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Tag: Daniel

Lenormant on the Great Babylonian Work on Magic

“The great work on magic, many copies of which had been executed by the scribes of Ashurbanipal, according to the pattern placed centuries since in the library of the famous school for priests at Erech in Chaldea, was composed of three different books.

We know the title of one of the three, “The Wicked Spirits,” for we find at the end of each of the tablets, which come from it and which have been preserved entire, “Tablet No. __ of the Wicked Spirits.”

As the title shows, it was filled exclusively with formulae of conjurations and imprecations, which were designed to repulse demons and other wicked spirits, to avert their fatal action, and to shelter the invoker from their attacks.

Portions of a second book exist, and, judging from what remains of it, it would seem to be formed of a collection of these incantations, to which was attributed the power of curing various maladies.

Lastly, the third book contained Hymns to certain gods. A supernatural and mysterious power was attributed to the chanting of these hymns, which are, however, of a very different character from the regular liturgical prayers of the official religion, a few of which have been preserved to us.

It is curious to notice that the three parts composing thus the great work on magic, of which Sir Henry Rawlinson has found the remains, correspond exactly to the three classes of Chaldean doctors, which Daniel (ii, 2; v. II) enumerates, together with the astrologers and divines (Kasdim and Gazrim), that is, the Khartumim or conjurors, the Chakamim or physicians, and the Asaphim or theosophists.”

François Lenormant, Chaldean Magic, “The Magic and Sorcery of the Chaldeans,” Chapter I, 1878, pp. 13-4. Originally published as La Magie Chez Les Chaldeens, 1847.

The View of Babylon at the Near End of History

“The influence and prestige of Mesopotamia ensured that its myths, legends, and history were widely disseminated in the Near East and beyond. Many elements of Assyrian and Babylonian legal institutions and laws, science, astronomy, mathematics and medicine, calendar and the division of time, as well as magical and ritual beliefs and practices such as divination were widely adopted, as can be seen in Classical and Hellenistic Greek literature and in the Bible.

Whereas the early Greeks knew of Mesopotamia at one remove, the Israelites had direct and often painful experience of the Mesopotamians. Mesopotamian myths and history are interwoven with biblical accounts of the early days of the world: for example, the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. From the mid-ninth century B.C.E., the biblical kingdoms of Israel and Judah suffered from Assyrian expansionism, and revolts against Assyrian, and later, Babylonian, rule led to the sack of their cities and the deportation of many of their citizens. The climax came in 588–587 B.C.E., when Jerusalem was put to the torch, the Temple destroyed, and its notables exiled to Babylon.

Although a substantial Jewish community flourished in Babylon for many centuries, becoming familiar with Babylonian traditions, it is the purple prose of the traditionalists who returned to Judah that formed the picture of Mesopotamia that passed into Western consciousness via the Bible. Centuries of conflict had produced a very hostile biblical view of Mesopotamian culture and civilization, especially of Babylon “the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17:5), ruled by supposedly corrupt and decadent rulers like Belshazzar, who was “weighed in the balance and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27).

Although the Greeks had no such political axe to grind, they also gave the Mesopotamians a bad press, contrasting their alien practices with the civilized behavior epitomized in the Greek mind by the Greeks. Thus, for example, Herodotus draws attention to the practice of sacred prostitution. He also gives an anecdotal and fanciful account of Mesopotamian history. In contrast, his descriptions of the cities of Babylonia, and particularly Babylon itself, are both accurate and informative.

Nevertheless, contemporaries came to doubt his accounts, which conflicted with those in the twenty-three-volume Persica of Ctesias, a Greek doctor at the Persian court in the fifth century B.C.E. In fact, Ctesias’s account is far less reliable than that of Herodotus, being filtered through the attitudes and knowledge of Mesopotamia’s Persian conquerors. Unfortunately, it was upon Ctesias’s work that later Classical scholars based their writings about Mesopotamia.

This was despite the existence of a far better account, a three-volume work by the third century B.C.E. Babylonian scholar Berossus. A native of Babylon, Berossus wrote in Greek but had access to many cuneiform texts that provided detailed and accurate information on Mesopotamian history and culture. Berossus’s Babyloniaca, which ran from the Creation to Alexander’s conquest, was copied and circulated for a few centuries but by the first century B.C.E. had been largely superseded by a digest in which a Greek scholar, Alexander Polyhistor, uncritically assembled material from a number of different and conflicting texts, including Berossus and Ctesias. Information was drawn from Berossus’s work to calculate chronology, particularly the dates of the Creation and the Flood, but his original was otherwise neglected. Little of it survived the Classical period.

