The Babylonian Background

Chapter 3

Two weeks later1 the three friends met again in Dr. Schwulst’s office. No orientalist worthy of the name confines his studies to one culture, and Schwulst was as good at Babylonian as he was at Egyptian. Grateful for a captive audience, he had prepared for the event by piling the texts of a dozen Mesopotamian epics on his table. And now working rapidly through the pile from top to bottom, he virtually monopolized the rest of the evening. The reader must always bear in mind that what we have here is merely academic chit-chat, a setting forth of issues and areas of investigation without any attempt to exhaust anything.

“It has been maintained,” Professor Schwulst began in his best lecture manner, “that Babylonia is actually the home of all epic literature, and that ‘the true forerunners of the Iliad and the Divinia Commedia were not Genesis and Exodus but the legends of Etana and Gilgamesh.’2 Epic stuff is always breaking out in Babylonian texts, even in the ritual literature. The great New Year’s hymn called the Enuma Elish, for example, is ‘a mixture of heroic epic and dogmatic poetry.’3 So in order not to be here all night, let us just look at the purest and oldest epics.

“Here, gentlemen, is the epic poem of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta. In it, the first of these two great lords sends a message to the other demanding his homage, only to receive the haughty answer that the Lord Enmerkar is not the vassal of the Lord of Aratta. A showdown follows, and Enmerkar is beaten, but the victor allows him to continue to remain in power in Uruk as his liegeman. But later Enmerkar refuses tribute to his new lord because Aratta’s overlord, one Ensukhkeshdanna, has spoken disrespectfully of a certain great lady to whom Enmerkar has always owed fealty.4 Do you follow?”

“No,” said F.

“It doesn’t make much difference,” the professor laughed, “because there are conflicting interpretations of the story. I merely give this to you to show you that we begin with the complicated system of feudal alliances which is characteristic of heroic ages everywhere. Aratta’s lord is described as sitting grandly enthroned and unassailably secure in his splendid mountain castle; and ‘the Lady of heroes’ sits in an exalted castle that shines like the sun.5 Aratta declares that he is ‘the properly appointed and sole Ruler of the Steppes, there is none like him!’ and he sends out great mule trains moving to flute music and bearing rich gifts ‘as a bait’ to increase his power by buying support. A messenger comes to him from another great lord to beg humbly for the privilege of buying building materials from him, for his mountains produce timber, stone, and metals; the messenger comes before the great lord with fear and trembling. This is the lord of Aratta’s message to the lord of Uruk (often called the oldest city in the world): ‘Say to Uruk’s king, he must submit to me, he must pay me feudal dues and services, . . . then he may continue to live in his Ishtar temple while I live in mine.’ Note that both these men are vassals of the great lady. If Enmerkar submits, he will be allowed ‘to shine as Lord of the City, as Prince of the City, as Lord of the Storm, as Prince in the Storm, as the Lord who rages, as the Prince who rages.’ “6

“Those are certainly not the epithets of peaceful peasant magistrates,” Blank observed.

“Not at all,” said Schwulst, “and all this is thoroughly typical. Enmerkar thus challenges his rival: ‘Since you do not respect my lady, I will destroy your house.’ As in all heroic ages, the center of everything is the great house; and these great houses are proud and touchy about their honor and constantly trying to overreach each other. Moreover, they are all related by ties of blood and bound by terrible oaths to each other. In this case when the lord of Aratta is beaten in turn, his subjects promptly and loyally submit to the victor, whom they hail as having proved his superiority by winning ‘the jewel of heaven,’ that is, the preference of the Lady Ishtar over his rival.”

“How medieval it all sounds,” mused F.—”the castles, the challenges, the faithful messengers, the vassals, and oaths, the cult of the lady. . . .”

“With echoes of the Pyramid Texts,” Blank added.

“Even more like the Pyramid Texts is the constant Sumerian harping on the nature of gods, heroes, and kings as invaders and cattle raiders. The king is ‘the exalted bull, glorious is thy name to the ends of heaven . . . twin brother of the lord of the divine ox of heaven and earth, . . . Father Iskur, lord that ridest the storm, thy name is to the ends of heaven, . . . thy name covereth the land.’ “7

“Right out of the cannibal hymn!” Blank cried, and the Professor continued:

” ‘. . . the exalted herdsman, I am the holy cow [confusing genders in the best Egyptian fashion] and the woman who beareth issue.’8 The king is ‘the righteous herdsman,’ but no gentle shepherd; he claims to rule the world by force and demands submission of his inhabitants; he sends his arrow-messengers out to exercise vigilance and control, and he himself moves about from place to place with his warlike host: ‘Let thy good Utukku proceed me on my way, let thy good Lmassu travel along with me as I travel.’ 9 On the famous stele of the vultures, Ningirsu is hailed as ‘Lord of the crown of abundance, beast of prey from the steppes!’10 Reference to the sun and his course and to the horizons, ‘the ends of heaven’ are common: ‘From the rising sun to the setting sun [I] have subdued them unto him, at that time from the lower sea; . . . unto the upper sea his way he made straight for him. From the rising sun to the setting sun Enlil a rival caused him not to have.’11 Without the name of Enlil as a clue, who would not guess that we were reading from the Pyramid Texts? Well, there are volumes of this stuff. But it is more than literary invention. Here, for example, a Sumerian king says that Enlil, king of the lands, has given him a mission, which is to take vengeance on the Guti, who have ‘carried off the sovranty of Sumer to the mountains.’12 Incidentally, if you are interested in the genealogy of the epic milieu, there have been first-rate scholars who have insisted on identifying these Guti with our own Gothic ancestors!13 At any rate, the Guti King Tirigan had in the best heroic manner sent a formal challenge to the chiefs and boasted that no man could stand up to him; he was beaten, however, and fled to one of his castles where, in the best saga manner, he was betrayed and captured.”

“How old is all this heroic and feudal stuff?” F. inquired.

“It goes back to the beginning and earlier,” was the reply. “It is particularly in the archaic texts that everyone is bound to everyone else by oaths and family ties and given careful heraldic rating in the aristocratic hierarchy. Here, for example, in what Deimel calls ‘the oldest known royal inscription,’ the king is described as receiving his office from Enlil the king of the lands, who makes him king of Uruk, king of the land, priest of Anu, prophet of Nisaba, son of Ukush (the Patesi of Gish-khu and prophet of Nisba), approved by Anu king of the lands, great-patesi of Enlil, endowed with understanding by Enki, whose name is mentioned by Babbar, prime minister of En-zu, shakkanakku (vassal) of Babbar, agent of Innina, child of Nisaba, nourished with holy milk by Nin-har-sag, . . . foster-child of Nin-a-bu-kha-du, the lady of Uruk, etc. etc.14 Family ties, personal qualification, formal recognition—it is all very elaborate and exacting. Here in another archaic text Gimil-Sin, in his capacity of priest of Anu whom Enlil has chosen as the beloved of his heart, makes a dedication to Shara, lord of heaven (that is also Anu’s title) who is the beloved of Ninni.15 Or again, ‘Dungi, the mighty man of Ur’ . . . serves his lord Ningirsu, who in turn is ‘the mighty warrior of Enlil.’ In this hierarchy of allegiance you will always find the heroic combination of personal loyalty and warlike valor. As in Egypt, the favored one is accepted into the noble house, given all the due marks of recognitions, and provided with an adequate income.”

