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Category: ‘Sabu

Was the Birs-i-Nimrud the Historical Tower of Babel?

“At any rate, in Babylonia itself the primitive cult of the mountains could be carried on only artificially. The sacred mountains of the plain were the mounds which marked the sites of ancient temples, or the towers which rose within them in order that the priest might continue on their summits that close communion with heaven which he had once enjoyed on the high places of the mountain-tops.

In the story of the Deluge, the mountain peak of Nizir, where the rescued hero of the legend built his altar and poured out his offerings, is called a ziggurrat, or temple-tower. Conversely, “the mountain of the world” was the name given to a temple at Calah; and the mountain of ‘Sabu, to which the god Zu took his flight, was Kharsak-kalama, “the mountain of mankind,” an artificial mound near Kis.

The most famous of these sacred tels or mounds, however, was the famous tilu ellu, “the illustrious mound,” at Borsippa, now represented by the Birs-i-Nimrud. Nebo, to whom the great temple of Borsippa was dedicated, is called its god (H.C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, 1886, ii. 54, 71).

The Birs-i-Numrud, alleged to be the ruined remains of the historical Tower of Babel.  Current dimensions are 150 feet high with a circumference of 2300 ft.  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/206180489165185035/

The Birs-i-Numrud, alleged to be the ruined remains of the historical Tower of Babel.
Current dimensions are 150 feet high with a circumference of 2300 ft.
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/206180489165185035/

One of “the three great” or secret “names of Anu” was that of “the lord who issues forth from the illustrious mound” (H.C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, 1886, iii. 68, ID), in reference to the fact that the Accadian prototype of Nebo was once the universe itself, in which the seven spheres of light were set, and around which the ocean-stream wound like a rope or serpent.

When the old god of Borsippa had passed into the Semitic Nebo, the attributes which had formerly connected him with the firmament of heaven were transferred to Anu, the sky-god of the official cult.

A fragmentary tablet, which gives us, as I believe, the Babylonian version of the building of the tower of Babel, expressly identifies it with “the illustrious mound.” Here we are told of the leader of the rebellion that when “the thought of his heart was hostile” and he “had wronged the father of all the gods,” when “he was hurrying to seize Babylon,” and “small and great were mingling the mound,” “the divine king of the illustrious mound” intervened, “Anu iifted up (his hand) in front” and prayed “to his father the lord of the firmament.”

“All day long he troubled” them; “as they lamented on their couch he ended not” their “distress.” “In his wrath he overthrows (their) secret counsel; in his (fury) he set his face to mingle (their) designs; he gave the command (?), he made strange their plan” (William Saint Chad Boscawen, Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archeology, v. 1.)

The very word that the Hebrew writer uses in order to explain the origin of the name of Babylon, and which the Authorised Version translates “confound,” is here employed of those who “mingled together” the mound, and whose designs were afterwards themselves “mingled'” by the god of heaven.

“The illustrious mound” was known as far back as the time when the months of the Accadian year were named. The month which corresponded to the Semitic Tasrit or Tisri, and our September, was “the month of the illustrious mound.”

It would seem, therefore, that legend had referred the attempt to build the tower whose head should reach to heaven to the autumnal equinox; at any rate, it is clear that the mound of Borsippa was not only in existence, but was already in a state of ruin when the Accadian calendar was first drawn up.”

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. 405-7.

The Gods Fear Zu

“A long but broken text explains why it was that he had to take refuge in the mountain of ‘Sabu under the guise of a bird of prey.

We learn that Zu gazed upon the work and duties of Mul-lil;

“he sees the crown of his majesty, the clothing of his divinity, the tablets of destiny, and Zu himself, and he sees also the father of the gods, the bond of heaven and earth.

The desire to be Bel (Mul-lil) is taken in his heart; yea, he sees the father of the gods, the bond of heaven and earth; the desire to be Bel is taken in his heart:

‘Let me seize the tablets of destiny of the gods, and the laws of all the gods let me establish (lukhmum); let my throne be set up, let me seize the oracles; let me urge on the whole of all of them, even the spirits of heaven.’

So his heart devised opposition; at the entrance to the forest where he was gazing he waited with his head (intent) during the day.

When Bel pours out the pure waters, his crown was placed on the throne, stripped from (his head). The tablets of destiny (Zu) seized with his hand; the attributes of Bel he took; he delivered the oracles.

(Then) Zu fled away and sought his mountains. He raised a tempest, making (a storm).”

Then Mul-lil, “the father and councillor” of the gods, consulted his brother divinities, going round to each in turn. Anu was the first to speak. He

“opened his mouth, he speaks, he says to the gods his sons: ‘(Whoever will,) let him subjugate Zu, and (among all) men let the destroyer pursue him (?).

(To Rimmon) the first-born, the strong, Anu declares (his) command, even to him: …’0 Rimmon, protector (?), may thy power of fighting never fail! (Slay) Zu with thy weapon. (May thy name) be magnified in the assembly of the great gods. (Among) the gods thy brethren (may it destroy) the rival. May incense (?) (etarsi) be offered, and may shrines be built!

