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Babylon: Imperial Polytheism

“As long, however, as these multitudinous deities were believed to exist, so long was it also believed that they could injure or assist. Hence come such expressions as those which meet us in the Penitential Psalms, “To the god that is known and that is unknown, to the goddess that is known and that is unknown, do I lift my prayer.”

Hence, too, the care with which the supreme Baal was invoked as “lord of the hosts of heaven and earth,” since homage paid to the master was paid to the subjects as well.

Hence, finally, the fact that the temples of the higher gods, like the Capitol at Rome, became gathering places for the inferior divinities, and counterparts on the earth of “the assembly of the gods” in heaven.

That curious product of Mandaite imagination, the Book of Nabathean Agriculture, which was translated into Arabic by Ibn Wahshiya in the 10th century, sets before us a curious picture of the temple of Tammuz in Babylon.

“The images (of the gods),” it tells us,

“congregated from all parts of the world to the temple of el-Askûl (Ê-Sagil) in Babylon, and betook themselves to the temple (haikal) of the Sun, to the great golden image that is suspended between heaven and earth in particular.

The image of the sun stood, they say, in the midst of the temple, surrounded by all the images of the world. Next to it stood the images of the sun in all countries; then those of the moon; next those of Mars; after them the images of Mercury; then those of Jupiter; next of Venus; and last of all, of Saturn.

Thereupon the image of the sun began to bewail Tammuz and the idols to weep; and the image of the sun uttered a lament over Tammuz and narrated his history, whilst the idols all wept from the setting of the sun till its rising at the end of that night. Then the idols flew away, returning to their own countries.”

The details are probably borrowed from the great temple of pre-Mohammedan Mecca, but they correspond very faithfully with what we now know the interior of one of the chief temples of Babylonia and Assyria to have been like.

Fragments have been preserved to us of a tablet which enumerated the names of the minor deities whose images stood in the principal temples of Assyria, attending like servants upon the supreme god.

Among them are the names of foreign divinities, to whom the catholic spirit of Babylonian religion granted a place in the national pantheon when once the conquest of the towns and countries over which they presided had proved their submission to the Babylonian and Assyrian gods; even Khaldis, the god of Ararat, figures among those who dwelt in one of the chief temples of Assyria, and whose names were invoked by the visitor to the shrine.

The spectacle of such a temple, with the statue or symbol of the supreme Baal rising majestically in the innermost cell, and delivering his oracles from within the hidden chamber of that holy of holies, while the shrines of his wife and offspring were grouped around him, and the statues of ministering deities stood slave-like in front, was a fitting image of Babylonian religion.

“The gods many and lords many” of an older creed still survived, but they had become the jealously-defined officials of an autocratic court. The democratic polytheism of an earlier day had become imperial.

Bel was the counterpart of his vicegerent the Babylonian king, with this difference, that whereas Babylonia had been fused into an united monarchy, the hierarchy of the gods still acknowledged more than one head.

How long Anu and Ea, or Samas and Sin, mould have continued to share with Merodach the highest honours of the official cult, we cannot say; the process of degradation had already begun when Babylonia ceased to be an independent kingdom and Babylon the capital of an empire.

Merodach remained a supreme Baal–the cylinder inscription of Cyrus proves so much–but he never became the one supreme god.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 217-20.

Sala of the Copper Hand = Ishtar, Evening Star

Rimmon, accordingly, among the Babylonians and Assyrians, is the god of winds and cloud, of thunder and lightning, of storm and rain; he is the inundator who is called upon to cover the fields of the impious and unjust with water, and to pour his refreshing streams into a thirsty land.

His wife went by the Accadian name of Sala, “the merciful” (?). As her husband had been identified with “the lord of the mountain,” so she too was identified with “the lady of the mountain,” to whom Gudea had built a temple at Tel-loh.

As “lady of the mountain,” however, she was more strictly the consort of the Sun-god of Eridu; and a mythological tablet speaks accordingly of a “Sala of the mountains, the wife of Merodach.”

It is to Zarpanit, the wife of Merodach, again, and not to Sala, that Nebuchadnezzar refers, when he tells us how he “built in Babylon the House Supreme, the temple of the lady of the mountain, for the exalted goddess, the mother who had borne” him. Sala and Zarpanit, therefore, must once have been one and the same divinity.

Sala was, furthermore, the “lady (or exalted lady) of the desert”–a title which brings to one’s recollection the similar title of Rimmon, as “the ever-glowing sun of the desert-land.”

It is under this title that she is addressed in a penitential psalm, where she is named, not Sala, but Gubára, “the fire-flame,” and associated with Mâtu (Matö), “the lord of the mountain.”

As the other deities invoked along with her are Ea and Dav-kina, Merodach and Zarpanit, Nebo and Tasmit, while the whole psalm is dedicated to Nana, the goddess of Erech, it is clear that the psalm is the composition of a worshipper of Nana and native of Erech, whose gods were the gods of Eridu and those who claimed kindred with them.

We may, therefore, see in the primitive Sala the female consort of the Sun-god of Eridu–the original, in fact, of the Babylonian Zarpanit, who became identified on the one side with the “lady of the mountain,” and on the other with the wife of Meri, the “bright firmament” of the starry sky.

Her name, Gubára, points to her solar connection, and makes it probable that she was not the moon–which does not seem to have been regarded as a goddess in any part of Babylonia–nor the dawn, but the evening and morning star.

This will explain why it is that she was known as the goddess of the mountains, over whose heights Venus arose and set, or as the mistress of wisdom and hidden treasure, or, again, as the goddess of the copper hand.

Other mythologies have stories of a solar hero whose hand has been cut off and replaced by one of gold and bronze, and it is in the light of such stories that the epithet must be explained.

(Note: H.C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, 1886, ii., 57, 35. The Sun-god Savitar is called “the golden-handed” in the Veda, a term explained in later Sanskrit literature by the statement that the hand of the god had been cut at a sacrifice and replaced by a golden one. The Teutonic Tyr is similarly one-handed, and the Keltic Nuad with the silver hand offers a close parallel to the Chaldean goddess with the copper hand.)

We are expressly told that Sala of the copper hand was the wife of Tammuz, the beautiful Sun-god of Eridu; and we know that Tammuz, the son of the River-god Ea, was the spouse of Ishtar, the evening star.

What wonder, then, that her later husband Rimmon should have become the Sun-god of the Syrians, whose untimely death was mourned in the plain of Jezreel, as the untimely death of his double, the Babylonian Tammuz, was mourned by the women of Phoenicia and Jerusalem?”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 209 -12.

More on the Babylonian Zodiac

“Jupiter, the largest of the planets, was identified with Merodach, head of the Babylonian pantheon. We find him exercising control over the other stars in the creation story under the name Nibir.

Ishtar was identified with Venus, Saturn with Ninib, Mars with Nergal, Mercury with Nabu. It is more than strange that gods with certain attributes should have become attached to certain planets in more countries than one, and this illustrates the deep and lasting influence which Semitic religious thought exercised over the Hellenic and Roman theological systems.

The connexion is too obvious and too exact not to be the result of close association. There are, indeed, hundreds of proofs to support such a theory. Who can suppose, for example, that Aphrodite is any other than Ishtar?

The Romans identified their goddess Diana with the patroness of Ephesus. There are, indeed, traces of direct relations of the Greek goddess with the moon, and she was also, like Ishtar, connected with the lower world and the sea.

The Greeks had numerous and flourishing colonies in Asia Minor in remote times, and these probably assisted in the dissemination of Asiatic and especially Babylonian lore.

The sun was regarded as the shepherd of the stars, and Nergal, the god of destruction and the underworld, as the “chief sheep,” probably because the ruddy nature of his light rendered him a most conspicuous object.

Anu is the Pole Star of the ecliptic, Bel the Pole Star of the equator, while Ea, in the southern heavens, was identified with a star in the constellation Argo.

Fixed stars were probably selected for them because of their permanent and elemental nature. The sun they represented as riding in a chariot drawn by horses, and we frequently notice that the figure representing the luminary on Greek vases and other remains wears the Phrygian cap, a typically Asiatic and non-Hellenic headdress, thus assisting proof that the idea of the sun as a charioteer possibly originated in Babylonia.

Lunar worship, or at least computation of time by the phases of the moon, frequently precedes the solar cult, and we find traces in Babylonian religion of the former high rank of the moon-god. The moon, for example, is not one of the flock of sheep under guidance of the sun. The very fact that the calendar was regulated by her movements was sufficient to prevent this.

Like the Red Indians and other primitive folk, the Babylonians possessed agricultural titles for each month, but these periods were also under the direct patronage of some god or gods.

Thus the first month, Nizan, is sacred to Anu and Bel; and the second, Iyar, to Ea. Siwan is devoted to Sin, and as we approach the summer season the solar gods are apportioned to various months.

The sixth month is sacred to Ishtar, and the seventh to Shamash, great god of the sun. Merodach rules over the eighth, and Nergal over the ninth month.

The tenth, curiously enough, is sacred to a variant of Nabu, to Anu, and to Ishtar. The eleventh month, very suitably, to Ramman, the god of storms, and the last month, Adar, falling within the rainy season, is presided over by the seven evil spirits.

Assyrian star map from Nineveh (K 8538). Counterclockwise from bottom: Sirius (Arrow), Pegasus + Andromeda (Field + Plough), [Aries], the Pleiades, Gemini, Hydra + Corvus + Virgo, Libra. Drawing by L.W.King with corrections by J.Koch. Neue Untersuchungen zur Topographie des Babilonischen Fixsternhimmels (Wiesbaden 1989), p. 56ff. http://doormann.tripod.com/asssky.htm

Assyrian star map from Nineveh (K 8538). Counterclockwise from bottom: Sirius (Arrow), Pegasus + Andromeda (Field + Plough), [Aries], the Pleiades, Gemini, Hydra + Corvus + Virgo, Libra. Drawing by L.W.King with corrections by J.Koch. Neue Untersuchungen zur Topographie des Babilonischen Fixsternhimmels (Wiesbaden 1989), p. 56ff.
http://doormann.tripod.com/asssky.htm

None of the goddesses received stellar honours. The names of the months were probably quite popular in origin.

Thus we find that

  • the first month was known as the ‘month of the Sanctuary,’
  • the third as the ‘period of brick-making,’
  • the fifth as the ‘fiery month,’
  • the sixth as the ‘month of the mission of Ishtar,’ referring to her descent into the realms of Allatu.
  • The fourth month was designated ‘scattering seed,’
  • the eighth that of the opening of dams,
  • and the ninth was entitled ‘copious fertility,’
  • while the eleventh was known as ‘destructive rain.’

We find in this early star-worship of the ancient Babylonians the common origin of religion and science. Just as magic partakes in some measure of the nature of real science (for some authorities hold that it is pseudo-scientific in origin) so does religion, or perhaps more correctly speaking, early science is very closely identified with religion.

 The Zodiac of Dendera (or “Dendara”), a stone diagram from an Egyptian temple dated to the mid-1st century BCE, depicts the twelve signs of the zodiac and the 36 Egyptian decans, and numerous other constellations and astronomical phenomena. The Hellenistic-era portrayal of the zodiac is dated to between June 15th and August 15th, 50 BCE based on astronomical data in the diagram.  The positions of planets in specific signs of the zodiac and eclipses that took place on March 7th, 51 BCE and September 25, 52 BCE are depicted. The Dendera Egyptian temple complex dates back to the 4th century BCE, during the rule of the last native Egyptian pharaoh Nectanebo II. It was renovated by later Hellenistic and Roman rulers. http://horoscopicastrologyblog.com/2007/05/24/the-zodiac-of-dendera/


The Zodiac of Dendera (or “Dendara”), a stone diagram from an Egyptian temple dated to the mid-1st century BCE, depicts the twelve signs of the zodiac and the 36 Egyptian decans, and numerous other constellations and astronomical phenomena.
The Hellenistic-era portrayal of the zodiac is dated to between June 15th and August 15th, 50 BCE based on astronomical data in the diagram. The positions of planets in specific signs of the zodiac and eclipses that took place on March 7th, 51 BCE and September 25, 52 BCE are depicted.
The Dendera Egyptian temple complex dates back to the 4th century BCE, during the rule of the last native Egyptian pharaoh Nectanebo II. It was renovated by later Hellenistic and Roman rulers.
http://horoscopicastrologyblog.com/2007/05/24/the-zodiac-of-dendera/

Thus we may believe that the religious interest in their early astronomy spurred the ancient star-gazers of Babylonia to acquire more knowledge concerning the motions of those stars and planets which they believed to be deities.

We find the gods so closely connected with ancient Chaldean astronomy as to be absolutely identified with it in every way. A number was assigned to each of the chief gods, which would seem to show that they were connected in some way with mathematical science.

Thus Ishtar’s number is fifteen; that of Sin, her father, is exactly double that. Anu takes sixty, and Bel and Ea represent fifty and forty. Ramman is identified with ten.

It would be idle in this place to attempt further to outline astrological science in Babylonia, concerning which our knowledge is vague and scanty. Much remains to be done in the way of research before anything more definite can be written about it, and many years may pass before the workers in this sphere are rewarded by the discovery of texts bearing on Chaldean star-lore.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp.235-7.

Animist Origins of Babylonian Celestial Religion

“To arrive at a proper comprehension of Babylonian religious doctrines it is necessary to understand the nature of the astrological speculations of the ancient Chaldeans.

They recognized at an early period that eternal and unchangeable laws underlay planetary motion, and seem to have been able to forecast eclipses. Soon also did they begin to identify the several heavenly bodies with the gods. Thus the path of the sun was known as the”‘way of Anu,” and the course of the moon and planets they determined with reference to the sun’s ecliptic or pathway.

This illustration is from a page on Babylonian astronomy hosted by the science faculty of the Mathematical Institute of Utrecht University.  http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl_fixedstars.htm A dedicated work assessing the influences of Chaldean astrology on later Greek and Roman knowledge can be found in Franz Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, 1912.  Full text available for download at several locations on the net, including: http://theosnet.net/dzyan/miscpubs/Astrology_and_Religion.pdf

This illustration is from a page on Babylonian astronomy hosted by the science faculty of the Mathematical Institute of Utrecht University.
http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl_fixedstars.htm
A dedicated work assessing the influences of Chaldean astrology on later Greek and Roman knowledge can be found in Franz Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, 1912.
Full text available for download at several locations on the net, including:
http://theosnet.net/dzyan/miscpubs/Astrology_and_Religion.pdf

It is strange, too, that they should have employed the same ideograph for the word ‘star’ and the word ‘god,’ the only difference being that in the case of a god they repeated the sign three times. If the sun and moon under animistic law are regarded as gods, it stands to reason that the stars and planets must also be looked upon as lesser deities.

Indeed, poets still use such an expression regarding them as ‘the host of heaven,’ and we frequently encounter in classical authors the statement that the stars in their courses fought for such and such a person.

This illustration is from a page on Babylonian astronomy hosted by the science faculty of the Mathematical Institute of Utrecht University.  http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl_fixedstars.htm A dedicated work assessing the influences of Chaldean astrology on later Greek and Roman knowledge can be found in Franz Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, 1912.  Full text available for download at several locations on the net, including: http://theosnet.net/dzyan/miscpubs/Astrology_and_Religion.pdf

This illustration is from a page on Babylonian astronomy hosted by the science faculty of the Mathematical Institute of Utrecht University.
http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl_fixedstars.htm
A dedicated work assessing the influences of Chaldean astrology on later Greek and Roman knowledge can be found in Franz Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, 1912.
Full text available for download at several locations on the net, including:
http://theosnet.net/dzyan/miscpubs/Astrology_and_Religion.pdf

This is tantamount to saying that the stars possess volition, and even although omens were looked for out of their movements, it may have been believed that these were the outcome of volition on the part of the stars themselves as deities or deific individuals.

Again we can see how the idea that the gods reside in ‘heaven’ —that is, the sky—arose from early astrological conceptions. The gods were identified in many cases with the stars, therefore it is only natural to suppose that they resided in the sky-region. It is, indeed, one of the most difficult matters for even an intelligent and enlightened man in our enlightened age to dissociate the idea of God from a residence in the sky or ‘somewhere up there.’

This illustration is from a page on Babylonian astronomy hosted by the science faculty of the Mathematical Institute of Utrecht University.  http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl_fixedstars.htm A dedicated work assessing the influences of Chaldean astrology on later Greek and Roman knowledge can be found in Franz Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, 1912.  Full text available for download at several locations on the net, including: http://theosnet.net/dzyan/miscpubs/Astrology_and_Religion.pdf

This illustration is from a page on Babylonian astronomy hosted by the science faculty of the Mathematical Institute of Utrecht University.
http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl_fixedstars.htm
A dedicated work assessing the influences of Chaldean astrology on later Greek and Roman knowledge can be found in Franz Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, 1912.
Full text available for download at several locations on the net, including:
http://theosnet.net/dzyan/miscpubs/Astrology_and_Religion.pdf

The idea of space, too, must have assisted in such a conception as the residence of the gods in the upper regions of air. The earth would not be large enough for them, but the boundless vault above would afford them plenty of space in which to dwell.

Again, the sun and moon being gods, it would be only natural for the other deities to dwell beside them, that is, in the ‘heaven of Anu,’ as the Babylonians called the sky. It has been suggested that the conception of a pantheon dwelling in the sky originated in theological processes forwarded by a school or priesthood, but there is no reason to suppose that this was so, and the possibilities are easily covered by the circumstances of the animistic theory.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 233-5.

Nascence of the Babylonian Zodiac

“ANCIENT Chaldea was undoubtedly the birth place of that mysterious science of astrology which was destined to exert such influence upon the European mind during the Middle Ages, and which indeed has not yet ceased to amuse the curious and flatter the hopes of the credulous.

Whether any people more primitive than the Akkadians had studied the movements of the stars it would indeed be extremely difficult to say. This the Akkadians or Babylonians were probably the first to attempt. The plain of Mesopotamia is peculiarly suited to the study of the movements of the stars. It is level for the most part, and there are few mountains around which moisture can collect to obscure the sky. Moreover the climate greatly assists such observations.

Like most primitive people the Babylonians originally believed the stars to be pictures drawn on the heavens. At a later epoch they were described as the “writing of heaven;” the sky was supposed to be a great vault, and the movements observed by these ancient astronomers were thought to be on the part of the stars alone.

Of course it would be noticed at an early stage that some of the stars seemed fixed while others moved about. Lines were drawn between the various stars and planets, and the figures which resulted from these were regarded as omens.

Assyrian star planisphere found in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (Aššur-bāni-apli – reigned 668-627 BCE) at Nineveh.  The function of this unique 13-cm diameter clay tablet, in which the principal constellations are positioned in eight sectors, is disputed. The texts and drawings appear to be astro-magical in nature.  Kuyunjik Collection, British Museum, K 8538 [= CT 33, 10]. London. http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl.htm

Assyrian star planisphere found in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (Aššur-bāni-apli – reigned 668-627 BCE) at Nineveh.
The function of this unique 13-cm diameter clay tablet, in which the principal constellations are positioned in eight sectors, is disputed. The texts and drawings appear to be astro-magical in nature.
Kuyunjik Collection, British Museum, K 8538 [= CT 33, 10]. London.
http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl.htm

Again, certain groups or constellations were connected with such lines which led them to be identified with various animals, and in this we may observe the influence of animism. The Babylonian zodiac was, with the exception of the sign of Merodach, identified with the eleven monsters forming the host of Tiawath.

