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Kvanvig: On Šēp lemutti, Averting Evil

“The apkallus were also an essential part of the composition Šēp lemutti. The composition starts by defining the purpose of the ritual as to avert evil from the house.

Then the text prescribes the types of figures to be fashioned and buried at set locations in the house. This section contains a long passage describing wooden figures of seven apkallus, from seven Babylonian cities. Since these figures should be made of wood, no remains of them are found, of course.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have prophylactic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have prophylactic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

The next passages describe apkallus with well-known features; seven figures with faces and wings of birds and seven figures cloaked in the skin of a fish. (Cf. Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” 87-96, 87-90.)

In total the apkallus as groups of seven are described five times according to where they should be buried: at the head of the bed, in the foundation of the house, at the threshold to the chapel, in front of the door behind the chair and in the middle of the house in front of the chair (the chair may here be the throne of the palace).

 As noted by Professor Dalley, "The type occurs as a group of six or more clay figurines placed in brick boxes in foundations at Assur, Nimrud, and Nineveh," citing Dessa Rittig as her source (Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom 13.-6. Jh. v. Chr. München, 1977).


As noted by Professor Dalley, “The type occurs as a group of six or more clay figurines placed in brick boxes in foundations at Assur, Nimrud, and Nineveh,” citing Dessa Rittig as her source (Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom 13.-6. Jh. v. Chr. München, 1977).

The first invocation addresses the arrival of the apkallus: “the apkallus have arrived at the first location.” (Cf. P. Hibbert in Kolbe, Die Reliefprogramme, 200-1.) Then follows an invocation that is similar in all the other four instances: šiptu attunu salmānu apkallu massarī, “Incantation: “you are the statues of the apkallus, the watchers.” (Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, 48.)

The designation massaru follows the intention of the whole ritual closely: the apkallus are invoked to protect the palace or the house. Accordingly, there is a close correspondence between the invocation of the apkallus as watchers and how they were represented materially.

The statues of them were initiated through proper rituals and either placed in the room of the ill person to free him from evil demons, or they were buried in a house, to guard the house against demonic attack.

As monumental reliefs at the entrances to palaces they remind people and demons that the palace, the king, and the inhabitants of the palace lived in a house which was protected against evil intruders through the proper rituals.

Since the apkallus appear in apotropaic rituals, they are closely connected to the practice of the āšipū, the exorcists. In an ancient Babylonian myth the sixth sage An-enlilda made poultices for medical means. They would be brought to the upper world of humans as protection against diseases. (Lambert, “The Twenty-One “Poultices,” obv. 11-4, 78.)

A bas relief in the Louvre.  In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.  This bas relief is in the Louvre.  Primary publicationNimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f) Collection	Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France  Museum no.	Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849  Accession no.	1903-10-10, 0002 (b) Provenience	Kalhu (mod. Nimrud) Period	Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

A bas relief in the Louvre.
In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.
This bas relief is in the Louvre.
Primary publication Nimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f)
Collection Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France
Museum no. Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849
Accession no. 1903-10-10, 0002 (b)
Provenience Kalhu (mod. Nimrud)
Period Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

We know that experts in medicine and incantations against disease demons could either designate themselves as apkallu, or place themselves as a descendant of an apkallu, in this case used as honorary title for an expert of highest rank. (Cf. A. Tuskimoto, “By the Hand of Madi-Dagan, the Scribe and Apkallu-Priest,” in Priests and Officials in the Ancient Near East, K. Watanabe, ed., Heidelberg, 1999, pp. 187-200. Also Finkel, “Adad-apla-iddina,” 144f.)

In the commentary to diagnostic omens that explains the word pirig that occurs in the names of the postdiluvian apkallus meaning “light,” it is also stated that ka.pirig means āšipu.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 132-3.

Kvanvig: The Apkallus had a Cosmic Function

“There is a clear difference between the group of seven and the subsequent group of four figures in Bīt Mēseri. The difference is not expressed in the same way as in the Uruk tablet in a general pattern of apkallus and succeeding ummanus. In Bīt Mēseri all the figures are apkallus with a curious exception of the last one, who is only two-thirds apkallu.

In Bīt Mēseri, there are thus two periods of transition, from the seven apkallus of divine descent to the four apkallus of human descent, and from the extraordinary apkallus to ordinary scholarship (we assume ummanus).