“High life in high places all over again,” F. observed. “What about the feasts?”

“The Epic of Nergal and Erishkegal will tell you all about them,” said the professor, opening the appropriate text. “The story opens as the gods meet for one of their usual high feasts; they send a messenger to Lady Erishkegal, a strong-minded damsel who from her grim castle rules the largest but most distant domains of all the family. Since she never leaves her castle to visit the other gods, the messenger is instructed to invite her to send one of her own people to fetch a portion for her from the festive board. Well, when the lady’s runner duly arrived and entered the banquet hall to get the promised portion, the merry gods made him the butt of their joking. When she heard of this disrespect shown her emissary, the great lady flew into a passion and demanded the life of the individual who had dared treat her messenger so lightly: it was an insult to a grand dame, and it was not to be borne. The injured messenger was asked to identify the culprit, but again the gods treated the whole matter as a huge joke and got him hopelessly confused. That was the last straw: Lady Erishkegal denied henceforward all access to the water of life that flowed only in her underworld palace, and she built mighty walls around it to see that none of the gods got through to it. This meant death for all, and it was urgent for some hero to deliver the race of gods from their predicament. That hero was the youthful Nergal, son of Ea, the chief of the gods. With a band of fourteen trusted retainers he entered the castle by a ruse, surprised the lady, and threatened to cut off her head, whereupon she offered him her hand in marriage and ‘kingship over the wide Netherworld,’ along with the Tablets of Wisdom by which he could rule over the universe.”16

“Shades of a dozen fairy-tales!” cried F. “I thought all that stuff was strictly European—King Arthur, and all that.”

“It is,” said Blank, “and it is classic, too, because it is right out of the epic milieu: the feasting and rollicking heroes having fun at their elder sister’s expense, the constant sending of messengers back and forth with invitations, challenges, and complaints, the visiting of each other’s castles, the offended fairy who spoils the party, or if you will, the sinister lady in her dark castle, the young romantic hero with his adventurous band who makes his point with the fatal lady exactly as Odysseus does with Circe. This is certainly no peasant culture, but the ways of great lords and ladies.”

Dr. Schwulst took another text from the pile before him. “The Epic of Irra,” he said, “is more of the same. Like the Pyramid Texts, it tells of the invasion and pacification of the land, and it is very old. But the most remarkable thing about it is the fact that it seems to have been composed and sung by a minstrel who went from castle to castle exactly like the minstrels of the middle ages! It divides society into ‘gods, kings, warriors, bards, and scholars,’ with never a mention of the poor peasant:

     May the [god] who honors this song accumulate riches in his storehouse. . . . May the king who makes my name [the poet’s] famous rule [as far as] the [four] rims [of the earth]. May the warrior [or noble-rubu] who recites . . . the praise of my valor find no match in battle. The bard who sings it shall not die in a shiptu, may his words be pleasing to kings and nobles.

“Could you ask for a more ‘heroic’ statement of values than that?” 17

“What is a shiptu?” Blank asked.

“When there was treason or rebellion against a great lord, instead of punishing individuals, the rulers would take revenge on whole communities; such mass punishment was called a shiptu. It reflects a rather desperate state of things.”

“No love lost between the princes and their subjects, eh?”

“Rebellion, underground opposition, and savage reprisals are the order of the day. Here is a king who says that his god ‘pays no heed to the afflictions of the common people.’ And when one great lord curses another he says: ‘May the people of his city, having risen in rebellion, strike him down in the midst of his city.’18 The lords have their ‘watchers’ busy everywhere.19 Here is an epic poem which furnishes a good commentary on the way things were run. It is called the Epic of Ninib, and according to its editor ‘must have been composed soon after the subjugation of, and victory over, all those mountains which yielded the several stones here mentioned.’20 The high lord sits down to call the roll of his followers and reward them for their services by giving them lands and domains. ‘Dolerite!’ he cries, calling up one—and that reminds one of the ‘mentioning of the name’ the ‘calling forth’ and the honoring in high places that we read of in so many Sumerian and Egyptian texts—Dolerite, of course, is a stone, but as the editor observes, ‘actions and deeds like these are not those of stones but of living persons.’ The chief speaks warmly in Dolerite’s praise: ‘thou who in my battles forever hast been a hero, . . . who during rebellions hast proclaimed “the lord, he alone a hero is! . . . I, the lord, [thee] the arm of my heroship greatly will I adorn.” ‘ He calls him his right-hand man who has remained true when others rebelled, and adorns him with rich presents.21 Rough, feudal times indeed; the king is called ‘The royal lord, the fearfulness of whose storm is awe-inspiring.’ To another supporter he says: ‘Eliel stone! wise one, of the mountain, the overpowerer, my awe inspiring fear, with it thou shalt be clothed . . . in the conflict of weapons, warrior, thou who killest, gloriously thou shalt be adorned . . . the people shall gladly look upon thee and greatly reverence thee.’22 This epic gives us also the point of view of the underdog: ‘When ravaging enemies as if with darkness the land with destruction had filled, . . . when the pick and shovel they had made us to carry, when but taxes they had made to be our reward [wages].’ 23 Further comment on the social order is unnecessary.”

“So Babylonian civilization was not the normal outgrowth of a primitive hoe-culture?” F. asked.

“The common description of Mesopotamia as a river valley is liable to give rise to images of its inhabitants as a race of villagers and truck gardeners. Somebody raised the vegetables, to be sure, but it was not the people who counted. A rereading of Hugo Winckler’s classic essay on the essentially nomadic nature of Babylonian civilization at all times should correct such notions, as Kramer’s work is doing at present. Recently Delaporte has described the population of the valley as sedentary inhabitants of the towns and nomads encamped along the fringe of the desert.24 But as in Egypt there was a constant going and coming between the two. After all, from the beginning the important people of Sumer belonged to two classes, the military and the merchants—the priests were merely secretaries of a campaigning and acquisitive priest-king who kept the home office and watched over things generally. Now what Winckler pointed out and others have now confirmed is that a prehistoric net of merchant communications of vast extent actually involved the whole ancient world in a sort of chronic nomadism. The goods were not passed from hand to hand, farm to farm, village to village, as was once thought, but from the remotest times were actually carried immense distances by caravan and ship for specific purposes of trade. ‘It is a fundamental error,’ Winckler writes, ‘to think of the non-sedentary tribes of the ancient East as unaffected by the civilized point of view and way of life. . . . We must abandon entirely, for example, the concept that the Arabs live and lived in a world of their own. . . . The Bedouins still move among ancient cities that preserve to this day the plan and skyline of Babylonian towns—showing how completely at home they were in the Babylonian world.’ On the other hand, he reminds us, it is equally false to imagine the ancient city dwellers as stay-at-homes.25 The ancient Babylonians always pictured their gods as engaged in two main activities, 1) tending cattle, and 2) riding about in wagons.26 Recently Oppenhiem has pointed to ‘the existence of migrant scholars in Mesopotamia’ in the earliest times, and many have noted that at all times Asia has been overrun with pilgrims, scholars, missionaries—that is, religious as well as commercial and military travelers, who fondly believe that they are imitating the wandering ways of the gods in the beginning as they move from shrine to shrine.” 27

“Like the wandering Gilgamesh?” Blank asked.

“Thank you for getting us back to the subject so tactfully. The Gilgamesh Epic as you know is the greatest Babylonian epic, but it is full of ritual and not so conspicuously ‘heroic’ as many others. Still, Gilgamesh is undeniably identical with the prototype of all knight-errants and migrating heroes following the course of the sun—Schweitzer, Farnell, Cook, and others have shown that he is our own Herakles.”

