Legends of Babylonia and Egypt

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Legends of Babylonia and Egypt

By Leonard W. King

Lecture V

The missing portion of the Fourth Column must have described Ziusudu's
building of his great boat in order to escape the Deluge, for at the
beginning of the Fifth Column we are in the middle of the Deluge
itself. The column begins:

  All the mighty wind-storms together blew,
  The flood . . . raged.
  When for seven days, for seven nights,
  The flood had overwhelmed the land
  When the wind-storm had driven the great boat over the mighty
  The Sun-god came forth, shedding light over heaven and earth.
  Ziusudu opened the opening of the great boat;
  The light of the hero, the Sun-god, (he) causes to enter into the
    interior(?) of the great boat.
  Ziusudu, the king,
  Bows himself down before the Sun-god;
  The king sacrifices an ox, a sheep he slaughters(?).

The connected text of the column then breaks off, only a sign or two
remaining of the following half-dozen lines. It will be seen that in
the eleven lines that are preserved we have several close parallels to
the Babylonian Version and some equally striking differences. While
attempting to define the latter, it will be well to point out how
close the resemblances are, and at the same time to draw a comparison
between the Sumerian and Babylonian Versions of this part of the story
and the corresponding Hebrew accounts.

Here, as in the Babylonian Version, the Flood is accompanied by
hurricanes of wind, though in the latter the description is worked up
in considerable detail. We there read[1] that at the appointed time
the ruler of the darkness at eventide sent a heavy rain. Ut-napishtim
saw its beginning, but fearing to watch the storm, he entered the
interior of the ship by Ea's instructions, closed the door, and handed
over the direction of the vessel to the pilot Puzur-Amurri. Later a
thunder-storm and hurricane added their terrors to the deluge. For at
early dawn a black cloud came up from the horizon, Adad the Storm-god
thundering in its midst, and his heralds, Nabu and Sharru, flying over
mountain and plain. Nergal tore away the ship's anchor, while Ninib
directed the storm; the Anunnaki carried their lightning-torches and
lit up the land with their brightness; the whirlwind of the Storm-god
reached the heavens, and all light was turned into darkness. The storm
raged the whole day, covering mountain and people with water.[2] No
man beheld his fellow; the gods themselves were afraid, so that they
retreated into the highest heaven, where they crouched down, cowering
like dogs. Then follows the lamentation of Ishtar, to which reference
has already been made, the goddess reproaching herself for the part
she had taken in the destruction of her people. This section of the
Semitic narrative closes with the picture of the gods weeping with
her, sitting bowed down with their lips pressed together.

[1] Gilg. Epic, XI, ll. 90 ff.

[2] In the Atrakhasis version, dated in the reign of Ammizaduga, Col.
    I, l. 5, contains a reference to the "cry" of men when Adad the
    Storm-god, slays them with his flood.

It is probable that the Sumerian Version, in the missing portion of
its Fourth Column, contained some account of Ziusudu's entry into his
boat; and this may have been preceded, as in the Gilgamesh Epic, by a
reference to "the living seed of every kind", or at any rate to "the
four-legged creatures of the field", and to his personal possessions,
with which we may assume he had previously loaded it. But in the Fifth
Column we have no mention of the pilot or of any other companions who
may have accompanied the king; and we shall see that the Sixth Column
contains no reference to Ziusudu's wife. The description of the storm
may have begun with the closing lines of the Fourth Column, though it
is also quite possible that the first line of the Fifth Column
actually begins the account. However that may be, and in spite of the
poetic imagery of the Semitic Babylonian narrative, the general
character of the catastrophe is the same in both versions.

We find an equally close parallel, between the Sumerian and Babylonian
accounts, in the duration of the storm which accompanied the Flood, as
will be seen by printing the two versions together:[3]

        SUMERIAN VERSION                    SEMITIC VERSION

  When for seven days, for seven      For six days and nights
  The flood had overwhelmed the       The wind blew, the flood, the
    land,                               tempest overwhelmed the land.
  When the wind-storm had driven      When the seventh day drew near,
    the great boat over the             the tempest, the flood, ceased
    mighty waters,                      from the battle
                                      In which it had fought like a
  The Sun-god came forth shedding     Then the sea rested and was
    light over heaven and earth.        still, and the wind-storm, the
                                        flood, ceased.

