LITERATURE OF MESOPOTAMIA

RELIGIOUS LITERATURE IN MESOPOTAMIA


Divination text

Morris Jastrow said: “The bulk, nay, practically, the whole of the literature of Babylonia was of a religious character, or touched religion and religious beliefs and customs at some point, in accord with the close bond between religion and culture which, we have seen, was so characteristic a feature of the Euphratean civilisation. The old centres of religion and culture, like Nippur, Sippar, Cuthah, Uruk, and Ur, had retained much of their importance, despite the centralising influence of the capital of the Babylonian empire. Hammurabi and his successors had endeavoured, as we have seen, to give to Marduk the attributes of the other great gods, Enlil, Anu, Ea, Shamash, Adad, and Sin, and, to emphasise it, had placed shrines to these gods and others in the great temples of Marduk, and of his close associate, Nebo, in Babylon, and in the neighbouring Borsippa. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

“Along with this policy went, also, a centralising tendency in the cult and, as a consequence, the rituals, omens, and incantations produced in the older centres were transferred to Babylon and combined with the indigenous features of the Marduk cult. Yet this process of gathering in one place the literary remains of the past had never been fully carried out. It was left for Ashurbanapal to harvest within his palace the silent witnesses to the glory of these older centres. While Babylon and Borsippa constituted the chief sources whence came the copies that he had prepared for the royal library, internal evidence shows that he also gathered the literary treasures of other centres, such as Sippar, Nippur, Uruk. <>

“The great bulk of the religious literature in Ashurbanapal’s library represents copies or editions of omen-series, incanta-tion-rituals, myths, legends, and collections of prayers, made for the temple-schools, where the candidates for the various branches of the priesthood received their training. Hence we find supplemental to the literature proper, the pedagogical apparatus of those days—lists of signs, grammatical exercises; analyses of texts, texts with commentaries, and commentaries on texts, specimen texts, and school extracts, and pupils’ exercises.” <>

Websites and Resources on Mesopotamia: Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu.com/Mesopotamia ; Mesopotamia University of Chicago site mesopotamia.lib.uchicago.edu; British Museum mesopotamia.co.uk ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Louvre louvre.fr/llv/oeuvres/detail_periode.jsp ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/toah ; University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology penn.museum/sites/iraq ; Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago uchicago.edu/museum/highlights/meso ; Iraq Museum Database oi.uchicago.edu/OI/IRAQ/dbfiles/Iraqdatabasehome ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ABZU etana.org/abzubib; Oriental Institute Virtual Museum oi.uchicago.edu/virtualtour ; Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur oi.uchicago.edu/museum-exhibits ; Ancient Near Eastern Art Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org

Archaeology News and Resources: Anthropology.net anthropology.net : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; archaeologica.org archaeologica.org is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe archeurope.com features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine archaeology.org has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine archaeology.co.uk is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily heritagedaily.com is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience livescience.com/ : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons : online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel archaeologychannel.org explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites besthistorysites.net is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities essential-humanities.net: provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Sumerians, Producers of the World’s Oldest Stories

According to Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature: "The literature written in Sumerian is the oldest human poetry that can be read, dating from approximately 2500 B.C. onwards. It includes narrative poetry, praise poetry, hymns, laments, prayers, songs, fables, didactic poems, debate poems and proverbs." In can also be argued that the Sumerians produced the world’s oldest stories as narrative poems are stories. The Sumerologist Bendt Alster. discusses the topic in the following scholarly article: "On the Earliest Sumerian Literary Tradition", Alster, Bendt, Journal of Cuneiform Studies 28, 1976. 109-126..

Website: Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature: etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk . It contains an overview of Sumerian literature. According to their cataloguing system: "An initial 1 indicates compositions with a high narrative content, 1.1 to 1.7 being ones in which deities are the principal protagonists and 1.8 ones in which legendary heroes such as Lugalbanda play that role." There is a catalog at: etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk .

