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The Second Coming of Saturn Part 5: Kumarbi

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by Derek Gilbert

The first identity of this rebellious Watcher to appear in the historical record is not Saturn or his Greek analogue, Kronos. The Titan king and his Phoenician equivalent, Baal Hammon, don’t appear until the first millennium BC. Enlil of Akkad and Sumer appears in the written record around the end of the Uruk period, roughly 3200–2800 BC.[1] But there is another identity worn by Saturn in ancient times that predates even Enlil.

Kumarbi was the primordial creator-god of the Hurrians, a people who lived in eastern Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia. For nearly two thousand years, between the middle of the fourth millennium BC and about the end of the fourteenth century BC, the Hurrians controlled an area more or less occupied today by the Kurds in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. At its peak, during the time of the Mitanni kingdom (1600–1350 BC), the Hurrians extended their power well into what is now Turkey, Syria, and northwest Iran, and there are some scholars who believe that the powerful Minoan civilization on the island of Crete may have been Hurrian, or at least dominated by a Hurrian elite for a time.

Scholars are still debating the origins of the Hurrians. Their language was neither Semitic nor Indo-European, but an isolate like Sumerian and Elamite—unrelated to anything else, as strange as that seems. However, recent research has led a few to suggest that Hurrian is, in fact, a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) tongue that branched off before the Anatolian languages such as Hittite, Luwian, and Lydian.

Kumarbi’s story parallels those of several other entities we’ll discuss in this book, and that is precisely the point. When you compare the broad outlines of the tales told about the old god, you’ll see that they describe the same entity who has been called by other names around the world over the centuries.

Most of what we know about Kumarbi comes from Hittite texts, based on older Hurrian originals, excavated from the ruins of Hattusa, the capital of the kingdom of the Hatti near what is now Boğazkale, Turkey. The Hittites were heavily influenced by Hurrian religion, and they seemed to go to great lengths to please the gods of their neighbors. The Hittites apparently believed you could never have too much divine protection.

Just as the stories of the storm-god of the West Semitic people, Hadad (Baal in the Bible), have been preserved in what’s called the Baal Cycle, scholars dubbed the collection of texts about the Hurrian creator-god the Kumarbi Cycle, which has been more accurately renamed the Kingship in Heaven Cycle. The most important of these texts is the Song of Kumarbi, now more commonly called the Song of Going Forth. It describes the cosmic transfer of power from the sky-god, Anu, to Kumarbi, and from Kumarbi to the storm-god, Teshub.

If you’re familiar with Greek mythology and the background of Zeus’ rise to the top of the pantheon, the conflict between Anu, Kumarbi, and Teshub will be familiar. Here’s the outline of the story:

  • The primordial god Alalu reigned in heaven for nine years, after which his cupbearer, the sky-god Anu, rebelled and took his place. Alalu escaped by fleeing into “the dark earth.”
  • Nine years later, Anu was overthrown by his cupbearer, Kumarbi. Anu tried to get away to the sky, but Kumarbi grabbed his legs and pulled him back to earth—and then castrated Anu by biting off his genitals.
  • This act had unintended consequences. Anu warned Kumarbi not to celebrate, because he was now impregnated with Anu’s children: the storm-god Teshub, the Tigris River, and two unnamed “terrible gods.”
  • Sure enough, after some discussion between characters about where these gods were to be born, probably due to the obviously inappropriate physiology of the male deity, the storm-god emerged through “the good place.” The text (perhaps mercifully) never explains what “the good place” was, but it may have been Kumarbi’s skull.
  • At some point after this, Teshub, the storm-god, became powerful and replaced Kumarbi as the king of the Hurrian pantheon.

The Song of Going Forth is difficult to translate in detail because it’s been compiled from tablets that are heavily damaged. This isn’t surprising, considering their age. There are other details that are hard to explain because of the fragmentary nature of the source material, but one section seems to depict Kumarbi demanding that the god of wisdom, Ea (called Enki by the Sumerians), hand over the newborn storm-god so that Kumarbi can eat him. It appears that Kumarbi was given a stone instead, which causes the god great pain when he tries to bite it. Then there is the mention of a kunkunuzzi-stone, and something (presumably that stone) that’s to be venerated through sacrifices.

