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On the Mullilu, the “cleaner,” the Purification Instrument of the Apkallu Exorcist

Apkallu Attributes

“–mullilu, “purification instrument” (literally: “cleaner”).

When it is agreed upon that a word denoting the cone, the most common object in the hands of the bird-apkallū and the fish-apkallū, must appear among the terms denoting objects held by the apkallū in ritual I/II, this word can only be mullilu.

The identification of mullilu as denoting the cone is based on the observation that the cone on reliefs, seals and in the Kleinplastik never occurs as the only object held by an apkallū; thus e’ru, libbi gišimmari, and urigallu, the other objects held by an apkallū, are excluded.

Klengel-Brandt (FuB 10 34, cf. Rittig Kleinplastik 215) thinks mullilu denotes “eine Art kurzen Wedel … der hauptsachlich zum besprengen mit Wasser benutzt worden ist“, and indentifies it with the cone. Correctly, but without justification, Parker (Essays Wilkinson 33) states that mullilu, “purifier”, “may be the cone-shaped object carried by the genii”.

Umu-Apkallū in the characteristic act of purification, sprinkling sacred water from the Banduddu bucket with the Mullilu cone.  From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal. AO 19845

Umu-Apkallū in the characteristic act of purification, sprinkling sacred water from the Banduddu bucket with the Mullilu cone.
From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.
AO 19845

Unclear is BBR 26 v 39ff. (restored from 28:9, quoted by CAD M/2 189a), where the king carries a mullilu in his right and in his left hand. Never, on seals, reliefs or as a statue, does a figure carry a cone in both his left and his right hand.

The identity of the cone is still being debated: male inflorescence of the date-palm, or cone of a coniferous tree (cf., with previous literature, Stearns AfOB 15 2443). In a recent study, the second option is hesitantly favoured (Bleibtreu, Flora 61f., 93f., 123f.).

A bird-apkallu with mullilu and banduddu.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin from an Assyrian bas-relief from Khorsabad. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0011

A bird-apkallu with mullilu and banduddu.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin from an Assyrian bas-relief from Khorsabad.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0011

The Akkadian term mullilu does not give a clue. From a philological point of view the fir-cone (terinnu) is preferable to the male inflorescence of the date-palm (rikbu, cf. Landsberger Date Palm 19): terinnu is attested as an instrument bringing about the release of sin (Maqlû I 24, cf. Landsberger Date Palm 14) and thus resembles the other objects carried by the apkallū. For rikbu no such use is known.

Regarding cone and bucket, we conclude with the following:

  • The bucket is always carried in the left hand. The other hand may be empty, or may carry a variety of objects, such as the sprig (Kolbe Reliefprogramme Type VI), which occur also in the hands of figures not carrying buckets. The value of the bucket in the ritual cannot be dependent on the objects held in the other hand. The bucket, or rather its content, is effective simply by being present.
  • One object, the cone, appears only when the figure in question carries a bucket in its left hand. The value of the cone must in some way be dependent on the value of the bucket.
  • The texts indicate that the bucket contained holy water effectuating “release”. As was proposed before, the dependent cone “purifier”(mullilu) held in the right hand activated the holy water: it was a sprinkler (Klengel-Brandt, Rittig, CAD M/1l 189a).
  • The figures carrying buckets (and cones) are engaged in a purification ritual. As will be seen below, this accords well with their function of apkallū.
  • Figures carrying cones point their cone at the sacred tree, the king, or courtiers (Stearns AfOB 15 64f.). Figures standing in doorways and apparently pointing their cones at nothing, are perhaps best thought of as pointing their cones at passing visitors, just as the weapons and the gestures of greeting are directed at the visitors, and not at the building.
  • The sacred tree benefits from the activities of the genii, the genii do not need the tree, cf. Stearns AfOB 15 70ff. It is not necessary to understand the meaning of the tree in order to understand the meaning of the figures with bucket and cone.
  • For the tree we refer to Porada AASOR 24 108ff., Madhloon Sumer 26 137ff., Stearns AfOB 15 70ff. Genge AcOr 33 321ff., Hrouda BaM 3 41ff., Kolbe Reliefprogramme 83ff., Bleibtreu Flora 37ff., and passim, Parker Essays Wilkinson 38. For a doubtful connection with the texts, cf. van Dijk Syncretism 175 f., and Lugal 1 10 ff. (see below 000).”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, p. 67.

Apkallu Details (Excerpt from Wiggermann)

“Although text II is an extract, and as such less informative on the ritual than text I, it nevertheless supplies information not supplied by text I. The extra information of text II is given below figure by figure in the order of text I.

