Actress Megan Fox recently told US Weekly that she is reading the Book of Enoch because of her favorite TV show, Ancient Aliens, “and this book describes angels in a way that sounds extraterrestrial.” The passages she refers to are among those that I’ve included so far in the collection of ancient texts cited by ancient astronaut and fringe history writers that I’ve been working on. It sits alongside the passage that the late Ancient Aliens talking head Philip Coppens frequently called the “best” evidence for ancient astronauts, the Babylonian priest Berosus’ discussion of the magical fish-man Oannes and his fishy friends, who rose up from the sea to teach humankind the art of civilization.
The story of Oannes is by now quite familiar. I’ve written about it before, and even Carl Sagan was fascinated by idea of an amphibious being bequeathing civilization. In fact, it was Carl Sagan’s citation of the story in Intelligent Life in the Universe that inspired the young Robert Temple to incorporate the story as the central pillar of his Sirius Mystery, identifying Oannes with the god of the African Dogon tribe and speculating that the Greeks encoded Oannes’ hidden mysteries into the “lost” original version of the Argonautica.
I’ve been going through Temple’s Sirius Mystery in compiling my book, and it just makes me angry. It is so poorly conceived, making grandiose claims about the Argonaut myth based entirely on a single source: Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths. But I’ve written about that problem elsewhere.
Instead, I’m interested today in a very strange claim Temple makes about the extant fragments of Berosus, a claim taken up by later writers as proof that the Babylonian story is a true account of alien intervention.
It’s a bit of a strange claim, and a little hard to understand, which is what makes it worth exploring, if only to show how Temple is led astray by his own ignorance. And no, you can’t blame it on a youthful indiscretion. When he updated the book more than two decades later, he left the claim intact.
The gist of the claim is that the Babylonians described Oannes as “disgusting” and “repulsive,” so they must have been describing a real reptilian extraterrestrial, for no one would honor a god by calling him noxious. He bases this on the text of Berosus (also transliterated as Berossus), which does not survive in the original but is instead known from excerpts by later authors. Temple does not investigate these excerpts but instead knows the story only from the translation provided by I. P. Cory in his Ancient Fragments (first ed., 1828; second ed., 1832; and revision by E. Richmond Hodges, 1876). In so doing, he oversimplifies a complex story.
Here is Cory’s version, cited by Robert Temple:
This is the history which Berossus has transmitted to us. He tells us that the first king was Alorus of Babylon, a Chaldæan: he reigned ten sari: and afterwards Alaparus, and Amelon who came from Pantibiblon: then Ammenon the Chaldæan, in whose time appeared the Musarus Oannes the Annedotus from the Erythræan sea. (But Alexander Polyhistor anticipating the event, has said that he appeared in the first year; but Apollodorus says that it was after forty sari; Abydenus, however, makes the second Annedotus appear after twenty-six sari.) Then succeeded Megalarus from the city of Pantibiblon; and he reigned eighteen sari: and after him Daonus the shepherd from Pantibiblon reigned ten sari; in his time (he says) appeared again from the Erythræan sea a fourth Annedotus, having the same form with those above, the shape of a fish blended with that of a man. Then reigned Euedorachus from Pantibiblon, for the term of eighteen sari; in his days there appeared another personage from the Erythræan sea like the former, having the same complicated form between a fish and a man, whose name was Odacon. (All these, says Apollodorus, related particularly and circumstantially whatever Oannes had informed them of: concerning these Abydenus has made no mention.)
Cory cites this to George Sycnellus’ Chronicle, p. 39 and Eusebius’ Chronicle, p. 5. This should be a bit of a warning that the text is not exactly what it seems.
Eusebius wrote around the year 300 CE, but his Greek-language Chronicle was lost, surviving only in a later Classical Armenian translation, partially damaged, and a Latin translation of the second half by Jerome, the latter of which does not concern us. George Syncellus wrote around the year 800 CE, and incorporated parts of Eusebius’ text into his own, allowing later translators to restore missing or damaged parts of Eusebius. Cory has translated primarily from Syncellus but has adapted the translation in light of the parallel passage in the Armenian Eusebius, so it is not always a word-for-word translation of either text but something closer to a restoration of what he believed Berosus, Apollodorus, Alexander Polyhistor, etc. originally wrote.
