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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.

Lenzi: Human apkallū are a Later Inclusion

“Sanders suggests this discrepancy indicates the four human apkallū are “extraneous” while Wiggerman gives it a source critical interpretation, suggesting “the list of apkallū does not originate from bīt mēseri but from another text—a chronicle ?—, from where it was adapted by bīt mēseri.”

(Sanders, “Writing, Ritual, and Apocalypse,” 117; Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, 108. They do appear extraneous in the incantation when viewed from the perspective of the ritual instructions, and the four human apkallū almost certainly were taken from some other traditional context, though we have not yet identified it.)

This design is perplexing. I am uncertain whether it depicts a human apkallū, an ummânū,  or, as earlier analysts assessed, the god Anu.<br /> The iconography is correct for an apkallū. The horned headdress is indicative of divinity, the plants held in both hands are not unprecedented, though they are not common.  They appear to be poppies.<br /> The rosette design in the large ring around his waist appears elsewhere in Neo-Assyrian symbolism, though its significance is undetermined. In no other case have I seen a ring surrounding the waist of such a figure.<br /> The wings on the apkallū are typical.<br /> The fact that this figure stands on a bull, however, suggests that this is a depiction of a deity, rather than a human apkallū.<br /> Further, the disc atop the headdress is problematic. In no other example does a human apkallū appear with a disc surmounting a horned headdress.<br /> Indeed, it is unclear whether the disc is just worn with time, or whether the lower part of the disc portrays the inverted horns of the Moon, indicative of the Moon god Sin.<br /> This is one of the most dramatic examples of Neo-Assyrian art, but my scholarship is too meager to explicate it.<br /> http://transfixussednonmortuus.tumblr.com/image/32382020729

This design is perplexing. I am uncertain whether it depicts a human apkallū, an ummânū, or, as earlier analysts assessed, the god Anu.
The iconography is correct for an apkallū. The horned headdress is indicative of divinity, the plants held in both hands are not unprecedented, though they are not common. They appear to be poppies.
The rosette design in the large ring around his waist appears elsewhere in Neo-Assyrian symbolism, though its significance is undetermined. In no other case have I seen a ring surrounding the waist of such a figure.
The wings on the apkallū are typical.
The fact that this figure stands on a bull, however, suggests that this is a depiction of a deity, rather than a human apkallū.
Further, the disc atop the headdress is problematic. In no other example does a human apkallū appear with a disc surmounting a horned headdress.
Indeed, it is unclear whether the disc is just worn with time, or whether the lower part of the disc portrays the inverted horns of the Moon, indicative of the Moon god Sin.
This is one of the most dramatic examples of Neo-Assyrian art, but my scholarship is too meager to explicate it.
http://transfixussednonmortuus.tumblr.com/image/32382020729

Building on these interpretations, I suggest that the absence of the four human apkallū from the ritual instructions is a textual clue that they are in fact a later addition to the incantation.

According to this interpretation, the text provides evidence that someone deliberately associated the two groups of apkallū, human and mythic, sometime in the early first millennium.

This depiction of a human apkallū, or ummânū, portrays the right hand raised in the greeting gesture, and the banduddū bucket in the left hand.<br /> This ummânū displays the rosette design on bilateral wristbands and on a headband, which differs from the usual horned headdress.<br /> The wings are typical, further indicative of divinity or partial divinity.

This depiction of a human apkallū, or ummânū, portrays the right hand raised in the greeting gesture, and the banduddū bucket in the left hand.
This ummânū displays the rosette design on bilateral wristbands and on a headband, which differs from the usual horned headdress.
The wings are typical, further indicative of divinity or partial divinity.

That is to say, the disconnect between ritual and incantation provides a hint at alteration or innovation—i.e., an active interest—in the apkallū tradition attested here.