Human apkallu, known as ummiamu, distinguished with two pairs of wings. In a gesture of ritual purification, he holds a

Human apkallu, known as ummiamu, distinguished with two pairs of wings. In a gesture of ritual purification, he holds a “cleaner” cone in one hand, and a bucket in the other. The cone is called a mullilu, the bucket a banduddu. From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.
AO 19845

For each figure the details relevant to the discussions below are added: number of order in text II, name, number of statues, material, nature, character of incantation and inscription, attributes.

1.1          umu-apkallû, I 44ff.; 7; e’ru; anthropomorphic/human.

attributes: in the right hand: a cornel(-stick) charred at both ends; left hand on breast.
buried: ina SAG g’N?., “at the head of the bed” (II Obv. 11).
incantation: ÉN VII NUN.ME.MEŠ a-šá-red-du-tú, “seven leading sages” (II Obv. 11). Text I omits this incantation; its function is apparently fulfilled by the incantation ÉN UDUG HUL EDIN.NA DAGAL.LA I 40 (cf. below III.C.).

These figures are not supplied with horns of bronze/copper, which would positively identify them as gods, nor do the inscriptions and incantations characterize them as divine: they are sages of human descent, giving life by their incantations, and putting to flight evil.

The lack of added precision in the description (in contrast to the specifications of the bird- and fish-apkallū), and the head dress, garments, and hands, make them anthropomorphic.

A King, Ashurnasirpal, interacts with an attendant at far right. An apkallu is depicted at far left, denoted by his wings and his characteristic pose, with raised right hand and left hand holding a bucket. Apkallu in this pose typically have a cone in their right hands, which they use to ritually sprinkle water.

A King, Ashurnasirpal, interacts with an attendant at far right. An apkallu is depicted at far left, denoted by his wings and his characteristic pose, with raised right hand and left hand holding a banduddu bucket. Apkallu in this pose typically have a cone in their right hands, a mullilu, which they use to ritually sprinkle water.

[ … ]

9.2          Bird-apkullū, I 170ff.; 7; clay and wax; human/bird.

attributes: in the right hand a cleaner (mullilu), in the left a bucket.
buried: ina SUHUŠ É II-i ina SAG gis NÁ, “at the base of the (wall of the) “second room”, at the head of the bed” (II Obv. 14). The translation of II-i is uncertain: Smith JRAS 1926 696: “second pavement”(709 14: “not clear”); Gurney, Hibbert and Rittig suppose that II-i introduces an alternative position, which seems improbable in the present context.

In MAss/NAss the ša bīti šanî (CAD B 296b) is a servant in the dining room, and bītu šanû is accordingly perhaps “dining room”, cf. CAD B 297f., Kinnier Wilson CTN I 85, Postgate FNALD 5:5, Dailey CTN 3 165 ad 12. An incantation to these figures is attested only in text II (Obv. 14, incipit): ÉN at-tú-nu NU NUN.ME ma-sa-ri, “incantation: you are the statues of the sages, the guardians”: the incipit reveals only a part of their character: they are guardians.

In the top register, Ummiamu, human apkallu that are postdiluvian, tend to a sacred tree. In the lower register, antediluvian apkallu with avian heads tend to a sacred tree.  The pinecones and buckets in their hands are now understood to be standard devices used to sprinkle water. The water sprinkling ritual was intended to liberate sin.

In the top register, Ummiamu, human apkallu that are postdiluvian, tend to a sacred tree. In the lower register, antediluvian apkallu with avian heads tend to a sacred tree.
The tree cones and buckets in their hands are now understood to be standard devices used to sprinkle water, known as mullilu and banduddu, respectively .
The water sprinkling ritual was intended to liberate sin.

10.3        Fish-apkallū, I 174ff.; 7; clay; human/fish.

attributes: in the right hand a cleaner, in the left a bucket.
buriedina I.DIB. É.NUN, “at the threshold of the bedroom (II Obv. 16)”. The incantation to these figures is the same as the one to the bird-apkallū (only in text II Obv. 16).

11.4        Fish-apkallū, I 178ff.; 7; clay; human/fish.

attributes; in the right hand on offshoot of the datepalm, the left on the breast (Ed Note: sic).

buried: ina tar-siina EGIR gil GU.ZA, “opposite the gate, behind the chair” (II Obv. 18)
The incantation to these figures is the same as the one to the bird-apkallū (only in text II Obv. 18).

12.5        Fish-apkallū, I 181ff.; 7; clay; human/fish.

attributes: in the right hand a standard, the left on the breast.
buried: ina MÚRU É ina IGI-[at]gis GU.ZA, “in the middle of the room, in front of the chair” (II Obv. 20).
The incantation to these figures is the same as the one to the bird-apkallū (only in text II Obv. 20.”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, pp. 46-9.

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