Sins of Man

by Esteban

Merodach mourned over the doom pronounced against his city, and apparently with some effect; for after a good many broken and lost lines, the tablet goes on to describe the despatch of the terrible plague-god to Erech, “the seat of Anu and Istar, the city of the choirs of the festival-makers and consecrated maidens of Istar,” who “dreaded death,” for the nomad ‘Suti of the desert had combined against their state.

The eunuch-priests were now compelled to bow the face before another deity than the peaceful Istar, who “cried and was troubled over the city of Erech.” Eventually, however, Nerra was “quieted” by “Isum his councillor, the illustrious god who goes before him,” “and the warrior Nerra spake thus:

“Sea-land against sea-land, ‘Sumasti against ‘Sumasti, the Assyrian against the Assyrian, the Elamite against the Elamite, the Kossaean against the Kossaean, the Kurd against the Kurd, the Lullubite against the Lullubite, country against country, house against house, man against man, brother against brother, let them destroy one another, and afterwards let the Accadian come and slay them all, and fall upon their breasts.”

The warrior Nerra (further) addresses a speech to Isum, who goes before him:

‘Go, Isum, incline all thy heart to the word thou hast spoken.’

(Then) Isum sets his face towards the land of the west; the seven warrior gods, unequalled, sweep (all things) away behind him.

At the land of Phoenicia, at the mountains, the warrior arrived; he lifted up the hand, he laid it on the mountain; the mountain of Phoenicia, he counted as his own soil.”

In thus marching to the west, the minister of the Babylonian god of death approaches the country in which another angel of pestilence was seen by the king of Israel.

“By the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite,” David had beheld the angel of the Lord “stretching out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it.”

As in Babylon, so too in Israel, the plague had been a visitation for the sins of man. It was the instrument of God’s anger wielded by the hands of his angel-minister. That same angel-minister had once before stood before Balaam, and with a drawn sword in his hand had threatened the Syrian prophet with death.

He was not a demon from the lower world, like the old Chaldean plague-spirit Namtar; he was not the inexorable law of destiny, before whom even the gods had to submit their wills; but a member of the celestial hierarchy, the messenger of a beneficent God.

He came to destroy, but it was to destroy the guilty. The sins of man, and not the malevolence or passionless law of a supernatural being, brought death and suffering into the world. The Babylonian legend of Nerra, like the records of the Old Testament, tells the same tale as the Babylonian story of the Deluge.”

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. 312-4.