Good question--is Genesis merely a rip-off of other ANE lit?

[Series Index: gilgymess.html // Last update: to this piece Nov 20/ 2005]

Part12: Methodological issues in [TS:250-255]: Tigay vs Lambert/Millard on the evidential value of "differences" (gilgy10.html)

In an article entitled “On Evaluating Claims of Literary Borrowing” (in [TS]), Jeffrey Tigay takes issue with Lambert/Millard, on the relevance of ‘differences” between texts and their would-be sources.

His argument runs something like this:

He singles out Lambert/Millard as being representatives of this methodological flaw.

A close examination of Tigay’s argument, assumptions, and data, to see to what extent the data fits the case he is trying to address (that of biblical borrowing from Mesopotamian literature, especially in the flood story and other cosmogonic texts) leads to the conclusion that his argument 'needs a little work' (or at least more relevant ‘control data’) for it to sustain the semi-sweeping conclusion he reaches in that article:

This brief survey shows that the peripheral versions of Mesopotamian literary texts may not only differ from the Mesopotamian versions in detail, but that they may abbreviate them or even modify them in accordance with their own ideology and local interests, precisely as the Bible appears to have done… it means that an alleged relationship between a Biblical text or motif and some ancient Near Eastern counterpart cannot be refuted simply by pointing to differences between the two, even if they are numerous.” [p.254, 255]

Tigay is not unaware of the dangers in this, of course, and tries to set some guidelines to ‘restrain’ this approach. The most obvious one has to do with the relative amount of similarities and differences. For example, if I ‘alleged’ borrowing between the Genesis Flood story and some Sumerian love-spell, the differences would be 100%, and the similarities zero. In this case, the differences were decisive—so there is some obvious boundary (albeit fuzzy or porous) beyond which difference CAN ‘simply’ defeat a (unsupported or weakly supported list of similarities).

Tigay himself, of course, frequently uses differences (in the context of lack of similarities--a key point) in Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic to determine the likelihood of literary borrowing. For examples:

Just how the Akkadian Gilgamesh narratives are related to the Sumerian tales is a matter of conjecture. Verbal similarities between the Sumerian and Akkadian versions are so few that one could assume that whoever wrote the Akkadian texts never saw the Sumerian ones, but had only heard of their themes or rough outlines.6 Conceivably the Akkadian narratives were not based on written Sumerian narratives at all, but were derived independently...” [HI:EGE:41; Note: one might compare his 'verbal few' argument to the data we surveyed on the Flood traditions earlier, in gilgy9.html (smile)]


From two or three other Sumerian compositions, the Old Babylonian author drew only themes, not their plots. Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld supplied the theme of Enkidu's death and Gilgamesh's grief. However, in the Old Babylonian version the circumstances of Enkidu's death are changed completely and with Enkidu now changed from servant to bosom friend, Gilgamesh's grief is magnified to the point of distraction.” [HI:EGE:53. Note: Thematic borrowing might not actually BE 'literary' borrowing, withing topoi or genre...We will see later that such changes are part of a 'school competition' mindset, as opposed to a 'high literary convention'.]


Differences between these fragments suggest that they do not represent a single Middle Babylonian version, but rather two or three intermediate stages between the Old Babylonian version known to us and the late version.” [HI:EGE:120]

So, we must infer that when Tigay says “an alleged relationship” he MUST be meaning “an alleged relationship supported by strong verbal similarities”. Differences. without accompanying 'strong verbal parallels' (or perhaps other VERY strong textual data--e.g. Identical thematic sequence when not dictated by genre or topoi), will ALWAYS be decisive. In the case of Tigay's article, he HAD 'strong basis for identification'--the very title, plot, main character's name, and the supporting cast! So, the differences he was discussing DID occur in such an unusually 'convenient' (although possibly 'artificial') context. In this case, the differences are dwarfed by the similarities/parallels (including generous helpings of verbal identity)--a situation grossly inverse from the biblical case, and from much of the intra-Meso-x cases. [One wonders at the outset how representative this could possibly be for ANY literature in the ANE, much less for the Semitic biblical texts.]

With this obvious (but critical) qualification in mind, let’s look at Tigay’s analysis.

Technically speaking, our approach should be to ask three questions:

  1. Did the cross-language translators of GE make as-radical-as-alleged-for-Genesis changes in the story (as per Tigay)?

  2. Does this fact reveal literary conventions?

  3. What (if any) relevance could/would the answer to these two questions have to the question of “did the biblical authors borrow material from Meso-x sources”?

The way these questions are answered in his article can be syllogized-out as an argument from analogy:

  1. There were literary conventions which would allow a cross-language translator/re-teller of a literary text to make changes to that text and still identify it as being the same 'text', and there were authorial motives which prompted cross-language translators of GE to exploit such conventions by making significant/relevant changes within their textual production.

  2. [The composing of Genesis from putative Meso-X sources is analogous to cross-language translating of GE, and therefore the same conventions were available to the composer of Genesis.]

  3. Therefore, the presence of differences between Genesis and its putative sources may reflect either an exploitation of these conventions or a non-use of those sources.

  4. Furthermore, differences between Genesis and its putative sources cannot in themselves specify the use of sources or not.

And the premise of this argument (#1) resulted from the following argument:

  1. There is a massive amount of identical material between the 'source GE' and the 'translated GE': exact verbal parallels, identical character names and epithets, identical plot and geographical sequences, parallel scene descriptions, and identical in-text explanatory material.

  2. Therefore, the 'source GE' was indisputably the source of the 'translated GE'.

  3. There is a minor amount (but still significant and explainable by authorial intent) of differences between the source and the translation.

  4. [The introduction of such differences in such an act of 'translation' was 'acceptable': it was not an ethical or literary 'no-no' to do such.]

  5. [The introduction of such differences in such an act of 'translation' was 'customary': it was done frequently, and was not a unique act by this one translator (i.e., we could expect others to do it).]

There are two major problems that come immediately to my mind: (1) the issue of genre and (2) the issue of closeness of analogy..


One. The Issue of Genre.

This, IMO, mutes the force of his argument. Significant-change-within-identity is NOT acceptable/customary in all genres, by any means, and thus any valid patterns demonstrated by Tigay would not automatically apply anyway. One would need another step to show 'genre-match' (the problem of analogy, below).

When 'making derivative works' from some original, the genre of that work radically conditions and/or constrains how much 'difference' is allowed. So, at one extreme pole of genre--legal contracts, economic receipts, group charter documents (e.g., law codes, treaties, constitutions, membership lists), land-entitlement genealogies, history, and religious creeds/pledge recitals--there is essentially NO 'content' variation (and very little formal variation, if any) allowed in copies, translations, etc. These genres have an explicit social function which is very 'this worldly'. (Even religious creeds function in this way, when the insiders and outsiders are differentiated on the basis of adherence to a specific creed, with even the precise meanings of the words being specified as well. Any Nicea-like subtleties are simply not allowed!).

Regarding the Assyrian annals, a mural painting in the palace at Til Barsip represents two "military" scribes watching a battle and taking note of the events; one of them is writing on a tablet in cuneiform, with a stylus, while the other is writing with a pen on a scroll, probably in Aramaic alphabetic script. It is probable that scribes noted from day to day the episodes of campaigns at which they were present and that these "notes" were subsequently consulted at the time of the composition of annals. Mesopotamian historians nevertheless privileged the written account. In Mesopotamian law, this substituted quite naturally for oral testimony, and judges accorded to the "speech" of the tablet the same value as the declaration of an eyewitness. Moreover, was not the written memory, which was not set down until what it recorded was read and scrupulously verified, an integral part of the system of apprenticeship? ... Thus historians copied official texts, royal correspondence, or oracular utterances of a historical nature. They drew up chronological or genealogical lists, dynastic lists, or lists of year names. All these works could be, if not sketches for chronicles or the starting point for history, at least the beginnings of archives. And they also composed archives. it has been shown, for example, that from the correspondence of the empire of Ur, only the letters dealing with the Amorite question were selected for study and copying, the task of copying them entering the curriculum of the apprentice scribes in their schools in the Old Babylonian period. ... Since history was supposed to preserve a sure memory of the past, its norms of credibility had to be established. The first task of the historian consisted, therefore, in the faithful citation of the material being copied and the correct identification of sources. To be more precise, when it was a matter of the reproduction of a document or the compilation of sources, the copyist or compiler had to guard against any personal contribution or addition, however minimal.” [OT:MC:14]

Isolated inscriptions were written on small tablets, and collections of inscriptions were arranged in uncertain chronological order on large tablets. This genre, particularly esteemed in the Old Babylonian schools of Nippur and Ur, was practiced over two whole millennia: the earliest examples known date from the end of the third millennium. In every period the inscriptions of the kings of Akkade and Ur were the most prized... Comparison of the original and the copy, when possible, demonstrates the remarkable fidelity of the latter, which reproduces with great attention to detail the original document, maintaining the original grammar and layout of lines.” [OT:MC:15f; Note: he notes that the exceptions have to do with intrusion of memory aids and shorthand.]

