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Category: Ashtaroth

The Avarice of Ishtar

“Away from Accadian influences, in the Phoenician lands of the west, the character, like the name, of the goddess was more closely accommodated to Semitic ideas. Istar had become Ashtoreth, and Ashtoreth had put on the colourless character of the Semitic goddess.

Hence it was that, just as Baal became the common designation of the male deity, Ashtoreth was the common designation of the female. By the side of the Baalim stood the Ashtaroth–those goddesses whose sole right to exist was the necessity of providing the male divinity with a consort.

Ashêrah, the southern Canaanitish goddess of fertility, alone retained some of the independence of the Babylonian Istar.

In the second place, there is a very important difference between the Istar of Babylonia and the Ashtoreth of Phoenicia. Ashtoreth was the goddess of the moon; Istar was not. It was in the west alone that Astartê was

“Queen of heaven with crescent horns;

To whose bright image nightly by the moon

Sidonian virgins paid their vows and songs.”

It was in the west alone that the shrine was erected to Ashtoreth Karnaim, “Ashtoreth of the double horn;” and Greek legend described the wandering Astartê, the name of Eurôpa, crossing the celestial sea on the bull that Anu had created for her so long before to punish the disdainful Gisdhubar.

In Babylonia and Assyria, however, Istar and the moon were separate one from another. The moon was conceived of as a god, not as a goddess, in conformity with pre-Semitic ideas; and the Moon-god Sin was never confounded with the goddess Istar.

I am unsure of the provenance of this drawing of a seal impression.  The goddess Istar appears at far left, the vault of the heavens at her back, identified by her idiosyncratic eight-pointed star atop her head.  The Moon God Sin is depicted at center, denoted by his inverted crescent moon.

I am unsure of the provenance of this drawing of a seal impression.
The goddess Istar appears at far left, the vault of the heavens at her back, identified by her idiosyncratic eight-pointed star atop her head.
The Moon God Sin is depicted at center, denoted by his inverted crescent moon.

It must have been the same wherever the worship of Sin extended, whether in Harran in the north or in Yemen and the Sinaitic desert in the south. But the worship never made its way to Canaan. Sin failed to establish himself there, and the moon accordingly remained the pale mirror and double of the mightier Baal.

The Semites of Phoenicia were too distant from the cultured kingdoms of the Euphrates to allow their religious instincts to be overridden and transformed. The name and cult of were indeed introduced among them, but a new interpretation was given to both. Istar sank to the level and took the place of the older goddesses of the Canaanitish faith.

Perhaps you will ask me what is the meaning of the name of Istar? This, however, is a question which I cannot answer. The Babylonians of the historical age do not seem to have known what was its origin, and it is therefore quite useless for us to speculate on the subject.

Iraq Akkadian Period Reign of Naramsin or Sharkalishari, ca. 2254-2193 B.C. Black stone Purchased in New York, 1947 Oriental Institute Museum A27903 This cylinder seal was dedicated to a little-known goddess, Ninishkun, who is shown interceding on the owner's behalf with the great goddess Ishtar.  Ishtar places her right foot upon a roaring lion, which she restrains with a leash. The scimitar in her left hand and the weapons sprouting from her winged shoulders signify her war-like character. https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Iraq
Akkadian Period
Reign of Naramsin or Sharkalishari, ca. 2254-2193 B.C.
Black stone
Purchased in New York, 1947
Oriental Institute Museum A27903
This cylinder seal was dedicated to a little-known goddess, Ninishkun, who is shown interceding on the owner’s behalf with the great goddess Ishtar.
Ishtar places her right foot upon a roaring lion, which she restrains with a leash. The scimitar in her left hand and the weapons sprouting from her winged shoulders signify her war-like character.
https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Its true etymology was buried in the night of antiquity. But its earliest application appears to have been to the evening star. This is the oldest signification that we can assign to the word, which by the way, it may be noticed, does not occur in any of the Accadian texts that we possess.

