Legends of Babylon and and Egypt in Relation to Hebrew Tradition


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[1] For detailed lists of the points of agreement presented by the
Hebrew Versions J and P to the account in the Gilgamesh Epic, see
Skinner, op. cit., p. 177 f.; Driver, /Genesis/, p. 106 f.; and
Gordon, /Early Traditions of Genesis/ (1907), pp. 38 ff.

Thus, viewed from a purely literary standpoint, we are now enabled to
trace back to a primitive age the ancestry of the traditions, which,
under a very different aspect, eventually found their way into Hebrew
literature. And in the process we may note the changes they underwent
as they passed from one race to another. The result of such literary
analysis and comparison, so far from discrediting the narratives in
Genesis, throws into still stronger relief the moral grandeur of the
Hebrew text.

We come then to the question, at what periods and by what process did
the Hebrews become acquainted with Babylonian ideas? The tendency of
the purely literary school of critics has been to explain the process
by the direct use of Babylonian documents wholly within exilic times.
If the Creation and Deluge narratives stood alone, a case might
perhaps be made out for confining Babylonian influence to this late
period. It is true that during the Captivity the Jews were directly
exposed to such influence. They had the life and civilization of their
captors immediately before their eyes, and it would have been only
natural for the more learned among the Hebrew scribes and priests to
interest themselves in the ancient literature of their new home. And
any previous familiarity with the myths of Babylonia would undoubtedly
have been increased by actual residence in the country. We may perhaps
see a result of such acquaintance with Babylonian literature, after
Jehoiachin's deportation,, in an interesting literary parallel that
has been pointed out between Ezek. xiv. 12-20 and a speech in the
Babylonian account of the Deluge in the Gilgamesh Epic, XI, ll. 180-
194.[1] The passage in Ezekiel occurs within chaps. i-xxiv, which
correspond to the prophet's first period and consist in the main of
his utterances in exile before the fall of Jerusalem. It forms, in
fact, the introduction to the prophet's announcement of the coming of
"four sore judgements upon Jerusalem", from which there "shall be left
a remnant that shall be carried forth".[2] But in consequence, here
and there, of traces of a later point of view, it is generally
admitted that many of the chapters in this section may have been
considerably amplified and altered by Ezekiel himself in the course of
writing. And if we may regard the literary parallel that has been
pointed out as anything more than fortuitous, it is open to us to
assume that chap. xiv may have been worked up by Ezekiel many years
after his prophetic call at Tel-abib.

[1] See Daiches, "Ezekiel and the Babylonian Account of the Deluge",
in the /Jewish Quarterly Review/, April 1905. It has of course
long been recognized that Ezekiel, in announcing the punishment of
the king of Egypt in xxxii. 2 ff., uses imagery which strongly
recalls the Babylonian Creation myth. For he compares Pharaoh to a
sea-monster over whom Yahweh will throw his net (as Marduk had
thrown his over Tiamat); cf. Loisy, /Les mythes babyloniens et les
premiers chaptires de la Genèse/ (1901), p. 87.

[2] Ezek. xiv. 21 f.

In the passage of the Babylonian Epic, Enlil had already sent the
Flood and had destroyed the good with the wicked. Ea thereupon
remonstrates with him, and he urges that in future the sinner only
should be made to suffer for his sin; and, instead of again causing a
flood, let there be discrimination in the divine punishments sent on
men or lands. While the flood made the escape of the deserving
impossible, other forms of punishment would affect the guilty only. In
Ezekiel the subject is the same, but the point of view is different.
The land the prophet has in his mind in verse 13 is evidently Judah,
and his desire is to explain why it will suffer although not all its
inhabitants deserved to share its fate. The discrimination, which Ea
urges, Ezekiel asserts will be made; but the sinner must bear his own
sin, and the righteous, however eminent, can only save themselves by
their righteousness. The general principle propounded in the Epic is
here applied to a special case. But the parallelism between the
passages lies not only in the general principle but also in the
literary setting. This will best be brought out by printing the
passages in parallel columns.

