Saturday, September 7, 2013

Which Work is This?

The following line looks like it could have come from the mouth of Jesus:
Despise wealth; save your soul!
It certainly sounds a lot like something out of Matthew 16:24, or Matthew 19:21, or Luke 17:33. No, this line comes from Atrahasis III i 23-24:
makkura zêrma napišta bulliṭ
This is the warning to Atrahasis, the Babylonian Noah, that a flood is coming. A few notes on the passage are in order. The Akkadian term makkuru is the equivalent of Sumerian nig-ga (as in the famous lexical text nig-ga makkuru) and means property in a general sense. It is what Babylonians strove to acquire. Wealth in Babylon was actually tied to property, to concrete physical objects. If your whole world is going to be wiped out by a flood, your property is pretty worthless. The term zêru is usually translated to hate. In the Code of Hammurapi a woman who hates or despises (zêru) her husband is allowed to divorce him. The term napištu is cognate with Hebrew nepeš, "soul" though in Akkadian it usually means something more like "life."  The verb balaṭu means to live; the D-stem used here means to make one live or save a life.

Atrahasis is faced with a rather stark choice, dictated by a mysterious voice heard through the wall of his reed hut. He needs to tear down his hut and build a boat from it. He needs to forget the wealth that he and everyone around him is acquiring and save what he can. Not just anyone would obey such a disembodied voice, yet Atrahasis did and saved his family. Perhaps there is a reason that the name Atrahasis means "exceedingly wise."