Legends of Babylonia and Egypt

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Legends of Babylonia and Egypt

By Leonard W. King

Lecture VI

The presence of the puzzling lines, with which the Sixth Column of our
text opens, was not explained by Dr. Poebel; indeed, they would be
difficult to reconcile with his assumption that our text is an epic
pure and simple. But if, as is suggested above, we are dealing with a
myth in magical employment, they are quite capable of explanation. The
problem these lines present will best be stated by giving a
translation of the extant portion of the column, where they will be
seen with their immediate context in relation to what follows them:

  "By the Soul of Heaven, by the soul of Earth, shall ye conjure him,
    That with you he may . . . !
  Anu and Enlil by the Soul of Heaven, by the Soul of Earth, shall ye
    And with you will he . . . !
  "The /niggilma/ of the ground springs forth in abundance(?)!"
  Ziusudu, the king,
  Before Anu and Enlil bows himself down.
  Life like (that of) a god he gives to him,
  An eternal soul like (that of) a god he creates for him.
  At that time Ziusudu, the king,
  The name of the /niggilma/ (named) "Preserver of the Seed of
  In a . . . land,[1] the land[1] of Dilmun(?), they caused him to

[1] Possibly to be translated "mountain". The rendering of the proper
    name as that of Dilmun is very uncertain. For the probable
    identification of Dilmun with the island of Bahrein in the Persian
    Gulf, cf. Rawlinson, /Journ. Roy. As. Soc./, 1880, pp. 20 ff.; and
    see further, Meissner, /Orient. Lit-Zeit./, XX. No. 7, col. 201

The first two lines of the column are probably part of the speech of
some deity, who urges the necessity of invoking or conjuring Anu and
Enlil "by the Soul of Heaven, by the Soul of Earth", in order to
secure their support or approval. Now Anu and Enlil are the two great
gods who had determined on mankind's destruction, and whose wrath at
his own escape from death Ziusudu must placate. It is an obvious
inference that conjuring "by the Soul of Heaven" and "by the Soul of
Earth" is either the method by which Ziusudu has already succeeded in
appeasing their anger, or the means by which he is here enjoined to
attain that end. Against the latter alternative it is to be noted that
the god is addressing more than one person; and, further, at Ziusudu
is evidently already pardoned, for, so far from following the deity's
advice, he immediately prostrates himself before Anu and Enlil and
receives immortality. We may conjecture that at the close of the Fifth
Column Ziusudu had already performed the invocation and thereby had
appeased the divine wrath; and that the lines at the beginning of the
Sixth Column point the moral of the story by enjoining on Ziusudu and
his descendants, in other words on mankind, the advisability of
employing this powerful incantation at their need. The speaker may
perhaps have been one of Ziusudu's divine helpers--the Sun-god to whom
he had sacrificed, or Enki who had saved him from the Flood. But it
seems to me more probable that the words are uttered by Anu and Enlil
themselves.[1] For thereby they would be represented as giving their
own sanction to the formula, and as guaranteeing its magical efficacy.
That the incantation, as addressed to Anu and Enlil, would be
appropriate is obvious, since each would be magically approached
through his own sphere of control.

[1] One of them may have been the speaker on behalf of both.

It is significant that at another critical point of the story we have
already met with a reference to conjuring "by the Name of Heaven and
Earth", the phrase occurring at the close of the Third Column after
the reference to the dream or dreams. There, as we saw, we might
possibly explain the passage as illustrating one aspect of Ziusudu's
piety: he may have been represented as continually practising this
class of divination, and in that case it would be natural enough that
in the final crisis of the story he should have propitiated the gods
he conjured by the same means. Or, as a more probable alternative, it
was suggested that we might connect the line with Enki's warning, and
assume that Ziusudu interpreted the dream-revelation of Anu and
Enlil's purpose by means of the magical incantation which was
peculiarly associated with them. On either alternative the phrase fits
into the story itself, and there is no need to suppose that the
narrative is interrupted, either in the Third or in the Sixth Column,
by an address to the hearers of the myth, urging them to make the
invocation on their own behalf.

