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Erica Reiner on the Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages”

“The bilingual text LKA No. 76 has been characterized by Ebeling, in the catalog LKA p. x, as “Zweisprachiger Text von den ‘sieben Söhnen von Nippur’, mystischen Inhalts.” The obverse of the text contains an unusual self-description given by the “sons of Nippur,” to which I have been unable to find a parallel, but the much smaller portion preserved of the reverse, which most likely is an altogether different composition, is a duplicate to two texts from Kouyunjik edited by O.R. Gurney, JRAS 1935 459 ff., which deal with the apkallu’s who, under the designation “Seven Sages” have received repeated attention in Assyriological literature.

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.

The reverse of LKA 76, which shall be my sole concern in this paper, as well as an unpublished fragment from Kouyunjik copied by Geers, permits us to establish the historical and mythological significance of these personages. [ … ]

Translation

  • 1′-2′. [Adapa,] the purification priest of Eridu
  • 3′-4′. [ … ] who ascended to heaven.
  • 5′-6′. They are the seven brilliant apkallu’s, purādu-fish of the sea,
  • 7′-9′. [sev]en apkallu’s “grown” in the river, who insure the correct functioning of the plans of heaven and earth.
  • 10′-13′. Nunpiriggaldim, the apkallu of Enmerkar, who brought down Ištar from heaven into Eanna;
  • 14′-17′. Piriggalnungal, stemming from Kiš, who angered Adad in heaven so that he let no rain and (hence) vegetation be in the country for three years;
  • 18′-23′. Piriggalabzu, stemming from [Eridu] who . . . . and thus angered Ea in the Apsû so that he . . . [cut (?) the cords from (?) the seal around his neck (?)] . . .
  • 24′-27′. The fourth (is) Lu-Nanna, (only) two-thirds apkallu, who drove the ušumgallu-dragon from Eninkarnunna (var. Eninkiagnunna), the temple of Ištar of Šulgi.
  • 28′-31′. [ . . . ] of human descent, whom (pl.) the lord Ea had endowed with a broad understanding.

. . . If the restorations [MIN] in lines 3’ff are correct, this section enumerates or addresses apkallu’s . . . (See footnote 3, below).

(Footnote 3: While the main concern of these pages is to follow the apkallu’s into their mythological past, it should be mentioned that their role in the here edited text, as well as in other rituals to be mentioned presently, is an apotropaic one (having the power to avert evil influences or bad luck); indeed, copies … of the text under discussion may well represent a tablet of the series bīt mēsiri, for which see G. Meier, AfO 14 139 ff.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, 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, 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.

This is made likely by the content as well as the style of the invocations alternating with ritual directions, and the latter have been here restored on the basis of this similarity. Moreover, A rev. 5′ f. recalls the catchline of 4R 21 B, a recension of Tablet II of bīt mēsiri … the number, shape, and use of these apotropaic figures varies from text to text, apkallu being a general term for the fish-, bird-, or “Gilgameš“-like men (see Landsberger Sam’al 95 n. 227); thus, before the apkallu’s enumerated in lines 10′-27′, who are then summed up as being of human descent (ilitti amēlūti), the text mentions the seven apkallu’s who are purādu-fish and seven apkallu’s who were “created” (Sumerian “grown”) in the river.)

As A rev. 16’ff. shows, the rites were performed for the benefit of a patient (LÚ.GIG); they include, according to A rev. 10’f., fashioning of apotropaic apkallu-figurines, or, according to lines 3’ff. (in copy C), figurines of suhurmāšu-fish.”

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

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.

On the Banduddu, or Bucket

Apkallu Attributes

“–banduddû, “bucket”.

Banduddû unquestionably denotes the bucket held by many figures of the reliefs, cf. Frank LSS III/3 671, Zimmern ZA 35 151, Smith JRAS 1926 70913, Hrouda Kulturgeschichte 77, Madhloom Chronology 109ff., Kolbe Reliefprogramme Type IIA, VI, IIB, IIC.

The object is attested also in the hands of clay figures: Rittig Kleinplastik 70ff. (bird-apkallu), 80ff. (fish-apkallu), 98f. (kusarikku). Two buckets from Babylon belonged to unknown figures of wood. The actual figures always carry the bucket with their left hand; the texts prescribe the banduddû for the left hand when another object is held in the right hand.

