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ANCIENT FICTIONALITY: RELIGION AND CREATIVITY

MESOPOTAMIAN RELIGION II

written by: Stanley Wilkin

@catalhuyuk

 

ANCIENT FICTIONALITY: RELIGION AND CREATIVITY - MESOPOTAMIAN RELIGION II by Stanley Wilkin at Spillwords.com

 

Enkil: Supreme God.

  1. Gods and heroes: the greater reality.

The everyday existence of the gods/goddesses was of considerably more consequence than their earthly counterparts, considered merely the gods’/goddess’ servants although necessary for the running of the universe. Human beings were shadows in a conjoined but vastly inferior dimension from the heavenly dimension. Exploring the gods’/goddess’ lives was a way of constructing the human world. The lands and cities were closely linked to the deities. Assyria was the land of the god, Ashur, Nar-Adad meant ‘the light of the god Adad’, and the sign designating Nippur meant ‘the place of Enlil’.

The range of topics was wide. Heroes and kings, divinity and the problem of finite human existences, natural order, narratives concerning gods/goddesses that explore femininity, motherhood, and later masculinity[1], scribes and learning[2]cover responses to different aspects of the world, often through supernatural beings, representing elite groups, the prevailing powers, or human substitutes. Together they weave a reality that reflects urban and country life, the interdependent existences of deities, human beings and animals.

Narratives concerning gods/goddesses reflect themes of loss, suffering and death. The poems on the married couple Dumuzi (shepherd) and Inanna (goddess of love and war) reflect aspects of fertility and the dying god, the on-going relationship between city and country-shepherd and harlot-, but through the mediation of the gods, encapsulating too the link between the power of sex and the vulnerability of love. This is a world in which gods and goddesses are characters in a great imaginative effort. Usually, important supernatural characters are coherent, expressing the same or similar characteristics, scribes often fitting stories together to provide coherence, like any well-used character in a play or novel. The appearance of a god or goddess in a story indicates the nature of the story-Enlil  engages in sex and the creation of gods-Inanna’s themes are extensive involving arranged marriage[3], in which she is the central figure in what was already a common tradition, the result of the appearance of ownership framed within contracts specific to Sumerian culture. Inanna represented urban life and her marriage to Damuzi, the shepherd-king, who although probably based on a very early Urukian king, represented the country outside of the city, allowed the writers to analyse the relationship between the two ways of life, and probably also of the relationships between two dynasties throughout the centuries.

The romance between Inanna and Dumuzi was written about extensively, and powerfully appears in ‘Inanna’s Descent into the Netherworld’, an area Inanna sets out to conquer, becomes trapped and gives Dumuzi as a substitute so she can return to life. As Dumuzi is required to ensure fertility, vines and barley unable to grow, he is allowed to return to life for 6 months each year, Geshtinanna, his sister, replacing him in the Netherworld. Mark Lamarre[4]believes this was a mystery cult, transferred or transmitted to the Mediterranean. It can be seen in the cult of Tummuz (Dumuzi) in Palestine during the 1st millennium BCE, and perhaps those of Osiris, Attis, Adonis, Dionysos and Persephone-although surely the Osiris myth has profound differences, such as a ruminations on death that go beyond fertility concerns, and must have emerged separately from Ancient Egyptian culture.

Lamarre describes the initiation ceremony in the Demeter/Persephone mystery cult that may have involved childbirth and mystical visions, called the Epopteia. It is possible such initiation were held in Sumeria, embedding thereby cult experience and belief. As these stem back into the beginnings of agriculture, birth and death are mingled. The Netherworld/Underworld involves a timeless place between decay and regrowth, at times understood as metamorphosis, reclaimed by botany.

A more telling poem involves Inanna choosing a husband from Dumuzi, the shepherd, and a farmer. In early Sumerian myths Dumuzi is ‘the force in the grain’,[5] as well as the lover and attendant of the fertility goddess-Inanna. The northern Akkadians, a Semitic people, saw Dumuzi as a shepherd, emphasising the will and power of the gods, the heavenly bull and divine king.  Inanna’s forcefulness, displayed in many of the stories about her, represents the force of lust/sex/love. That force was subsumed by war, its energies used to that end. Although Inanna at first rejects Dumuzi as her consort, selecting the farmer instead, Dumuzi eventually persuades her to be his wife/lover. While this poem at once concerns the sacred marriage between Inanna and the king of Uruk, it also concerns the gradual dominance of Akkadian ideology. Dumuzi as the shepherd (Akkadian), a role of power, is chosen and Dumuzi as the farmer (Sumerian) dismissed. The ideology of power increasingly became elemental within Mesopotamian concepts of leadership, and possibly let to the eventual increasing masculinisation of society noticeable in Palestine during the 1st millennium BCE.

It is possible to see the Jesus narrative in these stories, with Mary-barely referenced in the Gospels-representing Inanna’s care and Mary Magdalene’s early prostitution-never stated in the Gospels- her role as champion of prostitutes. Dumuzi is considered to have become Adonis, a persona of Jesus/Christ. Joseph Campbell[6] connects the mythology of the ‘dead and resurrected god’ with Adonis as son/lover of the goddess-mother of many names, including Demeter and Venus. Jesus, see above, represents the dying and resurrected king/god, the shepherd, as Mary, his mother, represents the mother-goddess in both the Gospels and Qur’an.  Lamarre traces Mary’s emergence as Mary-Mother of God, ki to the Christian gods an. Campbell sees mounds as also representative of the mother-goddess as she was the root of all creation, such as the hill Jesus was crucified on, thereby connecting Mary with life and death. In Maryam, in the Qur’an, the tree associated with Mary connects her and Joseph to the Tree of Life/Knowledge, and reaffirms Mary’s role as Mother Goddess-as a date tree, it is likewise connected to fertility.

While many stories concerned deities existing within their own dimensions, in parallel to a human dimension, sculptures of gods and goddesses and their temples provided an entrance point for the gods and goddesses within the more shadowy human world. Humans were slaves/servants of the gods/goddesses and therefore subject to a less complete existence. Contrary perhaps to expectations, human beings had a liminal existence, not the supernatural characters, as succinctly expressed in the Gilgamesh Epic. Although this paper is mainly focused on literature, as it was here that paradigms were most clearly formed, they were also constructed through independent glyphs, artefacts and other means of transporting images of known narratives.                      

                                                         

Creating the world

Although all cultures appear to construct myths regarding their or the world’s origins, few perhaps constructed an interactive set of narratives subject to continuous or frequent referencing, development and reflection. Such processes tend to be the province of literature. Where an ancient proto-literate or illiterate culture might locate their god/goddesses in animals, the cosmos or a tree they rarely construct interrelationships with other real or imagined supernatural forces or beings, attribute behaviour, histories and personal characteristics. In Sumerian religion, Enlil acquired human characteristics that impacted on place and time, many of which were associated with natural forces, or exaggerations of human physical capacities. I suggest this is the world of the creative literate mentality, enlarging belief and awe with systematic phenomena linked to human relationships.  Such groups, varied and at times fluid, established the nature of reality, enabling the continued development of urban cultures.

                                                                       

Genesis

How did Sumerian belle literature, distinguished from day to day usage with a focus upon style, specific use of words, and intention, begin? It probably began as an attempt to quantify human and religious transactions, as written language had done for commercial transactions and contracts. Many poems began within cults, memorialising the emergence of a cult, often the combining of two cults for political reasons. As with many forms of literature, they also began in song. Sumerian administrative records document different types of musicians and singers who were attached to temples and palaces. Certainly, many commemorated events.[7]

The Kes temple hymn demonstrates a range of instruments employed in a cultic setting:

The bull’s horn is made to growl: the drumsticks are made to thud. The singer cries out to the ala drum; the grand sweet tigi drum is played for him. The house is built; its nobility is good![8]

Over time many of these events were lost perhaps to everyday remembrance and became scholastic pieces reduced merely to narrative, words and form used as reference points for scribes and literate royalty.

Sumerian literature concerned itself also with the nature of kingship-kingship and city, kingship and kingly assumptions of godliness and the problems wrought on this concept by death. The Sumerian ideology of kingship is imperative for the development of YHWH and Allah. Gods/goddesses interaction was either remote, conducted in that other version of reality, which was more authentic, to human beings and alongside human beings, entering and exiting human worldly dimensions.

 

Reality through the written word

The early civilisations created reality through the spoken/written word. This is most evident in the Ptah creation myth originating in Memphis, which comes close to the creation myth found in Genesis. He was the god of artists, craftsmen and sculptors and therefore as to be expected took a direct part in creating the universe. Each entity was a divine thought to which a word was attached. It involved a threefold process, heart/brain planning (the concept), tongue formulating, and the spoken word creating or giving concrete form to the concept.[9] This provides a complex philosophical base to creation and the perceivable world. As the spoken word is likely to mean also written word we thereby arrive at the importance of script and literature in forming perceptions of the world. In Sumerian religion (Kramer: 1979:45), like good supervisors, the deities had only to conceive a plan for ‘what was to be created or produced’, usually as a team, and utter the required words for it to occur. This surely reflected the creation of the temples and waterways throughout Sumeria, except that humankind employed immense hard work and time not magic.

In Sumerian myth creativity is not a part of the means to construct the known world, but bestowed on humans by goddesses, who received them from senior gods.[10]Individual events can initiate supernatural creativity. This is evident, for example, in the story of Enlil and Sud, where Enlil, after an, the chief god, gives Ninlil, his bride, gifts connected to writing, measuring, and reckoning and accounts. Elsewhere goddesses are frequently referred to as scribes. Education seems to have been in the hands, or projected as such, of goddesses.  Sumeria invented a woman’s script, used by women or utilised in literature when women spoke. Such an approach is more complete in Sumeria, which invested in lexical texts and roles lists that provided perceptions of society. The process of Naming may have been crucial in the ancient world.

Sumerian was probably the earliest urban culture producing most of the institutions and skills we rely on today. Although little read today, Sumerian literature is brilliant, providing evocative language and complex thoughts. As noted above, it employed practically all the genres we are now familiar with: myth, epic, praise poetry, hymns, laments, prayers, songs, fables, didactic poems, debates and proverbs.[11]All of which found a place in Hebrew, Christian and Islamic literature but carrying greater weight and seriousness by its assorted readership.

 

Intelligentsia

This group, as referenced above, was distinguished by the act of writing as separate from copying text, and, as noted, appear to have existed (Wolkstein/Kramer: 1984: page 122) from the early part of the 3rd millennium BCE onwards when the theology and cosmology of Sumeria were first constructed. Amendments were made according to political and social changes until the entire edifice fell before the Persians and Greeks from c500 BCE onwards. Although Sumerian ideas remain with us, they have all been appropriated by the monotheistic religions and modern secularism.

Two elements stand out from Sumerian interpretations of the world, ordering and categorisation or Naming (Kripke: 1980). Order not chaos describes the world. Naming is about knowledge. As in Genesis, the ancient Hebrew work that employs many Sumerian intellectual inventions, reality was/is dependent upon the spoken and written word prefaced by thought processes that create the spoken or written word. According to Kramer (1984: page 123), for example, there were four creator gods, whose creative powers consisted primarily of the divine word; all the creator had to do was ‘to make his or her plans, utter the word, and pronounce the name’. From this we can extrapolate on the magical characteristics of the written word that appeared to shape reality.

