There is a parallel in Sumerian lands to the Egyptian legend of the spirits attendant upon a divine innovator like that associated with Horus, in the form of the Babylonian Oannes legend. This was written down by the priest Berossus writing in Babylon in the third century BC, at much the same time that his Egyptian colleague Manetho was writing his still more celebrated history. Berossus relates that a strange creature, half man, half fish, came swimming up the Arabian Gulf, attended by other monsters, and taught the arts of civilization to the people who were to be the Sumerians.34 The monsters which attended him were the apkallu.
In Sumerian legend Enki had his beginnings in the ocean. Whilst the coincidence would certainly not warrant too elaborate a hypothesis being built upon it, the Egyptians, too, had a version of their creation myths in which the self-begotten Atum, the elder god of the theology evolved by the sun priests of Heliopolis, emerges from the waters of chaos on the ‘primeval island’.
The concept of the magical island was a powerful one for the Egyptians; the primeval island was also often thought of as a mountain or hill rising out of the waters (see Chapter 11). The pyramid was also a development of a similar concept and symbolized both the mountain of creation and the sunlight, streaming down from heaven. The idea behind the Mesopotamian ziggurat is similar in that it, too, is the sacred mountain, but there is otherwise no connection between them although the stepped pyramids of Egypt, like the great one built for King Netjerykhet at Saqqara, inevitably recall something of the Sumerians’ towering terraced structures. The ziggurat, however, did not really develop its full significance in Sumer until long after the age of the pyramids in Egypt and it was never a royal tomb; although temples on platforms were known in the fourth millennium, the earliest stepped structure dates from the middle of the third. Nonetheless, the concept of the Holy Mountain as the place of origins was present in Sumerian35 religious belief from early times.