Mystical Miscellanea (Secrets of the Great Gods)


1 Introduction

The text known as Mystical Miscellanea (SAA 03 039 = KAR 307), which describes itself as Secrets of the Great Gods (akk. Pirišti ilāni rabûti), is quite remarkable, even among the “mystical and mythological explanatory works” with which it has been grouped by editor Alasdair Livingstone in a book of that title.

Its format is quite straightforward, and held largely in the A = B format familiar to many list-based genres in cuneiform writing. But what is being explained is more esoteric: in part elements of ritual (as other of these explanatory works), in part the structure of the universe. How the latter fits into the former is unclear to me; perhaps the conventional title indicates the most fitting explanation, that the Secrets draw unconnected pieces of secret lore together into a compilation where, taken out of their original context, they can be appreciated for their own sake.

An edition and translation of the text (or tablet of multiple texts) can already be found online elsewhere (off-site link). My translation is largely derivative of this translation and Livingstone’s, but I have attempted to organize the material so as to make it more easily readable (without separating the sections into distinct texts, as Livingstone did).

Divisions of the text by lines, and line numbers, follow the layout of the tablet. The text spans the obverse (lines 1–38) and reverse (lines r 1–end) of the tablet.

2 Translation

<the body parts of a god>


<the Ištars of Nineveh and Arbela>

(19–21) Ištar (ᵈ15) of Durna (=Nineveh) is Tiˀāmat (ti-amat). She is the wet nurse of Bēl (ᵈEN). She has [four eyes] and four ears. Her upper parts are Bēl; her lower parts are Mullissu.
(22–22) Bēlet-Arbail (‘Lady of Arbela’, ᵈNIN.URU.LI.BUR.NA) is the mother of Bēl. He gave her vegetables(?).
(23) Alternatively, she is Antu (an.tu), and they make funerary offerings to Anu (ᵈa-nu).


<interpretation of a ritual related to Enmešarra>


<an esoteric cosmology: layers of heaven and earth>

(30) The upper heaven (anu), of luludanītu stone, is that of Anu (ᵈa-nu). He settled the 300 Igigi within it.
The middle heaven, of saggilmut stone, is that of the Igigi. Bēl (be-lu) is settled in a great temple within it, on a dais of lapis lazuli; he has lit a lamp of electrum there.
(33) The lower heaven, of jasper, is that of the Stars (MUL = kakkabū). He (=Bēl) drew the constellations of the gods upon it.

(34) On the solid ground of the upper earth (erṣetu), he made the souls (? ziqiqū) of humanity reside upon it.
(3536) On/in the [word lost] of the middle earth, he settled Ea, his father, upon/within it. [text lost] he did not distinguish [text lost] rebellion.
(37) On/in the [word lost] of the lower earth, he confined the 600 Anunnaki within it.

(For the idea of Marduk/Bēl or, in Greek, Zeus as drawer of the constellations, see Aratus & Aratea on Zeus, a poem influenced by Stoicism but also, just slightly more indirectly, by Babylonian astronomy. What is absent there is the idea that there is a higher heaven of the celestial gods, here called Igigi, above the divine stars, or any mention of underworld gods, here called Anunnaki.)

<esoteric cosmology: Tiˀāmat>

(38) [text lost] of jasper.
(r 1) [text lost] of muṣu stone on the horn is Tiˀāmat. Bēl defeated her.
(r 2) He seized her, decreed her fate and “split her in two like a fish of the drying place.”
(r 3) The river Tigris is her right eye; the Euphrates is her left eye.

(Line r 2 quotes Enūma Eliš IV.137, as Livingstone points out, and r 3 adapts a line from the subsequent creation narrative, where Marduk creates from the corpse of Tiˀāmat, specifically Enūma Eliš V 55. The rest of this creation narrative is assumed as known by our author.)

<esoteric cosmology: stars>

(r 4) The disk of the Sun (ᵈUTU) is 40 double-hours (in size?).
The disk of the Moon (ᵈ30) is 60 double-hours.
(r 5) Inside the Sun is Marduk. (ᵈAMAR.UTU).
Inside the moon is Nabû (ᵈAG).
Inside the Sun, there is a viper, his balballû (meaning unclear).
(r 6) Inside the Moon, there is his (Bēl’s?) mother.
The dagger over the Lion (Leo?) is that of the hand of [word lost].
(r 7–8) Meslamtaˀeya (ᵈMES.LAM.TA.E₂.A) is Marduk, rises and goes down to the underworld, because Aššur (ᵈAN.ŠAR) […]

(The notion of gods ‘inside’ stars, particularly the Sun and Moon, is also found in other ancient speculative works; for instance, in Porphyry’s On Cult Statues, we read: “What Apollon is in the Sun, Athena is in the Moon.” Meslamtaˀeya might perhaps refer to the constellation of Gemini.)

<esoteric cosmology: animals>

(r 9) The bee (? nambūbtu) of the lord (Bēl?).
The raven is his mole(?). It is the ghost (GIDIM = eṭemmu) of Enmešarra (ᵈEN.ME.ŠAR₂.RA); it keeps crying qimanni qimanni (“Burn me! Burn me!”).
(r 10) The wild donkey is the ghost of Illil (ᵈBE).
(r 11–12) The wolf is the ghost of Anu (ᵈa-nu). Bēl (ᵈEN) made him roam the plain.
The gazelles are his (Anu’s) daughters. Bēl made them roam the plain.
(r 13) The dromedary (AN.ŠE.A.AB.BA = gammalu) is the ghost of Tiˀāmat. Bēl (ᵈEN) cut off her horns, clove her feet, and docked her tail. Bēl (be-lu) defeated her; lest she be forgotten, he has presented her to the people (as the dromedary). Its name is tamriqātu (“crushing”), as it said in the speech of people: ētamar qātāia (“He learned from my example”).

(For the raven, also see the first subsection of the text. The idea in the present subsection is that not just Tiˀāmat, but also Anu, Illil/Enlil and Enmešarra have been killed by Marduk, and continue to exist only(?) as animals, and it seems rather unfortunate or disliked ones. Contrast this to the harmonious arrangement described above!)

<interpretation of two animal offerings>


<interpretation of the king>


<interpretation of cedar resin offerings>

(r 24–25) The cedar which they burn in front of them (the gods? their statues?) is the wasting flesh of the evil gods; they smelled the scent and went into hiding.

(Here, cedar resin fumigations are taken to be not so much an offering but a method of driving away evil gods – “demons”, as we often call them today.)