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Tag: KAR 298

Gane: Neo-Babylonian Monsters, Demons & Dragons From a Narrow Slice of Time & Space

A number of scholars have already correlated Mesopotamian iconography with cuneiform texts to identify and illuminate composite beings over a wide range of periods in terms of their historical development, association with deities, and impact on humans within ancient systems of religion and mythology.

The present research draws heavily on their work, but uniquely focuses on basically synchronic, tightly controlled, comprehensive analysis of the iconographic repertoire of hybrid beings in a narrow slice of time and space.

Mesopotamian composite beings have been the focus of several formative works. One of the most influential scholars in the field has been Frans A. M. Wiggermann.

This is Figure 2, K2987B+ and K9968+, from Professor F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, 1992, pp. 195-7.

This is Figure 2, K2987B+ and K9968+, from Professor F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, 1992, pp. 195-7.

In his Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts (1992), he examines the identities and histories of those Mesopotamian supernatural creatures mentioned in the Neo-Assyrian texts K 2987B+ and KAR 298.

Regarding this partial representation of all Mesopotamian hybrids, Wiggermann summarizes:

“The texts treated are rituals for the defence of the house against epidemic diseases, represented as an army of demonic intruders. The gates, rooms, and corners of the house are occupied by prophylactic figures of clay or wood, that the texts describe in detail.”

(Frans A. M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts (CM 1; Groningen: Styx & PP, 1992), p. xii. (This is a second edition of Wiggermann’s dissertation, originally published as Babylonian Prophylactic Figures: The Ritual Texts [Amsterdam: Free University Press, 1986].)

As he points out, these figures described in the texts have been discovered in archaeological excavations, providing a significant link between text and material remains.

Although Wiggermann’s monograph is difficult to navigate (due to the nature of its organization), it has been the backbone of much of my research.

An excerpt from the introduction to F.A.M. Wiggermann's Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, 1992, p. xi.

An excerpt from the introduction to F.A.M. Wiggermann’s Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, 1992, p. xi.

An important systematic treatment of composite creatures by Wiggermann is his 1997 Reallexikon der Assyriologie (RlA) article titled “Mischwesen. A. Philologisch. Mesopotamien.”

(Frans A. M. Wiggermann, “Mischwesen. A. Philologisch. Mesopotamien,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie (RlA) 8:222-246.)

Here he provides numerous textual, philological, and archaeological examples of most of the known Mesopotamian creatures, and clarifies terms for categories.

Modern scholarship identifies distinct categories of subdivine (but superhuman) creatures. Those that walk on all fours, like quadruped natural animals, are identified as monsters while those that walk on two legs, like humans, are designated as demons.

Dragons, which belong to a separate class, are hybrid creatures that are essentially snakes.

(Cf. Joan G. Westenholz, ed., Dragons, Monsters, and Fabulous Beasts (Jerusalem: Bible Lands Museum, 2004), p. 11.)

According to Wiggermann, monsters are neither gods nor demons.

(Wiggermann, “Mischwesen. A,” RlA 8:231.)

Although their names are occasionally written with the divine determinative, they usually do not wear the horned crown of divinity.

They are not included in god-lists, not found in the list of “evil spirits” (utukkū lemnūti), and not mentioned in medical texts as demons of diseases.”

(Cf. Chikako E. Watanabe, Animal Symbolism in Mesopotamia: A Contextual Approach (WOO 1; Vienna: Institut für Orientalistik der Universität Wien, 2002), p. 39.)

Constance Ellen Gane, Composite Beings in Neo-Babylonian Art, Doctoral Dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 2012, pp. 2-3.

Carolyn Nakamura on the Figurines

Mastering Matters: Magical Sense and Apoptropaic Figurine Worlds of Neo-Assyria

Introduction: Magical Figures from the Past

“When contemplating certain deposits unearthed during the excavations at Nimrud in the 1950s, Max Mallowan remarked, “this magical practice had an immensely long survival, as witness the nursery rhyme:

Four corners to my bed,
Four angels round my head,
One to watch and one to pray,
And two to bear my soul away.” (1966:226)

Mallowan’s commentary, rather typical of his time, concerned the discovery of numerous brick boxes encasing figurines made of sun-dried clay, found buried underneath the corners, thresholds, and central spaces of room floors, possibly where a bed once stood.

Excavations during the late 1800s to mid 1900s located such deposits in residences, palaces, and temples at important political and religious capitals of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, including Nimrud, Assur, Nineveh, Khorsabad and at Ur in Babylonia under Assyrian rule; they first appeared during the reign of Shalmaneser III and generally persisted up through the reign of Sin-shar-ishkun (ca. 858–612 B.C.).

One can imagine an excavator’s delight in finding such deposits, and there was apparently considerable competition and excitement surrounding their discovery and unveiling (Oates and Oates 2001:253–254).

But, locating such boxes did not always promise the discovery of figurines. Numerous “empty” brick boxes contained nothing more than a thick layer of sandy material, possibly remnants of decomposed organic matter such as wood or food.

Deposits from Ur contained offerings of animal bones, remnants of grain and a pottery sherd along with the clay figures (Woolley 1926:692). And at Assur, some of the buried boxes entombed miniature bronze weapons (Rittig 1977).

But perhaps the most curious finds were the figurines of “warrior” men, mythological fish- and bird-apkallū sages, human-beast hybrids, horned snakes, and other fantastical beings (Figure 2.1).

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112).

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112).

Generally, such deposits comprised one, two, or seven figurines standing “at attention” in boxes facing in toward the center of the room.

These deposits, not simply buried but concealed and contained, amounted to the discovery within a discovery, the revelation of an ancient secret or desire that had remained hidden for thousands of years.

Other archaeological findings, however, had already anticipated these discoveries: ancient texts preserved instructions for an apotropaic ritual involving the burial of clay and wood figurines under room floors quite in the manner described above (Gurney 1935; Smith 1926; Wiggermann 1992).

The name of one text explicitly pronounced its purpose: šēp lemutti ina bīt amēli parāsu, “to block the entry of the enemy in someone’s house” (Wiggermann 1992:1); and the first twenty lines named the “enemy” to be almost any evil imaginable, from spirits, gods, and ancestors to disease, misfortune, Fate, and Death.

The text guided a priest-exorcist through a choreography of very specific and often protracted ceremonies involving various objects, gestures, substances, and locations, leading up to the final installation of the magically protective figures entombed underground.

Notably, another related text fragment, KAR 298, specifically detailed the making, function, character, number, and placement of the figurines (Smith 1926). The archaeological evidence proved to be remarkably consistent with these texts in terms of form and details of surface treatment, and to some extent, position and grouping of the figures.

So the Neo-Assyrians themselves revealed the secret of the figurine deposits: they were magically powerful deposits that protected the individual and his house from sickness and evil. The protective figures served to “watch,” “pray,” and “bear souls away,” as it were.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 18-19.

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