A god’s/goddess’s Naming was accompanied over time by evolving named characteristics, and narratives that described etymologies identified with the deity, or provided mythical explanations to long-held constructs. The deity plus its characteristics ordered the world within natural forces that gave rise to forces congruent with human society. Enkil, the creator and storm god, predicated the military and masculine values of Akkad and Assyria (see divine-kingship above). Inanna encapsulated life and death, the fertility and creative powers of sex, and the destruction of warfare: she encapsulated the differing but independent concerns of countryside and city, of the growth of vegetation and of prostitution (an urban institution), of experimental sexuality indicating male and female prostitution and the deconstruction of gender stereotypes (if they existed). Inanna had the reputation of being able to turn ‘a man into a woman and a woman into a man[12]:

                          

The Holy One.(Wolkstein/Kramer: 1984)

 

The male prostitutes comb their hair before you.

They decorate the napes of their necks with coloured scarfs,

They drape the cloak of the gods about their shoulders.

The righteous man and woman walk before you.

They hold the soothing harp by their sides.

Those who follow wear the sword belt.

They grasp the spear in their hands.

 

The people of Sumer parade before you. 

The women adorn their right side with men’s clothing.

The people of Sumer parade before you.

 

I say, “Hail” to Inanna, Great Lady of Heaven!

 

The men adorn their left side with women’s clothing.

The people of Sumer parade before you.

 

Kramer (1984) describes Sumerian intelligentsia, probably a mixed group joined by the employment of writing, as responsible for the myths and legends of ancient Sumer. The nature of elements of Sumerian religious and secular text indicates that in certain periods of Sumerian history they enjoyed greater intellectual freedom than Sumerian artists.[13] Although the mass of Sumerian intelligentsia were probably not the only movers of Sumerian theology, fables no doubt circulated within the general community, the idea of water, or seas, as existing from the beginning of time, representing a first cause in the manner of Heraclitus, and the idea of a vaulted heaven over a flat earth and ‘united with it’ (Kramer: 1984: page 122) represents a considerable intellectual achievement which may have existed in many other cultures but was transformed by writing. This allowed for immense detail and the accumulation of narrative to elucidate reality within its then entire scope. The allocation of gods/goddesses to natural phenomenon gave greater meaning to the observable world, each natural fixture supplied with a guiding narrative.

 

Religious reality

The additional narrative provided a chance to use, or play with, literary forms and thereby the art of writing. Authenticity of text did not have the modern meaning, but were contingent. These texts were entertaining, instructive and sometimes authoritarian, providing an understanding of the world. It served to organise impression, experience and construct reality. Where science seeks to create knowledge by objectifying natural phenomena, religion seeks to create an alternative reality, one unseen, unproven, largely through the written word, employing literary forms and devices to construct that reality.

Of course Science also establishes its perceptual viewpoint through the written word, but also through maths and by subjecting phenomena to scrutiny, producing thereby observations and measurements. Where science might itemise a chair as an object for sitting on, providing measurements on how many people can sit on it, and the weight of each, the categorisation of the chair in form and material proceeds similarly from the Ptah arrangement above but with idea/construction/name. In religion the idea is claimed by an invisible deity, or its acolytes, and is then constructed by people thereby giving coherence to literary and artistic forms that do not thereby require affirmation by proof.

 

Men and Gods/Goddesses

 According to Paul Kriwaczek (2010), the earliest Sumerian’s interpretation of natural phenomenon as the activities of gods demonstrated powerful imaginations and poetic sensibilities of the highest order and gives credence to the idea that that religions form the greatest of all humanity’s collected created works of art based on mythopoeic construction whereby most phenomena was caused by or a manifestation of the gods. The gods’ reality is presented as much more clearer and more dominant than the human beings who were created for the sole purpose of service and supplication, supplying the gods with ‘food, drink and shelter’ in a reciprocal arrangement that gave humans long life and happiness.[14] The gods reflected the hierarchical structure of the Sumerian political system.  Mythopoeic symbolism was the language of Sumerian religion, but also was used to construct understanding of the world and organise its various facets. The interplay of invisible gods and environments occasioned a perceptual view of the world based upon literature.

Historical and political developments were part of the shaping and re-shaping of Sumerian religion. Samuel Noah Kramer,[15]one of the principal commenters on Sumeria, demonstrates that women may once have been equal to men in early Sumeria, but gradually lost their powerful positions. The social order of the gods/goddesses started to reflect this and whereas at one point Ki, the Earth, was once perhaps equal to an she became demoted to much lower rungs, her place taken by her son Enlil.  A similar fate was given to the mother of an and ki, Nammu, whose name disappeared from the god-lists.

As in West Semitic and Egyptian religious narratives, sexual conjugation played an essential part in creating both the universe and the supernatural reality of the deities. The union of Heaven and Earth, Disputation between Tree and Reed (Kramer: 1979: pp 4/5), according to one writer resulted in the birth of vegetation:

 

The Holy Earth, the pure Earth, beautified herself for Holy Heaven

Heaven, the noble god, inserted his sex into the wide Earth,

Let flow the semen of the heroes, Trees and Reed, into her womb,

The Earthly Orb, the trusty cow, was impregnated with the good semen of Heaven.

 

This is an imaginative narrative of an origin myth, the remainder of the poem replete with gorgeous references in a testimony to Earth’s beauties. Why should this marvellously written poem not have been as much a literary exploration as well as a religious one, in a similar manner to Milton’s Paradise Lost, serving faith, knowledge and literary prowess? Another poem concerns Enlil, often depicted as having intercourse, like Zeus, with a number of goddesses and natural objects, having intercourse with a mountain in order to create Summer and Winter.

In Sumerian religion an initial act of creation was followed by lesser acts of creation in order to populate the earth, but not heaven, with natural phenomena (Kramer: 1979: pp 38/39). .

Early literature included deities as characters within a greater narrative, but each formed a literary form. The development of myth, constructed as stories participated in by supernatural beings, expanded both understanding and language. Each god was the personification of certain properties belonging to human beings and city-life, and language was employed to establish those properties.

Ancient Mesopotamian literature was largely anonymous, with only a very few known authors. Individual authorship was probably not revered as in the present day, and the greatest authorial authenticity was a god.[16] These early written works formed a number of genre including contracts, codes, legal formulas, prayers, letters, omens, great lexical series, royal inscriptions, hymns, incantations, disputations and possibly a number of popular or vernacular genres including comical pieces[17]. Neo-Sumerian culture, a revival of Sumerian culture in the latter part of the 3rd millennium, focused on earlier literary works, recasting and rewriting a number, and created libraries for their preservation and reference. Hallo particularly mentions the recent excavations at Sultan Tepe, and the public collections at Nineveh and Assur. He highlights that one of these early texts, ‘Poor Man of Nippur’, makes an appearance in Arabian Nights.

According to Hallo (2010: page 13), there has emerged evidence of an accepted list of classical text, and ‘standard order in which they were to be studied or read’. These texts are Belles Lettres. He asserts that lexical lists are at the top, with omen texts making up the greatest part. He also attests to an incomplete process of canonisation of the texts within the continuous context of scribal schools, their activities motivated by monarchs, and more rarely Temple authorities.

Sumerian writing is normally separated into administrative, legal and literary text. Although Jarle Ebeling[18] points to the limited number of word chains and shared vocabulary between the three, similarities can be found, where such matters exist at all, in narrative intent. Descriptions of legal cases for example demonstrate the use of literary forms, and Ebeling notes that literary letters and letter-prayers like the legal corpus contain several morphologically complex items amongst the 30 most frequent in both.

 

Literature as falsification

Deities appeared in Sumerian/Mesopotamian literature to provide credence/authenticity to a viewpoint or monarchical position, or to add the necessary supernatural characters to express cultural change which can be seen in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Texts concerning deities express political and cultural issues, matters of identity. These range from the Sumerian king lists produced to present the false notion that Mesopotamia had been ruled by a single king since the flood, coming from one of eleven cities. Already literature is employed as a devise for falsification, not to record genuine events authentically but to produce events, institutions and the past in a preferred state. Literature alters reality, and is expected to.

The religious language of Sumeria involves ample use of metaphor[19], but given the nature of religious texts-involving supernatural beings that do not correspond to standard semantic domains- are always irreducible metaphors, and, according to Feldt (p 190) can only be described by other metaphors. In essence all characters in religious literature, whether Sumerian or more recent, exist purely as metaphors and therefore are not capable of referencing true phenomena (see above). In Sumerian religious literature, events exist outside of normal human experience and discourse, but as with all religious literature it provides extended metaphors to reimagine or re-engage with issues of reality. Such a viewpoint must be considered when reviewing later Hebrew, Christian and Islamic religious literature.

The use of a deity within a mode of action, reference or description gave meaning to the action, reference or description, while a deity’s intentionality provides understanding of phenomena. The creative powers of deities removes them from the world, humans merely emulating their activities. All these are achieved through the development of literature and literary forms.

The myths involving deities were constructed to commemorate political and religious events, the events presented as the responsibility of the gods not of human beings, taking place in a world removed from human beings. The two stories immediately below tell of how four gods were born, through the sex act as was common until the 1st century BCE, and how a new cult was created. Their secondary conjoined reason is to explain how the world is organised, stories reflecting on politics, religion and the world’s nature.                                                    

 

Religious text

Literary productions have one core characteristic, and that is it is not true or necessarily true. The events and facts it details are unproven and unproveable.[20] Fictionality serves many purposes but direct reportage is not one of those, appealing instead to ideals, thoughts, and senses within the reader. Nevertheless, its purpose is to create a sense of plausibility, of reality, that forms a separate reality from individual perceptions of actuality.

Early literary products sought a subject by which to explore ideas.

 

Enlil and Ninlil: connections of place

This is a literary work of place, connecting the habitats of human beings with deities. These habitats are distinguished from holy aspects of the natural world. Enlil is identified as a king and although in a number of accounts portrayed as a supreme god remains subject to the judgement of other gods. He is refused entrance to his temple and dais. These passages appear to reflect a form of government of the time. Although the poem describes Enlil’s and Ninlil’s promiscuity it is difficult to know whether it reflects attitudes of the time, especially given the obsession with marriage (as property rights) revealed by several of the law codes. The text may just be concerned with the sexual activity of the elite. Ninlil appears to have been very young at the time of her seduction, and is described as easily led. Rivers and water were commonly seen as symbols of life and renewal in both Mesopotamian and Egyptian literature, pre-dating their Christian connotations. While holiness and sexual activity are viewed as incompatible, the phenomenon of holiness is also separate from the power and behaviour of the gods/goddesses and is an identifiably separate essence.

After having sex by the river, Ninlil follows Enlil. As she is about to catch up with him, Enlil pretends to be someone else and they have sex again. Enlil and Ninlil couple four times, producing gods at each coupling, thereby uprooting one rule of nature. Natural laws do not apply in the supernatural world, and can be easily overthrown.

