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Tag: Utnapishtim

Selz: Tracking Gilgamesh Throughout History and Literature

“The biblical patriarchs and the kings before the flood according to Genesis 5 and 4, Berossos and the Sumerian King List.

Biblical patriarchs of Genesis 5 and Genesis 4, compared to antediluvian rulers from Berossos and the Weld-Blundell prism. Gebhard Selz, Of Heroes and Sages: Considerations of the Early Mesopotamian Background of Some Enochic Traditions, Brill, 2011, p. 790.

Biblical patriarchs of Genesis 5 and Genesis 4, compared to antediluvian rulers from Berossos and the Weld-Blundell prism. C. Westermann, Genesis, vol. 1: Genesis 1-11 (BKAT 1.1; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1974), p. 473. 
Gebhard Selz, Of Heroes and Sages: Considerations of the Early Mesopotamian Background of Some Enochic Traditions, Brill, 2011, p. 790.

The most important information we can draw from this table is:

  1. Berossos’ account of the primeval history of Mesopotamian is clearly based on an emic tradition reaching back almost two millennia.
  2. The Mesopotamian tradition dates back to an environment of Sumerian literary tradition; this is corroborated by the newly found Ur III version of the Sumerian King List.
  3. The position of Noah and Ziusudra Utnapishtim asserts the interrelation of the biblical and Mesopotamian stories about the Flood.
Joseph Anton Koch (1768-1839 CE), Landschaft mit Dankopfer Noahs, 1803. Copyright 2010 Stäfel Museum. http://www.altertuemliches.at/termine/ausstellung/die-chronologie-der-bilder-staedel-werke-vom-14-bis-21-jahrhundert

Joseph Anton Koch (1768-1839 CE), Landschaft mit Dankopfer Noahs, 1803.
Copyright 2010 Stäfel Museum.
http://www.altertuemliches.at/termine/ausstellung/die-chronologie-der-bilder-staedel-werke-vom-14-bis-21-jahrhundert

(P. Steinkeller, “An Ur III Manuscript of the Sumerian King List,” in Literatur, Politik und Recht in Mesopotamien: FS Claus Wilcke (ed. W. Sallaberger, K. Volk, and A. Zgoll; Orientalia Biblica et Christiana 14; Wiesbaden: Harrassowtz, 2003), pp. 267-92). (Ed. note: I have searched high and low for a digital copy of this article, which is ubiquitously cited in the literature, but nowhere available. If you have a scan or other digital version, please send it along so that it can be made more widely available. This is an important article that presents an Ur III tablet that is in a private collection. Thank you.)

As already mentioned, hypotheses on the interrelation of these biblical and Mesopotamian sources have flourished for millennia.

In our context the alleged connection of the biblical tradition with the Gilgamesh reception deserves mentioning. Alfred Jeremias, who published the first German translation of the Gilgamesh Epic in 1891, and Peter Jensen supposed that the Gilgamesh material is indeed the blue-print for all related biblical stories, denying them any originality.

The cuneiform tablet (IM 65066) is in the Bagdad Museum.

 A.K. Grayson, from the Reallexikon der Assyriologie, s.v.

The cuneiform tablet (IM 65066) is in the Bagdad Museum.


A.K. Grayson, from the Reallexikon der Assyriologie, s.v. “Königslisten und Chroniken”.
A.K. Grayson, ‘Assyrian and Babylonian King Lists,’ in: Lišan mithurti. (Festschrift Von Soden) (Kevelaer : Neukirchen-Vluyn : Butzon & Bercker; 1969) Plate III.


http://www.livius.org/source-content/uruk-king-list/

From the present state of research this seems, at first sight, not even worth mentioning. It is, however, well-known that Gilgamesh’s fame, how much mixed and distorted the various Babylonian traditions may have become, exerted influence on many stories of ancient authors all over the Near East.

Thus the attestation of Gilgamesh’s name in the Dead Sea Scrolls does not come as a surprise. The name is mentioned in the Book of Giants, which was later adopted by the followers of Mani.

In the Book of Giants, Gilgamesh is the name of one of the giants—offspring of the fallen heavenly watchers and human women.

Another giant mentioned besides Gilgamesh is Hobabis, who may well be a distortion of the name of Gilgamesh’s adversary, Hu(m)baba (Assyrian) / Huwawa (Babylonian), the famous monster guarding the cedar forest, who was finally killed by Gilgamesh and his comrade Enkidu.

(In the fifteenth century C.E. al-Suyūtī collected conjurations against evil demons mentioning amongst them a certain Jiljamiš (see George, Gilgamesh, pp. 60-1.

George also mentions a certain Theodor bar Konai (ca. tenth century C.E.) who “passed on a list of twelve postdiluvian kings that were held to have reigned in the era between Peleg, a descendant of Noah’s son Shem, and the patriarch Abraham.

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

(See also C. Grotanelli, “The Story of Kombabos and the Gilgamesh Tradition,” in Mythology and Mythologies: Methodological Approaches to Intercultural Influences: Proceedings of the Second Annual Symposium of the Assyrian and Babylonian Intellectual Heritage Project Held in Paris, France, October 4-7, 1999 (ed. R.M. Whiting; Melammu Symposia 2: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2001), pp. 19-27.)

The alleged Elamite origin of the monster’s name would nicely fit the observation that, from a Mesopotamian view, the localization of the cedar forest in historical times moved from the Eastern Zagros to the Western Lebanon.

