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Tag: Foster

Melvin: Divine Knowledge is Transcendent

“Wellhausen understands “good and evil” as a comprehensive term indicating that it is knowledge without bounds. Thus, “knowledge of good and evil” refers to knowledge in general, and the secret knowledge of the workings of nature, the possession of which leads to the development of civilization, in particular.

“Knowledge” in Genesis 3:1–7 would correspond roughly to the “instruction” in the arts of civilization in the Mesopotamian apkallu/culture hero traditions. Wellhausen also notes that progression in civilization correlates with regression in the fear of God in Genesis 1–11, especially in the JE material, giving the entire primeval history a “distinctive gloomy colouring.”

Wellhausen’s view is appealing, but not without significant difficulties. As Gunkel notes, Genesis 3:1–7 says nothing explicit about civilization.

Reading טוב ודע as a merismus (a “merism is a figure of speech by which a single thing is referred to by a conventional phrase that enumerates several of its parts, or which lists several synonyms for the same thing”) is probably correct, but to go beyond understanding this “knowledge” as knowledge in general and connect it with “secret knowledge” of the arts of civilization in such a direct fashion reaches beyond the evidence of the text.

(See the use of טוב and דע in Genesis 31:24, 29 and Isaiah 45:7).

Michelangelo (1475-1564 AD), Sündenfall und Vertreibung aus dem Paradies, Cistine Chapel, Rome.  This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain because it is outside the copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo_Sündenfall.jpg

Michelangelo (1475-1564 AD), Sündenfall und Vertreibung aus dem Paradies, Sistine Chapel, Rome.
This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain because it is outside the copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo_Sündenfall.jpg

Skinner attempts to synthesize the interpretations of Wellhausen and Gunkel by viewing primal humanity as existing in a state of “childlike innocence and purity,” so that the acquisition of “knowledge” corresponds to a maturing and loss of innocence, which would include both sexual awareness and civilizing knowledge.

(Skinner, Genesis, pp. 96–97. One should note that Gunkel does not maintain that Genesis 3:1–7 refers only to sexual awareness, but rather that sexual awareness is the explicit example given in the text of the kind of knowledge which results from eating the fruit.)

What is key for understanding “knowledge” in Genesis 3:1–7 is that it is explicitly connected with divinity, which leads to the second point regarding this passage.

The result of obtaining the knowledge contained in the fruit is that one becomes “like a god.” Thus, the “knowledge” is “divine knowledge”, i.e., the knowledge that is naturally possessed only by gods. This “divine knowledge” would certainly include sexual awareness and the arts of civilization, but it ultimately transcends both.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553 AD), Adam und Eva im Paradies (Sündenfall), Adam and Eve in Paradise (The Fall), 1533 AD.  Held at the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.  This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lucas_Cranach_the_Elder_-_Adam_und_Eva_im_Paradies_(Sündenfall)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553 AD), Adam und Eva im Paradies (Sündenfall), Adam and Eve in Paradise (The Fall), 1533 AD.
Held at the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.
This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lucas_Cranach_the_Elder_-_Adam_und_Eva_im_Paradies_(Sündenfall)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Thus, Wellhausen is correct in understanding “good and evil” as a comprehensive term. He is also correct in connecting it with civilization, although it would be more accurate to say that civilization arises as a result of possessing divine knowledge, rather than being the essence of divine knowledge itself.

Knowledge was often associated with divinity in the ancient Near East. I have already noted semi-divine transmitters of divine knowledge in Mesopotamia, the apkallus. The name of the Flood hero Atrahasis means “the most wise,” and he is the privileged human recipient of secret knowledge of the decisions of the divine council by revelation from Ea.

(See Brian E. Colless, “Divine Education,” Numen 17 (1970), p. 124.)

Moreover, the life-saving knowledge he receives ultimately leads to his being granted divinity and immortality after the Flood.”

(See the version of the Atrahasis epic from Ugarit, which reads “I am Atrahasis, I was living in the temple of Ea, my lord, and I knew everything. I knew the counsel of the great gods, I knew of their oath, though they would not reveal it to me. He repeated their words to the wall, ‘Wall, hear […] Life like the gods [you will] indeed [possess]” (obv. 6–12, rev. 4 [Foster, Before the Muses􏰀􏰇􏰘􏰌􏰈􏰇􏰃􏰂􏰕􏰇􏰃􏰄􏰖􏰆􏰇􏰆, 1:185]).

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 13-4.

Izre’el: Adapa and the South Wind as Mythos

“A Sumerian version of Adapa from the Old Babylonian period has been discovered at Tell Haddad (ancient Meturan) and has been announced by Cavigneaux and al-Rawi (1993: 92-3). The Sumerian version is reported to be similar to the Akkadian version. It includes “an incantation-like passage” at the end, as does the Akkadian version represented by Fragment D.

Furthermore, the myth is the second part of a longer narrative, the first part of which describes the time just following the deluge and describes the feeding of the gods and the organization of mankind.

The discovery of the myth of Adapa and the South Wind immediately attracted wide attention. Its ideology and its correspondence to the intellectual heritage of Western religions precipitated flourishing studies of this myth, both philological and substantive.

