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Tag: Etana

Selz: Plant of Birth or Plant of Life in the Etana Legend?

“The story of Etana, one of the oldest tales in a Semitic language, was, as I have argued elsewhere, modeled after the then extant Sumerian tales of the Gilgamesh Epic.

Gilgamesh’s search for “the plant of life,” the ú-nam-ti-la (šammu ša balāti) was, however, replaced by Etana’s search for the plant of birth-giving (šammu ša alādi). The entire story runs as follows:

British Museum K. 19530, Library of Ashurbanipal (reigned 669-631 BCE), excavated from Kouyunjik by Austen Henry Layard. Neo-Assyrian 7th Century BCE, Nineveh.  This cuneiform tablet details the legend of Etana, a mythological king of Kish.  http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=287204&partId=1&searchText=WCT28297&page=1 http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_legend_of_etana.aspx This image is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.

British Museum K. 19530, Library of Ashurbanipal (reigned 669-631 BCE), excavated from Kouyunjik by Austen Henry Layard. Neo-Assyrian 7th Century BCE, Nineveh.
This cuneiform tablet details the legend of Etana, a mythological king of Kish.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=287204&partId=1&searchText=WCT28297&page=1
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_legend_of_etana.aspx
This image is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.

The gods build the first city Kish, but kingship is still in heaven. A ruler is wanted (and found). Due to an illness, Etana’s wife is unable to conceive. The plant of birth is wanted.

In the ensuing episode eagle and snake swore an oath of friendship. Suddenly the eagle plans to eat up the snake’s children; a baby eagle, with the name of Atrahasīs opposes this plan, but eagle executes it.

Now, the weeping snake seeks justice from the sun-god. With the god’s help the eagle is trapped in a burrow, and now the eagle turns to the sun-god for help. He receives the answer that, because of the taboo-violation he cannot help, but will send someone else.

Etana prays daily for the plant of birth and in a dream the sun-god tells Etana to approach the eagle. In order to get the eagle’s support Etana helps him out of his trap.

BM 89767, Limestone cylinder seal illustrating the myth of Etana, shepherd and legendary king of Kish, who was translated to heaven by an eagle to obtain the plant of life.  This seal portrays Etana’s ascent, witnessed by a shepherd, a dog, goats and sheep. Dated 2250 BCE, this seal was excavated by Hormuz Rassam, and came from an old, previously unregistered collection acquired before 1884.  Dominique Collon, Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum: Cylinder Seals II: Akkadian, Post-Akkadian, Ur III Periods, II, London, British Museum Press, 1982.  R.M. Boehner, Die Entwicklung der Glyptic wahrend der Akkad-Zeit, 4, Berlin, 1965.  Alfred Jeremias, Das Alte Testament im Lichte des Alten Orients: Handbuch zur biblisch-orientalischen Altertumskunde, Leipzig, JC Hinrichs, 1906.  Also AN128085001, 1983, 0101.299.  This image is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.  © The Trustees of the British Museum. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=128085001&objectid=368707

BM 89767, Limestone cylinder seal illustrating the myth of Etana, shepherd and legendary king of Kish, who was translated to heaven by an eagle to obtain the plant of life.
This seal portrays Etana’s ascent, witnessed by a shepherd, a dog, goats and sheep. Dated 2250 BCE, this seal was excavated by Hormuzd Rassam, and came from an old, previously unregistered collection acquired before 1884.
Dominique Collon, Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum: Cylinder Seals II: Akkadian, Post-Akkadian, Ur III Periods, II, London, British Museum Press, 1982.
R.M. Boehner, Die Entwicklung der Glyptic wahrend der Akkad-Zeit, 4, Berlin, 1965.
Alfred Jeremias, Das Alte Testament im Lichte des Alten Orients: Handbuch zur biblisch-orientalischen Altertumskunde, Leipzig, JC Hinrichs, 1906.
Also AN128085001, 1983, 0101.299.
This image is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=128085001&objectid=368707

Now the eagle, carrying Etana on his back, ascends to the heavens. On the uppermost level of the heavens Etana becomes afraid and the eagle takes him back to the earth.

