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A Mesopotamian Proverb and Its Biblical Reverberations Author(s): Frederick E.

Greenspahn Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 114, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1994), pp. 3338 Published by: American Oriental Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/604950 Accessed: 19/01/2009 19:18
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A MESOPOTAMIAN PROVERB AND ITS BIBLICAL REVERBERATIONS'


FREDERICK E. GREENSPAHN
UNIVERSITY OF DENVER

A Mesopotamian proverb, "The tallest man cannot reach heaven; the widest man cannot cover the mountain (or 'earth'),"uses themes and phrases found throughoutcuneiform literatureto express the limitations of human existence. Traces of this saying, which corresponds to the Biblical view that heaven is accessible only to God, can be found in several parts of the Hebrew Bible, including Deut. 30:11-13 and the story of Jacob's dream. However, its most notable relevance is to the account of the Tower of Babel, which includes language derived from this tradition. This thematic connection supports those who have contended that the builders' "sin" was their effort to reach heaven, precisely the kind of hubris against which the proverb warns. AN ANCIENT HASBEEN found in several differPROVERB ent cuneiform texts, written over a period that spans more than a thousand years. The earliest occurrence is in a Sumerian composition: sukud-da an-na-se nu-mu-un-da-la 16 dagal-la kur-ra la-ba-an-isu-s The tallest (man) cannot reach heaven, The widest man cannot cover the mountains.2 The message of this saying is self-evident: human beings are limited by nature; no matter how strong they are, there remain things they simply cannot do. From this, the text draws a straightforward conclusion: ti nig.dhg sa.bul-la su he-ni-ib-kar-kar-re The pleasant life-let it elapse in joy.

ki-mu-gub-bu-ba-am mu-mu ga-bi-ib-gub ki-mu-nu-gub-bu-ba-am mu-dingir-re-e-ne ga-bi-ib-gub I would enter the land, I would set up my name In its places where names have been raised up, I would raise my name. In its places where names have not been raised up I would raise up the names of the gods.3 This aspiration of making his name (m u) famous in order to overcome mortality was retained when the episode was woven into the classic epic during the Old Babylonian period.4 Presented again by Gilgamesh, this time the proverb about human limitations appears in Akkadian and is directed toward Enkidu, whom the hero seeks to persuade to join him in battling Humbaba.

The proverb was also incorporated into the story of "Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living," where the hero employs it before the sun god, Utu, in order to justify his quest. After reciting the proverb, Gilgamesh describes the purpose of his mission: kur-ra ga-an-ku4 mu-mu ga-am-gar

It is a pleasure to express my appreciation to Paul Kobelski and Peter Machinist for their assistance in preparing this paper for publication. 2 Bendt Alster, Studies in Sumerian Proverbs, Mesopotamia 3 (Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1975), 88, 11.17-18. Jeffrey H. Tigay, The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), 165, renders kur-ra "land." 33

3 S. N. Kramer, "Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living," JCS 1 (1947): 10-11, 11.31-33; the proverb itself is in lines 28-29. The meaning of this aspiration is discussed in S. Dean McBride, "The Deuteronomic Name Theology" (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1969), 78-99. (I am grateful to David Petersen for this reference.) See especially pp. 122-23, where names are connected with monuments. Cf. with this the Jewish interpretationsof Gen. 11:4 (e.g., Tg. Ps.-J. Gen. 11:4 and Gen. Rab. 38:38, cf. b. Sanh. 109a). 4 suma sa ddri andku lustaknam (Old Babylonian version 3:5.7; R. Campbell Thompson, The Epic of Gilgamesh: Text, Transliteration, and Notes [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930; reprinted, New York: AMS Press, 1981], 28).