The historian also transferred a piece of information from one branch of knowledge to another, from archives to a narrative.” [OT:MC:15; Note: this principle would allow a Genesis author to move from genealogical-based (toledoth) records to narratives, still under the rubric of 'history'.]

We might also point out that law collections typically vary only in the prologues (other than minor variants) for obvious reasons.

On the other extreme end might be jokes (“That's a funny joke, but in the version I heard the frog dancing the cha-cha was Michael Moore, instead of Howard Stern.”), generic plot fiction (e.g., detective stories, rags-to-riches stories), parables, non-historical and moralistic fiction, and fill-in-the-blank 'form' genres (e.g., marketing letters, G-R praise encomium , inauguration oaths).

One doesn't complain if you change the 'joke target' from Stern to Moore, but if you try to change the price in a contract, the penalty in a law, or some proposition in a religious creed, you might be assaulted and/or arrested! Some genres are more forgiving of deliberate modifications (indeed, some, like spoof, encourage 'mimicry'/mimesis---although it must be obvious to the reader what the 'background referent' is).

Unfortunately for Tigay's argument, an epic tale of a legendary (by that point) culture hero like Gilgamesh falls closer to the 'non-historical and moralistic fiction' category, and as such, differences are 'no big deal' anyway. No one even expects a bard to recite the tale 'word for word'--it is not something to 'fight over' (like a creed, treaty, contract, national history, or receipt). Scribal students might be beaten in school for missing a word in making a copy, but this was only because it was during 'orthography practice'! They could later change it anyway they wanted, but when the school exercise said wedge-for-wedge and logogram-for-logogram, then every slip was a liability to punishment or censure. Without copyright laws (generally speaking), for a professional copyist to make minor wording changes to a work of epic fiction would be no big deal--but a change to a royal inscription, deed, or enthronement ceremony ritual would be felonious, if not fatal.

And GE is clearly in the 'entertainment' category, as an 'epic' about a specific individual.

The work is classed as an epic because it features the heroic exploits of a dimly historical figure with, on the sidelines, gods and goddesses who sometimes take a part in the action, and occasionally direct mortal affairs; nevertheless, we gain an overall impression of the free will of man which can fashion its own destiny and occasionally thwart the wishes of heaven. There is no suggestion anywhere that the epic was performed or recited as part of a ceremony or ritual. The specific purpose for which it was composed is a difficult question, but the general purpose for which the epic and its constituent stories existed in oral form is very probably entertainment, whether in royal courts, in private houses, around the camp-fires of desert caravans, or on the long sea voyages between the Indus and the head of the Arabian Gulf... So extensive in duration and distance were those journeys in both ancient and medieval times, that a long story in which old folk-tales were given a new and compelling setting, skilfully recombined to create a coherent whole, was wonderful entertainment.” [OT:MM:39-40]

The fashioning around the character of Gilgames of a majestic epic poem, with its great, uniting themes of power and kingship, wilderness and civilization, friendship and love, victory and arrogance, death and life, man and god--this was a Babylonian achievement... This is not to say that I reject any notion that the Epic of Gilgames had for some a symbolic or mystical significance; it may well have done. But if it did so, it was a secondary development. Whatever it may have become, the poem itself has its origins in oral entertainment, not in any theological or intellectual pursuit.” [OT:BGE:20,51-52]

This can even be seen in the fact that it was not used for content in higher education, especially not when the student's worldview was being constructed. It--like most of the cosmogonic texts we have studied--were not really 'taken seriously' as religious or foundational documents. When secondary students got past the 'fun literature' stage, they abandoned the GE (and most of the cosmogonic mythic texts) for content purposes [as time progressed, however, it began to be copied because of its antiquarian 'academic difficulty' value.] Consider this description by AR George of GE's fare in Mesopotamian education:

... [I]t was little known in antiquity. Other works of Babylonian literature-the Creation Epic, for example are known from many more manuscripts and thus seem to have been demonstrably more popular in antiquity. Another factor that informs the claim that the poem did not enjoy great popular acclaim is a perception that the epic was poorly represented in first-millennium schools, where the text was neither much used to practise writing nor often quoted by Babylonian scholars in oral teaching. Only a single passage from Standard Babylonian Gilgames appears on the extant Late Babylonian school exercise tablets, and lines from the text are, so far, cited only twice in the commentaries that derive from the oral instruction of scholar-teachers." [OT:BGE:34]

A new study of the first-millennium. school tablets that derive from Babylon, Sippar, Kis, Ur and Uruk shows that then the elementary training of learner scribes fell into two phases. Two distinct repertoires of texts were written on two different types of tablet. On this evidence the less advanced of these phases was mostly given over to mastering the basic syllabary and lexicon but included the essential pantheon, the study of proverbs and an acquaintance with a very limited group of literary texts. These literary texts constituted a minor element in the first phase of instruction, for they are present on only a tiny number of the extant tablets. They include Gilgames, the birth-legend of Sargon, the Cuthean Legend of Naram-Sin, the literary letter once known as the Weidner Chronicle, a literary letter of Samsuiluna, and the Poor Man of Nippur. Oral versions of the legends of Gilgames, Sargon and Nardin-Sin were probably well known to Babylonian children, and their early exposure to written texts about these fabled heroes of remotest antiquity in the first level of schooling sought to take advantage of this familarity. The humorous Poor Man of Nippur, widely circulated in antiquity, would also have been a familiar and entertaining tale. One may safely observe that young children will always show interest in a good story... The second phase of elementary instruction exposed the student to much more literature, for the tablets typical of this phase often include several passages from different literary texts. When considered against the traditional body of literature passed down through the generations, however, the corpus of texts studied at this point was restricted. Apart from vocabularies and other advanced lexical texts it comprised principally compositions that extol Marduk and Babylon (notably Enuma elis, Ludlul bel nemeqi, the Marduk prayers and Tintir = Babylon) and texts related to exorcism. Its purpose, then, was to fill the student's mind with the theological and political ideology current in the capital and to prepare him for an apprenticeship as a junior asipu a position that we know from colophons was held by many novice scribes. As far as exposure to literature goes, the storytelling that characterized the first phase has given way to more serious matters, the inculcation of a world-view and the acquisition of practical expertise... What emerges from study of Late Babylonian school tablets is that the Epic of Gilgames was not alone in being poorly represented as a copybook during the second phase of instruction. It seems that many traditional texts, including all the old mythological narratives such as Etana, Adapa, Anzu, Nergal and Erekigal and Atra-hasis, were completely ignored in elementary education. I believe that this was not because they were unpopular but because they did not suit the pedagogical needs of primary training in the first millennium BC.” [OT:BGE:35-36; Note--when it came time to learn something 'real', GE and many of its fellow-entertainment texts were 'ignored'. They were fun literature, but not something 'sacred' or 'serious'

Most of these literary works are just for the scribal class/intellectual elite, and are 'art for art's sake'--nothing to be 'zealous' about:

For whom did these scribes compose their texts? Certainly not for ordinary citizens, who could neither read nor write. For the government? Not likely, because priests, kings, judges, and governors were illiterate. In the entire history of Mesopotamia only three kings claimed to be literate-Ashurbanipal, Lipit Ishtar, and Shulgi-and the evidence does not support the boast. Court scribes for Ashurbanipal had to explain simple Sumerian logograms for him, and Shulgi's claim appears in a context of other things equally unlikely, like running from Nippur to Ur. Did scribes write for themselves? It seems probable that the vast majority of scribal texts were art for art's sake, hence read only as writing exercises. Exceptions did occur, such as hymns and laments for use in the temples. An exclusivism among the scribes prompted them to guard writing zealously and even make it more complicated. For example, the person who inscribed the statue of Idrimi showed off his knowledge by seldom writing the same sign twice in the identical form. Nevertheless, popular proverbs were collected by the scribes, thus infusing the elite culture with elements from the masses.” [OT:EIAI:20f]

Scribes thus accumulated and codified knowledge for their masters and perpetuated their own craft through education; but they also wrote on their own account, creating the kinds of texts that would typically comprise the contents of a library. It is hardly surprising that an urban elite should develop its own culture, distinct from the rural culture of the peasants and, importantly, distinct from the ruling class that it served. Its stories, its values, and its skills will have differed from those of village, but also in some respects from temple and court as well, because its economic interests and its intellectual horizons were different. For example, religion for the scribe will have been, professionally, an instrument of political ideology and of intellectual reflection, but not the wellspring of political or social behavior, in which the scribe was guided increasingly by rational and empirical considerations. This culture will have been expressed no doubt partly orally, but also in literary form, in writings created, copied, and cataloged. For this reason it is their culture to which we have a better access than any other.” [OT:HI:SSCHS:18]

