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Babylonian Theodicy

by W. G. Lambert

Sufferer I
1~O sage [.......] come, [let] me tell you.
2~[............ let] me inform you.
3~[.....]......[.....]... you,
4~I [....] the suffering, will not cease to reverence you.
5~Where is the wise man of your calibre?
6~Where is the scholar who can compete with you?
7~Where is the counsellor to whom I can relate my grief?
8~I am finished. Anguish has come upon me.
9~I was a youngest child; fate took my father;
10~My mother who bore me departed to the Land of No Return.
11~My father and mother left me without a guardian.

Friend II

12~Respected friend, what you say is gloomy.
13~You let your mind dwell on evil, my dear fellow.
14~You make your fine discretion like an imbecile’s;
15~You have reduced your beaming face to scowls.
16~Our fathers in fact give up and go the way of death.
17~It is an old saying that they cross the river Ḫubur.
18~When you consider mankind as a whole,
19~... it is not ... that has made the impoverished first-born rich.
20~Whose favourite is the fattened rich man?
21~He who waits on his god has a protecting angel,
22~The humble man who fears his goddess accumulates wealth.

Sufferer III

23~My friend, your mind is a river whose spring never fails,
24~he accumulated mass of the sea, which knows no decrease.
25~I will ask you a question; listen to what I say.
26~Pay attention for a moment; hear my words.
27~My body is a wreck, emaciation darkens [me,]
28~My success has vanished, my stability has gone.
29~My strength is enfeebled, my prosperity has ended,
30~Moaning and grief have blackened my features.
31~he corn of my fields is far from satisfying [me,]
32~My wine, the life of mankind, is too little for satiety.
33~Can a life of bliss be assured? I wish I knew how!
Friend IV

34~What I say is restrained ....[..]
35~But you [...] your balanced reason like a madman.
36~You make [your ....] diffuse and irrational,
37~You [turn] your select .. blind.
38~As to your persistent unending desire for ..[..]
39~[The former] security ..[..] by prayers.
40~The appeased goddess returns by .[..]
41~[....]. who did not uphold takes pity on .[..]
42~Ever seek the [correct standards] of justice.
43~Your .., the mighty one, will show kindness,
44~[..........] will grant mercy.

Sufferer V

45~I bow to you, my comrade, I grasp your wisdom.
46~[.........].. the utterance of [your words.]
47~[.........].. come, let me [say something to you.]
48~The onager, the wild ass, who filled itself with ..[.]
49~Did it pay attention to the giver of assured divine oracles?
50~The savage lion who devoured the choicest flesh,
51~Did it bring its flour offering to appease the goddess’s anger?
52~[..]. the nouveau riche who has multiplied his wealth,
53~Did he weigh out precious gold for the goddess Mami?
54~[Have I] held back offerings? I have prayed to my god,
55~[I have] pronounced the blessing over the goddess’s regular sacrifices, ....[...]

Friend VI

56~O palm, tree of wealth, my precious brother,
57~Endowed with all wisdom, jewel of [gold,]
58~You are as stable as the earth, but the plan of the gods is remote.
59~Look at the superb wild ass on the [plain;]
60~The arrow will follow the gorer who trampled down the fields.
61~Come, consider the lion that you mentioned, the enemy of cattle.
62~For the crime which the lion committed the pit awaits him.
63~The opulent nouveau riche who heaps up goods
64~Will be burnt at the stake by the king before his time.
65~Do you wish to go the way these have gone?
66~Rather seek the lasting reward of (your) god!

Sufferer VII

67~Your mind is a north wind, a pleasant breeze for the peoples.
68~Choice friend, your advice is fine.
69~Just one word would I put before you.
70~Those who neglect the god go the way of prosperity,
71~While those who pray to the goddess are impoverished and dispossessed.
72~In my youth I sought the will of my god;
73~With prostration and prayer I followed my goddess.
74~But I was bearing a profitless corvée as a yoke.
75~My god decreed instead of wealth destitution.
76~A cripple is my superior, a lunatic outstrips me.
77~The rogue has been promoted, but I have been brought low.

Friend VIII

78~My reliable fellow, holder of knowledge, your thoughts are perverse.
79~You have forsaken right and blaspheme against your god’s designs.
80~In your mind you have an urge to disregard the divine ordinances.
81~[.........] the sound rules of your goddess.
82~The plans of the god [........] like the centre of heaven,
83~The decrees of the goddess are not [.............]
84~To understand properly .[................]
85~Their ideas [.............] to mankind;
86~To grasp the way of a goddess [............]
87~Their reason is close at hand [............]

Friend XII

125~[I] ..[..
126~[I] made white ..[...
127~[I] cared for ..[...
128~[I] looked after the young [ones ...
129~[I] made the people prosperous [...
130~[I] gathered ..[...
131~[I] gave heed to the god [...
132~[I] sought that which was necessary [...

Sufferer XIII

133~I will abandon my home .[.............]
134~I will desire no property .[............]
135~I will ignore my god’s regulations and trample on his rites.
136~I will slaughter a calf and .... food,
137~I will take the road and go to distant parts.
138~I will bore a well and let loose a flood,
139~Like a robber I will roam over the vast open country.
140~I will go from house to house and ward off hunger;
141~Famished I will walk around and patrol the streets.
142~Like a beggar I will [....] inwards [...........]
143~Bliss is far away ..[ ...............]

Friend XIV

144~My friend, [your mind] dwells on [........]
145~Human activity, which you do not want [.........]
146~In [your] mind there are [...........]
147~Your reason has left you [...........]