Proof, however, is lacking. The name of the Babylonian flood hero Utnapishtim Ziusudra is, so far, not attested in the extant manuscripts from Qumran.

The name does occur, however, in the form of At(a)nabīš (‘tnbyš) in fragments of the Book of Giants found at Turfan.”

Gebhard J. Selz, “Of Heroes and Sages–Considerations of the Early Mesopotamian Background of Some Enochic Traditions,” in Armin Lange, et alThe Dead Sea Scrolls in Context, v. 2, Brill, 2011, pp. 790-2.

Melvin: Divine or Semi-Divine Intermediaries

The Divine Source of Civilization in Mesopotamian Myths

“The motif of the divine origin of civilization is common in the ancient Near East, especially in Mesopotamia, and it stands in stark contrast to the portrayal of the rise of civilization in Genesis 1– 11.

(Although many of my observations with regard to the view of the rise of civilization presented in Mesopotamian mythology could also be made within the mythic traditions of other ancient cultures (e.g., Egypt, Greece, Canaan), Bernard Batto notes, “[f]or reasons not entirely clear to us the opening chapters of Genesis are typologically and content-wise more akin to the mythic traditions of Mesopotamia than of territorially closer Canaan—the reverse of the normal situation in the Hebrew Bible.”

(Bernard Batto, “Creation Theology in Genesis,” R. J. Clifford and J. J. Collins [eds.], Creation in the Biblical Traditions [CBQMS, 24; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1992], 16).

For this reason, as well as the general consensus that the compilation of Genesis 1–11 occurred in the exilic or early post-exilic period, in large measure as a polemic against the Babylonian cosmological worldview in which the Jewish community found itself immersed, I have limited my comparisons of the biblical material to a number of Mesopotamian myths.)

In a number of mythological texts, civilization is portrayed as a gift bestowed upon humanity by the gods, and human advancement is generally a positive development. Often the arts of civilization come to humanity through divine or semi-divine intermediaries, such as the apkallus or heroes who are either semi-divine (e.g., Gilgamesh) or divinized humans (e.g., Lugalbanda, Utnapishtim).

This depiction of a fish-apkallū of the purādu-fish type guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud.  A fish's head can be seen on the Apkallu's head, and its skin hangs down over the back of his body.  It is important to recall that the so-called Seven Sages of Sumeria were apkallū of this type. Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE.  From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London). Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg) http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

This depiction of a fish-apkallū of the purādu-fish type guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud.
A fish’s head can be seen on the Apkallu’s head, and its skin hangs down over the back of his body.
It is important to recall that the so-called Seven Sages of Sumeria were apkallū of this type.
Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE.
From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg)
http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

According to the apkallu tradition, which comes to us from a wide array of sources ranging from the bilingual (Sumerian-Akkadian), “Etiological Myth of the Seven Sages” in the Bīt Mēseri 􏰀􏰁􏰂􏰃􏰄􏰅􏰆􏰇􏰈texts to the much later writings of Berossus (4th century BCE) and the Uruk Sage List (c. 165 BCE), as well as the Adapa myth and the epic myth􏰔􏰈􏰈􏰎􏰃􏰎􏰋􏰐􏰃􏰓􏰆 Erra and Ishum, semi-divine beings sent by Enki / Ea instructed antediluvian humans in the arts of civilization. The apkallus were teachers of early humanity whom Ea had endowed with “broad understanding” (uzna rapašta).

(Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the ‘Seven Sages,’” Orientalia 30 (1960), 4. See also Alan Lenzi, Secrecy and the Gods: Secret Knowledge in Ancient Mesopotamia and Biblical Israel (SAAS, 19; Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2008), 106–20. A similar description of the apkallus appears in the myth Erra and Ishum (COS 1.113:408).

(See the detailed description of the apkallus in Jean Bottéro, Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and the Gods (trans. Zainab Bahrani and Marc Van De Mieroop; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 246–49. For a discussion of the Uruk Sage List, see Lenzi, Secrecy and the Gods, 106–09.)

(See Helge S. Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic: The Mesopotamian Background of the Enoch Figure and the Son of Man (WMANT, 61; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag), 295–318; Paul D. Hanson, “Rebellion in Heaven, Azazel, and Euhemeristic Heroes in 1 Enoch 6–11,” JBL 96 (1977), 226– 29.)

According to Berossus, they taught the people of Sumer “writing, science, and technology of all types, the foundation of cities, the building of temples, jurisprudence and geometry,” as well as such necessities as agriculture. In lists, they usually appear paired with the king whom they purportedly advised as a sort of vizier.”

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 3-4.

Curnow: Atrahasis is More Historical than Noah

Atrahasis is an interesting figure. By surviving the flood he and his wife became the living links between the antediluvian and postdiluvian ages. They also seem to have been the only human beings to have been made immortal (Leick 2001, p. 83).

More than once the narrative presents Atrahasis talking to Ea, the god of wisdom, and this is perhaps the basis for his own reputation for wisdom. On one occasion he is clearly asking the god to explain a dream to him. However it is also said that his father was called Shuruppak, who was the last king of the city-state of Shuruppak before the great flood.

(Excavations at Shuruppak have uncovered evidence of very substantial flooding there in around 2750 BCE).

