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Category: Nergal

Kvanvig: The ilū mušīti Are the Stars of the Night

“How the actual connection between the earthly exorcist and his heavenly counterpart was imagined is vividly portrayed on an Assyrian bronze tablet from the first millennium.

A depiction of the underworld, or alternatively, a portrayal of an exorcism.<br /> Wiggermann identifies Pazuzu appearing at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar, the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin, and the lamp of Nusku. The seven celestial objects of Babylonian cosmogony are at far right, above Nusku's lamp. Earlier analysts identified the leering monster as Nergal. Virtually all subsequent scholars now follow Wiggermann. <br /> In the second register, seven exemplars of the Mesopotamian pandemonium appear to support the heavens. These composite creatures include ugallu, lion headed monsters with an apotropaic function, among others.<br /> The middle register could portray burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū, or the scene could be a typical exorcism for apkallu, who played a role in banishing demons from the ill.<br /> In this register Wiggermann identifies the lion headed monsters as ugallu and the human-appearing entity as Lulal, a “minor apotropaic god.”<br /> The lower register was formerly considered to depict the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. Wiggermann prefers Lamaštu, and he is persuasive.<br /> Lamaštu kneels upon a horse or a donkey, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, throttling snakes in each hand, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life.<br /> Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.<br /> Wiggermann considers this 1st millennium amulet a portrayal of a Lamaštu exorcism.<br /> Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.<br /> The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq.<br /> http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

A depiction of the underworld, or alternatively, a portrayal of an exorcism.
Wiggermann identifies Pazuzu appearing at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar, the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin, and the lamp of Nusku. The seven celestial objects of Babylonian cosmogony are at far right, above Nusku’s lamp. Earlier analysts identified the leering monster as Nergal. Virtually all subsequent scholars now follow Wiggermann.
In the second register, seven exemplars of the Mesopotamian pandemonium appear to support the heavens. These composite creatures include ugallu, lion headed monsters with an apotropaic function, among others.
The middle register could portray burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū, or the scene could be a typical exorcism for apkallu, who played a role in banishing demons from the ill.
In this register Wiggermann identifies the lion headed monsters as ugallu and the human-appearing entity as Lulal, a “minor apotropaic god.”
The lower register was formerly considered to depict the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. Wiggermann prefers Lamaštu, and he is persuasive.
Lamaštu kneels upon a horse or a donkey, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, throttling snakes in each hand, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life.
Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.
Wiggermann considers this 1st millennium amulet a portrayal of a Lamaštu exorcism.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

The image depicts the universe of an ill man. In the basement lurks the demon Lamaštu, ready to attack; in the upper room are divine figures supporting the heavens, filled with the symbols of the highest gods; in between lies the sick man on his bed with his arm stretched out toward heaven.

At his head and at his feet two figures with human bodies and fish cloaks are placed, performing a ritual. (Cf. O. Keel, Die Welt der altorientalischen Bildsymbolik und das Alte Testament, 3 ed. Darmstadt, 1984, 68f.)

One could think that these figures actually were āšipū, dressed in ritual clothes as fish-apkallus. This is hardly the case; we do not have any evidence that the āšipū used fish-cloaks as ritual dress. The depiction rather shows the presence of the transcendent apkallus in the ritual, as “guardian angels” of the sick man.

This is the actual bronze frieze of the illustration above, held in the collection of the Louvre as AO 22205.

This is the actual bronze frieze of the illustration above, held in the collection of the Louvre as AO 22205.

The apkallus appear in the rituals of the day. Twice in our material they are paired with what generally can be designated as ilū mušīti, “the gods of the night.” Both in Bīt Mēseri and in the Mīs pî ritual we will deal with below, the ritual extends over night and day.

The ilū mušīti are the stars of the night; they sometimes represent a deification of celestial constellations and planets, other times a deification of the great deities who in this case are addressed as stars. (Cf. Erica Reiner, Astral Magic in Babylonia, vol. 85, TAPhs. Philadelphia 1995, 5-6.)

“Stand by me, O Gods of the Night!

Heed my words, O gods of destinies,

Anu, Enlil, and all the great gods!

I call to you, Delebat (i.e. Venus), Lady of battles (variant has: Lady of the silence [of the night]),

I call to you, O Night, bride (veiled by?) Anu.

Pleiades, stand on my right, Kidney star, stand on my left.”

(Apotropaic Ritual, KAR 38: 12f).

The stars represent the heavenly counterpart to the earth. Just as the night among humans is divided into three watches, the stars are called massarātu ša mūši, “the watches of the night:”

“May the star itself take to you (goddess) my misery;

let the ecstatic tell you, the dream interpreter repeat to you,

let the (three) watches of the night speak to you . . .