Gilg. Epic, XI, 180-194 Ezek. xiv. 12-20

Ea opened his mouth and spake, And the word of the Lord came
He said to the warrior Enlil; unto me, saying,
Thou director of the gods! O Son of man, when a land sinneth
warrior! against me by committing a
Why didst thou not take counsel trespass, and I stretch out
but didst cause a flood? mine hand upon it, and break
On the transgressor lay his the staff of the bread
transgression! thereof, and send /famine/
Be merciful, so that (all) be not upon it, and cut off from it
destroyed! Have patience, so man and beast; though these
that (all) be not [cut off]! three men, Noah, Daniel, and
Instead of causing a flood, Job, were in it, they should
Let /lions/[1] come and diminish deliver but their own souls by
mankind! their righteousness, saith the
Instead of causing a flood, Lord God.
Let /leopards/[1] come and If I cause /noisome beasts/ to
diminish mankind! pass through the land, and
Instead of causing a flood, they spoil it, so that it be
Let /famine/ be caused and let it desolate, that no man may pass
smite the land! through because of the beasts;
Instead of causing a flood, though these three men were in
Let the /Plague-god/ come and it, as I live, saith the Lord
[slay] mankind! God, they shall deliver
neither sons nor daughters;
they only shall be delivered,
but the land shall be
desolate.
Or if I bring a /sword/ upon
that land, and say, Sword, go
through the land; so that I
cut off from it man and beast;
though these three men were in
it, as I live, saith the Lord
God, they shall deliver
neither sons nor daughters,
but they only shall be
delivered themselves.
Or if I send a /pestilence/ into
that land, and pour out my
fury upon it in blood, to cut
off from it man and beast;
though Noah, Daniel, and Job,
were in it, as I live, saith
the Lord God, they shall
deliver neither son nor
daughter; they shall but
deliver their own souls by
their righteousness.

[1] Both Babylonian words are in the singular, but probably used
collectively, as is the case with their Hebrew equivalent in Ezek.
xiv. 15.

It will be seen that, of the four kinds of divine punishment
mentioned, three accurately correspond in both compositions. Famine
and pestilence occur in both, while the lions and leopards of the Epic
find an equivalent in "noisome beasts". The sword is not referred to
in the Epic, but as this had already threatened Jerusalem at the time
of the prophecy's utterance its inclusion by Ezekiel was inevitable.
Moreover, the fact that Noah should be named in the refrain, as the
first of the three proverbial examples of righteousness, shows that
Ezekiel had the Deluge in his mind, and increases the significance of
the underlying parallel between his argument and that of the
Babylonian poet.[1] It may be added that Ezekiel has thrown his
prophecy into poetical form, and the metre of the two passages in the
Babylonian and Hebrew is, as Dr. Daiches points out, not dissimilar.

[1] This suggestion is in some measure confirmed by the /Biblical
Antiquities of Philo/, ascribed by Dr. James to the closing years
of the first century A.D.; for its writer, in his account of the
Flood, has actually used Ezek. xiv. 12 ff. in order to elaborate
the divine speech in Gen. viii. 21 f. This will be seen from the
following extract, in which the passage interpolated between
verses 21 and 22 of Gen. viii is enclosed within brackets: "And
God said: I will not again curse the earth for man's sake, for the
guise of man's heart hath left off (sic) from his youth. And
therefore I will not again destroy together all living as I have
done. [But it shall be, when the dwellers upon earth have sinned,
I will judge them by /famine/ or by the /sword/ or by fire or by
/pestilence/ (lit. death), and there shall be earthquakes, and
they shall be scattered into places not inhabited (or, the places
of their habitation shall be scattered). But I will not again
spoil the earth with the water of a flood, and] in all the days of
the earth seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and autumn,
day and night shall not cease . . ."; see James, /The Biblical
Antiquities of Philo/, p. 81, iii. 9. Here wild beasts are
omitted, and fire, earthquakes, and exile are added; but famine,
sword, and pestilence are prominent, and the whole passage is
clearly suggested by Ezekiel. As a result of the combination, we
have in the /Biblical Antiquities/ a complete parallel to the
passage in the Gilgamesh Epic.

It may of course be urged that wild beasts, famine, and pestilence are
such obvious forms of divine punishment that their enumeration by both
writers is merely due to chance. But the parallelism should be
considered with the other possible points of connexion, namely, the
fact that each writer is dealing with discrimination in divine
punishments of a wholesale character, and that while the one is
inspired by the Babylonian tradition of the Flood, the other takes the
hero of the Hebrew Flood story as the first of his selected types of
righteousness. It is possible that Ezekiel may have heard the
Babylonian Version recited after his arrival on the Chebar. And
assuming that some form of the story had long been a cherished
tradition of the Hebrews themselves, we could understand his intense
interest in finding it confirmed by the Babylonians, who would show
him where their Flood had taken place. To a man of his temperament,
the one passage in the Babylonian poem that would have made a special
appeal would have been that quoted above, where the poet urges that
divine vengeance should be combined with mercy, and that all,
righteous and wicked alike, should not again be destroyed. A problem
continually in Ezekiel's thoughts was this very question of wholesale
divine punishment, as exemplified in the case of Judah; and it would
not have been unlikely that the literary structure of the Babylonian
extract may have influenced the form in which he embodied his own
conclusions.