MS in Sumerian on clay, Sumer, ca. 2600 BC.  Context: For the Old Babylonian recension of the text, see MSS 2817 (lines 1-22), 3352 (lines 1-38), 2788 (lines 1-45), 2291 (lines 88-94), 2040 (lines 207-216), 3400 (lines 342-345), MS 3176/1, text 3, and 3366. Commentary: This Early Dynastic tablet represents the earliest literature in the world. Only three texts are known from the dawn of literature: The Shuruppak instructions, The Kesh temple hymn, and various incantations (see MS 4549).  The instructions are addressed by the antediluvian ruler Shuruppak to his son Ziusudra, who was the Sumerian Noah, cf. MS 3026, the Sumerian Flood Story, and MS 2950, Atra-Hasis, the Old Babylonian Flood Story.  The Shuruppak instructions can be considered the Sumerian antecedents of the Biblical Ten Commandments and proverbs of the Bible:  Line 50: Do not curse with powerful means (3rd Commandment); lines 28: Do not kill (6th Commandment); line 33-34: Do not laugh with or sit alone in a chamber with a girl that is married (7th Commandment); lines 28-31: Do not steal or commit robbery (8th Commandment); and line 36: Do not spit out lies (9th Commandment).

 http://www.uned.es/geo-1-historia-antigua-universal/new%20website/IRAK/CIUDADES/instrucciones_de_shurupak.htm

MS in Sumerian on clay, Sumer, ca. 2600 BC.
Context: For the Old Babylonian recension of the text, see MSS 2817 (lines 1-22), 3352 (lines 1-38), 2788 (lines 1-45), 2291 (lines 88-94), 2040 (lines 207-216), 3400 (lines 342-345), MS 3176/1, text 3, and 3366.
Commentary: This Early Dynastic tablet represents the earliest literature in the world. Only three texts are known from the dawn of literature: The Shuruppak instructions, The Kesh temple hymn, and various incantations (see MS 4549).
The instructions are addressed by the antediluvian ruler Shuruppak to his son Ziusudra, who was the Sumerian Noah, cf. MS 3026, the Sumerian Flood Story, and MS 2950, Atra-Hasis, the Old Babylonian Flood Story.
The Shuruppak instructions can be considered the Sumerian antecedents of the Biblical Ten Commandments and proverbs of the Bible:
Line 50: Do not curse with powerful means (3rd Commandment); lines 28: Do not kill (6th Commandment); line 33-34: Do not laugh with or sit alone in a chamber with a girl that is married (7th Commandment); lines 28-31: Do not steal or commit robbery (8th Commandment); and line 36: Do not spit out lies (9th Commandment).


http://www.uned.es/geo-1-historia-antigua-universal/new%20website/IRAK/CIUDADES/instrucciones_de_shurupak.htm

The names of both Shuruppak (the king) and Atrahasis (as Ziusudra) appear in a Sumerian work known as The Instructions of Shuruppak to His Son Ziusudra. The earliest surviving fragments of this have been dated to around 2500 BCE. The work includes a variety of proverbs, aphorisms and observations within a framework indicating that this is Shuruppak’s advice to his son.

Just before the final flourish in which Shuruppak pays his valedictory respects to Nisaba comes line 278, which could either be regarded as a final aphorism, or as a summation of the entire text: “The gift of wisdom [is like] the stars (of heaven).” (Alster 1974, p. 51).

Atrahasis is therefore the beneficiary of both the divine wisdom of Ea and the human wisdom of Shuruppak, and most fittingly called “extra-wise.”

Israel

While there are few believers in Thoth or Marduk in the world today, the idea that anything that appears in the Bible should be treated as mythology will doubtless seem objectionable to some, but there is no obvious reason why Atrahasis should be treated as mythological while Noah is treated as historical.

Indeed Dalley (2000, p. 2) sees in “Noah” a possible derivation from “Utnapishtim,” the Akkadian name of the survivor of the Mesopotamian flood. For present purposes the most important antediluvian figure in the Bible is without doubt Enoch, although in fact the Bible says very little about him and what it does say is vague and confused.

Genesis (4, 5) seems to draw on two different and conflicting genealogies, one of which makes Enoch the son of Cain, the other makes him the son of Jared, a seventh-generation descendant of Adam through the line of Seth.

In an enigmatic phrase it is said that “God took him” (Genesis 5:24), and this came to be understood to mean that he ascended into heaven. Towards the end of the first millennium BCE a literature began to grow around Enoch and there survive three books concerning him, sometimes known as the Ethiopic (1), Slavonic (2) and Hebrew (3) Enochs after the languages in which they have been preserved.

Debates concerning the dating of these texts have been as long as they have been inconclusive, and some have argued for 2 Enoch and 3 Enoch to be from the late first millennium AD, and so outside the scope of this work.

Fortunately, it is 1 Enoch that is of most interest here, and for that an earlier date is agreed.”

Trevor Curnow, Wisdom in the Ancient World, Bloomsbury, 2010, pp. 41-2.

Dalley: Apkallu, IDD 2011

Iconography of Deities and Demons (IDD).

Apkallu.

“Mesopotamian semi-divine figure. A Babylonian tradition related by Berossos in the 3rd cent. (BURSTEIN 1978: 13f) describes a creature called Oannes that rose up out of the Red Sea in the first year of man’s history. His entire body was that of a fish, but he had another head, presumably human, and feet like a man as well as a fish tail.