Lugalbanda and the Anzud Bird ( etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk ) is regarded as one of the oldest Sumerian stories and the cuneiform tablets on which it is written are in excellent condition. Lugalbanda is mentioned in the Sumerian King List as ruling in Sumer before the famous king Gilgamesh. The Anzud bird was a mythological thunderstorm bird depicted with the roaring head of a lion and the flying body of an eagle. [Source: John Alan Halloran, sumerian.org]


Anzu

En hedu'anna: Moon Priestess and World’s First Named Writer

En Hedu'anna was a priestess of the moon goddess (circa 2354 B.C.), astronomer and author, and by some accounts, the first female and the first writer whose name was recorded. The daughter of King Sargon, the great leader of Akkad and the destroyer of Sumeria, she was appointed by her farther to be chief astronomer and priestess of the moon goddess of her city. Her name means “ornament of heaven” Her birth name is unknown.

Being a priestess of the moon goddess was a position of great power and prestige. Only through the auspices of the high priestess could a leader achieve a legitimate claim to rule. The priests and priestesses in ancient Mesopotamia established a network of observatories to monitor the movements of the stars. The calendar they created is still used to date certain religious events like Easter and Passover.

None of En Hedu'anna astronomical observations or technical writing exists today, but we do have translations of forty-two of her poems. A bas-relief of her is at the University Museum in Philadelphia. One of her poems highlights her accomplishments:
The true woman who possesses exceeding wisdom,
She consults a tablet of lapis lazuli
She gives advice to all lands...
She measures off the heavens,
She places the measuring-cords on the earth.

Michelle Hart: “Enheduana is becoming known today as the first named author in all of world literature. She is credited by many as having written and compiled what is known as The Sumerian Temple Hymns, consisting of 42 hymns to the temples of Sumer and Akkad as well as a hymnal cycle to the goddess Inanna: 1) in-nin-me-hus-a,(INM), The Myth of Inanna and Ebih, 2) in-nin-sa-gur-ra, (INS),Stout-Hearted Lady, and 3) nin-me-sar-ra,(NMS), Lady of all the Me’s, which is her most famous poem. In addition, Joan Westenholz has also credited her as having written two hymns to the moon god, Nanna [Westenholz,1989]. [Source: Michelle Hart, Angelfire, January, 2001]

Many Near Eastern scholars believe that Enheduana’s hymns were politically motivated to support the imperialistic ambitions of her father, King Sargon, who’s unparalleled control of Sumer and Akkad had known no predecessor and that her installation by Sargon as en-priestess of Nanna at Ur was also a political strategy [Hallo & Van Dijk,1968, p.9.]. And there are scholars who question Enheduana’s authorship of these hymns, like Miguel Civil, stating that there is no solid evidence- and especially since most Sumerian literature was anonymous. Those who disagree with Adam Falkenstein who was the first to identify the title ’en-hedu-Ana’ in the poem nin-me-sarra as positive identification of Enheduanna herself [Falkenstein, 1954] state that the title ’en-hedu-Ana’ was a generic epithet for Inanna or for Dumuzi. Then there is Annette Zgoll’s [Zgoll, 1997] newest research in which she adds to the work of Hallo and Van Dijk and many others who acknowledge Enheduana as the author based on many historical references in the poem nin-me-sarra that refer to actual events which occurred during Naram Sin’s, reign and during Enheduana’s later years as en-priestess of Nanna. There are also stylistic reasons for grouping these hymns together as being written by the same person in addition to a few other “Inanna hymns”.


Ishtar (Inanna)

Adoration of Inanna of Ur by En hedu'anna (2320 B.C.)

Queen of all the ME, Radiant Light,
Life-giving Woman, beloved of An (and) Urash,
Hierodule of An, much bejeweled,
Who loves the life-giving tiara, fit for High Priestesshood,
Who grasps in (her) hand, the seven ME,
My Queen, you who are the Guardian of All the Great ME,
You have lifted the ME, have tied the ME to Your hands,
Have gathered the ME, pressed the ME to Your breast. [Source: Pritchard, James D. (1975): The Ancient Near East, Volume II, Princeton University Press]

You have filled the land with venom, like a dragon.
Vegetation ceases, when You thunder like Ishkur,
You who bring down the Flood from the mountain,
Supreme One, who are the Inanna of Heaven (and) Earth,
Who rain flaming fire over the land,
Who have been given the me by An,
Queen Who Rides the Beasts,
Who at the holy command of An, utters the (divine) words,
Who can fathom Your great rites!