On the other hand, it seems improbable that the lines in question
formed part of the original myth; they may have been inserted to weld
the myth more closely to the magic. Both incantation and epic may have
originally existed independently, and, if so, their combination would
have been suggested by their contents. For while the former is
addressed to Anu and Enlil, in the latter these same gods play the
dominant parts: they are the two chief creators, it is they who send
the Flood, and it is their anger that must be appeased. If once
combined, the further step of making the incantation the actual means
by which Ziusudu achieved his own rescue and immortality would be a
natural development. It may be added that the words would have been an
equally appropriate addition if the incantation had not existed
independently, but had been suggested by, and developed from, the

In the third and eleventh lines of the column we have further
references to the mysterious object, the creation of which appears to
have been recorded in the First Column of the text between man's
creation and that of animals. The second sign of the group composing
its name was not recognized by Dr. Poebel, but it is quite clearly
written in two of the passages, and has been correctly identified by
Professor Barton.[1] The Sumerian word is, in fact, to be read /nig-
gil-ma/,[2] which, when preceded by the determinative for "pot",
"jar", or "bowl", is given in a later syllabary as the equivalent of
the Semitic word /mashkhalu/. Evidence that the word /mashkhalu/ was
actually employed to denote a jar or vessel of some sort is furnished
by one of the Tel el-Amarna letters which refers to "one silver
/mashkhalu/" and "one (or two) stone /mashkhalu/".[3] In our text the
determinative is absent, and it is possible that the word is used in
another sense. Professor Barton, in both passages in the Sixth Column,
gives it the meaning "curse"; he interprets the lines as referring to
the removal of a curse from the earth after the Flood, and he compares
Gen. viii. 21, where Yahweh declares he will not again "curse the
ground for man's sake". But this translation ignores the occurrence of
the word in the First Column, where the creation of the /niggilma/ is
apparently recorded; and his rendering "the seed that was cursed" in
l. 11 is not supported by the photographic reproduction of the text,
which suggests that the first sign in the line is not that for "seed",
but is the sign for "name", as correctly read by Dr. Poebel. In that
passage the /niggilma/ appears to be given by Ziusudu the name
"Preserver of the Seed of Mankind", which we have already compared to
the title bestowed on Uta-napishtim's ship, "Preserver of Life". Like
the ship, it must have played an important part in man's preservation,
which would account not only for the honorific title but for the
special record of its creation.

[1] See /American Journal of Semitic Languages/, Vol. XXXI, April
    1915, p. 226.

[2] It is written /nig-gil/ in the First Column.

[3] See Winckler, /El-Amarna/, pl. 35 f., No. 28, Obv., Col. II, l.
    45, Rev., Col. I, l. 63, and Knudtzon, /El-Am. Taf./, pp. 112,
    122; the vessels were presents from Amenophis IV to Burnaburiash.

It we may connect the word with the magical colouring of the myth, we
might perhaps retain its known meaning, "jar" or "bowl", and regard it
as employed in the magical ceremony which must have formed part of the
invocation "by the Soul of Heaven, by the Soul of Earth". But the
accompanying references to the ground, to its production from the
ground, and to its springing up, if the phrases may be so rendered,
suggest rather some kind of plant;[1] and this, from its employment in
magical rites, may also have given its name to a bowl or vessel which
held it. A very similar plant was that found and lost by Gilgamesh,
after his sojourn with Ut-napishtim; it too had potent magical power
and bore a title descriptive of its peculiar virtue of transforming
old age to youth. Should this suggestion prove to be correct, the
three passages mentioning the /niggilma/ must be classed with those in
which the invocation is referred to, as ensuring the sanction of the
myth to further elements in the magic. In accordance with this view,
the fifth line in the Sixth Column is probably to be included in the
divine speech, where a reference to the object employed in the ritual
would not be out of place. But it is to be hoped that light will be
thrown on this puzzling word by further study, and perhaps by new
fragments of the text; meanwhile it would be hazardous to suggest a
more definite rendering.

[1] The references to "the ground", or "the earth", also tend to
    connect it peculiarly with Enlil. Enlil's close association with
    the earth, which is, of course, independently attested, is
    explicitly referred to in the Babylonian Version (cf. Gilg. Epic.
    XI, ll. 39-42). Suggested reflections of this idea have long been
    traced in the Hebrew Versions; cf. Gen. viii. 21 (J), where Yahweh
    says he will not again curse the ground, and Gen. ix. 13 (P),
    where Elohim speaks of his covenant "between me and the earth".

With the sixth line of the column it is clear that the original
narrative of the myth is resumed.[1] Ziusudu, the king, prostrates
himself before Anu and Enlil, who bestow immortality upon him and
cause him to dwell in a land, or mountain, the name of which may
perhaps be read as Dilmun. The close parallelism between this portion
of the text and the end of the myth in the Gilgamesh Epic will be seen
from the following extracts,[2] the magical portions being omitted
from the Sumerian Version:

[1] It will also be noted that with this line the text again falls
    naturally into couplets.

