Triads and Feminine Reflections in Babylonian Religion

by Esteban

“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.