Sunday, November 4, 2007



That's the transliteration of the Hebrew word most often rendered as "heaven."

Berosheth bara Elohim shamayim ... When God began to create the heavens ...

When the Russians first entered space, so I am told, they looked around and said they did not see God up there, in the shamayim above our blue planet. But it had been many centuries since the heirs of monotheism pictured God floating in the vaccuum where satellites and lost space suit gloves now hover. God, the modern theist says, is transcendent. His personal shamayim is somewhere beyond mortal comprehension.

The third book on my shelf is a collection of ancient Mesopotamian poetry, from the people who gave us beer, bread, the wheel and probably the first alphabet.

The most famous of them is the Enuma Elish, the creation hymn.

Before the gods were the elements: Apsu and Tiamat, the two primordial seas, and Mummu, counselor to Apsu. (There may be some etymological kinship between this Tiamat and the tehowm, the "deep" mentioned in the Hebrew creation hymn of Genesis.)

There was no land to block their mingling. Within their depths were created the silts, Lahmu and Lahamu, then Anshar and Kishar, the horizons.

To Anshar was born Anu, the sky; Anu begat Ea, the Earth. The noise of these gods tormented the ancient elements. They counseled together and proposed to destroy them. The gods battle against the elements.

In the depths of the sea, Marduk, son of the god Ea, is born. He is appointed king. He attacks Tiamat and defeats her. From her body is made the sky, the stars, moon, sun and the earth. Then man is created, to serve the gods.

This bloody beginning is similar to the earliest Greek mythology, as described by Hesiod in his Theogony. But I'll get to that later.

Shamayim. Not cold space but a blissful paradise do we long for. Mythology, apocrypha and scripture, is full of tales of men who were caught up to it, or tried to build towers to reach it. The passport is immortality and that is the subject of the other famous Mesopotamian book on my shelf, the Epic of Gilgamesh, which I will discuss later.


Lone Grey Squirrel said...

A very interesting and educational post. how did you get to be such an expert at these languages?

Anonymous said...

Hey, can I post this blog in my school paper? In your name of course, ECD. I'm gonna write a review about it. Can I?

eastcoastdweller said...

LGS: I am nowhere near an expert. I am the rankest amateur. I am slowly learning, word by word.

Yek: Certainly.

Princess Haiku said...

This is an interesting discussion and I was happy to link you. I have a particular interest in mythology, folklore etc. and can see that your blog will be a pleasure to visit.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Princess Haiku: I was cleaning up my email and realized that I never answered Your comment. I try to answer every comment. And Yours was a sweet one indeed. Thank You.

I am very interested in folklore and mythology, too. When I reach the Middle Ages in my reading schedule, I think there will be a lot of that to enjoy.

I would like to request Your permission to link You. I have visited Your blog off and on for quite some time now and I do enjoy it.