[2] Col. VI, ll. 6-9 and 12 are there compared with Gilg. Epic, XI,
    ll. 198-205.

        SUMERIAN VERSION                    SEMITIC VERSION

                                      Then Enlil went up into the
  Ziusudu, the king,                  He took me by the hand and led
                                        me forth.
  Before Anu and Enlil bows himself   He brought out my wife and
    down.                               caused her to bow down at my
                                      He touched our brows, standing
                                        between us and blessing us:
  Life like (that of) a god he        "Formerly was Ut-napishtim of
    gives to him.                       mankind,
  An eternal soul like (that of) a    But now let Ut-napishtim be like
    god he creates for him.             the gods, even us!
                                      And let Ut-napishtim dwell afar
                                        off at the mouth of the
  In a . . . land, the land of[1]     Then they took me and afar off,
    Dilmun(?), they caused him to       at the mouth of the rivers,
    dwell.                              they caused me to dwell.

[1] Or, "On a mountain, the mountain of", &c.

The Sumerian Version thus apparently concludes with the familiar
ending of the legend which we find in the Gilgamesh Epic and in
Berossus, though it here occurs in an abbreviated form and with some
variations in detail. In all three versions the prostration of the
Deluge hero before the god is followed by the bestowal of immortality
upon him, a fate which, according to Berossus, he shared with his
wife, his daughter, and the steersman. The Gilgamesh Epic perhaps
implies that Ut-napishtim's wife shared in his immortality, but the
Sumerian Version mentions Ziusudu alone. In the Gilgamesh Epic
Ut-napishtim is settled by the gods at the mouth of the rivers, that
is to say at the head of the Persian Gulf, while according to a
possible rendering of the Sumerian Version he is made to dwell on
Dilmun, an island in the Gulf itself. The fact that Gilgamesh in the
Epic has to cross the sea to reach Ut-napishtim may be cited in favour
of the reading "Dilmun"; and the description of the sea as "the Waters
of Death", if it implies more than the great danger of their passage,
was probably a later development associated with Ut-napishtim's
immortality. It may be added that in neither Hebrew version do we find
any parallel to the concluding details of the original story, the
Hebrew narratives being brought to an end with the blessing of Noah
and the divine promise to, or covenant with, mankind.

Such then are the contents of our Sumerian document, and from the
details which have been given it will have been seen that its story,
so far as concerns the Deluge, is in essentials the same as that we
already find in the Gilgamesh Epic. It is true that this earlier
version has reached us in a magical setting, and to some extent in an
abbreviated form. In the next lecture I shall have occasion to refer
to another early mythological text from Nippur, which was thought by
its first interpreter to include a second Sumerian Version of the
Deluge legend. That suggestion has not been substantiated, though we
shall see that the contents of the document are of a very interesting
character. But in view of the discussion that has taken place in the
United States over the interpretation of the second text, and of the
doubts that have subsequently been expressed in some quarters as to
the recent discovery of any new form of the Deluge legend, it may be
well to formulate briefly the proof that in the inscription published
by Dr. Poebel an early Sumerian Version of the Deluge story has
actually been recovered. Any one who has followed the detailed
analysis of the new text which has been attempted in the preceding
paragraphs will, I venture to think, agree that the following
conclusions may be drawn:

(i) The points of general resemblance presented by the narrative to
that in the Gilgamesh Epic are sufficiently close in themselves to
show that we are dealing with a Sumerian Version of that story. And
this conclusion is further supported (a) by the occurrence throughout
the text of the attested Sumerian equivalent of the Semitic word,
employed in the Babylonian Versions, for the "Flood" or "Deluge", and
(b) by the use of precisely the same term for the hero's "great boat",
which is already familiar to us from an early Babylonian Version.

(ii) The close correspondence in language between portions of the
Sumerian legend and the Gilgamesh Epic suggest that the one version
was ultimately derived from the other. And this conclusion in its turn
is confirmed (a) by the identity in meaning of the Sumerian and
Babylonian names for the Deluge hero, which are actually found equated
in a late explanatory text, and (b) by small points of difference in
the Babylonian form of the story which correspond to later political
and religious developments and suggest the work of Semitic redactors.

The cumulative effect of such general and detailed evidence is
overwhelming, and we may dismiss all doubts as to the validity of Dr.
Poebel's claim. We have indeed recovered a very early, and in some of
its features a very primitive, form of the Deluge narrative which till
now has reached us only in Semitic and Greek renderings; and the
stream of tradition has been tapped at a point far above any at which
we have hitherto approached it. What evidence, we may ask, does this
early Sumerian Version offer with regard to the origin and literary
history of the Hebrew Versions?

