Thursday 23 January 2014

Fragments of 'The Babylonian History' of Bel-re'ushunu

Bel-re'ushunu was a Babylonian priest of Marduk and historian.  He came from a priestly family and had access to the temple records and king-lists of the Esagila temple.  He was born in Babylon during Hellenistic times, and grew up to be Marduk's priest.  He wrote a history of the Babylonians in Greek based on his access to the temple records, and dedicated it to the current reigning monarch, King Antiochus I Soter.  In later years he moved to the island of Kos and there set up a school of astrology.

Here I have collected fragments of this book from various authors, though substituted the Greek corruptions of the Babylonian names with their Babylonian or Sumerian originals:

Bel-re'ushunu, in the first book of his history of Babylonia, informs us that he lived in the age of Alexander the son of Philip. And he mentions that there were written accounts, preserved at Babylon with the greatest care, comprehending a period of above fifteen myriads of years: and that these writings contained histories of the heaven and of the sea; of the birth of mankind; and of the kings, and of the memorable actions which they had achieved.
   And in the first place he describes Babylonia as a country situated between the Idiqlat and the Purattu: that it abounded with wheat, and barley, and ocrus, and sesame; and that in the lakes were produced the roots called gongre, which are fit for food, and in respect to nutriment similar to barley. That there were also palm trees and apples, and a variety of fruits; fish also and birds, both those which are merely of flight, and those which frequent the lakes. He adds, that those parts of the country which bordered upon Arabia, were without water, and barren; but that the parts which lay on the other side were both hilly and fertile.
   At Babylon there was (in these times) a great resort of people of various nations, who inhabited Chaldea, and lived in a lawless manner like the beasts of the field. In the first year there appeared, from that part of the Erythrean Sea which borders upon Babylonia, an animal destitute of reason, by name Uanna, whose whole body was that of a fish; that under the fish's head he had another head, with feet also below, similar to those of a man, subjoined to the fish's tail. His voice too, and language, was articulate and human; and a representation of him is preserved even to this day.
   This Being was accustomed to pass the day among men; but took no food at that season; and he gave them an insight into letters and sciences, and arts of every kind. He taught them to construct cities, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and shewed them how to collect the fruits; in short, he instructed them in every thing which could tend to soften manners and humanize their lives. From that time, nothing material has been added by way of improvement to his instructions. And when the sun had set, this Being Uanna, retired again into the sea, and passed the night in the deep; for he was amphibious. After this there appeared other animals like Uanna, of which Bel-re'ushunu proposes to give an account when he comes to the history of the kings. Moreover Uanna wrote concerning the generation of mankind; and of their civil polity; and the following is the purport of what he said:
   "There was a time in which there existed nothing but darkness and an abyss of waters, wherein resided most hideous beings, which were produced of a two-fold principle. There appeared men, some of whom were furnished with two wings, others with four, and with two faces. They had one body but two heads: the one that of a man, the other of a woman: and likewise in their several organs both male and female. Other human figures were to be seen with the legs and horns of goats: some had horses' feet: while others united the hind quarters of a horse with the body of a man, resembling in shape the hippocentaurs. Bulls likewise were bred there with the heads of men; and dogs with fourfold bodies, terminated in their extremities with the tails of fishes: horses also with the heads of dogs: men too and other animals, with the heads and bodies of horses and the tails of fishes. In short, there were creatures in which were combined the limbs of every species of animals. In addition to these, fishes, reptiles, serpents, with other monstrous animals, which assumed each other's shape and countenance. Of all which were preserved delineations in the temple of Bel at Babylon.
   The person, who presided over them, was a woman named Tiamat, the sea; but which might equally be interpreted the Moon. All things being in this situation, Bel came, and cut the woman asunder: and of one half of her he formed the earth, and of the other half the heavens; and at the same time destroyed the animals within her. All this (he says) was an allegorical description of nature. For, the whole universe consisting of moisture, and animals being continually generated therein, the deity above-mentioned took off his own head: upon which the other gods mixed the blood, as it gushed out, with the earth; and from thence were formed men. On this account it is that they are rational, and partake of divine knowledge. This Bel, by whom they signify Zeus, divided the darkness, and separated the Heavens from the Earth, and reduced universe to order. But the animals, not being able to bear the prevalence of light, died. Bel upon this, seeing a vast space unoccupied, though by nature fruitful, commanded one of the gods to take off his head, and to mix the blood with the earth; and from thence to form other men and animals, which should be capable of bearing the air. Bel formed also the stars, and the sun, and the moon, and the five planets. (From the account of Bel-re'ushunu's first book.)

