Tightening the Geography and Archaeology for Early Genesis
Part Two: The Epoch of Gilgamesh
Dr. David Livingston has, in his 2003 article, “Who Was Nimrod?”,
argued intriguingly for Nimrod to have been the same as the ancient potentate, Gilgamesh.
My article will be based largely upon this possible extension of the famous tyrant.
Nimrod has been identified with various gods and semi-mythical, or real historical characters. In the following blog piece, for instance, he is connected with Sumerian, Egyptian – and even Greek (“Dionysus”) – deities (and one could add the god Bacchus, when linked with Bar–Cush, or son of Cush): http://www.babylonrisingblog.com/Godvsgod3.html
In my blogs, “The Man of Many Names” and “The First Shall Be The Last,” we learned that Nimrod “began to become a [giant] mighty one” through some sort of defilement of himself. In the context of numerous other descriptions of this man, the word “gibbor” in this case was more than just a “mighty one” – Nimrod became a giant. Somehow, he activated Nephilim genes that apparently came to him through his ancestry. Thus, he became a Post-Flood member of the Demi-god Tier – an offspring of the Nephilim.
He built the Tower of Babel with intentions of killing God and taking over – a plan that was not at all unlike that of Zeus, the Olympian who sought to destroy the Titan gods who ruled before him. But Nimrod’s plans were thwarted by God and the people of the earth who supported him were divided into 70 languages/nations. Each people group went away talking about the same guy, only now, he had other names. The dominant name he became known by was Osiris, the god of the Egyptians. Let’s look a little deeper into this myth and how it played into the characters and events of our Hebrew Bible.
To the left is a typical diagram of the Egyptian god family tree.
Here we see Atum as the Ultimate Source Tier god. Shu and Tefnut are the Top Tier gods, followed by Geb and Nut in the Middle Tier and Osiris is in the Final Tier (the same tier that we found Dionysus, Apollo, Marduk, Ninurta and Gilgamesh – all of which are other names for Nimrod). Similar to Marduk in the Sumerian family tree, Osiris rises from the Final Tier to be the ultimate, ruling diety in Egyptian mythology.
[End of quote]
David Rohl would add other deities to this list for Nimrod. In his The Lost Testament – From Eden to Exile: The Five-Thousand-Year History of the People of the Bible (2002, p. 73), he wrote, referring to Ashur:
It appears that we are dealing here with a single historical character who established the first empire on Earth and who was deified by many nations under four main name groupings: 1. Early Sumerian Enmer, later Mesopotamian Ninurta (originally Nimurda), biblical Nimrod, Greek Ninus; 2. Old Babylonian Marduk, biblical Merodach, later simply known as Bel or Baal (‘Lord’); 3. Late Sumerian Asar-luhi (a principal epithet of Marduk), Assyrian Ashur, Egyptian Asar (Osiris); 4. Sumerian Dumuzi, biblical Tammuz, Phoenician Adonis, Greek Dionysius, Roman Bacchus.
[End of quote]
For Catholic readers (particularly), the mystical visionary, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, describing Nimrod in some detail, identified him as “Belus”, perhaps the same as Rohl’s “Bel or Baal (‘Lord’)”. According to what she wrote (Life of Jesus Christ):
[Nimrod] built Babylon out of the stones of the Tower …. He also laid the foundation of Ninive [Nineveh], and built substructures of stones for tent dwellings. He was a great hunter and tyrant. At that period savage animals were very numerous, and they committed fearful ravages. The hunting expeditions fitted out against them were as grand as military expeditions. They who slew these wild animals, were honored as gods. Nemrod [Nimrod] also drove men together and subdued them. He practiced idolatry, he was full of cruelty and witchcraft, and he had many descendants. He lived to be about two hundred and seventy years old. He was of sallow complexion, and from early youth he had led a wild life. He was an instrument of Satan and very much given to star worship. Of the numerous figures and pictures that he traced in the planets and the constellations, and according to which he prophesied and concerning the different nations and countries, he sought to reproduce representations, which he set up as gods. The Egyptians owe their Sphinx to him [My comment: Perhaps so, but the Sphinx was built much later than Nimrod’s time], as also their many-armed and many-headed idols. For seventy years, Nemrod busied himself with the histories of these idols, with ceremonial details relative to their worship and the sacrifices to be offered them, also with the forming of the pagan priesthood. By his diabolical wisdom and power, he had subjected the races that he led to the building of the Tower. When the confusion of tongues arose, many of those tribes broke away from him, and the wildest of them followed Mesraim [Mizraim] into Egypt. …. Among his numerous children [was] Ninus ….
