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LDS Growth Ancient Ethnography, Culture, and History

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Genesis 10 contains a curious story that upsets traditional ethnologic assumptions of Mesopotamia having originally been settled by Semitic peoples:
6 And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan.
7 And the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabtah, and Raamah, and Sabtecha: and the sons of Raamah; Sheba, and Dedan.
8 And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth.
9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.
10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.
11 Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah,
12 And Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city.
I have previously demonstrated in the article "The Hamitic Peoples" that the descendants of Ham were black. Scriptural context and Hebrew and Ethiopian tradition maintain that Cush was the father of the Ethiopians; Cush's name is translated as "dark" by Hebrew scholars. As son of Cush and grandson of Ham, there is little doubt that Nimrod and his kinsmen were black.

According to the Genesis account, "the beginning of his [Nimrod's] kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar [Mesopotamia]. Nimrod certainly did not go alone; that he was accompanied by many of his kinsmen is specifically attested in the Book of Jasher (Chapter 7) and is suggested in Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews.

Abraham's first encounter with the Egyptian religion was not in Egypt, but in "the land of the hill called Potiphar’s Hill, at the head of the plain of Olishem" (Abraham 1:8,10). The spread of Egyptian religion was therefore wide; subsequent research has demonstrated significant mutual borrowings between the religion of ancient Egypt, Sumeria, and Babylonia. His depictions (Book of Abraham, Facsimile 1) depict a black Egyptian priest ready to sacrifice him upon the altar, and other statements from the books of Abraham and Moses demonstrate that the early Egyptians were black, as I have demonstrated in previous articles.

We must then inquire, where is the evidence of the black Mesopotamians dating back to the very dawn of civilization? In this we find remarkable evidences which provide remarkable validation of the Biblical account as well as of ancient records translated by the prophet Joseph Smith comprising the books of Abraham and Moses in the Pearl of Great Price.

Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer observed:

One remarkable fact is that only a century ago nothing was known even of the existence of these Sumerians in ancient days. The archaeologists and scholars who, some hundred years ago, began excavating in that part of the Middle East known as Mesopotamia were looking not for Sumerians but for Assyrians and Babylonians. On these peoples and their civilizations they had considerable information from Greek and Hebrew sources, but of Sumer and the Sumerians they had no inkling. There was no recognizable trace either of the land or of its people in the entire literature available to the modern scholar. The very name Sumer had been erased from the mind and memory of man for more than two thousand years.
Kramer, Samuel Noah. History Begins at Sumer. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, Third Edition, 1981, xx.
Some linguists have suggested that the Hebrew term Shinar (Genesis 10:10) used for Mesopotamia may be derived from the Akkadian term Shumer for the Sumerians; Smith cites the terms "Sumir or Shinar" as dialectical equivalents within the known latitude of linguistic shift (Smith, A Chaldean Account of Genesis, 20). In view of the historical SH/S transition and the M/N dialectical equivalency in some early languages, the Shinar=Sumer (Sumeria) derivation appears to be a better linguistic match than other uncertain derivations that have been proposed, such as Shene nahar "two rivers" or Shene "two cities." The designation of the world's first civilization after the great deluge as occurring in the land of Shinar/Shumer or Sumeria has been hiding in plain sight in the Book of Genesis for more than two millennia after the name and identity of the Sumerians had been lost to all the rest of the world.

A litany of firsts belong to the Sumerian civilization (ibid), and later Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian civilizations were highly dependent upon Sumer for their culture and knowledge. Kramer's History Begins at Sumer is an excellent source for beginning to appreciate Sumeria's great and irrefutable contributions to the world upon which all subsequent civilizations have built.