Destroyer of the Foreign Lands,
You have given wings to the storm,
Beloved of Enlil - You made it (the storm) blow over the land,
You carried out the instructions of An.

My Queen,
the foreign lands cower at Your cry,
In dread (and) fear of the South Wind, mankind
Brought You their anguished clamor,
Took before You their anguished outcry
Opened before You wailing and weeping,
Brought before You the "great" lamentations in the city streets.

In the van of battle, everything was struck down before You,
My Queen,
You are all devouring in Your power,
You kept on attacking like an attacking storm,
Kept on blowing (louder) than the howling storm,
Kept on thundering (louder) than Ishkur,
Kept on moaning (louder) than the evil winds,
Your feet grew not weary,
You caused wailing to be uttered on the "lyre of lament."

My Queen,
[all] the Anunna, the great gods,
Fled before You like fluttering bats,
Could not stand before Your awesome face,
Could not approach Your awesome forehead. Who can soothe Your angry heart!
Your baleful heart is beyond soothing!
Queen, Happy of "Liver," Joyful of Heart,
(But) whose anger cannot be soothed, daughter of Sin,
Queen, Paramount in the Land,
Who has (ever) paid You (enough) homage!
The mountain who kept from paying homage to You -
vegetation became "tabu" for it,
You burnt down its great gates,
Its rivers ran with blood because of You,
its people had nothing to drink,
Its troops were led off willingly (into captivity) before You,
Its forces disbanded themselves willingly before You,
Its strong men paraded willingly before You,
The amusement places of its cities were filled with turbulence,
Its adult males were driven off as captives before You.

Against the city that said not "Yours is the land,'
That said not "It belongs to the father who begot you,"
You promised Your Holy Word, turned away from it,
Kept Your distance from its womb,
Its woman spoke not of love with her husband,
In the deep night she whispered not (tenderly) with him,
Revealed not to him the "Holiness" of Her heart.
Rampant Wild Cow, elder daughter of Sin,
Queen, greater than An,
who has (ever) paid You (enough) homage!
You who in accordance with the life giving me,
Great Queen of Queens,
Have become greater than Your mother who gave birth to you,
(as soon as) you came forth from the Holy Womb,
Knowing, Wise, Queen of All the Lands,
Who multiplies (all) living creatures (and) peoples --
I have uttered Your Holy song.
Life-Giving Goddess, fit for the ME,
whose acclamation is exalted,
Merciful, Live-Giving Woman, Radiant of Heart,
I have uttered it before You in accordance with the ME.

I have entered before You in my holy gipar,
I the En, Enheduanna,
Carrying the masab-basket, I uttered a joyous chant,
(But now) I no longer dwell in the goodly place You established.
Came the day, the sun scorched me
Came the shade (of night), the South Wind overwhelmed me,
My honey-sweet voice has become strident,
Whatever gave me pleasure has turned into dust. Oh Sin, King of Heaven, my (bitter) fate,
To An declare, An will deliver me,
Pray declare it to An, he will deliver me.

The kingship of heaven has been seized by the woman (Inanna),
At whose feet lies the flood-land.
That woman (Inanna) so exalted,
who has made me tremble together the city (Ur),
Stay Her, let Her heart be soothed by me.
I, Enheduanna will offer supplications to Her,
My tears, like sweet drinks.
Will I proffer to the Holy Inanna, I will greet Her in peace,
Let not Ashimbabbar (Sin) be troubled.

She (Inanna) has changed altogether the rites of Holy An,
Has seized the Eanna from An,
Feared not the great An,
That house (the Eanna) whose charm was irresistible,
whose allure was unending,
That house She has turned over to destruction,
Her . . . that She brought there has . . .
My Wild Cow (Inanna) assaults there its men, makes them captive.