Enlil and Ninlil walk everywhere and within the same set of locations as human beings, but, I suggest inhabiting a separate dimension. YHWH also walked when establishing his relationship with Moses, but appears to have existed in several dimensions connected in some fashion or another to Moses.

The various cities were homes to various gods who ruled and controlled all that went on in their domains. City names were written with signs signifying ‘gods’ as for example Nippur-GOD.ENLIL.PLACE and Uruk-GOD. INANNA. PLACE (Kriwaczek: 2010: 27). While until the end of the 2nd millennium, when kings became gods under Sargon the Great, the careers of kings were largely unmentioned, the lives of gods or heroes dwelt on instead.  

                                                                    

Enlil and Sud:

Another work on the relationship of Enlil and Ninlil. Enlil spies Ninlil outside her home and mistakes her for a prostitute, perceived even here of low importance.[21] She, a young girl, rebuffs him. Enlil then approaches her mother, the goddess Nisaba, and asks to marry Sud, saying that once they marry her name will change to Ninlil. She will, upon marriage, acquire unusual powers: ‘She shall apportion the divine powers among the Anuna, the great gods.’ He promises that Nisaba will have power over the ‘black-headed people’ (Sumerians). Enlil and Ninlil marry, a cult thereby perhaps created. Ninlil is just one of several wives.

In both the action takes place in known cities, but invisible to its occupants, in another reality beyond human senses.  Here, Enlil’s relationship to Ninlil is shown as more one of respect and love rather than the irresponsible sexual relationship detailed in Enlil and Ninlil. She is described as his ‘beautiful wife, who was born of holy Nisaba’ and he expresses the wish that she became ‘Ezina, the growing grain’. The text goes on to declare that many of the civilised skills, including computing and writing, are in their hands. These were crafts and skills important in the professional/intellectual classes. The coming together of the two gods is seen as a creative act occasioning the allocation of professional attributes.

The stories detailed above are not meant to be true, were not at the time, but imaginary expositions on the world and particularly the human world of cities. They were possibilities, but were no doubt repeated as the truth. Narrative drives our sense of reality. The language is lush, but, where deities are the subject of the narrative, while there are concepts of holiness there are no morals or descriptions on how people should behave. In these works, people are of secondary importance, reality presented as at least two dimensional, with formation actions occurring in the supernatural world, human actions and behaviour being no more than a reflection of the supernatural world.

Karen Armstrong[22] asserts that the story of Moses, for whom there is no historical evidence, was written not as a modern-type history but as a national epic that helped Israel create a cultural identity different from her neighbours. Placing it much further back in time gave it authenticity. In the story, through the power of its god and martial expertise, the Israelites defeated their enemies and acquired dominance within Canaan and the surrounding lands. It represents a form of wishful thinking, whereby a small group creating a religious paradigm and buffeted by larger states acquires temporary dominance.

 

 

Part 3: Secular Literature

Regarded as a legend, a product of paradigms based upon the hero, a semi-divine individual of possible historical beginnings in ancient Uruk, the poems fictitious origins is rarely questioned even though it heralds much Abrahamic holy literature. This section will consider the Gilgamesh Epic as part of a process of gradual separation from the gods, which was based upon scribal thinking, bringing in secular ideas and its effects upon later Abrahamic books in order to emphasise the literary, fictionalised nature of holy writ.

 

Gilgamesh and King David

Susan Ackerman[23]has explored the Gilgamesh Epic in association with the King David narrative of the Old Testament, noting the definite influence of Mesopotamian literature on Hebrew texts. After all, as she points out (Prologue) both Assyria and Babylon established themselves as Israelite overlords in the first millennium BCE when a good deal of the Bible was written down. As she also points out, both Gilgamesh and David were wanderers, and both had close, perhaps intimate, relationships with another man-Gilgamesh Enkidu, David Jonathan, the son of King Saul. Their male companions both died tragically. Included in this genre of wandering kings with close male companions must be Achilles, for the latter at least, and the historically proven Alexander the Great-who appeared to be making performance-art out of classical heroes by wandering and creating a legend like Gilgamesh, and like Gilgamesh and David having close male companions. Ackerman also points to the erotic sexualised language involving these intimate same-gender relationships, common to both the Gilgamesh Epic and the narrative of King David.

Ackerman (2005) notes that wandering kings were situated in Middle Eastern literature, while in Western literature kings tend to be sedentary-King Arthur for example who stays at home while his knights travel. Whether this is entirely the case, barring a few strong examples, is open to challenge. Wandering and returning, in the lives of proven historical figures such as Richard the 1st, Frederick Barbarossa, Homer and Virgil’s works, appears equally part of Western literature. Kristiansen and Larsson (2005) demonstrate that wandering, done to acquire knowledge, was connected to power within the homeland. Although this can be seen in the Gilgamesh Epic, there wandering has more to do with Gilgamesh’s power over himself.

Although proof of the House of David has been found, this book will take the honoured view that the story of King David has many of the traits and functions of the epic and is unlikely to be history in the modern sense.

 

Gilgamesh

ANCIENT FICTIONALITY: RELIGION AND CREATIVITY - MESOPOTAMIAN RELIGION II by Stanley Wilkin at Spillwords.com

Gilgamesh

 

Here the Gilgamesh Epic is reviewed as part of the Sumerian/Mesopotamian exploration of the relationship between gods/goddesses and humankind-invariably through men and thereby concentrating on displays of power. Such relationships involve the connection between Inanna and Sumerian kings, expressed as already noted in sexual terms, which probably go back to pre-literate times.[24]Festivals in honour of Inanna were being held in Uruk around 3000 BCE. As in later Greek and Roman mythology- which surely has its basis in Mesopotamian religion?- Inanna was associated with the planet Venus. Extremely early in Mesopotamian conscious claimed by other cities (Furlong: page 16).

The Sacred Marriage of Inanna and Dumuzi was part of the early concepts of kingship that hinged upon the ruler’s responsibility for the city’s agricultural prosperity, that all earthly fertility resulted from sex acts performed by Inanna, and that the roles of Inanna and her selected husband could be assumed by human surrogates in a (Furlong: page 20) ‘ritualised and liturgical enactment of the divine coupling.’

It is believed that a ritual marriage resulted between the king and a priestess of the nu gig rank was performed in Sumer before the middle of the 3rd millennium, a period when kingship was still being negotiated within city institutions and between human and god-from where kingship had evolved and been sent. The first clear documentary evidence for the Sacred Marriage occurs at the end of the 2nd millennium in Ur and Isin. During the ceremony a king identified himself with Dumuzi and a priestess of the rank of lukur-priestess acted as a surrogate for Inanna/Ishtar. Furlong (page 20) describes one of Inanna’s speeches in a text that may have been used in the Sacred Marriage as full of explicit references to both sexual organs and the sex act. In addition the piece consists of sexual innuendo and euphemism expressed poetically, with anticipation of the sexual pleasure to come. The aspects of the dying and resurrected god, connected to Inanna/Ishtar through ‘The Descent of Ishtar into the Netherworld’, became in Palestine and Syria transferred to gods, such as Ba’al who dies after eating mud in the underworld-and later in the Greek legend of Adonis. In the Bible, Ezekiel (8.14) reports women wailing for Tammuz (the local name for Dumuzi) at the north door of the Jerusalem Temple indicating its progress towards the later Jesus figure, from whom it has been brought down into the present day.

Gilgamesh’s adventures were closely wound into the many aspects of the gods, both defying, fighting and being aided by them. He was the most heralded human intermediary between the Mesopotamian deities and humankind.

 

Gilgamesh literary history

Although most of the Gilgamesh tablets date back to the 7th century BCE, primarily from the temple library of the god Nebu and the palace library of Assyrian king Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, other examples come from much earlier, in the 21st century BCE. Translations of the epic have been discovered in Hurrian and Hittite.

Hope Nash Wolff[25]believes that the canonical or SB (Standard Babylonian, literary dialect) was written in about 1000 BCE, bearing the signature Sin-liqi-unnini. The present version/form appears to have been originally composed in around 1600 BCE. From this period, it consists of 12 tablets, all but the final one of 300 lines. The older compositions on which the SB version is based present uncertainty as to whether it is an epic or a cycle of epic songs. The OB, or Old Babylonian, version, c1600BCE, indicates that this is a formal version of immense size.

Wolff seems to feel that the OB version of Gilgamesh, containing fewer repetitions in ideas and language than the SB version, is the more impressive. Based on short heroic songs, this version probably originated in 2100 BCE in the court poetry of Ur.

Although mentioned in the Sumerian king lists Gilgamesh’s actual existence is disputed. According to legend, Gilgamesh was the son of the goddess Ninsun, the wife of the god Lugalbanda, an earlier Sumerian king. Elsewhere, he is described as the son, not of Lugalbanda, but of an ‘unknown mortal whom the Sumerian List calls “the High Priest of Kullab,” a district in the city of Uruk.’[26] In this fashion, he was born part god-through his mother-and part man-through the unnamed High Priest. He was famous in Mesopotamia for building a wall around Uruk, emblemic perhaps of war and the need for city defence. Gilgamesh appears to have been, whether in actuality or legend, a war-lord, or a king chosen for martial qualities. In some later compositions Gilgamesh became king of the underworld, judge of the Anunna (ki), ruler of the earth, and judge overall (Heidel: 1946: page 5).

 

Summary of collected texts

As with later epics, such as the Odyssey and Aeneid, Gilgamesh is introduced through his deeds and achievements, soon to be revealed. This hymnic prologue includes lines indicating that the epic was written down by Gilgamesh, giving authority to the text but also linking it to Moses’ authorship of the early Bible narratives and Muhammed’s to the Qur’an. This is largely limited to the Assyrian edition.

Once Gilgamesh’s acquired wisdom of old age is detailed, the epic delineates Gilgamesh’s oppressive rule, explained as a result of his excessive vigour, strength, manliness, and lack of discipline common in gods such as Enlil. He carries off young women, and bullies young men, crushing their spirits. His forced seduction of young men’s brides has immense consequences. This construction of what a ‘real man’ was probably emerged at the period of Akkadian machismo, when this archetype may have been originally formed. Akkadian kings, presented in martial form, were sculpted as both huge and muscular.

Gilgamesh appears to have constantly harassed the young men with contests and may have forced them to build the city walls and the Eanna, Inanna’s temple. As the shepherd of Uruk, he is meant to protect and care for his people. The people of oppressed Uruk implored the gods to help them deal with Gilgamesh.

An (u) the chief god hears the Uruk citizen’s laments and commands Aruru, the creator here of human beings and of Gilgamesh, to produce a likeness or copy of Gilgamesh equal to him in strength. She based Gilgamesh’s doppleganger on an (u), but covered with hair and places him in the surrounding countryside/steppe where he exists, the equal of animals, as a primitive kind of man eating grass, drinking with game at watering holes. Friends with the fauna, this newly-created human, named Enkidu, protects it from hunters, causing thereby problems to the city meat supply. Enkidu can be seen in more recent literature, Dr Jykell and Mr Hyde and Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, as Hyde and the Monster respectively, not only exploring the nature of civilisation and civilised human beings but the origins of human beings in nature and the wild. Frankenstein’s monster closely follows Enkidu in being made for specific purposes, Enkidu to control Gilgamesh and enforce his autonomy, Frankenstein’s monster as evidence of his creator’s scientific (?) exploration and hubris. Other related figures are Caliban and entire ethnic groups subjected to ancient and modern colonialism.

