The Sacred Fifty
They are also described as teaching men how to care for the dead in a specifically Egyptian way, which inclines one to wonder how a Greek could conceivably have written this unless during the Ptolemaic period:
Now anyone knows this is Egyptian and not Greek practice. What Neoplatonist would include such a statement unless it were actually taken from an early source which he used, and which had been written by someone actually living in Egypt?
The treatise ends this long section with:
And in the treatise Isis claims that the ‘Black Rite’ honors her and ‘gives perfection’.
It is also concerned with the mysterious thing called ‘Night’ Who weaves her web with rapid light though it be less than Sun’s’. It is made plain that ‘Night’ is not the night sky because it moves in the Heaven along with ‘the other mysteries in turn that move in Heaven, with ordered motions and with periods of times, with certain hidden influences bestowing order on the things below and co-increasing them’.
We must scrutinize the description of what is labeled ‘Night’ in this treatise. This description makes it perfectly clear that ‘Night’ is not ‘night’, but a code word. For it is said to have ‘light though it be less than Sun’s’. The dark companion of Sirius is a star and has light, though less than the sun. Also ‘Night’ said ‘to weave her web with rapid light’ which specifically describes the object as being in motion.
Since Sirius B orbits Sirius A in fifty years, it moves more rapidly even than three of our sun’s planets in our own solar system – Pluto, Neptune, and Uranus. Of these three, Uranus is the most rapid, and its orbit about the sun takes eighty-four years. So here is a star orbiting more rapidly than a planet! That may indeed be said to constitute ‘weaving a web with rapid light’!
Now to turn to the Sumerian culture, or, more properly, the Sumero-Ukadian culture. It was roughly contemporaneous with ancient Egypt and I had already suspected its basic religious concepts to be so similar to those of Egypt that I imagined them to have a common origin. Then I discovered that Wallis Budge thought the same thing from his point of view as a distinguished Egyptologist.
I am not aware of any Sumerologists having dealt with this particular problem. Far more attention has been given to the known trading links which existed between Sumer and the Indus valley civilization, and also to the problem of deciding where Dilmun was located. Kramer thinks Dilmun was the Indus valley; Bibby follows Peter B. Cornwall and thinks it was the island of Bahrein in the Persian Gulf.
But to the Sumerians this land, which lay in a direction seemingly other than that of Egypt, had immense importance. consequently, it has tended to monopolize the attention of modern scholars investigating Sumerian geographical references. Kramer thinks that the land Magan’ was probably Egypt and that Sargon even sent his armies there.
The basic Egyptian astronomy and the basic Sumero-Akkadian astronomy (this assumes a continuity of some sort, as there is no overtly astronomical treatise from the early period of Sumer) are identical. For the multitude of variations at a less basic level, one may consult Professor Otto Neugebauer‘s the Exact Sciences in Antiquity. But Neugebauer’s interests lie with late material, as he admits, and he does less than justice to the earlier material, skimming over it quickly and making little of some things which are important.
Here is an example of his attitude expressed in his own words near the beginning of Chapter V:
Well, at least Professor Neugebauer is honest about his preferences.
Having nodded in the direction of an authority who has voluntarily abdicated, we proceed. For our evidence we turn to E. A. Speiser‘s translation1 of the Akkadian creation epic know as the Enuma elishfrom the first two words of the text which mean ‘When on high . . . ‘
At the very beginning of this text we read:
In other words, the text gives a system identical with that recorded in the Egyptian star clocks. Twelve months composed of three ten-day weeks each, resulting in thirty-six constellations or ‘decans’ designating astral likenesses of gods.
The text specifically states that there are twelve months consisting of three periods each (unless one strains the point enormously and maintains on no grounds whatsoever that these three periods are unequal, they must be of ten days each – hence ‘ten-day weeks’ as in Egypt), and that a constellation or ‘zone’ of the sky applies to each of these ‘weeks’.
Since three times twelve equals thirty-six, we have thirty-six decans, each of which is ‘designated’ by a constellation. And also as in Egypt, each decan is an ‘astral likeness’ of a great god. It is surprising that no scholar has seen that this passage in the Enuma elish describes the Egyptian star-clock system down to the last detail.
No doubt also the five ‘epagomenal’ days left over in order to fill out this resulting 360-day year to a 365-day year are referred to in the line: ‘After defining the days of the year of (heavenly) figures,’ which is again identical with the Egyptian tradition where the five left-over days are each assigned to five different gods or heavenly figures and thus defined. In Egypt these five left-over days are called ‘the days upon the year’. These five days are also extremely important in Maya astronomy. But if we get into a discussion of Maya astronomy, we shall be stirring up a hornets’ nest. It is not relevant to the purposes of this book.