The first complete reconstruction of the Babylonian heavens in the modern era. For more information the reader is referred to ‘Babylonian Star-lore, An Illustrated Guide to the Star-lore and Constellations of Ancient Babylonia’ by Gavin White.  © 2007, Gavin White. http://solariapublications.com/2011/10/25/map-2-full-reconstruction-of-the-babylonian-star-map/

The first complete reconstruction of the Babylonian heavens in the modern era.
For more information the reader is referred to Babylonian Star-lore, An Illustrated Guide to the Star-lore and Constellations of Ancient Babylonia, by Gavin White.
© 2007, Gavin White.
http://solariapublications.com/2011/10/25/map-2-full-reconstruction-of-the-babylonian-star-map/

Thus it would seem that the zodiacal system as a whole originated in Babylonia. The knowledge of the Chaldean astronomers appears to have been considerable, and it is likely that they were familiar with most of the constellations known to the later Greeks.

The following legend is told regarding the origin of astrology by Maimonides, the famous Jewish rabbi and friend of Averroes, in his commentary on the Mischnah :

“ In the days of Enos, the son of Seth, the sons of Adam erred with great error: and the council of the wise men of that age became brutish; and Enos himself was of them that erred. And their error was this: they said,—

Forasmuch as God hath created these stars and spheres to govern the world, and hath set them on high, and hath imparted honour unto them, and they are ministers that minister before Him, it is meet that men should laud and glorify and give them honour.

For this is the will of God that we laud and magnify whomsoever He magnifieth and honoureth, even as a king would honour them that stand before him. And this is the honour of the king himself.

When this thing was come up into their hearts they began to build temples unto the stars, and to offer sacrifice unto them, and to laud and magnify them with words, and to worship before them, that they might, in their evil opinion, obtain favour of their Creator.

And this was the root of idolatry; for in process of time there stood up false prophets among the sons of Adam, which said, that God had commanded them and said unto them,—

Worship such a star, or all the stars, and do sacrifice unto them thus and thus; and build a temple for it, and make an image of it, that all the people, women and children, may worship it.

And the false prophet showed them the image which he had feigned out of his own heart, and said that it was the image of that star which was made known to him by prophecy.

And they began after this manner to make images in temples, and under trees, and on the tops of mountains and hills, and assembled together and worshipped them; and this thing was spread through all the world to serve images, with services different one from another, and to sacrifice unto and worship them.

So, in process of time, the glorious and fearful Name was forgotten out of the mouth of all living, and out of their knowledge, and they acknowledged Him not.

And there was found on earth no people that knew aught, save images of wood and stone, and temples of stone which they had been trained up from their childhood to worship and serve, and to swear by their names; and the wise men that were among them, the priests and such like, thought that there was no God save the stars and spheres, for whose sake, and in whose likeness, they had made these images; but as for the Rock Everlasting, there was no man that did acknowledge Him or know Him save a few persons in the world, as Enoch, Methusaleh, Noah, Shem, and Heber.

And in this way did the world work and converse, till that pillar of the world, Abram our father, was born.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 231-3.

Hymns On the Seven Matu Gods

An Accadian hymn about the Seven Harmful Spirits:

  1. “They are the destructive reptiles, even the winds that create evil!
  2. as an evil reptile, as an evil wind, do they appear!
  3. as an evil reptile, as an evil wind, who marches in front are they !
  4. Children monstrous (gitmalutu), monstrous sons are they!
  5. Messengers of the pest-demon are they!
  6. Throne-bearers of the goddess of Hades are they!
  7. The whirlwind (mátu) which is poured upon the land are they!
  8. The seven are gods of the wide-spread heaven.
  9. The seven are gods of the wide-spread earth.
  10. The seven are gods of the (four) zones.
  11. The seven are gods seven in number.
  12. Seven evil gods are they!
  13. Seven evil demons are they!
  14. Seven evil consuming spirits are they!
  15. In heaven are they seven, in earth are they seven!”
Four faced wind demon. Old Babylonian Period, 18th-17th century B.C. Purchased in Baghdad, 1930 Oriental Institute Museum A7119 University of Chicago https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Four faced wind demon. Old Babylonian Period, 18th-17th century B.C.
Purchased in Baghdad, 1930
Oriental Institute Museum A7119
University of Chicago
https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

From H.C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, 1886, iv. 1. ii. 65–iii. 26; 2. v. 30-59:

  1. “Seven are they, seven are they!
  2. In the hollow of the deep, seven are they!
  3. (In) the glory of heaven, seven are they!
  4. In the hollow of the deep in a palace grew they up! (In the original, “from the hollow …. came they forth”).
  5. Male they are not, female they are not!
  6. They are the dust-storm, the travelled ones are they!
  7. Wife they possess not, child is unborn to them.
  8. Order and kindliness know they not.
  9. They hearken not to prayer and supplication.
  10. From the horse of the mountain came they forth.
  11. Of Ea are they the foes.
  12. The throne-bearers of the gods are they.
  13. To trouble the canal in the street are they set.
  14. Evil are they, evil are they!
  15. Seven are they, seven are they, seven doubly said are they!”
Four faced statuette, representing the god of the four winds. The god wears a low cap with a pair of horns meeting above each face. He carries a scimitar in his right hand and places his left foot upon the back of a crouching ram.  https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Four faced statuette, representing the god of the four winds. The god wears a low cap with a pair of horns meeting above each face. He carries a scimitar in his right hand and places his left foot upon the back of a crouching ram.
https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Another poet of Eridu, in a hymn to the Fire-god, speaks of the seven spirits in similar language:

  1. “O god of Fire,” he asks, “how were those seven begotten, how grew they up?
  2. Those seven in the mountain of the sunset were born;
  3. those seven in the mountain of the sunrise grew up.”

Throughout they are regarded as elemental powers, and their true character as destructive winds and tempests is but thinly veiled by a cloak of poetic imagery. But it will be noticed that they already belong to the harmful side of nature; and though the word which I have rendered “evil,” after the example of the Semitic translators, means rather “injurious” than “evil” in our sense of the word, they are already the products of night and darkness; their birth-place is the mountain behind which the sun sinks into the gloomy lower world.

 In the 22nd book of the great work on Astronomy, compiled for Sargon of Accad, they are termed “the seven great spirits” or galli, and it is therefore possible that they had already been identified with the “seven gods of destiny,” the Anúna-ge or “spirits of the lower world,” of the cult of Nipur.

In their gradual development into the Semite Rimmon, the spirits of the air underwent a change of parentage.

Mâtu, as we have seen, was, like his kindred wind-gods of Eridu, the offspring of Ea. But the home of the wind is rather the sky than the deep, and Meri, “the shining firmament,” was naturally associated with the sky.

When Ana, “the sky,” therefore, became the Semitic Anu, Rimmon, who united in himself Mâtu and Meri and other local gods of wind and weather as well, was made his son.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 207-8.

Winds and the Babylonian Concept of Evil

Hadad, Addu or Dadda, never superseded the native name of Ramânu (Ramman) in Babylonia and Assyria, and remained foreign to the last.

Ramânu, however, was sometimes addressed as Barqu or Barak, “the lightning;” and it is possible that antiquarian zeal may have also sometimes imposed on him the Accadian title of Meru.

He grew continuously in popular favour. In Semitic Babylonia, and yet more in Semitic Assyria, his aid was constantly invoked; and, like Anu, Bel and Ea, he tended as time went on to become more and more national in character. Ramman is one of the least local of Babylonian gods.

This was due in great measure to the nature of his origin. He began as the amalgamation of two distinct deities, the wind-god and the air-god, and the extension af his cult was marked by the absorption into his person of the various deities of the winds adored by the older faith.

He continued to grow at their expense. The spirits of the winds and storms sank lower and lower; and while the beneficent side of their operation attached itself to Ramman, there remained to them only that side which was harmful and demoniac.

Iraq ca. 800-600 B.C. Bronze Purchased in New York, 1943 Oriental Institute Museum A25413 The demon Pazuzu stands but has a scorpion's body, feathered wings, avian legs, talons, and a lion face front and back.  Pazuzu, the "king of the evil wind demons," was not unfriendly. As an enemy of the Lamashtu demon, Pazuzu is portrayed on amulets for childbirth.  The ring at the top of this figurine suggests that it was such an amulet. https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Iraq
ca. 800-600 B.C.
Bronze
Purchased in New York, 1943
Oriental Institute Museum A25413
The demon Pazuzu stands but has a scorpion’s body, feathered wings, avian legs, talons, and a lion face front and back.
Pazuzu, the “king of the evil wind demons,” was an enemy of the Lamashtu demon. Pazuzu was portrayed on childbirth amulets. 
https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

By degrees, the two aspects of their character came be separated. The higher gods came to be looked upon as the hearers of prayers and the bestowers of all good gifts; while the instruments of their vengeance an the inflictors of suffering and misery upon man were the inferior spirits of the lower sphere.

But the old conception, which derived both good and evil from the same source, did not wholly pass away. Evil never came to be regarded as the antagonist of good; it was rather the necessary complement and minister of good.

The supreme Baal thus preserved his omnipotence, while at the same time the ideas of pain and injustice were dissociated from him. In his combat with the dragon of chaos, Merodach summons the “evil wind” itself to his assistance; and in the legend of the assault of the seven wicked spirits upon the Moon, they are nevertheless called “the messengers of Anu their king.”

Nerra, the god of plague and destruction, smites the people of Babylonia on account of their sins by the command of the gods, like the angel with the drawn sword whom David saw standing over Jerusalem at the threshing-floor of Araunah; and in the story of the Deluge it is because of the wickedness of mankind that the flood is brought upon the earth.

The powers of darkness are degraded from their ancient position of independence, and either driven, like Tiamat, beyond the bounds of the created world, or reduced to the condition of ministers of divine wrath.

If we would realise how widely removed is this conception of them as the instruments of divine anger from that earlier view in which they are mere elemental powers, in themselves neither good nor evil, we cannot do better than compare these legendary compositions of the Semitic period with the old Accadian hymns that relate to the seven harmful spirits.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 205-6.

On the Babylonian Winds

“The primitive inhabitant of Babylonia paid a special worship to the winds. He beheld in them spirits of good and evil. He prayed for (‘the good wind” which cooled the heats of summer and brought moisture to the parched earth, and he saw in the storm and tempest, in the freezing blasts of winter and the hot wind that blew from the burning desert, “the seven evil spirits.”

They were the demons ‘who had been created in the lower part of heaven,” and who warred against the Moon-god when he suffered eclipse. They were likened to all that was most noxious to man.

The first, we are told, was “the sword (or lightning) of rain;” the second, “a vampire;” the third, “a leopard;” the fourth, “a serpent;” the fifth, “a watch-dog” (?); the sixth, “a violent tempest which (blows) against god and king;” and the seventh, “a baleful wind.” But their power caused them to be dreaded, and they were venerated accordingly.

It was remembered that they were not essentially evil. They, too, had been the creation of Anu, for they came forth from the sky, and all seven were “the messengers of Anu their king.” In the war of the gods against the dragon of chaos, they had been the allies of Merodach. We read of them that ere the great combat began, the god “created the evil wind, the hostile wind, the tempest, the storm, the four winds, the seven winds, the whirlwind, the unceasing wind.”

Battle between Marduk (Bel) and Tiamat. Drawn from a bas-relief from the Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal, King of Assyria, 885-860 B.C., at Nimrûd. The winds that Marduk wielded in the combat are portrayed as tridents in his hands.  British Museum, Nimrûd Gallery, Nos. 28 and 29. http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/06/tablet-of-destinies.html

Battle between Marduk (Bel) and Tiamat. Drawn from a bas-relief from the Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal, King of Assyria, 885-860 B.C., at Nimrûd.
The winds that Marduk wielded in the combat are portrayed as tridents in his hands.
British Museum, Nimrûd Gallery, Nos. 28 and 29.
http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/06/tablet-of-destinies.html

When Merodach had slung forth his boomerang and hit the dragon, “the evil wind that seizes behind showed its face. And Tiamat (the dragon of the sea) opened her mouth to swallow it, but (the god) made the evil wind descend so that she could not close her lips; with the force of the winds he filled her stomach, and her heart was sickened and her mouth distorted.”

Down to the closing days of the Assyrian empire, the four winds, ”the gods of Nipur,” were still worshipped in Assyria (H.C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, 1886, iii. 66, Rev. 26), and Saru, the Wind-god, is mentioned as a separate divinity in the story of the Deluge.

Among the winds there was one whose name awakened feelings of dread in the mind of every Babylonian. This was the tempest, called mâtu in Accadian, and abub in Semitic. It was the tempest which had been once sent by Bel to drown guilty mankind in the waters of a deluge, and whose return as the minister of divine vengeance was therefore ever feared.

Nabu, or Nebo, sculpted bronze figure by Lee Lawrie. Door detail, east entrance, Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C. Photographed 2007 by Carol Highsmith (1946–), who explicitly placed the photograph in the public domain. - Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabu#/media/File:Nabu-Lawrie-Highsmith.jpeg

Nabu, or Nebo, sculpted bronze figure by Lee Lawrie. Door detail, east entrance, Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C.
Photographed 2007 by Carol Highsmith (1946–), who explicitly placed the photograph in the public domain. – Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabu#/media/File:Nabu-Lawrie-Highsmith.jpeg

As each year brought with it the month of Sebat or January, with its “curse of rain,” the memory of that terrible event rose again in the Babyonian mind. Mâtu was a god whose favour had to be conciliated, and whose name accordingly appears on numbers of early cylinders.

But though Mâtu was thus specially identified with the great tempest which formed an era in Babylonian history, it was not forgotten that he was but one of several storm-gods, who were therefore spoken of as “the gods Mâtu.

Like the clouds, they were children of the sea, and were thus included in the family of Ea. It is possible that this genealogy was due to the systematising labours of a later day; but it is also possible that the gods Mâtu were primarily adored in Eridu, and that Eridu, and not Surippak, was the original city of the Chaldean Noah.

It is at least noticeable that the immortal home of the translated Xisuthros was beyond the mouth of the Euphrates, near which Eridu was built.

If Eridu were the birth-place of Mâtu, it would explain why the god of the tempest was also the god of the western wind. Elsewhere in Babylonia, the western wind blew from across the desert and brought heat with it rather than rain.

But in those remote days, when the northern portion of the Persian Gulf had not as yet been filled up with miles of alluvial deposit, a westerly breeze could still come to Eridu across the water.

In a penitential psalm, Mâtu, the lord of the mountain” (mulu mursamma-lil), whose wife, “the lady of the mountain,” is mentioned on the monuments of Tel-loh, is invoked along with his consort Gubarra, Ea, “the sovereign of heaven and earth and sovereign of Eridu,” Dav-kina, Merodach, Zarpanit, Nebo and Nana--in short, along with the gods of Eridu and the kindred deities of Babylon.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 199-202.

Cult of Nabu at Calah

“As for Bel, whose place Merodach usurped in the Babylonian pantheon, he was also recognized in Assyria, and Tiglath-pileser I built him a temple in his city of Asshur. Tiglath prefixes the adjective ‘old’ to the god’s name to show that he means Bel, not Bel-Merodach.

Sargon, too, who had antiquarian tastes, also reverts to Bel, to whom he alludes as the ‘Great Mountain,’ the name of the god following immediately after that of Asshur. Bel is also invoked in connexion with Anu as a granter of victory.

His consort Belit, although occasionally she is coupled with him, more usually figures as the wife of Asshur, and almost as commonly as a variant of Ishtar. In a temple in the city of Asshur, Tiglath-pileser I made presents to Belit consisting of the images of the gods vanquished by him in his various campaigns.

Assur-bani-pal, too, regarded Belit as the wife of Asshur, and himself as their son, alluding to Belit as ‘Mother of the Great Gods,’ a circumstance which would go to show that, like most of the Assyrian kings, his egoism rather overshadowed his sense of humour.

In Assur-bani-pal’s pantheon Belit is placed close by her consort Asshur. But there seems to have been a good deal of confusion between Belit and Ishtar because of the general meaning of the word Belit.

 [ … ]

Stephen Thompson - Asshur, Assyrian God, Marble Relief, British Museum, 1872 The Catalogue of a Series of Photographs from the Collections of The British Museum (Photographed by S. Thompson), Part III, W.A. Mansell & Co, London, 1872, p. 30. In the Nimrud Gallery of the Museum, Eastern side, #355. B.C. 884.  Marble slab. Eagle-headed winged deity Asshur (the chief of all the Gods), holding cone and basket, (supposed to represent the receptacle in which the divine gifts are stored,) and standard inscriptions. https://www.flickr.com/photos/photohistorytimeline/10171487505/

Stephen Thompson – Asshur, Assyrian God, Marble Relief, British Museum, 1872
The Catalogue of a Series of Photographs from the Collections of The British Museum (Photographed by S. Thompson), Part III, W.A. Mansell & Co, London, 1872, p. 30.
In the Nimrud Gallery of the Museum, Eastern side, #355. B.C. 884.
Marble slab. Eagle-headed winged deity Asshur (the chief of all the Gods), holding cone and basket, (supposed to represent the receptacle in which the divine gifts are stored) and standard inscriptions.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/photohistorytimeline/10171487505/

As in Babylonia so in Assyria, Nabu and Merodach were paired together, often as Bel and Nabu. Especially were they invoked when the affairs of Babylonia were being dealt with. In the seventh century b.c. we find the cult of Nabu in high popularity in Assyria, and indeed Ramman-Nirari III appears to have made an attempt to advance Nabu considerably.

George Rawlinson - Source: Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 1. (1875) The Chaldean god Nebo, from a statue in the British Museum.  http://www.totallyfreeimages.com/56/Nebo.

George Rawlinson – Source: Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 1. (1875)
The Chaldean god Nebo, from a statue in the British Museum.
http://www.totallyfreeimages.com/56/Nebo.

He erected a temple to the god at Calah, and granted him many resounding titles. But even so, it does not seem that Ramman-Nirari intended to exalt Nabu at the expense of Asshur. Indeed it would have been impossible for him to have done so if he had desired to.

Asshur was as much the national god of the Assyrian people as Osiris was of the Egyptians. Nabu was the patron of wisdom, and protector of the arts; he guided the stylus of the scribe; and in these attributes he is very close to the Egyptian Thoth, and almost identical with another Babylonian god, Nusku ...

Sargon calls Nabu ‘the Seer who guides the gods,’ and it would seem from some notices of him that he was also regarded as a leader of heavenly or spiritual forces.

Those kings who were fond of erudition paid great devotion to Nabu, and many of the tablets in their literary collections close with thanksgiving to him for having opened their ears to receive wisdom.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 227-9.

Conquering the Gods

“Even Bel-Merodach was absorbed into the Assyrian pantheon. To the Assyrians, Babylonia was the country of Bel, and they referred to their southern neighbours as the ‘subjects of Bel.’ This, of course, must be taken not to mean the older Bel, but Bel-Merodach. They even alluded to the governor whom they placed over conquered Babylonia as the governor of Bel, so closely did they identify the god with the country.

It is only in the time of Shalmaneser II— the ninth century b.c. —that we find the name Merodach employed for Bel, so general did the use of the latter become. Of course it was impossible that Merodach could take first place in Assyria as he had done in Babylonia, but it was a tribute to the Assyrian belief in his greatness that they ranked him immediately after Asshur in the pantheon.

Austen Henry Layard. A Popular Account of Discoveries At Nineveh. London. John Murray. 1852, p. 211. http://www.bibleorigins.net/Sundiscarcherdrawnbow.html

Austen Henry Layard. A Popular Account of Discoveries At Nineveh. London. John Murray. 1852, p. 211.
http://www.bibleorigins.net/Sundiscarcherdrawnbow.html

The Assyrian rulers were sufficiently politic to award this place to Merodach, for they could not but see that Babylonia, from which they drew their arts and sciences, as well as their religions beliefs, and from which they benefited in many directions, must be worthily represented in the national religion.