So this is where Robert Temple comes in. He sees the line “the Musarus Oannes the Annedotus” and wonders what the words mean. “I assumed that Cory would have translated them into English if they had simple and obvious meanings. But to my surprise I found that their meanings were quite simple and specific. The ‘musarus’ is ‘an abomination’, and an ‘annedotus’ is a ‘repulsive one’.” (He used, he said, the Liddell-Scott English-Greek Lexicon, but annedotus doesn’t appear in any edition I checked, so I have no idea what he was looking up for that word.) After finding the definitions, Temple felt this meant that the account must be true:
If ever anything argued the authenticity of their [the Babylonians’] account, it was this Babylonian tradition that the amphibians to whom they owed everything were disgusting, horrible and loathsome to look upon. A more normal course for any invented tradition of the origins of civilization would have been to glorify the splendid gods of heroes who founded it.
Temple imposed his view of the word “musaros” in his translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh as well, repeating the claim in his discussion of the context of the epic.
His argument, then, hinges on the real meaning of musarus and annedotus, even leaving aside the fact, as I have previously showed, that the fish man story was a late invention derived from the earlier tale of the civilizing heroes being condemned to the watery abyss after sinning against the gods. To understand the question we have to look at the two texts, Eusebius and Syncellus, separately rather than in conflated form.
I give the text of Eusebius in the English translation of François Lenormant’s Beginning of History, which I have confirmed with other modern translations:
After the death of Aloros (Adoros), his son Alaparus reigned three sars. After Alaparos, Almelon, a Chaldaean or the city of Pantibibla, thirteen sars. To Almelon succeeded Ammenon, likewise from Pantibibla for twelve sars. In his time a monster named Idotion issued again from the Erythraean sea with a form which was a mingling of man and fish. After him, Amegalaros of Pantibibla reigned eighteen sars. Afterward the shepherd Davonos [=Dumuzi], still of Pantibibla, occupied the throne for ten sars. During his reign, there again issued forth from the Erythraean sea four monsters likewise having the form of a man-fish. Later there reigned Edoranchos of Pantibibla during a period of eighteen sars. And under him appeared once more, emerging from the Erythraean sea, another being, a union of man and fish, called Odacon. And he says that all these monstrous personages explained in detail that which Oannes had taught briefly. (p. 5)
Here “Idotion” in Alexander Polyhistor is the equivalent of Annedotus in Berosus and Abydenus, and it is frequently corrected as such under the assumption that the Eusebius translator has garbled something.
So that leaves us with George Syncellus, whose version differs slightly from that of Eusebius. I will give his version of the above passage of Alexander Polyhistor in the translation published in the English edition of Lenormant:
Berossus testifies that the first king was Aloros of Babylon, a Chaldaean. He reigned ten sars, and his successors were Alaparos and Amelon of Pantibibla, than Ammenon the Chaldaean, in whose time it was related that Mysaros Oannes, Annedotos, appeared, issuing from the Erythraean Sea; he is the same whom Alexander (Polyhistor), anticipating the epoch predicated, speaks of as having manifested himself in the first year of the world, while Apollodorus says that the second Annedotus showed himself after forty sars, and Abydenus at the end of twenty-six sars. Afterwards, Megalaros, of the city of Pantibibla, reigned eighteen sars, and his successor, the shepherd Daonos [= Dumuzi] of Pantibibla, ten sars. Under the last named, there again appeared issuing from the Erythraean sea a fourth Annedotos with the same sort of figure as the others, a combination of man and fish. Next came Evedorachos of Pantibibla, who reigned eighteen sars. and during whose life a fourth (?) being, uniting the two natures of man and fish, and called Odacon, appeared on the shores of the Erythnean sea. All these beings explained in detail and chapter by chapter the things that Oannes had revealed in brief. Abydenus does not mention the last named. (p. 39)
Here “mysaros” is a slightly different transliteration of the Greek word μυσαρός. Just to make it more fun, a note in a critical edition of Syncellus informs us that in manuscript “τόν μυσαρὸν Ὠάννεν” (the musarus Oannes) was placed in parentheses, apparently by Syncellus himself, likely to clarify who the “Annedotus” was, perhaps referencing another lost part of Berosus, but from which author we cannot say. Therefore, the word’s actual authorial origin can’t be clearly determined with certainty.
Now we can see how Cory merged Eusebius’ and Syncellus’ versions together to produce his composite restorations of the Berosus fragments. We can now safely dismiss Robert Temple’s knowledge of Berosus as utterly superficial given that he fails to recognize that Cory’s translations are composites. The question here is what the word translated as the title “Musarus” or “Mysaros” really means, as well as the origin of the obscure terms “Idotion” and “Annedotus.” We’ll return to these questions momentarily.
