Today I would like to turn the tables and consider the subject from the viewpoint of other cultures of the Ancient Near East, especially Mesopotamia of the first millennium BCE, which is my specialty. To make it easier to follow my argument, I will first in a very cursory and condensed way outline the main features of the Jewish cosmological system. This overview is necessarily an abstraction; it does not take into consideration all cosmological concepts and themes attested in Judaism over its 3000-year history, but essential features of the Jewish system will stand out more clearly in such a simplified overview, stripped of unnecessary detail. I will then proceed to a more detailed discussion of the fundamentals of Jewish cosmology
The first thing to say about Jewish cosmology
Man, created of spirit and matter in the image of God, originally lived sinlessly in a state of innocent ignorance. However, tempted by a woman, he committed the mortal sin
His situation is not hopeless, however. One perfect man, Enoch
God’s will is manifested to humans in a myriad ways, for heaven
God has revealed Himself to Moses
Considered as a whole, this is a view of the world in which physical reality is perceived and judged almost exclusively in terms of spiritual values, so that physical reality becomes largely irrelevant in comparison with the metaphysical cosmos, perceived as the ultimate reality and the only true existence. It is a shamanistic conception of the cosmos, with the mount of Zion situated in the axis mundi
Such a view of the cosmos is, however, not unique to Judaism. Any specialist in Ancient Near Eastern civilizations will easily find numerous parallels to it in sources of his or her specialty. In my own field of expertise, the Assyrian
This is not to say that there were no differences. On the contrary, Mesopotamian sources are replete with details specific to that particular culture and not found in Jewish Scripture
I begin with the Mesopotamian creation myth, Enūma eliš
In the myth, Marduk also commissions the creation of man, assigning the task to Ea, the god of wisdom. The creation of man is also related or alluded to in many other Mesopotamian myths, and in each case the account is similar, although a little different. In Atrahasis
While the motif of breathing the breath of life into man’s nostrils [Gen 2: 7] at first sight seems to be lacking in Mesopotamia, this central feature of the Biblical creation story is in fact encoded in all Mesopotamian creation myths. The mother goddess, who was an aspect of Ištar
The Sumerian myth Inanna
Apart from Inanna
In the Etana myth
Both woman and snake are thus well attested in Mesopotamia in roles paralleling those of Eve and the serpent in Genesis
We now leave the subject of creation and move on to the Flood
This image of the weeping goddess played an important role in Mesopotamian religion, and resurfaces in Jewish mysticism in the form of the weeping Shekhinah, the female aspect of God, who is often referred to as suffering for the sins
In the creation myth Enūma eliš, Ištar appears as the bow by which Marduk slays the raging sea-dragon, Tiamat. Later Anu
The stairway reaching from the earth to the heavens
As described in Psalm
The Messianic king
The king’s equation with the tree is also implicit in the name of Gilgamesh, which in its first-millennium orthography can be interpreted to mean “he equalled the tree of balance” (Parpola 1998, 323–325). The original Sumerian name, Bilga-mes, means “the shoot of the mes tree,” and thus likewise connects this “perfect king” with the cosmic tree. However, mes also meant “man” in Sumerian, and the name could thus also be understood as “the scion of man.”22 “Palm tree, tree planted near streams of water, righteous shoot,” and “the son of man” are, of course, all well-known designations of the Davidic Messiah
A man equated with a tree is also found in Jewish mysticism. He is Adam
I have argued for years that the Kabbalistic tree is derived from the Mesopo- tamian cosmic tree understood as representing the spiritual structure of the Meso- potamian ideal king (Parpola 1993a). The perfection of the king resides in the divine powers, which he shares with the supreme god and which are represented in Mesopotamian iconography
Apart from its significance to the royal ideology
Time forbids continuing this survey, which unfortunately ended up being much more shallow and less comprehensive than I had originally planned. I hope, however, that even the few cases discussed have made clear the point I am trying to make: despite all the superficial differences, Mesopotamian cosmology
I refer here in particular to such complex interlocking parallels as the deluge story combined with the rainbow motif and the fall of man combined with the tree of life. Flood
It is important to underline that the fundamentally moral and ethical orientation of Jewish cosmology
Against this background, I find it hard to subscribe to often repeated view—
for example in the recent seventh edition of the New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia—that “Judaism was the first religion to make [the creation of the world by God] a central principle of its faith and a basis for its system of ethics” (Wigoder 1992, 241 s.v. cosmogony and cosmology). It seems to me that given the great similarity of the Mesopotamian and Jewish cosmological thought and the great antiquity of the former, such a claim is unsubstantiated and should be withdrawn.
The closeness of Jewish and Mesopotamian cosmologies is, of course, in no way surprising, considering the geographical proximity and manifold contacts of the two cultures. The entire Levant
While many parts of Jewish cosmology
It is fascinating and instructive to follow the history of Jewish cosmology from this perspective. The system as a whole remains fundamentally unchanged, but things are emphasized differently in different situations and circumstances. Thus apocalyptism and messianism, which are built-in components of both Mesopotamian and Jewish cosmology
An earlier version of this paper was presented at Johns Hopkins University as the 2005 Potts Memorial Lecture, aiming to compare scientific and traditional Jewish views of cosmology
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Finkel, I.L. (1983). The Dream of Kurigalzu and the Tablet of Sins. Anatolian Studies 33: 75-80
George, A.R. (2003). The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gruenwald, I. (1980). Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism. Leiden: Brill.
