Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Berosus
(Berosós or Berossós)
The name of a native historian of Babylonia and a priest of the great god Bel (Bel-Marduk). He flourished during and after the lifetime of Alexander the Great, althrough the exact dates of his birth and death are unknown. It is certain, however, that he lived in the days of Alexander (356-326 B. C.) and continued to live at least as late as Antiochus I Soter (280-261 B. C.), to whom he dedicated his famous history of Babylonia.
The meaning of his name is uncertain, notwithstanding the fanciful etymology of Scaliger and others who claim it is composed of Bar and Hosea, "Son of Hosea".
Concerning his personality very little is known with certainty. According to Vitruvius and Pliny (whose testimony, taken as a whole, is to be accepted with caution), Berosus was profoundly versed in the science of astronomy and astrology; that much is certain. Leaving Babylonia, he settled for awhile in Greece, on the island of Cos, where he opened a school of astronomy and astrology. From there he passed to Athens where his wonderful learning and remarkable astronomical predictions brought him such fame that a statue with a gilt tongue was erected in his honour in the public gymnasium. Vitruvius attributes to him the invention of a semi-circular sundial. Justin Martyr, undoubtedly through a misunderstanding, affirms that the Babylonian Sibyl who gave oracles at Cumæ in the time of the Tarquins was a daughter of Berosus. Tatian, the disciple of Justin, and himself a Mesopotamian by birth, rightly calls Berosus the most learned historian of Western Asia. It is doubtful, however, whether the Babylonian Berosus is the same person as the astronomer Berosus of whom many Greek and Latin historians make mention.
Berosus wrote a history of Babylonia, probably under title of "Babyloniaca", though it is referred to under the title of "Chaldaica" by Josephus and Clement of Alexandria. The work was divided into three books, or parts, of which the first dealt with human history from the beginning of the world to the Flood, the second from the Flood to Nabonassar (747 B. C.), and the third from Nabonassar to Alexander the Great and even as far down as the reign of his patron Antiochus. The materials of this history, written in Greek, he professes to have derived from ancient Babylonian chronicles and inscriptions preserved in the temple of Bel in Babylon, and there is every reason to believe in the truth of his assertion, as most of his statements, notwithstanding the manifold and unconscientious handlings which his work underwent at the hands of later Greek and Roman writers, show a remarkable agreement with the cuneiform records and inscriptions found in the libraries and temples of Babylonia and Assyria. Unfortunately, however, by far the greater part of this priceless work has perished. What has come down is in the form of fragments preserved principally by late Greek historians and writers, such as Alexander Polyhistor, Abydenus, and Apollodorus, whose writings are quoted by Josephus, Nicholas of Damascus, Julius Africanus, Eusebius, Syncellus, and a few others. So it is apparent that the views put forth by Berosus come down in a very roundabout manner. In places his statements have been so garbled as to seem absurd, and yet, fragmentary as his work is, it is of great importance.
Of the origin of the gods and of the world, according to the cosmology and mythology of the Babylonians, Berosus has the following account, preserved by Damascius, which shows a remarkable agreement with the Babylonian Creation epic discovered recently and masterly discussed and studied by Smith, Delitzsch, Jenson, Zimmern, Jastrow, King, Dhorme, and others. "Among the barbarians, the Babylonians seem to pass over the first of all principles in silence, imagining two to begin with, Tavthe (Tiamat, the Hebrew Tehôm) and Apason (Apsu), making Apason the consort of Tavthe, whom they called the 'mother of the gods'. The issue of their union, as they said, was an only son, Myomis (Mummu), who seems to me to stand for the visible world, offspring of the first two principles, from whom are subsequently produced another generation, Dache and Dachos (should be Lachme and Lachmos=Lahamu and Luhmu). A third follows from the same parents, Kisare (Kishar) and Assoros (Aushar), of whom three gods are born: Anos (Anu), Illinois (Elim?=Bel) and Aos (Ea); finally the son of Aos and of Davke is Belos (Bel-Marduk), called by them the 'demiurge'" (Damascius, De primis principiis, ed. Kopp, 125, p. 184).
Berosus's account of the creation of the world and of mankind, as preserved to us by Syncellus who copied it from Alexander Polyhistor, runs as follows: "There was a time when all was darkness and water, and from the midst thereof issued spontaneously monstrous animals and the most peculiar figures: men with two wings, and others with four, with two faces or two heads, one of a man, the other of a woman, on one body, and with the two sexes together; men with goats' legs and goats' horns, or with horses' hoofs; others with the hinder parts of a horse and the foreparts of a man, like the hippocentaurs. There were, besides, human-headed bulls, dogs with four bodies and fishes' tails, horses with dogs' heads, animals with the head and body of a horse and the tail of a fish, other quadrupeds in which all sorts of animal shapes were confused together, fishes, reptiles, serpents, and every kind of marvellous shapes, representations of which may be seen in the paintings of the temple of Belos. A woman named Omoroca (Um- Uruk, the mother of Uruk) presided over this creation; in the Chaldean language she bears the name of Thavatth (Tiamat), signifying in Greek 'the sea', and she is also identified with the moon.
