Nebo, God of Prophecy

by Esteban

“A knowledge of Babylonian letters and learning was accompanied by a knowledge of the Babylonian god of letters and learning.

In Assyria, Nebo was honoured as much as he was in Babylonia itself. The Assyrian kings and scribes might be silent about the name of Merodach, but the name of Nebo was continually in their mouths.

His name and worship passed even to the distant Semitic tribes of the west. The names of places in Palestine in which his name occurs, proves that the god of prophecy was adored by Canaanites and Moabites alike. Moses, the leader and prophet of Israel, died on the peak of Mount Nebo, and cities bearing the name stood within the borders of the tribes of Reuben and Judah.

When the Israelites entered upon their literary era, the old name of roch, or “seer,” was exchanged for the more literary one of Nēbi, or “prophet.”

The Semites of Babylonia provided Nebo with a wife, Tasmitu, “the hearer.” She helped to open and enlarge the ears which received the divine mysteries her husband’s inspiration enabled his devout servants to write down.

The revolution which transferred the learning of the Babylonians from the Accadians to the Semites, transferred the patronage of the literary class from the old god Ea to his younger rivals Nebo and Tasmit.

[ … ]

The Semites of Babylonia thus closely resembled their brother Semites of Canaan in their fundamental conception of religion. As the Canaanite or Phoenician had “lords many,” the multitudinous Baalim who represented the particular forms of the Sun-god worshipped in each locality, so too the gods of Semitic Babylonia were equally multitudinous and local–Merodach, for example, being merely the Bel or Baal of Babylon, just as Mel-karth (Melech-kiryath) was the Baal of Tyre.

But the parallelism extends yet further. We have seen that the rise of the prophet-god in Babylonia marks the growing importance of literature and a literary class, just as the beginning of a literary age in Israel is coeval with the change of the seer into the prophet.

Now the literary age of Israel was long preceded by a literary age among their Phoenician neighbours, and its growth is contemporaneous with the closer relations that grew up between the monarchs of Israel and Hiram of Tyre.

What Israel was in this respect to the Phoenicians, Assyria was to Babylonia. The Assyrians were a nation of warriors and traders rather than of students; their literature was for the most part an exotic, a mere imitation of Babylonian cuiture.

In Babylonia, education was widely diffused; in Assyria, it was confined to the learned class. We must remember, therefore, that in dealing with Assyrian documents we are dealing either with a foreign importation or with the thoughts and beliefs of a small and special class.”

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. 119-122.