The local hunters express their problem to Gilgamesh who enlists Shamhat, a Temple prostitute or hierodule, to go to the creature and sleep with him, therefore introducing Enkidu to civilised values, and taming and luring Enkidu away from the animals. Prostitutes were symbolic of city life, having no presence in the wilds. As a priestess of Inanna/Ishtar, and also when necessary her incarnation, Shamhat would have been an expert in love-making.

After Shamhat tells Enkidu about Gilgamesh, he vows to challenge and defeat him. She then relates Gilgamesh’s dreams in which he has already seen Enkidu, both as a rock fallen from the sky and an axe. Gilgamesh’s mother, Ninsun, has explained the meaning of his dreams:

 

The stars of heaven (appeared) above you,

(like a) rock from the sky one fell down before you.

You lifted it up, but it weighed too much for you,

you tried to roll it but you could not dislodge it.

 

‘You lifted it up, set it down at my feet,

and I, Ninsun, I made it your equal.

Like a wife you loved it, caressed and embraced it:

a mighty comrade will come to you and be his friend’s saviour.’[27]

 

This strong indication of homosexual love is continued in verses concerning Enkidu’s appearance as an axe. Friendship and sensual love are here, it seems, combined.

In Susan Ackerman’s ‘When Heroes Love. The Ambiguity of Eros in the Stories of Gilgamesh and David’[28] the two friends are presented as engaged in a liminal relationship, strengthening their bond by working and experiencing together in a series of rites of passage until each acquires a measure of autonomy. For Enkidu that autonomy involves death. By dying he becomes ‘real’. In his short existence, Enkidu gained his humanity by serving Gilgamesh, and by serving the gods (Damrosch: 1997: page 200). One proclaimed purpose of their relationship is to ensure Gilgamesh’s enduring fame so, in that fashion, he can live forever. This shadowy form of everlasting life was practised by most powerful rulers.  Doing so, they are watched over by the Sun God Shamash-who Ackerman notes (page 129) instigated their adventures.

Shamhat and Enkidu then make love for 6 days and 7 nights, recurring numbers found in the Bible when describing creation acts and change, and as a consequence Gilgamesh no longer truly relates to the animals, nor they with him. Reflecting the Adam and Eve story, sex, indirectly referenced in the Bible, has brought Enkidu knowledge and he has ‘become like a god.’[29] After, Shamhat persuades Enkidu to return to Uruk with her, as now he is of the city, not the wild. They stop at a shepherd’s camp[30] for Enkidu to be introduced to bread and ale, symbols too of city-life. A barber grooms him, he is anointed with oil, and is given garments to wear. Ackerman (2005: 107) points out that Shamhat’s continued care of Enkidu is like a mother’s care, and believes that places Enkidu in a pre-adult stage. Of course, the wild man was never a child and did not experience the necessary alterations towards maturity. It is possible that the author, as I hold that only one scribe created the final version, employed Shamhat as a lover and mother archetype, thereby establishing Enkidu’s first steps to manhood (see below). Although Ackerman believes that Enkidu demonstrated genuine personal growth, she still believes he retained childlike aspects. Nevertheless, in his liminal state, it is possible to see Enkidu as alive only through Shamhat and Gilgamesh, on whom he is dependent. Enkidu mimics Gilgamesh, is made almost whole by Shamhat, but somehow remains a shadow. Clark’s Origins: New Light on Eschatology in Gilgamesh’s Mortuary Journey (1997) believes Enkidu’s seduction by Shamhat resembles the Fall-of-Man theme, see above, in so much as it leads Enkidu to knowledge and his own death.

Once in Uruk, learning of Gilgamesh’s intention to sleep with yet another bride-to-be, Enkidu confronts him, blocking his entrance to the bride’s home. This is perhaps early evidence of the community based morality that informs the later Abrahamic religions. After thunderous fighting, Gilgamesh wins, and the two embrace, becoming friends. The fight, whatever the actual outcome-defeat for Enkidu or just possibly a draw-fuses the two men, one two-parts divinity the other created merely to alter the other, neither of substance nor insubstantial. Up to this point, Enkidu has begun the process of changing Gilgamesh into a responsible and reliable king with his subject’s welfare in mind.

Enkidu was both humanised and urbanised sufficiently to become Gilgamesh’s friend, recognised as such by Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh empathises with Enkidu’s and his own human nature, steering away thereby from the bullish, indeed bestial-the god’s characteristics were linked to nature- behaviour of a god. Enkidu’s removal from fauna indicates that human nature has little connection to animals, clearly defining human nature through cleanliness, dress and bread and ale-the personal necessities provided through city-life. It is through Inanna, the stealer of me (Kriwaczek: 2012: 34-36), that human beings are enabled to reach some kind of autonomy.

 

Huwawa:

ANCIENT FICTIONALITY: RELIGION AND CREATIVITY - MESOPOTAMIAN RELIGION II by Stanley Wilkin at Spillwords.com

Gilgamesh and Enkidu killing Huwawa

 

Early text of the story existed before inclusion in the Gilgamesh Epic. These are Version A, ‘The lord to the Living One’s Mountain’ and Version B ‘Ho, hurrah’. [31] In these versions, Gilgamesh’s fear of death turns to thoughts of great deeds by which he will be remembered, and arranges an expedition to the Cedar Mountains. Huwawa/Humbaba here is referred to as a demi-god, a guardian spirit. Enkidu is rendered as Gilgamesh’s servant, fully locating the creativity involved in the later rendition. Enkidu advises Gilgamesh to seek the help of Utu (Sumerian Shamash), the Sun God, who agrees to help Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh mobilises the young men of Uruk to accompany him. Upon entering the forest and felling a cedar, Huwawa awakes and throws one of his radiant, numinous auras at the intruders rendering Gilgamesh and Enkidu unconscious.  Enkidu recovers first, promptly waking Gilgamesh who goes to negotiate with Huwawa, offering him his sisters, jewels, and other luxuries. In response, Huwawa gives Gilgamesh one of his auras, and eventually all of them. Once he is powerless, Huwawa is killed by Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

Within this tale and in the later epic of which it formed a part, the cunning and amorality[32] of Odysseus are presented as ideal forms of behaviour, perhaps influencing Odysseus’ character, and a hunting/conquest motif is provided. There may also be a connection with the Cyclopes’ story in Odysseus.[33] Such cunning can likewise be found in the Qur’an.

 

Epic

The change made in the Epic of Gilgamesh from the above versions, which completely altered its literary direction, giving greater philosophical depth to the work, is in making Enkidu Gilgamesh’s friend, not his servant. The final version of the poem has an extensive intellectual scope including the human predicaments and options of the time, grappling[34]with issues of an existential nature, the human drive to achieve, the value of friendship, the experiencing of loss, and the unavoidable fact of death. It also concerns Gilgamesh’s attainment of wisdom through life-experience.

After the newly formed friendship with Enkidu is described, Gilgamesh decides to journey to the Forest of Cedar and fight with its resident demi-god or monster Huwawa/Humbaba. Ackerman (page 110) describes the Cedar Forest as existing in a liminal state, between the real and unreal, as much myth as actuality. Forest deities, usually guardians of the forest, exist in many parts of the world, especially noticeable in Bronze Age Europe often symbolising the mysteries and forces of nature, or the wild. They are distinct from domestication and therefore often represent instinct or the untamed and untameable. Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s actions provide greater substance, altering them. Gilgamesh overcomes his wild, uncontrollable side.

Gilgamesh intends to cut down, assume economic possession of, the cedar trees of Lebanon. In essence, Gilgamesh and Enkidu recreate the journeys and defeat of a distant enemy seen in other Epics, such as The Matter of Aratta. The forest examples the farthest western reaches of Mesopotamian Empires, the subjugation of their culture’s periphery, difficult to reach and unknown. For Gilgamesh, this is his chance to be remembered, to become immortal through ‘a name that endures (Clark: 1997:134), to have both name and deeds commemorated in stone. The calling of a dead person’s name, engraved forever, saved ancestors from the oblivion of death.

For ancient Mesopotamians, being spoken about after death, the consequences of fame or love, provided the dead with substance in the Netherworld and ensured a better existence there. Fame, therefore, was the key. Below, the dead who left few if any children lived in anonymity no matter how glorious their lived-lives had been. The barren woman and the eunuch share the same or similar fate.  ‘The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the nether world: Translation.’

"Did you see him who had one son? How does he fare?" "He weeps bitterly ......." "Did you see him who had two sons? How does he fare?" "He sits on ......." "Did you see him who had three sons? How does he fare?" "He drinks water ......." "Did you see him who had four sons? How does he fare?" "His heart is happy (1 ms. adds: like a man who has four asses to yoke)." "Did you see him who had five sons? How does he fare?" "Like a good scribe he is indefatigable, he enters the palace easily." "Did you see him who had six sons? How does he fare?" "He is cheerful as a ploughman." "Did you see him who had seven sons? How does he fare?" "As a companion of the gods he sits on a throne and listens to judgments." "Did you see him who had no heir? How does he fare?" "Like (?) ...... he eats bread."

Enkidu advises against the adventure, pointing out how fierce and powerful Huwawa is, second only to Adad[35] in ferociousness. The minor gods, the igigi, cannot oppose him. The city elders agree with Enkidu, and offer Gilgamesh similar cautious advice. Nevertheless, Gilgamesh ignores their advice and they acquiesce advising that Enkidu goes with him for protection. Gilgamesh’s mother, the goddess Ninsun (here presented in an interactive setting presumably through a priestess) beseeches Shamash, the Sun God, who abhors Huwawa,[36] to help her son and protect him, acknowledging his godly, not human, portion and consequently undermining the philosophy of the later concerns with death. This scene is repeated with Shamash the ritual leader.  Ackerman demonstrates (page 111) that the process resembles a rite of passage.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu defeat Huwawa, and although the monster pleas for his life, Enkidu insists on his death, and thus through his intervention brings on own imminent death. There are, within the framework of the fight, important aspects. Prior to combat, in Uruk and during their journey, Gilgamesh has scorned Enkidu for his lack of manly courage, but before the final battle, Enkidu similarly berates Gilgamesh. Although Shamash aides them by rousing the ‘mighty gale-winds’[37] , together they bear down on Huwawa striking him with their bronze (?) weapons. As Huwawa pleas for his life (see above), Enkidu says to Gilgamesh (George:page 44):

 

‘slay him (do away with his power,)

Before (Enlil) the foremost hears what we do!

 

The (great) gods will take against us in anger,

Enlil in Nippur, Shamash in (Larsa)….[38]

Establish for ever (a fame) that endures,

how Gilgamesh slew (ferocious) Humbaba!’

