Legends of Babylon and and Egypt in Relation to Hebrew Tradition


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In another Sumerian myth, which has been recovered on one of the early
tablets from Nippur, we have a rather different picture of beginnings.
For there, though water is the source of life, the existence of the
land is presupposed. But it is bare and desolate, as in the
Mesopotamian season of "low water". The underlying idea is suggestive
of a period when some progress in systematic irrigation had already
been made, and the filling of the dry canals and subsequent irrigation
of the parched ground by the rising flood of Enki was not dreaded but
eagerly desired. The myth is only one of several that have been
combined to form the introductory sections of an incantation; but in
all of them Enki, the god of the deep water, plays the leading part,
though associated with different consorts.[1] The incantation is
directed against various diseases, and the recitation of the closing
mythical section was evidently intended to enlist the aid of special
gods in combating them. The creation of these deities is recited under
set formulae in a sort of refrain, and the divine name assigned to
each bears a magical connexion with the sickness he or she is intended
to dispel.[2] [1] See Langdon, Univ. of Penns. Mus. Publ., Bab. Sect., Vol. X, No. 1
(1915), pl. i f., pp. 69 ff.; /Journ. Amer. Or. Soc./, Vol. XXXVI
(1916), pp. 140 ff.; cf. Prince, /Journ. Amer. Or. Soc./, Vol.
XXXVI, pp. 90 ff.; Jastrow, /Journ. Amer. Or. Soc./, Vol. XXXVI,
pp. 122 ff., and in particular his detailed study of the text in
/Amer. Journ. Semit. Lang./, Vol. XXXIII, pp. 91 ff. Dr. Langdon's
first description of the text, in /Proc. Soc. Bibl. Arch./, Vol.
XXXVI (1914), pp. 188 ff., was based on a comparatively small
fragment only; and on his completion of the text from other
fragments in Pennsylvania. Professor Sayce at once realized that
the preliminary diagnosis of a Deluge myth could not be sustained
(cf. /Expos. Times/, Nov., 1915, pp. 88 ff.). He, Professor
Prince, and Professor Jastrow independently showed that the action
of Enki in the myth in sending water on the land was not punitive
but beneficent; and the preceding section, in which animals are
described as not performing their usual activities, was shown
independently by Professor Prince and Professor Jastrow to have
reference, not to their different nature in an ideal existence in
Paradise, but, on familiar lines, to their non-existence in a
desolate land. It may be added that Professor Barton and Dr. Peters
agree generally with Professor Prince and Professor Jastrow in
their interpretation of the text, which excludes the suggested
biblical parallels; and I understand from Dr. Langdon that he very
rightly recognizes that the text is not a Deluge myth. It is a
subject for congratulation that the discussion has materially
increased our knowledge of this difficult composition.

[2] Cf. Col. VI, ll. 24 ff.; thus /Ab/-u was created for the sickness
of the cow (/ab/); Nin-/tul/ for that of the flock (u-/tul/); Nin-
/ka/-u-tu and Nin-/ka/-si for that of the mouth (/ka/); Na-zi for
that of the /na-zi/ (meaning uncertain); /Da zi/-ma for that of
the /da-zi/ (meaning uncertain); Nin-/til/ for that of /til/
(life); the name of the eighth and last deity is imperfectly
preserved.

We have already noted examples of a similar use of myth in magic,
which was common to both Egypt and Babylonia; and to illustrate its
employment against disease, as in the Nippur document, it will suffice
to cite a well-known magical cure for the toothache which was adopted
in Babylon.[1] There toothache was believed to be caused by the
gnawing of a worm in the gum, and a myth was used in the incantation
to relieve it. The worm's origin is traced from Anu, the god of
heaven, through a descending scale of creation; Anu, the heavens, the
earth, rivers, canals and marshes are represented as each giving rise
to the next in order, until finally the marshes produce the worm. The
myth then relates how the worm, on being offered tempting food by Ea
in answer to her prayer, asked to be allowed to drink the blood of the
teeth, and the incantation closes by invoking the curse of Ea because
of the worm's misguided choice. It is clear that power over the worm
was obtained by a recital of her creation and of her subsequent
ingratitude, which led to her present occupation and the curse under
which she laboured. When the myth and invocation had been recited
three times over the proper mixture of beer, a plant, and oil, and the
mixture had been applied to the offending tooth, the worm would fall
under the spell of the curse and the patient would at once gain
relief. The example is instructive, as the connexion of ideas is quite
clear. In the Nippur document the recital of the creation of the eight
deities evidently ensured their presence, and a demonstration of the
mystic bond between their names and the corresponding diseases
rendered the working of their powers effective. Our knowledge of a
good many other myths is due solely to their magical employment.

[1] See Thompson, /Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia/, Vol. II, pp.
160 ff.; for a number of other examples, see Jastrow, /J.A.O.S./,
Vol. XXXVI, p. 279, n. 7.