(Apotropaic Ritual, KAR 38 rev. 24f).

May the watches of the night tell you

That I did not sleep, I did not lie down, did not groan, did not arise,

But that my tears were made my food.”

(Psalm of Penitence, Assur II, 2-4)

G. Lambert, “The Sultantepe Tablets, a Review Article,” RA 80 1959, 119-38, 127.

The stars keep watch over both those awake and those sleeping in the night. In the following prayer to the stars there is play on the connotations of “watching,” massartu / nasāru, and êru, “be awake:”

“(you) three watches of the night

you are the wakeful, watchful, sleepless, never sleeping ones–

as you are awake, watchful, sleepless, never sleeping,

you decide the fate of those awake and sleeping (alike).”

(Prayer to the Stars, KAR 58 rev. 12f.)

In several cases the stars are invoked together with two typical night deities in late Assyrian and Late Babylonian times, Girra, the god of fire, and Nusku, the god of lamp and fire.”

(Cf. J. Black and A. Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, London: 1992, 88, 145. For Nusku, cf. also D. Schwemer, Abwehrzauber und Behexung, Wiesbaden: 2007, 38, 54-5, 146, 206-7.)

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 133-4.

Dalley: Apkallu-4, IDD 2011

Iconography of Deities and Demons (IDD). 

Apkallu (continued).

Type 2 Fish-cloaked Apkallu, Phenotypes.

“The fish-cloak Apkallu (12*, 33*–35, 40–66), a human figure wearing a fish-cloak suspended from the top of his head and with the head of a fish on top of his human head, corresponds to Berossos’ description of the first sage, Oannes.

Apkallu type 2, illustration 34, Stephanie Dalley, IDD. As noted by Stephanie Dalley, the fish-cloak of the puradu-fish variant of the apkallu is worn over the naked figure or a full-length flounced robe. In this depiction the apkallu cloak, as Dalley describes it, ends just below the waist. Fishtails are apparent at the knees, and the banduddu bucket appears in its usual place, the left hand.

Apkallu type 2, illustration 34, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.
As noted by Stephanie Dalley, the fish-cloak of the puradu-fish variant of the apkallu is worn over the naked figure or a full-length flounced robe.
In this depiction the apkallu cloak, as Dalley describes it, ends just below the waist. Fishtails are apparent at the knees, and the banduddu bucket appears in its usual place, the left hand.

He is always bearded and never has wings. The fish-cloak is either worn over the naked body (33*–34*, 42*, 47–48), the typical garb of the Apkallus (40, 44*), or a full-length flounced robe (52*, 55*).

Apkallu type 2, illustration 42, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.<br />  In this depiction the type 2 apkallu is the puradu-fish variant, naked, with banduddu bucket in the left hand and an indistinct object in the right.<br />  The apkallu's horned headdress has three horns, and he appears beneath the eight-pointed star typically associated with Ištar.<br />  Portrayed in an obviously supporting role, the apkallu stands behind a deity standing upon a bull, facing another divinity, probably Ištar owing to her weaponry and stance atop what appears to be a winged lion. Atypically, the inverted crescent of the Moon god Sin appears above Ištar.<br />  Both deities hold rings in their hands and appear to hold leashes controlling their mounts.<br />  They face a central sacred tree, in a typical stylization, beneath a winged conveyance.

Apkallu type 2, illustration 42, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.
In this depiction the type 2 apkallu is the puradu-fish variant, naked, with banduddu bucket in the left hand and an indistinct object in the right.
The apkallu’s horned headdress has three horns, and he appears beneath the eight-pointed star typically associated with Ištar.
Portrayed in an obviously supporting role, the apkallu stands behind a deity standing upon a bull, facing another divinity, probably Ištar owing to her weaponry and stance atop what appears to be a winged lion. Atypically, the inverted crescent of the Moon god Sin appears above Ištar.
Both deities hold rings in their hands and appear to hold leashes controlling their mounts.
They face a central sacred tree, in a typical stylization, beneath a winged conveyance.

Apkallu type 2, illustration 52, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.<br />  The puradu-fish variant apkallu in this illustration wears a full-length fish cloak. This apkallu appears to be beardless, despite Dalley's assertion that type 2 apkallu are never portrayed without beards, and he raises his right hand in the classic gesture of exorcism, though no cone is apparent. The banduddu bucket is in his left hand.<br />  An indistinct but bearded figure faces the apkallu from the right, with an irregular depiction of the sacred tree in the center.<br />  While the water flowing down into jugs from the winged conveyance at the top is seen in other examples, the sacred tree in this illustration is perhaps unique in design, depicting leaves.<br />  It is possible that this plant is not a sacred tree at all. Or it could be a sacred tree, but portrayed differently.