The end of the story is missing, but that Etana finally got hold of the plant of birth is very likely, since other sources mention his son.

To summarize: I have tried to show that some features of the Enoch tradition are a re-writing of very ancient concepts. I do not claim that they all can be explained assuming dependencies, as earlier scholarship has done.

I do not intend to idolize “origins,” but what might eventually come out of such a research—if the topics mentioned here are thoroughly worked out and elaborated in detail—is, that our texts implicate many more meanings than tradition may have supposed.

In my opinion there can be little doubt that the official transmission of texts in Mesopotamia was supplemented by a wealth of oral tradition. Indeed, the situation may be comparable to the one attested in the (still) living oral tradition on Enoch in the Balkanian vernaculars.”

This Akkadian clay tablet, dated to circa 1900-1600 BCE, preserves a partial version of the Sumerian Legend of Etana.  Held by the Morgan Library.  http://www.codex99.com/typography/1.html

This Akkadian clay tablet, dated to circa 1900-1600 BCE, preserves a partial version of the Sumerian Legend of Etana.
Held by the Morgan Library.
http://www.codex99.com/typography/1.html

(See G.J. Selz, “Die Etana-Erzählung: Ursprung und Tradition eines der ältesten epischen Texte in einer semitischen Sprache,” Acta Sumerologica (Japan) 20 (1998): pp. 135-79.

A different opinion is expressed by P. Steinkeller, “Early Semitic Literature and Third Millennium Seals with Mythological Motifs,” in Literature and Literary Language at Ebla (ed. P. Fronzaroli; Quaderni di Semitistica 18; Florence: Dipartimento di linguistica Università di Firenze, 1992), pp. 243-75 and pls. 1-8.

Further remarks on the ruler’s ascension to heaven are discussed by G.J. Selz, “Der sogenannte ‘geflügelte Tempel’ und die ‘Himmelfahrt’ der Herrscher: Spekulationen über ein ungelöstes Problem der altakkadischen Glyptik und dessen möglichen rituellen Hintergrund,” in Studi sul Vicino Oriente Antico dedicati alla memoria di Luigi Cagni (ed. S. Graziani; Naples: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 2000, pp. 961-83.)

Gebhard J. Selz, “Of Heroes and Sages–Considerations of the Early Mesopotamian Background of Some Enochic Traditions,” in Armin Lange, et alThe Dead Sea Scrolls in Context, v. 2, Brill, 2011, pp. 799-800.

Selz: On Giants

“Dating back to the late nineteenth century and the so-called Babel-Bible dispute, the relation of the biblical traditions, especially those concerning the paradise narrative, the flood-story, and the (antediluvian) patriarchs, to the Mesopotamian world received much interest (see below).

(For an overview over this politically remarkable dispute and the involvement of the German emperor Wilhelm II see R.G. Lehmann, Friedrich Delitzsch und der Babel-Bibel-Streit (OBO 133; Fribourg: Universitätsverlag, 1989).

Delitzsch’s hypotheses were sharply criticised by Christian and Jewish theologians of the time and soon became a political issue. Finally the emperor was even requested to make a public profession of his faith.)

From a modern scholarly point of view, much of what has been written in this period is obsolete and related to anti-biblical or apologetic motivations. Therefore, we encounter often a general warning against a naïve comparative attitude which is certainly in place.