And just as the Romans in conquering Greece and Egypt adopted many of the deities of these more cultured and less powerful lands, thus seeking to bind the inhabitants of the conquered provinces more closely to themselves, so did the Assyrian rulers believe that, did they incorporate Merodach into their hierarchy, he would become so Assyrian in his outlook as to cease to be wholly Babylonian, and would doubtless work in favour of the stronger kingdom.

In no other of the religions of antiquity as in the Assyrian was the idea so powerful that the god of the conquered or subject people should become a virtual prisoner in the land of the conquerors, or should at least be absorbed into their national worship.

Some of the Assyrian monarchs went so far as to drag almost every petty idol they encountered on their conquests back to the great temple of Asshur, and it is obvious that they did not do this with any intention of uprooting the worship of these gods in the regions they conquered, but because they desired to make political prisoners of them, and to place them in a temple-prison, where they would be unable to wreak vengeance upon them, or assist their beaten worshippers to war against them in the future.

It may be fitting at this point to emphasize how greatly the Assyrian people, as apart from their rulers, cherished the older beliefs of Babylonia. Both peoples were substantially of the same stock, and any movement which had as its object the destruction of the Babylonian religion would have met with the strongest hostility from the populace of Assyria.

Just as the conquering Aztecs seem to have had immense reverence for the worship of the Toltecs, whose land they subdued, so did the less cultivated Assyrians regard everything connected, with Babylonia as peculiarly sacred.

The Kings of Assyria, in fact, were not a little proud of being the rulers of Babylonia, and were extremely mild in their treatment of their southern subjects—very much more so, in fact, than they were in their behaviour toward the people of Elam or other conquered territories. We even find the kings alluding to themselves as being nominated by the gods to rule over the land of Bel.

The Assyrian monarchs strove hard not to disturb the ancient Babylonian cult, and Shalmaneser II, when he had conquered Babylonia, actually entered Merodach’s temple and sacrificed to him.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp.  225-7.

Nergal, God of Death

“It was as the death-dealing lord of Hades that Nergal first became “the hero of the gods,” “who marches in their front.” The metaphor was taken from the champion who, like Goliath, places himself before his comrades and challenges the enemy to combat.

It is thus that we read in the story of the Deluge, when the flood of rain and destruction is described as coming upon the guilty world: “Rimmon in the midst of (heaven) thundered, and Nebo and the Wind-god went in front; the throne-bearers went over mountain and plain; Nergal the mighty removes the wicked; Adar goes in front and casteth down.”

sayce65

As lord of Hades, too, he was made the son of Mul-lil. A hymn (K 5268), the colophon of which tells us that it was composed in Cutha, begins with the words: “Let Nergal be glorified, the hero of the gods, who cometh forth as the strong one, the son of Mul-lil.”

In the same hymn, Marad is declared to be his city, from which we may infer that Marad was near Cutha. Its protecting divinity, however, was, strictly speaking, Lugal-túda,”the royal offspring,” or perhaps “valiant king,” a personification of the thunder-cloud and lightning; but it is evident from the hymn that he had been identified with the death-dealing god of Cutha.

Another depiction of Nergal, patron god of Kutha.

Another depiction of Nergal, patron god of Kutha.

Of Laz, the wife of Nergal, we know little or nothing. Her name survived as the local divinity of Cutha, but her office and attributes were taken by Allat. Even Nergal himself as the lord of Hades belongs rather to the Accadian than to the Semitic period.

Among the Semites he was the hero and champion of the gods, and as such the destroyer of the wicked, rather than the king of death who slays alike the wicked and the good. The sovereignty of Hades had passed out of his hands, and he had become the companion of the solar Adar and the warrior of the gods of heaven.

Under his old name of Ner, however, a curious reminiscence of his primitive character lasted down to late times. In the hymns and other poetical effusions, we not unfrequently come across the phrase, ”mankind, the cattle of the god Ner.”

I have already drawn attention to the agricultural nature of early Chaldean civilisation, and the influence that agriculture had upon the modes of thought and expression of the population. Not only was the sky regarded as the counterpart of the Babylonian plain, and the heavenly bodies transformed into the herds and flocks that fed there, but the human inhabitants of the earth were themselves likened to the cattle they pastured and fed.

One of the earliest titles of the Babylonian kings was “shepherd,” reminding us of the Homeric ποιμην λαων, “shepherd of nations;” and in the Epic of Gisdhubar the sovereign city of Erech is termed the śubur, or “shepherd’s hut.”

Just as the subjects of the king, therefore, were looked upon as the sheep whom their ruler shepherded, so too mankind in general were regarded as the cattle slain by the god of death. They were, in fact, his herd, whom he fed and slaughtered in sacrifice to the gods.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 196-8.

Trinities versus Male-Female Dualism

“The early importance and supremacy of Erech in Semitic Babylonia caused its god to assume a place by the side of Ea of Eridu and Mul-lil, the older Bel. It is possible that the extension of his cult had already begun in Accadian days. The Ana, or Sky-god, to whom Gudea at Tel-loh erected a temple, may have been the Sky-god of Erech, more especially when we remember the connection that existed between Erech and Eridu on the one hand, and between Tel-loh and Eridu on the other.

However this may be, from the commencement of the Semitic period Anu appears as the first member of a triad which consisted of Anu, Bel or Mul-lil, and Ea. His position in the triad was due to the leading position held by Erech; the gods of Nipur and Eridu retained the rank which their time-honoured sanctity and the general extension of their cult had long secured to them; but the rank of Anu was derived from the city of which he was the presiding god.

The origin of the triad was thus purely accidental; there was nothing in the religious conceptions of the Babylonians which led to its formation. Once formed, however, it was inevitable that a cosmological colouring should be given to it, and that Anu, Bel and Ea, should represent respectively the heaven, the lower world and the watery element.

Later ages likened this cosmological trinity to the elemental trinity of the Sun, the Noon and the Evening Star; and below the triad of Anu, Bel and Ea, was accordingly placed the triad of of Samas, Sin and Istar. But this secondary trinity never attracted the Babylonian mind.

This finely cut seal depicts Ishtar, Mesopotamian goddess of sexuality and warfare.  Her strength as a warrior is stressed here, as she is shown with weapons rising from her shoulders. Ishtar appears to have been associated at an early period with the Sumerian goddess Inanna and both deities are depicted with symbols of fertility, such as the date palm, and of aggression, such as the lion.  This iconography survived relatively unchanged for over a thousand years. Here, Ishtar's astral quality is also emphasized: above her crown is a representation of the planet Venus.  In the first millennium BC more unusual stones were used to make seals: this one is made of green garnet, which may have come from northern Pakistan. British Museum, ME 89769, acquired 1835. D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder seals (London, The British Museum Press, 1987) H. Frankfort, Cylinder seals (London, Macmillan, 1939) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/g/garnet_cylinder_seal_ishtar.aspx

This finely cut seal depicts Ishtar, Mesopotamian goddess of sexuality and warfare.
Her strength as a warrior is stressed here, as she is shown with weapons rising from her shoulders.
Ishtar appears to have been associated at an early period with the Sumerian goddess Inanna and both deities are depicted with symbols of fertility, such as the date palm, and of aggression, such as the lion.
This iconography survived relatively unchanged for over a thousand years. Here, Ishtar’s astral quality is also emphasized: above her crown is a representation of the planet Venus.
In the first millennium BC more unusual stones were used to make seals: this one is made of green garnet, which may have come from northern Pakistan. British Museum, ME 89769, acquired 1835.
D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder seals (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)
H. Frankfort, Cylinder seals (London, Macmillan, 1939)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/g/garnet_cylinder_seal_ishtar.aspx

Up to the last, as we have seen, Sin continued to be the father of Samas and Istar, and Babylonian religion remained true to its primitive tendency to dualism, its separation of the divine world into male and female deities.

The only genuine trinity that can be discovered in the religious faith of early Chaldea was that old Accadian system which conceived of a divine father and mother by the side of their son the Sun-god.

The Semitic Anu necessarily produced the feminine Anat, and as necessarily Anat was identified with the earth as Anu was with the sky. In this way the Accadian idea of a marriage union between the earth and the sky was adapted to the newer Semitic beliefs. But we must not misunderstand the nature of the adaptation.

Anat never became an independent deity, as Dav-kina, for example, had been from the outset; she had no separate existence apart from Anu. She is simply a Bilat matati, “a mistress of the world,” or a Bilat ili, “a mistress of the gods,” like the wife of Bel or of Samas: she is, in fact, a mere colourless representation of the female principle in the universe, with no attributes that distinguish her from Anunit or Istar except the single one that she was the feminine form of Anu.

Goddess Ishtar, center, with wings, standing armed with one foot on a lion, her symbol.  The goddess is portrayed wearing the horned headdress of divinity and indistinct weaponry on her back.

Goddess Ishtar, center, with wings, standing armed with one foot on a lion, her symbol.
The goddess is portrayed wearing the horned headdress of divinity and indistinct weaponry on her back.

Hence it is that the Canaanites had not only their Ashtaroth, but their Anathoth as well, for the Anathoth or “Anats” differed from the Ashtaroth or “Ashtoreths” in little else than name. So far as she was an active power, Anat was the same as Istar; in all other respects she was merely the grammatical complement of Anu, the goddess who necessarily stood at the side of a particular god.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 192-4.

Assyrian Monotheism versus Babylonian Pantheism

“Henceforward “the heaven of Anu” denoted the serene and changeless regions to which the gods fled when the deluge had broken up the face of the lower heaven, and which an Assyrian poet calls “the land of the silver sky.”

It was to this spiritualised heaven that the spirit of Ea-bani, the friend of Gisdhubar, ascended, and from which he gazed placidly on the turmoil of the earth below; and it was from his seat therein that Anu assigned their places in the lower heaven to Samas, Sin and Istar, the Sun, the Moon and the Evening Star, according to the legend of the seven wicked spirits.

But the spiritualisation of Anu did not stop here. As a Semitic Baal he had become a supreme god, the lord and father of the universe. It was only a step further, therefore, to make him himself the universe, and to resolve into him the other deities of the Babylonian pantheon.

We read occasionally in the hymns of “the one god.”

“The ban, the ban,” a poet writes, personifying the priestly sentence of excommunication, like the Ara of Aeskhylos or the divine burden of Zechariah (ix.l),

“is a barrier which none may overpass; the barrier of the gods against which they cannot transgress, the barrier of heaven and earth which cannot be changed; the one god against whom none may rebel; god and man cannot explain (it); it is a snare not to be passed which is formed against the evil, the cord of a snare from which there is no exit which is turned against the evil.”

The conception of Anu, however, as “the one god” was pantheistic rather than monotheistic. The cosmological deities of an older phase of faith were in the first instance resolved into him. In place of the genealogical, or gnostic, system which we find in the account of the Creation in days, we have a pantheistic system, in which Lakhama and the other primeval forces of nature are not the parents of Anu, but are identified with Anu himself.

It is easy to conceive how the old deity An-sar, “the upper firmament,” with all its host of spirits, might be identified with him; but when we find Uras also, the Sun-god of Nipur, made one with Anu, “the hearer of prayer,” and the eagle-like Alala, the bridegroom of Istar and double of Tammuz, equally resolved into the god of Erech, it is plain that we have to do with an advanced stage of pantheism.

This monotheistic, or rather pantheistic, school of faith has been supposed by Sir Henry Rawlinson to have grown up at Eridu; but the fact that it centres round the name of Anu points rather to Erech as its birth-place. How long it flourished, or whether it extended beyond a narrow group of priestly thinkers, we have no means of ascertaining.

Assyrian bas-relief perhaps showing their warrior god Asshur as an Eagle, accompanying Assyrian warriors from the west palace at Nimroud, biblical Calah (p. 214. Austen Henry Layard. A Popular Account of Discoveries at Nineveh. London. John Murray. 1852).  http://www.bibleorigins.net/SundiscEagleAssyrian.html

Assyrian bas-relief perhaps showing their warrior god Asshur as an Eagle, accompanying Assyrian warriors from the west palace at Nimroud, biblical Calah (p. 214. Austen Henry Layard. A Popular Account of Discoveries at Nineveh. London. John Murray. 1852).
http://www.bibleorigins.net/SundiscEagleAssyrian.html

It is interesting, however, as showing that the same tendency which in Assyria exalted Assur to the position of an all-powerful deity who would brook neither opposition nor unbelief, among the more meditative Babylonians produced a crude system of pantheism.

Austen Henry Layard. A Popular Account of Discoveries At Nineveh. London. John Murray. 1852, p. 211. http://www.bibleorigins.net/Sundiscarcherdrawnbow.html

Austen Henry Layard. A Popular Account of Discoveries At Nineveh. London. John Murray. 1852, p. 211.
http://www.bibleorigins.net/Sundiscarcherdrawnbow.html

Whatever question there may be as to whether the pure and unmixed Semite is capable of originating a pantheistic form of faith, there can be little doubt about it where the Semite is brought into close contact with an alien race. The difference between the Assyrian and the Babylonian was the difference between the purer Semite and one in whose veins ran a copious stream of foreign blood.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 190-2.

On Dagon, Anu, Ishtar

In the Assyrian inscriptions Anu is coupled with Dagan, “the exalted one,” whose female consort seems to have been Dalas or Salas.

Thus Assur-natsir-pal calls himself “the beloved of Anu and Dagon;” and Sargon asserts that he “had extended his protection over the city of Harran, and, according to the ordinance of Anu and Dagon, had written down their laws.”

Here Dagan or Dagon is associated with Harran, the half-way house, as it were, between the Semites of Babylonia and the Semites of the west. From Harran we can trace his name and cult to Phoenicia.

Beth-Dagon was a city of Asher, in the neighbourhood of Tyre and Zidon (Joshua xix. 27), and the fragments of Philôn Byblios, the Greek translator of the Phoenician writer Sankhuniathon, tell us expressly that Dagon was a Phoenician god.

That the statement is genuine is made clear by the false etymology assigned to the name, from the Semitic dâgân, “corn.” But it was among the Philistines in the extreme south of Palestine that the worship of Dagon attained its chief importance.

Here he appears to have been exalted into a Baal, and to have become the supreme deity of the confederate Philistine towns. We hear of his temples at Gaza (Joshua xvi. 21-30) and at Ashdod (1 Samuel v. 1 sp.), as well as of a town of Beth-Dagon, and we gather from the account given of his image that he was represented as a man with head and hands.

The goddess Ishtar, wearing the horned headdress of divinity, with spears and maces on her back. The goddess is winged, and stands with her foot upon a lion, her sacred animal.

The goddess Ishtar, wearing the horned headdress of divinity, with spears and maces on her back. The goddess is winged, and stands with her foot upon a lion, her sacred animal.

It is probable that the worship of Anu migrated westward along with the worship of Istar. The god and goddess of Erech could not well be dissociated from one another, and the spread of the worship of the goddess among the Semitic tribes brought with it the spread of the worship of the god also.

Detail of the goddess Ishtar. From a cylinder seal in the British Museum.

Detail of the goddess Ishtar. From a cylinder seal in the British Museum.

I am inclined to think that this must be placed at least as early as the age of Sargon of Accad. The worship of Istar found its way to all the branches of the Semitic family except the Arabic; and, as we shall see in a future Lecture, the form of the name Ashtoreth, given to the goddess in Canaan, raises a presumption that this was due, not to the campaigns of the early Babylonian kings, but to the still earlier migrations of the Semitic population towards the west.

Ishtar, goddess of sexuality and warfare. She appears frequently on seals, relief carvings, and in descriptions as a mighty warrior who protects the king.  Ishtar was associated at an early period with the Sumerian goddess Inanna and both deities are depicted with symbols of fertility, such as the date palm, and of aggression, such as the lion.  This iconography survived relatively unchanged for over a thousand years. Here, Ishtar's astral quality is also emphasized: above her crown is a representation of the planet Venus.  In the first millennium BC more unusual stones were used to make seals: this one is made of green garnet, which may have come from northern Pakistan. British Museum, ME 89769, acquired 1835. D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder seals (London, The British Museum Press, 1987) H. Frankfort, Cylinder seals (London, Macmillan, 1939) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/g/garnet_cylinder_seal_ishtar.aspx

Ishtar, goddess of sexuality and warfare. She appears frequently on seals, relief carvings, and in descriptions as a mighty warrior who protects the king.
Ishtar was associated at an early period with the Sumerian goddess Inanna and both deities are depicted with symbols of fertility, such as the date palm, and of aggression, such as the lion.
This iconography survived relatively unchanged for over a thousand years. Here, Ishtar’s astral quality is also emphasized: above her crown is a representation of the planet Venus.
In the first millennium BC more unusual stones were used to make seals: this one is made of green garnet, which may have come from northern Pakistan. British Museum, ME 89769, acquired 1835.
D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder seals (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)
H. Frankfort, Cylinder seals (London, Macmillan, 1939)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/g/garnet_cylinder_seal_ishtar.aspx

The old sky-god of the Accadians must have become the Semitic Anu at a very remote period indeed.

But it was the sky-god of Erech only. It does not follow that where the divine Ana, or “sky,” is mentioned in the Accadian texts, the god who became the Semitic Anu is referred to, even though the Semitic translators of the texts imagined that such was the case.

There were numerous temples in Chaldea into whose names the name of the deified sky entered, but in most cases this deified sky was not the sky-god of Erech. It is only where the names have been given in Semitic times, or where the Accadian texts are the production of Semitic literati composing in the sacred language of the priests, like the monks of the Middle Ages, that we may see the Anu of the mythological tablets.

Without doubt the Semitic scribes have often confounded their Anu with the local sky-god of the ancient documents, but this should only make us the more cautious in dealing with their work.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 188-90.

Unu-ki = Unuk = Uruk = Erech

“It was not of Semitic foundation, however. Its earliest name was the Accadian Unu-ki or Unuk, “the place of the settlement,” of which the collateral form Uruk does not seem to have come into vogue before the Semitic period.

If I am right in identifying Unuk with the Enoch of Genesis, the city built by Kain in commemoration of his first-born son, Unuk must be regarded as having received its earliest culture from Eridu, since Enoch was the son of Jared, according to Genesis iv, and Jared or Irad (Genesis iv.) is the same word as Eridu.

The local god of Erech, however, was not Ea, the god of the river and sea, but Ana, the sky. Thus whereas at Eridu the present creation was believed to have originated out of water, the sky being the primeval goddess Zikum or Zigara, mother alike of Ea and the other gods, at Erech the sky was itself the god and the creator of the visible universe.

The two cosmologies are antagonistic to one another, and produced manifold inconsistencies in the later syncretic age of Babylonian religion.

But it was not in Erech alone that the sky was considered divine. Throughout Chaldea, Ana, “the sky,” received worship, and the oldest magical texts invoke “the spirit of the sky” by the side of that of the earth. What distinguished the worship of Ana at Erech was that here alone he was the chief deity of the local cult, that here alone he had ceased to be a subordinate spirit, and had become a dingir or “creator.”

Of this pre-Semitic period in the worship of Ana we know but little. It is only when he has become the Anu of the Semites and has undergone considerable changes in his character and worship, that we make our first true acquaintance with him.

We come to know him as the Semitic Baal-samaim, or “lord of heaven,” the supreme Baal, viewed no longer as the Sun-god, but as the whole expanse of heaven which is illuminated by the sun.

How early this must have been is shown by the extension of his name as far west as Palestine. In the records of the Egyptian conqueror Thothmes III., in the 16th century before our era, mention is made of the Palestinian town of Beth-bath, “the temple of Anat,” the female double of Anu.