Apkallu type 2, illustration 52, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.
The puradu-fish variant apkallu in this illustration wears a full-length fish cloak. This apkallu appears to be beardless, despite Dalley’s assertion that type 2 apkallu are never portrayed without beards, and he raises his right hand in the classic gesture of exorcism, though no cone is apparent. The banduddu bucket is in his left hand.
An indistinct but bearded figure faces the apkallu from the right, with an irregular depiction of the sacred tree in the center.
While the water flowing down into jugs from the winged conveyance at the top is seen in other examples, the sacred tree in this illustration is perhaps unique in design, depicting leaves.
It is possible that this plant is not a sacred tree at all. Or it could be a sacred tree, but portrayed differently.

On some Late Bronze Age items the fish-cloak is full-length (52*) or ends just below the waist (34* ). The latter type is also attested on some 9th/8th cent. depictions (48, 55*; but not 64), and reaches almost to the ground on representations of the 8th/7th cent. (35, 38, 45–46, 49–51, 53–54, 58–62*).

Apkallu type 2, illustration 62, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.<br />  Dalley notes the forked beard on this paradu-fish apkallu.<br />  In all other respects, this apkallu is representative of the clay figurines which were buried in foundation boxes for apotropaic purposes.<br />  Indeed, it has to be wondered whether Dalley is astray when she describes the fish details as a cloak. Depictions like this one are clearly of a composite figure.<br />  The apkallu does not appear to be wearing a garment, as it is often portrayed elsewhere. <br />  Finally, Dalley cites this illustration as an example which includes horns, or a horned headdress. I see no horns in this case.

Apkallu type 2, illustration 62, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.
Dalley notes the forked beard on this paradu-fish apkallu.
In all other respects, this apkallu is representative of the clay figurines which were buried in foundation boxes for apotropaic purposes.
Indeed, it has to be wondered whether Dalley is astray when she describes the fish details as a cloak. Depictions like this one are clearly of a composite figure.
The apkallu does not appear to be wearing a garment, as it is often portrayed elsewhere.
Finally, Dalley cites this illustration as an example which includes horns, or a horned headdress. I see no horns in this case.

The beard is normally of the typical Assyrian shape, but is forked on 57 – 58, and 62*. The fish-cloak Apkallu rarely has two daggers tucked in at his waist (55* ).

A fish-apkallu drawn by A.H. Layard from a stone relief, one of a pair flanking a doorway in the Temple of Ninurta at Kalhu. This example is identical to illustration 55 in Dalley's article on the apkallu, which she cites for the dual daggers in his waistband. British Museum. 

Reproduced in Schlomo Izre'el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001.

 https://books.google.co.th/books?id=MbwwROVGl7UC&pg=PA3&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

A fish-apkallu drawn by A.H. Layard from a stone relief, one of a pair flanking a doorway in the Temple of Ninurta at Kalhu.
This example is identical to illustration 55 in Dalley’s article on the apkallu, which she cites for the dual daggers in his waistband.
British Museum. 

Reproduced in Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001.


https://books.google.co.th/books?id=MbwwROVGl7UC&pg=PA3&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

Occasionally the fish-cloak Apkallu wears a horned crown with a single pair of horns, shown between his brow and the fish-head, indicating the status of a minor divinity (56, 59, 62*).

Associations.

The fish-cloak Apkallu is associated with water (33*, 40, 63) and with mermen whose upper body is human, the lower half a fish; this is the kulullû who fights in Tiamat’s army in the Epic of Creation (44*, 51, 63).

Apkallu type 44.<br />  Stephanie Dalley, IDD.<br />  A puradu-fish apkallu appears to the left of the sacred tree, with two fish-men, apparently a merman and a mermaid, on the right.<br />  Wiggermann identified these composite mermen and mermaids as kullulu from textual sources.

Apkallu type 44.
Stephanie Dalley, IDD.
A puradu-fish apkallu appears to the left of the sacred tree, with two fish-men, apparently a merman and a mermaid, on the right.
Wiggermann identified these composite mermen and mermaids as kullulu from textual sources.

The fish-cloak Apkallu is found with the goat-fish, symbol of Ea (47–48, 50*); appears together with deities (40, 42*, 45–46, 48); next to a sacred tree (44* ), which is often surmounted by a winged disc (38, 42*–43, 49, 52*); with a winged disc alone supported by a kneeling figure (33*–34*); or with a priest (63 ).

