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Tag: Ningursu

Gane: Review of the Literature on Monsters, Demons and gods

“When a monster is associated with an anthropomorphic deity, it operates in the same field of action or part of nature as that of the deity.

Whereas the deity functions in the entire domain of his or her rule, the monster’s activity is limited to only part of the god’s realm. Thus, a monster that is associated with a deity as its attribute creature represents part of the divine nature or a particular aspect of the divine function of the god.

Wiggermann observes that after a developmental period, during which Mesopotamian gods and monsters evolved, they eventually settled into “complementary” opposition in which “the gods represent the lawfully ordered cosmos, monsters represent what threatens it, the unpredictable.”

Detail from a drawing of a bronze plaque held in the Louvre.  Puradu-fish apkallu minister to an ill patient in bed. The lamp of Nusku is depicted at far left, and ugallu attack with upraised fists in concert with Lulal, identified by Wiggerman as "a minor apotropaic god." I believe that this plaque portrays an exorcism.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.  The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Detail from a drawing of a bronze plaque held in the Louvre.
Puradu-fish apkallu minister to an ill patient in bed. The lamp of Nusku is depicted at far left, and ugallu attack with upraised fists in concert with Lulal, identified by Wiggerman as “a minor apotropaic god.”
I believe that this plaque portrays an exorcism.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, was in the collection of M. de Clercq before it was acquired by the Louvre.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039%5B/caption%5D

Wiggermann’s 2007 article, “Some Demons of Time and Their Functions in Mesopotamian Iconography,” in Die Welt der Götterbilder, updates research on a number of the hybrid creatures under discussion in the present study.

[caption width="432" id="attachment_2864" align="aligncenter"]This is the actual bronze frieze from which the illustration above is extracted, held in the collection of the Louvre as AO 22205. This is the actual bronze frieze from which the illustration above is extracted, held in the collection of the Louvre as AO 22205.

(Frans A. M. Wiggermann, “Some Demons of Time and Their Functions in Mesopotamian Iconography,” in Die Welt der Götterbilder (ed. Hermann Spieckermann and Brigitte Groneberg; Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 376; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2007).

The 1992 illustrated dictionary written by Jeremy A. Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, has provided an initial launching point for dealing with the maze of interrelated deities, demons, and composite creatures of ancient Mesopotamia.

(Jeremy A. Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia (illustrated by Tessa Richards); Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992).

While the work is far from exhaustive and does not provide references for its sources, it has proven to be a valuable guide through the daunting complexities of the topic.

This lion-headed eagle was called Anzu in Akkadian and Imdugud in Sumerian. It was symbolic of the god Ningursu.  In the Myth of Anzu, the Anzu steals the me, the Tablet of Destinies, from the god Ea, when he disrobed to bathe.  The Tablet of Destinies was a cuneiform tablet upon which the fates of all creatures were written, granting its holder supreme power.  It was Ningursu who defeated the Anzu and recovered the me. Other versions of the myth claim that Anzu stole the me from Enlil, with Ninutra recovering it.  Source: Stephanie Dalley, Myths From Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, Oxford University Press, 1991.  http://www.piney.com/Babmythanzu.html This panel was excavated from the ruins at the base of the Temple of Goddess Ninhursag at Tell-Al-Ubaid in Southern Mesopotamia (Iraq).  Dated to the Early Dynastic Period, circa 2500 BCE, this artifact is currently held by The British Museum.  Photo by Osama Shukir Myhammed Amin, this file is licensed under the Creative Common Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frieze_of_Imdugud_(Anzu)_grasping_a_pair_of_deer,_from_Tell_Al-Ubaid..JPG

This lion-headed eagle was called Anzu in Akkadian and Imdugud in Sumerian. It was symbolic of the god Ningursu.
In the Myth of Anzu, the Anzu steals the me, the Tablet of Destinies, from the god Ea, when he disrobed to bathe.
The Tablet of Destinies was a cuneiform tablet upon which the fates of all creatures were written, granting its holder supreme power.
It was Ningursu who defeated the Anzu and recovered the me. Other versions of the myth claim that Anzu stole the me from Enlil, with Ninutra recovering it.
Source: Stephanie Dalley, Myths From Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, Oxford University Press, 1991.
http://www.piney.com/Babmythanzu.html
This panel was excavated from the ruins at the base of the Temple of Goddess Ninhursag at Tell-Al-Ubaid in Southern Mesopotamia (Iraq).
Dated to the Early Dynastic Period, circa 2500 BCE, this artifact is currently held by The British Museum.
Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin, this file is licensed under the Creative Common Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frieze_of_Imdugud_(Anzu)_grasping_a_pair_of_deer,_from_Tell_Al-Ubaid..JPG%5B/caption%5D

A number of works by Green are formative in the study of composite creatures. He has written numerous articles, among which the most significant are his 1984 article, “Beneficent Spirits and Malevolent Demons: The Iconography of Good and Evil in Ancient Assyria and Babylonia,” and his 1997 RlA article on “Mischwesen. B. Archäologie.”