“I mention this epic with a purpose,” said Blank. “Everybody knows how in his wandering the hero Gilgamesh visited Ut-Napishtim, the Babylonian Noah, who told him the story of the flood.”

“The original story of the flood, by the way,” F. commented with devastating emphasis. But Professor Schwulst shook his head.

“For forty years,” he said, “scholars were convinced that the Babylonian flood story found by Layard in the library of Assurbanipal at Nineveh was just what you say—the original version of the Genesis flood story. But they were very wrong. Many of the texts found in that seventh-century library contained statements to the effect that they were merely copies of much older originals reposing in a far older temple library at Nippur. When the University of Pennsylvania finally got around to digging at Nippur, they immediately discovered a version of the flood story some fifteen hundred years older than the Assurbanipal text, and this Nippur version ‘differs fundamentally from the two Nineveh versions, and agrees most remarkably with the biblical story in very essential details both as to contents and language.’28 For a generation the educated had proclaimed in loud and strident voices that the Nineveh finds had debunked the flood story once for all, but when the later discoveries debunked them in turn, everyone was expected to preserve a polite silence. I cannot blame you for leaping to conclusions, my friend, since all the experts did the same.”29

In the next issue Professor Blank places side by side two descriptions of a remarkable type of boat; the one from the book of Ether, the other from Professor Hilprecht’s study of the “ark” as depicted in three versions of the Babylonian flood story to which the author adds a fourth text (No. xvi in Gadd’s Reader).

“With your permission30 I would like to place side by side before you two descriptions of a remarkable type of boat; the one is from the book of Ether, the other from Professor Hilprecht’s study of the ‘ark’ as depicted in three versions of the Babylonian flood story, to which we add a fourth text (No. xvi in Gadd’s Reader). First let me present a list of some dozen peculiar features of a Jaredite ship in the words and roughly in the order in which they are given in the second and sixth chapters of Ether:

     “First, they were built ‘after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built’ (Ether 2:16). That is, except in some particulars these boats were not a new design but followed an established and familiar pattern—there really were such boats.

“Second, they were built ‘according to the instructions of the Lord’ (Ether 2:16).

“Third, ‘. . . they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish’ (Ether 2:17).

“Fourth, ‘. . . and the ends thereof were peaked’ (Ether 2:17).

“Fifth, ‘. . . and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish’ (Ether 2:17).

“Sixth, ‘. . . and the length thereof was the length of a tree’ (Ether 2:17), ‘And they were small, and they were light upon the water, even like unto the lightness of a fowl upon the water’ (Ether 2:16). It is quite plain from this emphasis that the usual type of vessel in those days was some sort of raft, designed simply to float, not to keep out water.

“Seventh, ‘. . . and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish’ (Ether 2:17).

“Eighth, ‘And the Lord said . . . thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if . . . the water come in . . . ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood’ (Ether 2:20).

“Ninth, ‘. . . ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you’ (Ether 2:24).

“Tenth, ‘. . . the Lord caused stones to shine in the darkness, to give light unto men, women, and children, that they might not cross the great waters in the darkness’ (Ether 6:3).

“Eleventh, ‘. . . their flocks and herds, and whatsoever beast or animal or fowl that they should carry with them . . . got aboard of their vessels or barges’ (Ether 6:4).

“Twelfth, ‘. . . the Lord caused that there should be a furious wind’ (Ether 6:5). ‘. . . they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind’ (Ether 6:5). ‘The wind did never cease to blow . . . and thus they were driven before the wind’ (Ether 6:8).

“Thirteenth, ‘. . . they were many times buried in the depths of the sea’ (Ether 6:6). ‘When they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah‘ (Ether 6:7). ‘And no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them’ (Ether 6:10).

“Now with all this in mind, let us go through our thirteen points again, in the same order, but this time with reference to the Babylonian descriptions of the magur boat that Ut-Napishtim built to survive the flood. Throughout we shall confine ourselves to quoting Hilprecht verbatim, lest we be suspected of stretching a point here and there. Each feature in the following list corresponds to something designated by the same number in the Ether list.

     “One, ‘This class of boats [we are quoting Hilprecht], according to the Nippur version [the oldest, ca. 2100 B.C.], [were] in use before the Deluge.’ In historic times the archaic craft was preserved only in ritual, the gods ‘in their boats . . . visiting each other in their temples during certain festivals, . . . the Babylonian canals, serving as means of communication for the magur boats of the gods between their various temples at certain festival days. . . . Billerbeck and Delitzsch show that a certain class of boats really had such a shape.’

“Two, ‘In all three versions of the Deluge Story Utnapishtim receives special instructions concerning the construction of the roof or deck of the boat.’ The manner in which he received the revelation is interesting: the will of father Anu, the Lord of Heaven, was transmitted to the hero through a screen or partition made of matting, a kikkisu, such as was ritually used in temples. In the Sumerian version given by Gadd the command is: ‘By the wall at my side stand. . . . By the wall a word will I speak to thee. . . . My pure one, my wise one, by our hand a deluge [shall be caused],’ etc.

“Three, there was ‘of course a solid part, strong enough to carry a heavy freight and to resist the force of the waves and the storm.’

“Four, ‘Jensen explains MA-TU as a “deluge boat,” . . . adding, that when seen from the side it probably resembled the crescent moon. . . . Moreover, the representations of the sea-going vessels of the Tyrians and the Sidonians . . . show that a certain class of boats really had such a shape.’

“Five, ‘. . . the principal distinguishing feature of a magur boat (was) . . . the roof or deck of the boat. . . . We notice that in the Biblical as in the Babylonian version great stress is laid on the preparation of a proper “roof” or “cover,” . . . “Cover it with strong deck,” (Nippur Version, line 9). “With a deck as strong as the earth” or “let its deck be strong like the vault of heaven above” ‘(Second Nineveh Version, lines 2—3).

“Six, the lines containing ‘a brief statement concerning the measures of the ark’ have been effaced in the Nippur version. The First Nineveh text says simply: ‘Its measures be in proportion, its width and length shall correspond.’ Since only one ark was built, as against eight Jaredite vessels, one would hardly expect the dimensions to be the same.

“Seven, ‘Furthermore in the First Nineveh Version the boat . . . has a door to be shut during the storm flood.’ The various names for the boat ‘designate “a boat which can be closed by a door,” i.e., practically a “house-boat,” expressed in the Hebrew story by an Egyptian loanword, Tevah, “ark” originally meaning “box, chest, coffin,” an essential part of which is its “cover” or “lid.” ‘

“Eight, ‘. . .the boat has . . . a door to be shut during the storm flood and at least one “air-hole” or “window” (nappashu, line 136).’

“Nine, ‘The vessel built by Ut-napishtim being such a “house boat” or magur, this word could subsequently also be rendered ideographically by MA-TU, a “deluge boat.” . . . A magur boat, then is a “house boat” in which gods, men and beasts can live comfortably, fully protected against the waves washing overboard, the driving rain from above and against the inclemencies of wind and weather.’