Courtesy of The Blake Archive and the Cincinnati Museum, William Blake's

Courtesy of The Blake Archive and the Cincinnati Museum, William Blake’s “Enoch Walked with God.”
Executed sometime between 1780-85 CE, this illustration is Cincinnati Museum Accession Number 1977.214.
“As always, the William Blake Archive is a free site, imposing no access restrictions and charging no subscription fees. The site is made possible by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with the University of Rochester, the continuing support of the Library of Congress, and the cooperation of the international array of libraries and museums that have generously given us permission to reproduce works from their collections in the Archive.”
https://blakearchive.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/publication-announcement-thel-copy-n-and-enoch-walked-with-god/

(Cf. R. Liwak, “Bibel und Babel: Wider die theologische und religionsgeschichtliche Naivität,” BTZ 2 (1989): pp. 206-33. An extensive bibliography of “Articles by Jewish Writers on the Babel-Bibel Controversy” is published in Y. Shavit and M. Eran, eds., The Hebrew Bible Reborn: From Holy Scripture to the Book of Books: A History of Biblical Culture and the Battles over the Bible in Modern Judaism (trans. C. Naor; SJ 38; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2007), pp. 531-66).

If in the following paragraphs we refer to various Mesopotamian materials, we are fully aware of this warning. We do not intend to establish literal dependencies, but would rather draw attention to some parallels with selected Mesopotamian motifs.

This seal appears to portray the translation of King Etana at upper left. I am not sure where this seal is held. If you can assist, please do.

This seal appears to portray the translation of King Etana at upper left.
I am not sure where this seal is held. If you can assist, please do.

We will neither address the question of a common Near Eastern origin of such motifs, nor will we attempt to reconstruct the ways of transmission in the necessary detail. The latter were certainly manifold, and that orality played a major role is very likely but, of course, hard to prove.

The most important contributions concerning the relationship between Berossos, the Sumerian King list, and the biblical patriarchs as well as the connected literary motifs are presently those of R. Borger, J.C. VanderKam, H. Kvanvig and A.A. Orlov. I shall return to them later.

(Cf. G.P. Verbrugghe and J.M. Wickersham, Berossos and Manetho, Introduced and Translated: Native Traditions in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996).

(R. Borger, “Die Beschwörungsserie Bīt Mēseri und die Himmelfahrt Henochs,” JNES 33 (1974): pp. 183-96; for an abbreviated English version see idem, “The Incantation Series Bīt Mēseri and Enoch’s Ascension to Heaven,” in I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11 (ed. R.S. Hess and D.T. Tsumura; Sources for Biblical and Theological Study 4, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1994), pp. 224-33.)

(J.C. VanderKam, Enoch and the Growth of an Apocalyptic Tradition (CBQMS 16; Washington: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1984).

The discovery of the Qumran manuscripts put 1 Enoch in the centre of these discussions and their connections to the related Jewish-Hellenistic texts and to Mesopotamian forerunners have been widely discussed.

Titled

Titled “The Nephilim,” the artist is said to be unknown.
http://doctorwoodhead.com/days-noah-corruption-demonic-activity-part/

The Qumran manuscripts of the Book of Giants mention the hero Gilgamesh among the Giants who were offspring of the evil (fallen) angels who had intercourse with human females.

(The following excerpts of the reconstructed Book of Giants are taken from the edition of The Gnostic Society Library (MSS: 4Q203, 1Q23, 2Q26, 4Q530–532, 6Q8). Editorial note: A long excerpt from the Book of Giants is reproduced here.)

Starting from this fact, I attempt to show that not only did the generally late Mesopotamian traditions about the primeval sages and related matters form a background for the mythical imagery of the Enochic system of thought, but that the much earlier epic traditions about the kings Gilgamesh and Etana should also be considered.

We might not be able to avoid some of the traps of this sort of intertextual studies, however, we are by all means entitled to look after the pre- and the post-texts, especially if we remember that any reading implies a recreation of new texts.

To put it metaphorically, texts are not stable entities but living beings undergoing all sort of philological and interpretative changes.”

Gebhard J. Selz, “Of Heroes and Sages–Considerations of the Early Mesopotamian Background of Some Enochic Traditions,” in Armin Lange, et alThe Dead Sea Scrolls in Context, v. 2, Brill, 2011, pp. 781-4.

