A fragment of the Babylonian 'Dibbara' epic

by Morris Jastrow | 1891 | 16,670 words

Translations and comments for text relating to Dibbara. (Anu gave the order to destroy all Human life to Dibbara, aka. Dibbarra)....

To pass on now to the relationship existing between our fragment and other portions of the mythological literature of the Babylonians, we have in Smith's Chald. Genesis, [1] pp. iio 1 19, the remains of an epic devoted to the deeds of Dibbarra. Unfortunately, the texts themselves there translated by Smith Delitzsch, have never been published, and that renderings made almost fifteen years ago are no longer reliable, need hardly be said.

Sayce appears to have consulted some of these texts for his Hibbert Lectures (pp. 310-13) and offers revised translations of some lines. He has not, however, attempted any classifica tion of the fragments beyond the one made by George Smith, which was as satisfactory as was possible under the circum stances.

There is every reason to hope that among the thousands of fragments from Asurbanabal's library still unpublished and unexamined in the British Museum, further portions of the epic will be forthcoming, and we may confidently look forward for some valuable light on the subject from Dr. Bezold's "Catalogue of the koujunijik Collection", now in course of preparation; [2] but pending a gathering of all the fragments and a new study of those translated by Smith from the original tablets, which I hope to undertake at no distant day, it would only be idle and profitless conjecture to attempt any reconstruction of the divi sions of the epic.

We are, however, in a position at the close of our study of the interesting fragment, however unsatisfactory it is in many respects, to assert the close connection of our fragment with those found in Smith-Delitzsch and Sayce. A brief refer ence to the contents will show this very clearly.

Smith gives four fragments. In the fragment which Smith takes as the beginning of the epic, the order is given to Dibbarra by Anu to destroy the entire human race. [3]

In a second fragment, the translation of which is the most unsatisfactory of all, Ea is introduced. The third, which consists of four columns (M 55), describes in great detail Dibbarra's ravages in Babylon, Erech, Duran (?), Kutha, and a large number of the towns on all sides of Babylonia, which in succession seem to be the object of the divine wrath. Here, as well as in the fourth fragment (K 1282), which has attached to it a colophon, stating that it is the fifth tablet of a series, Dibbarra is accompanied by his servant Isum.

There is a reference in the third fragment to the wrath of Mar duk, though no mention of Ea occurs in what is published. In the fifth tablet, reverse, Dibbarra is spoken of as having the intention  ana sapan matati" Marduk [son of Ea], is sent out " at the beginning of the night", and the tablet ends with the hope that Dibbarra may be eternally appeased.


The points of comparison which justify the designation of our fragment as a portion of the Dibbarra epic are then briefly as follows :

  1. Anu as the probable instigator of the destruction.
  2. Dibbarra as the agent.
  3. The wrath directed against the city.
  4. The reference to the destruction of lands and annihila tion of men.
  5. The introduction of Ea and Marduk.
  6. The mission of Marduk.
  7. The appeasing of Dibbarra's violence.

It is needless for our purposes to dwell on the original character and development of Dibbarra and of his relation to Nergal, particularly as a portion of the subject has recently been fully and very satisfactorily treated by Jensen. [4]

I accept his theory of the iden tification of Dibbarra and Nergal at a very early period in Babylonian mythology, though of course the two deities must origin ally have been distinct. In this connection there is only one point to which, on account of its general bearings on the Dibbarra epic, I desire to call attention here.

Above I have given my reasons for preferring the reading Ner or Nerra as the "non-Semitic" designation of the plague-god. The god Nergal is evidently nothing but the "great Ner".

Now, on the sup position that Dibbarra represents the "small Ner," we would have an explanation for the fact that he is represented by an ideograph which has the meaning "servant" In other words, Nergal and Nerra bear the same relation to one another that afterwards applies to "Nerra and Isum", [5] Viz., master and servant; and I take it that Ihim was introduced by the side of Dibbarra after the latter's — or, as we might also put it, in consequence of the latter's — amalgamation with Nergal.