Perhaps the most interesting section of the new text is one in which
divine instructions are given in the use of plants, the fruit or roots
of which may be eaten. Here Usmû, a messenger from Enki, God of the
Deep, names eight such plants by Enki's orders, thereby determining
the character of each. As Professor Jastrow has pointed out, the
passage forcibly recalls the story from Berossus, concerning the
mythical creature Oannes, who came up from the Erythraean Sea, where
it borders upon Babylonia, to instruct mankind in all things,
including "seeds and the gathering of fruits".[1] But the only part of
the text that concerns us here is the introductory section, where the
life-giving flood, by which the dry fields are irrigated, is pictured
as following the union of the water-deities, Enki and Ninella.[2] Professor Jastrow is right in emphasizing the complete absence of any
conflict in this Sumerian myth of beginnings; but, as with the other
Sumerian Versions we have examined, it seems to me there is no need to
seek its origin elsewhere than in the Euphrates Valley.

[1] Cf. Jastrow, /J.A.O.S./, Vol. XXXVI, p. 127, and /A.J.S.L./, Vol.
XXXIII, p. 134 f. It may be added that the divine naming of the
plants also presents a faint parallel to the naming of the beasts
and birds by man himself in Gen. ii. 19 f.

[2] Professor Jastrow (/A.J.S.L./, Vol. XXXIII, p. 115) compares
similar myths collected by Sir James Frazer (/Magic Art/, Vol. II,
chap. xi and chap. xii, § 2). He also notes the parallel the
irrigation myth presents to the mist (or flood) of the earlier
Hebrew Version (Gen. ii. 5 f). But Enki, like Ea, was no rain-god;
he had his dwellings in the Euphrates and the Deep.

Even in later periods, when the Sumerian myths of Creation had been
superseded by that of Babylon, the Euphrates never ceased to be
regarded as the source of life and the creator of all things. And this
is well brought out in the following introductory lines of a Semitic
incantation, of which we possess two Neo-Babylonian copies:[1]

O thou River, who didst create all things,
When the great gods dug thee out,
They set prosperity upon thy banks,
Within thee Ea, King of the Deep, created his dwelling.
The Flood they sent not before thou wert!

Here the river as creator is sharply distinguished from the Flood; and
we may conclude that the water of the Euphrates Valley impressed the
early Sumerians, as later the Semites, with its creative as well as
with its destructive power. The reappearance of the fertile soil,
after the receding inundation, doubtless suggested the idea of
creation out of water, and the stream's slow but automatic fall would
furnish a model for the age-long evolution of primaeval deities. When
a god's active and artificial creation of the earth must be portrayed,
it would have been natural for the primitive Sumerian to picture the
Creator working as he himself would work when he reclaimed a field
from flood. We are thus shown the old Sumerian god Gilimma piling
reed-bundles in the water and heaping up soil beside them, till the
ground within his dikes dries off and produces luxuriant vegetation.
But here there is a hint of struggle in the process, and we perceive
in it the myth-redactor's opportunity to weave in the Dragon /motif/.
No such excuse is afforded by the other Sumerian myth, which pictures
the life-producing inundation as the gift of the two deities of the
Deep and the product of their union.

But in their other aspect the rivers of Mesopotamia could be terrible;
and the Dragon /motif/ itself, on the Tigris and Euphrates, drew its
imagery as much from flood as from storm. When therefore a single
deity must be made to appear, not only as Creator, but also as the
champion of his divine allies and the conqueror of other gods, it was
inevitable that the myths attaching to the waters under their two
aspects should be combined. This may already have taken place at
Nippur, when Enlil became the head of the pantheon; but the existence
of his myth is conjectural.[1] In a later age we can trace the process
in the light of history and of existing texts. There Marduk,
identified wholly as the Sun-god, conquers the once featureless
primaeval water, which in the process of redaction has now become the
Dragon of flood and storm.

[1] The aspect of Enlil as the Creator of Vegetation is emphasized in
Tablet VII of the Babylonian poem of Creation. It is significant
that his first title, Asara, should be interpreted as "Bestower of
planting", "Founder of sowing", "Creator of grain and plants", "He
who caused the green herb to spring up" (cf. /Seven Tablets/, Vol.
I, p. 92 f.). These opening phrases, by which the god is hailed,
strike the key-note of the whole composition. It is true that, as
Sukh-kur, he is "Destroyer of the foe"; but the great majority of
the titles and their Semitic glosses refer to creative activities,
not to the Dragon myth.