A separate tale, the Song of Ullikummi, tells of Kumarbi’s attempt to regain the throne by creating a giant stone monster to depose the storm-god. At first, it appeared that Ullikummi would prevail, despite the collective efforts of the gods. Teshub fled to ask the help of Ea, the one god who hadn’t joined the battle. The clever god realized that Ullikummi drew his strength from standing on the shoulder of the dreaming mountain-god Upelluri, who, like Atlas in Greek myths, held up the earth and sky. Ea went to the “former gods,” obtained the cutting tool used to separate earth and sky, and severed Ullikummi from Upelluri, destroying the giant’s power. The end of the story is lost, but it’s safe to assume that Teshub was restored to the kingship in heaven—hence the name of the epic.

There are a number of parallels between these Hurrian tales and later stories of the Greek gods:

  • Kumarbi, like Kronos, king of the Titans, was the son of the sky-god. Like Kronos, he deposed and castrated his father—although Kronos used a sickle rather than his teeth to remove the member of Ouranos.
  • Anu warned Kumarbi that he would regret what he’d done; likewise, Ouranos warned Kronos and the Titans that they would pay for their rebellion.
  • Kumarbi and Kronos both carried a number of deities in their stomachs for a time, although for different reasons.
  • Both gods were overthrown by their son, the storm-god—Kumarbi by Teshub and Kronos by Zeus.
  • Kumarbi and Kronos were both given a stone to swallow in lieu of the storm-god, which was later venerated as a sacred object. (The stone given to Kronos as a substitute for Zeus was set up at Delphi as the omphalos, the world-navel. It was believed that Delphi, home of the famous oracle, was the center of the world.)
  • Even the detail of Kumarbi giving birth to Teshub through his skull has an echo in the Greek myth of Athena’s birth through the forehead of Zeus.

Further, the storm-gods in both pantheons had to survive challenges to their reign after taking the throne. The struggle between Teshub and Ullikummi is accepted by many scholars as foreshadowing the Greek story of the battle between Zeus and the chaos-monster Typhon.

There are other connections between the epics, but the bottom line is this: The early Greek poet Hesiod, from whom we have learned much of what we know about Greek religion in the classical era, was clearly familiar with Hittite texts that preserved the older Hurrian religion. In geographic terms, the stories moved from east to west, traveling from the Hurrian heartland to the Aegean, either through Anatolia or the Levant. The time frame was roughly between the Exodus, around 1400 BC, and the ministry of the prophet Isaiah in the late eighth/early seventh century BC, which is probably when Hesiod lived and wrote. So, over a period of about seven hundred years, the origin story of the Hurrian pantheon was transmitted to the Hittites, and either westward through Anatolia or southward through the Neo-Hittite kingdoms of northern Syria to what eventually became the Greek civilization of the Archaic period.

Modern archaeology is shedding light on the question of how these stories migrated from Mesopotamia to Greece. Archaeologists digging in the Amuq River valley in southern Turkey since the early 2000s have discovered evidence of a powerful early Iron Age state called Palistin (or Walistin) based at a city called Kunalua about fifteen miles southeast of Antioch. This may be the Calneh or Calno mentioned twice in the Bible (Amos 6:2 and Isaiah 10:9).[2] Palistin emerged after the Bronze Age collapse around 1200 BC, when the Hittite Empire in Anatolia was destroyed along with most of the kingdoms in the eastern Mediterranean. This new state survived from the eleventh century BC down to about 700 BC, roughly from the time of Samuel and Saul to the time of Isaiah and Hezekiah (and Hesiod).

Archaeologists first assumed that eleventh century BC pottery found at Kunalua was Aegean, produced by the remnant of the Mycenaean Greek civilization that had waged the long war with Troy. However, that theory has been reconsidered. It’s now believed that the pots were local copies of styles “not of Greece but rather of Cyprus and south-west Asia Minor.”[3] That means these people weren’t invaders, but descendants of the survivors of the chaos and destruction scholars call the “Bronze Age collapse.”

