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heir of immortals

by Brent Jensen

 

The frayed straw mat on the ground irritated Etana’s skin as he tossed back and forth in the dark.  He twisted the blanket his mother had woven around his legs to avoid the incessant rubbing that made them itch, but within a minute, he felt overheated, and pulled a leg out from underneath the blanket.


Etana was exhausted, but the thought of sleeping was as repulsive as the bread he had tried to make earlier.  Though he had repeated the steps that his mother Tiamat had taken, the bread had turned out too soft in the middle and charred on the outside.


Perhaps his attempts at sleep and to make bread were painful because of his mother.  She had been beaten to death by a noble in Babylon named Nimrod just the day before.  He clenched his fists as tears welled up in his eyes. 

 

He opened his mouth and inhaled deeply, tasting the air as he filled his lungs to their limit before slowly letting it out.  It was a technique that his father, Zamug, had taught him to use to control his emotions, but breathing only made Etana feel worse.  His throat seemed to swell up, and he choked and coughed as hot tears ran down his face and mucous clogged his nose.  His chest shook with voiceless sobs.


Perhaps it was because his father had taught him the technique that it did not work.  Zamug had been on the way home after trading in Babylon, when Nimrod’s goons surrounded him and pierced him with half a dozen arrows.  Even though Etana’s father was a strong man, he was already mortally wounded when Nimrod aimed a final arrow to claim Tiamat for himself.  Etana had cowered in a corner, paralyzed with fear, as his father was killed before his eyes.


Etana wanted to be strong, but he was only fourteen years old.  His older sister, Ereshkigal, was sixteen, so she could at least get a job as a dancer for a noble in Babylon.  Neither Zamug nor Tiamat would have approved of the decision, but they were gone, leaving their offspring behind like frogs leaving tadpoles in pools near the Euphrates river.  Etana slammed his fist on the ground, but the frayed straw mat was unaffected by his harmless attack.


The door swung open, causing Etana to jump up, whirl around, and gasp.


“It’s just me Etana,” whispered his sister.  Even in the dark of the evening, Etana could tell that her clothing was disheveled and the residue of tears on her cheeks still reflected the moonlight outside before she swung the door closed.


“Ereshkigal, are you OK?” asked Etana.


“What do you think?” snapped Ereshkigal.  Etana lowered his head in shame.  “Did you bake some bread?” asked Ereshkigal softly.


“Well… it’s not as good as mother’s…” whimpered Etana.  Ereshkigal uncovered the jar into which Etana had placed his culinary attempt, ripped off a small piece, and took a bite.  Etana could feel his cheeks warm as his sister’s face contorted into a grimace.


“What did you do?!” whispered Ereshkigal.


“I don’t know what went wrong,” said Etana.  “I did everything mother did…”  Ereshkigal’s face softened as she looked at her brother.


“I guess I’ve had worse,” whispered Ereshkigal as she swallowed.  “And it’s better than nothing.”


She ripped another scrap of bread from the morsel in her hand, like a dog pulling a strip of raw meat from a carcass in the fields.  Before long, she had consumed the entire piece.


“This spot on the floor is warmer, if you want,” said Etana as he pointed to the spot on which he had been tossing and turning.


“It’s fine,” whispered Ereshkigal.  “Besides, I’ve got something that will help us…”


“What is it?” whispered Etana.  Ereshkigal reached into her clothing and pulled out a small statue depicting a man with a long beard and a crown.


“It’s Marduk,” said Ereshkigal as she placed in on the ground in the center of their hut.

“What are we supposed to do to earn his help?” whispered Etana.


“Worship him,” said Ereshkigal.  “And pray to him.  Just do what I do…”


Ereshkigal knelt and repeatedly bowed before the small statue.  Etana knelt beside her, mimicking her motions.  After bowing several times, Ereshkigal whispered a plea.  Her words stunned Etana.


“All-powerful Marduk,” whispered Ereshkigal.  “Most powerful of all our father’s gods… who ascended above even Ea and Anu… please… bring our parents Zamug and Tiamat back…”


Etana had no idea if praying to the image of Marduk could do this, but he pressed his forehead to the ground several more times, just in case.


The next morning, Etana woke up to discover himself alone in the hut.  He had not yet become accustomed to the absence of his parents in the morning.  Zamug had always shared some bread with Tiamat before leaving to work in the marketplaces of Babylon or Kish.