Apkallus type 1 and 2, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.<br />  Two forms of Apkallu are depicted here, the umu-apkallu or ummanu on the left, holding what appears to be a branch with poppy bulbs, and the puradu-fish type with banduddu bucket in left hand.<br />  The sacred tree appears at center, beneath a winged device whose meaning is unclear to me.<br />  The figure on the right is probably a king, as the rich garment is not topped by a horned tiara, indicative of divinity.

Apkallus type 1 and 2, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.
Two forms of Apkallu are depicted here, the umu-apkallu or ummanu on the left, holding what appears to be a branch with poppy bulbs, and the puradu-fish type with banduddu bucket in left hand.
The sacred tree appears at center, beneath a winged device whose meaning is unclear to me.
The figure on the right is probably a king, as the rich garment is not topped by a horned tiara, indicative of divinity.

He taught men to write, as well as many other arts, crafts, and institutions of civilization. He taught them to build cities and temples, to have laws, to till the land, and to harvest crops. At sunset he returned to the sea. Later there were other similar creatures who appeared on the earth. These were the sages.

The sage Adapa, a priest of Eridu created by the god Ea/Enki, was also called Oannes. The name Oannes was thus connected, by true or false etymology, with the common noun for a sage in early Akkadian ummiānum, later ummânum.

The other Akkadian term for a sage, apkallu, can also mean a type of priest or exorcist. According to a Sumerian temple hymn, the seven sages came from Eridu, the first city in the Sumerian King List. Since Eridu was the city of Ea who lived in the Apsu, iconography involving water and fish is to be expected for the sages. According to late Assyrian and Babylonian texts, legendary kings were credited early on with having sages.

This water basin carved from a solid block of basalt was found in Nineveh near the temple of Ishtar. It is decorated with reliefs of apkallu – puradu-fish antediluvian sages.  (Pergamon Museum, Berlin)

 http://www.arcalog.com/image-library/museums/assyria/sennacherib/

This water basin carved from a solid block of basalt was found in Nineveh near the temple of Ishtar. It is decorated with reliefs of apkallu – puradu-fish antediluvian sages.
(Pergamon Museum, Berlin)


http://www.arcalog.com/image-library/museums/assyria/sennacherib/

The Epic of Erra and Ishum (probably 8th cent.) attributes to Marduk the banishing of the sages down to the Apsu, and not allowing them to return. He describes them as pure purādu-fish, perhaps carp, who like their master Ea are especially clever, and were put among mortals before their banishment.

The ritual text bīt mēseri, for encircling a house with protective magical figurines, gives names to the sages of some famous kings in various cities (REINER 1961; BORGER 1974; see also HUNGER 1983: nos. 8- 11). Some of those sages angered the gods.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called parādu-fish, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have apotropaic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called parādu-fish, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have apotropaic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

Ziusudra, also known as Utnapishtim and Atrahasis, was probably the last sage before the flood, the event which marks the division between immortal and mortal sages. Later sages were part mortal, part divine.

Kings credited with a sage include Enmerkar, Shulgi, Enlil-bani of Isin, Hammurabi, Nebuchadnezzar I, Sennacherib, and Esarhaddon, but this time span (legendary/Early Dynastic [26th cent.] to mid 7th cent.) does not match that of the identified iconography.

Certain texts are attributed to sages, notably two medical texts and a hymn (REINER 1961), the Myth of Etana, the Sumerian Tale of Three Ox-drivers, the Babylonian Theodicy, and the astrological series UD.SAR Anum Enlila.

Enuma Anu Enlil is a series of about 70 tablets dealing with Babylonian astrology. These accounts were found in the early 19th century by excavation in Nineveh, near present day Bagdad. The bulk of the work is a substantial collection of omens, estimated to number between 6500 and 7000, which interpret a wide variety of celestial and atmospheric phenomena in terms relevant to the king and state. The tablets presumably date back to about 650 BC, but several of the omens may be as old as 1646 BC. Many of the reports found on the tablets represent ‘astrometeorological’ forecasts (Rasmussen 2010).<br />  http://www.climate4you.com/ClimateAndHistory%205000-0%20BC.htm

Enuma Anu Enlil is a series of about 70 tablets dealing with Babylonian astrology. These accounts were found in the early 19th century by excavation in Nineveh, near present day Bagdad. The bulk of the work is a substantial collection of omens, estimated to number between 6500 and 7000, which interpret a wide variety of celestial and atmospheric phenomena in terms relevant to the king and state. The tablets presumably date back to about 650 BC, but several of the omens may be as old as 1646 BC. Many of the reports found on the tablets represent ‘astrometeorological’ forecasts (Rasmussen 2010).
http://www.climate4you.com/ClimateAndHistory%205000-0%20BC.htm

In Assyrian tradition the sages guarded the Tablet of Destinies for the god Nabu, patron of scribes. This information gives a possible link with the composite monsters in the tradition of the Babylonian Epic of Creation, which centers on control of the Tablet of Destinies.

Apkallu type 2. Stephanie Dalley, IDD.<br />  A puradu-fish apkallu appears to the left of the sacred tree, with two fish-men, apparently a merman and a mermaid, on the right.<br />  Wiggermann identified these composite beings as kullilu.

