Saturday, 22 May 2021

Akkad at 110k - The Great Flood

Art by Annamieka Hopps Davidson

Took Akkad over the 110k mark a few days back.

Thought I'd share a couple of research points that I've found really interesting. 

The last part of this book is an epic tale of war and conquest. I was having a tough time waging war against Sumer because Akkad needed more of an army than it had, and I wanted to move some men from Ebla, in the north, to assist. Only, that's at least three weeks' hard ride away. In order for the armies to arrive in time, they needed to start moving ahead of the showdown. The only way I could think to do this was to send a message by bird. However, paper hadn't been invented and a pigeon couldn't exactly carry a slab of clay in its beak. They might have painted messages on cloth, but I didn't want to get too creative about that. I didn't even know if the Akkadians had homing pigeons. When I looked it up, I was fairly surprised to discover they did:

In 2350 B.C.E. King Sargon of Akkadia—the present Iraq—ordered each messenger to carry a homing pigeon. If the messenger was about to be captured, he released the pigeon, which flew back to the palace. Its arrival meant another messenger should be sent. - Sarah Woodbury

That certainly made things a lot easier. Though, I assume the pigeon had an identifying leg tag or something to explain who it belonged to. A man about to be captured might have had trouble writing down what happened in time to send the bird. 

Still, the Akkadians appear to have invented empires, kick-ass bows, and the world's first ever automated bounce message.

The second thing I want to talk about is the flood myth. 

I've been aware for many years that the Noah's Ark story in the Bible is based on a Mesopotamian flood myth, but I had no idea just how closely they'd copied that one. There's a few versions, but the one from The Epic of Gilgamesh is the closest to Noah's Ark, predating it by around 2,000 years. That's as far before the crucifixion of Christ as we are after it today. A long time in terms of human lifespan. You can find a full translation here, with the flood story starting on P.43. Utnapishtim is the Noah of that story. There are a couple of earlier versions, namely that of Ziusudra, but Utnapishtim is the closest to the bible story. You can find a fascinating breakdown, including full texts, here.

So, some of the things that you'd expect to end in a publishing lawsuit today:

The most striking similarity is the near-identical deck areas of the three arks: 14,400 cubits2, 14,400 cubits2, and 15,000 cubits2 for Atrahasis, Utnapishtim, and Noah, only 4% different. - Wiki

The end of the flood and finding land:

A raven was released and apparently never returned... Noah sends out the dove one more time: “Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore.” The dove had no need to return to the ark, since it had found a home on land... The raven served as a first attempt to discover dry land, and the dove became Noah’s way of determining when to leave the ark.

- Got Questions 

When a seventh day arrived
I sent forth a dove and released it.
The dove went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
I sent forth a swallow and released it.
The swallow went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
I sent forth a raven and released it.
The raven went off, and saw the waters slither back.

So, the raven went first and the dove found land for Noah, but in the original, the dove went first and the raven found land. 

Now for a few key differences.

In the original, they talk about the boat coming to rest on Mount Nimush. Mount Nimush is known today as Pir Omar Gudrun in Southern Kurdistan. 

Around the 11th century, Christians decided that the mountain was Mount Ararat in present-day Turkey. However:

Many historians and Bible scholars agree that "Ararat" is the Hebrew name of Urartu, the geographical predecessor of Armenia; they argue that the word referred to the wider region at the time and not specifically to Mount Ararat. - Wiki

Since when has geography ever stood in the way of a good story? Plus, as I discovered on my own trip to Armenia, it was the first country ever to become Christian in 301 AD. There is even an Ararat Distillery, where Churchill and Stalin both ordered their cognac from.

Moving on. After the flood, Noah was said to live to the age of 950. That's twenty years on the first man, Adam, who made it to 930, but a few years shy of the eldest member of the cast, Methuselah, at the slightly chucklesome age of 969.

Mind you, none of them holds a light to half the kings in the Sumerian King List, such as Alulim, who reportedly reigned for 28,800 years, or En-men-lu-ana, who reigned for 43,200 years. You can imagine the conversation between the scribes:

"Man, nobody's gonna believe a king can live that long. We need to revise down to something believable in the next bestseller..."

"Yeah, you're right. How about nine-hundred years?"

"Sure, that sounds feasible."

As you've probably guessed, at least in the King List, it was a translation error. Years weren't being recorded in units of one, but in units of sars (3,600), ners (600), and sosses (60).

Xisuthros was listed as a king, the son of one Ardates, and to have reigned 18 saroi. One saros (shar in Akkadian) stands for 3600 and hence 18 saroi was translated as 64,800 years. A saroi or saros is an astrologolical term defined as 222 lunar months of 29.5 days or 18.5 lunar years equal to 17.93 solar years. - Wiki

Some apologists explain these extreme ages as ancient mistranslations that converted the word "month" to "year", mistaking lunar cycles for solar ones: this would turn an age of 969 years into a more reasonable 969 lunar months, or about 78.3 solar years. - Wiki

Whilst these guys were haggling over numbers, all the heroes of the original flood myth were granted eternal life for their hard work. Both Utnapishtim and his wife attained godhood. In the bible, Noah just gets three sons for saving the human race... weigh up that one: immortality v. three sons. There's a lot to be said for the old ways. 

If anyone was wondering - Bahrain. That's where the world came into being. Bahrain is an island in the Persian Gulf, formerly known as Dilmun. Seat of the gods and all worldly power. Paradise on earth and possibly the original Garden of Eden. Once international travel returns, you can probably get a package tour.

Whilst Noah was entirely focused on saving animals and his own family, Utnapishtim also rounded up as many craftspeople as he could, knowing that the new world would need things like carpenters, brickmakers and artists. 

One thing the EoG does clarify though, is something I always wondered about: whilst floating about on that ark, what on earth did they eat?

Well, the epic deals with logistics. The sun god Shamash took care of that: 

In the morning he let loaves of bread shower down,
and in the evening a rain of wheat

So, they all ate very well. Except the carnivores, who probably ate each other.

It's been really interesting reading through all of this and the above are just the highlights. It ties in quite closely with my theories on the origins of imigongo. Something cropped up in the above story that lends strength to the early migration theory from Sumer to Central Africa, but I'll devote another post to that.

Meanwhile, time to get back to that novel.

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