But this was true of much of Sumerian literature as well. Vanstiphout, in discussing the The Matter of Aratta can say this:

The conundrum at the end of the previous section can best be approached in relation to broader questions. Who composed these narratives? Why did they do this, and for whom? There is little or no doubt that the poems are the product of the scribal education in the schools, as is the bulk of standard Sumerian literature. This is not to say that they, and other compositions, were necessarily composed by scribes. But their acceptance, public reception, and tradition seem to have been mainly a matter of the schools--whatever the reasons for their initial conception. What is more, they belong to the core of the Nippur literary curriculum. This is abundantly clear from the material itself, in the material sense. We know the poems from an ordered variety of tablets. These come overwhelmingly from the Nippur eduba and in smaller numbers from Ur. Their distribution is that of the core material: in nearly all cases we have a few complete editions on large multicolumn (five to six columns per side) single tablets; a few more complete editions composed of multicolumn (three to four columns per side) editions of half or one third of the text; many single column extract tablets (imgida). The writing is almost always small, regular, and careful. There are few mistakes. There are but few alternative spellings and readings. Obvious exercise tablets belonging to the earlier phases of education are conspicuously absent. Furthermore, all four poems are represented in the curricular catalogs, mostly as a group. It follows that the pieces were meant for the scholars themselves and represented the final and highest step in their scribal education. It also follows that these poems, as is also the case with the other members of the core curriculum, were not studied for life, but for schooling...” [OT:ESK:13]

This scribal class was known for trying to 'impress itself' (perhaps out of boredom from the administrative tasks). They are constantly involved in puns and subtle word-play [HI:PAP], creating scribal-only humor (cf. The Praise of the Pickaxe), going for the 'witty' effect (“Such [cosmogonic] disputations were learned and witty and were intended, most probably, for the entertainment of the king and his court; in the case of Tree and Reed, the king was Shulgi (2046-1998 B.C.)” [OT:CAANEB,25] ), and engaging in humor, ridicule, and satire (even of priests and kings!):

Humor opens infinite ranges to an original and satirical thinker. The spoof incantation against a bleating goat (11-32) develops well-established magical themes and language in a ridiculous way, and was surely the product of some earthy mind wearied of magical lore. At the Cleaners (11-7) and the Gilgamesh Letter (IV.20; “a parody on the Assyrian royal style”) are likewise humorous texts. When humor shades off into satire, an elusive genre, a text such as the Dialogue of Pessimism (IV. 18) results.” [BTM:23].

Jokes about professions or social ineptitude in the ancient Near East were usually told from the point of view of scribes or literate folk who felt that their training made them superior to those whose work did not require writing.” [OT:CANE:2461, “Humor and Wit in the Ancient Near East”, Foster]

A Babylonian buffoon, parodying an exorcist, brags that he can rid any house of a ghost: the procedure consists of burning the house down! ... Kings and their grandiose claims could be satirized; for example, the same Babylonian buffoon claims a heroic journey to distant lands in the style of kings of old. A Babylonian pseudonymous letter in the name of Gilgamesh, the legendary Sumerian king, makes gargantuan demands upon the recipient: 'Send me 70,000 black horses with white stripes, 100,000 mares whose hides have markings like wild tree roots, 40,000 continually gambolling miniature calves, 50,000 teams of dappled mules, 50,000 fine calves with well-turned hooves and horns intact. . . .' ... Priests could also bear the brunt of humor. A singer of Sumerian cultic laments is pilloried for his absurd piety: if his boat sinks, he wishes the river-god enjoyment of his cargo; if he slips and falls, he is doubtful of the propriety of rising, since his mishap was a visitation from heaven.” [OT:CANE:2462-3, “Humor and Wit in the Ancient Near East”, Foster]

In fact, there is no real reason to believe that the scribes actually were 'recording' these stories from oral tradition--they 'look like' they were 'written/scribal' from the start:

There is no concrete indication in Akkadian literary or other texts that an independent oral literature existed, though some scholars believe that oral tradition was important in the formation of Akkadian literature.' No "teller of tales" is mentioned in written Akkadian tradition; in fact, little in Akkadian literature compels reconstructing an oral phase or tradition behind it. There were surely popular traditions that were written down less frequently than more formal literature, if at all. Faced with a dearth of evidence, one can say little about the influence of oral tradition on Akkadian literature.” [BTM:47]

Let me give a quick summary of the educational/scribal dynamic in this period, and then show the data behind that summary:

The way the educational process looked back then divides into two periods: the Old Babylonian and the First-Millennium. These two periods are radically different in character, output, and social dynamic. The OB period had a central academy for scribes, and was characterized by literary creativity. In addition to their administrative 'day jobs', the teachers and students wrote for themselves. There was competition (“top THAT version of Gilgamesh, dude!”) and most of the literature produced during this period was for private-consumption. Students were competitive, always trying to out-do one another before the teacher and their peers--and the academy provided a social setting which encouraged this. From name-calling in debates, to letters home to MOM about how a fellow student had better clothes(!), this setting would have generated 'pressure' to out-do one another in literary accomplishment and/or subtlety. It is during this period that the massive (and non-uniform) creative 'changes' from Gilgy precursors to the Gilgy of the OB are generated--students trying to create the 'best version possible'--King of the Hill. Much of the literature of this period is almost belles lettres--'fun literature', written for enjoyment and appreciation of peers, teachers, and occasionally, rulers [But don't show them the parody on the king!]

In the first millennium, all this changes. The 'fun literature' is now the 'classics' and one cannot change them much. They are to be 'preserved', commented upon, and studied for their archaic forms(!). The Academy no longer exists--it has been replaced by private lessons in the homes of individual teachers. There is no more competition, no more 'top that version', no more incentive for literary creativity. [There is plenty of incentive, however, for reusing archaic texts to portray the ruler as being in the line of venerated and legendary figures, of course! And textual variants of some of the literature in this period are exactly propaganda of this sort.] Copies of ancient texts are no longer copied for their value, but rather as either (a) proof that the scribe can do the work--a la a final exam; or (b) copies for another library as part of a government action. Gone are the days of the joy of introducing sneaky subplots into Gilgamesh or into Nergal, and having your teacher admire the work. Instead, we have the days of over-archaizing a text, making it look 'older' by usage of antiquated forms.

In the OB period, then, there were no 'constraints' on the authors for much of their non-administrative literature. They were free to do whatever they wanted to with their sources--nobody but them saw the versions (unless they were used as entertainment at court somewhere). Indeed, they were almost 'provoked' to do so by the social dynamics of the academy setting.

Let's stop now and look at the data behind this summary--and THEN we will move to the literature which WAS 'under constraint'.

* Competition, Fun-literature, and Top-That-Version:

The arts of verbal offense and defense often use humor to parody or ridicule another. In Sumerian school debates, for example, the interlocutors plied each other with elaborately artificed insults about each other's genealogy, appearance, and level of education, presumably with an eye to raising a laugh in the gallery. An example begins, "He is spawn of a dog, seed of a wolf, stench of a mongoose, a helpless hyena's whelp, a carapaced fox, an addlepated mountain monkey whose reasoning is nonsensical." [OT:CANE:2464, “Humor and Wit in the Ancient Near East”, Foster]

The Babylonian mythic story of Nergal and Ereshkigal provides an instance of a narrative being reworked with the addition of a subplot that is not without elements of humor. In an earlier version of this story, the god Nergal takes over the netherworld by a heroic feat: he stations various demons at the gates of the netherworld, then rushes in, seizes Ereshkigal, queen of the netherworld, but refrains from killing her in return for marriage. In a later version, he comes as a guest to the netherworld, becomes aroused at Ereshkigal's stripping to take a bath, and has intercourse with her for seven days and nights. Then he slips away and leaves her at dawn. When she arises in a leisurely fashion and calls for the rooms to be freshened and breakfast to be served, she learns that her lover has absconded. In a bitter lament, with tears dripping off the end of her nose, she sets forth her isolation and sexual frustration as queen of the dead and demands her lover back at any price. This part of the story is told with both humor and pathos, and adds considerable emotional interest to an otherwise sim[p]le tale.” [OT:CANE:2468, “Humor and Wit in the Ancient Near East”, Foster]

A more complex case is provided by a subplot in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which might be subtitled "What Every Woman Knows." Here each turn in Gilgamesh's progress is made possible by the intervention of a woman, not by the hero's valor or intelligence. A harlot brings him his friend, his mother ensures by prayer the outcome of his vainglorious expedition, the wife of a guardian monster lets him through an impasse, a female tavern keeper tells him how to cross the river of death, the wife of the flood hero arranges for him to take home a reward for his expedition to the frontiers of existence. A parody of male vainglorious heroism? A celebration of the importance of female roles in success? No matter how read, it is a treatment of remarkable subtlety, like the best of humor.” [OT:CANE:2468, “Humor and Wit in the Ancient Near East”, Foster. Note: some off these subplot elements were introduced in the SB period--'topping the UR/OB period precursors'. I can imagine a male student having fun with adding the seduction of Enkidu by the prostitute Shamhat--as the means to his education...or with adding the attempted seduction of by Ishtar!]