“Ten, ‘. . . Sin’s magur boat is called “A bright house” (esh azag), in which at times he dwells, as other Babylonian gods . . . do in their boats, when visiting each other in their temples. . . . The Moon god himself is represented as “sailing in a bright magur boat through the midst of heaven.” ‘

“Eleven, in a magur boat ‘men and beasts live comfortably. . . .’ Nineveh 2: Ut-napishtim is to take ‘domestic animals of the field, with wild beasts of the field, as many as eat grass.’ Hermann has recently observed that we are to think of the earliest ships as transports for cattle. The Nippur version mentions ‘the beasts of the field, the birds of heaven.’

“Twelve, ‘The Storm-winds with exceeding terror, all of them together raced along the deluge, the mighty tempest , raged with them . . . and the mighty ship over the great waters the storm-wind had tossed . . .’ Thus the Sumerian version. ‘Jensen explains MA-TU as a “deluge boat,” seeing in it “a boat driven by the wind,” “a sailing vessel.” . . . But a magur boat was written ideographically MA-TU, literally “a deluge boat,” not because it was a sailing boat driven by the wind or rather the hurricane (abubu, shubtu), but because it possessed certain qualities which rendered its use especially effective during the deluge, when its exclusive purpose was to carry the remains of life and to protect men and beasts against the waters from below and the pouring rains from above.’ Though driven by the storm it had ‘nothing in common with a boat in full sail, (and) nowhere . . . is a sail mentioned, nor would it have been of much use in such a hurricane as described. . . . Besides, we observe that the pictures of the Tyrian boats referred to have no sails.’ A magur boat was driven by the wind, but not with sails.

“Thirteen. ‘It shall be a house-boat carrying what is saved of life,’ says the Nippur version, its purpose being to preserve life and offer full protection ‘against the waves washing overboard.’ “31

“Nothing is more remarkable in my opinion,” said Blank, “than the specific statement of Ether that the submarine nature of his ships made them ‘like unto the ark of Noah,’ since that aspect of the ark has never been rightly understood.”

“That is quite right,” Dr. Schwulst volunteered. “Ancient, medieval, and modern Bible illustrators have made it perfectly clear that they have not the remotest idea what the real ark was like. The window and the door are the only peculiarities mentioned in the brief three verses in Genesis (6:14—16). Old pictures depict the ark either as nothing but a big box or chest or as a regular boat: attempts to combine the two forms lead to comical combinations that show plainly enough how inadequate information has been on the subject. I think it is remarkable that the word for window in the Babylonian texts, nappashu, means literally breather or ventilator. This is also the interpretation in Ether, whereas the window in the ark is called a tsohar in Genesis, that is a shiner or illuminator.”

“Which do you think is the older version?” F. asked, “the air hole or the skylight?”

“That would be hard to say,” was the reply, “since both are found in the Babylonian texts. As a matter of fact, the rabbis could never agree as to just what the tsohar was.”

“What did they say it was?”

“Some said it was a window, but others maintained it was some kind of luminous object by which Noah could tell night from day.”32

“Why would he need a gadget to tell night from day?” Blank asked with interest.

“Because according to some, the ark was completely covered like a tightly shut box, and according to others, it was under the water a good deal of the time.”

“Hold on!” said F. with a laugh. “Aren’t we getting mixed up with Mr. Jared’s ships?”

“And why not?” Blank replied. “Ether himself says the two types of ship followed the same model.”

“As a matter of fact,” said Professor Schwulst half to himself, “there may be something to that. Now that I think of it, that luminous object in the ark was supposed to have been some sort of shining stone.”

“So that’s the source of your Jaredite story!” F. cried with satisfaction.

“Not at all,” the Professor rejoined. “The Ether version I believe is a much fuller one than that of the rabbinical tradition and contains some very archaic and significant material that is not found in the other. It has been many years ago, but I am almost sure I once saw some important studies on the shining stones.”

“I wish you could remember where it was,” said Blank. “I long ago gave up hope of finding a parallel to the story anywhere, nor have I ever found anyone either here or abroad who could give me the slightest help on it. This episode in the book of Ether has caused so much sarcastic comment that I have been determined to get to the bottom of it. I must admit it does seem a bit fantastic.”

“In the study of ancient things,” the Professor intoned with uplifted finger, “it is just the fantastic and incongruous which opens the door to discovery—never forget that. In scholarship as in science, every paradox and anomaly is really a broad hint that new knowledge is awaiting us if we will only go after it. Now as to these shining stones, I seem to remember some rather ambitious comparative studies on the subject, inspired by the Sumerian epic material—the Gilgamesh story, that was it!”

“Do you mean that the shining stone episode is found in the Gilgamesh epic?” Blank asked with surprise.

“No, no! At least not directly. I distinctly remember that there were Greek, Sanskrit, and Syrian versions of the story as well as Babylonian.” Dr. Schwulst frowned in consternation, not a little annoyed that his vaunted memory should have betrayed him if only for a moment. Then turning with a gesture of impatience to his friend: “If you gentlemen will give me just a few hours, I am sure I can run this thing down.”

“Oh, don’t bother,” F. said, but it was the wrong thing to say.

“What do you mean, ‘Don’t bother!’ A thing like this is not to be lightly brushed aside. The story of stones that shine is too strange and rare a thing to let go unexamined. What are we doing here if we are not curious about such things—helping lazy young people to get bread-and-butter degrees maybe? So now I am going to bother myself about this little matter, and if you men care to come back tomorrow perhaps I will have some information for you.”

Twenty-four hours later33 the orientalist received his two friends with beaming benevolence and a table piled with old texts and a number of bound periodicals.

“Well, sirs,” he began as they sat down around the table, “I have something for you! Not much, of course—that would take some time—but enough. Let us begin by considering the Jewish sources that worried us yesterday, going from the latest to the earliest. The Midrash Rabbah tells us that the various conflicting opinions of the rabbis as to the true nature of the tsohar, the light in the ark, simply demonstrates the fact that none of them knew what it was.34 Rabbi Akiba ben Kahmana, for example, says it means a skylight, while R. Levi says it was a precious stone. R. Phineas, quoted by R. Levi, explains that ‘during the whole twelve months that Noah was in the Ark he did not require the light of the sun by day or the light of the moon by night, but he had a polished gem which he hung up: when it was dim he knew that it was day, and when it shone he knew it was night.’35 To illustrate this odd arrangement, Rabbi Huna tells a story: ‘Once we were taking refuge from [Roman] troops in the caves of Tiberias. We had lamps with us: when they were dim we knew that it was day, and when they shone brightly we knew that it was night.’36 The reference to hiding from the Romans shows that this tradition is at least two thousand years old. But all such stories seem to go back to a single source, a brief notice in the Jerushalmi or Palestinian Talmud, which reports that Noah was able to distinguish day from night by certain precious stones he possessed, which became dim by day and shone forth by night.” 37

“Is it not quite conceivable,” F. interposed, “that anyone might embroider these accounts into the Jaredite story?”

“There is no limit to the embroidery that can be put on a tale, I suppose, but it so happens that the peculiar elaboration of the story in Ether follows other and much fuller and older versions—far older, in fact, than anything in the Talmud. And none of those versions was known when I was a boy. That is what makes me wonder. What is more, it seems to me quite unthinkable that anyone writing the Book of Mormon at that time either exploited the Jewish sources or knew about them.”

“Why unthinkable?” F. asked.

“Well, first with regard to using the material, you can be sure that anyone who had access to this old Jewish stuff, whether at first or second hand, had a gold mine of useful information at his disposal. Yet he never makes use of any of it with the exception of this one little note. Along with that, the chances of anyone coming across this item seem infinitely remote when one considers where it is found, namely, in the Palestinian Talmud.”

