Friday, September 18, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- The Kings List

Your assignment for this week was to read Genesis chapter 5.
The urban legend for this chapter is that it is a version of the Sumerian Kings List.
The provenance of the Sumerian Kings List falls into two parts.
First, there was a kings list collated in the Ur III dynasty about 2000 BCE under Akkadian king Utu-Hengel, who ran the Gutians out of Mesopotamia.  The sources of the original kings list were king lists from the most important cities of Sumero-Akkad: Kish, Ur, and so on.  However, for some reason we don’t know yet, this list ignores the kings of Lagash.  By the way, that cuneiform thing?  Applies here too.
The first modern publication about the kings list dates to 1906 based on cuneiform text found in Nippur, modern Nuffar in Iraq.  Later research at Larsa, modern Tell as-Senkereh, took place in 1933.  A discovery in 1923 possibly at Ur (Heinrich Schleimann method prevailed in this dig, destroying provenance information), called the Weld-Blundell Prism, provided the complete list and revised everybody’s ideas about the kings list. 
The kings list pretended to be a sequential list of all the kings of Mesopotamia.  But in 1923 archaeologists discovered texts referring to a king Mes-anne-pada of Ur, who did not fit into the sequence.  After a lot of work, the archaeologists realized that the original king lists of the various cities sometimes ran concurrently, not consecutively.  The editor who produced the kings list in 2000 BCE manipulated the regnal years to make it look like a consecutive list.
About 1700 BCE, somebody realized that Mesopotamian literature referred to kings who were not in the list.  So they added a prequel.  In the prequel are kings like Zidusura (normally known as Ziusudra) and Gilgamesh.  Their reigns are incredibly long.  This feature contributed to the urban legend that the people referred to in Genesis 5, with their long lives, represented a version of the kings list. 
Now let’s go back and look at the missing city.  Lagash made no contributions to the kings list.  That’s not because it was a negligible population center.  One king of Lagash, Eannatum, conquered all of Mesopotamia at one point and took the title King of Kish which represented his absolute sway in the region. 
We don’t know why he was left out.  What we do know is that he was conquered by the grandson of a woman king, Kug-Bau, whose very name represents a whole different take on Mesopotamia and its culture.  That’s for next week.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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