Apkallu type 2. Stephanie Dalley, IDD.
A puradu-fish apkallu appears to the left of the sacred tree, with two fish-men, apparently a merman and a mermaid, on the right.
Wiggermann identified these composite beings as kullilu.

Such a link would explain the scene that puts phenotype 1 (see § II.1) with composite monsters who fight as archers (24), and phenotype 2 (see § II.2) with mermen (44*, 51) and composite monsters (50*). However, in known versions of the Epic, the hero-god, not the composite monsters, is called a sage; thus the relationship is not clear.”

Wiggermann and Green call this composite being "Scorpion-tailed bird-man." He has a human upper torso, an avian body, and a scorpion tail.<br />  In this drawing from Dalley's article on the Apkallu, puradu-fish apkallu can be seen beneath them (Dalley, figure 50).<br />  Anthony Green, "Mischwesen. B," Reallexikon der Assyriologie (RLA), 1994, pp. 254-5. figure 15.

Wiggermann and Green call this composite being “Scorpion-tailed bird-man.” He has a human upper torso, an avian body, and a scorpion tail.
In this drawing from Dalley’s article on the Apkallu, puradu-fish apkallu can be seen beneath them (Dalley, figure 50).
Anthony Green, “Mischwesen. B,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie (RLA), 1994, pp. 254-5. figure 15.

Stephanie Dalley, “Apkallu,” Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East (IDD), Swiss National Science Foundation, University of Zurich, 2011 (text updated 2011 and illustrations updated 2007), p. 1/7.

On the Apkallu

“During the course of the years studying and teaching the Primeval History as recorded in the literary texts of ancient Mesopotamia, this writer has been struck by certain similarities between the Akkadian apkallu (Sumerian algal / NUN.ME / EN.ME), creatures of the god Ea, the “sages of old,” and the biblical nēpīlîm of Genesis 6 who are introduced just before the flood account.

In the Mesopotamian king and sage lists, the apkallu occur in the pre-flood era, and in some texts for a limited time after the flood. In general, however, the pre-flood sages are called apkallu and their traditional number is seven, while the post-flood sages are called the ummiānu.

Apkallu portrayed with Ea, at far left, with water coursing from his shoulders.

Apkallu portrayed with Ea, at far left, with water coursing from his shoulders.

The apkallu are semi-divine beings who may be depicted as mixed beings, as priests wearing fish hoods, or who may, like Adapa, be called a son of Ea. Moreover, humans and apkallu could presumably mate since we have the description of the four post-flood apkallu as “of human descent,” the fourth being only “two-thirds apkallu” as opposed to pre-flood pure apkallu and subsequent human sages (ummiānu).

A depiction of the apkallu, Adapa, or Oannes.

A depiction of the apkallu, Adapa, or Oannes.

The short mythological “episode” in Genesis 6:1-4 tells us only that after the population increased, the nēpīlîm appeared on the earth after divine beings (sons of elohim) had mated with the daughters of men. The following verse (v. 5) states that Yahweh saw that men’s wickedness was great.

It can be assumed from this brief account that the nēpīlîm were the offspring of those divine fathers and human mothers, and that it was the nēpīlîm who somehow exemplified wicked mankind in general. Let us now turn to the Mesopotamian apkallu tales and lists to see how their behavior, as well as their parentage, may have some features in common with the nēpīlîm.

Antediluvian apkallu portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men.

Antediluvian apkallu portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men.

The most celebrated apkallu was Adapa, identified as a son of Ea. As we are told in the best known and best preserved myth about him, he executed an act of hubris by breaking the wing of the south wind; the end result, for him, of that wicked act was that he was denied immortality.

He is probably to be equated with the last antediluvian apkallu who was reported to have ascended to heaven. As we know from the late lists of sages, several other apkallu at the time of the flood or right after it also committed daring or wicked acts (the list that follows is abbreviated with respect to details and is conflated from the pertinent texts):

Antediluvian apkallu

  • Uanna — Who completed the plans of heaven and earth
  • Uannedugga — Who was endowed with comprehensive intelligence
  • Enmedugga — Who was allowed a good fate
  • Enmegaluamma — Who was born in a house
  • Enmebulugga — Who grew up on pasture land
  • Anenlilda — The exorcist of Eridu
  • Utuabzu (Utuabba) — Who ascended to heaven
  • [Total of] seven brilliant purādu fish . . . born in the river, who direct the plans of heaven and earth.

(Editorial note, source: Bit Mēseri III, 14’=27′)

Postdiluvian apkallu

  • (both Adapa and Nunpiriggaldim are associated with Enmerkir)
  • Nungalpiriggaldim — Who brought down Ishtar from heaven and who made the harp decorated with bronze and lapis*
  • Piriggalnungal — Who angered Adad*
  • Piriggalabsu — Who angered Ea*
  • Lu-Nanna (2/3d apkallu) — Who drove the dragon from Ishtar’s temple*
  • *[Total of] four of human descent whom (pl.) Ea endowed with comprehensive intelligence.

(Editorial note, also see source: Helge Kvanvig, Traditions of the Apkallus, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011.)

Thus we see that the traditions about the superhuman apkallu contained stories, most of them lost to us, about their famous and infamous deeds. But it is the latter ones, from Adapa to Piriggalabzu (sic), around whom the obvious misbehavior clusters.

