Moses/Gilgamesh

Moses/Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh and Mt Mašu

A major factor in this quest for the origins of the Moses account is the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was extremely famous around the Near East for thousands of years, with copies of it found in Turkey, Syria, Mesopotamia and the Levant,1652 as at Megiddo, in Israel, thus connecting the two cultures. Since the earliest parts of this epic date to at least 1800 BCE, with the era of a possible “historical” king by that name around 2600 BCE,1653 this myth predates the composition of the Moses tale by over a thousand years.

The continuity of the epic’s popularity can be seen in the fact that it was included in the Ashurbanipal library, around 650 BCE. Thus, the text likely would have been present in one or more Babylonian libraries during the exile in the sixth century and could not have been unknown to the Jews, especially those literate individuals in Babylon. This fact is especially true since the Israelites appear to have come significantly from the same stock as the Chaldeans/Amorites, whose hero was Gilgamesh, considered to be semidivine or a demigod.

The combination of texts and traditions from Western Semites such as the Canaanites, Ugaritians and Phoenicians, reflecting the northern kingdom, with those of the Babylonian-influenced Amoritish tribes of the southern hill country or Judea, explains very well the mixture we find in the Bible. If we add in the Egyptian and Indo-European influence through the Hittites and Mitanni, as well as Greeks during the late second to first millennia, numerous biblical elements are laid plain.

Moreover, the fact that there are Sumero-Babylonian, Akkadian and Hittite editions of the Epic of Gilgamesh1654 reflects a perfect match for the mixed beliefs of the hill settlement tribes as well. As demonstrated by its usage at Ugarit, the epic was a school text, which again indicates it was known widely by numerous individuals around the Levant for a very long time. Jewish scribes and other literate persons could not have been ignorant of its existence or contents.

Historicity?

As noted, it is believed that there is a historical core to Gilgamesh:

Gilgamesh apparently was a historical person, the king of the citystate of Uruk (biblical Erech) sometime between 2700 and 2500 B.C.E. There is little historical kernel, however, to the epic by that name. Some traditions even identified Gilgamesh with one of the traditional Mesopotamian gods: with Dumuzi (Tammuz), the annual dying and rising god; with Ningishzida, a tree god; or with Nergal, the supreme god of the underworld.1655

While there may have been a king by this name, the epic itself clearly represents not a “biography” but a solar-fertility myth in significant part. Among many other redactions, Gilgamesh’s legend evidently was accreted with details from real people, such as King Gudea of Lagash (2144–2124 BCE), the end result of which is a composite character.

In this regard, University of Pennsylvania professor of Hebrew and Semitic languages and literature Dr. Jeffrey H. Tigay details the epic’s construction over a period of 1,500 years in his monograph “The Evolution of the Pentateuchal Narratives in Light of the Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic.” Again, a story with such longevity must have been known by millions across several relevant ethnicities and civilizations.

Although the tale’s germ could represent typical mythmaking associated with a ruler, including ascribing his right to rule to the sun god’s authority, as occurred with Hammurabi, Gilgamesh’s role in the epic is one of a solar hero, not a real person. It is his myth that has been copied, evidently, in the stories of many later heroes and lawgivers, including the Judaized Moses.

Moreover, it is noteworthy that the Babylonian hero has been identified with various deities of the region, including Tammuz, the solar harvest/wine god, and Ningishzida, the tree god. This latter deity, as we shall see, is also a solar serpent god, representing the constellation of Hydra as well.1656 The connection to Nergal is also interesting, in that Gilgamesh’s journey appears to be an underworld myth resembling that of Osiris. Moreover, all three of these gods were styled with the epithet maš-maš or “mash-mash.”

A priesthood attempting to syncretize all of these deities would naturally latch onto a moniker they had in common; hence, eventually one would speak of the god “Mash” or “Mashu” to connote this syncretic entity, later demoted to a “patriarch” styled “Mashah” or “Mosheh.”

Fig. 108. Old Babylonian for ‘Gilgamesh’ (Epic 11.322)

Etymology of Gilgamesh

In the oldest Sumerian texts, the name of the hero is Bilgames (dbil3-ga-mes), while in Old Babylonian it is GIŠ-gim-maš or “Gishgimmash.” The cuneiform for this name is  (Gilgameš), the last part of which name is the symbol , representing maš and connoting a number of different concepts, including: “border, boundary,” “to be pure” and “goat; sacrificial animal for omens.”1657

The term is also the suffix of the word Ša-maš or Shamash, the sun, and, therefore, one could suggest again that the sun god was called maš or “Mash.” As we have seen, Assyriologist Clay surmised Mash and Shamash to be the same as the term meaning “hero” or “leader.”

