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Tag: Rome

Eco: First Attempts at a Content Organization

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Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), Frontispiece of Obeliscus Pamphilius, Obeliscus Pamphilius: Hoc est Interpretatio nova & hucusque intenta obelisci Hieroglyphici, eBook courtesy of GoogleBooks, published by Lud. Grignani 1650, held by Ghent University. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“Probably in 1660, three years before the publication of the Polygraphia, Kircher wrote a manuscript bearing the title Novum hoc inventum quo omnia mundi idiomata ad unum reducuntur (Mss. Chigiani I, vi, 225, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana; cf. Marrone 1986).

Schott says that Kircher kept his system a secret at the express wish of the emperor, who had requested that his polygraphy be reserved for his exclusive use alone.

The Novum inventum was still tentative and incomplete; it contained an extremely elementary grammar plus a lexicon of 1,620 words. However, the project looks more interesting that the later one because it provides a list of 54 fundamental categories, each represented by an icon.

These icons are reminiscent of those that one might find today in airports and railway stations: some were schematically representative (like a small chalice for drinking); others were strictly geometrical (rectangles, triangles, circles).

Some were furthermore superficially derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics. They were functionally equivalent to the Roman numbers in the Polygraphia (in both texts, Arabic numbers referred to particular items).

Thus, for example, the square representing the four elements plus the numeral 4 meant water as an element; water as something to drink was instead expressed by a chalice (meaning the class of drinkable things) followed by the numeral 3.

There are two interesting features in this project. The first is that Kircher tried to merge a polygraphy with a sort of hieroglyphical lexicon, so that his language could be used (at least in the author’s intention) without translating it into a natural language.

Seeing a “square + 4,” the readers should immediately understand that the named thing is an element, and seeing “chalice + 3” they should understand that one is referring to something to drink.

The difficulty was due to the fact that, while both Kircher’s Polygraphia and Becher’s Character allow a translating operator (be it a human being or a machine) to work independently of any knowledge of the meaning of the linguistic items, the Novum inventum requires a non-mechanical and quasi-philosophical knowledge: in order to encode the word aqua as “square + 4,” one should previously know that it is the name of an element–information that the term of a natural language does not provide.

Sir Thomas Urquhart, who published two volumes describing a sort of polygraphy (Ekskubalauron, 1652, and Logopandecteision, 1653), noted that, arbitrary as the order of the alphabet might be, it was still easier to look things up in alphabetical order than in a categorical order.

The second interesting feature of Kircher’s initial project is certainly given by the effort to make the fundamental concepts independent of any existing natural language.

Its weakness is due to the fact that the list of the 54 categories was notably incongruous: it included divine entities, angelic and heavenly, elements, human beings, animals, vegetables, minerals, the dignities and other abstract concepts deriving from the Lullian Ars, things to drink, clothes, weights, numbers, hours, cities, food, family, actions such as seeing or giving, adjectives, adverbs, months of the year.

It was perhaps the lack of internal coherency in this system of concepts that induced Kircher to abandon this line of research, and devote himself to the more modest and mechanical method used in the Polygraphia.

Kircher’s incongruous classification had a precedent. Although he regarded Kircher as the pioneer in the art of polygraphy, in his Technica curiosa (as well as in his Jocoseriorum naturae et artiis sive magiae naturalis centuriae tres) Gaspar Schott gave an extended description of a 1653 project that was certainly earlier than Kircher’s (the Novum inventum is dedicated to Pope Alexander VII, who ascended the pontifical throne only in 1655).

The project was due to another Jesuit, a Spaniard (“whose name I have forgotten,” as Schott says on p. 483), who had presented in Rome (on a single folio) an Artificium, or an Arithmeticus nomenclator, mundi omnes nationes ad linguarum et sermonis unitatem invitans (“Artificial Glossary, inviting all the nations of the world to unity of languages and speech”).

Schott says that the anonymous author wrote a pasigraphy because he was a mute. As a matter of fact the subtitle of the Artificium also reads Authore linguae (quod mirere) Hispano quodam, vere, ut dicitur, muto (“The author of this language–a marvelous thing–being a Spaniard, truly, it is said, dumb”).

According to Ceñal (1946) the author was a certain Pedro Bermudo, and the subtitle of the manuscript would represent a word play since, in Castilian, “Bermudo” must be pronounced almost as Ver-mudo.

It is difficult to judge how reliable the accounts of Schott are; when he described Becher’s system, he improved it, adding details that he derived from the works of Kircher. Be that as it may, Schott described the Artificium as having divided the lexicon of the various languages into 44 fundamental classes, each of which contained between 20 and 30 numbered items.

Here too a Roman number referred to the class and an Arabic number referred to the item itself. Schott noted that the system provided for the use of signs other than numbers, but gave his opinion that numbers comprised the most convenient method of reference since anyone from any nation could easily learn their use.

The Artificium envisioned a system of designating endings, (marking number, tense or case) as complex as that of Becher. An Arabic number followed by an acute accent was the sign of the plural; followed by a grave accent, it became the nota possessionis.

Numbers with a dot above signified verbs in the present; numbers followed by a dot signified the genitive. In order to distinguish between vocative and dative, it was necessary to count, in one case, five, and, in the other, six, dots trailing after the number.

Crocodile was written “XVI.2” (class of animals + crocodile), but should one have occasion to address an assembly of crocodiles (“O Crocodiles!”), it would be necessary to write (and then read) “XVI.2′ . . . . . ‘.

It was almost impossible not to muddle the points behind one word with the points in front of another, or with full stops, or with the various other orthographic conventions that the system established.

In short, it was just as impracticable as all of the others. Still, what is interesting about it is the list of 44 classes. It is worth listing them all, giving, in parenthesis, only some examples of the elements each contained.

  1. Elements (fire, wind, smoke, ashes, Hell, Purgatory, centre of the earth).
  2. Celestial entities (stars, lightning, bolts, rainbows . . .).
  3. Intellectual entities (God, jesus, discourse, opinion, suspicion, soul, stratagems, or ghosts).
  4. Secular statuses (emperor, barons, plebs).
  5. Ecclesiastical states.
  6. Artificers (painters, sailors).
  7. Instruments.
  8. Affections (love, justice, lechery).
  9. Religion.
  10. Sacramental confession.
  11. Tribunal.
  12. Army.
  13. Medicine (doctor, hunger, enema).
  14. Brute animals.
  15. Birds.
  16. Fish and reptiles.
  17. Parts of animals.
  18. Furnishings.
  19. Foodstuffs.
  20. Beverages and liquids (wine, beer, water, butter, wax, and resin).
  21. Clothes.
  22. Silken fabrics.
  23. Wool.
  24. Homespun and other spun goods.
  25. Nautical and aromas (ship, cinnamon, anchor, chocolate).
  26. Metal and coin.
  27. Various artifacts.
  28. Stone.
  29. Jewels.
  30. Trees and fruits.
  31. Public places.
  32. Weights and measures.
  33. Numerals.
  34. Time.
  35. Nouns.
  36. Adjectives.
  37. Verbs.
  38. Undesignated grammatical category.
  39. Undesignated grammatical category.
  40. Undesignated grammatical category.
  41. Undesignated grammatical category.
  42. Undesignated grammatical category.
  43. Persons (pronouns and appellations such as Most Eminent Cardinal).
  44. Vehicular (hay, road, footpad).

The young Leibniz would criticize the absurdity of arrangements such as this in his Dissertatio de arte combinatoria, 1666.

This sort of incongruity will affect as a secret flaw even the projects of a philosophically more sophisticated nature–such as the a priori philosophic languages we will look at in the next chapter.

This did not escape Jorge Luis Borges. Reading Wilkins, at second hand as he admits (in Other Inquisitions, “The analytical idiom of John Wilkins“), he was instantly struck by the lack of a logical order in the categorical divisions (he discusses explicitly the subdivisions of stones), and this inspired his invention of the Chinese classification which Foucault posed at the head of his The Order of Things.

In this imaginary Chinese encyclopedia bearing the title Celestial Emporium of Benevolent  Recognition, “animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs. (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.”).

Borge’s conclusion was that there is no classification of the universe that is not arbitrary and conjectural. At the end of our panorama of philosophical languages, we shall see that, in the end, even Leibniz was forced to acknowledge this bitter conclusion.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 203-8.

Eco: Perfection and Secrecy

Kircher Athanasius, 1667 Magneticum naturae regnum, Frontispiece

Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), frontispiece, Magneticum naturae regnum, Rome, Ignati de Lazaris, 1667, held by the Linda Hall Library, LHL Digital Collections, call number Q155.K58 1667. This engraving is often referred to with the expression, “the world is bound in secret knots.” This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“We might think it is a pity that the search for a language that was as perfect as it was universal should lead to such a conception of a tongue reserved for the “happy few.” But it is perhaps nothing more than our “democratic” illusion to imagine that perfection must imply universality.

In order to understand the cultural framework of both Kircher’s Egyptology and Rosicrucian holy languages, it must be remembered that for the Hermetic tradition truth was not usually regarded as accessible to the many. Indeed, there existed a marked tendency to believe that what is true is unknown and hardly knowable, if not to a restricted elite (cf. Eco 1990).

There is a radical difference between the gnostic and Neo-Platonist ideas of late antiquity (as well as their Renaissance versions–which survived in the Counter-Reformation Catholicism of Kircher) and the Christian message, as it was proclaimed throughout most of the Middle Ages.

For medieval Christianity, salvation was promised to the meek and humble in spirit, and did not require any special knowledge: everyone can understand what is required in order to deserve the kingdom of heaven.

Medieval teaching reduced the aura of mystery that accompanied the revelation–which was explained by formulae, parables and images that even the uneducated might grasp: truth was considered effable, therefore public.

For Hermetic thought, instead, the cosmic drama could only be understood by an aristocracy of wisdom, able to decipher the hieroglyphs of the universe; the main characteristic of truth was its ineffability: it could not be expressed in simple words, was ambiguous by nature, was to be found through the coincidence of opposites, and could be expressed only by initiatic revelations.

Within this tradition, public accessibility was simply not a criterion by which a perfect language was judged. If one does not understand this point, one cannot understand why the cryptographers of this period dedicated their ciphers to grand-dukes deep in military campaigns and political machinations, presenting them as arcane suggestions.

Perhaps this is all merely another manifestation of the natural hypocrisy of a century fascinated by dissimulation, a feature that constitutes the continuing charm of baroque civilization.

It remains uncertain if that celebrated book Breviarium politicorum secundum rubricas Mazarinicas (1684) really collects Mazarin’s political thoughts or is a libel invented to defame him: in whatever case, it certainly reflects the image of a man of politics in the 1600’s.

It is notable that in the chapter entitled “Reading and writing” it recommends that, if one needs to write in a public place, it is convenient to place upon a lectern several already written pages as if one intended to copy them out, letting them be visible and concealing under them the paper upon which one is really writing, guarded in such a way that no one who approaches you will be able to read it.

Resorting to ciphers is suggested, but in such a way that at first glance the message looks understandable and provides irrelevant information (the canonical reference is to Trithemius).

Not only must the message be translated in a secret writing, but this writing must also conceal its own secrecy, because a cipher that blatantly appears as such can arouse suspicion and encourage decipherment.

Thus on the one hand the mystic who writes about perfect and holy languages winks his eye at the politician who will use this language as his secret code; on the other hand the cryptographer sells to the politician a cipher (that is, an instrument of power and dominion) that for him, the Hermetic initiate, is also a key to supernatural truths.

Such a man was Johann Valentin Andreae, whom many have considered (and many still do consider) to be, if not the author, at least the inspirer of the Rosicrucian manifestos. Andreae was a Lutheran mystic and writer of utopian works, like the Christianopolis of 1619, similar in spirit to those of Bacon and Campanella.

Edighoffer (1982: 175ff) has noted that many of his authentic works, like the Chemical Weddings, abound with ciphered expressions, according to the expressed principle that “Arcana publicata vilescunt” and that one ought not to cast pearls before swine.

In the same vein Andreae used ciphered messages in his correspondence with Augustus, Duke of Brunswick. Edighoffer remarks that there is nothing surprising in this: it was a correspondence filled with political observations, one, moreover, that took place during the Thirty Years War, when the difference between political and religious comments was minimal and the risks in both were the same.

In the light of these, as it were, “private” practices of the Rosicrucians, their public appeals concerning the need to use a secret language to inaugurate a universal reform must seem even more ambiguous.

They are so to such an extent as to make credible what not only modern historians but even the supposed authors of the manifestos themselves had always claimed: the manifestos were nothing but a joke, a sophomoric game, an exercise in literary pastiche made up of all the buzz-topics of the day: the search for the language of Adam, the dream of a sensual language, glossolalic illusions, cryptography, kabbala . . . And since everything went into this pot au feu, anything could be fished out again.

Thus, as will always happen when the specter of mystery is raised, there were those who read the Rosicrucian manifestos “paranoiacally,” discovering in them what they wanted to believe anyway, and needed to rediscover continually.

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 190-3.

Eco: Kircher’s Egyptology

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Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), frontispiece to Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae, Rome, Scheus, 1646. Compendium Naturalis says that this allegorical engraving was executed on copper by Petrus Miotte Burgundus. Multiple copies are posted on the internet, including an eBook courtesy of GoogleBooks, one at the Max Planck Institute, one at the Herzog August Bibliothek, and one at Brigham Young University among many others. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“When Kircher set out to decipher hieroglyphics in the seventeenth century, there was no Rosetta stone to guide him. This helps explain his initial, mistaken, assumption that every hieroglyph was an ideogram.

Understandable as it may have been, this was an assumption which doomed his enterprise at the outset. Notwithstanding its eventual failure, however, Kircher is still the father of Egyptology, though in the same way that Ptolemy is the father of astronomy, in spite of the fact that his main hypothesis was wrong.

In a vain attempt to demonstrate his hypothesis, Kircher amassed observational material and transcribed documents, turning the attention of the scientific world to the problem of hieroglyphs. Kircher did not base his work on Horapollo’s fantastic bestiary; instead, he studied and made copies of the royal hieroglyphic inscriptions.

His reconstructions, reproduced in sumptuous tables, have an artistic fascination all of their own. Into these reconstructions Kircher poured elements of his own fantasy, frequently reportraying the stylized hieroglyphs in curvaceous baroque forms.

Lacking the opportunity for direct observation, even Champollion used Kircher’s reconstructions for his study of the obelisk standing in Rome’s Piazza Navona, and although he complained of the lack of precision of many of the reproductions, he was still able to draw from them interesting and exact conclusions.

Already in 1636, in his Prodromus Coptus sive Aegyptiacus (to which was added, in 1643, a Lingua Aegyptiaca restituta), Kircher had come to understand the relation between the Coptic language and, on the one hand, Egyptian, and, on the other, Greek.

It was here that he first broached the possibility that all religions, even those of the Far East, were nothing more than more or less degenerated versions of the original Hermetic mysteries.

There were more than a dozen obelisks scattered about Rome, and restoration work on some of them had taken place from as early as the time of Sixtus V. In 1644, Innocent X was elected pope. His Pamphili family palace was in Piazza Navona, and the pope commissioned Bernini to execute for him the vast fountain of the four rivers, which remains there today.

On top of this fountain was to be placed the obelisk of Domitian, whose restoration Kircher was invited to superintend.

As the crowning achievement of this restoration, Kircher published, in 1650, his Obeliscus Pamphilius, followed, in 1652-4, by the four volumes of his Oedipus Aegyptiacus. This latter was an all-inclusive study of the history, religion, art, politics, grammar, mathematics, mechanics, medicine, alchemy, magic and theology of ancient Egypt, compared with all other eastern cultures, from Chinese ideograms to the Hebrew kabbala to the language of the brahmins of India.

The volumes are a typographical tour de force that demanded the cutting of new characters for the printing of the numerous exotic, oriental alphabets. It opened with, among other things, a series of dedications to the emperor in Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Hungarian, Czech, Illirian, Turkish, Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Chaldean, Samaritan, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Persian, Indian and Chinese.

Still, the conclusions were the same as those of the earlier book (and would still be the same in the Obelisci Aegyptiaci nuper inter Isaei Romani rudera effosii interpretatio hieroglyphica of 1666 and in the Sphinx mystagoga of 1676).

At times, Kircher seemed to approach the intuition that certain of the hieroglyphs had a phonetic value. He even constructed a rather fanciful alphabet of 21 hieroglyphs, from whose forms he derives, through progressive abstractions, the letters of the Greek alphabet.

Kircher, for example, took the figure of the ibis bending its head until it rests between its two feet as the prototype of the capitalized Greek alpha, A. He arrived at this conclusion by reflecting on the fact that the meaning of the hieroglyphic for the ibis was “Bonus Daemon;” this, in Greek, would have been Agathos Daimon.

But the hieroglyph had passed into Greek through the mediation of Coptic, thanks to which the first sounds of a given word were progressively identified with the form of the original hieroglyph.

At the same time, the legs of the ibis, spread apart and resting on the ground, expressed the sea, or, more precisely, the only form in which the ancient Egyptians were acquainted with the sea–the Nile.

The word delta has remained unaltered in its passage into Greek, and this is why the Greek letter delta (Δ) has retained the form of a triangle.

It was this conviction that, in the end, hieroglyphs all showed something about the natural world that prevented Kircher from ever finding the right track. He thought that only later civilizations established that short-circuit between image and sound, which on the contrary characterized hieroglyphic writing from its early stages.

He was unable, finally, to keep the distinction between a sound and the corresponding alphabetic letter; thus his initial intuitions served to explain the generation of later phonetic alphabets, rather than to understand the phonetical nature of hieroglyphs.

Behind these errors, however, lies the fact that, for Kircher, the decipherment of hieroglyphs was conceived as merely the introduction to the much greater task–an explanation of their mystic significance.

Kircher never doubted that hieroglyphs had originated with Hermes Trismegistus–even though several decades before, Isaac Casaubon had proved that the entire Corpus Hermeticum could not be earlier than the first centuries of the common era.

Kircher, whose learning was truly exceptional, must have known about this. Yet he deliberately ignored the argument, preferring rather to exhibit a blind faith in his Hermetic axioms, or at least to continue to indulge his taste for all that was strange or prodigious.

Out of this passion for the occult came those attempts at decipherment which now amuse Egyptologists. On page 557 of his Obeliscus Pamphylius, figures 20-4 reproduce the images of a cartouche to which Kircher gives the following reading: “the originator of all fecundity and vegetation is Osiris whose generative power bears from heaven to his kingdom the Sacred Mophtha.”

This same image was deciphered by Champollion (Lettre à Dacier, 29), who used Kircher’s own reproductions, as “ΑΟΤΚΡΤΛ (Autocrat or Emperor) sun of the son and sovereign of the crown, ΚΗΣΡΣ ΤΜΗΤΕΝΣ ΣΒΣΤΣ (Caesar Domitian Augustus).”

The difference is, to say the least, notable, especially as regards the mysterious Mophtha, figured as a lion, over which Kircher expended pages and pages of mystic exegesis listing its numerous properties, while for Champollion the lion simply stands for the Greek letter lambda.

In the same way, on page 187 of the third volume of the Oedipus there is a long analysis of a cartouche that appeared on the Lateran obelisk. Kircher reads here a long argument concerning the necessity of attracting the benefits of the divine Osiris and of the Nile by means of sacred ceremonies activating the Chain of Genies, tied to the signs of the zodiac.

Egyptologists today read it as simply the name of the pharaoh Apries.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 154-8.

Eco: Bruno: Ars Combinatoria & Infinite Worlds, 2

1280px-6665_-_Roma_-_Ettore_Ferrari,_Monumento_a_Giordano_Bruno_(1889)_-_Foto_Giovanni_Dall'Orto,_6-Apr-2008

Ettore Ferrari (1845-1929), Giordano Bruno Burned at the Stake, a bas relief on the plinth of the monument to Bruno in Campo de’Fiori square in Rome. This photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto © 2008. The copyright holder of this photo allows anyone to use for any purpose, provided that the copyright holder is properly attributed. Redistribution, derivative work, commercial use, and all other use is permitted.  

 

“Thus this language claimed to be so perfect as to furnish the keys to express relations between things, not only of this world, but of any of the other infinite worlds in their mutual concordance and opposition.

Nevertheless, in its semiotic structure, it was little more than an immense lexicon, conveying vague meanings, with a very simplified syntax. It was a language that could be deciphered only by short-circuiting it, and whose decipherment was the privilege only of the exegete able to dominate all its connections, thanks to the furor of Bruno’s truly heroic style.

In any case, even if his techniques were not so different from those of other authors of arts of memory, Bruno (like Lull, Nicholas of Cusa and Postel, and like the reformist mystics of the seventeenth century–at whose dawn he was to be burnt at the stake) was inspired by a grand utopian vision.

His flaming hieroglyphical rhetoric aimed at producing, through an enlargement of human knowledge, a reform, a renovation, maybe a revolution in the consciousness, customs, and even the political order of Europe. Of this ideal, Bruno was the agent and propagandist, in his wandering from court to European court.

Here, however, our interest in Bruno is limited to seeing how he developed Lullian techniques. Certainly, his own metaphysics of infinite worlds pushed him to emphasize the formal and architectonic aspects of Lull’s endeavor.

One of his mnemonic treatises, De lampade combinatoria lulliana ad infinita propositiones et media inveniendi (1586), opens by mentioning the limitless number of propositions that the Ars is capable of generating, and then says: “The properties of the terms themselves are of scant importance; it is only important that they show an order, a texture, an architecture.” (I, ix).

In the De umbris idearum (1582) Bruno described a set of movable, concentric wheels subdivided into 150 sectors. Each wheel contained 30 letters, made up of the 23 letters of the Latin alphabet, plus 7 letters from the Greek and Hebrew alphabets to which no letter corresponded in Latin (while, for instance, A could also stand for Alpha and Alef).

To each of the single letters there corresponded a specific image, representing for each respective wheel a different series of figures, activities, situations, etc. When the wheels were rotated against each other in the manner of a combination lock, sequences of letters were produced which served to generate complex images. We can see this in Bruno’s own example (De umbris, 163):

Giordano Bruno, De umbris, 163

Reproduced from Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, James Fentress, trans., Blackwell: Oxford, 1995, p. 136, from Giordano Bruno, De umbris idearum, 1582, p. 163. 

In what Bruno called the “Prima Praxis,” the second wheel was rotated so as to obtain a combination such as CA (“Apollo in a banquet”). Turning the third wheel, he might obtain CAA (“Apollo enchained in a banquet”). We shall see in a moment why Bruno did not think it necessary to add fourth and fifth wheels as he would do for the “Secunda Praxis,” where they would represent, respectively, adstantia and circumstantias.

In his “Secunda Praxis,” by adding the five vowels to each of the 30 letters of his alphabet, Bruno describes 5 concentric wheels, each having 150 alphabetical pairs, like AA, AE, AI, AO, AU, BA, BE, BO, and so on through the entire alphabet.

These 150 pairs are repeated on each of the 5 wheels. As in the “Prima Praxis,” the significance changes with every wheel. On the first wheel, the initial letter signifies a human agent, on the second, an action, on the third, an insignia, on the fourth, a bystander, on the fifth, a set of circumstances.

By moving the wheels it is possible to obtain images such as “a woman riding on a bull, combing her hair while holding a mirror in her left hand, accompanied by an adolescent carrying a green bird in his hand” (De umbris, 212, 10).