The Hellenistic Greeks took an active interest in the visible relics of Mesopotamia’s past. Alexander the Great began reconstructing the ziggurat of Marduk (the Tower of Babel), although work ceased upon his death. His successors carried out restorations in the precinct of Marduk and of the temple of Nabu in Borsippa. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, reputedly built by Nebuchadrezzar for his Median queen, Amyitis, were regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, their fame long outlasting their physical existence. Some versions of the list of Seven Wonders also included the great walls of Babylon, said by Herodotus to be wide enough to turn a four-horse chariot on.”

Jane R. McIntosh, Ancient Mesopotamia, 2005, pp. 21-3.

The Second Dream of Nebuchadnezzar II

“But Daniel’s three companions—Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abednego—refused to worship a golden image which the King had set up, and he commanded that they should be cast into a fiery furnace, through which they passed unharmed.

This circumstance still more turned the heart of Nebuchadrezzar in the direction of the God of Israel. A second dream which he had, he begged Daniel to interpret. He said he had seen a tree in the midst of the earth of more than natural height, which flourished and was exceedingly strong, so that it reached to heaven. So abundant was the fruit of this tree that it provided meat for the whole earth, and so ample its foliage that the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the air dwelt in its midst.

A spirit descended from heaven and called aloud, demanding that the tree should be cut down and its leaves and fruit scattered, but that its roots should be left in the earth surrounded by a band of iron and brass. Then, ordering that the tree should be treated as if it were a man, the voice of the spirit continued to ask that it should be wet with the dew of heaven, and that its portion should be with the beasts in the grass of the earth.

“Let his heart be changed from a man’s,” said the voice,

“and let a beast’s heart be given him ; and let seven times pass over him.”

Then was Daniel greatly troubled. He kept silence for a space until the King begged him to take heart and speak. The tree, he announced, represented Nebuchadrezzar himself, and what had happened to it in the vision would come to pass regarding the great King of Babylon.

He would be driven from among men and his dwelling would be with the beasts of the field. He would be made to eat grass as oxen and be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven times would pass over him, till he knew and recognized that the Most High ruled in the kingdom of man and gave it to whomsoever he desired.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 38-9.

The First Dream of Nebuchadnezzar II

“The King, hearing of this circumstance, sent for them and found them much better informed than all his magicians and astrologers.

Nebuchadrezzar dreamed dreams, and informed the Babylonian astrologers that if they were unable to interpret them they would be cut to pieces and their houses destroyed, whereas did they interpret the visions they would be held in high esteem.

They answered that if the King would tell them his dream they would show the interpretation thereof; but the King said that if they were wise men in truth they would know the dream without requiring to be told it, and upon some of the astrologers of the court replying that the request was unreasonable, he was greatly incensed and ordered all of them to be slain.

But in a vision of the night the secret was revealed to Daniel, who begged that the wise men of Babylon be not destroyed, and going to a court official he offered to interpret the dream.

He told the King that in his dream he had beheld a great image, whose brightness and form were terrible. The head of this image was of fine gold, the breast and arms of silver, and the other parts of brass, excepting the legs which were of iron, and the feet which were partly of that metal and partly of clay.

But a stone was cast at it which smote the image upon its feet and it brake into pieces and the wind swept away the remnants. The stone that had smitten it became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

Then Daniel proceeded to the interpretation. The King, he said, represented the golden head of the image; the silver an inferior kingdom which would rise after Nebuchadrezzar’s death; and a third of brass which should bear rule over all the earth.

The fourth dynasty from Nebuchadrezzar would be as strong as iron, but since the toes of the image’s feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so should that kingdom be partly strong and partly broken.

Nebuchadrezzar was so awed with the interpretation that he fell upon his face and worshipped Daniel, telling him how greatly he honoured the God who could have revealed such secrets to him; and he set him as ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and made him chief of the governors over all the wise men of that kingdom.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 37-8.

There Were Giants

” … But if all the nations, or even the upper classes of those nations, which bear the name, be the sons of Cush, one-third of the present human race must be the descendants of that patriarch. Indeed, before the introduction of Ionism, Epiphanius and others appear to have included all mankind under the name of Scuths. The first apostacy might have been introduced by Cush, and its followers have borne his name; which the succeeding heresy of Nimrod could not obliterate.