“What is so inaccessible about the Palestinian Talmud?”

“Everything. One might have been reading sometime in the Babylonian Talmud, but in the Jerusalem Talmud? Never!—only eminent rabbis ever read or cite it.38 Do you see these four modest volumes? They represent all the printed editions of the Palestine Talmud that have ever appeared! Two of them came out after 1860, and could not have been used by the author of Ether; the other two are the Bomberg edition of 1523 and 1524 which as you see contains no commentary, and the Cracow edition of 1609, with a very short commentary on the margin.”

“How about translations?” Blank inquired.

“Even worse. In 1781 a small section was translated into German—it was not the section in which our story occurs, by the way—and there was nothing after that until the German translation of 1880. Schwab’s French translation done between 1871 and 1890 is the best known; Schwab also undertook an English version in 1886 but only completed the beginning of it. But no translation was available in any modern language in 1830, and who could read the original?39 Who can read it today? It is in the difficult West Aramaic dialect—not the East Aramaic of the Babylonian Talmud, which is close to modern Hebrew—and so many of the words are technical that nobody knows what they mean anyway.40 It is much smaller and is considered much duller than the Babylonian Talmud—and who reads that? Right now Professor Zeitlin is loudly proclaiming that the host of scholars at work on the Dead Sea Scrolls are one and all unqualified to read medieval Hebrew—which means that he is about the only man in America who can! The scholars and ministers who studied Hebrew in America in the 1830s knew rabbinical Hebrew no better than they do today; their whole interest was in the Old Testament, and if any of them ever looked into the Talmud, you can be sure it was not the Jerushalmi. Then too we must not overlook the fact that the Jewish accounts do not say that Noah used the gems for illumination, but only to distinguish day from night.”

“That seems like a strange quibble,” said F.

“Yet all the sources insist on it. They never come out and say that Noah used the stones for lamps, but only that he used them to tell day from night. That no doubt seems strange to you, but it happened to be a subject of considerable concern and discussion among the ancient doctors, both Jewish and Moslem. They had a good deal to say about distinguishing when it was day and when night by such ingenious methods as hanging up a black and a white thread side by side or by distinguishing certain forms or objects of certain size and certain shape. You see in their way of thinking it is extremely important for ritual reasons to know when it is night and when it is day. There was a whole branch of divine science devoted to the subject, and this naturally was the aspect of the shining stones that would interest any rabbi—not the problem of illumination. I can assure you that only a rabbi would ever have read this passage in America a hundred years ago. Apart from all this, it is quite plain to me that the account in Ether was not taken from the Jewish sources. As I said, it is much nearer to a far more ancient source of recent discovery; for example, your book of Ether says that the brother of Jared made transparent stones by ‘moltening’ them out of rock—the word is perfectly good English, by the way, though archaic. Where do you think he got the idea?”

“I have read the book to oblige Blank here,” said F. “As I recall, the Lord is supposed to have told him what to do.”

“Nothing of the sort!” cried Blank. “In building his ships there were three problems which the brother of Jared recognized as insoluble by conventional means, namely the problem of navigation under condition of perpetual storm with overcast skies, the problem of ventilation, and the problem of lighting (Ether 2:19). As to the last of these, the Lord told him that the usual methods of lighting by windows and fire would not do—the wording of Ether 2:23 makes it quite clear that those were the ordinary methods used. But instead of solving the Jaredites’ problem for them by giving them a light on the spot or telling them how to make one, the Lord put the brother of Jared entirely on his own by retorting to his question, ‘Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?’ with another question: ‘What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?’ ” (Ether 2:22, 25).

“And being thus thrown back on his own resources, what would the great man do?” Schwulst asked with a smile. “He would do what he had done before—follow the example of Noah. So he proceeded to cast some clear transparent stones in the hope that they might be made to shine in the dark.”

“Did Noah do that?” F. asked with astonishment.

“That is the part I am now coming to, if you will have a little patience. First of all, then, the brother of Jared made some transparent stones by ‘moltening’ them out of rock, a process requiring a very high temperature indeed. Now the oldest writings of India, reporting her oldest traditions, have a good deal to say about a particular stone that shines in the dark;41 such a stone, we are told, can be produced only by subjecting a stone or the heart of a person who died of poison to terrific heat—it must in fact be kept in an exceedingly hot fire for no less than nine years! This would turn it to a perfectly clear, transparent crystal, we are told, and this crystal ‘would illuminate even the deepest darkness and sometimes shine as brightly as the sun.’42 Meyer and Printz have traced this strange belief from India to China and the West, where it is mentioned by some of the most celebrated scholars of the Middle Ages. It was even believed in Europe that the Holy Grail was such a jewel and of such fiery power that the phoenix-bird cremated itself in its heat and was thus reborn, for among other things the stone had the power of regeneration.”43

“And what,” said F., “has that to do with the shining stones of the ark?”

“A great deal, if you will follow me. The stone was known to the Greeks and hence to the Middle Ages as the Pyrophilos or ‘Friend of Fire,’ and is most fully described in the Indian sources which say it was a perfectly transparent crystal and also went by the name of ‘Moonfriend’ and Jalak-anta or ‘that which causes the waters to part.’ For among all its marvelous properties, such as protecting its bearer from poisons, lightning, fire, and enemies, its most particular power and virtue was that it enabled its possessor to pass unharmed through the depths of the waters.”44

“Dear me!” Blank interrupted. “That is surely something of a coincidence: a transparent stone formed with fierce heat that shines in the dark and guides and preserves its owner beneath the waves! Where do you think the Indians got all that?”

“That has been the subject of considerable search,” Schwulst replied, “and it is quite clear that the tradition did not originate in India, though it may have been brought there at a very early time by an offshoot of the same Indo-European people to whom the story has been traced far to the north. But it has been so traced only by following a trail that led to the earliest Babylonian accounts of guess what—the deluge! Later writers quote a letter from the philosopher Aesculapius to the Emperor Augustus, in which he describes the Pyrophilos as the heart of a poisoned man turned into stone by nine years in the furnace; he also says that Alexander the Great possessed such a stone, which he carried in his belt, but that once while he was bathing he laid the belt aside, and a serpent stole the stone and vomited it into the Euphrates.45 Aristotle tells the same story three hundred years earlier, and other Greek writers know of it many years before Alexander was born.46 In these older versions the stone is interchangeable with the plant of life—it was a life-giving stone, as the case of the phoenix shows—or the ‘medicine of immortality.’47 In this form the story is identical with the prehistoric Sumerian tale of Gilgamesh and the plant of life, as many scholars were prompt to recognize as soon as the latter was published towards the end of the nineteenth century. Printz points out that this relationship illustrates both ‘the immense span of time’ over which traditions can survive and the degree to which they can become distorted in the process of transmission and still preserve clearly recognizable traits.48 This story, in fact, seems to go back to that pre-Sumerian epic milieu that Kramer talks about. In the oldest Babylonian version only one person can tell the hero how and where to get the plant of life, and that person is Ut-napishtim, the Babylonian Noah. He it was who had possessed the plant of life which from the earliest times seems to be confused with a shining stone.”49

“Where do we find the stone?”

