The logo of the Melammu Project

The Melammu Project

The Heritage of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East

  The Melammu Project
   General description
   Search string
   Browse by topic
   Search keyword
   Submit entry
   Open search
   Thematic search
   Digital Library
   Submit item
   Ancient texts
   Submit link
  Contact us

  The Newsletter
  To Project Information >


The Suteans and sons of Seth (1)

Printable view
Topics (move over topic to see place in topic list)

04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

02 Religious and ideological symbols and iconographic motifs

04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

Jebel Bishri
Neo-Assyrian Empire
Roman Empire
Amorite culture
Jewish-Roman philosophers and scholars

Sutī’ū was the usual term in Akkadian for Western Semitic shepherd tribes in Mesopotamia. This is apparently the transcription of Amorite Šetī’u, which means ‘descendants of Šutu/Šitu’. The name Suteans most probably derives from the same root as the biblical name Seth (Šēt), son of Adam (Diakonoff 1982: 19). The Suteans in the Mesopotamian sources are associated with a land or mountain Šaršar, where they live as wicked enemies of civilization. The same mountain is listed in the series of Lipšur-litanies as an Amorite locality, and it may refer to Jebel Bishri (Lambert 1989: 17-18). The defeat of the Suteans and the establishment of border defences against them in conjunction with this mountain is mentioned as a historical event by the time of the Middle Babylonian king Kadašman-Harbe: “Kadašman-harbe, … , king of Assyria, ordered the overthrow of the Suteans from east to west and annihilated their extensive forces. He reinforced the fortresses in Mount Šaršar. He dug a well and comfortably settled people in them to strengthen the guard” (Grayson 1975: 171-172). Raids against Suteans are mentioned in other Mesopotamian chronicles and royal inscriptions as well.

The ‘sons of Seth’ are mentioned in the oracles of Balaam as the enemies of the Israelite monarchy, like the Suteans are presented as the enemies of civilization in the Babylonian Erra Epic. The ‘sons of Seth’ are mentioned in the same breath with the locality called Šeˁīr (šˁyr), in Numeri 24: 17-18: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab, and break down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be dispossessed, Seˁir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed, while Israel does valiantly.”

The rules of symmetry of Hebrew poetry compels to read ‘all the sons of Seth’ in parallel to both Moab and Seir. One can see a parallel between Suteans on Šaršar and ‘sons of Seth’ in the land of Seir, although these two names cannot refer to the same locality. But if the names are of mythological import, this can be viewed as parallel (cf. Ezekiel 35).

In the Anzu Epic, the birth of the monster bird is clearly located to the same mountain Šaršar, which is later in the epic referred to as “his (= Anzu’s) mountain” (šadûssu) and where he flies with the stolen Tablet of Destinies. The Suteans in conjunction with Šaršar are represented in later Jewish legends about the ‘sons of Seth’” on the ‘land of Seiris’. The Jewish writer Josephus knew about a mysterious land Seiris in connection with the ‘sons of Seth’, who were destined to survive two cosmic catastrophes, one by water and the other by fire (Ant. 1.70-71). When Adam predicted the twofold destruction of mankind, the sons of Seth erected the two steles, one of brick and one of stone, to preserve their discoveries of “the science of the heavenly bodies and their orderly array”. The two catastrophes correspond to twofold annihilation of the mountain Šaršar in Mesopotamian sources - once by fire-god Išum in the Erra Epic and by Ninurta in the Anzu Epic, who is associated with the flood. The ‘sons of Seth’ are depicted as virtuous survivors of these two catastrophes, preserving their knowledge on two steles, thus inverting the message of the Anzu Epic, where the Tablet of Destinies is taken away from its illigitimate owner Anzu on mount Šaršar.


Annus 2001, xxv-xxviiiAnnus, Amar. The Standard Babylonian Epic of Anzu. State Archives of Assyria Cuneiform Texts 3. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project 2001.
Diakonoff 1982, 19Diakonoff, Igor M. “Father Adam.” In: Hans Hirsch and Hermann Hunger (eds.). Vorträge gehalten auf der 28. Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale in Wien, 6.-10. Juli 1981. Archiv für Orientforschung, Beiheft 19. Horn: Berger 1982, 16-24.
Grayson 1975, 171-172Grayson, A. K. Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles. Texts from Cuneiform Sources 5. New York: J. J. Augustin 1975.
Lambert 1989, 1-33Lambert, Wilfred G. “Notes on a Work of the most Ancient Semitic Literature.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 41 (1989) 1-33. [JSTOR (requires subscription)]

Links (external links will open in a new browser window)
Cf. Eve’s address to her children (1)
Cf. The knowledge of Seth (1)
Cf. The sons of Seth (1)

Amar Annus

URL for this entry:

No pictures