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Tag: Selene

Barbarian Wisdom and Berossus

“Tiamat’s monsters were characterised by a mixture of animal and human features. If my reconstruction is broadly correct, Berossos filled the void left by their demise with separate creation accounts for each of these categories of being.

The Enūma Eliš has nothing to say about the creation of animals, but does describe human creation in some detail. Berossos agrees broadly with its account of human creation, though some details differ.

Above all, Berossos claims that Bel used his own blood to create mankind whereas in the epic Marduk uses that of another god. Berossos may or may not have found this version of events in now lost Mesopotamian texts, but the question remains why he introduced it here, against the pull of his main source.

The answer, one suspects, was once again that he was keen to cater for the tastes of his Greek readers. In Enūma Eliš, as in other Mesopotamian texts, mankind descends from a rebel against the emerging order of the universe.

Among other things, that explains why we must shoulder the gods’ work and lead a life of misery. In Berossos, this typically Babylonian view of human life is developed into one that would have spoken to educated Greeks: the blood that flows in our veins is not after all that of a devil but of Zeus no less: and so it is that we are endowed with νους (‘intelligence’), and divine φρόνησις (‘understanding’).

De Breucker points out that Berossos is here elaborating on an idea which he found in the Babylonian Poem of the Flood or Atrahasis, where the god (W)ē, ‘who has intelligence’ (Akkadian tēmu) is slaughtered to create man.

This is an interesting detail, for it shows that Berossos creatively combined diverse Babylonian sources. But he did more than merely cut and paste what he found: in the Babyloniaca the ruling god himself gives of his intel­ligence.

One last time, the preferred version of the story seems chosen for its resonances with Greek, and more specifically Stoic, thought. The Stoic god is himself νους, or νοερός. The same must be true of Bel in Berossos, for as recipients of his blood we too are νοεροί.

Indeed, we are also endowed with divine understanding, φρόνησις. In allegorical terms, Athena is φρόνησις, sprung from the head of Zeus, which may explain why decapitation becomes an issue in Berossos whereas it plays no role in Enūma Eliš or Atrahasis: the story which describes Zeus giving birth to Athena / Phronesis from his head was much-discussed in Stoic circles from Greece to Babylon itself. Berossos, it would seem, alludes to it here.

There is much in the Babyloniaca that will remain forever lost to us. The extant fragments are scanty, and often do not allow us to reconstruct with certainty what Berossos wrote, or even what he intended. That is a fact which must be accepted.

But I also hope to have shown that progress can be made; and that, through careful and sympathetic reading, we can often gain a fairly good sense of what Berossos was trying to achieve. I have argued that Book 1 of the Babyloniaca was in many ways Berossos’ signature piece. It is here that he establishes his credentials as a conveyor of barbarian wisdom, one of the few subject positions that were available to a non-Greek wishing to address a Greek audience.

Already Aristotle thought that the Chaldaeans were among those who invented philosophy, so for once Berossos had a positive stereotype with which to work. He embraced the project with gusto, conjuring up the super-sage Oannes, who was equally at home in water and darkness as in daylight and air (who better to describe how these principles coalesced to form the cosmos?); and putting in the mouth of this creature a cosmogonic myth that could literally not have been more ancient: after all, Oannes appears in year one of human history.



Yet, ancient as it is, Oanneslogos becomes philosophically fresh when read through Berossos’ rationalising lens. What is on display here is both age-old barbarian wisdom and cutting-edge Greek philosophy, or rather, a pretence to cutting-edge philosophy.

Stoic el­ements are predominant, partly because Stoicism was the best-selling brand of philosophy at the time, and partly, one suspects, because it lent itself to the project of educating a king. But Berossos does far more than simply default to the Stoa. He shows that he can do Empedocles too. Above all, he throws in outrageous intellectual feats of his own, none more outrageous than his numerical equation of Omorka / Tiamat with Selene, the moon (BNJ 680 F lb (6)).

This too has sometimes been branded an interpolation, but it strikes me as quintessential Berossos, precisely the kind of thing this author would do. Book 1 of the Babyloniaca was his opportunity to shine, and he made sure he took it. Abydenos was right to summarises the contents of the book as ‘the wisdom of the Chaldaeans’ (BNJ 685 F2b). That is surely how Berossos intended it.”

Johannes Haubold, “The Wisdom of the Chaldaeans: Reading Berossos, Babyloniaca Book 1,” 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, pp. 41-3.

What was the Third Image?

” … In this shrine are placed the statues, one of which is Hera, the other Zeus, though they call him by another name. Both of these are golden, both are sitting; Hera is supported by lions, Zeus is sitting on bulls. The effigy of Zeus recalls Zeus in all its details—his head, his robes, his throne; nor even if you wished it could you take him for another deity. 43

Hera, however, as you look at her will recall to you a variety of forms. Speaking generally she is undoubtedly Hera, but she has something of the attributes of Athene, and of Aphrodite, and of Selene, and of Rhea, and of Artemis, and of Nemesis, and of The Fates.

