Origin/Historian/Author: Sumer, Temple Library of Nippur, ca 2400 BCE.
Source: Sumerian Religious Texts, Edward Chiera, 1924

This old Sumerian text was one of the many excavated tablets found in the Temple Library of Nippur. It dates back to the mid 3rd millennium BCE. It is often referred to as The Myth of Sheep and Grain, or the Debate/Dispute of Sheep/Cattle and Grain. As is the case with any contradicting translation, a single word out of place can sometimes be the cause of an entirely different outlook.

The beginning of this text describes a period of time after the creation of Heaven, which is the Anu Ziggurat, but still before the creation of man. Shortly after, (the first) man was created followed by a set of gods, or in some versions, goddesses, of cattle and grain. They were to learn husbandry and agriculture which was then passed to man, so that they are able to fill the storehouses of the gods, as well as multiply in numbers themselves.

In this version, the gods (or goddesses) of cattle and grain have a dispute. Eventually the gods intervene to declare a winner. As the 2nd creation after the first man, being associated with cattle and grain, and entering a competition or having a dispute among one another over god’s favor are all exact parallels to the biblical Cain and Abel. Surely, if a more complete translation of this text is ever excavated, it will reveal more similarities to the biblical account.

A more modern and complete translation of this myth is available on the ETCSL Corpus website created by The University of Oxford. Click here to view the newer translation: ETCSL The Debate Between Cattle and Grain t.5.3.2.

Full Text Below

In the mountain of heaven and earth[1]
when the god Anu had created the Anunna,
then the grain-god had not yet been born, had not yet become green.
Its people (i.e. of the mountain) had not yet fashioned Takku,[2]
for Takku they had not yet heaped up a foundation.
A ewe did not yet exist, a lamb had not yet been dropped,
a she-goat did not exist, a kid had not yet been dropped.
The ewe had not yet given birth to her lamb,
the she-goat had not yet given birth to her kid.
Then the grain-god, of great splendor, and the wooly-being
the Anunna, the great gods, had not yet known.
The shesh-grain, of thirty days, did not exist,
the shesh-grain, of fifty days, did not exist,
the very small grain, the mountain-grain, the shining a-dam-grain did not exist.
Garments for wearing did not exist.
Takku had not (yet) been brought forth, a tiara he had not worn.
The lord of the horned crown, the powerful lord, had not (yet) been brought forth,
Gir-mashkimma had not yet come out.
Mankind, when they were created
bread for eating they knew not,
garments for wearing they knew not.
The people walked with the (four) limbs upon the ground
they ate grass with the mouth like sheep,
they drank water from the ditches.
In that day, in the place of creation of the gods
its house, the holy mound, the wooly-being and the grain-god made beautiful.
They completely covered the dwelling with the food of the gods.
Of the abundance of flocks and grain
the Anunna, in their holy mound,
ate abundantly, and were not satiated.
Of the excellent milk of their sheepfold
the Anunna, in their holy mound,
drank abundantly, and were not satiated.
For the good of their (the Anunna’s) holy sheepfold,
Mankind were brought into existence.[3]
At that time the god Enki spoke to the god Enlil:
“Father Enlil, flocks and grain
have made joyful the holy mound,
they have greatly multiplied (?) in the holy mound.
“(We), Enki and Enlil, (by) our holy command,
“The wooly-being and the grain-god we will cause to come out of the holy mound.”
The wooly -being in the sheepfold they (place ?),
the green plant they give to the mother,
for the grain-god they establish a house,
to the workmen they give the irrigation machine and the yoke.
The wooly-being stands in his sheepfold,
the “shepherd” donates overabundance to the sheepfold
The grain-god stands in the ear,
the “green maiden” brings overabundance!
In her lifting up her head from the field
comes the abundance from heaven (i.e. the rain).
The wooly-being and the grain-god came out in splendor,
they gave abundance to the gatherings (of men),
they brought into existence living creatures in the land .
The laws of the gods they establish
the storehouses of the land they filled with food.
They increased the fertility of the land,
the fallen dwelling, which was in dust upon the ground
they raised up, they filled with abundance.
Both of them, wherever their feet had stood,
greatly in that house food was increased.
The standing place …..
from heaven …..
The excellent white grapes …..
the excellent white wine …..
the excellent black grapes …..
the excellent red wine …..
A field to a field
The grain-god spoke to the wooly-being:
….. thy head thou …..
….. the land …..

[1] The “mountain of heaven and earth” is not a poetical name for the earth (Langdon, PS, p. 136, Note 1), but the dwelling place of the gods, situated at the point where the heavens rest upon the earth. It is there that mankind had their first habitat, and there the Babylonian “Garden of Eden” is to be placed.
[2] This cultural heroine plays in Babylonian legend a role similar to that of Eve in Genesis III- IV. Langdon identifies Tak-KU with Noah.
[3] This is a confirmation of the Babylonian idea that mankind was created for the service of the gods.