Sufferer XV

159~The daughter speaks [......] to her mother.
160~The fowler who cast [his net] is fallen.
161~Taking everything, which one [......] luck?
162~The many wild creatures which ..[........]
163~Which among them has [....?]
164~Should I seek a son and daughter [......]
165~May I not lose what I find ..[........]

Friend XVI

166~Humble and submissive one ...[......]
167~Your will ever submits [......] precious.
168~[..]. your mind ....[.......]

Sufferer XVII

181~The crown prince is clothed in [....,]
182~The son of the destitute and naked is robed in .[.....]
183~The watchman of malt..[.] gold,
184~While he who counted his shining gold in a bushel measure is carrying ..[...]
185~The vegetarian [devours] a noble’s banquet,
186~While the son of the notable and the rich [subsists] on carob.
187~The owner of wealth is fallen. [His ....]. is far away.

Sufferer XIX

199~.[...............] wisdom.
200~You embrace the totality of wisdom, you counsel the peoples.

~~ * * * * *

Friend XX

212~You have let your subtle mind go astray.
213~[.........]. you have ousted wisdom,
214~You despise propriety, you profane ordinances.
215~[........] head a mitre, the carrying-hood is far away from him.
216~[.........]. is made a person of influence.
217~[..........] is called a savant;
218~He is looked after and obtains his wishes.
219~Follow in the way of the god, observe his rites,
220~[.........]. is counted as righteousness.

Sufferer XXI

221~[..............].... rogues,
222~[..............]. all are cheats.
223~They amass goods .................

Friend XXII

235~As for the rogue whose favour you seek,
236~His ....... soon vanishes.
237~The godless cheat who has wealth,
238~A death-dealing weapon pursues him.
239~Unless you seek the will of the god, what luck have you?
240~He that bears his god’s yoke never lacks food, though it be sparse.
241~Seek the kindly wind of the god,
242~What you have lost over a year you will make up in a moment.

Sufferer XXIII

243~I have looked around society, but the evidence is contrary.
244~The god does not impede the way of a devil.
245~A father drags a boat along the canal,
246~While his first-born lies in bed.
247~The first-born son pursues his way like a lion,
248~The second son is happy to be a mule driver.
249~The heir stalks along the road like a bully,
250~The younger son will give food to the destitute.
251~How have I profited that I have bowed down to my god?
252~I have to bow beneath the base fellow that meets me;
253~The dregs of humanity, like the rich and opulent, treat me with contempt.

Friend XXIV

254~O wise one, O savant, who masters knowledge,
255~In your anguish you blaspheme the god.
256~The divine mind, like the centre of the heavens, is remote;
257~Knowledge of it is difficult; the masses do not know it.
258~Among all the creatures whom Aruru formed
259~The prime offspring is altogether ...
260~In the case of a cow, the first calf is lowly,
261~The later offspring is twice as big.
262~A first child is born a weakling,
263~But the second is called an heroic warrior.
264~Though a man may observe what the will of the god is, the masses do not know it.

Sufferer XXV

265~Pay attention, my friend, understand my ideas.
266~Heed the choice expression of my words.
267~People extol the word of a strong man who is trained in murder,
268~But bring down the powerless who has done no wrong.
269~They confirm the wicked whose crime is .[...,]
270~Yet suppress the honest man who heeds the will of his god.
271~They fill the [store house] of the oppressor with gold,
272~But empty the larder of the beggar of its provisions.
273~They support the powerful, whose ... is guilt,
274~But destroy the weak and drive away the powerless.
275~And as for me, the penurious, a nouveau riche is persecuting me.

Friend XXVI

276~Narru, king of the gods, who created mankind,
277~And majestic Zulummar, who dug out their clay,
278~And mistress Mami, the queen who fashioned them,
279~Gave perverse speech to the human race.
280~With lies, and not truth, they endowed them for ever.
281~Solemnly they speak in favour of a rich man,
282~"He is a king," they say, "riches go at his side."
283~But they harm a poor man like a thief,
284~They lavish slander upon him and plot his murder,
285~Making him suffer every evil like a criminal, because he has no protection.
286~Terrifyingly they bring him to his end, and extinguish him like a flame.

Sufferer XXVII

287~You are kind, my friend; behold my grief.
288~Help me; look on my distress; know it.
289~I, though humble, wise, and a suppliant,
290~Have not seen help and succour for one moment.
291~I have trodden the square of my city unobtrusively,
292~My voice was not raised, my speech was kept low.
293~I did not raise my head, but looked at the ground,
294~I did not worship even as a slave in the company of my associates.
295~May the god who has thrown me off give help,
296~May the goddess who has [abandoned me] show mercy,
297~For the shepherd Šamaš guides the peoples like a god.

Explanatory Notes:  This acrostic poem of 27 stanzas is a very original composition in both form and content. Each stanza has 11 lines; 19 stanzas are sufficiently preserved to yield a meaningful translation. The acrostic itself can be restored and reads: “I, Saggil-kīnam-ubbib, the incantation priest, am adorant of the god and the king.” The poem probably was written about 1000 BC and received much attention until the late periods, as a fair number of manuscripts have turned up from different places in Babylonia and Assyria.
Publication:  W.G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature. Winona Lake:Eisenbrauns 1996 (2nd ed.), p. 63-89.
Source:  several Ms., see W.G. Lambert, BWL [full reference below] , p. 69 for details
Date:  c. 1000 BC
Language:  Middle-Babylonian
Medium:  clay tablet
Find Spot:  manuscripts from several Assyrian and Babylonian sites
See all in category Didactic and Wisdom Literature