Bruno speaks of images “ad omnes formationes possible, adaptabiles” (De umbris, 80), that is, susceptible of every possible permutation. In truth, it is almost impossible to write the number of sequences that can be generated by permutating 150 elements 5 at a time, especially as inversions are allowed (De umbris, 223).

This distinguishes the art of Bruno, which positively thirsts after infinity, from the art of Lull.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 135-7.

Eco: Bruno: Ars Combinatoria and Infinite Worlds

1280px-Relief_Bruno_Campo_dei_Fiori_n1

Ettore Ferrari (1845-1929), The Trial of Giordano Bruno by the Roman Inquisition, bronze relief, Campo de’Fiori, Rome. This bas relief graces the pedestal of the statue of Bruno at Campo de’Fiori in Rome. The collected works of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) are in the Bibliotheca Bruniana Electronica at the Warburg Institute, with others at the Esoteric Archives. This photo dated 2006 by Jastrow is in the public domain. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.    

Giordano Bruno’s cosmological vision presented a world without ends, whose circumference, as Nicholas of Cusa had already argued, was nowhere to be found, and whose center was everywhere, at whatever point the observer chose to contemplate the universe in its infinity and substantial unity.

The panpsychism of Bruno had a Neoplatonic foundation: there was but a single divine breath, one principle of motion pervading the whole of the infinite universe, determining it in its infinite variety of forms.

The master idea of an infinite number of worlds was compounded with the notion that every earthly object can also serve as the Platonic shade of other ideal aspects of the universe. Thus every object exists not only in itself, but as a possible sign, deferral, image, emblem, hieroglyph of something else.

This worked also by contrast: an image can lead us back to the unity of the infinite even through its opposite. As Bruno wrote in his Eroici furori, “To contemplate divine things we need to open our eyes by using figures, similitudes, or any of the other images that the Peripatetics knew under the name of phantasms” (Dialoghi italiani, Florence: Sansei, 1958: 1158).

Where they did not emerge directly from his own inflamed imagination, Bruno chose images found in the Hermetic repertoire. These served as storehouses of revelations because of a naturally symbolic relationship that held between them and reality.

Their function was no longer, as in previous arts of memory, that of merely helping to order information for ease of recall, or this was, at least, by now a minor aspect: their function was rather that of helping to understand. Bruno’s images permitted the mind to discover the essence of things and their relations to each other.

The power of revelation stored inside these images was founded on their origin in far-off Egypt. Our distant progenitors worshipped cats and crocodiles because “a simple divinity found in all things, a fecund nature, a mother watching over the universe, expressed in many different ways and forms, shines through different subjects and takes different names” (Lo spaccio della bestia trionfante, Dialoghi italiani, 780-2).

But these images possess more than the simple capacity to reawaken our dormant imagination: they possess an authentic power to effect magical operations on their own, and functioned, in other words, in exactly the same way as the talismans of Ficino.

It is possible, of course, to take many of Bruno’s magical claims in a metaphorical sense, as if he was merely describing, according to the sensibility of his age, intellectual operations. It is also possible to infer that these images had the power to pull Bruno, after prolonged concentration, into a state of mystic ecstasy (cf. Yates 1964: 296).

Still, it is difficult to ignore the fact that some of Bruno’s strongest claims about the theurgic potential of seals appeared in a text that bore the significant title of De Magia:

“nor even are all writings of the same utility as these characters which, by their very configuration, seem to indicated things themselves. For example, there are signs that are mutually inclined to one another, that regard each other and embrace one another; these constrain us to love.

Then there are the opposite signs, signs which repel each other so violently that we are induced to hatred and to separation, becoming so hardened, incomplete, and broken as to produce in us ruin. There are knots which bind, and there are separated characters which release. [ . . . ]

These signs do not have a fixed and determined form. Anyone who, obeying his own furor, or the dictates of his soul, naturally creates his own images, be these of things desired or things to hold in contempt, cannot help but represent these images to himself and to his spirit as if the imagined things were really present.

Thus he experiences his own images with a power that he would not feel were he to represent these things to himself in the form of words, either in elegant oration, or in writing.

Such were the well-defined letters of the ancient Egyptians, which they called hieroglyphs or sacred characters. [ . . . ] by which they were able to enter into colloquies with the gods and to accomplish remarkable feats with them. [ . . . ]

And so, just as, where there lacks a common tongue, men of one race are unable to have colloquies with those of another, but must resort instead to gestures, so relations of any sort between ourselves and certain powers would be impossible were we to lack the medium of definite signs, seals, figures, characters, gestures, and other ceremonies.”

(Opera latine conscripta, Naples-Florence, 1879-1891, vol. III: 39-45).

Concerning the specific iconological material that Bruno employs, we find figures deriving directly from the Hermetic tradition, such as the Thirty-six Decans of the Zodiac, others drawn from mythology, necromantic diagrams that recall Agrippa or John Dee, Lullian suggestions, animals, plants and allegorical figures deriving from the repertoire of emblems and devices.

This is a repertoire with an extraordinary importance in the history of iconology, where the ways in which a certain seal, for example, refers back to a specific idea are largely governed by rhetorical criteria: phonetic similarities (a horse, equus, can correspond to an honest, aequus, man); the concrete for the abstract (a Roman soldier for Rome); antecedent for the consequent; accident for subject (or vice versa); and so on.

Sometimes the analogy  is based upon the similarity of the initial syllable (asinus for asyllum); and certainly Bruno did not know that this procedure, as we shall see in chapter 7, was followed by the Egyptians themselves when using their hieroglyphs.

At other times the relations might be based on kabbalistic techniques such as anagrams or paronomasias (like palatio standing for Latio: cf. Vasoli 1958: 285-6).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 132-5.

Eco: Lullian Kabbalism

Roma1493

Unknown artist, Roma 1493, depicting the city of Rome as it appeared in that year. This woodcut was published in Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514), Schedelsche Weltchronik, Nürnberg, 1493, on folio lvii verso and lviii recto. Known in English as the Nuremberg Chronicle, or Schedel’s World Chronicle, the work commissioned by Sebald Schreyer (1446-1520) and Sebastian Kammermeister (1446-1503) was lushly illustrated with the first depictions of many cities. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“We have now reached a point where we must collect what seem the various membra disiecta of the traditions we have been examining and see how they combined to produce a Lullian revival.

We can begin with Pico della Mirandola: he cited Lull in his Apologia of 1487. Pico, of course, would have been aware that there existed analogies between the permutational techniques of Lull and the temurah (which he called “revolutio alphabetaria“).

He was acute enough, however, to realize that they were two different things. In the Quaestio Sexta of the Apologia, where Pico proved that no science demonstrates the divinity of Christ better than magic and the kabbala, he distinguished two doctrines which might be termed kabbalist only in a figurative (transumptive) sense: one was the supreme natural magic; the other was the hokmat ha-zeruf of Abulafia that Pico termed an “ars combinandi,” adding that “apud nostros dicitur ars Raymundi licet forte diverso modo procedat” (“it is commonly designated as the art of Raymond, although it proceeds by a different method”).

Despite Pico’s scruples, a confusion between Lull and the kabbala was, by now, inevitable. It is from this time that the pathetic attempts of the Christian kabbalists to give Lull a kabbalistic reading begin.

In the 1598 edition of Lull’s works there appeared, under Lull’s name, a short text entitled De auditu kabbalistico: this was nothing other than Lull’s Ars brevis into which had been inserted a number of kabbalistic references.

It was supposedly first published in Venice in 1518 as an opusculum Raimundicum. Thorndike (1923-58: v, 325) has discovered the text, however, in manuscript form, in the Vatican Library, with a different title and with an attribution to Petrus de Maynardis.

The manuscript is undated, but, according to Thorndike, its calligraphy dates it to the fifteenth century. The most likely supposition is that it is a composition from the end of that century in which the suggestions first made by Pico were taken up and mechanically applied (Scholem et al. 1979: 40-1).

In the following century, the eccentric though sharp-witted Tommaso Garzoni di Bagnacavallo saw through the imposture. In his Piazza universale du tutte le arti (1589: 253), he wrote:

“The science of Raymond, known to very few, might be described with the term, very improper in itself, of Cabbala. About this, there is a notion common to all scholars, indeed, to the whole world, that in the Cabbala can be found teachings concerning everything [ . . . ] and for this reason one finds in print a little booklet ascribed to him [Lull] (though on this matter people beyond the Alps write many lies) bearing the title De Auditu Cabalistico. This is nothing but a brief summary of the Arte Magna as abbreviated, doubtlessly by Lull himself, into the Arte Breve.”

Still, the association persisted. Among various examples, we might cite Pierre Morestel, who published an Artis kabbalisticae, sive sapientiae diviniae academia in 1621, no more than a modest compilation from the De auditu.

Except for the title, and the initial identification of the Ars of Lull with the kabbala, there was nothing kabbalistic in it. Yet Morestel still thought it appropriate to include the preposterous etymology for the word kabbala taken from De auditu: “cum sit nomen compositum ex duabus dictionibus, videlicet abba et ala. Abba enim arabice idem quod pater latine, et ala arabice idem est quod Deus meus” (“as this name is composed of two terms, that is abba and ala. Abba is an Arabic word meaning Latin pater; ala is also Arabic, and means Deus meus“).

For this reason, kabbala means “Jesus Christ.”

The cliché of Lull the kabbalist reappears with only minimum variation throughout the writings of the Christian kabbalists. Gabriel Naudé, in his Apologie pour tous les grands hommes qui ont esté accuséz de magie (1625), energetically rebutted the charge that the poor Catalan mystic engaged in the black arts.

None the less, French (1972: 49) has observed that by the late Renaissance, the letters from B to K, used by Lull, had become associated with Hebrew letters, which for the kabbalists were names of angels or of divine attributes.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 128-30.

(Editorial Note: wallowing in the bibliography of Raimon Llull is not for the meek. I encountered many culs-de-sac and could not find digital versions of many of the works mentioned by Eco in this segment. If you have URLs to works which are not linked in this excerpt from Eco, please share them using the comment feature. Thank you.)

Eco: The Indo-European Hypothesis

kircher_011

Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), Kircher’s museum at the Collegio Romano, frontispiece of Giorgio de Sepibus, Romani Collegii Musaeum Celeberrimum, Rome, 1678. Courtesy of Stanford University and the Zymoglyphic Museum. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“Between the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries a new perspective opened. The battle for Hebrew had been definitively lost. It now seemed clear that, even had it existed, linguistic change and corruption would have rendered the primitive language irrecuperable.

What was needed instead was a typology in which information about known languages might be codified, family connections established, and relations of descent traced. We are here at the beginning of a story which has nothing to do with our own.

In 1786, in the Journal of the Asiatick Society of Bombay, Sir William Jones announced that

“The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than Greek, more copious than Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the root of verbs and in the forms of grammar [ . . . ]

No philosopher could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.” (“On the Hindus,” The Works of Sir William Jones, III, London 1807, 34-5).

Jones advanced the hypothesis that Celtic, Gothic and even ancient Persian were all related to Sanskrit. Note that he spoke not only of similar verb roots, but also of similar grammatical structures. We have left behind the study of lexical analogies, and are beginning a research on syntactic similarities and phonetic affinities.

Already in 1653, John Wallis (Grammatica linguae anglicae) had posed the problem of how one might establish the relation between a series of French words–guerre, garant, gard, gardien, garderobe, guise–and the English series–war, warrant, ward, warden, wardrobe, wise–by proving the existence of a constant shift from g to w.

Later in the nineteenth century, German scholars, such as Friedrich and Wilhelm von Schlegel and Franz Bopp, deepened the understanding of the relation between Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Persian and German.

They discovered a set of correspondences in the conjugation of the verb to be in all these languages.

Gradually they came to the conclusion that not only was Sanskrit the original language of the group, its Ursprache, but that there must have existed, for this entire family, an even more primitive proto-language from which they all, Sanskrit included, had derived. This was the birth of the Indo-European hypothesis.

Through the work of Jakob Grimm (Deutsche Grammatik, 1818) these insights became organized in a scientific fashion. Research was based on the study of sound shifts (Lautverschiebungen) which traced how from the Sanskrit p were generated pous-podos in Greek, pes-pedes in Latin, fotus in Gothic, and foot in English.

What had changed between the utopian dream of an Adamic language and the new perspective? Three things. Above all, scholars had elaborated a set of scientific criteria.

In the second place, the original language no longer seemed like an archeological artifact that, one day, might actually be dug up. Indo-European was an ideal point of scholarly reference only.

Finally, Indo-European made no claim to being the original language of all humanity; it merely represented the linguistic root for just one family–the Aryan.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 103-5.

Eco: Postel’s Universalistic Utopia, 2

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An unattributed and undated portrait of Guillaume Postel (1510-84), published by George Saliba. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“After various peregrinations, Postel found himself in Venice, where, in 1547, he was appointed chaplain of the Hospital of Sts. John and Paul (called the Ospedaletto), and censor of books published in the Hebrew language in that city.

While in the Ospedaletto, he was appointed confessor to its founder, the fifty year old Johanna, or Mother Zuana, a woman who had dedicated her life to helping the poor. Gradually, the conviction grew on Postel that in meeting Johanna, he had come into contact with a great prophetic spirit.

He conceived for her a mystic passion in which he saw her as the mother of the world, destined to redeem humanity from its original sin.

After rereading the kabbalist text, the Zohar, Postel identified Johanna as Shekinah as well as with the angelical pope whose coming had been foretold in the prophecies of Joachim a Fiore.

Finally, he identified her as the second Messiah. According to Postel, the feminine component of humanity, guilty of the sin of Eve, had not been saved by Christ. The salvation of the daughters of Eve would only occur with the coming of a second Messiah (on Postel’s “feminism” cf. Sottile 1984).

The question whether Johanna was truly a mystic with extraordinary capacities or whether these were just qualities that Postel projected into her is hardly an important issue for us.

What is important rather is that there was now established an intense spiritual communion: Johanna, the kabbala, universal peace, the last age foretold by Joachim, were all thrown into a single crucible; what emerged was Johanna in the role formerly held by Ignatius Loyola in Postel’s utopian schemes.

What is more, “Johanna’s “immaculate conception” produces her “little son,” Postel, the new Elias” (Kuntz 1981: 91).

Rumors of singular goings on at the Ospedaletto soon spread, however, and in 1549, Postel was forced to leave Venice. He resumed his wanderings in the Orient, returning to Venice the following year only to learn of the death of Johanna.

According to tradition, on hearing the news he fell into a state of prostration mixed with ecstasy in which he claimed to be able to stare into the sun for an hour. He felt the spirit of Johanna gradually invading his body (Kuntz: 1981: 104). He began to proclaim his belief in metempsychosis.

Postel next returned to Paris where, with great public acclaim, he resumed his teaching. Yet soon he was announcing the advent of the era of Restitution, a golden century under the sign of Johanna.

Once again, he found himself at the center of a philosophical and religious turmoil. When the king forced him to abandon teaching, he set off on a new journey through various cities, ending up again in Venice, arriving just in time to prevent his books from being placed on the Index.

He was questioned by the Inquisition, which tried to induce him to recant. In 1555, in recognition of his services to science and politics, he was declared “non malus sed amens,” not guilty but insane.

His life was spared, but he was imprisoned, first in Ravenna and afterwards in Rome.

At the request of the French religious authorities, Postel was later transferred to Paris, in 1564. He retired to the monastery of Saint-Martin-des-Champs where he lived until his death in 1587. During this period, he wrote a repudiation of his heretical doctrines concerning Mother Johanna.

Apart from this final capitulation, Postel seems to have been a relentless defender of ideas which, for this period, were quite unconventional. His particular vision of utopia must be regarded within the cultural context of his time.

Demonet (1992: 337ff) underlines that his idea of the “restitution” of Hebrew as the language of universal concord also required that infidels recognize their error and accept the Christian revelation.

None the less, as Kuntz notes (1981: 49), Postel was neither an orthodox Catholic nor an orthodox Protestant; his moderate and pacifist positions infuriated, in fact, extremists of both persuasions.

Some of his doctrines were theologically ambiguous: he claimed that Christianity was the only religion that verified the message of Judaism, but–at the same time–that to be a good Christian it was not necessary to belong to a sect (Catholic church included), but rather to feel the presence of the divine within.

It followed that a true Christian could, and even should, observe Jewish law, and that the Muslims could be considered half-Christians.

More than once, Postel condemned the persecution of the Jews. He spoke of the Jewishness of all men, talking of Christian-Jews instead of Jewish Christians (Kuntz 1981: 130).

He claimed that the true tradition of Christianity was Judaism with its name changed, and lamented that Christianity had lost its Judaic roots.

Such positions could only be seen as extremely provocative by a church still clinging to the pre-Renaissance doctrine that Christianity represented both the correction and the cancellation of Judaism.

In order to affirm, as Postel did in his De orbis, the existence of a harmony between the faiths, it was necessary to exercise a tolerance on a number of theological issues. Postel’s doctrine has thus been described as a universalistic theism (Radetti 1936).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 77-80.

Eco: Postel’s Universalistic Utopia

Guillaume Postel, The Great Key, Eliphas Levi, The Key of the Great Mysteries, 1861

Guillaume Postel (1510-81), The Great Key, in Eliphas Levi (1810-75), La Clef des Grands MystèresThe Key of the Great Mysteries, 1861.

“A special place in the story of the renewal of Hebrew studies belongs to the French utopian thinker and érudit, Guillaume Postel (1510-81). Councillor to the kings of France, close to the major religious, political and scientific personalities of his epoch, Postel returned from a series of diplomatic missions to the Orient, voyages which enabled him to study Arabic and Hebrew as well as to learn of the wisdom of the kabbala, a changed and marked man.

Already renowned as a Greek philologist, around 1539, Postel was appointed to the post of “mathematicorum et peregrinarum linguarum regius interpretes” in that Collège des Trois Langues which eventually became the Collège de France.

In his De originibus seu de Hebraicae linguae et gentis antiquitate (1538), Postel argued that Hebrew came directly from the sons of Noah, and that, from it, Arabic, Chaldean, Hindi and, indirectly, Greek had all descended as well.

In Linguarum duodecem characteribus differentium alphabetum, introductio (1538), by studying twelve different alphabets he proved the common derivation of every language. From here, he went on to advance the project of a return to Hebrew as the instrument for the peaceable fusion of the peoples of differing races.

To support his argument that Hebrew was the proto-language, Postel developed the criterion of divine economy. As there was but one human race, one world and one God, there could be but one language; this was a “sacred language, divinely inspired into the first man” (De Foenicum litteris, 1550).

God had educated Adam by breathing into him the capacity to call things by their appropriate names (De originibus, seu, de varia et potissimum orbit Latino ad hanc diem incognita aut inconsyderata historia, 1553).

Although Postel does not seem to have thought either of an innate faculty for languages or of a universal grammar, as Dante had done, there still appears in many of his writings the notion of an Averroist active intellect as the repository of the forms common to all humanity, in which the roots of our linguistic faculty must be sought (Les très merveilleuses victoires des femmes du nouveau monde together with La doctrine du siècle doré, both from 1553).

Postel’s linguistic studies were connected to his particular vision of a religious utopia: he foresaw the reign of universal peace.

In his De orbis terrae concordia (1544:I) he clearly states that his studies in language would help to lay the foundations upon which a universal concord could be created. He envisioned the creation of a linguistic commonwealth that would serve as living proof to those of other faiths that not only was the message of Christianity true, but equally it verified their own religious beliefs: there are some principles of a natural religion, or sets of innate ideas held by all peoples (De orbis, III).

Here was the spirit that had inspired Lull and Nicholas of Cusa. Yet Postel was convinced that universal peace could only be realized under the protection of the king of France: among the world’s rulers the king of France alone held a legitimate claim to the title of king of the world.

He was the direct descendent of Noah, through Gomer, son of Japheth, founder of the Gallic and Celtic races (cf. particularly Les raisons de la monarchie, c. 1551). Postel (Trésor des propheties de l’univers, 1556) supported this contention with a traditional etymology (see, for example, Jean Lemaire de Belges, Illustration de Gaule et singularitez de Troye, 1512-3, fol. 64r): in Hebrew, the term gallus meant “he who overcame the waves;” thus the Gauls were the people who had survived the waters of the Flood (cf. Stephens 1989:4).

Postel first attempted to convert Francis I to his cause. The king, however, judged him a fanatic, and he lost favor at court. He went to Rome, hoping to win over to his utopian schemes Ignatius of Loyola, whose reformist ideals seemed kindred to his own.

It did not take Ignatius long, however, to realize that Postel’s ambitions were not identical to those of the Jesuits. Accepting Postel’s project might have placed their vow of obedience to the pope at risk.

Besides, Ignatius was a Spaniard, and the idea of turning the king of France into the king of the world would hardly have appealed to him. Although Postel continued long afterwards to look upon the Jesuits as the divine instrument for the creation of universal peace, he himself was forced to leave the company after a mere year and a half.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 75-7.

Eco: The Monogenetic Hypothesis and the Mother Tongues

05-06-stitched-together

Athanasius Kircher, Turris Babel, Amsterdam, 1679. The illustrations in Turris Babel were engraved by C. Decker. This plate was based on an original by Lievin Cruyl (c. 1640-1720) in Rome. This is catalog no. 46, between pages 40-1 from the original work held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. This plate was published by the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford. Another copy is also held by the University of St. Andrews, under call number r17f BS1238.B2K5. Stanford University also has a copy. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

Editorial Note:

The formatting of this section differs from the original because I am tired of wrestling with the WordPress interface. Eco organizes this section with numbered paragraphs. I omit the numbering. Further, I insert paragraph breaks in the middle of Eco’s long paragraphs to ease readability.

The Monogenetic Hypothesis and the Mother Tongues

“In its most ancient versions, the search for a perfect language took the form of the monogenetic hypothesis which assumed that all languages descended from a unique mother tongue.

Before I tell the story of this hypothesis, however, we should note that most of the attempts suffered from a continuous confusion between different theoretical options.

The distinction between a perfect language and a universal language was not sufficiently understood. It is one thing to search for a language capable of mirroring the true nature of objects; it is quite another to search for the language which everyone might, or ought to, speak. There is nothing that rules out that a language which is perfect might be accessible only to a few, while a language that is universal might also be imperfect.

The distinction between the Platonic opposition of nature and convention was not kept separate from the general problem of the origin of language (cf. Formigari 1970). It is possible to imagine a language that expresses the nature of things, but which, none the less, is not original, but arises through invention.

It is also possible to discuss whether language originated as an imitation of nature (the “mimological” hypothesis, Genette 1976) or as the result of a convention, without necessarily posing the question of whether the former is better than the latter.

As a consequence, claims to linguistic superiority on etymological grounds (more direct filiation with an ancient language) are often confused with those on mimological grounds–while the presence of onomatopoetic words in a language can be seen as a sign of perfection, not as the proof of the direct descent of that language from a primordial one.

Despite the fact that the distinction was already clear in Aristotle, many authors failed to distinguish between a sound and the alphabetical sign that represented it.

As Genette (1976) has often reminded us, before the advent of comparative linguistics in the nineteenth century, most research on languages concentrated on semantics, assembling nomenclature families of supposedly related words (often, as we shall see, making up etymologies to match), but neglecting both phonology and grammar.

Finally, there was not a clear cut distinction between primordial language and universal grammar. It is possible to search for a set of grammatical principles common to all languages without wishing to return to a more primitive tongue.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 73-4.