The Hebrew word for “Gilgamesh” is  ,גילגמש the suffix of which contains the first two letters of the name  משה Mosheh and last two of shemesh. Although it is said not to derive from the Semitic term  גלגל gilgal, meaning “wheel” or “circle,”1658 a Semitic speaker might hear in the word “gilga-mesh” a connotation of “wheel of Moses” or “circle of Mash.” This misconception, whether deliberate or accidental—keeping in mind that few ancients were professional etymologists and that many intellectuals, bards and poets in antiquity enjoyed wordplay and fanciful etymologies1659—may have led to the change in the hero’s name over a period of centuries. It is significant that gilgal or galgal is defined in the Talmud as referring also to the zodiacal circle.1660

In Amurru, Clay “endeavored to show that Giš-bil-ga-Meš (Gilgamesh) was a West Semitic name, which contains that of the god Mesh or Mash...”1661 Hence, he would be another “Mash” to be syncretized with his godly counterparts to produce “Moses.”

Twin Mountains

In the Gilgamesh epic, Mašu or Mashu is the name of the sacred mountain guarded by the scorpion men from which the sun god, Shamash, comes riding in a chariot each morning and to which he returns every night.1662 To summarize:

After reaching Mount Mašu in Tablet 9, Gilgamesh travels along the “road of the sun” on which he encounters dense darkness. Gilgamesh begins the journey into the twelve leagues of darkness at Mount Mašu, which guards the rising and setting of the sun.1663

Sharing this symbolism, an Akkadian sun hymn reads:

Sun-god, when you rise from the Great Mountain, when you rise from the Great Mountain, the “Mountain of the Spring,” when you rise from Duku, the place where the destinies are determined, when you rise at the place where heaven and earth embrace, at the horizon.1664

This scene reminds one also of Moses’s striking of the rock at the foot of Mt. Sinai to produce a spring (Exod 17:6).

Gemini

The māšu or maashu epithet was applied also to the constellation of Gemini, the “twins,” signifying that the term was well known in antiquity, designated by māšu/maš and connoting also “star.”1665

Mashu denoting “twins” is used in the names of the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th ecliptic constellations of the Babylonians as well.1666

A list of deities from the text “Prayer to the Gods of the Night,” dating to the Old Babylonian period (c. 1830–1530 BCE), reveals the theonym “Mash,” apparently as Gemini:

The suggestion is that the god Mash is identified with Gemini.1667

Horned Peaks

The Akkadian word māšu or mashu/maashu thus is used to describe the “Twin Mountains” of the Gilgamesh myth, reflecting the symbolism of the two peaks through which the sun rises and sets.1668 The twin or horned peaks could represent another connotation of the “horns” in the Moses and Dionysus myths as well.

Again, the symbolism of the sun between two pointed mountains is widespread in antiquity, including in Mesopotamia and Egypt, as well as in the Americas. The twin-peaked mountain motif is comparable to Horus of the Two Horizons, and these twins have been identified also as the “two breasts” of Mother Earth.1669

In this regard, Mt. Sinai and Mt. Horeb have been conceived since antiquity as “twin peaks” in a similar fashion. At the traditional site for Mt. Sinai in the Sinai, St. Catherine’s Monastery is set at the foot of twin peaks, one of which is taken to be Mt. Horeb and the other Sinai.1670

A similar sacred-mountain tale can be found also in the Indian story of the cosmic Mount Mandara, used to churn the “Ocean of Milk” by the Indian sun god Vishnu, in order to create the precession of the equinoxes.1671 Another popular Indian myth concerns the sacred Mt. Meru, the latter name similar to Dionysus’s Merus/Meros and apparently related etymologically to Mašu.1672

The Gilgamesh-Mashu imagery has been compared also to that of the much later Jewish book of 1 Enoch,1673 which may have acquired this theme from Babylon.

The Moses Connection

Considering the facts discussed here, it should come as no surprise if the Moses myth were based significantly upon the Gilgamesh legend. This connection has been proposed in the past, including by German Assyriologist and Semitic philologist at University of Marbug Dr. Peter Jensen, in his book Gilgamesch-Epos und Odyssee. Concerning Jensen’s work, American philologist Dr. Theodore Ziolkowski states:

After an exhaustive exposition of the epic of Gilgamesh, Jensen sets out to demonstrate that Moses is the Gilgamesh of Exodus who saves the children of Israel from precisely the same situation faced by the inhabitants of Erech at the beginning of the Babylonian epic (125–58). He goes on for a thousand pages to depict parallels between Gilgamesh and Abraham, Isaac, Samson, David and various other biblical figures and arrives inevitably at Jesus, who turns out to be “nothing but an Israelite Gilgamesh....”1674

In addition to the many other commonalities, the Babylonian epic’s manner of composition itself reveals a process evidently similar to that by which the later Exodus drama likewise was composed.1675 As Tigay remarks:

A typical current view would summarize the evolution of the Pentateuch more or less as follows. The original literary units underlying the Pentateuch were single narratives about the early Hebrew tribes and their leaders. Such narratives were for the most part created, and at first transmitted, orally, some think in poetic form. In the course of time, some of them were gather together into cycles dealing with various individuals (e.g., Abraham, Jacob) or other common subjects (e.g., the Egyptian bondage, the exodus, the conquest); the cycles were later linked together into lengthier narratives series…1676

We would clarify, however, that these “leaders” were largely the gods of these various tribes, demoted to “patriarchs,” “prophets” and “judges,” and syncretized with one another over the centuries.

