ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
This chapter by Donald B. Redford discusses the "ever-present struggle between land and sea, fair weather and storm", which "dominat[ed] the mythology of the maritime cities of the eastern Mediterranean", in the form of stories of hero vs monster - tales describing creation and providing "an archetypal rationalization of kingship". The version of the story from northern Syria, with Baal defeating Prince Sea on the coast near Mount Saphon (modern Jebel al-ʾAqraʿ / Kel Dağı), was the most influential: Greek myth placed the battle between Zeus and Typhon in the same area, Athena and Poseidon's rivalry is based on Anat and Yam's, and Marduk's defeat of Tiamat in the Enûma Elish is also drawn from the story.

Variations of the story occur further south, in cities where the worship of the goddess, called Astarte, "seems to outshine" her male consort. ("This may hark back to the Bronze Age when the cult of Asherah, the mother of the gods, as more prominent in the Levant. In the hinterland of the south, indeed, she continued to dominate as the consort of Baʿal and Yahweh.") In Byblos, "the goddess reigned supreme". She was known as "the Mistress of Byblos" - probably Astarte. Byblos also had the tale of the battle with the sea, but he "is worsted, killed and has to be revived by a loyal partner". (The story of Adonis and the Egyptian tale of the Doomed Prince, among others, show traces of this myth.) There were further variations at Sidon and Tyre.

A second storyline involves the "sexually-avaricious Sea who turns his attention to the beautiful goddess, the Baʿal's consort". Derivations include Typhon's pursuit of Aphrodite, the abduction of the Phoenician princess Europa, and Perseus' rescue of the Ethiopian princess Andromeda. Redford drily remarks: "There can be no doubt that the prospect of the innocent, voluptuous beauty ravished by the monster had an irresistable appeal to the collective subconscious of many a community in the Aegean". There are related stories of the goddess Atagatis / Derceto turning into a fish (along with her son) after being thrown or leaping into the water.

At Gaza, Anat, Astarte, Dagon, Reshef, Arsay, and Marnas were worshipped (later as their Greek incarnations, Athena, Aphrodite, Zeus, Apollo, possibly Persephone). "A Ramesside ostracon speaks of a festival of Anat of Gaza for which a 'cover' (? for a shrine?) seems to be one of the requirements". Redford links Plutarch's story of Isis and Osiris with Gaza. As Isis returns from Byblos, bad weather on the River Phaedrus provokes her to dry it up. Next, as Isis inspects Osiris' body at a "deserted spot", a prince of Byblos, Palaestinus, sneakily observes her and is struck dead by Isis' angry look. Plutarch writes: "Some say that... he fell into the sea and is honoured because of the goddess... and that the city founded by the goddess was named after him." Gaza is described with the same Greek word for "deserted spot" in Acts 8:26, and "Palaestinus" is derived from "p3-knʿn", "the town of Canaan".

(Bit more to come from this article; but now it is time for pizza!)

(OK pizza and "Game of Thrones" now complete)

Redford compares the stories from the southern Levant, which feature the water monster, the goddess, and her child, with Egyptian versions, including Astarte and the Sea (the Astarte Papyrus), the Story of the Two Brothers, and Set's hunt for Isis and Horus. "In Egypt, however, the motif has been largely separated from a maritime venue, and is now informed by the denizens and landscape of the Nile valley. The monster now takes shape as a crocodile, or serpent; the hero as ichneumon, falcon or scorpion. Horus defeats the serpent, the creator god subdues the water-monster (crocodile)." So for example, "the great battle... when Re had transformed himself into an ichneumon 46 cubits (long) to fell Apophis in his rage." (That's over 21 m fyi.)

