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Gilgamesh the Hunter

In this article Ralph rediscovers the lost traditions of this ancient Sumerian epic. Exactly to what and whom was the ancient scribe refering when he wrote of the great deeds of Gilgamesh. From "Jesus, Last of the Pharaohs", by Ralph Ellis


Gilgamesh is the ancient Sumerian epic, written some 4,000 years ago on cuneiform clay tablets and rediscovered only in the nineteenth century. It is a story that has echoes of the biblical Old Testament, with its graphic details of the flood and the formation of mankind from the dust of the earth. The bulk of the story is devoted to the king of Sumer, known as Gilgamesh, and his epic quest into the mystical forests of cedar where he performs many heroic deeds. Although it contains mythical elements, Gilgamesh is thought to be a biography of this Sumerian king making his mark on the world, but it is possible that this interpretation may be in error. The epic of Gilgamesh is also thought to be the earliest heroic story ever written in the world, but once more the alternative scenario indicates that the true the date of its inception may up to 600 years younger than previously thought.

During the research for the book 'Jesus, Last of the Pharaohs', Ralph had been working on the theory that the bulk of the biblical Old Testament was, in fact, based on similar theology to that found in Egypt and Sumer. With its constant reference to bulls, sheep and fish, the Bible portrays definite echoes of an ancient astrological religion, a story of the constellations onto which the history of the patriarchal family has been grafted. In Gilgamesh, we find a similar epic tale of a battle with bulls and sheep, one that can just possibly be interpreted as a clash of the stellar constellations, a battle between Aries and Taurus.

It is an established fact that the constellations slowly change their position with reference to the Sun as the millennia pass, each constellation being dominant in the Vernal dawn for about 2,000 years; a process which is known in astronomy as precession. Currently we are in the last centuries of Pisces (the fish), with dawn of Aquarius being imminent - hence the many references to the 'Age of Aquarius'. Back in the early part of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, a similar change in the constellations was about to occur; Taurus was about to cede its rule to the next constellation in line - Aries. A computer planisphere can precisely date these astronomical eras and it appears that he era of Taurus (the bull) lasted until about 1800 BC, when Aries (the sheep) came into ascendance. This date is very close to the era of the first Hyksos pharaohs, the Shepherd Kings of Egypt. It is quite possible, therefore, that this change in the astronomical alignments may have precipitated a civil war in which the Hyksos Shepherd pharaohs (Aries?) were thrown out of Egypt.

So in what way, if any, does all this relate to the epic of Gilgamesh? The first clue that this Sumerian tale may be more than a simple tale of princes and kings, and may instead be a priestly account of a cosmic clash, is that Gilgamesh's companion, Enkidu, is described as being like a meteor:

This star of heaven which descended like a meteor from the sky;
which you tried to lift, but found too heavy ... This is the
strong comrade, the one who brings help to his friend in need.

The texts go on to describe Enkidu in great detail. The allusion is quite obvious: Enkidu is a stellar object. Gilgamesh himself, in turn, is described as arming himself for the coming quest and battle in the following fashion:

Gilgamesh took the axe, he slung the quiver from his shoulder,
and the bow of Anshan, and buckled the sword to his belt;
and so they were armed and ready for the journey.

Fig.1 Orion as Gilgamesh

In stellar terms, the allusion is again quite plain: the axe in the right hand, the bow in the left hand, the sword hanging from his prominent belt - it is likely that Gilgamesh was not a king, but instead the Sumerian term for the constellation of Orion. Take a look at a diagram of Orion, quite remarkably this constellation has all the attributes ascribed to Gilgamesh. If so, however, Gilgamesh was likely to have been written as an epic of the heavens, an impending battle of the constellations; and the greatest of all the constellations, Orion, was arming himself to do battle with the cosmos. But Gilgamesh (Orion) does not know the way, so it is only fitting that he needs Enkidu (the meteor or Sirius?) to lead him:

Let Enkidu lead the way, he knows the road to the forest
[of stars] ... the mountain of cedars, the dwelling place of
the gods.

The ancient tale describes exactly the purpose of Gilgamesh's (Orion's) quest - it is to slay the constellation of Taurus the Bull. In stellar terms, it is the constellation of Orion who is armed with the axe, the bow and has a sword hanging from his prominent belt. It is Orion who had drawn his bow and has aimed it at the adjacent constellation of Taurus. The precessional change of the constellations from Taurus to Aries, that is also alluded to in both Egyptian and biblical texts, is about to unfold once more. But here in Sumer it is the hero Gilgamesh, in the guise of Orion, who is reported as killing the 'Bull of Heaven' - the constellation of Taurus. But first, Gilgamesh has to seek out the watcher of the forest (the stars), a fearsome beast called the Humbaba:

At the third blow Humbaba fell ... Now the mountains were moved and
all the hills, for the guardian of the forest was killed ... the seven
splendours of Humbaba were extinguished.

For a 4,000 year old story, the prose is still as clear today as when it was written, if you know the subject matter. There is only one guardian of the constellation of Taurus and that is the Pleiades, the constellation known as the 'seven sisters', a small group of seven stars that are visible to the naked eye and reside on the back of Taurus. From this elevated position, the Humbaba (the Pleiades) could watch over the constellation of Taurus and protect it. Thus if Taurus were to be attacked, the Humbaba had to be dealt with first. With the Humbaba 'extinguished', Taurus's back was exposed and vulnerable; here was the weak-spot for the hero Gilgamesh (Orion) to attack.

'Now thrust in your sword between the nape and the horns.'
So Gilgamesh followed the Bull, he seized the thick of its tail,
he thrust the sword between the nape and the horns and slew the
Bull. When they had killed the Bull of Heaven they cut out its
heart and gave it to Shamash (the Sun), and the brothers rested.