The Scythian nations of Touran and the North were generally addicted to the Scythic superstition; and whenever they rolled back the tide of war upon their ancient rivals; the idols temples and cities were the objects upon which they satiated their revenge.

They were esteemed excommunicated, and of the Giant race, Nephelim, Rephaim and Anakim. The Scuths of Iran were also of the Giant race, with Nimrod as their chief. Of the Titanian war there appears to be a double aspect. When the Scuths of Touran are the Giants, the war between them and the Ionim is the subject of the legend; and they are the Giants cast out into Cimmerian darkness, and buried under mountains.

The other view presents both parties conjointly before the schism, as the Nephelim, Apostates or Giants, engaged in carrying on the war against Heaven itself. And in these accounts we find more frequent allusions to the Tower and its supernatural overthrow.

The catastrophe at Babel completed the dispersion. On the division of the earth and planting of the nations, there are some very curious notices extant. But whether Nimrod and his immediate adherents survived, and retained possession of Babylon, or transferred their seat of government to Nineveh and founded the great Iranian empire, or whether that empire and city were founded by Assur and the sons of Shem, is still a subject of dispute.

We find Nimrod, however, under the well-known title of Alorus, at the head of the two Chaldæan dynasties, mentioned above: but these appear rather to refer to the antediluvian patriarchs than to the proper kings of Chaldæa.

The first dynasty of Chaldæan Kings is placed by almost all chronologists as the first Iranian dynasty, that of Nimrod under the name of Evechius, and his immediate descendants. Evexius is also placed by Polyhistor as the first Chaldæan king. The dynasty of the Arabian kings of Chaldæan is placed by Eusebius, Syncellus and others, as well as by Berossus, next in the order of succession.

They have likewise been supposed to be a Scythic nation, which broke in upon the empire from the Scythian settlements of Cashgar, and obtained possession either of the entire empire, or only of the city of Babylon, during the period of its desolation, with the plains of Shinar and the country round the head of the Persian gulf, from whence they were expelled, and discharged themselves upon Palestine as the Palli or Philistines, and upon Egypt as the Hycsos or Shepherd Kings.

Next in succession, according to Eusebius and Syncellus, or perhaps contemporary with the preceding, came the long line of the great dynasty of the Assyrian Kings, who held the empire of the world for ten or twelve centuries, till their dominion was wrested from them by the Medes in the time of Thonus Concolerus, the Sardanapalus of the Greek historians.

The different catalogues of the great Assyrian succession that are extant, will be found among the Dynasties. The overthrow of the Assyrian empire was followed by several years of universal anarchy, bloodshed and revolution. And it is ascertained, that it was during this scene of confusion that Jonah was sent upon his mission to stop its progress at Nineveh.

[ … ]

The Babylonians acquired a temporary independence at the fall of the Assyrian empire, but after two or three short reigns they were subdued by Senecherib. Syria also became an independent kingdom, and prospered for a time, till again reduced under the Assyrian yoke. Persia at the same time arose, and alone maintained its independence against the growing power of the Medes and the new Assyrian dynasty, till the successes of Cyrus raised it above them all, and vested the empire of the world in the Persian race.

The Assyrian empire revived under Nabonasar, supposed to be the same with the Salmanasar of the Scriptures. Of this dynasty three several catalogues will be found, the Ecclesiastical and Astronomical canons preserved by Syncellus, and the celebrated canon of Ptolemæus, besides some other notices of the successors of Nabonasar, among the supplemental Chaldæan fragments.

The first princes of the line appear to have fixed their residence at Nineveh, and among them we may recognize the Tiglath Pileser, Senecherib, and Esar Haddon of the Scriptures. Their race appears to have terminated in Saracus, another Sardanapalus.

Nabopollasar, a successful rebel, began the last line of the Assyrian and Chaldæan monarchs. He transferred the seat of empire to Babylon, and in his reign, his celebrated son, Nebuchadnezzar, extended his conquests over the bordering kingdoms of the north and west, by the reduction of Syria, Phœnicia, Judæa, Egypt, and Arabia; an accurate account of which is transmitted by Berossus.

On the death of his father, Nebuchadnezzar succeeded to the throne. Concerning him we have several very interesting fragments from Berossus, and one from Megasthenes. In these are detailed the splendor of his works at Babylon, its celebrated walls, and brazen gates; its temples, palaces, and hanging gardens.

The prophesy of Nebuchadnezzar, probably alludes to the public notification of Daniel’s interpretation of his vision.”

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

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