This is MLC 1296, an Akkadian fragment of the Adapa Myth in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum. http://corsair.themorgan.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=215815

This is MLC 1296, an Akkadian fragment of the Adapa Myth in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum.
http://corsair.themorgan.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=215815

Many translations have appeared during the past century, shedding light on various aspects of the myth and its characters. Picchioni (1981) made use of the scholarly work that preceded him, but following his monograph further studies and new translations of the Adapa narrative appeared (among which were Michalowski 1980; Müller 1983-4; Dalley 1989; Talon 1990; Dietrich 1991; Izre’el 1991a; Müller 1991; Dietrich 1993; Foster 1993; Izre’el 1993: 52-7; 1997: 43-50; Kämerer 1998: 254-59).

Picchioni’s monograph marked a turning point in the Assyriological study of the myth and became the standard edition of the myth. There are several reasons for this: first, it summarized the diverging views published in the secondary literature.

Second, Picchioni’s critical edition was solid and up to date. Third, his study established (although not without precedent; see Böhl 1953: 149-50; 1959; Hecker 1974: in passing, index: p. 214; cf. already Zimmern in Gunkel 1895: 420-1 n. 2) that the structure of the text (more specifically, the Amarna fragment) must be viewed as verse.

This enhanced our understanding of the text as a piece of literature (cf. von Soden 1984: 227-30; Izre’el 1991a).

However, in spite of comprehensive treatment of the personae and symbols of the myth, Picchioni’s treatment of the narrative itself was remarkably brief (cf. Ella 1983). It is precisely with this in mind that I am publishing the present study: I am unveiling the myth of Adapa and the South Wind as mythos, as story. To do this, I will analyze the underlying concepts through extensive treatment of form.

First I offer an edition of the extant fragments of the myth, including the transliterated Akkadian text, a translation, and a philological commentary. As the reader will see, I consider language the salient and crucial part of any textual treatment, especially one that analyzes the overt and covert meanings of a myth.

These cuneiform originals are from Albert T. Clay, A Hebrew Deluge Story in Cuneiform. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1922. This particular photograph states,

These cuneiform originals are from Albert T. Clay, A Hebrew Deluge Story in Cuneiform. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1922.
This particular photograph states, “Early Atrahasis Cuneiform Original –Reverse
Adapa Version – Obverse (Reverse is destroyed).”
http://www.cumorah.com/index.php?target=view_other_articles&story_id=59&cat_id=7

I cannot overemphasize the need for thorough philological and linguistic analysis before discussing meaning, even though some interpretations are merely the result of context-realizations.

The analysis of poetic form that follows will then lead to analyzing the myth as a piece of literature and to uncovering its meaning—or rather, meanings.

This study therefore marks another phase in the long, extensive, and never-ceasing research into this abysmal Mesopotamian myth. Being just one of many human beings allured to and intrigued by this tale told in ancient times to a more understanding audience than ours, I wish to share with my own audience both my interpretation and my impression of this particular myth, as well as the methodology that I have adopted for my enquiry.

Within these confines, I hope that this study will have something to offer to the more general study of the Mesopotamian, especially the Akkadian, mythological texts.”

Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, pp. 7-8.

Kvanvig: Assurbanipal Studied Inscriptions on Stone from Before the Flood

“The first thing to notice is the strange expression salmīšunu, “their images.” The pronoun refers back to the primeval ummanus / apkallus. They had “images,” created by Ea on earth. A line from Bīt Mēseri sheds light on the issue.

šiptu šipat Marduk āšipu salam Marduk

“The incantation is the incantation of Marduk, the āšipu is the image of Marduk.”

(Bīt Mēseri II, 226. Cf. Gerhard Meier, “Die zweite Tafel der Serie bīt mēseri,” AfO 14, 1941-4, pp. 139-52, 150).

In his role as exorcist, the āšipu is here an image of the deity itself. In the Poem of Erra something similar must have been thought. The āšipu and other priests with responsibility for the divine statues were the earthly counterparts of the transcendent ummanus / apkallus. They were their images on earth.

"Sometimes animal hybrids ... appear to take part in rituals....some types are clearly minor deities, since they wear the horned cap as a mark of their divinity...others may be human. A ...winged god, standing or kneeling, holds a bucket and cone ... in the scenes of "ritual" centered on the stylized tree. A similar female figure holds a chaplet of beads....A third figure carries a flowering branch, sometimes also a sacrificial (?) goat. Sometimes he wears the horned cap, and even when does not he often has wings. Presumably, therefore, such figures are also non-mortal; they may represent the Seven Sages in human guise." From Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, pp. 86-8.

“Sometimes animal hybrids … appear to take part in rituals….some types are clearly minor deities, since they wear the horned cap as a mark of their divinity…others may be human. A …winged god, standing or kneeling, holds a bucket and cone … in the scenes of “ritual” centered on the stylized tree. A similar female figure holds a chaplet of beads….A third figure carries a flowering branch, sometimes also a sacrificial (?) goat. Sometimes he wears the horned cap, and even when does not he often has wings. Presumably, therefore, such figures are also non-mortal; they may represent the Seven Sages in human guise.”
From Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, pp. 86-8.

We must admit that the following text from line 34 is not very clear. Does the ummanus from line 34 mean the primeval apkallus, or does it refer to the priests as ummanus? If we follow the interpretation underlying Foster’s translation, the second option is preferable.

“He himself gave those same (human) craftsmen

great discretion and authority;

he gave them wisdom and great dexterity.

They have made (his) precious image radiant,

even finer than before.”

(Poem of Erra II, pp. 34-6. Foster, Before the Muses, p. 892).

