Legends of Babylon and and Egypt in Relation to Hebrew Tradition

Legends_of_Babylon_and_Egypt_in_Relation_to_Hebrew_Tradition_1000080346LEGENDS OF BABYLON AND EGYPT IN RELATION TO HEBREW TRADITION
By Leonard W. King, M.A., Litt.D., F.S.A.

First Published 1918 by Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press.

Etext prepared by John Bickers, jbickers@templar.actrix.gen.nz
and Dagny, dagnyj@hotmail.com





Assistant Keeper of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities
in the British Museum
Professor in the University of London
King’s College



This text was prepared from a 1920 edition of the book, hence the
references to dates after 1916 in some places.

Greek text has been transliterated within brackets “{}” using an
Oxford English Dictionary alphabet table. Diacritical marks have
been lost.


In these lectures an attempt is made, not so much to restate familiar
facts, as to accommodate them to new and supplementary evidence which
has been published in America since the outbreak of the war. But even
without the excuse of recent discovery, no apology would be needed for
any comparison or contrast of Hebrew tradition with the mythological
and legendary beliefs of Babylon and Egypt. Hebrew achievements in the
sphere of religion and ethics are only thrown into stronger relief
when studied against their contemporary background.

The bulk of our new material is furnished by some early texts, written
towards the close of the third millennium B.C. They incorporate
traditions which extend in unbroken outline from their own period into
the remote ages of the past, and claim to trace the history of man
back to his creation. They represent the early national traditions of
the Sumerian people, who preceded the Semites as the ruling race in
Babylonia; and incidentally they necessitate a revision of current
views with regard to the cradle of Babylonian civilization. The most
remarkable of the new documents is one which relates in poetical
narrative an account of the Creation, of Antediluvian history, and of
the Deluge. It thus exhibits a close resemblance in structure to the
corresponding Hebrew traditions, a resemblance that is not shared by
the Semitic-Babylonian Versions at present known. But in matter the
Sumerian tradition is more primitive than any of the Semitic versions.
In spite of the fact that the text appears to have reached us in a
magical setting, and to some extent in epitomized form, this early
document enables us to tap the stream of tradition at a point far
above any at which approach has hitherto been possible.

Though the resemblance of early Sumerian tradition to that of the
Hebrews is striking, it furnishes a still closer parallel to the
summaries preserved from the history of Berossus. The huge figures
incorporated in the latter’s chronological scheme are no longer to be
treated as a product of Neo-Babylonian speculation; they reappear in
their original surroundings in another of these early documents, the
Sumerian Dynastic List. The sources of Berossus had inevitably been
semitized by Babylon; but two of his three Antediluvian cities find
their place among the five of primitive Sumerian belief, and two of
his ten Antediluvian kings rejoin their Sumerian prototypes. Moreover,
the recorded ages of Sumerian and Hebrew patriarchs are strangely
alike. It may be added that in Egypt a new fragment of the Palermo
Stele has enabled us to verify, by a very similar comparison, the
accuracy of Manetho’s sources for his prehistoric period, while at the
same time it demonstrates the way in which possible inaccuracies in
his system, deduced from independent evidence, may have arisen in
remote antiquity. It is clear that both Hebrew and Hellenistic
traditions were modelled on very early lines.

Thus our new material enables us to check the age, and in some measure
the accuracy, of the traditions concerning the dawn of history which
the Greeks reproduced from native sources, both in Babylonia and
Egypt, after the conquests of Alexander had brought the Near East
within the range of their intimate acquaintance. The third body of
tradition, that of the Hebrews, though unbacked by the prestige of
secular achievement, has, through incorporation in the canons of two
great religious systems, acquired an authority which the others have
not enjoyed. In re-examining the sources of all three accounts, so far
as they are affected by the new discoveries, it will be of interest to
observe how the same problems were solved in antiquity by very
different races, living under widely divergent conditions, but within
easy reach of one another. Their periods of contact, ascertained in
history or suggested by geographical considerations, will prompt the
further question to what extent each body of belief was evolved in
independence of the others. The close correspondence that has long
been recognized and is now confirmed between the Hebrew and the
Semitic-Babylonian systems, as compared with that of Egypt, naturally
falls within the scope of our enquiry.