Thus the dualism which is so characteristic a feature of the Semitic-
Babylonian system, though absent from the earliest Sumerian ideas of
Creation, was inherent in the nature of the local rivers, whose varied
aspects gave rise to or coloured separate myths. Its presence in the
later mythology may be traced as a reflection of political
development, at first probably among the warring cities of Sumer, but
certainly later in the Semitic triumph at Babylon. It was but to be
expected that the conqueror, whether Sumerian or Semite, should
represent his own god's victory as the establishment of order out of
chaos. But this would be particularly in harmony with the character of
the Semitic Babylonians of the First Dynasty, whose genius for method
and organization produced alike Hammurabi's Code of Laws and the
straight streets of the capital.

We have thus been able to trace the various strands of the Semitic-
Babylonian poem of Creation to Sumerian origins; and in the second
lecture we arrived at a very similar conclusion with regard to the
Semitic-Babylonian Version of the Deluge preserved in the Epic of
Gilgamesh. We there saw that the literary structure of the Sumerian
Version, in which Creation and Deluge are combined, must have survived
under some form into the Neo-Babylonian period, since it was
reproduced by Berossus. And we noted the fact that the same
arrangement in Genesis did not therefore prove that the Hebrew
accounts go back directly to early Sumerian originals. In fact, the
structural resemblance presented by Genesis can only be regarded as an
additional proof that the Sumerian originals continued to be studied
and translated by the Semitic priesthood, although they had long been
superseded officially by their later descendants, the Semitic epics. A
detailed comparison of the Creation and Deluge narratives in the
various versions at once discloses the fact that the connexion between
those of the Semitic Babylonians and the Hebrews is far closer and
more striking than that which can be traced when the latter are placed
beside the Sumerian originals. We may therefore regard it as certain
that the Hebrews derived their knowledge of Sumerian tradition, not
directly from the Sumerians themselves, but through Semitic channels
from Babylon.

It will be unnecessary here to go in detail through the points of
resemblance that are admitted to exist between the Hebrew account of
Creation in the first chapter of Genesis and that preserved in the
"Seven Tablets".[1] It will suffice to emphasize two of them, which
gain in significance through our newly acquired knowledge of early
Sumerian beliefs. It must be admitted that, on first reading the poem,
one is struck more by the differences than by the parallels; but that
is due to the polytheistic basis of the poem, which attracts attention
when compared with the severe and dignified monotheism of the Hebrew
writer. And if allowance be made for the change in theological
standpoint, the material points of resemblance are seen to be very
marked. The outline or general course of events is the same. In both
we have an abyss of waters at the beginning denoted by almost the same
Semitic word, the Hebrew /tehôm/, translated "the deep" in Gen. i. 2,
being the equivalent of the Semitic-Babylonian /Tiamat/, the monster
of storm and flood who presents so striking a contrast to the Sumerian
primaeval water.[2] The second act of Creation in the Hebrew narrative
is that of a "firmament", which divided the waters under it from those
above.[3] But this, as we have seen, has no parallel in the early
Sumerian conception until it was combined with the Dragon combat in
the form in which we find it in the Babylonian poem. There the body of
Tiamat is divided by Marduk, and from one half of her he constructs a
covering or dome for heaven, that is to say a "firmament", to keep her
upper waters in place. These will suffice as text passages, since they
serve to point out quite clearly the Semitic source to which all the
other detailed points of Hebrew resemblance may be traced.

[1] See /Seven Tablets/, Vol. I, pp. lxxxi ff., and Skinner,
/Genesis/, pp. 45 ff.

[2] The invariable use of the Hebrew word /tehôm/ without the article,
except in two passages in the plural, proves that it is a proper
name (cf. Skinner, op. cit., p. 17); and its correspondence with
/Tiamat/ makes the resemblance of the versions far more
significant than if their parallelism were confined solely to
ideas.

[3] Gen. i. 6-8.

In the case of the Deluge traditions, so conclusive a demonstration is
not possible, since we have no similar criterion to apply. And on one
point, as we saw, the Hebrew Versions preserve an original Sumerian
strand of the narrative that was not woven into the Gilgamesh Epic,
where there is no parallel to the piety of Noah. But from the detailed
description that was given in the second lecture, it will have been
noted that the Sumerian account is on the whole far simpler and more
primitive than the other versions. It is only in the Babylonian Epic,
for example, that the later Hebrew writer finds material from which to
construct the ark, while the sweet savour of Ut-napishtim's sacrifice,
and possibly his sending forth of the birds, though reproduced in the
earlier Hebrew Version, find no parallels in the Sumerian account.[1] As to the general character of the Flood, there is no direct reference
to rain in the Sumerian Version, though its presence is probably
implied in the storm. The heavy rain of the Babylonian Epic has been
increased to forty days of rain in the earlier Hebrew Version, which
would be suitable to a country where local rain was the sole cause of
flood. But the later Hebrew writer's addition of "the fountains of the
deep" to "the windows of heaven" certainly suggests a more intimate
knowledge of Mesopotamia, where some contributary cause other than
local rain must be sought for the sudden and overwhelming catastrophes
of which the rivers are capable.

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