Each King had his Apkallu

“The fish-figurines would seem to confirm the theory attractively put forward by Zimmern (KAT 535 ff. and subsequently ZA 35 151 ff.), that the apkallu’s, often occurring in groups of seven and sometimes identified with purādu-fish (Sumerian s u h u r . k u), represent Oannes and the other fish-like monsters who, according to Berosso’s account, taught mankind all crafts and civilization.

This depiction of a fish-apkallū (Apkallu, Abkallu) guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud. A fish's head can be seen on Apkallu's head, and its skin hangs down over the back of Apkallu's body.  Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE. From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London). Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg) http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

This depiction of a fish-apkallū (Apkallu, Abkallu) guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud. A fish’s head can be seen on Apkallu’s head, and its skin hangs down over the back of Apkallu’s body.
Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE. From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg)
http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

Furthermore, the apkallu-figurines of the ritual KAR 298 discussed by Zimmern loc. cit. (see also Gurney, AAA 22 38 ff.) are each associated with a city in Mesopotamia and addressed as ūmu; Güterbock’s suggestion that the element p i r i g in the names of three apkallu’s in our text corresponds to this ūmu and refers to their character as mythological creatures (ZA 42 10 n. 3) would thus strengthen the argument in favor of the identification of the apkallu’s with the monsters described by Berossos.

What in the Greek account clearly reflects an etiological myth finds no correspondence in any of the texts dealing with apkallu’s in Mesopotamia. The exploits of the apkallu’s, as we shall see, are on a different mythological plane.

Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.  In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.  The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū.  The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.  The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.
In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.
The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū.
The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

The connection between them and wisdom and the crafts lies in the term ummânu, which is one of their epithets, and to which I shall presently return.

First, however, we shall have to dispel the misconception originating with Zimmern’s article in KAT, and repeated in the discussions connected with the apkallu’s by others, namely, the assumed identity of the “wise men” — or some of them — with the early kings.

Besides a certain juggling of names inevitable when dealing with Berossos, the allusion to the “man who ascended to heaven” in the text published by Gurney, JRAS 1935 459 ff., was taken to refer to Etana, the more easily so since the phrase used in the Sumerian version, l ú a n . š è  b a . a n . e x (DU+DU) echoes the very words of the Sumerian King List: E t a n a   s i p a  l ú  a n . š è  b a . e x . d è (see Jacobsen, AS 11 p. 80: 16 f. and n. 67).

Antediluvian apkallu portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men.

Antediluvian apkallu portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men. Small figurines of this type were buried beneath doorways and beneath walls for prophylactic purposes, warding off evil. In some cases, they were buried in a set of seven statuettes, indicative of the so-called “Seven Sages” of Sumeria.

The view of Güterbock, ZA 42 9f., that the tradition of the apkallu’s is separate from that of the historical kings, and his assumption that the phrase “who ascended to heaven” refers to Adapa — of whom the same words are used in one of the versions of the Adapa legend (PSBA 16 [1894] 275:14, latest translation by Speiser, ANET 101 ff.) — is vindicated against his critics by the structure of the present text.

Since each personage is described by a group of at least four lines, the third and fourth lines, “[ . . . ] who ascended to heaven”, must be part of the description of the same person mentioned in the first and second lines as the purification priest of Eridu (išippu Eridu).

Because this is a well-known title of Adapa, the section must refer to him rather than to Etana. Indeed, none of the apkallu’s mentioned is himself a king, but is only associated with a famed king of old: the text states clearly that Nunpiriggaldim was the apkallu of Enmerkar, that Lu-Nanna was apkallu under Šulgi, allowing us only to conjecture that each was a noted person during a particular reign, excelling in superior wisdom — a topos later taken up by the Assyrian kings when they boast of being endowed with a wisdom equal to that of the apkallu’s.”

Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages,” Orientalia, v. 30, No. 1, 1961, pp. 6-7.