Excavation has provided an extraordinarily full archaeological
commentary to the legends of Egypt and Babylon; and when I received
the invitation to deliver the Schweich Lectures for 1916, I was
reminded of the terms of the Bequest and was asked to emphasize the
archaeological side of the subject. Such material illustration was
also calculated to bring out, in a more vivid manner than was possible
with purely literary evidence, the contrasts and parallels presented
by Hebrew tradition. Thanks to a special grant for photographs from
the British Academy, I was enabled to illustrate by means of lantern
slides many of the problems discussed in the lectures; and it was
originally intended that the photographs then shown should appear as
plates in this volume. But in view of the continued and increasing
shortage of paper, it was afterwards felt to be only right that all
illustrations should be omitted. This very necessary decision has
involved a recasting of certain sections of the lectures as delivered,
which in its turn has rendered possible a fuller treatment of the new
literary evidence. To the consequent shifting of interest is also due
a transposition of names in the title. On their literary side, and in
virtue of the intimacy of their relation to Hebrew tradition, the
legends of Babylon must be given precedence over those of Egypt.

For the delay in the appearance of the volume I must plead the
pressure of other work, on subjects far removed from archaeological
study and affording little time and few facilities for a continuance
of archaeological and textual research. It is hoped that the insertion
of references throughout, and the more detailed discussion of problems
suggested by our new literary material, may incline the reader to add
his indulgence to that already extended to me by the British Academy.





At the present moment most of us have little time or thought to spare
for subjects not connected directly or indirectly with the war. We
have put aside our own interests and studies; and after the war we
shall all have a certain amount of leeway to make up in acquainting
ourselves with what has been going on in countries not yet involved in
the great struggle. Meanwhile the most we can do is to glance for a
moment at any discovery of exceptional interest that may come to

The main object of these lectures will be to examine certain Hebrew
traditions in the light of new evidence which has been published in
America since the outbreak of the war. The evidence is furnished by
some literary texts, inscribed on tablets from Nippur, one of the
oldest and most sacred cities of Babylonia. They are written in
Sumerian, the language spoken by the non-Semitic people whom the
Semitic Babylonians conquered and displaced; and they include a very
primitive version of the Deluge story and Creation myth, and some
texts which throw new light on the age of Babylonian civilization and
on the area within which it had its rise. In them we have recovered
some of the material from which Berossus derived his dynasty of
Antediluvian kings, and we are thus enabled to test the accuracy of
the Greek tradition by that of the Sumerians themselves. So far then
as Babylonia is concerned, these documents will necessitate a
re-examination of more than one problem.

The myths and legends of ancient Egypt are also to some extent
involved. The trend of much recent anthropological research has been
in the direction of seeking a single place of origin for similar
beliefs and practices, at least among races which were bound to one
another by political or commercial ties. And we shall have occasion to
test, by means of our new data, a recent theory of Egyptian influence.
The Nile Valley was, of course, one the great centres from which
civilization radiated throughout the ancient East; and, even when
direct contact is unproved, Egyptian literature may furnish
instructive parallels and contrasts in any study of Western Asiatic
mythology. Moreover, by a strange coincidence, there has also been
published in Egypt since the beginning of the war a record referring
to the reigns of predynastic rulers in the Nile Valley. This, like
some of the Nippur texts, takes us back to that dim period before the
dawn of actual history, and, though the information it affords is not
detailed like theirs, it provides fresh confirmation of the general
accuracy of Manetho’s sources, and suggests some interesting points
for comparison.

But the people with whose traditions we are ultimately concerned are
the Hebrews. In the first series of Schweich Lectures, delivered in
the year 1908, the late Canon Driver showed how the literature of
Assyria and Babylon had thrown light upon Hebrew traditions concerning
the origin and early history of the world. The majority of the
cuneiform documents, on which he based his comparison, date from a
period no earlier than the seventh century B.C., and yet it was clear
that the texts themselves, in some form or other, must have descended
from a remote antiquity. He concluded his brief reference to the
Creation and Deluge Tablets with these words: “The Babylonian
narratives are both polytheistic, while the corresponding biblical
narratives (Gen. i and vi-xi) are made the vehicle of a pure and
exalted monotheism; but in spite of this fundamental difference, and
also variations in detail, the resemblances are such as to leave no
doubt that the Hebrew cosmogony and the Hebrew story of the Deluge are
both derived ultimately from the same original as the Babylonian
narratives, only transformed by the magic touch of Israel’s religion,
and infused by it with a new spirit.”[1] Among the recently published
documents from Nippur we have at last recovered one at least of those
primitive originals from which the Babylonian accounts were derived,
while others prove the existence of variant stories of the world’s
origin and early history which have not survived in the later
cuneiform texts. In some of these early Sumerian records we may trace
a faint but remarkable parallel with the Hebrew traditions of man’s
history between his Creation and the Flood. It will be our task, then,
to examine the relations which the Hebrew narratives bear both to the
early Sumerian and to the later Babylonian Versions, and to ascertain
how far the new discoveries support or modify current views with
regard to the contents of those early chapters of Genesis.

