Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Babylonian Creation

This is an extract from the chapter 'Creation' in The Sacred History of Being, published November 2, 2015. The discussion of the Babylonian idea of the Creation in this chapter emphasises that there are several philosophical concepts present in the story we are told. Almost all scholars of Mesopotamian civilisation however, accept the conventional narrative which states that philosophical thought was the creation of the Greeks in the middle of the 1st Millennium B.C.E, and so the presence of philosophical concepts in texts from a much earlier time, and in another place (as here) is not noticed, and is not discussed. Instead of clear and cogent thought, scholars believe that the authors of the Babylonian creation were dealing with loose notions about the cosmos and the world. This is false. The later writings of the Greeks echo earlier ideas from Mesopotamia, and often very closely, as The Sacred History of Being uncovers. 

Thomas Yaeger, February 22, 2018

In Babylonia and Assyria, plenitude could be represented by the waters of ocean. Before ordered generation arose from these waters, there was a primal chaos, which Mesopotamian scholars understood in terms of undifferentiated possibility. The Babylonian priest Berossus, who lived and wrote in Greek most probably during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, describes this primal chaos in terms which emphasise that it is a plenitude (this passage was preserved by Alexander Polyhistor):

There was a time in which there was nothing but darkness and an abyss of waters, wherein resided most hideous beings, which were produced of a two-fold principle. Men appeared with two wings, some with four wings, and two faces. They had one body, but two heads the one of a man, the other of a woman. They were 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; others had the limbs of a horse behind, but before were fashioned like men, resembling hippocentaurs. Bulls, likewise, bred there with the heads of men; and dogs, with fourfold bodies, and the tails of fishes. Also horses, 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 with the limbs of every species of animals. Add to these fishes, reptiles, serpents, with other wonderful animals, which assumed each other's shape and countenance. Of all these were preserved delineations in the temple of Belus at Babylon.

The person, who was supposed to have presided over them, was a woman named Omoroca; which in the Chaldee language is Thalatth; which in Greek is interpreted Thalassa, the sea: but, according to the most true computation, it is equivalent to Selene, the moon. All things being in this situation, Belus came, and cut the woman asunder: and, out of one half of her, he formed the earth, and of the other half the heavens; and at the same time he destroyed the animals in the abyss. 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 (Belus), above-mentioned, cut off his own head; upon which the other gods mixed the blood, as it gushed out, with the earth; and from thence men were formed. On this account it is that men are rational, and partake of divine knowledge. This Belus, whom men call Dis, (or Pluto,) divided the darkness, and separated the heavens from the earth, and reduced the universe to order. But the animals so recently created, not being able to bear the prevalence of light, died.

Alexander Heidel points out that thalatth in the foregoing passage, “... is obviously a scribal error.”  [i]  He says that the form thamte corresponds to the Babylonian tamtu, denoting the sea, the ocean, or Tiamat, which is the personification of the primordial sea or ocean. Heidel notes that Omoroka is a title of Tiamat  [ii]  –   Heidel also observes that the emended form of Omoroka in the Greek text is Omorka, which has the same numerical value (by gematria) as ‘Selene’ (the moon).  [iii]

Belus upon this, seeing a vast space quite uninhabited, though by nature very fruitful, ordered one of the gods to take off his head; and when it was taken off, they were to mix the blood with the soil of the earth, and from thence to form other men and animals, which should be capable of bearing the light. Belus also formed the stars, and the sun and the moon, together with the five planets.

It is interesting to compare again Plato’s account of the creation of the universe:

When He (Theos) took over all that was visible, seeing that it was not in a state of rest but in a state of discordant and disorderly motion, He brought it into order out of disorder, deeming that the former state is in all ways better than the latter. For Him who is most good it neither was nor is permissible to perform any action save what is fair. As He reflected, therefore, He perceived that of such creatures as are by nature visible, none that is irrational will be fairer, comparing wholes with wholes, than the rational; and further, that reason cannot possibly belong to any apart from Soul. So because of this reflection He constructed reason within soul and soul within body as He fashioned the All, that so the work He was executing might be of its nature most fair and most good.  [iv]

These accounts are essentially consonant, in that they relate an initial state of discord in creation, as we read already in the text of Berossus:

... there were creatures with the limbs of every species of animals. Add to these fishes, reptiles, serpents, with other wonderful animals, which assumed each other's shape and countenance.

These were not to be tolerated as part of the creation, though they were implicit in the ground of Being. They do not make sense in terms of a rational creation. Note the sentence: “add to these fishes, reptiles, serpents, with other wonderful animals, which assumed each other's shape and countenance.” in the Babylonian account (my emphasis). This makes it clear that these animals are the product of a plenitude, a totality, in which all possible combinations are, at the least, potential and latent. But they are to be destroyed in favour of a rational creation. This might be taken to imply that they possess the same degree of reality as the rational creatures which are to succeed them. Though they can have no practical existence.  By contrast the creation of men is due to the intervention of a god, who thereby made men rational. Berossus further connects this rationality with the ability to understand the workings of the divine....

[End of extract]

[i] Heidel, A. The Babylonian Genesis, p77, footnote 85
[ii] Op cit. footnote 84, p 77.
[iii] Op cit. footnote 86, p77.
[iv] Plato, Timaeus, 30a–b.

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