“In the west—in Syria. There we find a most interesting series of ritual texts which for fulness and detail are hardly to be matched anywhere. The actual documents cover a full two thousand years, and the things they deal with are far older, as a little comparative study will show. Through all that period they tell essentially the same story, the now well-known ‘Year-Drama’ in which the death and resurrection of the hero, his victory over the powers of the underworld, and his marriage with the Mother Goddess are the principal episodes. The hero himself goes by many names, but the ones that concern us here are Attis and Humbaba, whom Stocks has shown to be one and the same person. 50 Everyone knows about Attis who is identical with the Syrian Adonis who is identical in turn with the Egyptian Osiris, but as the pre-Sumerian Humbaba he is less familiar.”

“A strange-sounding name,” F. commented.

“It is a Hurrian name, like Noah,” Schwulst replied. “That illustrates my remark that everything points to a mysterious people of the north. That opens up the way to a lot of investigation and speculation, but now let us consider the Syrian hero. The most celebrated shrine in the East in classical times was the cult center of this hero and his wife the Syrian goddess at Aphek. Lucian visited the shrine which he describes as the greatest cult center in the world. The principal legend of the place and that invoked most often to explain rites and customs observed there was the story of Deucalion and the flood, which Lucian recounts in detail, showing it to be quite close to the biblical account.51 The vast throngs of pilgrims that came to Aphek from all parts of the world were shown the hole down which the waters of the flood were said to have retreated and told how Deucalion erected at that spot the first temple and the first building to be constructed after the deluge. 52 The most remarkable object in the temple was, according to Lucian, ‘a stone which is called lychnis, and the name is very appropriate; for by night it gives off a good deal of light, which illuminates the whole shrine just like a lamp, though by day the glow is weak. It looks exactly as if it were burning.’ This stone shone forth from the crown of an image of the lady in her capacity of moon-goddess.53 Nothing could be more natural than to associate with the moon a stone that shines by night and is dim by day. You will recall that the principal designation of the shining crystal in the Indian descriptions is ‘Moonfriend.’ ”

“We may also recall,” Blank commented, “that the magur-boat of the Sumerian Noah was compared with the moon, not only because it was crescent-shaped and wandered through space for twelve months, but especially because it was illuminated by a miraculous light.”

“Then couldn’t the whole story of a miraculously illuminated ark have come down from an original moon-cult?” F. demanded.

“A boat may remind anyone of the moon after it is built,” Blank replied, “but the moon cannot have supplied the model for any workable boat. The moon is always there for all to see, but one can only compare it with a boat after one has seen not only the moon but boats as well. You can see from that that our whole story must start with a boat. You know as well as I do that the oldest temples in the world contain beautiful and accurate boat-models and sometimes full-sized boats. Whatever the symbolism may be, they are always real boats or scale models of such. Today the experts are playing around a good deal with the idea that these boats refer to some great primal migration, for which the ark of Noah is the archtype. Granted the boat theme, the ancients were free to add any ritual or mythological frills that caught their fancy, the most obvious being the moon motif which every poet discovers independently. But the whole thing began with a real boat, not with the ‘nature myths’ that were once so popular with scholars but have now been so completely discredited.”

“On that point,” said Professor Schwulst, “we must insist that the Babylonian coloring of this and many other tales of great antiquity does not imply for a moment that the story itself has a Babylonian origin. Take the Greek stories of Deucalion’s flood, for example: They go back to prehistoric times and to sources far older than any Bible manuscripts we possess. Yet no one ever suggests that the deluge story originated with the Greeks. Why not? Simply because the Greek versions of the story have been known all along and did not need to be dug up by archaeologists. If they had first been discovered in the nineteenth century, you can be sure they would have been instantly hailed as debunking the Bible! But let us return to our Syrian stone.

“Jirku has pointed out that the moon cult of Syria goes back to prehistoric times, so that what Lucian is describing is of great age—albeit overlaid, as such old traditions always are, by all sorts of mythologized and rationalized explanations.54 Macrobius, for example, says the image of the Lady was crowned with an arrangement designed to represent a sunburst of rays ‘which symbolize the way in which Mother Earth is made to bring forth life by the fructifying rays sent from above.’ In his day the stone was not working, apparently, but the crown on the image was designed to look as if it emitted a life-giving light.55 Carl Clemen believes that the report that one of the jewels that adorned the image of the Goddess actually shone in the dark is ‘naturally an impossibility.’ “56

“Do you think there actually could have been such stones?” F. asked.

“I think you will find in Athanasius Kirchner that the ancients were familiar with the properties of such fluorescent stones as barite, which will shine for some time in the dark after exposure to the sunlight or after being placed near a fire. The question would require some looking into, but it is notable that all sources describe the shining stones only as part-time illuminators: they seem to fade out completely during the day. But after all what we are dealing with here is not scientific or historic fact, but literary and legendary coincidence, which can be just as instructive in its way. Here, for example, Stocks points out that the image of the ark at the great Syrian shrine was represented by an altar with a burning fire on it which seemed to be floating on a lake so that the devout could only gain access to it by swimming.” 57

“A sort of baptism, eh?” said F. with a laugh.

“It is not so fantastic, at that,” Schwulst replied. “Remember, we have in things like this a great wealth and intermingling of typology—one thing is the type of another. In the earliest times the shining stone was confused with the plant of life, as we have seen; and we have just noted that Macrobius describes the light of the lady’s crown as life-giving.”

“I remember,” said Blank, “that in the Book of Mormon Lehi had something like the equivalent of Jared’s shining stone, and that was the Liahona. And we are told very plainly that there was ‘a type in this thing’ (Alma 37:39—46).

“That is thoroughly characteristic of oriental thinking,” Dr. Schwulst observed. “In a recent study on the Urim and Thummim, Schoneveld has emphasized the idea the Urim does get its name from the root Or-, which means light and does imply that it was some sort of shining stone; it was the chief jewel of the twelve gems on the ephod of the high priest, which were nothing less than ‘the symbol of God’s presence.’ According to Schoneveld, these stones were not introduced by Moses, ‘but were already known in the times before the institution of the high priest’s ritual clothing.’58 It has also recently been shown that the peculiar endings of the names Urim and Thummim are not Hebrew plurals at all, but much older endings.”59

“Strange how everything points to another people,” Blank observed.

“Yes, Lucian already gives us a hint when he says that the Deucalion or Noah revered at the Syrian shrine was not a Greek or Oriental but a Scythian—an Indo-European from the north.”60

“Where did the Sumerians come from,” asked F., “if they brought their culture and legends with them into Mesopotamia?”

“No question has been more debated than that one,” was the reply, “but as of today we can do no better than to follow Speiser, who has sought the original home of the Sumerians long and diligently, and now concludes (where is that note?): ‘The Sumerians arrived at the head of the Persian Gulf . . . from the east, probably by sea, although their original home . . . has to be sought beyond the Iranian province,’ that is, away off in the middle of Asia somewhere—Speiser offers three suggestions: ‘Transcaucasia, Transcaspia, or somewhere in Farther Asia.’ “61

“Then who knows what may lie behind all this?” cried the perplexed F.

“One thing is certain: it is a world we dream not of. If the story of Jared’s boats is not a true one, it is certainly a supremely clever tale, incredibly ingenious to have come from anyone in 1830.”

“Let us sum up this business of the shining stones as it stands,” Blank suggested.