Apkallu type 2, illustration 41, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.<br />  Stephanie Dalley observes that the apkallu in this illustration "may function as a filling motif in a scene with an offerings table and divine symbols."<br />  Indeed the apkallu is not the focus of this illustration at all, which appears to portray a king (or a divinity?) receiving the blessings of a beardless priest with what appears to be a whisk in his raised left hand.<br />  The king, or divinity, wears a horned cap with three tusks at the apex.<br />  This illustration is significant for its repetitive eight-rayed stars, evocative of Ištar. The seven heavenly entities of Mesopotamian cosmogony are portrayed as small circles. The god in the winged conveyance is generally considered a reference to Aššur or Marduk, though he displays the sun disc of Shamash. The inverted crescent of the Moon god Sin, and the wedge mounted upon a stand, which I believe represents Nabu, complete the upper register.<br />  On this wedge symbol, Wiggermann, The Mesopotamian Pandemonium, 2011, is mute.

Apkallu type 2, illustration 41, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.
Stephanie Dalley observes that the apkallu in this illustration “may function as a filling motif in a scene with an offerings table and divine symbols.”
Indeed the apkallu is not the focus of this illustration at all, which appears to portray a king (or a divinity?) receiving the blessings of a beardless priest with what appears to be a whisk in his raised left hand.
The king, or divinity, wears a horned cap with three tusks at the apex.
This illustration is significant for its repetitive eight-rayed stars, evocative of Ištar. The seven heavenly entities of Mesopotamian cosmogony are portrayed as small circles. The god in the winged conveyance is generally considered a reference to Aššur or Marduk, though he displays the sun disc of Shamash. The inverted crescent of the Moon god Sin, and the wedge mounted upon a stand, which I believe represents Nabu, complete the upper register.
On this wedge symbol, Wiggermann, The Mesopotamian Pandemonium, 2011, is mute.

He may function as a filling motif (sic) in a scene with an offerings table and divine symbols (41*), and in a contest scene in which a hero dominates winged scorpion men, a composite being which fights in Tiamat’s army in the Epic of Creation (50*).

Apkallu type 2, illustration 50, Stephanie Dalley, IDD. Another example of puradu-fish apkallu as a filling motif in Dalley's reference to a

Apkallu type 2, illustration 50, Stephanie Dalley, IDD.
Another example of puradu-fish apkallu as a filling motif in Dalley’s reference to a “contest scene in which a hero dominates winged scorpion men,” composite beings which fought “in Tiamat’s army in the Epic of Creation.”
Scorpion men are actually attested often in Mesopotamian art.
Wiggermann and Green call this composite being “Scorpion-tailed bird-man.” He has a human upper torso, an avian body, and a scorpion tail.
In this drawing from Dalley’s article on the Apkallu, puradu-fish apkallu can be seen beneath them.
Anthony Green, “Mischwesen. B,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1994, pp. 254-5. figure 15.

Three exceptional pieces are described here in more detail. The fish-cloak Apkallu is depicted on Lamashtu-amulets as a mirror-image pair standing at a sick man’s bed (35).

A depiction of the underworld, or alternatively, a portrayal of an exorcism. Wiggermann identifies Pazuzu appearing at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar, the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin, and the lamp of Nusku. The seven celestial objects of Babylonian cosmogony are at far right, above Nusku's lamp. Earlier analysts identified the leering monster as Nergal. In the second register, seven exemplars of the Mesopotamian pandemonium appear to support the heavens. These composite creatures include ugallu, lion headed monsters with an apotropaic function, among others. The middle register could portray burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū, or the scene could be a typical exorcism for apkallu, who played a role in banishing demons from the ill. In this register Wiggermann identifies the lion headed monsters as ugallu and the human-appearing entity as Lulal, a “minor apotropaic god.” The lower register may depict the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse or a donkey, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast. Wiggermann prefers Lamaštu, and considers this 1st millennium amulet a portrayal of a Lamaštu exorcism. Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau. The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

A depiction of the underworld, or alternatively, a portrayal of an exorcism.
Wiggermann identifies Pazuzu appearing at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar, the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin, and the lamp of Nusku. The seven celestial objects of Babylonian cosmogony are at far right, above Nusku’s lamp. Earlier analysts identified the leering monster as Nergal.
In the second register, seven exemplars of the Mesopotamian pandemonium appear to support the heavens. These composite creatures include ugallu, lion headed monsters with an apotropaic function, among others.
The middle register could portray burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū, or the scene could be a typical exorcism for apkallu, who played a role in banishing demons from the ill.
In this register Wiggermann identifies the lion headed monsters as ugallu and the human-appearing entity as Lulal, a “minor apotropaic god.”
The lower register may depict the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse or a donkey, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life.
Note the lion pups suckling at her breast. Wiggermann prefers Lamaštu, and considers this 1st millennium amulet a portrayal of a Lamaštu exorcism.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

This is the actual bronze frieze of the illustration above, held in the collection of the Louvre as AO 22205.

