Ea’s Duplicity in the Gilgamesh Flood Story: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Ea’s Duplicity in the Gilgamesh Flood Story

1st Edition

By Martin Worthington


528 pages

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Hardback: 9781138388925
pub: 2019-09-10
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This volume opens up new perspectives on Babylonian and Assyrian literature, through the lens of a pivotal passage in the Gilgamesh Flood story. It shows how, using a nine-line message where not all was as it seemed, the god Ea inveigled humans into building the Ark.  


The volume argues that Ea used a ‘bitextual’ message: one which can be understood in different ways that sound the same. His message thus emerges as an ambivalent oracle in the tradition of ‘folktale prophecy’. The argument is supported by interlocking investigations of lexicography, divination, diet, figurines, social history, and religion. There are also extended discussions of Babylonian word play and ancient literary interpretation. Besides arguing for Ea’s duplicity, the book explores its implications – for narrative sophistication in Gilgamesh, for audiences and performance of the poem, and for the relation of the Gilgamesh Flood story to the versions in Atra-hasīs, the Hellenistic historian Berossos, and the Biblical Book of Genesis.


Ea’s Duplicity in the Gilgamesh Flood Story will interest Assyriologists, Hebrew Bible scholars and Classicists, but also students and researchers in all areas concerned with Gilgamesh, word play, oracles, and traditions about the Flood.

Table of Contents




PART 1 – Preliminaries

1 Introduction

1.1 Bitextuality

1.2 The Gilgameš Flood story

1.3 Other Mesopotamian Flood stories

1.4 Ea’s message

1.4.1 The manuscripts

1.4.2 Synoptic transliteration

1.4.3 Composite text and translation

1.5 The problems

1.6 Previous studies

1.6.1 Recovering (most of) the text: George Smith (1872) to Paul Haupt (1883)

1.6.2 An "infamous lie"? Peter Jensen (1890) and dissenters

1.6.3 Glimmers of puns: Ungnad (1911) etc.

1.6.4 The ‘bitextual’ pun of Frank (1925)

1.6.5 Early reception of Frank’s idea

1.6.6 Thompson (1930)’s reading ina še-er

1.6.7 The golden age of Frank’s bitextual pun

1.6.8 Exit puns: Von Soden (1955) to Millard (1987)

1.6.9 Re-enter puns: Dalley (1989) and others

1.6.10 Re-exit puns: George (2010) to the present

1.6.11 Summary

1.7 Outline of the argument

1.7.1 Angles not pursued

1.8 Audiences, internal and external

2 ‘Interrogating’ Babylonian narrative poetry

2.1 Is ‘interrogation’ appropriate?

2.1.1 Is the poem too ‘naïve’?

2.1.2 Is ‘interrogation’ precluded by accretion?

2.2 Modelling ancient interpretations

2.2.1 The elusiveness of native meta-discussions

2.2.2 Did they simply ‘know it all’?

2.2.3 Differences between ancient and modern interests

2.2.4 Glimpses of ancient interpretation Commentaries on narrative poems Commentaries mentioning narrative poems Other commentaries The ‘Marduk Ordeal’ Colophons Self-reflexive comments within poems Adaptation The ‘Catalogue of Texts and Authors’ A personal response to the Flood story?

2.2.5 Summary: modelling ancient interpretations

2.3 Summary: ‘interrogating’ Babylonian narrative poetry

3 ‘Identifying’ puns

3.1 Are they ‘really there’? – author intention vs audience reception

3.2 Disadvantages of the exclusive focus on authorial intention

3.2.1 Cases where authorial intention is clear

3.2.2 Obstacles to identifying authorial intention

3.2.3 Rigidity

3.3 Alternatives to the emphasis on authorial intention

3.3.1 ‘Ironclad’ vs ‘potential’ puns

3.3.2 A ‘high-potential’ bitextual pun in OB Atra–hasīs

3.4 Puns and pronunciation

3.5 Summary

4 The high concentration of puns in the Gilgameš Flood story

PART 2 – Dissecting Ea’s message

5 The lines about the Flood hero

6 Raining ‘plenty’: ušaznanakkunūši nuhšam-ma

6.1 The positive sense

6.2 The negative sense

6.3 The subject of ušaznanakkunūši

6.3.1 Enlil as instigator of the Flood

6.3.2 Exit Šamaš

7 The birds: [hiṣib] iṣṣūrāti

7.1 The restoration ‘hi-ṣib’

7.2 The positive sense

7.3 The negative sense

7.3.1 The verb vs the noun

7.3.2 ‘Cutting off’, literal and metaphorical

7.3.3 The spheres of use attested for haṣābu

7.4 An Ur–Namma passage

7.5 Summary

8 The fish: puzur nūnī

8.1 What is puzur?

8.2 The positive sense

8.2.1 The associations of ‘covering’

8.2.2 Fish as comestibles

8.3 The negative sense

8.3.1 Fish-like sages, Assyrian vs Babylonian

8.4 Summary

9 The harvest: […] mešrâ ebūram-ma

9.1 The positive sense

9.2 The negative sense

9.3 Summary

10 ‘Cakes at dawn’: ina šēr(-)kukkī

10.1 The positive sense

10.1.1 kukku ‘bread, cake’

10.2 The negative sense involving darkness

10.2.1 kukkû ‘darkness’

10.2.2 The relevance of darkness to Ea’s message

10.3 The negative sense involving incantations

10.3.1 The morphological problem Case endings on manuscript W Case endings on manuscript c Why is the genitive ending absent?