We can see that the astronomical systems in Egypt and Sumer were absolutely identical in their fundamentals. Now these similarities between Egypt and Sumer are a far different matter from similarities of names of gods and religious concepts. One can always maintain that people in different parts of the globe spontaneously produce identical sounds when awe-struck by divine concepts. ‘Everybody around the world says “Ma!” to Mother,’ as we have all heard many times.
But an astronomical system of this kind is a complex set of specific data.
The fact that this Akkadian text tentatively dated by Speiser at the Old Babylonian period (i.e. the early part of the second millennium B.C.) records an astronomical system of this complexity which is identical with that of the Egyptian star clocks can be said to prove either contact between these two civilizations or a common derivation for the system. And it suggests a date which could serve as an upper limit. Culture contact during which this information was shared could not have been any later.
Let any latest date accepted for the writing of the Enuma elish serve as an upper limit. If this be done, we find the first millennium Bug. as the upper limit, even for those who require incontrovertible physical proof. The contact between Egypt and Sumer must have been considerably earlier if direct, or it may not have been a contact, but rather a common derivation (which was Wallis Budge’s favored idea).
The Egyptian star clocks date from at least the reigns of Seti I (1303 1290 Bug.) and Ramses IV (1158 – 1152 Bug.) of the XlXth and XXth Dynasties respectively, on the walls of whose tombs they are found. Therefore these star clocks are at least as old as 1300 Bug. and seem to go back to the very origins of Egyptian culture. By the first millennium b.c. they had been changed and a fifteen-day week substituted for the ten-day week.
Other innovations took place as well at later dates, and the system fell into a considerable decay and became, it seems, a relic. I should imagine that a rise in the popularity of the sun god Ra made stars and especially Sirius seem less important. In any case, the innate integrity of the Sirius system in Egypt began to rot away and be ignored by the first millennium b.c, as it was superseded by ideas more obvious and less esoteric to impatient priests.
Perhaps when this began to happen some purists may have gone off to other places where they hoped to retain the traditions without interference from decadent Pharaohs. We shall return much later to this idea, with some surprising information.
But let us return to Sumer and continue in hot pursuit. In Tablet VI of the Enuma elish we find an interesting passage. In it are mentioned the Anunnaki, who were the sons of An (An means ‘heaven’), also known as Anu the great god. These Anunnaki were fifty in number and were called ‘the fifty great gods’. Nearly always these Anunnaki were anonymous, the emphasis being on their number and their greatness and their control over fate.
No certain identification of any important Sumerian god with any one of the Anunnaki exists except peripherally (as I shall describe later). In fact, all Sumerologists have been puzzled by the Anunnaki. They have not been ‘identified’ and no one knows exactly what is meant by them. They recur often throughout the texts, which makes it all the more annoying that nowhere are they explicitly explained.
But their apparent importance to the Sumerians cannot be questioned.
In an early Sumerian fragment (from a time long before the civilization of the Babylonians) of the material concerning the epic hero Gilgamesh, entitled ‘Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living‘, we find an antecedent to the tradition of the Argonauts of the Greeks. This fragment appears in a translation by Kramer.2
In fact, I feel it is safe to say that this Sumerian fragment is the earliest known form of the story of that hero who was later to be named Jason. In the story from this fragment, the hero, Gilgamesh, wishes to go to the ‘land of the living’, which is described as being in the charge of the sun god Utu. In the story of Jason and the Argonauts, the hero, Jason, wishes to search for the golden fleece, which is known to be a solar symbol.
In the Sumerian fragment we also find the surprising line:
In the Jason story, the hero, Jason, sows the dragon’s teeth! (So does Cadmus in another Greek tale which we shall examine later.) In the Jason story, Jason is accompanied on his quest by the fifty Argonauts.
In the Sumerian fragment, Gilgamesh is accompanied by fifty companions also! Here is the relevant passage (in which Gilgamesh is speaking):
The fifty companions are mentioned several times. The fragmentary text is extremely broken and confused. Further light on the motif of sowing the dragon’s teeth seems to come from a passage where Gilgamesh, who has for some unknown reason been asleep, was awakened, girded himself, stood like a bull on the ‘great earth’ and:
Note that it is at least open to question that the mouth and the teeth are actually his, and the word ‘his’ is both times in parentheses, put thus by the translator.
But here is the entire passage:
Apart from the fact that Gilgamesh’s desire to sit on the knee of his mother, the goddess Ninsun, is similar to Horus sitting on the knee of his mother, the goddess Isis as a constant motif in Egyptian art, there seems to be here an obscure but significant reference to the fact that if the hero puts his mouth to the ground and his teeth shake, he can invoke a kind of rebirth in strength.
I suspect that the translation needs to be worked on further, but it is difficult, as there are so many words in Sumerian whose meanings are not precisely understood. Whether or not it is Gilgamesh’s own mouth and teeth that are being discussed here, the fact is that Gilgamesh seeks strength by putting some teeth to the ground – either his or someone else’s.