 

Knowledge

The Gilgamesh Epic involves the acquisition of knowledge by both Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Through Shamhat, through their sexual activity and her training of him afterwards, Enkidu learns to be a civilised human being. Benjamin Foster[39] believes that in Gilgamesh sexual knowledge is a pre-requisite of human knowledge, and that lack of sex, or knowledge of sex, turns the human being into a beast. Enkidu is merely a beast before his association with Shamhat, a symbol of urban life and representative of Inanna, stealer of me.[40] According to Foster, referencing the earlier edition of Gilgamesh by the Nineveh poet, sex was considered the lowest[41] form of knowledge and each must experience it to become human. Further, love of another person, most strongly seen in the relationship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, represents the next higher order of knowledge and turns an individual into a social being-leading in fact towards a version of Plato’s Platonic love that produces transcendence. According to Foster (page 64), knowledge of another leads to unity, which is perhaps only temporary: although the Self survives this loss of unity, the suffering that ensues delineates the self. Within the Gilgamesh text, aside from the initial propulsion towards greater knowledge provided by sexual activity with another, Foster sees knowledge as the main motivation to life with its affects upon the Self and the Self’s integration with others.

Although king, Gilgamesh fails to act as a shepherd, protecting and nurturing his people. Instead, he exploits them. He acts as a very young man, as he is usually referred to in the epic, who has excessive wealth, natural strength and power. Foster (page 65) considers the revealed knowledge caused by the Gilgamesh/Enkidu coming together through defined opposites. As Enkidu gains greater knowledge of his humanity, he becomes a true shepherd, emerging as a champion of human institutions, i.e. marriage. While this can be extracted from the text, it fails to acknowledge Enkidu’s natural caring nature, as seen in his protection of the fauna-Enkidu is here the provider of love and friendship. In fact, Enkidu represents Gilgamesh’s opposite. In modern Jungian terms, he is symbolic of Gilgamesh’s anima, fulfilling the former’s personality achieved through union. The gradual feminisation of Enkidu is seen where he interprets Gilgamesh’s dreams on the road to the Cedar Forest, in the same fashion as Gilgamesh’s goddess mother, Ninsun, did before he meets Enkidu.

The possible connection between the Gilgamesh Epic and the King David narrative can be observed in Gilgamesh’s words upon meeting Enkidu and David’s responses to the death of Jonathan, in which both Enkidu and Jonathan are feminised as lovers or brides.

Enkidu’s death sends Gilgamesh into spiralling grief and despair, in part because it confronts him with his own. The first section of the epic finishes here. Although mourning in Sumeria was institutionalised, fitting an accepted process within a rite of passage motif, Gilgamesh’s mourning over Enkidu continues beyond the accepted seven days and involves Gilgamesh’s continued separation from his community and his responsibilities to it.

The second part of the epic involves Gilgamesh’s journeying to find everlasting life. Knowing of Utnapishtim, ‘the Faraway’[42], who has attained eternal life, he sets off to find him. Gilgamesh dons lion skins, grows his hair until it is matted and dishevelled, and goes out onto the steppe. He has assumed a pre-civilised existence aping that of Enkidu before meeting Shamhat. It is the life of a holy man, free of human society. Ackerman’s understanding (2005: p114) of this as a liminal existence appears to ignore ancient tropes of civilised and non-civilised according to environment. Nevertheless, for Sumerians hunter gatherers and nomads probably did inhabit a liminal existence, bereft of intelligent meaning.

Gilgamesh begins his search, wandering through the wilderness as Enkidu had done before meeting Shamhat.  Gilgamesh encounters lions, which after the death of Enkidu, his composite part, he now fears, but acquiring or re-learning his old skills and personality, after a reassuring dream, he kills them. In a sense, this episode confirms that Gilgamesh is returning to ‘real life’, although the action begins with a dream. The episode is liminal in nature, but expresses also Gilgamesh’s greater independence from Enkidu. Gilgamesh is on his way towards autonomy.

Coming to the twin-peaked Mashu Mountain, its peaks reaching heaven and its foundations in the Netherworld, Gilgamesh finds the entrance is guarded by the Scorpion Man and his wife, ‘wardens of Shamash, both at his rising and setting’ (Clark: 1997: 135). Like Medusa, they can kill with a look. Their fearsomeness resembles that of the slain Huwawa. After an exchange, they let Gilgamesh through.

Mount Mashu is the boundary between the World and the Other (Ackerman: 2005:114). Gilgamesh finds a way beyond the mountain to other lands cut off from ordinary human society. On the other side, Gilgamesh finds a garden paradise with, further on, a sea related to the idylls of later Western literature, paradigms of Heaven and Shangri-La. The trees were of the gods (George: 1999: 75), full of grapes, a lapis lazuli tree that bore foliage and fruit, a carob was ‘abashmu-stone, agate and haematite.’

Within the standard version of the Gilgamesh Epic (George:1999) is the story of Gilgamesh’s meeting with Shiduri/Siduri, an alewife or barmaid, living of the shores of the Waters of Death, an otherworldly sea (Ackerman: 2005: 117). In other versions she is described as a wise old goddess. Gilgamesh threatens her until she tells him how to cross the sea to find Utnapishtim/Uta-napishti-the Sumerian Noah. Siduri, in the Sippar version of the story, advises Gilgamesh to return to an ordinary normal life with a family, and live out his span without wanting more (George: 1999: 124). This Gilgamesh rejects for, it seems, destiny and glory. Tzvi AbuschMourning the Death of a Friend: Some Assyriological Notes’ (ed. John Maier: 1997: 110) suggests that the dialogue with Siduri demonstrates that Gilgamesh has been wandering aimlessly rather than seeking Utnapishtim and that his meeting with Siduri provides him with purpose. Meeting Siduri, Gilgamesh realises that he wants to live with a woman, marry the goddess, settle down and become immortal as a consequence. He relates this episode to the one in the Odyssey when Odysseus lives for a while with Calypso. Immortal life can be a kind of death to human beings who exist within a pre-conceived span. In effect, marrying Siduri for Gilgamesh would correspond to his overwhelming obsession with death. Although there is much merit in this approach, Gilgamesh does not appear to have had a wife and family before meeting Enkidu. Abusch’s other claim, that Siduri inspires Gilgamesh to obtain immortal life by seeking out Utnapishtim and his wife, the only humans to be made mortal, and discovering thereby their secret, has merit.

Siduri’s comments in the Sippar/Old Babylonian version nevertheless are a response to Gilgamesh’s obsession with death, instructing him to embrace life, to laugh and dance (Abusch: 118). Here, the goddess is applying much-needed therapy on Gilgamesh.

Abusch (119) connects the Siduri episode with King David’s lament over Jonathan (2 Samuel 1: 25-27) beginning ‘How have the mighty fallen’, which can be extended to Gilgamesh’s plight, his loss of physical beauty, strength and loss of courage. In his existential suffering over the loss of Enkidu, experienced as a loss of Self, Gilgamesh has indeed become liminal, haunting the world of the dead. He can only leave such a world when he again, as before, embraces life.

Siduri warns him of the futility of his request and the dangers of the Waters of Death but eventually tells him how he can find Utnapishtim’s ferryman, Ur-shanabi. As usual, Gilgamesh becomes violent when finding Ur-shanabi and taking his axe slew the stone-ones who crewed his boat. He ferryman, having lost his crew, instructs Gilgamesh to create immense punting-poles to propel them across the sea/ Waters of Death-resembling Styx and the journey to Hades. Reaching the farther shore, Gilgamesh relates his story to Utnapishtim, proclaiming his desire for eternal life.

Utnapishtim remarks on Gilgamesh’s death-like appearance, his wild dress and wandering. Gilgamesh’s describes his wanderings, like Enkidu’s not explained within the text, through many lands, with many adventures. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh about the flood sent by Enlil to destroy humankind, which seems unknown in human society, of how he built a boat putting aboard his kith and kin, ‘the beasts of the field, the creatures of the wild, the members of every skill and craft’ to recreate civilisation when the waters receded. On the seventh day, Utnapishtim put out a dove to find if the waters were receding, but it returned, then he released a swallow, but it returned, then a raven, but this bird did not return. Enlil relented, and was sorry for his actions, in recompense making Utnapishtim and his wife gods.

Before them Gilgamesh squatted on his haunches and fell asleep. He slept until the seventh day when Utnapishtim touched him and he awoke claiming that he had only just fallen asleep. Cursing the ferryman, and demanding he clean Gilgamesh up and take him back across the sea, Utnapishtim relents and tells Gilgamesh that at the bottom of the sea is a plant that once possessed will return Gilgamesh to his youth. Diving to the bottom of the sea, Gilgamesh finds the plant which he calls the ‘Plant of Heartbeat’ promising to return with it to Uruk, to try it on an old man and then himself. While returning to Uruk, Gilgamesh and Ur-shanabi stop at a pool, and in perhaps a much earlier version of Adam and Eve who lose immortality through a similar source, a snake emerges and steals the plant. He eventually returns to Uruk with Ur-shanabi, resuming his role of king and all his responsibilities ruling with his recently acquired wisdom.

The Flood story had an independent existence from The Gilgamesh Legend. The classic Akkadian version was The Atrahasis Epic, known from the Old Babylonian period onwards. According to Jeffrey H. Tigay[43]this was actually a history of the human race, starting with events up to the creation of man and continuing to the flood and its consequences. Tigay (1982: page 2014) believes that the story may have arisen from events of 2900 when Southern Mesopotamia was severely affected by flood waters, but it may be older than that referencing the inundation of the Black Sea area some 3000 years earlier. The Atrahasis Epic comes from Akkadian society but a similar story emerged from Sumerian society (Tigay: 1982: 2015) now called The Deluge, which reached the Syrian coast by the Middle Babylonian Period in an Akkadian form.

The two names for the Noah figure in The Atrahasis Epic and Utnapishtim, Gilgamesh Epic, point perhaps to an intellectual debate within groups of composers or scribes. While Atrahasis means exceedingly wise, Utnapishtim, perhaps merely a Sumerian version of Atrahasis, means ‘he found life’. Utnapishtim arrives in The Gilgamesh Epic at a time when Gilgamesh is searching for eternal life. The shift here appears to be from an interest in life, what it is and how if functions, how the god’s participate in life, and to how to preserve life, how to avoid death, and the nature of death. In effect, from the practical to the abstract.

 

Connections

Heidel (1946) limits his Old Testament parallels to the idea of life after death, and the clear connection to Noah and the Flood. Here, the importance of the semi-divine hero is included, a progressive list from Achilles, Hercules, Samson, Alexander (by suggestion), to the divine Roman Emperors, the Jesus figure and perhaps also Mohammed. Behind these ideas of the divine or semi-divine natures of exemplary individuals (always kings or of a similar political stature) was the Akkadian Empire, beginning with Sargon the Great, in which successive kings were granted divinity or semi-divine status. In Violence and Religion (academia.edu) I associate this with the power and extent of the Akkadian Empire and the rise of a notion of masculinity based upon size, muscularity and strength. Gilgamesh may, in some of its parts, be a debate on the nature of kingship between the idea of the king as a shepherd and that of a tyrant, genius and warrior that arose in the Akkadian Empire and moved in and out of iconography thence forth. This debate can be seen in the divine nature of Jesus and the career of Muhammed.