Zu, Thunder God, and the Tablets of Destiny

Zu was a storm-god symbolized in the form of a bird. He may typify the advancing storm-cloud, which would have seemed to those of old as if hovering like a great bird above the land which it was about to strike. The North-American Indians possess such a mythological conception in the Thunder-bird, and it is probable that the great bird called roc, so well known to readers of the Arabian Nights, was a similar monster—perhaps the descendant of the Zu-bird.

Zu or Anzu (from An 'heaven' and Zu 'to know' in Sumerian), as a lion-headed eagle, ca. 2550–2500 BCE, Louvre.  Votive relief of Ur-Nanshe, king of Lagash, representing the bird-god Anzu (or Im-dugud) as a lion-headed eagle.  Alabaster, Early Dynastic III (2550–2500 BCE). Found in Telloh, ancient city of Girsu. H. 21.6 cm (8 ½ in.), W. 15.1 cm (5 ¾ in.), D. 3.5 cm (1 ¼ in.)  http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/07/legend-of-anzu-which-stole-tablets-of.html

Zu or Anzu (from An ‘heaven’ and Zu ‘to know’ in Sumerian), as a lion-headed eagle, ca. 2550–2500 BCE, Louvre.
Votive relief of Ur-Nanshe, king of Lagash, representing the bird-god Anzu (or Im-dugud) as a lion-headed eagle.
Alabaster, Early Dynastic III (2550–2500 BCE). Found in Telloh, ancient city of Girsu. H. 21.6 cm (8 ½ in.), W. 15.1 cm (5 ¾ in.), D. 3.5 cm (1 ¼ in.)
http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/07/legend-of-anzu-which-stole-tablets-of.html

We remember how this enormous creature descended upon the ship in which Sindbad sailed and carried him off. Certain it is that we can trace the roc or rukh to the Persian simurgh, which is again referable to a more ancient Persian form, the amru or sinamru, the bird of immortality, and we may feel sure that what is found in ancient Persian lore has some foundation in Babylonian belief.

The Zu-bird was evidently under the control of the sun, and his attempt to break away from the solar authority is related in the following legend.

It is told of the god Zu that on one occasion ambition awaking in his breast caused him to cast envious eyes on the power and sovereignty of Bel, so that he determined to purloin the Tablets of Destiny, which were the tangible symbols of Bel’s greatness.

At this time, it may be recalled, the Tablets of Destiny had already an interesting history behind them. We are told in the creation legend how Apsu, the primeval, and Tiawath, chaos, the first parents of the gods, afterward conceived a hatred for their offspring, and how Tiawath, with her monster-brood of snakes and vipers, dragons and scorpion-men and raging hounds, made war on the hosts of heaven.

Her son Kingu she made captain of her hideous army—

To march before the forces, to lead the host,
To give the battle-signal, to advance to the attack,
To direct the battle, to control the fight.

To him she gave the Tablets of Destiny, laying them on his breast with the words:

“Thy command shall not be without avail, and the word of thy mouth shall be established.”

Through his possession of the divine tablets Kingu received the power of Anu, and was able to decree the fate of the gods.

After several deities had refused the honour of becoming champion of heaven, Merodach was chosen. He succeeded at length in slaying Tiawath and destroying her evil host; and having vanquished Kingu, her captain, he took from him the Tablets of Destiny, which he sealed and laid on his own breast. It was this Merodach, or Marduk, who afterward became identified with Bel.

The Zu Bird appears to dominate the top of this bas relief, while the head of the figure on the right is missing, common vandalism committed by grave robbers: defacing the heads and the eyes of idols crippled their efficacy.

The Zu Bird appears to dominate the top of this bas relief, while the head of the figure on the right is missing, common vandalism committed by grave robbers: defacing the heads and the eyes of idols crippled their efficacy.