Etana shivered as he emerged out from underneath his blanket, exposed to the damp morning air.  He folded his blanket and retrieved some bread from the jar in the corner, hoping to suppress the growling of his empty stomach.  The cold, dry bread scraped the roof of his mouth, and absorbed the moisture in his mouth leaving him parched.  He grabbed a jar, opened the door, and rushed toward the well at the edge of their land.


The sound of sheep bleating echoed across the fields from their neighbor’s land as he filled his jar at the well.  Etana took a sip of water to quench his thirst before hauling the heavy container back to his home.  The burden of the sloshing liquid took his mind off of the loss of his parents, but the instant he set the jar down, the memory of his mother’s bruised and broken body being covered with earth came to his mind and filled him with grief and rage.


Etana shook his head, took a breath, and wiped the tears that had welled up in his eyes.  He and his sister had prayed to Marduk… the patron god of Babylon… perhaps they could get their parents back.  He opened the door and walked outside.  


There were still hides in a large basket from the past month that had not been sold in Kish, and Etana had been with his father enough to have a rough understanding of trading in the marketplace in Babylon.  He loaded the basket onto their donkey, Shulgi, and began walking west.


Etana’s hut was on the way between Babylon and Kish.  The path was well travelled, and Etana passed other traders with carts of varying sizes from faraway places.  Bright textiles, pots, ropes, dried food, and images of various gods were among the wares carried by traveling merchants.  While some of them appeared to be Mesopotamians, there were a few Minoans and Egyptians as well, speaking in languages Etana could not understand.


The sun shined high in the sky when Etana reached the gates of Babylon.  Etana wiped the sweat off his brow as he guided Shulgi, along the road that led to the marketplace.


He traded a few hides with some Elamites for some flour and oil.  After a couple hours, Etana looked toward the Ziggurat of Marduk that towered above the other buildings.


Etana ignored most of the calls of the merchants, even though most of them spoke clear Akkadian.  Brightly colored clothes, jewelry, and spices were on display.  Men in priestly attire stocked stone, wood, and clay images of gods from Egypt, from the great sea west, from Ur to the southeast, and from right there in Babylon.  He paused, wondering if he should get his own image of Marduk to which he could offer his own prayers.


“You’re in the wrong part of town,” smirked a large man in long white raiment.  His beard was long and thick, and he carried a bow and a quiver of arrows.  Etana recognized him as one of the men who had ambushed his father. He gasped and staggered back like a man who had drunk too much wine until he backed into Shulgi.


“Do yourself a favor and stick with the other dirty commoners near the gates,” chided the archer.


“Who are you talking to?” came a familiar deep voice from behind the archer.  Etana looked around the archer to see Nimrod in a long dark robe.  Etana’s eyes widened.  He clenched his teeth and backed up a step as the man who had murdered his parents came forward.


“I’m just telling this commoner to get lost,” explained the archer.


Nimrod looked down at Etana and narrowed his eyes.


“Hang on… he looks somewhat familiar…” said Nimrod.


“Really?” asked the archer as he turned back to Etana.


Had Etana been a little older, or a little smarter, or what had happened to his parents when Nimrod felt upset by them, he might have run away.  Instead, the frustration, pain, and rage that had been gnawing at him for the past few days rushed out him like the Tigris and Euphrates.


“YOU KILLED MY PARENTS YOU MONSTER!” screamed Etana.


Conversations around him seemed to go silent, and the eyes of everyone nearby darted back and forth between Nimrod and Etana like flies between cattle.  Nimrod’s brow furrowed as he stepped up to Etana, grabbed his tunic and pulled him close.


“You’re that brat who belonged to Zamug and Tiamat, aren’t you?” snarled Nimrod.  “Well, you’re about to learn how things work here in Babylon!”


Nimrod shoved Etana backwards, causing him to tumble in the dirt.  Etana choked on the dust.


“YOUR FATHER WAS A THIEF!” shouted Nimrod as spittle flew from his lips.  “AND YOUR MOTHER WAS MY SLAVE!”


Etana wiped the dust off his face as Nimrod slowly raised his finger toward Etana.


“If you were their son, then their debt to me falls on you!” said Nimrod in a low voice. 


“I always get what I want.  All men who displease me are filled with arrows, and women are… well, I keep them myself.  Now!  Come here, slave!  Your service to me begins immediately!”