34

Journal of the American Oriental Society 114.1 (1994) the vacuity the author imputes to the wisdom movement, which is presented as having been reduced to spouting traditional verities without concern for their relevance.9 Cumulatively, these attestations demonstrate this proverb's long life and wide familiarity. Beginning as a depiction of human limitations, it came to highlight the gulf between mortals and deities before finally being used as a literary clich6, mocked less for its inaccuracy than its triteness. Although these texts constitute the primary evidence, the saying itself draws on standard themes and phrases. For example, a famous hymn praises Inanna by pointing out: You areas lofty as heaven You areas broadas earth.10 Ugaritic literature characterizes Baal similarly: Baalsits as a mountain sits l Haddis [ ] like the ocean. Mountains, which the original proverb claimed were too wide for men to encompass, are also, of course, a familiar image for great height. It is in-that sense that they are used for deities in the well-known epithet sadu rabu ('great mountain'), as is clear from the description of IM.HUR.SAG as "a great mountain whose peak rivals the heavens, whose foundations are laid in the holy apsu" (sadu rabi dMIN im-hur-sag sa res'asu samaml sanna apsu ellim sursudi ussusu).12 In light of the conventional status such terminology achieved as a way to describe important deities, it is 9 E. A. Speiser,"TheCaseof the ObligingServant," in Oriental and Biblical Studies: Collected Writingsof E. A. Speiser,

To sharpen its message, an explicit contrast is drawn with the gods, who are immortal:
mannu ibri elu sam[di3] iluma itti Samas ddris u[ssab] awilutumma mant umusa mimma sa iteneppest sadruma

Who,my friend,can scale heaven? Onlythe gods dwell foreverwith [or:like] Shamash. As for mankind, theirdaysarenumbered. Whatever they achieveis but wind.5 The tone of futility at the close of this passage is echoed in Ecclesiastes, which bases its own carpe diem philosophy on the observation that our deeds are mere wind, paralleling the logic of the proverb's earliest setting.6 Also noteworthy is the reference to mortality as that which distinguishes human beings from deities, a position widely attested in cuneiform literature and beyond, including the Bible.7 The original proverb occurs yet again in what has come to be known as "The Dialogue of Pessimism," when the servant responds to his master's inquiry, "What is good?" by saying:
ayu arku sa ana same elu ayu rapsu sa ersetim ugammeru

Whois so tall as to ascendto the heavens? Whois so broadas to compassthe underworld?8 In this setting, the by-now millennium-old proverb plays a radically different role from that of its earlier attestations. No longer is its actual meaning of any direct importance; instead it serves as a stock saying, offered in response to a profound philosophical query. Its meaninglessness in this context, like that of the proverbial responses to earlier inquiries, demonstrates

5 Old 164.

version3:4.5-8 (ed. Thompson, 27) as reBabylonian

constructed by J. Tigay, The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic,

7 E.g., Eccles. 3:20 and 9:2-3; cf. TheEpic of Gilgamesh, OldBabylonian version version,10:2.4and10:3.3-5,Assyrian 9:3.8-9 and 11:193-94 (Thompson, TheEpic of Gilgamesh, Cor51, 53, and64) andthelegendof Aqhat(Andree Herdner,
pus des tablettes en cuneiformes alphabetiques [Paris: Imprim-

6 Cf. Eccles. 2:24-26.

ed. J. J. Finkelstein andMosheGreenberg Univ. (Philadelphia: of Pennsylvania Press, 1967),363. 10WilliamW. HalloandJ. J. A. van Dijk,TheExaltation of 3 (New Haven:Yale Inanna,Yale NearEasternResearches, Univ. Press, 1968),30-31, 11.123-24. 1 RS 24.245,11.1-2 "LesNouveaux Textes (C. Virolleaud, et liturgiquesde Ras Shamra[XXIVecammythologiques Napagne, 1961],"UgariticaV, MRS 16 [Paris:Imprimerie tionale/Paul and ocean are Geuthner, 1968], 557). Mountains of one of the ancestors of Gilgamesh. joinedin the description
See Thorkild Jacobsen, The Sumerian King List, AS 11 (Chi12 IV R2 27 #2 as cited in W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature, 327; cf. Knut Tallqvist, Akkadische Gotter-

cago:Univ. of ChicagoPress, 1939),86-87, 3.4-5.

erieNationale,1963],no. 17 vi 25-30 and35-36). Greekgods areoftencharacterized as athanatoi (e.g., Odyssey11:312-16, as quotedbelow).