[End of quote]
And historically, Nimrod has been identified with such early Mesopotamian/Akkadian rulers as Enmerkar of the Uruk I dynasty, e.g., by Rohl, and with the mighty king Sargon of Akkad. Commenting upon Rohl’s view, I wrote in Part One:
I had previously thought that David Rohl’s view (in The Lost Testament) that the Uruk I dynasty after the Mesopotamian flood was the dynasty of Cush and Nimrod, with the latter being the historical Enmerkar. And this may still apply. However, I now think that we need to take into account our new geography/archaeology and also D. Petrovich’s compelling view of Nimrod as the legendary Sargon of Akkad.
Whilst Sargon was a real person, I would suggest that the Mesopotamians had borrowed this story of his infancy (dating much later than the similar Moses story) from the Book of Exodus (http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/nemonarchs/g/Sargon.htm):
A story about Sargon’s youth sounds like the Moses infancy story. The baby Sargon, nestled in a reed basket sealed with bitumen, was placed in the Euphrates River. The basket floated until it was rescued by a gardener or date grower. In this capacity he worked for the king of Kish, Ur-Zababa until he rose in the ranks to become the king’s cupbearer. ….
Finally, I shall be most interested to find whether further excavation work at the site of Jerablus (Carchemish), or its environs, yields any evidence for the famous Tower of Babel.
[End of quote]
Finally, in the opinion of Dr. Livingston, Nimrod is to be equated with Gilgamesh.
Gilgamesh the Hunter King
Here is the relevant part of Dr. Livingston’s article: http://davelivingston.com/nimrod.htm
Was “Nimrod” Godly or Evil?
First, what does the name Nimrod mean? It comes from the Hebrew verb marad, meaning “rebel.” Adding an “n” before the “m” it becomes an infinitive construct, “Nimrod.” (see Kautzsch 1910: 137 2b; also BDB 1962: 597).
First, what does the name Nimrod mean? It comes from the Hebrew verb marad, meaning “rebel.” Adding an “n” before the “m” it becomes an infinitive construct, “Nimrod.” (see Kautzsch 1910: 137 2b; also BDB 1962: 597). The meaning then is “The Rebel.” Thus “Nimrod” may not be the character’s name at all. It is more likely a derisive term of a type, a representative, of a system that is epitomized in rebellion against the Creator, the one true God. Rebellion began soon after the Flood as civilizations were restored. At that time this person became very prominent.
In Genesis 10:8-11 we learn that “Nimrod” established a kingdom. Therefore, one would expect to find also, in the literature of the ancient Near East, a person who was a type, or example, for other people to follow. And there was. It is a well-known tale, common in Sumerian literature, of a man who fits the description. In addition to the Sumerians, the Babylonians wrote about this person; the Assyrians likewise; and the Hittites. Even in Palestine, tablets have been found with this man’s name on them. He was obviously the most popular hero in the Ancient Near East.
|Part of Nimrod’s kingdom (Genesis 10:11), Nineveh along the Tigris River continued to be a major city in ancient Assyria. Today adjacent to modern Mosul, the ruins of ancient Nineveh are centered on two mounds, the acropolis at Kuyunjik and Nebi Yunis (Arabic “Prophet Jonah”). Pictured is Sennacherib’s “Palace without a rival” on Kuyunjik, constructed at the end of the seventh century BC and excavated by Henry Layard in the early 20th century.|
The Gilgamesh Epic
|The Babylonian Flood Story is told on the 11th tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, almost 200 lines of poetry on 12 clay tablets inscribed in cuneiform script. A number of different versions of the Gilgamesh Epic have been found around the ancient Near East, most dating to the seventh century BC. The most complete version came from the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh. Commentators agree that the story comes from a much earlier period, not too long after the Flood as described in the story.|
The person we are referring to, found in extra-Biblical literature, was Gilgamesh. The first clay tablets naming him were found among the ruins of the temple library of the god Nabu (Biblical Nebo) and the palace library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh. Many others have been found since in a number of excavations. The author of the best treatise on the Gilgamesh Epic says,
The date of the composition of the Gilgamesh Epic can therefore be fixed at about 2000 BC. But the material contained on these tablets is undoubtedly much older, as we can infer from the mere fact that the epic consists of numerous originally independent episodes, which, of course, did not spring into existence at the time of the composition of our poem but must have been current long before they were compiled and woven together to form our epic (Heidel 1963: 15).
