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Sennacherib’s Annals and Enuma Elish
Gary E. Schnittjer
Copyright 2009


The earliest version of Sennacherib’s eighth campaign contains numerous allusions to Enuma Elish, especially to tablet IV. Sennacherib, the great Assyrian king (704-681 BCE), fought against the Babylonian-Elamite coalition at Halule in 691 BCE. Elnathan Weissert compared the prism edition of the battle of that year with later editions and showed that this edition, completed before the entire matter was resolved, contained numerous allusions to the well-known enthronement-creation myth.[1]

(The scribe who spoke for)
Sennacherib
in the account of the Eight Campaign (691 BCE)[2]
 

Enuma Elish
[3]
the Babylonians [are] “wicked devils [demons]” (5.18; ARAB, 2: 125)[4]
 
Tiamat’s horde referred to as a “demonic host” (4.116-118; cf. Dalley, 254)
 
“The Babylonians placed him on the throne,--for which he was not fitted” (5.28b-29; ARAB, 2: 125)[5]
 
“though he had no right to be, you set him [Kingu/Qingu] up for chief god” (4.82; cf. Dalley, 253)
 
the enemy “sharpen their weapons” (5.62)[6]
 
“while the gods of battle were whetting their blades” (4.92; Dalley, 253)[7]
 
“They speedily (urruhiš) gave ear to my prayers and came to my aid” (5.66-67; ARAB, 2: 126)[8]
 
“soon (urruhiš) you will trample the neck of Tiamat” (2.146 [=148]; cf. Dalley, 243 [also see 3.65-66])
 
“The mighty bow which Assur had given me, I seized in my hands; the javelin, piercing to the life [napšāti = nephesh][9], I grasped” (5.71b-73; ARAB, 2: 126)[10]
 
“They gave him unstoppable weaponry that vanquishes enemies, ‘Go cut off the life [napšatuš] of Tiamat’” (4.30-31; cf. Dalley, 250)
 
“(My) helmet, emblem of victory (battle), I placed upon my head” (5.68-69; ARAB, 2: 126)[11]
 
“on his head he was covered with terrifying auras” (4.58; cf. Dalley, 251)
 
“My great battle chariot, which brings low the foe, I hurriedly mounted in the anger of my heart” (5:69-71; ARAB, 2: 126); “The wheels of my war chariot, which brings low the wicked and the evil, were bespattered with blood and filth” (6.7-9; ARAB, 2: 127)[12]
 
“He [Marduk] mounted the terrible chariot, the unstoppable Storm Demon” (4.50; cf. Dalley, 251)
 
“Like the many waters of a storm, I made (the contents of) their gullets and entrails run down upon the wide earth” (6.3-5; ARAB, 2: 127)[13]
 
“You have made their blood flow like water in the drains of the public squares. You have opened their veins and let the river carry off (their blood). The great Marduk saw and cried, ‘Woe!’ and clutched his heart” (Erra and Ishum, 4.36-39, in COS, 1: 412; cf. Dalley, 304)  
 
The conventional interpretations of this version of Sennacherib’s eighth campaign are that it is falsehood and smokescreen to hide his embarrassment from not achieving victory (see Weissert, 197). Weissert, however, takes another look at the final statement of the campaign which is written oddly in present tense (marked with underline).

“They [the kings of Elam and Babylon] abandoned their tents and to save their lives they trampled the bodies of their (fallen) soldiers, they fled like young pigeons that are pursued. They were beside themselves (lit. their hearts were torn) they held back (?) their urine [or, “discharging their (long-retained) urine” Weissert, 198], but let their dung go into their chariots. In pursuit of them I dispatched my chariots and horses after them. Those among them who had escaped, who fled for their lives, wherever they (my charioteers) met them, they cut them down with the sword” (6.27b-31; ARAB, 2: 128).

The fate of the kings is not stated. The remarkable use of the present tense, says Weissert, is the scribal way of dealing with “the reality he found embarrassing, and also with the ideological codes [i.e., not lying] which guided his writing” (199). He goes on to explain how this passage, and the mythically charged ones from the creation myth noted above, underwent revisions in later editions of the annals (199-202). For example, “The king of Babylon and the king of Elam …. ran off alone and fled from their land” (Luckenbill,
ARAB, 2: 158). For Weissert, the use of mythic allusions—demonizing the enemy, and so on—is not a sign of trying to cover up a failure, but indicates the intensity and passion of the campaign which is still in progress. After the enemies were eventually taken the passionate rhetoric is unnecessary and is revised to conventional style (see 202).

