Temple in Eridu

ERIDUThe site of Eridu was discovered by J. E. Taylor in 1854, in a ruin then called by the natives Abub Shahrein, a few miles south-south-west of Moghair, ancient Ur, nearly in the centre of the dry bed of an inland sea. Eridu was once a thriving Sumerian sea-port, and was inhabited for over 2,000 years.

The ruins, in which Taylor conducted brief excavations, consist of a platform of fine sand enclosed by a sandstone wall, 20 ft. high, the corners orientated toward the cardinal points, on the N.W. part of which was a pyramidal tower of two stages, constructed of sun-dried brick, cased with a wall of kiln-burned brick, the whole still standing to a height of about 70 ft. above the platform. The summit of the first stage was reached by a staircase on the S.E. side, 15 ft. wide and 70 ft. long, constructed of polished marble slabs, fastened with copper bolts, flanked at the foot by two curious columns. An inclined road led up to the second stage on the N.W. side. Pieces of polished alabaster and marble, with small pieces of pure gold and gold-headed copper nails, found on and about the top of the second stage, indicated that a small but richly adorned sacred chamber, apparently plated within or without in gold, formerly crowned the top of this structure. Around the whole tower was a pavement of inscribed baked bricks, resting on a layer of clay 2 ft. thick. On the S.E. part of the terrace were the remains of several edifices, containing suites of rooms. Inscriptions on the bricks identified the site as that of Eridu.

Eridu is best known for its temples, called ziggurats. The earliest temple, dated to the Ubaid period about 5570 BC, consisted of a small room with a possible cult niche and an offering table. After a break, there are ever-larger temples built and rebuilt on this site throughout its history. Each of these temples was built with classical early Mesopotamian format of tripartite plan, with a buttressed facade and a long central room with an altar. The Ziggurat of Enki was built for the Third Dynasty of Ur, 3,000 years after the city’s founding.

It has been suggested that Eridu, to the south of Ur, was the original Babel and site of the Tower of Babel [David Rohl. Legends: The Genesis of Civilization (1998) and The Lost Testament (2002)], rather than the later city of Babylon, for a variety of reasons. Among these:

  • The ziggurat ruins of Eridu are far larger and older than any others, and seem to best match the Biblical description of the unfinished Tower of Babel.

  • One name of Eridu in cuneiform logograms was pronounced “NUN.KI” (“the Mighty Place”) in Sumerian, but much later the same “NUN.KI” was understood to mean the city of Babylon.

  • The much later Greek version of the King-list by Berosus (c. 200 BC) reads “Babylon” in place of “Eridu” in the earlier versions, as the name of the oldest city where “the kingship was lowered from Heaven”.

  • Rohl et al. further equate Biblical Nimrod, said to have built Erech (Uruk) and Babel, with the name Enmerkar (-KAR meaning “hunter”) of the king-list and other legends, who is said to have built temples both in his capital of Uruk and in Eridu.

According to Stephanie Dalley (Babylon as a Name for Other Cities Including Nineveh, in: Proceedings of the 51st Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Oriental Institute SAOC 62, pp. 25-33, 2005), other cities in the ancient Near East were also named as “Babylon” at some point in history, including Nineveh.

According to the Sumerian king lists, the first king of Eridu was Alulim, who ruled for 28,000 years. In later times, Alulim was said to have had an advisor named Adapa, whose name, like Adam, means “man.” The Myth of Adapa has been found in both the Armana tablets of the monotheistic pharaoh Akhenaton (1300’s B.C.), and in Nineveh library of King Ashurbanipal of Assyria (600’s B.C.). He was also known to the Kassites and the Babylonians. The tablet begins by saying, “Ea made broad understanding perfect in Adapa, to disclose his design of the land. To him he gave wisdom, but did not give eternal life.” A Babylonian priest named Berossus reinvigorated interest in the figure during the 200’s B.C., using the name of Oannes, a corruption of U-an, another name of Adapa’s. Written in the Semitic language of Akkadian, the name of Enki is changed to Ea, which in the Sumerian language was the name of his temple (E-a, “House of Water”).

Adapa, the first of the Mesopotamian seven sages (apkallu), was a mythical figure who unknowingly refused the gift of immortality. The story is first attested in the Kassite period (14th century BC), in fragmentary tablets from Tell el-Amarna, and from Assur, of the late second millennium BC. Mesopotamian myth tells of seven antediluvian sages, who were sent by Ea, the wise god of Eridu, to bring the arts of civilisation to humankind.

Adapa is referred to as an abgallu, or “water-great-man,” and a sage descended from the gods. He is often listed as the first of the famed “Seven Sages” who brought civilization, arts, and crafts to humankind. The theme of the “Seven Sages,” which first appears in Sumerian texts, would resonate in Hindu, Chinese, and Greek myth, although who these sages were identified with were completely different. So, instead of being the first man, Adam appears to have been the first priest of Eridu.



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