When we examine the list of cities of King Nimrod, we find that they were all originally Sumerian cities:

  • Babel was a Sumerian city before it became a Babylonian one, and Babylonian culture was built almost entirely upon Sumerian achievements.
  • Erech is designated as the city of Uruk by the Sumerian King's list and is the city where we find the world's first writing: "The first written documents were found in a Sumerian city named Erech." (Kramer, History, 3).
  • Accad is the seat of the Akkadian civilization
  • The identity of Calneh is unknown but has been associated with Nippur (one of the most ancient Sumerian cities) by some scholars.
These are among the first known cities in the history of the world. However, Nimrod's kinsmen did not have complete hegemony upon these cities. The previously cited verses note that "out of that land [of Shinar] went forth Asshur [son of Shem, a semite and father of the Assyrians), and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city." The descendants of Shem through Elam, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram also settled in close proximity. It appears that Nimrod had a multicultural empire even if his kinsman may had dominated in certain cities. These verses suggest significant intercourse between the peoples of Mesopotamia and those of North Africa and Egypt.

Who were the Sumerians? It is universally known that they were non-Semitic. Yet we can draw conclusions about their racial origins from several data points:

  • The Sumerians called themselves sag-giga, meaning "the black-headed people" (W. Hallo, W. Simpson. The Ancient Near East. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1971, 28.) In numerous inscribed tablets, the Sumerians refer to themselves in this fashion. Not black-haired, but black-headed. A few of the numerous references of this sort include:
    • "May Ur-Ninurta, the king in whom Enlil trusts, open up your house of wisdom in which you have gathered knowledge in plenty, and then be the great ruler of the black-headed" (A tigi to Enki for Ur-Ninurta, Black 272).
    • "Great lord...Suen...light of heaven, whose majestic radiance is visible even at mid-day, light who illuminates the black-headed people" (An ululumama to Suen for Ibbi-Suen, Black 273).
    • The goddess Ninisinna..."the great physician of the black-headed people (the Sumerians)" (Kramer, History Begins at Sumer, 64).
    • "go to your brothers, the blackheaded people" ("Inanna and Shukallituda: The Gardner's Mortal Sin", in Kramer, History Begins at Sumer, 74).
    • "Lipit-Es^tar, son of Enlil, may you shine as brilliantly as the sunlight!...May the black-headed people, numerous as flocks, follow the right path under you!" (Black et al., The Literature of Ancient Sumer, 53).
    • "To the lady [Nisaba], the celestial star...who rules the black-headed, who posesses the tablet with all the names (?)" ("Nergal, Numus^da, and Ninurta," in Black et al., The Literature of Ancient Sumer, 180).
    • "I, S^ulgi, am the herdsman and shepherd of the black-headed people" (A praise poem of S^ulgi, Black et al., The Literature of Ancient Sumer, 305).
    • "I am the good shepherd of the black-headed...I am a human god, the lord of the numerous people. I am the strong heir of kingship" ("A praise poem of Lipit-Es^tar" in Black et al., The Literature of Ancient Sumer, 309).
    • "[The god] Utu, shepherd of the land, father of the black-headed" (Black et al. 17).
    • "To the lady [Nisaba], the celestial star...who rules the black-headed, who posesses the tablet with all the names (?)" (from the composition "Nergal, Numus^da, and Ninurta," Black 180).
  • This reference is perpetuated in Akkadian literature. The Semitic king Sargon of Akkad describes his conquest and rule over the Sumerians of Mesopotamia as recorded in Akkadian cuneiform: "The black headed peoples I ruled, I governed" (Rogers, Robert W. Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament. New York: Eaton & Mains, 1912, 136).
  • "They are described in the Assyrio-Babylonian inscriptions as a black-faced people" (Jackson, John G. Man, God, and Civilization 242).
  • Repeated references from Akkadian and Old Babylonian writings refer to the Sumerians as "black-headed peoples," differentiating them from the Akkado-Babylonian Semites and other surrounding peoples. For an example, see "Erra and Ishum" in Dalley's Myths from Mesopotamia 290.
  • The Babylonian historian Berossus referred to the Sumerians as "black-faced foreigners" in his History of Babylonia, which has been lost except for fragments written by Josephus and Eusebius.
  • Jackson observed: "The myths, legends, and traditions of the Sumerians definitely point to Africa as the original home of the Sumerians. The first Sumerian remains were unearthed in the middle of the nineteenth century by Hincks, Oppert, and Rawlinson. Sir Henry Rawlinson called these people Cushites...Rawlinson anticipated Perry by tracing the Sumerians back to Ethiopia" (Jackson 246). Note that the descend of Sumerians from Ethiopia (Cush) fits precisely with the scriptural statement that Nimrod was son of Cush, father of the Ethiopians.
  • It has been recognized from the earliest days of archaeological discovery that Sumerians depicted themselves in ways that are recognizably different from their depictions of Semites in their own pictographic tradition. Most Sumerian depictions of themselves are distinctly non-Semitic with shaved heads, broad noses, and negroid-appearing features (See Kramer, History, 203, 207-209, 217). Black and colleagues wrote, "Semites supposedly had long hair and beards; Sumerians wore their heads and faces shaved" (Black et al., The Literature of Ancient Sumer, lvi). Sumerians "are shown on the monuments as beardless and with shaven heads, whereas Semitic and later Babylonian figures are represented with sharp facial features and long beards (Jackson 242) . Sumerian ideas of dress and grooming share close similarities with their Hamitic cousins, the Egyptians, but are distinct from those of the surrounding Semites. Examine the images below and judge for yourself.
  • The Sumerians spoke an agglutinative language distinct from the languages of the surrounding Semitic tribes.

