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Category: Arabs

Divinity of the High Places, and Sacred Stones

“The sacred mounds of Babylonia, in fact, like the Gilgals of Palestine, appear to have been the sites of older structures which had long fallen into decay, and around which fancy and tradition were allowed to play freely.

They had in this way become veritable hills–tumuli, as we should term them in our modern archeological vocabulary–and as such deserved the venerable title of sadu, or “mountain.” New temples like that of “the mountain of the world” could be named after them, but this did not imply a recollection that the sacred mounds had once been temples themselves.

They were rather, like the mountains of the eastern frontier, the everlasting altars of the gods, on whose summits worship could most fittingly be paid to the deities of heaven. And, like the mountains, they were something more than altars; they were themselves divine, the visible habitations of the spirits of the air.

It is possible that Prof. Friedrich Delitzsch is right in proposing to see in the Assyrian sadu, or “mountain,” the explanation of the Hebrew title of the Deity, El Shaddai. At all events, God is compared to a rock in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy, xxxii. 15, Psalms, xviii. 2), and the worship of sacred stones was widely spread through the Semitic world.

Between the sacred mounds of Babylonia, however, and the sacred stones of Semitic faith, there was a wide difference, answering to a difference in the minds of the two races to whom these separate cults belonged.

The sacred stone was a Beth-el, or “house of god;” no habitation of a mere spirit, but the dwelling-place of deity itself. Its sanctity was not inherent; it was sacred because it had been transformed into an altar by the oil that was poured out upon it in libation, or the priest who was consecrated to its service. The worship of those sacred stones was common to all the branches of the Semitic family.

The famous black stone of the Kaaba at Mecca is a standing witness of the fact. So firmly rooted was the belief in its divine character among the Arabs of Mohammed’s day that he was unable to eradicate it, but was forced to make a compromise with the old faith by attaching to the stone the traditions of the Old Testament.

The black stone, though more sacred than any others, did not stand alone. All around Mecca there were similar stones, termed Anzab, three of which may still be seen, according to Mr. Doughty, at the gates of the city, where they go by the names of IIobbal, Lâta and Uzza.

Northward of Mecca, at Medain-Saleh, the burial-place of the ancient kingdom of the Nabathaeans, Mr. Doughty has discovered niches in the rock containing sacred stones. Above one of them is an inscription which shows that the stone was the symbol or habitation of the god Auda (or Aera): “This is the place of prayer which Seruh the son of Tuka has erected to Auda of Bostra, the great god, in the month Nisan of the first year of king Malkhos.”

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. 407-8.

On Dagon, Anu, Ishtar

In the Assyrian inscriptions Anu is coupled with Dagan, “the exalted one,” whose female consort seems to have been Dalas or Salas.

Thus Assur-natsir-pal calls himself “the beloved of Anu and Dagon;” and Sargon asserts that he “had extended his protection over the city of Harran, and, according to the ordinance of Anu and Dagon, had written down their laws.”

Here Dagan or Dagon is associated with Harran, the half-way house, as it were, between the Semites of Babylonia and the Semites of the west. From Harran we can trace his name and cult to Phoenicia.

Beth-Dagon was a city of Asher, in the neighbourhood of Tyre and Zidon (Joshua xix. 27), and the fragments of Philôn Byblios, the Greek translator of the Phoenician writer Sankhuniathon, tell us expressly that Dagon was a Phoenician god.

That the statement is genuine is made clear by the false etymology assigned to the name, from the Semitic dâgân, “corn.” But it was among the Philistines in the extreme south of Palestine that the worship of Dagon attained its chief importance.

Here he appears to have been exalted into a Baal, and to have become the supreme deity of the confederate Philistine towns. We hear of his temples at Gaza (Joshua xvi. 21-30) and at Ashdod (1 Samuel v. 1 sp.), as well as of a town of Beth-Dagon, and we gather from the account given of his image that he was represented as a man with head and hands.

The goddess Ishtar, wearing the horned headdress of divinity, with spears and maces on her back. The goddess is winged, and stands with her foot upon a lion, her sacred animal.

The goddess Ishtar, wearing the horned headdress of divinity, with spears and maces on her back. The goddess is winged, and stands with her foot upon a lion, her sacred animal.

It is probable that the worship of Anu migrated westward along with the worship of Istar. The god and goddess of Erech could not well be dissociated from one another, and the spread of the worship of the goddess among the Semitic tribes brought with it the spread of the worship of the god also.

Detail of the goddess Ishtar. From a cylinder seal in the British Museum.

Detail of the goddess Ishtar. From a cylinder seal in the British Museum.

I am inclined to think that this must be placed at least as early as the age of Sargon of Accad. The worship of Istar found its way to all the branches of the Semitic family except the Arabic; and, as we shall see in a future Lecture, the form of the name Ashtoreth, given to the goddess in Canaan, raises a presumption that this was due, not to the campaigns of the early Babylonian kings, but to the still earlier migrations of the Semitic population towards the west.