A small amount of a late version from Uruk, possibly as late as the Seleucid period, mainly covers an episode which is not yet extant in the standard version, so it is uncertain to what extent the Akkadian epic remained unchanged in its written form after the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC. [OT:MM, 46, 47]

* Change from OB 'Fun' to 1st-millennium rigid “Classics”:

After the Old Babylonian period, the academy as an institution died out. The heretofore uniform school curriculum became less clearly defined and less widespread in its application. Although texts describing the educational process ceased to be produced, students continued to receive formal education from masters of the scribal arts. Scholars instructed pupils in their homes or in smaller schools. Some of these were located in proximity to the place in which scribes fulfilled their professional duties, for example, the private study of a master scribe associated with the temple complex at Hellenistic Uruk.” [OT:CANE:2272, “The Scribes and Scholars of Ancient Mesopotamia”, Pearce]

The ancient texts are marked by a temporal distance. They were not adapted to the needs or the taste of the present. As such this corpus represents an awareness of history. This is the literature of an irrevocable past. The Ur III literature that was used, expanded, and adapted in the Old Babylonian period is a literature that is preserved and read and used, serving to indicate how literature proper is to be written. The two corpora thus display very different relations to the past. Both may be called 'canonical', though in very different senses of the word. The ancient corpus answers our expectation of a text that is faithfully transmitted over many centuries. Two of these compositions--The Instructions of Surrupak and The Kes Temple Hymn--entered the regular Old Babylonian school curriculum and are, therefore, known in numerous copies. There is no indication that their contents were more authoritative--in a moral or religious sense--than other compositions read in school. The corpus that was transmitted from the Ur III period is not 'canonical' in the sense of a closed canon that invites interpretation. It is rather a literary canon, defining what literature is and how new literature is to be produced. As an educational canon it serves to define a class of people. Scribes were identified by their knowledge of Sumerian. As an Old Babylonian proverb says: a scribe who does not know Sumerian, what kind of a scribe is that? The cultural competence expected from a scribe included knowledge of this corpus of literary texts.” [HI:HBB, 17f; Note: the literature was used to show how to create, and not what was 'believed/sacred'. The literature was MEANT to emulated/modified/built-upon.]

First millennium canonical texts do not derive their canonicity from divine sanction or divine inspiration. The few hints at divine inspiration I have mentioned may not be compared to the Biblical model. They are also very different from the canonical body of literary texts the Old Babylonian period. The Old Babylonian Sumerian corpus is a living, changing corpus. The first millennium corpus is more or less closed and textually fixed. There is little new invention, and little adaptation of the received text. The texts are old and authoritative, as is sometimes indicated by the attribution of divine authors or authors from a time past. Their canonicity, their intention and ability to prescribe a direction is not in defining what newly created literature should be like. It is rather in the never-ending project of hermeneutics. ... The comparison between Old Babylonian and first millennium corpora of texts reveals that the notion of text itself developed and changed dramatically. Old Babylonian schools used the heritage from the past freely. They transmitted, re-created, and used the old tradition as inspiration for new compositions. The texts were written, first of all, for educational purposes. The concept of a library does not seem to exist. Knowledge was located in the heads of school masters, not in collections of tablets. First millennium libraries contain repositories of reliable knowledge, knowledge about writing, knowledge about divination. ” [HI:HBB:27f. Note: Oddly enough--for those who believe that Genesis was written in Exilic or Post-exilic periods--this factor would argue that, IF the Hebrew scribes were emulating First-Millennium praxis, THEN they would NOT be 'freely modifying' the past, but rather 'little adapting'! Not only would this argue against Tigay's thesis, but it would all but eliminate all arguments for 'borrowing'--since the putative antecedent Meso-x texts would have had to have been VERY 'identical' to the Genesis narratives. And, of course, we have no such ANE documents even close to the Genesis texts which could have served in this borrowing-direction.]

Moving from court to classroom, we have already seen that in the Old Babylonian period, when scribal training was conducted in Sumerian and used Sumerian set texts, nevertheless some learner scribes were demonstrating very capably that they could set down on clay episodes from Babylonian narrative poetry, whether by extemporizing, by composing from memory or by copying from a master tablet. The text most often selected for this exercise was Gilgames.” [OT:BGE:35; They practiced modifying and expanding GE!]

What is important here is that grammatical and form-critical observations as well as comparison with parallel versions allow one to make careful literary-critical judgments. Throughout the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods [first-mil periods] the scribes who composed and edited "historical" texts were strongly inclined to use previous versions of texts whenever they dealt with the same subject, to change or edit them to suit their own needs or the particular audience for which they were intended, to conflate various kinds of source material or parallel versions with varying degrees of literary skill, and always to be rather rigidly bound by conventions of style, genre, and formulaic expression.” [OT:ISH:64]

The original compositions of the Cassite period [first-mil] are quite different in spirit from the Old Babylonian works, in that the writers were conscious of the fine tradition to which they were heirs. They tended to live in the past, and lacked the inspiration of the earlier works. Even in language this is apparent. Middle Babylonian, the contemporary vernacular, is a development on Old Babylonian, but it was not generally used for literature. A special literary dialect, Standard Babylonian, was created during the Cassite period, which, so far as our knowledge goes, was never a spoken dialect. It appears to be the result of taking Middle Babylonian as a basis and attempting to restore certain Old Babylonian forms. It is a curiosity that some phonetic features are morphologically older than Old Babylonian! There is no possible confusion between Standard and Old Babylonian. As in language, so in style. Self-consciousness results in a striving for stylistic effect, and some Cassite-period compositions are overloaded with rare words. The authors betray their very academic background and training.” [OT:BWL:14]

The language of the poem [Ludlul bel nemeqi , Poem of the Righteous Sufferer] is rich in rare words. The author was steeped in the scholarly lore of his age, including medical texts; some of the pathological terms used are otherwise attested only in diagnostic treatises. The author makes use of every poetic device in the Akkadian repertory. He is fond of wordplays, alliteration, rhyme, intricate parallelism, inclusion by opposites. He develops various elaborate over-arching symbolic frames of reference in his text, among them darkness and light, day and night. He displays his humility throughout his text by various ingenious devices. An ancient commentary and numerous manuscripts from different localities attest to the esteem this composition enjoyed among the educated. ... The product is one of the finest literary monuments of Mesopotamian antiquity.”[BTM:307,8]

* Purpose of Copies was for Exams and Libraries, not out of 'reverence' per se (SB period):