Hutter, Manfred (1985). Altorientalische Vorstellungen von der Unterwelt: Literar- und religionsgeschichtliche Überlegungen zu `Nergal und Ereškigal'. Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht.
Kvanvig, H.S. (1984) Roots of the Apocalyptic, Volume I: The Mesopotamian Background of the Enoch Figure. phdthesis. Oslo
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Litke, R.L. (1998). A Reconstruction of the Assyro-Babylonian God Lists An:dA-nu-umm and AN:Anu šá ameli. Texts from the Babylonian Collection 3. New Haven: Yale Babylonian Collection.
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Parpola, S. (1993a). Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press.
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Paul, S. (1973). Heavenly Tablets and the Book of Life. Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Socitety of Columbia University 5: 345-354
Starr, I. (1983). The Rituals of the Diviner. Oak Park: Undena Publications.
Talon, P. (2005). The Standard Babylonian Creation Myth: Enūma Eliš. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.
Wigoder, G. (1992). The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia. 7th New Revised Edition. New York: Facts on File.
Zgoll, A. (1997). Inana als nugig. Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 87: 181-94
The most recent edition is (Talon 2005).
See (Parpola 1998, 318).
See (Parpola 1993b, 187 n. 97; Parpola 2000, 162–172).
See, in detail, (Parpola 1997, xxvi–xxix).
See http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.1.3.3. See the discussion in (Lapinkivi 2004, 220–226).
Defined as the “chief gardener of the god of heaven” in the god list An-Anum (Litke 1998, 30 i 92).
Compare the rabbinical tradition preserved in 3 Enoch 5 (Gruenwald 1980, 50), “From the day when the Holiness expelled the first Adam from the Garden of Eden, Shekhinah was dwelling upon a Keruv under the Tree of Life... And the first man (was) sitting outside the gate of the Garden to behold the radiant appearance of the Shekhinah.”
Gilg. I 196–202 (George 2003, I 551). Note George’s comments on line 199 (George 2003, II 798), establishing a definite link between Adam’s and Enkidu’s fall as a result of illicit sexual intercourse.
It is worth pointing out that the word “steppe” is in this context consistently written with the Sumerogram eden.
See (Parpola 1997, xxxi–xxxvi; Lapinkivi 2004, 166–194).
Akkadian harāmu, “to seclude, separate,” is a cognate of Hebrew חרם “to seclude, put under ban, taboo.” Breaking a divine taboo meant committing a mortal sin. That is why Gilgamesh, in contrast to Šukalletuda, chose to resist the temptation to marry the goddess Ištar, whose Sumerian epithet nu-gíg means “the tabooed one” (Zgoll 1997) and whose holiness and virginity are constantly stressed in Mesopotamian sources.
See (Parpola 1997, 16 ).
Gilg. XI 117–124 (George 2003, 164–171; Il 711 and 715).
See (Parpola 1997, xxviii with n. 88, and xxxiv–xxv with nn. 141–44).
See (Parpola 1997, xci n. 114; Parpola 2000, 200).
Col. i 16, 53; iv 26; v 13, 42; cf. (Hutter 1985, 159).
See (Parpola 1993a, xix).
See (Starr 1983, 56–59).
See (Parpola 1995, 171 and 180–181).
Lines 519–523 (http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr1823.htm).
Šulgi D 32–35 (http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.2.4.2.04#).
In Akkadian, “shoot” (pir’u) could also mean “son, descendant offspring.” See also (Annus 2001).
See (Parpola 2000, 197–198).
Cf. (Parpola 1997, xxxiv and xcv n. 134).
See (Lapinkivi 2004, 155–206).
See (Parpola 1997, xlv–xlviii).
Table of Contents
Introduction to Melammu: Early Globalization
M. J. Geller
1 Globalization of Religion:
Jewish Cosmology in its Ancient Near Eastern Context
2 Global Monotheism:
The Contribution of the Israelite Prophets
Baruch A. Levine
6 Gilgamesh’s Plant of Rejuvenation and Qāṭīne’s Sīsīsāmbur
7 Some Observations about “Foreigners” in Babylonia
during the VI Century BCE
8 The Religious Reform of Nabonidus: A Sceptical View
9 New Light on George Smith’s Purchase of the
Egibi Archive in 1876 from the Nachlass Mathewson
Strahil V. Panayotov, Cornelia Wunsch
10 Phrygian Bronzes in the Greek World:
Globalization through Cult?
11 Power and Ritual in the Achaemenian Royalty
12 Religious Ontology and Taxonomic Structures in Indo-Iranian Oral Poetry
13 Elements of “Globalization” in Ancient Iranian Numismatics
15 India and World Trade: From the Beginnings to the
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