GILGAMESH AND THE WILLOW TREE

Origin/Historian/Author: Sumerian, ca 2100 BCE.
Source: Sumerian Religious Texts, Edward Chiera, 1924

Introduction
Sometimes called Gilgamesh and the Huluppu Tree, four copies of this Sumerian text were excavated from the Temple Library of Nippur in the late 1800’s, while another copy was discovered buried in Ur shortly after. Of the five tablets, those found in Nippur were so heavily damaged that without the tablet from Ur, translation would have been impossible. Chiera’s translation has only slight differences from Kramer’s, but Kramer’s translation should be considered more accurate due to later advancements made in understanding cuneiform script.

Placing this myth into a timeline proves to be quite difficult. It takes place after the ascension of Anu and Enlil ruling over the Earth, but before the death of Anzu. Here the out of place character is Gilgamesh, appearing in a sequence of events that occur over 1000 years before his historical existence. Gilgamesh means the kinsman is a hero. Perhaps a relative of Enlil plays this role such as Ninurta, who in other myths did face off and defeat the Anzu bird, who is encountered here, as well as a number of other monsters and beasts.

After describing the setting in which the following events take place, we learn the tale mainly features a willow tree. Although not exact, there are some notable parallels with an all too familiar story that most know of as Genesis. Here we have a female character, Ninanna, who in The Inanna and Enki Myth, plays the role of Eve. We also have a tree that is planted in a garden of the gods. At the base of this tree is a serpent described as a snake who knows no charm. Within the vicinity of this tree, Lillith builds her house.

As a mostly complete and straightforward composition, it needs little to no explanation, however there are few portions of this text to take note of. It was the instruction of Anu and Enlil (God) for Ninanna to plant and maintain the tree. Ninanna expressed a desire for a couch and throne. Years pass while Lillith sings about Ninanna’s desire for a couch and throne. Gilgamesh is described as Ninannas sibling, cuts down the tree and fashions a couch and throne for her. Of course these events aren’t exactly similar to Genesis, but considering the characters and the events that took place, there are subtle undertones of Genesis that are apparent throughout the text.

Full Text Below

After heaven had moved away from earth
After earth had separated from heaven
And the name of man had been ordained
After Anu had carried off the heaven
After Enlil had carried off the earth
And Ereshkigal to the nether world had been presented
After he had set sail after he had set sail
For the nether world the father had set sail
For the nether world Enki had set sail
Because of the lord the light winds stormed
Because of Enki the heavy winds stormed
The keel of Enki’s boat the raging waters covered with foam
Because of the lord the water at the boat’s prow like a jackal attacks
Because of Enki the water at the boat’s stern like a lion strikes down.
On that day a tree a willow tree
On the bank of the Euphrates planted
By the waters of the Euphrates nourished

Fiercely the Southwind tore at its roots plucked at its branches
The Euphrates on its waters carried it away.
A goddess at the word of Anu trembling at the word of Enlil trembling

Seized the tree in her hand entered Erech:
“To pure Ninanna’s holy garden I bring thee.”

The goddess tended the tree with her hand at her foot she let it stand

Ninanna tended the tree with her hand at her foot she let it stand:
“When oh when on a holy throne shall I sit me down” she said
“When oh when on a holy conch shall I lay me down” she said.

Five years ten years had passed
The tree grew big she dared not cut it down
At its roots the snake who knows no charm built his nest
In its branches the Zu-bird set up his young
In its midst Lillith built her house

The maiden ever-singing all hearts rejoicing

Ninanna the pure lady of heaven how she weeps and weeps!

At the break of day as the horizon grew light
The hero Gilgamesh stood by his sister’s side

His armor fifty talents its weight
like thirty shekels he fastened at his waist
His bronze axe his axe of the road
his axe of seven talents he seized in his hand
At its roots he smote the snake who knows no charm
In its branches the Zu-bird gathered his young
to the mountain he rose in flight
In its midst Lillith tore down her house
to the desert wastes she fled.

The tree Gilgamesh tore at its roots
plucked at its branches
The sons of his city who had accompanied him
cut down its branches
To pure Ninanna
for her throne he gives them
for her couch he gives them.