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Antediluvian sages and kings (1)

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04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

antediluvian age
Hellenistic Empires
Neo-Assyrian Empire
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The period before the deluge was the one of revelation in the Mesopotamian mythology, when the basis of all later knowledge was laid down. The antediluvian sages were considered culture-heroes, who brought the arts of civilization to Sumer. During the history that follows, this period, the revelation, is only transmitted and unfolded. The names of the antediluvian sages are fairly transparent titles or incipits of learned and in part late compendia. All sages were originally linked with the city of Eridu already in Old Babylonian times, as is clear from the Temple Hymn for Ku’ara. Ku’ara was a subdivision of Eridu, as it was later of Babylon. Later texts make reference to the “seven sages of Eridu” and to individual sages: the first one is Adapa, who is called “sage” (apkallu) of Eridu and the sixth, Anelilda, is called purification priest (iĊĦippu) of Eridu.

There are inconsistencies in available sources concerning the number, the names, the order and the lengths of reign of the antediluvian kings. The inconsistencies apply also to the tradition of the seven antediluvian sages, which is first attested in the Erra Epic (1.147 and 162), and then in a late medical text. The Babylonian tradition of seven sages finds a Biblical echo in the “seven pillars of wisdom” in Proverbs 9:1 - “Wisdom has built her house, the Seven have set its foundation.”

The first explicit linkage between sage and king in antediluvian times is provided by a neo-Assyrian text from Sultantepe. This is an “apocryphal letter” of “Adapa the sage”, elsewhere identified with U-an = Oannes, to Alulu, the first antediluvian king. In Hellenistic times, the linkage appears in a systematized way, by associating each of the seven antediluvian sages with one of the first seven antediluvian kings. This has been known from Berossus, who assigned one sage to the first king, one to the fourth, four to the sixth and one to the seventh. A cuneiform text from Uruk dated to the 147th year of Seleucid Era (= 165 BCE) offers a sage for each of the seven kings. In addition to the original seven, there were four other sages after the Flood, who were only partly divine, the last of these being “two-thirds a sage.” This marked the transition from semidivine sages to human scholars, who in this point on appear as the guardians of the tradition. They were attached to the courts of historical kings, such as Asalluhi-mansum the sage of Hammurapi of Babylon.

Sources (list of abbreviations) (source links will open in a new browser window)
Erra Epic 1.147
Erra Epic 1.162
Proverbs 9:1


Dalley 1998, 16Dalley, Stephanie. “Occasions and Opportunities.” In: S. Dalley (ed.). The Legacy of Mesopotamia. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1998, 9-55.
Greenfield 1985, 52-57Greenfield, J. C. “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Prov. 9:1). A mistranslation.” Jewish Quarterly Review 76 (1985) 13-20. [JSTOR (requires subscription)]
Hallo 1996, 6-7Hallo, William W. Origins. The Ancient Near Eastern Background of Some Modern Western Institutions. Leiden, New York, Cologne: Brill 1996.

Amar Annus

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