As previously in the same tale, there has been the clear statement:
Now in the lines following the putting of the teeth to the ground, we learn that Gilgamesh needs to summon strength by putting his teeth to the ground because he needs to fight. In the story of the Argo, Jason sows the dragon’s teeth in the ground, and from them spring up armed soldiers who begin to fight – as is also the case in the story of Cadmus. So we see that in the two Greek myths, as also in this Sumerian fragment, the dragon’s teeth go to the ground and a fight ensues where the hero has acquired superhuman strength.
Later in this book we shall see the precise explanation of where this curious jumble originated, that it is specifically derived from an Egyptian sacred pun, and what it all means.
Meanwhile we must stay at our present level of enquiry. This book is an anabasis, or journey upward.
Let us look a little closer at the story of Jason and the golden fleece. The golden fleece was given to Phrixus and Helle by the god Hermes. The Egyptian god Anubis became known to the Greeks as their own Hermes.
Furthermore, Diodorus Siculus (IV, 47) and Tacitus (Ann. VI, 34) explain the golden fleece’s origin by saying that Phrixus and Helle (who flew away on the golden ram’s back to Colchis, Helle falling in the Hellespont on the way and giving that body of water its name) really sailed in a ship with a ram’s head on the prow, rather than having ridden the magical ram of the story.
The fact that the more widespread myth which had an actual ram in the story maintained specifically that they flew on the golden ram, could refer to the idea of a celestial boat. Thus everyone is correct.
In any case, this boat would definitely have been a boat of Egypt, which to the Sumerians would have been called a ‘Magan-boat’, if we accept what Kramer and others believe, namely, that Magan is Egypt. And the boat was a ‘gift from Hermes’ – in other words from Anubis. No wonder, then, that the Sirius-related fifty is connected with the golden fleece as well as Anubis.
It is worth mentioning also that the fifty Argonauts were also called the Minyae, its they were all related to each other and of the same family, descended all of them from Minyas, who had been the king of the Minyan city of Orchomenus in Boeotia, in Greece. So Jason and the Argonauts, fifty in number, all shared a kind of shadowy anonymity somewhat reminiscent of the fifty Anunnaki of Sinner, as they were often referred to simply as ‘the Minyae’ – a group of fifty related oarsmen in a celestial boat.
Later on we shall look extremely closely at the Argo story and also at the connections between the land Colchis, the object of its quest, and ancient Egypt? as attested for us by the historian Herodotus. But we must complete our look at the story of Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living. For even a boat is mentioned in that fragment, corresponding to the Argo.
My equating a moment ago of the Argo with an Egyptian celestial barque must now be seen in conjunction with the following passage in which Gilgamesh’s boat is specifically referred to as the ‘Magan-boat’! I might add that the trees which Gilgamesh cut down and which his fifty companions ‘placed in their hands’ according to the text were probably their oars! (The text is too broken for anything at all to be certain, even punctuation, among the fourteen lines which follow that particular passage.)
Here, then, is the passage about the boat:
I must emphasize that there is confusion here, In a footnote Kramer emphasizes that from the line ‘After it had sunk’ it is no longer certain that Gilgamesh is still speaking. It is not clear whether the Magan-boat has really sunk or whether this is a statement injected by Gilgamesh’s ‘faithful servant5 who immediately before the passage just quoted had told Gilgamesh:
What seems to happen is that Gilgamesh here tells his frightened servant (who just previously in the text is described as ‘terror-stricken’) that no other will die for him and that ‘the loaded boat will not sink’. Then the servant would seem to break in again in his terror with his hypothetical tale to Gilgamesh’s mother with ‘After it had sunk . . ,’ Then Gilgamesh again speaks, beginning with, ‘Come, let us go forward . ..’
The phrase ‘those who come out of the womb’ to describe those who are seated in the Magan-boat may be meant to refer to those who are children of the goddess Nintu (also known as Ninmah, Ninhursag, and Ki – ‘earth’).
This, combined with the strange reference to teeth, seems to refer to the children of the earth-goddess springing from the womb of the earth – for Ki, the earth- goddess (ki means ‘earth’ in Sumerian) is also Nintu or ‘the goddess who gives birth’. (Ninmah means ‘the great goddess’ and Ninhursag means ‘the goddess of the hill, a hursag or hill having been erected by her son – and she was named after it by him in commemoration of a significant mythical event; in Egypt Anubis is also called ‘Anubis of the Hill’, about which I shall have much to say later on, but suffice it here to note that if the Sumerians were to speak of’Anubis of the Hill they would call him Anpu-hursag.)
Basically in the goddess who gives birth, and also in the earth-goddess, we thus find antecedents to the soldiers springing up from the dragon’s teeth sown in the earth, and also the throwing over his shoulder of the ‘earth’s bones’ (stones) by Deukalion, the Greek Noah, with the stones becoming men much as the teeth did in the other stories. (And teeth are bones!)
