Legends of Babylon and Egypt in Relation to Hebrew Tradition

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  • erschienen am 15. November 2018
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  • 256 Seiten
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978-3-7481-8203-0 (ISBN)
In these lectures an attempt is made, not so much to restate familiar facts, as to accommodate them to new and supplementary evidence which has been published in America since the outbreak of the war. But even without the excuse of recent discovery, no apology would be needed for any comparison or contrast of Hebrew tradition with the mythological and legendary beliefs of Babylon and Egypt. Hebrew achievements in the sphere of religion and ethics are only thrown into stronger relief when studied against their contemporary background.
The bulk of our new material is furnished by some early texts, written towards the close of the third millennium B.C. They incorporate traditions which extend in unbroken outline from their own period into the remote ages of the past, and claim to trace the history of man back to his creation. They represent the early national traditions of the Sumerian people, who preceded the Semites as the ruling race in Babylonia; and incidentally they necessitate a revision of current views with regard to the cradle of Babylonian civilization. The most remarkable of the new documents is one which relates in poetical narrative an account of the Creation, of Antediluvian history, and of the Deluge. It thus exhibits a close resemblance in structure to the corresponding Hebrew traditions, a resemblance that is not shared by the Semitic-Babylonian Versions at present known. But in matter the Sumerian tradition is more primitive than any of the Semitic versions. In spite of the fact that the text appears to have reached us in a magical setting, and to some extent in epitomized form, this early document enables us to tap the stream of tradition at a point far above any at which approach has hitherto been possible.
1. Auflage
  • Englisch
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978-3-7481-8203-0 (9783748182030)


In the first lecture we saw how, both in Babylonia and Egypt, recent discoveries had thrown light upon periods regarded as prehistoric, and how we had lately recovered traditions concerning very early rulers both in the Nile Valley and along the lower Euphrates. On the strength of the latter discovery we noted the possibility that future excavation in Babylonia would lay bare stages of primitive culture similar to those we have already recovered in Egyptian soil. Meanwhile the documents from Nippur had shown us what the early Sumerians themselves believed about their own origin, and we traced in their tradition the gradual blending of history with legend and myth. We saw that the new Dynastic List took us back in the legendary sequence at least to the beginning of the Post-diluvian period. Now one of the newly published literary texts fills in the gap beyond, for it gives us a Sumerian account of the history of the world from the Creation to the Deluge, at about which point, as we saw, the extant portions of the Dynastic List take up the story. I propose to devote my lecture to-day to this early version of the Flood and to the effect of its discovery upon some current theories.

The Babylonian account of the Deluge, which was discovered by George Smith in 1872 on tablets from the Royal Library at Nineveh, is, as you know, embedded in a long epic of twelve Books recounting the adventures of the Old Babylonian hero Gilgamesh. Towards the end of this composite tale, Gilgamesh, desiring immortality, crosses the Waters of Death in order to beg the secret from his ancestor Ut-napishtim, who in the past had escaped the Deluge and had been granted immortality by the gods. The Eleventh Tablet, or Book, of the epic contains the account of the Deluge which Ut-napishtim related to his kinsman Gilgamesh. The close correspondence of this Babylonian story with that contained in Genesis is recognized by every one and need not detain us. You will remember that in some passages the accounts tally even in minute details, such, for example, as the device of sending out birds to test the abatement of the waters. It is true that in the Babylonian version a dove, a swallow, and a raven are sent forth in that order, instead of a raven and the dove three times. But such slight discrepancies only emphasize the general resemblance of the narratives.

In any comparison it is usually admitted that two accounts have been combined in the Hebrew narrative. I should like to point out that this assumption may be made by any one, whatever his views may be with regard to the textual problems of the Hebrew Bible and the traditional authorship of the Pentateuch. And for our purpose at the moment it is immaterial whether we identify the compiler of these Hebrew narratives with Moses himself, or with some later Jewish historian whose name has not come down to us. Whoever he was, he has scrupulously preserved his two texts and, even when they differ, he has given each as he found it. Thanks to this fact, any one by a careful examination of the narrative can disentangle the two versions for himself. He will find each gives a consistent story. One of them appears to be simpler and more primitive than the other, and I will refer to them as the earlier and the later Hebrew Versions.(1) The Babylonian text in the Epic of Gilgamesh contains several peculiarities of each of the Hebrew versions, though the points of resemblance are more detailed in the earlier of the two.