This is the actual bronze frieze of the illustration above, held in the collection of the Louvre as AO 22205.

The unpublished Assyrian or Babylonian amulet-seal 63 shows a god in a winged disc above a sacred tree, which is flanked by mermen.

Approaching from the left is a priest in a tall headdress followed by the fish-cloak Apkallu, approaching a mushhushshu-dragon that bears on its back symbols of Marduk and Nabu.

Five monsters from The Mesopotamian Pandemonium (SMSR 77, 2 / 2011) courtesy of F.A.M. Wiggermann. The Akkadian mušhuššu derives from the Sumerian muš-huš,

Five monsters from The Mesopotamian Pandemonium (SMSR 77, 2 / 2011) courtesy of F.A.M. Wiggermann.
The Akkadian mušhuššu derives from the Sumerian muš-huš, “fearsome serpent,” or “snake-dragon,” an apotropaic “companion of certain gods and their ally against evil.”
F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mušhuššu, Reallexikon der Assyriologie (RLA), 1989, p. 456.

A stone tank for water, found at Assur and inscribed by Sennacherib (704-681 BCE) (40), represents the Apsu and shows repeated fish-cloak Apkallus holding cone and bucket pointing the cone toward a figure holding an overflowing vase, sculptured around the sides.

This water basin carved from a solid block of basalt was found in Nineveh near the temple of Ishtar. It is decorated with reliefs of apkallu – puradu-fish antediluvian sages. (Pergamon Museum, Berlin)

 http://www.arcalog.com/image-library/museums/assyria/sennacherib/

This water basin carved from a solid block of basalt was found in Nineveh near the temple of Ishtar. It is decorated with reliefs of apkallu – puradu-fish antediluvian sages.
(Pergamon Museum, Berlin)


http://www.arcalog.com/image-library/museums/assyria/sennacherib/

This example possibly represents the sages as priests of Ea in Eridu in the Babylonian tradition. These contexts related to water are not found on Assyrian palace sculpture or ivory carving, and may belong to a Babylonian rather than an Assyrian tradition.

No Akkadian word for this type has been identified. In BARNETT 1998: pls. 360- 361 it is misleadingly described as being the god Dagon.”

Stephanie Dalley, “Apkallu,” Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East (IDD), Swiss National Science Foundation, University of Zurich, 2011 (text updated 2011 and illustrations updated 2007), p. 3/7.

Nakamura: the āšipu was Master of the Figurines

The Buried and Enclosed

“The multiple layers of concealment in this Neo-Assyrian figurine ritual suggest a play on the hiding and receiving powers of the earth.

In Mesopotamia, burial constituted a pervasive and important ritual idiom; people buried valuables, sacrifices, foundation offerings, caches of various materials, and their dead.

Nakamura: "By burying figurines of powerful beings, the āšipu preserves an expressed belief in a present reality of supernatural power, mythological origin and divine order."

Nakamura: “By burying figurines of powerful beings, the āšipu preserves an expressed belief in a present reality of supernatural power, mythological origin and divine order.”

Such diverse practices surely supported an equally diverse range of meanings. But in a basic sense, burial can mean to store, preserve, and put the past on hold (Harrison 2003:xi). This concept of burial holds purchase in the way in which protection relates to memory.

By burying figurines of powerful beings, the āšipu preserves an expressed belief in a present reality of supernatural power, mythological origin and divine order.

Burial keeps things hidden and protected such that preservation binds memory to a specific locality, from which it can be retrieved in the future as a given past. And this preservation of the future configures protection as survival.

It is interesting to mention here a temporal particularity in the Akkadian language that designates the “past” as lying before and the “future” as lying behind (Maul 1997:109), a stark reversal of our modern notions.

Mythology also seems to corroborate the notion that Mesopotamians “proceeded with their backs to the future,” as it were. Berossos’ Babyloniaka presents the primordial sage Oannes as having taught humans all the arts of domestic and cultural life.

Other myths regard this knowledge of the civilized arts as a gift from the god Enki (Ea). What is striking in both of these accounts is that the Mesopotamians believed that all cultural achievements — be they architecture, writing, healing, metalwork, carpentry, et cetera — were endowed to humans at the beginning of time, and this notion locates the ideal image of society in a primordial and mythological past rather than in a hopeful future (Maul 1997:109).

Furthermore, the figurines were not only buried, but also placed appropriately under the earth, in the space of the Netherworld and the apsû, the primordial freshwater ocean.

A depiction of the underworld.  Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.  In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.  The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū.  The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.  The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

A depiction of the underworld.
Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.
In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.
The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū.
The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Numerous sources locate the underworld in the ground, beneath the surface of the earth (Black and Green 1992:180; Bottéro 1992:273–275). This idea follows from a traditional Mesopotamian conception of a vertical and bipolar universe where the earth, inhabited by living humans, separated the Heavens (šamû) from the Netherworld (ersętu) (Bottéro 1992:273).