Etana turned and sprinted away.  Nimrod turned to his archer.


“Kill him,” commanded Nimrod.  “Tell me when it is done.”


“Of course,” acknowledged the archer.


Etana darted between carts and animals, drawing the ire of merchants and shoppers he passed.  He knew he could not afford to spare even a moment though; he was being hunted.


“Get back here!” shouted the archer behind him.  The fear seemed to strengthen Etana’s legs, allowing him to nimbly glide between narrow spaces as he wound the streets of Babylon.  His eyes scanned the surroundings, hoping that he could find a dark corner in which he could crawl, but nothing seemed satisfactory.


As Etana continued sprinting, his lungs began burning with every breath.  The dust mingled with the air as he gasped and barreled forward, resisting the urge to stop and cough. 

 

His motions gradually became more sluggish.  As he jumped over a cart of clothing, his foot caught on the side and the entire cart came crashing down.  The merchant leapt up and began shouting something at him, but an arrow flew and pierced the merchant, causing him to fall.  Etana knew the arrow had been intended for him, and he turned and sprinted with renewed vigor.


After a moment, Etana became aware of why the merchant had been so upset.  One of the priestly cloaks had gotten tangled up in his attire, and it was flapping over his shoulder as he ran.  He was about to rip it off himself when a set of priests wearing similar cloaks caught his eye.


Before he could put planning into the strategy that was born in that instant, he pulled the cloak over his body and joined the group of priests.  They looked at him with confused expressions as he desperately tried to regain his breath.


“Sorry,” said Etana.


“It’s OK,” said one of the priests.  “You made it just in time…”  The priests walked toward the Ziggurat of Marduk.  Etana fell in line with them.  Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the archer sprinting, looking left and right, and then speeding by into another street.  At least for the moment, he had escaped.


The priests ascended the Ziggurat and bowed down before the large image of Marduk.  Etana mimicked the motions of the others, and if anyone noticed he was out of place, Etana could not tell.  They were wrapped up in their bowing motions and soft whispers of prayer to the patron god of Babylon.  Etana decided that even if he had lost Shulgi and their goods, perhaps it was just as well he had come to ask Marduk for his parents.


“All-powerful Marduk,” whispered Etana as he recalled his sister’s words.  “Most powerful of all our father’s gods… who ascended above even Ea and Anu… please… bring my parents Zamug and Tiamat back…”


Etana was grateful that the hood of his cloak concealed him during the few hours he waited and prayed in the temple.  At last, he cautiously exited, scanning for any signs of Nimrod or his archers.  He walked through the streets, attempting to mimic the way the priests walked, but it felt unnatural and made him feel self-conscious.


To distract himself, he decided to wander in the direction of the donkey he had been forced to abandon, just in case he could retrieve him, but it was nowhere to be seen.  He wandered in the afternoon sun toward the gates, hoping he could start his journey back to his home outside the city.


As he drew close to the gates, to his surprise, there was his donkey.  He stopped and cautiously swept the area with his eyes, searching for any sign of Nimrod or his assassins.  To be safe, he stood by the wall for a while, and then slowly approached Shulgi.  The donkey seemed to recognize him and walked toward Etana.  He pretended not to know the animal and to be looking around for an owner, in case he was being watched.  He checked the basket, and to his surprise, he had not been robbed.


At last, he decided to walk with Shulgi out of the city gates, heading east.  Every few minutes, he would whirl around, checking for any new followers coming from Babylon, but the only thing he found was the sun, slowly making its way toward the horizon like a snail on a wall.  Confident that he was not being followed, he picked up his pace, and hurried back home.


The sun had already set when he unloaded his donkey and stowed the jars of flour and oil in his house.  He removed his priest cloak, folded it, and set it in the corner.  Ereshkigal was not yet home, but after his journey, Etana decided he needed to eat something.  He tore a piece of bread from the loaf in the jar and began chewing it.  He still had plenty of water from earlier, and he was glad for a cool drink to go with it.


He had just swallowed the last bite when the door swung open and Ereshkigal came in.


“Still working on that same loaf?” she asked.


“Yes, sorry,” said Etana.


“It’s better than nothing,” said Ereshkigal as she opened the jar and tore off a piece.  “Anyway, I have some news…”


“So do I,” said Etana.