The text thus describes how Ea equips the earthly ummanus with wisdom and dexterity to make them able to restore Marduk’s statue.

To care for the divine statue, to make sure that it is qualified for the manifestation of the divinity, is to secure cosmic stability. This was the great responsibility of the āšipu when they acted as earthly images of the apkallus, the guardians of the cosmic order.

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, which he overpowered when he defeated Tiamat, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods.<br /> In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat's (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).<br /> This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk's serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur.<br /> Marduk's robe depicts the heavenly night sky with all its stars.<br /> I believe that the circular medallions hanging from his neck are among the few portrayals of the me, the tablets of destinies, in all Assyrian art.<br /> Marduk was also called "the son of the Sun," "the Sun" and "bull-calf of the Sun" (Babylonian amar-utu).<br /> http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, which he overpowered when he defeated Tiamat, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods.
In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat’s (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).
This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk’s serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur.
Marduk’s robe depicts the heavenly night sky with all its stars.
I believe that the circular medallions hanging from his neck are among the few portrayals of the me, the tablets of destinies, in all Assyrian art.
Marduk was also called “the son of the Sun,” “the Sun” and “bull-calf of the Sun” (Babylonian amar-utu).
http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

The supreme responsibility on earth for cosmic stability rested on the king. Therefore the king needed to be depicted as wise, having insight into the hidden laws of the cosmos. This is a reoccurring topic in descriptions of kings and their own self-presentations.

It reaches as far back as the third millennium, but shows an increasing tendency in the first millennium.

(Cf. R.F.G. Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature: A Philological Study,” in The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East, eds. J.G. Gammie and L.G. Perdue, Winona Lake, 1990, pp. 45-65, 51-7).

In their boasting of superior wisdom the kings of the first millennium compared their own wisdom with the wisdom of the primary apkallu, Adapa:

Sargon claims to be: “a wise king, skilled in all learning, the equal of

the apkallu, who grew up in wise counsel and attained full stature in good judgement.”

(Cylinder Inscription, 38. Cf. David Gordon Lyon, Keilschriftentexte Sargon’s Königs von Assyrien, (722-705 v. CHR), AB. Leipzig, 1883, pp. 34-5. Translation according to Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature,” p. 53).

Sennacherib presents himself as one to whom “Ninšiku gave wide understanding and equality with the apkallu, Adapa, and granted profound wisdom.”

(Bull Inscription, 4. Cf. D.D. Luckenbill, The Annals of Senacherib, Chicago, 1924, p. 117; translation according to Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature,” p. 53).

Prism of Sennacherib, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1924. https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/oip2.pdf

Prism of Sennacherib, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.
Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1924.
https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/oip2.pdf

Assurbanipal describes his comprehensive wisdom in the following way:

Marduk, the apkallu of the gods, gave me wide understanding and extensive intelligence (and) Nabu, the scribe (who knows) everything, granted me his wise teachings ….

I have learned the art of the apkallu, Adapa, (so that now) I am familiar with the secret storehouse of all scribal learning, (including) celestial and terrestrial portents.

I can debate in an assembly of ummanus and discuss with the clever apkal šamni (oil diviners) (the treatise) “if the liver is a replica of the sky.” I used to figure out complicated divisions and multiplications that have no solutions.

Time and again I have read the cleverly written compositions in which the Sumerian is obscure and the Akkadian is difficult to interpret correctly.

I have studied inscriptions on stone from before the Flood which are sealed, obscure and confused.”

(Tablet L4 obv. I, 10-8. Cf. M. Streck, Assurbanipal und die letzen assyrischen König bis zum Untergange Nineveh’s, vol. II, Leipzig, 1916, 254-7.)

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 138-9.

Kvanvig: The mīs pî and pīt pî Rituals of Mouth Washing and Mouth Opening

“The āšipū did not only expel demons; they had one more important duty that they performed together with other specialists, the bārû, “haruspex / diviner” and the kalû, “lamentation chanter.”

They had the primary responsibility for consecration of the divine statue. In this duty they performed ina šipir apkalli, according to the “task” or “office” of the apkallu, apkallu (singular) here to be understood either as a general reference to the transcendent beings, or as R. Borger claims, as a concrete reference to the apkallu par excellence, Adapa.

The material form of the statue was animated in the way that the statue did not only stand for the represented god, but manifested this god.

(R. Borger, Die Inschriften Asarhaddons. Königs von Assyrien, vol. 9, Afo. Graz, 1956, p. 89. Cf. C. Walker and M. Dick, The Induction of the Cult Image in Ancient Mesopotamia, vol. 1, SAALT, Helsinki, 2001, pp. 4-19.)

The ritual had two stages, the mīs pî, “mouth washing,” and the pīt pî, “mouth opening.” The “washing of the mouth” purified the cult image from any human contamination; the “opening of the mouth” enabled the statue to function as a deity.

This is a photograph of Tablet IV of the Poem of Erra. The tablet is dated to 629-539 BCE.<br /> https://tourguidegirl.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/img_0744.jpg

This is a photograph of Tablet IV of the Poem of Erra. The tablet is dated to 629-539 BCE.
https://tourguidegirl.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/img_0744.jpg

The ritual was performed by consecrating a new or restored statue. The dwelling of the god in his statue was necessary to secure cosmic stability. If a god left his image, chaos broke loose. This is clearly illustrated in the Poem of Erra.