You’ve surely noticed the similarity between “Palistin,” “Philistine,” and “Palestine.” Scholars are fairly certain it’s the same name. Since the Philistines of the Bible occupied the coastal area around Gaza, it’s fair to ask how these people moved an entire kingdom from the modern border between Turkey and Syria down to the area between Israel and Egypt.

Egyptian records document several battles with the invading hordes they called the Sea Peoples between about 1200 and 1150 BC. This coalition included groups the Egyptians named the Ekwesh, Denyen, Sherden (probably Sardinians), Weshesh, Tjekker, and the Peleset, who were almost certainly the Philistines. It’s been assumed that these battles took place near the Egyptian homeland, and that afterward the defeated Philistine invaders were settled along the coast in Canaan in the cities that became infamous in the Old Testament—Gaza, Gath, Ashdod, Ekron, and Ashkelon. But some scholars have proposed a different scenario, placing those battles in what is now Syria rather than in Egypt:

  1. The land battles between Egypt and the “Sea Peoples” occurred along the northern frontiers of the Egyptian empire in the Levant.
  2. The naval clashes were most likely raids on the prosperous Egyptian cities of the Nile Delta.
  3. The “Sea-Peoples” were essentially north Levantine (including western Anatolian) populations known as former allies of the Hittites.
  4. There is no textual or archaeological evidence that Philistines were ever settled by the Egyptians in Canaan. There is, however, evidence of their settlement in Egypt and in Syria soon after the battles.
  5. Some of those “Sea Peoples” established the kingdom of Palistin in the ‘Amuq Plain. Others reached Philistia, probably by sea, as Egyptian rule over the Levant deteriorated.[4]

Most relevant for our study here, this not only explains how the Philistines moved from northern Syria to the coastal plain bordering Egypt, it also identifies the kingdom of Palistin as the mostly likely place where the Hittite and Hurrian myths of Kumarbi were transmitted to Cyprus and western Asia Minor, where, over the course of several hundred years, they were transformed into stories of the Greek Titan, Kronos.[5]

An additional piece of evidence may be found in the deity’s name. “Kumarbi,” meaning “he of Kumar,” may refer to a north Syrian site identified with modern Kīmār about twenty-five miles northwest of Aleppo.[6] This was part of the territory controlled by Palistin at its peak, during the reign of one King Taita, who is known from an inscription found in the temple of the storm-god at Aleppo.

The Hurrian myth also locates Kumarbi in the western part of the Khabur River triangle, along the border between Turkey and Syria, and at the ancient city of Tuttul, near modern Raqqa. Tuttul was a major cult center of Dagan,[7]another name and identity used by this spirit that we’ll discuss in an upcoming chapter. However, according to texts found at Hattusa, a city farther east in Syria called Urkesh was believed to be the home of Kumarbi. That makes the story of this “former god” absolutely critical to understanding the long supernatural war for the souls of humanity.

Next: The city sacred to the god of the underworld.


[1] Xinhua Wang, The Metamorphosis of Enlil in Early Mesopotamia (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2011), p. 245.

[2] “Calneh” in Genesis 10:10 may be a mistranslation of a Hebrew word meaning “all of them,” resulting in the translation “all of them in the land of Shinar” (RSV). See W. A. Elwell & B. J. Beitzel, “Calneh.” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), p. 405.

[3] Shirly Ben-Dor Evian, “Ramesses III and the ‘Sea-Peoples’: Towards a New Philistine Paradigm.” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 36(3) (2017), p. 278.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jenny Strauss Clay & Amir Gilan, “The Hittite ‘Song of Emergence’ and the Theogony.” Philologus 58 (2014), pp. 1–9.

[6] Michael C. Astour, “Semitic Elements in the Kumarbi Myth.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3 (July, 1968), p. 172.

[7] Lluis Feliu, The God Dagan in Bronze Age Syria (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2003), p. 212.

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