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Re: "plumed" serpents (LONG)

On Sat, 14 Feb 1998, Betty Cunningham wrote:

[block moved up]
> Ric Carter wrote:
> > 
> > Babylon IIRC inherited lots of its mythology from earlier
> > Mesopotamian cultures, some of which were rather long-
> > lived.  Don't myths usually evolve over time?  Wouldn't
> > any specific creation myth be just a 'snapshot' of the
> > origin myths of a culture?  Aren't mythic entities given
> > different powers, appearances, attributes, depending on
> > who's telling a tale, and where and when?  Couldn't a
> > dragon have lost or gained feathers or scales or hair?
[end of block]

> we're plunging way off topic here so - to be brief-
> the Babylonian creation myth involving Tiamat was not just a "story"
> people told each other for entertainment, but the basis of a religion
> with temples and priests and followers who worshipped her as a goddess,
> and so important was this epic to the priests that THEY WROTE IT DOWN
> (one of those new-fangled things to come out of the Fertile Crescent). 
> It's kinda like the Book of Genesis hasn't changed much in the details
> in the last umpity-ump years, and shouldn't be considered a snapshot of
> culture for that time period.

The problem here is the assumption that, just because something is
important to a religion, it won't change. The Sumerian myths from which
the tale of Bel-Marduk and Tiamat originate come from a people who settled
the area before 3000 BCE. It was at sometime before 2000 BCE that the
first Semites, such as the Amorites (Old Babylonians) began to settle the
area, and then to overrun it.

There is an extremely dangerous pitfall in assuming that Mesopotamian
culture is monolithic. The hegemony of local powers in Mesopotamia lasted
from before 3000 BCE, with the rise of Sumer, until 539 BCE, when Cyrus
the Great of Persia conquered the Chaldean state. That's a period of two
and a half _THOUSAND_ years. Not much on the geological scale (weak
dinosaur tie-in), but that's a hell of a lot for human societies. Further,
unlike Egypt, Mesopotamia was not environmentally protected from foreign
invasion, and the original Sumerian culture was many times incorporated
and adapted into the culture of Semitic peoples who repeatedly invaded and
settled the area.

No matter how important the myth, no matter whether it was spoken, written
on papyrus, paper, clay tablets, or stone, it WILL change as the culture
changes. Indeed, the very cosmic battle in question, Bel-Marduk against
Tiamat, is known to have changed with the culture: the warrior/sun god
Bel-Marduk, almost certainly a Semitic tribal god, became the slayer of
Tiamat by the time that the tablets of the _Enuma Elish_ in Ashurbanipal's
library were set down, but the tale dates back to a Sumerian myth of Enlil
(preserved in Assyrio-Babylonian mythology as Enlil or Ellil) destroying
the monster Labbu. (Joseph Campbell sees this as in part a political move;
install the tribal god as the center of an old myth, and now you've got
some religious authority. I see it more as mythological diffusion, and
therefore an unconscious integration rather than a conscious political

Certainly, written records can change, especially when they must be
manually copied. For an extreme example, have a look at the vagaries of
selecting which ancient sources to use for Biblical translations.


Link to dinosaurs? Erm....there still isn't one.

[Charles W. Johnson <cwj2@eskimo.com> - http://www.eskimo.com/~cwj2]
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