  Bel-re'ushunu, in the first book of his Babylonian History, says that in the eleventh month, called Arah Dumuzu, is celebrated in Babylon the feast of Zagmuk for five days, in which it is the custom that the masters should obey their slaves, one of whom is led round the house, clothed in a royal garment, and him they call Zagmuku.
(In the second book was contained the history of the ten kings of the Chaldeans, and the periods of the continuance of each reign, which consisted collectively of an hundred and twenty sari, or four hundred and thirty-two thousand years; reaching to the time of the Deluge.)
  He tells us that the first king was Alulim of Babylon, a Chaldean: he reigned ten sari: and afterwards Alalgar, and Ameluanna from Bad-tibira: then En sipazianna the Chaldean, in whose time appeared the abomination Uanna the Repulsive from the Erythrean Sea. Then succeeded Dumuzi from the city of Bad-tibira; and he reigned eighteen sari: and after him Ebneduranki the shepherd from Bad-tibira reigned ten sari; in his time (he says) appeared again from the Erythræan Sea a fourth Repulsive One, having the same form with those above, the shape of a fish blended with that of a man. Then reigned Ubartutu from Bad-tibira, for the term of eighteen sari; in his days there appeared another personage from the Erythrean Sea like the former, having the same complicated form between a fish and a man, whose name was Uanduga. Then reigned Enmenduranna, a Chaldean from Larsa: and he being the eighth in order reigned ten sari. Then reigned Shuruppak, a Chaldean, from Larsa; and he reigned eight sari. And upon the death of Shuruppak, his son Ziusudra reigned eighteen sari: in his time happened the great deluge. So that the sum of all the kings is ten; and the term which they collectively reigned an hundred and twenty sari.
   In his time happened a great Deluge; the history of which is thus described. The deity, Ea, appeared to him in a vision, and warned him that upon the fifteenth day of the month Arah Simanu there would be a flood, by which mankind would be destroyed. He therefore enjoined him to write a history of the beginning, procedure, and conclusion of all things; and to bury it in the city of the Sun at Sippar; and to build a vessel, and take with him into it his friends and relations; and to convey on board every thing necessary to sustain life, together with all the different animals; both birds and quadrupeds, and trust himself fearlessly to the deep. Having asked the deity, whither he was to sail? he was answered, "To the gods:" upon which he offered up a prayer for the good of mankind. He then obeyed the divine admonition: and built an ark five stadia in length, and two in breadth. Into this he put every thing which he had prepared; and last of all conveyed into it his wife, his children, and his friends.
   After the flood had been upon the earth, and was in time abated, Ziusudra sent out birds from the ark; which, not finding any food, nor any place whereupon they might rest their feet, returned to him again. After an interval of some days, he sent them forth a second time; and they now returned with their feet tinged with mud. He made a trial a third time with these birds; but they returned to him no more: from whence he judged that the surface of the earth had appeared above the waters. He therefore made an opening in the vessel, and upon looking out found that it was stranded upon the side of some mountain; upon which he immediately quitted it with his wife, his daughter, and the pilot. Ziusudra then paid his adoration to the earth: and having constructed an altar, offered sacrifices to the gods, and, with those who had come out of the vessel with him, disappeared.
   They, who remained within, finding that their companions did not return, quitted the vessel with many lamentations, and called continually on the name of Ziusudra. Him they saw no more; but they could distinguish his voice in the air, and could hear him admonish them to pay due regard to religion; and likewise informed them that it was upon account of his piety that he was translated to live with the gods; that his wife and daughter, and the pilot, had obtained the same honour. To this he added, that they should return to Babylonia; and, as it was ordained, search for the writings at Sippar, which they were to make known to all mankind: moreover that the place, wherein they then were, was the land of Armenia. The rest having heard these words, offered sacrifices to the gods; and taking a circuit, journeyed towards Babylonia.
   The vessel being thus stranded in Armenia, some part of it yet remains in the Ararat mountains of Armenia; and the people scrape off the bitumen, with which it had been outwardly coated, and make use of it by way of an alexipharmic and amulet. And when they returned to Babylon, and had found the writings at Sippar, they built cities, and erected temples: and Babylon was thus inhabited again.

They say that the first inhabitants of the earth, glorying in their own strength and size, and despising the gods, undertook to raise a tower whose top should reach the sky, in the place in which Babylon now stands: but when it approached the heaven, the winds assisted the gods, and overthrew the work upon its contrivers: and its ruins are said to be still at Babylon: and the gods introduced a diversity of tongues among men, who till that time had all spoken the same language: and a war arose between Ea and the giants. The place in which they built the tower is now called Babylon, on account of the confusion of the tongues; for confusion is by the Hebrews called Babel.

