Legends of Babylon and and Egypt in Relation to Hebrew Tradition

Powered by iSpeech

Galumum ruled for nine hundred years.
Zugagib ruled for eight hundred and forty years.
Arpi, son of a man of the people, ruled for seven hundred and twenty
Etana, the shepherd who ascended to heaven, who subdued all lands,
ruled for six hundred and thirty-five years.[1] Pili . . ., son of Etana, ruled for four hundred and ten years.
Enmenunna ruled for six hundred and eleven years.
Melamkish, son of Enmenunna, ruled for nine hundred years.
Barsalnunna, son of Enmenunna, ruled for twelve hundred years.
Mesza[. . .], son of Barsalnunna, ruled for [. . .] years.
[. . .], son of Barsalnunna, ruled for [. . .] years.

[1] Possibly 625 years.

A small gap then occurs in the text, but we know that the last two
representatives of this dynasty of twenty-three kings are related to
have ruled for nine hundred years and six hundred and twenty-five
years respectively. In the Second Column of the text the lines are
also fortunately preserved which record the passing of the first
hegemony of Kish to the "Kingdom of Eanna", the latter taking its name
from the famous temple of Anu and Ishtar in the old city of Erech. The
text continues:

The kingdom of Kish passed to Eanna.
In Eanna, Meskingasher, son of the Sun-god, ruled as high priest and
king for three hundred and twenty-five years. Meskingasher entered
into[1] [. . .] and ascended to [. . .].
Enmerkar, son of Meskingasher, the king of Erech who built [. . .] with the people of Erech,[2] ruled as king for four hundred and
twenty years.
Lugalbanda, the shepherd, ruled for twelve hundred years.
Dumuzi,[3], the hunter(?), whose city was . . ., ruled for a hundred
Gishbilgames,[4] whose father was A,[5] the high priest of Kullab,
ruled for one hundred and twenty-six[6] years.
[. . .]lugal, son of Gishbilgames, ruled for [. . .] years.

[1] The verb may also imply descent into.

[2] The phrase appears to have been imperfectly copied by the scribe.
As it stands the subordinate sentence reads "the king of Erech who
built with the people of Erech". Either the object governed by the
verb has been omitted, in which case we might restore some such
phrase as "the city"; or, perhaps, by a slight transposition, we
should read "the king who built Erech with the people of Erech".
In any case the first building of the city of Erech, as
distinguished from its ancient cult-centre Eanna, appears to be
recorded here in the tradition. This is the first reference to
Erech in the text; and Enmerkar's father was high priest as well
as king.

[3] i.e. Tammuz.

[4] i.e. Gilgamesh.

[5] The name of the father of Gilgamesh is rather strangely expressed
by the single sign for the vowel /a/ and must apparently be read
as A. As there is a small break in the text at the end of this
line, Dr. Poebel not unnaturally assumed that A was merely the
first syllable of the name, of which the end was wanting. But it
has now been shown that the complete name was A; see Förtsch,
/Orient. Lit.-Zeit./, Vol. XVIII, No. 12 (Dec., 1915), col. 367
ff. The reading is deduced from the following entry in an Assyrian
explanatory list of gods (/Cun. Texts in the Brit. Mus./, Pt.
XXIV, pl. 25, ll. 29-31): "The god A, who is also equated to the
god Dubbisaguri (i.e. 'Scribe of Ur'), is the priest of Kullab;
his wife is the goddess Ninguesirka (i.e. 'Lady of the edge of the
street')." A, the priest of Kullab and the husband of a goddess,
is clearly to be identified with A, the priest of Kullab and
father of Gilgamesh, for we know from the Gilgamesh Epic that the
hero's mother was the goddess Ninsun. Whether Ninguesirka was a
title of Ninsun, or represents a variant tradition with regard to
the parentage of Gilgamesh on the mother's side, we have in any
case confirmation of his descent from priest and goddess. It was
natural that A should be subsequently deified. This was not the
case at the time our text was inscribed, as the name is written
without the divine determinative.

[6] Possibly 186 years.