“A good idea,” replied the Orientalist, “especially since I have led you on such a tortuous way. Well then, first we found, tucked away in the corner of an old, obscure, and completely neglected Jewish writing, a very brief passage that suggested, along with alternatives, that Noah had shining jewels or stones in the ark, which he used for telling night from day rather than as illumination. That is all the Jews tell us, so far as I can find out, and it is not much. Next we found some traditions about the forming of shining stones by a heat process, and noted that the world-wide dispersion of those traditions indicated their great antiquity. We found then that the shining stone thus produced everywhere went by the same name and was thought to possess the same marvelous properties and powers, the most remarkable of which was its power to enable its owner to pass through the depths of the water. Next it was easy to identify this stone with the very stone that Alexander the Great lost in the Euphrates in an episode which many scholars were quick to identify with a central occurrence in the Gilgamesh epic: the loss of the plant of Life which had once belonged to Ut-napishtim, the Babylonian Noah, who alone could tell the hero Gilgamesh where and how to obtain it. Then we turned to the most renowned survival of a cult of Noah in the ancient world and found that the most remarkable cult object at that shrine was a wonderful stone that shone in the dark—Lucian actually claims to have seen it in operation.”

“A monument to human gullibility,” F. interposed.

“You miss the point entirely,” Blank countered. “This stuff does not rely on its historical accuracy for its significance.”

“What would you say was significant about it, then?”

“For one thing it illustrates beautifully a thing we are now pointing out with increasing insistence, namely, that the wild, exotic, unbridled oriental imagination we hear so much about simply does not exist. Where, for example, could you find a more complete and total lack of creative imagination? The same old motifs occur over and over again for thousands of years, the only changes being the accretions of equally unoriginal local stuff and the inevitable inaccuracies of transmission. Of originality not a spark! Always the same thing over and over again.”

“In other words, the wild excesses of the original fancy are themselves largely an invention of the wild excesses of western fancy!” Schwulst laughed.

“I think that is extremely important, for it shows that when we get a theme like the shining stones, we can be sure that it is not the product of some imaginative village story-teller but began either as a real event or by some unique and forgotten act of general literary creation.”

“As a matter of fact,” Schwulst commented, “it has been shown time and again that your village story-teller is one of the most reliable depositors of archaic lore, which he preserves intact through the centuries: No one could be less guilty of imagining things!”

“But what if the Ether story is only literary creation?” asked F.

“That makes no difference to its value as evidence. For the question is not, ‘How did the author of that book know about those events?’ but simply ‘How could he possibly have known anything about those stories?’ Remember, the key to the whole thing was the Gilgamesh epic which was not discovered until long after many editions of the Book of Mormon had appeared; without that source all the other materials from East and West remain quite meaningless. But as soon as students had access to that work they began pointing out borrowings and connections on every side, all pointing to a common origin. Knowing nothing, though, about the book of Ether, the scholars have obligingly demonstrated, among other things, that the wonderful Pyrophilus which has all the properties of Jared’s stones is to be found ultimately in the possession of Noah. Of those same stones the Talmud preserves a dim but unmistakable memory, a mere hint from which the details in Ether could never have been reconstructed, but none-the-less a witness which puts a final stamp of authenticity on the old story. More than that I cannot tell you now.”


1.   “Babylonain Background I,” IE 59 (July 1956): 509—11, 514, 516, began at this point.

2.   T. Eric Peet, A Comparative Study of the Literatures of Egypt, Palestine, and Mesopotamia (London: Oxford University Press), 26. Whether Prof. Schwulst was quoting from memory or reading from the text cannot be determined at the present time.

3.   René Labat, Le poème babylonien de la création (Paris: Maisonneuve, 1935), 2.

4.   M. Witzel, “Zu den Enmerkar-Dichtungen,” Orientalia 18 (1949): 273.

5.   Ibid., 265, 268; the whole text is translated on 275—80.

6.   Ibid., 271—73.

7.   C. J. Gadd, A Sumerian Reading Book (Oxford: Clarendon, 1924), 145. Rather than loading our notes with references to texts we have never read, we shall lean heavily on Gadd and Deimel for our illustrations.

8.   A. Deimel, Sumerische Grammatik der archaistischen Text (Rome, 1924), 151. Deimel reproduces all the archaic texts in full.

9.   Ibid., 159; cf. Gadd, A Sumerian Reading Book, 147: “Let the lightning, thy messenger, go before thee.” References to the kings as shepherds and herdsmen are extremely numerous. Cf. Deimel, Sumerische Grammatik der archaistischen Text, 243, 246, 243, 144, 151, etc. Gadd, A Sumerian Reading Book, 55, 111.

10.   Deimel, Sumerische Grammatik der archaistischen Text, 143; he is also “the lion of the Desert,” ibid., 324.

11.   Gadd, A Sumerian Reading Book, 105; entirely indistinguishable from the Pyramid Texts is the Sumerian Hymn to the Sun, No. 21, ibid., 148—49; it is the most perfect literary parallel imaginable.

12.   Deimel, Sumerische Grammatik der archaistischen Text, 278; Gadd, A Sumerian Reading Book, 65, 71.

13.   H. V. Hilprecht, The Earliest Version of the Babylonian Deluge Story and the Temple Library of Nippur, vol. 5, fasc. 1 of The Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1910), 32, n. 4. These Guti had no regular kings but only migratory chieftains; Deimel, Sumerische Grammatik der archaistischen Text, 271.

14.   Deimel, Sumerische Grammatik der archaistischen Text, 133.

15.   Ibid., 243—44.

16.   A. Leo Oppenheim, “Mesopotamian Mythology III” Orientalia 19 (1950): 147—54. The full text in P. Jensen, Assyrisch-Babylonische Mythen und Epen (Berlin: Reuther & Reichard, 1900), 74ff.

17.   Oppenheim, “Mesopotamian Mythology III,” 155—58; quote from 156—57.

18.   Deimel, Sumerische Grammatik der archaistischen Text, 316.

19.   Ibid., 238. Exactly like the conqueror in the Pyramid Texts, the Sumerian lord “lets no sleep come to his eye,” ibid., 161; he is “the one with the far-seeing eye,” ibid., 162. In the Enuma Elish the four eyes and four ears of Marduk tell him all that goes on in the four directions, Labat, Le poème Babylonien de la création, 30—31, n. 43.

20.   Hugo Radau, Nin-ib the Determiner of Fates, according to the Great Sumerian Epic Lugal-e Ug me-Lám-bi Ner-gál from the Temple Library of Nippur (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1910), 28.

21.   Ibid., 27, 36—38.

22.   Ibid., 42, 44.

23.   Ibid., 24, where the king appears as the “Savior” of his people from bondage, ibid., 26.

24.   Louis Delaporte, Le proche-orient asiatique, Les peuples de l’orient mediterranéen (Paris: Presses Universitaires, 1948), 1:11.

25.   Paraphrase of Hugo Winckler, in Eberhard Schrader, Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament, 3rd ed. (Berlin: Reuther & Reichard, 1903), 169—70, 22—23. More recently Sir Leonard Woolley has written: “At once there is called up the astonishing picture of antediluvian man engaged in a commerce which sent its caravans across a thousand miles of mountain and desert from the Mesopotamian valley into the heart of India.” Leonard Woolley, Digging up the Past (Baltimore: Penguin, 1961), 132; cf. A. Leo Oppenheim, “The Seafaring Merchants of Ur,” JAOS 74 (1954): 6—17; Samuel N. Kramer, “Sumerian Historiography,” IEJ 3 (1953): 228—32; André Parrot, Mari une ville perdue (Paris: Je Sers, 1945), 36.