In fact there are several points of contact other than this one between the Deukalion and Jason stories. For the ark of Noah is a concept which is identical with that of the ark of Deukalion, and both are magical ships in which sit ‘those who come out of the womb’, in the sense that they repopulate the world after the deluge. And both arks, but particularly that of Deukalion, are concepts related to the Argo.
(As anyone who has read the full Epic of Gilgamesh will know, the ark of Noah in the Middle East before either the Hebrews or the name Noah even existed, was the ark of Ziusudra or the ark of Utnapishtim, and it occurs as an established element of the mythical background brought into the Epic.)
For the ark of Deukalion rested on the mountain by the sacred oracle grove of Dodona, from which the Argo received its cybernetic guiding timber. Also, of course, the origin of the story of the flood and the ark (containing as it does ‘archetypes’ of all living creatures in pairs, and the word arche in Greek being definitely related to ark, as we shall see all too well much later in this book) is Sumerian at least, if not even before that something else (which we shall see in due course).
But it was from this early source that the Greeks obtained their Deukalion and the Hebrews their Noah – both of which are extremely late forms of an exceedingly ancient story, which existed thousands of years before there were such things as either Greeks or Hebrews in existence. (Anyone really interested in the origins of Greek and Hebrew civilizations should read Professor Cyrus Gordon’s brilliant book The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations3)
Now the point of going into all this is really to show that the Argonaut motif of fifty heroes in a boat on a heroic quest exists in Sumer and forms a complement to the ‘fifty great gods’. For if the Magan-boat’s fifty heroes are seated, as the Anunnaki usually are, and are ‘those who come forth out of the womb’, and thus children, so to speak, of Nintu, ‘the goddess who gives birth’, then they may be directly equated with the Anunnaki.
For the Anunnaki, as the children of An, would also be the children of An’s ancient consort Ki or Nintu. In other words, the fifty heroes are heroic counterparts of the celestial Anunnaki. The corollary of this is, that the fact that there are fifty Anunnaki is not so likely to be a coincidence as might have been thought. This brings out all the more the immense significance of the number fifty.
The number occurs also in ‘Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Nether World’. There Gilgamesh dons armor which weighs ‘fifty minas’. And in this tale also Gilgamesh has fifty companions. In the later Babylonian version the fifty companions are omitted from the story. At that date the true nature of the symbolism of fifty must have been forgotten.
In his book The Sumerians, Kramer points out4 that cultic and symbolic weapons, maces with fifty heads, were fashioned by the ruler Gudea.
If we return for a moment to the intriguing hursag of the Sumerians, the strange ‘hill’, we must recall that Ninhursag the goddess of the hill is identical with Nintu the goddess who gives birth. Those are two separate names for the same deity. Now it is interesting to note that in Egyptian the word tu means ‘hill’, so that if we take the word nin which means ‘goddess’ and add the Egyptian tu we have ‘the goddess of the hill’, which in fact is a synonym.
This is by no means the end of this interesting investigation. For if we note that the Egyptian form of Horus (the son of Isis and Osiris) is Heru (which is a bit like Hero, isn’t it?) and the traditional usage in Egyptian is to speak continually of Heru-sa-something which means Horus-the-son-of-something, then we shall note that the strange and puzzling word hursag might really be the Egyptian Heru-sa-Agga, which means ‘Horus the son of Agga9.
It so happens that Agga is an Egyptian synonym for Anubis. And ‘Anubis of the Hill’ has already been mentioned. What is more, the word hursag in its older Sumerian form is indeed hursagga, as may be seen in The Babylonian Genesis, Chapter 2, by Alexander Heidel, ‘A Sumerian Creation Account from Nippur’, where we read of the goddess Ninhursagga.
It also happens that Agga is in fact a reputable Sumerian name. There is in translation a short 115-line text entitled ‘Gilgamesh and Agga’ from the Sumerian period.5 In line eighty of this text is the mention of a ‘magurru-boat’, which is referred to in much the same way as the Magan-boat in ‘Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living’.
Just as in that previous text the Magan-boat was being discussed as to whether or not it would sink, so in this latter text the ‘magurruboat’ is being discussed as to whether or not it would have its prow cut down.
Curiously, as in the other tale, in this one also the boat is described as having had the worst fate actually occur, for in line ninety-eight we learn that ‘the prow of the magurru-boat was cut down’, just as in the previous text we read:
The connections between Egyptian and Sumerian words in sacred contexts become so multifold that it is impossible to ignore the continuities between the two cultures. Let us look, for instance, at the curious phenomenon of the cedar which Gilgamesh is always being claimed to have cut down. In ‘Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living’ Gilgamesh says: ‘I would enter the land of the cutdown cedar’ and later he is described as he ‘who felled the cedar’, etc. That is
an early Sumerian text. In the actual Epic proper, as we have it, Gilgamesh goes to the Cedar Mountain and slays the monster Humbaba (or Huwawa) in ‘the cedar mountain, the abode of the gods’. In Tablet V we read:
In Chapter XXII of Hamlet’s Mill, Santillana and von Dechend identify Huwawa with the planet Mercury. Now, remembering that Huwawa is also the god of the cedar forest, it is interesting to note that in Egyptian the word seb means ‘cedar’ and also means ‘the planet Mercury’!
