Several books of the Bible, specifically the Hebrew old Testament, contain valuable references to Mesopotamian empires, rulers, events, and customs. This is not surprising since Palestine, where the Hebrews lived, adjoined Mesopotamia and was frequently conquered or culturally and commercially influenced by Mesopotamian peoples, especially the Babylonians and the Assyrians. Also, the books of the old Testament were written, or their initial oral traditions were formed, during the period when the Assyrian and the Babylonian empires were at their heights. The old Testament not only records figures and events of this period but also incorporates traditional Mesopotamian myths and traditions, such as the flood legend of Atrahasis, which became the biblical Noah's flood.
   The Creation, Garden of Eden, and Flood: Cross-Cultural References Thefirstsection of the Old Testament, the book of Genesis, is especially rich in cross-cultural references with Mesopotamian civilization. The writers of Genesis were clearly influenced by the main Babylonian creation epic, the Enuma Elish. Both works describe the chaos and nothingness that existed before the intervention of a deity:
   The earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. (Genesis 1.2)
   When on high the heaven had not been named, firm ground below had not been called by name ... no reed hut had sprung forth, no marshland had appeared, [and] none of the gods had been brought into being. (Enuma Elish 1-7)
   In each work the heavens, Earth, and humanity are then created. The major difference, of course, is that the Hebrew version names a single god as the creator, whereas the Mesopotamian work invokes multiple gods.
   Later in Genesis, the Garden of Eden appears. Eden was a Sumerian word meaning "fertile plain." Genesis claims that Eden was situated in the "east" and that a river in Eden split into branches called Hidde-kel and Pherath. These were the Hebrew names for the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; thus, from the Hebrew point of view, Eden was located somewhere in the heart of Mesopotamia. Ancient Sumerian texts also mentioned an Eden-like paradise, called Dilmun. And the biblical episode in which
   God creates Eve from one of Adam's ribs seems to have been inspired by a Sumerian myth set in Dilmun. In that myth, the goddess Ninhursag tries to help the god Enki, whose rib is injured, by creating the goddess Nin-ti, "the lady of the rib."
   Perhaps the closest and most famous parallel between Genesis and the Mesopo-tamian legends is the flood story. The hero, known to the Mesopotamians variously as Ziusudra, Utnapishtim, and Atrahasis, is the equivalent of Noah. All are given instructions by a god on how to build a large boat to survive a coming deluge. And later, all release birds in an effort to determine if the floodwaters have abated. Recent evidence suggests that all of the hauntingly similar flood legends of the Near East, including the biblical one, may have been based on a real natural catastrophe in the Black Sea region some seven thousand years ago. Genesis also mentions the Tower of Babel. Most modern scholars think this is a reference to the great ziggu-rat erected in Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar II and that the term Babel derived from Babylon.
   The biblical book of Exodus also shows Mesopotamian influences. Particularly striking is the way the story of the Hebrew prophet Moses's birth and upbringing parallel those attributed to the great early Mesopotamian conqueror Sargon of Akkad. Sargon is supposedly born in secret to a priestess who places him in a basket made of reeds and sets the basket adrift in a river. A man finds the basket and raises the boy, who later rises to become king. Similarly, in Exodus, "the woman con-ceivedandboreason. ...Andwhenshe could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes [reeds] ... and she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds at the river's bank." (Exodus 2.2-3) In the biblical version, Moses, like Sargon, is rescued and grows up among royalty, in this case the family of Egypt's pharaoh.
   Political and Military References Other books of the Old Testament record, with varying degrees of detail and accuracy, actual military and political events of first-millennium b.c. Mesopotamia. They therefore constitute important supplementary historical sources for these happenings. Among them were the Assyrian capture of the northern kingdom of Israel in the 720s b.c., the Assyrian king Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem two decades later, and the sack of Jerusalem and exile of its resident Jews by Babylonia's King Nebuchadnezzar II circa 597 b.c. The biblical prophets who recorded these events usually gave them a moral dimension, suggesting that the Jews' misfortunes were a form of divine retribution. For example:
   Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land [of Israel] and came to Samaria and for three years he besieged it. . . . The king of Assyria captured Samaria and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria. .. . And this was so because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord. (2 Kings 17.5-7)
   One of the most vivid historical biblical passages is the prophet Nahum's description of the destruction of the Assyrian city of Nineveh by the Babylonians and the Medes in 612 b.c.:
   The shatterer [the hand of God?] has come up against you. . . . The chariots flash like flame when mustered in array; the chargers prance. The chariots rage in the streets, they rush to and fro through the squares; they gleam like torches, they dart like lightning. . . . Theriver gatesare opened, the palace is in dismay. . . . Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away. "Halt! Halt!" they cry; but none turns back. Plunder the silver, plunder the gold! . . . Desolate! Desolation and ruin! (Nahum 2.1-10)

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.


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