The general dependence of the biblical Versions upon the Babylonian
legend as a whole has long been recognized, and needs no further
demonstration; and it has already been observed that the parallelisms
with the version in the Gilgamesh Epic are on the whole more detailed
and striking in the earlier than in the later Hebrew Version.[1] In
the course of our analysis of the Sumerian text its more striking
points of agreement or divergence, in relation to the Hebrew Versions,
were noted under the different sections of its narrative. It was also
obvious that, in many features in which the Hebrew Versions differ
from the Gilgamesh Epic, the latter finds Sumerian support. These
facts confirm the conclusion, which we should naturally base on
grounds of historical probability, that while the Semitic-Babylonian
Versions were derived from Sumer, the Hebrew accounts were equally
clearly derived from Babylon. But there are one or two pieces of
evidence which are apparently at variance with this conclusion, and
these call for some explanation.

[1] For details see especially Skinner, /Genesis/, pp. 177 ff.

Not too much significance should be attached to the apparent omission
of the episode of the birds from the Sumerian narrative, in which it
would agree with the later as against the earlier Hebrew Version; for,
apart from its epitomized character, there is so much missing from the
text that the absence of this episode cannot be regarded as
established with certainty. And in any case it could be balanced by
the Sumerian order of Creation of men before animals, which agrees
with the earlier Hebrew Version against the later. But there is one
very striking point in which our new Sumerian text agrees with both
the Hebrew Versions as against the Gilgamesh Epic and Berossus; and
that is in the character of Ziusudu, which presents so close a
parallel to the piety of Noah. As we have already seen, the latter is
due to no Hebrew idealization of the story, but represents a genuine
strand of the original tradition, which is completely absent from the
Babylonian Versions. But the Babylonian Versions are the media through
which it has generally been assumed that the tradition of the Deluge
reached the Hebrews. What explanation have we of this fact?

This grouping of Sumerian and Hebrew authorities, against the extant
sources from Babylon, is emphasized by the general framework of the
Sumerian story. For the literary connexion which we have in Genesis
between the Creation and the Deluge narratives has hitherto found no
parallel in the cuneiform texts. In Babylon and Assyria the myth of
Creation and the Deluge legend have been divorced. From the one a
complete epic has been evolved in accordance with the tenets of
Babylonian theology, the Creation myth being combined in the process
with other myths of a somewhat analogous character. The Deluge legend
has survived as an isolated story in more than one setting, the
principal Semitic Version being recounted to the national hero
Gilgamesh, towards the close of the composite epic of his adventures
which grew up around the nucleus of his name. It is one of the chief
surprises of the newly discovered Sumerian Version that the Hebrew
connexion of the narratives is seen to be on the lines of very
primitive tradition. Noah's reputation for piety does not stand alone.
His line of descent from Adam, and the thread of narrative connecting
the creation of the world with its partial destruction by the Deluge,
already appear in Sumerian form at a time when the city of Babylon
itself had not secured its later power. How then are we to account for
this correspondence of Sumerian and Hebrew traditions, on points
completely wanting in our intermediate authorities, from which,
however, other evidence suggests that the Hebrew narratives were

At the risk of anticipating some of the conclusions to be drawn in the
next lecture, it may be well to define an answer now. It is possible
that those who still accept the traditional authorship of the
Pentateuch may be inclined to see in this correspondence of Hebrew and
Sumerian ideas a confirmation of their own hypothesis. But it should
be pointed out at once that this is not an inevitable deduction from
the evidence. Indeed, it is directly contradicted by the rest of the
evidence we have summarized, while it would leave completely
unexplained some significant features of the problem. It is true that
certain important details of the Sumerian tradition, while not
affecting Babylon and Assyria, have left their stamp upon the Hebrew
narratives; but that is not an exhaustive statement of the case. For
we have also seen that a more complete survival of Sumerian tradition
has taken place in the history of Berossus. There we traced the same
general framework of the narratives, with a far closer correspondence
in detail. The kingly rank of Ziusudu is in complete harmony with the
Berossian conception of a series of supreme Antediluvian rulers, and
the names of two of the Antediluvian cites are among those of their
newly recovered Sumerian prototypes. There can thus be no suggestion
that the Greek reproductions of the Sumerian tradition were in their
turn due to Hebrew influence. On the contrary we have in them a
parallel case of survival in a far more complete form.