The subject is far more complicated than that, but I wanted to note the further source of an Egyptian pun for yet another crucial Sumerian motif. In other words, Huwawa is connected with both Mercury (the planet) and the cedar, because the planet Mercury and the cedar are both called by the same name in Egyptian – namely, seb.
Let us now put aside the enigmatic monster-god Huwawa and turn to the Epic of Gilgamesh for another purpose. But in doing so let us note Kramer’s opinion in his essay ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh and Its Sumerian Sources‘,6 that ‘the poem was current in substantially the form in which we know it, as early as the first half of the second millennium B.C.’
Let us recall that, in an early Sumerian fragment, Gilgamesh’s mother was the goddess Ninsun ‘who is versed in all knowledge’, and upon whose knee he wanted to sit (like Horus on the knee of Isis).
In the First Tablet we read: Indeed, Gilgamesh arose to reveal dreams, saying to his mother:
There is another version of this (both as translated by Heidel)7 at the beginning of Tablet II in the Old Babylonian version which is older than the above Assyrian version and preserves more of the original significance: Gilgamesh arose to reveal the dream, Saying to his mother:
Kramer translates the two versions somewhat differently.8 One of the most important changes occurs in his translation of what Heidel before him had rendered as ‘the host of heaven’. Kramer renders ‘An’ not as ‘heaven’ but as An (or Anu), the god who was the father of the Anunnaki. And the word which Heidel renders as ‘host’ he comments on in a footnote at considerable length:
As regards ki-sir, there are too many possible meanings. Furthermore, the one adopted for this passage (‘the ki-sir of Ninurta’ earlier than our passage) should also apply to … the war-god Ninurta, and the sky-god Anu, Enkidu, and something that fell down from heaven. The common assumption that the author may have used in these passages the same term in more than one sense is unsatisfactory.
In the earlier edition I tried to justify for kisru the rendering ‘liegeman’ for the several passages in question. I now withdraw that suggestion. The correct sense, I believe, is indicated by the use of the term in medical contexts as ‘concentration, essence’, cf. E. Ebeling, JCS, IV (1950), 219. ‘Essence’, or some nuance of this term, could well be applied to deities as well as to missiles from heaven. Our poet had in mind, no doubt, some specific allusion, but the general meaning appears clear enough, Kramer, then, renders ‘the host of heaven’ as ‘the essence of An’, He says:
He adds another footnote to comment on the word ‘it’ in this sentence:
Kramer also changes the last lines in the first version:
Let us look once again at part of the second version, this time as Kramer gives it:9
All this, which we have examined here in two translations each of two versions, was worth seeing from these several angles. It helps us cover all the possibilities of meaning. It should be obvious that the reference is clearly to a star connected with ‘the essence of Anu’ which ‘draws him towards it’ and is in the area of the (fifty) heroes – and is super-heavy.
Thus we see that in Sumer both the concepts of the heavy star (later al Wazn) and of the figure ‘fifty’ associated somehow with that star are present.
In Tablet V of the Enuma elish we read10 about the Anunnaki and something called ‘the Bow Star’ which is their brother and is in the midst of them as they are seated in the celestial regions. This Bow Star is also the daughter of Anu, who raises it up in their midst. (Remember ‘the essence of Anu’.) What is being referred to seems to be Sirius.
Remember the Egyptian goddess Sati (or Satis) with her bow, who was one of the three goddesses (one was Sothis and the third was Anukis) riding in the celestial barque of Sothis (Sirius). Also recall the other connections of the bow with Sirius, even in China. (And here one must refer to the book Hamlet’s Mill for many examples.11)
Now with particular reference to the three goddesses which Neugebauer claims are versions of Sothis (‘The goddess Satis, who like her companion Anukis is hardly to be taken as a separate constellation but rather as an associate of Sothis’), note the following emphasis on three names for the star, only one of which is ‘Bow Star’:
A footnote says of the word ‘its’ in the last line: ‘Referring to the Bow, as indicated by the feminine possessive prefix in line 94.’ (In Egyptian the word Sept, which is the name of the star Sirius, also has the meaning ‘a kind of wood’, though whether this could be ‘longwood’ or not is anyone’s guess.)