I, what am I among the living creatures!
May An give over (to punishment)
the rebellious lands that hate your (Inanna's) Nanna,
May An split its cities asunder,
May Enlil curse it,
May not its tear-destined child be soothed by her mother,
Oh, Queen who established lamentations,
Your "boat of lamentations," has landed in an inimical land,
There will I die, while singing the holy song.
As for me, my Nanna watched not over me,
I have been attacked most cruelly.
Ashimbabbar has not spoken my verdict.
But what matter, whether he spoke it or not!
I, accustomed to triumph, have been driven forth from (my) house,
Was forced to flee like the cote like a swallow, my life is devoured,
Was made to walk among the mountain thorns,
The life-giving tiara of En-ship was taken from me,
Eunuchs were assigned to me -
"These are becoming to you," it was told me.

Dearest Queen, Beloved of An,
Let your Holy heart, the Noble, return to me,
Beloved wife of Ushumgalanna (Dumuzi),
Great Queen of the Horizon and the Zenith,
The Anunna have prostrated themselves before you.
Although at birth You were the younger sister,
How much greater You have become than the Anunna,
the Great Gods!
The Anunna kiss the ground before You.
It is not my verdict that has been completed,
it is a strange verdict that has been turned into my verdict,
The fruitful bed has been abolished,
(So that) I have not interpreted to man the commands of Ningal.
For me, the Radiant En of Nanna,
May your heart be soothed, You who are the Queen beloved of An.
"You are known, You are known" -
it is not of Nanna that I have recited it,
it is of You that I have recited it.

You are known by Your heaven-like height,
You are known by Your earth-like breadth,
You are known by Your destruction of rebel-lands,
You are known by Your massacring (their people),
You are known by Your devouring (their) dead like a dog,
You are known by Your fierce countenance.
You are known by the raising of Your fierce countenance,
You are known by Your flashing eyes.
You are known by Your contentiousness (and) disobedience,
You are known by Your many triumphs" --

It is not of Nanna that I have recited it,
it is of You that I have recited it.

My Queen, I have extolled You,
who alone are exalted,
Queen Beloved of An, I have erected your daises,
Have heaped up the coals, have conducted the rites,
Have set up the nuptial chamber for You,
may Your heart be soothed for me,
Enough, more than enough innovations,
Great Queen, have I made for You.
What I have recited to You in the deep night,
The gala-singer will repeat for You in midday.
It is because of Your captive spouse, your captive son,
That Your wrath is so great, Your heart so unappeased.
The foremost Queen, the prop of the assembly,
Accepted Her prayer.
The heart of Inanna was restored,
The day was favorable for Her,
She was clothed with beauty, was filled with joyous allure,
How she carried (her) beauty -- like the rising moonlight!
Nanna who came forth in wonder true,
(and) her Ningal, proffered prayers to Her,
Greeted her at the doorsill (of the Temple).
To the hierodule whose command is noble,
The destroyer of foreign lands, presented by An with the me,
My Queen garbed in allure,

O Inanna, praise!

Temple Hymns by by En hedu'anna

Temple Hymn 7, The Kesh Temple Of Ninhursag, The Lofty:
high-lying Kesh
in all heaven and earth you are the form-shaping place
spreading fear like a great poisonous snake
O Lady of the Mountains Ninhursag’s house
built on a terrifying site
O Kesh like holy Aratta
inside is a womb dark and deep
your outside towers over all
imposing one
great lion of the wildlands stalking the high plains
great mountain
incantations fixed you in place
inside the light is dim
even moonlight (Nanna’s light) does not enter
only Nintur Lady Birth
makes it beautiful
O house of Kesh
the brick of birthgiving
your temple tower adorned with a lapis lazuli crown
your princess
Princess of Silence
unfailing great Lady of Heaven
when she speaks heaven shakes
open-mouthed she roars
Aruru sister of Enlil
O house of Kesh
has built this house on your radiant site
and placed her seat upon your dais [Source: Translation by Betty De Shong Meador, American Translators Association Archives of ATA Journals, atanet.org,classicalarthistory.weebly.com]