Yet his arrogance, ruthlessness and depravity were a subject of grave concern for the citizens of Uruk (his kingdom). They complained to the great god Anu, and Anu instructed the goddess Aruru to create another wild ox, a double of Gilgamesh, who would challenge him and distract his mind from the warrior’s daughter and the noblemen’s spouse, whom it appears he would not leave in peace (Roux 1966: 114).
The Epic of Gilgamesh has some very indecent sections. Alexander Heidel, first translator of the epic, had the decency to translate the vilest parts into Latin. Spieser, however, gave it to us “straight” ( Pritchard 1955: 72). With this kind of literature in the palace, who needs pornography? Gilgamesh was a vile, filthy, man. Yet the myth says of him that he was “2/3 god and 1/3 man.”
Gilgamesh is Nimrod
|Model of ancient ziggurat.|
How does Gilgamesh compare with “Nimrod?” Josephus says of Nimrod,
Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah — a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it were through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny — seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence upon his own power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers (Ant. 1: iv: 2)
What Josephus says here is precisely what is found in the Gilgamesh epics. Gilgamesh set up tyranny, he opposed YHVH and did his utmost to get people to forsake Him.
Two of the premiere commentators on the Bible in Hebrew has this to say about Genesis 10:9,
Nimrod was mighty in hunting, and that in opposition to YHVH; not “before YHVH” in the sense of according to the will and purpose of YHVH, still less, . . . in a simply superlative sense . . . The name itself, “Nimrod” from marad, “we will revolt,” points to some violent resistance to God . . . Nimrod as a mighty hunter founded a powerful kingdom; and the founding of this kingdom is shown by the verb with vav consecutive, to have been the consequence or result of his strength in hunting, so that hunting was intimately connected with the establishing of the kingdom. Hence, if the expression “a mighty hunter” relates primarily to hunting in the literal sense, we must add to the literal meaning the figurative signification of a “hunter of men” (a trapper of men by stratagem and force); Nimrod the hunter became a tyrant, a powerful hunter of men (Keil and Delitzsch 1975: 165).
“in the face of YHVH can only mean “in defiance of YHVH,” as Josephus and the Targums understand it (op. cit.: 166).
And the proverb must have arisen when other daring and rebellious men followed in Nimrod’s footsteps and must have originated with those who saw in such conduct an act of rebellion against the God of salvation, in other words, with the possessors of the divine promise of grace (loc. cit.).
|Often attributed to Nimrod, the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) was not a Jack and the Beanstalk type of construction, where people were trying to build a structure to get into heaven. Instead, it is best understood as an ancient ziggurat (Assyrian “mountaintop”), as the one pictured here from ancient Ur of the Chaldees, Abraham’s hometown (Genesis 11:31). A ziggurat was a man-made structure with a temple at its top, built to worship the host of heaven.|
After the Flood there was, at some point, a breakaway from YHVH. Only eight people descended from the Ark. Those people worshipped YHVH. But at some point an influential person became opposed to YHVH and gathered others to his side. I suggest that Nimrod is the one who did it. Cain had done similarly before the Flood, founding a new city and religious system.
Our English translation of the Hebrew of Genesis 10:8-10 is weak. The author of this passage of Scripture will not call Gilgamesh by his name and honor him, but is going to call him by a derisive name, what he really is — a rebel. Therefore we should translate Genesis 10:8-10 to read,
Cush begat Nimrod; he began to be a tyrant in the earth. He was a tyrannical hunter in opposition to the Lord. Thus it is said, “Nimrod the tyrannical opponent of YHVH.”
Likewise, Gilgamesh was a man who took control by his own strength. In Genesis 10 Nimrod is presented as a type of him. Nimrod’s descendants were the ones who began building the tower in Babel where the tongues were changed. Gilgamesh is a type of early city founders. (Page numbers below are from Heidel 1963)
He is a “shepherd” ……………… page 18 From Uruk ……………………….. page 17 (Kramer 1959: 31 calls Uruk, Erech.) A giant …………………………….. page 17 (11 cubits) Builds cities ………………………. page 17 Vile man “takes women” ……… page 18 Mighty hunter ……………………. page 18
Gilgamesh Confronts YHVH!
The name of YHVH rarely appears in extra-Biblical literature in the Ancient Near East. Therefore we would not expect to find it in the Gilgamesh epic. But why should the God of the Jews rarely be mentioned? The Hebrew Bible is replete with the names of other gods.
On the other hand, the nations surely knew of Him even though they had no respect for Him. If so, how might His Name appear in their literature, if at all? The name of YHVH, in a culture which is in rebellion against His rule, would most likely be in a derisive form, not in its true form. Likewise, the writers of Scripture would deride the rebels.