The legend of the assault of the seven wicked spirits upon the moon tells us pretty clearly who the goddess Istar was primarily supposed to be. Mul-lil, it is said, “had appointed Sin, Samas and Istar, to rule the vault of heaven,” and,

“…along with Anu, had given them to share the lordship of the hosts of heaven.

To the three of them, those gods his children, he had entrusted the night and the day; that they cease not their work he urged them.

Then those seven, the wicked gods, darted upon the vault of heaven; before Sin, the god of light, they came in fierce attack; Samas the hero and Rimmon the warrior turned and fled; Istar set up a glittering throne by the side of Anu the king, and plotted for the sovereignty of heaven.”

Thus once more the mythologist gives the goddess an unfavorable character, though it is easy to see what the story means. When the moon is eclipsed, the evening star has no longer any rival in the sky; it shines with increased brilliancy, and seems to meditate ruling the night alone, in company only with the heaven itself.”

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. 255-8.

Trinities versus Male-Female Dualism

“The early importance and supremacy of Erech in Semitic Babylonia caused its god to assume a place by the side of Ea of Eridu and Mul-lil, the older Bel. It is possible that the extension of his cult had already begun in Accadian days. The Ana, or Sky-god, to whom Gudea at Tel-loh erected a temple, may have been the Sky-god of Erech, more especially when we remember the connection that existed between Erech and Eridu on the one hand, and between Tel-loh and Eridu on the other.

However this may be, from the commencement of the Semitic period Anu appears as the first member of a triad which consisted of Anu, Bel or Mul-lil, and Ea. His position in the triad was due to the leading position held by Erech; the gods of Nipur and Eridu retained the rank which their time-honoured sanctity and the general extension of their cult had long secured to them; but the rank of Anu was derived from the city of which he was the presiding god.

The origin of the triad was thus purely accidental; there was nothing in the religious conceptions of the Babylonians which led to its formation. Once formed, however, it was inevitable that a cosmological colouring should be given to it, and that Anu, Bel and Ea, should represent respectively the heaven, the lower world and the watery element.

Later ages likened this cosmological trinity to the elemental trinity of the Sun, the Noon and the Evening Star; and below the triad of Anu, Bel and Ea, was accordingly placed the triad of of Samas, Sin and Istar. But this secondary trinity never attracted the Babylonian mind.

This finely cut seal depicts Ishtar, Mesopotamian goddess of sexuality and warfare.  Her strength as a warrior is stressed here, as she is shown with weapons rising from her shoulders. Ishtar appears to have been 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

This finely cut seal depicts Ishtar, Mesopotamian goddess of sexuality and warfare.
Her strength as a warrior is stressed here, as she is shown with weapons rising from her shoulders.
Ishtar appears to have been 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

Up to the last, as we have seen, Sin continued to be the father of Samas and Istar, and Babylonian religion remained true to its primitive tendency to dualism, its separation of the divine world into male and female deities.

The only genuine trinity that can be discovered in the religious faith of early Chaldea was that old Accadian system which conceived of a divine father and mother by the side of their son the Sun-god.

The Semitic Anu necessarily produced the feminine Anat, and as necessarily Anat was identified with the earth as Anu was with the sky. In this way the Accadian idea of a marriage union between the earth and the sky was adapted to the newer Semitic beliefs. But we must not misunderstand the nature of the adaptation.

Anat never became an independent deity, as Dav-kina, for example, had been from the outset; she had no separate existence apart from Anu. She is simply a Bilat matati, “a mistress of the world,” or a Bilat ili, “a mistress of the gods,” like the wife of Bel or of Samas: she is, in fact, a mere colourless representation of the female principle in the universe, with no attributes that distinguish her from Anunit or Istar except the single one that she was the feminine form of Anu.

Goddess Ishtar, center, with wings, standing armed with one foot on a lion, her symbol.  The goddess is portrayed wearing the horned headdress of divinity and indistinct weaponry on her back.

Goddess Ishtar, center, with wings, standing armed with one foot on a lion, her symbol.
The goddess is portrayed wearing the horned headdress of divinity and indistinct weaponry on her back.