Tigay also remarks that “the stages and processes through which the [Gilgamesh] epic demonstrably passed are similar to some of those through which the Pentateuch narratives are presumed to have passed.”1677

Arabian Tales

Islamic scholars in antiquity likewise recognized the relationship between Moses and Gilgamesh when they used more of the latter’s characteristics to flesh out the Islamic Moses, known as Musa/Mūsā or Mushas ( ﻣ )ﻮﺳﻰ in Arabic. Hence, in a thorough analysis we are justified also in acknowledging this comparison.

In this regard, professor of Islamic Studies and Comparative Religion at the University of Washington Dr. Brannon M. Wheeler states, “The Muslim exegetical image of Moses in the Quran is linked with ancient Sumerian stories of Gilgamesh...”1678

Wheeler further says:

In Muslim exegesis on the episode of Moses at the well of Midian there are several allusions to elements from the Epic of Gilgamesh....

It does not appear that Muslim exegetes were familiar with the name of Gilgamesh; but that they were familiar with certain key elements of the Gilgamesh story, especially his journey to Utnapishtim, is evident.1679

Although there is insufficient space for such a study here, if we look to Arabian stories of Moses, including in the Quran, we will find additional comparisons with the Gilgamesh epic.1680 The Arabs may have known the ancient Mesopotamian hero by the name of Musa, rather than Gilgamesh, lending credence to our conclusions that Gilgamesh is Masu/Mashu/Mash and Mashah/Mosheh/Moses.

Commonalities with the Bible

The parallels between Gilgamesh and Moses are many, and there are differences as well. Some of these variant details, such as the Utnapishtim flood story, found their way into other biblical myths, including those purported to have been written by Moses himself. The commonalities include the following, in the order of the Moses myth as in the Bible. For the exact book or tablet in which these themes appear, please consult the epic itself.1681

1. Like Moses, Gilgamesh is considered wise and learned in the mysteries.

2. As do the Israelites in Egypt, a people labors to build a city.1682

3. Gilgamesh is known for killing men, like Moses with the Egyptian and later the Amalekites, Midianites and so on.1683

4. Like Moses, a hero wanders in the wilderness and thrives in the desert with animals.

5. The Babylonian hero speaks to the bright sun god, and his face is lit up, like the burning bush and Moses’s shining countenance.1684

6. A man (Enkidu) is sent to act as a savior or messiah.

7. The hero has a brother with whom he goes on his quest, to “travel an unknown road and fight a strange battle.”

8. Gilgamesh’s destiny is ordained by Enlil, the “father of the gods,” like Moses’s fate determined by Yahweh.

9. A magical serpent features prominently, like Moses’s rod and bronze snake.1685

10. As in the Exodus, the common people lament abuses by a king.1686

11. Gilgamesh petitions the high god on behalf of the suffering people, and the deity responds by sending “strong allies,” including “great winds,” such as the “north wind, the stone and icy wind, the tempest and the scorching wind,” comparable to the biblical plagues.

12. The high god’s allies are compared to vipers, dragons and serpents, resembling the biblical controlling of snakes and monsters, as well as to a “destroying flood and the lightning’s fork.”

13. Gilgamesh goes on an arduous journey to the “garden of the gods” and the “garden of the sun,” comparable to the Exodus into the Promised Land.

14. Gilgamesh miraculously crosses an impassable sea with “waters of death.”

15. The number 12 is significant in both myths.

16. A magical plant/flower provides everlasting life, like the manna miraculously giving life to the chosen people.

17. Gilgamesh provides fresh water on a mountain, like Moses striking the rock.

18. Two brothers fight a giant, like the biblical battles against the Amalekites.

19. The Babylonian hero prays to the moon god, Sin,1687 a name from which comes “Sinai,” where Moses prays to the soli-lunar god Yahweh.

20. The hero climbs a sacred mountain where he finds the high god, whom he reveres with animal sacrifice and offering.

21. As Moses was 40 days in the wilderness of Mt. Sinai,1688 the Babylonian struggle between good and evil lasts 40 days and nights, representing the battle between Gilgamesh and his “alter ego” Enkidu.

22. Gilgamesh kills the Bull of Heaven, while Moses destroys the sacred or heavenly Golden Calf.

23. Like Aaron and his priestly sacrament,1689 a brother receives the drink of the gods and royalty, the best wine, which serves as a civilizing or salvific force, indulged in like a communion food.

