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Lenzi: The ummânū Were The Scribal Heirs of the Antediluvian Sages

“Finally, although not giving specific proof of a genealogical relationship, the content of the well-known “Catalog of Texts and Authors” edited by Lambert attests once again the close connection between Ea, the mythological apkallū, and the ummânū as in the “mythology of scribal succession.”

In this text Ea is credited with the authorship of several large and important works (see I 1- 4). Following his works, the catalog lists Oannes-Adapa, the first mythological apkallū in the common list of sages of the Uruk list, Bīt mēseri, and Berossus, and credits him with the authorship of the astronomical series Enūma Anu Enlil (5-6).

Fish-Apkallū statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.  The so-called parādu-fish apkallū were the seven antediluvian sages of Sumeria.

Fish-Apkallū statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.
The so-called parādu-fish apkallū were the seven antediluvian sages of Sumeria.

It also lists him as the author of another work later in the catalog (VI 15-16). Although the title of this other work is only partially preserved, it is notable that the preserved portion reads ša lām abūbi, “from before the flood.”

Following these first two authors (Ea and Oannes-Adapa), the catalog enumerates many other works and their putative authors. Two of these are known to be apkallū: one, named Enmeduga (IV 11), does not have a preserved title, but is known as the third antediluvian sage in the common list of sages; another is called a sage but his name is not preserved (III 7).

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called parādu-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 parādu-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 majority of the remaining authors are ummânū, usually āšipū or kalû but also including a bārû. Several among those listed in the catalog are also listed in the ULKS:

  1. Sin-leqi-unnini (VI 10),
  2. Kabti-ili-Marduk (II 2),
  3. Sidu (VI 13),
  4. Gimil-Gula (VI 8),
  5. Taqiša-Gula (IV 9), and
  6. Saggil-kina-ubbib (= Esagil-kin-ubba in the ULKS) (V 2).

The last human apkallū in Bīt mēseri, Lu-Nana (VI 11), is also attested.

To find mentioned by name scholars who would be remembered hundreds of years later in the tradition (in the ULKS) is somewhat remarkable. But it is even more remarkable that these scholars, along with a couple of mythological sages and the god Ea, are placed alongside other, presumably less celebrated scholars, many of whom we know absolutely nothing beyond what this text preserves.

This suggests the genealogical relationship to antediluvian sages extended to all scholars as a class.

Taken as a whole, a general picture emerges that sustains the idea that the “mythology of scribal succession,” though never presented as clearly as in the ULKS, was quite alive early in the first millennium.

Human apkallu, known as ummânū, 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.<br /> AO 19845

Human apkallu, known as ummânū, 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

The ummânū fashioned themselves—consciously or perhaps unconsciously—into the scribal heirs of the antediluvian sages, themselves closely allied with Ea, the patron deity of the ummânū.

This relationship of scholarly succession gave mythological support for the roles of the ummânū at court and in society as ritual experts, counselors to the king, and authors of important cuneiform works. (The scholars may also have inscribed their relationship to the apkallū in the palace reliefs as argued by Mehmet-Ali Ataç, “Scribal-Sacerdotal Agency in the Production of the Neo-Assyrian Palace Reliefs: Toward a Hermeneutics of Iconography” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Harvard University, 2003)).

As this mythology of succession was accepted and reified—that is, after it was accepted as a fact of the ordered cosmos—it would have galvanized the importance of the scholarly texts for the scholars and for the king they served.

Given the precarious professional existence of the scholar (see “The Forlorn Scholar”) (see Simo Parpola, “The Forlorn Scholar,” in Language, Literature, and History: Philological and Historical Studies Presented to Erica Reiner, ed. F. Rochberg-Halton; American Oriental Series 67 (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1987), 257-78) and their institutional dependency for scholarly support, this development was a major contribution to their social security.”

Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian ScholarshipJANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 151-3.

Lenzi: On the apkallū–ummânū Association

“There are of course quite early precedents for king lists, antediluvian or otherwise; there are also several earlier examples of kings being listed with their chief scholarly advisor (see the overview in A. Kirk Greyson, “Königslisten und Chroniken,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie 6 (1980) 86-135).

