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H. W. F. Saggs: Babylonian Triad of Essence and Nature?

H. W. F. Saggs: A Babylonian Triad of Essence and Nature?

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An article on the website of Herald Magazine offers an interesting example of quoting scholars out of context to support one’s point. Herald Magazine is the periodical of the Pastoral Bible Institute, a group that broke away from the Watchtower Society after its founder Charles Taze Russell died in 1916. The article makes the following claim (ellipsis in the article):

“The historian, H. W. F. Saggs, explains that the Babylonian triad consisted of ‘three gods of roughly equal rank... whose inter-relationship is of the essence of their natures’ (316).”1

Here is what Saggs actually wrote:

“Though the term ‘triad’ is often applied (as it is elsewhere in this book) to the three gods Anu, Enlil and Enki considered together, it can be misleading if ‘triad’ is to mean anything more specific theologically than three gods of roughly equal rank. In many respects Enki stands apart from Anu and Enlil, and the conception of a triad (in the more precise sense of three deities whose interrelationship is of the essence of their natures) is certainly not present in Sumerian religion in the earliest stage at which we know it.”2

Notice that according to Saggs the three deities in question were a “triad” only in a very loose sense. There was nothing essential or necessary about their grouping into three. The words “whose interrelationship is of the essence of their natures” quoted in the Herald Magazine article are actually expressing an idea that Saggs said did not apply to the ancient Sumerian belief: he says this idea of a triad “is certainly not present in Sumerian religion in the earliest stage at which we know it.” Thus, the Herald Magazine article has taken Suggs out of context.

Beyond that point, one should of course notice that the “triad” is a group of three gods, not three persons in one God. There is no “Trinity” here at all.

 

NOTES

1. Cher-El L. Hagensick, “The Origin of the Trinity: From Paganism to Constantine.” Herald Magazine (no date).

2. H. W. F. Saggs, The Greatness that was Babylon: A Sketch of the Ancient Civilization of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1962), 330.  Hagensick cites a different page number and different publisher than the one cited here, but from what I can tell it was simply a different printing. The statement is almost certainly the same.