Labbu

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In Mesopotamian myth Labbu was a lion-serpent[1] sea-dragon, that was killed by the god-king Tishpak, "warrior of the gods".[2] The myth recounting the predations and defeat of this supernatural adversary figure, of which the most familiar is Satan,[3] has Canaanite origins; it appears in two very fragmentary cuneiform texts: one is in Old Babylonian; the other, much later, in Assyrian, was discovered in the library of Ashurbanipal (CT 13.33, 34).[4] The opening of the Old Babylonian version recalls that of Gilgamesh:

The cities sigh, the people...

The people decreased in number,...
For their lamentation there was none to...

The vast dimensions of Labbu are described. The sea, tāmtu[5] has given birth to the dragon (line 6). The fragmentary line "He raises his tail..." identified him for Neil Forsyth as a precursor of a later Adversary, the dragon of Revelation 12:4, whose tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth.

According to the fragments, "Enlil drew [a picture of] the dragon in the sky"; whether this refers to the Milky Way (Heidel 1963) or a comet (Forsyth 1989) is not clear. The pantheon of Babylonian gods are terrified by this apparition[6] and appeal to the sun-god Sin: who will slay the dragon and exercise kingship? Though he is not explicitly identified in the fragments, it is Tishpak, the protector-god of Eshnunna, who is appointed as hero.[7] Amidst the storm he creates, bursting open the clouds, he dispatches Labbu with an arrow.

The epic fragments are not part of a cosmogony, Forsyth notes, as the cities of men already exist. F.A.M. Wiggerman found the myth's function as justifying Tishpak's accession as king, "as a consequence of his 'liberation' of the nation, sanctioned by the decision of a divine council."[8]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Hebrew labi, Akkadian labbu, "lion"; Theodore J. Lewis, "CT 13.33-34 and Ezekiel 32: Lion-Dragon Myth," The Journal of the American Oriental Society, 116.1 (January - March 1996:28-47) pp 33f.
  2. ^ The inscription "warrior of the gods" appears in an image of Tishpak riding upon the mušḥuššu, from Eshnunna, in Lewis 1996:29 fig. 3.
  3. ^ The Mesopotamian tale of Marduk fighting Tiamat and the Canaanite tale of Baal fighting Yamm are also well known.
  4. ^ Translation in Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation (University of Chicago Press) 1963:14f, used by Neil Forsyth, The Old Enemy: Satan & the Combat Myth (Princeton University Press) 1989::44f, has been revised: newer translations are by J. Bottéro and S.N. Kramer, Lorsque les dieux faisaient l'homme (1989:469-89) and by B.R. Foster, Before the Muses: an Anthology of Akkadian Literature, vol. i (1993:489f).
  5. ^ Compare the cognate Tiamat.
  6. ^ Canaanite instances of this pattern are noted by F.M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, (1973:93).
  7. ^ Forsyth, following Heidel, doubts the identity, which Lewis (1996:30 note 10) finds "beyond doubt".
  8. ^ Wiggerman, "Tišpak, his seal and the dragon mušḥuššu", To the Euphrates and Beyond: Archaeological Studies in Honour of Maurits N. van Loon, (Rotterdam) 1989:117-33.