Eco: The Arbor Scientarium, 2

Ramon Llull, Arbor Scientiae, Rome, 1295

Ramon Llull, Arbor Scientiae, Rome, 1295. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.  

“Between the first and last versions of his art, Lull’s thought underwent a long process of evolution (described by Carreras y Artau 1939: I, 394), in order to render his art able to deal not only with theology and metaphysics, but also with cosmology, law, medicine, astronomy, geometry and psychology.

Increasingly, the art became a means of treating the entire range of knowledge, drawing suggestions from the numerous medieval encyclopedias, and anticipating the encyclopedic dreams of the Renaissance and the baroque.

All this knowledge, however, needed to be ordered hierarchically. Because they were determinations of the first cause, the dignities could be defined circularly, in reference to themselves; beyond the dignities, however, began the ladder of being. The art was designed to permit a process of reasoning at every step.

The roots of the Tree of Science were the nine dignities and the nine relations. From here, the tree then spread out into sixteen branches, each of which had its own, separate tree. Each one of the sixteen trees, to which there was dedicated a particular representation, was divided into seven parts–roots, trunk, major branches, lesser branches, leaves, fruits and flowers.

Eight of the trees clearly corresponded to eight of the subjects of the tabula generalis: these are the Arbor elementalis, which represents the elementata, that is, objects of the sublunary world, stones, trees and animals composed of the four elements; the Arbor vegetalis;  the Arbor sensualis; the Arbor imaginalis, which represents images that replicate in the mind whatever is represented on the other trees; the Arbor humanalis et moralis (memory, intellect and will, but also the various sciences and arts); the Arbor coelestialis (astronomy and astrology); the Arbor angelicalis; and the Arbor divinalis, which includes the divine dignities.

To this list are added another eight: the Arbor mortalis (virtues and vices); the Arbor eviternalis (life after death); the Arbor maternalis (Mariology); the Arbor Christianalis (Christology); the Arbor imperialis (government); the Arbor apostolicalis (church); the Arbor exemplificalis (the contents of knowledge); and the Arbor quaestionalis, which contains four thousand questions on the various arts.

To understand the structure of these trees, it is enough to look at only one–the Arbor elementalis. Its roots are the nine dignities and nine relations. Its trunk represents the conjoining of these principles, out of which emerges the confused body of primordial chaos which occupies space.

In this are the species of things and their dispositions. The principle branches represent the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) which stretch out into the four masses which are made from them (the seas and the lands).

The leaves are the accidents. The flowers are the instruments, such as hands, feet and eyes. The fruits represent individual things, such as stone, gold, apple, bird.

Calling this a “forest” of trees would be an improper metaphor: the trees overlay one another to rise hierarchically like the peaked roof of a pagoda. The trees at the lower levels participate in those higher up.

The vegetable tree, for example, participates in the tree of elements; the sensual tree participates in the first two; the tree of imagination is built up out of the first three, and it forms the base from which the next tree, the human one, will arise (Llinares 1963: 211-2).

The system of trees reflects the organization of reality itself; it represents the great chain of being the way that it is, and must metaphysically be. This is why the hierarchy constitutes a system of “true” knowledge.

The priority of metaphysical truth over logical validity in Lull’s system also explains why he laid out his art the way he did: he wished his system to produce, for any possible argument, a middle term that would render that argument amenable to syllogistic treatment; having structured the system for this end, however, he proceeded to discard a number of well-formed syllogisms which, though logically valid, did not support the arguments he regarded as metaphysically true.

For Lull, the significance of the middle term of the syllogism was thus not that of scholastic logic. Its middle term served to bind the elements of the chain of being: it was a substantial, not a formal, link.

If the art is a perfect language, it is so only to the extent to which it can speak of a metaphysical reality, of a structure of being which exists independently of it. The art was not a mechanism designed to chart unknown universes.

In the Catalan version of his Logica Algazelis, Lull writes, “De la logic parlam tot breau–car a parlor avem Deu.” (“About logic we will be brief, for it is to talk about God”).

Much has been written about the analogy between Lull’s art and the kabbala. What distinguishes kabbalistic thought from Lull’s is that, in the kabbala, the combination of the letters of the Torah had created the universe rather than merely reflected it.

The reality that the kabbalistic mystic sought behind these letters had not yet been revealed; it could be discovered only through whispering the syllables as the letters whirled.

Lull’s ars combinatoria, by contrast, was a rhetorical instrument; it was designed to demonstrate what was already known, and lock it for ever in the steely cage of the system of trees.

Despite all this, the art might still qualify as a perfect language if those elementary principles, common to all humanity, that it purported to expound really were universal and common to all peoples.

As it was, despite his effort to assimilate ideas from non-Christian and non-European religions, Lull’s desperate endeavor failed through its unconscious ethnocentrism. The content plane, the universe which his art expounded, was the product of the western Christian tradition.

It could not change even though Lull translated it into Arabic or Hebrew. The legend of Lull’s own agony and death is but the emblem of that failure.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 67-9.

Eco: Dante and Abulafia, 2

1280px-Bartolomeu_Velho_1568

Bartolomeu Velho (d.1568), Figure of the Heavenly Bodies, an illuminated illustration of the Ptolemaic geocentric conception of the Universe, from Cosmographia, 1568. Held in the Bibliotèque Nationale de France, Paris. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.  

“Yet could Dante have known the theories of Abulafia?

Abulafia visited Italy on several occasions: he was in Rome in 1260; he remained on the peninsula until 1271, when he returned to Barcelona; he returned to Rome in 1280 with the project of converting the pope.

He journeyed afterwards to Sicily, where we lose trace of him somewhere near the end of the 1290s. His ideas incontestably exercised an influence on contemporary Italian Jewish thought. We have a record of a debate in 1290 between Hillel of Verona (who had probably met Abulafia twenty years earlier) and Zerakhya of Barcelona, who arrived in Italy at the beginning of the 1270s (cf. Genot-Bismuth 1988: II).

Hillel, who had contacts in the world of Bologna intellectuals, had written to Zerakhya to ask him the question first posed by Herodotus: in what language would a child speak if it were brought up with no linguistic stimuli?

Hillel maintained that such a child would naturally speak Hebrew, because Hebrew was humanity’s original natural language. Hillel either did not know, or else disregarded, the fact that Abulafia was of a different opinion. Not so with Zerakhya.

He sarcastically remarked that Hillel had been taken in by the siren song of the “uncircumcised” of Bologna. The first sounds emitted by a child without linguistic education, he asserted, would resemble the barking of dogs. It was madness to maintain that the sacred language could be naturally bestowed on human beings.

Humanity possessed a linguistic potential, but it was a potential that could be activated only through education of the vocal organs. This, however, required instruction.

At this point, Zerakhya brought forward a proof that we shall find in a number of post-Renaissance Christian authors (for example, in the In Biblia polyglotta prolegomena by Walton in 1673, or the De sacra philosophia of 1652 by Vallesio): had there been the primordial gift of an original sacred language, then all human beings, regardless of their native tongue, would have the innate ability to speak it.

The existence of such a debate is enough to show, without needing to invent a meeting between Dante and Abulafia, that Abulafia’s ideas were subject to discussion in Italy, especially in the Bolognese intellectual circles which influenced Dante, and from which, according to Maria Corti, he absorbed his notion of the forma locutionis.

Nor does the Bologna debate constitute the only point of encounter between Dante and Jewish thought.

Genot-Bismuth has given us a vivid picture of the close of the thirteenth century in which we will later find a Yehuda Romano giving a series of lectures on the Divine Comedy for his co-religionists, a Lionello di Ser Daniele who did likewise using a Divine Comedy transliterated into Hebrew script, not to mention the surprising personage of Immanuel da Roma, who, in his own poetic compositions, seemed to launch an attack on Dante’s ideals almost aspiring to produce a sort of counter-Comedy in Hebrew.

Naturally this only establishes the influence of Dante on Italian Jewish culture, not the other way around. Yet Genot-Bismuth is able to show opposing influences as well, even to the point of suggesting that Dante’s theory of the four senses of scripture, found in his Epistula, XIII (cf. Eco 1985), had a Jewish origin.

Such a hypothesis may be too bold: there were any number of Christian sources from which Dante might have drawn this doctrine. What seems less daring, and, in fact, entirely plausible, is the suggestion that, in Bologna, Dante would have heard echoes of the debate between Hillel and Zerakhya.

One could say that in DVE he appears still close to the position of the former (or of his Christian inspirers, as Zerakhya reproaches him), while in Paradise he turns towards the positions of the latter, that is, the position of Abulafia (even though, when writing DVE, he already had the opportunity to know both theses).

However, it is not necessary to document direct links (even though Genot-Bismuth finds the presence of Jewish influences in certain passages of the De regimine principium of Giles of Rome), but rather to demonstrate the existence of a cultural climate in which ideas could circulate and within which a formal and informal debate between the church and the synagogue might ensue (cf. Calimani 1987: viii).

We should remember that, before the Renaissance, a Christian thinker would scarcely wish to admit publicly that he drew on Hebrew doctrine.

Like heretics, the Jewish community belonged to a category of outcasts that–as Le Goff shrewdly observes–the Middle Ages officially despised but at the same time admired; regarding them with an admixture of attraction and fear, keeping them at a distance, but making sure that the distance was fixed near enough so they would always remain close at hand.

“What was termed charity in their regard more resembled the game that cats play with mice” (Le Goff 1964:373).

Before the kabbala was rehabilitated by humanist culture, Christianity knew little of it. It was often simply regarded as a branch of the black arts. Even so, as Gorni has pointed out (1990: vii), in the Divine Comedy, Dante seems to share a great deal of knowledge about magic and divinatory practices (astrology, chiromancy, physiognomy, geomancy, pyromancy, hydromancy and, not least, the black arts of magic themselves).

In one way or another, Dante seems to have been informed about an excluded and underground culture in which, at least according to vulgar opinion, the kabbala somehow belonged.

In this way, it becomes ever more plausible that, even if it does not derive directly from the theories of the Modistae, Dante’s forma locutionis is not a language but the universal matrix for all language.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 49-52.

Eco: Cosmic Permutability and the Kabbala of Names

c135465f172396fd741c7ad7b26331cc

Athanasius Kircher, The Ten Sefirot, from Oedipus Aegyptiacus, published in three folio tomes in Rome, 1652-54. This was considered Kircher’s masterwork on Egyptology, and it cast a long shadow for centuries until Champollion deciphered the Rosetta Stone in 1824, unlocking the secrets of the Egyptian hieroglyphs: Kircher was exposed as an erudite fraud. Kircher cited Chaldean astrology, Hebrew kabbalah, Greek myth, Pythagorean mathematics, Arabic alchemy and Latin philology as his sources.     

“The kabbalist could rely on the unlimited resources of temurah because anagrams were more than just a tool of interpretation: they were the very method whereby God created the world.

This doctrine had already been made explicit in the Sefer Yezirah, or Book of Creation, a little tract written some time between the second and the sixth centuries. According to it, the “stones” out of which God created the world were the thirty-two ways of wisdom. These were formed by the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the ten Sefirot.

“Twenty-two foundation letters: He ordained them, He hewed them, He combined them, He weighed them, He interchanged them. And He created with them the whole creation and everything to be created in the future.” (II, 2).

“Twenty-two foundation letters: He fixed them on a wheel like a wall with 231 gates and He turns the wheel forward and backward.” (II, 4).

“How did He combine, weigh, and interchange them? Aleph with all and all with Aleph; Beth with all and all with Beth; and so each in turn. There are 231 gates. And all creation and all language come from one name.” (II, 5).

“How did He combine them? Two stones build two houses, three stones build six houses, four stones build twenty-four houses, five stones build a hundred and twenty houses, six stones build seven hundred and twenty houses, seven stones build five thousand and forty houses. Begin from here and think of what the mouth is unable to say and the ear unable to hear.” (IV, 16).

(The Book of Creation, Irving Friedman, ed., New York: Weiser, 1977).

Indeed, not only the mouth and ear, but even a modern computer, might find it difficult to keep up with what happens as the number of stones (or letters) increases. What the Book of Creation is describing is the factorial calculus. We shall see more of this later, in the chapter on Lull’s art of permutation.

The kabbala shows how a mind-boggling number of combinations can be produced from a finite alphabet. The kabbalist who raised this art to its highest pitch was Abulafia, with his kabbala of the names (cf. Idel 1988a, 1988b, 1988c, 1989).

The kabbala of the names, or the ecstatic kabbala, was based on the practice of the recitation of the divine names hidden in the Torah, by combining the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

The theosophical kabbala, though indulging in numerology, acrostics and anagrams, had retained a basic respect for the sacred text itself. Not so the ecstatic kabbalah: in a process of free linguistic creativity, it altered, disarticulated, decomposed and recomposed the textual surface to reach the single letters that served as its linguistic raw material.

For the theosophical kabbala, between God and the interpreter, there still remained a text; for the ecstatic kabbalist, the interpreter stood between the text and God.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 28-30.

Eco: Before and After Europe

Cleve-van_construction-tower-babel

Hendrick van Cleve III (1525-89), The Tower of Babel, 16th Century, Kröller-Müller Museum. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“Stories accounting for the multiplicity of tongues appear in divers mythologies and theogonies (Borst 1957-63: I, 1). None the less, it is one thing to know why many languages exist; it is quite another to decide that this multiplicity is a wound that must be healed by the quest for a perfect language.

Before one decides to seek a perfect language, one needs, at the very least, to be persuaded that one’s own is not so.

Keeping, as we decided, strictly to Europe–the classical Greeks knew of peoples speaking languages other than theirs: they called these peoples barbaroi, beings who mumble in an incomprehensible speech.

The Stoics, with their more articulated notion of semiotics, knew perfectly well that the ideas to which certain sounds in Greek corresponded were also present in the minds of barbarians.

However, not knowing Greek, barbarians had no notion of the connection between the Greek sound and the particular idea. Linguistically and culturally speaking, they were unworthy of any attention.

For the Greek philosophers, Greek was the language of reason. Aristotle’s list of categories is squarely based on the categories of Greek grammar. This did not explicitly entail a claim that the Greek language was primary: it was simply a case of the identification of thought with its natural vehicle.

Logos was thought, and Logos was speech. About the speech of barbarians little was known; hence, little was known about what it would be like to think in the language of barbarians.

Although the Greeks were willing to admit that the Egyptians, for example, possessed a rich and venerable store of wisdom, they only knew this because someone had explained it to them in Greek.

As Greek civilization expanded, the status of Greek as a language evolved as well. At first, there existed almost as many varieties of Greek as there were Greek texts (Meillet 1930:4). In the period following the conquests of Alexander the Great, however, there arose and spread a common Greek–the koiné.

This was the language of Polybius, Strabo, Plutarch and Aristotle; it was the language taught in the schools of grammar. Gradually it became the official language of the entire area of the Mediterranean bounded by Alexander’s conquests.

Spoken by patricians and intellectuals, Greek still survived here under Roman domination as well, as the language of commerce and trade, of diplomacy, and of scientific and philosophical debate.

It was finally the language in which the first Christian texts were transmitted (the Gospels and the Septuagint translation of the Bible in the third century BCE), and the language of the early church fathers.

A civilization with an international language does not need to worry about the multiplicity of tongues. Nevertheless such a civilization can worry about the “rightness” of its own.

In the Cratylus, Plato asks the same question that a reader of the Genesis story might: did the nomothete choose the sounds with which to name objects according to the object’s nature (physis)?

This is the thesis of Cratylus, while Ermogene maintains that they were assigned by law or human convention (nomos). Socrates moves among these theses with apparent ambiguity.

Finally, having subjected both to ironical comment, inventing etymologies that neither he (nor Plato) is eager to accept, Socrates brings forward his own hypothesis: knowledge is founded not on our relation to the names of things, but on our relation to the things themselves–or, better, to the ideas of those things.

Later, even by these cultures that ignored Cratylus, every discussion on the nature of a perfect language has revolved around the three possibilities first set out in this dialogue.

None the less, the Cratylus is not itself a project for a perfect language: Plato discusses the preconditions for semantic adequacy within a given language without posing the problem of a perfect one.

While the Greek koiné continued to dominate the Mediterranean basin, Latin was becoming the language of the empire, and thus the universal language for all parts of Europe reached by Roman legions.

Later it became the language of the Roman church. Once again, a civilization with a common language was not troubled by the plurality of tongues.

Learned men might still discourse in Greek, but, for the rest of the world, speaking with barbarians was, once again, the job of a few translators, and this only until these same barbarians began to speak their Latin.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 10-2.

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.

Melvin: Divine Knowledge is Transcendent

“Wellhausen understands “good and evil” as a comprehensive term indicating that it is knowledge without bounds. Thus, “knowledge of good and evil” refers to knowledge in general, and the secret knowledge of the workings of nature, the possession of which leads to the development of civilization, in particular.

“Knowledge” in Genesis 3:1–7 would correspond roughly to the “instruction” in the arts of civilization in the Mesopotamian apkallu/culture hero traditions. Wellhausen also notes that progression in civilization correlates with regression in the fear of God in Genesis 1–11, especially in the JE material, giving the entire primeval history a “distinctive gloomy colouring.”

Wellhausen’s view is appealing, but not without significant difficulties. As Gunkel notes, Genesis 3:1–7 says nothing explicit about civilization.

Reading טוב ודע as a merismus (a “merism is a figure of speech by which a single thing is referred to by a conventional phrase that enumerates several of its parts, or which lists several synonyms for the same thing”) is probably correct, but to go beyond understanding this “knowledge” as knowledge in general and connect it with “secret knowledge” of the arts of civilization in such a direct fashion reaches beyond the evidence of the text.

(See the use of טוב and דע in Genesis 31:24, 29 and Isaiah 45:7).

Michelangelo (1475-1564 AD), Sündenfall und Vertreibung aus dem Paradies, Cistine Chapel, Rome.  This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain because it is outside the copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo_Sündenfall.jpg

Michelangelo (1475-1564 AD), Sündenfall und Vertreibung aus dem Paradies, Sistine Chapel, Rome.
This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain because it is outside the copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo_Sündenfall.jpg

Skinner attempts to synthesize the interpretations of Wellhausen and Gunkel by viewing primal humanity as existing in a state of “childlike innocence and purity,” so that the acquisition of “knowledge” corresponds to a maturing and loss of innocence, which would include both sexual awareness and civilizing knowledge.

(Skinner, Genesis, pp. 96–97. One should note that Gunkel does not maintain that Genesis 3:1–7 refers only to sexual awareness, but rather that sexual awareness is the explicit example given in the text of the kind of knowledge which results from eating the fruit.)

What is key for understanding “knowledge” in Genesis 3:1–7 is that it is explicitly connected with divinity, which leads to the second point regarding this passage.

The result of obtaining the knowledge contained in the fruit is that one becomes “like a god.” Thus, the “knowledge” is “divine knowledge”, i.e., the knowledge that is naturally possessed only by gods. This “divine knowledge” would certainly include sexual awareness and the arts of civilization, but it ultimately transcends both.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553 AD), Adam und Eva im Paradies (Sündenfall), Adam and Eve in Paradise (The Fall), 1533 AD.  Held at the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.  This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lucas_Cranach_the_Elder_-_Adam_und_Eva_im_Paradies_(Sündenfall)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553 AD), Adam und Eva im Paradies (Sündenfall), Adam and Eve in Paradise (The Fall), 1533 AD.
Held at the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.
This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lucas_Cranach_the_Elder_-_Adam_und_Eva_im_Paradies_(Sündenfall)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Thus, Wellhausen is correct in understanding “good and evil” as a comprehensive term. He is also correct in connecting it with civilization, although it would be more accurate to say that civilization arises as a result of possessing divine knowledge, rather than being the essence of divine knowledge itself.

Knowledge was often associated with divinity in the ancient Near East. I have already noted semi-divine transmitters of divine knowledge in Mesopotamia, the apkallus. The name of the Flood hero Atrahasis means “the most wise,” and he is the privileged human recipient of secret knowledge of the decisions of the divine council by revelation from Ea.

(See Brian E. Colless, “Divine Education,” Numen 17 (1970), p. 124.)

Moreover, the life-saving knowledge he receives ultimately leads to his being granted divinity and immortality after the Flood.”

(See the version of the Atrahasis epic from Ugarit, which reads “I am Atrahasis, I was living in the temple of Ea, my lord, and I knew everything. I knew the counsel of the great gods, I knew of their oath, though they would not reveal it to me. He repeated their words to the wall, ‘Wall, hear […] Life like the gods [you will] indeed [possess]” (obv. 6–12, rev. 4 [Foster, Before the Muses􏰀􏰇􏰘􏰌􏰈􏰇􏰃􏰂􏰕􏰇􏰃􏰄􏰖􏰆􏰇􏰆, 1:185]).

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 13-4.

Kvanvig: The Adapa Myth Symbolizes the Initiation of Humanity into Civilization

“The relationship between the first and seventh sage is complicated as well. In Bīt Mēseri the seventh sage is said to have ascended to heaven. In the fragmentary two other lists of sages in Bīt Mēseri the seventh sage is also related to heaven: in the second list he ascends like in the first; in the third he descends from heaven.

(Borger, “Die Beschwörungsserie Bīt Mēseri, 192-3. In the text as it is edited now by Weiher this comes in the second list, II, 2 where only the Sumerian text is extant, cf. Weiher, Spätbabylonische Texte, 49 and 51.)

Also the first sage is related to heaven; he is the light of the god of heaven. Nevertheless, both in Bīt Mēseri and in Berossos all the sages are related to water; they are described as fish-men.

A fish-apkallu drawn by A.H. Layard from a stone relief, one of a pair flanking a doorway in the Temple of Ninurta at Kalhu.  British Museum. 

Reproduced in Schlomo Izre'el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001.

 https://books.google.co.th/books?id=MbwwROVGl7UC&pg=PA3&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

A fish-apkallu drawn by A.H. Layard from a stone relief, one of a pair flanking a doorway in the Temple of Ninurta at Kalhu.
British Museum. 

Reproduced in Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001.


https://books.google.co.th/books?id=MbwwROVGl7UC&pg=PA3&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

This is explicitly clear in the name of the seventh sage, Utuabzu, which means “born in the apsû,” the water deep under the earth where Ea / Enki has his abode. In the first two lists in Bīt Mēseri the seventh sage is given this name. In the third list he is called Utuaabba, which is the same as the Sumerian epithet equated with adapu above.

Utuaabba does not only mean “wise,” directly, it can mean “born in the water,” a slight variation of Utuabzu. The reason why “born in the apsû / water” could designate “wise” is obviously connected to the apsû as the abode of the god of wisdom, Ea /Enki. Uan and Utuabzu are clearly thought of as two distinct figures in the lists, but there is a close correlation between them.

We think that both the double form of the name and the close connection the first and the seventh apkallu have to heaven call for a closer examination of the relationship between the Adapa Myth and the earliest of the lists, Bīt Mēseri.

We cannot in this context go into a profound analysis of the myth, which would demand a publication of its own. We are primarily interested in the interconnections between this myth and Bīt Mēseri. S. Izre’el has made a new edition of the manuscripts, together with an in-depth analysis. Izre’el’s approach is characterized by being both synchronic and structural.

(Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, 107-11).

Instead of carrying out what he calls a “sociopolitical interpretation,” he seeks out the deepest structural layers of the myth, how it interprets basic challenges in human existence.

A comparison with Piotr Michalowski is interesting here. Michalowski also applies a literary theory to the structure of the myth, taken from ritual studies.