Black stone amulet against plague.<br />  A quotation from the Akkadian Epic of Erra.<br />  BM 118998, British Museum, Room 55.<br />  Registration: 1928,0116.1.<br />  Photo by Fae.<br />  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.<br />  You are free to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, to remix – to adapt the work, under the following conditions:<br />  Attribution – You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).<br />  Share alike – If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one. <br /> https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amulet_to_ward_off_plague.jpg

Black stone amulet against plague.
A quotation from the Akkadian Epic of Erra.
BM 118998, British Museum, Room 55.
Registration: 1928,0116.1.
Photo by Fae.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
You are free to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, to remix – to adapt the work, under the following conditions:
Attribution – You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
Share alike – If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amulet_to_ward_off_plague.jpg

The poem draws a clear parallel between the chaotic state of humankind and the poor condition of the statue of Marduk. The god Erra who aspires to take over lordship from Marduk approaches him:

“Why has your precious image, symbol of your lordship,

Which was full of splendor as the stars of heaven,

Lost its brilliance?

Your lordly diadem, which made the inner sanctum shine

Like the outside tower, (why is it) dimmed?”

(Poem of Erra I, 126-7. Translation according to Foster, Before the Muses, p. 887.)

Marduk explains that he once rose from his dwelling and sent the flood with the result that chaos prevailed. His divine statue was reshaped after the flood and he entered lordship again (I, 140-4). When this was done, he sent away the primeval ummanus, who clearly was in charge of the reshaping:

“I made those ummanus go down to the apsû,

and I said they were not to come back up.”

(Poem of Erra I, 147).

Since then his statue had decayed. The ummanus, this time called sebet apkal apsî, “the seven apkallus of the apsû,” were no longer present to take care of his image:

“Where are the Seven apkallus of the apsû, the holy carp

who are perfect in lofty wisdom like Ea’s, their lord,

who can make my body holy?”

(Poem of Erra I, 162).

Entry on Girra, or Gerra, as Kvanvig prefers, from J. Black & A. Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, p. 88.

Entry on Girra, or Gerra, as Kvanvig prefers, from J. Black & A. Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, p. 88.

Consequently Erra persuades Marduk to leave his statue and lordship, and hand the power over to him until Marduk’s statue is restored:

“Prince Marduk, until you reenter that house

and Gerra cleanses your robes,

and you return to your place,

until then I shall rule and keep firm control of heaven and earth”

(Poem of Erra I, 180).

Marduk leaves his statue. This is commented by Ea in a passage with several interesting features (Tablet II):

“Now, the prince Marduk has arisen,

he has not commanded those ummanus to come up.

How can their images, which I created among the people,

approach his sublime divinity, where even a god cannot enter?

To those ummanus he gave a broad heart …”

(F.N.H. Al-Rawi and J.A. Black, “The Second Tablet of “Ishum and Erra,” Iraq 51, 1989, pp. 111-22, 114.)”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 136-7.

On the Fish-Apkallu

Fish Apkallu

“Lamaštu amulets:

The fish-apkallū on Lamaštu amulet 2 (and 4?), exactly like the ūmu-apkallū on Lamaštu amulets 3 and 61, has his left hand on the bed of the sick man. The right hand is slightly damaged, but probably greeting.

Fish-Apkallu statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.

Fish-Apkallu statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings. It is difficult to tell whether they hold their hands in a prayerful position or hold something indistinct. 

Wrong hand:

Occasionally apkallū are attested holding the bucket in their right hand: AfO 28 57f. 30 (above IIiI/6), Lamaštu amulet 5 (?), Calmeyer Reliefbronzen 66 H:8 (bird-apkallū).

Unidentified object:

One of the apkallū on CANES 773 holds in his right hand an unidentified feather-like object.

Identification:

The identification of the fish-apkallū of ritual I/IiI with the “fish-garbed” man goes back to Smith JRAS 1926 709 (based on comparison with the Kleinplastik from Ur); identification of one of them with Oannes has been proposed since the early days of Assyriology (Kolbe Reliefprogramme 26, Zimmern KAT 535ff., ZA 35 151ff.) but was proved only after the names of the sages in Berossos’ Babyloniaka were recognized in cuneiform (van Dijk UVB 18 46ff.).

Occasionally the apkallū is mistakenly identified with the fish-man / kulullû (see below, VII.C.9), a completely different figure. U4 – a n (Oannes) and Adapa, a human sage living approximately at the same time, are probably two different figures (Borger JNES 33186, Picchioni Adapa 97ff.).

A "fish-man" / kulullû is depicted at left, and a fish-apkallū at right.  Wiggermann distinguishes these two entities.

A “fish-man” / kulullû is depicted at left, and a fish-apkallū at right.
Wiggermann distinguishes these two entities.

The texts clearly indicate that the fish-apkallū are not fish-garbed priests, but mythological figures, man and fish; they are bīnūt apsî, “creatures of apsû“, in ritual I/IIi, purād tāmtiša ina nāri ibbanú, “carp of the sea…who were grown in the river” in text IIiI.B.8 (cf. also Cagni Erra, I 162), and Berossos clearly describes them as a mixture of fish and man (cf. S. Mayer Burstein SANE I/5 13, 19).

Their names lack the determinative DINGIR, they are no gods, and the horns on the head of the fish (on palace reliefs, not on seals, cf. Kleinplastik 89, FuB 10 35) probably developed from its gills.

Berossos calls them “hemidaimones” (Jacoby FGrH 400).

