Extract from Chapter 8 of Genesis Unveiled
© Ian Lawton 2003
One final theme from the ancient texts requires some brief comment before we move on to other things, because it too has caused some confusion and led to what are, in my view, mistaken and misleading interpretations. It is the theme of composite beings that are part-human and part-animal.
In a previous chapter I discussed Berossus’ account of how Oannes brought civilization to humankind, and argued that suggestions the sage was part-man, part-fish were purely symbolic. However, the following is Berossus’ account of what Oannes himself supposedly wrote concerning the beings that inhabited the ‘primeval waters’:[i]
There was a time in which there was nothing but darkness and an abyss of waters, wherein resided most hideous beings, which were produced of a two-fold principle. Men appeared with two wings, some with four and with two faces. They had one body but two heads; the one of a man, the other of a woman. They were likewise in their several organs both male and female. Other human figures were to be seen with the legs and horns of goats. Some had horses’ feet; others had the limbs of a horse behind, but before were fashioned like men, resembling hippocentaurs. Bulls likewise bred there with the heads of men; and dogs with fourfold bodies, and the tails of fishes. Also horses with the heads of dogs: men too and other animals, with the heads and bodies of horses and the tails of fishes. In short, there were creatures with the limbs of every species of animals. Add to these fishes, reptiles, serpents, with other wonderful animals, which assumed each other’s shape and countenance. Of all these were preserved delineations in the temple of Belus at Babylon.
This account precedes Berossus’ equivalent description of the Mesopotamian Epic of Creation, which itself commences with a description of the ‘undifferentiated waters’ personified by the goddess Tiamat before she was split into two to create heaven and earth – this origin theme being one to which we will return in Part 3. As a result we can only assume that either Polyhistor, or Berossus himself, or someone before them, had become completely confused about chronology, because the idea that these creatures could have any physical form before the earth was even created is clearly ludicrous.
Descriptions of composite beings can also be found in the relatively late works of Pliny, Strabo and Diodorus, among others. One possible source for all these is a Mesopotamian text that Assyriologist Alexander Heidel refers to as A Prince’s Vision of the Underworld, discovered in Ashur and dating to the seventh century BCE. It describes the dream of a certain Prince Kumaya:[ii]
Namtar, the vizier of the underworld, the creator of decrees, I saw; a man stood before him; the hair of his head he held in his left, while in his right he held a sword.
Namtartu, his consort, had the head of a kuribu, her hands and feet were those of a human being. The death-god had the head of a serpent-dragon, his hands were those of men, his feet were those of (?).
The evil Shedu had the head and the hands of men, he wore a tiara and had the feet of a (?)-bird; his left foot was planted on a crocodile (?). Alluhapnu had the head of a lion, his four hands and his feet were those of men.
Mukil-resh-limutti had the head of a bird, his wings were spread, and he flew to and fro; his hands and feet were those of men. Humuttabal, the boatman of the underworld, had the head of Zu, his four hands and his feet were those of men.
(?) had the head of an ox, his four hands and his feet were those of men. The evil Utukku had the head of a lion, his hands and feet were those of Zu. Shulak was a normal lion, but he stood on his two hind legs.
Mammetu had the head of a goat, her hands and feet were those of men. Nedu, the gatekeeper of the underworld, had the head of a lion, his hands were those of men, his feet those of a bird. Mimma-limnu had two heads; one was the head of a lion, the other the head of (?).
(?) had three feet; the two fore feet were those of a bird, the hind foot that of an ox; he was decked with terrifying splendor. Of two gods – I do not know their names – the one had the head, hands and feet of Zu, in his left hand (?).
The second had a human head, he wore a tiara, in his right hand he carried a club, in his left (?). In all there were fifteen gods; when I saw them, I worshipped them.
Moreover, there was a unique man; his body was black as pitch, his face was like that of Zu, he was clad with a red garment, in his left he carried a bow, in his right he held a sword, and his left foot was planted on a serpent (?).
Some commentators have suggested that these various accounts can be taken literally – that they are either descriptions of visitors from other planets, or represent accounts of hybrids that at one time were part of the evolutionary mix on earth.[iii] We will consider these issues in more detail in Part 2, but for now I should say that in my view neither suggestion matches our knowledge of evolution, and nor are they supported by the archaeological record. And, of course, there is a far more subtle but also simple explanation.
The fact that in the above text these creatures exist in the underworld, and some of them are described as gods of it, hints at what I believe to be the proper perspective for these accounts. We all know that the gods of ancient Egypt, and to a lesser extent Mesopotamia, are often depicted with the head of an animal and a human body, or occasionally vice versa as in the Great Sphinx. Moreover, some of the creatures described by shamans during trance states have similar traits, and shamans themselves often dress in animal costume, giving a composite effect. It seems highly likely to me that these composite forms are archetypes chosen, or even imprinted on the universal consciousness at a higher level, because they represent particular characteristics. And the composite beings described in relatively late Mesopotamian and other literature show sufficient similarities that there is little doubt in my mind that this is their derivation, even if the authors of these accounts seem to show little appreciation of the essentially symbolic nature of the originals.[iv]
[i] Berossus fragments recorded by Polyhistor; see Temple, The Sirius Mystery (Arrow, 1999), appendix 3, p. 553.
[ii] Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (Univ of Chicago Press, 1949), chapter 2, pp. 132–3. This text does not appear to be included in the standard compendiums of either Dalley or Jacobsen. They do contain texts in which, for example, Dumuzi, Inanna, and Gilgamesh respectively visit the underworld, but none of these contains similar descriptions.
[iii] As an example of the former, in The Sirius Mystery revisionist author Robert Temple attempts to interpret these accounts of composite beings literally, comparing them with the amphibious ‘Nommo’ gods of the Dogon tribe of Africa and suggesting that they came from the Sirius star system. Meanwhile, Madame Blavatsky is at the forefront of those who suggest that these composite beings were at one time ‘indigenous’ inhabitants of the earth.
[iv] The only other possibility comes from Michael Newton’s subjects, who sometimes report having incarnated as strange chimeric creatures; he suggests that some of these elements of ancient mythology could derive from shared memories of human souls in incarnations on other planets; see Journey of Souls (Llewellyn, 2002), chapter 10, p. 168.