Now Zu, in his greed for power and dominion, was eager to obtain the potent symbols. He beheld the honour and majesty of Bel, and from contemplation of these he turned to look upon the Tablets of Destiny, saying within himself :

“Lo, I will possess the tablets of the gods, and all things shall be subject unto me. The spirits of heaven shall bow before me, the oracles of the gods shall lie in my hands. I shall wear the crown, symbol of sovereignty, and the robe, symbol of godhead, and then shall I rule over all the hosts of heaven.”

Thus inflamed, he sought the entrance to Bel’s hall, where he awaited the dawn of day. The text goes on :

Now when Bel was pouring out the clear water, (i.e. the light of day?)
And his diadem was taken off and lay upon the throne,
(Zu) seized the Tablets of Destiny,
He took Bel’s dominion, the power of giving commands.
Then Zu fled away and hid himself in his mountain.

Bel was greatly enraged at the theft, and all the gods with him. Anu, lord of heaven, summoned about him his divine sons, and asked for a champion to recover the tablets. But though the god Ramman was chosen, and after him several other deities, they all refused to advance against Zu.

The end of the legend is unfortunately missing, but from a passage in another tale, the legend of Etana, we gather that it was the sun-god, Shamash, who eventually stormed the mountain-stronghold of Zu, and with his net succeeded in capturing the presumptuous deity.

This legend is of the Prometheus type, but whereas Prometheus (once a bird-god) steals fire from heaven for the behoof of mankind, Zu steals the Tablets of Destiny for his own. These must, of course, be regained if the sovereignty of heaven is duly to continue, and to make the tale circumstantial the sun-god is provided with a fowler’s net with which to capture the recalcitrant Zu-bird.

Jastrow believes the myth to have been manufactured for the purpose of showing how the tablets of power were originally lost by the older Bel and gained by Merodach, but he has discounted the reference in the Etana legend relating to their recovery.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 193-5.

Mesopotamian Cosmology

“In literature and magic spells, Mesopotamians referred to the beginnings of the world. The various accounts were quite different, so there was no one story that should be considered standard or universally accepted.

The most comprehensive and ambitious of the accounts of creation, contained in the Babylonian Epic of Creation, refers to a time before the present generation of gods in which there were two waters, male and female, commingling with no distinct separation. Rather than the ‘chaos’ which it is often considered, this combination was dynamic and productive, yielding several pairs of older gods, male and female, and ultimately a much larger number of younger gods, on whom the narrative focuses.

The successive generations of gods were progressively stronger and greater than the preceding ones, suggesting that the Mesopotamians visualized a dynamic past development of their universe, culminating in a present order that was stable and unchanging (Foster 1996: 350):

When on high no name was given to heaven,

Nor below was the netherworld called by name,

Primeval Apsu was their progenitor,

And matrix-Tiamat was she who bore them all,

They were mingling their waters together,

No canebrake was intertwined nor thicket matted close.

When no gods at all had been brought forth,

None called by names, none destinies ordained,

Then were the gods formed within these two.

The Babylonian Epic of Creation ascribed to Marduk, god of Babylon, the reorganization of the cosmos into the form the Babylonians knew it, including the motions of the stars, a firmament above the earth, rivers and mountains of the earth, the phases of the moon, and so forth. Since this account dates only to the second half of the second millennium BCE and presupposes a cosmos centred on Babylon, there is no reason to assign it universal validity in Mesopotamia. The poem appears to contain a variety of earlier materials worked into a coherent narrative.

The universe was visualized as circular, with a firmament below heaven and a corresponding surface above the netherworld. Some speculative texts proposed several layers in the cosmos (Lambert 1975). In any case, heaven was so remote from earth that the land was not visible to a human observer who had risen so high, such as the mythologized king Etana, who flew up to heaven on an eagle, or the sage Adapa, who was summoned to heaven after interfering with the wind.

In later periods, heaven and netherworld were thought to be organized like urban earth, with gates, defences, and large residences for the gods containing reception areas, sleeping quarters, baths and other amenities.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Cosmology,” John R. Hinnells, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, 2007, pp. 183-4.

