The Adapa Legend
Gods, Story, Wind, South, Tammuz, Life
The myths and legends that we have so far considered—including the creation and Gilgamesh epics—will have illustrated two important points: firstly, the manner in which historical occurrences were clothed in mythical form and interwoven with purely legendary tales, and, secondly, the way in which nature myths were treated to teach certain doctrines. The story of Gilgamesh is an illustration of the hopelessness of a mortal's attempt to secure the kind of immortal life which is the prerogative of the gods. Popular tales, illustrative of the climatic conditions of Babylonia, serve as a means of unfolding a doctrine of evolution and of impressing upon the people a theological system of beliefs regarding the relationship of the gods to one another. A collection of war-songs is given a semi-mythical form, and the original purport of the collection is modified to serve as a talisman against misfortunes. In the case of these legends it is necessary and, as we have seen, also possible to distinguish between their original and present form and to separate the story, as in the case of the Gilgamesh epic, into its component parts.
The legend that we are about to consider proves that this process of the adaptation of popular myths begins at a very early period. The text was found on the cuneiform tablets discovered at El-Amarna in Egypt. Since the El-Amarna tablets date from the fifteenth century B.C., we have a proof of the compilation of the legend in question at this date. The legend is again suggested by the storms which visited Babylonia, but instead of a pure nature-myth, we have a tale which concerns the relationship between the gods and mankind. In its present form, it is an object lesson dealing with the same problem that we came across in the Gilgamesh epic and that we will meet again in another form,—the problem of immortality.
The beginning of the story, as in the case of the Zu myth, is missing, but we are in a position to restore at least the general context. A fisherman, Adapa, is engaged in plying his trade when a storm arises. Adapa is designated as the son of Ea. The place where he is fishing is spoken of as 'the sea.' The Persian Gulf is meant, and this body of water (as the beginning of the great Okeanos) being sacred to Ea, the description of Adapa as the son of Ea is a way of conveying the idea that, like Parnapishtim, he stands under the protection of Ea. The story, like most legends, assumes a period of close intercourse between gods and men, a time when the relationship involved in being 'a son of a god' had a literal force which was lost to a more advanced generation. Adapa, accordingly, is portrayed as fishing for the 'house of his lord,' i.e., for Ea. When the storm breaks loose the fisherman, though a mortal, subdues the fierce element. The storm comes from the south, the direction from which the most destructive winds came to Babylonia. The south wind is pictured, as in the Zu myth, under the form of a bird. The wind sweeps Adapa into the waters, but, since this element is controlled by Adapa's father,—the god Ea,—Adapa succeeds in mastering the south wind, and, as we learn from the course of the narrative, in breaking the wings of the storm-bird. When the tablet becomes intelligible we find Adapa engaged in this contest with the south wind.
The south wind blew and drove him under the water. Into the dwelling-place it engulfs him. 'O south wind, thou hast overwhelmed me with thy cruelty (?). Thy wings I will break.'
Adapa's threat is carried out.
Even as he spoke the wings of the south wind were broken. For seven days the south wind did not blow across the land.
Seven is to be interpreted as a round number, as in the Deluge story, and indicates a rather long, though indefinite, period. Anu, the god of heaven, is astonished at this long-continued disappearance of the south wind, and asks a messenger of his, who is called the god Ilabrat, for the cause. Anu inquires:
"Why has the south wind not blown for seven days across the land?" His messenger Ilabrat answered him: "My lord! Adapa, the son of Ea, has broken the wings of the south wind."
Of this god Ilabrat nothing is known. The interpretation of his name is doubtful. He probably is one of the numerous local gods who was absorbed by some more powerful one and who thus came to have a position of inferior rank in the pantheon.
Anu, upon hearing the news, is enraged, and cries for 'help' against an interference in his domain. He denounces Adapa in solemn assembly, and demands his presence of Ea, in whose domain Adapa has taken refuge. The text at this point is defective, but one can gather that Ea, who constitutes himself Adapa's protector, warns the latter, as he warned Parnapishtim. He advises him to present himself at the throne of Anu for trial, and to secure the intervention of two gods, Tammuz and Gishzida, who are stationed at the gate of heaven, Anu's dwelling-place. To accomplish this, Adapa is to clothe himself in garments of mourning, and when the doorkeepers ask him the reason for his mourning, he is to answer:
... Two gods have disappeared from our earth, therefore do I appear thus.
And when he is asked:
"Who are the two gods who have disappeared from the earth?"