King Gudea of Lagash, public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Images from Kramer, History Begins at Sumer. The original work was published in 1956 and Kramer passed away in 1990, so I believe that these photos are in the public domain. If anyone has information to the contrary please let me know.

Left - 2500 BC Sumerian statue from Khafaje; Right - Sumerian scribe circa 2350 BC from Lagash.

Ur-Nanshe, King of Lagash, surrounded by children and courtiers

War and Peace: the "Standard" from Ur

Bearded priest excavated from Khafaje; presumably Semitic. Note the contrast to the above images of Sumerians. The occasional depiction of Semitic-appearing peoples in Sumeria demonstrates the presence of some Semites in the Sumerian empire, just as we expect from the Genesis account and from apocryphal accounts, such as the Book of Jasher's account of Nimrod choosing the Semitic Terah, father of Abraham, as the "prince of his host [army]" and notes that they "elevated him [Terah] very high" (Jasher 7:41,49).

Thus we have the Sumerians' own description of themselves as black, others' description of them as black, and their own depictions of themselves which demonstrate predominately negroid-appearing features and which, when colored, are typically dark or black. The evidence suggests that the Sumerians were prominently black, the kinsmen of Nimrod as scripture suggests. Civilizations from the beginning of time, down to the present are heavily indebted to the intelligence and skill of these remarkable and industrious people. In the identity of the Sumerians we have a remarkable and precise confirmation of the Genesis account and of the statements of the prophet Joseph Smith through discoveries of a people-group that was entirely unknown to the scholarly world until long after his lifetime.

Were the Sumerians the first in the land? They were not far from the beginning, as Nimrod was a great-grandson of Noah, although life spans in this age were longer than at present. The Book of Jasher tells the story of Nimrod traveling east to found a city in Mesopotamia (Jasher 7:43) and then conquering the surrounding lands:

And Nimrod dwelt in Shinar, and he reigned securely, and he fought with his enemies and he subdued them, and he prospered in all his battles, and his kingdom became very great.
And all nations and tongues heard of his fame, and they gathered themselves to him, and they bowed down to the earth, and they brought him offerings, and he became their lord and king, and they all dwelt with him in the city of Shinar, and Nimrod reigned in the earth over all the sons of Noah, and they were all under his power and counsel.
(Jasher 7:44-45)
The archaological evidence also supports the conclusion that the Sumerians obtained their empire through conquest, and that most Sumerian cities were built on top of older cities (Kramer, History, 234-35). Kramer notes:
As a result of determining the existence of a Sumerian Heroic Age, we seem justified in draing the conclusion that the Sumerians were not the first settlers in Lower Mesopotamia, but that they must have been preceded by a civilized power of some magnitude, one that was culturally far more advanced than the Sumerians. What is generally spoken of as a 'Sumerian' civilization - a civilization that played a predominant role in the Ancient Near East, and whose influence persisted long after the Sumerians had ceased to exist as a political entity...resulted no doubt from a constructive application of the Sumerian genius to the material and spiritual heritage of the pre-Sumerian civilization in Southern Mesopotamia (Kramer, History, 237).
The great value of Sumerology reflects not only the original accomplishments of the Sumerians, but the legacy they have passed down through their records, technology, and achievements of an earlier, even greater civilization, the knowledge of which has been otherwise lost to history.