And the borders of these domains were permeable, as entry to the Netherworld could be gained by way of a stairway leading down to the gate, while spirits could access the human world through cracks and holes in earth’s surface.

But importantly, the prevailing worldview of this time held that every being occupied a proper space in the world, with the lower hemisphere, symmetrical to the upper heavens, providing a discrete space and residence for the dead and other supernatural beings.

In this context, the burial of figurines of creatures from the underworld and apsû might constitute a mimetic gesture of placing or commanding such beings to their proper place in the world. This ritual practice not only reflects but reenacts the notion of an underworld located underground.

Furthermore, the strategic placement of the figurine deposits under certain architectural and household features may act to channel and focus the protective power of the beings, since they dwell in their “proper” realm.

The fact that the figurines were encased in boxes is also evocative of the important gesture of providing a “house” for the deities, and there could be no greater service rendered to a divine being than the building of his or her house (Frankfort 1978:267).

Additionally, the “immateriality” of a buried geography as an invisible, powerful presence is itself provocative.

The figurines, so installed, become effectively removed from the sensuous sphere of human–object relations. In this register of experience, they are “completed,” no longer engaging in processes of mutual constitution and becoming.

But the materiality of the figurine deposit endures and is powerful in this capacity to survive, virtually unmolested, performing its original duty; cut off from human relations, mute, blind, and restrained, they no longer strike back at human subjects, but can only direct their force to fighting off evil spirits in the Netherworld, as instructed by the āšipu.

There is a sense here of Derrida’s (1994) autonomous automaton, the animate puppet with a will of its own that yet obeys some predetermined program. By containing, concealing, and hiding these magical figures, the priest has made his mastery of their power complete.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 36-8.

Each King had his Apkallu

“The fish-figurines would seem to confirm the theory attractively put forward by Zimmern (KAT 535 ff. and subsequently ZA 35 151 ff.), that the apkallu’s, often occurring in groups of seven and sometimes identified with purādu-fish (Sumerian s u h u r . k u), represent Oannes and the other fish-like monsters who, according to Berosso’s account, taught mankind all crafts and civilization.

This depiction of a fish-apkallū (Apkallu, Abkallu) guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud. A fish's head can be seen on Apkallu's head, and its skin hangs down over the back of Apkallu's body.  Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE. From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London). Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg) http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

This depiction of a fish-apkallū (Apkallu, Abkallu) guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud. A fish’s head can be seen on Apkallu’s head, and its skin hangs down over the back of Apkallu’s body.
Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE. From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg)
http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

Furthermore, the apkallu-figurines of the ritual KAR 298 discussed by Zimmern loc. cit. (see also Gurney, AAA 22 38 ff.) are each associated with a city in Mesopotamia and addressed as ūmu; Güterbock’s suggestion that the element p i r i g in the names of three apkallu’s in our text corresponds to this ūmu and refers to their character as mythological creatures (ZA 42 10 n. 3) would thus strengthen the argument in favor of the identification of the apkallu’s with the monsters described by Berossos.

What in the Greek account clearly reflects an etiological myth finds no correspondence in any of the texts dealing with apkallu’s in Mesopotamia. The exploits of the apkallu’s, as we shall see, are on a different mythological plane.

Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.  In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.  The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū.  The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.  The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.
In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.
The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū.
The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

The connection between them and wisdom and the crafts lies in the term ummânu, which is one of their epithets, and to which I shall presently return.

First, however, we shall have to dispel the misconception originating with Zimmern’s article in KAT, and repeated in the discussions connected with the apkallu’s by others, namely, the assumed identity of the “wise men” — or some of them — with the early kings.

Besides a certain juggling of names inevitable when dealing with Berossos, the allusion to the “man who ascended to heaven” in the text published by Gurney, JRAS 1935 459 ff., was taken to refer to Etana, the more easily so since the phrase used in the Sumerian version, l ú a n . š è  b a . a n . e x (DU+DU) echoes the very words of the Sumerian King List: E t a n a   s i p a  l ú  a n . š è  b a . e x . d è (see Jacobsen, AS 11 p. 80: 16 f. and n. 67).

Antediluvian apkallu portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men.

Antediluvian apkallu portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men. Small figurines of this type were buried beneath doorways and beneath walls for prophylactic purposes, warding off evil. In some cases, they were buried in a set of seven statuettes, indicative of the so-called “Seven Sages” of Sumeria.