Tammuz and Gishzida will look at one another; they will sigh and speak a favorable word before Anu, and the glorious countenance of Anu they will show thee.
Tammuz and Gishzida will know that they are meant. The mourning of Adapa will be regarded as a sign of reverence for the two gods, whose sympathy and good-will will thus be secured.
The introduction of Tammuz and Gishzida introduces a widely spread nature-myth into the story. Gishzida is identical with Nin-gishzida, a solar deity whom we came across in the old Babylonian pantheon. Tammuz similarly is a solar deity. Both represent local solar cults. At a later period, Nin-gishzida is entirely absorbed by Ninib, but the Adapa legend affords us a glimpse of the god still occupying an independent, though already inferior, position. The Babylonian calendar designates the fifth month as sacred to Gishzida, while the fourth month is named for Tammuz. The two deities, therefore, take their place in the systematized pantheon as symbolical of the phases of the sun peculiar to its approach to the summer solstice. The disappearance of the two gods signifies the decline of the year after the summer solstice. Of Tammuz, the popular myth related that it was Ishtar, represented as his consort, who carried him off. Since the disappearance of Gishzida embodies precisely the same idea as that of Tammuz, it was natural that the story should in time have been told only of the one. The annual mourning for Tammuz was maintained in Babylonia to a very late period. The Adapa legend shows us that at one time the festival was celebrated in honor of the two related deities. The Tammuz festival was celebrated just before the summer solstice set in, so that the mourning was followed immediately by rejoicing at the reappearance of the god whose coming heralded the culmination of vegetation.
The destructive storms take place during the winter, when Tammuz and Gishzida have disappeared. Adapa's mourning is thus an indication of the season of the year when his encounter with the south wind took place. Since Adapa succeeds in overcoming the destructive wind, the wintry season has passed by. Summer is approaching. The time for celebrating both the fast and the festival of the two solar deities has arrived. Tammuz and Gishzida, the gods of spring, accordingly stand at Adapa's side, ready to plead his cause before Anu. So much being clear, we may advance a step further in the interpretation of the legend. By the side of Tammuz and Gishzida, there is still a third solar deity who belongs to the spring of the year,—Marduk, who, by virtue of his later position as the head of the pantheon, sets aside his two fellows and becomes the solar god of spring par excellence. Marduk, it will be recalled, is commonly designated as the son of Ea, and we have seen that, apart from political considerations, the sun rising out of the ocean—the domain of Ea—was a factor in this association. Adapa dwells at the sea, and is forced into the ocean by the south wind, in the same way that the sun dips into the great 'Okeanos' every evening. The identification of Adapa with Marduk thus becomes apparent, and as a matter of fact the Babylonian scribes of later times accepted this identification.
The basis of the Adapa legend is, therefore, the nature-myth of the annual fight of the sun with the violent elements of nature. At the same time, other ideas have been introduced into it, and Adapa himself, while playing the rôle of Marduk, is yet not entirely confounded with this god. His name is never written with the determinative for deity. Moreover, the nature-myth is soon lost sight of, in order to make room for an entirely different order of ideas. The real purport of the legend in its present form is foreshadowed by the further advice that Ea offers to Adapa:
When thou comest before Anu they will offer thee food of death. Do not eat. They will offer thee waters of death. Do not drink. They will offer thee a garment. Put it on. They will offer thee oil. Anoint thyself. The order that I give thee do not neglect. The word that I speak to thee take to heart. The messenger of Anu approached. 'Adapa has broken the wings of the south wind. Deliver him into my hands....'
Ea obeys the order, delivers up Adapa, and everything happens as was foretold.
Upon mounting to heaven and on his approach to the gate of Anu, Tammuz and Gishzida were stationed at the gate of Anu. They saw Adapa and cried 'Help, Lord! Why art thou thus attired? For whom hast thou put on mourning?'
'Two gods have disappeared from the earth, therefore do I wear a mourning garment.'
'Who are the two gods who have disappeared from the earth?'
Tammuz and Gishzida looked at one another, broke out in lament. 'O Adapa! Step before King Anu.' As he approached, Anu saw him and cried out to him:
'Come, Adapa, why hast thou broken the wings of the south wind?'
Adapa answered Anu: 'My lord! For the house of my lord I was fishing in the midst of the sea. The waters lay still around me, when the south wind began to blow and forced me underneath. Into the dwelling of the fish it drove me. In the anger of my heart .'