Another Beth-Anath was included within the borders of the tribe of Naphtali (Joshua xix.38); and Anathoth, whose name shows us that, besides the Ashtaroth or “Astartes,” the Canaanites venerated their local goddesses under the title of “Anats,” was a city of the priests.

Anah or Anat was the daughter of the Hivite Zibeon and mother-in-law of Esau (Genesis xxxvi. 1,14), and by her side we hear of Anah or Anu, the son of the Horite Zibeon, who “found the mules (or hot-springs) in the wilderness as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father.” But Anu did not make his way westward alone.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 185-8.

On the Annunaki

“Hence it is that in a bilingual hymn the Anúnas of the lower world are called “the great gods;” while another text declares that while “the great gods are fifty in number, the gods of destiny are seven and the Anúna of heaven are five.”

Besides the five Anúnas of the heaven, there were the more famous Anúnas of the lower world, whose golden throne was placed in Hades by the side of the waters of life. They were called the Anú-na-ge, “the masters of the underworld,” a term which the Semites pronounced Anúnaki.

These Anúnaki were opposed to the Igigi or angels, the spirits of the upper air, and, the real origin of their name being forgotten, took the place of the older Anúnas.

In one of the texts I heve quoted, the Semitic translator not only renders the simple Anúnas by “Anúnaki,” he even speaks of the “Anúnaki of heaven,” which is a contradiction in terms.

Though Anunit was considered merely a local form of Istar (H.C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, 1886, 49, 12), the great temple of Ulbar–if that is the right pronunciation of the word–which had been erected by Zabu about B.C. 2340, preserved her special name and cult at Sippara, from whence it passed into Assyria.

Nabonidos tells us that he restored the temple

“for Anunit, the mistress of battle, the bearer of the bow and quiver, the accomplisher of the command of Bel her father, the sweeper away of the enemy, the destroyer of the wicked, who marches before the gods, who has made (his) omens favourable at sunrise and sunset.”

In calling her the lady of battle and daughter of Bel, Nabonidos identifies her with Istar, an identification which is made even more plain a few lines further on (col. iii. 42, 48-51), where he makes her the sister of Samas and daughter of Sin.

This identity of Anunit and Istar brings Sippara into close connection with Erech, the modern Warka, the city specially consecrated to the goddess of love.

Erech, we are told in the story of the plague-demon Nerra, was “the seat of Anu and Istar, the city of the choirs of the festival-girls and consecrated maidens of Istar,” where in E-Ana, “the house of heaven,” dwelt her priests, “the festival-makers who had devoted their manhood in order that men might adore the goddess, carrying swords, carrying razors, stout dresses and flint-knives,” “who minister to cause reverence for the glory of Istar.”

Erech, too, was the city with whose fortunes the legend of Gisdhubar (Gilgamesh) was associated; it was here that he slew the bull Anu had created to avenge the slight offered by him to Istar; and it was here in Uruk śuburi, “in Erech the shepherd’s hut,” that he exercised his sovereignty.

Erech is thus connected with the great epic of the Semitic Babylonians, and it is probable that its author, Siu-liqi- unnini, was a native of the place.

However this may be, Erech appears to have been one of the centres of Semitic influence in Babylonia from a very early period. The names of the kings stamped upon its oldest bricks bear Semitic names, and the extent to which the worship of Istar as developed at Erech spread through the Semitic world points to its antiquity as a Semitic settlement.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 183-.5.

Shamash, Sun God, God of Justice

“The cult of Shamash in Assyria dates from at least 1340 B.C., when Pudilu built a temple to this god in the city of Asshur.

He entitled Shamash ‘The Protecting Deity,’ which name is to be understood as that of the god of justice, whose fiat is unchangeable, and in this manner Shamash differed somewhat from the Babylonian idea concerning him.

In the southern kingdom he was certainly regarded as a just god, but not as the god of justice—a very different thing.

Bas relief of the Tablet of Shamash, portraying the god Shamash on his throne, IXth century BCE. British Museum.

Bas relief of the Tablet of Shamash, portraying the god Shamash on his throne, IXth century BCE. British Museum.

It is interesting as well as edifying to watch the process of evolution of a god of justice. Thus in Ancient Mexico Tezcatlipoca evolved from a tribal deity into a god who was beginning to bear all the marks and signs of a god of justice when the conquering Spaniards put an end to his career.

We observe, too, that although the Greeks had a special deity whose department was justice, other divinities, such as Pallas Athene, displayed signs that they in time might possibly become wielders of the balances between man and man.

In the Egyptian heavenly hierarchy Maat and Thoth both partook of the attributes of a god of justice, but perhaps Maat was the more directly symbolical of the two.

Now in the case of Shamash no favours can be obtained from him by prayer or sacrifice unless those who supplicate him, monarchs though they be, can lay claim to righteousness. Even Tiglath-pileser I, mighty conqueror as he was, recognized Shamash as his judge, and, naturally, as the judge of his enemies, whom he destroys, not because they are fighting against Tiglath, but because of their wickedness.

From left, Storm God Ninurta, with bows and arrows. Ishtar, queen of heaven and earth, is elevated, with wings and spears and maces on her shoulders. The tree of life sprouts to her right, our left.  The Sun God Shamash rises from the mountain Kur in the center, with rays of light on his shoulder. The God of Water and Wisdom, Enki/Ea battles the bird-god Imdugud/Anzu, with depictions of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and fish coursing from his shoulders.  At far right is the deified vizier Usmu, the two-faced.  All gods wear conical hats with four pairs of horns. At far left is the word Adda in Accadian cuneiform, "Scribe." Accordingly this cylinder seal is known as the Seal of Adda, Akkadian period, 2350-2100 BCE. British Library.  http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Article/787375

From left, Storm God Ninurta, with bows and arrows. Ishtar, queen of heaven and earth, is elevated, with wings and spears and maces on her shoulders. The tree of life sprouts to her right, our left.
The Sun God Shamash rises from the mountain Kur in the center, with rays of light on his shoulder. The God of Water and Wisdom, Enki/Ea battles the bird-god Imdugud/Anzu, with depictions of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and fish coursing from his shoulders.
At far right is the deified vizier Usmu, the two-faced.
All gods wear conical hats with four pairs of horns. At far left is the word Adda in Accadian cuneiform, “Scribe.” Accordingly this cylinder seal is known as the Seal of Adda, Akkadian period, 2350-2100 BCE. British Library.
http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Article/787375

When he set captives free Tiglath took care to perform the gracious act before the face of Shamash, that the god might behold that justice dwelt in the breast of his royal servant. Tiglath, in fact, is the viceroy of Shamash upon earth, and it would seem as if he referred many cases regarding whose procedure he was in doubt to the god before he finally pronounced upon them.

Both Assur-nazir-pal and Shalmaneser II exalted the sun-cult of Shamash, and it has been suggested that the popularity of the worship of Ra in Egypt had reflected upon that of Shamash in Assyria.

It must always be extremely difficult to trace such resemblances at an epoch so distant as that of the ninth century B.C. But certainly it looks as if the Ra cult had in some manner influenced that of the old Babylonian sun-god.

Sargon pushed the worship of Shamash far to the northern boundaries of Assyria, for he built a sanctuary to the deity beyond the limits of the Assyrian Empire—where, precisely, we do not know.

Amongst a nation of warriors a god such as Shamash must have been valued highly, for without his sanction they would hardly be justified in commencing hostilities against any other race.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 222-3.

Lady Ishtar

Ishtar was frequently placed by the side of Asshur as a war-goddess.

Ere she left the plains of Babylonia for the uplands of Assyria she had evinced certain bellicose propensities. In the Gilgamesh epic she appears as a deity of destructive and spiteful character, if not actually of warlike nature.

The goddess Ishtar depicted center with wings and the horned headdress of divinity, weapons on her back, foot resting on a lion, her symbolic animal.

The goddess Ishtar depicted center with wings and the horned headdress of divinity, weapons on her back, foot resting on a lion, her symbolic animal.

But if the Babylonians regarded her first and foremost as the great mother-goddess, the Assyrians took but little notice of this side of her character. To them she was a veritable Valkyrie, and as the Assyrians grew more and more military so she became more the war-goddess and less the nature-mother of love and agriculture.

She appeared in dreams to the war-loving Kings of Assyria, encouraging and heartening them with words of cheer to further military exploits. Fire was her raiment, and, as became a goddess of battle, her appearance was terrific. She consumed the enemies of Assur-bani-pal with flames.

Ishtar, Mesopotamian goddess of sexuality and warfare. The star atop her crown is Venus, the planet with which she was identified.  In the first millennium BC unusual stones were used to make seals: this seal is made of green garnet, which may have come from northern Pakistan.  British Museum, ME 89769, acquired 1835. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/g/garnet_cylinder_seal_ishtar.aspx

Ishtar, Mesopotamian goddess of sexuality and warfare. The star atop her crown is Venus, the planet with which she was identified.
In the first millennium BC unusual stones were used to make seals: this seal is made of green garnet, which may have come from northern Pakistan.
British Museum, ME 89769, acquired 1835.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/g/garnet_cylinder_seal_ishtar.aspx

Still, strangely enough, in the religious texts, influenced probably by Babylonian sources, she was still to a great extent the mild and bountiful mother of nature. It is in the historical texts which ring with tales of conquest and the grandiloquent boastings of conquering monarchs that she appears as the leader of armies and the martial goddess who has slain her thousands and her tens of thousands.

So has it ever been impossible for the priest and the soldier to possess the selfsame idea of godhead, and this is so in the modern no less than in the ancient world.

Yet occasionally the stern Assyrian kings unbent, and it was probably in a brief interval of peace that Assur-nazir-pal alluded to Ishtar as the lady who “loves him and his priesthood.”

Sennacherib also spoke of the goddess in similar terms. It is necessary to state that the name or title of Belit given to Ishtar does not signify that she is the wife or consort of Bel, but merely that she is a ‘great lady,’ for which the title ‘Belit’ is a generic term.

If she is at times brought into close association with Asshur she is never regarded as his wife. She is not the consort of any god, but an independent goddess in her own right, standing alone, equal with Asshur and the dependant of no other divinity. But it was later only that she ranked with Asshur, and purely because of her military reputation.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 213-4.

Asshur, God of War

“An incident which well illustrated the popularity of the Assyrian belief in the conquering power of the national god is described in an account of the expedition of Sargon against Ashdod stamped on a clay cylinder of that monarch’s reign.

This clay prism contains Assyrian inscriptions in cuneiform writing that validates the Biblical account regarding the capture and deportation of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.  The inscriptions record the 8th campaign of Sargon II in Syria and the revolts in Samaria, the capital of northern Israel, before and after Sargon’s campaigns.  The Assyrian inscriptions also record king Sargon’s boasting, “I besieged and captured Samaria, and carried off 27,290 of its inhabitants as booty” (2 Kings 17:5-6).  This cuneiform tablet is addressed to the god Asshur and is now in the Louvre, Paris. http://jesuschristgospel.com/sargon-ii-inscriptions/

This clay prism contains Assyrian inscriptions in cuneiform writing that validates the Biblical account regarding the capture and deportation of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.
The inscriptions record the 8th campaign of Sargon II in Syria and the revolts in Samaria, the capital of northern Israel, before and after Sargon’s campaigns.
The Assyrian inscriptions also record king Sargon’s boasting, “I besieged and captured Samaria, and carried off 27,290 of its inhabitants as booty” (2 Kings 17:5-6).
This cuneiform tablet is addressed to the god Asshur and is now in the Louvre, Paris.
http://jesuschristgospel.com/sargon-ii-inscriptions/

Sargon states that in his ninth expedition to the land beside the sea, to Philistia and Ashdod, to punish King Azuri of that city for his refusal to send tribute and for his evil deeds against Assyrian subjects, Sargon placed Ahimiti, nephew of Azuri, in his place and fixed the taxes.

But the people of Ashdod revolted against the puppet Sargon had placed over them, and by acclamation raised one Yaran to the throne, and fortified their dominions. They and the surrounding peoples sought the aid of Egypt, which could not help them.

For the honour of Asshur, Sargon then engaged in an expedition against the Hittites, and turned his attention to the state of affairs in Philistia (c. 711 b.c.), hearing which Yaran, for fear of Asshur, fled to Meroc on the borders of Egypt, where he hid ignominiously. Sargon besieged and captured the city of Ashdod, with the gods, wives, children, and treasures of Yaran.

It is plain that this punitive expedition was undertaken for the personal honour of Asshur, that he was believed to accompany the troops in their campaign against the rebellious folk of Ashdod, and that victory was to be ascribed to him and to him alone.

All tribute from conquered peoples became the property of Asshur, to whom it was offered by the Kings of Assyria. Even the great and proud monarchs of this warlike kingdom do not hesitate to affirm themselves the creatures of Asshur, by whom they live and breathe and by whose will they hold the royal authority, symbolized by the mighty bow conferred upon them by their divine master.

That these haughty rulers were not without an element of affection as well as fear for the god they worshipped is seen from the circumstance that they frequently allude to themselves as the sons of Asshur, whose viceroys on earth they were.

Seal of Asshur, Assyrian god of war.

Seal of Asshur, Assyrian god of war.

Asshur was, indeed, in later times the spirit of conquering Assyria personalized. We do not find him regarded as anything else than a war-god. We do not find him surrounded by any of the gentler attributes which distinguish nonmilitant deities, nor is it likely that his cult would have developed, had it lasted, into one distinguished for its humanizing influence or its ethical subtlety.

It was the cult of a war-god pure and simple, and when Asshur was beaten at his own business of war he disappeared into the limbo of forgotten gods as rapidly as he had arisen.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 210-1.

Marduk, Sun God

“On the first day of the Babylonian New Year an assembly of the gods was held at Babylon, when all the principal gods were grouped round Merodach in precisely the same manner in which the King was surrounded by the nobility and his officials, for many ancient faiths imagined that the polity of earth merely mirrored that of heaven, that, as Paracelsus would have said, the earth was the microcosm of the heavenly macrocosm—“as above, so below.”

The ceremony in question consisted in the lesser deities paying homage to Merodach as their liege lord. In this council, too, they decided the political action of Babylonia for the coming year.

It is thought that the Babylonian priests at stated intervals enacted the myth of the slaughter of Tiawath. This is highly probable, as in Greece and Egypt the myths of Persephone and Osiris were represented dramatically before a select audience of initiates.

We see that these representations are nearly always made in the case of divinities who represent corn or vegetation as a whole, or the fructifying power of springtime. The name of Merodach’s consort Zar-panitum was rendered by the priesthood as ‘seed producing,’ to mark her connexion with the god who was responsible for the spring revival.

Merodach’s ideograph is the sun, and there is abundant evidence that he was first and last a solar god. The name, originally Amaruduk, probably signifies ‘the young steer of day,’ which seems to be a figure for the morning sun.

Marduk. Portrayed with a hound, and with the Tablets of Destiny upon his chest and robe.

Marduk. Portrayed with a hound, and with the Tablets of Destiny upon his chest and robe.

He was also called Asari, which may be compared with Asar, the Egyptian name of Osiris. Other names given him are Sar-agagam, ‘the glorious incantation,’ and Meragaga, ‘the glorious charm,’ both of which refer to the circumstance that he obtained from Ea, his father, certain charms and incantations which restored the sick to health and exercised a beneficial influence upon mankind.

Merodach was supposed to have a court of his own above the sky, where he was attended to by a host of ministering deities. Some superintended his food and drink supply, while others saw to it that water for his hands was always ready.

He had also doorkeepers and even attendant hounds, and it is thought that the satellites of Jupiter, the planet which represented him, may have been dimly visible to those among the Chaldean star-gazers who were gifted with good sight.

These dogs were called Ukkumu, ‘Seizer,’ Akkulu, ‘Eater,’ Iksuda, ‘Grasper,’ and Iltehu, ‘Holder.’ It is not known whether these were supposed to assist him in shepherding his flock or in the chase, and their names seem appropriate either for sheep-dogs or hunting hounds.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 201-2.

Marduk Assimilates All Other Gods

“THE entire religious system of Babylonia is overshadowed, by Merodach, its great patron deity. We remember how he usurped the place of Ea, and in what manner even the legends of that god were made over to him, so that at last he came to be regarded as not only the national god of Babylonia but the creator of the world and of mankind.

He it was who, at the pleading of the other gods, confronted the grisly Tiawath, and having defeated and slain her, formed the earth out of her body and its inhabitants out of his own blood.

Battle between Marduk (Bel) and Tiamat. Drawn from a bas-relief from the Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal, King of Assyria, 885-860 B.C., at Nimrûd. British Museum, Nimrûd Gallery, Nos. 28 and 29. http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/06/tablet-of-destinies.html

Battle between Marduk (Bel) and Tiamat. Drawn from a bas-relief from the Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal, King of Assyria, 885-860 B.C., at Nimrûd.
British Museum, Nimrûd Gallery, Nos. 28 and 29.
http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/06/tablet-of-destinies.html

It is almost certain that this cosmological myth was at one time recounted of Ea, and perhaps even at an earlier date of Bel. The transfer of power from Ea to Merodach, however, was skilfully arranged by the priesthood, for they made Merodach the son of Ea, so that he would naturally inherit his father’s attributes.

In this transfer we observe the passing of the supremacy of the city of Eridu to that of Babylon. Ea, or Oannes, the fish-tailed god of Eridu, stood for the older and more southerly civilization of the Babylonian race, whilst Merodach, patron god of Babylon, a very different type of deity, represented the newer political power.

A depiction of the God Ea, or Oannes.

A depiction of the God Ea, or Oannes.

Originally Merodach appears to have been a sun-god personifying more especially the sun of the springtime. Thus he was a fitting deity to defeat the chaotic Tiawath, who personified darkness and destruction. But there is another side to him—the agricultural side.

Says Jastrow (Religion in Babylonia and Assyria, 1893, p. 38):

“At Nippur, as we shall see, there developed an elaborate lamentation ritual for the occasions when national catastrophes, defeat, failure of crops, destructive storms, and pestilence revealed the displeasure and anger of the gods.”

At such times earnest endeavours were made, through petitions accompanied by fasting and other symbols of contrition, to bring about a reconciliation with the angered power.

This ritual, owing to the religious pre-eminence of Nippur, became the norm and standard throughout the Euphrates Valley, so that when Marduk (Merodach) and Babylonia came practically to replace En-lil and Nippur, the formulas and appeals were transferred to the solar deity of Babylon, who, representing more particularly the sun-god of spring, was well adapted to be viewed as the one to bring blessings and favours after the sorrows and tribulations of the stormy season.

Strange as it will appear, although he was patron god of Babylon he did not originate in that city, but in Eridu, the city of Ea, and probably this is the reason why he was first regarded as the son of Ea. He is also directly associated with Shamash, the chief sun-god of the later pantheon, and is often addressed as the “god of canals” and “opener of subterranean fountains.”

In appearance he is usually drawn with tongues of fire proceeding from his person, thus indicating his solar character. At other times he is represented as standing above the watery deep, with a horned creature at his feet, which also occasionally serves to symbolize Ea.

Large bas-relief of Marduk, Louvre.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elam_r_(30).JPG

Large bas-relief of Marduk, Louvre.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elam_r_(30).JPG

It is noteworthy, too, that his temple at Babylon bore the same name—E-Sagila, ‘the lofty house,’—as did Ea’s sanctuary at Eridu.

We find among the cuneiform texts—a copy of an older Babylonian text—an interesting little poem which shows how Merodach attracted the attributes of the other gods to himself. .