The inference we may obviously draw is that the Sumerian narrative
continued in existence, in a literary form that closely resembled the
original version, into the later historical periods. In this there
would be nothing to surprise us, when we recall the careful
preservation and study of ancient Sumerian religious texts by the
later Semitic priesthood of the country. Each ancient cult-centre in
Babylonia continued to cling to its own local traditions, and the
Sumerian desire for their preservation, which was inherited by their
Semitic guardians, was in great measure unaffected by political
occurrences elsewhere. Hence it was that Ashur-bani-pal, when forming
his library at Nineveh, was able to draw upon so rich a store of the
more ancient literary texts of Babylonia. The Sumerian Version of the
Deluge and of Antediluvian history may well have survived in a less
epitomized form than that in which we have recovered it; and, like
other ancient texts, it was probably provided with a Semitic
translation. Indeed its literary study and reproduction may have
continued without interruption in Babylon itself. But even if Sumerian
tradition died out in the capital under the influence of the
Babylonian priesthood, its re-introduction may well have taken place
in Neo-Babylonian times. Perhaps the antiquarian researches of
Nabonidus were characteristic of his period; and in any case the
collection of his country's gods into the capital must have been
accompanied by a renewed interest in the more ancient versions of the
past with which their cults were peculiarly associated. In the extant
summary from Berossus we may possibly see evidence of a subsequent
attempt to combine with these more ancient traditions the continued
religious dominance of Marduk and of Babylon.

Our conclusion, that the Sumerian form of the tradition did not die
out, leaves the question as to the periods during which Babylonian
influence may have acted upon Hebrew tradition in great measure
unaffected; and we may therefore postpone its further consideration to
the next lecture. To-day the only question that remains to be
considered concerns the effect of our new evidence upon the wider
problem of Deluge stories as a whole. What light does it throw on the
general character of Deluge stories and their suggested Egyptian

One thing that strikes me forcibly in reading this early text is the
complete absence of any trace or indication of astrological /motif/.
It is true that Ziusudu sacrifices to the Sun-god; but the episode is
inherent in the story, the appearance of the Sun after the storm
following the natural sequence of events and furnishing assurance to
the king of his eventual survival. To identify the worshipper with his
god and to transfer Ziusudu's material craft to the heavens is surely
without justification from the simple narrative. We have here no
prototype of Ra sailing the heavenly ocean. And the destructive flood
itself is not only of an equally material and mundane character, but
is in complete harmony with its Babylonian setting.

In the matter of floods the Tigris and Euphrates present a striking
contrast to the Nile. It is true that the life-blood of each country
is its river-water, but the conditions of its use are very different,
and in Mesopotamia it becomes a curse when out of control. In both
countries the river-water must be used for maturing the crops. But
while the rains of Abyssinia cause the Nile to rise between August and
October, thus securing both summer and winter crops, the melting snows
of Armenia and the Taurus flood the Mesopotamian rivers between March
and May. In Egypt the Nile flood is gentle; it is never abrupt, and
the river gives ample warning of its rise and fall. It contains just
enough sediment to enrich the land without choking the canals; and the
water, after filling its historic basins, may when necessary be
discharged into the falling river in November. Thus Egypt receives a
full and regular supply of water, and there is no difficulty in
disposing of any surplus. The growth in such a country of a legend of
world-wide destruction by flood is inconceivable.

In Mesopotamia, on the other hand, the floods, which come too late for
the winter crops, are followed by the rainless summer months; and not
only must the flood-water be controlled, but some portion of it must
be detained artificially, if it is to be of use during the burning
months of July, August, and September, when the rivers are at their
lowest. Moreover, heavy rain in April and a warm south wind melting
the snow in the hills may bring down such floods that the channels
cannot contain them; the dams are then breached and the country is
laid waste. Here there is first too much water and then too little.

The great danger from flood in Babylonia, both in its range of action
and in its destructive effect, is due to the strangely flat character
of the Tigris and Euphrates delta.[1] Hence after a severe breach in
the Tigris or Euphrates, the river after inundating the country may
make itself a new channel miles away from the old one. To mitigate the
danger, the floods may be dealt with in two ways--by a multiplication
of canals to spread the water, and by providing escapes for it into
depressions in the surrounding desert, which in their turn become
centres of fertility. Both methods were employed in antiquity; and it
may be added that in any scheme for the future prosperity of the
country they must be employed again, of course with the increased
efficiency of modern apparatus.[2] But while the Babylonians succeeded
in controlling the Euphrates, the Tigris was never really tamed,[3]
and whenever it burst its right bank the southern plains were
devastated. We could not have more suitable soil for the growth of a
Deluge story.