"Things being in this condition, Belos (Bel-Marduk) came upon the scene and cut the woman in half; of the lower part of her body he made the earth, and of the upper half the heavens, and all the creatures that were in her disappeared. This is a figurative way of explaining the production of the universe and of animated beings from humid matter. Belos then cut off his own head, and the other gods having kneaded the blood flowing from it with the earth, formed men, who by that means were gifted with understanding, and made participants of divine thought.
"Thus it was that Belos, interpreted by the Greeks as signifying Zeus, having divided the darkness, separated the heavens and the earth, and ordered the world; and all animated beings who were not able to endure the action of light perished. Belos, seeing that the earth was a desert, though fertile, commanded one of the gods to cut off his head, and kneading the blood which flowed with earth, he produced men, as well as those animals who are able to live in contact with the air.-Then Belos also formed the stars, the sun, the moon, and the five plantets." (Ap. Syncell., 29; Euseb., Chronic. Armen., I, ii, iv, ed. Mai, p. 10; ed. Lenormant, Fragment 1.)
His account of the Deluge, which shows a remarkable agreement with the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh epic and a striking similarity to the parallel narrative of Genesis, is of great importance, and has come down to us through Alexander Polyhistor; a short extract is also given by Abydenus. After referring to the ten antediluvian kings (cf. the ten antediluvian patriarchs of Genesis), Berosus proceeds as follows: "Obartes (Ubaratutu) being dead, his son, Xisuthros, reigned eighteen sars (64,800 years). It was in his time that the great Deluge came to pass, the history of which is related in the following manner in the sacred documents: Cronus (Ea) appeared to him in his sleep and announced to him that on the 15th of the month of Daisios (the Assyrian month Sivan, a little before the summer solstice), all mankind would perish by a deluge. He then commanded him to take the beginning, the middle and the end of all that had been consigned to writing, and to bury it in the city of the Sun, Sippara; after that to build a ship, and go on board of it with his famiy and dearest friends; to place in the vessel provisions for food and drink, and to introduce into it animals, both fowls and quadrupeds; lastly, to get everything ready for navigation. And when Xisuthros asked in which direction he should steer his vessel, he was told 'toward the gods', and to pray that good should come of it to men.
The deluge having come upon them, and soon subsiding, Xisuthros loosed some birds, who, having found neither food or place of rest, returned to the vessel. Some days later, Xisuthros again gave them their liberty, but they returned once more to the ship, their feet soiled with mud.
"At last, being loosed for a third time, the birds returned no more. Then Xisuthros understood that the earth was bare; he made an opening in the roof of the ship and found that it had gone aground upon a mountain. Then he came down with his wife, his daughter and his pilot, worshipped the Earth, raised an altar and sacrificed thereon to the gods; at this moment he disappeared with those who bore him company.
"Nevertheless, those who remained in the ship, not seeing Xisuthros return, also descended to the ground and began to look for him, calling him by name. They never saw Xisuthros again, but a voice from heaven made itself heard, bidding them be pious towards the gods; that he had received the reward of his piety in being taken up to dwell henceforth among the gods, and his wife, his daughter and the pilot of the vessel shared this great honour. The voice said, moreover, to those who were left, that they should return to Babylonia, and agreeably to the decrees of fate dig up the writings buried at Sippara, in order to transmit them to men. It added that the country where they then were was Armenia. After hearing the voice they sacrificed to the gods, and returned on foot to Babylonia. A portion of Xisuthros' ship, which finally went aground in Armenia, is still found in the Gordyæan Mountains in Armenia, and pilgrims bring away asphaltum which they have scraped from the fragments; they use it against witchcraft. As to the companions of Xisuthros, they arrived in Babylonia, dug up the writings buried at Sippara, founded a number of cities, built temples, and restored Babylon."
The chronological history of Babylonia, according to Berosus, was as follows: The first period, reaching from the Creation to the Flood, is said to have included ten reigns of 432,000 years. Some of the names of these antediluvian kings have been found also in the cuneiform inscriptions. The second period includes eighty-six kings and a period of 34,080 years, which bring us down to about 2500 B. C. The third period incluldes eight Median kings who, towards 2500 B. C. must have invaded Babylonia. These are followed by eleven other monarchs, the record of the duration of whose reigns is lost. The fifth period includes forty-nine Chaldean kings and 458 years. The end of this period brings us down to about 2000 B. C. The sixth period includes Arabian kings with 245 years. This so-called Arabian dynasty is identical with the now historically ascertained first Semitic dynasty, to which Hammurabi belonged. The seventh period includes forty-five kings and 526 years. The succeeding parts of Berosus's chronology are lost, up to the period of Nabonassar whose era commenced in 747 B. C. The history of this period, which reaches the reign of Alexander the Great, including such illustrious kings as Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus, Cyrus, etc., is well known to us from the cuneiform inscriptions.
Collections of the fragments of Berosus have been made by RICHTER, (Leipzig, 1825); MÜLLER, Fragmenta Historicum Græcorum (2 vols., Paris, 1848); CORY, Ancient Fragments (London, 1832). The best and most exhaustive study on Berosus and his history is that of the late Catholic Assyriologist, LENORMANT, Essai de Commentaire de fragments cosmogoniques de Bérose (Paris, 1871). For the best text of Berosus see also SMITH, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, s. v.; ROGERS, History of Babylonia and Assyria (New York, 1901), I, 258 sqq., 327 sqq.; BRUNENGO, L'impero di Babilonia e di Ninive (1885), I, 67 sqq.