Ea is the Marduk (or Merodach) of canals;
Ninib is the Marduk of strength;
Nergal is the Marduk of war;
Zamama is the Marduk of battle;
Enlil is the Marduk of sovereignty and control;
Nebo is the Marduk of possession;
Sin is the Marduk of illumination of the night;
Shamash is the Marduk of judgments;
Adad is the Marduk of rain;
Tishpak is the Marduk of the host;
Gal is the Marduk of strength;
Shukamunu is the Marduk of the harvest.

This would seem as if Merodach had absorbed the characteristics of all the other gods of any importance so successfully that he had almost established his position as the sole deity in Babylonia, and that therefore some degree of monotheism had been arrived at.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 199-201.

Anu, Bel, Ea, Trinity of the Elements

“We find a good deal of confusion in later Babylonian religion as to whether the name ‘Bel’ is intended to designate the old god of that name or is merely a title for Merodach.

Khammurabi certainly uses the name occasionally when speaking of Merodach, but at other times he quite as surely employs it for the older divinity, as for example when he couples the name with Anu. One of the Kassite kings, too, speaks of “Bel, the lord of lands,” meaning the old Bel, to whom they often gave preference over Merodach.

They also preferred the old city of Nippur and its temple to Babylon, and perhaps made an attempt at one time to make Nippur the capital of their Empire.

Some authorities appear to think it strange that Bel should have existed at all as a deity after the elevation of Merodach to the highest rank in the pantheon. It was his association with Anu and Ea as one of a triad presiding over the heavens, the earth, and the deep which kept him in power.

Moreover, the very fact that he was a member of such a triad proves that he was regarded as theologically essential to the well-being of the Babylonian religion as a whole. The manufacture or slow evolution of a trinity of this description is by no means brought about through popular processes. It is, indeed, the work of a school, of a college of priests.

Strangely enough Khammurabi seems to have associated Anu and Bel together, but to have entirely omitted Ea from their companionship, and it has been thought that the conception of a trinity was subsequent to his epoch.

The god of earth and the god of heaven typify respectively that which is above and that which is below, and are reminiscent of the Father-sky and Mother-earth of many primitive mythologies, and there is much to say for the theory that Ea, god of the deep, although he had existed long prior to any such grouping, was a later inclusion.

The habit of invoking the great triad became almost a commonplace in later Babylonia. They nearly always take precedence in religious inscriptions, and we even find some monarchs stating that they hold their regal authority by favour of the trinity. Whenever a powerful curse has to be launched, one may be certain that the names of the gods of the elements will figure in it.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 196-7.

Zu, Thunder God, and the Tablets of Destiny

Zu was a storm-god symbolized in the form of a bird. He may typify the advancing storm-cloud, which would have seemed to those of old as if hovering like a great bird above the land which it was about to strike. The North-American Indians possess such a mythological conception in the Thunder-bird, and it is probable that the great bird called roc, so well known to readers of the Arabian Nights, was a similar monster—perhaps the descendant of the Zu-bird.

Zu or Anzu (from An 'heaven' and Zu 'to know' in Sumerian), as a lion-headed eagle, ca. 2550–2500 BCE, Louvre.  Votive relief of Ur-Nanshe, king of Lagash, representing the bird-god Anzu (or Im-dugud) as a lion-headed eagle.  Alabaster, Early Dynastic III (2550–2500 BCE). Found in Telloh, ancient city of Girsu. H. 21.6 cm (8 ½ in.), W. 15.1 cm (5 ¾ in.), D. 3.5 cm (1 ¼ in.)  http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/07/legend-of-anzu-which-stole-tablets-of.html

Zu or Anzu (from An ‘heaven’ and Zu ‘to know’ in Sumerian), as a lion-headed eagle, ca. 2550–2500 BCE, Louvre.
Votive relief of Ur-Nanshe, king of Lagash, representing the bird-god Anzu (or Im-dugud) as a lion-headed eagle.
Alabaster, Early Dynastic III (2550–2500 BCE). Found in Telloh, ancient city of Girsu. H. 21.6 cm (8 ½ in.), W. 15.1 cm (5 ¾ in.), D. 3.5 cm (1 ¼ in.)
http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/07/legend-of-anzu-which-stole-tablets-of.html

We remember how this enormous creature descended upon the ship in which Sindbad sailed and carried him off. Certain it is that we can trace the roc or rukh to the Persian simurgh, which is again referable to a more ancient Persian form, the amru or sinamru, the bird of immortality, and we may feel sure that what is found in ancient Persian lore has some foundation in Babylonian belief.

The Zu-bird was evidently under the control of the sun, and his attempt to break away from the solar authority is related in the following legend.

It is told of the god Zu that on one occasion ambition awaking in his breast caused him to cast envious eyes on the power and sovereignty of Bel, so that he determined to purloin the Tablets of Destiny, which were the tangible symbols of Bel’s greatness.

At this time, it may be recalled, the Tablets of Destiny had already an interesting history behind them. We are told in the creation legend how Apsu, the primeval, and Tiawath, chaos, the first parents of the gods, afterward conceived a hatred for their offspring, and how Tiawath, with her monster-brood of snakes and vipers, dragons and scorpion-men and raging hounds, made war on the hosts of heaven.

Her son Kingu she made captain of her hideous army—

To march before the forces, to lead the host,
To give the battle-signal, to advance to the attack,
To direct the battle, to control the fight.

To him she gave the Tablets of Destiny, laying them on his breast with the words:

“Thy command shall not be without avail, and the word of thy mouth shall be established.”

Through his possession of the divine tablets Kingu received the power of Anu, and was able to decree the fate of the gods.

After several deities had refused the honour of becoming champion of heaven, Merodach was chosen. He succeeded at length in slaying Tiawath and destroying her evil host; and having vanquished Kingu, her captain, he took from him the Tablets of Destiny, which he sealed and laid on his own breast. It was this Merodach, or Marduk, who afterward became identified with Bel.

The Zu Bird appears to dominate the top of this bas relief, while the head of the figure on the right is missing, common vandalism committed by grave robbers: defacing the heads and the eyes of idols crippled their efficacy.

The Zu Bird appears to dominate the top of this bas relief, while the head of the figure on the right is missing, common vandalism committed by grave robbers: defacing the heads and the eyes of idols crippled their efficacy.

Now Zu, in his greed for power and dominion, was eager to obtain the potent symbols. He beheld the honour and majesty of Bel, and from contemplation of these he turned to look upon the Tablets of Destiny, saying within himself :

“Lo, I will possess the tablets of the gods, and all things shall be subject unto me. The spirits of heaven shall bow before me, the oracles of the gods shall lie in my hands. I shall wear the crown, symbol of sovereignty, and the robe, symbol of godhead, and then shall I rule over all the hosts of heaven.”

Thus inflamed, he sought the entrance to Bel’s hall, where he awaited the dawn of day. The text goes on :

Now when Bel was pouring out the clear water, (i.e. the light of day?)
And his diadem was taken off and lay upon the throne,
(Zu) seized the Tablets of Destiny,
He took Bel’s dominion, the power of giving commands.
Then Zu fled away and hid himself in his mountain.

Bel was greatly enraged at the theft, and all the gods with him. Anu, lord of heaven, summoned about him his divine sons, and asked for a champion to recover the tablets. But though the god Ramman was chosen, and after him several other deities, they all refused to advance against Zu.

The end of the legend is unfortunately missing, but from a passage in another tale, the legend of Etana, we gather that it was the sun-god, Shamash, who eventually stormed the mountain-stronghold of Zu, and with his net succeeded in capturing the presumptuous deity.

This legend is of the Prometheus type, but whereas Prometheus (once a bird-god) steals fire from heaven for the behoof of mankind, Zu steals the Tablets of Destiny for his own. These must, of course, be regained if the sovereignty of heaven is duly to continue, and to make the tale circumstantial the sun-god is provided with a fowler’s net with which to capture the recalcitrant Zu-bird.

Jastrow believes the myth to have been manufactured for the purpose of showing how the tablets of power were originally lost by the older Bel and gained by Merodach, but he has discounted the reference in the Etana legend relating to their recovery.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 193-5.

The Contention Between Samas and Merodach

“With the spread and fame of the empire of Sargon, the worship of Samas spread and became famous also. The empire and the cult were alike Semitic; wherever the Semite planted himself, the Sun-god was worshipped under some form and name.

The extent, therefore, of the worship of the Sun-god of Sippara marks the extent and power of Sargon’s kingdom. The older Samas of Larsa was eclipsed by the new deity; henceforward Sippara, and not Larsa, was the chief seat of the adoration of Samas in Babylonia. It is to Sippar in all probability that the hymns addressed to the Sun-god belong.

Bas relief of the Tablet of Shamash, portraying the god Shamash on his throne, IXth century BCE. British Museum.

Bas relief of the Tablet of Shamash, portraying the god Shamash on his throne, IXth century BCE. British Museum.

 They are the product of an age of new ideas and aspirations. They represent the meeting and amalgamation of Semitic and Accadian thought. The scribes and poets of Sargon’s court were partly Semites, partly Accadians; but the Semites had received an Accadian education, and the Accadians had learnt the language and imitated the style of their Semitic masters.

Though the originals of most of the hymns are written in the old language of Accad–a language that had become sacred to the Semites, and in which alone the gods allowed themselves to be addressed–the thoughts contained in them are for the most part Semitic.

We have no longer to do with a Mul-lil, a lord of ghosts and demons, nor even with an Ea, with his charms and sorceries for the removal of human ills, but with the supreme Baal of Semitic faith, the father and creator of the world, who was for his adorer at the moment of adoration the one omnipotent god.

[ … ]

In the closing days of the Babylonian monarchy, Nabonidos, after restoring the temple of the Sun-god at Sippara, addresses him in the following words:

“O Samas, (mighty lord) of heaven and earth, light of the gods his fathers, offspring of Sin and Nin-gal, when thou enterest into E-Babbara, the temple of thy choice, when thou inhabitest thy everlasting shrine, look with joy upon me, Nabonidos, the king of Babylon, the prince who has fed thee, who has done good to thy heart, who has built thy dwelling-place supreme, and upon my prosperous labours; and daily at noon and sunset, in heaven and earth, grant me favourable omens, receive my prayers, and listen to my supplications. May I be lord of the firmly-established sceptre and sword, which thou hast given my hands to hold, for ever and ever!”

Nabonidos, the Babylonian, the peculiar protege of Merodach, could not regard Samas with the same eyes as the old poets of the city of the Sun-god. His supreme Baal was necessarily Merodach, whose original identity with Samas had long since been forgotten; and Samas of Sippara was consequently to him only the Baal of another and a subject state.

Samas is therefore but one of the younger gods, who illuminates his divine fathers in the higher heaven. He shares the power and glory of his fathers only as the son shares the authority of the father in the human family.

Nothing can illustrate more clearly the local character of Babylonian religion than this difference between the position assigned to Samas in the hymns and in the inscription of Nabonidos.

In the one, he is the supreme god who brooks no equal; in the other, the subordinate of Merodach and even of the Moon-god Sin.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 170-5.

Sippara, Pantibibla, Book Town

“It was as Kur(?)-nigin-gára, “the god who makes the palace (of the setting sun),” that the Sun-god of Larsa seems to have been known to his worshippers in pre-Semitic days.

But when the Accadian was superseded by the Semite, his special name was merged in the general title of Samsu or Samas, “the Sun.” He became the Baal of Larsa, who differed but little, save in the name by which he was addressed, from the other Baalim of Babylonia.

The fame of the Samas of Larsa, however, was obscured at an early period by that of the Samas of Sippara. Sippara in historical times was pre-eminently the city of the Sun-god. It was there that Ê-Bábara, the house of lustre,” the great temple of the Sun-god, had been erected in days to which tradition alone went back, and it was around its shrine that Semitic sun-worship in Babylonia was chiefly centred.

Sippara and its immediate neighbourhood had been the seat of early Semitic supremacy in Chaldea. It was, it is true, of pre-Semitic foundation; its primitive name Zimbir would show this, like the name of E-Bábara itself; and we know that Samas had once been worshipped within its walls under the Accadian title of Bábara or Birra.

But in these remote days Sippara was probably an insignificant town; at all events, the memory of later ages knew of Sippara only in connection with the empire of Sargon of Accad and the Semitic version of the story of the Deluge.

In the Old Testament, Sippara appears as a dual city–Sepharvaim, “the two Sipparas.” One of these has been discovered in the mounds of Abu-Habba by Mr. Hormuzd Rassam, who has brought from it a monument on which is carved a curious image of the divine solar disk.

The other has been found by Dr. Hayes Ward in the mounds of Anbar, an hour’s distance from Sufeirah and the Euphrates.

The fragment of a geographical tablet seems indeed to mention no less than four Sipparas–Sippara proper, Sippara of the desert, Sippara “the ancient,” and Sippara of the Sun-god; but since the historical texts know of two only–Sippara of Anunit and Sippara of Samas--it is best to regard the three first names as alike denoting the same place, Sippara of Anunit, the modern Anbar.

It must have been from this Sippara that the Euphrates received its title, “river of Sippara,” since Abu-Habba is seven miles distant from the present bed of the stream.

In the close neighborhood of this double Sippara, Sargon built or restored the city to which he gave a name, and from which the whole of northern Babylonia received its title of Accad. It is called Agadhé in the non-Semitic texts, Accad (Akkadu) in the Semitic; though whether the name is of Semitic or non-Semitic origin cannot at present be decided.

Sargon’s patronage of literature, and the celebrated library he founded in Accad, caused the district to be known as “the region of books.” A popular etymology afterwards connected the name of Sippara itself with sepher, “a book,” and the city accordingly appears in the fragments of Berossos as Pantibibla, or “Book-town.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 167-70.

Sin, Moon God

Nannar was now invoked as Sin–a name which at first appears to have denoted the orb of the moon only–and the name and worship of Sin spread not only in Babylonia, but in other parts of the Semitic world.

His name has been found in an inscription of southern Arabia, and Sinai itself, the sacred mountain, is nothing more than the sanctuary “dedicated to Sin.”

It may be that the worship of the Babylonian Moon-god was brought to the peninsula of Sinai as far back as the days when the sculptors of Tel-loh carved into human shape the blocks of diorite they received from the land of Magan.

However this may be, the Moon-god of Ur, like the city over which he presided, took primary rank among the Babylonians. His worshippers invoked him as the father and creator of both gods and men. It is thus that Nabonidos celebrates his restoration of the temple of Sin at Harran:

“May the gods who dwell in heaven and earth approach the house of Sin, the father who created them.

As for me, Nabonidos, king of Babylon, the completer of this temple, may Sin, the king of the gods of heaven and earth, in the lifting up of his kindly eyes, with joy look upon me month by month at noon and sunset; may he grant me favourable tokens, may he lengthen my days, may he extend my years, may he establish my reign, may he overcome my foes, may he slay my enemies, may he sweep away my opponents.

May Nin-gal, the mother of the mighty gods, in the presence of Sin, her loved one, speak like a mother.

May Samas and Istar, the bright offspring of his heart, to Sin, the father who begat them, speak of blessing.

May Nuzku, the messenger supreme, hearken to my prayer and plead for me.”

The moon existed before the sun.

This is the idea which underlay the religious belief of Accad, exact converse, as it was, of the central idea of the religion of the Semites. It was only where Accadian influence was strong that the Semite could be brought in any way to accept it.

It was only in Babylonia and Assyria and on the coasts of Arabia that the name of Sin was honoured; elsewhere the attributes of the Moon-god were transferred to the goddess Istar, who, as we shall see hereafter, was originally the evening star.

But in Babylonia, Sin became inevitably the father of the gods. His reign extended to the beginning of history; Sargon, as the representative of the Babylonian kings and the adorer of Merodach, speaks of “the remote days of the period of the Moon-god,” which another inscription makes synonymous with “the birth of the land of Assur.”

As the passage I have quoted from Nabonidos shows, Sin was more particularly the father of Samas and Istar, of the Sun-god and the goddess of the evening star.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 164-6.

Moon Gods

Adar bears the same relation to Mul-lil that Merodach bears to Ea. Each alike is the son and messenger of the older god.

But whereas the errands upon which Merodach is sent are errands of mercy and benevolence, the errands of Adar are those that befit an implacable warrior. He contends not against the powers of darkness, like Merodach, for the father whose orders he obeys is himself the ruler of the powers of darkness; it is against mankind, as in the story of the Deluge, that his arms are directed. He is a solar hero who belongs to the darkness and not to the light.

It is thus that one of his brothers is “the first-born” of Mul-lil, Mul-nugi, “the lord from whom there is no return.” Mul-nugi is the lord of Hades, the god who is called Irkalla in the legend of the Descent of Istar, and out of whose hands there is no escape.

It may be that he is but another form of the Moon-god, since the Moon-god, we are told, was also the eldest son of Mul-lil. But the name by which the Moon-god went at Nipur was one that signified “the god of glowing fire.”

It is curious to find the mythologists identifying this “god of glowing fire” with Adar; but the error was natural; both alike were sons of Mul-lil, and both alike represented the great orbs of heaven.

The chief seat, however, of the worship of the Moon-god was not Nipur but Ur (the modern Mugheir). Here stood the great temple the ruins of which were partially explored by Loftus.

Already in the oldest documents that have come from thence, the god to whom the temple was consecrated is identified with the Moon-god of Nipur. Already he is termed “the first-born of Mul-lil.” The spread of the cult of Mul-lil, therefore, and of the magic which it implied, must have made its way as far south as Ur in a very remote age.

But we have no reason for believing that the Moon-god of Ur and the Moon-god of Nipur were originally one and the same. Each Babylonian town, large and small, had its own local Moon-god, whose several names are recorded on a broken tablet.

The forms under which the Moon-god was worshipped in Babylonia were as numerous as the forms of the Sun- god himself.

What seems yet more singular to the comparative mythologist is that, according to the official religion of Chaldea, the Sun-god was the offspring of the Moon-god.

Such a belief could have arisen only where the Moon-god was the supreme object of worship. It is a reversal of the usual mythological conception which makes the moon the companion or pale reflection of the sun. It runs directly counter to the Semitic Baal-worship.

To the Semite the Sun-god was the lord and father of the gods; the moon was either his female consort, or, where Semitic theology had been influenced by that of Chaldea, an inferior god.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 153-5.

Ea, Father of Merodach

Ea developed with the centuries, and about the epoch of Khammurabi appears to have achieved a high standard of godhead, probably because of the very considerable amount of theological moulding which he had received.

In the later Babylonian period we find him described as the protagonist of mankind, the father of Merodach, and, along with Anu and Bel, a member of a great triad.

The priests of Babylon were the sole mythographers of these days. This is in sharp contradistinction to the mythographers of Greece, who were nearly always philosophers and never priests. But they were mythographers in a secondary sense only, for they merely rearranged, re-edited, or otherwise altered already existing tales relating to the gods, usually with a view to the exaltation of a certain deity or to enable his story to fit in with those of other gods.

It is only after a religion or mythological system has enjoyed a vogue more or less extended that the relationship of the gods towards one another becomes fixed.

The appointment of Merodach to the supreme position in the Babylonian pantheon naturally necessitated a rearrangement so far as the relationship of the other deities to him was concerned. This meant a re-shaping of myth and tradition generally for the purpose of ensuring consistency.

The men fitted to accomplish such a task were to hand, for the age of Khammurabi was fertile in writers, scholastic and legal, who would be well equipped to carry out a change of the description indicated.

Ea had not in the past enjoyed any very exalted sphere. But as the chief god of the important country in the neighbourhood of the Persian Gulf, the most ancient home of Babylonian culture, Ea would probably have exercised a great influence upon the antiquarian and historic sense of a man like Khammurabi.