(Anthony Green, “Beneficent Spirits and Malevolent Demons: The Iconography of Good and Evil in Ancient Assyria and Babylonia,” Visible Religion 3 (1984): pp. 80-105.

Anthony Green, “Mischwesen. B. Archäologie,” Reallexikon der Assyeriologie (RlA) 8: pp. 246-264.)

In 2003, Paul-Alain Beaulieu published The Pantheon of Uruk During the Neo-Babylonian Period. This work provides a systematic, period-specific treatment of Neo-Babylonian religion at the ancient site of Uruk.

(Paul-Alain Beaulieu, The Pantheon of Uruk During the Neo-Babylonian Period (CM 23; Leiden: Brill, 2003.  Note: this book in its entirety is available for free download from archive.org in multiple formats including .pdf. Say thank you to the publishers, Brill.)

One of the most important current resources is Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East, edited by Jürg Eggler, which is still under development, but available in electronic pre-publication form.

(Jürg Eggler, ed., Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East, Electronic Pre-Publication ed., n.p. [cited 11 July 2012 and verified 21 October, 2015]. Online: http://www.religionswissenschaft.uzh.ch/idd/index.php.)

[caption width="600" id="attachment_2344" align="aligncenter"]Amulet with a figure of Lamashtu From Mesopotamia, around 800 BC A demonic divinity who preys on mothers and children This is a protective image of Lamashtu, a fearsome female divinity of the underworld, intended to keep evil at bay. Although she is usually described in modern works as a demon, the writing of her name in cuneiform suggests that in Babylonia and Assyria she was regarded as a kind of goddess. Unlike the majority of demons, who acted only on the commands of the gods, Lamashtu practised evil apparently for its own sake and on her own initiative. There is a cuneiform incantation on the reverse to frighten her away. Lamashtu's principal victims were unborn and new-born babies. Slipping into the house of a pregnant woman, she tries to touch the woman's stomach seven times to kill the unborn baby, or she kidnaps the child. Magical measures against Lamashtu included wearing a bronze head of Pazuzu. Some of these plaques show a bedridden man rather than a pregnant woman, so they seem to relate to Lamashtu as a bringer of disease. Lamashtu is described in texts as having the head of a lion, the teeth of a donkey, naked breasts, a hairy body, stained hands, long fingers and finger nails, and the talons of a bird. Plaques also show her suckling a piglet and a whelp while she holds snakes in her hands. She stands on her sacred animal, the donkey, which is sometimes shown in a boat, riding through the underworld. H.W.F. Saggs, Babylonians (London, The British Museum Press, 1995) J. Black and A. Green, Gods, demons and symbols (London, The British Museum Press, 1992) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/a/amulet_with_figure_of_lamashtu.aspx Amulet with a figure of Lamashtu
From Mesopotamia, around 800 BC
A demonic divinity who preys on mothers and children
This is a protective image of Lamashtu, a fearsome female divinity of the underworld, intended to keep evil at bay. Although she is usually described in modern works as a demon, the writing of her name in cuneiform suggests that in Babylonia and Assyria she was regarded as a kind of goddess. Unlike the majority of demons, who acted only on the commands of the gods, Lamashtu practised evil apparently for its own sake and on her own initiative. There is a cuneiform incantation on the reverse to frighten her away.
Lamashtu’s principal victims were unborn and new-born babies. Slipping into the house of a pregnant woman, she tries to touch the woman’s stomach seven times to kill the unborn baby, or she kidnaps the child. Magical measures against Lamashtu included wearing a bronze head of Pazuzu. Some of these plaques show a bedridden man rather than a pregnant woman, so they seem to relate to Lamashtu as a bringer of disease.
Lamashtu is described in texts as having the head of a lion, the teeth of a donkey, naked breasts, a hairy body, stained hands, long fingers and finger nails, and the talons of a bird. Plaques also show her suckling a piglet and a whelp while she holds snakes in her hands. She stands on her sacred animal, the donkey, which is sometimes shown in a boat, riding through the underworld.
H.W.F. Saggs, Babylonians (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
J. Black and A. Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia (Austin, University of Texas Press, 1992)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/a/amulet_with_figure_of_lamashtu.aspx

Its production is a research project of the History of Religions Chair of the University of Zurich, Switzerland, in collaboration with Brill Academic Publishers. I have gained much from this rich and high quality resource as far as it goes, but IDD treatment of many of the composite creatures discussed in my study is still pending.