“Me first,” said Ereshkigal.  Her voice was filled with excitement.  It was the first time since their parents had been killed that she seemed so happy, and Etana could not help but smile as his sister produced a clay tablet with several cuneiform characters and a rough drawing of several mountains surrounding a large lake.


“This is a map…” explained Ereshkigal.  “I don’t know if it’s completely accurate, but it should give us the general idea to find him!”


“Find who?” asked Etana.


“His name is Utnapishtim,” explained Ereshkigal.  “He is the actual Heir of Immortals!  He’s the one that Marduk and the gods gave immortality!  He’s the one that is going to help us figure out how to get our parents back!”


“I thought Marduk was going to do that…” said Etana.


“Well, yes,” said Ereshkigal. “But Utnapishtim is going to tell us what we need so that Marduk will help us!  He talks to the gods!  That’s how he survived the great flood!”


“So where are these mountains?” asked Etana.


“Way up north, above where the Tigris starts,” explained Ereshkigal.


“Well, how are we going to get there?” asked Etana.


We can’t,” said Ereshkigal.  “I still have to work so that we can keep living… plus, I can watch over the graves of our parents.”


“You’re sending me?” asked Etana.


“You’ve got something better to do?” asked Ereshkigal.  “I mean, no offense, but I don’t think your baking is helping anyone…”  Etana laughed.


“Yeah, I guess that’s true…” replied Etana.


“So… What happened with you?” asked Ereshkigal.  “What’s your news?”


“Well, I went to Babylon to trade some of those hides,” said Etana.


“Really?!” asked Ereshkigal.  “How did it go?”


“Not great,” said Etana.  “I ran into Nimrod.”  Ereshkigal’s eyes grew wide.


“I ended up hiding in the temple of Marduk from his archers… the guys he used to kill father…” explained Etana.  “I thought I had lost Shulgi and everything, but I found him up near the gates…”


“Wait what?” asked Ereshkigal.  Her eyes narrowed and her head tilted.


“Yeah, I waited a long time, but I lost them,” said Etana.


“Did they see that Shulgi was your donkey?” asked Ereshkigal.


“Probably,” admitted Etana.


“And Shulgi is outside?” asked Ereshkigal.


“Yes,” said Etana.  Ereshkigal cautiously opened the door to their hut and glanced outside.

  

“They may have altered the shoe so they could follow the tracks…” said Ereshkigal as she walked toward Shulgi.  Etana was about to follow when he heard a familiar low voice.


“Hey there!”


“Nimrod!” exclaimed Ereshkigal.


“You know who I am,” said Nimrod.  “That’s good.  Your parents owe me a debt they can no longer pay, so I will be taking you and your brother to serve me…”


“Well you’re too late to catch my brother,” laughed Ereshkigal.  “He’s already halfway to Ashur by now…”


“Ashur?!” shouted Nimrod.  “Do you think I’m stupid?!”  Nimrod struck Ereshkigal, causing her to cry out in pain and fall to the earth.


“If I find him inside this hut, I swear by Marduk you will join your parents right here!” thundered Nimrod.  He stormed over to the door of the house and kicked it in.  He and his archer rushed into the hut with weapons drawn.


“Where are you, rat!?!” shouted Nimrod.  He kicked and shattered the jars that contained the water Etana had brought, as well as the flour and oil he had obtained in Babylon.


In the commotion, Etana quietly crept up to Ereshkigal.  He had snuck out while Ereshkigal had his attention.


“Take the map and the image of Marduk!” ordered Ereshkigal in a whisper as jars in their home shattered.  “Come back for me later… I have to stay!”


“Will you be OK?” asked Etana as he put the tablet into his belt.

“Yes, just go!” whispered Ereshkigal.


“I’ll come back for you!” whispered Etana.  “I swear!”  Ereshkigal smiled and nodded.  Etana ran.    Before he had gotten far, he heard Nimrod shouting at his sister.  Tears welled up in his eyes as he rushed north.

“The next time I see your brother’s face, I will fill him with arrows!” shrieked Nimrod.


It took several days for Etana to reach the banks of the Tigris river.  In that time, he had sharpened a long stick into a makeshift spear and gathered a couple jagged rocks to use as cutting tools.  He was grateful that his father had taken him on hunting expeditions, because even though he was not as efficient as his Zamug, he killed, cleaned, and skinned a gazelle.  Being self-sufficient to this degree allowed him to avoid Kish, and any potential assassins that might have been lurking there.


