Time and Chronology in Creation Narratives

Conference 7th-9th June 2018

Ivo Martins

Creation and Recreation: Linear and Cyclical time in Akkadian texts from the First Millennium B.C.E.

Akkadian literature features numerous examples of linear and cyclical chronology. In fact, several cosmogonies, epics, wisdom and propaganda texts written in Akkadian take full advantage of both ideas of time by combining them in the construction of their narratives. However, in later texts, linear chronology assumes a more prominent place. I shall argue that this development resulted from a perception change brought about by the increasing consciousness of the historicity of cuneiform culture during the first millennium B.C.E.

The interaction of the two concepts takes diverse forms. They are either used in sequence with linear chronology following the cyclical one each occupying a different section of the composition, such as in the Enūma Eliš; or they are employed together with cyclical and linear time intertwined throughout the text as in Atrahasīs; or the linear time takes a more active role with the circular chronology present on the background, as in the Epic of Gilgameš or the Babylonian Theodicy. Significantly, all these literary compositions had Middle- Babylonian origins or Sumerian forerunners. By contrast, in new texts, written during the First Millennium B.C.E., the cyclical chronology is all but absent.

As this presentation will show, the interaction of both ideas of time in various texts is not a mere question of literary style. The evolution of their use rather reflects the shifting world-views of first millennium Assyrian and Babylonian scholars and the related notions of time and history. The knowledge of their extensive cultural heritage and literary tradition, reinforced by the phenomenon of antiquarianism in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E, imposed upon those scholars the idea of a linear chronology and contributed to the gradual disappearance of cyclical chronology from Akkadian texts.

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