CT 13.33-34 and Ezekiel 32: lion-dragon myths.

Author:Lewis, Theodore J.


This article examines two combat myths often left out of discussions of divine-conflict stories, discussions which tend to favor the better-known Mesopotamian tale of Marduk fighting Tiamat and the Canaanite tale of Baal, Anat, and Yahweh fighting the likes of Yamm, Lotan/Leviathan, and Mot.

One of these neglected tales, about the deity Tishpak, comes from the Mesopotamian sphere and reflects mythology older than Enuma Elish; the other is much later, from Judah's exilic period, and reflects West Semitic developments of the combat myth. The nature of the beasts with whom the deities battle in these stories is singled out for special attention. These two texts show, in conjunction with other literary sources and iconography, that ancient Near Eastern writers and artists used composite animal imagery - in particular, the juxtaposition of lions and dragons - to demonstrate the preeminence of warriors both human and divine. After examining these two myths individually, this article will conclude by addressing them from a comparative perspective.

  1. CT 13.33-34

    The Deity Tishpak

    Tishpak succeeded Ninazu as the chief god of Eshnunna (Tell Asmar).(1) Remarkably, there has been little attention devoted to this deity in the standard treatments of Mesopotamian religion, even though he may have been a prototype of Marduk. Tishpak has been thought to be a god of thunderstorms;(2) Jacobsen even connected him with the Hurrian god Teshup.(3) It is clear that he does act in the manner of a storm god in his battle with the dragon, yet, as Wiggermann has argued (using Marduk and Ninurta as examples), association with clouds and storms does not necessarily make one a weather god.(4)

    The myth of a god battling a seven-headed dragon was common at Eshnunna. Both figures 1 and 2 come from Tell Asmar. Figure 1 shows two unknown gods(5) battling the seven-headed dragon. Three of its heads are engaged in battle while the other four droop down as if already slain. Similarly, the bottom register of figure 2 shows an unknown god holding two heads that he had cut off from the monster. Though both images come from Tell Asmar, we must remain cautious about associating them at once with Tishpak. Tishpak's battles with the basmu and the MUS/labbu are attested (see below), but not his battle with the seven-headed serpent.(6)

    We have two other Old Akkadian representations from Eshnunna (one of which is depicted in figure 3) which are more helpful, because they clearly show that Tishpak's sacred animal, like Marduk's, was the mushussu, "dragon" or "terrifying serpent."(7) Both images show the god riding upon the mushussu. The former even bears an inscription referring to Tishpak as the warrior of the gods.(8) Another seal, from Tell Harmal, shows the god with the animal under his feet with the text, "Tispak-gamil, son of Mar-Samas, servant of Samsi-Adad" [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 4 OMITTED].(9)

    Tishpak's battle with the dragon is preserved for us in CT 13.33-34 (discovered in the library of Ashurbanipal).(10) This text is usually ignored by those Bible scholars who have looked to the Mesopotamian sphere in search of parallels to divine conflict stories.(11) The tale is most widely recognized through the older translations of L. W. King(12) and Alexander Heidel,(13) both of which are now quite outdated. Two new translations, by J. Bottero and S. N. Kramer and by B. R. Foster, have recently appeared.(14) CT 13.33-34 has received particular attention in a recent study by F. A. M. Wiggermann.(15) According to Wiggermann, the myth belongs originally to the Old Akkadian Period, and functioned as follows: "It translates history, the Old Akkadian overtake in Esnunna [sic], into theology, and justifies Tispak's accession as king . . . as a consequence of his 'liberation' of the nation, sanctioned by the decision of a divine council."(16) The full text of what has been preserved of the myth appears as follows:

    THE SLAYING OF THE "LABBU" (CT 13.33-34)



    1. The cities are distraught, The lands [are thrown into confusion],

    2. The nations decreased in number, [all of them in mass upheaval];

    3. To their cry of distress no [one ],

    4. To their outcry no [one ],(22)

    5. "Who [created] the dragon?"

    6. "Sea [created] the dragon."

    7. Enlil in heaven drew [its picture]:(23)

    8. Fifty "miles" is his length, One "mile" [his width],

    9. Six cubits his mouth, Twelve cubits [his ];

    10. Twelve cubits is the circumference of [his] ea[rs];

    11. At sixty cubits he [can snatch] birds;(24)

    12. In water nine cubits deep he drags [ ];

    13. He raises his tail, he [sweeps the sky].

    14. All the gods of heaven [were afraid(?)].

    15. In heaven the gods bowed down before [Sin],

    16. And [they gra]sped(?) Sin's [robe] by its hem:

    17. "Who will go and [slay] the raging dragon,

    18. [And] deliver the wide land [ ]

    19. And exercise kingship [ ]?"

    20. "Go, Tishpak, sl[ay] the raging dragon,

    21. And deliver the wide land [ ],

    22. And exercise kingship [ ]."(29)

    23. You have sent me, O lord,(30) [to slay] the offspring of River;(31)

    24. But I am not familiar with the raging dragon's [ways]."

    25. [ ] befo[re].