The phrase ‘the Assembly of the gods’ invariably refers to the seated assembly of the fifty Anunnaki. So it is clearly stated, we see, that this ‘Bow Star’ -the daughter of An – was placed by An on the exalted royal throne in the midst of the fifty Anunnaki. In Egypt, Isis as Sothis was also pictured as seated on a white royal throne in the heavens. She too was the daughter of the sky god. Recall also that the hieroglyph for Ast (or Isis) is a throne. And the hieroglyph for her husband Asar (or Osiris) is a throne above an eye.
Before proceeding, we had better see who ‘the seven gods of destiny’ are. They are often referred to as the seven Anunnaki of the underworld. This, we shall see, also relates to the Sirius question. But the use of Anunnaki in this way underscores the total anonymity of the term ‘Anunnaki’. Needless to say, none of these seven Anunnaki is ever identified as an individual god. They are always ‘the seven’ underworld gods who determine destiny.
The strictly celestial Anunnaki are also known as the Igigi. No Sumerologist has satisfactorily explained all this. It is terribly imprecise and confusing – unless one had a structure to supply which fits under the cloth and matches the contours and can thereby be accepted as a tentative basis of explanation.
Now let us try to think of what we know is connected with the celestial Anunnaki and Sirius which also fits into this idea of there being seven Anunnaki-gods in the underworld. Remember that in both Sumer and Egypt each god of significance in astronomical terms has his own ten-day period or ‘week’. If we multiply seven (gods) times ten days we get seventy days. Is there any basis for this length of time being of significance for the underworld in either Sumer or Egypt? Yes! In Egypt the underworld is called the Duat (or Tuat) and the seventy-day period is very significant there and relates intimately to Sirius, as we have seen in our fairytale.
Parker and Neugebauer say12:
Sirius was, astronomically, the foundation of the entire Egyptian religious system. Its celestial movements determined the Egyptian calendar, which is even known as the Sothic Calendar. Its heliacal rising marked the beginning of the Egyptian year and roughly coincided with the flooding of the Nile. (Plutarch says the Nile itself was sometimes called Sirius.)
This heliacal rising was the occasion of an important feast. One can imagine a kind of New Year-cum-Easter. The heliacal rising was the occasion when Sirius again rose into visibility in the sky after a period of seventy days of being out of sight, during which time it was conceived of as being in the Duat, or underworld. A further connection with Anubis comes in here, as Anubis was conceived of as embalming Sothis for these seventy days in the Duat. But as we all know, an embalmed mummy is supposed to come alive again.
And this is what happens to the mummy of Sothis. Sothis is reborn on the occasion of her heliacal rising. Parker and Neugebauer also say:13
The Egyptians stubbornly clung to the traditional seventy days as the prototype of an underworld experience, despite its inconvenience, and, as we have already seen, ‘Sirius gives the pattern for all the other decanal stars’. In fact, it was the practice through all of Egyptian history for there to be a period of precisely seventy days for the embalming of a human mummy – in imitation of Sirius. Even during the late Ptolemaic period, the embalming process invariably lasted the precise period of seventy days.
Thus we find the explanation of the seven Anunnaki of the underworld! It is also interesting to note that in ancient Mexico the underworld was thought to have seven caves.
It is worth noting that in the story Etana,14 about the legendary King Etana not long after the Great Flood, who had to ascend to heaven in order to have something done about his inability to have children (and thereby managed to have a son and heir), mentions ‘the divine Seven’ and describes them as Igigi, emphasizing the apparent interchangeability of the terms Igigi and Anunnaki.
Also ‘the great Anunnaki’ are described as ‘They who created the regions, who set up the establishments’.
In the ‘Descent of Ishtar to the Nether World‘ 15 the Anunnaki are described as being brought forth (they are referred to as if they were stuffed animals being brought out of a closet, dusted off, and displayed in a taxidermists’ contest) and seated on thrones of gold. Once more the throne concept appears. It seems all the Anunnaki ever do is sit and be symbolic.
But these seven gods of the underworld must not have personalities lest there be the distraction of personal qualities to detract from the purely numerical significance of the concept. And of course the seven rooms of the seven gods are successive, leading from ‘week’ to ‘week’ until Sirius again rises. So we see yet another essential link between the early Sumerian concepts and the Egyptian concepts.
When will Professor Neugebauer take notice of this and cease ruminating among the late Babylonians and Persians?
In later times the god Marduk usurped the central position of the pantheon from all the other gods in Babylon. The Enuma elish is largely a description of this process and is basically written to Marduk, telling of his honors. This was quite an innovation, a real centralization of power.
‘The black-headed people’, which is how the Sumerians usually referred to themselves in their writings (when the context is sufficiently pious they meekly call themselves ‘the beclouded’; it is also interesting to note that the Egyptians were known as ‘the melampodes’ or ‘the black-footed people’ to the Greeks!) obviously didn’t take to the rise of Marduk with unanimous acclaim. In many ways the Enuma elish is a blatant propaganda tract for Marduk, alternately trying to convert and to denounce the people.
