Modern crimes against ancient gods (and 2/3rd gods)

Sealing from the Adda seal, Sippar, Akkadian period, ca. 2300 BCE.
Image © British Museum Trustees.

If you are aware of this blog then you are probably aware that this is a sequel to the post Modern crimes against ancient goddesses from early April.  In that post I vented about the wilful misuse of modern interpreations of ancient artefacts on internet sites like Pinterest, Wikipedia and various pop history pages.  And at that time, I mentioned that one artwork, of the Mesopotamian goddess Ninhursag, came from a set of modern woodcuts that were published fifty or so years ago in a book on ancient Sumer by the scholar Samuel Noah Kramer.

Today’s post is the sequel to the earlier post, and is aimed at introducing those other woodcuts and a few other modern objects that are legion on the internet as real ancient artefacts.  These artworks are quite often variously mislabelled and abused by individuals with agendas and minimal discriminatory skills.

Again, I reiterate that my post is not aimed at contemporary artists who produce interpretations of ancient art.  I have absolutely no problem with this practice, which is as old as we are.  All art is reception and reinterpretation of some description, and our reception of ancient art is half the fun of appreciation of the past.  And, for the record, reception is not required to be clinically accurate, it can be whatever the creator envisions. 

But again this post is aimed at people who try to pass off copies, or reception of ancient art as the real deal, whether through negligence or indifference, or due to actual criminal inclination.

1)  Enki
Left: REAL: Detail from the Adda seal from Sippar, Akkadian period, ca. 2300 BCE.  Image © British Museum Trustees.  
Right: MODERN: Woodcut of Enki by Nicholas Fasciano, from Samuel N. Kramer 1961. 

To be honest I have a soft spot for this greenstone seal, or at least for the rollouts of the seal that are published.  It is stunning, so I may have to draw it one day (I have already collaborated on a drawing of Enki from it).  However, regardless of my own response, the original is a small cylinder seal that is reputedly from Sippar and dated to the Akkadian period (ca. 2300 BCE).  It was acquired by the British Museum from Sir Wallis Budge in the late 19th century after he participated in an excavation season in Iraq.  The inscription on the seal names Adda, hence the name the museum gives it.  

The iconography on this seal shows a ritual scene that includes the gods Inana/Ishtar, Utu/Shamash, Isimo and Enki/Ea.  The focus of the action is the sun god rising between two mountains and supported on either side by the gods Ishtar and Enki.  The god of subterranean waters, Enki, has his right foot planted on one of these mountains and his waters rise up either side of him, pouring over the earth teaming with fish.  His divine minister Isimo stands behind him with his hands raised in a gesture of piety.

The modern copy of the god Enki from the Adda seal is by Nicholas Fasciano and is taken from Samuel Noah Kramer’s ‘History Begins at Sumer’ from 1961.  It is a more schematic design than the original, with the artist having removed some details to create a simpler image, for example: the bull’s horns of the divine crown have become sticks, the cow under Enki’s feet has been removed, and the raptor bird and clothing have way less modelling, but the final result is a very satisfactory composition.

The woodcut is, like the ‘Ninhursag’ woodcut, a favourite substitute for the real object on the internet on an eclectic range of none too picky sites from Pinterest, to the usual neo-pagan and cheerful pop history sites like Mythologynet, Realm of History and Ancient History Encyclopedia, with varying levels of accuracy and quality down to some really quite bonkers conspiracy theory pages ... no I will not be naming them … I feel some compassion for Enki and the levels to which some people have reduced him. 

One resourceful individual on Pinterest has even put the original image from Kramer’s book through photoshop and added the copyright symbol with his own name on the image as an overprint.  This activity is not recommended, as basically by international law, if the artist has not been dead for at least 50 years they (or their heirs) own the copyright of their work …  Including photographs.

Before you have an embolism over photographs you may have taken in a museum or gallery, it is no big deal taking pictures of artworks for recreational or educational reasons.  However, it is illegal to use copies of an artist’s original work to make money.  Like say selling prints or coffee cups with their artwork without paying royalties to them, or to their heirs.  Running a photo of an artwork through a digital photographic program does not give you copyright, or allow you to sell their artwork as a print … you own your photo, you don’t own rights to the artwork … so seriously, don’t be an arse.