The 2004 catalogue accompanying the exhibition titled “Dragons, Monsters and Fabulous Beasts in the Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem” and compiled by Joan Goodnick Westenholz illustrates the formation and function of hybrid creatures in the ancient Near East and the classical world.

The catalogue, following the format of the exhibition, is divided into four main areas: “creatures of the sea, creatures of the earth, creatures of the air, and the battles of the gods and mortals against the monsters.”

(Joan Goodnick Westenholz, Dragons, Monsters and Fabulous Beasts, Rubin Mass, 2007, p. 9.)

The treatment of selected composite beings is detailed, but limited to the examples specific to the exhibit.

A History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East, edited by Billie Jean Collins (2002), focuses on animals found in Anatolia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, and Syro-Palestine, with particular attention to the native fauna; animals in art, literature, and religion; and the cultural use of animals.

(Billie Jean Collins, ed., A History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East (Handbook of Oriental Studies 64; Leiden: Brill, 2002). Note: Chapter 5 by Margaret Cool Root, “Animals in the Art of Ancient Iran,” is available for download from archive.org.)

The volume is more a historical narrative of human relations with animals than a history of animals in the ancient world. As such, it provides insights into rationales behind selection of certain animals to represent particular characteristics of divine or sub-divine beings.

Collins builds on the work of E. Douglas Van Buren, whose formative study, The Fauna of Ancient Mesopotamia as Represented in Art (1939), focuses on forty-eight animal species, but without discussing their significance.”

(E. Douglas Van Buren, The Fauna of Ancient Mesopotamia as Represented in Art (AnOr 18; Rome: Institutum Biblicum, 1939).

Constance Ellen Gane, Composite Beings in Neo-Babylonian Art, Doctoral Dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 2012, pp. 3-4.

Selz: The Dream of Gudea

“Whereas the giants sent Mahway to Enoch for an interpretation of their dreams, in earliest parallels from Mesopotamia the deities undertake this task:

(“Thereupon] all the giants [and monsters! grew afraid 15 and called Mahway to them and the giants pleaded with him and sent him to Enoch 16 [the noted scribe]” (Q II:). Translation taken from the Book of Giants edition of The Gnostic Society Library.)

Cylinders of the Sumerian ruler Gudea with cuneiform texts, now in the Louvre.  Dated to 2125 BCE, they recount the Building of Ningursu’s temple in Sumerian. The cylinders were made by Gudea, ruler of Lagash, and excavated in 1877 during digs by Ernest de Sarzec beneath the Eninnu temple complex at Telloh (ancient Girsu).  The complete name of the temple complex was “E-Ninnu-Imdugud-babbara,” meaning “House Ninnu, the Flashing Thunderbird,” a reference to a thunderbird in the second dream that compelled Gudea to build the temple.  They are now in the permanent collection of the Louvre Museum. They are the largest cuneiform cylinders to-date, and they contain the longest known text written in the Sumerian language.  Labelled cylinders A and B, the cuneiform was intended to be read with the cylinders in a horizontal position with a perforation in the middle for mounting.  The text has been translated by Jeremy Black, G. Cunningham, E. Robson and G. Zólyomi, available from The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford, 1998.  http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section2/tr217.htm Accession numbers MNB 1511 and MNB 1512.  Photo by Ramessos.  I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In some countries this may not be legally possible; if so: I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gudea_cylinders

Cuneiform cylinders of the Sumerian ruler Gudea. Dated to 2125 BCE, they recount the Building of Ningursu’s temple. Made by Gudea, ruler of Lagash, and excavated in 1877 during digs by Ernest de Sarzec beneath the Eninnu temple complex at Telloh (ancient Girsu), the complete name of the temple complex was “E-Ninnu-Imdugud-babbara,” meaning “House Ninnu, the Flashing Thunderbird,” a reference to a thunderbird in the second dream that compelled Gudea to build the temple.
Now in the permanent collection of the Louvre Museum, the pair are the largest cuneiform cylinders ever recovered, and they contain the longest known Sumerian text. Anomalous shards recovered on the same site indicate that a third cylinder did not survive the ravages of time. Labelled Cylinders A and B, the cuneiform was intended to be read with the cylinders in a horizontal position with a perforation in the middle for mounting.
The text has been translated by Jeremy Black, G. Cunningham, E. Robson and G. Zólyomi, available from The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford, 1998.
http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section2/tr217.htm
Accession numbers MNB 1511 and MNB 1512.
Photo by Ramessos.
I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gudea_cylinders

The Sumerian ruler Gudea had difficulties to understand the precise meaning of his dream and addresses the goddess Nanshe, firstly describing his visions:

“(4:8) Nanshe, mighty queen, lustration priestess, protecting genius, cherished goddess of mine, . . . You are the interpreter of dreams among the gods, you are the queen of all the lands, O mother, my matter today is a dream.

