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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.

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.

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.

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