The Sumerian people have been much misidentified, although there has been no lack of adequate evidence regarding their origins from the time of the first discoverers. One example of an unintentionally humerous misidentification is the title of L.A. Waddell's excellent but mistitled early twentieth century book, "The Aryan Origin of the Alphabet: Disclosing the Sumero Phoenician Parentage of our Letters Ancient and Modern." Although the modern alphabet does indeed come from Phoenician through both Egyptian and Sumerian, neither the Sumerians nor the Phoenicians were Aryan peoples, and so Waddell unwittingly demonstrates the debt that the world owes to ancient black Sumerians rather than the so-called Aryan peoples.

Nimrod/Etana and the Kingdom of Cush/Kish

Which of the Sumerian kingdoms known to us from the historical record best fit the scriptural description of Nimrod and his people as found in Genesis? The best candidate for Nimrod's kingdom appears to be the Sumerian kingdom of Kish, known from the earliest times for having consolidated the entire region into a single empire. Sumerian primary sources state that the first dynasty of Kish immediately followed the great deluge (Kramer, History Begins at Sumer, 227), and that one of the most important city-states of Sumeria was Kish "which, according to Sumerian legendary lore, had received the 'kingship' from heaven immediately after the 'flood'" (Kramer, History, 31). Later Sumerian rulers coveted the title "king of Kish" to reflect sovereignty over the whole land. The presence of a unified state with hegemony over all the land in the earliest times, in contrast to the later warring city-states, is consistent with both the Genesis account and the additional details offered in the Book of Jasher.

I had independently concluded that Nimrod must have been the legendary king of Kish who united Sumeria because of the correspondence of many historical and scriptural details, only to subsequently find that Roy Hales has written about this topic from a slightly different perspective while arriving at many of the same conclusions while citing additional supporting evidence (see Etana and the First Kingdom of Man," The name Kish corresponds closely with that of Nimrod's father Cush. Hales observes that among the kings of Kish, one strongly stands out as a candidate for the scriptural Nimrod. Etana, the thirteenth king of Kish on the Sumerian King's list, is listed as having become "king and ruler" by virtue of having "consolidated all countries." The passage regarding the reign of Etana calls to mind the story of Nimrod, builder of the tower of Babel: "They planned the city; the [...] gods laid the foundation; they planned the shrine...May the city be the nest, the resting place of mankind, may the king be the shepherd...may Etana be the builder." Hales states: "A subsequent king of Ur around 2040 BC dug up this inscription: "The erection (building) of this tower (temple highly offended all the gods. In a night they threw down) what man had built and impeded their progress. They were all scattered abroad and their speech was strange" (need source). Nimrod is referred to in scripture as "a mighty hunter," and the author or scribe of Genesis observes that the proverb "even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord" remained in common use down to his own day (Genesis 10:9). Etana was known as the "king of animals." Hales further observes: "The scattering of Etana Nimrod's kingdom would appear to have taken place during Sumeria's late Uruk, and early Jemdet Nasr phase. A strong Sumerian influence is known in Egypt from this time."

Glassner writes that the name Etana means "he who went up to heaven... there is reason to think that this story is very old; the ascent to heaven of someone mounted on the back of an eagle was already a figurative motif well-known in Old Akkadian glyptic art" (Glassner, Mesopotamian Chronicles, 91). "Note also the Sumerian expression an.s^e'...e11, 'ascend to heaven'" (ibid).