Fish-Apkallū depicted on a cistern. The fish iconography is unmistakable, as are the banduddu buckets in their left hands. Objects in their right hands are indistinct, but the traditional gestures of warding or blessing seem clear.

Fish-Apkallū depicted on a cistern. The fish iconography is unmistakable, as are the banduddu buckets in their left hands. Objects in their right hands are indistinct, but the traditional gestures of warding or blessing seem clear. The objects in their right hands may be the “angular objects” mentioned in the table by Wiggermann at the top of the page. 

History.

In the third millennium a b g al is the name of a profession: see MSL 12 10:15, ZA 72 174 11 v 3, Bauer AWL 125 i 4 (NUN.ME.KA X ME/GANA2f, cf. also Barton MBI 2 iv 2), Ukg. 6 ii 30′, iii 4 (NUN.ME.KA X ME/GANA2f.) UET 8 33:15 and for the same profession in the divine world: TCL 15 10:98 (dA b g a l) cf. 85.

In OB sum. incantations a b g a l apparently refers to a mythological sage at the court of Enki: VAS 17 13:5 (together with Enkum, Ninkum, and the seven children of Apsû), 16:11, 32:21, HSAO 262:56, PBS I/2 123:9 IIIISET 1 217 Ni 4176:12, OrNS 44 68, cf. ASKT 12 Obv. 11ff.

The “seven apkallū of Eridu“, at least in AnSt 30 78 (SB) identified with the seven antediluvian sages (Anenlilda is among them), are rooted in the third millenium (TCS 3 25:139, cf. Benito “Enki and Ninmah” and “Enki and the World Order” 91:105, and for later attestations JCS 21 11 25+a, Maqlû II 124, V 110 = AfO 21 77, VII 49, VIII 38).

The names of the seven antediluvian sages are certainly not as old as the names of the antediluvian kings: they seem to be derived partly from the titles of literary works (Hallo JAOS 83 175f.), and partly from the names of the antediluvian kings.

The element en-me-(e n) (and a m – m e, a m – i etc.) = e m e n (me —en) (cf. Finkelstein JCS 17 42, Wilcke Lugalbanda 41), “lord”, in the names of the kings has been reinterpreted as “the lord (e n) who makes good (d u 10 – g a)/ perfects (g a l a m) / refines (b ùl u g -g á) the regulations (m e)”.

Although the resulting names are good Sumerian (Lambert JCS 16 74), the consistent difference is telling. The Sumerian of the linguistically rather simple bilingual incantation to the fish-apkallū in bīt mēseri (III.B.8) could well be of MB date, and the Kassite seals with representations of the fish-apkallū prove that at this time the later views existed at least partially.

These undatable later views connect the named carp apkallū with canonized literature (Lambert JCS 16 59ff., Hallo JAOS 83 175f., van Dijk-Mayer BaMB 2 no 90) and have possibly been developed concomittantly.

Literature on the apkallū types :

Below text III.B.8, 9, 10, 11; Borger JNES 33 183ff., Foster OrNS 43 344ff., Komoróczy ActAntHung 21 135ff., 142ff., S. Mayer Burstein SANE 1/5 13ff., Kawami Iran 10 146ff., van Dijk UVB 18 43ff., all with many references to previous literature.”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, p. 76-7.

Mesopotamian Religion is Undefinable

“Mesopotamian religion includes certain beliefs and practices of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, Babylonians and other peoples who lived at various times in different parts of ancient Mesopotamia, the region corresponding roughly to modern Iraq, from the fourth through the first millennia BCE.

The history and cultures of these peoples were mostly forgotten during the early Christian era, save for brief historical narratives of famous kings and cities in the Hebrew Bible, in classical authors such as Herodotus, Diodorus and Josephus, and in scattered excerpts from a lost book by Berossus, a Babylonian writing in Greek in the third century BCE.

Beginning in the nineteenth century CE, with the discovery and excavation of ancient Mesopotamian sites and decipherment of Mesopotamian languages such as Sumerian and Akkadian, European and American scholars identified texts, objects and architecture as religious in nature. They used these to reconstruct ancient Mesopotamian religious beliefs and practices in the absence of any continuous or living tradition from ancient times to the present.

Inevitably the intellectual concerns of successive generations of scholars, their personal religious commitments and their individual stances, such as piety, scepticism or anticlericalism, had their effect on agendas of research and modes of presentation of Mesopotamian religion in modern studies. Many scholars of an earlier generation took for granted, for example, a higher degree of religious preoccupation and expression among ‘ancient Oriental’ or ‘Semitic peoples’ than among other ancient peoples such as the Greeks and Romans, but generalizations on this order are no longer the basis for serious research.

Some scholars imagined, for example, that the priesthood was primarily responsible for preserving culture, while others claimed that priests resisted change and development, suppressed writings unacceptable to them, and generally stood in the way of progress.

Pioneering studies of Mesopotamian religion tended to be comprehensive, such as that by M. Jastrow (1898, partially revised German edition 1912, with a volume of illustrations, 1912). Its fundamental thesis was that ancient Mesopotamian religion derived from local animistic cults that grew and merged into a larger, more complex interlocking set of religious practices and beliefs.

Similar views were set forth by R. W. Rogers (1908) in a volume that treated Mesopotamian religion as a sort of prelude to Judaism, itself a prelude to Christianity. E. Dhorme (1945, not available in English) wrote a concise and well-documented descriptive study.