This process can be seen more clearly in the Jesus figure, the acclaimed son of a god and a female virgin (or actually ‘young woman’), the mother of other children before or after the birth of her celestial son. By then, it was the custom as many Roman emperors were declared divine after their deaths. In addition, Jesus was held to be descended from kings (a passport to divinity) and recognised as a shepherd of others-the attribute of kings. As the son of god (YHWH?, probably a different god ‘Father’) he was thereby the offspring of a heavenly king, albeit one that offered love and not war. As with many great kings, his body was never discovered. Within this able attempt at fictionality, creating a new character from an actual one, the real Jesus was perhaps lost. Shortly after the teacher/physician’s death writers began to construct a supernatural alter-ego that imbibed many of the qualities above.

 

Authors or redactors?

Questions of individual creativity arise with ancient works as they appear, not unlike the Abrahamic holy books, to be the works of numerous hands with short and long pieces added to at different periods. Works such as Job, the gospels, and Qur’an show clear signs of re-writing and additions although all are variously considered by Jewish, Christian and Islamic acolytes to be supernaturally pristine. Tigay (1982: 55-56) chooses to call the composers of the Old Babylonian and Standard Babylonian texts editors and redactors but holds that a truer term is author-editors. I suggest that the clear intellectual stances taken by all pieces, but more so in the passages of Innana/Ishtar and the bull and of the final expositions on death, indicate editor-authors-powerful and influential scribes perhaps.

There are possible examples in both the OB and SB versions of continuing oral traditions such as the use of formulas to introduce speech. For example: opened his/her mouth and says to him. Although these may be just examples of formulas used to introduce dialogue in modern writing, it is possible that oral versions of the epic were on-going and these may have attributed to changes in text. Tigay (1982: 68-69) demonstrates possible changes in religious ideology between the OB and SB texts, whereby in the former Inanna/Ishtar (Gil. P. ii, 16, 18) is omitted with reference to temple Eanna, usually connected to Inanna/Ishtar but not in the latter. Tigay believes this reflects Akkadian dislike of the goddess, certainly in the story of the Bull of Heaven. It is likely that all of Gilgamesh reflects changing religious viewpoints, but more importantly chronicles changes between human and gods.

Authorship is the appropriate term when considering lengthy additions to the text, such as Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld, in which Enkidu brings back knowledge of that world. The investigative and informative nature of this additional piece, while fitting the overall concern with death,

 

Lovers or friends?

Although Gilgamesh and Enkidu may have been lovers, this may just be a close relationship between two young men commonly referenced in literature. In the Old Testament this can be seen in the powerful relationship between David and Jonathan. From the moment of their fight, the two men become inseparable and the epic concerns them both. Combined, their adventures involve taking on the supernatural world and may reflect historical events prior to and after the OB text was written down. This, and other kinds of twinning, may reflect the twin gods of the Bronze Age (Kristiansen/Larsson: 2005: 258-262), which, although the authors’ reference Northern Europe and Aegean, can equally be seen in Mesopotamia. Such twinning can be found more recently in the Allah/Muhammed, Qur’an/Allah, Qur’an/Muhammed doubling of Islam-which yet again reflects the twin gods or couples of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Enkidu is held to represent the countryside, separate from the city, where beasts and nomads freely roam. As with the much later Greeks, a human being can only be fully and truly human within a city. Some scholars connect Enkidu with the Amorites, thereby perhaps symbolically demonstrating the political and cultural association of Sumerians, Akkadians and Amorites evident in the creation of Babylon.

Their first adventure involves the seeing and conquering of Huwawa, a demon of the cedar forest, in order for Gilgamesh to obtain everlasting fame. This story was originally called Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living. This serves as the first act by the two to establish Gilgamesh’s name and identify the gods, by possibly erecting inscriptions in the Cedar Mountain (Tigay: 1982), located by scholars at both the Lebanon and in the Zagros range (Tigay: 1982: page 35). If the former, this has been considered to reflect Sargon of Akkad’s or the rulers of Ur 111’s expeditions to the region, and, if the latter, representing geographical modification as a consequence of transmission.

The killing of Huwawa is the subject of debate between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, different views expressed in the Old Babylonian version and in the later Akkadian version. Of interest is that it is only monsters, not human beings that are killed by Gilgamesh and Enkidu throughout their journey. The Akkadian version can be seen as a search for and identification of humanity. What being human is! As with other parts of the Epic concerned with change in the characters’ lives, a long journey prefaces the adventure. Going towards the Cedar Forest, Gilgamesh is assailed by dreams each of which is translated by Enkidu. According to Enkidu, the dreams presaged good fortune.

ANCIENT FICTIONALITY: RELIGION AND CREATIVITY - MESOPOTAMIAN RELIGION II by Stanley Wilkin at Spillwords.com

Inanna

 

Foster (page 65) sees Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s relationship as asexual, although earlier verses clearly encourage the alternative view and Gilgamesh’s response to Enkidu’s death indicates the emotional depth that comes from intimate sexual activity. The Mesopotamians were very open about sex, using basic expressions and demonstrating no fear of vulvas and penis’ and how they were used. The uncertainty on Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s relationship stems perhaps from Abrahamic sexual anxieties-but these were long ago times and although Mesopotamians invented and legalised marriage, were, certainly by the 2nd millennium, often exceptionally cruel to women caught in adultery (although this may have been more to do with literary presentation than reality), prostitution was commonly accepted and socially their sexual relationships may have been complex, fun and surprising.

Paul D. Hardman in Male Bonding From Gilgamesh to the Present unwilling to express Gilgamesh’s relationships in homoerotic terms employs homoaffectionalism instead, seen for example in late 19th century Britain between men living within military institutions. Nevertheless, as sexual knowledge is taken by Foster to symbolise or occasion knowledge surely homoerotism would have been only another form of it, marked by the rejection of Shamhat and Inanna/Ishtar. Towards the end of the Epic, Siduri advises Gilgamesh to choose family life, possibly in preference to the homosexual lifestyle he assumed with Enkidu. For ancient Greeks, the man/boy homosexual relationship was a method of communicating knowledge by the older man to the younger one, so might it not have occurred also in Mesopotamia? This is strengthened by the lack of laws against homosexual activity within the Code of Hammurabi (Hardman: page 9).

The union of Gilgamesh and Enkidu creates a union that doubles the power and abilities of each, fulfilling anima and animus, reflecting Jung’s individuation. Thereby, once this union is achieved, together they can equal the gods (or some of them) and achieve human authenticity.

Gilgamesh’s rejection of Inanna/Ishtar, according to Foster (page 66) is the result of the beginnings of self-knowledge, as here she represents the unproductive attraction to the opposite sex. Enkidu rejects Shamhat by consigning her to the street where she usually gets business, thereby placing her again outside society (she is after all unproductive), by a curse and the reversal of the curse. Inanna descends to the street, becoming just another prostitute. Whatever else this might allude to, it seems to signify the diminution of women within the Mesopotamian psyche, with emphasis upon the male. Frymer-Kensky in ‘The Marginalisation of the Goddess[44] views the rejection of Inanna/Ishtar as part of the decline in women’s public roles in Mesopotamian society from 1,600 BCE onwards, although I believe this can be placed much earlier. The pivotal scene between Gilgamesh and Inanna/Ishtar is his rejection of her, a mere mortal (no matter his imagined divine side) rejecting a goddess. Although Rivkah Harris ‘Images of Women in the Gilgamesh Epic’ (Maier, ed: 1992: 79) explores the gender inversion of Inanna, that of her acting like a man, she was often depicted acting in a manly way or, to be more accurate, as a powerful woman. She is correctly described by Kristiansen and Larsson (2005: 68) as ‘multi-gendered.’ Again I worry if prejudice is perhaps involved here. In the ‘Matter of Aratta’ Inanna is the prize, a manipulative women controlling two men as they fight for her favours, in her relationship with Dumuzi, also originally a Uruk king, Inanna pulls the strings. Her dominance is often seen as essential to her character, representing one aspect of women, not necessarily aspects of men. She was, after all, the goddess of love and war. Enkidu now represents the female, or anima, making casual sex with females unfulfilling, and as Harris notes (Maier, ed: 1992: 86) with reference to a work by Anne Kilmer[45]the language in Gilgamesh about Enkidu suggests he is the former’s wife, therefore their mutual rejection of female lovers confirms their status.

The importance of Gilgamesh’s rejection of Inanna lies in the Sacred Marriage long practised in Uruk and elsewhere in Mesopotamia between kings and Inanna/Ishtar.  The exchange at the beginning of the except, which once stood alone before being amalgamated into the epic, appears to replicate the text of the Sacred Marriage (George: page 48):

 

On the beauty of Gilgamesh Lady Ishtar[46] looked with longing:

‘Come, Gilgamesh, be you my bridegroom!

Grant me your fruits, O grant me!

Be you my husband and I your wife!

 

Let me harness you a chariot of lapis lazuli and gold,

its wheels shall be gold and its horns shall be amber.

Driving lions in a team and mules of great size,

enter our house amid the sweet smell of cedar!’

 

Regaling the fate of her previous husbands, Dumuzi, the speckled allallu-bird, the lion shepherd, grazier and herdsman, Gilgamesh spitefully and cruelly rejects her. Inanna, unsurprisingly, flies into a rage and inveigles her father, an(u),[47] to revenge her and, in her tantrum after threatening to release the dead to devour the living, An (u) places the Bull of Heaven’s nose-rope in her hand. She takes the Bull of Heaven down to Uruk.

Of course, the powerful Inanna could and should have dealt with Gilgamesh and Enkidu by herself, as she surely did not require the assistance of the Bull of Heaven, but as often in the Bible and always in the Qur’an, true to Mesopotamian principles, god/gods act indirectly.

The Bull of Heaven, once on earth, absorbs the water around, drying up the ‘woods, reed-beds, and marshes’ lowering the level of the river ‘by seven full cubits’. In Uruk the Bull of Heaven snorted and a pit opened up, with one hundred men of Uruk tumbling into it. Again it snorts, another pit opens and two hundred men tumble into it. The third time it snorts, a pit opens up and Enkidu falls into it up to his waist. Enkidu leaps up and grabs the Bull’s horns. Turning to Gilgamesh, he tells his companion that while he grabs the Bull’s tail Gilgamesh should thrust his knife behind the horns into the Bull’s neck and kill it. Once dead, they cut out its heart and present it to Shamash. Meanwhile, Inanna, raging even more, goes to the city wall and vents her anger. Hearing her noise, Enkidu tears a haunch off the Bull and hurls it towards Inanna, saying that if he catches her he will ‘drape her arms in its guts’ (George: page 52).