[1] Baghdad, though 300 miles by crow-fly from the sea and 500 by
    river, is only 120 ft. above sea-level.

[2] The Babylonians controlled the Euphrates, and at the same time
    provided against its time of "low supply", by escapes into two
    depressions in the western desert to the NW. of Babylon, known
    to-day as the Habbaniyah and Abu Dis depressions, which lie S. of
    the modern town of Ramadi and N. of Kerbela. That these
    depressions were actually used as reservoirs in antiquity is
    proved by the presence along their edges of thick beds of
    Euphrates shells. In addition to canals and escapes, the
    Babylonian system included well-constructed dikes protected by
    brushwood. By cutting an eight-mile channel through a low hill
    between the Habbaniyah and Abu Dis depressions and by building a
    short dam 50 ft. high across the latter's narrow outlet, Sir
    William Willcocks estimates that a reservoir could be obtained
    holding eighteen milliards of tons of water. See his work /The
    Irrigations of Mesopotamia/ (E. and F. N. Spon, 1911),
    /Geographical Journal/, Vol. XL, No. 2 (Aug., 1912), pp. 129 ff.,
    and the articles in /The Near East/ cited on p. 97, n. 1, and p.
    98, n. 2. Sir William Willcocks's volume and subsequent papers
    form the best introduction to the study of Babylonian Deluge
    tradition on its material side.

[3] Their works carried out on the Tigris were effective for
    irrigation; but the Babylonians never succeeded in controlling its
    floods as they did those of the Euphrates. A massive earthen dam,
    the remains of which are still known as "Nimrod's Dam", was thrown
    across the Tigris above the point where it entered its delta; this
    served to turn the river over hard conglomerate rock and kept it
    at a high level so that it could irrigate the country on both
    banks. Above the dam were the heads of the later Nahrwan Canal, a
    great stream 400 ft. wide and 17 ft. deep, which supplied the
    country east of the river. The Nar Sharri or "King's Canal", the
    Nahar Malkha of the Greeks and the Nahr el-Malik of the Arabs,
    protected the right bank of the Tigris by its own high artificial
    banks, which can still be traced for hundreds of miles; but it
    took its supply from the Euphrates at Sippar, where the ground is
    some 25 ft. higher than on the Tigris. The Tigris usually flooded
    its left bank; it was the right bank which was protected, and a
    breach here meant disaster. Cf. Willcocks, op. cit., and /The Near
    East/, Sept. 29, 1916 (Vol. XI, No. 282), p. 522.

It was only by constant and unremitting attention that disaster from
flood could be averted; and the difficulties of the problem were and
are increased by the fact that the flood-water of the Mesopotamian
rivers contains five times as much sediment as the Nile. In fact, one
of the most pressing of the problems the Sumerian and early Babylonian
engineers had to solve was the keeping of the canals free from
silt.[1] What the floods, if left unchecked, may do in Mesopotamia, is
well illustrated by the decay of the ancient canal-system, which has
been the immediate cause of the country's present state of sordid
desolation. That the decay was gradual was not the fault of the
rivers, but was due to the sound principles on which the old system of
control had been evolved through many centuries of labour. At the time
of the Moslem conquest the system had already begun to fail. In the
fifth century there had been bad floods; but worse came in A.D. 629,
when both rivers burst their banks and played havoc with the dikes and
embankments. It is related that the Sassanian king Parwiz, the
contemporary of Mohammed, crucified in one day forty canal-workers at
a certain breach, and yet was unable to master the flood.[2] All
repairs were suspended during the anarchy of the Moslem invasion. As a
consequence the Tigris left its old bed for the Shatt el-Hai at Kut,
and pouring its own and its tributaries' waters into the Euphrates
formed the Great Euphrates Swamp, two hundred miles long and fifty
broad. But even then what was left of the old system was sufficient to
support the splendour of the Eastern Caliphate.

[1] Cf. /Letters of Hammurabi/, Vol. III, pp. xxxvi ff.; it was the
    duty of every village or town upon the banks of the main canals in
    Babylonia to keep its own section clear of silt, and of course it
    was also responsible for its own smaller irrigation-channels.
    While the invention of the system of basin-irrigation was
    practically forced on Egypt, the extraordinary fertility of
    Babylonia was won in the teeth of nature by the system of
    perennial irrigation, or irrigation all the year round. In
    Babylonia the water was led into small fields of two or three
    acres, while the Nile valley was irrigated in great basins each
    containing some thirty to forty thousand acres. The Babylonian
    method gives far more profitable results, and Sir William
    Willcocks points out that Egypt to-day is gradually abandoning its
    own system and adopting that of its ancient rival; see /The Near
    East/, Sept. 29, 1916, p. 521.