In one of her hands she holds a sceptre, in the other a distaff; on her head she bears rays and a tower and she has a girdle wherewith they adorn none but Aphrodite of the sky. 44 And without she is gilt with gold, and gems of great price adorn her, some white, some sea-green, others wine-dark, others flashing like fire. Besides these there are many onyxes from Sardinia and the jacinth and emeralds, the offerings of the Egyptians and of the Indians, Ethiopians, Medes, Armenians, and Babylonians.

But the greatest wonder of all I will proceed to tell: she bears a gem on her head called a Lychnis; it takes its name from its attribute. From this stone flashes a great light in the night-time, so that the whole temple gleams brightly as by the light of myriads of candles, but in the day-time the brightness grows faint; the gem has the likeness of a bright fire. There is also another marvel in this image: if you stand over against it, it looks you in the face, and as you pass it the gaze still follows you, and if another approaching from a different quarter looks at it, he is similarly affected.

Between the two there stands another image of gold, no part of it resembling the others. This possesses no special form of its own, but recalls the characteristics of other gods. The Assyrians themselves speak of it as a symbol, but they have assigned to it no definite name. They have nothing to tell us about its origin, nor its form: some refer it to Dionysus; others to Deukalion; others to Semiramis; for its summit is crowned by a golden pigeon, 45 and this is why they allege that it is the effigy of Semiramis. It is taken down to the sea twice in every year to bring up the water of which I have spoken. 46

In the body of the temple, as you enter, there stands on the left hand side, a throne for the Sun god; but there is no image upon it, for the effigies of the Sun and Moon are not exhibited. I have learnt, however, the reasons of this practice. They say that religion does not forbid making effigies of the other deities, for the outward form of these deities is known to all; but the Sun and Moon are plain for all to see, and all men behold them. What boots it, therefore, to make effigies of those deities who offer themselves for all to gaze on?”

Herbert A. Strong and John Garstang, trans., The Syrian Goddess, by Lucian, 1913, pp. 70-4.

Naassene Fragment Continued

” … (4) S. Now every nature (H. he says) yearns after Soul—one in one way and another in another.

For Soul is cause of all in Genesis. All things that are sustained and grow (H. he says) need Soul. Indeed, no sustenance (H. he says) or growth is possible without the presence of Soul.

Nay, even stones (H. he says) are ensouled; 1 for they have the power of increase [or growth]; and growth could not take place without sustenance; for it is by addition that things which increase grow; and addition is the sustenance of that which is sustained. 2

(5) Now the Assyrians call this [Mystery] Adōnis (or Endymiōn). And whenever it is called Adōnis (H. he says), it is Aphroditē who is in love with and desires Soul so-called.

H. And Aphroditē is Genesis according to them. 3

But when Persephonē (that is, Korē) is in love with Adōnis, Soul becomes subject to Death, separated from Aphrodite (that is, from Genesis).

But if Selēnē is impassioned of Endymiōn, and is in love with [formal] beauty, 1 it is the Nature of the higher [spaces 2] (H. he says) which desires Soul.

(6 3) But if (H. he says) the Mother of the Gods emasculate Attis—she, too, regarding him as the object of her love—it is the Blessed Nature Above of the supercosmic and æonian [spaces] which calls back the masculine power of Soul to herself. 4

H. For Man, he says, is male-female. According, then, to this theory of theirs, the intercourse between man and woman is exhibited as most mischievous, and is forbidden according to their teaching.

J. For Attis (H. he says) is emasculated—that is, [Soul is separated] from the earthy parts of the creation [tending] downwards, and ascends in quest of the Æonian Essence Above—

C. —where (H. he says) is “neither male nor female,” 1 but a new creature, a new man, who is male-female.

H. What they call “Above” I will explain when I come to the proper place. And they say that this theory is supported not simply by [the myth] of Rhea, but also, to put it briefly, by universal creation.

Nay, they make out that this is [even] what was said by the Word (Logos): 2

C. “For the invisible 3 things of Him [God]—namely, His Eternal 4 Power and Godhead—are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by His things that are made; so that they [men] are without excuse. Because that, though knowing God, they glorified Him not as God, nor did they give [Him] thanks, but their non-understanding heart was made foolish. 5

“Professing themselves to be wise, they convicted themselves of folly, and changed the Glory of the Incorruptible God into the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and of four-footed beasts, and creeping things. 1 . . . 2

“Wherefore also God gave them up to passions of dishonour; for both their females did change their natural use to that which is against nature—

H. And what the natural use is, according to them, we will say later on.

C. —“and likewise also their males, leaving the natural use of the female, burned in their lust for one another, males with males working unseemliness 3

H. And “unseemliness,” according to them, is the First and Blessed Formless Essence, the Cause of all forms for things enformed. 4

C. —“and receiving in themselves the recompense of their Error which was meet.”

H. For in these words which Paul spake is contained, they say, the whole of their hidden and ineffable Mystery of the Blessed Bliss.

For what is promised by the [rite of the] bath 5 is nothing else, according to them, than the introduction into Unfading Bliss of him who, according to them, is washed with Living Water, and anointed with the Chrism that no tongue can declare.” 6

 G.R.S.Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 151-4.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

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