The Newly Discovered Tablet II of the Epic of Gilgamesh:
IN 2011 CE, the Sulaymaniyah (Slemani) Museum in Iraqi Kurdistan purchased a large number of clay tablets. After the dramatic fall of Saddam’s regime on April 9, 2003 CE and the ransacking of the Iraq Museum as well as other museums, the Sulaymaniyah Museum (guided by the Council of Ministers of Iraqi Kurdistan) started an initiative, as part of an amnesty program. The museum paid smugglers to ‘intercept’ archaeological artefacts on their journey to other countries. No questions were asked about who was selling the relic or where it came from. The Sulaymaniyah Museum believed that this condition kept smugglers from selling their merchandise to other buyers (locally) or antiquities dealers (outside Iraq), as they would have otherwise done so with ease and without any legal consequences.
A large cache of clay tablets came from southern Iraq through illegal excavations after April 2003 CE. None of them was looted from the Iraq Museum, as no tablet bore an Iraqi Museum acquisition number, storage number, or even an excavation number. Therefore, their precise provenance remains a mystery. However, sometimes one can apply the ‘best guess’ conjecture depending on the cuneiform text a tablet has. This proved true occasionally; some scholars were quite sure that some tablets were unearthed in Larsa (modern-day Tell as-Senkereh, in Dhi Qar Governorate, Iraq) by the plunderers.
At that time, luckily present at the museum, professor Farouk Al-Rawi (of the Department of Languages of Cultures of the Near East, SOAS, University of London), immediately spotted that one of the tablets turned out to be Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh; the tablet was transliterated and an article was published about it in June 2014 CE by Al-Rawi and George. Recently Professor Al-Rawi visited the Governorate of Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan to do research about some clay tablets acquired by the Sulaymaniyah Museum. I met him many times and we chatted a lot. Professor Al-Rawi and my dear friend, Hashim Hama Abdullah (the Director of the Sulaymaniyah Museum), told me that Professor Al-Rawi spotted another tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh (among that cache) and he has completed the transliteration.
In 2011 CE, as part of that large collection of clay tablets, the Sulaymaniyah Museum acquired a small fragment, somewhat triangular in shape. Its final price was about 300 USD after some negotiation. After some cleaning, the overlying cuneiform text became very clear. “It is part of Tablet II of the Epic of Gilgamesh”, professor Al-Rawi said. On April 7, 2019 CE, I interviewed him about this tablet and what it conveys.
Archaeological evidence suggests the wheel was invented in Mesopotamia around 4500 BCE. But about 300 years, it was used for making household implements, not transportation.
When the wheel was put on a vehicle, it was only for war, not cargo. With heavy, cumbersome wooden wheels they were perfect for driving through – or over – enemy soldiers. Lack of good roads delayed the wheel’s civilian usage for a couple more centuries.
ENUMA ELISH – THE BABYLONIAN EPIC OF CREATION – FULL TEXT:
THE Enuma Elish (also known as The Seven Tablets of Creation) is the Mesopotamian creation myth whose title is derived from the opening lines of the piece, “When on High”. All of the tablets containing the myth, found at Ashur, Kish, Ashurbanipal’s library at Nineveh, Sultantepe, and other excavated sites, date to c. 1100 BCE but their colophons indicate that these are all copies of a much older version of the myth.
As Marduk, the champion of the young gods in their war against Tiamat, is of Babylonian origin, the Sumerian Ea/Enki or Enlil is thought to have played the major role in the original version of the story. The copy found at Ashur has the god Ashur in the main role as was the custom of the cities of Mesopotamia. The god of each city was always considered the best and most powerful. Marduk, the god of Babylon, only figures as prominently as he does in the story because most of the copies found are from Babylonian scribes. Even so, Ea does still play an important part in the Babylonian version of the Enuma Elish by creating human beings.
ASSYRIA began as a small trading community centered at the ancient city of Ashur and grew to become the greatest empire in the ancient world prior to the conquests of Alexander the Great and, after him, the Roman Empire. While the Assyrians’ administrative skills were impressive, and they could be adept at diplomacy when necessary, these were not the means by which the empire grew to rule the ancient world from Egypt in the south, through the Levant and Mesopotamia, and over to Asia Minor; it was their skill in warfare.