Tammuz and Gishzida thereupon intercede with Anu on behalf of Adapa, and succeed in appeasing the god's wrath. If the story ended here, we would have a pure nature-myth—the same myth in a different form that we encountered in the Creation epic, in the Deluge story, and in the Zu legend. Adapa would be merely a designation of Marduk and nothing more. The sun triumphs over the storms, and the only objectionable feature in the tale—to a Babylonian—would be the degradation involved in obliging Marduk to secure the intercession of other gods. But this feature of itself suggests that the nature-myth has been embodied in the legend, but does not constitute the whole of it. A second element and one entirely independent in its character has been added to the myth.
Anu is appeased, but he is astonished at Ea's patronage of Adapa, as a result of which a mortal has actually appeared in a place set aside for the gods.
Why did Ea permit an impure mortal to see the interior of heaven and earth? He made him great and gave him fame.
The privilege accorded to Adapa appears to alarm the gods. As among the Greeks and other nations, so also the Babylonian deities were not free from jealousy at the power and achievements of humanity. Adapa, having viewed the secrets of heaven and earth, there was nothing left for the gods but to admit him into their circle. The narrative accordingly continues:
'Now what shall we grant him? Offer him food of life, that he may eat of it.' They brought it to him, but he did not eat. Waters of life they brought him, but he did not drink. A garment they brought him. He put it on. Oil they brought him. He anointed himself.
Adapa follows the instructions of Ea, but the latter, it will be recalled, tells Adapa that food and water of death will be offered him. It is Ea, therefore, who, although the god of humanity, and who, moreover, according to the tradition involved in the Adapa legend, is the creator of mankind, who prevents his creatures from gaining immortality. The situation is very much the same that we find in the third chapter of Genesis, when God, who creates man, takes precautions lest mortals eat of the tree of life and 'live forever.' The problem presented by the Hebrew and Babylonian stories is the same: why should not man, who is descended from the gods, who is created in the likeness of a god, who by virtue of his intellect can peer into the secrets of heaven and earth, who stands superior to the rest of creation, who, to use the psalmist's figure, is only 'a scale lower than god,' why should he not be like the gods and live forever? The Hebrew legend solves the problem in a franker way than does the Babylonian. God, while as anxious as Ea to keep man from eating of the tree of life, cautions Adam against the act, whereas Ea practises a deception in order to prevent man from eating. That in both tales eternal life is contained in food points again (as we have found to be the case with the Biblical narratives of Creation and of the Deluge) to a common source for the two traditions. Similarly the phrase 'waters of life' is a figure of speech of frequent occurrence in Biblical literature in both the Old and the New Testaments. It is no argument against a common source for the Hebrew and Babylonian stories explaining how man came to forego immortality, that the waters of life should be found in the one and not in the other. If we assume with Gunkel that the stories embodied in the first chapters of Genesis were long current among the Hebrews before they were given a permanent form, the adaptation of old traditions to an entirely new order of beliefs involves a casting aside of features that could not be used and a discarding of such as seemed superfluous. The striking departures in the case of the Hebrew legends from their Babylonian counterparts are as full of significance as the striking agreements between the two. The departures and agreements must both be accounted for. For both there are reasons. So, to emphasize only one point, in a monotheistic solution of the problem under consideration, there was no place for any conflict among the gods. In Genesis God simply wills that man should not eat of the tree of life. In the Adapa legend the gods, including Anu, are willing to grant a mortal the food and water of life, simply because they believe that Ea, the creator of man, wishes him to have it. Accordingly, Anu and his associates are represented at the close of the legend as being grieved that Adapa should have foregone the privilege.
Anu looked at him and lamented over him. 'Come, Adapa, why didst thou not eat and not drink? Now thou canst not live.'
Adapa replies, unconscious of the deception practised on him:
'Ea, my lord, commanded me not to eat and not to drink.'
Adapa returns to the earth. What his subsequent fate is we do not know, for the tablet here comes to an end. It is possible that he learns what Ea has done, and that the god gives him the reason for the deception practised. A scene of this kind could not find a place in the Hebrew version that emphasizes the supreme authority of a power besides whom none other was recognized. God acts alone.