(1) In the combined account in Gen. vi. 5-ix. 17, if the
following passages be marked in the margin or underlined,
and then read consecutively, it will be seen that they give
a consistent and almost complete account of the Deluge: Gen.
vi. 9-22; vii. 6, 11, 13-16 (down to "as God commanded
him"), 17 (to "upon the earth"), 18-21, 24; viii. 1, 2 (to
"were stopped"), 3 (from "and after")-5, 13 (to "from off
the earth"), 14-19; and ix. 1-17. The marked passages
represent the "later Hebrew Version." If the remaining
passages be then read consecutively, they will be seen to
give a different version of the same events, though not so
completely preserved as the other; these passages
substantially represent the "earlier Hebrew Version". In
commentaries on the Hebrew text they are, of course, usually
referred to under the convenient symbols J and P,
representing respectively the earlier and the later
versions. For further details, see any of the modern
commentaries on Genesis, e.g. Driver, Book of Genesis , pp.
85 ff.; Skinner, Genesis , pp. 147 ff.; Ryle, Genesis , p.
96 f.

Now the tablets from the Royal Library at Nineveh inscribed with the Gilgamesh Epic do not date from an earlier period than the seventh century B.C. But archaeological evidence has long shown that the traditions themselves were current during all periods of Babylonian history; for Gilgamesh and his half-human friend Enkidu were favourite subjects for the seal-engraver, whether he lived in Sumerian times or under the Achaemenian kings of Persia. We have also, for some years now, possessed two early fragments of the Deluge narrative, proving that the story was known to the Semitic inhabitants of the country at the time of Hammurabi's dynasty.(1) Our newly discovered text from Nippur was also written at about that period, probably before 2100 B.C. But the composition itself, apart from the tablet on which it is inscribed, must go back very much earlier than that. For instead of being composed in Semitic Babylonian, the text is in Sumerian, the language of the earliest known inhabitants of Babylonia, whom the Semites eventually displaced. This people, it is now recognized, were the originators of the Babylonian civilization, and we saw in the first lecture that, according to their own traditions, they had occupied that country since the dawn of history.

(1) The earlier of the two fragments is dated in the
eleventh year of Ammizaduga, the tenth king of Hammurabi's
dynasty, i.e. in 1967 B.C.; it was published by Scheil,
Recueil de travaux , Vol. XX, pp. 55 ff. Here the Deluge
story does not form part of the Gilgamesh Epic, but is
recounted in the second tablet of a different work; its hero
bears the name Atrakhasis, as in the variant version of the
Deluge from the Nineveh library. The other and smaller
fragment, which must be dated by its script, was published
by Hilprecht ( Babylonian Expedition , series D, Vol. V,
Fasc. 1, pp. 33 ff.), who assigned it to about the same
period; but it is probably of a considerably later date. The
most convenient translations of the legends that were known
before the publication of the Nippur texts are those given
by Rogers, Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament (Oxford, 1912), and Dhorme, Choix de textes religieux
Assyro-Babyloniens (Paris, 1907).

The Semites as a ruling race came later, though the occurrence of Semitic names in the Sumerian Dynastic List suggests very early infiltration from Arabia. After a long struggle the immigrants succeeded in dominating the settled race; and in the process they in turn became civilized. They learnt and adopted the cuneiform writing, they took over the Sumerian literature. Towards the close of the third millennium, when our tablet was written, the Sumerians as a race had almost ceased to exist. They had been absorbed in the Semitic population and their language was no longer the general language of the country. But their ancient literature and sacred texts were carefully preserved and continued to be studied by the Semitic priests and scribes. So the fact that the tablet is written in the old Sumerian tongue proves that the story it tells had come down from a very much earlier period. This inference is not affected by certain small differences in idiom which its language presents when compared with that of Sumerian building-inscriptions. Such would naturally occur in the course of transmission, especially in a text which, as we shall see, had been employed for a practical purpose after being subjected to a process of reduction to suit it to its new setting.

When we turn to the text itself, it will be obvious that the story also is very primitive. But before doing so we will inquire whether this very early version is likely to cast any light on the origin of Deluge stories such as are often met with in other parts of the world. Our inquiry will have an interest apart from the question itself, as it will illustrate the views of two divergent schools among students of primitive literature and tradition. According to one of these views, in its most extreme form, the tales which early or primitive man tells about his gods and the origin of the world he sees around him are never to be regarded as simple stories, but are to be consistently interpreted as symbolizing natural phenomena. It is, of course, quite certain that, both in Egypt and Babylonia, mythology in later periods received a strong astrological colouring;...

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