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Recalculating the Antediluvian Reigns of Sumerian Kings

“At one time the present writer tended to interpret the large numbers associated with the Hebrew exodus from Egypt and also with the census lists in Numbers as “symbols of relative power, triumph, importance, and the like,” a position that can be sustained to a degree from ancient Near Eastern literature but does not account satisfactorily for all the Biblical data involved.

Sensing that there might, after all, be a rationale underlying the very large figures, a few scholars adopted cautious positions reflecting that possibility.

Among all extant exemplars of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum contains the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List. The prism contains four sides with two columns on each side. Perforated, the prism had a wooden spindle so that it might be rotated and read on all four sides. http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=the_sumerian_king_list_sklid=the_sumerian_king_list_skl

Among all extant exemplars of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum contains the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List.
The prism contains four sides with two columns on each side. Perforated, the prism had a wooden spindle so that it might be rotated and read on all four sides.
http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=the_sumerian_king_list_sklid=the_sumerian_king_list_skl

A serious mathematical investigation of the postdiluvian portions of the Sumerian King List was undertaken by D. W. Young (Dwight W. Young, “A Mathematical Approach to Certain Dynastic Spans in the Sumerian King List,” JNES 47 (1988), pp. 123-9), in which he suggested that the total years for certain dynasties utilized squares or higher powers of numbers, perhaps in combinations.

Thereafter his interests shifted to the problem of large numbers in the accounts of the Hebrew patriarchs (Dwight W. Young, “The Influence of Babylonian Algebra on Longevity Among the Antediluvians,” ZAW 102 (1990), pp. 321-5), but his studies in that area are not strictly relevant to the present problem.

His great contribution was to take seriously the numbers of the ancient writings with which he dealt and to attempt to interpret them mathematically.

The ancient Sumerians were innovators in the areas of astronomy and mathematics as well as in other unrelated fields of investigation. It is now known that their arithmetical calculations were based upon the sexagesimal system, and thus when they considered the mathematics of time it was natural to divide the hour up into sixty units, and then to reduce each one of those units to a further sixty components or, in our language, minutes and seconds.

There is still very much to be learned about Sumerian mathematics, but from what is known of the pragmatic nature of the subject it appears increasingly clear that their numerical exercises were organized on the basis of rationality rather than mythology.

Having regard to this situation, scholarship now has the responsibility of investigating the numerical problems of Sumerian times against such a background.

To the present writer it now seems evident that the solution to the large numbers found in the antediluvian Sumerian King List is disarmingly simple. It is obvious that, proceeding rationally, base-60 must be involved in numbers of the magnitude contained on the prism. The list of rulers and regnal years is as follows:

Cf. J. Finegan, Light From the Ancient Past (Princeton: Princeton University, 1946), p. 25.

Cf. J. Finegan, Light From the Ancient Past (Princeton: Princeton University, 1946), p. 25.

An inspection of this table shows two kings credited with reigns of 36,000 years each and three others recorded as having reigned for 28,800 years each. In the case of Alalgar and the divine Dumuzi, the numbers assigned to them contain two factors—namely, 3600 (the square of base 60) and 10 — which when multiplied furnish the large number under investigation.

In the case of the triad comprising Alulim, Enmengal-Anna, and Ensipazi-Anna, the factors involved are the square of base-60 multiplied by 8. When the base is isolated from the calculation, the remaining factor constitutes the actual length of the king’s reign.

This process can be expressed by a formula, as follows:

Formula for Calculating Actual Reignwhere Pr is the prism’s record, B is base-60 raised to the power of 2 to give base-60 squared, and At is the actual length of the king’s tenure. By employing this means of calculation, the above table can be rewritten as follows:

Recalculated Actual Reign of Years and Months

Notice may now be taken of the third century BC list compiled by Berossos. As observed earlier, the names are Greek and the total has been extended to ten rulers by the addition of two names.

Xisouthros, the legendary hero who survived the flood, is one of these. It has also been suggested that Amelon and Ammenon may be corrupt forms of the name Enmenlu-Anna, but this cannot be demonstrated.”