The most influential writer in English on Mesopotamian religion was Thorkild Jacobsen. He developed a view that ancient Mesopotamian religion derived from a person’s sense of the ‘other’ in the natural world around him, leading to feelings of fear and awe. People perceived active will in natural events, processes and phenomena. This sense of the other was expressed, using metaphorical terms, in myth and theology and was acted upon in cult and ritual.

We have a comprehensive presentation of his views (Jacobsen 1976) and a later summary statement of his work (Jacobsen 1987). Bottéro (2001) stressed spiritual values and a phenomenological rather than a schematic, theoretical approach; for a summary of its main theses see Bottéro (1992: 201–31).

Economic and ritual aspects of Mesopotamian religion are presented by Oppenheim (1977), professing disdain for a historical approach to the subject. He contributed a brief but suggestive essay to a collection edited by Ferm (1950: 65–79). A more detailed, primarily bibliographical survey was offered by Römer (1969). There are numerous technical studies of aspects of Mesopotamian religion in the scientific literature of Assyriology, but few of them are in English.

Many presentations of Mesopotamian religion rely on retellings of ancient literary works that modern scholars classify as mythology. Authoritative presentations of Mesopotamian and other ancient Near Eastern mythologies were made in Kramer (1961 and 1969), as well as in a major treatment of Mesopotamian mythological texts jointly with Bottéro (1989, not available in English). Recent English translations of Akkadian mythology are found in Dalley (1989) and Foster (1996). Important Sumerian myths and other religious texts are translated in Jacobsen (1987).

No ancient Mesopotamian term corresponds to the modern concept of ‘religion,’ nor is there any ancient scripture, systematic treatise or general description of religious belief or activity from any period of Mesopotamian history. This means that definition of Mesopotamian religion can at best be only a modern mode of selecting and interpreting ancient writings and material culture using modern humanistic categories for which there may not have been ancient counterparts. Although the Mesopotamians recognized certain matters as ‘pertaining to the gods’, a distinction between religious and secular matters may not have been always fully comprehensible in the context of Mesopotamian culture.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Sources,” John R. Hinnells, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, 2007, pp. 161-5.

Immortality and Mortality of Mesopotamian Gods

“A further property of divinity was immortality. In narratives about divine deeds, gods were understood to be born of the intercourse of male and female parents. There is reference to their being nursed as infants but no further indication of a sense of their education, training or personal development.

Rather, as in the case of Marduk in the Babylonian Epic of Creation, the gods were born with full powers, knowing how to use weapons, understand magic words and so forth. As with Ninurta, a hero god, younger gods were expected to honour, obey and avenge slights to their parents. Having achieved a certain maturity, the gods stayed that way and did not age, though one and the same god could be portrayed as a youthful hero or as a sublime sage with magical, in preference to physical, prowess.

Gods could die, but only at the hands of other gods. Some died in battle or were executed for offences against higher gods. For example, the rebel god, Aw-ila, in the Story of the Flood (Foster 1996: 160–203 and below, pp. 184–5, 187) was executed to punish the uprising of the lesser gods against the great gods, but his spirit lingered on in the newly created human race, palpable as the human pulse. His flesh and blood were used to make the first human and his will may have given the human race its rebellious or wayward spirit.

The execution of Kingu, leader of the attacking army of gods and monsters in the Babylonian Epic of Creation, was modelled on this episode, but Kingu was there (falsely) accused of suborning Tiamat, mother of the gods, to kill her children (Foster 1996: 350–401).”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Birth and Death,” John R. Hinnells, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, 2007, pp. 180-1.

Worship of Idols and Graven Images

“Just as a great king might exercise wide dominion in the world but needed to sleep and eat, so too the Mesopotamian gods were ascribed universal dominion but had physical, social and aesthetic needs that their human subjects were created to serve (Oppenheim 1977: 183–98).

Thus temples of the gods were at first houses then palatial structures where the god ruled as a householder and dignitary (Oppenheim 1961: 158–69). The god’s house was provided with sleeping quarters, audience chambers, storerooms and dining halls in which choice foods were served and music performed. There were gardens for the god’s enjoyment and dalliance. Their homes were appointed in luxurious style with works of art, commemorative inscriptions and treasuries of offerings, gifts and valuables.

The gods travelled to visit other gods and entertained each other with feasts accompanied by speeches and heavy drinking. Like any good householder, the gods were concerned with the stewardship of their domains. The Sumerian goddess Nanshe, for example, is described in a hymn as searching out fraud and embezzlement in her household accounts ( Jacobsen 1987a: 131; Heimpel in Hallo 1997: 526–31).

The gods were understood to be physically present at will in an image (Hallo 1983) that was dressed and adorned with special clothing, jewelry and headdresses. Destruction of the image or its removal by an enemy was a disaster for the community, demanding a theological explanation: the deity was angry with his city or her people, even if no cause for this anger could be established, and had forsaken both the image and the community.

Return of an abducted image was a moment of jubilation and renewal of patriotic feeling, as when the lost statue of Marduk was returned from its captivity in Elam by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar I (twelfth century BCE).

Some Mesopotamian authors speculated on the relationship between an object produced by human craftsmanship and a universal cosmic power, asserting, as in the Epic of Erra, that the image was primeval and the craftsmen uncanny, with later human counterparts permitted by the gods to make repairs (Foster 1996: 765). However, reports of theft of divine apparel or jewelry suggest that not all Mesopotamians were awed by images of the gods.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Gods in Their Dwellings,” John R. Hinnells, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, 2007, pp. 181-2.

