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Sumerian creation myth

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The earliest record of the Sumerian creation myth and flood myth is found on a single fragmentary tablet excavated in Nippur, sometimes called the Eridu Genesis. It is written in the Sumerian language and datable by its script to 2150 BC,[1] during the first Babylonian dynasty, where the language of writing and administration was still Sumerian. Other Sumerian creation myths from around this date are called the Barton Cylinder, the Debate between sheep and grain and the Debate between Winter and Summer, also found at Nippur.[2]

Summary

Where the tablet picks up, the gods An, Enlil, Enki and Ninhursanga create the black-headed people and create comfortable conditions for the animals to live and procreate. Then kingship descends from heaven and the first cities are founded: Eridu, Bad-tibira, Larsa, Sippar, and Shuruppak.

After a missing section in the tablet, we learn that the gods have decided not to save mankind from an impending flood. Zi-ud-sura, the king and gudug priest, learns of this. In the later Akkadian version, Ea, or Enki in Sumerian, the god of the waters, warns the hero (Atra-hasis in this case) and gives him instructions for the ark. This is missing in the Sumerian fragment, but a mention of Enki taking counsel with himself suggests that this is Enki's role in the Sumerian version as well.

When the tablet resumes it is describing the flood. A terrible storm rocks the huge boat for seven days and seven nights, then Utu (the Sun god) appears and Zi-ud-sura creates an opening in the boat, prostrates himself, and sacrifices oxen and sheep.

After another break the text resumes: the flood is apparently over, the animals disembark and Zi-ud-sura prostrates himself before An (sky-god) and Enlil (chief of the gods), who give him eternal life and take him to dwell in Dilmun for "preserving the animals and the seed of mankind". The remainder of the poem is lost.[3]

Legacy

The two flood myths with many similarities to the Sumerian story, are the Utnapishtim episode in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Biblical flood. The ancient Greeks also had a very similar flood legend.

Ziusudra and Xisuthros

Zi-ud-sura is known to us from the following sources:

  • From the Sumerian Flood myth discussed above.
  • In reference to his immortality in some versions of The Death of Gilgamesh[4]
  • Again in reference to his immortality in The Poem of Early Rulers[5]
  • As Xisuthros (or Xisouthros, Ξίσουθρος) in Berossus' Hellenistic account of the Ancient Near East Flood myth, preserved in later excerpts.
Xisuthros was also included in Berossus' king list, also preserved in later excerpts.
  • As Ziusudra in the WB-62 recension of the Sumerian king list. This text diverges from all other extant king lists by listing the city of Shuruppak as a king, and including Ziusudra as "Shuruppak's" successor.[6]
  • A later version of a document known as The Instructions of Shuruppak[7] refers to Ziusudra.[8]

In both of the late-dated king lists cited above, the name Zi-ud-sura was inserted immediately before a flood event included in all versions of the Sumerian king list, apparently creating a connection between the ancient Flood myth and a historic flood mentioned in the king list. However, no other king list mentions Zi-ud-sura.

See also

Notes

  1. pp. 202-203 in Davila, J. R. (1995). The flood hero as king and priest. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 54(3), 199-214.
  2. Ewa Wasilewska (2000). Creation stories of the Middle East. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp. 146–. ISBN 9781853026812. http://books.google.com/books?id=sMj1tyho3CoC&pg=PA146. Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  3. Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Fluckiger-Hawker, E, Robson, E., and Zólyomi, G. (1998) The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. Oxford.
  4. http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.1.8.1.3# Translation of versions of The Death of Gilgamesh
  5. http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.5.2.5# Translation of The Poem of Early Rulers
  6. George, A. R. (2003) The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts. Oxford University Press
  7. http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.5.6.1# Translation of The Instructions of Shuruppak
  8. Speculated by Samuel Noah Kramer as deriving from sources from as early as 2500 BC, Kramer concluded that "Ziusudra had become a venerable figure in literary tradition by the middle of the third millennium B.C." , (Samuel Noah Kramer "Reflections on the Mesopotamian Flood," Expedition, 9, 4, (summer 1967), pp 12-18.)

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