“Ea was [ … ] the source of their culture. He was symbolised, it would seem, by a serpent; … the primeval seat of the worship of Ea was the city of Eridu, now represented by the mounds of Abu Shahrein on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, and not far to the south of Mugheir or Ur.
Eridu is a contracted form of the older Eri-duga, or “good city,” which appears in the non-Semitic texts of northern Babylonia as Eri-zêba,with the same meaning. The place was thus a peculiarly holy spot, whose sanctity was established far and wide throughout the country.
But it was not a holy city only. It is often termed, more especially in the sacred tests, “the lordly city,”‘ and we are told that one of its titles was “the Iand of the sovereign.”
In historical times, however, Eridu had sunk to the condition of a second-rate or even third-rate town; its power must therefore belong to that dimly remote age of which the discoveries at Tel-loh have enabled us to obtain a few glimpses. There must have been a time when Eridu held a foremost rank among the cities of Babylonia, and when it was the centre from which the ancient culture and civilisation of the country made its way.
Along with this culture went the worship of Ea, the god of Eridu, who to the closing days of the Babylonian monarchy continued to be known as Eridúga, “the god of Eridu.” At the period when the first elements of Chaldean culture were being fostered in Eridu, the city stood at the mouth of the Euphrates and on the edge of the Persian Gulf.
If the growth of the alluvium at the mouths of the Euphrates and Tigris has always been the same as is the case at present (about sixty-six feet a year), this would have been at the latest about 3000 B.C.; but as the accumulation of soil has been more rapid of late, the date would more probably be about 4000 B.C.
Already, therefore, the cult of Ea would have been established, and the sea-faring traders of Eridu would have placed themselves under his protection.
It will be noticed that the culture-myths of Babylonia, like the culture-myths of America, bring the first civiliser of the country from the sea. It is as a sea deity that Oannes is the culture-hero of the Chaldeans; it is from the depths of the Persian Gulf that he carries to his people the treasures of art and science.
Two questions are raised by this fact. Was the culture of Babylonia imported from abroad; and was Ea, its god of culture, of foreign extraction?
The last great work published by Lepsius was an attempt to answer the first of these questions in the affirmative. He revived the old theory of a mysterious Cushite population which carried the civilisation of Egypt to the shores of Babylonia.
But to all theories of this sort there is one conclusive objection. The origin of Babylonian culture is so closely bound up with the origin of the cuneiform system of writing, that the two cannot be separated from each other.
Between the hieroglyphics of Egypt, however, and the primitive pictures out af which the cuneiform characters developed, there is no traceable connection.
Apart from those general analogies which we find in all early civilisations, the script, the theology and the astronomy of Egypt and Babylonia, show no vestiges of a common source.”
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. 134-6.