Ashur-bani-pal

” … The records of Ashur-bani-pal cease after 640 B.C., so that we are unable to follow the events of his reign during its last fourteen years. Apparently peace prevailed everywhere. The great monarch, who was a pronounced adherent of the goddess cults, appears to have given himself up to a life of indulgence and inactivity.

Under the name Sardanapalus he went down to tradition as a sensual Oriental monarch who lived in great pomp and luxury, and perished in his burning palace when the Medes revolted against him. It is evident, however, that the memory of more than one monarch contributed to the Sardanapalus legend, for Ashur-bani-pal had lain nearly twenty years in his grave before the siege of Nineveh took place.

In the Bible he is referred to as “the great and noble Asnapper,” and he appears to have been the emperor who settled the Babylonian, Elamite, and other colonists “in the cities of Samaria.”

He erected at Nineveh a magnificent palace, which was decorated on a lavish scale. The sculptures are the finest productions of Assyrian art, and embrace a wide variety of subjects–battle scenes, hunting scenes, and elaborate Court and temple ceremonies. Realism is combined with a delicacy of touch and a degree of originality which raises the artistic productions of the period to the front rank among the artistic triumphs of antiquity.

Ashur-bani-pal in the palace of Nineveh.

Ashur-bani-pal boasted of the thorough education which he had received from the tutors of his illustrious father, Esarhaddon. In his palace he kept a magnificent library. It contained thousands of clay tablets on which were inscribed and translated the classics of Babylonia.

To the scholarly zeal of this cultured monarch is due the preservation of the Babylonian story of creation, the Gilgamesh and Etana legends, and other literary and religious products of remote antiquity. Most of the literary tablets in the British Museum were taken from Ashur-bani-pal’s library.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 486-7.

The Enduring, Syncretic Cult of the Great Mother

” … Tashmit, whose name signifies “Obedience,” according to Jastrow, or “Hearing,” according to Sayce, carried the prayers of worshippers to Nebo, her spouse.

As Isis interceded with Osiris, she interceded with Nebo, on behalf of mankind. But this did not signify that she was the least influential of the divine pair. A goddess played many parts: she was at once mother, daughter, and wife of the god; the servant of one god or the “mighty queen of all the gods.”

The Great Mother was, as has been indicated, regarded as the eternal and un-decaying one; the gods passed away, son succeeding father; she alone remained. Thus, too, did Semiramis survive in the popular memory, as the queen-goddess of widespread legends, after kings and gods had been forgotten.

To her was ascribed all the mighty works of other days in the lands where the indigenous peoples first worshipped the Great Mother as Damkina, Nina, Bau, Ishtar, or Tashmit, because the goddess was anciently believed to be the First Cause, the creatrix, the mighty one who invested the ruling god with the powers he possessed–the god who held sway because he was her husband, as did Nergal as the husband of Eresh-ki-gal, queen of Hades.

The multiplication of well-defined goddesses was partly due to the tendency to symbolize the attributes of the Great Mother, and partly due to the development of the great “Lady” in a particular district where she reflected local phenomena and where the political influence achieved by her worshippers emphasized her greatness.

Legends regarding a famous goddess were in time attached to other goddesses, and in Aphrodite and Derceto we appear to have mother deities who absorbed the traditions of more than one local “lady” of river and plain, forest and mountain.

Semiramis, on the other hand, survived as a link between the old world and the new, between the country from which emanated the stream of ancient culture and the regions which received it. As the high priestess of the cult, she became identified with the goddess whose bird name she bore, as Gilgamesh and Etana became identified with the primitive culture-hero or patriarch of the ancient Sumerians, and Sargon became identified with Tammuz.

No doubt the fame of Semiramis was specially emphasized because of her close association, as Queen Sammu-rammat, with the religious innovations which disturbed the land of the god Ashur during the Middle Empire period.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 436-8.