From Adapa to Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

Adapa Sumerian deity of healing, with healthy catch of fish
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That the gospels recycled themes, motifs, sayings, can be found across the Middle East from Mesopotamia to Egypt and stretching back millennia to before the Neo Babylonian empire and even before the time of any Jewish Scriptures will be of no surprise to anyone who has read The Messiah Myth by Thomas L. Thompson.

Of the myth of Adapa and the South Wind “the earliest known version is a Sumerian text from Old Babylonian Tell Haddad”, made available by Cavigneaux in 2014. I have part translated, part paraphrased the opening section of Cavigneaux’s French translation of the often broken Sumerian text, and added a distinctive note on one comment that I found particularly interesting.

In those distant days …

After the Flood had swept over,

and brought about the destruction of the land …

The world is reborn

A seed of humanity had been preserved …

Four legged animals once again widely dispersed …

Fish and birds repopulated the ponds and reedbeds …

Herbs and aromatic plants flowered on the high steppe …

The state is born

An and Enlil organized the world …

The city of Kish became a pillar of the country …

Etana becomes king

Then the elected shepherd …

Founded a house …

The South Wind during his reign brought blessings …

Humanity without a guide

Humanity did not have a directive …

[Nobody knew how to give or follow orders]

The Story of Adapa begins

[A loyal devotee of Enki he goes fishing in the quay to supply his master’s temple in Eridu.]

In later exorcistic texts … the quay (Akk. kārum) is a trope for the liminal space between worlds.

At the New Moon he went up to go fishing

Without rudder he let the boat go with the flow

Without pole he went up the stream

On the vast lagoon …

[He is capsized by the South Wind]

He curses the South Wind …

And broke the wings of the South Wind …

Jesus stills storm. Interestingly the South Wind was said to be beneficial; it appears to me that Adapa’s technology, apparently directed by the power of his words, was being frustrated by the South Wind.

The narrative is thus a reference to the destruction of the old world and the restoration of the new, through a Flood or through water bringing about the end of one world and nourishing the emergence of the new. As Thompson observes in The Mythic Past new worlds emerge through parting waters (Creation, Noah, Exodus, Elijah-Elisha, Jesus’ Baptism/heavens divided).

Adapa has a special gift. Though mortal, he has power over words, or rather his words have power over the world. Adapa will become the great mythical sage of scribes, of all who can with the magic of words change the face of the earth and the organization of society: engineers, architects, legislators, ….

We are familiar with astronomy and astrology being all one branch of knowledge in these times; similarly magic and medicine were indistinguishable at this stage. The skills of the scribes, the amazing feats they accomplished with words, appear to have been supernatural gifts.

After Adapa by merely speaking causes the wind to cease the supreme god is astonished and invites him up to heaven. Adapa’s personal god, however, warns Adapa not to accept certain gifts [bread, drink, a coat] that will be offered to him there but to only accept an anointing. The chief god laughingly tells Adapa that he has just refused the gifts that would have given him eternal life.

And so forth.

We see here a story opening with the water, a flood, separating the old and the new. We see the wise hero wielding power over the elements, even stilling a “storm”, by his mere commands. Others are amazed at his ability. In this case, it is the gods who are amazed.

The plot of the story begins with the sage “going fishing”, a scene that is found to have mythical or metaphorical significance of life and death, entering a space between two worlds.

I find such literary comparisons interesting. I’m not saying the evangelists were adapting the myth of Adapa, of course. I am thinking about the way certain mythical tropes have been recycled and refashioned through changing human circumstances and experiences.

Cavigneaux, Antoine. 2014. “Une Version Sumérienne de La Légende d’Adapa (Textes de Tell Haddad X).” Zeitschrift Für Assyriologie Und Vorderasiatische Archäologie 104 (1): 1–41. https://www.academia.edu/26276183/Une_version_sum%C3%A9rienne_de_la_l%C3%A9gende_d_Adapa_Textes_de_Tell_Haddad_X_

Sanders, Seth L. 2017. From Adapa to Enoch: Scribal Culture and Religious Vision in Judea and Babylon. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck. 42


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Neil Godfrey

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4 thoughts on “From Adapa to Jesus”

  1. What is fascinating about the Myth of Adapa is that after he drowns, Enki tells him that the only way he can get into heaven is to come before the gatekeepers of heaven, Dumuzi and Ningishzida, two dying-and-rising gods who are taking the role of St. Peter, and to begin weeping over their deaths. This presents a concept of salvation very similar to that found in the Pauline epistles and the Gospel of John: salvation through sympathizing with the death of the divine scapegoat.

    1. It’s not an either or. It’s a both and. It’s not the plot or story details of interest so much as certain images that carry symbolic pointers. It’s the different arrangement of these elements of the story that is of interest. That’s one interesting type of study of myths: noting how different images or ideas or themes are rearranged in different versions. Compare a simple four-note music music composition. The same notes can be arranged differently to create many new tunes. We can trace changing designs and fashions across generations and landscapes and often find ways to explain the variations by reference to changing social and other structures. Ditto very often, I think, with the stories in myths.

  2. You also find this trope of “stilling the storm” in Egyptian myth.


    By the center of the last section of this text, we find three boats, all of which may perhaps be intended as the solar barque, from which the serpent Apophis must be repelled. In spell 1,130, the “Lord of All” gives us his final monologue from his barque:

    The Lord to the Limit speaks
    before those who still the storm, at the sailing of the entourage:

    ‘Proceed in peace!
    I shall repeat to you four good deeds
    that my own heart made for me
    within the serpent’s coils, for love of stilling evil.
    I did four good deeds within the portals of the horizon:

    I made the four winds that every man might breathe in his place.
    This is one deed thereof.

    I made the great inundation, that the wretched should have power over it like the great.
    This is one deed thereof.
    I made every man like his fellow;
    I did not ordain them to do evil, (but) it was their own hearts which destroyed that which I pronounced. *
    This is one deed thereof.
    I made that their hearts should refrain from ignoring the west,
    for love of making offerings to the gods of the nomes.
    This is one deed thereof.
    I created the gods from my sweat.
    Man is from the tears of my eye.

    I shine, and am seen every day
    in this authority of the Lord to the Limit.
    I made the night for the Weary-hearted. **
    I will sail aright in my bark;
    I am the lord of the waters, crossing heaven.
    I do not suffer for any of my limbs.
    Utterance together with Magic
    are felling for me that evil being.
    I shall see the horizon and dwell within it.
    I shall judge the wretch from the powerful,
    and do likewise against the evildoers.
    Life is mine; I am its lord.
    The sceptre shall not be taken from my hand.
    I have placed millions of years
    between me and that Weary-hearted one, the son of Geb;
    then I shall dwell with him in one place.
    Mounds will be towns.
    Towns will be mounds.
    Mansion will destroy mansion.’

    I am the lord of fire who lives on truth,
    the lord of eternity, maker of joy, against whom the otherworldly serpents have not rebelled.
    I am the god in his shrine, the lord of slaughter, who calms the storm

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