Travelling along the Tigris also allowed him time to practice spearing carp, which he found particularly tasty.  As the days rolled on, Etana slowly progressed along the river.  He saw more wild pigs than he did people.  Each night, Etana pulled out the image of Marduk that his sister had given him and appealed for protection and success.  Each morning, he would examine the horizon and compare what he saw to the image on the map he carried.


Since the men of Ashur and Nineveh spoke Akkadian differently than he did, he avoided entering the cities of Assyria.  Noting the mountains appearing larger in the north, Etana took a few days to hunt for gazelle and pigs.  Supplied with a cloak of skins and dried meat, he crossed the Tigris and began climbing foothills.


The journey became more difficult as Etana ascended the hills, and the mountains did not seem to line up with the images on the tablet.  His evening prayers to Marduk became more desperate as he imagined the torment that Ereshkigal was enduring at the hands of Nimrod.


As Etana reached the peak of a hill, he saw a large lake.  Immediately he retrieved the tablet and compared the shapes.  He smiled as he recognized the similarities and identified the mountain that was hopefully still the home of Utnapishtim.


The air was colder here, and while Etana tried to ignore the discomfort of the breeze, he wrapped his cloak of gazelle skins tighter around his arms as he ascended the slope.  His supply of jerky dwindled, despite his efforts to ration what remained.


After several days, Etana reached a clearing at which he determined to make camp.  He began the tedious process of starting a fire, a luxury he had forgone for at least a week.  After an hour of blowing on sparks, his kindling ignited.  He carefully scaled the fuel until he had a comfortable flame.  He examined the scrapes and bruises on his feet and legs, even though he could do little to clean them.  He ate a bit of meat and set up his image of Marduk for his evening worship.


“All-powerful Marduk,” he pled.  “I have journeyed far from my home.  I need your help…  My sister Ereshkigal needs your help…  Please, help me to find Utnapishtim…”


Almost immediately, heavy rain fell, extinguishing his fire.  Etana found shelter in a small cave nearby.  He clenched his fists to suppress the growing feeling of despair.  Everything seemed to hinder him.

When Etana awakened in the morning, he noticed three things.

  

First, the rain had stopped.  As he exited the cave, there was a brilliant rainbow in the sky, larger than any he had ever seen.  The red, yellow, orange, green, blue, and violet colors seemed brighter than the fabrics and dyes of the merchants of Babylon.

  

Second, he heard voices.  He whirled around to find a white-bearded man speaking to a woman with long white hair in a language that he could not recognize.  The couple was dressed in dark, thick fur cloaks.   Their attire completely covered them except for their hands, their faces, the man’s beard, and the woman’s long straight hair that protruded from the sides of her hood.  The voice of the man seemed old and tired, but the woman seemed warm.


Third, as Etana turned to look up the mountain, he noticed a massive set of wooden ribs forming the skeleton of a once great ship.  They had not been visible in the dark of the previous evening.  Etana whirled toward the man.


“Utnapishtim?!” he cried.  The old man turned to him.  “Utnapishtim!!”


Etana rushed up to the man, fell to his knees, and pressed his forehead to the ground.


“Great Utnapishtim!” exclaimed Etana.  “I have journeyed from Babylon to seek your help…”

The man and woman spoke to one another in their language for a moment before Etana continued.

“I do not know if you understand me, but I have to try…” explained Etana.  “I am Etana of Babylon.  My father Zamug was murdered by a noble of Babylon named Nimrod, because Nimrod wished to have my mother, Tiamat.  When my mother displeased him, he abused her, and she died.  Now my sister has been taken by him, and, truthfully, I do not know if she yet lives…  I have risked everything to come and seek your counsel… you… Utnapishtim… Heir of Immortals… One who survived the great flood…  One who speaks to Marduk and all the gods…  What must I do to win their favor and bring my parents back? What must I do to overcome death!?”


Etana kept his forehead pressed against the ground and silently pled that Utnapishtim had understood his need, and that he would have compassion on him.  After about a minute, the woman said something.  Then the old man touched Etana’s head.


“Stand up my son,” said the man.  He had understood!  Etana got to his feet.  Tears had welled up in the old man’s eyes.