(P. Michalowski, “Adapa and the Ritual Process,” RO 41 (1980): 77-82.)

He comes to the conclusion that the structure of the Adapa Myth is “isomorphic to the form of a rite de passage.” It is in this form that the structure of the text elucidates the dominant meaning of the composition: “the problem of the institutionalization of magic.”

In this sense Michalowski considers the myth to be etiological, for it demonstrates a concern for man’s most potent weapon—language, and how this power has to be channeled into a specific context, the art of magic.

For Izre’el this kind of analysis still remains in the sociopolitical dimension of the myth. “In the mythology of ancient Mesopotamia, language symbolizes intellligence.” I would like now to proceed according to Michalowski’s line of thinking and suggest that the Adapa Myth, structured as a rite of passage, describes Adapa’s passage into full humanity, symbolizing humans becoming aware of their own knowledge.

Mesopotamian tradition tells us that the Adapa Myth not only marks Adapa’s initiation into maturity, into becoming a full-fledged human being, but further symbolizes the initiation of all humanity into civilization.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 119-20.

Timeline: Sumer

Timeline: Sumer

5400 BCE: The City of Eridu is founded.

5000 BCE: Godin Tepe settled.

5000 BCE – 1750 BCE: Sumerian civilization in the Tigris-Euphrates valley.

5000 BCE: Sumer inhabited by Ubaid people.

5000 BCE – 4100 BCE: The Ubaid Period in Sumer.

5000 BCE: Evidence of burial in Sumer.

4500 BCE: The Sumerians built their first temple.

4500 BCE: The City of Uruk founded.

4100 BCE – 2900 BCE: Uruk Period in Sumer.

3600 BCE: Invention of writing in Sumer at Uruk.

3500 BCE: Late Uruk Period.

3500 BCE: First written evidence of religion in Sumerian cuneiform.

2900 BCE – 2334 BCE: The Early Dynastic Period in Sumer.

2900 BCE – 2300 BCE: Early Dynastic I.

2750 BCE – 2600 BCE: Early Dynastic II.

2600 BCE -2300 BCE: Early Dynastic III. (Fara Period).

2600 BCE – 2000 BCE: The Royal Graves of Ur used in Sumer.

2500 BCE: First Dynasty of Lagash under King Eannutum is the first empire in Mesopotamia.

A fragment of the victory stele of king Eannutum of Lagash over Umma, called «Stele of Vultures». Circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec.

 CC BY-SA 3.0 File:Stele of Vultures detail 02.jpg Uploaded by Sting Uploaded: 18 December 2007 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eannatum#/media/File:Stele_of_Vultures_detail_02.jpg



A fragment of the victory stele of king Eannutum of Lagash over Umma, called «Stele of Vultures».
Circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec.


CC BY-SA 3.0
File:Stele of Vultures detail 02.jpg
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Uploaded: 18 December 2007
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eannatum#/media/File:Stele_of_Vultures_detail_02.jpg

2330 BCE -2190 BCE: Akkadian Period.

2350 BCE: First code of laws by Urukagina, king of Lagash.

Fragment of an inscription of Urukagina; it reads as follows:

Fragment of an inscription of Urukagina; it reads as follows: “He [Uruinimgina] dug (…) the canal to the town-of-NINA. At its beginning, he built the Eninnu; at its ending, he built the Esiraran.” (Musée du Louvre)


Public Domain
Clay cone Urukagina Louvre AO4598ab.jpg
Uploaded by Jastrow
Created: circa 2350 BC

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin. The original Akkadian states that the six foot tall stele commemorates the victory of King Naram-Sin of Akkad over King Satuni, ruler of the Lullubi people of the mountainous Zagros. Naram-Sin was the grandson of Sargon, founder of the Akkadian empire, and the first potentate to unite the entirety of Mesopotamia in the late 24th century BCE.  Naram-Sin was the fourth sovereign of his line, following his uncle Rimush and his father Manishtusu. The Sumerian King List ascribes his rule of 36 years to 2254 BCE to 2218 BCE, a long reign not otherwise confirmed by extant documents.  The stele depicts the Akkadian army climbing the Zagros Mountains, eradicating all resistance. The slain are trampled underfoot or thrown from a precipice. Naram-Sin is portrayed wearing the horned crown of divinity, symbolic of a ruler who aspires to divinity himself. In official documentation, the name of Naram-Sin was preceded by the divine determinative. He styled himself the King of the Four Regions, or King of the World.  The stele was removed from Sippar to Susa, Iran a thousand years later by the Elamite King Shutruk-Nahhunte, as a war prize after his victorious campaign against Babylon in the 12th century BCE.  Alongside the preexisting cuneiform inscription, King Shutruk-Nahhunte appended another one glorifying himself, recording that the stele was looted during the pillage of Sippar.  Jacques de Morgan, Mémoires, I, Paris, 1900, p. 106, 144 sq, pl. X. Victor Scheil, Mémoires, II, Paris, 1900, p. 53 sq, pl. II.  Victor Scheil, Mémoires, III, Paris, 1901, p. 40 sq, pl. II.  André Parrot, Sumer, Paris, 1960, fig. 212-213.  Pierre Amiet, L’Art d'Agadé au musée du Louvre, Paris, Ed. de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1976 - p. 29-32. Louvre Museum Accession number Sb 4 Found by J. de Morgan Photo: Rama This work is free software; you can redistribute it or modify it under the terms of the CeCILL. The terms of the CeCILL license are available at www.cecill.info. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Victory_stele_of_Naram_Sin_9068.jpg http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/victory-stele-naram-sin

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin.
The original Akkadian states that the six foot tall stele commemorates the victory of King Naram-Sin of Akkad over King Satuni, ruler of the Lullubi people of the mountainous Zagros. Naram-Sin was the grandson of Sargon, founder of the Akkadian empire, and the first potentate to unite the entirety of Mesopotamia in the late 24th century BCE.
Naram-Sin was the fourth sovereign of his line, following his uncle Rimush and his father Manishtusu. The Sumerian King List ascribes his rule of 36 years to 2254 BCE to 2218 BCE, a long reign not otherwise confirmed by extant documents.
The stele depicts the Akkadian army climbing the Zagros Mountains, eradicating all resistance. The slain are trampled underfoot or thrown from a precipice. Naram-Sin is portrayed wearing the horned crown of divinity, symbolic of a ruler who aspires to divinity himself. In official documentation, the name of Naram-Sin was preceded by the divine determinative. He styled himself the King of the Four Regions, or King of the World.
The stele was removed from Sippar to Susa, Iran a thousand years later by the Elamite King Shutruk-Nahhunte, as a war prize after his victorious campaign against Babylon in the 12th century BCE.
Alongside the preexisting cuneiform inscription, King Shutruk-Nahhunte appended another one glorifying himself, recording that the stele was looted during the pillage of Sippar.
Jacques de Morgan, Mémoires, I, Paris, 1900, p. 106, 144 sq, pl. X.
Victor Scheil, Mémoires, II, Paris, 1900, p. 53 sq, pl. II.
Victor Scheil, Mémoires, III, Paris, 1901, p. 40 sq, pl. II.
André Parrot, Sumer, Paris, 1960, fig. 212-213.
Pierre Amiet, L’Art d’Agadé au musée du Louvre, Paris, Ed. de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1976 – p. 29-32.
Louvre Museum
Accession number Sb 4
Found by J. de Morgan
Photo: Rama
This work is free software; you can redistribute it or modify it under the terms of the CeCILL. The terms of the CeCILL license are available at http://www.cecill.info.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Victory_stele_of_Naram_Sin_9068.jpg
http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/victory-stele-naram-sin

2218 BCE – 2047 BCE: The Gutian Period in Sumer.

2150 BCE – 1400 BCE: The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh written on clay tablets.

Library of Ashurbanipal / The Flood Tablet / The Gilgamesh Tablet Date15 July 2010 Current location: British Museum wikidata:Q6373 Source/Photographer Fæ (Own work) Other versions File:British Museum Flood Tablet 1.jpg British Museum reference K.3375 Detailed description: Part of a clay tablet, upper right corner, 2 columns of inscription on either side, 49 and 51 lines + 45 and 49 lines, Neo-Assyrian., Epic of Gilgamesh, tablet 11, story of the Flood. ~ Description extract from BM record. Location Room 55

 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Library_of_Ashurbanipal_The_Flood_Tablet.jpg

Library of Ashurbanipal / The Flood Tablet / The Gilgamesh Tablet
Date 15 July 2010
Current location: British Museum wikidata:Q6373
Source/Photographer Fæ (Own work)
Other versions File:British Museum Flood Tablet 1.jpg
British Museum reference K.3375
Detailed description:
Part of a clay tablet, upper right corner, 2 columns of inscription on either side, 49 and 51 lines + 45 and 49 lines, Neo-Assyrian., Epic of Gilgamesh, tablet 11, story of the Flood. ~ Description extract from BM record.
Location Room 55


https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Library_of_Ashurbanipal_The_Flood_Tablet.jpg

2100 BCE: The Reign of Utu-Hegal at Uruk in Sumer and creation of the Sumerian King List.

2095 BCE – 2047 BCE: King Shulgi reigns in Ur, (following Gane).

Among all the extant exemplars of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum cuneiform collection represents the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List. In this depiction, all four sides of the Sumerian King List prism are portrayed. http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=the_sumerian_king_list_sklid=the_sumerian_king_list_skl

Among all the extant exemplars of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum cuneiform collection represents the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List.
In this depiction, all four sides of the Sumerian King List prism are portrayed.
http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=the_sumerian_king_list_sklid=the_sumerian_king_list_skl

2047 BCE – 2030 BCE: Ur-Nammu’s reign over Sumer. The legal Code of Ur-Nammu dates to 2100 BCE – 2050 BCE.

From the Stele of Ur-Nammu. <br /> This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.<br /> 
This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.

<br /> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ur-Nammu#/media/File:Stela_of_Ur-Nammu_detail.jpg

From the Stele of Ur-Nammu.
This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ur-Nammu#/media/File:Stela_of_Ur-Nammu_detail.jpg

"In all probability I would have missed the Ur-Nammu tablet altogether had it not been for an opportune letter from F. R. Kraus, now Professor of Cuneiform Studies at the University of Leiden in Holland...  His letter said that some years ago, in the course of his duties as curator in the Istanbul Museum, he had come upon two fragments of a tablet inscribed with Sumerian laws, had made a "join" of the two pieces, and had catalogued the resulting tablet as No. 3191 of the Nippur collection of the Museum...  Since Sumerian law tablets are extremely rare, I had No. 3191 brought to my working table at once. There it lay, a sun-baked tablet, light brown in color, 20 by 10 centimeters in size. More than half of the writing was destroyed, and what was preserved seemed at first hopelessly unintelligible. But after several days of concentrated study, its contents began to become clear and take shape, and I realized with no little excitement that what I held in my hand was a copy of the oldest law code as yet known to man." 

Samuel Noah Kramer, History begins at Sumer, pp. 52–55.

CC0 File:Ur Nammu code Istanbul.jpg Uploaded by Oncenawhile Created: 1 August 2014

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Ur-Nammu#/media/File:Ur_Nammu_code_Istanbul.jpg

“In all probability I would have missed the Ur-Nammu tablet altogether had it not been for an opportune letter from F. R. Kraus, now Professor of Cuneiform Studies at the University of Leiden in Holland…
His letter said that some years ago, in the course of his duties as curator in the Istanbul Museum, he had come upon two fragments of a tablet inscribed with Sumerian laws, had made a “join” of the two pieces, and had catalogued the resulting tablet as No. 3191 of the Nippur collection of the Museum…
Since Sumerian law tablets are extremely rare, I had No. 3191 brought to my working table at once. There it lay, a sun-baked tablet, light brown in color, 20 by 10 centimeters in size. More than half of the writing was destroyed, and what was preserved seemed at first hopelessly unintelligible. But after several days of concentrated study, its contents began to become clear and take shape, and I realized with no little excitement that what I held in my hand was a copy of the oldest law code as yet known to man.”


Samuel Noah Kramer, History Begins at Sumer, pp. 52–55.

CC0
File:Ur Nammu code Istanbul.jpg
Uploaded by Oncenawhile
Created: 1 August 2014


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Ur-Nammu#/media/File:Ur_Nammu_code_Istanbul.jpg

2047 BCE – 1750 BCE: The Ur III Period in Sumer, known as the Sumerian Renaissance, or the Neo-Sumerian Empire.

This tablet glorifies king Shulgi and his victories over the Lullubi peoples. It mentions the city of Erbil and the district of Sulaymaniayh. 2111-2004 BCE.  The Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq. 

CC BY-SA 4.0 File:Tablet of Shulgi.JPG Uploaded by Neuroforever Created: 20 January 2014

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shulgi#/media/File:Tablet_of_Shulgi.JPG

This tablet glorifies king Shulgi and his victories over the Lullubi peoples. It mentions the city of Erbil and the district of Sulaymaniayh. 2111-2004 BCE.
The Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq.


CC BY-SA 4.0
File:Tablet of Shulgi.JPG
Uploaded by Neuroforever
Created: 20 January 2014


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shulgi#/media/File:Tablet_of_Shulgi.JPG

2038 BCE: King Shulgi of Ur builds his great wall in Sumer.

2000 BCE – 1600 BCE: Old Babylonian Period.

2000 BCE – 1800 BCE: Isin – Larsa.

Text:  "IN ERIDU: ALULIM RULED AS KING 28,800 YEARS. ELALGAR RULED 43,200 YEARS. ERIDU WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO BAD-TIBIRA. AMMILU'ANNA THE KING RULED 36,000 YEARS. ENMEGALANNA RULED 28,800 YEARS. DUMUZI RULED 28,800 YEARS. BAD-TIBIRA WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO LARAK. EN-SIPA-ZI-ANNA RULED 13,800 YEARS. LARAK WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO SIPPAR. MEDURANKI RULED 7,200 YEARS. SIPPAR WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO SHURUPPAK. UBUR-TUTU RULED 36,000 YEARS. TOTAL: 8 KINGS, THEIR YEARS: 222,600" MS in Sumerian on clay, probably Larsa Babylonia, 2000-1800 BC, 1 tablet, 8,1x6,5x2,7 cm, single column, 26 lines in cuneiform script. 5 other copies of the Antediluvian king list are known only: MS 3175, 2 in Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, one is similar to this list, containing 10 kings and 6 cities, the other is a big clay cylinder of the Sumerian King List, on which the kings before the flood form the first section, and has the same 8 kings in the same 5 cities as the present.  A 4th copy is in Berkeley: Museum of the University of California, and is a school tablet. A 5th tablet, a small fragment, is in Istanbul. The list provides the beginnings of Sumerian and the world’s history as the Sumerians knew it. The cities listed were all very old sites, and the names of the kings are names of old types within Sumerian name-giving. Thus it is possible that correct traditions are contained, though the sequence given need not be correct. The city dynasties may have overlapped. It is generally held that the Antediluvian king list is reflected in Genesis 5, which lists the 10 patriarchs from Adam to Noah, all living from 365 years (Enoch) to 969 years (Methuselah), altogether 8,575 years.  It is possible that the 222,600 years of the king list reflects a more realistic understanding of the huge span of time from Creation to the Flood, and the lengths of the dynasties involved.  The first of the 5 cities mentioned , Eridu, is Uruk, in the area where the myths place the Garden of Eden, while the last city, Shuruppak, is the city of Ziusudra, the Sumerian Noah. Jöran Friberg: A remarkable Collection of Babylonian Mathematical Texts. Springer 2007.  Sources and Studies in the History of Mathematics and Physical Sciences.  Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection, vol. 6, Cuneiform Texts I. pp. 237-241. Andrew George, ed.: Cuneiform Royal Inscriptions and Related Texts in the Schøyen Collection, Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology, vol. 17,  Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection, Cuneiform texts VI. CDL Press, Bethesda, MD, 2011, text 96, pp. 199-200, pls. LXXVIII-LXXIX. Andrew E. Hill & John H. Walton: A survey of the Old Testament, 3rd ed., Grand Rapids, Mi., Zondervan Publ. House, 2009, p. 206.  Zondervan Illustrated Bible, Backgrounds, Commentary. John H. Walton, gen. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan, 2009, vol 1, p. 482, vol. 5, p. 398.

Text:
“IN ERIDU: ALULIM RULED AS KING 28,800 YEARS. ELALGAR RULED 43,200 YEARS. ERIDU WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO BAD-TIBIRA. AMMILU’ANNA THE KING RULED 36,000 YEARS. ENMEGALANNA RULED 28,800 YEARS. DUMUZI RULED 28,800 YEARS. BAD-TIBIRA WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO LARAK. EN-SIPA-ZI-ANNA RULED 13,800 YEARS. LARAK WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO SIPPAR. MEDURANKI RULED 7,200 YEARS. SIPPAR WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO SHURUPPAK. UBUR-TUTU RULED 36,000 YEARS. TOTAL: 8 KINGS, THEIR YEARS: 222,600”
MS in Sumerian on clay, probably Larsa Babylonia, 2000-1800 BC, 1 tablet, 8,1×6,5×2,7 cm, single column, 26 lines in cuneiform script.
5 other copies of the Antediluvian king list are known only: MS 3175, 2 in Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, one is similar to this list, containing 10 kings and 6 cities, the other is a big clay cylinder of the Sumerian King List, on which the kings before the flood form the first section, and has the same 8 kings in the same 5 cities as the present.
A 4th copy is in Berkeley: Museum of the University of California, and is a school tablet. A 5th tablet, a small fragment, is in Istanbul.
The list provides the beginnings of Sumerian and the world’s history as the Sumerians knew it. The cities listed were all very old sites, and the names of the kings are names of old types within Sumerian name-giving. Thus it is possible that correct traditions are contained, though the sequence given need not be correct. The city dynasties may have overlapped.
It is generally held that the Antediluvian king list is reflected in Genesis 5, which lists the 10 patriarchs from Adam to Noah, all living from 365 years (Enoch) to 969 years (Methuselah), altogether 8,575 years.
It is possible that the 222,600 years of the king list reflects a more realistic understanding of the huge span of time from Creation to the Flood, and the lengths of the dynasties involved.
The first of the 5 cities mentioned, Eridu, is in Uruk, in the area where the myths place the Garden of Eden, while the last city, Shuruppak, is the city of Ziusudra, the Sumerian Noah.
Jöran Friberg: A Remarkable Collection of Babylonian Mathematical Texts. Springer 2007.
Sources and Studies in the History of Mathematics and Physical Sciences.
Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection, vol. 6, Cuneiform Texts I. pp. 237-241. Andrew George, ed.: Cuneiform Royal Inscriptions and Related Texts in the Schøyen Collection, Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology, vol. 17,
Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection, Cuneiform texts VI. CDL Press, Bethesda, MD, 2011, text 96, pp. 199-200, pls. LXXVIII-LXXIX.
Andrew E. Hill & John H. Walton: A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd ed., Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan Publishing House, 2009, p. 206.
Zondervan Illustrated Bible, Backgrounds, Commentary. John H. Walton, gen. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan, 2009, vol 1, p. 482, vol. 5, p. 398.

1861 BCE – 1837 BCE: King Enlil-bāni reigns in Isin.

1792 BCE – 1750: Reign of King Hammurabi (Old Babylonian Period).

1772 BCE: The Code of Hammurabi: One of the earliest codes of law in the world.

The Code of Hammurabi was discovered by archaeologists in 1901, with its editio princeps translation published in 1902 by Jean-Vincent Scheil. This nearly complete example of the Code is carved into a diorite stele in the shape of a huge index finger, 2.25-metre (7.4 ft) tall. The Code is inscribed in Akkadian, using cuneiform script. It is currently on display in the Louvre, with exact replicas in the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, the library of the Theological University of the Reformed Churches (Dutch: Theologische Universiteit Kampen voor de Gereformeerde Kerken) in The Netherlands, the Pergamon Museum of Berlin and the National Museum of Iran in Tehran. CC BY-SA 2.0 fr File:Code-de-Hammurabi-1.jpg Uploaded by Rama Uploaded: 8 November 2005

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi#/media/File:Code-de-Hammurabi-1.jpg

The Code of Hammurabi was discovered by archaeologists in 1901, with its editio princeps translation published in 1902 by Jean-Vincent Scheil. This nearly complete example of the Code is carved into a diorite stele in the shape of a huge index finger, 2.25-metre (7.4 ft) tall. The Code is inscribed in Akkadian, using cuneiform script. It is currently on display in the Louvre, with exact replicas in the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, the library of the Theological University of the Reformed Churches (Dutch: Theologische Universiteit Kampen voor de Gereformeerde Kerken) in The Netherlands, the Pergamon Museum of Berlin and the National Museum of Iran in Tehran.
CC BY-SA 2.0 fr
File:Code-de-Hammurabi-1.jpg
Uploaded by Rama
Uploaded: 8 November 2005


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi#/media/File:Code-de-Hammurabi-1.jpg

1750 BCE: Elamite invasion and Amorite migration ends the Sumerian civilization.

Cuneiform tablet with the Sumerian tale of The Deluge, dated to circa 1740 BCE, from the ruins of Nippur.  From the permanent collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia.  Text and photo © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. All rights reserved.

Cuneiform tablet with the Sumerian tale of The Deluge, dated to circa 1740 BCE, from the ruins of Nippur.
From the permanent collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia.
Text and photo © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. All rights reserved.