[2] See Le Strange, /The Lands of the Eastern Caliphate/, p. 27.

The second great blow to the system followed the Mongol conquest, when
the Nahrwan Canal, to the east of the Tigris, had its head swept away
by flood and the area it had irrigated became desert. Then, in about
the fifteenth century, the Tigris returned to its old course; the
Shatt el-Hai shrank, and much of the Great Swamp dried up into the
desert it is to-day.[1] Things became worse during the centuries of
Turkish misrule. But the silting up of the Hillah, or main, branch of
the Euphrates about 1865, and the transference of a great part of its
stream into the Hindiyah Canal, caused even the Turks to take action.
They constructed the old Hindiyah Barrage in 1890, but it gave way in
1903 and the state of things was even worse than before; for the
Hillah branch then dried entirely.[2]

[1] This illustrates the damage the Tigris itself is capable of
    inflicting on the country. It may be added that Sir William
    Willcocks proposes to control the Tigris floods by an escape into
    the Tharthar depression, a great salt pan at the tail of Wadi
    Tharthar, which lies 14 ft. below sea level and is 200 ft. lower
    than the flood-level of the Tigris some thirty-two miles away. The
    escape would leave the Tigris to the S. of Samarra, the proposed
    Beled Barrage being built below it and up-stream of "Nimrod's
    Dam". The Tharthar escape would drain into the Euphrates, and the
    latter's Habbaniyah escape would receive any surplus water from
    the Tigris, a second barrage being thrown across the Euphrates up-
    stream of Fallujah, where there is an outcrop of limestone near
    the head of the Sakhlawiyah Canal. The Tharthar depression,
    besides disposing of the Tigris flood-water, would thus probably
    feed the Euphrates; and a second barrage on the Tigris, to be
    built at Kut, would supply water to the Shatt el-Hai. When the
    country is freed from danger of flood, the Baghdad Railway could
    be run through the cultivated land instead of through the eastern
    desert; see Willcocks, /The Near East/, Oct. 6, 1916 (Vol. XI, No.
    283), p. 545 f.

[2] It was then that Sir William Willcocks designed the new Hindiyah
    Barrage, which was completed in 1913. The Hindiyah branch, to-day
    the main stream of the Euphrates, is the old low-lying Pallacopas
    Canal, which branched westward above Babylon and discharged its
    waters into the western marshes. In antiquity the head of this
    branch had to be opened in high floods and then closed again
    immediately after the flood to keep the main stream full past
    Babylon, which entailed the employment of an enormous number of
    men. Alexander the Great's first work in Babylonia was cutting a
    new head for the Pallacopas in solid ground, for hitherto it had
    been in sandy soil; and it was while reclaiming the marshes
    farther down-stream that he contracted the fever that killed him.

From this brief sketch of progressive disaster during the later
historical period, the inevitable effect of neglected silt and flood,
it will be gathered that the two great rivers of Mesopotamia present a
very strong contrast to the Nile. For during the same period of
misgovernment and neglect in Egypt the Nile did not turn its valley
and delta into a desert. On the Tigris and Euphrates, during ages when
the earliest dwellers on their banks were struggling to make effective
their first efforts at control, the waters must often have regained
the upper hand. Under such conditions the story of a great flood in
the past would not be likely to die out in the future; the tradition
would tend to gather illustrative detail suggested by later
experience. Our new text reveals the Deluge tradition in Mesopotamia
at an early stage of its development, and incidentally shows us that
there is no need to postulate for its origin any convulsion of nature
or even a series of seismic shocks accompanied by cyclone in the
Persian Gulf.