10.3.2 šerkukku as a by-form of šerkugû

10.3.3 The meanings of šerkugû / šerkukku

10.4 Summary

11 ‘In the evening’: ina līlâti

11.1 The positive sense

11.2 The negative sense involving darkness

11.3 The negative sense involving líl-demonesses

11.4 Summary

12 The ‘rain of wheat’: šamût kibāti

12.1 An incantation-like rhyme?

12.2 The positive sense

12.3 The negative sense of ‘a wheat-like rain’

12.4 Negative senses involving death

12.4.1 Killing wheat

12.4.2 Wheat stalks symbolising human lives

12.5 Summary

13 Recapitulation

13.1 The message’s various senses

13.2 How alike were the different versions pronounced?

13.3 Why multiple negative meanings?

13.4 The change of meaning with repetition

13.4.1 Did a rain of wheat actually happen?

13.4.2 Who utters 87-88 and 91?

13.4.3 How ‘fairly’ were the people of Šuruppak tricked?

14 Issues of textual history

14.1 When was the bitextual message created?

14.1.1 An Assyrian creation?

14.2 Questions of circulation and diffusion

14.3 How easily would readers have realised the ambiguity?

14.4 Questions of stability

15 Meaning and performance

PART 3 – Conspicuous silences in the Gilgameš Flood story

16 Outlining the problems

17 Does Atra–hasīs ‘fill in the gaps’?

17.1 Epistemic competition

17.2 What does Gilgameš know about the Flood?

17.2.1 From the outset to Tablet IX

17.2.2 Tablet X

17.2.3 Tablet XI

17.3 Summary: does Atra–hasīs ‘fill in the gaps’?

18 Communications between Ea and the Flood hero

18.1 The command to build the Ark

18.1.1 Text of the command

18.1.2 How did Ea choose the Flood Hero?

18.1.3 The puzzle of multiple addressees

18.1.4 Why demolish the house?

18.1.5 A link to a Sumerian poem

18.1.6 Summary

18.2 The Flood hero’s reply

18.2.1 What is he concerned about?

18.2.2 Who are ‘the city, the ummānu and the elders’? The ālu The ummānu (or ummânu) The šībūtu Mesopotamian ‘city assemblies’ The third millennium The first half of the second millennium The later second millennium The first millennium The Assyrian ‘City Hall’ Summary: kī lūpul ālu ummānu u šībūtu

18.2.3 Was a dream involved?

18.3 Ea’s message – from Ea to the Flood hero

19 Communication between the Flood hero and the people of Šuruppak

19.1 How and to whom did the Flood hero relay Ea’s message?

19.2 How did the people of Šuruppak react to Ea’s message?

19.2.1 Cross-checking divinatory information

19.2.2 Scepticism about diviners

19.2.3 Summary: how did the people of Šuruppak react to Ea’s message?

19.3 What about the other gods?

19.4 How easily might the people have realised the message’s ambivalence?

19.5 What if they had understood?

19.6 Summary: the ‘chain of communications

20 Ea’s elusiveness

20.1 Ea’s long shadow over Gilgameš’s adventure

20.2 Ea and the other gods

20.2.1 Altruism or self-interest?

20.2.2 Ninurta’s accusation and Ea’s defence

20.2.3 The missing dream

20.2.4 Was the defence viable?

20.3 Ea and the people of Šuruppak

20.3.1 Why use a duplicitous message?

20.3.2 Did Ea intend for the message to be misunderstood?

20.3.3 Does a hard-to-spot message argue for a deliberate trick?

20.3.4 A trick to crown them all?

20.3.5 ‘Golden ages’ in Cuneiform

20.4 Summary: Ea’s elusiveness

21 The enigma of Uta–napišti

21.1 What was his status in Šuruppak?

21.1.1 According to other versions of the Babylonian Flood story

21.1.2 According to Gilgameš XI

21.2 How honest was he to Gilgameš?

21.3 Did he realise the message’s true import?

21.4 Tricking the boatman?

21.5 Summary: the enigma of Uta–napišti

22 Why the ‘gaps’?

22.1 Significant silences and performance

22.2 Reasons for silences on the part of Uta–napišti

22.3 Reasons for silences on the part of the Poet(s)

PART 4 – Other interconnections

23 Ea’s duplicity and Babylonian/Assyrian divination

23.1 Which forms of divine communication feature in the story?

23.2 Dreams and the importance of gender roles

23.3 The kukku in divination

23.3.1 In Šumma Izbu (malformed birth omens)

23.3.2 In extispicy (liver omens)

23.4 The gods, omens, and deceit

23.4.1 The oracle trompant

23.4.2 Characterisations of gods as mendacious

23.4.3 Characterisations of omens as ‘false’, etc.

23.4.4 Omens which are ambivalent or deceptive

23.4.5 Summary: Ea’s message and divine deceit

23.5 Summary: Ea’s duplicity and Babylonian divination

24 Beyond Cuneiform

24.1 Genesis

24.1.1 Issues of textual history

24.1.2 The question of influence

24.1.3 Beyond influence Miscellaneous differences Morality

24.2 Berossus

25 Conclusions



About the Author

Martin Worthington is Senior Lecturer in Assyriology and a Fellow of St John’s College at the University of Cambridge, UK.

About the Series

The Ancient Word

New Discoveries in Religion and Language From the Biblical and Near Eastern World

The Ancient Word is dedicated to publishing exciting, broadly relevant new research in ancient Near Eastern and biblical studies. Each book represents an advance both philologically, in our understanding of ancient sources, and intellectually, in providing fresh ways to think about what the remote past means. Herder once imagined an "archive of paradise" containing the first writing in the world from its oldest civilization: primordial texts holding the keys to understanding our formation. In unearthing the remains of the ancient Near East, we have something like this archive - but it remains mostly unread. Herder's bold search has been replaced with safer techniques, from sweeping theories of oral vs. literate societies to reductive legitimation theories that boil culture down to power. This series showcases fresh work that helps unlock this archive's potential.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Ancient / General