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More Epithets of Nebo

“We have only to glance over the titles which were given to Nebo to see how thoroughly the conception of “the prophet” was associated with that of ‘”the writer.”

He is not only “the wise,” “the intelligent,” “the creator of peace,” “the author of the oracle;” he is also “the creator of the written tablet,” “the maker of writing,” “the opener” and “enlarger of the ear.”

Assur-bani-pal is never weary of telling us, at the end of the documents his scribes had copied from their Babylonian originals, that “Nebo and Tasmit had given him broad ears (and) endowed (him) with seeing eyes,” so that he had “written, bound together and published the store of tablets, a work which none of the kings who had gone before had undertaken, even the secrets of Nebo, the list of characters as many as exist.”

In the literary dialect of the Semitic epoch, Nebo went by the Accadian name of dim-sar, “the scribe,” and the ideograph by which he is sometimes denoted was regarded by the Semitic literati as signifying “the maker of intelligence” and “the creator of writing.”

These, however, were not the only titles that Nebo bore. He was also “the bond of the universe,” and “the overseer of the angel-hosts of heaven and earth.” The latter office might be explained as derived from his duties as scribe of the gods; but it is hard to discover what connection there could be between the first title and his association with literature.

Light is thrown upon it, however, by the fact that the ziggurrat or tower of his temple at Borsippa had the name of “the house of the seven bonds of heaven and earth.” The seven “bonds” seem to represent the seven planets, or rather their stations; the tower was in seven stages, and each stage was painted so as to symbolise the colours symbolical of the several planets.

Nebo must, therefore, have once been an elemental god, or at all events a god connected with the chief of the heavenly bodies.

We know that Babylonian astronomy made him the presiding deity of the planet Mercury, just as it made Merodach the presiding deity of Jupiter; but it cannot have been in reference to this that the tower of his temple was dedicated to the seven heavenly spheres.

Nebo cannot well have been one of the seven himself in the conception of its builders; he must rather have been the universe in which the seven spheres were set.”

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. 114-6.

Ukhut, “Sacred Woman of the Temple of Ishtar”

“The poem goes on to introduce a new character, Tsaidu, the hunter, apparently designed by the gods to bring about the meeting of Gilgamesh and Eabani. How he first encounters Eabani is not quite clear from the mutilated text.

One reading has it that the King of Erech, learning the plan of the gods for his overthrow, sent Tsaidu into the mountains in search of Eabani, with instructions to entrap him by whatever means and bring him to Erech.

Another reading describes the encounter as purely accidental. However this may be, Tsaidu returned to Erech and related to Gilgamesh the story of his encounter, telling him of the strength and fleetness of the wild man, and his exceeding shyness at the sight of a human being.

By this time it is evident that Gilgamesh knows or conjectures the purpose for which Eabani is designed, and intends to frustrate the divine plans by anticipating the meeting between himself and the wild man.

Accordingly he bids Tsaidu return to the mountains, taking with him Ukhut, one of the sacred women of the temple of Ishtar. His plan is that Ukhut with her wiles shall persuade Eabani to return with her to Erech.

Thus the hunter and the girl set out.

“They took the straight road, and on the third day they reached the usual drinking-place of Eabani. Then Tsaidu and the woman placed themselves in hiding. For one day, for two days, they lurked by the drinking-place. With the beasts (Eabani) slaked his thirst, with the creatures of the waters his heart rejoiced. Then Eabani (approached) …”

The scene which follows is described at some length. Ukhut had no difficulty in enthralling Eabani with the snares of her beauty. For six days and seven nights he remembered nothing because of his love for her.

When at length he bethought him of his gazelles, his flocks and herds, he found that they would no longer follow him as before. So he sat at the feet of Ukhut while she told him of Erech and its king.

“Thou art handsome, O Eabani, thou art like a god. Why dost thou traverse the plain with the beasts? Come, I will take thee to strong-walled Erech, to the bright palace, the dwelling of Anu and Ishtar, to the palace of Gilgamesh, the perfect in strength, who, like a mountain-bull, wieldeth power over man.”

Eabani found the prospect delightful. He longed for the friendship of Gilgamesh, and declared himself willing to follow the woman to the city of Erech. And so Ukhut, Eabani, and Tsaidu set out on their journey.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 163-4.

Ist and IInd Tablet, Creation of Eabani (Enkidu)

“Now we come to the real commencement of the poem, inscribed on a fragment which some authorities assign to the beginning of the Ilnd tablet, but which more probably forms a part of the Ist.

In this portion we find Gilgamesh filling the double role of ruler and oppressor of Erech—the latter evidently not inconsistent with the character of a hero. There is no mention here of a siege, nor is there any record of the coming of Gilgamesh, though, as has been indicated, he probably came as a conqueror. His intolerable tyranny towards the people of Erech lends colour to this view.

He presses the young men into his service in the building of a great wall, and carries off the fairest maidens to his court; he

“hath not left the son to his father, nor the maid to the hero, nor the wife to her husband.”

Finally his harshness constrained the people to appeal to the gods, and they prayed the goddess Aruru to create a mighty hero who would champion their cause, and through fear of whom Gilgamesh should be forced to temper his severity.

Gilgamesh, left and Eabani (Enkidu) on the right.  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/images/060.jpg

Gilgamesh, left and Eabani (Enkidu) on the right.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/images/060.jpg

The gods themselves added their prayers to those of the oppressed people, and Aruru at length agreed to create a champion against Gilgamesh.