The Assyrian war machine was the most efficient military force in the ancient world up until the fall of the empire in 612 BCE. The secret to its success was a professionally trained standing army, iron weapons, advanced engineering skills, effective tactics, and, most importantly, a complete ruthlessness which came to characterize the Assyrians to their neighbors and subjects and still attaches itself to the reputation of Assyria in the modern day. A phrase oft-repeated by Assyrian kings in their inscriptions regarding military conquests is “I destroyed, devastated, and burned with fire” those cities, towns, and regions which resisted Assyrian rule.
BEER is one of the oldest intoxicating beverages consumed by human beings. Even a cursory survey of history makes clear that, after human beings have taken care of the essential needs of food, shelter, and rudimentary laws for the community, their next immediate concern is developing intoxicants. Evidence of early beer brewing has been confirmed by finds at the Sumerian settlement of Godin Tepe in modern-day Iran going back to between 3500-3100 BCE but intoxicants had already become an integral aspect of daily human life long before. Scholar Jean Bottero writes:
“In ancient Mesopotamia, among the oldest `civilized people’ in the world, alchoholic beverages were part of the festivities as soon as a simple repast bordered on a feast. Although beer, brewed chiefly from a barley base, remained the `national drink’, wine was not uncommon.” (84)
Although wine was consumed in Mesopotamia, it never reached the level of popularity that beer maintained for thousands of years. Sumerians loved beer so much they ascribed the creation of it to the gods and beer plays a prominent role in many of the Sumerian myths, among them,Inanna and the God of Wisdom and The Epic of Gilgamesh. The Sumerian Hymn to Ninkasi, written down in 1800 BCE but understood to be much older, is both a praise song to the Sumerian goddess of beer and a recipe for brewing.
PEOPLE OF THE ANCIENT WORLD: Hammurabi (King of the Amorite First Dynasty of Babylon)
HAMMURABI (also known as Khammurabi and Ammurapi, reigned 1792-1750 BCE) was the sixth king of the AmoriteFirst Dynasty of Babylon, assumed the throne from his father, Sin-Muballit, and expanded the kingdom to conquer all of ancient Mesopotamia. The kingdom of Babylon comprised only the cities of Babylon, Kish, Sippar, and Borsippa when Hammurabi came to the throne but, through a succession of military campaigns, careful alliances made and broken when necessary, and political maneuvers, he held the entire region under Babylonian control by 1750 BCE.
According to his own inscriptions, letters and administrative documents from his reign, he sought to improve the lives of those who lived under his rule. He is best known in the modern day for his law code which, although not the earliest code of laws, came to serve as a model for other cultures and is thought to have influenced the laws set down by Hebrew scribes, including those from the biblical Book of Exodus.
According to one interpretation of passages in the biblical Book of Genesis, Ashur was founded by a man named Ashur son of Shem, son of Noah, after the Great Flood, who then went on to found the other important Assyrian cities. A more likely account is that the city was named Ashur after the deity of that name sometime in the 3rd millennium BCE; the same god’s name is the origin for `Assyria’. The biblical version of the origin of Ashur appears later in the historical record after the Assyrians had accepted Christianity and so it is thought to be a re-interpretation of their early history which was more in keeping with their newly-adopted belief system.
THE Epic of Gilgamesh is among the most popular works of literature in the present day and has influenced countless numbers of readers but, for the greater part of its history, it was lost. The Assyrian Empire fell to a coalition of Babylonians and Medes in 612 BCE who sacked and burned the Assyrian cities and, among them, Nineveh.
Nineveh was the great capital where the king Ashurbanipal (668-627 BCE) had established his library which housed copies of every literary work he could find throughout Mesopotamia. As these works were written in cuneiform on clay tablets, however, the fires which consumed the library did nothing to the tablets but to bake them. Even so, the buildings which housed these works were destroyed, burying the literature of Mesopotamia beneath them for over 2,000 years until they were re-discovered in the mid-19th century CE.
Gilgamesh is the semi-mythic King of Uruk in Mesopotamia best known from The Epic of Gilgamesh (written c. 2150 – 1400 BCE) the great Sumerian/Babylonian poetic work which pre-dates Homer’s writing by 1500 years and, therefore, stands as the oldest piece of epic world literature.
The motif of the quest for the meaning of life is first fully explored in Gilgamesh as the hero-king leaves his kingdom following the death of his best friend, Enkidu, to find the mystical figure Utnapishtim and gain eternal life. Gilgamesh’s fear of death is actually a fear of meaninglessness and, although he fails to win immortality, the quest itself gives his life meaning. This theme has been explored by writers and philosophers from antiquity up to the present day.