Temple Hymn 15: The Gishbanda Temple Of Ningishzida:
ancient place
set deep in the mountain
artfully
dark shrine frightening and red place
safely placed in a field
no one can fathom your mighty hair-raising path
Gishbanda
the neck-stock the fine-eyed net
the foot-shackling netherworld knot
your restored high wall is massive
like a trap
your inside the place where the sun rises
yields widespread abundance
your prince the pure-handed
shita priest of Inanna heaven’s holy one
Lord Ningishzida
his thick and beautiful hair
falls down his back
O Gishbanda
has built this house on your radiant site
and placed his seat upon your dais

Temple Hymn 17: The Badtibira Temple Of Dumuzi: Emush:
O house
jeweled lapis herbs fleck the shining bed
heart-soothing place of the Lady of the Steppe
Emush brickwork glistening and pure
its burnished clay placed firmly (on the earth)
your sky-rising wall sprawls over the high plain
for the one who tends the ewes
and over the Arali House for the shepherd
your prince radiant one of the Holy Woman
a lion pacing the steppe back and forth
the wonder-causing pure breasted one
the Lord spouse of pure Inanna
Dumuzi master of the Emush
O Badtibira (fortress of the coppersmith)
has built this house on your radiant site
and placed his seat upon your dais

Temple Hymn 20: The Lagash Temple Of Ningirsu, Eninnu:
Eninnu
right arm of thick-necked Lagash in Sumer
with heavy-cloud bird Anzu’s eyes
that scan insurgent mountains
Ningirsu’s crowd-flattener blade a menace to all lands
battle arm blasting storm drenching everyone
battle arm all the great gods the Annuna
grant again and again
so from your skin of bricks
on the rim of the holy hill green as mountains
you determine fates
a holy whirlpool spins in your river
blowing whirlwinds spawn from your glance
at the gate facing the Holy City
they pour wine into fine stone vessels of An
out under the sky
what comes in cannot be equaled
what goes out never ceases
at the fiery face of the Shugalam gate
its radiant brilliance the fate-cutting site
Lord Ningirsu besieges with hair-raising fear
all the Annuna appear at your great wine festival
your prince furious storm-wind
destroyer of rebel cities
your king angry bull flaunting his brawn
savage lion that makes heads shake
warrior the lord of lords who plots schemes
king of kings who mounts victories
mighty one great hero in battle has no rival
son of Enlil lord Ningirsu
O Eninnu
has built this house on your radiant site
and established his seat upon your throne

Temple Hymn 22: The Sirara Temple Of Nanshe:
O house you wild cow
there to conjure signs from divination
you arise splendid to behold
bedecked for your princess
Sirara great and princely place
you dream-opener
highly prized in the shrine
your lady Nanshe
a great storm
strong dark water
born on the shore of the sea
laughing in the sea foam
playing playing in the waves
divine Nanshe mighty Lady
O house of Sirara
has built this house on your radiant site
and placed her seat upon your dais

Temple Hymn 26: The Zabalam Temple Of Inanna:
O house wrapped in beams of light
wearing shining stone jewels wakening great awe
sanctuary of pure Inanna
(where) divine powers the true me spread wide
Zabalam
shrine of the shining mountain
shrine that welcomes the morning light
she makes resound with desire
the Holy Woman grounds your hallowed chamber
with desire
your queen Inanna of the sheepfold
that singular woman
the unique one
who speaks hateful words to the wicked
who moves among the bright shining things
who goes against rebel lands
and at twilight makes the firmament beautiful
all on her own
great daughter of Suen
pure Inanna
O house of Zabalam
has built this house on your radiant site
and placed her seat upon your dais

Temple Hymn 42: The Eresh Temple of Nisaba, Ezagin:
this shining house of stars bright with lapis stones
has opened itself to all lands
a whole mix of people in the shrine every month
lift heads for you Eresh
all the primeval lords
soapwort the very young saba on your platform
great Nanibgal Nisaba Lady of Saba
brought powers down from heaven
added her measure to your powers
enlarged the shrine set it up for praising
faithful woman exceeding in wisdom
opens [her] mouth [to recite] over cooled lined
tablets
always consults lapis tablets
[and] gives strong council to all lands
true woman of the pure soapwort
born of the sharpened reed
who measures the heavens by cubits
strikes the coiled measuring rod on the earth
praise be to Nisaba
the person who bound this tablet together
is Enheduanna
my king something never before created
did not this one give birth to it