“Upon hearing these words (so runs the narrative), Aruru conceived a man (in the image) of Anu in her mind. Aruru washed her hands, she broke off a piece of clay, she cast it on the ground. Thus she created Eabani, the hero.”

When the creation of this champion was finished his appearance was that of a wild man of the mountains.

“The whole of his body was (covered) with hair, he was clothed with long hair like a woman. His hair was luxuriant, like that of the corn-god. He knew (not) the land and the inhabitants thereof, he was clothed with garments as the god of the field. With the gazelles he ate herbs, with the beasts he slaked his thirst, with the creatures of the water his heart rejoiced.”

In pictorial representations on cylinder-seals and elsewhere Eabani is depicted as a sort of satyr, with the head, arms, and body of a man, and the horns, ears, and legs of a beast. As we have seen, he is a type of beast-man, a sort of Caliban, ranging with the beasts of the field, utterly ignorant of the things of civilization.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 160-3.

Nebo, God of Wisdom, God of Writing

In Semitic days, Zarpanit, the inheritor of all these old traditions and worships, fell from her high estate. She ceased to be the goddess of wisdom, the voice of the deep revealing the secrets of heaven to the diviner and priest; she became merely the female shadow and companion of Merodach, to whom a shrine was erected at the entrance to his temple.

Her distinctive attributes all belong to the pre-Semitic epoch; with the introduction of a language which recognized gender, she was lost in the colourless throng of Ashtaroth or Baalat, the goddesses who were called into existence by the masculine Baalim.

Zarpanit, however, had something to do with the prominence given to Nebo in the Babylonian cult. Nebo, the son of Merodach and Zarpanitu, had, as we have seen, a chapel called E-Zida within the precincts of the great temple of his father.

E-Zida, “the constituted house,” derived its name from the great temple of Borsippa, the suburb of Babylon, the ruins of which are now known to travelers as the Birs-i-Nimrúd. Borsippa, it would seem, had once been an independent town, and Nebo, or the prototype of Nebo, had been its protecting deity.

In the middle of the city rose E-Zida, the temple of Nebo and Nana Tasmit, with its holy of holies, “the supreme house of life,” and its lofty tower termed “the house of the seven spheres of heaven and earth.” It had been founded, though never finished, according to Nebuchadnezzar, by an ancient king.

For long centuries it had remained a heap of ruin, until restored by Nebuchadnezzar, and legends had grown up thickly around it. It was known as the tul ellu, “the pure” or “holy mound,” and one of the titles of Nebo accordingly was “god of the holy mound.”

The word Nebo is the Semitic Babylonian Nabiu or Nabû. It means the proclaimer,” “the prophet,” and thus indicates the character of the god to whom it was applied. Nebo was essentially the proclaimer of the mind and wishes of Merodach.

He stood to Merodach in the same relation that an older mythology regarded Merodach as standing to Ea. While Merodach was rather the god of healing, in accordance with his primitively solar nature, Nebo was emphatically the god of science and literature.

The communication of the gifts of wisdom, therefore, which originally emanated from Ea, was thus shared between Merodach and his son. At Babylon, the culture-god of other countries was divided into two personalities, the one conveying to man the wisdom that ameliorates his condition, the other the knowledge which finds its expression in the art of writing.”

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. 112-3.

Triads and Feminine Reflections in Babylonian Religion

“Even at Babylon, however, Merodach did not stand alone. He shared his divine honours, as we have seen, with his wife Zarpanitu and his son Nebo.

The old Accadian cult seems to have had a fancy for trinities or triads, originating perhaps in the primary astronomical triad of the Sun-god, the Moon-god and the Evening Star.

The Accadian triad usually consisted of male deities. The Semites, however, as I hope to point out in the next Lecture, introduced a new idea, that of sex, into the theology of the country. Every god was provided with his female reflection, who stood to him in the relation of the wife to the husband.

Baal, accordingly, had his female reflex, his “face,” as it was termed, Bilat or Beltis. By the side of the Baal of Babylon, therefore, stood Beltis, “the lady” by the side of her “lord.”

Her local name mas Zarpanitu, which a punning etymology subsequently turned into Zir-banitu, “creatress of seed,” sometimes written Zir-panitu, with an obvious  play on the word panu, or “face.”

Zarpanitu was of purely Semitic origin. But she was identified with an older Accadian divinity, Gasmu, “the wise one,” the fitting consort of a deity whose office it was to convey the wishes of the god of wisdom to suffering humanity.

The Accadian goddess, however, must originally have stood rather in the relation of mother than of wife to the primitive Merodach. She was entitled “the lady of the deep,” “the mistress of the abode of the fish,” and “the voice of the deep.”

Hence she must have ranked by the side of Ea, the fish-god and “lord of the deep;” and in the title “voice” or “incantation of the deep,” we may see a reference to the ideas which caused Ea to become the god of wisdom, and brought the fish-god Oannes out of the Persian Gulf to carry culture and knowledge to the inhabitants of Chaldea.

In the roar of the sea-waves, the early dwellers on the shores of the Gulf must have heard the voice of heaven, and their prophets and diviners must have discovered in it a revelation of the will of the gods.

It is not surprising, therefore, if Zarpanit was specially identified with the goddess Lakhamun, who was worshipped in the sacred island of Dilmun, or with the goddess Elagu, whose name was revered in the mountains of Elam.”

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. 110-1.

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