There was someone in my dream, enormous as the skies, enormous as the earth was he.

That one was a god as regards his head, he was the Thunderbird as regards his wings, and a floodstorm as regards his lower body. There was a lion lying on both his left and right side . . . (but) I did not understand what (exactly) he intended. Daylight rose for me on the horizon.

(4:23) (Then) there was a woman—whoever she might have been—she (the goddess Nissaba[k]) held in her hand a stylus of shining metal, on her knees there was a tablet (with) stars of heaven, and she was consulting it.

(5:2) Furthermore, there was a warrior who bent (his) arm holding a lapis lazuli plate on which he was setting the ground-plan of a house. He set before me a brand-new basket, a brand-new brick-mould was adjusted and he let the auspicious brick be in the mould for me.”

(The translation from Cylinder A follows D.O. Edzard, ed., Gudea and his Dynasty (RIME 3:1, Toronto: University of Toronto Press,1997), pp. 71-2. Emphases are mine, G.J.S.).

Using much the same words the goddess explains the dream:

“(5:12) My shepherd, I will interpret your dream for you from beginning to end: The person who you said was as enormous as the skies, enormous as the earth, who was a god as regards his head, who, as you said, was the Thunderbird as regards his wings, and who, as you said, was a floodstorm as regards his lower parts, at whose left and right a lion was lying—he was in fact my brother Ningirsu-k; he talked to you about the building of his shrine Eninnu.

The daylight that had risen for you on the horizon—that was your (personal) god Ningishzida-k: like daylight he will be able to rise for you from there.

The young woman coming forward, who did something with sheaves, who was holding a stylus of shining metal, had on her knees a tablet (with) stars, which she was consulting was in fact my sister Nissaba-k—she announced to you the bright star (auguring) the building of the House.

Furthermore, as for the warrior who bent his arm holding a lapis lazuli plate—he was Ninduba: he was engraving thereon in all details the ground-plan of the House.”

Certainly, the setting of this dream is very different from those of the Enoch tradition. We note, however, that the dreams in the Book of Giants also show a clear connection with the scribal art, especially the “Tablets of Heavens,” to the dreams as a message of God and also to the flood.

Black stone amulet against plague.  A quotation from the Akkadian Epic of Erra.  BM 118998, British Museum, Room 55.  Registration: 1928,0116.1.  Photo by Fae. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. You are free: to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work to remix – to adapt the work Under the following conditions: attribution – You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). share alike – If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

Black stone amulet against plague.
A quotation from the Akkadian Epic of Erra.
BM 118998, British Museum, Room 55.
Registration: 1928,0116.1.
Photo by Fae.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The latter motif as found in the Book of Giants shows a clear connection to the story of the Erra Epic, where to Marduk’s horror, the deity of pestilence and destruction, Erra, decides to annihilate mankind and its foremost sanctuaries.

The reason for the annihilation of the world and the expression of a certain degree of hope looks very similar indeed. It is important to note that this text from the eight century BCE had a considerable audience as can be deduced from the over 35 tablets unearthed so far.

In many respects, the wording of the text and its attitude ask for elaborate comparison with the Jewish apocalyptical tradition, but this would be another article.”

(For an overview of Mesopotamian “apocalyptic motifs” see C. Wilcke, “Weltuntergang als Anfang: Theologische, anthropologische, politisch-historische und ästhetische Ebenen der Interpretation der Sintflutgeschichte im babylonischen Atram-hasīs-Epos,” in Weltende: Beiträge zur Kultur-und Religionswissenschaft (ed. A. Jones; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1999), pp. 63-112.)

Gebhard J. Selz, “Of Heroes and Sages–Considerations of the Early Mesopotamian Background of Some Enochic Traditions,” in Armin Lange, et alThe Dead Sea Scrolls in Context, v. 2, Brill, 2011, pp. 797-9.

Divination and Dreams

“The three systems of divination which we have analyzed all entered directly into the religious life of the people and illustrate some of the religious practises which were maintained, like the incantation rituals, throughout all periods. The longing to pierce the unknown future, to pull aside the veil which separates us from a knowledge of coming events, is so strong in man as to have all the force of an innate quality an instinct of which he himself only gradually becomes fully conscious.