[3] Col. V, ll. 3-6 are here compared with Gilg. Epic, XI, ll. 128-32.

The two narratives do not precisely agree as to the duration of the
storm, for while in the Sumerian account the storm lasts seven days
and seven nights, in the Semitic-Babylonian Version it lasts only six
days and nights, ceasing at dawn on the seventh day. The difference,
however, is immaterial when we compare these estimates with those of
the Hebrew Versions, the older of which speaks of forty days' rain,
while the later version represents the Flood as rising for no less
than a hundred and fifty days.

The close parallel between the Sumerian and Babylonian Versions is
not, however, confined to subject-matter, but here, even extends to
some of the words and phrases employed. It has already been noted that
the Sumerian term employed for "flood" or "deluge" is the attested
equivalent of the Semitic word; and it may now be added that the word
which may be rendered "great boat" or "great ship" in the Sumerian
text is the same word, though partly expressed by variant characters,
which occurs in the early Semitic fragment of the Deluge story from
Nippur.[1] In the Gilgamesh Epic, on the other hand, the ordinary
ideogram for "vessel" or "ship"[2] is employed, though the great size
of the vessel is there indicated, as in Berossus and the later Hebrew
Version, by detailed measurements. Moreover, the Sumerian and Semitic
verbs, which are employed in the parallel passages quoted above for
the "overwhelming" of the land, are given as synonyms in a late
syllabary, while in another explanatory text the Sumerian verb is
explained as applying to the destructive action of a flood.[3] Such
close linguistic parallels are instructive as furnishing additional
proof, if it were needed, of the dependence of the Semitic-Babylonian
and Assyrian Versions upon Sumerian originals.

[1] The Sumerian word is /(gish)ma-gur-gur/, corresponding to the term
    written in the early Semitic fragment, l. 8, as /(isu)ma-gur-gur/,
    which is probably to be read under its Semitized form
    /magurgurru/. In l. 6 of that fragment the vessel is referred to
    under the synonymous expression /(isu)elippu ra-be-tu/, "a great

[2] i.e. (GISH)MA, the first element in the Sumerian word, read in
    Semitic Babylonian as /elippu/, "ship"; when employed in the early
    Semitic fragment it is qualified by the adj. /ra-be-tu/, "great".
    There is no justification for assuming, with Prof. Hilbrecht, that
    a measurement of the vessel was given in l. 7 of the early Semitic

[3] The Sumerian verb /ur/, which is employed in l. 2 of the Fifth
    Column in the expression /ba-an-da-ab-ur-ur/, translated as
    "raged", occurs again in l. 4 in the phrase /kalam-ma ba-ur-ra/,
    "had overwhelmed the land". That we are justified in regarding the
    latter phrase as the original of the Semitic /i-sap-pan mata/
    (Gilg. Epic, XI, l. 129) is proved by the equation Sum. /ur-ur/ =
    Sem. /sa-pa-nu/ (Rawlinson, /W.A.I./, Vol. V, pl. 42, l. 54 c) and
    by the explanation Sum. /ur-ur/ = Sem. /?a-ba-tu ?a a-bu-bi/, i.e.
    "/ur-ur/ = to smite, of a flood" (/Cun. Texts, Pt. XII, pl. 50,
    Obv., l. 23); cf. Poebel, /Hist. Texts/, p. 54, n. 1.

It may be worth while to pause for a moment in our study of the text,
in order to inquire what kind of boat it was in which Ziusudu escaped
the Flood. It is only called "a great boat" or "a great ship" in the
text, and this term, as we have noted, was taken over, semitized, and
literally translated in an early Semitic-Babylonian Version. But the
Gilgamesh Epic, representing the later Semitic-Babylonian Version,
supplies fuller details, which have not, however, been satisfactorily
explained. Either the obvious meaning of the description and figures
there given has been ignored, or the measurements have been applied to
a central structure placed upon a hull, much on the lines of a modern
"house-boat" or the conventional Noah's ark.[1] For the latter
interpretation the text itself affords no justification. The statement
is definitely made that the length and breadth of the vessel itself
are to be the same;[2] and a later passage gives ten /gar/ for the
height of its sides and ten /gar/ for the breadth of its deck.[3] This
description has been taken to imply a square box-like structure,
which, in order to be seaworthy, must be placed on a conjectured hull.

