Labbu

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The Labbu Myth, “The Slaying of Labbu”, or possibly Kalbu Myth, depending on the reading of the first character in the antagonist’s name, which is always written as KAL may be read as Lab, Kal, Rib and Tan, is an ancient Mesopotamian creation epic with its origin no later than the Old Babylonian period. It is a folktale possibly of the Diyala region as the later version seems to feature the god Tišpak as its protagonist and may be an allegory representing his replacement of the chthonic serpent-god Ninazu at the top of the pantheon of the city of Ešnunna.[1] This part is played by Nergal in the earlier version.[2] It was possibly a precursor of the Enûma Eliš, where Labbu, meaning "Raging One" or "lion", was the prototype of Tiamat[3] and of the Canaanite tale of Baal fighting Yamm.[4]

Synopsis[edit]

Extant in two very fragmentary copies, an Old Babylonian and a later Assyrian one from the Library of Ashurbanipal, which have no complete surviving lines, the Labbu Myth relates the tale of a possibly leonine certainly serpentine monster, a fifty-league[5] long mušba-aš-ma: Bašmu or sixty-league long MUŠ-ḪUŠ:Mušḫuššu, depending on the version and reconstruction of the text. 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[6] 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.[7]

In the later version, Labbu is created by the god Enlil who “drew [a picture of] the dragon in the sky", to wipe out humanity whose raucous noise has been disturbing this deity’s sleep, a recurring motif in Babylonian creation epics. 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 and appeal to the moon god Sîn or fertility goddess Aruru who conscripts Tišpak/Nergal to counter this threat and “exercise kingship”, presumably over Ešnunna, as its reward. Tišpak/Nergal raises objections to tangling with the serpent but, after a gap in the narrative, a god whose name is abraded provides guidance on military strategy. A storm erupts and the victor, who may or may not be Tišpak or Nergal, in accordance with the advice given, fires an arrow to slay the beast.

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."[1]

Principal publications[edit]

  • L W King (1901). Cuneiform texts from Babylonian tablets, &c. in the British Museum, Part XIII (CT 13). British Museum.  plates 34-35 of tablet Rm 282 (line art)
  • Erich Ebeling (1919). Keilschrifttexte Religiösen Inhalts, Erster Band. J. C. Hinrichs.  plate 6 of tablet VAT 9443 (line art)
  • Erich Ebeling (1916). "Ein Fragment aus dem Mythos von den grossen Schlange". Orientalistische Literaturzeitung. 19: 106–108.  (translation)
  • Alexander Heidel (1951). The Babylonian Genesis. The Story of Creation (second edition). University of Chicago Press. pp. 141–143.  (translation)
  • J. Bottéro and S. N. Kramer (1989). Lorsque les dieux faisaient l'homme. Gallimard. pp. 464–469.  (translation)
  • Benjamin Foster (1993). Before the Muses. CDL Press. pp. 488–489.  (translation)
  • Theodore J. Lewis (1996). "CT 13.33-34 and Ezekiel 32: Lion-Dragon Myths". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 116 (1): 30–32. JSTOR 606370.  (transliteration and translation)
  • W. G. Lambert (2013). Babylonian Creation Myths. Eisenbrauns.  (translation)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b F. A. M. Wiggermann (1989). "Tišpak, his seal and the dragon mušḥuššu". To the Euphrates and Beyond: Archaeological Studies in Honour of Maurits N. van Loon. A. A. Balkema. pp. 117–133. 
  2. ^ Paul-Alain Beaulieu (1999). "The Babylonian Man in the Moon". Journal of Cuneiform Studies. 51: 95. JSTOR 1359732. 
  3. ^ W. G. Lambert (1986). "Ninurta Mythology in the Babylonian Epic of Creation". Keilschriftliche Literaturen: Ausgewälte Vorträge der XXXII. Recontre Assyrologique International Münster 8-12, 7, 1985. pp. 55–56. 
  4. ^ F.M. Cross (1973). Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic. Harvard University Press. p. 58. 
  5. ^ CAD b p. 208b bēru A.
  6. ^ Compare the cognate Tiamat.
  7. ^ Neil Forsyth (1989). The Old Enemy: Satan & the Combat Myth. Princeton University Press. pp. 44f.