Kvanvig: Divine Origin of Antediluvian Texts
“Enuma Elish was written to promote Marduk as the head of the pantheon, reflecting the position of Babylon at the end of the second millennium. This was a new invention in Mesopotamian theology. To promote this new theology the author added a postscript in which he claims a divine origin for his work:
“This is the revelation which an Ancient, to whom it was told,
wrote down and established for posterity to hear.”
(Enuma Elish VII, 157-8. Translation according to van der Toorn, Scribal Culture, p. 212.)
The word translated “revelation,” taklimtu, literally means “demonstration.” The term preserves a memory of the time when revelation was thought of as a visual experience. In this case, however, the gods told the text to an Ancient, meaning that they had dictated it.
The Ancient put it down into writing and established it for future generations. This is very similar to what Kabti-ilāni-Marduk says about the revelation of the Poem of Erra, as van der Toorn also notes.
We can observe a similar feature in Gilgamesh. In the Old Babylonian version of the epic, wisdom is human knowledge acquired through life experience. In the Standard Babylonian version from the end of the second millennium this wisdom has become divine.
The editor added a prologue in which he pictures Gilgamesh as a man who has obtained hidden wisdom, inaccessible to others:
“he [learnt] the totality of wisdom about everything.
He saw the secret and uncovered the hidden,
he brought back a message from the antediluvian age.”
(Gilgamesh I, 6-8. Translation according to George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic I, 539.)
The same theme reoccurs at the end of the composition, in tablet XI, where Gilgamesh meets Uta-napišti, the hero of the flood, who has become like the gods. Uta-napišti reveals secrets to Gilgamesh, referred to as “a hidden matter” and “a secret of the gods” (XI, 9-10, repeated in 281-2).
Van der Toorn sees the classification of writings as “revelations” and “secrets” in relation to the development from an oral to a scribal culture. Oral and written transmission existed together in the long time span of Mesopotamian culture, but at a certain time there came a change, i.e. at the end of the second millennium.
The written tradition became more important in the formation of new generations of scholars.
“From that moment on, students began to acquire their knowledge by copying texts rather than listening to a teacher; the master copy took the place of the master.”
(Van der Toorn, Scribal Culture, 218.)
The authority was transposed from the master to the text, and the text needed an authority that also included the master. Thus the construct was made about a written revelation from Ea to the apkallus and further in an unbroken chain down to the actual scholars.
They were the legitimate heirs of this written tradition; it was once revealed and therefore a secret belonging to their guild.
“To legitimize the written tradition, the Mesopotamian scholars qualified it as divine revelation; to preserve their privileged position as brokers of revealed knowledge, they declared it to be secret knowledge.”
Even though we know that cause-effect constructions in the reconstruction of history cannot be one-dimensional, we find van der Toorn’s arguments here quite convincing. They are implied in Lenzi’s analysis as well, even though he follows more closely what took place within the written tradition in the first millennium itself.
Lenzi’s approach is to give evidence from the sources to what he labels “the mythology of scribal tradition.”
Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 151-2.