The norm for what we call a library, both in Babylonia and in Assyria [in first-millennium BC], is a collection of tablets stemming from a domestic dwelling, typically tablets accumulated over several generations of a single family in which the men were employed in one or other of the intellectual professions--diviners, exorcists, cult singers-for which literacy had become necessary. The origin of many tablets, their time and place of composition, can often be determined from the colophons typically appended to the main text. And in Late Babylonian colophons of library tablets from Uruk and Babylon we read, time and again, that a given tablet belongs to So-and-so, a professional man, but was actually written out by Such-and-such, his son, nephew or other young relative. Writers of such tablets often explicitly identify themselves in colophons as apprentices or junior professionals. A study of the careers of members of the scholarly families of Uruk in the Persian and Seleucid periods shows that writing scholarly tablets was generally a task for young men; the same tablets' owners, by contrast, were more senior, usually by a whole generation. Another revealing case is the two Middle Assyrian copies of a bilingual hymn to Ninisinna written on the same day by sons of the same father (Junior scribes'); each brother checked the work of the other. It is more plausible to explain this event not as evidence that, for some reason, the father needed two copies of this text, but as witness to a test of the proficiency of scribal apprentices. ... We know that the scribal art in Mesopotamia was, like many a traditional craft, passed down through the generations from father to son. It seems to me very likely that most tablets written by youngsters for their seniors are the final products of a boy's education. They were the proof that he had mastered the art of writing and the immense body of learning that went with it. In this view very many manuscripts of literary texts from the first-millennium sites-- Babylon, Borsippa, Sippar, Uruk, Assur, Sultantepe, Nimrud-whether found in domestic contexts, at the father's place of work or deposited in a temple as a votive gift, are effectively the counterparts of the Sumerian literary tablets from the little houses on Tablet Hill at Nippur. They are the products of scribes of junior rank who had progressed beyond the first two stages of the syllabus and were engaged in advanced study. The Kuyunjik tablets are exceptions. ... Another argument can be marshalled here. It is an accepted fact, though not yet a properly documented one, that the process of scribal education in ancient Mesopotamia was such that it yielded more instances of excerpts and larger sections taken from the beginning of any given text or series of tablets than from the end. Would-be scribes tended to tackle new compositions by starting at the beginning; accordingly, our knowledge of many texts of the scribal tradition is unbalanced. This was so in the second millennium as well as the first, and helps incidentally to explain why comparatively few of the Old and Middle Babylonian tablets of Gilgames are sources for episodes from the second half of the epic. An examination of the first-millennium tablets in this regard is instructive. Seventy-two of the seventy-three manuscripts of the Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgames can be allocated to one or other tablet of the series. Those that come from elsewhere than Nineveh display an interesting distribution. Of the thirty-eight manuscripts in question no fewer than twenty-three are sources for the first third of the series, Tablets I-IV. Only fifteen are sources for Tablets V-XII. Leaving aside the manuscripts from Assyria (Assur, Nimrud and Sultantepe), the distribution of the Late Babylonian sources is even more lopsided: twenty-two for Tablets I-IV and just eight for the remaining eight tablets. Among the tablets from Nineveh a very different picture is seen: the thirty-four manuscripts are distributed exactly in proportion, eleven for Tablets I-IV and twenty-three for the remainder. This analysis supports the idea that the Late Babylonian sources stem from an educational environment. We know that the tablets of Ashurbanipal did not, and it is clear from these figures that at Nineveh there was interest in the series as a whole. ... Against this background the impression that the Babylonian Epic of Gilgames was not used in pedagogy is seen to be false. Looking beyond the Kuyunjik collection, many of the total of nearly forty manuscripts may be the work of young scribes sitting their final examinations, as it were.” [OT:BGE:37f]

And even when it appears in non-Meso-X contexts, it looks like it was ONLY for scribal training--pure writing/language pedagogy or copy-practice (not out of 'reverence for the content'!):

A better view of scribal education at about this time can be had from western centres in Syria and Anatolia. At Emar, Ugarit and Hattusa there is ample evidence for the Akkadian Gilgames. At Emar it occurs as one of a small number of Sumerian and Babylonian literary texts of which copies were kept in the scriptorium excavated in the 1970s. The surviving colophons report that these tablets were the work of advanced scribes, but at least one of the compositions survives in more than one copy. This fact suggests that the function of these texts in the scriptorium was pedagogic, a view that is reinforced by the selection of genres represented, which are typical of scribal training. Copied alongside Gilgames were folk-tale (Enlil and Namzitarra, the Fowler and the Sun God), fable (Tamarisk and Date Palm), other wisdom literature (the Poem of Early Rulers) and traditional sayings (sime milkam), a small corpus of texts that constituted a smattering of literature alongside a great quantity of lexical lists." [OT:BGE:35]

Cuneiform tablets found at Ugarit and at Hattusas show that the training of scribes in cities outside the control of Babylon or of Assyria was by no means a standard one. Each court may have used local, existing written or oral material for its own purposes, adapting it to its needs. This is quite distinct from principles of scholarly scribal tradition within one particular kingdom or empire, which demanded that temple tablets be copied with scrupulous accuracy for a new library, as one of the prerogatives of conquest. [OT:MM, 46, 47. Note how different these two sets of 'conventions' are--one for training exercises, and one for 'public usage']

The surest sign of the epic's popularity as a copy-book lies in the well-observed fact of its appearance in Syria, Palestine and Anatolia in the Late Bronze Age. Only a limited selection of Babylonian literature was studied by boys learning to write cuneiform in the West, though libraries could hold representative selections of a wide spectrum of texts from the scribal tradition. No such text achieved the ubiquity of Gilgames and few others so struck the local people that they produced local versions in Hittite and Hurrian as well as Akkadian.” [OT:BGE:39; Note--the local versions in Hittite and Hurrian can just as easily be explained as school exercises in translation and/or modification--there is no reason to assume it is done out of 'being struck' by the document. It could have been selected because of its length, its non-political message, its range of linguistic forms, even its 'spicy-ness'! (I have German texts in my library which I had to use for translation practice--if someone dug my library up and found them, would they believe I was 'struck by' these works?!) These were texts to learn to read, copy, translate (i.e., they were 'copy-books')--some 'censorship' might have occurred in the process as well.]

So, when Tigay gives his conclusion--that the earlier editors 'felt free' to modify-at-will, but that later editors 'took less liberty'--this could just as easily support an entirely different conclusion: earlier editors were under social 'pressure' to modify-at-will, but later editors wouldn't try to top that last, “really good version” of the SB variety. This model would predict development of a piece (freely) under OB/MB periods, and less 'embellishment/improvement' after (1) the piece had gotten 'too good' to improve on; or (2) the piece had become 'archaic' and therefore 'classical' and couldn't be modified. [This model would only apply, however, to 'purely' literary pieces; any piece 'anchored down' by legal, political, or ritual use might not enjoy this freedom--as we will discuss below.]

GE is a school creation, a work of entertainment, and almost a 'test of skill' for OB/MB and the early SB scribal-students (and maybe teachers?). There were no constraints to 'feel free' to violate in making such mods. Genesis (and several other ANE works we will look at next) are decidedly not 'for entertainment purposes', and the freedom manifested in GE will not be seen (nor apply) to these more-anchored texts. Accordingly, I don't see how GE can be used as a 'control' for determining the evidential impact of differences. It's just comparing apples to oranges.

But how about less-literary-only texts? George had indicated that GE wasn't used for ritual/cultic purposes, and the variability with which it was 'transformed' by scribes was explained above as due to its 'entertainment-only' nature. Would more-ritual-oriented or more-politically-oriented texts exhibit the same variability? Let's check a couple listed in George's curriculum list [e.g., The Epic of Creation (Enuma Elis) and the Myth of Erra (Erra and Ishum)].

First, let's check one of the ones mentioned by George as being in the 'advanced phase' of scribal education: the Epic of Creation (Enuma Elish, EE).

What indications do we have that it was more-than-just-literary?

Well, we have already noted that AR George pointed out that it was used in 'worldview' and advanced-phase scribal training. And, he explains the greater incidence of EE manuscripts this way too:

To sum up, I would maintain that in the late second and the first millennium the Babylonian Epic of Gilgames had two functions in training scribes. It was a good story and thus useful, in small quantities, for absolute beginners. And as a difficult classic of traditional literature it was studied at greater length by senior pupils nearing the end of their training. If its use in the formal curriculum of scribal education was limited in this way, this does not necessarily mean that the poem was unpopular in wider circles. Indeed, the evidence assembled in this discussion of Gilgames in education also speaks for a considerable popularity among literate people. The number of manuscripts from centres excluding Nineveh far exceeds those of Anzu, Etana, Adapa, Nergal and Ereskigal, Atra-hasis and Istar's Descent put together. Of the great narrative poems only Enuma elis exceeds Gilgames in the number of its sources, and for the same reason that passages of it appear so often as excerpts on second-stage school exercise tablets. As a vehicle for inculcating ideology Enuma elis the holy writ of the cult of Marduk, held a unique place in the first-millennium tradition. On the number of extant manuscripts the Erra epic approaches Gilgames in popularity, but it too has a special advantage, for the apotropaic function its poet claims for it was widely believed to be effective and some copies of the poem were produced as charms.[OT:BGE:39; Note: 'apotropaic' = 'warding off evil spirts, bad luck, etc, via magical practice'. This is a form of ritual use, and George here suggests that the less-known Erra Myth's popularity is due to this ritual use.]

