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Kvanvig: Introducing the Apkallu Odakon

“In the first survey of the Sumerian tablets found in Tell Haddad, ancient Meturan, from 1993, A. Cavigneaux and F. Al-Rawi call attention to two pieces containing the Adapa Myth in Sumerian. They are dated to the Old Babylonian period.

Since the manuscripts are not yet published, we have to rely on the description of content given in this survey. The Sumerian version is close to to the Akkadian Amarna tablet and the Nineveh tablets already known (we return to this issue below).

What is of interest in our context here is that in the Sumerian version of the Adapa Myth proper is preceded by an introduction of about 100 lines. In this fragmentary introduction there is a reference to the flood, and the central concern is the feeding of the gods and the organization of humankind from the end of Atrahasis; the Royal Chronicle of Lagash describes the reorganization of humankind after the flood.

Since the fragmentary beginning of the manuscript is not published, we can, however, not be certain at what stage the feeding of the gods and the organization of humankind took place.

We have seen in the Eridu Genesis that there seems to be a pairing of the situation of humankind at the very beginning when they lived without proper culture with their situation after the flood when they had to start from the beginning again.

Anyway, the Sumerian version of the Adapa Myth demonstrates that Berossos was not the first to include the myth about the great primeval apkallu, Adapa, in the primeval history. This was already done in the Old Babylonian period.

The god Ea at far left, wearing the horned headdress indicative of divinity, with water coursing from his shoulders. 

A fish-apkallū is in the iconic posture with right hand raised in blessing or exorcism, with the banduddu bucket in his left hand. 

The next apkallū wields an indistinct and as yet undefined angular object in his right hand, with the typical banduddu bucket in his left. 

The entity at far right, which appears to be wearing a horned tiara indicative of divinty, remains unidentified and undefined.

The god Ea at far left, wearing the horned headdress indicative of divinity, with water coursing from his shoulders. 

A fish-apkallū is in the iconic posture with right hand raised in blessing or exorcism, with the banduddu bucket in his left hand. 

The next apkallū wields an indistinct and as yet undefined angular object in his right hand, with the typical banduddu bucket in his left. 

The entity at far right, which appears to be wearing a horned tiara indicative of divinty, remains unidentified and undefined.

Berossos had nothing specific to say about the other five monsters / sages, except that their appearances were like Oannes. About the seventh sage, he has a special report:

“During his reign (Enmeduranki’s) there also appeared from the Red Sea (Persian Gulf) another man-fish being whose name was Odakon. Berossos says that this monster explained in detail what Oannes originally had said in summary fashion.”

(Eusebius, (Arm.) Chronicles p. 4, 8-6, 8 and Syncellus 71, 3).

This information is a bit confusing, because Oannes had already taught everything necessary to know. In some strange way, Odakon seems to be a double twin of Oannes.

Antediluvian apkallū portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men, with Oannes and Odakon from Berossos the exemplars. These specific statuettes were buried in the foundations of the home of an exorcist, where they were positioned beneath doorways and against particular walls to exert a prophylactic effect, warding off evil.  The antediluvian type of apkallū, the so-called paradu fish, are often grouped in sevens.

Antediluvian apkallū portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men, with Oannes and Odakon from Berossos the exemplars.
These specific statuettes were buried in the foundations of the home of an exorcist, where they were positioned beneath doorways and against particular walls to exert a prophylactic effect, warding off evil.
The antediluvian type of apkallū, the so-called paradu fish, are often grouped in sevens.

Berossos does not record sages or scholars after the flood, but there is one exception that is attested both by Josephus in Jewish Antiquities I, 158 and Eusebius in Praeperatio Evangelica 9.16.2. We quote from Josephus:

“Berossos records our father Abraham. He does not mention him by name but reports the following. After the flood, in the tenth generation, among the Chaldeans there was a man, great, just, and all-knowing about the heavens.”

Now, if we had not known the Uruk tablet, we would have deemed Josephus’ information as an unhistorical theological speculation. Of course, it would have been nice to find the father of Israel whose origin according to Genesis 11-12 is Chaldean, listed among the great sages of the past in a Babylonian document.