Babylonian Literature

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:“Vast as is the material of Babylonian inscriptions, equally varied are their contents. The great majority no doubt of the 300,000 tablets hitherto unearthed deal with business matters rather than with matters literary; contracts, marriage settlements, cadastral surveys, commercial letters, orders for goods or acknowledgments of their receipt, official communications between magistrates and civil or military governors, names, titles, and dates on foundation stones, private correspondence, and so on. Still a fair percentage has a right to be strictly classed as "literature" or "belles-lettres". We must moreover constantly keep in mind that only about one-fifth of the total number of these tablets have been published and that any description of their literature must as yet be fragmentary and tentative. It is convenient to classify as follows: (1) the Epics; (2) the Psalm; (3) the Historical Narrative.” [Source: J.P. Arendzen, transcribed by Rev. Richard Giroux, Catholic Encyclopedia |=|]

Psalms: “This species of literature, which formerly seemed almost limited to the Hebrew race, had a luxurious growth on Babylonian soil. These songs to the gods or to some one god are indeed often either weird incantations or dreary litanies; and when after perusal of a good number of them one turns to the Hebrew Psalter, no fair-minded person will deny the almost immeasurable superiority of the latter. On the other hand, naught but unreasoning prejudice would trouble to deny the often touching beauty and nobility of thought in some of these productions of the instinctive piety of a noble race. It is natural moreover that the tone of some Babylonian psalms should strongly remind us of some songs of Israel, where every psalmist boasted that he had as forefather a Babylonian: Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees. Some of these psalms are written in Sumerian with Semitic Babylonian interlinear translations; others in Semitic Babylonian only. They show all sorts of technicalities in versification, parallelism, alliteration, and rhythm. There are acrostics and even double acrostics, the initial and final syllable of each line being the same. These psalms contain praise and supplication of the great gods, but, what is most remarkable, some of them are penitential psalms, the sinner mourning his sin and begging restoration to favour. Moreover, there are a great number of "lamentations" not over personal but over national calamities; and a Babylonian "prophet" wept over the fall of Nippur many centuries before Jeremias wrote his inspired songs of sorrow over the destruction of Jerusalem. Besides these there are numberless omen tablets, magical recipes for all sorts of ills, and rituals of temple service, but they belong to the history of religion and astrology rather than to that of literature.” |=|

Historical Narratives: “The Babylonians seemed to have possessed no ex professo historians, who, like a Herodotus, endeavoured to give a connected narrative of the past. We have to gather their history from the royal inscriptions on monuments and palace walls and state-cylinders, in which each sovereign records his great deeds in perpetuam rei memoriam. Whereas we fortunately possess an abundance of historical texts of the Assyrian kings, thanks to the discovery of Assurbanipal's library, we are as yet not so fortunate in the case of Babylonian kings; of the early Babylonian city-kings we have a number of shorter inscriptions on steles and boundary stones in true lapidary style and longer historical records in the great cylinder inscriptions of Gudea of Lagash. Whereas we possess considerable historical texts of Hammurabi, we possess but very little of his many successors on the Babylonian throne until the Second Babylonian Empire, when long historical texts tell us the doings of Nabopolassar, Nabuchodonosor, and Nabonidus. They are all of a pompous grandeur that palls a little on a Western mind, and their self-adulation comes strange to us. They are in the style which popular imagination is wont to attribute to the utterances of His Celestial Majesty, the Emperor of China. They invariably begin with a long homage to the gods, giving lengthy lists of deities, protectors of the sovereign and state, and end with imprecations on those who destroy, mutilate, or disregard the inscription. The Babylonian royal inscriptions, as far as at present known, are almost without exception peaceful in tone and matter. Their ever recurring themes are the erection, restoration, or adornment of temples and palaces, and the digging of canals. Even when at war, the Babylonian king thought it bad taste to refer to it in his monumental proclamations. No doubt the Babylonians must have despised Assyrian inscriptions as bloodthirsty screeds. Because the genius of Babylon was one of culture and peace; therefore, though a world-centre a thousand years before Ninive, it lasted more than a thousand years after Ninive was destroyed.

