Kabbalah Group in SF, August 24, 1995

Reproduction from Z. ben-Shimon ha-Levi's The Way of the Kabblah.

This week we studied the Babylonian Esoteric tradition and its influence on Kabbalah. The presentation was done by Ross & Aline.

  • Some scholars minimize, misunderstand, or deny the existence of Babylonian Esotericism:
    1. "It does not seem to be the case that 'esoteric' texts contitute a category in ancient Mesopotamian literature. The presence or absence of such terms as (...)"Let the learned instruct the learned, the ignorant may not see!" or "Secret of the Great Gods" in the colophons of tablets is no criterion, since texts which can hardly be regarded as esoteric sometimes bear them. These comments may simply indicate a scholarly pride in the value of literature and knowledge. While one need not doubt that certain texts or doctrines were only understood or held by a select few, it seems probable that many texts which apppear 'esoteric' to a modern reader were understood by ancient scholars" (Livingstone, Mystical and Mythological Explanatory Works of Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars, Oxford: Clarendon 1986, p.1)

    2. "I do not believe that this formula has a specific reference to our tablet but merely expresses the tendency of the scribes to keep the knowledge of their arts within their own circles" (O. Nuegebauer, Astronomical Cuneiform Texts, Princeton, 1955, p.12)

    3. "I don't believe they knew about ascension, despite the tale of (Etana) going to heaven on an eagle. Gilgamesh is not as profound as the Odyssey." (Dan Merkur, private communication on being asked to comment on S. Parpola's The Assyrian Tree of Life - which we will study in a later session.)
  • Others support it.
  • "... the general implication of the document are still quite clear. Bel-kasir had disclosed the content of canonical texts to members of the sikru (temple slave) order, a social class to whom the acquisition of such knowledge was appearently forbidden. By doing so he had transgressed the law and was given a severe warning entailing royal punishment. The rule violated by Bel-kasir belongs in all probability to the same class of prohibitions found in late Babylonian colophons preventing the circulation of literary and scientific knowledge among the 'uninitiated.' Test YOS 19, 110 would thus pradmine the first evidence that such restrictions did in fact exist and were also in some cases enforced by the proper authorities" (Paul-Alain Beaulieu "New Light on Secret Knowledge in Late Babylonian Culture" Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie 82 (1992) p.107; the text he refers to reads, in part: "... the satammu of the Eanna (Inanna's temple in Uruk), declared to Bel-kasir ... 'You must not have the temple slaves recite the excerpts tablets.' If a temple slave goes to his bedroom and he has him recite the excerpt tablets, he (Bal-kasir) will bear the punishment of the King.")

  • (P-A Beaulieu also mentions a "disenting opinion" from that of Livingstone and Neugebauer in a lecture I have not been able to find - H. Limet "Le secret et le ecrits: aspects de l'esoterisme en Mesopotomie ancienne," in Homo Religiosus 13, Les Rites d'Initiation, Actes du Colloque de Liege et de Louvain-la-Neuve 20 - 21 novembre 1984 (Louvai-la-Neuve 1986) 243 - 254) Maybe someone could locate it for me.
  • Why so much hesitancy, or even reistence? Three reasons:

    1. The whole Ball of Wax

    2. The invasion of the Flak-oids

    3. Misunderstanding "esoteric" - something does not have to be incomprehensible to be esoteric, nor secret to have oaths of secrecy taken about it
  • Some types of esoteric knowledge.
    1. mythological/cosmologiucal/speculation (text 1) i.nam.gis.hur.an.ki.a
    2. temurah, gematria, notariqon (texts 1,2) ditto, Zababa exposition
    3. alchemy (text 3)
    4. mystery rituals, inspiration (texts 4,5) secret Ishtar, inspiration for Erra

    Words describing secre knowledge:

  • katimtu - "covered," "secret" (dul-tu)

  • nisirtu - "treasure," "secret" (ad.hal)

  • piristu - "secret" (hal)

  • ikkibu - "taboo," "God's part" ((ni).gig)

  • puzru - "secret" (pu.zur) (buzur)

  • Examples:

  • nisirta imurma katimtu itpu - "... a treasure he saw, a secret he uncovered" ( sa nagba imuru - Epic of Gilgamesh - I:5)

  • piristu same u erseti - "the secrets of heaven and earth" ( Alter Orient und Altes Testament 2, S. 171a)

  • mudu ana mudu likallim la mudu ul ummar ina ikkibi Ani Enlil u Ea ilani rabuti - "let the initiate show the initiate, the profane must not see; it is among the forbidden things of Anu, Enlil and Ea, the Great Gods." (Thureau-Dangin, Rituels Accadiens 16:32)

  • Puzurrabi - "Secret of the Great" - see Akkadischens Handworterbuch under Puzru(m)

  • Puzrubeli - "Secret of the Lord" - see Akkadischens Handworterbuch under Puzru(m)

  • Puzurili - "Secret of the God" - see Akkadischens Handworterbuch under Puzru(m)

  • Perhaps Akkadian qabu is related to Hebrew qannal(ah); qabu means "recite" or "a recitation."

    TEXT I (portion of i.NAM.gis.hur.an.ki.a "(Word?) of the corresponding things of Heaven and the Underworld" - transcription for comparison with copy)

    1)  I  inbu sin assu anu imbu sumsu gabbi 
        AN AN NE GIS GI kilallan tamartu 
        ud.I.kam uskaru anu 
    2)  I ab.kar sin appa arhu littu arhu littu 
        maslu kara ganatenu karu tapala gana
        a.sa maslu agu ud.7.kam kalit ea
    3)  I(....) sin bel purusse esu 30 2 eni bel
        30 a.ra 30 15 aparu agu  ud.15.kam
        kippattu enlil
    4)  (...)enlil talim ea nannu SES talim SES
        ID naru nara enlil
    5)  ... mu.didli suen.na.ke
    6)  ...ilu restu abi ilani		60	anu
    7)  ...U gasir re'u su su kissat
        sar kissati				50	enlil
    8)  ...sar apsi bel naqbi		40	ea
    9)  ...imbu bel purusse arhi		30	sin		
    10) ..U en bel dipari kippatu ud	20	samas
    11) ...zunni u UB rigmu		6	adad 
    12) ................................	10	bel
    13) .....................		15	istar
    14) .. ku bel kakki sa kima
        sumisuma nabu enlil 		50	ninurta
    15) ... PA AD an.ki an an.ta ki.ta
        sar e.de en 600			11	nergal
    16) ... tab 2 10 a.ra 2 20 tappe 20 	10	gibil
    17) ... same sa me 				uras
    18) an giri				ki	
    19) nishu i.NAM.gis.hur.an.ki.a
    20) ...nisrti apkalli la mudu la immar
    21)  tuppi nabuzuqupkena mar marduksumiqisa
        tupsarri liplipi gabbilanires rab tupsare

    Notice that the tablet has 21 lines (21 is a sacred name of Anu). Nabuzuqupkena was a scribe who lived approximately 760-680 BCE, and would have been perhaps the "chief scribe" under Sargon II and Sennacherib. Sargon II has pradmined the most famous example of cuneifrom gematria: "I made the length of the wall (of Nineveh) to correspond to the value of my name: 16,280." This puzzle has not yet been solved satisfactorily, despite 3 attempts (including my own).

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    Reproduction from Z. ben-Shimon ha-Levi's The Way of the Kabbalah.

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