8 W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford:

Clarendon Press, 1960), 148-49, 11.83-84.

epitheta (Helsinki:Societas orientalisFennica, 1938), 221; andMarvin of Baal," Pope andJeffreyTigay,"A Description UF 3 (1971): 121.

GREENSPAHN:

A Mesopotamian Proverb and its Biblical Reverberations

35

hardly surprising that traces of this tradition can be found in the Hebrew Bible, which has a special interest in both divine uniqueness and human limitations. These themes play a particularly important role in the book of Ecclesiastes, where the concept can surely be discerned in Qohelet's assertion that "God is in heaven while you are on earth" (5:1), as well as in Zophar'srebuke to Job: "Can you find the limit of the Almighty? Higher than heaven-what can you do? Deeper than Sheol-what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea" (Job 11:7-9). It is also apparent in the psalmist's statement that "heaven belongs to God, but He has given the earth to human beings" (Ps. 115:16). Although the poet's conclusionthat there is no worship after death (v. 17)-seems to limit God in a way that contradicts the spirit of the proverb we have been tracing, it is a logical, if rather literalistic, reading of that saying.13 Several other Biblical passages counter the implication of divine limitation by allowing that God's reach extends not only upward to the heavens but to the underworld as well. According to Amos, for example, God warned that, "Even if they dig down into Sheol, My hand shall take them from there, and if they ascend into heaven, I shall bring them down from there" (Amos 9:2), while a psalmist more explicitly asserts, "If I ascend to heaven, You are there, and if I lie down in Sheol, behold-You are there too" (Ps. 139:8).14 The likelihood of these being conventional expressions is supported by their presence in an Amarna letter in which a Canaanite ruler protests the limits of his own power by commenting to Pharaoh: "If we go up to the heavens or if we go down to the earth [underworld], our heads are still in your hands."'5 The number of such passages in the Bible and their similarity to cuneiform texts make it impossible to dismiss them as the invention of individual Israelite authors. Their point is the same as that of the Mesopotamian proverb with which we began-that what distin-

guishes humanity from the gods is its lack of heavenly reach. Beyond the obvious Biblical parallels, this tradition may also lie behind Deuteronomy's familiar exhortation, "This commandment is not too wondrous nor too distant. It is not in the sky, that you might say, 'Who will ascend into the sky and get it for us?"' (Deut. 30:11-12)16-a request that would have been inherently impossible in a culture that believed heaven accessible only to God.17 It may also be present in the psalmist's description of sailors caught in a storm which carried them "up to heaven [and] ... down to the depths" (Ps. 107:26)-both frightening ventures into alien realms. In the Tower of Babel story (Gen. 11:1-9) the concept that heaven belongs to God is absolutely central. Although the story has long been understood as describing an effort to reach heaven,18the narrative itself is strangely reticent about stating the tower builders' intentions. Some have, therefore, taken its phrase about "reaching the sky" to be figurative, in the way it is elsewhere in the Bible.19 In fact, the project is never identified as a sin nor God's response as a punishment; the scattering of the participants and the disruption of their language are presented only as efforts to prevent the unacceptable consequence of a united undertaking (v. 6). Interpreterssince the time of Josephus have, therefore, proposed that it was not the tower itself which angered God so much as its builders' failure to carry out His mandate to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth

passage to Etana in Eberhard Schrader, Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament, 3rd ed. (Berlin: Reuther & Reichard, 1903), 565-66. 17 The subsequent statement that it is not across the sea, lest