24. Gilgamesh was a “despoiler of women,” while Moses gave the Midianite virgin girls to his warriors as their booty.1690

25. As happened to Moses with Aaron, Gilgamesh’s beloved brother, Enkidu, dies.1691

26. Gilgamesh writes down his adventures, like Moses with the Pentateuch.1692

27. Like that of the Hebrew lawgiver in the Bible, Gilgamesh’s death is recorded in the epic.1693

The variances between the Gilgamesh and Moses stories are explained by the era and location, reflecting also the values of the people, as well as the agendas of the wealthy elite and ruling class of the time. These differences are germane in establishing the various influences, mores and other important aspects of a particular culture. As we can see, however, there are many details in common that indicate a shared archetype, some of which we will examine further.

The Quest

As in the myths of Herakles, Dionysus, Moses and others, the Mesopotamian leader/hero sets out on a laborious journey to paradise:

Gilgamesh…travels through twelve leagues of darkness along the “path of the sun.” He emerges from that leg of the journey at the place where the sun rises. There he finds trees with precious stones that serve as fruit and foliage... After an encounter with the ale-wife Siduri near the cluster of trees, he must cross the sea as well as the waters of death (Hubur) to arrive at Utnapishtim’s home...

...in Epic of Gilgamesh 9 the scorpion beings warn that no people can cross through the peaks of Mašu; later the ale-wife informs Gilgamesh that crossing the sea, a feat performed only by the sungod, would be difficult (Epic of Gilgamesh 10). Yet Gilgamesh accomplishes both tasks impossible for ordinary humans.1694

he gem-filled, sunrise paradise has been called the “garden of God,” and the parallels to various biblical themes are obvious, such as the Garden of Eden, as well as Moses crossing the sea, finding miraculous “fruit and foliage” and a promised “land of milk and honey.”

Shining Face and Burning Bush

Along his journey, Gilgamesh speaks to Shamash, requesting to “behold the sun that I may be saturated with light,”1695 reminiscent of Yahweh’s burning bush and solar appearance, as well as Moses’s shining face after his tête-àtête with the Jewish god.

Wandering the Wilderness

Gilgamesh’s ordeal passing through the 12 “leagues of darkness” represents the sun moving through the hours of night, found in Egyptian mythology concerning the passage of the deceased via the 12 gates, as in the New Kingdom Book of the Amduat.1696 This movement through the darkness reminds one of Osiris’s role as the sun of the night sky, re-emerging via the “jeweled gate” of sunrise, as the newborn Harpocrates or Horus the Child.

In later times such as during the first millennium BCE, the dozen gates, as well as the 12 tablets of the epic itself, also may have come to symbolize the months of the year or signs of the zodiac, again like the 12 “tasks” of Herakles or the many examples of “the 12” in the Bible and other ancient mythology.1697

Moreover, the god of night is considered frequently to be the deity of desert pestilence as well, as with Set/Seth. Hence, we can see how the expedition would constitute “wandering in the desert” or desolation. It would also reflect the similar Greek motif of Hades and the desolate underworld.

Crossing the Sea, Waters of Death and Promised Land

The epic includes a warning to Gilgamesh about crossing the sea and waters of death:

     Gilgamesh, never has there been a passage

     And no one since all eternity could cross the sea—

     Samas the hero has crossed the sea,

     But who besides Samas can cross it?

     Difficult is the passage and troublesome the way,

     Impassable are the waters of death...1698

On the other side of the sea is the “Isle of the Blessed,” sounding much like the “Promised Land.” Here we have an episode of a divinely inspired lawgiver miraculously crossing an impassable sea, in order to reach paradise.

It is noteworthy that the miraculous “crossing of the sea” was previously accomplished only by the sun god and that, in his journey across the mountains, Gilgamesh is consciously imitating Shamash.1699

The crossing of the sea by the solar deity symbolizes the sun’s reflection on water, especially at dawn, after battling the mighty “waters of death” or “unruly waters,” again a highly popular myth around the Mediterranean.

Bull of Heaven

In the epic, Gilgamesh defeats the “Bull of Heaven,” a motif reminiscent of the Mithraic bull-slaying theme and the biblical destruction of the Golden Calf. The “bull of heaven” was also an epithet of Adad,1700 depicted as standing on a bull, reminding us again of the Mithraic tauroctony. The overcoming of the bull is said to represent the ending of drought, signifying the arrival in the spring by the solar hero, who brings with him the rains. It is evidently in part at least because of the role of the bull in spring fertility, as well as plowing and planting, that the powerful animal was settled upon to symbolize the vernal equinox as the zodiacal sign of Taurus, representing April-May.