In addition to the above text, both Eusebius and Syncellus give substantively the same passage in excerpting Abidenus (Eusebius) or Abydenus (Syncellus), who in turn was excerpting Berosus, with the Armenian and the Greek being in unusually close agreement. Cory does not translate this section because, except for one key phrase, it merely repeats earlier information. The Armenian reads this way in Robert Bedrosian’s recent (2008) translation:
Alaparus ruled after him, followed by Almelon from the city of Pantibiblon. During his reign the second Anidostus emerged from the sea. [He was a being] like Oannes, who had the appearance of a semi-divine hero.
The 1876 Latin translation made from the Armenian, which I can read, is in agreement, word for word, including the specific spelling Anidostus, though variant manuscripts noted by the Latin translators also give “Annidotus.” Syncellus’ Greek version differs only slightly:
His [Alaparus’] successor Amelarus, was from of the city of Pantibiblia: in his reign, a second Annedotus, an animal resembling the demigod Oannes, arose out of the sea…
So what can we conclude from this jumble of texts?
Now, I am the first to confess that I am no expert in the niceties of ancient Greek grammar. However, Syncellus’ words are (in the accusative, in Cory’s rendition) “τόν μυσαρὸν Ὠάννεν τόν Ἀννήδωτον,” with the first adjective in the attributive position in the ascriptive use and the second in the attributive position in the restrictive use. But if the Oannes phrase was originally in parentheses, then it is an appositive. This does not help.
The trouble is that the meaning of the two words musarus and Annedotus isn’t at all clear, certainly not in the way Temple pretends. The word “μυσαρός” does in Greek mean wicked, odious, or detestable. However, almost every translator of the material from the eighteenth century to the present (and I’ve reviewed about 25 translations) has understood that the adjective meaning odious is not the word meant in this context. Why that is we shall explore anon.
One key to unraveling the puzzle is to look at the equivalent phrases in Eusebius and Syncellus. In the parallel passages from Alexander Polyhistor the former describes a “monster/creature named Idotion” while the latter has “(the musarus Oannes), the Annedotus.” Obviously, in Eusebius (or, more likely, his Armenian translator), the name Oannes has dropped out. The “monster” designation seems to come from the Armenian text, which has garbled some of the other material and probably has here, too. Syncellus says nothing about Oannes being a monster. Where Eusebius has “monster,” Syncellus has “Annedotus,” pausing to note only once, parenthetically, that “Annedotus” was another term for “the musarus Oannes.”
“Annedotus” is not a Greek word. It does not appear in Greek dictionaries (so what was Temple looking up?), and scholars do not have a specific meaning for it. Temple is simply wrong in claiming a definition for it. Frankly, nobody knows what it means, and in all likelihood it’s a Babylonian term Hellenized beyond recognition. It’s possible that the syllable “An” was meant to represent the Babylonian divine signifier, bringing “Edotus” or “Idotus” and the Armenian Idotion into closer agreement, but beyond this we can say nothing much except that the various Annedotoi are obviously meant to be the Babylonian Seven Sages, or Apkallu. Uanna, the first the Seven Sages (a.k.a. Adapa) is usually identified with Oannes. Several others have names similar to Annedotus: Uannedugga, Enmedugga, etc. It’s possible that one or more of these became corrupted into a title for all of them.
The other word, musarus, has caused great confusion. Since the 1700s, nearly all translators have taken “musarus” to be a formal title or descriptor, not a condemnation of Oannes’ appearance. However, long ago Eusebius or his Armenian translator, in reading Alexander Polyhistor, clearly interpreted “Mysaros” as the Greek word for loathsome, frightening, or repulsive, musaros, and thus rendered Oannes the Annedotus as “the monster Idotion.” Syncellus’ context, however, suggests a different meaning and his translators have all made it into a title. Many scholars have suggested that the word is a Greek transliteration of a presumed Akkadian title used in Berosus’ original text, probably mušaru (musarus), the Akkadian word for “law-giver.” This was one of Oannes’ key attributes, and the Seven Sages came specifically to teach the Moral Law (the parşu). It would seem that since Syncellus had it right that the fault of seeing Oannes as a monster lies with Eusebius, most likely with his Armenian translator.
We can confirm this by looking at the later passage from Abydenus, the only other writer to use the word Annedotus (in summarizing Berosus), who tells us that Oannes and his friend had the appearance of a “semi-divine hero.” On this the Armenian of Eusebius and the Greek of Syncellus are in total agreement, and since in summarizing the same original source (Berosus) it contradicts the idea of a “loathsome” Oannes, it is good circumstantial evidence that Oannes was a law-giver, not repulsive.
In short: Robert Temple, as per usual, knows not of what he speaks and assumes that a Victorian conflated translation and a Greek dictionary are enough to rewrite centuries of scholarship.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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