Inanna/Ishtar assembles the courtesans, prostitutes and harlots to mourn over the Bull of Heaven, while Gilgamesh summoned all the smiths and craftsmen to look at the dead Bull’s horns. He gives the horns to ‘his god Lugalbanda, to hold oil for appointment’ (George: 53), another semi-divine individual, originally king of Uruk. After, they drive through Uruk with Gilgamesh boasting of his manliness to his serving girls. That night, falling asleep, Enkidu dreams of his own death. Relating the dream to Gilgamesh, Enkidu tells of seeing an assembly of the gods deciding his fate. As in search of fame and autonomy Gilgamesh and Enkidu killed both Huwawa and the Bull of Heaven, the gods decree that one must die. Of course that has to be Enkidu, the shadowy, somehow incomplete man. In his dream, he visits the Netherworld seeing all the kings from the beginning, all priests, the goddess and scribe of the Netherworld.

Tikva Frymer-Kensky: ‘The Marginalisation of the Goddess’ (ed. John Maier: 1997) demonstrates how the episode of Inanna records the growing lack of importance in Mesopotamia of goddesses, still strongly evident in the present day within Abrahamic religions, often fiercely redundant with misogyny. She demonstrates the diminution of mother-goddesses with the primordial first-mothers disappearing early. According to a strand of Mesopotamian theology the gods resulted from the union of an (sky) and ki (earth). Ki is, it appears, soon forgotten. Lagash, towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE, sites the three greatest gods as An, Enlil and Ninhursag. By the next millennium, the three greatest gods have become An, Enlil and Enki. The Atrahasis Myth, a primeval history, shows the mother-goddess relinquishing her creation rights to Enki/Ea. By the time of Enuma Elish, concerning the elevation of the Babylonian chief god Marduk, woman in the guise of Ti’amat is vanquished.

Only Inanna/Ishtar remained supreme changing names throughout the centuries, finally emerging as Mary-Mother of Jesus. In between, the symbolic murder of female entities has been the rule rather than the exception. In Christianity and Islam, woman as the whore/lover has been throttled to death, replaced by a domesticated ideal exampled in Maryam in the Qur’an. Although Frymer-Kensky describes Inanna/Ishtar as the ‘manly’ goddess, this must be refuted as her aggression and power can equally be seen in many women, and represents a side of women in general. Although the Qur’an advises that even powerful women such as the Queen of Sheba requires the advice of men, this is the work of a man, and limited thereby in knowledge and wisdom.

Although Freymer-Kensky focuses, with limited enthusiasm, on the influence of West Semites for the decline of goddesses, Violence and Religion[48] demonstrates the move towards martial concepts of masculinity, as war became increasingly popular and killing unconstrained. The Old Testament reflects, for example, the masculinisation of society.

Enkidu’s death creates the disintegration of the unity and in searching for eternal life, and failing to achieve it, in understanding, confronting and accepting death Gilgamesh achieves full human knowledge. According to Foster (page 66), Gilgamesh’s perfection of knowledge is attained only when he discards self and understands that only his achievements, the knowledge he has obtained, will live on.

Foster (pages 66-68) under knowledge of humanity demonstrates that the effect of seduction is a loss of vitality. Enkidu is no longer able to run as before, in the manner of a beast, but his understanding grows.  The rejection of Inanna is considered by Foster in narrow moral context of sex before marriage, which on the surface belittles the enormous issues raised here. Hardman (1993) states (instancing Paragraph 189) that Hammurabi’s laws privilege sacral male and female harlots, suggesting that Foster’s interpretation here owes more to Abrahamic morality than to Mesopotamian prejudices. As Hardman (page 13) has identified possible transgender prostitutes, acknowledging that this has been rejected by other scholars,[49] the Mesopotamians appear to have been remarkably free of discrimination involving sexual identity and lifestyles. Although Shamhat is rejected by Enkidu this is the result of the gods insistence on his death, as a sacrificial victim, in place of Gilgamesh. He is blaming Shamhat for his downfall, not Gilgamesh.

Enkidu serves also as substitute king, thereby he not Gilgamesh will die. He and Gilgamesh’s actions are as one, but it is Enkidu not Gilgamesh who throws the Bull of Heaven’s Haunch at Inanna-the ultimate insult. [50]Mandell suggests that by both supporting Gilgamesh and dying for him Enkidu has become fully human. Mandell points out that, although considered an ideal of wisdom, Gilgamesh is often barbaric, and, unlike Enkidu, defined by his strength and sexuality. She suggests that Gilgamesh becomes fully civilised only after Enkidu’s death.

Here then, it is possible to view Enkidu as the real human being of the two, his dismissive gesture towards Inanna indicating his full authenticity, acquired before Gilgamesh acquires his, symbolised by his comparative independence from the gods. It must be added that as originally a creature of the plains Enkidu would have had no special relationship with Inanna, except second-hand through Shamhat-unlike Gilgamesh.

ANCIENT FICTIONALITY: RELIGION AND CREATIVITY - MESOPOTAMIAN RELIGION II by Stanley Wilkin at Spillwords.com

Sinbad the Sailor: a Muslim story originating in Ancient Sumer

 

Conclusion

Mesopotamian religions represented a method of externalising feelings and thoughts into creative energy that fed back into human society. That externalisation was as real as the material world of the senses that humans imagine they inhabit, although that was habitually intruded into by hymns, incantations, temples, priests and statues.

The actualisation of human conduct and actions were negotiated here on a liminal plane, with action being the consequence of creative alteration. A scribe enacted the authority of a god, which was passed down or over to the king or High Priest. All human action was mediated, and reflected back into the godly sphere, creating thereby a twofold reality. Human society comprised, and required, both realities in order to substantiate the human reality that was itself subject to continuous change.

In this, and in other aspects, ancient religions functioned like modern communications, forever altering and assessing information. Where art creates form, so did the religious literature, dances, and statues of the ancient world. Through the god’s characters human personality was formed and managed, space and time were crafted, relationships between things and people negotiated.

Meanwhile, Mesopotamian secular literature fashioned heroes, their dreams realised by later generals and kings, presented ideas, leading towards greater human authenticity by challenging the god’s power. From out of all the three thousand years of scribal intelligentsia, fashioning and refashioning concepts, emerged a solid, recognisable human world that influenced later Hebrew writers, who often simply assumed aspects of Mesopotamian literature-including law codes, fixation with the word, and attributes of its important gods.

Gods/Goddesses

Paul Kriwaczek (2010) posits that the original gods emerged in the Near East approximately 12000 years ago in the form of an obese woman and a bull, mirroring Inanna/Ishtar and the Bull of Heaven, symbolising fertility and, with the latter, natural forces. Each was an abstraction, not an actual entity, and used to worship abstract forces or Nevertheless, this must be considered alongside the notion of European painted caves as temples providing access to another world, a spirit world, thereby conceiving of space beyond that seen. Constructing space beyond the eye, touch and smell is essential in the creation of religion and religious worship. Religion populates the arc of the sky, the real and imagined space beneath the feet, the real or imagined halls beyond walls. The creation of time and space is essential in the imagining and manufacture of religion.

YHWH

Many motifs and scenes are repeated within the many literary works dealing with YHWH. The creation myth in Pentateuch was modelled on the making of Enkidu in the Gilgamesh Epic, which itself was modelled on Sumerian creation myths where human beings are made from earth/clay-as were cities. While the Gilgamesh Epic concerns human autonomy, the expulsion from the Garden of Eden reflects the same process,[51] if in a lengthy fashion, that is separation from god/gods in the way children separate from a parent while keeping that relationship and understanding its dynamics. In the Yahwist Creation Myth Adam and Eve are seen as naked, like Enkidu, as, in effect, babies or primitive. Without knowledge, both Adam and Eve are lullu-amelu-the stage before humanness or adulthood.

Batto demonstrates that in the Adam and Eve narrative, YHWH prevents his human creations from acquiring godlike wisdom, although they have already acquired wisdom from the sexual act. As in Mesopotamian literature, humans can never achieve divine status.

YHWH acts like a landlord in that once they transgress YHWH evicts both, taking the role of Sumerian gods as owners the cities they are attached to. Eden looks, with its garden and walls, very much like an ancient Sumerian city. YHWH remains apart likewise from his creations as if residing in a different part of the god-made location. Although probably connected to the snake in Gilgamesh, Batto (pages 253-254) sees the Yahwist serpent as more a mythic character connected to seraphim, themselves seemingly taken from Egyptian divine winged uraeus or cobra. The Creation narrative has perhaps more to do with Egyptian Creation narratives as the Mesopotamian narratives were fixated upon gender interaction. Allah, as understood in Islam, appears more closely connected to an with respect to distance from creation. Later works will consider the much closer connection of Mesopotamian religion to Islam.

As in Sumerian literature, in Yahwistic and Islamic writings knowledge or wisdom is considered emblematic. Its true form is jealously guarded by god or gods. Human knowledge is restricted and usually dependent on god/gods. Islam holds that god’s wisdom has been conveyed, but the proof leaves much to be desired bearing as it does singular human-like traits and limitations.

The use of ‘shepherd’ to identify Jesus’s mission; his ‘heroic wanderings’ connecting him to Gilgamesh; his ultimate death providing autonomy-connection to his ‘Father-god’ and resolution of community motifs. Muhammed’s career has a similar trajectory, showing how obstacles were overcome towards resolution of both his personality and destiny. His career epitomises the rites of passage technique found in Gilgamesh. Similarly, the gods/goddesses tend to act indirectly in Sumerian literature, witness Inanna sending the Bull of Heaven to punish Gilgamesh and Enkidu when she have punished them herself, Shamash sending dreams to control Gilgamesh, and YHWH acting indirectly through Moses, the prophets, and through the Jesus figure. The voices of Mohammed, his visitations, were part of the same literary device.

The narrative of King David resembles Gilgamesh’s story, in particular David’s relationship with Jonathan and Gilgamesh’s close relationship with Enkidu. Viewed in this fashion, Goliath has affinities with Huwawa-certainly as rite of passage connected to a powerful, unbeaten and unbeatable monster/foe.  The Moses narrative, a long journey consisting of god-enforced wanderings, resembles the Gilgamesh narrative containing Moses’ autonomy through death-as with Enkidu-as well as a substitute in Joshua. Again, this reflects the double or twin kings of Bronze Age cultures.

Of interest to Islam, many tales in the 1001 Nights collection have clear beginnings in Mesopotamian literature indicating, as I strongly believe, a powerful connection between Mesopotamian and Islamic cultures. The Tale of Buluqiya[52] provides evidence of the influence of ancient Mesopotamian culture on Islam. Buluqiya appears to be a re-write of Gilgamesh, often referred to in Sumerian writing as Bilgamesh[53], at least the end where Gilgamesh loses the leaf that will provide him with immortality. Here, King Sakhr, king of demons, takes the place of Utnapishtim, who, after Buluqiya has been taken to him by demons, tells him the story of the world origins-in this, Allah created the world for the coming of Muhammed and punishment (sic) of the infidels. Sakhr, like Utnapishtim will never grow old and die as he has drunk from the fountain of life (a possible reference to apsu) a possible reference to Water of Life found in Gilgamesh and the Story of Adapa.