Concerning the biblical book of Hosea, which is a “prophecy” or warning to the northern kingdom of Israel by the Judean prophet about the continued worship of the Golden Calf, Rabbi Greenbaum comments:

One of the underlying metaphors of the entire prophecy is of Ephraim as a calf that was intended to learn to bear the yoke and plow the field of Torah and mitzvos [“commandments”], but which rebelled. The metaphor is bound up with the fact that Joseph (father of Ephraim, corresponding to the constellation of Shor, Taurus, the “Ox”) was blessed by Moses as a “first-born ox” (Deut. 33:17).1701

It is noteworthy that the Greek word in the Septuagint verse at Deuteronomy 33:17 used to describe the “glory” of Joseph as a “bull” is ταῦρος tauros or Taurus. Thus, Joseph corresponds to Taurus, having been “blessed by Moses,” the latter supposedly the author of Deuteronomy, in which Joseph is compared to a “firstling bull” or “firstborn bull,” and so on.

Greenbaum clearly associates the Hebrew word  שור showr, meaning “ox, bull, cow, bullock,”1702 with the constellation of Taurus, in turn implying the intention by the prophecy’s author to indicate the metaphor of this zodiacal sign assigned to Joseph and his son Ephraim.

Precession of the Equinoxes

This theme may reflect also the transition between the equinoctial ages of Taurus and Aries, during a later era but preceding Hipparchus (c. 190–c. 120 BCE), traditional discoverer of the precession of the equinoxes. Evidence indicates knowledge of the precession to a certain extent centuries earlier than the Greek astronomer.1703 It may be simply that Hipparchus was the first to summarize in writing the ideas of the precession that had been formulated over a period of hundreds to thousands of years.

In his study of the zodiac and constellations, The Foundation of Myth, Pellar relates that “the image of a bull, as Taurus, the ‘bull of heaven,’ was probably
first set down as a quartet (along with Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius) in either Sumer or Elam as a cardinal point between 4400 and 2200 BCE (Rogers 1998: 24).”1704

Cambridge scholar John Rogers thus avers that the constellation of Taurus, represented as a bull, was devised as a cardinal point two to four thousand years before Hipparchus. This fact would explain to some extent the commonality of the divine bull motif dating back millennia. The time frame also follows roughly the precessional era in which Taurus was said to rule.

Indeed, Taurus—called in the Babylonian star catalogues GU4.AN.NA or “the Steer of Heaven”—has been used to mark the vernal equinox since at least the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2100 to 1550 BCE).1705 It is noteworthy that the motif of the heavenly bull did not appear in the Old Babylonian editions of the Gilgamesh epic, but it can be found in the Akkadian and Hittite versions during the Middle Babylonian period (c. 14th cent. BCE).1706 This development that would suggest the later writers became aware of Taurus during their time.

Battling a Giant

Gilgamesh’s battle against the “storm-roaring” giant of the cedar forest, Huwawa/Humbaba, reminds one of Moses’s fight not only with Amalekites but also with the pharaoh, as in the ancient archetype previously discussed, concerning the storm and sun god versus the monster/serpent of the deep.

Speaking of Humbaba, Assyriologists Jastrow and Clay remark:

...we encounter in the Yale tablet for the first time the writing of Ḫu-wa-wa as the name of the guardian of the cedar forest, as against Ḫum-ba-ba in the Assyrian version... The name would thus present a complete parallel to the Hebrew name Ḫowawa (or Ḫobab) who appears as the brother-in-law of Moses in the P document, Numbers 10, 29.1707

Numbers 10:29 names the son of Moses’s Midianite father-in-law as חבב Chobab, a West Semitic or Amoritish name meaning “beloved” and
“cherished.”1708 Judges 4:11 appears to name Hobab erroneously as Moses’s father-in-law himself. In either case, the biblical character may have been based on the Babylonian giant, at least nominally.

Cedar Mountain

The attempt in the epic to take over the cedars of Lebanon is interesting, as it may reflect the desire of the Amoritish Babylonians of the time when this passage was altered from its original Sumerian version. In the original Sumerian, the “Cedar Mountain” that Gilgamesh must approach is located to the east of Sumer, towards the rising sun, whereas in the later Old Babylonian redaction of the epic, the mountain has been changed to the west, in Lebanon, whence the famed cedars,1709 which the Amorites wanted to acquire. It is possible that the original location to the east was purely symbolic as the place of the rising sun; or, this part of the epic originally may have referred to cedars to the east, in Iran, India or what is now Afghanistan and so on.