26.   See generally, Bruno Meissner, Die Babylonisch-Assyrische Literatur (Wildpark-Potsdam: Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft Athenaion, 1927), 34—35.

27.   Oppenheim, “Mesopotamian Mythology III,” 158.

28.   Hilprecht, The Earliest Version of the Babylonian Deluge Story and the Temple Library of Nippur, 61.

29.   As recently as our own decade the journalist C. W. Ceram could say of the Assurbanipal version of his immensely popular book Gods, Graves, and Scholars (New York: Knopf, 1967), 227, that it is “impossible to question the fact that the primal version of the Biblical legend of the Deluge had been found.” Nothing could be further from the truth!

30.   “The Babylonian Background II,” IE 59 (August 1956): 566—67, 602, began at this point.

31.   The quotations in the above comparison are all from Hilprecht, The Earliest Version of the Babylonian Deluge Story and the Temple Library of Nippur, 52—55.

32.   Georges Contenau, Le Déluge Babylonien (Paris: Payot, 1952), 84—87.

33.   “The Shining Stones, Cont.,” IE 59 (September 1956): 630—32, 672—75, began at this point.

34.   The rabbis “could not explain [the meaning of Zohar].” H. Freedman & M. Simon, trs., Midrash Rabbah, 10 vols. (London: Soncino, 1939), 1:244.

35.   Ibid.

36.   Ibid.

37.   Talmud Jerushalmi, Pesahim 1:1, 5:2, cited in E. Mangenot, “Arche de Noé,” in F. Vigouroux, Dictionnaire de la Bible, 5 vols. (Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1894), 1:923. Mangenot’s own reflection is that “it is ridiculous to say with Rabbi Ahia-ben-Zeira that in the midst of the darkness of the Ark, Noah could distinguish day from night by the aid of pearls and precious stones, whose luster grew pale by day and shone forth by night.”

38.   Moses Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud (New York: Bloch, 1968), 62.

39.   Ibid., 92.

40.   The Babylonian Talmud, “so rich in dialectical subtilties, and so full of technicalities and elliptical expressions, offers to the translator almost insurmountable difficulties. . . . It would sometimes require a whole volume of commentary to supplement the translation of a single chapter of the original. . . . This explains why the various attempts at translating the whole of the Babylonian Talmud have, thus far, proven a failure, so that as yet only comparatively few Masechtoth of this Talmud have been translated, and these translations are in many cases not intelligible enough to be fully understood by the reader who is not yet familiar with the original text and with the spirit of the Talmud,” ibid., 89—90. Yet this Talmud is far simpler and infinitely better known than the Palestinian Talmud!

41.   “The old Indian literature is full of the theme,” according to J. J. Meyer, “Das unverbrennbare Herz und der Edelstein Pyrophilus,” ZDMG 86 (1932): 97. Though many jewels have been suggested as the original shining stone-sapphire, smaragd, etc., the favored candidate in Indian lore is the ruby, called the sunstone because of its fiery nature. Ibid., 95—97.

42.   Regardless of the original substance, it was the hardening and purifying action of fire that achieved the miraculous transformation: it was believed that even hailstones, clear crystalline pellets, could be used to create jewels by fire! Ibid., 95—97. The result was always a clear crystal, ibid., 99.

43.   Ibid., 97. About the supernatural powers of such precious stones generally, see Wilhelm Printz, “Gilgamesh und Alexander,” ZDMG 85 (1931): 196—206.

44.   Meyer, “Das unverbrennbare Herz und der Edelstein Pyrophilus,” 99; Printz, “Gilgamesh und Alexander,” 200.

45.   Printz, “Gilgamesh und Alexander,” 196—204, quotes relevant passages from Albertus Magnus, Thomas Cantimpratensis, Conrad of Megenberg, Vincent of Beauvais, Volmar, and others, all of whom give slightly varying versions.

46.   The Aristotle passage is lost, though it is referred to as a source by later writers and quoted by an unnamed fourteenth century writer in a passage reproduced by Printz, ibid., 197. An earlier version of the Alexander story is given by A. Nauck, Tagicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, 2nd ed. (Leipzig, 1889; reprinted Hildesheim: Olms, 1964), 209—10.

47.   It is called a pharmakon agerasias or “specific against old age” in the fragment cited in the preceding note; see below, n. 49.

48.   Printz, “Gilgamesh und Alexander,” 198—200.

49.   Peter C. A. Jensen, Assyrisch-babylonische Mythen und Epen, 11 vols. (Berlin: Reuther & Reichard, 1900), 6:250—53. Lines 282—93, 302—7 from the 9th Tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic will illustrate the remarkable co-mingling of familiar motifs in this very ancient epic:

I will disclose, O Gilgamesh, a hidden thing and . . . tell it to you. That plant is like a thorn in the field. Its thorn will pierce thy hand like a thorny vine; it will pierce through thy hand. When thy hands grasp that plant, thou canst return again to thy land. When Gilgamesh heard this He opened the . . . He tied heavy stones on his feet, And they dragged him down into the cosmic ocean and he found the plant. He took the plant and it pierced through his hand. He cut the heavy stones loose, and . . . A second one he cast down to his . . .


Then Gilgamesh [on the way home] saw a pool of water, which was cold, He went down into it and washed himself with water. A serpent smelled the fragrance of the plant, came up…and took the plant away. Then when he came back he mocked and taunted [Gilgamesh], Then Gilgamesh sat himself down and wept . . .

Though the stones on the feet are the key to the story, according to Printz, in identifying the plant of life definitely with the shining stone of Pyrophilos, which Alexander lost in the same way, even the casual reader will note in this brief excerpt various striking parallels to the story of man’s fall.

50.   H. Stock, “Studien zu Lukians ‘De Syria Dea,'” Beyrutus 4 (1937): 12.

51.   Lucian, De Syria Dea 12—13. Stock, “Studien zu Lukians ‘De Syria Dea’,” 7—8, noting that Lucian’s flood story is neither Babylonian nor Greek. He maintains, 10, that Lucian rightly refers to Deucalion, the local Noah, as a Scythian. Gilgamesh’s friend and double Humbaba is obviously the Kombabus whose legend Lucian here recounts: it is a version of the sacrifice and resurrection motif.

52.   Lucian, De Syria Dea 13.

53.   Ibid., 32.

54.   Anton Jirku, “Der Kult des Mondgottes im altor. Palästina-Syrien,” ZDMG 100 (1951): 202—4, showing that the cult was prominent both at Ras Shamra and Jericho in very ancient times. The prominence of Kombabus alone at the Syrian shrine is enough to guarantee the great age of its rites.

55.   Macrobius, cited in Stocks, “Studien zu Lukians ‘De Syria Dea’,” 15.

56.   Carl Clemen, Lukians Schrift über die syrische Göttin, Heft 3—4, Der Alte Orient, No. 37 (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1938), 42.

57.   Stocks, “Studien zu Lukians ‘De Syria Dea’,” 6.

58.   J. Schoneveld, in Orientalia Neerlandica, 222 [further bibliographic information unavailable—ed.].

59.   Anton Jirku, “Die Mimation in den nordsemitischen Sprachen und einige Bezeichnungen der altisraelitischen Mantik,” Biblica 34 (1953): 78—80.

60.   See above note 51.

61.   E. A. Speiser, “The Sumerian Problem Reviewed,” HUCA 23 (1952): 355.