“Have I offended?” asked Etana.  “I do not wish to offend, o great Utnapishtim…”


“Do you know what I said to my wife?” asked the old man.  Etana shook his head.  “I told her that we have another pilgrim from Shinar who knows nothing of the truth…”  Etana’s eyes grew wide, and he went to kneel before the man again, but before he could, the man took his shoulder and stopped him.

“And then,” continued the man.  “My wife reminded me that the truth is, we cannot turn our backs on our child in his time of need…”  Etana breathed a sigh of relief.


“Tell me,” said the old man.  “What is it that you think I can do?”


“Are you not the Heir of Immortals?” asked Etana.  “Have you not conquered death?”


“No,” replied the old man.  “Although I am older than any other man on the earth…”

“But didn’t Marduk give you eternal life?” asked Etana.


“Marduk…” sighed the old man.  “What nonsense are they teaching young people in Babylon?”

“Nonsense?” asked Etana.


“I’m sure you have many questions my son,” said the woman with a smile.  Her voice sounded like music to Etana.  She reminded him of an older version of his mother.  “Why don’t you join us for some food?  Things are easier to understand with a full stomach…”


The three of them traveled to a brick house.  Etana was offered a place to sit near their fireplace as the man got the fire started, and the woman prepared a stew of meat and vegetables in a large metal pot.  Before long, the food was cooking over the fire.  Though Etana dared not speak, the couple spoke to one another in their own language.


At last, the three of them received large cups, filled with the tasty food.  Etana went to take a sip, but the old man instructed him to wait.


“Before we eat…” said the man.  “The first truth: Marduk was never a god.  Neither was Ea or Anu or whoever else they worship in Babylon.  They were men.  They lived a long time ago… before the flood.”

“So there is no god?” asked Etana.


“Oh, there is a God,” assured the man.  “But there is only one.”

“What is he called?” asked Etana.


“He wishes for us to call him Father,” replied the man with a smile.  “Because there is no title greater, because we are indeed his children, and because he loves us…  Now son, bow your head and close your eyes…”  The old man proceeded to offer a prayer to his Father in heaven, thanking him for the food, and for Etana’s safety, and asking for help to know what is right, and for strength to do it.  Etana felt something warm in his heart, and though he did not recall feeling this way ever before, there was also something natural and familiar about it.


“OK Etana,” said the woman.  “Now we eat.”


As Etana ate, the man talked about how life had been different before the flood.  He explained how all men lived longer, but they had become like Nimrod… consumed with getting what they wanted, no matter who they killed or robbed.  God had told the man to destroy his house and build a great ark.

“So out of all men… only eight of us were saved from the flood,” explained the woman.  “We hoped that, starting over, we would build a nation of peace.”


“But peace did not last…” explained the man.  “Another Nimrod, and others like him, turned to the tales of men who lived before the flood.  They called them gods and fought against peace, thinking that they could ascend to heaven by force.  Now my children are scattered, divided, and almost all of them have forgotten the truths about God we taught them.”


“Does the one true God have power over death?” asked Etana.


“Let me ask you something first,” replied the old man.  “If you had to wait two days before your parents were restored to life, would you wait the time?”


“Yes, of course!” replied Etana.


“What if you had to wait two weeks?” asked the man.


“Yes!” replied Etana.


“Two months?  Two years?  Twenty years?” asked the man.


“Yes,” said Etana.


“Is there a length of time that would be too long?” asked the man.


“I suppose I will only live so long myself…” said Etana.


“But what if you were resurrected as well?” asked the man.  “If you could be reunited with your family, and live in love and peace?  Is there any amount of time that would make you say never mind; I don’t want to be with my family again?”


“No,” said Etana.


“Then here is the next truth,” said the man.  “In about two thousand years, God will come to earth in the form of a man, and he will rescue all men from death.”  He then proceeded to explain how God wanted to save us from ancient curses that started from the first man.


“Even though it seems far in the future,” said the man.  “It is exciting!  Like you said… no amount of time is too great for the promise of making everything right!


“But two thousand years?” asked Etana.  “What should I do now?  What about my sister?”


“We can do two things to help you,” said the old woman with a smile.  “If you believe the truths we have taught you…”


“I do believe,” said Etana.  As the words left his lips, a powerful sense welled up inside his heart, and he realized it was not just the meal, the kindness, or the manner of these people… he believed everything they had taught.