(For a much more detailed example of finding literary and socio-religious data in the discrepancies between an incantation and its associated ritual, see Tzvi Abusch, “Ritual and Incantation: Interpretation and Textual History of Maqlû VII:58-105 and IX:52-59,” in “Shaharei Talmon:” Studies in the Bible, Qumran, and the Ancient Near East Presented to Shemaryahu Talmon, ed. Michael Fishbane and Emanuel Tov with the assistance of Weston W. Fields (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1992), 367-80; reprinted in Tzvi Abusch, Mesopotamian Witchcraft: Toward a History and Understanding of Babylonian Witchcraft Beliefs and Literature, Ancient Magic and Divination 5 (Leiden: Brill / Styx, 2002).

This depiction of a human apkallū, or ummânū raises the mullilu cone in the right hand, in the prototypical gesture of blessing and exorcism, releasing all sin.<br /> The gesture is one of sprinkling water, with the water contained in the banduddû bucket in the left hand.<br /> This ummânū wears wristbands with the undefined rosette design, but in this example the headdress is the horned tiara indicative of divinity.<br /> Wings reflecting divinity or semi-divinity are also present.<br /> In this bas relief, the ummânū is blessing or purifying a sacred tree.<br /> It is possible that the blossoms on the sacred tree are related to the rosette design on the wristbands, though I am unaware at this time of any scholarship drawing the similarity.

This depiction of a human apkallū, or ummânū raises the mullilu cone in the right hand, in the prototypical gesture of blessing and exorcism, releasing all sin.
The gesture is one of sprinkling water, with the water contained in the banduddû bucket in the left hand.
This ummânū wears wristbands with the undefined rosette design, but in this example the headdress is the horned tiara indicative of divinity.
Wings reflecting divinity or semi-divinity are also present.
In this bas relief, the ummânū is blessing or purifying a sacred tree.
It is possible that the blossoms on the sacred tree are related to the rosette design on the wristbands, though I am unaware at this time of any scholarship drawing the similarity.

We must recognize, however, the fact that the tradition exemplified in bīt mēseri differs in a significant way from the ULKS: in bīt mēseri the tradition occurs in a ritual.

(Besides the generic difference the text also has a difference with regard to the included content: kings are only mentioned with two of the human apkallū and none is mentioned with the mythic apkallū. Since Bīt mēseri is a ritual, we would not expect the sage-king association to appear.

This ummânū uniquely presents with a feather in the raised right hand, and a kid goat held in the left.  I am unaware of any other depiction like this one. The bracelets of rosette design appear bilaterally on both wrists, as do bracelets around the upper arms.  The tassels are finely detailed, and a tassel can be discerned on the ummânū's upper back. This depiction is also perhaps unique in the degree of fine detail lavished on the wings, and on the fringe of the garment.  This ummânū also wears a headband with the rosette design, rather than the horned tiara.

This ummânū uniquely presents with a feather in the raised right hand, and a kid goat held in the left.
I am unaware of any other depiction like this one.
The bracelets of rosette design appear bilaterally on both wrists, as do bracelets around the upper arms.
The tassels are finely detailed, and a tassel can be discerned on the ummânū’s upper back.
This depiction is also perhaps unique in the degree of fine detail lavished on the wings, and on the fringe of the garment.
This ummânū also wears a headband with the rosette design, rather than the horned tiara.

Due to their association with Ea, the apkallū were “natural” candidates for invocation in apotropaic/exorcistic contexts (see, e.g., Benjamin Foster, “Wisdom and the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Orientalia 43 [1974], 344-54, here 349 and other examples below).

This portrayal of a human apkallū, or ummânū, wears the horned headdress indicative of divinity, and raises his right hand in the greeting gesture.<br /> Uniquely, this depiction carries an er'u stick, emblazoned with an un-circled rosette design that reflects the bracelet on the ummânū wrist.<br /> It also strikes me as possible that the stick is a mace.<br /> It should be noted that these rosette designs feature nine petals.<br /> This ummânū is unique, perhaps, in that bracelets on the upper arms are depicted.<br /> Likewise noteworthy are the tassels hanging from the apparel, which appear in other depictions but not, perhaps, with this degree of fine detail.<br /> Note the attention to detail revealed in the thumbnail of each hand.<br /> The wings, indicative of divinity, also portray uncommon detail.