1600 BCE – 1155 BCE: Kassite Period.

1595 BCE: King Agum-kakrime, aka Agum II, Kassite Kingdom.

1350 BCE – 1050 BCE: Middle Assyrian Period.

A gypsum memorial slab from the Middle Assyrian Period (1300 - 1275 BCE), findspot Kalah Shergat, Aššur.  The inscription records the name, titles and conquests of King Adad-Nirari, his father Arik-den-ili, his grandfather Enlil-nirari, and his great-grandfather Ashur-uballit I.  Memorializing the restoration of the Temple of Aššur in the city of Aššur, the text invokes curses upon the head of any king or other person who alters or defaces the monument.  The artifact was purchased from the French Consul in Mosul in 1874 for £70, the British Museum notes reference Mr. George Smith and The Daily Telegraph with an acquisition date of 1874.  Bezold, Carl, Catalogue of the Cuneiform Tablets in the Kouyunjik Collection of the British Museum, IV, London, BMP, 1896. Furlani, G, Il Sacrificio Nella Religione dei Semiti di Babilonia e Assiria, Rome, 1932. Rawlinson, Henry C; Smith, George, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, IV, London, 1861. Budge, E A W, A Guide to the Babylonian and Assyrian Antiquities., London, 1922. Budge, E A W, The Rise and Progress of Assyriology, London, Martin Hopkinson & Co, 1925. Grayson, Albert Kirk, Assyrian Rulers of the Third and Second Millennia BC (to 1115 BC), 1, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1987. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?assetId=32639001&objectId=283138&partId=1

A gypsum memorial slab from the Middle Assyrian Period (1300 – 1275 BCE), findspot Kalah Shergat, Aššur.
The inscription records the name, titles and conquests of King Adad-Nirari, his father Arik-den-ili, his grandfather Enlil-nirari, and his great-grandfather Ashur-uballit I.
Memorializing the restoration of the Temple of Aššur in the city of Aššur, the text invokes curses upon the head of any king or other person who alters or defaces the monument.
The artifact was purchased from the French Consul in Mosul in 1874 for £70, the British Museum notes reference Mr. George Smith and The Daily Telegraph with an acquisition date of 1874.
Bezold, Carl, Catalogue of the Cuneiform Tablets in the Kouyunjik Collection of the British Museum, IV, London, BMP, 1896.
Furlani, G, Il Sacrificio Nella Religione dei Semiti di Babilonia e Assiria, Rome, 1932.
Rawlinson, Henry C; Smith, George, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, IV, London, 1861.
Budge, E A W, A Guide to the Babylonian and Assyrian Antiquities., London, 1922.
Budge, E A W, The Rise and Progress of Assyriology, London, Martin Hopkinson & Co, 1925.
Grayson, Albert Kirk, Assyrian Rulers of the Third and Second Millennia BC (to 1115 BC), 1, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1987.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?assetId=32639001&objectId=283138&partId=1

1330 BCE – 1295 BCE: Reign of King Muršili II (Hittite Kingdom).

1126 BCE – 1104 BCE: Reign of King Nebuchadnezzar I (Old Babylonian Period).

1120 BCE: The Sumerian Enuma Elish (creation story) is written.

Enuma Elish means “when above”, the two first words of the epic. This Babylonian creation story was discovered among the 26,000 clay tablets found by Austen Henry Layard in the 1840's at the ruins of Nineveh. Enuma Elish was made known to the public in 1875 by the Assyriologist George Adam Smith (1840-76) of the British Museum, who was also the discoverer of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. He made several of his findings on excavations in Nineveh. http://www.creationmyths.org/enumaelish-babylonian-creation/enumaelish-babylonian-creation-3.htm

Enuma Elish means “when above”, the two first words of the epic.
This Babylonian creation story was discovered among the 26,000 clay tablets found by Austen Henry Layard in the 1840’s at the ruins of Nineveh.
Enuma Elish was made known to the public in 1875 by the Assyriologist George Adam Smith (1840-76) of the British Museum, who was also the discoverer of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. He made several of his findings on excavations in Nineveh.
http://www.creationmyths.org/enumaelish-babylonian-creation/enumaelish-babylonian-creation-3.htm

930 BCE – 612 BCE: Neo-Assyrian Period.

884 BCE – 859 BCE: Reign of King Ashurnasirpal II.

860 BCE – 850 BCE: Reign of King Nabû-apla-iddina (Babylonian Period).

858 BCE – 824 BCE: Reign of King Shalmaneser III.

854 BCE – 819 BCE: Reign of King Marduk-zākir-šumi (Babylonian Period).

823 BCE – 811 BCE: Reign of King Shamsi-Adad V.

810 BCE – 783 BCE: Reign of King Adad-nirari III.

782 BCE – 773 BCE: Reign of King Shalmaneser IV.

772 BCE – 755 BCE: Reign of King Assur-dan III.

Venus Tablet Of Ammisaduqa, 7th Century The Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa (Enuma Anu Enlil Tablet 63) refers to a record of astronomical observations of Venus, as preserved in numerous cuneiform tablets dating from the first millennium BC. This astronomical record was first compiled during the reign of King Ammisaduqa (or Ammizaduga), with the text dated to the mid-seventh century BCE.  The tablet recorded the rise times of Venus and its first and last visibility on the horizon before or after sunrise and sunset in the form of lunar dates. Recorded for a period of 21 years, this Venus tablet is part of Enuma anu enlil ("In the days of Anu and Enlil"), a long text dealing with Babylonian astrology, which mostly consists of omens interpreting celestial phenomena. http://fineartamerica.com/featured/2-venus-tablet-of-ammisaduqa-7th-century-science-source.html

Venus Tablet Of Ammisaduqa, 7th Century
The Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa (Enuma Anu Enlil Tablet 63) refers to a record of astronomical observations of Venus, as preserved in numerous cuneiform tablets dating from the first millennium BC. This astronomical record was first compiled during the reign of King Ammisaduqa (or Ammizaduga), with the text dated to the mid-seventh century BCE.
The tablet recorded the rise times of Venus and its first and last visibility on the horizon before or after sunrise and sunset in the form of lunar dates. Recorded for a period of 21 years, this Venus tablet is part of Enuma anu enlil (“In the days of Anu and Enlil”), a long text dealing with Babylonian astrology, which mostly consists of omens interpreting celestial phenomena.
http://fineartamerica.com/featured/2-venus-tablet-of-ammisaduqa-7th-century-science-source.html

754 BCE – 745 BCE: Reign of King Assur-nirari V.

744 BCE – 727 BCE: Reign of King Tiglath-Pileser III.

726 BCE – 722 BCE: Reign of King Shalmaneser V.

721 BCE – 705 BCE: Reign of King Sargon II.

704 BCE – 681 BCE: Reign of King Sennacherib.

This stone water basin in the collection of the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin came from the forecourt of the Temple of Aššur at Assur. The sides are inscribed with images of Enki / Ea, the Mesopotamian god of wisdom and exorcism, and puradu-fish apkallu. The textual references on the basin refer to the Assyrian king Sennacherib.<br /> The Temple of Aššur was known as the Ešarra, or Temple of the Universe.<br /> The Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-Witchcraft Rituals online notes that water was rendered sacred for ritual purposes by leaving it exposed outside overnight, open to the stars and the purifying powers of the astral deities. The subterranean ocean, or apsû, was the abode of Enki / Ea, and the source of incantations, purification rites and demons, disease, and witchcraft.<br /> Adapted from text © by Daniel Schemer 2014, (CC BY-NC-ND license).<br /> http://www.cmawro.altorientalistik.uni-wuerzburg.de/magic_witchcraft/gods_stars/<br /> https://books.google.co.th/books?id=LSaeT9CloGIC&amp;pg=PA19&amp;lpg=PA19&amp;dq=water+basin+assur+temple+assur+vorderasiatisches+Museum+Berlin&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=9fw1d16kjb&amp;sig=4ufIF4Ev9MiZl1QUQ8Rv3QU_BZU&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0CB8Q6AEwAGoVChMIysSB25rYyAIVUFmOCh1G7QKS#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false

This stone water basin in the collection of the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin came from the forecourt of the Temple of Aššur at Assur. The sides are inscribed with images of Enki / Ea, the Mesopotamian god of wisdom and exorcism, and puradu-fish apkallu. The textual references on the basin refer to the Assyrian king Sennacherib.
The Temple of Aššur was known as the Ešarra, or Temple of the Universe.
The Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-Witchcraft Rituals online notes that water was rendered sacred for ritual purposes by leaving it exposed outside overnight, open to the stars and the purifying powers of the astral deities. The subterranean ocean, or apsû, was the abode of Enki / Ea, and the source of incantations, purification rites and demons, disease, and witchcraft.
Adapted from text © by Daniel Schwemer 2014, (CC BY-NC-ND license).
http://www.cmawro.altorientalistik.uni-wuerzburg.de/magic_witchcraft/gods_stars/
https://books.google.co.th/books?id=LSaeT9CloGIC&pg=PA19&lpg=PA19&dq=water+basin+assur+temple+assur+vorderasiatisches+Museum+Berlin&source=bl&ots=9fw1d16kjb&sig=4ufIF4Ev9MiZl1QUQ8Rv3QU_BZU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAGoVChMIysSB25rYyAIVUFmOCh1G7QKS#v=onepage&q&f=false

680 BCE – 669 BCE: Reign of King Esarhaddon.

668 BCE – 627 BCE: Reign of King Ashurbanipal.

626 BCE – 539 BCE: Neo-Babylonian Period.

625 BCE – 605 BCE: Reign of King Nabopolassar.

604 BCE – 562 BCE: Reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II.

Astronomical Diary VAT 4956 in the collection of the Berlin Museum sets the precise date of the destruction of Jerusalem.  This tablet details the positions of the moon and planets during the year 37 of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, which was 567 BCE. Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BCE. http://www.lavia.org/english/archivo/vat4956en.htm

Astronomical Diary VAT 4956 in the collection of the Berlin Museum sets the precise date of the destruction of Jerusalem.
This tablet details the positions of the moon and planets during the year 37 of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, which was 567 BCE. Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BCE.
http://www.lavia.org/english/archivo/vat4956en.htm

561 BCE – 560 BCE: Reign of King Evil-Merodach.

559 BCE – 556 BCE: Reign of King Neriglissar.

556 BCE: Reign of King Labashi-Marduk.

555 BCE – 539 BCE: Reign of King Nabonidus.

550 BCE – 331 BCE: Achaemenid (Early Persian) Period.

538 BCE – 530 BCE: Reign of King Cyrus II.

529 BCE – 522 BCE: Reign of King Cambyses II.

522 BCE: Reign of King Bardiya.

522 BCE: Reign of King Nebuchadrezzar III.

521 BCE: Reign of King Nebuchadrezzar IV.

521 BCE – 486 BCE: Reign of King Darius I.

485 BCE – 465 BCE: Reign of King Xerxes I.

482 BCE: Reign of King Bel-shimanni.

482 BCE: Reign of King Shamash-eriba.

464 BCE – 424 BCE: Reign of King Artaxerxes.

424 BCE: Reign of King Xerxes II.

423 BCE – 405 BCE: Reign of King Darius II.

404 BCE – 359 BCE: Reign of King Artaxerxes II Memnon.

358 BCE – 338 BCE: Reign of King Artaxerxes III Ochus.

337 BCE – 336 BCE: Reign of King Arses.

336 BCE – 323 BCE: Reign of Alexander the Great (Greek Period, below).

335 BCE – 331 BCE: Reign of King Darius III.

323 BCE – 63 BCE: Seleucid (Hellenistic) Period.

333 BCE – 312 BCE: Macedonian Dynasty.

281 BCE – 261 BCE: Reign of Antiochus I.

Antiochus Cylinder BM36277

The Cylinder of Antiochus I Soter from the Ezida Temple in Borsippa (Antiochus Cylinder) is an historiographical text from ancient Babylonia, dated 268 BCE, that recounts the Seleucid crown prince Antiochus, the son of king Seleucus Nicator, rebuilding the Ezida Temple.

Lenzi: “The opening lines read: “I am Antiochus, great king, strong king, king of the inhabited world, king of Babylon, king of the lands, the provider of Esagil and Ezida, foremost son of Seleucus, the king, the Macedonian, king of Babylon.”
https://therealsamizdat.com/category/alan-lenzi/

The cuneiform text itself (BM 36277) is now in the British Museum.

 The document is a barrel-shaped clay cylinder, which was buried in the foundations of the Ezida temple in Borsippa.
The script of this cylinder is inscribed in archaic ceremonial Babylonian cuneiform script that was also used in the well-known Codex of Hammurabi and adopted in a number of royal inscriptions of Neo-Babylonian kings, including. Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus (cf. Berger 1973).
The script is quite different from the cuneiform script that was used for chronicles, diaries, rituals, scientific and administrative texts.

(Another late example is the Cyrus Cylinder, commemorating Cyrus’ capture of Babylon in 539 BCE (Schaudig 2001: 550-6). This cylinder, however, was written in normal Neo-Babylonian script.)
The Antiochus Cylinder was found by Hormuzd Rassam in 1880 in Ezida, the temple of the god Nabu in Borsippa, in what must have been its original position, “encased in some kiln-burnt bricks covered over with bitumen” in the “doorway” of Koldewey’s Room A1: probably this was built into the eastern section of the wall between A1 and Court A, since the men of Daud Thoma, the chief foreman, seem to have destroyed much of the brickwork at this point.
Rassam (1897: 270) mistakenly records this as a cylinder of Nebuchadnezzar II (Reade 1986: 109). The cylinder is now in the British Museum in London.

 (BM 36277).
http://www.livius.org/cg-cm/chronicles/antiochus_cylinder/antiochus_cylinder1.html

This timeline is modified from an original on the ancient.eu site. I added links and illustrations, and tagged and categorized timeframes, which should bring up useful search results when surfing among the tags and categories at the bottom of the page.

I also integrated chronological periods and a selected list of kings from Constance Ellen Gane’s Composite Beings in Neo-Babylonian Art, 2012, p. xxii – xxiii, and de-conflicted the entry for the Ur III Period, aka The Sumerian Renaissance, which Gane dates with more precision than the original.

Berossus and a Sibyl

“Since these fragments do not express Babylonian astronomical or astrological doctrines, the obvious conclusion is that their attribution to Berossos is not genuine. In a way, this as­tronomical / astrological material can be compared with the work which Annius of Viterbo fabricated under the name of Berosus Chaldaeus.

Since these fragments are not genuine, I assume that the testimonies describing Berossos as an ‘internationally’ renowned astro­loger are also fabricated. The creation of a ‘Berossos the astrologer’ is not a unique case in Greek and Roman literature. The aforementioned Egyptians, pharaoh Nechepso and his sage Petosiris, under whose names several works circulated, are merely Hellenistic creations.

Likewise, the life of the famous philosopher Pythagoras was quickly surrounded by legends: he travelled across the Orient and was taught by native sages. A Roman tradition even held that he taught the Roman king Numa Pompilius, who is traditionally dated some 150 years before the historical Pythagoras, at the end of the 8th c. BC.

The character of ‘Berossos the astrologer’ was very likely created in order to give astronomical / astrological doctrines a Babylonian origin. The story of his school on Cos might have been invented in order to explain how ‘Chaldaean’ lore reached the Greek world.

For later generations Berossos the historian and the astrologer were obviously one and the same person. This explains why Josephus mentions Berossos’ role in transmitting Babylonian as­tronomical and philosophical lore and continues by paraphrasing and citing from his history (BNJ 680 T 3, F 8a and F 9a).

The reason why Berossos was chosen to become an astrologer is easy to find: he was a ‘Chaldaean’, a Babylonian priest himself, for Greeks and Romans great experts in astronomy and astrology. Moreover, he had written a history based on arcane native sources.

Some testimonies, finally, report that Berossos was the father of the Hebrew-Babylonian Sibyl called Sabbe (BNJT 7a-c, In the Suda this Sibyl is called “Sambethe,” Σ 361 s.v. Chaldaean Sibyl). This is undoubtedly a legend.

Its origin may be connected to the insertion of a story ascribed to the Sibyl in the epitome which Alexander Polyhistor made of Berossos’ work (BNJ 680 F4a-b). That Sibyl too can very likely be identified as the Hebrew-Babylonian one. The inserted paraphrase in Polyhistor’s epitome derives from the Third Sibylline Book, which implies that the Sibyl in Polyhistor is the same as the pseudepigraphic Sibylline author of this book.

The latter can be labelled as ‘Hebrew-Babylonian’, as she is said to be a relative of Noah and to have dwelt in Babylon after the Flood. Berossos’ fatherhood of a prophetess might also be related, in one way or another, with Pliny’s testi­mony that he made divine predictions (BNJ 680 T 6).”

Geert de Breucker, “Berossos: His Life and Work,” from Johannes Haubold, Giovanni B. Lanfranchi, Robert Rollinger, John Steele (eds.), The World of Berossos, Proceedings of the 4th International Colloquium on the Ancient Near East Between Classical and Ancient Oriental Traditions, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2013, p. 20.

The Historicity of Berossus

“Some sources suggest that Berossos had, as it were, an international career as an astronomer. According to those sources, he left Babylon and migrated to the Greek world after the publi­cation of his history.

Vitruvius states that he moved to the island of Cos and opened a school there (BNJ T 5a-b). Vitruvius also ascribes the invention of a specific type of sundial to Berossos (BNJ 680 T 5c).

The Bull of Heaven, Taurus, is drawn on an "esoteric tablet" dated to the Seleucid era. See Textes cuneiform du Louvre by Francois Thureau-Dangin, Tome VI (Tablets d'Uruk, a la usage des pretres du temple d'Anu au temps des Seleucides), (Plate 91), 1922. The same plate is reproduced in Astrological Reports to Assyrian Kings, Herman Hunger, 1992, p. 40.  http://members.westnet.com.au/gary-david-thompson/page11-10.html

The Bull of Heaven, Taurus, is drawn on an “esoteric tablet” dated to the Seleucid era. See Textes cuneiform du Louvre by Francois Thureau-Dangin, Tome VI (Tablets d’Uruk, a la usage des pretres du temple d’Anu au temps des Seleucides), (Plate 91), 1922. The same plate is reproduced in Astrological Reports to Assyrian Kings, Herman Hunger, 1992, p. 40.
http://members.westnet.com.au/gary-david-thompson/page11-10.html

Josephus agrees with the Roman architect that Berossos propagated Babylonian lore: he says that the Chaldaean was famed among those who were engaged in learning, because he published for the Greeks works on astronomy and on the philosophy of the Chaldaeans (BNJ 680 T3).

Pliny the Elder presents Berossos as the most important scholar of astronomy/astrology and adds that the Athenians honoured him with a statue with a gilded tongue because of his divine predictions (BNJ 680 T 6).

The historicity of these biographical data is subject to debate. Burstein and Verbrugghe / Wickersham accept the ‘second’ life of Berossos as historical. Schwartz rejects the testimony according to which Berossos opened a school on Cos, because he thinks it unlikely that the Babylonian priest would have abandoned his prebendary income in Babylon.

Leo with Corvus standing on Hydra (VAT 7847 (= VAN 784 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) VAT 7847, Obverse.  A Seleucid era astrological tablet. Two astrological texts from Uruk, VAT 7847 and Louvre Museum's AO 6448, have long been recognized as two pieces of one large tablet (zodiac compilation tablet). The tablet deals with the division of Zodiac into subzodiacs, and the connection of these subzodiacs to different cities/towns, temples plants, trees and stones. (In tabular form, for each constellation of the zodiac, a tradition of the connection of each constellation of the zodiac with a certain city, temple name, and the designations for wood and stones are dealt with.) AO6448 has drawings of the constellations Corvus and Virgo with the planet Mercury in attendance.   VAT 7847 (= VAN 784 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) contains drawings with names of stars/constellations.  VAT 7847, Obverse. Constellation depiction on a Seleucid astrological tablet (from 2nd-century BCE Uruk). The depiction shows a lion standing on the back of a winged serpent. The two constellations depicted are Hydra and Leo. (They are shown "from the other side" - facing left instead of right.) The eight-pointed star to the left is captioned dingirSAG.ME.GAR (Jupiter). (However, some persons have mistakenly identified the bright star as Procyon.) VAT 7847 is a part of a larger tablet that had broken into two parts. The join for VAT 7847 appeared in Textes cunéiformes du Louvre by François Thureau-Dangin, Tome XII (Tablettes d'Uruk, à l'usage des prêtres du temple d'Anu au temps des Séleucides), 1922, catalogued as AO 6448. VAT 7847 is in the State Museum, Berlin, and AO 6448 is in the Louvre Museum, Paris. Both sides show in their upper part drawings of labelled drawings of constellations. As a completed tablet VAT 7847 and AO 6448 form an astrological calendar. The text contains omens and hemerological predictions. The tablet deals with the Babylonian zodiac and depicts 12 divisions corresponding to the months and the signs of the zodiac and is concerned with lunar eclipses near zodiacal constellations. The tablet is dated to the Hellenistic period circa 200 BCE by one source and circa 323-363 by Klaus Wagensonner, University of Oxford, and originates from Uruk (modern Warka). http://members.westnet.com.au/gary-david-thompson/page11-10.html

Leo with Corvus standing on Hydra (VAT 7847 (= VAN 784 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)
VAT 7847, Obverse.
A Seleucid era astrological tablet. Two astrological texts from Uruk, VAT 7847 and Louvre Museum’s AO 6448, have long been recognized as two pieces of one large tablet (zodiac compilation tablet). The tablet deals with the division of Zodiac into subzodiacs, and the connection of these subzodiacs to different cities/towns, temples plants, trees and stones. (In tabular form, for each constellation of the zodiac, a tradition of the connection of each constellation of the zodiac with a certain city, temple name, and the designations for wood and stones are dealt with.) AO6448 has drawings of the constellations Corvus and Virgo with the planet Mercury in attendance.
VAT 7847 (= VAN 784 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) contains drawings with names of stars/constellations. VAT 7847, Obverse. Constellation depiction on a Seleucid astrological tablet (from 2nd-century BCE Uruk). The depiction shows a lion standing on the back of a winged serpent. The two constellations depicted are Hydra and Leo. (They are shown “from the other side” – facing left instead of right.) The eight-pointed star to the left is captioned dingir SAG.ME.GAR (Jupiter). (However, some persons have mistakenly identified the bright star as Procyon.)
VAT 7847 is a part of a larger tablet that had broken into two parts. The join for VAT 7847 appeared in Textes cunéiformes du Louvre by François Thureau-Dangin, Tome XII (Tablettes d’Uruk, à l’usage des prêtres du temple d’Anu au temps des Séleucides), 1922, catalogued as AO 6448. VAT 7847 is in the State Museum, Berlin, and AO 6448 is in the Louvre Museum, Paris. Both sides show in their upper part drawings of labelled drawings of constellations. As a completed tablet VAT 7847 and AO 6448 form an astrological calendar. The text contains omens and hemerological predictions. The tablet deals with the Babylonian zodiac and depicts 12 divisions corresponding to the months and the signs of the zodiac and is concerned with lunar eclipses near zodiacal constellations. The tablet is dated to the Hellenistic period circa 200 BCE by one source and circa 323-363 by Klaus Wagensonner, University of Oxford, and originates from Uruk (modern Warka).
http://members.westnet.com.au/gary-david-thompson/page11-10.html

Some judge it impossible that Berossos would have migrated to an island that was under control of the Ptolemies, bitter enemies of the Seleucids. These are not convincing arguments to discard the historicity of the biographical information. In itself, it is not impossible that Berossos migrated to the west and taught Babylonian astronomy / astrology.

The question of historicity should, however, be connected with the question of whether the astronomical / astrological fragments transmitted under the name of Berossos are authentic (BNJ 680 F 15-22). As Kuhrt and the present author have shown, these fragments reflect Greek, not Babylonian doctrines and are, therefore, not authentic.

Babylonians believed that gods grouped the stars into constellations and gave them names, not men, as BNJ 680 F 17 states. There are no indications that they believed in a cyclical destruction of the universe by fire or water (BNJ 680 F21), whereas this was a popular doctrine of the Stoics.

A drawing of VAT 7847 (= VAN 784 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin).

A drawing of VAT 7847 (= VAN 784 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin).

Several ancient authors ascribe a lunar theory to Berossos that explains the lunar phases and lunar eclipses (BNJ 680 F 18-20). In short, this theory asserts that the moon has its own light and consists of a luminous hemisphere and a dark one. It rotates around its own axis. The lunar phases are the result of the attraction of the moon’s luminous hemisphere by the sun, which depends on the distance between both celestial bodies.

The closer the moon is to the sun, the more the fiery hemisphere is attracted by the latter and is turned toward it. The moon’s dark side is correspondingly turned towards the earth. So far, there is no evidence in the cunei­form sources that this theory, which other classical authors attribute to the Babylonians in general (Lucretius, De rerum natura, 720-7 and Apuleius, De deo Socratis, 1.1), has a Babylonian background; it seems that it is a Greco-Roman creation.

Finally, no astrological cuneiform texts have been preserved that determine the maximum lifetime of a human being by calculating the sum of the rising times of the zodiacal sign in which that person was born, and of the two subsequent signs (BNJ 680 F22).

On the other hand, it was a popular doctrine in Greek and Roman astrology. Pliny the Elder, who mentions Berossos’ calculation (BNJ 680 F22a), ascribes the origin of this theory not to the Babylonians, but to two Egyptians Nechepso and Petosiris, themselves fictitious characters.”

