Many of you shared this story with me, and I have to blog about it because of all its inherently interesting possibilities for our trademark high actane speculation. In Iraq, a tablet has been recovered which contains, apparently, twenty lines from the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, part of ancient Uruk's mythology and cosmology. Here's the story:
This sparks two very different lines of high octane speculation for the day, the first concerning the lines themselves, as summarized in the first article linked above:
The tablet adds new verses to the story of how Gilgamesh and Enkidu slew the forest demigod Humbaba. Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, gets the idea to kill the giant Humbaba, guardian of the Cedar Forest, home of the gods, in Tablet II. He thinks accomplishing such a feat of strength will gain him eternal fame. His wise companion (and former wild man) Enkidu tries to talk him out of it -- Humbaba was set to his task by the god Enlil -- but stubborn Gilgamesh won't budge, so Enkidu agrees to go with him on this quest. Together they overpower the giant. When the defeated Humbaba begs for mercy, offering to serve Gilgamesh forever and give him every sacred tree in the forest, Gilgamesh is moved to pity, but Enkidu's blood is up now and he exhorts his friend to go through with the original plan to kill the giant and get that eternal renown he craves. Gilgamesh cuts Humbaba's head off and then cuts down the sacred forest. The companions return to Uruk with the trophy head and lots of aromatic timber.(Emphasis added)
And then this summary from the second article linked above:
The aftermath of the heroes’ slaying of Ḫumbaba is now better preserved (300–308). The previously available text made it clear that Gilgameš and Enkidu knew, even before they killed Ḫumbaba, that what they were doing would anger the cosmic forces that governed the world, chiefly the god Enlil.
What I find suggestive here is the possible link to the whole idea of the "cosmic war" hypothesis: a cedar forest representing "the cosmic forces that govern the world," and a combat and slaying of a giant - a very distant echo of the gigantomachy of Greek mythology - and the resulting divine displeasure from Enlil. This is intriguing, because of course, in the standard Greek, and even Old Testament view, the war with the giants was a good thing, as was their destruction. But here, the opposite moral assessment is implied.
What is more intrguing to me, however, are the implications of the discovery itself, and how it was made:
How the tablet was discovered is notable as well. Since 2011, the Sulaymaniyah Museum in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq was been paying smugglers to intercept artifacts leaving the country, no questions asked. The tablet was likely illegally excavated from the southern part of Iraq, and the museum paid the seller of this particular tablet $800 to keep it in the country.
This intrigues me because years ago, in writing about the Baghdad Museum Looting incident in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq, I speculated that there were deep, and covert agendas in play. The first was signaled by the presence of French and German archaeological teams in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, digging up and cateloging any number of priceless finds. Then there was the looting itself, which by all accounts was executed by someone with "inside knowledge," which, according to the initial reports in the German media, was carried out by people dressed in American uniforms. While everyone rushed to blame the USA for the looting, I wasn't so sure then, and I am not so sure now. If anything, the ones with the most precise intelligence of what and where to look, outside of members of Iraq's archaeological "inner circle" themselves, would have been the French and German teams that keep the field catalogues of what they were finding. Then there was the recovery of some of these stolen artifacts, mostly art works. What we did not hear about were the stolen tablets, and these, for me, constituted the real story. To this day, what was stolen, how much, and where it went, is unclear. But this new finding of portions of the Epic of Gilgamesh might be a partial clue: some of them, at least, remained in Iraq, perhaps in the hands of guardians or perhaps even in the hands of people who saw in them the literal cuneiform equivalent of gold, as an economic hedge against the coming collapse of the country.
But if that high octane speculation be true, then it equally highlights the remaining problem: where are the other tablets, who has them, and what do they contain? And I am still of the opinion that some of them are in the hands of very high players, none of them in Iraq, and that they were looking for things in them...
See you on the flip side...