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed "genies," as they were long described, are now known to be apkallu, "bird-apkallu," mixed-feature exorcists and creatures of protection created by the god Ea. They traditionally served as advisors to kings. Their association with sacred trees, as they are often portrayed, remains somewhat perplexing.  https://www.flickr.com/photos/lanpernas2/8606000868/

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed “genies,” as they were long described, are now known to be apkallu, “bird-apkallu,” mixed-feature exorcists and creatures of protection created by the god Ea. They traditionally served as advisors to kings. Their association with sacred trees, as they are often portrayed, remains somewhat perplexing. The banduddu (bucket) and mullilu (tree cone) are clearly depicted, in a format which is repeated in Neo-Assyrian art.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/lanpernas2/8606000868/

When a figure does not hold a second object, the hand with which to hold the banduddû is not specified (kusarikku, cf. also text V i 12′; urmahlullû, text VI Col. B:31). Only Ensimah in the divergent “Göttertypentext” (MIO 176 v 21) holds the banduddû in his right hand.

The banduddû bucket is not to be confused with the “flowing vase”, called hegallu, “abundance”, in Akkadian (MIO 1 106 vi 8). In rituals the banduddû was filled with water (cf. CAD : the exorcist imitates Marduk, who, on the advise of Ea, takes water from the “mouth of the twin rivers”, casts his spell over it, and sprinkles it over the sick man: VAS 171i 21ff. (OB) reads: gi ba-an-dug-dug gi a-1á gliš-GAMI -m a šu u m-ti-en / í d ka – min – na a …

Ishtar at far left, with weaponry on her back, knife in hand. She is acknowledging the greeting of a worshipper, with an animal sacrifice in hand.  I am unsure about the divinity portrayed in the center, she is a goddess, the horned headdress confirms it, and she appears to hold the hegallu, a flowing vase, which is synonymous with "abundance." My scholarship is yet too meager to hazard a guess about the remaining figures depicted.

Ishtar at far left, with weaponry on her back, knife in hand. She is acknowledging the greeting of a worshipper, with an animal sacrifice in hand.
I am unsure about the divinity portrayed in the center, she is a goddess, the horned headdress confirms it, and she appears to hold the hegallu, a flowing vase, which is synonymous with “abundance.”
My scholarship is yet too meager to hazard a guess about the remaining figures depicted.

What follows is barely readable, but the section ends with: (26′) a ù – m u – e – s ù. In the translation the broken lines have been restored after the late parallels KAR 91 Rev. 1ff. and CT 17 26 64ff. (bilingual): “take the bucket, the hoisting device with the wooden bail, bring water from the mouth of the twin rivers (cf. Falkenstein ZA 45 32 ad CT 17 26 65), over that water cast your holy spell, purify it with your holy incantation, and sprinkle that water over the man, the son of his god”.

The effect of sprinkling the holy water is the “release”(ptr) of the threatened man (cf. Šurpu VIII 41; K 8005+ 33, quoted by Zimmern BBR 157m and CAD B 79b). The connection between “banduddû” and “release” (ptr) may have been reinforced by etymological speculation (dug = patāru).

The gi b a – a n – dug – dug was originally a reed (determinative GI) container (b a – a n, cf. Oppenheim Eames 10, Steinkeller OrNS 51 359) used to carry liquids (VAS 17 1 i 21′, cf. Civil Studies Oppenheim 87); as such it was coated with bitumen: d ug, “to caulk” ((Oppenheim Eames 85, Falkenstein NSGU 3 110).

A b a – a n- dug – dug could be made of metal as well (cf. CAD B 79b). The Neo-Assyrian bucket was occasionally still decorated with an imitation of basket-work design, but in fact apparently made of metal (cf. Madhloom Chronology 110f., Stearns AfOB 15 2544).”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, p. 66.

Apkallu Details (Excerpt from Wiggermann)

“Although text II is an extract, and as such less informative on the ritual than text I, it nevertheless supplies information not supplied by text I. The extra information of text II is given below figure by figure in the order of text I.

Human apkallu, known as ummiamu, distinguished with two pairs of wings. In a gesture of ritual purification, he holds a

Human apkallu, known as ummiamu, distinguished with two pairs of wings. In a gesture of ritual purification, he holds a “cleaner” cone in one hand, and a bucket in the other. The cone is called a mullilu, the bucket a banduddu. From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.
AO 19845

For each figure the details relevant to the discussions below are added: number of order in text II, name, number of statues, material, nature, character of incantation and inscription, attributes.