16 Heinrich Zimmern links this

the people say, "Who will cross the sea to get it for us?" aboutthe risksof (v. 13) recallsthe warning given Gilgamesh crossing the waters of death (me muti), Assyrianversion,
10:2.25,27; 10:3.50 (Thompson, The Epic of Gilgamesh, 56-

13 Cf. Pss. 6:6; 30:10; 88:11-13. The fact that 'eres can

mean "underworld" as well as "earth" in (cf. the ambiguity Amarna letter264, citedbelow)mayhaveplayeda rolein this development. 14 Cf. Isa. 7:11; Ps. 116:3ff.;Job 26:6 and, less clearly, 14:13-14. 15Amarna letter 264, 11. 15-19 (J. A. Knudtzon,Die El-Amarna Tafeln [Leipzig:J. C. Hinrichs,1915; reprinted, Aalen:OttoZellerVerlagsbuchhandlung, 1964], 1:826).

57); cf. AdapaB 36-37 (SergioAngeloPicchioni, II Poemetto di Adapa [Budapest:Eotvos Lorand Tudomanyegyetem, with the bread 1981], 116-17), whereme mutiis juxtaposed of death(akalasa muti),andB 76-78 (ibid., 120-21), which mentionsthe breadand waterof life (balati). A similarview is evidentin 2 Sam. 22:5-6; Ezek. 26:19-21; Jon. 2:3; and Job26:5. 18 ed., E.g., Jub. 10:19and Syb. 3:100 (J. H. Charlesworth,
The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1 [Garden City,

N.Y.: Doubleday,1983], 364); regarding the latter,see Joseat J.Ant.1.4.3, ? 118. phus'comment 19Deut. 1:28and9:1.

36

Journal of the American Oriental Society 114.1 (1994) concept underlies Psalm 82, where a sentence of mortality results in the denizens of the divine council falling from heaven to die like man (v. 7). Here, heaven and immortality are joined in a now familiar juxtaposition as characteristics of the divine. By trying to reach heaven, the tower builders sought to accomplish the opposite of what had been experienced by the divine beings described in Psalm 82. Moreover, many of the Mesopotamian ziggurats on which the Tower of Babel is patently modelled bore names explicitly acknowledging their role as points of connection between the human and divine realms. Those at Nippur and Larsa, for example, were called links between heaven and earth. A similar conceptual backgroundis apparentin descriptions of other Mesopotamian temples. Gudea's temple is said to have reached heaven, and those at Borsippa, Kish, and Ashur to have peaks which reached the sky.23 This latter phrase, which resonates through the Biblical story of Babel, came to function as a virtual cliche in Mesopotamian literature,where it can also be discerned in the name of the temple Esagila (lit. 'house with raised head') atop the Babylonian ziggurat.24Given the

(Gen. 9:1).20 This interpretation is supported by their explicit statement of concern "lest we be scattered" (Gen. 11:4)-a fear which God's response turns ironically against them. Others, also struck by the ambiguity of the builders' motivation, have proposed that the real intention was to "make a name for ourselves" (naCdaehllanui sem, v. 4), a phrase well-known in Near Eastern literature, including the Epic of Gilgamesh, for whose hero it was almost as much of a goal as achieving immortality.21 However unrealistic one may consider human efforts to reach God, there is no reason to assume that the tower builders would have agreed. The Bible provides ample evidence that heaven was conceived as the dwelling place of God, who is once explicitly identified as the God of heaven (Gen. 24:7) and often presented as speaking from the sky or descending to earth.22This

J.Ant.1.4.1, ?110; cf. R. Samuelben Meirat Gen. 11:4. WilliamHallo pointsout thatthe proverb with which we began notes the humaninabilityto cover the land as well as to reachthe sky (personal communication). 21 See nn. 3 and4 above,as well as Gilgamesh, Old Babylonian version 3:4.13 and 25 (Thompson,The Epic of Gilgamesh, 27). See also George A. Barton, TheRoyal Inscriptions

20

of Sumerand Akkad(New Haven:Yale Univ. Press, 1929), 230-31, Gudea#15, cylinderA, XXV.20;F. R. Steele, "The JAOS71 (1951): 6, Prism," UniversityMuseumEsarhaddon
V.15; and John V. Kinnier Wilson, The Legend of Etana (Chicago: Bolchazy-Carducci, 1985), 100-101, 104-5, Late Version 11.140, III/A.14, and restored in IV/C.14 (ibid., 114-15).