In addition to literature given after article Assyria: Boscawen, The First of Empires (2d ed., London, 1905); Bezold, Ninive und Babylon (Leipzig, 1903); Pinches, The Old Testament in the Light of the Historical Records and Legends of Assyria and Babylonia (London, 1903); Sayce, The Archaeology of the Cuneiform Inscriptions (London, 1907); Jastrow, Die Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens (Giessen, I, 1905; II, 1907); Radau, Early Babylonian History (New York, 1900); Lagrange, Historical Criticism and O.T. (London, 1906); Jeremias, Das Alte Testament in Lichte des alten Orients (Leipzig, 1906); Delitzsch, Babel und Bibel (Leipzig and Stuttgart, 1905) for a collection of texts with immediate bearing on O.T.; Winckler, Keilinschriftliches Textbuch zum Alten Testament (Leipzig, 1903).

Babylonian Epics

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:“The so called "Seven Tablets of Creation", because written on a series of seven very mutilated tablets in the Kouyunshik Library. Happily the lacunae can here and there be filled up by fragments of duplicates found elsewhere. Borrowing an expression from the early Teuton literature, this might be called the "saga of the primeval chaos". Assyrian scribes called it by its first words "Enuma Elish" (When on high) as the Jews called Genesis "Bereshith" (in the beginning). Although it contains an account of the world's origin, as above contrasted with the account given in the Bible, it is not so much a cosmogony as the story of the heroic deeds of the god Marduk, in his struggle with the Dragon of Chaos. Though the youngest of the gods, Marduk is charged by them to fight Tiamtu and the gods on her side. He wins a glorious victory; he takes the tablets of fate from Kimgu, her husband; he splits open her skull, hews asunder the channels of her blood and makes the north wind carry it away to hidden places. He divides the corpse of the great Dragon and with one half makes a covering for the heavens and thus fixes the waters above the firmament. He then sets about fashioning the universe, and the stars, and the moon; he forms man. "Let me gather my blood and let me set up a man, let me make then men dwelling on the earth." When Marduk has finished his work, he is acclaimed by all the gods with joy and given fifty names. The gods are apparently eager to bestow their own titles upon him. The aim of the poem clearly is to explain how Marduk, the local god of as modern a city as Babylon, had displaced the deities of the older Babylonian cities, "the gods his fathers". |=| [Source: J.P. Arendzen, transcribed by Rev. Richard Giroux, Catholic Encyclopedia |=|]

“The Adapa-Legend, a sort of "Paradise Lost", probably a standard work of Babylonian literature, as it is found not only in the Ninive library, but even among the Amarna tablets in Egypt. It relates how Adapa, the wise man or Atrachasis, the purveyor to the sanctuary of Ea, is deceived, through the envy of Ea. Anu, the Supreme God, invites him to Paradise, offers him the food and drink of immortality, but Adapa, mistakenly thinking it poison, refuses, and loses life everlasting. Anu scornfully says: "Take him and bring him back to his earth." |=|

“(d) Ishtar's descent into Hades, here and there bearing a surprising resemblance to well-known lines of Dante's Inferno. The goddess of Erech goes:
“To the land whence no one ever returneth,
To the house of gloom where dwelleth Irkalla,
To the house which one enters but nevermore leaveth,
On the way where there is no retracing of footsteps,
To the house which one enters, and daylight all ceases.” |=|

“On an Amarna tablet we find a description ghostly and graphic of a feast, a fight, and a wedding in hell. Likewise fragments of legendary stories about the earliest Babylonian kings have come down to us. One of the most remarkable is that in which Sargon of Akkad, born of a vestal maiden of high degree, is exposed by his mother in a basket of bulrushes and pitch floating on the waters of the Euphrates; he is found by a water carrier and brought up as a gardener. This story cannot but remind us of Moses' birth. |=|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018


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