Now, in some of the frag ments of the Dibbarra epic published by Smith, Jsum actually does appear as performing the will of Dibbarra, and it becomes at once evident that the epic assumed its definite state after Nergal and the plague-god proper had become completely identified.

In the first and second of Smith's fragments, however, there is no refer ence to Isunt ; of course they are exceedingly fragmentary, but if it should turn out that Dibbarra acts by himself there as in our text, we would have two recensions of the "epic" with the introduction of Isum as an indication for the growth of the story, precisely as we have seen the association of Marduk with Ea marking a stage in the development of the "Ea myth".

This association of two deities in Babylonian mythology bearing the relation of father and son, and corresponding to master and ser vant, such as Bel and Nusku, Ea and Marduk, Ner and Nergal, Dibbarra and Isum, is exceedingly curious and important, and deserves a more careful investigation than has as yet been accorded to it.

If a final suggestion of a general character be permitted, I should say that the whole epic must have been divided into several distinct parts like the "Gistubar" story, each part containing some episode in the career of the plague-god, and all together constituting the series which fqrmed acollection under the designation

— to judge from the colophon to K 1282 —

"The Great Deeds of Dibbarra."

The question as to the position of our fragment in the series must, of course, with the inadequate material at our disposal, be left for future consideration.

Summing up, then, the conclusions reached, I claim that our frag ment represents a portion of the "Dibbarra" epic, in which there is set forth the destruction of a city, Inmarmaru, by the god of pestilence, followed by further accounts of the ravages of the god [6] until, upon a final appeal to the gods, Ea, in consort with Marduk, brings Dibbarra under subju gation and orders Marduk, with his hosts, to repair the damage that has been done; and, furthermore, our fragment stands in close connection with a series of other fragments that deal with the deeds of Dibbarra.


In conclusion, I wish to direct attention to an expression in our fragment, from which I venture to draw an important infer enceas to the original form of the narrative. In line 23, we find the order musa u urra " night and day".

The observation has been made that in so-called Sumero-Akkadian texts, "night" precedes "day", whereas in the Assyrian "translation" it is just the reverse (see e. g., KAT, p. 57 note, and quite recently Jensen, ZA V, p. 124). An examination of purely As syrian texts bears out the view that the Assyrian order is " day and night", with a few exceptions.

So in the historical texts, I find only two passages where we meet with the " Sumero-Akka dian " order, the one in the Naboiiid cylinder (PSBA, January, 1889) col. I, 12, and the other in Sargon's Annals, 1. 303, (ed. Winckler, p, 67) where, by a careless slip, Winckler, in his trans lation, turns the phrase around. [7]

Otherwise we invariably find "immu u musu", or "urru u musu"; [8]Prunkinschrift 190, Bull. 48, K 2867 (Asurbanabal) Rev. 9, publ. by George Evans, Essay on Assyriology, appendix). [9]

Again, in the Nimrod Epic, although of Babylonian origin, and, as I believe, very old, but whose late Assyrian redaction, under the influence of Assyrian ideas, is generally acknowledged, "day and night" is the invariable order (ed. Haupt, pp. 4, 45 ; 6, 38 ; 7, 7 ; 1 1, 21; 13, 19; 69, 20and23. Deluge, col. Ill, 19).

On the other hand, in the interhnear renderings of "non-Semitic" texts, night invariably takes precedence, and this applies as well to texts whose "non-Semitic" side or column still exists, such as IV R. 5, cols. I, 67 and II, 23 ; 15, col. II, 19 ; 18 No. i, 21 ; 19 No. 3, 59; 22, 8a; 27 No. 3, 31, as well as such in which the Assyrian "translation" alone is preserved, as in the Penitential Psalm, IV R, 26, No. 8, 59. [10]

Would it not seem, therefore, that our text is to be placed in the same category as the psalm just referred to, namely, a text which presupposes the existence of a " Sumero Akkadian " original, and that by a fortunate accident the original " Sumero-Akkadian " order of the phrase has been retained?