If this had been the only version of the story that had come down to
us, we should hardly have regarded it as a record of world-wide
catastrophe. It is true the gods' intention is to destroy mankind, but
the scene throughout is laid in Southern Babylonia. After seven days'
storm, the Sun comes out, and the vessel with the pious priest-king
and his domestic animals on board grounds, apparently still in
Babylonia, and not on any distant mountain, such as Mt. Nisir or the
great mass of Ararat in Armenia. These are obviously details which
tellers of the story have added as it passed down to later
generations. When it was carried still farther afield, into the area
of the Eastern Mediterranean, it was again adapted to local
conditions. Thus Apollodorus makes Deucalion land upon Parnassus,[1]
and the pseudo-Lucian relates how he founded the temple of Derketo at
Hierapolis in Syria beside the hole in the earth which swallowed up
the Flood.[2] To the Sumerians who first told the story, the great
Flood appeared to have destroyed mankind, for Southern Babylonia was
for them the world. Later peoples who heard it have fitted the story
to their own geographical horizon, and in all good faith and by a
purely logical process the mountain-tops are represented as submerged,
and the ship, or ark, or chest, is made to come to ground on the
highest peak known to the story-teller and his hearers. But in its
early Sumerian form it is just a simple tradition of some great
inundation, which overwhelmed the plain of Southern Babylonia and was
peculiarly disastrous in its effects. And so its memory survived in
the picture of Ziusudu's solitary coracle upon the face of the waters,
which, seen through the mists of the Deluge tradition, has given us
the Noah's ark of our nursery days.

[1] Hesiod is our earliest authority for the Deucalion Flood story.
    For its probable Babylonian origin, cf. Farnell, /Greece and
    Babylon/ (1911), p. 184.

[2] /De Syria dea/, 12 f.

Thus the Babylonian, Hebrew, and Greek Deluge stories resolve
themselves, not into a nature myth, but into an early legend, which
has the basis of historical fact in the Euphrates Valley. And it is
probable that we may explain after a similar fashion the occurrence of
tales of a like character at least in some other parts of the world.
Among races dwelling in low-lying or well-watered districts it would
be surprising if we did not find independent stories of past floods
from which few inhabitants of the land escaped. It is only in hilly
countries such as Palestine, where for the great part of the year
water is scarce and precious, that we are forced to deduce borrowing;
and there is no doubt that both the Babylonian and the biblical
stories have been responsible for some at any rate of the scattered
tales. But there is no need to adopt the theory of a single source for
all of them, whether in Babylonia or, still less, in Egypt.[1]

[1] This argument is taken from an article I published in Professor
    Headlam's /Church Quarterly Review/, Jan., 1916, pp. 280 ff.,
    containing an account of Dr. Poebel's discovery.

I should like to add, with regard to this reading of our new evidence,
that I am very glad to know Sir James Frazer holds a very similar
opinion. For, as you are doubtless all aware, Sir James is at present
collecting Flood stories from all over the world, and is supplementing
from a wider range the collections already made by Lenormant, Andree,
Winternitz, and Gerland. When his work is complete it will be possible
to conjecture with far greater confidence how particular traditions or
groups of tradition arose, and to what extent transmission has taken
place. Meanwhile, in his recent Huxley Memorial Lecture,[1] he has
suggested a third possibility as to the way Deluge stories may have

[1] Sir J. G. Frazer, /Ancient Stories of a Great Flood/ (the Huxley
    Memorial Lecture, 1916), Roy. Anthrop. Inst., 1916.

Stated briefly, it is that a Deluge story may arise as a popular
explanation of some striking natural feature in a country, although to
the scientific eye the feature in question is due to causes other than
catastrophic flood. And he worked out the suggestion in the case of
the Greek traditions of a great deluge, associated with the names of
Deucalion and Dardanus. Deucalion's deluge, in its later forms at any
rate, is obviously coloured by Semitic tradition; but both Greek
stories, in their origin, Sir James Frazer would trace to local
conditions--the one suggested by the Gorge of Tempe in Thessaly, the
other explaining the existence of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles. As he
pointed out, they would be instances, not of genuine historical
traditions, but of what Sir James Tyler calls "observation myths". A
third story of a great flood, regarded in Greek tradition as the
earliest of the three, he would explain by an extraordinary inundation
of the Copaic Lake in Boeotia, which to this day is liable to great
fluctuations of level. His new theory applies only to the other two
traditions. For in them no historical kernel is presupposed, though
gradual erosion by water is not excluded as a cause of the surface
features which may have suggested the myths.

This valuable theory thus opens up a third possibility for our
analysis. It may also, of course, be used in combination, if in any
particular instance we have reason to believe that transmission, in
some vague form, may already have taken place. And it would with all
deference suggest the possibility that, in view of other evidence,
this may have occurred in the case of the Greek traditions. With
regard to the theory itself we may confidently expect that further
examples will be found in its illustration and support. Meanwhile in
the new Sumerian Version I think we may conclude that we have
recovered beyond any doubt the origin of the Babylonian and Hebrew
traditions and of the large group of stories to which they in their
turn have given rise.



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