    26. [ ] water [ ].

    27. [ ]. (lines missing.)


      (several lines missing.)

    28. [DN(32)] opened his mouth and [spoke] to [Tishpak]:

    29. "Burst open the clouds(33) [and make(?)] a violent storm;

    30. The seal of your life/throat [ ] before you;

    31. Shoot (at him) and sl[ay] the raging dragon."

    32. He burst open the clouds [and made(?)] a violent storm,

    33. the seal of his life/throat [ ] before him,

    34. He shot (at him) and [slew] the raging dragon.

    35. For three years (and) three months, day and [night]

    36. The blood of the raging dragon flowed [ ].

      General Comments

      Though, as Lambert notes,(34) "not one of the surviving lines is complete," enough of this myth is preserved to sketch its basic themes with certainty. The extant portion contains the beginning and end of the story. At the outset (lines 1-2) we hear of cities in distress. No reason is given, yet Wiggermann's suggestion(35) that the disaster is a result of the dragon is very plausible. The people's cries of distress (lines 3-4) go unheeded.(36) Someone(37) raises the question of the beast's origin (line 5). Sea (tamtu), widely recognized for giving birth to monster serpents and dragons, is the obvious answer, given in line 6. Yet Enlil, as line 7 makes clear, also had a hand in the dragon's design.(38) A lengthy description of the creature follows (lines 8-13), and it would not be an exaggeration to say that its dimensions (fifty "miles" long and one "mile" wide) are of true mythic proportions (except for the mouth?).

      In a scene often found in divine combat myths, the pantheon despairs at the mere sight or description of the opposing beast (lines 14-16).(39) The gods fearfully ask who will slay the dragon and deliver the land (lines 17-18). The reward of kingship is offered to such a victor (line 19). A divine spokesman charges the hero Tishpak with the challenge, repeating in lines 20-22 the words of the cowering gods. Tishpak at first refuses to fight the dragon, evidently claiming that he is not familiar with his adversary's features, capabilities, or modus operandi (lines 23-24). The text then breaks off with what is perhaps another description of the monster's actions.

      After presumably being instructed in the art of warfare by a deity (reverse, lines 1-4), Tishpak engages in a cosmic battle with the dragon. The battle scene itself (lines 5-7) involves the storm language of stirred-up clouds, lightning, a violent tempest, and the "cylinder seal of his life/throat," which Jacobsen took to represent thunder.(40) The dragon is slain and his blood flows for three years and three months, day and night (lines 8-9).

      The Depiction of the Dragon

      The depiction of the dragon is as astonishing as are its proportions. In lines 5 and 6 he is clearly called a serpent (MUS), which accords well with a passage in Der babylonische Gottertypentext describing Tishpak as the one who "treads on the serpent with his two (feet)."(41) Yet the beast is certainly much more than Wakeman's "giant serpent with a tail."(42) Note the physical description of this beast, which exhibits animal characteristics (ears, tail, catching birds) in addition to specifically serpentine characteristics (fifty "miles" long, travels through water). A parallel fragment from KAR 6(43) describes another long basmu-creature with huge eyes whose feet(44) take strides twenty "miles" long. Furthermore, this dragon devours fish, birds, wild asses, and even humans.

      Another indication that we are not dealing with a simple serpent is found in lines 17, 20, 24 (obverse), and lines 4, 7, 9 (reverse) where the creature is called a labbu, a common Akkadian word for "lion," used primarily in poetry.(45) To date, only Wiggermann has addressed the problem of the double designation, lion and dragon/serpent.(46) He puts forth the attractive proposal that labbu is an epithet of the dragon meaning "the raging one" (cf. lababu).(47) The labbu in our text certainly is a raging creature, yet more seems to be implied by such a designation.

      The choice of the word labbu with its leonine connotations is likely not accidental. I suggest returning to Heidel's notion of a "composite monster or dragon with leonine and serpentine attributes."(48) This recalls E. D. Van Buren's conclusions that "the dragons of later ages all derived from two main types, the leonine and the ophidian."(49) The juxtaposition of serpent and lion reminds us of the snake (MUS) who steals the plant of life in the Gilgamesh Epic (XI: 287) and is also called a nesu sa qaqqari, "lion of the ground" (XI: 296). Elsewhere, there is the unusual description of a snake "roaring like a lion" (siri sa ina bitiya kima nesi [UR.MAH] irmumu).(50) Wiggermann notes both an Ur III incantation which mentions "the lion, the mushussu-dragon which lives in the midst of the sea" and several examples of roaring dragons and the equation of dragons with lions.(51) It is their...

To continue reading