Winemaker

According to the myth, Gilgamesh is an “arrogant ruler who kills men and despoils women,”1710 while, again, Moses too was known to kill men and give virgin slave girls as war booty to his followers. Gilgamesh’s civilizing comes not only from the laws given to him by Shamash but also from the advice of the wine goddess, revealing the importance of that libation in this myth as well. This oenological deity is the “ale-wife” Siduri, also a “winemaker,” “woman of the vine, the maker of wine.”1711

Hence, the wine goddess guides the solar hero. As Mary Ellen Snodgrass comments:

The winemaker Siduri, like the Greek wine god Dionysus, offers pragmatic wisdom: She advises Gilgamesh to delight in the everyday joys of feasting, good company, cleanliness and family life.”1712

Unwin explains this motif as a fertility tale:

The imagery connecting fertility with wine and the vine is also illustrated by the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, dating from the first centuries of the second millennium BC, but probably existing in much the same form many centuries earlier.... Gilgamesh encounters Siduri by the garden of the gods where “there was fruit of carnelian with the vine hanging from it...”1713

Further demonstrating wine’s ritual and magical importance in Babylonian religion, in the epic’s conclusion with Gilgamesh’s death (117–118), “bread offerings are made and libations of wine are poured out...”1714 In Babylonian incantations and potions, such as to the goddess Ishtar, wine is one of the magical substances used to produce supernatural results, including to combat witchcraft itself.1715

This tale is comparable also to the Noah myth: “Noah’s experience with viticulture, enology and wine drinking find a parallel in the Gilgamesh epic, which dates from the fourth millennium BCE.”1716 The central focus on the sun and wine reveals that the Gilgamesh tale is a solar and vegetation/fertility archetype, evidently utilized in the creation of the Moses story and possibly influencing the Dionysus myth as well.

Wine and Bread Communion

In a related theme, the transformation of Gilgamesh’s adopted brother,1717 the wild man Enkidu, comes through a tradition and ritual that likewise sound very biblical:

Enkidu is seduced by a “harlot from the temple of love” (Epic of Gilgamesh, 1960:99), who later also introduces him to the pleasure of wine, saying to him:

“Enkidu, eat bread, it is the staff of life; drink the wine, it is the custom of the land.” So he ate till he was full and drank strong wine, seven goblets. He became merry, his heart exulted, and his face shone. He rubbed down the matted hair of his body and anointed himself with oil. Enkidu had become a man. (Epic of Gilgamesh, 1960–65–6)

Enkidu thus becomes a man by eating bread and drinking wine, symbolising the development of agriculture which raised humanity above nature.1718

The “harlot from the temple of love” resembles a priestess of Aphrodite/Venus, whom we have seen is comparable to Zipporah, Moses’s wife.

Moreover, the civilizing or salvational effect thus is produced mystically through bread and wine, as well as by anointing, as in the Bible. Enkidu’s transformation of having his eyes opened has been compared to Genesis 3:5, in which the magical fruit is said to impart knowledge that will make humans like gods.1719

From what we currently know, the transition from wild to civilized, raising mankind above nature, evidently began to occur in Turkey, at Gobekli Tepe, starting possibly 15,000 years ago. It may be that some of these spiritual ideas were germinated in the minds of these prehistoric, apparent Natufians that long ago.

In his analysis of the themes from Gilgamesh paralleled in the Bible, Swedish theologian Dr. Helmer Ringgren (1917–2012) points out that these various motifs were not present in the Sumerian version of the epic and that “they belong to a stratum of the Gilgamesh tradition which is definitely Semitic, perhaps even influenced by West Semitic ideas.”1720 He further asks whether or not counterparts in the epic to biblical stories can be “interpreted as borrowings from the Western Semites (Amorites, etc.)?”1721

Despite the epic’s enduring popularity, we do not possess a complete story with all the details of the Gilgamesh epic, and it is possible that some of the missing parts contain even more parallels to various biblical legends and myths. In any event, mainstream scholars are convinced that the Utnapishtim myth serves as the root of the Noah and Flood story, and it is reasonable to propose that the epic also contributed to many other biblical tales, such as that of Moses and other patriarchs. Important scholarship has been done in this regard on comparisons between Gilgamesh and Jesus as well.1722

To summarize, in the Gilgamesh tale, we have a hero or leader (mašu?) climbing the holy mountain (Mashu) in order to emulate the path of the solar legislator (Shamash), much like the Moses (Mosheh) myth.

Mašmašu Priesthood

Along with the very ancient serpent worship would come a priesthood and rituals to propitiate the snake deity. As we have seen, the Sumerian word maš-maš or “mash-mash” refers to a “magician,” “wonderworker” or “sorcerer,”1773 also apparently related to ritual washing, purification (maš) or baptism.1774 The term was passed along in Babylonian as mašmašu,1775 denoting priests and anointers of the kings,1776 and often rendered “exorcists”1777 and “charmers,” as in snake-charmers and as reflecting spells and incantations. The “chief magician” in Babylon was the rab-mašmašu,1778 the prefix recognizable as the same as “rabbi” or “rebbe.” During the reign of Assyrian king Esarhaddon (fl. 681–669 BCE), his son Ashurbanipal’s chief scribe, Ishtar-shum-êresh, “ranked as a mašmašu.”1779