 After the deluge, in the tenth generation, was a certain man among the Chaldeans renowned for his justice and great exploits, and for his skill in the celestial sciences.

  From the reign of Nabu-nasir only are the Chaldeans (from whom the Greek mathematicians copy) accurately acquainted with the heavenly motions: for Nabu-nasir collected all the mementos of the kings prior to himself, and destroyed them, that the enumeration of the Chaldean kings might commence with him.

When Nabu-apal-usur, Nabu-kudurri-usur's father, heard that the governor, whom he had set over Egypt, and the provinces of Canaan, had revolted, he was determined to punish his delinquencies, and for that purpose entrusted part of his army to his son Nabu-kudurri-usur, who was then of mature age, and sent him forth against the rebel: and Nabu-kudurri-usur engaged and overcame him, and reduced the country again under his dominion. And it came to pass that his father, Nabu-apal-usur, was seized with a disorder which proved fatal, and he died in the city of Babylon, after he had reigned nine and twenty years.  Nabu-kudurri-usur, as soon as he had received intelligence of his father's death, set in order the affairs of Egypt and the other countries, and committed to some of his faithful officers the captives he had taken from the Judahites, and Canaanites, and Syrians, and the nations belonging to Egypt, that they might conduct them with that part of the forces which had heavy armour, together with the rest of his baggage, to Babylonia: in the mean time with a few attendants he hastily crossed the desert to Babylon. When he arrived there he found that his affairs had been faithfully conducted by the Chaldeans, and that the principal person among them had preserved the kingdom for him: and he accordingly obtained possession of all his father's dominions. And he distributed the captives in colonies in the most proper places of Babylonia: and adorned the temple of Bel, and the other temples, in a sumptuous and pious manner, out of the spoils which he had taken in this war. He also rebuilt the old city, and added another to it on the outside, and so far completed Babylon, that none, who might besiege it afterwards, should have it in their power to divert the river, so as to facilitate an entrance into it: and he effected this by building three walls about the inner city, and three about the outer. Some of these walls he built of burnt brick and bitumen, and some of brick only. When he had thus admirably fortified the city, and had magnificently adorned the gates, he added also a new palace to those in which his forefathers had dwelt, adjoining them, but exceeding them in height and splendor. Any attempt to describe it would be tedious: yet notwithstanding its prodigious size and magnificence it was finished within fifteen days. In this palace he erected very high walks, supported by stone pillars; and by planting what was called a pensile paradise, and replenishing it with all sorts of trees, he rendered the prospect an exact resemblance of a mountainous country. This he did to gratify his queen, because she had been brought up in Media, and was fond of a mountainous situation.

   Nabu-kudurri-usur, whilst he was engaged in building the above-mentioned wall, fell sick, and died after he had reigned forty-three years; whereupon his son Amel-Marduk succeeded him in his kingdom. His government however was conducted in an illegal and improper manner, and he fell a victim to a conspiracy which was formed against his life by Nergal-shar-usur, his sister's husband, after he had reigned about two years.
   Upon his death Nergal-shar-usur, the chief of the conspirators, obtained possession of the kingdom, and reigned four years.
   He was succeeded by his son Labashi-Marduk who was but a child, reigned nine months; for his misconduct he was seized by conspirators, and put to death by torture.
   After his death, the conspirators assembled, and by common consent placed the crown upon the head of Nabu-na'id, a man of Babylon, and one of the leaders of the insurrection. It was in his reign that the walls of the city of Babylon which defend the banks of the river were curiously built with burnt brick and bitumen.
   In the seventeenth year of the reign of Nabu-na'id, Kurush came out of Persia with a great army, and having conquered all the rest of the east, advanced hastily into the country of Babylonia. As soon as Nabu-na'id perceived he was advancing to attack him, he assembled his forces and opposed him, but was defeated, and fled with a few of his adherents, and was shut up in the city of Borsippa. Upon this Kurush took Babylon, and gave orders that the outer walls should be demolished, because the city appeared of such strength as to render a siege almost impracticable. From thence he marched to Borsippa, to besiege Nabu-na'id: but Nabu-na'id delivered himself into his hands without holding out the place: he was therefore kindly treated by Kurush, who provided him with an establishment in Karmana, but sent him out of Babylonia. Nabu-na'id accordingly spent the remainder of his life in that country, where he died.

What fragments we have of the history conclude here, but it obviously went on through the Persian kings who ruled Babylon, and then ended with the conquests of Alexander and his triumphant entry into the city.

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