The Uruk tablet draws, however, on a tradition very similar to the one we can recognize in Berossos: listing kings and sages together, the sages in the same order, and seven before the flood.

Then the Uruk tablet lists ten new sages / scholars after the flood and makes the surprising remark that the tenth of these was known by the Arameans, in Aramaic language, in the West, as Ahiqar.

We are in the fortunate position to verify this; both a novel about and proverbs by Ahiqar were circulating in the West both prior to the Uruk tablet and prior to Berossos. We must assume that Berossos knew what the author of the Uruk tablet knew: there existed in the West traditions about this great, righteous, and knowledgable man.

It seems thus likely that Berossos placed this man in the tenth generation, as Josephus claims. That Berossos had Abraham in mind is of course not correct. However it could be that the author of the priestly document to Genesis in his computation of ten generations from the flood to Abraham had Babylonian traditions in mind. This needs further reflections to which we will return.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 114-6.

Kvanvig: Berossos and Primeval History

“Berossos does not only list the sages in succession. He is especially interesting because of the information he gives about the first sage, Oannes, who parallels Uan in the two other lists. Berossos’ account is here so noteworthy that we quote it as a whole:

“In Babylonia there was a large number of people of different ethnic origins who had settled in Chaldea. They lived without discipline and order, just like animals.

In the very first year there appeared from the Red Sea (the Persian Gulf) in an area bordering Babylonia a frightening monster named Oannes, just as Apollodoros says in his history.

It had the whole body of a fish, but underneath and attached to the head of the fish there was another head, human, and joined to the tail of the fish, feet, like those of a man, and it had a human voice.

Its form has been preserved in sculpture to this day.

Berossos says that this monster spent its days with men, never eating anything, but teaching men the skills necessary for writing and for doing mathematics and for all sorts of knowledge: how to build cities, found temples, and make laws.

It taught men how to determine borders and divide land, also how to plant seeds and then harvest their fruits and vegetables. In short, it taught men all those things conducive to a stalled and civilized life.

Since that time nothing further has been discovered.

At the end of the day, this monster, Oannes, went back to the sea and spent the night. It was amphibious, able to live both on land and in the sea.

Later also other monsters similar to Oannes appeared, about whom Berossos gave more information in his writings on the kings. Berossos says about Oannes that he had written as follows about the creation and government of the world and had given these explanations to man.”

(A creation story based on Enuma Elish follows.)

(Eusebius, (Arm.) Chronicles, p.6, 8-9, 2 and Syncellus p. 49, 19).

It is not difficult to recognize the Sumerian concept of civilization in Berossos’ account. We have met this several times earlier in the way it also permeated some of the Babylonian literature.

Fish-man known as a Kulullû. Terracotta figurine (8th-7th BCE) in the Louvre collection, Nr. 3337.  The Kulullû is distinct from the fish-Apkallū. They are not the same.

Fish-man known as a Kulullû. Terracotta figurine (8th-7th BCE) in the Louvre collection, Nr. 3337.
The Kulullû is distinct from the fish-Apkallū. They are not the same.

In Atrahasis we met it in the relation between the lullû-man and the ilu-man. In the Eridu Genesis we met in it the description of human’s first uncivilized state, before the gods had given the human race kingship and they had established cities.

Sowie Museum 9-1796, sun-dried clay figurine of a suhurmaššu, probably from Aššur. Previously published: H.F. Lutz, University of California Publications in Semitic Philology 9/7 (1930), Rittig, 97.  Sowie Museum 9-1795, sun-dried figurine of a kilīlu, allegedly from Aššur. Previously published: Lutz, op. cit., Rittig, 95f. Plate XV.

Sowie Museum 9-1796, sun-dried clay figurine of a suhurmaššu, probably from Aššur. Previously published: H.F. Lutz, University of California Publications in Semitic Philology 9/7 (1930), Rittig, 97.
Sowie Museum 9-1795, sun-dried figurine of a kilīlu, allegedly from Aššur. Previously published: Lutz, op. cit., Rittig, 95f. Plate XV.