Geert de Breucker, “Berossos: His Life and Work,” from Johannes Haubold, Giovanni B. Lanfranchi, Robert Rollinger, John Steele (eds.), The World of Berossos, Proceedings of the 4th International Colloquium on the Ancient Near East Between Classical and Ancient Oriental Traditions, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2013, 19-20.

Babylon, Fallen

“Although in all the articles and discussions concerning cultic prostitution the preeminence of Babylon as the “mother of harlots” is never mentioned; it is an unarticulated assumption underlying their arguments.

“The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet and glittered with gold and jewels and pearls, and she was holding a gold winecup filled with the disgusting filth of her prostitution; on her forehead was written a name, a cryptic name: “Babylon the Great, the mother of the prostitutes and all the filthy practices on the earth.” (Revelations 17:4-5, NJB)

This popular identification of harlotry with Babylon appears to stem from Revelation, a widely read and quoted book in our Western Christianized civilization, a quotation from which opens this article. The persistence of such views to the present is illustrated in this graphic depiction of Babylon by Joan Oates:

So wrote a New Testament prophet, and, although the allusion was to Rome, the sentiment accurately expressed the ancient world’s view of Babylon. Today, 2000 years after the city was “cast down and found no more,” the name still conjures up in our minds a vision of opulence and splendour stained with the smear of pagan decadence so enthusiastically applied by the writers of the Hebrew world. (Joan Oates, Babylon (London: Thames & Hudson, 1979), p. 9.)

This common misconception arose because of the lack of awareness that the reference–as Joan Oates seems to realize–is of Hebraic origin and alludes exclusively to the practices of then-existing decadent Rome and not to those of a Babylon of an earlier period.

The authentic Greek view of Babylon, though running parallel to that of Revelation, is found typically in the words of older writers such as Herodotus and reflects their derogatory perception of women and barbarians.

The Babylonian Marriage Market


Edwin Long (1829–1891) wikidata:Q3042629
The Babylonian Marriage Market
Royal Holloway College (London).
23 May 2007 (original upload date). Original uploader was Briangotts at en.wikipedia
Permission
(Reusing this file) PD-US.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Babylonian_marriage_market.jpg
The Babylonian Marriage Market is an 1875 painting by the British painter Edwin Long of young women being auctioned into marriage. It received attention for its provocative depiction of women being sold and its attention to historical detail. It was inspired by a passage in the Histories by Herodotus, and the artist painstakingly copied some of the images from Assyrian artifacts.
It is currently held in the Picture Gallery of Royal Holloway College, after being bought by Thomas Holloway in 1882, where it fetched a then-record price for a painting by a living artist at £6,615.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Babylonian_Marriage_Market

The truly Hebraic or Judean view toward ancient Babylon in the world of the Old Testament is revealed through numerous references to Babylon both in the historical and in the literary texts. The most elaborate portrayal is given in the description of the fall of Babylon in Deutero-Isaiah whose people lived closer in time, in territory and in kinship to those of Babylonia.

There Babylon is distinguished by the epithet 6VBq5vJAmPGzoQtSaZp-KnBuAy87TDxAT0Dh1j1NOu0, “the virgin daughter of Babylon”–an epithet by which Jerusalem is often esteemed, 2u5voQ59k3CODNCGd_l_coUc62wSXXnY3h-RTbnJaLo, “the virgin daughter of Zion.”

Note in the following passage rather than being “stained with the smear of pagan decadence,” Babylon is honored and dignified with the rank of a queen who has been sheltered, veiled, and protected from any type of manual labor:

Come down, sit in the dust, virgin daughter of Babylon! Sit on the ground dethroned, daughter of the Chaldeans! For no longer will they call you soft and dainty. Take the millstones, grind the meal, take off your veil; strip off your skirt, bare the thigh, cross the rivers. Let your nudity be displayed–yes, let your sex appear; I will take vengeance, I will not entreat man…. Sit in silence, enter into darkness, daughter of the Chaldeans: For no longer will they call you the mistress of kingdoms. (Isaiah 47:1 – 5)

In the succeeding lines, Babylon stands accused not of harlotry but of spells and sorceries, and can expect punishment in the form of evils and disasters which cannot be conjured away or averted.

This reflects a clear picture of Babylonian practice–a reliance on incantations (spells for positive and negative results) and divination (sorceries to tell the future) and namburbi, and other rituals to avert predicted disasters.

In light of its ethnic, cultural, and linguistic proximity, the Hebrew Bible could portray a more accurate understanding of Babylon and its culture.

Thus, we have come full circle from using Mesopotamian material to explain the Bible to using biblical material to depict Babylon. Both traditions are firmly rooted in the ancient Near East.

It is the Greeks and their denigration of the female sex and of barbarians that caused them to lump together the negative attributes of both groups in their description of Babylon and its cultic rites.”

Joan Goodnick Westenholz, “Tamar, Qēdēšā, Qadištu, and Sacred Prostitution in Mesopotamia,” The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 82, No. 3 (July, 1989), pp. 264-5.

Digression on Berossus and the Babyloniaca, Continued

“Finally, there was no justification for Schwartz’ assumption that Berossus borrowed the doctrine of the Great Year from Greek philosophy. As P. Schnabel protested in 1923, Berossus‘ belief in a coming conflagration corresponded exactly to his lengthy account of a past Deluge, the two catastrophes marking the Great Year’s solstices in Cancer and Capricorn. There is to-date no evidence that the Great Year originated in Greek philosophy, and so no reason why it should be denied to the scholars of Babylon.

I do not know where Berossus published his statements about the Great Year and other astrological and astronomical matters. Since, however, no work other than his Babyloniaca is attested, it was most likely in one of the three books of that work that these subjects were discussed.

Berossus could have touched on these matters in Book Two. He did say that “in the tenth generation after the Deluge there was among the Chaldaeans a great and just man, skilled in celestial matters”, and the likely provenance of that Fragmentum is Book Two.

I have been unable to source the origin of this illustration, which resembles the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk, British Museum No. 90,858, in so many details. It is possible that the illustration is a modern artifice, integrating components from the Boundary Stone, which is dated to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, circa 1120 BCE. The subject matter is obviously of the Babylonian zodiac. If you locate the source of this illustration, please advise me so that I may update this page.  Along the top is stretched a serpent, signifying a particular constellation. Beneath its tail is the inverted crescent of the Moon God Sin, the Four-Pointed Star or rosette of Shamash, the Sun God, and the Eight-Pointed Star of Ishtar. Celestial figures, seven in number, perhaps illustrating the cosmos as understood by the Babylonians of that era, are followed by the Scorpion, which is opposite the Zodiacal Bull in Taurus, not depicted.  The remaining features in the lower register exceed my scholarship, which is meager. If you can interpret them, I would be grateful for assistance. I observe that the composite creatures in the lower register are seven in number, perhaps corresponding to the chthonic creatures associated with Tiamat. It also occurs to me that they may portray the great temples of the gods in their various cities and cult centers.  I found this illustration on this page:  http://www.google.co.th/imgres?imgurl=http://www.redicecreations.com/specialreports/2006/01jan/annunaki10.jpg&imgrefurl=http://pixshark.com/babylonian-zodiac.htm&h=206&w=480&tbnid=UtiwYm8SfNjwcM:&zoom=1&docid=BJ1iXAxTrNnHSM&ei=mTA9VbaUIILJuATc7YBA&tbm=isch&ved=0CCgQMygJMAk The link below is to the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk.  http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=135127&objectid=369364

I have been unable to source the origin of this illustration, which resembles the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk, British Museum No. 90,858, in so many details. It is possible that the illustration is a modern artifice, integrating components from the Boundary Stone, which is dated to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, circa 1120 BCE. The subject matter is obviously the Babylonian zodiac.
If you locate the source of this illustration, please advise me so that I may update this page.
Along the top is stretched a serpent, signifying the constellation Hydra. Beneath its tail is the inverted crescent of the Moon God Sin, the Four-Pointed Star or rosette of Shamash, the Sun God, and the Eight-Pointed Star of Ishtar. Celestial figures, seven in number, perhaps illustrating the cosmos as understood by the Babylonians of that era, are followed by the Scorpion, which is opposite the Zodiacal Bull in Taurus, not depicted.
The remaining features in the lower register exceed my scholarship, which is meager. If you can interpret them, I would be grateful for assistance. I observe that the composite creatures in the lower register are seven in number, perhaps corresponding to the chthonic creatures associated with Tiamat. It also occurs to me that they may portray the great temples of the gods in their various cities and cult centers.
I found this illustration on this page:
http://www.google.co.th/imgres?imgurl=http://www.redicecreations.com/specialreports/2006/01jan/annunaki10.jpg&imgrefurl=http://pixshark.com/babylonian-zodiac.htm&h=206&w=480&tbnid=UtiwYm8SfNjwcM:&zoom=1&docid=BJ1iXAxTrNnHSM&ei=mTA9VbaUIILJuATc7YBA&tbm=isch&ved=0CCgQMygJMAk
The link below is to the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=135127&objectid=369364

But I think it even more likely that the astrological doctrines came at the end of the third book. Berossus disposed of the last four kings of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty in a few paragraphs, and did not allot much more than that to Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar. One wonders what filled the rest of Book Three.

Semiramis‘ importance was denied. We shall presently see what Berossus had to say about Sennacherib and his successors, and here note only that it was not much; and Frag. 10 suggests that he did little more than list the regnal periods of the Persian rulers of Babylon.

If, like most, a book of the Babyloniaca ran to c. 2000 lines, almost two thirds of the book remains unaccounted for. I suggest that here, constituting about a quarter of the whole work, was to be found the “astronomy and philosophical doctrines of the Chaldaeans”, the presentation of which secured for Berossus whatever reputation he did enjoy in the classical world.

Such, I would argue, was the nature of the Babyloniaca. It has been customarily considered a work of history, and I do not doubt that it was presented as such: if they do not refer to it as the Babyloniaca, ancient authors call it the Chaldiaca, the Chaldaean History, or the History of the Chaldaeans.

The only thing in it which was of value to Josephus and Eusebius was what Berossus had to say about the history and chronology of Babylon in post-diluvian times, and it is as an historian that Berossus has been classified for the last 1500 years.

But in Hellenistic and Roman times, when his work was still known, the subjects with which Berossus was identified were “astronomy and the philosophical doctrines of the Chaldaeans”.

No matter how his work is reconstructed, what is conventionally called history can be made to fill little more than a third of it. It is no wonder that Pliny the Elder reports that the Athenians set up a statue of Berossusob divinas praedicationes“; and that in Judaea there grew a legend that the name of the Sibyl’s father was Berossus, a legend no more improbable than its modern equivalent, that of “Pseudo-Berossus of Cos”.”

Robert Drews, “The Babylonian Chronicles and Berossus,” Iraq, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring, 1975), pp. 52-4.

Conflation of Languages

“The beliefs which produced the magical texts must still have been active, although the hymn belongs to a late period of Babylonian history; the old doctrine of an inexorable fate, even if degraded into a belief in the witch’s art, still existed along with the worship of a god who restored the dead to life and was supreme in mercy to those that were in trouble.

We have only to turn to our modern newspapers to discover how slowly such primeval beliefs die out, and how long they may linger among the uneducated and superstitious by the side of the most exalted faiths and the mightiest triumphs of inductive science.

The fact that one text is magical, while another contains a hymn to the deity, does not of itself prove the relative ages of the two documents. Then, thirdly, it has become increasingly manifest that a good many of the so-called Accadian texts are not Accadian in their origin.

As I pointed out several years ago, the old Accado-Sumerian language was learned by the Semitic Babylonians as Latin was learned by the mediaeval monks, and for much the same reasons. It was the language of the oldest sacred texts; it was also the early language of law; and both priests and lawyers were accordingly interested in its preservation and use.

What happened to Latin in the Middle Ages had already happened to Accadian in Babylonia. The monks spoke and wrote in a language which was Latin indeed, but which had lost its classical purity; monkish Latin was full of modern words and idioms, and its grammar was not always scrupulously accurate.

On the other hand, it contributed multitudes of words, and even forms of expression, to the languages of every-day life that were spoken around it, and the words were frequently modified to suit the pronunciation and genius of the languages that borrowed them, just as the modern words which monkish Latin had itself adopted were furnished with classical terminations and construed in a classical fashion.

The case was precisely the same in ancient Chaldea. Here, too, there was a monkish Accadian, both spoken and written, some of which would have shocked the Accadian speakers of an earlier age. The literati of the court of Sargon of Accad had been partly Accadian, partly Semitic; the Accadian scribes wrote and spoke Semitic, the Semitic scribes wrote and spoke Accadian.

The result was necessarily a large amount of lending and borrowing upon both sides, and the growth of an artificial literary language which maintained its ground for centuries. The way for the rise of this artificial dialect had already been prepared by the long contact there had been between the two chief languages of primitive Chaldea.

When two languages thus exist side by side–like Welsh, for example, by the side of English–they will borrow one from another, the language of superior culture and organisation being that which exerts the greatest influence.

The pupils will imitate the speech of their masters in art and science even if, as in the case of Greece and Rome, the masters in art and science are the subjects in political power.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 322-3.

The Power and Magic of Names

“The voices heard by the Babylonian in nature, however, were not a whit more sacred to him than the inarticulate voice which found expression in the name. Like all primitive peoples, the Chaldeans confounded the person and the name by which he was known.

The name, in fact, was the personality, and whatever happened to the name would happen equally to the personality. Injury could be done to a person by using his name in a spell; and, similarly, to pronounce the name of a deity compelled him to attend to the wishes of the priest or exorcist.

As among the ancient Egyptians, the secret names of the gods–many of them heirlooms from a primeval age, whose actual meaning was forgotten–were not only especially holy, but also especially efficacious.

Names, consequently, like the persons or things they represented, were in themselves of good and evil omen; and the Babylonian would have sympathised with the feeling which made the Roman change Maleventum into Beneventum, or has caused the Cape of Storms to become the Cape of Good Hope.

Whether this superstition about names was of purely Semitic origin, or whether it was shared in by the Accadians, we have no means of determining at present; the analogy of other races, however, in a corresponding stage of social development would lead us to infer that the superstition was the independent possession of Accadians and Semites alike.

At all events, it was deeply imprinted upon the Semitic mind. The sacredness attached to the name of the God of Israel among the later Jews, and the frequent employment of the name for the person of the Lord, bear witness to the fact.

When Moses was ordained to his mission of leading his people out of Egypt and forming them into a nation, it was prefaced by what was henceforth to be the sacred and national name of their God.

There were names of good fortune and names of evil fortune, and special significance was attached to a change of name.

Three successive usurpers of the throne of Assyria–Pul, Ululâ or Ilulaios, and the father of Sennacherib–all discarded their old names on the successful accomplishment of their usurpation.

Sargon II and dignitary, said to be his marshal Tartan. Low-relief from the L wall of the palace of Sargon II at Dur Sharrukin in Assyria (now Khorsabad in Iraq), c. 716–713 BC. Fouilles de Paul-Émile Botta en 1843–1844. DimensionsH. 3.30 m (10 ft. 9 ¾ in.), W. 2.30 m (7 ft. 6 ½ in.), D. 33 cm (12 ¾ in.) Current location	 (Inventory) Louvre Museum  Department of Oriental Antiquities, Richelieu wing, ground floor, room 4 Accession number	AO 19873 & AO 19874 Credit line	Excavations of Paul-Émile Botta, 1843–1844 Source/Photographer	Jastrow (2006) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sargon_II_and_dignitary.jpg

Sargon II and dignitary, said to be his marshal Tartan. Low-relief from the L wall of the palace of Sargon II at Dur Sharrukin in Assyria (now Khorsabad in Iraq), c. 716–713 BC.
Fouilles de Paul-Émile Botta en 1843–1844.
Dimensions H. 3.30 m (10 ft. 9 ¾ in.), W. 2.30 m (7 ft. 6 ½ in.), D. 33 cm (12 ¾ in.)
Current location
(Inventory) Louvre Museum
Department of Oriental Antiquities, Richelieu wing, ground floor, room 4
Accession number AO 19873 & AO 19874
Credit line Excavations of Paul-Émile Botta, 1843–1844
Source/Photographer Jastrow (2006)
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sargon_II_and_dignitary.jpg

Pul and Ululâ adopted those of the two famous monarchs of the older Assyrian dynasty, Tiglath-Pileser and Shalmaneser, retaining their original designations only in Babylonia, where the names they had adopted were associated with ideas of hostility and invasion; while Sargon, who claimed to be lord of Babylonia as well as of Assyria, identified himself with the past glories of the ancient kingdom by taking the name of Sargon of Accad.

In 1847 archaeologists discovered a prism of Sargon dated to the early 8th century BC reading: "At the beginning of my royal rule, I…the town of the Samarians I besieged, conquered (2 Lines destroyed) [for the god…] who let me achieve this my triumph… I led away as prisoners [27,290 inhabitants of it (and) equipped from among them (soldiers to man)] 50 chariots for my royal corps…. The town I rebuilt better than it was before and settled therein people from countries which I had conquered. I placed an officer of mine as governor over them and imposed upon them tribute as is customary for Assyrian citizens." (Nimrud Prism IV 25-41) https://theosophical.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/sargon-nimrud-cylinder1.jpg

In 1847 archaeologists discovered a prism of Sargon dated to the early 8th century BC reading:
“At the beginning of my royal rule, I…the town of the Samarians I besieged, conquered (2 Lines destroyed) [for the god…] who let me achieve this my triumph… I led away as prisoners [27,290 inhabitants of it (and) equipped from among them (soldiers to man)] 50 chariots for my royal corps…. The town I rebuilt better than it was before and settled therein people from countries which I had conquered. I placed an officer of mine as governor over them and imposed upon them tribute as is customary for Assyrian citizens.” (Nimrud Prism IV 25-41)
https://theosophical.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/sargon-nimrud-cylinder1.jpg

The adoption of these time-honoured names of itself conferred legitimacy upon the new claimants of the throne; along with the name they inherited the title and the claim to veneration of those who had borne them.

It must have been for a similar reason that Esar-haddon’s name, according to Sennacherib, was changed to that of Assur-etil-yukin-abla, “Assur the hero has established the son,” “for affection’s sake,” though the prince preferred to retain his earlier appellation of Esar-haddon or Assur-akh-iddina, “Assur has given the brother,” after his accession to the throne.

We are reminded of the records of the Jews, from which we learn that Jedidiah became the Solomon of later history, and the Pharaoh of Egypt “turned the name” of Eliakim into Jehoiakim.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 302-4.

Babylon: Imperial Polytheism

“As long, however, as these multitudinous deities were believed to exist, so long was it also believed that they could injure or assist. Hence come such expressions as those which meet us in the Penitential Psalms, “To the god that is known and that is unknown, to the goddess that is known and that is unknown, do I lift my prayer.”

Hence, too, the care with which the supreme Baal was invoked as “lord of the hosts of heaven and earth,” since homage paid to the master was paid to the subjects as well.

Hence, finally, the fact that the temples of the higher gods, like the Capitol at Rome, became gathering places for the inferior divinities, and counterparts on the earth of “the assembly of the gods” in heaven.

That curious product of Mandaite imagination, the Book of Nabathean Agriculture, which was translated into Arabic by Ibn Wahshiya in the 10th century, sets before us a curious picture of the temple of Tammuz in Babylon.

“The images (of the gods),” it tells us,

“congregated from all parts of the world to the temple of el-Askûl (Ê-Sagil) in Babylon, and betook themselves to the temple (haikal) of the Sun, to the great golden image that is suspended between heaven and earth in particular.

The image of the sun stood, they say, in the midst of the temple, surrounded by all the images of the world. Next to it stood the images of the sun in all countries; then those of the moon; next those of Mars; after them the images of Mercury; then those of Jupiter; next of Venus; and last of all, of Saturn.

Thereupon the image of the sun began to bewail Tammuz and the idols to weep; and the image of the sun uttered a lament over Tammuz and narrated his history, whilst the idols all wept from the setting of the sun till its rising at the end of that night. Then the idols flew away, returning to their own countries.”

The details are probably borrowed from the great temple of pre-Mohammedan Mecca, but they correspond very faithfully with what we now know the interior of one of the chief temples of Babylonia and Assyria to have been like.

Fragments have been preserved to us of a tablet which enumerated the names of the minor deities whose images stood in the principal temples of Assyria, attending like servants upon the supreme god.

Among them are the names of foreign divinities, to whom the catholic spirit of Babylonian religion granted a place in the national pantheon when once the conquest of the towns and countries over which they presided had proved their submission to the Babylonian and Assyrian gods; even Khaldis, the god of Ararat, figures among those who dwelt in one of the chief temples of Assyria, and whose names were invoked by the visitor to the shrine.

Ḫaldi was the chief deity of the Ararat (Urartu) pantheon. His shrine at Ardini (likely from Armenian Artin), was in Akkadian Muṣaṣir (Exit of the Serpent/Snake).  Of all the gods of the Ararat (Urartu) pantheon, most inscriptions are dedicated to Khaldi or Hayk (Armenian: Հայկ) or Hayg, also known as Haik Nahapet (Հայկ Նահապետ, Hayk the Tribal Chief), the legendary patriarch of the Armenian nation.  He is portrayed as a man standing on a lion. The kings of Urartu prayed to Khaldi for victory in battle. Temples dedicated to Khaldi were adorned with weapons. https://aratta.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/kaldikali-hel/

Ḫaldi was the chief deity of the Ararat (Urartu) pantheon. His shrine at Ardini (likely from Armenian Artin), was in Akkadian Muṣaṣir (Exit of the Serpent/Snake).
Of all the gods of the Ararat (Urartu) pantheon, most inscriptions are dedicated to Khaldi or Hayk (Armenian: Հայկ) or Hayg, also known as Haik Nahapet (Հայկ Նահապետ, Hayk the Tribal Chief), the legendary patriarch of the Armenian nation.
He is portrayed as a man standing on a lion.
The kings of Urartu prayed to Khaldi for victory in battle. Temples dedicated to Khaldi were adorned with weapons.
https://aratta.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/kaldikali-hel/

The spectacle of such a temple, with the statue or symbol of the supreme Baal rising majestically in the innermost cell, and delivering his oracles from within the hidden chamber of that holy of holies, while the shrines of his wife and offspring were grouped around him, and the statues of ministering deities stood slave-like in front, was a fitting image of Babylonian religion.

“The gods many and lords many” of an older creed still survived, but they had become the jealously-defined officials of an autocratic court. The democratic polytheism of an earlier day had become imperial.

Bel was the counterpart of his vicegerent the Babylonian king, with this difference, that whereas Babylonia had been fused into an united monarchy, the hierarchy of the gods still acknowledged more than one head.

How long Anu and Ea, or Samas and Sin, would have continued to share with Merodach the highest honours of the official cult, we cannot say; the process of degradation had already begun when Babylonia ceased to be an independent kingdom and Babylon the capital of an empire.

Merodach remained a supreme Baal–the cylinder inscription of Cyrus proves so much–but he never became the one supreme god.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 217-20.

Herodotus and Strabo on Babylonian Temple Prostitution

“There are two other “historic” accounts of sexual activities in and around the Babylonian temples, both of which have unduly influenced modern historians. One was written by the Greek historian Herodotus in the fifth century B.C. and purports to describe religious prostitution in the temple of the Goddess Mylitta; the other was written by the Roman traveler Strabo some four hundred years later, confirming Herodotus. Here is Herodotus’s account:

“Every woman born in the country must once in her life go and sit down in the precinct of Venus [Mylitta], and there consort with a stranger…. A woman who has once taken her seat is not allowed to return home till one of the strangers throws a silver coin into her lap, and takes her with him beyond the holy ground…. The silver coin maybe of any size….