Hence it is that the Canaanites had not only their Ashtaroth, but their Anathoth as well, for the Anathoth or “Anats” differed from the Ashtaroth or “Ashtoreths” in little else than name. So far as she was an active power, Anat was the same as Istar; in all other respects she was merely the grammatical complement of Anu, the goddess who necessarily stood at the side of a particular 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. 192-4.

Unu-ki = Unuk = Uruk = Erech

“It was not of Semitic foundation, however. Its earliest name was the Accadian Unu-ki or Unuk, “the place of the settlement,” of which the collateral form Uruk does not seem to have come into vogue before the Semitic period.

If I am right in identifying Unuk with the Enoch of Genesis, the city built by Kain in commemoration of his first-born son, Unuk must be regarded as having received its earliest culture from Eridu, since Enoch was the son of Jared, according to Genesis iv, and Jared or Irad (Genesis iv.) is the same word as Eridu.

The local god of Erech, however, was not Ea, the god of the river and sea, but Ana, the sky. Thus whereas at Eridu the present creation was believed to have originated out of water, the sky being the primeval goddess Zikum or Zigara, mother alike of Ea and the other gods, at Erech the sky was itself the god and the creator of the visible universe.

The two cosmologies are antagonistic to one another, and produced manifold inconsistencies in the later syncretic age of Babylonian religion.

But it was not in Erech alone that the sky was considered divine. Throughout Chaldea, Ana, “the sky,” received worship, and the oldest magical texts invoke “the spirit of the sky” by the side of that of the earth. What distinguished the worship of Ana at Erech was that here alone he was the chief deity of the local cult, that here alone he had ceased to be a subordinate spirit, and had become a dingir or “creator.”

Of this pre-Semitic period in the worship of Ana we know but little. It is only when he has become the Anu of the Semites and has undergone considerable changes in his character and worship, that we make our first true acquaintance with him.

We come to know him as the Semitic Baal-samaim, or “lord of heaven,” the supreme Baal, viewed no longer as the Sun-god, but as the whole expanse of heaven which is illuminated by the sun.

How early this must have been is shown by the extension of his name as far west as Palestine. In the records of the Egyptian conqueror Thothmes III., in the 16th century before our era, mention is made of the Palestinian town of Beth-bath, “the temple of Anat,” the female double of Anu.

Another Beth-Anath was included within the borders of the tribe of Naphtali (Joshua xix.38); and Anathoth, whose name shows us that, besides the Ashtaroth or “Astartes,” the Canaanites venerated their local goddesses under the title of “Anats,” was a city of the priests.

Anah or Anat was the daughter of the Hivite Zibeon and mother-in-law of Esau (Genesis xxxvi. 1,14), and by her side we hear of Anah or Anu, the son of the Horite Zibeon, who “found the mules (or hot-springs) in the wilderness as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father.” But Anu did not make his way westward alone.”

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. 185-8.

Nebo, God of Wisdom, God of Writing

In Semitic days, Zarpanit, the inheritor of all these old traditions and worships, fell from her high estate. She ceased to be the goddess of wisdom, the voice of the deep revealing the secrets of heaven to the diviner and priest; she became merely the female shadow and companion of Merodach, to whom a shrine was erected at the entrance to his temple.

Her distinctive attributes all belong to the pre-Semitic epoch; with the introduction of a language which recognized gender, she was lost in the colourless throng of Ashtaroth or Baalat, the goddesses who were called into existence by the masculine Baalim.

Zarpanit, however, had something to do with the prominence given to Nebo in the Babylonian cult. Nebo, the son of Merodach and Zarpanitu, had, as we have seen, a chapel called E-Zida within the precincts of the great temple of his father.

E-Zida, “the constituted house,” derived its name from the great temple of Borsippa, the suburb of Babylon, the ruins of which are now known to travelers as the Birs-i-Nimrúd. Borsippa, it would seem, had once been an independent town, and Nebo, or the prototype of Nebo, had been its protecting deity.