Thus Gilgamesh had slain the constellation of Taurus, and the era of Aries the Ram could now begin. This may be a rather radical interpretation of the Gilgamesh epic, but the concept is substantially reinforced by the king lists of Sumer; these show the successor to Gilgamesh as being the king Lugulbanda, who is known as a Shepherd King. The era of Taurus was now over and so accordingly King Lugulbanda became known as a 'Shepherd' - just like the Egyptian Hyksos Shepherd pharaohs, he became a follower of the new ruling constellation of Aries. It would seem likely that Gilgamesh (Orion) had ended the reign of the constellation of Taurus, but in the continuing Sumerian tale some of the gods were angry with this:

Ishtar ... uttered a curse: 'Woe to Gilgamesh, for he has scorned me
in killing the Bull of Heaven'. When Enkidu heard these words he tore
out the bull's right thigh and tossed it in her face saying, 'If I could
lay my hands on you, it is this I should do to you ...'

Again the story, and its new interpretation, rings true; thus we find that the Egyptian zodiac had a bull's thigh depicting what we would now call the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear.


Fig. 2 Zodiac of Dendera, from ancient Egypt

It has been claimed that the zodiac of Dendera, being Ptolemaic, is based on Greek rather than earlier Egyptian concepts. Yet here is the evidence that the pictograms within the Dendera zodiac where known in ancient Sumer. It is quite quite possible that the modern zodiac does indeed have ancient Near/Middle Eastern roots, just as many have suspected. As the historian David Rohl has shown, the cultures of Egypt and Sumer had much in common and no doubt this included the knowledge of the zodiac.

In Egypt it was the pharaoh Sheshi Mamaybra who ushered in the new era of Aries, the first of the Hyksos Shepherd pharaohs. In Sumer it was King Lugulbanda, with assistance from the god Gilgamesh [Orion], who fought the Sumerian theological battle with the followers of Taurus and became the first Sumerian Shepherd King. This is most probably why the epic of Gilgamesh was written: it was not an epic tale of a great king, as such, but an ancient bi-millennial celebration of the movement of the stars.

This radical observation, if proven, may also be a valuable dating tool; for the era in which Gemini changed to Taurus, and Taurus then gave way to Aries, is preserved in the patterns of the Cosmos. Thus, with precessional techniques, the exact era in which the Taurean rulers became the Shepherd kings can be accurately dated. The changing of the precessional constellations is eminently predictable; a computer planisphere program can run the movements of the constellations with great accuracy and the results show that the change between Taurus and Aries occurred in about 1850 BC. Of course, this date does depend slightly on where the dividing line between the two pictograms of the constellations is drawn, but by the 1780s BC, the picture is definitely skewed in favour of Aries. By this time, the priests should have declared a change in the religion.

If this new interpretation of the Gilgamesh epic can be taken at face value, it provides not only a complete revision of Sumerian theology and literature, but also an invaluable historical tool, a cast-iron peg upon which the rest of Sumerian history can be hung upon. Sumerian history is notoriously imprecise, with individual reign lengths of the monarchs ranging from six to 43,000 years. It is because of this unreliable reporting that the precise chronology and dating of the Sumerian historical record has varied enormously between individual scholars. Now, however, there may be one concrete, astronomically datable era that historians can work with, and it lies right in the middle of the Sumerian record. Gilgamesh (Lugulbanda) reigned at the cusp of the precessional change in the constellations from Taurus to Aries, that is between 1900 and 1800 BC.

The results of the Sumerian change in theology to Aries are not fully known, but the change in the Egyptian record is recorded in the finest of detail. As I speculate in "Jesus, Last of the Pharaohs", this change in the heavens produced a civil war in Egypt - with the southern Apis Bull worshippers (Taureans) resisting the changes brought about by the progressive Hyksos Shepherd kings (Arians) in the north. This bitter struggle festered in the lands for generations, until the Shepherd kings were pushed out of Egypt completely. The historical world has recorded this dramatic event; it is known as the Hyksos exodus, when up to 500,000 people fled Egypt for the rough country of Canaan. The Bible too has recorded a similar momentous event, the Exodus, the flight of 600,000 people to Israel. They called it the 'promised land' but in their hearts they must have known it to be a bitter defeat, to be driven from the lush lands of Egypt.

There are sometimes many interesting similarities between these ancient texts and Egyptologists and historians also seem to have seen similar events in their records. This does, however, tend to reinforce the concept that the Bible in particular does hold real historical facts within its pages. So when Joseph tells his brethren that pharaoh will be angry if he knows that they are shepherds and therefore they should say that they and their forefathers were all cattle herders, is this a real verbatim quote from these ancient peoples and lands? (Genesis 46:32) I argue throughout the book "Jesus, Last of the Pharaohs" that Abraham and his descendants were among the few people in Egypt who realised that the precession of the equinox had turned the constellations - that Taurus had moved away from its dominant position and Aries was now in control. This may seem to be greatly removed from the tradition image of Abraham, but it has to be remembered that the ancient texts said of Abraham that he was a highly educated man. Josephus says of Abraham and the Egyptians that he:

Communicated to them arithmetic, and delivered to them the science
of astronomy. For before Abraham came into Egypt, they were unacquainted
with those parts of learning.

It is fascinating to think that the Bible not only contains real historical events, but also direct quotations taken from the lips of those who were involved. The question has to be, though, what can this tell us of the history of these times and peoples. Who were they and why is their history so important to us ....?

1998 - 2001
R. Ellis has asserted his rights, in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

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