The legend of Etana's attempt to ascend to heaven "on an eagles back" only to fall and die in some versions and to enter heaven in others, brings to mind the story of Nimrod's building of the great tower to try to get to heaven. The Etana story is preserved in Old Babylonian and Assyrian versions, although it is believed to be much older as Lu-Nanna sage of Ur is the attributed author, and Etana's ascent to heaven is shown on Akkadian period cylinder seals cited as dating to 2390-2249 by Stephanie Dalley (Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, 189). The significance of the Etana story to the ancient Mesopotamians is demonstrated by the fact that "Etana is the only Mesopotamian tale to have been identified unequivocally on ancient cylinder seals" (ibid). Stephanie Dalley renders the first portion of the Etana story somewhat differently than the unattributed account cited by Hales:

[The great gods, the Igigi] designed a city,
[The Igigi] laid its foundation,
[The Anunnaki] designed the city of Kish,
[The Annunaki] laid its foundation,
The Igigi made its brickwork firm.
Let [ ] be their shepherd
Let Etana be their builder (?) [ ] the staff of [ ]
The great Anunnaki who decree destinies
Sat and conferred their counsel on the land
The Igigi [ ] decreed names (?) for them all.
They had not established a king over all the teeming people
A king is hereby affirmed for the land, and in Kish [it is established (?)]
He brought kingship...

Etana king of Kish was thus the one for whom the "kingship had been lowered from heaven" after the flood. We find a close parallel in the initial lines of the Sumerian Ziusudra account which notes of the antediluvian days:

After the ... of kingship had been lowered from heaven,
After the exalted tiara and the throne of kingship had been lowered from heaven,
He perfected the rites and the exalted divine laws...
He founded the five cities in ... pure places
Called their names, appointed them as cult centers.
The first of these cities, Eridu, he gave to Nudimmud, the leader,
The second, Badtibira, he gave to...
The third, Larak, he gave to Endurbilhursag,
The fourth, Sippar, he gave to the hero Utu,
The fifth, Shuruppak, he gave to Sud.
When he had called the names of these cities, apportioned them as cult centers...
Kramer, History Begins at Sumer, 149-150.

The list of five cities founded when the kingship descended from heaven brings to mind the four cities founded by Nimrod after the flood (Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh) who appears to correspond to the Sumerian Etana for whom the kingship descended from heaven. Unfortunately, the Sumerian Ziusudra account is believed to be a fairly late copy which is fragmentary. It is therefore not clear whether the Ziusudra account of the five antediluvian cities represents a real memory, or whether it is a later interpolation based upon the fact that Nimrod/Etana founded four cities after the flood, with one more attributed to the antediluvian civilization to show the greater attainments of more remote antiquity. One suspects that the latter is more likely; we see a similar trend in other ancient legends such as Plato's telling of the Atlantis story which Solon the sage of Athens learned from the priests of Neith in the ancient Egyptian city of Sais. The Atlantis tale appears to preserve antidiluvian memories of times and places beyond the knowledge of the Greeks, and so Plato makes the Athenians protagonists in the struggle against the Atlanteans as a literary method to adapt to his audience a far earlier story, although other details Plato himself provides demonstrates that the story dates back to a time before any Greeks existed. Ancient peoples, like modern ones, could scarcely admit their ignorance on any matter, and so when details were not known, they had to be invented. By claiming their own cities as antidiluvian ones (and indeed, floods have been demonstrated to have occurred periodically along the Tigris and Euphrates in the Mesopotamian delta), the Sumerians could lay claim to the greater antiquity and attribute more honor to their own nation.

It is only at the very end of the late Uruk period that the first written documents appear, and sparsely at that. Unfortunately, much of our knowledge of this early period and of King Etana comes from later Sumerian writings rather than directly from this initial period.

Other Theories about Nimrod

David Rohl has cited some parallels between the Biblical Nimrod and the Sumerian king Enmerkar, founder of Uruk, and putative inventor of the cuneiform script (see, "Enmerkar," citing Legends: The Genesis of Civilization (1998) and The Lost Testament (2002) by David Rohl). Enmerkar is best known from the tale "Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta," in which he through a series of messages goads into submission the Lord of Aratta, a legendary eastern city which has not been identified. Besides being a Sumerian king at the dawn of history who expanded his kingdom (albeit by diplomacy rather than conquest), there appears to be little further evidence to support this identification, and parallels between Nimrod and Enmerkar do not seem to be as strong as with Etana.