2) Shamash
Left: REAL Utu/Shamash detail from a sealing from a 3rd millennium Mesopotamian seal. Image © British Museum Trustees.  
Right: MODERN: Woodcut of Shamash by Nicholas Fasciano, from Samuel N. Kramer 1961. 

The woodcut of the sun god, Utu/Shamash, from Kramer’s ‘History Begins at Sumer’ appears not to have the same sexy allure as Enki, so in truth it receives the bare minimum of misuse on the internet (relatively speaking), due no doubt to him not figuring greatly in the modern fairy tales of the pseudo history gang.  But it too is a lovely woodcut, so I refuse to leave him out. 

Also, just because I haven’t come across too many examples of mislabelling or misinformation associated with this woodcut, does not mean they are not out there.  That is for you to keep an eye on.

This artwork is most likely taken from a black serpentine cylinder seal from the British Museum in London.  It is mislabelled if you find references saying otherwise.  The seal was purchased by the museum from a private collector in 1873 and has absolutely no chronological or geographical context.  We know nothing about it or its authenticity.  Stylistically it is however 3rd millennium from somewhere in the Mesopotamian region. 

Crystallinks use the modern copy under their heading ‘minor gods’ with other minor gods like: Ishtar, Ereshkigal, Nergal and Marduk!!!!  Which immediately brought me up short.  So here’s a handy pro tip, if a god on an ancient relief or a seal has multiple bulls horns on their crown they are a major god … a great god.  Mid range gods had less horns and minor gods only sported one set of horns …  A quite convenient god spotting hierarchy ... This is one of the best terms of reference for identifying important Mesopotamian gods, start with the crown, then look for their favourite weapon or symbolic animal. 

However, most of the gods in their list of minor gods are major gods.  Crystallinks fail basic iconography.

To close on Shamash, it seems my articles are never complete without the deranged rantings from the site Mesopotamian Gods and Kings, where the modern woodcut is used as illustration, and Utu/Shamash is rather negligently held responsible for the activities of his reputedly genetically engineered races of giant mixed-breed son-kings.  I wasn’t brave enough to click on the plethora of links in there … it is just too awful.

3)  Baal-Hadad
Left: REAL: Baal au Foudre stele from Ugarit. Image © Louvre Museum, Paris.
Right: MODERN plaque by Sacred Source.

Another popular alternative to the real object is actually like many of these quite innocent at its source.  It is a glossy modern copy of the imposing Baal au Foudre (Baal wielding lightning bolt) stele that was discovered by Claude Schaeffer in the early 20th century at the temple of the storm god on the Acropolis at Ugarit in coastal Syria.  The original is a respectably sized limestone stele that is now in the Louvre in Paris and that is dated to the high point of the rich trading city state of Ugarit; the Late Bronze Age, ca. 1500-1200 BCE. 

The modern copy is a plaque made by Sacred Source that is sold on various neo-pagan sites as a nice, if not overly accurate copy.  For all intents and purposes it is an innocent product of our passion for modern reception.  But on the internet the photos of the copy have predictably been manipulated to become an ancient artefact again on Pinterest, Crystallinks and various low-rent history sites. Tour Egypt even stretch the terms somewhat and use the modern copy for the goddess Anat.  

But to make matters worse, the copy has acquired a dark side via the creative imaginings of the crazy end of the fundamental religious web. 

The Phoenician god Baal was considered a demon in the later writings of Biblical scholars and this copy of the Baal au Foudre stele is used on many sites for memes making uninformed claims about false gods. 

It is probably worth noting that the Baal of Phoenicia was not likely to be related to the earlier Baal of Ugarit, as the word simply means ‘lord’ and was applied to many local gods in the Levant in both the Bronze and Iron Ages.  Ugarit was an important Late Bronze Age state that was never part of Iron Age Phoenicia (unless you are reading out of date literature, because 100 years ago they mixed them up regularly).  The city was destroyed in around 1180 BCE and never resettled; their storm god, Baal-Hadad, will have been a separate entity.

