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Tag: Die Beschwörungsserie Bit Meseri

Kvanvig: The Adapa Myth Symbolizes the Initiation of Humanity into Civilization

“The relationship between the first and seventh sage is complicated as well. In Bīt Mēseri the seventh sage is said to have ascended to heaven. In the fragmentary two other lists of sages in Bīt Mēseri the seventh sage is also related to heaven: in the second list he ascends like in the first; in the third he descends from heaven.

(Borger, “Die Beschwörungsserie Bīt Mēseri, 192-3. In the text as it is edited now by Weiher this comes in the second list, II, 2 where only the Sumerian text is extant, cf. Weiher, Spätbabylonische Texte, 49 and 51.)

Also the first sage is related to heaven; he is the light of the god of heaven. Nevertheless, both in Bīt Mēseri and in Berossos all the sages are related to water; they are described as fish-men.

A fish-apkallu drawn by A.H. Layard from a stone relief, one of a pair flanking a doorway in the Temple of Ninurta at Kalhu.  British Museum. 

Reproduced in Schlomo Izre'el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001.

 https://books.google.co.th/books?id=MbwwROVGl7UC&pg=PA3&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

A fish-apkallu drawn by A.H. Layard from a stone relief, one of a pair flanking a doorway in the Temple of Ninurta at Kalhu.
British Museum. 

Reproduced in Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001.


https://books.google.co.th/books?id=MbwwROVGl7UC&pg=PA3&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

This is explicitly clear in the name of the seventh sage, Utuabzu, which means “born in the apsû,” the water deep under the earth where Ea / Enki has his abode. In the first two lists in Bīt Mēseri the seventh sage is given this name. In the third list he is called Utuaabba, which is the same as the Sumerian epithet equated with adapu above.

Utuaabba does not only mean “wise,” directly, it can mean “born in the water,” a slight variation of Utuabzu. The reason why “born in the apsû / water” could designate “wise” is obviously connected to the apsû as the abode of the god of wisdom, Ea /Enki. Uan and Utuabzu are clearly thought of as two distinct figures in the lists, but there is a close correlation between them.

We think that both the double form of the name and the close connection the first and the seventh apkallu have to heaven call for a closer examination of the relationship between the Adapa Myth and the earliest of the lists, Bīt Mēseri.

We cannot in this context go into a profound analysis of the myth, which would demand a publication of its own. We are primarily interested in the interconnections between this myth and Bīt Mēseri. S. Izre’el has made a new edition of the manuscripts, together with an in-depth analysis. Izre’el’s approach is characterized by being both synchronic and structural.

(Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, 107-11).

Instead of carrying out what he calls a “sociopolitical interpretation,” he seeks out the deepest structural layers of the myth, how it interprets basic challenges in human existence.

A comparison with Piotr Michalowski is interesting here. Michalowski also applies a literary theory to the structure of the myth, taken from ritual studies.

(P. Michalowski, “Adapa and the Ritual Process,” RO 41 (1980): 77-82.)

He comes to the conclusion that the structure of the Adapa Myth is “isomorphic to the form of a rite de passage.” It is in this form that the structure of the text elucidates the dominant meaning of the composition: “the problem of the institutionalization of magic.”

In this sense Michalowski considers the myth to be etiological, for it demonstrates a concern for man’s most potent weapon—language, and how this power has to be channeled into a specific context, the art of magic.

For Izre’el this kind of analysis still remains in the sociopolitical dimension of the myth. “In the mythology of ancient Mesopotamia, language symbolizes intellligence.” I would like now to proceed according to Michalowski’s line of thinking and suggest that the Adapa Myth, structured as a rite of passage, describes Adapa’s passage into full humanity, symbolizing humans becoming aware of their own knowledge.

Mesopotamian tradition tells us that the Adapa Myth not only marks Adapa’s initiation into maturity, into becoming a full-fledged human being, but further symbolizes the initiation of all humanity into civilization.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 119-20.

Kvanvig: The Lists of the Seven Apkallus

“There are known three lists of apkallus, two cuneiform and the one in Berossos. The first known cuneiform list of seven apkallus was published by E. Reiner in 1961, and then reedited with new pieces added by R. Borger in 1974.

Already Reiner suggested that the broken tablet belonged to the Neo-Assyrian incantations series Bīt Mēseri, “protected house.” Borger made clear that the list belonged to the third tablet in this series, and that there are traces of two more lists of a similar kind.

(E. Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the ‘Seven Sages’,” Orientalia (NS) 30 (1961): 1-11. Borger, “Die Beschwörungsserie Bit Meseri,” 192-3.)

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.  The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities. The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.
The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities. The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.

There are found two copies of of the apkallu list from Bīt Mēseri in late Babylonia. A. Cavigneaux published a tiny little fragment in 1979. In 1983, E. von Weiher published the transliteration of the full list as part of an Uruk recension of Bīt Mēseri.

The tablets were found in the house of what was most likely a priest specializing in astrology and divination. They can be dated to the 4-3 century, which means about the same time as Berossos wrote his Babyloniaca.

That there existed a Babylonian recension of the apkallu list in Bīt Mēseri is important, because it demonstrates that the tradition contained in this list was not an isolated Assyrian phenomenon.

As already stated, the Antediluvian King List from Uruk, W 20 030, 7, published by van Dijk in 1962, contained both seven kings and seven parallel apkallus. Berossos also paralleled kings and apkallus, but unlike the Uruk tablet it has one apkallu parallel to the first king, a=one to the fourth, four to the sixth, and one to the seventh.

Fish-Apkallū statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.  The so-called parādu-fish apkallū were the seven antediluvian sages of Sumeria.

Fish-Apkallū statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.
The so-called parādu-fish apkallū were the seven antediluvian sages of Sumeria.

The names of the apkallus and their successions are identical in Bīt Mēseri and the Uruk tablet, with small variations in spelling. We render the names in the Sumerian form they have in the Uruk tablet:

  • Uan
  • Uandugga
  • Enmedugga
  • Enmegalamma
  • Enmebulugga
  • Anenlilda
  • Utuabzu

There is a correspondence to the Greek names in Berossos, but it demands both scholarly quibbling and a bit of creative imagination to explain how exactly the Sumerian words were transformed to Greek ones. We have to bear in mind that it is far from certain that we have Berossos’s own spellings. His text has gone through many hands.

In Bīt Mēseri the list of the seven apkallus is succeeded by a list of four apkallus and built into an incantation. For the sense of convenience we bring here an English translation based on Reiner’s English edition of a part of the list and Weiher’s German edition of the full list.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 107-8.

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