Putting the Bible and the Gilgamesh Epic Together
The Gilgamesh Epic describes the first “God is Dead” movement. In the Epic, the hero is a vile, filthy, perverted person, yet he is presented as the greatest, strongest, hero that ever lived. (Heidel 1963: 18). So that the one who sent the Flood will not trouble them anymore, Gilgamesh sets out to kill the perpetrator. He takes with him a friend who is a monstrous half-man, half-animal — Enkidu. Together they go on a long journey to the Cedar Mountain to find and destroy the monster who sent the Flood. Gilgamesh finds him and finally succeeds in cutting off the head of the creature whose name is “Huwawa” (“Humbaba” in the Assyrian version; see Heidel 1963: 34ff).
Is there a connection with the Gilgamesh epic and Genesis 10? Note what Gilgamesh says to Enkidu, the half-man, half-beast, who accompanied him on his journey, found in Tablet 111, lines 147 – 150.
“If I fall,” Gilgamesh says, “I will establish a name for myself. ‘Gilgamesh is fallen,’ they will say, ‘in combat with terrible Huwawa.'”
But the next five lines are missing from all tablets found so far! Can we speculate on what they say? Let’s try . . . We suggest that those five lines include,
“But if I win,.. they will say, Gilgamesh, the mighty vanquisher of Huwawa!”
Why do we say that? Because Genesis 10:9 gives us the portion missing from the Gilgamesh tablets. Those lines include… “it is said, Nimrod (or Gilgamesh) the mighty vanquisher of YHVH.” This has to be what is missing from all the clay tablets of the Gilgamesh story. The Gilgamesh Epic calls him Huwawa; the Bible calls Him YHVH.
|This face supposedly represents Huwawa who, according to the Gilgamesh’s Epic, sent the Flood on the earth. According to the story, Huwawa (Humbaba in the Assyrian version) was killed by Gilgamesh and his half-man/half-beast friend, Enkidu. The author suggests Huwawa is the ancient pagan perspective of Yahweh (YHVH), the God of the Bible. About 3 inches (7.5 cm), this mask is dated to around the sixth century BC. Of an unknown provenance, it is now in the British Museum.|
Heidel, speaking of the incident as it is found on Tablet V says,
All we can conclude from them (the lost lines) is that Gilgarnesh and Enkidu cut off the head of Humbaba (or Huwawa) and that the expedition had a successful issue (ending) (1963: 47).
The missing lines from the Epic are right there in the Bible!
Because of the parallels between Gilgamesh and Nimrod, many scholars agree that Gilgamesh is Nimrod. Continuing with Gilgamesh’s fable, he did win, he did vanquish Huwawa and took his head. Therefore he could come back to Uruk and other cities and tell the people “not to worry about YHVH anymore, he is dead. I killed him over in the Lebanon mountains. So just live however you like, I will be your king and take care of you.”
There are still other parallels between the Bible and the Gilgamesh epic: “YaHVeH” has a somewhat similar sound to “Huwawa.” Gilgamesh did just as the “sons of god” in Genesis 6 did. The “sons of god” forcibly took men’s wives. The Epic says that is precisely what Gilgamesh did. The Bible calls Nimrod a tyrant, and Gilgamesh was a tyrant. There was a Flood in the Bible, there is a flood in the Epic. Cush is mentioned in the Bible, Kish in the Epic. Erech is mentioned in Scripture, Uruk was Gilgamesh’s city. Gilgamesh made a trip to see the survivor of the Flood. This was more likely Ham than Noah, since “Nimrod” was Ham’s grandson! Historically, Gilgamesh was of the first dynasty of Uruk. As Jacobsen points out (1939: 157), kings before Gilgamesh may be fictional, but not likely. The fact that the Gilgamesh Epic also contains the Deluge story would indicate a close link with events immediately following the Flood. S.N. Kramer says,
A few years ago one would have strongly doubted his (historical) existence . . . we now have the certitude that the time of Gilgamesh corresponds to the earliest period of Mesopotamian history. (Kramer 1959: 117)
|Originally established by Nimrod (Genesis 10:11), and today known as Nimrud, Calah became an important city in Iraq. This is an artist’s reconstruction of the interior of Tiglath-pileser III’s palace (late seventh century BC).|
What a contrast Psalm 2 is compared with the Gilgamesh Epic!
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.” The One enthroned in heaven laughs, the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “you are my Son, today I have become your Father, Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” Therefore, you kings, be wise; he warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2)