[1] Cf., e.g., Jastrow, /Hebr. and Bab. Trad./, p. 329.

[2] Gilg. Epic, XI, ll. 28-30.

[3] L. 58 f. The /gar/ contained twelve cubits, so that the vessel
    would have measured 120 cubits each way; taking the Babylonian
    cubit, on the basis of Gudea's scale, at 495 mm. (cf. Thureau-
    Dangin, /Journal Asiatique/, Dix. Sér., t. XIII, 1909, pp. 79 ff.,
    97), this would give a length, breadth, and height of nearly 195

I do not think it has been noted in this connexion that a vessel,
approximately with the relative proportions of that described in the
Gilgamesh Epic, is in constant use to-day on the lower Tigris and
Euphrates. A /kuffah/,[1] the familiar pitched coracle of Baghdad,
would provide an admirable model for the gigantic vessel in which
Ut-napishtim rode out the Deluge. "Without either stem or stern, quite
round like a shield"--so Herodotus described the /kuffah/ of his
day;2[] so, too, is it represented on Assyrian slabs from Nineveh,
where we see it employed for the transport of heavy building
material;[3] its form and structure indeed suggest a prehistoric
origin. The /kuffah/ is one of those examples of perfect adjustment to
conditions of use which cannot be improved. Any one who has travelled
in one of these craft will agree that their storage capacity is
immense, for their circular form and steeply curved side allow every
inch of space to be utilized. It is almost impossible to upset them,
and their only disadvantage is lack of speed. For their guidance all
that is required is a steersman with a paddle, as indicated in the
Epic. It is true that the larger kuffah of to-day tends to increase in
diameter as compared to height, but that detail might well be ignored
in picturing the monster vessel of Ut-napishtim. Its seven horizontal
stages and their nine lateral divisions would have been structurally
sound in supporting the vessel's sides; and the selection of the
latter uneven number, though prompted doubtless by its sacred
character, is only suitable to a circular craft in which the interior
walls would radiate from the centre. The use of pitch and bitumen for
smearing the vessel inside and out, though unusual even in
Mesopotamian shipbuilding, is precisely the method employed in the
/kuffah's/ construction.

[1] Arab. /kuffah/, pl. /kufaf/; in addition to its common use for the
    Baghdad coracle, the word is also employed for a large basket.

[2] Herodotus, I, 194.

[3] The /kuffah/ is formed of wicker-work coated with bitumen. Some of
those represented on the Nineveh sculptures appear to be covered with
skins; and Herodotus (I, 94) states that "the boats which come down
the river to Babylon are circular and made of skins." But his further
description shows that he is here referred to the /kelek/ or
skin-raft, with which he has combined a description of the /kuffah/.
The late Sir Henry Rawlinson has never seen or heard of a skin-covered
/kuffah/ on either the Tigris or Euphrates, and there can be little
doubt that bitumen was employed for their construction in antiquity,
as it is to-day. These craft are often large enough to carry five or
six horses and a dozen men.

We have no detailed description of Ziusudu's "great boat", beyond the
fact that it was covered in and had an opening, or light-hole, which
could be closed. But the form of Ut-napishtim's vessel was no doubt
traditional, and we may picture that of Ziusudu as also of the
/kuffah/ type, though smaller and without its successor's elaborate
internal structure. The gradual development of the huge coracle into a
ship would have been encouraged by the Semitic use of the term "ship"
to describe it; and the attempt to retain something of its original
proportions resulted in producing the unwieldy ark of later

[1] The description of the ark is not preserved from the earlier
    Hebrew Version (J), but the latter Hebrew Version (P), while
    increasing the length of the vessel, has considerably reduced its
    height and breadth. Its measurements are there given (Gen. vi. 15)
    as 300 cubits in length, 50 cubits in breadth, and 30 cubits in
    height; taking the ordinary Hebrew cubit at about 18 in., this
    would give a length of about 450 ft., a breadth of about 75 ft.,
    and a height of about 45 ft. The interior stories are necessarily
    reduced to three. The vessel in Berossus measures five stadia by
    two, and thus had a length of over three thousand feet and a
    breadth of more than twelve hundred.