Here we see the author trying to woo them:16
In other words, the supporters of Marduk thought the best way to glorify their god was to give him fifty names. Then, with any luck, he would be omnipotent.
As Marukka, Marduk ‘gladdens the heart of the Anunnaki, appeases their [spirits]’. All the fifty names are given, along with short comments following each. In a footnote Speiser says, revealingly, that:
The list ends and we read in the text:
This final note adds a last flourish of emphasis to the importance to the supreme god of the title ‘Fifty’ as well as the designation by fifty names.
There is one cluster of names among the fifty given which is of particular interest. They are Asaru, Asarualim, Asarualimnunna, and the group of three centered round the similar name Asaruludu (the other two being Namtillaku and Namru).
I suspect these names of being related to the Egyptian Asar (Osiris). We have already seen how the An of Egypt was known in Sumer not only as An but as Anu, picking up a ‘u’ ending. It is therefore not so senseless to see in Asaru a Sumerian form of Asar, with the same ‘u’ ending added. But the Egyptians themselves also had an Asaru, or more precisely, an Asar-uu, whom Wallis Budge describes as ‘a form of Osiris worshipped in lower Egypt’.
Since Asaru in Sumer corresponds to Asar-uu in Egypt, what about the Sumerian Asaruludu? In Egyptian a vegetative Osiris would be known as Asar-rutu but as is well known, the liquid V and ‘1’ are in Egyptian entirely interchangeable and represented by the same hieroglyph.
So Asar-rutu could just as well be Asar-lutu, and the lingual ‘t’ as opposed to a dental ‘t’ is pronounced rather like a ‘d’, being a softer sound. If we merely transliterate it thus, we have Asar-ludu. It would mean, ‘Osiris of the growing plants’.
And in fact, in the Sumerian text, we find Asaru described as,
Immediately after one of the Asaru-names of Marduk in the Enuma elish we find that his thirteenth name is Tutu. It so happens that Tutu is the name of an Egyptian god. Wallis Budge describes him as ‘a lion-god, son of Neith’. (Wallis Budge says that Neith was: ‘One of the oldest goddesses of Egypt. She was the goddess of hunting and weaving, but was identified with many other goddesses such as Isis, Meh-urt, and their attributes were assigned to her.’17)
There is even an Egyptian precedent for the use of Tutu as one name of a god who has many names. The Egyptian monster of darkness, Apep,
To make quite sure that this should be done effectively, the Papyrus of Nesi-Amsu adds a list of such names, and as they are the foundation of many of the magical names met with in later papyri they are here enumerated . . .18 And one of these is Tutu. Surely this almost identical preoccupation with the need to enumerate every one of the magical names of a god in both countries must have common origins – especially as the name Tutu is in the lists of both countries.
It is important to look even closer at the Egyptian god Tutu. In Heidel’s translation of the Enuma elish he gives for Asaruludu the early Sumerian epithet namshub as opposed to the late Babylonian form namru – both meaning ‘bright’, and in the text further explained as, ‘The bright god who brightens our way’.’
In a footnote Heidel explains:
Now, what is so interesting is that in Egyptian the word shu means ‘bright’ and also describes the sun god – who is indeed a ‘bright god who brightens our way’. So we see that shu in Egyptian means the same as shuba in Sumerian. Furthermore, both are made to apply to a description of the sun. Also the Sumerian shuba is made to refer to Asarluhi, and we may now take note of the further surprising fact that the Egyptian god’ Tutu is, according to Wallis Budge:
So as we examine the material we find an increasingly complex weave of common patterns in Egypt and early Sumer both linguistically and in religion- astronomy. Later in the book we shall see this all reach a meaningful climax.
‘The Black Rite’ concerned something called ‘Night’ which was apparently an object that moves in heaven along with ‘the other mysteries in turn that move in heaven, with ordered motions and periods of times’. It has less light than the sun and it ‘weaves a web with rapid light’.
Sirius B moves in heaven with ordered motion and period, has less light than our sun, and distinctly weaves a web with its rapid motion, since it revolves round Sirius A in much less time than the planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto revolve around our own sun.
‘Night’ may thus refer to Sirius B, just as may ‘black Osiris‘ and ‘invisible Nephthys‘.
In really early times the basic concepts of Egyptian astronomy and Sumerian astronomy were identical. Later many differences appeared. Authorities on ancient astronomy tend to give short shrift to the earlier times, hence the similarities between the two cultures in this particular field have tended to go unremarked.
In Egypt and Sumer (Babylonia) there were identical systems of dividing the calendar year into twelve months each composed of three weeks which lasted ten days apiece. Each week had a constellation of the night sky associated with it (which in modern parlance we might describe as ‘being a kind of zodiac’). Thirty-six of these weeks added up only to 360 days, which was less than a year, so the 365-day year was obtained by adding on five extra days at the end.