In fact, EE looks more like an 'official' (or propagandistic) document, as well--something 'foundational' for the city/nation:

The Epic of Creation celebrates the exaltation of the Babylonian god Marduk to supreme deity of the Mesopotamian pantheon after he had saved the gods from attack by Tiamat, the ocean. The poem ascribes to Marduk reorganization of the universe, with Babylon at the center of it, and inspiration for the creation of mankind in order to sustain the gods. It offers an explanation of various names it assigns to Marduk. This poem should not be considered "the" Mesopotamian creation story; rather, it is the individual work of a poet who viewed Babylon as the center of the universe, and Marduk, god of Babylon, as head of the pantheon. This message was not lost on contemporary readers, for, in some Assyrian versions of the poem, Assur was substituted for Marduk. Therefore this poem can be read as a document of Babylonian nationalism. It may be a product of Babylonian nationalistic revival at the time of Nebuchadnezzar I, though there is no firm evidence for its date of composition. To judge from its language and content, the poem dates to the latter part of the second millennium B.C.” [BTM:350]

It may not have been written for ritual/cultic use, but it certainly was used in this way--being recited monthly in public ceremony (i.e., another 'foundational'/ pledge-like use):

It is known that under the Late Babylonian empire this text was recited to Marduk’s statue on the fourth day of Nisan in the course of the New Year festival (HI:ANET, 332). During the same festival, about a week later, Marduk ceremonially defeated Tiamat and was proclaimed king by the other gods, who had assembled in Babylon for this purpose. It has been argued that Enuma Elish was the “scripture” for this annual reenactment, an example of the interplay of myth and ritual. But the recitation did not take place in connection with the Akitu rites in the course of which Tiamat was defeated. Furthermore it is known that Enuma Elish was also recited to Marduk on the fourth day of Kislimu, when no Akitu house battle took place, and information about the fourth day of the other ten months is lacking. Thus it is possible that Enuma Elish was recited to Marduk on the fourth day of every month, so the occurrence in Nisan is not especially significant. In any case there is no evidence that Enuma Elish was composed with cultic recitation in view. The epilogue states clearly that it was intended to serve in spreading knowledge of the greatness of Marduk throughout the population, by oral recitation. Thus the context of Enuma Elish is the rise of Marduk in history, in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, not the cult of Babylon, in which its use was presumably secondary.” [REF:ABD, s.v. “Enuma Elish” (Lambert)]

OK. So, what were the downstream implications of this 'foundational/public usage', relative to textual fixity? Was is radically modified downstream, like the pre-OB GE narratives were by the OB GE, and like the OB GE narratives were done (less so) by the SB GE?

It looks like it was accorded some 'social protection'--like it was considered too 'sacred' or 'heritage' to modify (like perhaps the US Declaration of Independence is to US citizens?). Literary citations/allusions to it are very close, and variances in apotropaic uses are to be expected [see below].

Though naturally there are variants in the manuscript tradition, there is no reason to suppose that the fundamental content of the work has been altered by successive generations, as has sometimes been suggested, just as there is no reason to elevate this composition to a greater authority than it deserves. It was esteemed highly in the first half of the first millennium B.C., as witnessed by the numerous copies that have turned up in both Assyria and Babylonia, by the preparation of an ancient commentary to the names of Marduk (Tablet VII), and by the ritual use of the composition in the Babylonian new year's festival as stated in late sources. It was quoted or referred to in other texts about Marduk.” [BTM:351]

A surprising lack of textual variation is to be found in the tablets [Enuma elis], which came from a variety of sites and periods. This may be explained either as indicating that composition is relatively late, and that there is no oral background; or as showing that a text became 'canonized' if it was used for a particular ritual, as this epic was. When Sennacherib described scenes from the epic with which he decorated the doors of the Temple of the New Year Festival, he included details which are not found in the extant version, such as that the god Amurru was Assur's charioteer, and so we may deduce that there were indeed different versions in circulation. [OT:MM, 229]

[Note: Dalley's argument from-variant-to-version here oversteps the meager data. The passage he refers to clearly has Assur taking Marduk's place (i.e., “Sennacherib, king of Assyria, maker of the images of Assur and the great gods: the Temple of the New Year's Feast of the Plain, whose cult has been forgotten since days of old, which(?) I restored at the command of the oracle (lit., oracle and command) of Shamash and Adad,--its outer temple, Bit-ugga, was destroyed by fire. The name of its sanctuary, E-balagga, [I changed] and ... I called its name. A gate of burnished copper, with all kinds of [re-liefs] in the workmanship of the smith-god, by my own artistic ability, I made, and the image of [Assur, who] is advancing to battle [into the midst of Tiamat], as he raises his bow, riding in a chariot, [bringing on, the storm] (and the image of) Amurru, who rides with him as charioteer (holder of the reins),-(these) I engraved upon that gate at the command of Shamash and Adad, as they gave it through the oracle. ... 445. The gods who go before him and after him, those who ride on chariots, and those who go on foot, [and] their [helpers] as they are drawn up in line before Assur, and as they are drawn up in line behind Assur; (the image of) Tiamat, (and) the creatures inside her, into whose midst Assur, king of gods, is advancing to battle,-I engraved upon that gate in obedience to the command of Shamash and Adad. ... 446. The rest of the gods, who are advancing on foot, at the command of Shamash and Adad [I engraved these] When Assur was not yet overpowering Tiamat, but facing the beasts whom Tiamat was bringing on, how these were advancing on foot ...(etc)” [HI:ARAB:2:186f]) , but there is more reason to believe it was a deliberate innovation on his part, instead of another circulating version (i.e., “After his sack of Babylon in 689 BCE, Sennacherib attempted to institute a number of religious reforms. These included an endeavour to replace the cult of Marduk in Babylon by an analogous cult in Assyria with Assur playing the part of Marduk.” [DDD:202, s.v. “Assur”] ). There is no other evidence for the existence of another 'version' of EE.]

In its turn, the Creation Epic exercised considerable influence on later Akkadian literature. Late devotional compositions allude to or quote the epic (III-44b, 44e, 44f, 46a; IV.4d). One cannot demonstrate that in every case the epic was the source and the other text the borrowing, but there are usually circumstantial reasons for taking this to be the case. For example, Against Illness (III-44b) alludes to the epic half a dozen times in the space of ten lines. The allusions are highlighted by being concentrated in a single passage, with no further allusions to be found in the text thereafter. They refer to Marduk's power as slayer of Tiamat and his role as a vegetation and fertility deity. Prince of the Gods (III 44f) contains numerous allusions, direct and indirect, to the epic, and indeed, so far as preserved, reads like a meditation on the larger text. ... Nergal the Warrior (III.46a) is a less clear case. Line 4, for example, alludes to the Six Hundred, who are said to be organized by Marduk in the epic (Tablet VI line 44); the "pitiless deluge-weapon" also recalls the epic (Tablet IV line 49); and the gods take to "secret places," as do the defeated gods in the epic. Since these are stock expressions, one could argue that they show common use of well-known material rather than borrowing. However, Sublime Nergal (III. 46c) quotes the epic (Tablet I line 94) in a context making so little sense that one may conclude that this was lifted as a memorable line from the epic and misapplied in the Nergal hymn. ... A lengthy hymn to Marduk offered in the name of Assurbanipal is filled with allusions to the epic.” [BTM:26f]

One of the marks of 'canonicity' and the fixity of a text is the arising of secondary literature referring to the text: commentaries, meditations, and allusions. In the case of EE, we can see from the above that all of these marks were present. It was a document shared and 'depended on' for public function (e.g., 'a document of Babylonian nationalism'); social and authority structures would operate to keep it 'stable'.

We might make the point here that this is in contrast to GE. GE (or any prior versions of GE, importantly) is not a 'national' anything, and would not have the same preservation-forces operating on behalf of it (during its creation):

When the full majesty of the Epic of Gilgames became apparent in the early twentieth century it became the fashion to view it as the national epic of the Babylonians. The expression 'national epic' implies for me a long narrative composition that, to a greater or lesser degree, relates to the origin or identity of a people [tn: think “Genesis” or “Exodus”...(smile)]. Such poems necessarily describe the struggles for independence or wars against foreign oppressors from which a nation emerges new or reborn. They are often composed deliberately with the aim of forging a national identity, like the Aeneid. There is nothing of war in the Epic of Gilgames only heroic combat between individuals and between men and monsters, and the grim struggle with death. No great crisis in the life of Babylonia takes centre stage, only great crises in the life of a man. The poem's interest is not in what it means to be a Babylonian as opposed to, say, an Assyrian or an Elamite, but what it means to be a mortal human as oppposed [sic] to an immortal god. On these counts the poem of Gilgames is no national epic. ... Some would reject the notion of the poem of Gilgames as a 'national epic' on other grounds: that it was little known in antiquity. Other works of Babylonian literature--the Creation Epic, for example--are known from many more manuscripts and thus seem to have been demonstrably more popular in antiquity. Another factor that informs the claim that the poem did not enjoy great popular acclaim is a perception that the epic was poorly represented in first-millennium schools, where the text was neither much used to practise writing nor often quoted by Babylonian scholars in oral teaching. Only a single passage from Standard Babylonian Gilgames appears on the extant Late Babylonian school exercise tablets, and lines from the text are, so far, cited only twice in the commentaries that derive from the oral instruction of scholar-teachers." [OT:BGE:33f; In other words, no secondary literature. GE is not like EE or Genesis, in this respect of being a 'foundational' , 'national' document.]

Now, before we switch to another document, let's check out one more thing here: the use of sources WITHIN Enuma elish. In other words, if we believe that EE was consciously created as a 'foundational document' (e.g., relative to Marduk's supremacy, with the king the obvious beneficiary), did EE use its sources in a 'free' manner? And if it did, were those sources 'public' or 'private' sources, in the sense I am using here?