Seven Houses

In the Mesopotamian ritual of the “seven houses” called bit rimki, the mašmašu are the priests who recite in each of these chambers an incantation in Sumerian, as opposed to the Akkadian incantation invoked by the king.1780

Dr. Joel Hamme of the Fuller Theological Seminary proposes that the biblical psalms and lamentations are modeled on the Mesopotamian dingir.ša.dib.ba incantations recited by these priests. Regarding the seven houses ritual, Hamme says:

The main body of bît rimki is divided into seven “houses,” each “house” being performed in a multi-chambered reed hut built specifically for the occasion. Each house consists of a ki-utukam, a Sumerian ritual prayer spoken by the mašmašu, a ritual priest, a šiptu, a ritual prayer spoken by the king, and a ritual. The prayers spoken by both the ritual priest and the king are primarily to Šamaš, although other deities are also involved…1781

These reed huts sound similar to the booths or sukkoth used by pious Jews in the harvest festival and Exodus myth. It is also noteworthy that these ritual prayers were addressed mainly to Shamash, who along with Marduk was one of these priests’ favored deities,1782 both called mash-mash, mashu or massû.

Marduk

One could say that this class of mašmašu priests was “Mosaic,” possibly representing the faction of Semites who, coming into contact with others in Nineveh, Babylon, Jerusalem and elsewhere, influenced the creation of the Moses story. Since these priests revered, among others, Marduk or “MashMash,” one could suggest that Moses is a reflection also of that god, the “savior of the divine world” and “exorcist of the gods”:

...in Akkadian unilingual texts, Marduk, just like Asalluḫi, is often called an “exorcist,” e.g., mašmaš ilī, “exorcist of the gods.”1783

As a syncretic sun and storm god, Marduk controlled the waters and dragon/serpent of the deep, Tiamat, making of him a snake deity as well. Artifacts such as Ishtar’s gate indicate that serpents signified Marduk’s “power and protection.”1784 Marduk’s name itself apparently means “bull calf of the sun,”1785 and it could be his worship, as well, which was supplanted by the Moses cult, as the latter syncretized numerous deities in the region.

Animal Sacrifice

Like the Hebrew priests, the mašmašu were responsible for sacrificing animals:

The most widely known prescriptive ritual text from Mesopotamia is that for the New Year Festival at Babylon (ANET, 331–334). It gives the order of events including sacrifices and the recital of prayers and other texts, as required for each day of the celebration. One of the most relevant for comparison with OT ritual is the act of purification performed on the fifth day. The officiating priest “...shall call a slaughterer to decapitate a ram, the body of which the mašmašu-priest shall use in performing the kuppuru-ritual for the temple.” After the necessary incantations and purifications have been performed, the mašmašu-priest takes the lamb’s carcass and the slaughterer takes its head; both of them proceed to the river and throw their gory burdens into it. Then they remain in the open country for seven days from the fifth to the twelfth of Nisan.1786

Derived from the Babylonian calendar, Nisan is also a Hebrew month, named in the Babylonian-influenced biblical book of Esther, and comparable to March–April, when the Passover takes place during the seven days from the 15th to the 21st.

Lintel Blood

Part of the Babylonian sacrifice is the ritual use of the animal’s blood for magical protection:

In the ritual tablets...we read “that the mašmašu (priest’s magician) is to pass forth to the gateway, sacrifice a sheep in the palace portal, and to smear the threshold and posts of the palace gateway right and left with the blood of the lamb.” We are reminded of Exod. [12:7]...1787

Exodus 12:7 describes the Hebrews in Egypt smearing lamb’s blood on their door lintels, an ancient Near and Middle Eastern magical tradition apparently predating the supposed date of the Exodus by centuries.

Wine Priests

As we might expect, the Mesopotamian priests and religious officials were associated with wine, the drink of royalty and ritual libation: “Among later first millennium BC lists of wine consignments from Nimrud, we find officials on the wine lists being ‘diviners,’ ‘exorcists’ and ‘physicians’ (listed under their respective logograms...).”1788 The “exorcists” in this list are indicated by the term maš-maš.

Renowned Exorcists

Demonstrating how well known and important were the “mašmaššuexorcists,”1789 there existed entire households of them, like the Jewish priesthood, as the tribe of Levi and family of Cohens. Geller describes how significant were these sectarians:

The role of the Babylonian exorcist or mašmaššu became increasingly important within the temples in later periods and by the Hellenistic period “exorcistic arts” (mašmaššūtu) dominated the school curriculum, which was most confined to temples...1790

The maš-maš priests continued into the fifth century BCE at Uruk, leaving behind the “largest known collection of commentaries on medical tablets...”1791 At the same time, “Uruk exorcists had become the most prominent scholars of their day.”1792

Chaldeans and Mandaeans

When all is considered, there exists good reason to suggest that this class of Semitic priests was influential in the formation of Judaism.1793 Some of these clerics apparently became the wandering “Chaldeans,”1794 the remnants of the destroyed Babylonian priesthood, who were very prominent around the Near and Middle East, and beyond.