Identical systems of such complexity in these two cultures mean that the relationship between Egypt and Sumer must be explored further.
In Sumer the ‘fifty great gods’ called the Anunnaki were anonymous as individuals and only ever spoken of as ‘the fifty great gods’ with the emphasis on their number. They were literally restricted to the level of being a numerological cipher. They are continually invoked and are of importance – but they never did anything but sit on their thrones and ‘be fifty’.
In an early Sumerian tale of their epic hero Gilgamesh, we find him accompanied in his adventures by fifty heroes, reminiscent of the fifty Argonauts who accompanied Jason. ‘His teeth are the teeth of a dragon’, we are told – reminiscent of Jason sowing the dragon’s teeth. And Gilgamesh also puts his teeth to the ground (that much we can gather, but the passage is obscure and he may really be sowing teeth).
Each of his fifty heroic companions carries a specially felled tree for the journey – and the only reasonable purpose to go around carrying a tree seems to be that these trees were used as oars, especially as there is an association with a boat. This again is like the Argonauts. We thus seem to have found a Near Eastern tale from which the tale of the Argonauts was derived two thousand years or so later by the Greeks.
Gilgamesh somehow derives strength from putting his teeth to the ground. In the Greek tale, Jason sows the teeth and they spring up as strong soldiers – another parallel.
Anubis, who is now familiar to us from Egypt, was identified by the Greeks with their own god Hermes (known in Latin as Mercury). Hermes turned the Golden Fleece to gold originally, in the Greek myth. It was this same Golden Fleece that Jason and the Argonauts sought in their quest, and which they succeeded in seizing and taking away with them.
In the early Gilgamesh tale of the Sumerians, Gilgamesh and his fifty proto-Argonauts have some connection with a ship (the text is tantalizingly fragmented) called ‘the Magan-boat’. It should be remembered that Magan is the Sumerian name for Egypt.
Hence the boat is connected with Egypt.
All the Greek Argonauts were related to one another and more or less anonymous as individuals – reminiscent of the earlier Sumerian ‘fifty heroes’ accompanying Gilgamesh and also the ‘fifty great gods’ known as Anunnaki.
The Greek ark of Deukalion came to rest after the Flood at Dodona, from where the Argo received its guiding timber. The ark and the Argo apparently were related in other ways too.
Professor Cyrus Gordon has written an important book on common origins of Greek and Hebrew cultures from the Egyptian-Sumerian milieu of the cosmopolitan world of the ancient Mediterranean (see bibliography).
The ‘fifty great gods’ of Sumer, the Anunnaki, are invariably seated. Sacred oarsmen or Argonauts are all, of course, invariably seated while they are rowing. ‘The fifty who sit’ and ‘the fifty who sit and row’ seem to be a motif.
The other element besides the eye in the Osiris-name hieroglyph is the throne, which is the hieroglyph for Isis as well. The throne is a divine seat. The Sumerians frequently intoned of the Anunnaki that they were ‘they who are seated on their thrones’; or sometimes for a bit more drama, ‘the fifty great gods took their seats’. (Of course they did nothing even then.)
The Egyptian Anubis (Anpu) was a god ‘of the hill’. The Sumerian god Anu’s wife was a goddess ‘of the hill’.
The older form of the Sumerian word for hill, hursagga, may be derived from the Egyptian Heru-sa-agga, where ‘agga’ refers to Anubis (who was ‘of the hill’). There are many other word and name similarities between Egypt and Sumer.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh a dream of Gilgamesh is described where he encounters a heavy star that cannot be lifted despite immense effort. This star descends from heaven to him and is described as connected with Anu (who is the god of heaven). Thus we find ‘the heavy star’ concept in Babylonia long before the Arabs even existed and were to have their star in the Great Dog (and the other in Argo) called ‘Weight’ and described as ‘the heavy star’.
Gilgamesh is drawn to this heavy star irresistibly, in a manner described in a way that seems to hint at a kind of gravitational attraction (to those, that is, who are conscious of a ‘heavy star’ like Sirius B being gravitationally powerful as well as ‘heavy’).
The Epic of Gilgamesh refers to ‘the essence of Anu’ possessed by the star. The word rendered as ‘essence’ is used elsewhere in medical contexts referring to ‘concentration, essence’ – an intimation of super-dense matter? This ‘concentrated star essence of Anu’ was too heavy for Gilgamesh to lift in his dream.
It must be recalled that Gilgamesh had his fifty companions in the early versions of the Epic (they were discarded later, by Babylonian times). Hence connected with Gilgamesh we find:
These elements comprise almost a complete description of Sirius B: a super-heavy gravitationally powerful star made of concentrated super-dense matter (‘essence’) with the number fifty associated with it (describing its period?) – and connected with An (Anu), which we know to be linked in Egypt (and Gilgamesh’s ‘Magan-boat’ seems Egyptian) with Sirius.