“Good… then first,” replied the old man.  “After the order of the old Patriarchs, I will bestow a blessing upon you…  Stay seated my son.”  The old man placed his hands on Etana’s head, called him by name, and invoked the authority of the one true God and pronounced a blessing.

  

“Though you have been wronged by Nimrod, you must let go of vengeance.  The way of God is peace.  I bless you, that if you dedicate yourself to him, and if you commit to seek the King of Righteousness, no arrow shall touch your flesh!  Focus on saving your sister.  She has suffered much, and is troubled with despair, but she is not beyond the power of God.  Go to her, and you can bring her with you to the King of Righteousness.  You have concerns about your parents, Etana.  They are not gone forever.  The power of Jesus Christ will bind you to one another, so that you will see them again.”


The man promised health and strength, and plenty of food and water for his journey, and closed, invoking the power of Jesus Christ.  He then returned to his seat. 

 

Etana remained silent as he tried to process everything that he had been given.  His heart was full, and tears rolled down his cheeks as he thought about the prospect of saving his sister, and that, at some point, he would see his parents again.


“Who is the King of Righteousness?” asked Etana finally.


“That’s the second thing we can do to help you,” replied the woman.  “There is a king in the land of the Canaanites; seek out his city… it is called Salem.”


Etana offered to help clean up after the meal, but they refused his help.  They provided to him a fur cloak, which was warmer than the hides he had used before.


“Thank you for everything!” said Etana.  The old man and woman embraced Etana and told him to hurry to his sister’s aid.


Winter had come to Babylon, but despite the cold, Ereshkigal was still required to wear little in the house of Nimrod.  She had been beaten repeatedly.  Any hope of seeing her parents again, let alone her brother Etana, had vanished like raindrops in the Euphrates.


Perhaps Ereshkigal was the most shocked on that cold day when the doors on Nimrod’s house were kicked open, and a tall man wrapped in thick skins appeared.  He looked like Zamug, her father.


“Father?” whispered Ereshkigal as she narrowed her eyes to try and focus on the visitor.


“No revenge,” muttered the visitor as he lowered his head and entered the room.


“You knew this would happen if you ever came back!” chided Nimrod, who seemed to recognize him.  


“You will be filled with arrows!”


Nimrod’s archers tried to kill him, but their arrows all missed as the man calmly walked toward Ereshkigal and took her by the hand.


“Who?” whispered Ereshkigal in a hoarse voice as she looked toward the face of the visitor.


“Let’s go,” said the visitor.  Arrows continued to fly around him, sticking into the floor and the walls.  


Nimrod shouted something she could not make out as the visitor pulled her to her feet and turned toward the open door.


Ereshkigal looked back, still dazed from the abuse she had suffered at the hands of Nimrod.  Spittle flew from his lips as freely as swear words.  Arrows continued to fly around them from men who had rarely missed their targets, but now, inexplicably, their misses steadily piled up.  She could hear arrows whiz by their heads like bees racing toward the sweet nectar of spring blossoms.  


Nimrod screamed as he chased after them, but one of the arrows fired by his guards pierced his heart, and he fell dead onto the floor.  Chaos erupted as the guards attacked one another, seemingly forgetting all about her and the visitor who had escorted her out of that palace of pain.  She turned toward her benefactor, to see who had come to help her.  She gasped as he smiled at her.


“Etana?” asked Ereshkigal through tear-filled eyes.


“It will be OK,” replied Etana.


“Did you find Utnapishtim?” asked Ereshkigal.


“Yes,” replied Etana as he wrapped Ereshkigal in a fur cloak.  “But the truth is not exactly what we thought…”


“What about our parents?” asked Ereshkigal.


“We will see them again,” said Etana as he reached into a satchel and retrieved some dried meat.  “But not right away…”


“I…” stammered Ereshkigal as she took the food that Etana offered her.  “I don’t know what to do now… That’s why I believed in Marduk… that’s why I sent you… I wanted to have our parents back…  I wanted us to have peace…”


“Thanks to the one true God, we will find peace…” promised Etana.  Ereshkigal breathed deeply and took a bite of the meat as she considered how confident Etana had become.  Perhaps it was because she had sent him to find Utnapishtim.


“And as far as what to do now,” said Etana.  “I know that too.  We need to find the King of Salem.  Come on, it’s time we bid Babylon farewell…”