Dreaming Of A Flood

One of the strangest oneiromancy reports occurs in Ea’s reply to Enlil in Gilgamesh tablet XI.
It was not I who disclosed the secret of the great gods.
I caused Atrahasis to have a dream, and so he heard the secret of the gods.
[Foster’s, translation]
On the one hand, there is humor in this attempt to divert blame. One the other hand, something deeper is going on. The interpretation of dreams among other methods of divination provided windows to the minds of the gods. So Ea simply opened one of those windows.
The extent to which Atrahasis’ dream needed interpretation is open to speculation. One might consider this from omen series dZiqīqu III (K. 3941 + 4017 obv ii:3′),
DIŠ ina GIŠ.PA.PA.NI a-šib nu-áš-pa-a[n-tu
If (in a dream) he sits on a papanu: devasta[tion (naspantu)].
As Oppenheim, 264, points out, “The term naspantu appears normally in the phrase abûb naspanti to describe a flood which levels everything.” But as he further notes, the term acquired a more general meaning which Oppenheim rendered “oppression.” It sure would be nice to know what papannu means. From the determinative, one can surmise that it was some kind of tree or something make of wood. The omen in preceding line has GIŠ.ŠÚ.A (littu), “stool.” But in l. 5′ we read “If (in a dream) he sits on a rush(?) (GIŠ ur-ba-te):,” so it may also be some kind of plant. Or as Oppenheim speculates, a GIŠurbate may be some kind of reed covered chair. See also CAD P, 106. The meaning of the Sumerogram string GIŠ.AB.GI.N in l.4′ is unknown.
Am I wondering what lays behind some of the fully narrated dream accounts in the Hebrew Bible? You bet!

Foster, Benjamin, R. The Epic of Gilgamesh (New York: Norton, 2001)
Oppenheim, A. Leo, “The interpretation of dreams in the ancient Near East, with a translation of an Assyrian dream-book,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Volume 46, Part 3, Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1956, 179-373

One thought on “Dreaming Of A Flood”

  1. So essentially dreams are seen as the “true reality”, that layer of reality from which “existence” is born. It sounds exactly like the Dream Time of the Australian Aborigines or the Nirvana of Buddhists. I think the notion that dream is more true to existence than reality is actually quite a common theme around the world.
    Of course, we could always blame it on the colourful mushrooms too. Dare I blaspheme but drugs and religion have historically gone hand in hand and this practice would no doubt serve to enhance the notion of “dream reality”. And let’s face it: Sumerians and Babylonians were surely no saints in that department. ;o)

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