Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Alim, Rimu, Reem (Glossary)

The Sumerian word alim appears to describe the water buffalo depicted in various seals, although the word is often translated also as "bison."

Akkadian rimu may be directly derived from alim "powerful," although the former is also thought to have Semitic roots from a word meaning "to be high" and thought to refer to the animals sweeping horns. Rimu is often used to translate Sumerian am "bull, wild bull."

Sumerian apzaza (Akkadian apsasu) is also thought to refer to the water buffalo.

From rimu in Akkadian, we also derive the Assyrian remu, Ugaritic r'm and Hebrew reem.

In Canaanite myth, the son and daughter of the sea god Dagon (El) give birth to the buffalo named Math. El himself is known as the "Bull God" and is depicted with horns.

Asherah "the Lady of the Sea" has handmaidens who give birth to the buffalo of the forest that distract Baal.

Swamp buffalo

The Sumerian alim is shown with massive notched horns curved widely, wrinkled hide and distinctive body/head shape clearly identifying it as the water buffalo and specifically as the swamp buffalo (Bubalis bubalis).

An, the patriarch of the gods, is called a wild bull (gud-dama) and his animal is the Bull of Heaven (gud-anna).

The buffalo head is the standard of Utu, the Sun God. Utu or one of his servants is often depicted as a buffalo with a human head.

The buffalo-man is known as Gud-alim, Gud-dumu-Utu or sometimes Gud-dumu-anna "Buffalo-Man of Heaven," the latter name perhaps related to the Gud-anna "Bull of Heaven."

Akkadian seal dating to 2200 BCE possibly showing Enki fighting the Bull of Heaven depicted as a gud-alim "buffalo." The horned bull-man may be Enkidu fighting a lion/dog.

The name Marduk or AMAR-UTUK means "young bull of the Sun Utu."

Among the Canaanites, the god El is known as the "Bull God" and we find here an association with buffaloes who descend from his wife's handmaidens, and also from the union of Baal and Anath, his children.

These buffaloes known as r'm figure also in Hebrew myth.

When El brings the tribes of Israel out of Egypt, the image is of a strong buffalo carrying the people on his back.

"God brought him out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of a buffalo."

-- Numbers 23

This is similar to the Iranian myth of the bull Sarsaok bringing nine races on his back across the Vourukasha Sea.

Sarsaok is also said to have a flaming back from which come the three sacred fires to the mountains of Persia.

In Exodus, Yahweh is seen as a deity who inhabits flaming mountain tops. The name El Shaddai may mean "El (God) of the Mountains." Enlil as the supreme god of the Sumerian pantheon was known as Rimu "Bull" and also as Kur-Gal "Great Mountain."

The crescentic horns of the buffalo also resemble the 'ship of the Sun' and agrees with the symbolism of transporting people.

The two tribes of Joseph are compared to the horns of a reem that 'pushes people to the ends of the earth.'

His majesty is as the firstling of his ox; And his horns are as the horns of a buffalo. With them shall he push the peoples Together to the ends of the earth. These are the myriads of Ephraim, And these are the thousands of Manasseh.

-- Deuteronomy 33

Archaeological evidence

Although some suggest that the swamp buffalo appears only during the Akkadian period, other evidence suggests an earlier presence.

From the archaeological standpoint, water buffalo remains are recorded
from a home in Layer III (Grai Resh) of the Uruk culture.

The horn core, first phalanx and rib of a water buffalo has been found at Halaf (5500-5000 BCE) in northern Syria.

These are surely domesticated water buffalo, as the wild water buffalo
survives only deep in the rain forest.

Rock drawings of water buffalo occur in Ubaid period megalithic sites in the Persian Gulf, including those associated with the shell mound culture.

Water buffalo are rare in the aceramic and early ceramic periods of Mehrgarh, and appear to be of the swamp type with long sweeping horns. The same swamp buffalo appears at Harappan sites, now much more common. However, these locations in northwest South Asia would not have hosted the wild water buffalo, which lived only further East. The river buffalo seems to have come to prominence at a latter time, and now represents the overwhelming majority of water buffaloes in India, especially in northern India.

A number of Early Dynastic portrayals of Utu as a bull with a human face appear to portray a buffalo body with a human head with large splay hooves and shorter more robust body and legs with bushy tip of tail.

According to Ebeling and Meissner, writing on the human-headed buffalo
(alim, Sumerian, alimbu, Akkadian):

"From the Ur III period onwards it wears the horns of divinity. Associated with Utu (2.2), represents mountains through with Utu rises (2.4) [i.e., Mt. Mashu]"

_Reallexikon der Assyriologie und vorderasiatischen Archaologie: Meek-Mythologie_, by Erich Ebeling, Bruno Meissner, 1999.

Swamp buffalo depicted on the seal of Ishar-beli from Urkesh, notice the muscular humped shoulders. In Ugaritic texts, the r'm is described as humped (also known as ibr). Source: Bucellati, Giorgio and Marilyn Kelly-Buccelati. Tar'am-Agade, Daughter of Naram-Sin, at Urkesh.

Horned caps displaying the "horns of divinity" mostly resembling buffalo or bison horns. The Assyrian caps near the bottom display symmetrical buffalo or bison horns in profile that may be related to the "unicorn" images found Proto-Elamite and Sumerian art. The three horned cap was used to represent Enlil, An and Assur with each horn representing one of the gods, and at times all three caps were shown together.

A "unicorn" calf under the foot of Enki, with possibly one of the buffalo/bison horns hidden symmetrically behind the other.

Some kings like Naram-Sin shown above donned the "horns of divinity."

Paul Kekai Manansala


Edwards, I. E. S. , C. J. Gadd, N. G. L. Hammond (editors). The Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge University Press, 1970, pp. 64, 42, 405, 690.

Johannes, G., Botterweck, Helmer, Ringgren, Heinz-Josef, Fabry (editors). Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004, pp. 243-4.

Potts, Daniel T. Mesopotamian Civilization: The Material Foundations, Cornell University Press, 1996, pp. 258-9.