The relationship betweenthis motiveanda buildingprojectis


discussed by Christoph Uehlinger, Weltreich und 'Eine Rede,' Eine neue Deutung der sogenannten Turmbauerzdhlung(Gen 11,1-9) (Freiburg:Universitatsverlag, 1990), 386-95. Pseudo-

Several examples are listed in Morris Jastrow, The Religion of Babylon and Assyria (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1898), 639; Andre Parrot, La Tour de Babel (Neuchatel: Delachaux & Niestle, 1953), 48; and Nahum M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (New York: Schocken Books, 1966), 73; also Gudea cylinder A XXI.23 (in Barton, Royal Inscriptions, 226-27). Cf. Hammurabidate formula 36 in A. Ungnad, "Datenlisten," RIA, 2:181; Steele, "EsarhaddonPrism," 7, V.29-36; and the inscriptions provided in Stephen Langdon, Building Inscriptions of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, part I (Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar) (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1905), 50-51, 62-63,

23

Philopreserves a tradition thateachbuilder inscribed his name


on a brick (6:2, Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2:310). Within the Hebrew Bible, it is God who is most commonly described as "making a name for Himself"

and 72-73. Cf. the ErraEpic'sdescription of the mesu tree, "whose roots reachedas deep down as the bottom of the
underworld... whose top reached as high as the sky of Anu(m)," 1.152-53. See Luigi Cagni, L'epopea die Erra (Rome: Istituto di Studi del Vicino Oriente, 1969), 74. B. Margulis has found a similar description in RS 24.245 (Ugaritica V, 557), where he translates Csbrqy[c] rish in lines 4-5 as "a tree with its head in the firmament"("A Weltbaum

(Isa. 63:12,14;Jer.32:20;andNeh. 9:10, but note 2 Sam.7:9 and8:13;cf. Gen.6:4 and 12:2).
22 Deut. 26:15; Ps. 102:20; cf. Gen. 11:7, 9; 18:21; 46:4; Exod. 3:8; 19:11, 18, 20; 20:22; 34:5, 9; Num. 11:17, 25; 12:5; Deut. 4:36; Jud. 5:13; 2 Sam. 22:10; 1 Kings 18:38; Isa. 31:4; 63:19; 64:2; Mic. 1:3; Pss. 14:2 (= 53:3); 18:10; 144:9; Lam. 3:50; Neh. 9:13. Note also references to God's heavenly throne (Isa. 6:1; Pss. 2:4; 103:19) and the blue pavement un-

in UgariticLiterature?," JBL[1971]:481-82). Cf. Dan.4:7-8


and Friedrich Kiichler, Beitrdge zur Kenntnis der assyrischbabylonischen Medizin (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1904), 8:3.1, as cited in AHw, 718. 24 See Enuma Elish 6.47, where the Anunnaki are said to have "raised its head (ulli resisu) toward Apsu" (S. Langdon, The Babylonian Epic of Creation [Oxford: Clarendon Press,

der His feet (Exod.24:10 andLXX Ezek. 1:26;but see E. W.


Nicholson, "The Interpretationof Exodus xxiv 9-11," VT 24 [1974]: 92).