The woman goes with the first man who throws her money, and rejects no one. When she has gone with him, and so satisfied the goddess, she returns home, and from that time forth no gift however great will prevail with her. Such of the women. . . who are ugly have to stay a long time before they can fulfil the law. Some have waited three or four years in the precinct.”

There is no confirmation besides Strabo’s for this story and there are no known “laws” regulating or even referring to this practice. Herodotus may have mistaken the activities of prostitutes around the temple for a rite involving every Assyrian virgin.

Another of Herodotus’s stories, told to him by Babylonian priests, seems to have more historic foundation. It described a high tower in the temple of Marduk, at the top of which the high priestess dwelt in a room with a couch, in which she was nightly visited by the god.

The story somewhat parallels a historic account, dating from the first millennium B.C., which describes how the Neo-Babylonian King Nabu-naid dedicated his daughter as high priestess of the Moon god Sin. He surrounded the building in which she lived with a high wall and furnished it with ornaments and fine furniture.

This description would be consistent with what we know of the living conditions of some of the royal high priestesses and with the belief that the god visited them nightly, just as he nightly ate the meals prepared for him.

Herodotus cites this as an example of “temple prostitution,” and modern historians of prostitution repeat the tale after him, treating his accounts as facts. I interpret the function of the priestess as a significant example of sacral sexual service, which may have been actually carried out or may have been symbolically reenacted.

From the conflicting interpretations of the evidence we have about the activities of women in temple service, it is difficult to arrive at an understanding of these women’s social role. What earlier was a purely religious cultic function may have become corrupted at a time when commercial prostitution already flourished in the temple precincts.

Sexual intercourse performed for strangers in the temple to honor the fertility and sexual power of the goddess may customarily have been rewarded by a donation to the temple. Worshipers regularly brought offerings of food, oil, wine, and precious goods to the temple to honor the deities and in the hope of thus advancing their own cause.

It is conceivable that this practice corrupted some of the temple servants, tempting them to keep all or some of these gifts for their own profit. Priests may also have encouraged or permitted the use of slave women and the lower class of temple servants as commercial prostitutes in order to enrich the temple.”

Gerda Lerner, “The Origin of Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Signs, 1986, pp. 243-4.

Origins of the Sacred Marriage Rite

“In the Old Babylonian period, the daughters of kings and rulers were appointed as high priestesses of the Moon-God or of the Goddess Ishtar.

The en or entu priestesses were the counterparts of male high priests. They wore distinctive clothing, a cap with raised rim, a folded garment, jewelry, and a staff, the same insignia and garments worn by the ruler.

They lived inside the sacred shrine, had charge of temple management and affairs, performed ritual and ceremonial functions, and were usually unmarried. The nin-dingir priestess in ancient Sumer had a similar role.

Assyriologists believe that it is this class of women who annually participated in the Sacred Marriage, impersonating or representing the goddess. The basis for the ritual of the Sacred Marriage was the belief that fertility of the land and of people depended on the celebration of the sexual power of the fertility goddess.

It is likely that this rite originated in the Sumerian city of Uruk, which was dedicated to the Goddess Inanna, earlier than 3000 B.C.

The Sacred Marriage was that of the Goddess Inanna and either the high priest, representing the god, or the king, identified with the God Dumuzi. In one typical poem, the encounter is initiated by the goddess, who expresses her eagerness for union with her lover. After their union, the land blossoms forth:

“Plants rose high by his side,

Grains rose high by his side… .”

The goddess, happy and satisfied, promises to bless the house of her husband, the shepherd / king:

“My husband, the goodly store house, the holy stall,

I Inanna, will preserve you for,

I will watch over your house of life.”

The annual symbolic reenactment of this mythical union was a public celebration considered essential to the well-being of the community. It was the occasion of a joyous celebration, which may have involved sexual activity on the part of the worshipers in and around the temple grounds.

It is important for us to understand that contemporaries regarded this occasion as sacred, as mythically significant for the well-being of the community, and that they regarded the king and the priestess with reverence and honored them for performing this “sacred” service.

The Sacred Marriage was performed in the temples of various fertility goddesses for nearly two thousand years. The young God-lover or son of the goddess was known as Tammuz, Attis, Adonis, Baal, and Osiris in various languages.

In some of these rituals, the sacred union was preceded by the death of the young god, symbolizing a season of drought or infertility which ended only by his resurrection through his union with the goddess. It was she who could make him alive, who could make him king, and who could empower him to make the land fertile.

Rich sexual imagery with its joyous worship of sexuality and fertility permeated poetry and myth and found expression in statuary and sculpture. Rites similar to the Sacred Marriage also flourished in classical Greece and pre-Christian Rome.”

Gerda Lerner, “The Origin of Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Signs, 1986, pp. 239-40.

The Influence of Babylonian Religion on Judaism

“But, it will be asked, what interest can the religions of Babylonia and Assyria have for us, much more an inquiry into their nature and origin? They have long since perished, like the people who professed them, and have left no apparent traces of their influence upon the nations about whom we know and care most.

The Greeks and Romans concerned themselves so little with these Eastern barbarians as neither to read nor to preserve the only Greek history of Chaldaea (ed. note: referring to Berossus) which was written by a native and professed to be derived from native accounts; we owe the fragments we have of it to the apologetic zeal of Christian controversialists.

Still less would it appear that these old people of Babylonia and Assyria can have had any influence upon the world of to-day, or have served to mould the ideas and the society of modern Europe. Such questions may be asked, and until lately it would have been hard to answer them.

And yet a moment’s consideration might have shown that there was one nation at all events which has exercised, and still exercises, a considerable intluence upon our own thought and life, and which had been brought into close contact with the religion and culture of Babylonia at a critical epoch in its history.

The influence of Jewish religion upon Christianity, and consequently upon the races that have been moulded by Christianity, has been lasting and profound. Now Jewish religion was intimately bound up with Jewish history, more intimately perhaps than has been the case with any other great religion of the world.

It took its colouring from the events that marked the political life of the Hebrew people; it developed in unison with their struggles and successes, their trials and disappointments. Its great devotional utterance, the Book of Psalms, is national, not individual; the individual in it has merged his own aspirations and sufferings into those of the whole community.

The course of Jewish prophecy is equally stamped with the impress of the national fortunes. It grows clearer and more catholic as the intercourse of the Jewish people with those around them becomes wider; and the lesson is taught at last that the God of the Jews is the God also of the whole world.

Now the chosen instruments for enforcing this lesson, as we are expressly told, were the Assyrian and the Babylonian. The Assyrian was the rod of God’s anger, while the Babylonish exile was the bitter punishment meted out to Judah for its sins.

The captives who returned again to their own land came back with changed hearts and purified minds; from henceforward Jerusalem was to be the unrivalled dwelling-place of “the righteous nation which keepeth the truth.”

Apart, therefore, from any influence which the old religious beliefs of Babylonia may have had upon the Greeks, and which, as we shall see, was not so wholly wanting as was formerly imagined, their contact with the religious conceptions of the Jewish exiles must, to say the least, have produced an effect which it is well worth our while to study.

Hitherto, the traditional view has been that this effect exhibited itself wholly on the antagonistic side; the Jews carried nothing away from the land of their captivity except an intense hatred of idolatry, more especially Babylonian, as well as of the beliefs and practices associated therewith.

Now and then, it is true, some bold spirit, like Bishop Warburton, may have ventured to propound the paradox that the doctrine of the resurrection was first learnt by the Jews in Babylonia, but it was treated generally as a paradox, and of late years, if admitted at all, was considered a proof of the influence not of the Babylonians but of their Persian conquerors.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 38-40.

Sargon

“Sargon himself was a monarch whom both Accadian and Semite delighted to honour. Myths surrounded his infancy as they surrounded the infancy of Kyros, and popular legend saw in him the hero-prince who had been deserted in childhood and brought up among squalid surroundings, until the time came that he should declare himself in his true character and receive his rightful inheritance.

He was born, it was said, of an unknown father; as Mars had wooed the mother of the founder of Rome, so some god whom later tradition feared to name had wooed the mother of the founder of the first Semitic empire. She brought forth her first-born “in a secret place” by the side of the Euphrates, and placed him in a basket of rushes which she daubed with bitumen and entrusted to the waters of the river.

The story reminds us of Perseus launched upon the sea with his mother Danae in a boat, of Romulus and Remus exposed to the fury of the Tiber, and still more of Moses in his ark of bulrushes upon the Nile. The Euphrates refused to drown its future lord, and bore the child in safety to Akki “the irrigator,” the representative of the Accadian peasants who tilled the laud for their Semitic masters. In this lowly condition and among a subjugated race Sargon was brought up.

Akki took compassion on the little waif, and reared him as if he had been his own son. As he grew older he was set to till the garden and cultivate the fruit-trees, and while engaged in this humble work attracted the love of the goddess Istar.

Then came the hour of his deliverance from servile employment, and, like David, he made his way to a throne. For long years he ruled the black-headed race of Accad; he rode through subjugated countries in chariots of bronze, and crossed the Persian Gulf to the sacred isle of Dilmun.

The very name the people gave him was a proof of his predestined rise to greatness. Sargon was not his real title. This was Sarganu, which a slight change of pronunciation altered into Sargina, a word that conveyed the meaning of “constituted” or “predestined” “king” to his Accadian subjects.

It was the form assumed in their mouths by the Semitic Sarru-kinu, and thus reminded them of the Sun-god Tammuz, the youthful bridegroom of Istar who was addressed as ablu kinu or “only son,” as well as of Nebo the “very son” (ablu kinu) of thc god Merodach.

Sargina, however, was not the only name by which the king was known to them. They called him also Dádil or Dádal, a title which the Semitic scribes afterwards explained to mean “Sargon, the king of constituted right (sar-kinti), devisor of constituted law, deviser of prosperity,” though its true signification was rather “the very wise.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 26-8.

Tammuz and Ishtar, Adonis and Aphrodite, Attis and Cybele, Isis and Osiris

As has been indicated already, the myth of Tammuz and Ishtar furnished the groundwork for certain myths of classic Greece and Rome.

The Phoenician Astarte (Ashtoreth), a development of Ishtar, became in time the Aphrodite of the Greeks, a deity who plays a part in the Adonis legend analogous to that of Ishtar in the Tammuz story. The name Adonis itself is derived from Adoni (‘my lord’), the word with which the Phoenician worshippers of Tammuz hailed the setting sun.

The myth of Adonis is perhaps the most nearly related of any to that of Tammuz, since its chief characters are acknowledged counterparts of those in the Babylonian legend, while the tale of Ishtar’s descent into Hades may be regarded as a sequel to the Greek story, or rather to an early Babylonian variant thereof.

Briefly outlined, the story runs as follows: Adonis was the fruit of an unnatural union between the Syrian king Theias and his daughter Smyrna (Myrrha). Theias pursued the princess, intending to take her life for the crime, but the pity of the gods turned her into a tree from which, at the end of ten months, Adonis was born. It is said that a boar rent open the tree-trunk with its tusk, and thus enabled the divine infant to see the light.

Aphrodite, charmed with the beauty of the child, gave him into the care of Persephone, who was so enamoured of her charge that she afterwards refused to give him up. The goddesses appealed to Zeus, who decreed that Adonis should spend six months of each year with Aphrodite and six with Persephone in the underworld; or, according to another version, four months were to be passed with Aphrodite and four with Persephone, while the remaining four were to be at his own disposal.

He was afterwards slain by a boar sent against him by Artemis (herself, by the way, a development of Ishtar). It may be remarked that Aphrodite, who figures, like Ishtar, as the goddess of love and beauty, is also closely associated with the nether regions, perhaps because she was identified with the Babylonian goddess in her journey to Hades in search of her spouse.

Akin to Adonis is the god Attis, who likewise, according to one version of his myth, is slain by a boar. After his death he becomes a pine-tree, and from his blood violets spring. He is beloved of Cybele, the mother-goddess, who laments his untimely end.

In the Adonis legend there is evidence of some overlapping. Persephone, or Proserpine, who here corresponds to the Allatu of the Babylonian variant, figures in another well-known myth as the prototype of Tammuz. When she is carried off to the nether-world by Pluto, her mother, Ceres, will not suffer the corn to grow while her daughter remains a prisoner. Like Ishtar in search of her spouse, the mother-goddess seeks her child with weeping and lamentation. Through the eating of a pomegranate seed, Proserpine is finally obliged to pass four (or six) months of every year with her dark captor, as his consort.

Another myth which has affinities with the tale of Tammuz and Ishtar is the Egyptian one which deals with the quest of Isis. The god Osiris is slain through the machinations of his brother Set (who, being identified elsewhere with a black hog, recalls the boar which slew Adonis and Attis), and his body, enclosed in a chest, is cast into the Nile.

Afterwards the chest is thrown up by the waves, and round it springs miraculously a tamarisk tree. Meanwhile Isis, wife and sister to Osiris, travels hither and thither in search of his remains, which in due time she finds. However, the chest is stolen from her by Set, who, taking therefrom the body of Osiris, tears the corpse into fourteen pieces, which he scatters through the land. Isis still pursues her quest, till she has found all the portions and buried them.

These tales were the mythical correlates of certain ritualistic practices designed to bring about the change of seasons, and other natural phenomena, by means of sympathetic magic. The burden of a great duty falls upon the shoulders of primitive man; with his rites and spells and magic arts he must assist the universe in its course.

His esoteric plays, typifying the mysterious fact of growth, are necessary to ensure the sprouting of the corn; his charms and incantations are essential even for the rising of the sun; lacking the guarantee of science that one season shall follow another in its proper order, he goes through an elaborate performance symbolizing the decay and revival of vegetation, believing that only thus can the natural order be maintained. Through the force of sympathetic magic he sees his puny efforts related to the mighty results which follow them.

This, then, is the origin of the ritual of the Tammuz festival, which may conceivably have had an existence prior to that of the myth itself. The representation of the death and resurrection of the god, whether in myth or ritual, had undoubtedly a seasonal significance, wherefore the date of his festival varied in the different localities.

In Babylonia it was celebrated in June, thus showing that the deity was slain by the fierce heat of the sun, burning up all the springtide vegetation. Ishtar’s sojourn in Hades would thus occupy the arid months of summer.

In other and more temperate climes winter would be regarded as the enemy of Tammuz. An interesting account of the Tammuz festival is that given by an Arabic author writing in the tenth century, and quoted by Sir James Frazer in his Golden Bough.

Tammuz (July). In the middle of this month is the festival of el-Būgāt, that is, of the weeping women, and this is the Ta-uz festival, which is celebrated in honour of the god Ta-uz. The women bewail him, because his lord slew him so cruelly, ground his bones in a mill, and then scattered them to the wind. The women (during this festival) eat nothing which has been ground in a mill, but limit their diet to steeped wheat, sweet vetches, dates, raisins, and the like.”

The material for this description was furnished by the Syrians of Harran. Of the curious legend attaching to the mourning rites more will be said later.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 131-5.

Mesopotamian Religion is Undefinable

“Mesopotamian religion includes certain beliefs and practices of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, Babylonians and other peoples who lived at various times in different parts of ancient Mesopotamia, the region corresponding roughly to modern Iraq, from the fourth through the first millennia BCE.

The history and cultures of these peoples were mostly forgotten during the early Christian era, save for brief historical narratives of famous kings and cities in the Hebrew Bible, in classical authors such as Herodotus, Diodorus and Josephus, and in scattered excerpts from a lost book by Berossus, a Babylonian writing in Greek in the third century BCE.

Beginning in the nineteenth century CE, with the discovery and excavation of ancient Mesopotamian sites and decipherment of Mesopotamian languages such as Sumerian and Akkadian, European and American scholars identified texts, objects and architecture as religious in nature. They used these to reconstruct ancient Mesopotamian religious beliefs and practices in the absence of any continuous or living tradition from ancient times to the present.

Inevitably the intellectual concerns of successive generations of scholars, their personal religious commitments and their individual stances, such as piety, scepticism or anticlericalism, had their effect on agendas of research and modes of presentation of Mesopotamian religion in modern studies. Many scholars of an earlier generation took for granted, for example, a higher degree of religious preoccupation and expression among ‘ancient Oriental’ or ‘Semitic peoples’ than among other ancient peoples such as the Greeks and Romans, but generalizations on this order are no longer the basis for serious research.

Some scholars imagined, for example, that the priesthood was primarily responsible for preserving culture, while others claimed that priests resisted change and development, suppressed writings unacceptable to them, and generally stood in the way of progress.

Pioneering studies of Mesopotamian religion tended to be comprehensive, such as that by M. Jastrow (1898, partially revised German edition 1912, with a volume of illustrations, 1912). Its fundamental thesis was that ancient Mesopotamian religion derived from local animistic cults that grew and merged into a larger, more complex interlocking set of religious practices and beliefs.

Similar views were set forth by R. W. Rogers (1908) in a volume that treated Mesopotamian religion as a sort of prelude to Judaism, itself a prelude to Christianity. E. Dhorme (1945, not available in English) wrote a concise and well-documented descriptive study.

The most influential writer in English on Mesopotamian religion was Thorkild Jacobsen. He developed a view that ancient Mesopotamian religion derived from a person’s sense of the ‘other’ in the natural world around him, leading to feelings of fear and awe. People perceived active will in natural events, processes and phenomena. This sense of the other was expressed, using metaphorical terms, in myth and theology and was acted upon in cult and ritual.

We have a comprehensive presentation of his views (Jacobsen 1976) and a later summary statement of his work (Jacobsen 1987). Bottéro (2001) stressed spiritual values and a phenomenological rather than a schematic, theoretical approach; for a summary of its main theses see Bottéro (1992: 201–31).

Economic and ritual aspects of Mesopotamian religion are presented by Oppenheim (1977), professing disdain for a historical approach to the subject. He contributed a brief but suggestive essay to a collection edited by Ferm (1950: 65–79). A more detailed, primarily bibliographical survey was offered by Römer (1969). There are numerous technical studies of aspects of Mesopotamian religion in the scientific literature of Assyriology, but few of them are in English.

Many presentations of Mesopotamian religion rely on retellings of ancient literary works that modern scholars classify as mythology. Authoritative presentations of Mesopotamian and other ancient Near Eastern mythologies were made in Kramer (1961 and 1969), as well as in a major treatment of Mesopotamian mythological texts jointly with Bottéro (1989, not available in English). Recent English translations of Akkadian mythology are found in Dalley (1989) and Foster (1996). Important Sumerian myths and other religious texts are translated in Jacobsen (1987).

No ancient Mesopotamian term corresponds to the modern concept of ‘religion,’ nor is there any ancient scripture, systematic treatise or general description of religious belief or activity from any period of Mesopotamian history. This means that definition of Mesopotamian religion can at best be only a modern mode of selecting and interpreting ancient writings and material culture using modern humanistic categories for which there may not have been ancient counterparts. Although the Mesopotamians recognized certain matters as ‘pertaining to the gods’, a distinction between religious and secular matters may not have been always fully comprehensible in the context of Mesopotamian culture.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Sources,” John R. Hinnells, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, 2007, pp. 161-5.

Sumerian Sacred Stories, c. 3500 BCE

” … it is quite as obvious that for the history of the progress of our civilization as we see and know it today, it is the tone and temper, the word and spirit of the ancient mythologies, those of the Greeks and Hebrews, of the Hindus and Iranians, of the Babylonians and Egyptians, which are of prime significance. It is the spiritual and religious concepts revealed in these ancient literatures which permeate the modern civilized world.

Still almost entirely unknown to this very moment is Sumerian mythology, the sacred stories of the non-Semitic, non-Indo-European people which in historical times, from approximately 3500 to 2000 B.C., inhabited Sumer, the relatively small land situated between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and stretching from the Persian Gulf northward approximately as far as modern Bagdad; a land that may be aptly described as the culture cradle of the entire Near East.

Should the reader turn, for example, to Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics29 and examine the very long article on the cosmogonic or creation myths of the world, he will find a large and relatively exhaustive list of peoples, ancient and modern, cultured and primitive, whose cosmogonic concepts are described and analyzed. But he will look in vain for Sumerian cosmogony.

Similarly, the collection entitled Mythology of All the Races 30 devotes thirteen volumes to an analysis of the more important mythologies in the world; here, too, however, there will be found few traces of Sumerian mythology. Whatever little is known of Sumerian mythology is largely surmised from the modified, redacted, and in a sense, garbled versions of the Babylonians who conquered the Sumerians toward the very end of the third millennium B.C., and who used the Sumerian stories and legends as a basis and nucleus for the development of their own myths.

But it is a known fact that in the long stretch of time between approximately 3500 and 2000 B.C. it was the Sumerians who represented the dominant cultural group of the entire Near East. It was the Sumerians who developed and probably invented the cuneiform system of writing; who developed a well integrated pantheon together with spiritual and religious concepts which influenced profoundly all the peoples of the Near East; who, finally, created and developed a literature rich in content and effective in form.

Moreover, the following significant fact must be borne in mind. By the end of the third millennium B.C. Sumer had already ceased to exist as a political entity and Sumerian had already become a dead language, for by that time Sumer had been overrun and conquered by the Semites, and it is the Semitic Accadian language which gradually became the living, spoken tongue of the land.

Nevertheless Sumerian continued to be used as the literary and religious language of the Semitic conquerors for many centuries to come, like Greek in the Roman period and like Latin in the Middle Ages. Indeed for many centuries the study of the Sumerian language and literature remained the basic pursuit of the scribal schools and intellectual and spiritual centers not only of the Babylonians and Assyrians, but also of the many surrounding peoples such as the Elamites, Hurrians, Hittites, and Canaanites.

Obviously, then, both because of their content as well as because of their age, the Sumerian mythological tales and concepts must have penetrated and permeated those of the entire Near East. A knowledge of the Sumerian myths and legends is therefore a prime and basic essential for a proper approach to a scientific study of the mythologies current in the ancient Near East, for it illuminates and clarifies to no small extent the background behind their origin and development.” i

Samuel Noah Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 1944, pp. 27-9.

Learning the Language of the Birds

” … In other dragon stories the heroes devise their plans after eating the dragon’s heart. According to Philostratus, Apollonius of Tyana was worthy of being remembered for two things–his bravery in traveling among fierce robber tribes, not then subject to Rome, and his wisdom in learning the language of birds and other animals as the Arabs do.

This accomplishment the Arabs acquired, Philostratus explains, by eating the hearts of dragons. The “animals” who utter magic words are, of course, the Fates. Siegfried of the Nibelungenlied, after slaying the Regin dragon, makes himself invulnerable by bathing in its blood.

He obtains wisdom by eating the heart: as soon as he tastes it he can understand the language of birds, and the birds reveal to him that Mimer is waiting to slay him.

Sigurd similarly makes his plans after eating the heart of the Fafner dragon. In Scottish legend Finn-mac-Coul obtains the power to divine secrets by partaking of a small portion of the seventh salmon associated with the “well dragon,” and Michael Scott and other folk heroes become great physicians after tasting the juices of the middle part of the body of the white snake.