In the middle of the city rose E-Zida, the temple of Nebo and Nana Tasmit, with its holy of holies, “the supreme house of life,” and its lofty tower termed “the house of the seven spheres of heaven and earth.” It had been founded, though never finished, according to Nebuchadnezzar, by an ancient king.

For long centuries it had remained a heap of ruin, until restored by Nebuchadnezzar, and legends had grown up thickly around it. It was known as the tul ellu, “the pure” or “holy mound,” and one of the titles of Nebo accordingly was “god of the holy mound.”

The word Nebo is the Semitic Babylonian Nabiu or Nabû. It means the proclaimer,” “the prophet,” and thus indicates the character of the god to whom it was applied. Nebo was essentially the proclaimer of the mind and wishes of Merodach.

He stood to Merodach in the same relation that an older mythology regarded Merodach as standing to Ea. While Merodach was rather the god of healing, in accordance with his primitively solar nature, Nebo was emphatically the god of science and literature.

The communication of the gifts of wisdom, therefore, which originally emanated from Ea, was thus shared between Merodach and his son. At Babylon, the culture-god of other countries was divided into two personalities, the one conveying to man the wisdom that ameliorates his condition, the other the knowledge which finds its expression in the art of writing.”

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. 112-3.

Babylonian Origins of Jewish Purim

We have already questioned whether the Scripture story of Esther is in some manner connected with the goddess Ishtar. Writing of the Jewish feast of Purim, Sir James Frazer says (Golden Bough, vol. iii, p. 153):

“ From the absence of all notice of Purim in the older books of the Bible, we may fairly conclude that the festival was instituted or imported at a comparatively late date among the Jews. The same conclusion is supported by the Book of Esther itself, which was manifestly written to explain the origin of the feast and to suggest motives for its observance.

For, according to the author of the book, the festival was established to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews from a great danger which threatened them in Persia under the reign of King Xerxes. Thus the opinion of modern scholars that the feast of Purim, as celebrated by the Jews, was of late date and Oriental origin, is borne out by the tradition of the Jews themselves.

An examination of that tradition and of the mode of celebrating the feast renders it probable that Purim is nothing but a more or less disguised form of the Babylonian festival of the Sacaea or Zakmuk. . . .

But further, when we examine the narrative which professes to account for the institution of Purim, we discover in it not only the strongest traces of Babylonian origin, but also certain singular analogies to those very features of the Sacaean festival with which we are here more immediately concerned.

The Book of Esther turns upon the fortunes of two men, the vizier Haman and the despised Jew Mordecai, at the court of a Persian king. Mordecai, we are told, had given mortal offence to the vizier, who accordingly prepares a tall gallows on which he hopes to see his enemy hanged, while he himself expects to receive the highest mark of the King’s favour by being allowed to wear the royal crown and the royal robes, and thus attired to parade the streets, mounted on the King’s own horse and attended by one of the noblest princes, who should proclaim to the multitude his temporary exaltation and glory.

But the artful intrigues of the wicked vizier miscarried and resulted in precisely the opposite of what he had hoped and expected; for the royal honours which he had looked for fell to his rival Mordecai, and he himself was hanged on the gallows which he had made ready for his foe.

In this story we seem to detect a reminiscence, more or less confused, of the Zoganes of the Sacaea, in other words, of the custom of investing a private man with the insignia of royalty for a few days, and then putting him to death on the gallows or the cross. . . .

“A strong confirmation of this view is furnished by a philological analysis of the names of the four personages. It seems to be now generally recognised by Biblical scholars that the name Mordecai, which has no meaning in Hebrew, is nothing but a slightly altered form of Marduk or Merodach, the name of the chief god of Babylon, whose great festival was the Zakmuk; and further, it is generally admitted that Esther in like manner is equivalent to Ishtar, the great Babylonian goddess whom the Greeks called Astarte, and who is more familiar to English readers as Ashtaroth.

The derivation of the names of Haman and Vashti is less certain, but some high authorities are disposed to accept the view of Jensen that Haman is identical with Humman or Homman, the national god of the Elamites, and that Vashti is in like manner an Elamite deity, probably a goddess whose name appears in inscriptions.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 140-2.

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