I recently reviewed The Goddess of Sumer for Blogcritics. What follows is an interview with the author about the archaeological facts underlying the fiction. Links to reviews follow.
How did you get interested in Sumeria?
The first time I read about Sumer, I was amazed by the sophistication of such an ancient civilization, and stunned to learn that the language and culture had no known roots on our planet. I thought that perhaps the author was exaggerating the facts, and so I researched more, and found that he was not. The more I read, the more intrigued I became.
Is there as much known about Sumerian archaeology as there is about other cultures such as the Egyptians?
No. Political instability has made archaeological expeditions today almost impossible, but another problem lies with the fact that many ancient holy sites have mosques over them now.
However, from 1843 up until World War II there were extensive excavations that yielded much of the information we know today. We know that the Sumerians had immense palaces and temple compounds known as “ziggurats” or step pyramids, and that their civilization was far superior to any other at that time. Unfortunately, even with the staggering find of Arshibanipal’s library at Ninevah (25,000 tablets) and the immense literary find at Nippur (another 30,000 tablets) – many of the texts remain unstudied today.
Did you start your research with the book in mind?
No. I have always been a voracious reader, but it wasn’t until about five years ago that I became interested in archaeology.
My family was very religious, and consequently, I was taught that the Bible’s version of history was irrefutable. Eventually I was drawn to archaeological texts and discoveries that I thought certain would prove the validity of the Bible. I was therefore shocked, and eventually intrigued to learn that archaeology rather contradicts much of the Bible, and began my own quest to puzzle out our civilization’s beginnings.
That quest has given rise to many more questions than answers, but along the way, I was inspired to write a “fun” novel that would present some of the interesting facts in a fanciful manner.
You say “archaeology rather contradicts much of the Bible.” From the book, it appears that Sumeria may have been the place of creation. That doesn’t seem at odds with Christian archaeology. The obvious difference is that there’s a goddess instead of God. Are there other differences?
Actually, Sumer being the place of creation or original Eden is one thing that the Bible supports. Eridu, the most sacred city of ancient Mesopotamia and the first seat of Sumerian kingship, is nestled between four rivers (described in the Bible: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates.)
I was referring to the over-all credibility of the Bible. In The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, new archaeological evidence is presented to show that the cities, rulers and timelines of the Bible (esp. the Old Testament) are largely inaccurate. Also, the Hebrew word for God (YHWH) which became the acronym for One God, actually represented the four members of the Heavenly Family (Father, Mother, Son and Daughter). My third book, The Jewel of Delphi, explores the Hebrew Goddess that has been eradicated from modern Judaism and Christianity but was historically worshipped next to Jehovah in the Jerusalem Temple for hundreds of years.
In the book, the scientist is translating a tablet and, based on the translation, is developing a different theory of what the mythology was. Is there such a dispute now and if so what are the conflicting theories?
The most well-known (and certainly most widely accepted) Sumerian scholar was Samuel Kramer, who wrote “History Begins at Sumer” (amongst many others) and even he admitted that the Sumerian language “stands alone and unrelated to any known language living or dead,” and also admitted to being at a loss to understand many of his own translations – calling them difficult and obscure.
The mythology of ancient Sumer centers on a “pantheon” or family of gods – this all scholars agree, as well as their names (whether Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian or Assyrian) and their relationship to each other. However, great controversy exists over the translation of key words within known texts that would greatly change the meaning of the texts.
One example is the Sumerian word “mu” which is traditionally translated as “name”, however, the literal translation is “that which rises straight” and by context “mu” should be translated as “heavenly chariot.”
Another important example is the word “nephilim”, traditionally translated as “giants”, but literally translated as “those who descended” or “those who were cast down.” That is just two examples, but you can imagine the difference in translating the many thousands of hymns and histories with even a handful of such different meanings in key words.
Some of the more prominent controversial theories that I used for my novel are from Zechariah Sitchin, who wrote The 12th Planet (amongst others), and who is a trained linguist proficient in ancient Near East languages including Sumerian, and another scholar, Lawrence Gardner, who wrote “Genesis of the Grail Kings” — both of whom believe that myriad stories telling of gods who descended to earth from the heavens — stories modern man calls “myths” are actual histories of superior beings that civilized our planet.
Why the dearth of translations? It seems that when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, there was no shortage of people wanting to look at them.
There are relatively few scholars qualified to translate Sumerian, whereas there are thousands upon thousands of qualified Hebrew and Aramaic scholars. To put it in perspective, most of the Dead Sea Scrolls date to between 150 B.C.E. – 100 C.E., whereas the tablets recovered from Nippur and Nineveh date back to 4000 – 2000 B.C.E.
What is your guesses or guesses of the type of information in those untranslated finds?
Probably more of the same: Hymns of worship and stories of the exploits of the gods and rulers of those times. But again, if the translations were presented literally, they could tell a different story…
Is there a way for an armchair hobbyist to learn the language and perhaps work from photographs of the documents?
I would say not. As I pointed out before, the Sumerian language is unlike any other. First of all it is syllabic and ideographic rather than alphabetic. Secondly, over the long span of civilization in Sumer, the language evolved from very basic pictograms eventually into the more well-known Assyrian cuneiform, but it would be necessary to understand all of the forms for each symbol.
This book, besides being a mystery, is called “speculative fiction.” How would you describe that genre?
I have taken archaeological evidence and speculated on a possible scenario of events. The translation of hundreds of thousands of ancient texts refer to gods in a way that modern man has assumed to be mythological rather than literal, yet even the most conservative translations hint at something very different than the average boring history book dares to tell.
“[E]ven the most conservative translations hint at something very different than the average boring history book dares to tell.” What are they hinting at?
That the gods of ancient times were very real, that they navigated the heavens, and that they civilized planet Earth (gave man laws, math, language, architecture, agriculture…)
The book contains a lot of supernatural events. Are there reports of supernatural phenomena in connection with Sumerian artifacts?
Not that I am aware of.