As the god of wisdom he would strongly appeal to a monarch whose whole career was marked by a love of justice and by sagacity and insight.

A bird man appears before a god, there are horns of divinity on some of these figures, as there are on the god, who could be Ea, with water coursing from his shoulders.

A bird man appears before a god, there are horns of divinity on some of these figures, as there are on the god, who could be Ea, with water coursing from his shoulders.

From a local god of Eridu, Ea became a universal deity of wisdom and beneficence, the strong shield of man, and his benefactor by the gifts of harvest and water. Civilized and softer emotions must have begun to cluster around the cult of this kindly god who, when the angered deities resolved to destroy mankind, interceded for poor humanity and succeeded in preserving it from the divine wrath.

As a god of medicine, too, Ea is humane and protective in character, and all the arts fall under his patronage. He is the culture-god of Babylon par excellence. He might not transcend Merodach, so he became his father. Thus did pagan theology succeed in merging the cults of deities which might otherwise have been serious rivals and mutually destructive.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 191-3.

Nebo, God of Wisdom, Scribe of the Gods, Patron of Writing

“The popularity of Nebo was brought about through his association with Merodach. His chief seat of worship was at Borsippa, opposite to Babylon, and when the latter city became the seat of the imperial power the proximity of Borsippa greatly assisted the cult of Nebo.

So close did the association between the deities of the two cities become that at length Nebo was regarded as the son of Merodach—a relationship that often implies that the so-called descendant of the elder god is a serious rival, or that his cult is nearly allied to the elder worship.

Nebo had acquired something of a reputation as a god of wisdom, and probably this it was which permitted him to stand separately from Merodach without becoming absorbed in the cult of the great deity of Babylon.

Nabu, or Nebo, sculpted bronze figure by Lee Lawrie. Door detail, east entrance, Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C. Photographed 2007 by Carol Highsmith (1946–), who explicitly placed the photograph in the public domain. - Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabu#/media/File:Nabu-Lawrie-Highsmith.jpeg

Nabu, or Nebo, sculpted bronze figure by Lee Lawrie. Door detail, east entrance, Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C.
Photographed 2007 by Carol Highsmith (1946–), who explicitly placed the photograph in the public domain. – Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabu#/media/File:Nabu-Lawrie-Highsmith.jpeg

He was credited, like Ea, with the invention of writing, the province of all ‘wise’ gods, and he presided over that department of knowledge which interpreted the movements of the heavenly bodies. The priests of Nebo were famous as astrologers, and with the bookish king Assur-bani-pal, Nebo and his consort Tashmit were especial favourites as the patrons of writing.

By the time that the worship of Merodach had become recognised at Babylon, the cult of Nebo at Borsippa was so securely rooted that even the proximity of the greatest god in the land failed to shake it.

Even after the Persian conquest the temple-school at Borsippa continued to flourish.

But although Nebo thus ‘outlived’ many of the greater gods it is now almost impossible to trace his original significance as a deity. Whether solar or aqueous in his nature—and the latter appears more likely— he was during the period of Merodach’s ascendancy regarded as scribe of the gods, much as Thoth was the amanuensis of the Egyptian otherworld—that is to say, he wrote at the dictation of the higher deities.

A depiction of the Egyptian god of writing, Thoth.

A depiction of the Egyptian god of writing, Thoth.

When the gods were assembled in the Chamber of Fates in Merodach’s temple at Babylon, he chronicled their speeches and deliberations and put them on record. Indeed he himself had a shrine in this temple of E-Sagila, or ‘the lofty house,’ which was known as E-Zila, or ‘the firm house.’

Once during the New Year festival Nebo was carried from Borsippa to Babylon to his father’s temple, and in compliment was escorted by Merodach part of the way back to his own shrine in the lesser city. It is strange to see how closely the cults of the two gods were interwoven.

The Kings of Babylonia constantly invoke them together, their names and those of their temples are found in close proximity at every turn, and the symbols of the bow and the stylus or pen, respectively typical of the father and the son, are usually discovered in one and the same inscription.

Even Merodach’s dragon, the symbol of his victory over the dark forces of chaos, is assigned to Nebo.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 184-6.

The Zodiacal Organization of the Gilgamesh Epic

“The doctrine of the necessity for ministering to the dead is here enunciated in no uncertain fashion.

Unless their bodies are decently buried and offerings of food and drink made at their graves, their lives in the otherworld must be abjectly miserable. The manner in which they meet their end is likewise taken into account, and warriors who have fallen on the field of battle are pre-eminently fortunate.

Eabani is evidently one of the ‘happy’ spirits; his ghost is designated utukku, a name applied not only to the fortunate dead, but likewise to a class of beneficent supernatural beings.

The term edimmu, on the other hand, designates a species of malevolent being as well as the errant and even vampirish spirits of the unhappy dead. The due observance of funeral and commemorative rites is thus a matter which touches the interests not only of the deceased but also of his relatives and friends.

We have seen from the foregoing that the epic of Gilgamesh is partly historical, partly mythological. Around the figure of a great national hero myths have grown and twined with the passing of the generations, and these have in time become woven into a connected narrative, setting forth a myth which corresponds to the daily or annual course of the sun.

Within this may be discerned other myths and fragments of myths—solar, seasonal, and diluvian.

But there is in the epic another important element which has already been referred to—the astro-theological. The zodiacal significance of the division of the epic into twelve tablets may be set aside, since, as has been indicated, the significance is in all probability a superficial one merely, added to the poem by the scribes of Assur-bani-pal, and not forming an integral part of it.

At the same time it is not hard to divide the epic naturally into twelve episodes, thus:

  1. Gilgamesh’s oppression of Erech;
  2. the seduction of Eabani;
  3. the slaying of the monster Khumbaba;
  4. the wooing of Ishtar;
  5. the fight with the sacred bull;
  6. Eabani’s death;
  7. Gilgamesh’s journey to the Mountain of the Sunset;
  8. his wanderings in the region of thick darkness;
  9. the crossing of the waters of death;
  10. the deluge-story;
  11. the plant of life;
  12. the return of Eabani’s spirit.

Throughout the epic there are indications of a correspondence between the exploits of the hero and the movements of heavenly bodies.

It is possible, for instance, that Gilgamesh and his friend Eabani had some relation to the sign Gemini, also associated in ancient Chaldean mythology with two forms of the solar deity, even as were the hero and his friend.

The sign Leo recalls the slaying of Khumbaba, the allegorical victory of light over darkness, represented on monuments by the figure of a lion (symbol of fire) fighting with a bull.

Following the sign of Leo, the wooing of the hero by the goddess Ishtar falls naturally into the sign of Virgo, the virgin. The sign of Taurus is represented by the slaying of the celestial bull, Alu, by Gilgamesh.

The journey of the hero to Mashu and his encounter with the scorpion-men at the gate of the sunset are, of course, mythological representations of the sign of Scorpio, as are also his wanderings in the region of thick darkness.

It is noticeable in this respect that Babylonian astrology often doubled the eighth sign (Scorpio) to provide a seventh; it is therefore not unlikely that this sign should correspond with two distinct episodes in the poem.

The first of these episodes is associated with Scorpio by virtue of the introduction of scorpion-men; and the second, on the assumption that the scorpion is symbolical of darkness.

Perhaps the sea-goddess Sabitu is associated astrologically with the fish-tailed goat which is the conventional representation of Capricornus.

Then the placing of the deluge-story in the XIth tablet, corresponding with the eleventh sign of the zodiac, Aquarius, the water-bearer, is evidently in keeping with the astrological aspect of the epic.

Chaldean mythology connected the rainy eleventh month with the deluge, just as the first month of spring was associated mythologically with the creation.

The healing of Gilgamesh’s sickness by Ut-Napishtim may possibly symbolise the revival of the sun after leaving the winter solstice.

Lastly, the sign of Pisces, the twelfth sign of the zodiac, corresponding to the return of Eabani from the underworld, and perhaps also to the restoration of Gilgamesh to Erech, is emblematic of life after death, and of the resumption of ordinary conditions after the deluge.

It has been suggested, though without any very definite basis, that the epic was first put together before the zodiac was divided into twelve—that is, more than two thousand years before the Christian era.

Its antiquity, however, rests on other grounds than these. In later times the Babylonian astrological system became very complicated and important, and so lent its colour to the epic that, whatever the original plan of that work may have been, its astral significance became at length its most popular aspect.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 181-3.

A Snake Steals the Plant of Eternal Life

“To return to the epic:

The recital of Ut-Napishtim served its primary purpose in the narrative by proving to Gilgamesh that his case was not that of his deified ancestor.

Meanwhile the hero had remained in the boat, too ill to come ashore; now Ut-Napishtim took pity on him and promised to restore him to health, first of all bidding him sleep during six days and seven nights.

Gilgamesh listened to his ancestor’s advice, and by and by “sleep, like a tempest, breathed upon him.” Ut-Napishtim’s wife, beholding the sleeping hero, was likewise moved with compassion, and asked her husband to send the traveller safely home.

He in turn bade his wife compound a magic preparation, containing seven ingredients, and administer it to Gilgamesh while he slept. This was done, and an enchantment thus put upon the hero.

When he awoke (on the seventh day) he renewed his importunate request for the secret of perpetual life.

His host sent him to a spring of water where he might bathe his sores and be healed; and having tested the efficacy of the magic waters Gilgamesh returned once more to his ancestor’s dwelling, doubtless to persist in his quest for life.

Notwithstanding that Ut-Napishtim had already declared it impossible for Gilgamesh to attain immortality, he now directed him (apparently at the instance of his wife) to the place where he would find the plant of life, and instructed Adad-Ea to conduct him thither.

The magic plant, which bestowed immortality and eternal youth on him who ate of it, appears to have been a weed, a creeping plant, with thorns which pricked the hands of the gatherer; and, curiously enough, Gilgamesh seems to have sought it at the bottom of the sea.

At length the plant was found, and the hero declared his intention of carrying it with him to Erech. And so he set out on the return journey, accompanied by the faithful ferryman not only on the first, and watery, stage of his travels, but also overland to the city of Erech itself.

When they had journeyed twenty kasbu they left an offering (presumably for the dead), and when they had journeyed thirty kasbu, they repeated a funeral chant.

The narrative goes on :

Gilgamesh saw a well of fresh water, he went down to it and offered a libation. A serpent smelled the odour of the plant, advanced . . . and carried off the plant. Gilgamesh sat down and wept, the tears ran down his cheeks.”

He lamented bitterly the loss of the precious plant, seemingly predicted to him when he made his offering at the end of twenty kasbu.

At length they reached Erech, when Gilgamesh sent Adad-Ea to enquire concerning the building of the city walls, a proceeding which has possibly some mythological significance.

The XIIth tablet opens with the lament of Gilgamesh for his friend Eabani, whose loss he has not ceased to deplore.

“Thou canst no longer stretch thy bow upon the earth; and those who were slain with the bow are round about thee. Thou canst no longer bear a sceptre in thy hand; and the spirits of the dead have taken thee captive.

Thou canst no longer wear shoes upon thy feet; thou canst no longer raise thy war-cry on the earth. No more dost thou kiss thy wife whom thou didst love; no more dost thou smite thy wife whom thou didst hate.

No more dost thou kiss thy daughter whom thou didst love; no more dost thou smite thy daughter whom thou didst hate. The sorrow of the underworld hath taken hold upon thee.”[4]

Gilgamesh went from temple to temple, making offerings and desiring the gods to restore Eabani to him; to Ninsum he went, to Bel, and to Sin, the moon-god, but they heeded him not.

At length he cried to Ea, who took compassion on him and persuaded Nergal to bring the shade of Eabani from the underworld. A hole was opened in the earth and the spirit of the dead man issued therefrom like a breath of wind.

Gilgamesh addressed Eabani thus:

“Tell me, my friend, tell me, my friend; the law of the earth which thou hast seen, tell me.”

Eabani answered him:

“I cannot tell thee, my friend, I cannot tell thee.”

But afterwards, having bidden Gilgamesh “sit down and weep,” he proceeded to tell him of the conditions which prevailed in the underworld, contrasting the lot of the warrior duly buried with that of a person whose corpse is cast uncared for into the fields.

“On a couch he lieth, and drinketh pure water, the man who was slain in battle—thou and I have oft seen such an one—his father and his mother (support) his head, and his wife (kneeleth) at his side.

But the man whose corpse is cast upon the field—thou and I have oft seen such an one—his spirit resteth not in the earth.

The man whose spirit has none to care for it—thou and I have oft seen such an one— the dregs of the vessel, the leavings of the feast, and that which is cast out upon the streets, are his food.”

Upon this solemn note the epic closes.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 178-80.

Necklace of Ishtar

“At length the ship came to rest on the summit of Mount Nitsir.

There are various readings of this portion of the text, thus:

“After twelve (days) the land appeared;”
or “At the distance of twelve (kasbu) the land appeared;”
or “Twelve (cubits) above the water the land appeared.”

However this may be, the ship remained for six days on the mountain, and on the seventh Ut-Napishtim sent out a dove. But the dove found no resting-place, and so she returned.

Then he sent out a swallow, which also returned, having found no spot whereon to rest.

Finally a raven was sent forth, and as by this time the waters had begun to abate, the bird drew near to the ship “wading and croaking,” but did not enter the vessel.

Then Ut-Napishtim brought his household and all his possessions into the open air, and made an offering to the gods of reed, and cedar-wood, and incense. The fragrant odour of the incense came up to the gods, and they gathered, “like flies,” says the narrative, around the sacrifice.

Among the company was Ishtar, the Lady of the Gods, who lifted up the necklace which Anu had given her, saying:

“What gods these are! By the jewels of lapis-lazuli which are upon my neck I will not forget! These days I have set in my memory, never will I forget them!

Let the gods come to the offering, but Bel shall not come to the offering since he refused to ask counsel and sent the deluge, and handed over my people unto destruction.”

The god Bel was very wroth when he discovered that a mortal man had survived the deluge, and vowed that Ut-Napishtim should perish. But Ea defended his action in having saved his favourite from destruction, pointing out that Bel had refused to take counsel when he planned a universal disaster, and advising him in future to visit the sin on the sinner and not to punish the entire human race.

Finally Bel was mollified. He approached the ship (into which it would appear that the remnants of the human race had retired during the altercation) and led Ut-Napishtim and his wife into the open, where he bestowed on them his blessing.

“Then they took me,” says Ut-Napishtim,

“and afar off, at the mouth of the rivers, they made me to dwell.”

Such is the story of the deluge which Ut-Napishtim told to Gilgamesh.

No cause is assigned for the destruction of the human race other than the enmity which seems to have existed between man and the gods—particularly the warrior-god Bel. But it appears from the latter part of the narrative that in the assembly of the gods the majority contemplated only the destruction of the city of Shurippak, and not that of the entire human family.

It has been suggested, indeed, that the story as it is here given is compounded of two separate myths, one relating to a universal catastrophe, perhaps a mythological type of a periodic inundation, and the other dealing with a local disaster such as might have been occasioned by a phenomenal overflow of the Euphrates.

The antiquity of the legend and its original character are clearly shown by comparison with another version of the myth, inscribed on a tablet found at Abu-Habbah (the ancient site of Sippar) and dated in the twenty-first century before our era.

Notwithstanding the imperfect preservation of this text it is possible to perceive in it many points of resemblance to the Gilgamesh variant.

Berossus also quotes a version of the deluge myth in his history, substituting Chronos for Ea, King Xisuthros for Ut-Napishtim, and the city of Sippar for that of Shurippak.

In this version immortality is bestowed not only on the hero and his wife, but also on his daughter and his pilot. One writer ingeniously identifies these latter with Sabitu and Adad-Ea respectively.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 176-8.

The Deluge

Ut-Napishtim employed many people in the construction of the ship. During four days he gathered the material and built the ship; on the fifth he laid it down; on the sixth he loaded it; and by the seventh day it was finished.

On a hull 120 cubits wide was constructed a great deck-house 120 cubits high, divided into six stories, each of which was divided in turn into nine rooms.

The outside of the ship was made water-tight with bitumen, and the inside with pitch. To signalise the completion of his vessel, Ut-Napishtim gave a great feast, like that which was wont to be held on New Year’s Day; oxen were slaughtered and great quantities of wine and oil provided.

According to the command of Ea, Ut-Napishtim brought into the ship all his possessions, his silver and his gold, living seed of every kind, all his family and household, the cattle and beasts of the field, the handicraftsmen, all that was his.

A heavy rain at eventide was the sign for Ut-Napishtim to enter the ship and fasten the door. All night long it rained, and with the early dawn

“there came up from the horizon a black cloud. Ramman in the midst thereof thundered, and Nabu and Marduk went before, they passed like messengers over mountain and plain. Uragal parted the anchor-cable. There went Ninib, and he made the storm to burst. The Annunaki carried flaming torches, and with the brightness thereof they lit up the earth. The whirlwind of Ramman mounted up into the heavens, and all light was turned into darkness.”

During a whole day darkness and chaos appear to have reigned on the earth. Men could no longer behold each other. The very gods in heaven were afraid and crouched “like hounds,” weeping, and lamenting their share in the destruction of mankind.

For six days and nights the tempest raged, but on the seventh day the rain ceased and the floods began to abate.

Then, says Ut-Napishtim

“I looked upon the sea and cried aloud, for all mankind was turned back into clay. In place of the fields a swamp lay before me. I opened the window and the light fell upon my cheek, I bowed myself down, I sat down, I wept; over my cheek flowed my tears. I looked upon the world, and behold all was sea.”

At length the ship came to rest on the summit of Mount Nitsir.

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 174-6.

Nipur, City of Magic

“It is thus clear that, just as Eridu in southern Babylonia was the primitive seat of the worship of the Chaldean culture-god and of the civilisation with which his name was connected, Nipur in northern Babylonia was the original home of a very different kind of worship, which concerned itself with ghosts and demons and the various monsters of the under-world.

It was, in fact, the home of that belief in magic, and in the various spirits exorcised by the magician, which left so deep an impression upon the religion of early Babylonia, and about which I shall have to speak in a future Lecture.

The analogy of Eridu would lead us to infer, moreover, that it was not only the home of this belief, but also the source from which it made its way to other parts of the country.

In the pre-historic age, Eridu in the south and Nipur in the north would have been the two religious centres of Babylonian theology, from whence two wholly different streams of religious thought and influence spread and eventually blended.

The mixture formed what I may call the established religion of Chaldea in the pre-Semitic period. That this conclusion is not a mere inference is shown by the monuments discovered at Tel-loh.

Tel-loh was geographically nearer to Eridu than to Nipur, and its theology might therefore be expected to be more largely influenced by that of Eridu than by that of Nipur. And such, indeed, is the case.

Temples and statues are dedicated to Ea, “the king of Eridu,” and more especially to Bahu, a goddess who occupied a conspicuous place in the cosmological legends of Eridu.

But Mul-lil, the god of Nipur, appears far more frequently in the inscriptions of Tel-loh than we should have anticipated.

Nin-kharsak, “the mistress of the mountain,” and “mother of the gods,” in whom we may see a local divinity, is associated with him as wife; and Nin-girśu himself, the patron god of Tel-loh, is made his “hero” or “champion.”

So close, indeed, is the connection of the latter with Mul-lil, that the compilers of the mythological tablets, in a latter age, identified him with the “warrior” god of Nipur, Adar the son of Mul-lil.

Adar, or Ninep, or Uras--for his name has been read in these various fashions, and the true reading still remains unknown–played a conspicuous part in Babylonian, and more especially Assyrian theology.