I have already referred (see comment to line 16 of reverse) to the ideograph EN-NA, occurring in our text, and have little hesitation now in seeing herein also an "untranslated" survival of the Sumero-Akkadian original. Thirdly, the form for ra in the spelling of the name Dibbara, as well as in usahrabu [11]is distinctly Babylonian, and, according to Delitzsch, AL8 p. 22, note i, peculiar

— to quote his exact words —

"to North Babylonian texts, and copies of the latter, e. g., in the legend of the god of Pestilence [12], and almost constant in the bilingual Akkadic-Babylonian texts." [13]

This again not only points to an original in the Babylonian variation of cune iform script from which the scribes of Asurbanabal made our copy, and therefore takes us to Babylonia as the home of the story, but furnishes an additional reason for conjecturing an earlier "Sumero-Akkadian" prototype.

Finally, the introduction of the Ea-Marduk episode, which has, up to the present at least, been found only in "bilingual" texts, may serve as a further substantiation of this conjecture, though I am not willing, for obvious reasons, to lay any great stress upon this support.

If this conclusion be accepted, it carries with it the general theory that the entire "Dibbarra" epic is a Babylonian tale origi nally composed in the non-Semitic "style," but of which we have at present only fragments of the Assyrian "translation"; and there is the further probability that some of these fragments represent a later and independent Assyrian redaction, based upon the "non-Semitic" original.  

Footnotes and references:


I quote the German Edition of Friedr Delitzscli, Leipzig, 1876.


In Vol. I of the Catalogue (1889), p. 258, there is a description of K 1282 belonging to the series. Another fragment is M. 55, Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, p. 311 ; Delitzsch. Woert., p. 558


The term used is salmat kakkadi, "black-headed", an expression synonymous with "humanity". Compare the corresponding phrase in our text, "destruction of lands and annihilation of men".


Kosmologie d. Babylonier, pp. 476-90.


Isum is invariably designated as the "messenger" and "lieutenant" of Dibbarra.


very likely the destruction of other cities, with their temples and images


For explanation of these exceptions, see note to p. 46.


Cf. Sarg. Cyl. 43 and 49


See in general Delitzsch Woeri., p. 236.


In the Assyrian astronomical reports, day is mentioned before night, as we would nat urally expect, («. g.. Ill R 51, Nos. i and 2) and this, in connection with the facts pointed out, suggests the conclusion that, whereas in Babylonia — the home of the religious literature— the official day began with sunset, in Assyria the point of departure for all calculations was sunrise, which carries with it the assumption that the popular custom was the same.

Whether in later times, through the influence of Assyria, a change was introduced into Baby Ionia, is a question which I am not prepared to answer.

In the two exceptions to the Assyrian order above noted, it is significant that the one occurs in the cylinder of a Babylonian king, and the other in the account of a Babylonian campaign, so that, unless it be supposed that these two exceptions are accidental, the legitimate conclusion seems to be that the old custom was preserved in Babylonia till the end of the empire.

It may very well be also that both methods of reckoning the day existed side by side, the one as a survival, the other as an innova tion, just as among the Jews in the post-exilic period there were two methods of calculating the year, one beginning in the Spring, which was a survival of the "agricultural" stage, the other beginning in the Fall, which was due to adoption from the Babylonians.

See Jensen's remarks, ZAV, p. 123-4 [Epping's new work, Astronomisches aus Babylon, which probably throws more light upon this point, is not accessible to me]


line 5 of the obverse


Incidentally another proof for the companionship of our text with the "Dibbarra" series.


Also in the "Gisdubar" and "Deluge" texts. Haupt, Beitr. fur Assyr., I, p. 70.

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