In addition, the fundamentalist right on the internet are channelling their paranoia towards Islam into a healthy case of denial and creating memes with this plaque claiming that Allah is the Phoenician false god Baal, although where they got the idea that the Levantine Baal was a moon god defeats me: he was predominantly a weather/storm god.  The Phoenician Baal at Carthage in Tunisia (800-146 BCE) may have been a moon god, but that Baal is contemporary with the beginnings of the Biblical narratives, the Ugarit stele is not.  Equally, the god Allah has his origins in the Arabian peninsular in the 8th century of this era and is incidentally a direct descendant of the god of the Old Testament.  But I guess that is not the answer these people require. 

However, the whacky religious right can’t take all the credit for this misappropriation of Baal, as the pseudo end of the spectrum use the copy for some of their own fan fiction, like Baal … pick a Baal, any Baal … being the name for the negative Reptilians.  No, I don’t know exactly what that means … and I honestly don’t want to.

4) Gilgamesh
Left: REAL. Hero with lion, Neo-Assyrian relief from Khorsabad. Image © the Louvre Museum. 
Right: MODERN. Tile of Enkidu and Gilgamesh by Neil Dalrymple. © Neil Dalrymple.

The topic of number four, is not one, but eight beautiful stoneware plaques by the British ceramicist Neil Dalrymple.   The tiles were made for a project commissioned by the Mythstories, Museum of Myth and Fable at the Morgan Library in Wem, Shropshire, in England.  The aim of this project was to produce ceramic relief tablets with scenes from the Epic of Gilgamesh, a famous ancient text that is about the pursuit of immortality by a legendary king of Sumer who was believed to be 2/3rd divine and 1/3rd  human.  

The images by Dalrymple show highlights of the narrative from the epic, like Gilgamesh and Enkidu fighting the giant Humbaba, or the search for eternal life, but they are rendered in modern reception style, as the artist clearly chose to make freestanding interpretations that were independent from original Sumerian or Babylonian models.  The influence of later Neo-Assyrian palace wall reliefs is the most recognisable ancient influence on these pieces, particularly the hero figure from Dar Sharrukin (Khorsabad) that is in the Louvre.  Otherwise they are relatively modern in approach and modelling. 

And it is probably worth mentioning that we currently do not have any identified images of Gilgamesh or Enkidu from ancient Mesopotamian art.  All objects that you may see labelled as Gilgamesh are modern interpretations of unnamed ancient hero figures.

On the web these tiles have been appropriated without citing artist by nearly every site relating to the history of ancient Mesopotamia or to crazy conspiracy theories about same.  I could not even begin to name the guilty parties here, there are simply too many.  In fact, these tiles have to be the most popular appropriations of an artist’s work almost equal to, or more than, the appropriation of the American artist Balage Balogh’s paintings of the ancient Near East, in particular his painting of ancient Uruk.

However, for number four, the spectacularly poor research skill award goes to a site that ought to know better ‘Ancient World History’, which not only uses a modern reception image and does not credit the artist for his artwork, but also claims Enkidu and Gilgamesh were characters out of the Mesopotamian creation epic, the Enuma Elish. They get zero points for that truly enormous gaffe.
Honestly, if you are a student, or just deadly serious about knowing stuff, do not do your research on the general web. Absolutely do not search ancient images on sites like Pinterest, where anyone can post anything and say anything they like about it.  Broad reach internet history and image sites simply cannot be trusted.  Go to digital sites created by universities, legitimate research institutes and museums, they are slightly more attentive to detail and they respect image copyright. 

Andrea Sinclair

British Museum Adda seal

Shamash seal:|34484,|assetId=1567753001&objectId=804877&partId=1

Louvre Gilgamesh and Baal au foudre stele


Artist Neil Dalrymple

Mythstories at the Morgan Library in Wem

Artist Balage Balogh

Sitchin’s rocket in the tomb of Amenhotep-Huy

Painting of the west wall in the tomb of Huy by Charles K. Wilkinson (1920s), Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. If yo...