But there is nothing that traces the royal scholars back through antediluvian times to the apkallū as clearly as does the ULKS. We need not require the evidence for the earlier viability of this tradition, however, to conform to this explicit and systematic presentation of the “mythology of scribal succession.”

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.  The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities. The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.
The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities. The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.

Our list’s formulation of the genealogical tradition should not be made the measure of its earlier existence. As others have done, we shall use one of the most basic features of the ULKS as our guide into earlier material: the close association between mythical apkallū and their human counterparts.

Finding this concept as well as hints of succession between the two groups in earlier cuneiform material gives us good reason to believe the “mythology of scribal succession” existed at an earlier time.

(The novel contribution here is to highlight two new evidential ideas, in Bīt mēseri and in “Advice to a Prince,” and to respond to an important objection raised by Seth Sanders, “Writing, Ritual, and Apocalypse: Studies in the Theme of Ascent to Heaven in Ancient Mesopotamia and Second Temple Judaism” (Ph.D. Dissertation, The Johns Hopkins University, 1999), 125, 144-45.

Many scholars treating the subject of scholarly genealogy often appeal to the Enmeduranki text (e.g., Beaulieu, “The Social and Intellectual Setting of Babylonian Wisdom Literature,” 15 and Rochberg, Heavenly Writing, 183-184; see W. G. Lambert, “The Qualifications of Babylonian Diviners,” in Festschrift für Rykle Borger zu seinem 65. Geburtstag am 24. Mai 1994: Tikip santakki mala bašmu . . ., ed. Stefan M. Maul; Cuneiform Monographs 10 [Groningen: Styx, 1998], 141-58 for an edition of this text).

Purādu-fish apkallū were antediluvian sages, the famous Seven Sages of Sumeria were purādu-fish.  The genotype is also attested in Berossus, as the form of the mentor of mankind, Oannes.

Purādu-fish apkallū were antediluvian sages, the famous Seven Sages of Sumeria were purādu-fish.
The genotype is also attested in Berossus, as the form of the mentor of mankind, Oannes.

Although that tradition is clearly related to the issue of antediluvian knowledge and its transmission to scholars, its formulation is a minority view that places an antediluvian king at the center of mediation to scholars rather than the antediluvian apkallū (see my Secrecy and the Gods, 122-127, which also shows the relevance of LKA 147 and its unique formulation of the issue). This tradition will not factor into the discussion below.)

The list of apkallū in an incantation belonging to the apotropaic series Bīt mēseri is sometimes cited as evidence for the connection between sages and scholars before the Seleucid era.

(See, e.g., Parpola, Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars, XVIII.) This text names the same seven apkallū as the ULKS, but here they are given an ichthyological (fish-like) description. (This recalls Berossus’ description of the sages.)

Tablet III 10-13 reads:

“They are the seven brilliant purādu-fish, purādu-fish from the sea, the seven sages, who were created in the river,

who ensure the correct execution of the plans of heaven and earth.”

The text continues with a list of four human apkallū, Nungalpirigal, Pirigalnungal, Pirigalabzu, and Lu-Nana, who are then described in lines 28-29 of the same tablet as:

Four sages of human descent, whom Ea,
the lord, perfected with wide understanding.

The presence of these four humans in this text, even though called apkallū, suggests several points of similarity with the ULKS that advance our understanding of the apkallūummânū association.

(The artificiality of the first three names in this list has been noted repeatedly in the literature; the pirig– element is probably related to the u4-element in some of the antediluvian sages’ names.

On these names, see, e.g., W. W. Hallo, “On the Antiquity of Sumerian Literature,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 83 (1963), 167-76, here 175; Sanders, “Writing, Ritual, and Apocalypse,” 117; and Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, 74 (each citing nearly the same earlier secondary literature).

In the present context, however, I will limit my comments to a textual feature that others have noted but not utilized as evidence for understanding the apkallūummânū tradition; namely, unlike the seven non-human sages, the four human sages in Bīt mēseri have no place in the ritual instructions associated with this incantation.”

Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian ScholarshipJANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 143-5.

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