Since most the annal's allusions are drawn from a section of
Enuma Elish tablet IV, I have provided both contexts for comparison below, the above items marked with boldface type.[14]

Excerpt from Enuma Elish, tablet IV
They rejoiced, they proclaimed: ‘Marduk is King!’
They invested him with scepter, throne, and staff-of-office.
They gave him an unfaceable weapon to crush the foe.
‘Go, and cut off the life of Tiamat!
Let the winds bear her blood to us as good news!’
The gods his fathers thus decreed the destiny of the lord
And set him on the path of peace and obedience.
He fashioned a bow, designated it as his weapon,
Feathered the arrow, set it in the string.
He lifted up a mace and carried it in his right hand,
Slung the bow and quiver at his side,
Put lightning in front of him,
His body was filled with an ever-blazing flame.
He made a net to encircle Tiamat within it,
Marshalled the four winds so that no part of her could escape:
South Wind, North Wind, East Wind, West Wind,
The gift of his father Anu, he kept them close to the net at his side.
He created the imhullu-wind (evil wind), the tempest, the whirlwind,
The Four Winds, the Seven Winds, the tornado, the unfaceable facing wind.
He released the winds which he had created seven of them.
They advanced behind him to make turmoil inside Tiamat.
The lord raised the flood-weapon, his great weapon,
And mounted the frightful, unfaceable storm-chariot.
He had yoked to it a team of four and had harnessed to its side
‘Slayer’, ‘Pitiless’, ‘Racer’, and ‘Flyer’;
Their lips were drawn back, their teeth carried poison.
They know not exhaustion, they can only devastate.
He stationed on his right Fiercesome Fight and Conflict,
On the left Battle to knock down every contender (?).
Clothed in a cloak of awesome armour,
His head was crowned with a terrible radiance.
The Lord set out and took the road,
And set his face towards Tiamat who raged out of control.
In his lips he gripped a spell,
In his hand he grasped a herb to counter poison.
Then they thronged about him, the gods thronged about him;
The gods his fathers thronged about him, the gods thronged about him.
The Lord drew near and looked into the middle of Tiamat:
He was trying to find out the strategy of Qingu her lover.
As he looked, his mind became confused,
His will crumbled and his actions were muddled.
As for the gods his helpers, who march[ed] at his side,
When they saw the warrior, the leader, their looks were strained.
Tiamat cast her spell. She did not even turn her neck.
In her lips she was holding falsehood, lies, (wheedling),
            ‘[How powerful is] your attacking force, O lord of the gods!
            The whole assembly of them has gathered to your place!’
                        (But he ignored her blandishments)
The Lord lifted up the flood-weapon, his great weapon
And sent a message to Tiamat who feigned goodwill, saying:
            ‘Why are you so friendly on the surface
            When your depths conspire to muster a battle force?
            Just because the sons were noisy (and) disrespectful to their fathers,
            Should you, who gave them birth, reject compassion?
            You named Qingu as your lover,
            You appointed him to rites of Anu-power, wrongfully his.
            You sought out evil for Anshar, king of the gods,
            So you have compounded your wickedness against the gods my fathers!
            Let your host prepare! Let them gird themselves with your weapons!
            Stand forth, and you and I shall do single combat!’
When Tiamat heard this,
She went wild, she lost her temper.
Tiamat screamed aloud in a passion,
Her lower parts shook together from the depths.
She recited the incantation and kept casting her spell.
Meanwhile the gods of battle were sharpening their weapons.
Face to face they came, Tiamat and Marduk, sage of the gods.
They engaged in combat, they closed for battle.
The Lord spread his net and made it encircle her,
To her face he dispatched the imhullu-wind, which had been behind:
Tiamat opened her mouth to swallow it,
And he forced in the imhullu-wind so that she could not close her lips.
Fierce winds distended her belly;
Her insides were constipated and she stretched her mouth wide.
He shot an arrow which pierced her belly,
Split her down the middle and slit her heart,
Vanquished her and extinguished her life.
He threw down her corpse and stood on top of her.
When he had slain Tiamat, the leader,
He broke up her regiments; her assembly was scattered.
Then the gods her helpers, who had marched at her side,
Began to tremble, panicked and turned tail.
Although he allowed them to come out and spared their lives,
They were surrounded, they could not flee.
Then he tied them up and smashed their weapons.
They were thrown into the net and sat there ensnared.
They cowered back, filled with woe.
They had to bear his punishment, confined to prison.
And as for the dozens of creatures, covered in fearsome rays,
The gang of demons who all marched on her right,
He fixed them with nose-ropes and tied their arms.
He trampled their battle-filth (?) beneath him.