The view of Güterbock, ZA 42 9f., that the tradition of the apkallu’s is separate from that of the historical kings, and his assumption that the phrase “who ascended to heaven” refers to Adapa — of whom the same words are used in one of the versions of the Adapa legend (PSBA 16 [1894] 275:14, latest translation by Speiser, ANET 101 ff.) — is vindicated against his critics by the structure of the present text.

Since each personage is described by a group of at least four lines, the third and fourth lines, “[ . . . ] who ascended to heaven”, must be part of the description of the same person mentioned in the first and second lines as the purification priest of Eridu (išippu Eridu).

Because this is a well-known title of Adapa, the section must refer to him rather than to Etana. Indeed, none of the apkallu’s mentioned is himself a king, but is only associated with a famed king of old: the text states clearly that Nunpiriggaldim was the apkallu of Enmerkar, that Lu-Nanna was apkallu under Šulgi, allowing us only to conjecture that each was a noted person during a particular reign, excelling in superior wisdom — a topos later taken up by the Assyrian kings when they boast of being endowed with a wisdom equal to that of the apkallu’s.”

Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages,” Orientalia, v. 30, No. 1, 1961, pp. 6-7.

Berossos and Chimeras

” … The point is rather that he ex­ploited convergences between Greek and Mesopotamian thought so as to present himself as the kind of man whom Hellenistic Greek audiences would have recognized as σοφός, ‘wise’, or φιλόσοφος, ‘a lover of wisdom’.

In pursuit of this goal, Berossos seems to have proceeded eclectically, one might even say, opportunistically. His account of Tiamat’s army is telling in this regard. As expected, Berossos takes inspiration from the Enūma Eliš.

But he lists many creatures that are not found in the Babylonian epic, and some at least seem specifically added to appeal to a Greek audience. What is more, Berossos fundamentally changes the tone and overall meaning of the original, transforming the list of Tiamat’s monsters into a piece of philosophical speculation in the vein of Empedocles:

(It is said that) many creatures with two faces and two chests came into being, offspring of cows, with human prows, and others again growing forth with human physique and the head of oxen, mixed beings, partly equipped with female and partly with male members (Empedocles F61 DK).

Berossos’ account offers some remarkable similarities:

There was a time, he says, when everything was [darkness and] water and that in it fabulous beings with peculiar forms came to life. For men with two wings were born and some with four wings and two faces, having one body and two heads, male and female, and double genitalia, male and female.

Other men were born, some having the legs and the horns of goats, others with the feet of horses. Yet others had the hind parts of horses, but the foreparts of men, and were hippocentaurs in form.

Bulls were also engendered having the heads of men as well as four-bodied dogs having the tails of a fish from their hind parts, dog-headed horses and men and other beings having heads and bodies of horses, but tails of fish and still other beings having forms of all sorts of wild animals.

In addition to these, there were fish and reptiles and snakes and many other marvellous creatures differing in appearance from one another. Images of these were also set up in the temple of Belos.

The parallels between Empedocles and Berossos are glaring (bull-men, two-faced crea­tures, gender confusion, etc.), but can we seriously entertain the possibility that Berossos responded to Presocratic philosophy?

The Burney Relief, Babylon (1800-1750 BCE). A portrayal of Ishtar or Ereshkigal. In line with the descriptions of Berossos, this goddess has wings and owl's feet.  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Burney_Relief_Babylon_-1800-1750.JPG

The Burney Relief, Babylon (1800-1750 BCE). A portrayal of Ishtar or Ereshkigal.
In line with the descriptions of Berossos, this goddess has wings and owl’s feet.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Burney_Relief_Babylon_-1800-1750.JPG

Allowing ourselves to contemplate this question can be a salutary exercise, but it need be no more than that: Berossos did not have to read Empedocles in order to learn about spontaneous generation. For that is what is at issue here: like Empedocles and others before him, Berossos presents his monsters as spontaneously sprung from primordial moisture: what was theogonic myth in Enūma Eliš becomes for him a question of physics.

And a hotly debated question at that: Empedocles always remained associated with the idea of primordial monsters, but already Aristotle built it into a much more far-reaching argument about purpose in nature.

[ … ]

A depiction of Nergal, patron god of Kutha.

A depiction of Nergal, patron god of Kutha.

Apollonius exploits the fact that early monsters were a source of ‘wonder’ (θάμβος), an idea which recalls Berossos’ emphasis on the miraculous nature of Tiamat’s creatures (τερατώδη, θαυμαστά). At a fairly basic level, this kind of thing was good box office.