In the Royal Chronicle of Lagash this wrecked state of humankind was transposed to the period after the destruction by the flood. In condensed form, we find it in the Sumerian concept of me, which is linked to the names of both antediluvian kings and sages.

In many ways Berossos’ account is a description of how the me first was bestowed on the human race after they had lived like animals.

In the sources we have dealt with so far, Berossos is the first who explicitly combines the tradition of the apkallus with other blocks of tradition from primeval time. This may be suggested in Bīt Mēseri in the transition from the seven to the four sages, but it is not explicitly stated.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 113-4.

Human Sacrifice in Ancient Babylon

” … All the younger gods, who displaced the elder gods as one year displaces another, were deities of fertility, battle, lightning, fire, and the sun; it is possible, therefore, that Ashur was like Merodach, son of Ea, god of the deep, a form of Tammuz in origin.

His spirit was in the solar wheel which revolved at times of seasonal change. In Scotland it was believed that on the morning of May Day (Beltaine) the rising sun revolved three times. The younger god was a spring sun god and fire god. Great bonfires were lit to strengthen him, or as a ceremony of riddance; the old year was burned out.

Indeed the god himself might be burned (that is, the old god), so that he might renew his youth. Melkarth was burned at Tyre. Hercules burned himself on a mountain top, and his soul ascended to heaven as an eagle.

These fiery rites were evidently not unknown in Babylonia and Assyria. When, according to Biblical narrative, Nebuchadnezzar “made an image of gold” which he set up “in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon,” he commanded:

“O people, nations, and languages… at the time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick… fall down and worship the golden image.”

Certain Jews who had been “set over the affairs of the province of Babylonia,” namely, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego,” refused to adore the idol.

They were punished by being thrown into “a burning fiery furnace”, which was heated “seven times more than it was wont to be heated.” They came forth uninjured.

In the Koran it is related that Abraham destroyed the images of Chaldean gods; he “brake them all in pieces except the biggest of them; that they might lay the blame on that.” According to the commentators the Chaldaeans were at the time “abroad in the fields, celebrating a great festival.”

To punish the offender Nimrod had a great pyre erected at Cuthah.

“Then they bound Abraham, and putting him into an engine, shot him into the midst of the fire, from which he was preserved by the angel Gabriel, who was sent to his assistance.”

Eastern Christians were wont to set apart in the Syrian calendar the 25th of January to commemorate Abraham’s escape from Nimrod’s pyre.

It is evident that the Babylonian fire ceremony was observed in the spring season, and that human beings were sacrificed to the sun god. A mock king may have been burned to perpetuate the ancient sacrifice of real kings, who were incarnations of the god.

Isaiah makes reference to the sacrificial burning of kings in Assyria:

“For through the voice of the Lord shall the Assyrian be beaten down, which smote with a rod. And in every place where the grounded staff shall pass, which the Lord shall lay upon him, it shall be with tabrets and harps: and in battles of shaking will he fight with it.

For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared: he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood: the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.”

When Nineveh was about to fall, and with it the Assyrian Empire, the legendary king, Sardanapalus, who was reputed to have founded Tarsus, burned himself, with his wives, concubines, and eunuchs, on a pyre in his palace. Zimri, who reigned over Israel for seven days, “burnt the king’s house over him with fire.”

Saul, another fallen king, was burned after death, and his bones were buried “under the oak in Jabesh”.

In Europe the oak was associated with gods of fertility and lightning, including Jupiter and Thor. The ceremony of burning Saul is of special interest. Asa, the orthodox king of Judah, was, after death, “laid in the bed which was filled with sweet odours and divers kinds of spices prepared by the apothecaries’ art: and they made a very great burning for him” (2 Chronicles, xvi, 14).

Jehoram, the heretic king of Judah, who “walked in the way of the kings of Israel,” died of “an incurable disease. And his people made no burning for him like the burning of his fathers” (2 Chronicles, xxi, 18, 19).

The conclusion suggested by the comparative study of the beliefs of neighbouring peoples, and the evidence afforded by Assyrian sculptures, is that Ashur was a highly developed form of the god of fertility, who was sustained, or aided in his conflicts with demons, by the fires and sacrifices of his worshippers.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 348-51.