1923], 172). The Babylonian zigguratitself was called Ete-

GREENSPAHN:

A Mesopotamian

Proverb and its Biblical Reverberations

37

fact that Mesopotamian tradition so often describes these buildings as reaching to heaven, the Biblical bassamayim (Gen. 11:4) can hardly be disphrase roMso missed as purely hyperbolic, however fossilized it may have been. On some level, these structures were believed capable of serving as a bridge between the divine and human realms. Jacob's dream of an earth-based "sullam,25 with its
head reaching to the sky" (wero'so maggiac hassa-

mayemd), on which divine beings paradedup and down as God stood at its apex (Gen. 28:12-13) proves that this view existed in Israel, too. Further support for the likelihood that the Tower of Babel was intended to reach heaven, whether or not the purpose was benign, can be gleaned from parallels to this story in other cultures, such as Homer's reference to an attempt to scale heaven as part of a human war against the immortals (Odyssey 11:312-16).26 A particularly striking example of this genre is preserved in the Bible itself, where the prophet Isaiah alludes to the myth of Helel ben Shahar, who sought to "ascend to heaven, above the divine stars" for the express purpose of becoming like God (Isa. 14:13-14), an attempt which inverts the descrip-

menanki, which means "House of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth." 25 Although the word, sulldm, has sometimes been linked to the root sll, it is best compared with the Akkadian simmiltu ("ladder, stair"), cf. CAD S, 273-74; note especially Namtar's ascent to heaven by way of a simmelat samdmi (stairway of heaven) as described in the "Myth of Nergal and Ereshkigal," v 13' and 42', and restored in i 53' and iv 26 (0. R. Gurney, "The Sultantepe Tablets [VII]," AnSt 10 [1960]: 122-25; see also pp. 110, 118). Adapa is said to have reached heaven by way of a "heavenly road" (harran same, B 45, cf. C 17 and D 14; see Picchioni II Poemetto di Adapa, 118-23). Egyptian pyramid texts include many references to a ladder (m3kt) by which a deceased king could reach the realm of Re (??390, 971-78, 1474, 2078-82 = utterances 271, 478, 572, 688 in R. O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969; reprinted, Oak Park, Ill.: Bolchazy-Carducci, 1985], 79, 165-66, 227, 296-97). ??365 and 1090 refer to a "stairway" (rwd, utterances 267 and 505), ibid., 76, 181. 26 Other examples are cited in Theodor H. Gaster, Myth, Legend, and Custom in the Old Testament (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1975; reprinted, Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1981), 132-35, and Stith Thompson, Motif Index of Folk-Literature, vol. 1 (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana Univ. Press, 1925; rev. ed. 1955-57), 537-38, under C 771.1 ("too high a tower"). Cf. Virgil, Georgics, 1.280.

tion of expulsion from heaven as a fall from divine to human status in Ps. 82:7. The Israelite belief that God dwells in heaven, coupled with descriptions of contact between the human and divine realms in other traditions, demonstrates that it is far from unthinkable that the Tower of Babel story originally referred to an assault on heaven. The attitude expressed in the cuneiform proverb with which we began provides both the builders' motivation and the reason for their failure. Widely known over a period of centuries, with traces evident in the Hebrew Bible itself, this saying gives expression to the belief that mortals are by nature unable to reach heaven. Any effort such as that described in Genesis 11 would not only, therefore, be inherently futile, but also constitute prima facie evidence of its perpetrators' hubris. In this regard, the story parallels the Garden of Eden account, where the removal of human inhabitants from a centralized location is not a punishment-that was accomplished through the imposition of agricultural labor and the pain of childbirth27-so much as a way of precluding access to the garden's other tree, which offered the means for them to become completely God-like (Gen. 3:22-24). It is of more than passing interest that knowledge and immortality are juxtaposed as that which distinguishes the human from the divine in the story of Eden, much as they are in Mesopotamian literature, including most prominently the Epic of Gilgamesh where differences between the human and the divine are a recurring concern.28 In the accounts of both Eden and Babel, God acts in order to keep men from becoming like Him, whether by gaining knowledge and immortality or by reaching the heavenly realm. This distinction between the human and the divine was not always so zealously protected. Stories of people ascending to heaven are widespread.29 The