He was regarded as emphatically the warrior and champion of the gods, and as such was naturally a favourite object of worship amongst a nation of warriors like the Assyrians. Indeed, it may be suspected that the extent to which the name of the older Bel was reverenced in Assyria was in some measure due to the favour in which his son Adar was held.

In the inscriptions of Nineveh, the title of “hero-god” (masu) is applied to him with peculiar frequency; this was the characteristic upon which the Assyrian kings more particularly loved to dwell.

In Babylonia, on the other hand, Adar was by no means so favourite a divinity. Here it was the milder and less warlike Merodach that took his place. The arts of peace, rather than those of war, found favour among the Semitic population of the southern kingdom.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 150-2.

Bilat, Beltis, Nin-Ki-Gal, Allat, Infernal Queen of the Underworld

“When the god of Nipur became Semitic, his character underwent a change.

As the supreme deity of the state he was necessarily a Baal, but the Semitic Baal embodied very different conceptions from those which were associated with the Accadian Mul-lil. It is true that, as I have just pointed out, his primitive attributes still clung to him, but they were superadded to other attributes which showed him to be the supreme Sun-god of Semitic worship.

That supreme Sun-god, however, revealed himself to his worshippers under two aspects; he might be either the beneficent god who gave life and light to the world, or he might be the fierce and wrathful sun of summer who scorches all nature with his heat, and sinks at night, like a ball of glowing metal, into the darkness of the under-world.

Necessarily it was rather under the latter aspect that the Mul-lil of Nipur became the Semitic Bel.

This is the Bel whose cult was carried to Assyria, and whose name is mentioned frequently in the inscriptions of Nineveh, where among other titles he bears that of “father of the gods.”

This is a title which he received, not in virtue of his primitive character, but because he had become the Semitic Bel.

He was distinguished from the younger Bel of Babylon, Bel-Merodach, as βελιτανας or βολαθην (Βêl-êthûn), (ed. note: Greek sic) “the older Baal,” when Babylon became the imperial city, and its Bel claimed to be the father and head of the Babylonian gods.

But the distinction, as might be expected, was not always observed, and the older and younger Bel are sometimes confounded together.

The confusion was rendered the more easy by the fact that the wife of the Bel of Nipur was addressed as Bilat, and thus was undistinguished in name from Beltis of Babylon.

But she was in reality, as we have seen, the queen of Hades, Nin-ki-gal as the Accadians called her, or Allat as she is named in the Semitic texts.

Allat is interpreted “the unwearied;” like the Homeric epithet of Hades, αδαμαστος, “the inflexible” divinity who ceases not to deal on all sides his fatal blows. Her proper title, however–that, at least, under which she had originally been known at Nipur–was Nin-lil, “the lady of the ghost-world.”

It is under this name that Assur-bani-pal addresses her (Trustees of the British Museum (H.C. Rawlinson), The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, ii. 66) as “the mistress of the world, whose habitation is the temple of the library” (i.e. the temple of Istar at Nineveh).

As Allat, the goddess of Hades, she was a much-dreaded and formidable figure, who is described in the legend of the Descent of Istar as inflicting upon her sister-goddess all the pains and diseases which emanated from her demoniac satellites.

The unfortunate Istar, stripped of her clothing and adornments, is held up to the scorn of the lower world; and Namtar, the plague-demon, is ordered by Allat to smite her with maladies in the eyes, in the sides, in the feet, in the heart, in the head, and, in short, in all the limbs.

Throughout the legend Namtar appears as the messenger of the infernal queen.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 148-50.

Mul-lil = Bel

“The “lord of the ghost-world” extended his sway over this nether earth also.

He is therefore entitled “the lord of the world,” as well as “king of all the spirits of the earth.” According to one version of the story of the Deluge, it was he who caused the waters of the flood to descend from heaven, and who designed the destruction of all mankind.

“When Mul-lil,” we are told, “approached and saw the ship (of Xisuthros), he stood still and was filled with wrath against the gods and the spirits of heaven. ‘What soul has escaped therefrom?’ (he cried). ‘Let no man remain alive in the great destruction.'”

It was then that Ea came forward with words of wisdom, and protested against this attempt of Mul-lil to confound the innocent with the guilty.

“Let the sinner alone bear his sin; let the evil-doer bear his own iniquity.”

And though the wrathful god was pacified, so that Xisuthros and his companions were allowed to escape from their threatened death, the rescued hero did not forget the evil intentions of Mul-lil; but when inviting the other gods to his sacrifice after his descent from the ark, he specially excepted the god of Nipur.

“Let the (other) gods come to my altar, but let Mul-lil not come to the altar, since he did not act considerately, but caused a deluge and doomed my people to destruction.”

In these quotations I have called the god by his old Accadian name, Mul-lil; But long before this account of the Deluge was composed, even though in its present form it probably reaches back more than 2000 years before the Christian era, the Accadian Mul-lil had become the Semitic Bel.

His primitive attributes, however, still adhered to him. He was still the god of the lower world, whose messengers were diseases and nightmares and the demons of night, and from whom came the plagues and troubles that oppressed mankind.

In a magical text (Trustees of the British Museum (H.C. Rawlinson), The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, iv. 1. 5, 6), Namtar, the plague-demon, is called “the beloved son of Mul-lil“–standing, in fact, in the same relation to Mul-lil that Tammuz does to Ea, and in the next line Mul-lil’s wife is asserted to be Nin-ki-gal or Allat, “the queen of the mighty land” of Hades.

This magical text, however, is a good deal older than the time when the Semites adopted and transformed the deities of the Accadians, or at all events it expresses the ideas of that earlier period.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 146-8.

Origins of Lilith

“We can now understand why it was that in the theology of Eridu the Sun-god was the offspring of Ea and Dav-kina. The name that he bore there was Dumuzi or Tammuz, “the only-begotten one,” of whom I shall have much to say in the next Lecture.

At present I need only remark that he was the primeval Merodach; the Sun-god born of Ea who was called Merodach by the Babylonians was called Tammuz (Dumuzi,) by the people of Eridu.

Perhaps Merodach is after all nothing more than “the god from Eridu.” That he came originally from Eridu we have already seen.

The author of the hymn to the demiurge identifies Ea with “father Bel.” As “the lord of heaven and earth,” Ea was indeed a Baal or Bel to the Semites, to whose age the hymn belongs.

But the particular Bel with whom the poet wishes to identify him was Mul-lil, the supreme god and demiurge of Nipur (the modern Niffer). In a list of the titles of Ea, we find it expressly stated that he is one with “Mul-lil the strong.”

But such an identification belongs to the later imperial age of Babylonian history. Mul-lil was primitively a purely local divinity, standing in the same relation to his worshippers at Nipur that Ea stood to his at Eridu.

Mul-lil signifies “the lord of the ghost-world.” Lil was an Accado-Sumerian word which properly denoted “a dust-storm” or “cloud of dust,” but was also applied to ghosts, whose food was supposed to be the dust of the earth, and whose form was like that of a dust-cloud.

The Accadian language possessed no distinction of gender, and lil therefore served to represent both male and female ghosts. It was, however, borrowed by the Semites under the form of lillum, and to this masculine they naturally added the feminine lilatu.

Originally this lilatu represented what the Accadians termed “the handmaid of the ghost” (kel-lilla), of whom it was said that the lil had neither husband nor wife; but before long lilatu was confounded with the Semitic lilátu, “the night,” and so became a word of terror, denoting the night-demon who sucked the blood of her sleeping victims.

In the legend of the Descent of Istar into Hades, the goddess is made to threaten that unless she is admitted to the realm of the dead she will let them out in the form of vampires to devour the living.

From the Semitic Babylonians the name and conception of Lilatu passed to the Jews, and in the book of Isaiah (xxxiv. 14) the picture of the ghastly desolation which should befall Idumea is heightened by its ruined mounds being made the haunt of Lilith.

According to the Rabbis, Lilith had been the first wife of Adam, and had the form of a beautiful woman; but she lived on the blood of children whom she slew at night.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 144-6.

The Oracles of Ea

“How a water-god became the demiurge seems at first sight obscure. But it ceases to be so when we remember the local character of Babylonian religion.

Ea was as much the local god of Eridu as Merodach was of Babylon, or Assur of Assyria. His connection with the water was due to the position of Eridu at the mouth of the Euphrates and on the shore of the sea, as well as to the maritime habits of its population.

In other respects he occupied the same place as the patron-deities of the other great cities. And these patron-deities were regarded as creators, as those by whose agency the present world had come into existence, and by whose hands the ancestors of their worshippers had been made.

This conception of a creating deity is one of the distinguishing features of early Babylonian religion. Mankind are not descended from a particular divinity, as they are in other theologies; they are created by him.

The hymn to Ea tells us that the god of Eridu was the creator of the black-headed race-that is to say, the old non-Semitic population whose primary centre and starting-point was in Eridu itself. It was as creators that the Accadian gods were distinguished from the host of spirits of whom I shall have to speak in another Lecture.

The Accadian word for “god” was dimer, which appears as dingir, from an older dingira, in the southern dialect of Sumer. Now dimer or dingir is merely “the creator,” formed by the suffix r or ra, from the verb dingi or dime, “to create.”

A simpler form of dimer is dime, a general name for the divine hierarchy. By the side of dime, dim, stood gime, gim, with the same meaning; and from this verb came the Sumerian name of Istar, Gingira. Istar is said to have been the mother of mankind in the story of the Deluge, and as Gula, “the great” goddess, she is addressed in a prayer as “the mother who has borne the men with the black heads.”

It was in consequence of the fact that he was a creator that Ea was, according to Accado-Sumerian ideas, a dingir or “god.”

In the cosmology of Eridu, therefore, the origin of the universe was the watery abyss. The earth lay upon this like a wife in the arms of her husband, and Dav-kina accordingly was adored as the wife of Ea.

It was through her that the oracles of Ea, heard in the voice of the waves, were communicated to man. Dav-kina is entitled “the mistress of the oracular voice of the deep,” and also “the lady who creates the oracular voice of heaven.”‘

The oracles delivered by the thunder, the voice of heaven, thus became the reflex of the oracles delivered through the roaring of the sea.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 142-4.

Ut-Napishtim and the Babylonian Deluge

Ut-Napishtim was indeed surprised when he beheld Gilgamesh approaching the strand. The hero had meanwhile contracted a grievous illness, so that he was unable to leave the boat; but he addressed his queries concerning perpetual life to the deified Ut-Napishtim, who stood on the shore.

The hero of the flood was exceeding sorrowful, and explained that death is the common lot of mankind,

“nor is it given to man to know the hour when the hand of death will fall upon him—the Annunaki, the great gods, decree fate, and with them Mammetum, the maker of destiny, and they determine death and life, but the days of death are not known.”

The narrative is continued without interruption into the XIth tablet. Gilgamesh listened with pardonable scepticism to the platitudes of his ancestor.

“‘I behold thee, Ut-Napishtim, thy appearance differs not from mine, thou art like unto me, thou art not otherwise than I am; thou art like unto me, thy heart is stout for the battle . . . how hast thou entered the assembly of the gods; how hast thou found life?’”

In reply Ut-Napishtim introduces the story of the Babylonian deluge, which, told as it is without interruption, forms a separate and complete narrative, and is in itself a myth of exceptional interest. Presumably the warning of the deluge came to Ut-Napishtim in a vision.

The voice of the god said:

“Thou man of Shurippak, son of Ubara-Tutu, pull down thy house, build a ship, forsake thy possessions, take heed for thy life! Abandon thy goods, save thy life, and bring up living seed of every kind into the ship.”

The ship itself was to be carefully planned and built according to Ea’s instructions. When the god had spoken Ut-Napishtim promised obedience to the divine command. But he was still perplexed as to how he should answer the people when they asked the reason for his preparations.

Ea therefore instructed him how he should make reply,

Bel hath cast me forth, for he hateth me.’

The purpose of this reply seems clear, though the remaining few lines of it are rather broken. Ea intends that Ut-Napishtim shall disarm the suspicions of the people by declaring that the object of his shipbuilding and his subsequent departure is to escape the wrath of Bel, which he is to depict as falling on him alone.

He must prophesy the coming of the rain, but must represent it, not as a devastating flood, but rather as a mark of the prosperity which Bel will grant to the people of Shurippak, perhaps by reason of his (Ut-Napishtim’s) departure therefrom.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 173-4.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Babylonian Cuneiform Share No Common Ancestor

Ea was [ … ] the source of their culture. He was symbolised, it would seem, by a serpent; … the primeval seat of the worship of Ea was the city of Eridu, now represented by the mounds of Abu Shahrein on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, and not far to the south of Mugheir or Ur.

Eridu is a contracted form of the older Eri-duga, or “good city,” which appears in the non-Semitic texts of northern Babylonia as Eri-zêba,with the same meaning. The place was thus a peculiarly holy spot, whose sanctity was established far and wide throughout the country.

But it was not a holy city only. It is often termed, more especially in the sacred tests, “the lordly city,”‘ and we are told that one of its titles was “the Iand of the sovereign.”

In historical times, however, Eridu had sunk to the condition of a second-rate or even third-rate town; its power must therefore belong to that dimly remote age of which the discoveries at Tel-loh have enabled us to obtain a few glimpses. There must have been a time when Eridu held a foremost rank among the cities of Babylonia, and when it was the centre from which the ancient culture and civilisation of the country made its way.

Along with this culture went the worship of Ea, the god of Eridu, who to the closing days of the Babylonian monarchy continued to be known as Eridúga, “the god of Eridu.” At the period when the first elements of Chaldean culture were being fostered in Eridu, the city stood at the mouth of the Euphrates and on the edge of the Persian Gulf.

If the growth of the alluvium at the mouths of the Euphrates and Tigris has always been the same as is the case at present (about sixty-six feet a year), this would have been at the latest about 3000 B.C.; but as the accumulation of soil has been more rapid of late, the date would more probably be about 4000 B.C.

Already, therefore, the cult of Ea would have been established, and the sea-faring traders of Eridu would have placed themselves under his protection.

It will be noticed that the culture-myths of Babylonia, like the culture-myths of America, bring the first civiliser of the country from the sea. It is as a sea deity that Oannes is the culture-hero of the Chaldeans; it is from the depths of the Persian Gulf that he carries to his people the treasures of art and science.

Two questions are raised by this fact. Was the culture of Babylonia imported from abroad; and was Ea, its god of culture, of foreign extraction?

The last great work published by Lepsius was an attempt to answer the first of these questions in the affirmative. He revived the old theory of a mysterious Cushite population which carried the civilisation of Egypt to the shores of Babylonia.

But to all theories of this sort there is one conclusive objection. The origin of Babylonian culture is so closely bound up with the origin of the cuneiform system of writing, that the two cannot be separated from each other.

Between the hieroglyphics of Egypt, however, and the primitive pictures out af which the cuneiform characters developed, there is no traceable connection.

Apart from those general analogies which we find in all early civilisations, the script, the theology and the astronomy of Egypt and Babylonia, show no vestiges of a common source.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 134-6.

Gilgamesh and the Quest for Immortality

“This sinister vision appears to have been a presage of Eabani’s death. Shortly afterwards he fell ill and died at the end of twelve days. The manner of his death is uncertain. One reading of the mutilated text represents Eabani as being wounded, perhaps in battle, and succumbing to the effects of the wound.

But another makes him say to his friend Gilgamesh,

“I have been cursed, my friend, I shall not die as one who has been slain in battle.”

The breaks in the text are responsible for the divergence. The latter reading is probably the correct one; Eabani has grievously offended Ishtar, the all-powerful, and the curse which has smitten him to the earth is probably hers. In modern folk-lore phraseology he died of ju-ju. The death of the hero brings the VlIIth tablet to a close.

In the IXth tablet we find Gilgamesh mourning the loss of his friend.

On the heart of Gilgamesh, likewise, the fear of death had taken hold, and he determined to go in search of his ancestor, Ut-Napishtim, who might be able to show him a way of escape. Straightway putting his determination into effect, Gilgamesh set out for the abode of Ut-Napishtim.

On the way he had to pass through mountain gorges, made terrible by the presence of wild beasts. From the power of these he was delivered by Sin, the moon-god, who enabled him to traverse the mountain passes in safety.

At length he came to a mountain higher than the rest, the entrance to which was guarded by scorpion-men. This was Mashu, the Mountain of the Sunset, which lies on the western horizon, between the earth and the underworld.

“Then he came to the mountain of Mashu, the portals of which are guarded every day by monsters; their backs mount up to the ramparts of heaven, and their foreparts reach down beneath Aralu.

Scorpion-men guard the gate (of Mashu); they strike terror into men, and it is death to behold them. Their splendour is great, for it overwhelms the mountains; from sunrise to sunset they guard the sun.

Gilgamesh beheld them, and his face grew dark with fear and terror, and the wildness of their aspect robbed him of his senses.”

On approaching the entrance to the mountain Gilgamesh found his way barred by these scorpion-men, who, perceiving the strain of divinity in him, did not blast him with their glance, but questioned him regarding his purpose in drawing near’the mountain of Mashu.

When Gilgamesh had replied to their queries, telling them how he wished to reach the abode of his ancestor, Ut-Napishtim, and there learn the secret of perpetual life and youthfulness, the scorpion-men advised him to turn back.

Before him, they said, lay the region of thick darkness; for twelve kasbu (twenty-four hours) he would have to journey through the thick darkness ere he again emerged into the light of day. And so they refused to let him pass.

But Gilgamesh implored, “with tears,” says the narrative, and at length the monsters consented to admit him. Having passed the gate of the Mountain of the Sunset (by virtue of his character as a solar deity) Gilgamesh traversed the region of thick darkness during the space of twelve kasbu.

Toward the end of that period the darkness became ever less pronounced; finally it was broad day, and Gilgamesh found himself in a beautiful garden or park studded with trees, among which was the tree of the gods, thus charmingly depicted in the text—

“Precious stones it bore as fruit, branches hung from it which were beautiful to behold. The top of the tree was lapis-lazuli, and it was laden with fruit which dazzled the eye of him that beheld.”

Having paused to admire the beauty of the scene, Gilgamesh bent his steps shoreward.

The Xth tablet describes the hero’s encounter with the sea-goddess Sabitu who, on the approach of one

“who had the appearance of a god, in whose body was grief, and who looked as though he had made a long journey,”

retired into her palace and fastened the door. But Gilgamesh, knowing that her help was necessary to bring him to the dwelling of Ut-Napishtim, told her of his quest, and in despair threatened to break down the door unless she opened to him.

At last Sabitu consented to listen to him whilst he asked the way to Ut-Napishtim. Like the scorpion-men, the sea-goddess perceived that Gilgamesh was not to be turned aside from his quest, so at last she bade him go to Adad-Ea, Ut-Napishtim’s ferryman, without whose aid, she said, it would be futile to persist further in his mission.

Adad-Ea, likewise, being consulted by Gilgamesh, advised him to desist, but the hero, pursuing his plan of intimidation, began to smash the ferryman’s boat with his axe, whereupon Adad-Ea was obliged to yield.

He sent his would-be passenger into the forest for a new rudder, and after that the two sailed away.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 171-3.

The Harlot Civilizes the Wild Man Enkidu Using Sex

“The existence of various occupational groups connected both with cultic sexual service and with commercial prostitution tells us little about the meaning these occupations held to contemporaries.

We can try to learn something about that by looking at the earliest known poetic myth, The Epic of Gilgamesh.

The poem, which describes the exploits of a legendary god / king, who may actually have lived at the beginning of the third millennium BCE, has survived in several versions, the most complete of which is the Akkadian version, apparently based on earlier Sumerian tales written during the first millennium BCE.