Eschatological Elevation of the Soul After Death

“The Bahir’s idea of the sefiroth appears in Isaac’s writings in a fully crystallized form. In his commentary on the Yesirah 4:3, the verse 1 Chronicles 29:11 is used for the first time as a biblical reference for the names and the sequence of the seven lower sefiroth, especially the first five among them: “Yours, Lord, are the greatness (gedullah), might (geburah), splendor (tif’ereth), triumph (nesah), and majesty (hod)—yes all (kol) that is in heaven and on earth; to You, Lord, belong kingship (mamlakhah) and preeminence above all.”

From here come the designations not yet used in the Bahir, of gedullah for hesed, tif’ereth for ‘emeth, and hod. Isaac himself for the most part uses the names hesed and pahad (as in the Bahir) instead of gedullah and geburah. The name tif’ereth, however, is already familiar to him.

Whereas the word kol, occurring in the aforementioned verse, already served in the Bahir as an epithet designating the “Righteous,” Isaac uses for this sefirah the noun “Righteous” and the epithet “Foundation of the world.” For the last sefirah, on the other hand, he employs almost exclusively an epithet still not familiar to the Bahir, although it is undoubtedly alluded to there.

This epithet is ‘atarah, a synonym for kether, which designates the lowest of the ten “crowns.” Like the Bahir, he names the first three sefiroth kether or mahshabah, hokhmah and binah.

In his commentary on Yesirah, Isaac mentions many of these sefiroth in the framework of fixed schemata, but this does not always enable us to comprehend the sequence of the sefiroth within them. What is strange is that in point of fact the structure of the sefiroth beyond the supreme three only interests him in detail when it is a question of prayer mysticism, or the interpretation of certain ritual commandments. They have their importance as stages of the contemplative ascent or of the eschatological elevation of the soul, after death, to even higher spheres.

But never are any coherent thoughts presented concerning their function and structure. This is particularly the case for the potencies of tif’ereth, yesod and ‘atarah, which play an especially important role in the evolution of the doctrine of the sefiroth. In contrast to this lack of interest in detail, one discerns in Isaac a more pronounced interest in the totality of the spiritual potencies expressed in language and, in a more general manner, in spiritual entities.

Having said that, the terminological differences between concepts like sefiroth, middoth, letters (of the alphabet) and hawwayoth (literally: essences) are by no means always clear, and their interpretation is often fraught with difficulties.

However, these difficulties are closely related to what is truly new in Isaac’s Kabbalah. Indeed, from the historical point of view their interest lies in the combination of the world of ideas of the Bahir and the entirely new elements that erupt, inspired by gnostic ideas, into the oldest form of the Kabbalah as represented by the Bahir.

This combination reflects speculative interests whose origin is no longer essentially determined by Gnosticism but rather by Neoplatonism and a language mysticism generated by the latter. Isaac is visibly struggling with new thoughts for which he is as yet unable to find clear and definitive expression. The awkwardness of his new terminology militates against the supposition that this lack of clarity, which often makes it so difficult to penetrate his meaning, is intentional.

His new terminology seems to be derived from philosophy, although we cannot identify its philosophical sources in the Hebrew tradition. The special importance of Isaac’s commentary on the Yesirah lies in the attempt to read into the old texts the new, speculative thoughts of a contemplative mystic. But we are no less surprised by the boldness with which he presents far-reaching ideas in his other cosmological fragments and in his remarks concerning the mystical theory of sacrifice. The particular manner in which Isaac applies his ideas to the task of man, to the connection between the terrestrial and the celestial worlds, and to eschatological matters merits closer consideration.

The path of the mystic, described by Isaac at the beginning of his commentary on the Yesirah, is (as Isaac of Acre already recognized in his paraphrase of several of these passages in his own commentary) that of systematically uncovering the divine—by means of reflective contemplation and within the innermost depths of such contemplation. Isaac postulates three stages in the mystery of the deity and its unfolding in creation and revelation.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 263-5.

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