An Underestimated Aspect of Enki/Ea

in Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions
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The god Enki (Sumerian)/Ea (Akkadian) is central to Mesopotamian myth, ritual and scholarship but there is still disagreement as to precisely what he is the god of. He governs subterranean water, magic, and ‘wisdom’—but what kind of wisdom was it? A traditional argument in Assyriology claims that Enki is more trickster than sage; his knowledge has to do with craft and cunning, not ethics or rectitude. This essay analyzes important neglected associations of Enki with Mesopotamian wisdom literature, demonstrating parallels with ideals found in the biblical book of Proverbs. In these texts Enki is associated with the proper conduct of human life, making him not just crafty and cunning but wise.




E. Ebeling, s.v. Enki (Ea), RLA 2 374.


J. Black, A. Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. An Illustrated Dictionary (Austin: University of Texas, 1992), 75.


T. Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness. A History of Mesopotamian Religion (New Haven and London: Yale University, 1976), 110–116.


S. N. Kramer, J. Maier, Myths of Enki, the Crafty God (New York, Oxford: Oxford, 1989).


See B. Alster, “The Instructions of Ur-Ninurta and Related Compositions”, Orientalia n.s. 60 (1991) 141–157; idem in W. W. Hallo, ed. Context of Scriptures, I 570; idem Wisdom of Ancient Sumer (Bethesda, Maryland: CDL Press, 2005), pp. 221–240.


Ur-Ninurta B; Kramer and Maier, Myths of Enki, 89–92, 235–236; ETCSL


M. Dietrich, G. Keydana, “Der Dialog zwischen Šūpē-amēli und seinem ‘Vater’”, UF 23 (1991) 33–74; M. Dietrich, “Babylonian Literary Texts from Western Libraries” in J. C. de Moor, W. G. E. Watson ed. Verse in Ancient Near Eastern Prose, AOAT 42 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1993) 41–67 esp. 52–62; S. Seminara, “Le Istrozioni di Šūpê-amēli: Vecchio e nuovo a confront nella ‘sapienza’ siriana del Tardo Bronzo”, UF. 32 (2000), 487–529. For studies of the text see V. A. Hurowitz, “The Wisdom of Šūpê-Amēli—A Deathbed Debate Between a Father and a Son”, in Wisdom Literature in Mesopotamia and Israel, ed. R. J. Clifford, SBL Symposium Series 36 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature 2007), pp. 37–51; W. Sallaberger, “Skepsis gegenüber väterlicher Weisheit: Zum altbabylonischen Dialog zwischen Vater und Sohn”, Your Praise is Sweet: A Memorial Volume for Jeremy Black from Students, Colleagues and Friends, ed. H. D. Baker, E. Robson, G. Zólyomi, (London: British Institute for the Study of Iraq 2010) pp. 303–317.


See H. Galter, Der Gott Ea/Enki, 99; V. Hurowitz, “Literary Observations on ‘In Praise of the Scribal Art’ ”, JANES 27 (2000), pp. 49–56.


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