The Eighth Campaign of Sennacherib (Against Elam; the battle of Halul)
In my eighth campaign, after Shuzubu had revolted, and the Babylonians, wicked devils, had closed the city gates, --their hearts planning resistance; Shuzubu, the Chaldean, a weakling hero, who had no knees, a slave, subject to the governor of the city of Lahiri,-about him there gathered the fugitive Arameans, the runaway, the murderer, the robber. Into the marshes they descended and made rebellion. But I surrounded him completely. I pressed him to the life. Through fear and hunger he fled to Elam. When plotting and treachery were (hatched) against him (there), he hastened from Elam and entered Shuanna [the sacred precinct of Babylon]. The Babylonians placed him on the throne, --for which he was not fitted, and intrusted to him the government of Sumer and Akkad. The treasury of the temple Esagila they opened and the gold and silver belonging to Bl (Marduk) and Sarpanity, the property of the temple(s) of their gods they brought forth and to Umman-menanu, king of Elam, who possessed neither sense nor judgment, they sent it as a bribe (saying): “Gather thy army, prepare thy camp, haste to Babylon, come to our aid (lit., stand at our side), for thou art our trust.” That Elamite, whose cities I had conquered and turned into ruins on my former campaign against Elam, without thinking (lit., his heart did not consider) received the bribes from them, gathered his army and camp, collected (his) chariots and wagons, hitched (his) horses and mules to them. The lands of Parsuash, Anzan, Pasheru, Ellipi, the tribes of Iazan, Lakabra, Harzunu, Dummuku, Sulai, Samuna, the son of Merodachbaladan, the lands of Bt-Adini, Bt-Amukkanu, Bt-Sillana, Bt-Slatutu-akki, the city of Lahiru, the tribes of Pukudu, Gambulum, Halatum, Ru’a, Ubulum, Malahu, Rapiku, Hindaru, Damunu, -an enormous host of allies he called to his side. The masses of them took the road to Akkad. Drawing nigh to Babylon, they exchanged courtesies with Shuzubu, the Chaldean king of Babylon, and brought their host to a stand. Like the onset of the locust swarms (many locusts) of the springtime they kept steadily coming on against me to offer battle. With the dust of their feet covering the wide heavens, like a mighty storm with (its) masses of dense (lit., pregnant) clouds, they drew up in battle array before me by (in) the city of Halul, on the bank of the Tigris. They blocked my passage and offered battle.
            As for me, --to Assur, Sin, Shamash, Bl, Nab, Nergal, Ishtar of Nineveh, Ishtar of Arbela, the gods in whom I trust, I prayed for victory over the mighty foe. They speedily gave ear to my prayers and came to my aid. Like a lion I raged. I put on (my) coat of mail. (My) helmet, emblem of victory (battle), I placed upon my head. My great battle chariot, which brings low the foe, I hurriedly mounted in the anger of my heart. The mighty bow which Assur had given me, I seized in my hands; the javelin, piercing to the life, I grasped. Against all of the hosts of wicked enemies, I raised my voice (lit., cried out), rumbling like a storm. Like Adad I roared.
            At the word of Assur, the great lord, my lord, on flank and front I pressed upon the enemy like the onset of a raging storm. With the weapons of Assur, my lord, and the terrible onset of my attack, I stopped their advance, I succeeded in surrounding them (or, turning them back), I decimated the enemy host with arrow and spear. All of their bodies I bored through like a sieve (?). Humbanundasha, the field-marshal of the king of Elam, a trustworthy man, commander of his armies, his chief support, together with his nobles, who wear the golden girdle dagger and whose hands (wrists) are encircled with heavy (thick?) rings of shining gold, --like fat steers who have hobbles put on them, -speedily I cut them down and established their defeat. I cut their throats like lambs. I cut off their precious lives (as one cuts) a string. Like the many waters of a storm, I made (the contents of) their gullets and entrails run down upon the wide earth. My prancing steeds harnessed for my riding, plunged into the streams of their blood as (into) a river. The wheels of my war chariot, which brings low the wicked and the evil, were bespattered with blood and filth. With the bodies of their warriors I filled the plain, like grass. (Their) testicles I cut off, and tore out their privates like the seeds of cucumbers of Simnu (June). Their hands I cut off. The heavy (?) rings of brightest gold (and) silver which (they had) on their wrists I took away. With sharp swords I pierced their belts and seized the girdle daggers of gold and silver which (they carried) on their persons. The rest of his nobles, together with Nabshum-ishkun, so of Merodach-baladan, who had taken fright at (before) my onslaught and had gone over to their side, (these) my hands seized in the midst of the battle. The chariots and their horses, whose riders had been slain at the beginning of the terrible onslaught, and who had been left to themselves, kept running back and forth (lit., going and returning) for the distance of two bru (“double-hours”), --I put an end to their (the riders’) fighting. That Umman-menanu, king of Elam, together with the king of Babylon (and) the princes of Chaldea, who had gone over to his side, the terror of my battle overpowered them (lit., their bodies) like a bull. They abandoned their tents and to save their lives they trampled the bodies of their (fallen) soldiers, they fled like young pigeons that are pursued. They were beside themselves (lit., their hearts were torn) they held back (?) their urine, but let their dung go into their chariots. In pursuit of them I dispatched my chariots and horses after them. Those among them who had escaped, who had fled for their lives, wherever they (my charioteers) met them, they cut them down with the sword.