But even if we regard this suggestion as unproved or improbable,
Ezekiel's reference to Noah surely presupposes that at least some
version of the Flood story was familiar to the Hebrews before the
Captivity. And this conclusion is confirmed by other Babylonian
parallels in the early chapters of Genesis, in which oral tradition
rather than documentary borrowing must have played the leading
part.[1] Thus Babylonian parallels may be cited for many features in
the story of Paradise,[2] though no equivalent of the story itself has
been recovered. In the legend of Adapa, for example, wisdom and
immortality are the prerogative of the gods, and the winning of
immortality by man is bound up with eating the Food of Life and
drinking the Water of Life; here too man is left with the gift of
wisdom, but immortality is withheld. And the association of winged
guardians with the Sacred Tree in Babylonian art is at least
suggestive of the Cherubim and the Tree of Life. The very side of Eden
has now been identified in Southern Babylonia by means of an old
boundary-stone acquired by the British Museum a year or two ago.[3] [1] See Loisy, /Les mythes babyloniens/, pp. 10 ff., and cf. S.
Reinach, /Cultes, Mythes et Religions/, t. II, pp. 386 ff.

[2] Cf. especially Skinner, /Genesis/, pp. 90 ff. For the latest
discussion of the Serpent and the Tree of Life, suggested by Dr.
Skinner's summary of the evidence, see Frazer in /Essays and
Studies presented to William Ridgeway/ (1913), pp. 413 ff.

[3] See /Babylonian Boundary Stones in the British Museum/ (1912), pp.
76 ff., and cf. /Geographical Journal/, Vol. XL, No. 2 (Aug.,
1912), p. 147. For the latest review of the evidence relating to
the site of Paradise, see Boissier, "La situation du paradis
terrestre", in /Le Globe/, t. LV, Mémoires (Geneva, 1916).

But I need not now detain you by going over this familiar ground. Such
possible echoes from Babylon seem to suggest pre-exilic influence
rather than late borrowing, and they surely justify us in inquiring to
what periods of direct or indirect contact, earlier than the
Captivity, the resemblances between Hebrew and Babylonian ideas may be
traced. One point, which we may regard as definitely settled by our
new material, is that these stories of the Creation and of the early
history of the world were not of Semitic origin. It is no longer
possible to regard the Hebrew and Babylonian Versions as descended
from common Semitic originals. For we have now recovered some of those
originals, and they are not Semitic but Sumerian. The question thus
resolves itself into an inquiry as to periods during which the Hebrews
may have come into direct or indirect contact with Babylonia.

There are three pre-exilic periods at which it has been suggested the
Hebrews, or the ancestors of the race, may have acquired a knowledge
of Babylonian traditions. The earliest of these is the age of the
patriarchs, the traditional ancestors of the Hebrew nation. The second
period is that of the settlement in Canaan, which we may put from 1200
B.C. to the establishment of David's kingdom at about 1000 B.C. The
third period is that of the later Judaean monarch, from 734 B.C. to
586 B.C., the date of the fall of Jerusalem; and in this last period
there are two reigns of special importance in this connexion, those of
Ahaz (734-720 B.C.) and Manasseh (693-638 B.C.).

With regard to the earliest of these periods, those who support the
Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch may quite consistently assume that
Abraham heard the legends in Ur of the Chaldees. And a simple
retention of the traditional view seems to me a far preferable
attitude to any elaborate attempt at rationalizing it. It is admitted
that Arabia was the cradle of the Semitic race; and the most natural
line of advance from Arabia to Aram and thence to Palestine would be
up the Euphrates Valley. Some writers therefore assume that nomad
tribes, personified in the traditional figure of Abraham, may have
camped for a time in the neighbourhood of Ur and Babylon; and that
they may have carried the Babylonian stories with them in their
wanderings, and continued to preserve them during their long
subsequent history. But, even granting that such nomads would have
taken any interest in traditions of settled folk, this view hardly
commends itself. For stories received from foreign sources become more
and more transformed in the course of centuries.[1] The vivid
Babylonian colouring of the Genesis narratives cannot be reconciled
with this explanation of their source.

[1] This objection would not of course apply to M. Naville's suggested
solution, that cuneiform tablets formed the medium of
transmission. But its author himself adds that he does not deny
its conjectural character; see /The Text of the Old Testament/
(Schweich Lectures, 1915), p. 32.

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