We will now return to the text and resume the comparison we were
making between it and the Gilgamesh Epic. In the latter no direct
reference is made to the appearance of the Sun-god after the storm,
nor is Ut-napishtim represented as praying to him. But the sequence of
events in the Sumerian Version is very natural, and on that account
alone, apart from other reasons, it may be held to represent the
original form of the story. For the Sun-god would naturally reappear
after the darkness of the storm had passed, and it would be equally
natural that Ziusudu should address himself to the great light-god.
Moreover, the Gilgamesh Epic still retains traces of the Sumerian
Version, as will be seen from a comparison of their narratives,[1] the
Semitic Version being quoted from the point where the hurricane ceased
and the sea became still.

[1] Col. V, ll. 7-11 are here compared with Gilg. Epic, XI, ll. 133-9.

        SUMERIAN VERSION                    SEMITIC VERSION

                                      When I looked at the storm, the
                                        uproar had ceased,
                                      And all mankind was turned into
                                      In place of fields there was a
  Ziusudu opened the opening of       I opened the opening (lit.
    the great boat;                     "hole"), and daylight fell
                                        upon my countenance.
  The light of the hero, the Sun-
    god, (he) causes to enter into
    the interior(?) of the great
  Ziusudu, the king,
  Bows himself down before the        I bowed myself down and sat down
    Sun-god;                            weeping;
  The king sacrifices an ox, a        Over my countenance flowed my
    sheep he slaughters(?).             tears.
                                      I gazed upon the quarters (of
                                        the world)--all(?) was sea.

It will be seen that in the Semitic Version the beams of the Sun-god
have been reduced to "daylight", and Ziusudu's act of worship has
become merely prostration in token of grief.

Both in the Gilgamesh Epic and in Berossus the sacrifice offered by
the Deluge hero to the gods follows the episode of the birds, and it
takes place on the top of the mountain after the landing from the
vessel. It is hardly probable that two sacrifices were recounted in
the Sumerian Version, one to the Sun-god in the boat and another on
the mountain after landing; and if we are right in identifying
Ziusudu's recorded sacrifice with that of Ut-napishtim and Xisuthros,
it would seem that, according to the Sumerian Version, no birds were
sent out to test the abatement of the waters. This conclusion cannot
be regarded as quite certain, inasmuch as the greater part of the
Fifth Column is waning. We have, moreover, already seen reason to
believe that the account on our tablet is epitomized, and that
consequently the omission of any episode from our text does not
necessarily imply its absence from the original Sumerian Version which
it follows. But here at least it is clear that nothing can have been
omitted between the opening of the light-hole and the sacrifice, for
the one act is the natural sequence of the other. On the whole it
seems preferable to assume that we have recovered a simpler form of
the story.

As the storm itself is described in a few phrases, so the cessation of
the flood may have been dismissed with equal brevity; the gradual
abatement of the waters, as attested by the dove, the swallow, and the
raven, may well be due to later elaboration or to combination with
some variant account. Under its amended form the narrative leads
naturally up to the landing on the mountain and the sacrifice of
thanksgiving to the gods. In the Sumerian Version, on the other hand,
Ziusudu regards himself as saved when he sees the Sun shining; he
needs no further tests to assure himself that the danger is over, and
his sacrifice too is one of gratitude for his escape. The
disappearance of the Sun-god from the Semitic Version was thus a
necessity, to avoid an anti-climax; and the hero's attitude of worship
had obviously to be translated into one of grief. An indication that
the sacrifice was originally represented as having taken place on
board the boat may be seen in the lines of the Gilgamesh Epic which
recount how Enlil, after acquiescing in Ut-napishtim's survival of the
Flood, went up into the ship and led him forth by the hand, although,
in the preceding lines, he had already landed and had sacrificed upon
the mountain. The two passages are hardly consistent as they stand,
but they find a simple explanation of we regard the second of them as
an unaltered survival from an earlier form of the story.