R.K. Harrison, “Reinvestigating the Antediluvian Sumerian King List,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) 36 / 1 (March 1993), pp. 4-6.

The Tale of Uta-Napishtim

[FIRST SPEECH OF EA TO UTA-NAPISHTIM WHO IS SLEEPING IN A REED HUT.]

“21. O House of reeds, O House of reeds! O Wall. O Wall!

22. O House of reeds, hear! O Wall, understand!

23. O man of Shurippak, son of Ubar-Tutu,

24. Throw down the house, build a ship,

25. Forsake wealth, seek after life,

26. Hate possessions, save thy life,

27. Bring all seed of life into the ship.

28. The ship which thou shalt build,

29. The dimensions thereof shall be measured,

30. The breadth and the length thereof shall be the same.

31. Then launch it upon the ocean.

[UTA-NAPISHTIM’S ANSWER TO EA.]

32. I understood and I said unto Ea, my lord:

33. See, my lord, that which thou hast ordered,

34. I regard with reverence, and will perform it,

35. But what shall I say to the town, to the multitude, and to the elders?

[SECOND SPEECH OF EA.]

36. Ea opened his mouth and spake

37. And said unto his servant, myself,

38. Thus, man, shalt thou say unto them:

39. Ill-will hath the god Enlil formed against me,

40. Therefore I can no longer dwell. in your city,

41. And never more will I turn my countenance upon-the soil of Enlil.

42. I will descend into the ocean to dwell with my lord Ea.

43. But upon you he will rain riches

44. A catch of birds, a catch of fish

45. . . . an [abundant] harvest,

46. . . . the sender of . . .

47. . . . shall make hail [to fall upon you].

[THE BUILDING OF THE SHIP.]

48. As soon as [something of dawn] broke . . .

    [Lines 49-54 broken away.]

55. The child . . . brought bitumen,

56. The strong [man] . . . brought what was needed.

57. On the fifth day I laid down its shape.

58. According to the plan its walls were 10 gar, (i.e. 120 cubits) high,

59. And the width of its deck (?) was equally 10 gar.

60. I laid down the shape of its forepart and marked it out (?).

61. I covered (?) it six times.

62. . . . I divided into seven,

63. Its interior I divided into nine,

64. Caulking I drove into the middle of it.

65. I provided a steering pole, and cast in all that was needful.

66. Six sar of bitumen I poured over the hull (?),

67. Three sar of pitch I poured into the inside.

68. The men who bear loads brought three sar of oil,

69. Besides a sar of oil which the tackling (?) consumed,

70. And two sar of oil which the boatman hid.

71. I slaughtered oxen for the [work] people,

72. I slew sheep every day.

73. Beer, sesame wine, oil and wine

74. I made the people drink as if they were water from the river.

75. I celebrated a feast as if it had been New Year’s Day.

76. I opened [a box of ointment], I laid my hands in unguent.

77. Before the sunset (?) the ship was finished.

78. [Since] . . . was difficult.

79. The shipbuilders brought the . . . of the ship, above and below,

80. . . . two-thirds of it.

[THE LOADING OF THE SHIP.]

81. With everything that I possessed I loaded it (i.e., the ship).

82. With everything that I possessed of silver I loaded it.

83. With everything that I possessed of gold I loaded it.

84. With all that I possessed of all the seed of life I loaded it.

85. I made to go up into the ship all my family and kinsfolk,

86. The cattle of the field, the beasts of the field, all handicraftsmen I made them go up into it.

87. The god Shamash had appointed me a time (saying)

88. The sender of . . . . . will at eventide make a hail to fall;

89. Then enter into the ship and shut thy door.

90. The appointed time drew nigh;

91. The sender of . . . . . made a hail to fall at eventide.

92. I watched the aspect of the [approaching] storm,

93. Terror possessed me to look upon it,

94. I went into the ship and shut my door.

95. To the pilot of the ship, Puzur-Enlil the sailor

96. I committed the great house (i.e., ship), together with the contents thereof.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic of Gilgamish1929, pp. 33-5.

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