Redford concludes by reminding us that it's impossible to draw a simple "family tree" of these stories, due to "the very general nature of the basic plot, and the mutual awareness and ease of contact enjoyed by eastern Mediterranean communities."
Redford, Donald B.. "The Sea and the Goddess". in Sarah Israelit-Groll (ed). Studies in Egyptology: presented to Miriam Lichtheim. Magness Press, Hebrew University, 1990.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
In Drakōn: dragon myth and serpent cult in the Greek and Roman worlds, Daniel Ogden discusses the "radical reinterpretation of Near-Eastern iconography" which may have formed the basis of some Greek myths: for example, images of Marduk vs Tiamat become the story of Perseus vs the sea-monster, Gilgamesh vs Humbaba becomes Perseus slaying Medusa, and the demoness Lamashtu portrayed with animals becomes Medusa "giving birth" to Pegasus. This is an interesting enough idea in itself, but the reason I mention it is Ogden's analogy: "We may invoke the model of the cult British stop-motion television series, The Magic Roundabout. Eric Thompson created this by watching the episodes of the French original, Le Manège enchanté, with the sound down, and spinning his own, whimsical narrations around the characters' ostensible actions, narrations that inevitably has little or no point of contact with the original stories." (A story which appears to be essentially correct. :)

Ogden, Daniel. Drakōn: dragon myth and serpent cult in the Greek and Roman worlds. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.
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"Tiamat is evidently the principal personage; Apsu, her husband, instead of asking her to appear before him, goes to her abode and sits down before her. This conception of the supremacy of the female reflects a primitive form of matriarchate originating in the importance attributed to the motherly functions of womanhood. A similar preference for the female deity is to be found in Egypt, where, for example, the goddess Nut is superior to her consort Nu." (p 138)

Oooh! Discuss. >;-)

Read more... )

Fiore, Silvestro. Voices From the Clay: the development of Assyro-Babylonian Literature. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1965.
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Some Mesopotamian snippets from Mythologies of the Ancient World, edited by Samuel Noah Kramer.

When the book was written in 1961, no Sumerian creation myths had been found - only much later Babylonian stories of creation. (I think this is still pretty much true.) However, various texts describing the organisation of the universe, and the creation of people, have been found. One of these stories involves the rape of the goddess Ninlil by the chief god, Enlil. Unlike Greek mythology, rape is taken very seriously in Sumerian myth: despite his status, Enlil is banished to the Nether World for his crime. Similarly, Inanna relentlessly pursues and slays Shukallituda for raping her while she slept. Does this bear any relation to rape law, or to the status of women, in those two societies?

One story, in which the clever god Enki's organises the world, concludes with a complaint from Inanna that she's been shortchanged in the handing out of mes (pronounced "mays" - divine offices, insignia, powers). Enki responds by listing the mes which Inanna has been given. I think this must prefigure the story of Inanna getting Enki drunk and pinching all the mes!

In another Enki story, he eats plants created with enormous effort by the goddess Ninhursag, who curses him and then leaves - Kramer suggests so that she can't change her mind about the curse. I don't know whether there's any connection, but there was an Egyptian festival celebrating the return of the Eye of Ra, who would angrily leave the other gods, and eventually be coaxed back - more on this shortly. (Based on the Enki and Ninhursag story, Kramer explains the etymology which may have resulted in Eve being created from Adam's rib.)

The Babylonian Enuma Elish was written not to explain the creation of the world, but to glorify Babylon and its patron deity Marduk - a huge chunk of the epic is just a recital of all his names and titles. No goddesses take part in creation in the epic, but there are fragments of other creation stories in which they do: for example, one in which Marduk is assisted in creating humanity by the mother goddess Aruru (aka Ninmah, Nintu, or Ninhursag to the Sumerians). In another, Aruru (this time named Mami) asks Enki for advice on creating humanity to do the gods' work, and he suggests creating them by mixing clay with the blood and flesh of a slain deity (similar to Enuma Elish).

There are also myths in which a courageous god (eg Marduk) slays a monster after other gods' collective nerve fails, as in Enuma Elish; including one with a sea monster called Labbu, which I think was aka Leviathan (I'll investigate further).

Kramer, Samuel Noah. "Mythology of Sumer and Akkad". In Mythologies of the Ancient World. Samuel Noah Kramer (ed). Doubleday NY 1961.
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From the King James Version:

Psalms 74: 12-13
[12] For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.
[13] Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.

Psalms 89:9-10
[9] Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.
[10] Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.

Isaiah 27:1
[1] In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

Isaiah 51:9-10
[9] Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?
[10] Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?