Foster identifies several precursors for us to consider:

The Creation Epic (111-17), which probably dates to the Mature period, is a particularly apt subject for intertextual study, for it draws on a variety of Akkadian and Sumerian traditions. These include narrative poems about the god Ninurta, whose deeds are assigned to Marduk in the Creation Epic. The episode of the creation of mankind is drawn from Atrahasis or a similar text; lists of divine names form a basis for the episode of the fifty names of Marduk.3... [BTM:26f]

We have already seen (in our earlier piece on EE) that the sources used by EE are 'perverted' (to use Lambert's phrase!):

The first major conclusion is that the Epic of Creation is not a norm of Babylonian or Sumerian cosmology. It is a sectarian and aberrant combination of mythological threads woven into an unparalleled compositum. ... The various traditions it draws upon are often perverted to such an extent that conclusion based on this text alone are suspect.” [ISI:100,101]

Anyone familiar with the mythic precursors can see that the EE-author has smuggled Marduk into EVERY 'prime position' in every mythic theme! All the material is fairly accurate, except for the massive intrusions of Marduk! Given this, EE's use of sources could arguably be called 'polemical inversions' (or perhaps 'polemical colonialism'!). It is difficult to ascertain how 'public' those mythic sources were, but such use of these themes would at least require them to be 'well-respected' or 'well-accepted'. [That is, it does no good for Marduk to assume all of Ninurta's achievements if nobody 'valued' those achievements.]

So, this case is also UNLIKE the GE case, but in a different way than we have seen so far. GE will 'pervert' (transform) a pre-existing myth, because no one really cares about its 'protection'. It is a literary play only. EE will pervert it FOR polemical/propaganda reasons, BECAUSE people care about it, and BECAUSE people will notice that Mighty Marduk (founder of The Mighty Mar-duks--sorry--OB scribal ethics creeping in has 'taken over'. But when something is seen as 'cared about' by the public/political/cultural function, this is NOT perverted/changed (normally)--in the absence of 'inversion' requirements.

Okay, let's check out The Myth of Erra (Erra and Ishum).

This is a later document, but one that also had a ritual usage.

One must mention as well the brilliance of an individual who produces a text that is at once recognized as a masterpiece and becomes a classic. Such a person was Kabti-ilani-Marduk, author of Erra and Ishum, one of the most original and experimental Akkadian narrative texts (IV. 16). This poet produced a narrative piece that, apart from its theological and spiritual profundity, can be read as a textbook of the possibilities available in Akkadian poetic tradition.” [BTM:23]

Frequent recitation of the song, or its presence in a house in the form of a copy or even an extract, were pledges of divine protection and preservation. The god was indeed widely known, to judge from the number of manuscripts and, above all, among them the existence of simple extracts copied on tablets whose arrangement implies that they were to be hung up in houses as apotropaic amulets. On occasion kings were not averse to citing passages from the composition in their own inscriptions. The historical narrative conceived in the form of a myth had been transformed into a protective talisman!” [OT:MC:27; Remember, 'official citing' is a sign of fixity/protection.]

Although this piece was probably NOT written as a 'public document', it nonetheless was treated so--with the result that it wasn't 'tampered with' in citations:

A few quotations have been found in the inscriptions of Sargon II and his contemporary in Babylon, the notorious Merodach-Baladan 11, of the late eighth century, but those kings may have been quoting from the work because it was popular then, and not necessarily because it was composed at that time. Although the various tablets show very little textual variation, much more variation is exhibited in extracts, which were written commonly on amulets, and they show that different versions did indeed exist, perhaps due to oral tradition. Certain evidence of older associations has been noted, particularly with reference to the Suteans, traditionally nomadic enemies who damaged Babylonian cities in the eleventh century BC, but they may have been incorporated deliberately to lend an air of antiquity and thus authority to the poem.” [OT:MM:283]

[Note: Again, Dalley argues from-variants-to-versions, even though the manuscript tradition shows 'very little textual variation'. The citations of Merodach/Sargon are just that--citations--with the only variances coming in amulets. But this really is not a strong link to 'versions', because it is known that when curses/spells used episodes from 'canonical' literature, they applied the themes and not the individual words (there are exceptions, of course, but they are mainly from later periods). These are known as 'historiola'-- spells 'in which short mythological stories provide a paradigm for a desired magical action'. [HI:HCW:432]. So, for example, in applying the Sumerian Cow of Sin mythic episode to incantations for difficult childbirth, we see this type of variation:

Now, we know at least seven instances of the Cow of Sin motif; all occur in ritual texts that explicitly address themselves to the problem of a woman having trouble in childbirth. Yet only in the first-millennium scribal centers do we find duplicates. Even the non-duplicate texts with the greatest verbal similarity still show significant variation: formulae are, reversed, epithets are substituted, characters appear and disappear. There are also diachronic differences: the OB text shares lines with the OA text that they do not share with any later material. The OB text is also the only one that does not name the cow. Indeed, while the OB text has recognizably the same theme and explicitly the same purpose as the later texts, there is little verbal overlap; among published texts its closest affinities are with the NA text (KAR 196 III 36-45). In fact, the manuscripts that emerge, as most textually correct and free from loss according to classic text-critical principles are actually the latest ones... This forces us to an interesting conclusion: there appears to be no stream of verbatim textual transmission apparent before the Neo-Assyrian period. Each individual recorded instance before this period was the product of a different configuration of the components and formulae try. constitute the Cow of Sin theme. The picture we now have is one where, until the first millennium, the identity of the Cow of Sin theme did not exist at the verbal level but at the level of a theme applied to a situation.” [HI:HCW:433f, emphasis his]

In other words, in the scribal center the material was copied as 'duplicates', but in ritual/incantation use, it was applied thematically. Variants in incantation uses, therefore, do NOT imply the existence of versions in the scribal centers.]

But what of this document's use of sources itself? Sure, it was preserved 'tight'--due to its 'public usage'--but what of its own 'self-view' and what of its use of sources? Did it modify them at the level of GE? Did it seem to consider itself 'semi-sacred, normative' literature?

On the latter count, it might have actually been a semi-polemical / apologetic work, and therefore a 'court' production. Its pseudo-prophecy about a 'man from Akkad' is often thought to refer to Nabonassar or Merodach-Baladan II, and its main thrust about violence (it is largely a series of pontifications between the main characters about this theme) supports a possible propaganda origin. But interestingly, this scribe probably still had some 'perverse fun' while doing this:An element of ridicule and satire spices the characterization of both Erra and Marduk” [OT:MM:283]. This is a sure sign that HE didn't take it too seriously. There is no evidence it was intended for, or used in, cult use. Its external uses seem to be in amulet/magical praxis.

So, perhaps this isn't a good case of 'high intent' composition either. But let's at least consider its use of sources, for if it used 'sacro-sanct' sources and modified them radically (as GE did), then we may have something to think about.

If we look through the footnotes in Dalley and Foster, we find next to nothing in the way of clear source-usage. Foster actually mentions none, and Dalley mentions these:

There seems to be some vague allusions/references, but very minor--and nothing to indicate any borrowing of a 'source', so there's no real data here.

Okay--let's switch gears now and check another extreme case of 'public stuff'--law codes.

A prime baseline of public-so-don't-rewrite-it material would be law codes. Law codes are known to have been borrowed from one jurisdiction to another, but within a jurisdiction--except in the case of statute change, of course--the textual citations are not 'free':

In clear contrast to the two parallels just discussed is the impressive example noted by Borger in which a treaty between Marduk-zakir-sumi I of Babylon and samsi-Adad V of Assyria concludes with a series of curses which is drawn almost totally from The Code of Hammurabi, composed an entire millennium earlier. Even though curse formulae tend to be stereotypical, the degree of correspondence here is convincing. If Borger's reconstruction of the text is correct, out of 14 consecutive lines of the treaty, less than half a dozen words are not found in Hammurabi and nearly 100 are shared. Even more remarkable is the fact that their sequence within the code is left entirely undisturbed. No clear editing principle emerges, other than the expected elimination of first person comments of Hammurabi, and the possible climactic patterning of the curses so that the first curses are to afflict just the monarch while the final curses call for the destruction of his entire land as well.” [OT:SQVP:134f]


Okay--where does this land us?

We have seen that the 'freedom to change' precursor texts is not uniform. Texts that have some kind of public/foundational function are held as 'authoritative tradition' (more or less), and are preserved in the scribal continuity process except in cases of obvious and deliberate 'polemical inversion'. Texts that are, by contrast, 'merely literary' are fair game for transformation, spoofing, 'spicing up', etc.

Which leads us to our second issue...


Two. The issue of Closeness of Analogy.

