describe a fight between a Dragon and some deity other than Marduk.

In other Accounts the Dragon bears a strong resemblance to the Leviathan of Psalm civ, 26; Job xli, 1. In the one text he is said to be 50 biru 21 in length, and 1 biru in thickness; his mouth was 6 cubits (about 9 feet) wide, and the circumference of his ears 12 cubits (18 feet).

He was slain by a god whose name is unknown, and the blood continued to flow from his body for three years, three months, one day and one night.

In the second text the Dragon is 60 biru long and his thickness is 30 biru; the diameter of each eye is half a biru, and his paws are 20 biru long.

Thus there is every reason for believing that the Legend as it is given in the Seven Tablets is the work of some editor, who added the Legend of the Creation to the Legend of the Dragon in much the same way as the editor of the Gilgamish Legends included an account of the Deluge in his narrative of the exploits of his hero.

All forms of the Legend of the Creation and of the Dragon were popular in Babylonia, and one of them achieved so much notoriety that the priest employed recited it as an incantation to charm away the toothache.

The literary form of the text of the Seven Tablets fulfils the requirements of Semitic poetry in general. The lines usually fall into couplets, the second line being the antiphon of the first, e.g.:–

“When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name.”

Thus we have:–

enuma elish || lâ nabû shamamu
shaplish ammatum || shuma lâ zakrat

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

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