This depiction of a fish-apkallū of the parādu-fish type guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud.  A fish's head can be seen on the Apkallu's head, and its skin hangs down over the back of his body.  It is important to recall that the so-called Seven Sages of Sumeria were apkallū of this type. 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 of the parādu-fish type guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud.
A fish’s head can be seen on the Apkallu’s head, and its skin hangs down over the back of his body.
It is important to recall that the so-called Seven Sages of Sumeria were apkallū of this type.
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/

The last transition is exemplified with Lu-Nanna; he is a mixture of both apkallu and, we must assume, ummanu. The difference between the first two groups is expressed through their origin. At the end of the list of four it is stated: [seb]et apkallu ša Ea bēlum [u]zna rapašta ušaklilušunuti,” of human descent, whom the lord Ea has endowed with a broad understanding” (lines 30-31).

“Born in the river” means engendered in the abode of Ea, which shows divine descent, in opposition to the human descent of the four succeeding ones, who, nevertheless are given great wisdom.

The apkallus are given a cosmic function. This is repeated twice, first in connection with the first apkallu, then in connection with all seven apkallus at the end of the list in Bīt Mēseri.

In both cases their responsibility concerns usurāt šamê u erseti (lines 1 and 13). Akkadian usurtu means concretely, “drawing,” abstractly, “plan, regulation, destiny;” so the apkallus are in charge of the “plans of heaven and earth.”

We have met this concept in Atrahasis where the birth-goddess Nintu: usurāti ša niši ussar, “draws the drawings for the people,” (S, 14), i.e. creates the basic conditions and fixes the destinies.

(Text in Lambert and Millard, Atra-Hasis, 62-3).

There is, however, a difference in Bīt Mēseri, which is made clear by the two different verbs used. In the case of the first apkallu (line 1) the verb mušaklil, participle, of the verb šuklulu (Š stem), is used. The verb means both “complete” and “make perfectly.”

In this bas relief from Nimrud, human apkallū, the ummánū, kneel and tend to a sacred tree.  Both ummânū wear horned tiaras and display rosette bracelets on their wrists. Bracelets are also apparent on their upper arms.  In the lower register, bird-apkallū raise mulillu cones to sprinkle water in a gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin.  As is typical, the banduddu buckets are in their left hands.  Interestingly in this case, the bracelets of the bird-apkallū are atypical. No rosettes are apparent.

In this bas relief from Nimrud, human apkallū, the ummánū, kneel and tend to a sacred tree.
Both ummânū wear horned tiaras and display rosette bracelets on their wrists. Bracelets are also apparent on their upper arms.
In the lower register, bird-apkallū raise mulillu cones to sprinkle water in a gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin.
As is typical, the banduddu buckets are in their left hands.
Interestingly in this case, the bracelets of the bird-apkallū are atypical. No rosettes are apparent.

The first apkallu thus “completed” or “made perfectly the drawings of heaven and earth.”

In the summary about all the apkallus (line 13) the verb muštešer, participle, Št stem, of the verb ešēru is used, which has the meaning “keep in order.”

Thus there is a distinction between what the first apkallu initially did, and what all apkallus did together. The first apkallu completed the design of the world-order; the seven apkallus, as a group, maintained this world order.

The corresponding Sumerian line 12 (the tablet is bilingual) has a text close to what we find in a Sumerian hymn. We quote the text in the German translation by van Dijk:

Die urformen von Himmel und Erde

in rechter Ordnung zu halten, in die Weite von Himmel und Erde

den grossen Entscheidungen den Weg zu bahnen, 

die Kultordnungen vollkommen zu machen.”

(Hymn to Nusku I, 14).

(J. van Dijk, Summarische Götterlieder, AHAW, PH, abh. I. Heidelberg 1960, 14; transliteration, 108; translation, 111.).

What is said here about the god Nusku is in Bīt Mēseri said about the apkallus. It covers the wide aspects of culture and civilization listed by Berossos about the first and seventh apkallu; it brings us, however, even one step further. The apkallus had a cosmic function; they were cosmic guardians.

They were both in charge of the me, and they were in charge of people’s destinies. In the last role, they are also described in a Babylonian myth where they are the custodians of the tablets of destinies.”

(W.G. Lambert, “The Twenty-One “poultices,”” AnSt 30 (1980): 77-83; B.R. Foster, “Wisdom and the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Orientalia (NS) 43 (1974): 344-54.).

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 116-7.

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