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.

Creation of Man

“According to the Babylonian Flood Story, the gods created the human race in order for it to maintain them in a comfortable and luxurious living standard. In this account, the first human was made in collaboration by the birth-goddess, Mami or Nintu, and Enki, god of wisdom. They took a piece of clay, kneaded it with divine spittle, then mixed in the spirit, flesh and blood of a slain rebellious god (Foster 1996: 168):

“They slaughtered Aw-ilu, who had the inspiration [for the revolt against the gods], in their assembly.

The [birth-goddess] Nintu mixed clay with his flesh and blood.

That same god and man were thoroughly mixed in the clay.

For the rest of time they would hear the drum,

From the flesh of the god the spirit remained.

It would make the living know its sign,

Lest he be allowed to be forgotten, the spirit remained.”

To sustain the human race, birth, maturity, marriage and procreation were instituted. Later, when the population had grown too great, celibacy, infertility, still birth and social restrictions against childbirth for certain groups of people were imposed on the human race.

This was not the only Mesopotamian story of how human beings were created. In a Sumerian account, the god of wisdom produced various experimental but defective human beings until a satisfactory human was brought forth (Kramer 1961: 68–70). In another Sumerian creation story, human beings grew from the earth after Enlil struck it with a pickaxe. Then he handed them the pickaxe and they set to work (Farber in Hallo 1997: 511–13). In the Babylonian Epic of Creation, Enki/Ea’s role in creating the human race is subordinated to Marduk, who is said to have had the original idea for it (Foster 1996: 383):

“I shall compact blood, I shall cause bones to be.

I shall make stand a human being, let ‘Man’ be its name.

I shall create human kind.

They shall bear the gods’ burden that those may rest.”

Humans in Mesopotamian thought were differentiated from animals in that they ate prepared foods, such as bread and beer, in preference to uncooked wild plants and water. Humans, unlike animals, wore clothes and treated and adorned their bodies with alien substances, such as oils and cosmetics, and cut their hair, rather than letting it grow to a natural length.

Humans were different from gods in that they had inferior mental and physical powers and had limited lifespans. What some later peoples deemed human characteristics, such as an immortal soul, language, social organization and use of implements, seemed to the Mesopotamians to be developments of human potential rather than distinguishing features of the race.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Gods and the Human Race,” John R. Hinnells, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, 2007, pp. 185-6.

Seize the Day

“Death in Mesopotamian religious thought did not mean the total extinction of the individual, only of the physical self and of those qualities of a person that made him productive and attractive to other human beings (Bottéro 1992: 268– 86).

A recognizable winged spirit, resembling a dove, passed to the netherworld. This was a dreary, sombre domain ruled by a pitiless hierarchy of deities and demons. There the spirit languished, often in hunger, thirst and misery, unless family or friends remembered to leave offerings of food and drink for the spirit to partake of and prayed for the spirit’s rest and contentment (Foster 1996: 403):

Dust is their sustenance and clay their food,

They see no light but dwell in darkness,

They are clothed like birds in wings for garments,

And dust has gathered on the door and bolt.

A Sumerian poem recounting a visit to the netherworld refers to the dependence of the dead upon the living (Foster 2001: 141):

Did you see the ghost of him who has no one to make funerary offerings?

I saw him. He eats table scraps and bread crusts thrown into the street.

Ghosts and spectres of the dead could trouble the living, sometimes for no apparent reason, sometimes because they had not been properly interred or were discontented because of some human action or neglect. The city Cutha, in northern Babylonia, was considered the city of the dead and the centre of the cult of death.

The netherworld was organized like an earthly or heavenly kingdom, surrounded by walls with seven gates (Lambert 1990). A popular Mesopotamian poem (Dalley 1989: 163–81; Foster 1996: 410–28) told how the netherworld had once been ruled by a queen alone, Ereshkigal, but that she eventually found a husband, Nergal or Erra.

In one version of the story, he forces himself into the netherworld by violence and threatens her into submission. In another, he breaks her loneliness and sexual frustration with a passionate relationship that finally results in their marriage.

The gods of heaven and netherworld, separated, according to the Babylonian Epic of Creation, into two groups of 600 each, could not visit each other, though they could exchange messengers. Even the great gods feared the netherworld, which barred countless human dead from swarming onto the earth to devour the living in their eternal, unsatiated hunger.

The dead entered the netherworld naked and relinquished all hope of returning to life. How their ghosts escaped to plague the living is not clear. Various Mesopotamian stories told of human beings who learned what happened after a person died.

In one, the Sumerian hero Enkidu volunteered in a fit of bravado to go down to the netherworld to retrieve a favourite athletic object of the king, Gilgamesh. This was apparently a stick and a ball or puck that had fallen down there at the pleas of the people who were oppressed by the violent game that made use of them. The losers resented Gilgamesh’s bullying tactics in the game.

Enkidu recognized his relatives and saw certain distinctions among the dead: heroes were treated better than common folk, for example, and stillborn children had a sort of play area with miniature furniture. He barely escaped alive and forgot in the stress of the moment to bring back the objects (Foster 2001: 129–43).

