As most readers know, I’ve done a massive amount of research into pretty much every permutation of the Watchers myth in an attempt to trace the story from Babylon down to Ancient Aliens. In so doing, my general direction of research has been westward from Babylon to the Holy Land to Egypt and to Europe. It never dawned on me that the same story would also have traveled eastward, into Persia. It makes sense, of course, since Persia abutted and once ruled Mesopotamia, and the version of the Watchers-Pyramid mythology known to the Arab historians would have spread eastward with Islam as easily as it moved westward. This is why it surprised me when I found a version of the story of the pillars of wisdom in a Persian source.
Abu Rayhan al-Biruni was a medieval Persian historian and geographer best known for producing a great work on India and some of the world’s first relatively objective studies of comparative religion. He also happens to be one of the sources for the claim that the waterline left by the Great Flood could still be seen on the side of the Great Pyramid before the casing stones were removed. In adding that passage to my page on medieval pyramid lore, I discovered something very interesting in the paragraph that immediately followed it in his Chronology of Ancient Nations (p. 24), completed in 1000 CE:
It is related, that Tahmurath on receiving the warning of the Deluge—231 years before the Deluge—ordered his people to select a place of good air and soil in his realm. Now they did not find a place that answered better to this description than Ispahan. Thereupon, he ordered all scientific books to be preserved for posterity, and to be buried in a part of that place, least exposed to obnoxious influences. In favour of this report we may state that in our time in Jay, the city of Ispahan, there have been discovered hills, which, on being excavated, disclosed houses, filled with many loads of that tree-bark, with which arrows and shields are covered, and which is called Tuz, bearing inscriptions, of which no one was able to say what they are, and what they mean. (trans. C. Edward Sachau)
In general, there is no explicit Flood myth in Persian sources, and this implies that the story we have here is an adaptation and localization of the Pillars of Wisdom story, possibly in adapting Islamic lore to a Persian context.
This story is extremely similar to the pillars of wisdom myth told of (among others) the Watchers (Jubilees 8:3), the Children of Seth (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 1.68-74), Enoch (Palaea Historica), Hermes Trismegistus (Saʿid al-Andalusi, Al‐tarif bi-tabaqat al-umm 39.7-16), and Surid (Ibn ’Abd al-Hakam, History of the Conquest of Egypt; Murthada ibn al Khalif, Egyptian History; Al-Maqrizi, Al-Khitat 40; etc.). In all of the stories the same chain of events occurs, starting with a warning of the coming Flood, typically to a king or other leader, followed by an attempt to preserve specifically scientific knowledge for the time after the Flood.
In the Jewish version of the story, scientific knowledge was preserved on pillars, one of brick and one of stone. In late Antique and medieval stories, these became identified with the pyramids of Egypt. But there’s no reason it had to be carvings on stone. The Persian version, whose origin I don’t know, is most similar to the earliest of all the pillars of wisdom stories, the Babylonian original on which the later stories seemed to be modeled. In his Babyloniaca, Berossus recorded that the Flood hero Xisuthrus, the last king of Sumer, did exactly as his Persian counterpart when the god Kronos (Ea) came to him to warn of the coming of the Flood: Kronos “therefore enjoined him to write a history of the beginning, procedure, and conclusion of all things; and to bury it in the city of the Sun at Sippara…” (trans. Jacob Bryant; rev. by I. P. Cory). Oddly enough, while late in Babylonian history the sun city of Sippara was old, respected, and of former importance, in medieval Persia Isfahan was similarly ancient and respected without being politically over-important. Both cities had ties to vanished cultures, and as al-Biruni testifies in agreement with the colophons of Ashurbanipal, both cites contained evidence of lost systems of writing that were wrongly believed to be antediluvian.
The similarities between the Persian story and the Watchers myth don’t end there. Before the Flood Tahmuras (or Tahmurath) was the third shah of the world in Persian mythology, and during his reign the demons rebelled. Tahmuras bound two-thirds of the demons and killed the rest. In Islamic myth, these demons are pre-Adamic Djinn, and fell into corruption like the Fallen Angels of Enoch until Iblis corrals them; the connection between the Djinn and the Watchers has been recognized for centuries. In very rough form this is quite parallel to the fall of the Watchers and their subsequent defeat. In 1 Enoch 10, God tells Enoch that the Watchers were to be bound, while according to Jubilees 7:11 their progeny, the Nephilim, would all die but ten percent of their spirits would survive as demons. In 1 Enoch 8, the Watchers act as culture heroes, teaching various arts and sciences, and in legend Enoch is himself the father of writing. In the Shahnameh Tahmuras learns writing from the demons he has bound, and is himself a culture hero and inventor.
However, I can’t say for certain that the story of Tahumras and the Flood, preserved so far as I can tell only in al-Biruni, is entirely a reflex of the Watchers myth. Yet another version of the story appears in Abu Sahl al-Fazl ibn Nawbakhti’s eighth-century Kitab al-nahmatan, where ancient books of wisdom were spirited out of Persia for safekeeping in India and China. On the balance, though, it sure looks like the story of Tahumras’s burial of wisdom books is a close cousin to Surid, Hermes, and the other protectors of the antediluvian wisdom.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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