Adam, it will be recalled, after eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, makes a garment for himself. There can be no doubt that there is a close connection between this tradition and the feature in the Adapa legend, where Adapa, who has been shown the 'secrets of heaven and earth,'—that is, has acquired knowledge,—is commanded by Ea to put on the garment that is offered him. The anointing oneself with oil, though an essential part of the toilet in the ancient and modern Orient, was discarded in the Hebrew tale as a superfluous feature. The idea conveyed by the use of oil was the same as the one indicated in clothing one's nakedness. Both are symbols of civilization which man is permitted to attain, but his development stops there. He cannot secure eternal life.
On the other hand, in comparing the Hebrew and Babylonian versions of the problem of knowledge and immortality, one cannot help being struck by the pessimistic tone of the former as against the more consolatory spirit of the latter. God does not want man to attain even knowledge. He secures it in disobedience to the divine will, whereas Ea willingly grants him the knowledge of all there is in heaven and earth. In this way the Hebrew and Babylonian mind, each developed the common tradition in its own way.
Leaving the comparison aside and coming back for a moment to the Adapa story, it is interesting to observe that as we have two tales, both intended to explain the position of Marduk at the head of the pantheon, the one by making him the conqueror of Tiâmat and forcing from Kingu the tablets of fate, the other by representing him as recovering from Zu the tablets which En-lil, who originally held them, could not protect against the storm-bird, so we have two solutions offered for the problem of immortality. The one in the Gilgamesh epic, where the hero is told of the plant of life, succeeds in finding it, but as he is about to eat the 'food' loses his grasp upon it. The exertions of man are in vain. True, there is Parnapishtim, a mortal who with his wife has obtained immortal life. He is the exception that proves the rule. Moreover, it is Bel, and not Ea, who places Parnapishtim 'at the confluence of streams,' there to live forever, and Bel does this as a proof of his pacification, a kind of indemnity offered to Ea for having destroyed the offspring of the god of humanity. The Adapa legend attacks the problem more seriously. Ea, the same god who has created man, endowed him with wisdom, bestowed all manner of benefits upon him, Ea, who protects humanity against Anu, against Bel, and other gods, Ea himself deceives man. Evidently the lesson that the Babylonian theologians intended to teach through the Adapa legend was, that it was not good for man to 'live forever.' Ea himself prevents it. That is the point of the story. Anu and the other gods are satisfied, but Ea does not desire it, and Ea's decision cannot be to the disadvantage of mankind, so dearly beloved by him. With this conclusion humanity must be content—and be resigned to the inevitable.
Of the various legends that we have been considering, the story of Adapa is perhaps the most significant, and none the less so for the manner in which a philosophical problem has been grafted on to a nature-myth. Adapa is made to play the rôle of Marduk, and it is nothing short of remarkable that at so early a period as the one to which the existence of the story can be traced back, a nature-myth should have been diverted from its original purpose and adapted to the end that the Adapa story serves in its present form. The process involved in this adaptation is a complicated one. The story serves as an evidence of the intellectual activity displayed in the schools of theological thought that must have flourished for many centuries before a story like that of Adapa could have been produced out of a nature-myth. Hardly less remarkable is it that the theologians and scribes of later times no longer understood the story, for otherwise they would not have identified Adapa with Marduk through the superficial circumstance that he is introduced into the story instead of Marduk, or some other solar deity allied to Marduk.
The Adapa legend takes us back to the beginning of man's career—to the time when, as in the early chapters of Genesis, man stood closer to the gods than at a later time, the time when there was a constant intercourse between man and the gods, and more especially between man and his protector, Ea. The story forms part of a stock of traditions of which we have another specimen in the Eabani-Ukhat episode, incorporated in the Gilgamesh epic. No doubt when the treasures still existing in the British Museum shall have been thoroughly examined and as additional remains of the religious literature of the Babylonians will be brought to light, we will find further traces of these early traditions as well as of other myths. Those that we have discussed in this and in the preceding chapters illustrate the system adopted by the priests in elaborating these traditions and myths and in adapting them to serve as illustrations of certain doctrines and beliefs. We may also feel tolerably confident that the religious ideas conveyed through these various epics and legends and myths fairly represent both the popular and the advanced thought, as it unfolded itself in the course of time. By the aid of these specimens of the religious literature, we have been enabled to analyze the views of the Babylonians regarding the creation of the world, its structure, and government. We have obtained an insight into the problems of life and death which engaged the Babylonian thinkers, and we have noted some of the solutions offered for these problems. In a consideration of the views held by the Babylonians and Assyrians of the life after death, to which we now turn, it will again be a specimen of the religious literature that will serve as our main guide.
|Written By Morris Jastrow|
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