In view of the commonalities between this Babylonian priesthood and that of the Israelites, it would be rational to suggest that the Mesopotamian system influenced the Jewish tradition, as was the case with the calendar, full of religious rituals undoubtedly inherited along with the Babylonian monthnames. In this regard, it appears that the mašmašu may be the source of the Mosaic priesthood, with its syncretic central object of worship demoted to a patriarch under Yahweh.

In this same regard, we have seen that the book of Judith deems the Jews “Chaldeans.” Philo describes the original language of the Mosaic law as “Chaldean” and “Chaldaic,” even though he knows the word “Hebrew”:

…In olden time the laws were written in the Chaldaean language, and for a long time they remained in the same condition as at first…1795

Since Chaldean usually refers to Babylonian, the language in question probably would be Aramaic by Philo’s understanding. This belief that the law was originally written in Aramaic may reflect that it was initially Babylonian, as in the Code of Hammurabi. The Mandaeans spoke a dialect of Aramaic called Mandaic, evidently derived from Amorite, as we would expect in that region. Many of the Mesopotamian priests’ traditions appear to have been passed along to the Mandaeans, who inhabited the region centuries later.1796

Conclusion

Although aspects of the Moses story certainly are very ancient, such as the Gilgamesh elements and the storm-sun god battle with the pharaoh-dragon, the earliest the Exodus tale could have been written down in Hebrew would be about 1000 BCE, with the development of the Hebrew alphabet from the Phoenician, itself created around 1050 BCE. Yet, Moses is largely if not entirely absent from pre-exilic texts, indicating he comes onto the scene after the Babylonian period. Therefore, the terminus ad quo or starting point for much of the Moses material may have been around the middle of the sixth century, with subsequent redactions up to the third century, along with extrabiblical texts.

If the Moses tale was created between the sixth and third centuries BCE, the story could have been based on pre-Israelite Sumero-Semitic solar, vegetation and fertility myths. Combining the Levantine solar-wine-fertility-serpent deity with Dionysus worship, along with the attributes of various other deities and heroes of the region such as Adar, Gilgamesh, Marduk, Mush, Osiris/Horus, Sargon, Shamash and Tammuz, we can see how the Moses myth was developed.

Mythicist and freethinker Thomas W. Doane (1852–1885) sums it up when he says, “Almost all the acts of Moses correspond to those of the Sungods.”1797 Rather than serving as a historical individual with an actual exodus, in the widespread tradition of the Great God Sun, Moses himself has the earmarks of a solar deity, with the attributes of various gods, goddesses, lawgivers and heroes from antiquity rolled into one.

In addition, the Moses story reflects the stellar and lunar cults as well, demonstrating the dual natured “twin” myth, such as concerns Horus and Set, and the battle for supremacy between the day and night skies, as well as between the agriculturalists and nomads.

From all the evidence, it would appear that the Jewish Moses is a compilation of Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek and Semitic solar, wine, fertility and serpent deities reworked into the Israelite hero. Perhaps when Jewish priests and other elite were in Babylon, they allied with (other) wealthy wine producers and decided to create this foundational myth, demoting divine heroes/deities to a syncretic “prophet” under the god of the Yahwists and incorporating many Dionysian elements as well. These factors apparently were combined with the Muš/Maš cult that had developed in Jerusalem among the Amorites/Jebusites, centuries earlier than the Israelite presence there.

Fig. 116. French School, Moses Receives the Tablets of the Law from God on Mount Sinai, 19th cent. Color lithograph, Private Collection
Fig. 117. Jean-Léon Gérôme, Moses on Mount Sinai, revealing solar aspects, 1895–1900. Private collection, USA
Fig. 118. Moses's shining, solarized face on Mt. Sinai. Artist unknown, c. 20th cent. AD/CE
Fig. 119. Carl Heinrich Bloch, Transfiguration of Jesus, with Moses and Elijah, 19th cent. AD/CE
Fig. 120. Gilgamesh between two ‘Bull Men with Sun-Disc,’ 10th–9th cents. BCE. Relief from Kapara, Tell Halaf, Syria

Fig. 121. Parallels between Gilgamesh and Moses. (Literary Digest, 35.54)
Fig. 122. Egyptian priests and Aaron change their rods into a serpent in front of pharaoh (Exod 4:1–5). (Foster’s Bible Pictures)
Fig. 123. Moses and the plague of fiery serpents upon Israel (Num 21:6–9). (Treasures of the Bible)
Fig. 124. Hezekiah removes the bronze serpent (2 Ki 18:4). (Charles Horne, The Bible and Its Story)

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