In the poem, Gilgamesh’s aggressive behavior has displeased his subjects and the gods:

“Day and night [is unbridled his arrogance] . . . .

Gilgamesh leaves not the maid to [her mother],

the warrior’s daughter, the noble spouse!”

The gods create a man, “his double” Enkidu, to contend with Gilgamesh. Enkidu lives in harmony with the animals in the woods: “He knows neither people nor land.”

After Enkidu is discovered by a hunter and flees, the hunter seeks counsel as to how to tame him. He is told to get a harimtu. The hunter brings her to the woods, tells her what to do:

“and he [Enkidu] possessed her ripeness.

She was not bashful as she welcomed his ardor.

She laid aside her cloth and he rested upon her.

She treated him, the savage, to a woman’s task,

as his love was drawn unto her.”

After mating with her for six days, Enkidu finds that the wild beasts are afraid of him: “He now had [wi]sdom, [br]oader understanding.” The harlot advises him:

“Come, let me lead thee [to] ramparted Uruk,

To the holy temple, abode of Anu and Ishtar,

Where lives Gilgamesh.”

Enkidu agrees and the harlot leads him to Gilgamesh, whose best friend he becomes.

In this myth the temple harlot is an accepted part of society. Her role is honorable; in fact, it is she who is chosen to civilize the wild man. The assumption here is that sexuality is civilizing, pleasing to the gods.

The harlot does “a woman’s task;” thus she is not set off from other women because of her occupation. She possesses a kind of wisdom, which tames the wild man. He follows her lead into the city of civilization.

According to another Gilgamesh fragment, which has only recently been published, Enkidu later regrets his entry into civilization. He curses the hunter and the harimtu for having removed him from his former life of freedom in nature.

He speaks an elaborate curse against the harimtu:

“I will curse you with a great curse…

you shall not build a house for your debauch

you shall not enter the tavern of girls….

May waste places be your couch,

May the shadow of the town-wall be your stand

May thorn and bramble skin your feet

May drunkard and toper (ed note: someone who drinks alcohol to excess) alike slap your cheek.”

The nature of this curse tells us that the harimtu who mated with Enkidu lived an easier and better life than the harlot who has her stand at the town wall and is abused by her drunken customers.

This would confirm the distinction we made earlier between the women engaged in various forms of sacral sexual service and commercial prostitutes. Such a distinction was more likely to have existed in the earlier period than later.”

Gerda Lerner, “The Origin of Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Signs, 1986, pp. 245-6.

Sayce on the God Ea, or Oannes

“Ea, as we have already seen, was the god not only of the deep, but also of wisdom. Ancient legends affirmed that the Persian Gulf–the entrance to the deep or ocean-stream–had been the mysterious spot from whence the first elements of culture and civilisation had been brought to Chaldea.

Berossos, the Chaldean historian–so at least his epitomiser Alexander Polyhistor declared–had reported them as follows:

“At Babylon there was a great resort of people of various races who inhabited Chaldea, and lived in a lawless manner like the beasts of the field.

In the first year there appeared in that part of the Erythraean sea which borders upon Babylonia, a creature endowed with reason, by name Oannes, whose whole body (according to the account of Apollodaros) was that of a fish; under the fish’s head he had another head, with feet also below similar to those of a man subjoined to the fish’s tail.

His voice, too, and language were articulate and human; and a representation of him is preserved even to this day.

“This being was accustomed to pass the day among men, but took no food at that season; and he gave them an insight into letters and sciences and arts of every kind. He taught them to construct houses, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge.

He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and showed them how to collect the fruits; in short, he instructed them in everything which could tend to soften manners and humanize their lives. From that time, nothing material has been added by way of improvement to his instructions.

Now when the sun had set, this being Oannes used to retire again into the sea, and pass the night in the deep, for he was amphibious. After this there appeared other animals like Oannes, of which Berossos proposes to give an account when he comes to the history of the kings.

Moreover, Oannes wrote concerning the generation of mankind, of their different ways of life, and of their civil polity.”

[ … ]

The exact etymology of the name which appears under the Greek dress of Oannes has not yet been ascertained. Lenormant thought that it represented Ea-khan, “Ea the fish.” But whether or not this is the case, it is certain that Oannes and Ea are one and the same.

A depiction of Oannes, or Ea.

A depiction of Oannes, or Ea.

Ea, as we have seen, not only had his home in the waters of the Persian Gulf, he was also the culture-god of primitive Babylonia, the god of wisdom, the instructor of his worshippers in arts and science.

An old Babylonian sermon on the duty of a prince to administer justice impartially and without bribes, declares that if “he speaks according to the injunction (or writing) of the god Ea, the great gods will seat him in wisdom and the knowledge of righteousness.”

Ea was, moreover, like Oannes, represented as partly man and partly fish. Sometimes the fish’s skin is thrown over the man’s back, the head of a fish appearing behind that of the man; sometimes the body of the man is made to terminate in the tail of a fish.

A depiction of the God Ea, or Oannes.

A depiction of the God Ea, or Oannes.

A gem in the British Museum, on which the deity is depicted in the latter fashion, bears an inscription stating that the figure is that of “the god of pure life.”

OannesGems

Now “the god of pure life,” as we are expressly informed by a rubrical gloss to a hymn in honour of the demiurge Ea, was one of the names of Ea.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 131-3.

Gilgamesh and Eabani Kill the Bull of Heaven

“To resume the tale: In her wrath and humiliation Ishtar appealed to her father and mother, Anu and Anatu, and begged the former to create a mighty bull and send it against Gilgamesh.

Anu at first demurred, declaring that if he did so it would result in seven years’ sterility on the earth; but finally he consented, and a great bull, Alu, was sent to do battle with Gilgamesh.

The portion of the text which deals with the combat is much mutilated, but it appears that the conflict was hot and sustained, the celestial animal finally succumbing to a sword-thrust from Gilgamesh. Ishtar looks on in impotent anger.

“Then Ishtar went up on to the wall of strong-walled Erech; she mounted to the top and she uttered a curse, (saying),

‘Cursed be Gilgamesh, who has provoked me to anger, and has slain the bull from heaven.’”

Then Eabani incurs the anger of the deity —“

When Eabani heard these words of Ishtar, he tore out the entrails of the bull, and he cast them before her, saying,

‘As for thee, I will conquer thee, and I will do to thee even as I have done to him.’”

Ishtar was beside herself with rage. Gilgamesh and his companion dedicated the great horns of the bull to the sun-god, and having washed their hands in the river Euphrates, returned once more to Erech. As the triumphal procession passed through the city the people came out of their houses to do honour to the heroes.

The remainder of the tablet is concerned with a great banquet given by Gilgamesh to celebrate his victory over the bull Alu, and with further visions of Eabani.

The Vllth and VlIIth tablets are extremely fragmentary, and so much of the text as is preserved is open to various readings. It is possible that to the Vllth tablet belongs a description of the underworld given to Eabani in a dream by the temple-maiden Ukhut, whom he had cursed in a previous tablet, and who had since died.

The description answers to that given in another ancient text—the myth of Ishtar’s descent into Hades—and evidently embodies the popular belief concerning the underworld.

“Come, descend with me to the house of darkness, the abode of Irkalla, to the house whence the enterer goes not forth, to the path whose way has no return, to the house whose dwellers are deprived of light, where dust is their nourishment and earth their food. They are clothed, like the birds, in a garment of feathers; they see not the light, they dwell in darkness.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 168-70.

Prostitution is Not the Oldest Profession

“Two other classes of female temple servants can be briefly noted. One was the group of secretu, mentioned in the Codex Hammurabi in connection with inheritance laws. They were women of high rank, who probably lived cloistered.

Finally, there was a class of harimtu, who were prostitutes attached to the temple. These may have been daughters of slave women, and they were under the supervision of a minor temple official. It is unclear whether such women were considered to belong to the temple harem.

Given that the Sippar texts list only eleven such women, it seems likely that they were slave women owned by priests or priestesses. These slaves’ commercial earnings, like those of other slave workers, were turned over to their owners, who may then have given these sums to the temple.

[ … ]

Some linguistic evidence sheds light on the actual development of prostitution. The Sumerian word for female prostitute, kar.kid, occurs in the earliest lists of professions dating back to ca. 2400 B.C. Since it appears right after nam.lukur, which means “naditu-ship,” one can assume its connection with temple service.

It is of interest that the term kur-garru, a male prostitute or transvestite entertainer, appears on the same list but together with entertainers. This linkage results from a practice connected with the cult of Ishtar, in which transvestites performed acts using knives.

On the same list we find the following female occupations: lady doctor, scribe, barber, cook. Obviously, prostitution, while it is a very old profession, is not the oldest. Prostitutes continue to appear on several later lists of professions in the Middle Babylonian period.

On a seventh-century B.C. list there appear a variety of female entertainers, as well as transvestites, along with a midwife, nurse, sorceress, wet nurse, and “a gray-haired old lady.”

Prostitutes are listed again as kar.kid and by the Akkadian term harimtu. It is very interesting that among the twenty-five scribes on this list, there is no female scribe and that the doctors include no female doctors.

The earliest references on clay tablet texts connect harimtu with taverns. There is a sentence that reads, “When I sit in the entrance of the tavern, I, Ishtar, am a loving harimtu.” These and other references have led to the association of Ishtar with taverns and with both ritual and commercial prostitution.”

Gerda Lerner, “The Origin of Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Signs, 1986, pp. 244-5.

The God Assur

“The transference of the centre of power from Assur to Nineveh made the anthropomorphic side of Assur’s nature still more prominent. He represented now the whole nation and the central power which governed the nation. He was thus the representative at once of the people and of the king in whose hands the government of the people was centred.

Assyria became “the land of the god Assur,” belonging to him in much the same way as the city of Babylon belonged to Bel-Merodach. But whereas Bel-Merodach was the Baal of a particular city only, Assur was, like the Yahveh of Israel, the national god of a race.

There was yet another respect in which Assur resembled the Yahveh of Israel. There was no goddess Assurritu by the side of Assur, as there was an Anatu by the side of Anu, a Beltis by the side of Bel. If, in imitation of Babylonian usage, Bilat or Beltis is sometimes addressed as the consort of Assur, it is simply a literary affectation; Assur was not a Bel or Baal, like Merodach.

Bilat is a Babylonian goddess; she is properly the wife of the older Bel, in later times identified with Zarpanit. There is no indication that Assur had a “face” or reflection; he stands by himself, and the inspiration received from him by the Assyrian kings is received from him alone. When a female divinity is invoked along with him, it is the equally independent goddess Istar or Ashtoreth.

We possess a list of the deities whose images stood in the temples of Assur at Assur and Nineveh.

At the head of each list the name of Assur is thrice invoked, and once his name is followed by that of Istar. There was, in fact, a special form of Istar, under which she was worshipped as “the Istar of Nineveh;” but the form was purely local, not national, arising from the existence there of a great temple dedicated to her. There was no national goddess to place by the side of the national god.

Assur consequently differs from the Babylonian gods, not only in the less narrowly local character that belongs to him, but also in his solitary nature. He is “king of all gods” in a sense in which none of the deities of Babylonia were.

He is like the king of Assyria himself, brooking no rival, allowing neither wife nor son to share in the honours which he claims for himself alone. He is essentially a jealous god, and as such sends forth his Assyrian adorers to destroy his unbelieving foes. Wife-less, childless, he is mightier than the Babylonian Baalim; less kindly, perhaps, less near to his worshippers than they were, but more awe-inspiring and more powerful.

We can, in fact, trace in him all the lineaments upon which, under other conditions, there might have been built up as pure a faith as that of the God of Israel.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 126-9.

Lewis Spence’s Version of Ishtar and Gilgamesh

“In the Vlth tablet, which relates the story of Ishtar’s love for Gilgamesh, and the slaying of the sacred bull, victory again waits on the arms of the heroes, but here nevertheless we have the key to the misfortunes which later befall them.

On his return to Erech after the destruction of Khumbaba, Gilgamesh was loudly acclaimed. Doffing the soiled and bloodstained garments he had worn during the battle, he robed himself as befitted a monarch and a conqueror.

Ishtar beheld the King in his regal splendour, the flowers of victory still fresh on his brow, and her heart went out to him in love. In moving and seductive terms she besought him to be her bridegroom, promising that if he would enter her house “in the gloom of the cedar” all manner of good gifts should be his—his flocks and herds would increase, his horses and oxen would be without rival, the river Euphrates would kiss his feet, and kings and princes would bring tribute to him.

But Gilgamesh, knowing something of the past history of this capricious goddess, rejected her advances with scorn, and began to revile her. He taunted her, too, with her treatment of former lovers—of Tammuz, the bridegroom of her youth, to whom she clung weepingly year after year; of Alalu the eagle; of a Hon perfect in might and a horse glorious in battle; of the shepherd Tabulu and of Isullanu, the gardener of her father.

All these she had mocked and ill-treated in cruel fashion, and Gilgamesh perceived that like treatment would be meted out to him should he accept the proffered love of the goddess.

The deity was greatly enraged at the repulse, and mounted up to heaven :

“Moreover Ishtar went before Anu (her father), before Anu she went and she (said) : ‘ 0 my father, Gilgamesh has kept watch on me; Gilgamesh has counted my garlands, my garlands and my girdles.’”

Underlying the story of Ishtar’s love for Gilgamesh there is evidently a nature-myth of some sort, perhaps a spring-tide myth; Gilgamesh, the sun-god, or a hero who has taken over his attributes, is wooed by Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, the great mother-goddess who presides over spring vegetation.

In the recital of her former love-affairs we find mention of the Tammuz myth, in which Ishtar slew her consort Tammuz, and other mythological fragments. It is possible also that there is an astrological significance in this part of the narrative.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 167-8.

Herodotus and Strabo on Babylonian Temple Prostitution

“There are two other “historic” accounts of sexual activities in and around the Babylonian temples, both of which have unduly influenced modern historians. One was written by the Greek historian Herodotus in the fifth century B.C. and purports to describe religious prostitution in the temple of the Goddess Mylitta; the other was written by the Roman traveler Strabo some four hundred years later, confirming Herodotus. Here is Herodotus’s account:

“Every woman born in the country must once in her life go and sit down in the precinct of Venus [Mylitta], and there consort with a stranger…. A woman who has once taken her seat is not allowed to return home till one of the strangers throws a silver coin into her lap, and takes her with him beyond the holy ground…. The silver coin maybe of any size….

The woman goes with the first man who throws her money, and rejects no one. When she has gone with him, and so satisfied the goddess, she returns home, and from that time forth no gift however great will prevail with her. Such of the women. . . who are ugly have to stay a long time before they can fulfil the law. Some have waited three or four years in the precinct.”

There is no confirmation besides Strabo’s for this story and there are no known “laws” regulating or even referring to this practice. Herodotus may have mistaken the activities of prostitutes around the temple for a rite involving every Assyrian virgin.

Another of Herodotus’s stories, told to him by Babylonian priests, seems to have more historic foundation. It described a high tower in the temple of Marduk, at the top of which the high priestess dwelt in a room with a couch, in which she was nightly visited by the god.

The story somewhat parallels a historic account, dating from the first millennium B.C., which describes how the Neo-Babylonian King Nabu-naid dedicated his daughter as high priestess of the Moon god Sin. He surrounded the building in which she lived with a high wall and furnished it with ornaments and fine furniture.

This description would be consistent with what we know of the living conditions of some of the royal high priestesses and with the belief that the god visited them nightly, just as he nightly ate the meals prepared for him.

Herodotus cites this as an example of “temple prostitution,” and modern historians of prostitution repeat the tale after him, treating his accounts as facts. I interpret the function of the priestess as a significant example of sacral sexual service, which may have been actually carried out or may have been symbolically reenacted.

From the conflicting interpretations of the evidence we have about the activities of women in temple service, it is difficult to arrive at an understanding of these women’s social role. What earlier was a purely religious cultic function may have become corrupted at a time when commercial prostitution already flourished in the temple precincts.

Sexual intercourse performed for strangers in the temple to honor the fertility and sexual power of the goddess may customarily have been rewarded by a donation to the temple. Worshipers regularly brought offerings of food, oil, wine, and precious goods to the temple to honor the deities and in the hope of thus advancing their own cause.

It is conceivable that this practice corrupted some of the temple servants, tempting them to keep all or some of these gifts for their own profit. Priests may also have encouraged or permitted the use of slave women and the lower class of temple servants as commercial prostitutes in order to enrich the temple.”

Gerda Lerner, “The Origin of Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Signs, 1986, pp. 243-4.

Assur, National Deity of Assyria

“Supreme over the old Babylonian pantheon rises the figure of a new god, the national deity of Assyria, its impersonation Assur. Assur is not merely primus inter pares, merely the president of the divine assembly, like Merodach; he is their lord and master in another and more autocratic sense.

Like the Yahveh of Israel, he claims to be “king above all gods,” that “among all gods” there is none like unto himself. In his name and through his help the Assyrian kings go forth to conquer; the towns they bum, the men they slay, the captives they take, are all his gifts.

It is to destroy “the enemies of Assur,” and to lay their yoke upon those who disbelieve in his name, that they load their armies into other lands; it is his decrees, his law, that they write upon the monuments they erect in conquered countries.

The gods of Babylonia are invoked, it is true; their old Babylonian titles are accorded to them; they are called upon to curse the sacrilegious in the stereotyped phrases of the ancient literature; but it is Assur, and Assur alone, to whom the Assyrian monarch turns in moments of distress; it is Assur, and Assur alone, in whose name he subdues the infidel. Only the goddess Istar finds a place by the side of Assur.

It is not difficult to account for all this. In passing from their native homes to Assyria, the Babylonian deities lost that local character which was the very breath of their existence. How far they owe their presence in Assyrian literature to the literary class, how far they had been brought from Babylonia in early days by the people themselves, I am not prepared to say.

One fact, however, is clear; in becoming Assyrian the Babylonian gods have lost both their definiteness and their rank. The invocations addressed to them lack their old genuine ring, their titles are borrowed from the literature of the southern kingdom, and their functions are usurped by the new god Assur.

It is almost pitiable to find Bel-Merodach invoked, in phrases that once denoted his power above other deities, by the very kings who boast of their conquests over his people, or who even razed his city to the ground.

The Assyrian, in fact, occupied much the same position as an Israelite who, while recognizing the supremacy of his national God, thought it prudent or cultivated to offer at the same time a sort of inferior homage to the Baalim of Canaan.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 122-3.

Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablets IV and V, Slaying of Khumbaba

“The IVth tablet is concerned with a description of the monster with whom the heroes are about to do battle.

Khumbaba, whom Bel had appointed to guard the cedar (i.e., one particular cedar which appears to be of greater height and sanctity than the others), is a creature of most terrifying aspect, the very presence of whom in the forest makes those who enter it grow weak and impotent.

As the heroes draw near Eabani complains that his hands are feeble and his arms without strength, but Gilgamesh speaks words of encouragement to him. It may be noted, in passing, that the word Khumbaba is of Elamite origin, a fact which has led certain authorities to identify the monster with an Elamite dynasty which anciently dominated Erech, and which came to grief about 2250 BCE.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to establish the connexion between the mythical encounter and a definite historical event; but it may at least be presumed that the bestowal of an Elamite designation on the monster argues a certain enmity between Elam and Babylon.

The next fragments bring us into the Vth tablet.

The heroes, having reached “a verdant mountain,” paused to survey the Forest of Cedars. When they entered the forest the death of Khumbaba was foretold to one or other, or both of them, in a dream, and they hastened forward to the combat.

Unfortunately the text of the actual encounter has not been preserved, but we learn from the context that the heroes were successful in slaying Khumbaba.

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 166-7.

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