If our analysis above is correct, then our conclusion is obvious: the evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic is not even a 'control' or exemplar for ANE literature.

GE's 'freedom' to use the sources as it willed was a function of (a) the “non-canonical” status of those sources; and (b) the literary-only environment of the creative process. And the 'non-canonical' status of GE itself explains how it was transmitted/modified in non-Meso-X.

In contrast, ANE texts with 'public' , 'foundational', or 'ritual' importance were NOT subject to such modification, except in the obvious (and exception-proves-the-point) case of polemical inversion.

And, indeed, even within the 'artful modification' process, 'fidelity to the sources' was STILL the dominant motif--in matters of tradition:

Assyrian scribes, when producing annals, adapt sources to their immediate ends. Where the shape of a prism demands, they abridge or even telescope. They vary the phraseology, for aesthetic or semantic reasons. Yet they do not seem to veil the meaning of the sources, or the facts about the events they are relating. Artful representation plays its part in this tradition too. It is more obvious at the level of composition than at that of redaction; overall, loyalty to the sources remains the rule.” [TFH:200]

So, given that GE is not even an exemplar or 'control' for its OWN historical culture groups, I cannot see why we should grant that it should/could be assumed to be an exemplar or 'control' for how non-Meso-X compositional processes worked. There would need to be some 'evidence' given (and successfully defended) before one could assume that any 'differences are not decisive' principle could be extrapolated from it to the biblical texts (since we have already seen that said principle could NOT be extrapolated to even its 'culture-kindred' literatures).

What Tigay would have to show is that the Genesis (or broader biblical, for that matter) narrative is closer in 'genre' to the literary-only GE than to 'foundational', 'national epic', and 'products of nationalism' such as EE, Erra, etc.

And this, I submit, would be very difficult to do. He might could fare better with Job or Ecclesiastes, but to demonstrate that Genesis was based on 'interesting, but who cares?' sources AND that it was not written as a foundational document for Israel (at some time or another--any time would do, actually) would require new data to emerge....(smile).

We just have too much data to indicate the contrary. Without trying to defend this here, or even to do more than just scratch the surface, let me point out:

  1. Early Genesis is referred to in Exodus, Deut, and Joshua. All of these are foundational and/or nationalistic documents. Even the Sabbath is based on Genesis 1!

  2. Early Genesis is referred to in cultic passages (Psalms).

  3. Early Genesis is referred to in prophetic passages (across all time frames; Is, Jer, Ezek)

  4. Early Genesis contributes 'normative' images for OT Israel: Eden, Sodom, Land Grant, Noah, Twelve Tribes.

  5. The Genesis material is organized around genealogical 'units' (toledoth), and genealogies were the carriers of history and foundational information. [Even when myth-like events are attached to genealogical records, btw, the events 'behind' the myths can be very accurate--e.g., Hawaiian myths of lava flows attached to royal genealogical records matched the geological data exceptionally well--in a purely oral culture [WR:WTSEFS:9]]

  6. Genealogical records--as 'carriers' of foundational data--were unique to Israel:

While ancient scribes made official genealogical tables, and individuals preserved their own family pedigrees (at least in part) down to Roman times, nothing quite like the biblical genealogies of Genesis and 1 Ch. 1–9 has been found elsewhere in antiquity. While it was by no means impossible for detailed records to have been kept by other nations, none is extant. ... Records of descent were an extremely important part of Hebrew tradition from the very beginning, and no fewer than three of the earliest were concerned with the posterity of Adam (Gen. 4:1f, 17–22, 25f; 5:1–32). If the Genesis sources were originally in tablet form as suggested above, these genealogies are among the most primitive of their kind. For the Hebrews, such catalogs of descent served various purposes, the first of which (Gen. 4:1f, 17–22) indicated that considerations of biological succession by generations was but one function of such records. Although the line of Cain was traced for seven generations, an equally important emphasis in this chapter was placed upon recording new cultural or technological events. Thus, the occupations of Cain (agriculturalist and city builder), Abel (shepherd), and Jabal (cattleman) represented the agrarian aspect of early Mesopotamian life, which was enriched almost contemporaneously by such developments as music (Jubal) and metallurgy (Tubal-cain). ... The second genealogy (Gen. 4:25f), dealing with the offspring of Seth, has more in common with a pedigree, but also serves the purpose of contrasting the fidelity to God of Seth’s offspring with the behavior of Cain’s apostate descendants. The third of these early sources (Gen. 5:10–32; cf. 1 Ch. 1:1–4) traced the posterity of Adam through Seth down to Noah and his sons and stopped at a point just before the Flood. The background of this material is obviously Mesopotamian in character, and if the sources were transmitted originally on tablets the lists would have been inscribed most probably in an ancient form of Mesopotamian script on the reverse side of one or more of the tablets.” [ISBE, s.v. “genealogy”]

  1. Even the Source-critical theorists of the Hebrew Bible said the 'editors' just “glopped together” the various traditions (JEDP thingies), instead of 'perverting' them. Some say the fact that the passages seem to have 'two strands' in every narrative proves that the editor INCLUDED BOTH sources, since they were both 'sacro-sanct'. [There are other explanations for this duality, of course, but this practice would be in DIRECT OPPOSTION to how GE used HIS sources! No same-passage contradictions are allowed to stand in SB--but liberal OT scholars see the agglutination of multiple sources as causing many 'same-passages contradictions' in their minds.]

  2. Genesis is NOT (mostly) written in verse--which was the vehicle for Meso-X epic, myth, and even historical writing.

  3. Genesis is NOT about an 'epic hero' at all, and its literary brilliance has nothing to do with standard ANE history/epic attributes (“...a pronounced taste for narrative situation, debates between protagonists, divine assemblies, divine assistance to heroes, the leadership qualities of the victors, and the villainy of the vanquished” [OT:MC:19]). Genesis includes some of each of these (perhaps), but there are so minimal as to be difficult to even notice--and certainly not at a 'pronounced taste' level!

  4. It has all the earmarks of a 'national document'--with the Land Grant, the Exodus, and the National Charter all in one document...

That should be representative enough for the point here--

What this nets out to is this: the textual characteristics of the Genesis/Pentateuchal literature places it much closer to the 'fixed and preserved' documentary traditions of the ANE, than to the 'creative, ever-changing, fluid' literary traditions of the ANE (such as GE). Accordingly, I cannot see any warrant for applying any conclusions drawn from GE's literary history to the biblical materials.

The analogy just doesn't exist.

I have always found Tigay's emphasis on 'control data'--as an attempt to inject more rigor into some of the fairly speculative tendencies of biblical/ANE scholarship--to be refreshing/commendable, and have found his argumentation to laudably pay careful attention to detail, but I just wish that he had been able to focus that acumen on something "closer" to the biblical materials in question.

[I might also quibble with a few of the assumptions he makes in his argumentation in that brief article. (1) I am not convinced that the movement from a full-work to an abridgment is the appropriate exemplar. Logically, I would think moving cross-border from a full-work to another full-work would be more appropriate [or preferably, from a full-work to an 'insert' into a full work, as is alleged of Genesis]. For example, the case of Adapa and the South Wind is preserved in both abridged and full-versions in the Amarna Scholarly tablets, but a quick line-by-line examination of the comparable full versions shows very little variation of the kind that shows up in the abridged version. This would mean that Tigay's example might be a case of 'expected' variation-for-abridgments, and unrepresentative of full-to-full cases. (2) More bothersome to me, though, is the selectivity of the 'scope' of his hairy-man example. A comparison of his quoted passage with the Hittite text shows that the lines (omitted) preceding and following the excerpt mentions Enkidu by name! This information would certainly 'warn' the interpreter than a possible borrowing might be indicated. For me, this raises the issue of how granular can you get without being misleading. For example, if he had only picked out single words, of course we could be misled. Single phrases, and single sentences--same there. But at some point you run across something that 'tips the hand', and the interpreter has a clue. So, I am not sure the selection of such a truncated text is a fair sample from which to 'shame the conservative interpreter' (smile). (3) I might also question how 'ideological' the substitution of a god's name or a mountain locale is--compared to the sweeping differences between biblical theology and the rest of the ANE. Not sure that's a meaningful comparison either. So, I do have methodological issues with the article, but given its brevity, there's no real reason to press those here. The non-analogy argument above is adequate to my case here, I believe.]


So, it looks like the data argues against Tigay's position of “differences have no evidential decisiveness” and in favor of Lambert/Millard's “differences can have evidential decisiveness” relative to borrowing claims.

This implies--for our series--that the mass of differences we noted between all the non-biblical cosmogonic material and the biblical cosmogonic material IS ALLOWED to lead to the conclusion of “no borrowing here, folks--move along now”...

Glenn Miller, Nov/2005... on to the next (gilgy11.html)


The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)