It is of further interest to note that the pivotal role of the nēpīlîm passage in Genesis 6 occurs together with the theme of increased population growth on which Genesis 6 opens. If we compare the Mesopotamian material, we see a similar position in the storytelling for the importance of population increase and concomitant wickedness as a factor leading to the flood.

The Mesopotamian sages were endowed with wisdom and special powers because they were created by the god Ea and associated with the deep (as fish-men, etc.). Because of their powers they were capable of acts that could impress or offend the gods, that could cause beneficial or harmful natural phenomena.

It is the negative side of them that seems to be involved in the period just before and after the flood in the sage lists. A similar theme runs through the Atrahasis Epic; there, at each attempt of the gods to decrease men’s numbers by means of drought, etc., Ea instructs his son (?) Atrahasis, the Extra Wise and thus a sage figure in his own right but also to be equated with the king of Shuruppak, how to outwit the gods and overcome hardship.

Thus each god whose cult is neglected and deprived of offerings, as a result of those instructions, was sure to be angered. Their collective anger at such acts and their disgust at humanity’s increase and bad condition led to the joint decision to send the flood.

Table from Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, The Mesopotamian Counterparts of the Biblical Nephilim, 1985

Whereas the Mesopotamian myth and list traditions single out and keep distinct the sages and king-heroes, Genesis 6:4 speaks only of the “heroes of old, men of renown” and equates them with the nēpīlîm. In fact, it is possible that this verse intended to equate both the lines of Adam and Cain with the nēpīlîm. If so, the reintroduction of Noah four verses later would complete the line of thinking, since Noah was one of the heroes of old.

Yet the line of Cain (the Smith), juxtaposed as it is with the line of Adam, seems to operate in a manner similar to the Mesopotamian traditional list of the line of sages juxtaposed with the line of kings, as others have argued.

Like the apkallu who built the early cities and those who brought the civilized arts to men, the line of Cain performed the same service (or dis-service, in the biblical view). As to v 3 concerning man’s shortened lifespan, it may have its counterpart in the post-flood renegotiations of the terms for man’s continued existence as described in the Atrahasis Epic.

There, the fixing of a term of life for mortals was probably contained in the fragmentary section about controlling population growth. In the Sumerian King List it is only after King Gilgamesh (who was 1/3d divine) that rulers begin to have more normal longevity (beginning with the 126 year reign of his successor).

Postdiluvian advisors to kings who were men, the ummianu, were the successors of the antediluvian mixed-species Apkallu who were portrayed as fish-men. In this frieze now held in the British Museum they tend to a tree of life or a tree of knowledge. The antediluvian Apkallu were the so-called seven sages of Sumeria.

Postdiluvian advisors to kings who were men, the ummianu, were the successors of the antediluvian mixed-species Apkallu who were portrayed as fish-men. In this frieze now held in the British Museum they tend to a sacred tree. The antediluvian Apkallu were the so-called seven sages of Sumeria.

One other cuneiform text can be mentioned in which the sages may be associated with wicked acts, viz. The Epic of Erra (alternative full text of the Epic from Foster’s B is available). There the sages (called ummiānu) seem to be guilty by implication since we are told that they were dispatched for good to the apsu at the time of the flood and may have been deprived access to the mes-tree, “the flesh of the gods,” which provided them with the special material to make divine and kingly statues (as well as knowledge, skill and longevity?), but which was hidden from them (and all future mortals) forever when Marduk cast it into the deep.

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed “genies,” as they are often described, are now known to be apkallu, mixed-feature creatures created by the god Ea. They traditionally served as advisors to kings. They are often depicted in association with sacred trees.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/lanpernas2/8606000868/

If the flood is the same Abubu perhaps the mes-tree (see footnote 11 below) may be compared with the plant (of life) whose hidden location in the deep Utnapishtim revealed to Gilgamesh. If so, it leads us to suspect a further connection between the Mesopotamian mythological trees and plants and the tree(s) in Eden to which another sage figure, Adam, had once had access.

A modern depiction of Gilgamesh harvesting the Plant of Life from the ocean floor, guided by Utnapishtim, the deified survivor of the Deluge.  http://www.mediahex.com/Utnapishtim

A modern depiction of Gilgamesh harvesting the Plant of Life from the ocean floor, guided by Utnapishtim, the deified survivor of the Deluge.
http://www.mediahex.com/Utnapishtim

In short, we may be able to look to the Mesopotamian sage traditions for the mythological background of Genesis 6:1-4. While the ties between the apkallu and the nēpīlîm are hardly ties that bind, there are enough points of comparison—superhuman / semi-divine beings, acts of daring / hubris, acts that anger divinity, association with wickedness in men, their predominantly pre-flood existence—to encourage our consideration.

The Mischwesen sages seem at least to be closer to the nēpīlîm topically than the theogony materials concerning the generations of the gods. It is hoped that the circumstantial evidence for a remote connection between the apkallu and the nēpīlîm is strong enough to have been worth trying the case.”

(Footnote 11: Now that the bird-faced winged genies of Assyrian Palace art may be identified as apkallu (see Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq 45 (1983), pp. 87-96) the close association of apkallu with special trees is clear.)

(For other mixed-beings, creatures of Ea, note F. Köcher, “Der babylonische Göttertypentext,” Mitteilungen des Instituts für Orientforschung 1 (1953), pp. 72, 74, 78, 80.)

Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, “The Mesopotamian Counterparts of the Biblical Nephilim,” in Francis I. Andersen, Edgar W. Conrad, & Edward G. Newing, eds., Perspectives on Language and Text: Essays and Poems in Honor of Francis I. Andersen’s Sixtieth Birthday, 1985, pp. 39-43.

Sacred Number 7

“Seven, too, was a sacred number, whose magic virtues had descended to the Semites from their Accadian predecessors. When the Chaldaean Noah escaped from the Deluge, his first act was to build an altar and to set vessels, each containing the third of an ephah, by sevens, over a bed of reeds, pine-wood and thorns.

Seven by seven had the magic knots to be tied by the witch, seven times had the body of the sick man to be anointed with the purifying oil.

As the Sabbath of rest fell on each seventh day of the week, so the planets, like the demon messengers of Anu, were seven in number, and “the god of the number seven” received peculiar honour.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, p. 82.

Seize the Day

“Death in Mesopotamian religious thought did not mean the total extinction of the individual, only of the physical self and of those qualities of a person that made him productive and attractive to other human beings (Bottéro 1992: 268– 86).

A recognizable winged spirit, resembling a dove, passed to the netherworld. This was a dreary, sombre domain ruled by a pitiless hierarchy of deities and demons. There the spirit languished, often in hunger, thirst and misery, unless family or friends remembered to leave offerings of food and drink for the spirit to partake of and prayed for the spirit’s rest and contentment (Foster 1996: 403):

Dust is their sustenance and clay their food,

They see no light but dwell in darkness,

They are clothed like birds in wings for garments,

And dust has gathered on the door and bolt.

A Sumerian poem recounting a visit to the netherworld refers to the dependence of the dead upon the living (Foster 2001: 141):

Did you see the ghost of him who has no one to make funerary offerings?

I saw him. He eats table scraps and bread crusts thrown into the street.

Ghosts and spectres of the dead could trouble the living, sometimes for no apparent reason, sometimes because they had not been properly interred or were discontented because of some human action or neglect. The city Cutha, in northern Babylonia, was considered the city of the dead and the centre of the cult of death.

The netherworld was organized like an earthly or heavenly kingdom, surrounded by walls with seven gates (Lambert 1990). A popular Mesopotamian poem (Dalley 1989: 163–81; Foster 1996: 410–28) told how the netherworld had once been ruled by a queen alone, Ereshkigal, but that she eventually found a husband, Nergal or Erra.

In one version of the story, he forces himself into the netherworld by violence and threatens her into submission. In another, he breaks her loneliness and sexual frustration with a passionate relationship that finally results in their marriage.

The gods of heaven and netherworld, separated, according to the Babylonian Epic of Creation, into two groups of 600 each, could not visit each other, though they could exchange messengers. Even the great gods feared the netherworld, which barred countless human dead from swarming onto the earth to devour the living in their eternal, unsatiated hunger.

The dead entered the netherworld naked and relinquished all hope of returning to life. How their ghosts escaped to plague the living is not clear. Various Mesopotamian stories told of human beings who learned what happened after a person died.

In one, the Sumerian hero Enkidu volunteered in a fit of bravado to go down to the netherworld to retrieve a favourite athletic object of the king, Gilgamesh. This was apparently a stick and a ball or puck that had fallen down there at the pleas of the people who were oppressed by the violent game that made use of them. The losers resented Gilgamesh’s bullying tactics in the game.

Enkidu recognized his relatives and saw certain distinctions among the dead: heroes were treated better than common folk, for example, and stillborn children had a sort of play area with miniature furniture. He barely escaped alive and forgot in the stress of the moment to bring back the objects (Foster 2001: 129–43).

Much later, an Assyrian dignitary described a vision of the netherworld that included an array of monsters, composites of humans and animals in shape. He, like Enkidu, recognized a dead spirit, but fled in an ecstasy of terror and grief, narrowly escaping permanent confinement (Foster 1996: 715–22):

He darted out into the street like an arrow and scooped up dirt from alley and square in his mouth, all the while setting up a frightful clamor, ‘Woe! Alas! Why have you ordained this for me?’

Mesopotamians honoured the dead of their families with a regular ceremony of remembrance and offering. Dead and sometimes even living kings were accorded divine honours and observances in special sanctuaries. Rulers and other powerful people could be buried in lavish tombs with grave gifts, perhaps more as a splendid way of dying than out of hope that they would need such gifts in the afterlife.

Some Sumerian rulers had chariots, animals and even court attendants buried with them; Assyrian queens might be buried with their finest jewelry. Clay or metal vessels might hold food, drink and cosmetics. Burial might be in vaults in royal palaces, under the floor of homes (especially for children) or in cemeteries outside the city.

Graves were not marked on the surface, so far as is known, and funerary inscriptions, naming the deceased or invoking blessings upon them from future descendants or passers-by, were very rare. One literary text describes an excavation to open an ancient tomb and the horrible shock the investigators felt when they beheld and reflected on the fate in store for them (Foster 1996: 436).

One of the major literary achievements of ancient Mesopotamia, the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh (George 1999; Foster 2001), tells the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, who sought immortal life. This was based on older Sumerian poems about various episodes in Gilgamesh’s life.