ETA: I was prompted to look these up by a terrific short article in the magazine The Christian Century, which describes Psalm 148: "In this beautiful hymn, sea monsters lead a parade of chaos agents that have been subdued to glorify God--deeps, fire, hail, frost and storm... these mythical serpents represented a universe unrestrained and unredeemed by God's loving intervention." More... )
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A scholarly review of the book Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith: Scriptural Transformations discusses the battle between order and chaos in mythology of Biblical times, including the struggle between Tiamat and Marduk. The reviewer notes that Yahweh defeats similar forces of chaos: Leviathan, Rahab (a sea monster) and Lotan and Yamm (names of Canaanite deities), but that unlike Tiamat or Apophis they were not serious challengers; Yahweh's victory establishes him as a champion or warrior. Similarly, Jesus "rebukes" the sea, and evil spirits; the sea is not part of the new age in Revelation. It's interesting to wonder if and how this was influenced by Enuma Elish.

The review also mentions the seven-headed monster in Revelation. Yesterday, while thumbing through a book, I came across a bas relief of a Mesopotamian god battling a seven-headed mušhuššu, or snake-dragon, one of the monsters created by Tiamat. I'd never seen a many-headed example before. Embarrassingly, the Biblical parallel didn't strike me, but the parallel with the D&D Tiamat, who has the heads of the five evil species of dragon, came to mind at once. :-)

Zevit, Ziony. Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith: Scriptural Transformations [untitled review]. The Biblical Archaeologist 49(1) March 1986

McCurley, Foster R. Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith: Scriptural Transformations. Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1983.
ikhet_sekhmet: (Default)
Gods, Demons, and Symbols lists the monsters Tiamat gave birth to:

Three kinds of horned snakes:

mušhuššu - snake-dragon (literally "furious snake"), associated with numerous deities, and visible on the Ishtar Gate
ugallu - lion-dragon
uridimmu - lion-humanoid
girtablullû - scorpion-man
umu dabrutu - fierce storms
kulullû - merman
kusarikku - bull-man

Images of these monsters were placed in the apsû, now the name of Ea's residence, by Marduk. They're invoked in incantations, and images of them were used for protection. There are images of most of the monsters, plys various gods and demons, at the British Museum's Mesopotamia site. (There's also a snaky image of Tiamat herself.)

A footnote on monsters: [livejournal.com profile] jvowles asked about Bahamut, the good counterpart to the evil five-headed dragon Tiamat in Dungeons and Dragons. Apparently the name "Bahamut" comes from the Hebrew Behemoth, or beasts. See the online 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia - from this is seems more likely that the original Bahamut was a rhino or a hippo rather than a dragon.


Sep. 22nd, 2005 10:20 am
ikhet_sekhmet: (Default)
I'd like to draw together in this LJ all the information I can find about Tiamat, the goddess killed by the patron deity of Babylon, Marduk, in the creation epic Enuma Elish. In particular I'm interested in two questions:

Exactly what did Tiamat look like - was she a woman? A dragon?

Was Tiamat ever worshipped - does Enuma Elish describe the triumph of one god's cult over another's?

To start with, here's my crummy summary of Enuma Elish:

At the beginning of time, Tiamat (the salt waters) and her husband Apsu (the fresh waters) were the only creatures in existence. In time they gave birth to numerous gods, whose noise disturbed Apsu so much he decided to kill them, over Tiamat's protest. He failed, killed by the god Ea. Egged on by her new husband Qingu, Tiamat prepared to attack the gods, giving birth to an army of monsters. Gods sent to stop her fled in terror; only Marduk was able to face her, in exchange for which the other gods made him head of the pantheon. Marduk killed Tiamat and used her body to make the world. Her allies became slaves for the victorious gods, but Marduk relented and created humanity from Qingu's blood to serve the gods.

According to Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary, Tiamat's name is a version of the word tiamtum, meaning "sea". The authors note that Enuma Elish doesn't make it clear what Tiamat looks like - sometimes she seems to be human, at other times the salt waters are inside her. In the later Assyrian version of the myth, Marduk's place is taken by their patron deity, Ashur.



Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. British Museum Press, London, 1992.


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