This portrayal of a human apkallū, or ummânū, wears the horned headdress indicative of divinity, and raises his right hand in the greeting gesture.
Uniquely, this depiction carries an er’u stick, emblazoned with an un-circled rosette design that reflects the bracelet on the ummânū wrist.
It also strikes me as possible that the stick is a mace.
It should be noted that these rosette designs feature nine petals.
This ummânū is unique, perhaps, in that bracelets on the upper arms are depicted.
Likewise noteworthy are the tassels hanging from the apparel, which appear in other depictions but not, perhaps, with this degree of fine detail.
Note the attention to detail revealed in the thumbnail of each hand.
The wings, indicative of divinity, also portray uncommon detail.

But kings are not figures typically invoked in incantations. Thus, it is not really surprising that we do not see the connection made systematically in such a context. However, when a sage–king connection is mentioned, it is interesting to see signs of continuity with the later ULKS. For example, Nungalpirigal is associated with Enmerkar in both Bīt mēseri and the ULKS.)

If this were the only instance of apkallū in a ritual context, this difference in genre would be of little consequence. But, in fact, it is not. The seven apkallū are mentioned, for example, in anti-witchcraft incantations in Maqlû II 124, V 110, VII 49, VIII 38 (though without names).

This ummânū kneels before the sacred tree, apparently depicted in the act of tending to it.<br /> This bas relief is perhaps unique in its fine detail which survived a long period of time.<br /> Note the care focused on the fingernails and toenails.<br /> The rosette design is mirrored on the bracelets, while this ummânū wears the horned tiara of divinity.<br /> The tassels from the apparel are finely detailed, and another tassel appears behind ummânu's neck, beneath his braided hair.<br /> The earrings are of an unknown design.

This ummânū kneels before the sacred tree, apparently depicted in the act of tending to it.
This bas relief is perhaps unique in its fine detail which survived a long period of time.
Note the care focused on the fingernails and toenails.
The rosette design is mirrored on the bracelets, while this ummânū wears the horned tiara of divinity.
The tassels from the apparel are finely detailed, and another tassel appears behind ummânu’s neck, beneath his braided hair.
The earrings are of an unknown design.

(7 apkallē sūt Eridu likpidūšunūti ana lemuttim: “May the seven sages of Eridu plan evil for them.” This counters the assertion that the sorcerers have planned evil for the patient in II 117.

See Gerhard Meier, Die assyrische Beschwörungssammlung Maqlû, Archiv für Orientforschung Beiheft 2 (Berlin, 1937), 17 for text and translation.)

(7 apkallē sūt Eridu [. . .]; see Gerhard Meier, “Studien zur Beschwörungssammlung Maqlu,” Archiv für Orientforschung 21 (1966), 77 for the text. Meier’s earlier edition contains nothing except the number 7 from the line (Maqlû, 38).

An ummânū, or sage of human descent. The ummânū raises his right hand in the iconic gesture of greeting, with uncertain plants in his left hand.  The rosette design on his wristband is perhaps uniquely not reflected on the opposite wrist. Bracelets appear on the upper arms.  The horned tiara headdress, indicative of divinity, is often worn by such figures.

An ummânū, or sage of human descent. The ummânū raises his right hand in the iconic gesture of greeting, with uncertain plants in his left hand.
The rosette design on his wristband is perhaps uniquely not reflected on the opposite wrist. Bracelets appear on the upper arms.
The horned tiara headdress, indicative of divinity, is often worn by such figures.

(7 apkallē sūt Eridu lipaššihū zumuršu, “May the seven sages of Eridu give his body relief” (Meier, Maqlû, 48).

(Broken context: [. . .] ši-ma apkallē ša Apsî (Meier, Maqlû, 54). Note the next line, also broken, has nēmeqi nikilti Ea iqbû, “the wisdom, the ingenuity of Ea they spoke.”)

Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian ScholarshipJANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 145-6.

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