In the epic, Gilgamesh’s beloved friend, the wild man Enkidu, dies as the result of an expedition to achieve eternal fame for Gilgamesh by slaying a distant monster and cutting down a great tree. Terrified of dying himself, Gilgamesh abandons all in a desperate quest to find the survivor of the flood, Utanapishtim, to ask him his secret of immortality.

Gilgamesh eventually reaches Utanapishtim after unexampled heroism and hardships, not to mention the timely intervention of several kind-hearted women, but learns that his hope is vain – Utanapishtim was granted immortality for surviving the flood, but this was a one-time event that would not be repeated for Gilgamesh’s sake.

Neither he nor any other human being had any hope of achieving immortality. This poem was popular in learned circles; manuscripts have turned up throughout Mesopotamia, and from Syria and Asia Minor, dating to a time span of 1500 years.

There was no Mesopotamian paradise, no return of the soul in another body for another life, no judgement, and no sense that death might eventually end in a final consummation. Some Mesopotamians responded to this outlook by suggesting that the good for a human being was to enjoy life, love, family and vitality while they were within reach, for even a modest life was better than a grand death, as a tavern keeper advises Gilgamesh (Foster 2001: 75):

When the gods created mankind,

They established death for mankind,

And withheld eternal life for themselves.

As for you, Gilgamesh, let your stomach be full,

Always be happy, night and day.

Make every day a delight,

Night and day play and dance.

Your clothes should be clean,

Your head should be washed,

You should bathe in water,

Look proudly on the little one holding your hand,

Let your mate be always blissful in your loins,

This, then, is the work of mankind.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Mesopotamia,” in John R. Hinnels, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 188-90.

The Deluge Tale of Utnapishtim and the Search for Immortality

“Gilgamesh now begins a series of wanderings in search of the restoration of his vigor, and this motif is evidently a continuation of the nature myth to symbolize the sun’s wanderings during the dark winter in the hope of renewed vigor with the coming of the spring.

Professor Haupt’s view is that the disease from which Gilgamesh is supposed to be suffering is of a venereal character, affecting the organs of reproduction. This would confirm the position here taken that the myth symbolizes the loss of the sun’s vigor. The sun’s rays are no longer strong enough to fertilize the earth.

In accord with this, Gilgamesh’s search for healing leads him to the dark regions in which the scorpion-men dwell. The terrors of the region symbolize the gloom of the winter season.

At last Gilgamesh reaches a region of light again, described as a landscape situated at the sea. The maiden in control of this region bolts the gate against Gilgamesh’s approach, but the latter forces his entrance. It is the picture of the sun-god bursting through the darkness, to emerge as the youthful reinvigorated sun-god of the spring.

Now with the tendency to attach to popular tales and nature myths lessons illustrative of current beliefs and aspirations, Gilgamesh’s search for renewal of life is viewed as man’s longing for eternal life.

The sun-god’s waning power after midsummer is past suggests man’s growing weakness after the meridian of life has been left behind. Winter is death, and man longs to escape it.

Gilgamesh’s wanderings are used as illustration of this longing, and accordingly the search for life becomes also the quest for immortality. Can the precious boon of eternal life be achieved?

Popular fancy created the figure of a favorite of the gods who had escaped a destructive deluge in which all mankind had perished. Gilgamesh hears of this favorite and determines to seek him out and learn from him the secret of eternal life. The deluge story, again a pure nature myth, symbolical of the rainy season which destroys all life in nature, is thus attached to the Epic.

Gilgamesh after many adventures finds himself in the presence of the survivor of the Deluge who, although human, enjoys immortal life among the gods. He asks the survivor how he came to escape the common fate of mankind, and in reply Utnapishtim tells the story of the catastrophe that brought about universal destruction.

The moral of the tale is obvious. Only those singled out by the special favor of the gods can hope to be removed to the distant “source of the streams” and live forever. The rest of mankind must face death as the end of life.

That the story of the Deluge is told in the eleventh tablet of the series, corresponding to the eleventh month, known as the month of “rain curse” and marking the height of the rainy season, may be intentional, just as it may not be accidental that Gilgamesh’s rejection of Ishtar is recounted in the sixth tablet, corresponding to the sixth month, which marks the end of the summer season. The two tales may have formed part of a cycle of myths, distributed among the months of the year.

The Gilgamesh Epic, however, does not form such a cycle. Both myths have been artificially attached to the adventures of the hero.

For the deluge story we now have the definite proof for its independent existence, through Dr. Poebel’s publication of a Sumerian text which embodies the tale, and without any reference to Gilgamesh. Similarly, Scheil and Hilprecht have published fragments of deluge stories written in Akkadian and likewise without any connection with the Gilgamesh Epic.

In the Epic the story leads to another episode attached to Gilgamesh, namely, the search for a magic plant growing in deep water, which has the power of restoring old age to youth. Utnapishtim, the survivor of the deluge, is moved through pity for Gilgamesh, worn out by his long wanderings.

At the request of his wife, Utnapishtim decides to tell Gilgamesh of this plant, and he succeeds in finding it. He plucks it and decides to take it back to Erech so that all may enjoy the benefit, but on his way stops to bathe in a cool cistern.

A serpent comes along and snatches the plant from him, and he is forced to return to Erech with his purpose unachieved. Man cannot hope, when old age comes on, to escape death as the end of everything.”

Morris Jastrow (ed.), Albert T. Clay (trans.), An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic on the Basis of Recently Discovered Texts, 1920, pp. 20-1.