[1] See Elnathan Weissert, “Creating a Political Climate: Literary Allusions to Enūma Eliš in Sennacherib’s Account of the Battle of Halule,” 191-202, in Hartmut Waetzoldt and Harald Hauptmann, eds. Assyrien im Wandel der Zeiten, Rencontre Assyriologique International, no. 39 (Heidelberg: Heidelberger Orientverlag, 1997). I came across this essay because it is referred to favorably several times in Christopher B. Hays, “Echoes of the Ancient Near East?: Intertextuality and the Comparative Study of the Old Testament,” 20-43, in J. Ross Wagner, C. Kavin Rowe, and A. Katherine Grieb, eds. The Word Leaps the Gap: Essays on Scripture and Theology in Honor of Richard B. Hays (Eerdmans, 2008).
[2] Translations cited from from Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib (University of Chicago Press, 1924) which has the transcription and translation in parallel columns; here referred to by column and line numbers (see pp. 41-47) And I will include the page reference to Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, vol. 2, Historical Records of Assyria from Sargon to the End (University of Chicago, 1926, 1927) cited as ARAB. The translations are from Oriental Institute Prism of the University of Chicago; other copies include the Taylor Prism in the British Museum and one housed in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, see Weissert, 192, n. 1.
[3] Enuma Elish (here using column and line nunbers) cited from from Benjamin R. Foster, “Epic of Creation,” 390-402, in William W. Hallo, ed. The Context of Scripture, vol. 1, Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World (Brill, 2003); and list pages references from Stephanie Dalley, ed. and trans., Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, rev. ed., Oxford’s World Classics (Oxford, 2000). Also see, James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3d ed. (Princeton University Press, 1969), 60-72.
[4] For discussion of the parallel, including  the verbal relationship, see Weissert, 193.
[5] See ibid., 193-94.
[6] Luckenbill did not translate 5.62 (see Annals of Sennacherib, 44), thus translation here from Weissert, 194, n. 18.
[7] Weissert translates this “and the gods of battle, they sharpened their weapons” (194, n. 18).
[8] For a discussion of the significance of urruhiš in Sennacherib’s annals and Enuma Elish, see Weissert, 194.
[9] See HALOT, 1: 711 (נפש) throat, life.
[10] See Weissert, 194.
[11] For discussion of distinctive terminology used in Enuma Elish and Sennacherib’s annals here, see ibid, 195.
[12] Again, very few references in annals to the significance of chariots, see ibid., 196.
[13] Or, “I let (the blood of) their veins run down the wide land like a huge flood”  (see ibid.).
[14] Enuma Elish from Dalley, 250-54, and Sennacherib's annals from Luckenbill, ARAB, 2: 125-28. Thank you to Julieann Lightcap for typing these.

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