Much later, an Assyrian dignitary described a vision of the netherworld that included an array of monsters, composites of humans and animals in shape. He, like Enkidu, recognized a dead spirit, but fled in an ecstasy of terror and grief, narrowly escaping permanent confinement (Foster 1996: 715–22):

He darted out into the street like an arrow and scooped up dirt from alley and square in his mouth, all the while setting up a frightful clamor, ‘Woe! Alas! Why have you ordained this for me?’

Mesopotamians honoured the dead of their families with a regular ceremony of remembrance and offering. Dead and sometimes even living kings were accorded divine honours and observances in special sanctuaries. Rulers and other powerful people could be buried in lavish tombs with grave gifts, perhaps more as a splendid way of dying than out of hope that they would need such gifts in the afterlife.

Some Sumerian rulers had chariots, animals and even court attendants buried with them; Assyrian queens might be buried with their finest jewelry. Clay or metal vessels might hold food, drink and cosmetics. Burial might be in vaults in royal palaces, under the floor of homes (especially for children) or in cemeteries outside the city.

Graves were not marked on the surface, so far as is known, and funerary inscriptions, naming the deceased or invoking blessings upon them from future descendants or passers-by, were very rare. One literary text describes an excavation to open an ancient tomb and the horrible shock the investigators felt when they beheld and reflected on the fate in store for them (Foster 1996: 436).

One of the major literary achievements of ancient Mesopotamia, the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh (George 1999; Foster 2001), tells the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, who sought immortal life. This was based on older Sumerian poems about various episodes in Gilgamesh’s life.

In the epic, Gilgamesh’s beloved friend, the wild man Enkidu, dies as the result of an expedition to achieve eternal fame for Gilgamesh by slaying a distant monster and cutting down a great tree. Terrified of dying himself, Gilgamesh abandons all in a desperate quest to find the survivor of the flood, Utanapishtim, to ask him his secret of immortality.

Gilgamesh eventually reaches Utanapishtim after unexampled heroism and hardships, not to mention the timely intervention of several kind-hearted women, but learns that his hope is vain – Utanapishtim was granted immortality for surviving the flood, but this was a one-time event that would not be repeated for Gilgamesh’s sake.

Neither he nor any other human being had any hope of achieving immortality. This poem was popular in learned circles; manuscripts have turned up throughout Mesopotamia, and from Syria and Asia Minor, dating to a time span of 1500 years.

There was no Mesopotamian paradise, no return of the soul in another body for another life, no judgement, and no sense that death might eventually end in a final consummation. Some Mesopotamians responded to this outlook by suggesting that the good for a human being was to enjoy life, love, family and vitality while they were within reach, for even a modest life was better than a grand death, as a tavern keeper advises Gilgamesh (Foster 2001: 75):

When the gods created mankind,

They established death for mankind,

And withheld eternal life for themselves.

As for you, Gilgamesh, let your stomach be full,

Always be happy, night and day.

Make every day a delight,

Night and day play and dance.

Your clothes should be clean,

Your head should be washed,

You should bathe in water,

Look proudly on the little one holding your hand,

Let your mate be always blissful in your loins,

This, then, is the work of mankind.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Mesopotamia,” in John R. Hinnels, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 188-90.

On the Mesopotamian Gods and Mankind

“According to the Babylonian Flood Story, the gods created the human race in order for it to maintain them in a comfortable and luxurious living standard. In this account, the first human was made in collaboration by the birth-goddess, Mami or Nintu, and Enki, god of wisdom.

They took a piece of clay, kneaded it with divine spittle, then mixed in the spirit, flesh and blood of a slain rebellious god (Foster 1996: 168):

They slaughtered Aw-ilu, who had the inspiration [for the revolt against the gods], in their assembly.

The [birth-goddess] Nintu mixed clay with his flesh and blood.

That same god and man were thoroughly mixed in the clay.

For the rest of time they would hear the drum,

From the flesh of the god the spirit remained.

It would make the living know its sign,

Lest he be allowed to be forgotten, the spirit remained.

To sustain the human race, birth, maturity, marriage and procreation were instituted. Later, when the population had grown too great, celibacy, infertility, still birth and social restrictions against childbirth for certain groups of people were imposed on the human race.

This was not the only Mesopotamian story of how human beings were created. In a Sumerian account, the god of wisdom produced various experimental but defective human beings until a satisfactory human was brought forth (Kramer 1961: 68–70).

In another Sumerian creation story, human beings grew from the earth after Enlil struck it with a pickaxe. Then he handed them the pickaxe and they set to work (Farber in Hallo 1997: 511–13).

In the Babylonian Epic of Creation, Enki/Ea’s role in creating the human race is subordinated to Marduk, who is said to have had the original idea for it (Foster 1996: 383):

I shall compact blood,

I shall cause bones to be.

I shall make stand a human being, let ‘Man’ be its name.

I shall create human kind.

They shall bear the gods’ burden that those may rest.

Humans in Mesopotamian thought were differentiated from animals in that they ate prepared foods, such as bread and beer, in preference to uncooked wild plants and water. Humans, unlike animals, wore clothes and treated and adorned their bodies with alien substances, such as oils and cosmetics, and cut their hair, rather than letting it grow to a natural length.

Humans were different from gods in that they had inferior mental and physical powers and had limited lifespans. What some later peoples deemed human characteristics, such as an immortal soul, language, social organization and use of implements, seemed to the Mesopotamians to be developments of human potential rather than distinguishing features of the race.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Mesopotamia,” in John R. Hinnels, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 185-6.