[1] Driver, /Modern Research as illustrating the Bible/ (The Schweich
Lectures, 1908), p. 23.

I need not remind you that Genesis is the book of Hebrew origins, and
that its contents mark it off to some extent from the other books of
the Hebrew Bible. The object of the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua
is to describe in their origin the fundamental institutions of the
national faith and to trace from the earliest times the course of
events which led to the Hebrew settlement in Palestine. Of this
national history the Book of Genesis forms the introductory section.
Four centuries of complete silence lie between its close and the
beginning of Exodus, where we enter on the history of a nation as
contrasted with that of a family.[1] While Exodus and the succeeding
books contain national traditions, Genesis is largely made up of
individual biography. Chapters xii-l are concerned with the immediate
ancestors of the Hebrew race, beginning with Abram’s migration into
Canaan and closing with Joseph’s death in Egypt. But the aim of the
book is not confined to recounting the ancestry of Israel. It seeks
also to show her relation to other peoples in the world, and probing
still deeper into the past it describes how the earth itself was
prepared for man’s habitation. Thus the patriarchal biographies are
preceded, in chapters i-xi, by an account of the original of the
world, the beginnings of civilization, and the distribution of the
various races of mankind. It is, of course, with certain parts of this
first group of chapters that such striking parallels have long been
recognized in the cuneiform texts.

[1] Cf., e.g., Skinner, /A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on
Genesis/ (1912), p. ii f.; Driver, /The Book of Genesis/, 10th ed.
(1916), pp. 1 ff.; Ryle, /The Book of Genesis/ (1914), pp. x ff.

In approaching this particular body of Hebrew traditions, the
necessity for some caution will be apparent. It is not as though we
were dealing with the reported beliefs of a Malayan or Central
Australian tribe. In such a case there would be no difficulty in
applying a purely objective criticism, without regard to ulterior
consequences. But here our own feelings are involved, having their
roots deep in early associations. The ground too is well trodden; and,
had there been no new material to discuss, I think I should have
preferred a less contentious theme. The new material is my
justification for the choice of subject, and also the fact that,
whatever views we may hold, it will be necessary for us to assimilate
it to them. I shall have no hesitation in giving you my own reading of
the evidence; but at the same time it will be possible to indicate
solutions which will probably appeal to those who view the subject
from more conservative standpoints. That side of the discussion may
well be postponed until after the examination of the new evidence in
detail. And first of all it will be advisable to clear up some general
aspects of the problem, and to define the limits within which our
criticism may be applied.

It must be admitted that both Egypt and Babylon bear a bad name in
Hebrew tradition. Both are synonymous with captivity, the symbols of
suffering endured at the beginning and at the close of the national
life. And during the struggle against Assyrian aggression, the
disappointment at the failure of expected help is reflected in
prophecies of the period. These great crises in Hebrew history have
tended to obscure in the national memory the part which both Babylon
and Egypt may have played in moulding the civilization of the smaller
nations with whom they came in contact. To such influence the races of
Syria were, by geographical position, peculiarly subject. The country
has often been compared to a bridge between the two great continents
of Asia and Africa, flanked by the sea on one side and the desert on
the other, a narrow causeway of highland and coastal plain connecting
the valleys of the Nile and the Euphrates.[1] For, except on the
frontier of Egypt, desert and sea do not meet. Farther north the
Arabian plateau is separated from the Mediterranean by a double
mountain chain, which runs south from the Taurus at varying
elevations, and encloses in its lower course the remarkable depression
of the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, and the `Arabah. The Judaean hills
and the mountains of Moab are merely the southward prolongation of the
Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, and their neighbourhood to the sea endows
this narrow tract of habitable country with its moisture and
fertility. It thus formed the natural channel of intercourse between
the two earliest centres of civilization, and was later the battle-
ground of their opposing empires.

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