The hero of an Egyptian folk tale slays a “deathless snake” by cutting it in two parts and putting sand between the parts. He then obtains from the box, of which it is the guardian, the book of spells; when he reads a page of the spells he knows what the birds of the sky, the fish of the deep, and the beasts of the hill say; the book gives him power to enchant “the heaven and the earth, the abyss, the mountains and the sea.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Name Magic

” … In Egypt attempts like that of Isis to appropriate the power of a high god by possessing herself of his name were not mere legends told of the mythical beings of a remote past; every Egyptian magician aspired to wield like powers by similar means.

For it was believed that he who possessed the true name possessed the very being of god or man, and could force even a deity to obey him as a slave obeys his master. Thus the art of the magician consisted in obtaining from the gods a revelation of their sacred names, and he left no stone unturned to accomplish his end. When once a god in a moment of weakness or forgetfulness had imparted to the wizard the wondrous lore, the deity had no choice but to submit humbly to the man or pay the penalty of his contumacy.

The belief in the magic virtue of divine names was shared by the Romans. When they sat down before a city, the priests addressed the guardian deity of the place in a set form of prayer or incantation, inviting him to abandon the beleaguered city and come over to the Romans, who would treat him as well as or better than he had ever been treated in his old home.

Hence the name of the guardian deity of Rome was kept a profound secret, lest the enemies of the republic might lure him away, even as the Romans themselves had induced many gods to desert, like rats, the falling fortunes of cities that had sheltered them in happier days.

Nay, the real name, not merely of its guardian deity, but of the city itself, was wrapt in mystery and might never be uttered, not even in the sacred rites. A certain Valerius Soranus, who dared to divulge the priceless secret, was put to death or came to a bad end.

In like manner, it seems, the ancient Assyrians were forbidden to mention the mystic names of their cities; and down to modern times the Cheremiss of the Caucasus keep the names of their communal villages secret from motives of superstition.”

James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, 1922, Tabooed Words, np.

The Missing Books of Hippolytus’s The Refutation of All Heresies

” … In the previous chapter we have seen that there is evidence, and abundant evidence, not merely of the existence of Mysteries connected with the worship of Adonis-Attis, but of the high importance assigned to such Mysteries; at the time of the birth of Christianity they were undoubtedly the most popular and the most influential of the foreign cults adopted by Imperial Rome.

In support of this statement I quoted certain passages from Cumont’s Religions Orientales, in which he touches on the subject: here are two other quotations which may well serve as introduction to the evidence we are about to examine.

“Researches on the doctrines and practices common to Christianity and the Oriental Mysteries almost invariably go back, beyond the limits of the Roman Empire, to the Hellenized East. It is there we must seek the key of enigmas still unsolved–The essential fact to remember is that the Eastern religions had diffused, first anterior to, then parallel with, Christianity, doctrines which acquired with this latter a universal authority in the decline of the ancient world. The preaching of Asiatic priests prepared in their own despite the triumph of the Church 1.”

But the triumph of the new Faith once assured the organizing, dominating, influence of Imperial Rome speedily came into play. Christianity, originally an Eastern, became a Western, religion, the ‘Mystery’ elements were frowned upon, kinship with pre-Christian faiths ignored, or denied; where the resemblances between the cults proved too striking for either of these methods such resemblances were boldly attributed to the invention of the Father of Lies himself, a cunning snare whereby to deceive unwary souls.

Christianity was carefully trimmed, shaped, and forced into an Orthodox mould, and anything that refused to adapt itself to this drastic process became by that very refusal anathema to the righteous.

Small wonder that, under such conditions, the early ages of the Church were marked by a fruitful crop of Heresies, and heresy-hunting became an intellectual pastime in high favour among the strictly orthodox.

Among the writers of this period whose works have been preserved Hippolytus, Bishop of Portus in the early years of the third century, was one of the most industrious. He compiled a voluminous treatise, entitled Philosophumena, or The Refutation of all Heresies, of which only one MS. and that of the fourteenth century, has descended to us.

The work was already partially known by quotations, the first Book had been attributed to Origen, and published in the editio princeps of his works. The text originally consisted of ten Books, but of these the first three, and part of the fourth, are missing from the MS. The Origen text supplies part of the lacuna, but two entire Books, and part of a third are missing.

Now these special Books, we learn from the Introduction, dealt with the doctrines and Mysteries of the Egyptians and Chaldaeans, whose most sacred secrets Hippolytus boasts that he has divulged.

Curiously enough, not only are these Books lacking but in the Epitome at the beginning of Book X the summary of their contents is also missing, a significant detail, which, as has been suggested by critics, looks like a deliberate attempt on the part of some copyist to suppress the information contained in the Books in question.”

Incidentally this would seem to suggest that the worthy bishop was not making an empty boast when he claimed to be a revealer of secrets.”

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920, pp. 142-4.

The Diabolical Mass of Saint Sécaire

” … Again, Gascon peasants believe that to revenge themselves on their enemies bad men will sometimes induce a priest to say a mass called the Mass of Saint Sécaire. Very few priests know this mass, and three-fourths of those who do know it would not say it for love or money. None but wicked priests dare to perform the gruesome ceremony, and you may be quite sure that they will have a very heavy account to render for it at the last day. No curate or bishop, not even the archbishop of Auch, can pardon them; that right belongs to the pope of Rome alone.

The Mass of Saint Sécaire may be said only in a ruined or deserted church, where owls mope and hoot, where bats flit in the gloaming, where gypsies lodge of nights, and where toads squat under the desecrated altar. Thither the bad priest comes by night with his light o’ love, and at the first stroke of eleven he begins to mumble the mass backwards, and ends just as the clocks are knelling the midnight hour. His leman acts as clerk. The host he blesses is black and has three points; he consecrates no wine, but instead he drinks the water of a well into which the body of an unbaptized infant has been flung. He makes the sign of the cross, but it is on the ground and with his left foot.

And many other things he does which no good Christian could look upon without being struck blind and deaf and dumb for the rest of his life. But the man for whom the mass is said withers away little by little, and nobody can say what is the matter with him; even the doctors can make nothing of it. They do not know that he is slowly dying of the Mass of Saint Sécaire.”

James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, Magic and Religion, 1922, np.

Mithra and Attis Syncretism: Death and Resurrection Classic Rituals of the Adonis Cult

” … Fortunately, however, so far as our present research is concerned, we have more than probability to rely upon; not only did these Nature Cults with which we are dealing express themselves in Mystery terms, but as regards these special Mysteries we possess clear and definite information, and we know, moreover, that in the Western world they were, of all the Mystery faiths, the most widely spread, and the most influential.

As Sir J. G. Frazer has before now pointed out, there are parallel and over-lapping forms of this cult, the name of the god, and certain details of the ritual, may differ in different countries, but whether he hails from Babylon, Phrygia, or Phoenicia, whether he be called Tammuz, Attis, or Adonis, the main lines of the story are fixed, and invariable.

Always he is young and beautiful, always the beloved of a great goddess; always he is the victim of a tragic and untimely death, a death which entails bitter loss and misfortune upon a mourning world, and which, for the salvation of that world, is followed by a resurrection.

Death and Resurrection, mourning and rejoicing, present themselves in sharp antithesis in each and all of the forms.

We know the god best as Adonis, for it was under that name that, though not originally Greek, he became known to the Greek world, was adopted by them with ardour, carried by them to Alexandria, where his feast assumed the character of a State solemnity; under that name his story has been enshrined in Art, and as Adonis he is loved and lamented to this day. The Adonis ritual may be held to be the classic form of the cult.

But in Rome, the centre of Western civilization, it was otherwise: there it was the Phrygian god who was in possession; the dominating position held by the cult of Attis and the Magna Mater, and the profound influence exercised by that cult over better known, but subsequently introduced, forms of worship, have not, so far, been sufficiently realized.

The first of the Oriental cults to gain a footing in the Imperial city, the worship of the Magna Mater of Pessinonte was, for a time, rigidly confined within the limits of her sanctuary.

The orgiastic ritual of the priests of Kybele made at first little appeal to the more disciplined temperament of the Roman population. By degrees, however, it won its way, and by the reign of Claudius had become so popular that the emperor instituted public feasts in honour of Kybele and Attis, feasts which were celebrated at the Spring solstice, March 15th-27th. 1

As the public feast increased in popularity, so did the Mystery feast, of which the initiated alone were privileged to partake, acquire a symbolic significance: the foods partaken of became “un aliment de vie spirituelle, et doivent soutenir dans les épreuves de la vie l’initié.”

Philosophers boldly utilized the framework of the Attis cult as the vehicle for imparting their own doctrines, “Lorsque le Nèoplatonisme triomphera la fable Phrygienne deviendra le moule traditionnel dans lequel des exégètes subtils verseront hardiment leurs spéculations philosophiques sur les forces créatrices fécondantes, principes de toutes les formes matérielles, et sur la délivrance de l’âme divine plongée dans la corruption de ce monde terrestre.” 2

Certain of the Gnostic sects, both pre- and post-Christian, appear to have been enthusiastic participants in the Attis mysteries; 3 Hepding, in his Attis study, goes so far as to refer to Bishop Aberkios, to whose enigmatic epitaph our attention was directed in the last chapter, as “der Attis-Preister.” 4

Another element aided in the diffusion of the ritual. Of all the Oriental cults which journeyed Westward under the aegis of Rome none was so deeply rooted or so widely spread as the originally Persian cult of Mithra–the popular religion of the Roman legionary.

But between the cults of Mithra and of Attis there was a close and intimate alliance. In parts of Asia Minor the Persian god had early taken over features of the Phrygian deity. “Aussitôt que nous pouvons constater la présence du culte Persique en Italie nous le trouvons étroitement uni à celui de la Grande Mére de Pessinonte.” 1

The union between Mithra and the goddess Anâhita was held to be the equivalent of that subsisting between the two great Phrygian deities Attis-Kybele.”

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920, pp. 136-8.

The Weeping of the Infant Christ and the Lament for Adonis

” … When we reflect how often the Church has skilfully contrived to plant the seeds of the new faith on the old stock of paganism, we may surmise that the Easter celebration of the dead and risen Christ was grafted upon a similar celebration of the dead and risen Adonis, which, as we have seen reason to believe, was celebrated in Syria at the same season.

The type, created by Greek artists, of the sorrowful goddess with her dying lover in her arms, resembles and may have been the model of the Pietà of Christian art, the Virgin with the dead body of her divine Son in her lap, of which the most celebrated example is the one by Michael Angelo in St. Peters. That noble group, in which the living sorrow of the mother contrasts so wonderfully with the languor of death in the son, is one of the finest compositions in marble. Ancient Greek art has bequeathed to us few works so beautiful, and none so pathetic.

In this connexion a well-known statement of Jerome may not be without significance. He tells us that Bethlehem, the traditionary birthplace of the Lord, was shaded by a grove of that still older Syrian Lord, Adonis, and that where the infant Jesus had wept, the lover of Venus was bewailed.

Though he does not expressly say so, Jerome seems to have thought that the grove of Adonis had been planted by the heathen after the birth of Christ for the purpose of defiling the sacred spot. In this he may have been mistaken. If Adonis was indeed, as I have argued, the spirit of the corn, a more suitable name for his dwelling-place could hardly be found than Bethlehem, “the House of Bread,” and he may well have been worshipped there at his House of Bread long ages before the birth of Him who said, “I am the bread of life.”

Even on the hypothesis that Adonis followed rather than preceded Christ at Bethlehem, the choice of his sad figure to divert the allegiance of Christians from their Lord cannot but strike us as eminently appropriate when we remember the similarity of the rites which commemorated the death and resurrection of the two.

One of the earliest seats of the worship of the new god was Antioch, and at Antioch, as we have seen, the death of the old god was annually celebrated with great solemnity. A circumstance which attended the entrance of Julian into the city at the time of the Adonis festival may perhaps throw some light on the date of its celebration. When the emperor drew near to the city he was received with public prayers as if he had been a god, and he marvelled at the voices of a great multitude who cried that the Star of Salvation had dawned upon them in the East.

This may doubtless have been no more than a fulsome compliment paid by an obsequious Oriental crowd to the Roman emperor. But it is also possible that the rising of a bright star regularly gave the signal for the festival, and that as chance would have it the star emerged above the rim of the eastern horizon at the very moment of the emperor’s approach. The coincidence, if it happened, could hardly fail to strike the imagination of a superstitious and excited multitude, who might thereupon hail the great man as the deity whose coming was announced by the sign in the heavens.

Or the emperor may have mistaken for a greeting to himself the shouts which were addressed to the star. Now Astarte, the divine mistress of Adonis, was identified with the planet Venus, and her changes from a morning to an evening star were carefully noted by the Babylonian astronomers, who drew omens from her alternate appearance and disappearance.

Hence we may conjecture that the festival of Adonis was regularly timed to coincide with the appearance of Venus as the Morning or Evening Star. But the star which the people of Antioch saluted at the festival was seen in the East; therefore, if it was indeed Venus, it can only have been the Morning Star.

At Aphaca in Syria, where there was a famous temple of Astarte, the signal for the celebration of the rites was apparently given by the flashing of a meteor, which on a certain day fell like a star from the top of Mount Lebanon into the river Adonis. The meteor was thought to be Astarte herself, and its flight through the air might naturally be interpreted as the descent of the amorous goddess to the arms of her lover.

At Antioch and elsewhere the appearance of the Morning Star on the day of the festival may in like manner have been hailed as the coming of the goddess of love to wake her dead leman from his earthy bed. If that were so, we may surmise that it was the Morning Star which guided the wise men of the East to Bethlehem, the hallowed spot which heard, in the language of Jerome, the weeping of the infant Christ and the lament for Adonis.”

James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion  (1922)
Chapter 33:: The Gardens of Adonis, np. 

A Baptism in Blood

” … Such, then, appears to have been the annual solemnisation of the death and resurrection of Attis in spring.

But besides these public rites, his worship is known to have comprised certain secret or mystic ceremonies, which probably aimed at bringing the worshipper, and especially the novice, into closer communication with his god. Our information as to the nature of these mysteries and the date of their celebration is unfortunately very scanty, but they seem to have included a sacramental meal and a baptism of blood.

In the sacrament the novice became a partaker of the mysteries by eating out of a drum and drinking out of a cymbal, two instruments of music which figured prominently in the thrilling orchestra of Attis. The fast which accompanied the mourning for the dead god may perhaps have been designed to prepare the body of the communicant for the reception of the blessed sacrament by purging it of all that could defile by contact the sacred elements.

In the baptism the devotee, crowned with gold and wreathed with fillets, descended into a pit, the mouth of which was covered with a wooden grating. A bull, adorned with garlands of flowers, its forehead glittering with gold leaf, was then driven on to the grating and there stabbed to death with a consecrated spear. Its hot reeking blood poured in torrents through the apertures, and was received with devout eagerness by the worshipper on every part of his person and garments, till he emerged from the pit, drenched, dripping, and scarlet from head to foot, to receive the homage, nay the adoration, of his fellows as one who had been born again to eternal life and had washed away his sins in the blood of the bull.

For some time afterwards the fiction of a new birth was kept up by dieting him on milk like a new-born babe. The regeneration of the worshipper took place at the same time as the regeneration of his god, namely at the vernal equinox. At Rome the new birth and the remission of sins by the shedding of bull’s blood appear to have been carried out above all at the sanctuary of the Phrygian goddess on the Vatican Hill, at or near the spot where the great basilica of St. Peter’s now stands; for many inscriptions relating to the rites were found when the church was being enlarged in 1608 or 1609.

From the Vatican as a centre this barbarous system of superstition seems to have spread to other parts of the Roman empire. Inscriptions found in Gaul and Germany prove that provincial sanctuaries modelled their ritual on that of the Vatican. From the same source we learn that the testicles as well as the blood of the bull played an important part in the ceremonies. Probably they were regarded as a powerful charm to promote fertility and hasten the new birth.”

James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion  (1922)
Chapter 34:: The Myth and Ritual of Attis, np.

On the Black Arts

“From Egypt, by way of Greece and Rome, the use of wax figures passed into Western Europe and England, and in the Middle Ages it found great favour with those who interested themselves in the working of the “black art,” or who wished to do their neighbour or enemy an injury.

Many stories are current of how in Italy and England ignorant or wicked minded people made models of their enemies in wax and hung them up in the chimney, not too close to the fire, so that they might melt away slowly, and of how the people that were represented by such figures gradually lost the power over their limbs, and could not sleep, and slowly sickened and died.

If pins and needles were stuck into the wax figures at stated times the sufferings of the living were made more agonizing, and their death much more painful.

Sharpe relates (see C. K. Sharpe, Witchcraft in Scotland, London, 1884, p. 21) that about the end of the VIIth century king Duffus was so unpopular that “a company of hags roasted his image made of wax upon a wooden spit, reciting certain words of enchantment, and basting the figure with a poisonous liquor.

These women when apprehended declared that as the wax melted, the body of the king should decay, and the words of enchantment prevented him from the refreshment of sleep.”

The two following extracts from Thomas Middleton’s The Witch (London, 1778) illustrate the views held about wax figures in England in the time of this writer. (Born about 1570, died about 1626).

I.
Heccat. Is the heart of wax
Stuck full of magique needles?”
Stadlin. ‘Tis done Heccat.

Heccat. And is the Farmer’s picture, and his wives, Lay’d downe to th’ fire yet?
Stadlin. They are a roasting both too.
Heccat. Good:
Then their marrowes are a melting subtelly
And three monethes sicknes sucks up life in ’em.”
(Act i., scene 2.)

II.
Heccat. What death is’t you desire for Almachildes?
Duchesse. A sodaine and a subtle.
Heccat. Then I have fitted you.
Here lye the guifts of both; sodaine and subtle:
His picture made in wax, and gently molten
By a blew fire kindled with dead mens’ eyes
Will waste him by degrees.”
(Act v., scene 2)

Mr. Elworthy in his very interesting book The Evil Eye (London, 1895, pp. 53, 56) relates some striking examples of the burning of hearts stuck full of pins for magical purposes in recent years.

Thus an old woman at Mendip had a pig that fell ill, and she at once made up her mind that the animal had been “overlooked”; in her trouble she consulted a “white witch,” i.e. a “wise” man, and by his orders she acted thus.

She obtained a sheep’s heart, and having stuck it full of pins (in the Worth Riding of Yorkshire evil influences were averted by means of a living black cock which “was pierced with pins and roasted alive at dead of night, with every door, window, and cranny and crevice stuffed up” (see Blakeborough, Wit, Character, Folk-lore and Customs of the North Riding of Yorkshire, London, 1898, p. 205)) set it to roast before a fire, whilst her friends and neighbours sang:–

“It is not this heart I mean to burn.
But the person’s heart I wish to turn,
Wishing them neither rest nor peace
Till they are dead and gone.”

At intervals her son George sprinkled salt on the fire which added greatly to the weirdness of the scene, and at length, when the roasting had been continued until far into the night, a black cat jumped out from somewhere and was, of course, instantly declared to be the demon which had been exorcised.

Again, in October, 1882, a heart stuck full of pins was found in a recess of a chimney in an old house in the village of Ashbrittle; and in 1890 another was found nailed up inside the “clavel” in the chimney of an old house at Staplegrove.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 97-100.

On Metempsychosis, or Reincarnation

“Indian contact with the Greeks can be traced back to Alexander the Great, establishing trade and exchange between the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East (Persian), and India. The classic narrative of this relationship is found in the Life of Apollonius of Tyana (recorded by Philostratus, c. 220 CE). Apollonius journeyed to India to study at the sacred hill of the Indian “wise men marked with a crescent on their foreheads”. When Apollonius (d. 98 CE) was asked about why he came on such a long journey, he replied “Your ways are wiser and much more godly”, clearly indicating a classic Greek respect for Indian thought at the time of Roman Philostratus (36).

Another example, far more significant, is that of the teachings of the Persian religious leader, Mani (c. 245 CE). According to Mani’s teachings, the Apostles of Light sent by Jesus to redeem humanity included the Buddha and Manichaeism is distinctively influenced by Buddhist ideas, such as Mani representing himself as the Buddha to come, Maitreya (37). In esoteric circles, Iranian syncretic religions (such as those of Kushan) came to be regarded as influenced by both Greco-Roman and Indo-Iranian ideas, ideas that have carried over into the history of various forms of Western Esotericism but are little studied (38).

One of the significant esoteric teachings contained in the Life of Apollonius, recorded as a teaching of the Indian sages, is that on reincarnation. When Apollonius asks about the nature of the soul, he is told that, like Pythagoras and Plato, human beings live many lives in diverse bodies based on past actions. Further, the Indian sages claim that this teaching which was taught to the Greek philosophers in Egypt was transmitted to the Egyptians by ancient Rishis’ of India who migrated to north Africa (Ethiopia) from the Ganges River basin (39).

The belief in reincarnation or metempsychosis has very ancient roots in India and is the probable source of that belief in the classical period of formative Gnosticism (40). Gnostic teachers such as Basilides propagated the idea along with other groups such as the Carpocratians and Ophites, and it was popular among various Neoplatonists such as Alcinous, as well as taught by the archetypal magician, Simon Magus. It was also taught by Mani as the fate of the “Hearers” who did not attain perfection (41). Gnostic texts such as the ZostrianosThe Treatise on Resurrection, and the later Pistis Sophia further propagated ideas of reincarnation for the “inpenitent soul” that it might try again to attain the goal of liberation from worldly life (42). Thus a very early Indian influence in Western Esotericism may have roots in the spread and popularity of ideas of reincarnation, also found in early elements of Christianity but later repressed.”

–Lee Irwin, “Western Esotericism, Eastern Spirituality, and the Global Future.”

http://www.esoteric.msu.edu/VolumeIII/HTML/Irwin.html

On Metatron

“Unlike the other Spheres, which have one archangel each, Malkuth has two. The first of them is named Metatron, and is also the archangel of the first Sphere, Kether. Alone of the Archangels, his name has no meaning in Hebrew (in point of fact, it is a Hebrew form of Mithras, the name of a Roman savior god of Persian origins). For reasons that will be discussed later on, Metatron is known as the Prince of Countenances; he represents a secret link connecting the highest and lowest of the Spheres.”

“Cabalistic traditions make a distinction, a useful one, between the aspect of Metatron assigned to Kether and that assigned to Malkuth, a distinction that involves a different spelling of the archangel’s name. Metatron in Malkuth is held to be the transformed Enoch, taken bodily into heaven according to the Biblical myth, and to function as a celestial scribe recording all the acts of humanity. His name was spelled MThThRVUN…Metatron in Kether, by contrast, is seen as a transcendent power, the “Lesser Tetragrammaton” created before the birth of the universe, and his name is spelled with an additional Yod, MIThThRVN….In either form, Metatron may be visualized as an angelic figure of pure light.”

The second archangel of Malkuth is named Sandalphon. As Metatron expresses the spiritual energies coming into Malkuth from above, Sandalphon expresses the spiritual energies of Malkuth itself; these two angels are usually paired in the traditional symbolism, and are associated with the two angelic figures atop the Ark of the Covenant, Metatron on the right hand, Sandalphon on the left. As Metatron is linked with Enoch, Sandalphon is often equated with Elijah, the other Old Testament figure who is said to have ascended directly into heaven.

Despite this and the meaning of the name, Sandalphon is often represented as female; she is called the Reconciler for Earth, and the Celestial Soul of Earth. She represents the driving force of evolution, the constant upward striving toward the spiritual on the part of every created thing. As the counterpart to the bright radiance of Metatron, she is sometimes envisioned as a luminous figure clad in dark garments.”

–John Michael Greer, Paths of Wisdom, the Magical Cabala in the Western Tradition, 1996, pg. 99-100.