It plays an unusually prominent part in the religion of Babylonia and Assyria, indeed so prominent as to justify us in asserting that by the side of the ever present fear of the demons, the significance attached to omens was the most conspicuous outward manifestation of the religious spirit of the people taken as a whole.

This conclusion is strengthened by the knowledge that we now have of other forms of divination, such as pouring a few drops of oil into a basin of water, and according to the action of the oil in forming rings and bubbles that sink and rise and the directions in which they spread, conclusions were drawn of a more or less specific character, and suggested by a more or less artificial association of ideas with the action of the oil bearing either on public affairs or on private matters, according to the questions asked of the diviners, to which they were expected to give an answer. [1]

Within the other category of involuntary divination where the sign is obtruded on your notice, falls the importance attached to dreams, the interpretation of which formed in fact one of the most important functions of the Babylonian-Assyrian priests acting as diviners. References to dreams are frequent both in the older and later inscriptions of Babylonian and Assyrian rulers. [2]

A majestic figure reaching from earth to heaven appears to Ghidea in a dream ; it turns out to be the god Ningirsu. A female figure also rises up with a tablet and a stylus who is the goddess Nisaba.

The sun mounting up from the earth is explained to be the god of vegetation, Ningishzida. Various utensils and building material and an ass to carry burdens which the ruler sees in his dream leave no doubt as to the interpretation of the vision. It is the order to Gudea to build a temple according to the plan drawn on a tablet by a second male figure appearing to him, and who turns out to be the god Nin-dub. The interpretation is given to the ruler in this instance by the goddess Nina as whose son he designates himself.

Ordinarily, however, it is to a priest to whom rulers and people go to learn the meaning of dreams, in the belief that dreams are omens or signs sent by the gods as a means of indicating what is about to happen ; and even in Gudea’s case we may safely assume that the interpretation ascribed to the goddess directly was furnished to him through the mediation of the priests.

At the other end of Babylonian history, we find Nebuchadnezzar and a goddess appearing to Nabonnedos, the last king of Babylonia, in dreams to explain certain strange signs that had lately been reported. In the inscriptions of Ashurbanapal, the great king of Assyria, there are several references to dreams.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 266-7.

Origins of the Name Nina, Synonymous with Ishtar

” … In the case of each triad, a fourth figure is often added, Ninlil, originally the consort of Enlil, or Nin-makh (“the great lady”) to the first, and Belit (“the lady”) or Ishtar to the second, both, however, symbolizing the female element which, fructified by the male, is the indispensable complement to the production of life, vegetation, fertility and all blessings that go with the never ending process of vitality, growth, decay and regeneration in nature.

This leads us to a consideration, before leaving the pantheon, of one notable female figure, the great mother-goddess, frequently identified with the earth viewed as a fruitful mother but who should rather be regarded in a still wider sense as the mother of all that manifests life, embracing therefore the life in man and the animal world as well as in the fields and mountains in nature in general.

This natural association of a female element as a complement to the male one leads to assigning to every deity a consort who, however, has no independent existence. So Enlil has at his side Nin-lil, Ninib has Gula A (“the great one”), Ningirsu has Bau, Shamash has A, Sin has Nin-gul, Nergal has Laz, Anu a female counterpart Antum, to Ea a consort Shala (“the woman”) is given, to Marduk, Sarpanit or Nin-makh (“the great lady”), to Nabu, Tashmit (“obedience”), while Ashur’s consort appears as Nin-lil or Belit and at times as Ishtar.

All these figures with the single exception of Ishtar are merely shadowy reflections of their male masters, playing no part in the cult outside of receiving homage in association with their male partners. Ishtar, however, although assimilated in the Assyrian pantheon as the consort of Ashur, is an independent figure, who has her own temples and her distinct cult. She appears under a variety of names: Nana, Innina, Irnini, Ninni, Nina all of which contain an element having the force of “lady,” as is also the case with Nin-makh and Nin-lil, likewise used as epithets of the great mother-goddess. Corresponding to the Sumerian element, we have in Akkadian Belit, “lady” or “mistress,” as one of the generic designations of Ishtar.

All this confirms the view that Ishtar is merely the symbol of the female element in the production of life, and that the specific name is of secondary significance. The circumstance that Ninlil, the consort of Enlil, is also (though in texts of a later period) identified with the mother-goddess would seem to show that the female associate of the head of the pantheon was always an Ishtar, though in a certain sense, as we have seen, the consorts of all the gods were Ishtars.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 232-4.

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