This group of early kings of Erech is of exceptional interest. Apart
from its inclusion of Gilgamesh and the gods Tammuz and Lugalbanda,
its record of Meskingasher's reign possibly refers to one of the lost
legends of Erech. Like him Melchizedek, who comes to us in a chapter
of Genesis reflecting the troubled times of Babylon's First
Dynasty,[1] was priest as well as king.[2] Tradition appears to have
credited Meskingasher's son and successor, Enmerkar, with the building
of Erech as a city around the first settlement Eanna, which had
already given its name to the "kingdom". If so, Sumerian tradition
confirms the assumption of modern research that the great cities of
Babylonia arose around the still more ancient cult-centres of the
land. We shall have occasion to revert to the traditions here recorded
concerning the parentage of Meskingasher, the founder of this line of
kings, and that of its most famous member, Gilgamesh. Meanwhile we may
note that the closing rulers of the "Kingdom of Eanna" are wanting.
When the text is again preserved, we read of the hegemony passing from
Erech to Ur and thence to Awan:

The k[ingdom of Erech[3] passed to] Ur.
In Ur Mesannipada became king and ruled for eighty years.
Meskiagunna, son of Mesannipada, ruled for thirty years.
Elu[. . .] ruled for twenty-five years.
Balu[. . .] ruled for thirty-six years.
Four kings (thus) ruled for a hundred and seventy-one years.
The kingdom of Ur passed to Awan.
In Awan . . .

[1] Cf. /Hist. of Bab./, p. 159 f.

[2] Gen. xiv. 18.

[3] The restoration of Erech here, in place of Eanna, is based on the
absence of the latter name in the summary; after the building of
Erech by Enmerkar, the kingdom was probably reckoned as that of

With the "Kingdom of Ur" we appear to be approaching a firmer
historical tradition, for the reigns of its rulers are recorded in
decades, not hundreds of years. But we find in the summary, which
concludes the main copy of our Dynastic List, that the kingdom of
Awan, though it consisted of but three rulers, is credited with a
total duration of three hundred and fifty-six years, implying that we
are not yet out of the legendary stratum. Since Awan is proved by
newly published historical inscriptions from Nippur to have been an
important deity of Elam at the time of the Dynasty of Akkad,[1] we
gather that the "Kingdom of Awan" represented in Sumerian tradition
the first occasion on which the country passed for a time under
Elamite rule. At this point a great gap occurs in the text, and when
the detailed dynastic succession in Babylonia is again assured, we
have passed definitely from the realm of myth and legend into that of
history.[2] [1] Poebel, /Hist. Inscr./, p. 128.

[2] See further, Appendix II.

What new light, then, do these old Sumerian records throw on Hebrew
traditions concerning the early ages of mankind? I think it will be
admitted that there is something strangely familiar about some of
those Sumerian extracts I read just now. We seem to hear in them the
faint echo of another narrative, like them but not quite the same.

And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years;
and he died.
And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enosh: and Seth
lived after he begat Enosh eight hundred and seven years, and
begat sons and daughters: and all the days of Seth were nine
hundred and twelve years: and he died.
. . . and all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years:
and he died.
. . . and all the days of Kenan were nine hundred and ten years: and
he died.
. . . and all the days of Mahalalel were eight hundred ninety and
five years: and he died.
. . . and all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty and two
years: and he died.
. . . and all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five
years: and Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took
. . . and all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and
nine years: and he died.
. . . and all the days of Lamech were seven hundred seventy and
seven years: and he died.
And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and

Throughout these extracts from "the book of the generations of
Adam",[1] Galumum's nine hundred years[2] seem to run almost like a
refrain; and Methuselah's great age, the recognized symbol for
longevity, is even exceeded by two of the Sumerian patriarchs. The
names in the two lists are not the same,[3] but in both we are moving
in the same atmosphere and along similar lines of thought. Though each
list adheres to its own set formulae, it estimates the length of human
life in the early ages of the world on much the same gigantic scale as
the other. Our Sumerian records are not quite so formal in their
structure as the Hebrew narrative, but the short notes which here and
there relieve their stiff monotony may be paralleled in the Cainite
genealogy of the preceding chapter in Genesis.[4] There Cain's city-
building, for example, may pair with that of Enmerkar; and though our
new records may afford no precise equivalents to Jabal's patronage of
nomad life, or to the invention of music and metal-working ascribed to
Jubal and Tubal-cain, these too are quite in the spirit of Sumerian
and Babylonian tradition, in their attempt to picture the beginnings
of civilization. Thus Enmeduranki, the prototype of the seventh
Antediluvian patriarch of Berossus, was traditionally revered as the
first exponent of divination.[5] It is in the chronological and
general setting, rather than in the Hebrew names and details, that an
echo seems here to reach us from Sumer through Babylon.

[1] Gen. v. 1 ff. (P).

[2] The same length of reign is credited to Melamkish and to one and
perhaps two other rulers of that first Sumerian "kingdom".