27 Contra Carol Meyers, Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), 95-109. 28 Cf. Assyrian version 1:4.34; 9:3.8-9, Old Babylonian version 2:2.11; 10:2.4; and especially 10:3.3-5 (Thompson, The Epic of Gilgamesh, 14, 21, 51, 53). Cf. also Old Babylonian version 3:4.6-8, Assyrian version 11.193-94 (ibid., pp. 27 and 64), and Adapa A i.14 and B 76-83 (Picchioni, II Poemetto di Adapa, 112-13 and 120-21). Note Hesiod's description of Zeus "whose wisdom is everlasting" (Theogony 545; cf. Iliad 24.88. Cf. also Gen. 3:22; 6:3; Hab. 1:12; Pss. 82:7; 90:10; and Job 14:1-2,10. 29 E.g., Etana, Late Version IV B 39 (ed. J. V. Kinnier Wilson), 112-13; cf. Stith Thompson, Motif Index, A 761 (1:155),

38

Journal of the American Oriental Society 114.1 (1994) In the Tower of Babel story these two positions meet face to face as the builders encounter God's anger. In the end, however, humans must not enter the divine realm. In this, the narrative conforms to the Bible's widespread effort to maintain distinctions, an approach found also in the Genesis portrayal of creation as largely a matter of separation (between light and darkness, land and water, etc.) and those laws which seek to maintain demarcations between various kinds of animals, cloth, crops, and the like.33 For the Bible, the line between the human and the divine may not be breached-at least not by humans, who must stay in their place and wait for God to make His presence known. Presented in poetry and in prose, this concept was often communicated using the language of an ancient Mesopotamian proverb, which provided the imagery with which Biblical authorsexpressed this profound conviction of Israelite theology. 33E.g., Lev. 19:19 and Deut. 22:11. See Mary Douglas,
Purity and Danger, An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966), 454-57; and Jean Soler, "The Dietary Prohibitions of the Hebrews," New YorkReview of Books, June 14, 1979, 24-30.

Bible itself describes Elijah as having been taken up by God's own wish (2 Kings 2:1), and Enoch enjoyed a similar fate (Gen. 5:24). Other Biblical figures are said to have had access to God's council, even if only metaphorically,30while the sulldm of Jacob's dream permits movement back and forth, albeit only by divine beings, it would seem. Other traditions are less rigorous in distinguishing the human from the divine. Some pagan gods do die, and various humans achieve immortality. Gilgamesh himself was two-thirds divine,31 and the Bible allows God to have walked in the Garden of Eden and describes human beings as created in His
image.32 F 53 and 60 (3:11-14). Mohammad'snight journey is a familin iar example (cf. B. Schrieke and J. Horovitz, "MiCradj," The Encyclopaedia of Islam, ed. C. E. Bosworth et al. [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 19901, vol. 7, fascicles 115-16, pp. 97-101. The closing of access to heaven to human beings in the Hymn to Shamash (iii.42; see Clifton D. Gray, The Samas Religious Texts [Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1901], 20-21) suggests that it was, in theory, available; cf. also apparently Adapa (in Erica Reiner, "The Etiological Myth of the Seven Sages," Or 30 [1961]: 2-4) and KAR 375 ii 42f., as quoted in CAD E, 79: eldt game tepusma mamman ul illi ("you have built the heights of heaven, nobody ascends there"). 30 E.g., Jer. 23:18,22. Cf. 1 Kings 22:19 and Job 15:8; 29:4. 31 Gilgamesh, Assyrian version 1:2.1, 9:2.16 (Thompson, The Epic of Gilgamesh, 11 and 50). 32 Contrast Isa. 40:18, which claims that God has no image. Cf. Deut. 33:26; 2 Sam. 7:22; Pss. 40:6; 86:8; and 1 Chr. 17:20.