Ishtar, goddess of sexuality and warfare. She appears frequently on seals, relief carvings, and in descriptions as a mighty warrior who protects the king.  Ishtar was associated at an early period with the Sumerian goddess Inanna and both deities are depicted with symbols of fertility, such as the date palm, and of aggression, such as the lion.  This iconography survived relatively unchanged for over a thousand years. Here, Ishtar's astral quality is also emphasized: above her crown is a representation of the planet Venus.  In the first millennium BC more unusual stones were used to make seals: this one is made of green garnet, which may have come from northern Pakistan. British Museum, ME 89769, acquired 1835. D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder seals (London, The British Museum Press, 1987) H. Frankfort, Cylinder seals (London, Macmillan, 1939) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/g/garnet_cylinder_seal_ishtar.aspx

Ishtar, goddess of sexuality and warfare. She appears frequently on seals, relief carvings, and in descriptions as a mighty warrior who protects the king.
Ishtar was associated at an early period with the Sumerian goddess Inanna and both deities are depicted with symbols of fertility, such as the date palm, and of aggression, such as the lion.
This iconography survived relatively unchanged for over a thousand years. Here, Ishtar’s astral quality is also emphasized: above her crown is a representation of the planet Venus.
In the first millennium BC more unusual stones were used to make seals: this one is made of green garnet, which may have come from northern Pakistan. British Museum, ME 89769, acquired 1835.
D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder seals (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)
H. Frankfort, Cylinder seals (London, Macmillan, 1939)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/g/garnet_cylinder_seal_ishtar.aspx

The old sky-god of the Accadians must have become the Semitic Anu at a very remote period indeed.

But it was the sky-god of Erech only. It does not follow that where the divine Ana, or “sky,” is mentioned in the Accadian texts, the god who became the Semitic Anu is referred to, even though the Semitic translators of the texts imagined that such was the case.

There were numerous temples in Chaldea into whose names the name of the deified sky entered, but in most cases this deified sky was not the sky-god of Erech. It is only where the names have been given in Semitic times, or where the Accadian texts are the production of Semitic literati composing in the sacred language of the priests, like the monks of the Middle Ages, that we may see the Anu of the mythological tablets.

Without doubt the Semitic scribes have often confounded their Anu with the local sky-god of the ancient documents, but this should only make us the more cautious in dealing with their work.”

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. 188-90.

The Fifty Names of Marduk

” … it is clear that a dispute broke out between Marduk and the gods after he had created them, and the tradition of it has made its way into the religious literatures of the Hebrews, Syrians, Arabs, Copts and Abyssinians.

The cuneiform texts tell us nothing about the cause of the dispute, but tradition generally ascribes it to the creation of man by the supreme God; and it is probable that all the apocryphal stories which describe the expulsion from heaven of the angels who contended against God under the leadership of Satan, or Satnael, or Iblîs, are derived from a Babylonian original which has not yet been found.

The “Fifty Names,” or laudatory epithets mentioned above, find parallels in Seventy-five Praises of Rā, sung by the Egyptians under the XIXth dynasty, 15 and in the Ninety-nine Beautiful Names of Allâh, which are held in such great esteem by the Muḥammadans. 16

The respect in which the Fifty Names were held by the Babylonians is well shown by the work of the Epilogue on the Seventh Tablet, where it is said, “Let them be held in remembrance, let the first-comer (i.e., any and every man) proclaim them; let the wise and the understanding consider them together. Let the father repeat them and teach them to his son. Let them be in the ears of the herdsman and the shepherd.”

The object of the writer of the Fifty Names was to show that Marduk was the “Lord of the gods,” that the power, qualities and attributes of every god were enshrined in him, and that they all were merely forms of him.

This fact is proved by the tablet (No. 47,406), 17 which contains a long list of gods who are equated with Marduk in his various forms. 18

The tendency in the later Babylonian religion to make Marduk the god above all gods has led many to think that monotheistic conceptions were already in existence among the Babylonians as early as the period of the First Dynasty, about 2000 B.C. It is indisputable that Marduk obtained his pre-eminence in the Babylonian Pantheon at this early period.

But some authorities deny the existence of monotheistic conceptions among the Babylonians at that time, and attribute Marduk’s kingship of the gods to the influence of the political situation of the time, when Babylon first became the capital of the country, and mistress of the greater part of the known world.

Material for deciding this question is wanting, but it may be safely said that whatever monotheistic conceptions existed at that time, their acceptance was confined entirely to the priests and scribes. They certainly find no expression in the popular religious texts.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Legends of the Creation and the Fight Between Bel and the Dragon, 1921.

Learning the Language of the Birds

” … In other dragon stories the heroes devise their plans after eating the dragon’s heart. According to Philostratus, Apollonius of Tyana was worthy of being remembered for two things–his bravery in traveling among fierce robber tribes, not then subject to Rome, and his wisdom in learning the language of birds and other animals as the Arabs do.

This accomplishment the Arabs acquired, Philostratus explains, by eating the hearts of dragons. The “animals” who utter magic words are, of course, the Fates. Siegfried of the Nibelungenlied, after slaying the Regin dragon, makes himself invulnerable by bathing in its blood.

He obtains wisdom by eating the heart: as soon as he tastes it he can understand the language of birds, and the birds reveal to him that Mimer is waiting to slay him.

Sigurd similarly makes his plans after eating the heart of the Fafner dragon. In Scottish legend Finn-mac-Coul obtains the power to divine secrets by partaking of a small portion of the seventh salmon associated with the “well dragon,” and Michael Scott and other folk heroes become great physicians after tasting the juices of the middle part of the body of the white snake.

The hero of an Egyptian folk tale slays a “deathless snake” by cutting it in two parts and putting sand between the parts. He then obtains from the box, of which it is the guardian, the book of spells; when he reads a page of the spells he knows what the birds of the sky, the fish of the deep, and the beasts of the hill say; the book gives him power to enchant “the heaven and the earth, the abyss, the mountains and the sea.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

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