Buluqiya is not an Arabic name, but a hypocoristic of Gilgamesh’s name,  (Dalley: page 221) ‘a pronunciation attested both in Sumerian and Hurrian: Bilgamesh’. The ya is typical of Akkadian names but could equally come from YHWH. This connection is further established through the use of pseudo-prophesies that employ the names of famous ancient figures, thereby providing authenticity. Dalley (page 222) also references al-Khidhr in the story as a version of Atra-hasis, an epithet for Utnapishtim, and another Mesopotamian sage, Adapa-Oannes. Dalley connects both with the Ugaritic god ktr-w-hss. In conclusion, Dalley, because the Buluqiya character shows no evidence of change throughout the story, unlike Gilgamesh, likens him to characters in-Judaic apocalyptic literature-such as the Book of Enoch-or Noah, Solomon and Daniel. Other stories in Arabian Nights stories that were influenced by ancient Mesopotamia include ‘The History of the First Larrikin’, based upon ‘The Poor Man of Nippur’, and ‘The Sleeper Awakes’, based upon substitute kings.

As I will consider later, the influence of ancient Mesopotamia on Arabia and Islam has been ignored, but must be addressed, as must too the symbolic nature of power-based religious experience on Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

The following papers dealing with the Abrahamic religions will testify that the aforesaid religions are based on the fashioning of urban religion by the Sumerians in both style and substance, forms of worship, referencing a heaven, indirect manipulation, plus a bevy of supernatural beings alongside the gods.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Ackerman, Susan. When Heroes Love. The Ambiguity of Eros in the Stories of Gilgamesh and David. Columbia University Press, New York. 2005.
  2. Armstrong, Karen. Fields of blood. Religion and the history of violence. 2014. The Bodley Head, London
  3. Black, Cunningham, Robson, Zolyomi. The Literature of Ancient Sumer. Oxford University Press. 2004
  4. Campbell, Joseph. Oriental Mythology. The Masks of God. 1962. Penguin Books.
  5. Chaitanya, Krishna. Ancient Mesopotamian Literature. Cameos in history and culture-2. Sangam Books. 1995.
  6. Crawford, Harriet. Ed. The Sumerian World. Routledge. London/New York. 2013
  7. Davies. Philip, R. Scribes and Schools. The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures. Society for Promotion of Christian Knowledge. 1998
  8. Dobson, Geoffrey P. A Chaos of Delight. Science, Religion and Myth and the Shaping of Western Thought. Equinox. 2005
  9. Driel. G. Van. Ed. Ziker Shumin A note on an overlooked word-play in the Akkadian Gilgamesh.’: Assyriological Studies presented to K. R. Kraus on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday. Leiden: E.J. Brill. 1982.
  10. Enmarch/Lepper. Ancient Egyptian Literature: Theory and Practice. Proceedings of the British Academy. Ed. Roland Enmarch/Verena M. Lepper. Oxford University Press. 2013.
  11. Geller/Schipper. Ed. 2008. Imagining Creation. Institute of Jewish Studies. Brill. Leiden-Boston.
  12. George, Andrew: The Epic of Gilgamesh. A new translation. 1999. Allen Lane, The Penguin Press.
  13. Gunter C. Ann. Investigating Artistic Environments in the Ancient Near East. University of Wisconsin Press. 1988.
  14. Hallo, William W. The World’s Oldest Literature. Studies in Sumerian Belles-Lettres. 2010. Brill. Leiden-Boston.
  15. Helms, Mary: Ulysses’ sail: An Ethnographic Odyssey of Power, Knowledge and Geographical Distance. 1988. Princeton./Access to Origins: Affines, Ancestors and Aristocrats. 1998. Austin. Texas.
  16. Heidel, Alexander. The Gilgamesh Epic and the Old Testament Parallels. The University of Chicago Press. 1946.
  17. Kramer, Samuel Noah. From the Poetry of Sumer. Creation, Glorification, Adoration. University of California Press. 1979
  18. Kripke, Saul. Naming and Necessity. 1980. Harvard University Press.
  19. Kristiansen, Kristian/Larsson, Thomas B. The Rise of Bronze Age Society. Travels, Transmissions and Transformations.
  20. Kriwaczek, Paul. ‘Babylon. Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization.’2010. Atlantic Books Ltd. London.
  21. Larrington, Caroline. 1992. The Feminist Companion to Mythology. Pandora Press.
  22. Lisman, Jan, J. W. Cosmogony, Theogony, and Anthropogeny in Sumerian Texts. 2013. Ugarit-Verlag, Munster
  23. Maier, John. Ed. Gilgamesh. A Reader. 1997. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc.
  24. Pournelle, Jennifer R. Physical Geography. Crawford, Harriet. Ed. The Sumerian World. Routledge. London/New York. 2013
  25. Radner, Karen/Robson, Eleanor. Ed. The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture. Oxford University Press. 2011
  26. Tigay, Joseph H. The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic. University of Pennsylvania Press. 1982
  27. Wolf, Maryanne. Proust and the squid. 2008. The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.
  28. Wolff, Hope Nashe. A Study in the Narrative Structure of Three Epic Poems: Gilgamesh, the Odyssey. Beowulf. 1987. Garland Publishing, Inc. New York and London. 1987. Harvard Dissertations in Comparative Literature.
  29. Wolkstein/Kramer. Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth. Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. 1984. Rider and Company.
  30. Ziker Shumin: Assyriological Studies presented to K. R. Kraus on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday. Leiden: E.J. Brill. 1982.

 

[1] Wolkstein, Diane/Kramer, Samuel Noah. Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth. Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. Rider. London, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Johannesburg. 1984: p xvi.

[2] Black, Cunningham, Robson, Zolyomi. The Literature of Ancient Sumer. Oxford University Press. 2004: p xiv.

[3] The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi.

[4]The Inanna-Dumuzi Myth Cycle: Structural, Comparative and Symbolic Approaches. Academia.edu.

[5] Wolkstein/Kramer: Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth. 1983. Harper and Row Publishers, New York.

[6] Oriental Mythology. The Masks of God. 1962. Penguin Books. Pages 39-40.

[7] Black, Cunningham, Robson, Zolyomi. The Literature of Ancient Sumer. Oxford University Press. 2004. P xiv.

[8] Black, Cunningham, Robson, Zolyomi. The Literature of Ancient Sumer. Oxford University Press. 2004. P xlvi

[9] Dobson, Geoffrey P. A. Chaos of Delight. Science, Religion and Myth and the Shaping of Western Thought. Equinox. 2005: 64.

[10]Enmarch, Ronald, Lepper, Verena. M Ed. In cooperation with Robson, Eleanor. Ancient Egyptian Literature. Theory and Practice. The British Academy. Oxford University Press. 2013.

[11] Black, Cunningham, Robson, Zolyomi. The Literature of Ancient Sumer. Oxford University Press. 2004

[12] Black, Cunningham, Robson, Zolyomi (2004: page 90).

[13] Gunter C. Ann. Investigating Artistic Environments in the Ancient Near East. University of Wisconsin Press. 1988.

[14] Dobson, Geoffrey P. A Chaos of Delight. Science, Religion and Myth and the Shaping of Western Thought. Equinox. 2005.

[15] From the Poetry of Sumer. University of California Press. 1979. Pp 28-29.

[16] Hallo, William W. The World’s Oldest Literature. Studies in Sumerian Belles-Lettres. 2010. Brill. Leiden-Boston. Pages 5-6.

[17] Hallo (2010: page 11).

[18] The vocabulary of literary Sumerian: a corpus-driven investigation.  Ebeling, Jarle/Cunningham, Graham.Analysing Literary Sumerian. Corpus-based approaches. Equinox Publishing Ltd. London/Oakville. 2007: pp 66-67.

[19] Feldt, Laura. On divine-referent bull metaphors in the ETCSL corpus. Ebeling/Cunningham: 2007:p 189..

[20] Black, Cunningham, Robson, Zolyomi. The Literature of Ancient Sumer. 2004. Oxford University Press. Introduction Xxv.

[21] This was not always the case as Inanna was a patron of prostitutes.

[22] Fields of blood. Religion and the history of violence.  2014. The Bodley Head, London. Page 93.

[23] When Heroes Love. The Ambiguity of Eros in the Stories of Gilgamesh and David. Columbia University Press. New York. 2005.

[24] Furlong, Iris. The Mythology of the Near East. Ed. Larrington, Caroline. 1992. The Feminist Companion to Mythology. Pandora Press. Page 16.

[25] A Study in the Narrative Structure of Three Epic Poems: Gilgamesh, the Odyssey. Beowulf. 1987. Garland Publishing, Inc. New York and London. 1987. Harvard Dissertations in Comparative Literature. Page ii.

[26] Heidel, Alexander.The Gilgamesh Epic and the Old Testament Parallels. The University of Chicago Press. 1946. Page 4.

[27]George, Andrew. The Epic of Gilgamesh. The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian. Allen Lane. The Penguin Press. !999.

[28] Columbia University Press, New York. 2005. Pages 128-129.

[29] Damrosch, David: ‘Gilgamesh and Genesis’. Ed. Maier, John. Gilgamesh. A Reader. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc. USA. 1997.

[30] Not here an euphemism for Uruk.

[31] George, Andrew: The Epic of Gilgamesh. A new translation. 1999. Allen Lane, The Penguin Press. Page 149.

[32] In present day morality.

[33] Lord. Albert.B. ‘Gilgamesh and Other Epics.’ Gilgamesh A Reader. Ed. Maier, John. 1997. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. Inc.

[34] Abusch, Tzvi. The Development and Meaning of the Epic of Gilgamesh. An interpretive Essay. 2015. Male and Female in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Encounters, Literary History and Interpretation. Page 127.

[35] A storm-god possibly of West Semitic origins.

[36] There was often a separation of demons/daemons/spirits and gods, with gods often being apprehensive of demons.

[37] George, Andrew. Page 42.

[38]The confusion here, as with all ancient religious texts, lies in re-working of the material.

[39] Gilgamesh A Reader. Ed. Maier, John. 1997. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. Inc. page 64.

[40] Civilised values.

[41] In the sense of its position in a table of importance.

[42] An epithet, not the meaning of his name.

[43] The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic. University of Pennsylvania Press. 1982.

[44] Gilgamesh. A Reader. Ed. Maier, John. 1997. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc. page 95.

[45]Driel. G. Van. Ed. Ziker Shumin A note on an overlooked word-play in the Akkadian Gilgamesh.’: Assyriological Studies presented to K. R. Kraus on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday. Leiden: E.J. Brill. 1982. Page 86.

[46] Inanna

[47] Elsewhere, of course, her father is Enki.

[48] Stanley Wilkin. Academia.edu.

[49] Taken from Dhorme.

[50]Mandell, Sara. Liminality, Altered States, and the Gilgamesh Epic. Ed. Maier, John. Gilgamesh. A Reader. 1997. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc.

[51] Batto, Bernard F. ‘The Yahwist’s Primeval Myth’.ed. Maier, John. Gilgamesh. A Reader. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc. USA. 1997.

[52] Maier, John. Gilgamesh. A Reader. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc. Dalley, Stephanie: Gilgamesh in the Arabian Nights. 1992

[53] Perhaps the hero’s original name.

Stanley Wilkin

Stanley Wilkin

Stanley Wilkin is a freelance lecturer and education consultant working in London
Stanley Wilkin

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