If the above line of reasoning be sound, it follows that, while the
earlier Hebrew Version closely resembles the Gilgamesh Epic, the later
Hebrew Version, by its omission of the birds, would offer a parallel
to the Sumerian Version. But whether we may draw any conclusion from
this apparent grouping of our authorities will be best dealt with when
we have concluded our survey of the new evidence.

As we have seen, the text of the Fifth Column breaks off with
Ziusudu's sacrifice to the Sun-god, after he had opened a light-hole
in the boat and had seen by the god's beams that the storm was over.
The missing portion of the Fifth Column must have included at least
some account of the abatement of the waters, the stranding of the
boat, and the manner in which Anu and Enlil became apprised of
Ziusudu's escape, and consequently of the failure of their intention
to annihilate mankind. For in the Sixth Column of the text we find
these two deities reconciled to Ziusudu and bestowing immortality upon
him, as Enlil bestows immortality upon Ut-napishtim at the close of
the Semitic Version. In the latter account, after the vessel had
grounded on Mount Nisir and Ut-napishtim had tested the abatement of
the waters by means of the birds, he brings all out from the ship and
offers his libation and sacrifice upon the mountain, heaping up reed,
cedar-wood, and myrtle beneath his seven sacrificial vessels. And it
was by this act on his part that the gods first had knowledge of his
escape. For they smelt the sweet savour of the sacrifice, and
"gathered like flies over the sacrificer".[1]

[1] Gilg. Epic, XI, l. 162.

It is possible in our text that Ziusudu's sacrifice in the boat was
also the means by which the gods became acquainted with his survival;
and it seems obvious that the Sun-god, to whom it was offered, should
have continued to play some part in the narrative, perhaps by assisting
Ziusudu in propitiating Anu and Enlil. In the Semitic-Babylonian
Version, the first deity to approach the sacrifice is Bzlit-ili or
Ishtar, who is indignant with Enlil for what he has done. When Enlil
himself approaches and sees the ship he is filled with anger against
the gods, and, asking who has escaped, exclaims that no man must live
in the destruction. Thereupon Ninib accuses Ea, who by his pleading
succeeds in turning Enlil's purpose. He bids Enlil visit the sinner
with his sin and lay his transgression on the transgressor; Enlil
should not again send a deluge to destroy the whole of mankind, but
should be content with less wholesale destruction, such as that
wrought by wild beasts, famine, and plague. Finally he confesses that
it was he who warned Ziusudu of the gods' decision by sending him a
dream. Enlil thereupon changes his intention, and going up into the
ship, leads Ut-napishtim forth. Though Ea's intervention finds, of
course, no parallel in either Hebrew version, the subject-matter of
his speech is reflected in both. In the earlier Hebrew Version Yahweh
smells the sweet savour of Noah's burnt offering and says in his heart
he will no more destroy every living creature as he had done; while in
the later Hebrew Version Elohim, after remembering Noah and causing
the waters to abate, establishes his covenant to the same effect, and,
as a sign of the covenant, sets his bow in the clouds.

In its treatment of the climax of the story we shall see that the
Sumerian Version, at any rate in the form it has reached us, is on a
lower ethical level than the Babylonian and Hebrew Versions. Ea's
argument that the sinner should bear his own sin and the transgressor
his own transgression in some measure forestalls that of Ezekiel;[1]
and both the Hebrew Versions represent the saving of Noah as part of
the divine intention from the beginning. But the Sumerian Version
introduces the element of magic as the means by which man can bend the
will of the gods to his own ends. How far the details of the Sumerian
myth at this point resembled that of the Gilgamesh Epic it is
impossible to say, but the general course of the story must have been
the same. In the latter Enlil's anger is appeased, in the former that
of Anu and Enlil; and it is legitimate to suppose that Enki, like Ea,
was Ziusudu's principal supporter, in view of the part he had already
taken in ensuring his escape.

[1] Cf. Ezek. xviii, passim, esp. xviii. 20.



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