(In) the four (zones) may they establish thy strongholds. May they magnify thy fortress that it become a fane of power in the presence of the gods, and may thy name be mighty?’

(Rimmon) answered the command, (to Anu) his father he utters the word:

‘(0 my father, to a mountain) none has seen mayest thou assign (him); (never may) Zu play the thief (again) among the gods thy sons; (the tablets of destiny) his hand has taken; (the attributes of Bel) he seized, he delivered the oracles; (Zu) has fled away and has sought his mountains.'”

Rimmon goes on to decline the task, which is accordingly laid upon another god, but with like result.

George Rawlinson - Source: Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 1. (1875) The Chaldean god Nebo, from a statue in the British Museum.  http://www.totallyfreeimages.com/56/Nebo.

George Rawlinson: Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 1. (1875)
The Chaldean god Nebo, from a statue in the British Museum.
http://www.totallyfreeimages.com/56/Nebo.

Then Anu turns to Nebo:

“(To Nebo), the strong one, the eldest son of Istar, (Anu declares his will) and addresses him:  … ‘0 Nebo, protector (?), never may thy power of fighting fail! (Slay) Zu with thy weapon. May (thy name) be magnified in the assembly of the great gods! Among the gods thy brethren (may it destroy) the rival!

May incense (?) be offered and may shrines be built! In the four zones may thy strongholds be established! May they magnify thy stronghold that it become a fane of power in the presence of the gods, and may thy name be mighty!’

Nebo answered the command: ‘0 my father, to a mountain none hast seen mayest thou assign (him); never may Zu play the thief (again) among the gods thy sons! The tablets of destiny his hand has taken; the attributes of Bel he has seized; he has delivered the oracles; Zu is fled away and (has sought) his mountains.'”

Like Rimmon, Nebo also refused to hunt down and slay his brother god, the consequence being, as we have seen, that Zu escaped with his life, but was changed into a bird, and had to live an exile from heaven for the rest of time.”

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. 297-9.

Tales of the Storm God Zu

“The scribes of Assur-bani-pal have preserved for us the mutilated copy of a bilingual poem, or part of a poem, which recounted the flight of Zu to the mountain of ‘Sabu or Kis. It begins thus:

Lugal-tudda (fled) to the mountain a place remote

In the hill of ‘Sabu he (dwelt).

No mother inhabits it and (cares for him).

No father inhabits it and (associates) with him.

No priest who knows him (assists him).

He who (changed) not the resolution, even the resolution of his heart,

in his own heart (he kept) his resolution.

Into the likeneas of a bird was he transformed,

into the likeness of Zu the divine storm-bird was he transformed,

His wife uplifts the neck.

The wife of Zu, the son of Zu, may he cause them to dwell in a cage,

even the god of the river-reeds (Enna) and the goddess the lady of the basket of river-reeds (Gu-enna).

From his mountain he brought (her),

as a woman fashioned for a mother made beautiful,

the goddess of plants, as a woman fashioned for a mother made beautiful.

Her paps were of white crystal;

her thighs were bathed in silver and gold.

[Here follow many mutiliated lines]

On (his) head he placed a circlet;

….on his head he set a coronal

(when) he came from the nest of the god Zu.

(In a place) unknown in the mountain he made his tomb.”

From left, Storm God Ninurta, with bows and arrows.  Ishtar, queen of heaven and earth is elevated with wings and spears and maces on her shoulders.  The tree of life sprouts to her right, our left.  The Sun God Shamash rises from the mountain Kur in the center, with rays of light on his shoulder.  The God of Water and Wisdom, Enki/Ea battles the bird-god Imdugud/Anzu, with depictions of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and fish coursing from his shoulders.  At far right is the deified vizier Usmu, the two-faced. All gods wear conical hats with four pairs of horns.  At far left is the word Adda in Accadian cuneiform, "Scribe."  Accordingly this cylinder seal is known as the Seal of Adda, Akkadian period, 2350-2100 BCE. British Library.  [No. 89,115.] http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Article/787375

From left, Storm God Ninurta, with bows and arrows.
Ishtar, queen of heaven and earth is elevated with wings and spears and maces on her shoulders.
The tree of life sprouts to her right, our left.
The Sun God Shamash rises from the mountain Kur in the center, with rays of light on his shoulder.
The God of Water and Wisdom, Enki/Ea battles the bird-god Imdugud/Anzu, with depictions of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and fish coursing from his shoulders.
At far right is the deified vizier Usmu, the two-faced. All gods wear conical hats with four pairs of horns.
At far left is the word Adda in Accadian cuneiform, “Scribe.”
Accordingly this cylinder seal is known as the Seal of Adda, Akkadian period, 2350-2100 BCE. British Library. [No. 89,115.]
http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Article/787375

It will be seen that the identity of the god Zu with a bird is explained in accordance with the ideas of a modern time. It has become a transformation voluntarily undergone by the deity, for the sake, as it would seem, of securing a beautiful bride.

The old faith of totemism is thus changing into a fairy-tale. But there were other stories which remembered that the transformation of the god was not the voluntary act it is here represented to have been.”

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. 295-7.

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