1.1          umu-apkallû, I 44ff.; 7; e’ru; anthropomorphic/human.

attributes: in the right hand: a cornel(-stick) charred at both ends; left hand on breast.
buried: ina SAG g’N?., “at the head of the bed” (II Obv. 11).
incantation: ÉN VII NUN.ME.MEŠ a-šá-red-du-tú, “seven leading sages” (II Obv. 11). Text I omits this incantation; its function is apparently fulfilled by the incantation ÉN UDUG HUL EDIN.NA DAGAL.LA I 40 (cf. below III.C.).

These figures are not supplied with horns of bronze/copper, which would positively identify them as gods, nor do the inscriptions and incantations characterize them as divine: they are sages of human descent, giving life by their incantations, and putting to flight evil.

The lack of added precision in the description (in contrast to the specifications of the bird- and fish-apkallū), and the head dress, garments, and hands, make them anthropomorphic.

A King, Ashurnasirpal, interacts with an attendant at far right. An apkallu is depicted at far left, denoted by his wings and his characteristic pose, with raised right hand and left hand holding a bucket. Apkallu in this pose typically have a cone in their right hands, which they use to ritually sprinkle water.

A King, Ashurnasirpal, interacts with an attendant at far right. An apkallu is depicted at far left, denoted by his wings and his characteristic pose, with raised right hand and left hand holding a banduddu bucket. Apkallu in this pose typically have a cone in their right hands, a mullilu, which they use to ritually sprinkle water.

[ … ]

9.2          Bird-apkullū, I 170ff.; 7; clay and wax; human/bird.

attributes: in the right hand a cleaner (mullilu), in the left a bucket.
buried: ina SUHUŠ É II-i ina SAG gis NÁ, “at the base of the (wall of the) “second room”, at the head of the bed” (II Obv. 14). The translation of II-i is uncertain: Smith JRAS 1926 696: “second pavement”(709 14: “not clear”); Gurney, Hibbert and Rittig suppose that II-i introduces an alternative position, which seems improbable in the present context.

In MAss/NAss the ša bīti šanî (CAD B 296b) is a servant in the dining room, and bītu šanû is accordingly perhaps “dining room”, cf. CAD B 297f., Kinnier Wilson CTN I 85, Postgate FNALD 5:5, Dailey CTN 3 165 ad 12. An incantation to these figures is attested only in text II (Obv. 14, incipit): ÉN at-tú-nu NU NUN.ME ma-sa-ri, “incantation: you are the statues of the sages, the guardians”: the incipit reveals only a part of their character: they are guardians.

In the top register, Ummiamu, human apkallu that are postdiluvian, tend to a sacred tree. In the lower register, antediluvian apkallu with avian heads tend to a sacred tree.  The pinecones and buckets in their hands are now understood to be standard devices used to sprinkle water. The water sprinkling ritual was intended to liberate sin.

In the top register, Ummiamu, human apkallu that are postdiluvian, tend to a sacred tree. In the lower register, antediluvian apkallu with avian heads tend to a sacred tree.
The tree cones and buckets in their hands are now understood to be standard devices used to sprinkle water, known as mullilu and banduddu, respectively .
The water sprinkling ritual was intended to liberate sin.

10.3        Fish-apkallū, I 174ff.; 7; clay; human/fish.

attributes: in the right hand a cleaner, in the left a bucket.
buriedina I.DIB. É.NUN, “at the threshold of the bedroom (II Obv. 16)”. The incantation to these figures is the same as the one to the bird-apkallū (only in text II Obv. 16).

11.4        Fish-apkallū, I 178ff.; 7; clay; human/fish.

attributes; in the right hand on offshoot of the datepalm, the left on the breast (Ed Note: sic).

buried: ina tar-siina EGIR gil GU.ZA, “opposite the gate, behind the chair” (II Obv. 18)
The incantation to these figures is the same as the one to the bird-apkallū (only in text II Obv. 18).

12.5        Fish-apkallū, I 181ff.; 7; clay; human/fish.

attributes: in the right hand a standard, the left on the breast.
buried: ina MÚRU É ina IGI-[at]gis GU.ZA, “in the middle of the room, in front of the chair” (II Obv. 20).
The incantation to these figures is the same as the one to the bird-apkallū (only in text II Obv. 20.”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, pp. 46-9.

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