I have had a fascination for Egyptology since I was ten years old and the study of Hieroglyphics a necessity fell into the category of learning for me. I was of course aware of cuneiform but was unaware of its significance to my field of study, and also knowing it was the most difficult of dead languages to partake of, I avoided it like the proverbial plague.
It wasn’t until I started researching some Bible stories incorporating Egypt that the link with Mesopotamia became clear. I am of course talking of Moses and The Exodus story, but no flood I would like to add at this stage. 🙂
The news however, has had me gripped, particularly the destruction of religious relics and buildings by ISIS and I wanted to have look at the history of the country they were trying to eradicate.
George Smith’s discovery of the Ark Tablet within the very halls of the British Museum is something extraordinary, and caused quite a stir in 1872. Smith chose a very public platform to announce his discovery, namely the Society of Biblical Archaeology in London, with many famous dignitaries present including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Prime Minister W. E Gladstone. You can imagine the sensation it caused, they found it bizarre that a close relative of the Holy texts should emanate from such a primitive, barbaric world through so improbable a medium. How could Noah and his Ark possibly have been known and important to the Assyrians of Asnapper and Babylonians of mad dread Nebuchadnezzar? People wanted to know which was the older of the two. The answer was simple, the cuneiform flood story , a millennium older in fact.
We forget the culture of Mesopotamia is important to us, its contributions to the modern world go largely unnoticed today. For example, everyone at some time in their life wonders why minutes and hours are divided into sixtieths instead of ten’s and why circles are divided into three hundred and sixtieth’s. the reason is the Mesopotamian preference for sexagesimal mathematics, which developed with the dawn of writing. Im sure a Muslim would tell you that no it was Islam. hahaha
THE BEGINNINGS OF WRITING
As far as we know from Archaeology, writing appeared for the first time around 3,500 years ago in Mesopotamia. The unromantic fact, however, is writing was bestowed by our ancestors in the Inland Revenue Service. Writing was not brought about by a need for poetry or the record history but the needs of the book-keepers!
The most famous cuneiform library belonged to Ashurbanipal (668-631 BC), the last great King of Assyria, who had a bookish mind must have been a wonder of the world. His holdings are now the pride and joy of the British Museum tablet collection. They fall into five categories:-
- OFFICIAL – State, King, Government and Law
- PRIVATE – Contracts, Inheritance, Sales and Letters
- LITERACY – Myths, Epics, Stories, Hymns and Prayers
- REFERENCE – Signs, Lists and Dictionaries
- INTELLECTUAL – Magic, Medicine, Omens, Maths, Astronomy, Astrology, Grammar and Exegesis
With a huge mass of written cuneiform testimony, assorted religious texts, omens, medical and magical texts especially, they are full of human ideas, for they represent how people tried to make sense of the world and cope with it on all levels. Mesopotamian ideas, have therefore come down to us in a specific packaging. This packaging was above all practical, for its sole purpose was to present what was inherited from earlier times in usable retrievable form. Of course, in order to have the writer’s to create this packaged history we need to find out how and why.
HOW AND WHY WERE THE JUDEAN’S IN BABYLON
On the morning of the 16th March 597 BC Jehoichin, King of Judah, woke in jerusalem to find the army of Nebuchadnezzar II , Kind of Babylon, encamped round his city. Judea was of strategic importance to both Babylon and the Egypt. The surrender by Jehoichin was the first stage of the Jewish exile. The whole of the Judean royal family, the government and administration , the military, craftsmen and artisans were moved to Babylon.
The Judeans were in exile for 58 years and were exposed to a new world, new belief’s, cuneiform writing and literature. How do we know all this happened? Because we have Nebuchadnezzar’s own account of the 1st Jerusalem campaign in the form of a court chronicle, which records occurrences throughout his reign by day, month and year. Handy huh?
CREATING A BIBLICAL MYTH
In time many of the Judean’s became Mesopotamian citizens. The Judean’s somewhat ramshackle religion had now been crystalized into permanence due to their introducing the Babylonian myths into their story. For the first time scripture came into being, with a beginning and an ending, not just random religious texts A pattern was established which endured through Christianity and Islam, a monotheistic religion with a book at it’s core.
Archaeologist’s have long since known that the stories of which we have written versions, were circulated for long period as oral literature, enjoying a level of freedom and improvement that was shut off once the process of writing swung into action, with it’s inhibition of creativity and variety.
The Judeans on learning cuneiform became familiar with the Babylonian stories, which they recycled for their own purposes with new messages ( Great Ages of Man, Flood story and the baby in a boat). The biblical texts were created out of existing Judean documents and they needed narratives about very early times that their own culture lacked.
For instance the Book of Daniel is composed of tales about the Babylonian court interspersed with great visions. Whereas it was once believed the book dated 6th Century BC, it is now the opinion it was written around the 2nd Century BC, it incorporated the earlier stories much later than first thought
Then the King commanded his palace master Ashkenazi to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldean’s. They were to be educated for 3 years, he was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians, and then to enter the King’s service
– Daniel 1 3-5
THE GREAT AGES OF MAN
The book of Genesis attributes superhuman longevity to Adam and his descendants all the way down to Lamech the father of Noah, all of whom lived before the flood.
- Adam – 930
- Seth – 912
- Enosh – 905
- Kenan – 910
- Mahalaleel – 895
- Jared – 962
- Enoch – 365
- Methuselah – 969
- Lamech – 595
Sumerian King List 1-17
- Alulim- 28,000
- Alalgar – 36,000
- Enmenluanna – 43,200
- Enmengalanna – 28,800
- Dumuzi – 36,000
The Judeans anxious to establish lineage, took over this grandscale idea. To treat the Genesis Great Age tradition as if it had nothing to do with the cuneiform would seem absurd to me.
THE SARGON LEGEND
Sargon’s mother was a priestess who was forbidden to have children, however, she became pregnant. In the cuneiform version, Sargon of Arkkad ( 2270- 2215 BC ) explains how his mother deposited him in a basket on the River Euphrates, to go wherever the tide took him.
The Judeans modified it into the biblical story of Moses.
I think Sherlock Holmes had it right when he mentioned the Niagara Principle
THE NIAGARA PRINCIPLE –
From a drop of water a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara Falls without having seen or herd of one or the other
– A Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet
To question the validity and authenticity of the biblical stories is to bring into question if any of it is the actual history as written. Is it a scrap book of various world histories? Of stories handed around by travellers perhaps and used for their own ends?
The iconic stories of the flood, Noah, the Great Ages of Man, and the story of Moses we know for certain originated in Mesopotamia, what is now modern day Iraq. the story in its earliest form goes back before writing and is rooted in the circumstances and is an integral part of the Mesopotamian existence.
THE FLOOD STORY
In Mesopotamian terms, the world was the landscape of the Southern Iraqi marshland, constant flooding by the Tigris and Euphrates would most definitely create stories of the floods.
The Hebrew text is derived from the cuneiform flood story pure and simple. the Judea’s used these much older stories because their own traditions were inadequate. As cuneiform became a dead and forgotten language, people saw the scriptures as the original word of god. That is until George Smith deciphered “The Flood Story” in a dark room at the back of the British Museum.
I watch the destruction of the artefacts and treasures at Ninevah by ISIS and find it ironic, they are destroying their own inheritance, history, culture and ancestor’s. I wonder if they will ever feel shame for their actions…..