[3] The possibility of the Babylonian origin of some of the Hebrew
names in this geneaology and its Cainite parallel has long been
canvassed; and considerable ingenuity has been expended in
obtaining equations between Hebrew names and those of the
Antediluvian kings of Berossus by tracing a common meaning for
each suggested pair. It is unfortunate that our new identification
of {'Ammenon} with the Sumerian /Enmenunna/ should dispose of one
of the best parallels obtained, viz. {'Ammenon} = Bab. /ummânu/,
"workman" || Cain, Kenan = "smith". Another satisfactory pair
suggested is {'Amelon} = Bab. /amêlu/, "man" || Enosh = "man"; but
the resemblance of the former to /amêlu/ may prove to be
fortuitous, in view of the possibility of descent from a quite
different Sumerian original. The alternative may perhaps have to
be faced that the Hebrew parallels to Sumerian and Babylonian
traditions are here confined to chronological structure and
general contents, and do not extend to Hebrew renderings of
Babylonian names. It may be added that such correspondence between
personal names in different languages is not very significant by
itself. The name of Zugagib of Kish, for example, is paralleled by
the title borne by one of the earliest kings of the Ist Dynasty of
Egypt, Narmer, whose carved slate palettes have been found at
Kierakonpolis; he too was known as "the Scorpion."

[4] Gen. iv. 17 ff. (J).

[5] It may be noted that an account of the origin of divination is
included in his description of the descendents of Noah by the
writer of the Biblical Antiquities of Philo, a product of the same
school as the Fourth Book of Esdras and the Apocalypse of Baruch;
see James, /The Biblical Antiquities of Philo/, p. 86.

I may add that a parallel is provided by the new Sumerian records to
the circumstances preceding the birth of the Nephilim at the beginning
of the sixth chapter of Genesis.[1] For in them also great prowess or
distinction is ascribed to the progeny of human and divine unions. We
have already noted that, according to the traditions the records
embody, the Sumerians looked back to a time when gods lived upon the
earth with men, and we have seen such deities as Tammuz and Lugalbanda
figuring as rulers of cities in the dynastic sequence. As in later
periods, their names are there preceded by the determinative for
divinity. But more significant still is the fact that we read of two
Sumerian heroes, also rulers of cities, who were divine on the
father's or mother's side but not on both. Meskingasher is entered in
the list as "son of the Sun-god",[2] and no divine parentage is
recorded on the mother's side. On the other hand, the human father of
Gilgamesh is described as the high priest of Kullab, and we know from
other sources that his mother was the goddess Ninsun.[3] That this is
not a fanciful interpretation is proved by a passage in the Gilgamesh
Epic itself,[4] in which its hero is described as two-thirds god and
one-third man. We again find ourselves back in the same stratum of
tradition with which the Hebrew narratives have made us so familiar.

[1] Gen. vi. 1-4 (J).

[2] The phrase recalls the familiar Egyptian royal designation "son of
the Sun," and it is possible that we may connect with this same
idea the Palermo Stele's inclusion of the mother's and omission of
the father's name in its record of the early dynastic Pharaohs.
This suggestion does not exclude the possibility of the prevalence
of matrilineal (and perhaps originally also of matrilocal and
matripotestal) conditions among the earliest inhabitants of Egypt.
Indeed the early existence of some form of mother-right may have
originated, and would certainly have encouraged, the growth of a
tradition of solar parentage for the head of the state.

[3] Poebel, /Hist. Inscr./, p. 124 f.

[4] Tablet I, Col. ii, l. 1; and cf. Tablet IX, Col. ii. l. 16.

What light then does our new material throw upon traditional origins
of civilization? We have seen that in Egypt a new fragment of the
Palermo Stele has confirmed in a remarkable way the tradition of the
predynastic period which was incorporated in his history by Manetho.
It has long been recognized that in Babylonia the sources of Berossus
must have been refracted by the political atmosphere of that country
during the preceding nineteen hundred years. This inference our new
material supports; but when due allowance has been made for a
resulting disturbance of vision, the Sumerian origin of the remainder
of his evidence is notably confirmed. Two of his ten Antediluvian
kings rejoin their Sumerian prototypes, and we shall see that two of
his three Antediluvian cities find their place among the five of
primitive Sumerian belief. It is clear that in Babylonia, as in Egypt,
the local traditions of the dawn of history, current in the
Hellenistic period, were modelled on very early lines. Both countries
were the seats of ancient civilizations, and it is natural that each
should stage its picture of beginnings upon its own soil and embellish
it with local colouring.

It is a tribute to the historical accuracy of Hebrew tradition to
recognize that it never represented Palestine as the cradle of the
human race. It looked to the East rather than to the South for
evidence of man's earliest history and first progress in the arts of
life. And it is in the East, in the soil of Babylonia, that we may
legitimately seek material in which to verify the sources of that
traditional belief.

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 | View All | Next -»