A bas relief in the Louvre.  I am unsure what to make of these eagle-headed entities. Some old sources claim that they portray Asshur.  Others call them "genies," and note that they have wings, which is an indicator of divinity.  In this case the being tends to a tree of life, or tree of knowledge.  This bas relief is in the Louvre.  Primary publicationNimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f) Collection	Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France (f); unlocated (g) Museum no.	Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849 (f); unlocated (g) Accession no.	1903-10-10, 0002 (b) Provenience	Kalhu (mod. Nimrud) Excavation no.	 Period	Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC) Dates referenced	Assurnasirpal2.00.00.00 Object type	other (see object remarks) Remarks	slab, relief Material	stone: limestone Language	Akkadian Overview at

I am unsure what to make of these eagle-headed entities. Some old sources claim that they portray Asshur.
Others call them “genies,” and note that they have wings, which is an indicator of divinity.
In this case the being tends to a tree of life, or tree of knowledge.
This bas relief is in the Louvre.
Primary publication Nimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f)
Collection Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France (f); unlocated (g)
Museum no. Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849 (f); unlocated (g)
Accession no. 1903-10-10, 0002 (b)
Provenience Kalhu (mod. Nimrud)
Period Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)
Dates referenced Assurnasirpal2.00.00.00
Material stone: limestone
Language Akkadian
Overview at <http://cdli.ucla.edu/projects/nimrud/index.html&gt;

Yet, we have seen that primordial monsters also had a more serious philosophical point. Apart from Aristotle, the Epicureans too grappled with the legacy of Empedocles’ idea, accepting spontaneous generation as an important part of their non-teleological account of the universe, but reject­ing some of its more extravagant implications.”

Johannes Haubold, “The Wisdom of the Chaldaeans: Reading Berossos, Babyloniaca Book 1,” from Johannes Haubold, Giovanni B. Lanfranchi, Robert Rollinger, John Steele (eds.), The World of Berossos, Proceedings of the 4th International Colloquium on the Ancient Near East Between Classical and Ancient Oriental Traditions, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2013, pp. 37-9.

Babylonian Astro-Theology

“In the Observations of Bel the stars are already invested with a divine character. The planets are gods like the sun and moon, and the stars have already been identified with certain deities of the official pantheon, or else have been dedicated to them.

The whole heaven, as well as the periods of the moon, has been divided between the three supreme divinities, Anu, Bel and Ea. In fact, there is an astro-theology, a system of Sabaism, as it would have been called half a century ago.

The star constellation of Hydra as a Babylonian Serpent-Dragon called Mushussu meaning "furious snake," with horns and wings from a clay cuneiform tablet of the Persian period.  According to Professor Langdon, Tammuz (Sumerian Dumuzi) was called a "Heavenly Serpent-dragon," he also noted that Ningishzida whose name means "Lord of the Good Tree" according to some scholars, was an aspect of Dumuzi/Tammuz, Dumuzi being called in hymns "Damu, the child Ningishzida."  (For the drawing cf. p. 286. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931). http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

The star constellation of Hydra as a Babylonian Serpent-Dragon called Mushussu meaning “furious snake,” with horns and wings from a clay cuneiform tablet of the Persian period.
According to Professor Langdon, Tammuz (Sumerian Dumuzi) was called a “Heavenly Serpent-dragon,” he also noted that Ningishzida whose name means “Lord of the Good Tree” according to some scholars, was an aspect of Dumuzi/Tammuz, Dumuzi being called in hymns “Damu, the child Ningishzida.”
(For the drawing cf. p. 286. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).
http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

This astro-theology must go back to the very earliest times. The cuneiform characters alone are a proof of this. The common determinative of a deity is an eight-rayed star, a clear evidence that at the period when the cuneiform syllabary assumed the shape in which we know it, the stars were accounted divine.

We have seen, moreover, that the sun and moon and evening star were objects of worship from a remote epoch, and the sacredness attached to them would naturally have been reflected upon the other heavenly bodies with which they were associated.

Totemism, too, implies a worship of the stars. We find that primitive peoples confound them with animals, their automatic motions being apparently explicable by no other theory; and that primitive Chaldea was no exception to this rule has been already pointed out.

Here, too, the sun was an ox, the moon was a steer, and the planets were sheep. The adoration of the stars, like the adoration of the sun and moon, must have been a feature of the religion of primeval Shinar.

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, associated with him, as he overpowered it when he defeated Tiamat the female personfication of the salty sea or ocean, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods until killed by Marduk.  In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat's (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).  This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk's serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur. Marduk's robe is the heavenly night sky with all its stars. he was also called "the son of the Sun,"  "the Sun" and "bull-calf of the Sun" (Babylonian amar-utu). http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, associated with him, as he overpowered it when he defeated Tiamat the female personification of the salty sea or ocean, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods until killed by Marduk.
In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat’s (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).
This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk’s serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur. Marduk’s robe is the heavenly night sky with all its stars. he was also called “the son of the Sun,” “the Sun” and “bull-calf of the Sun” (Babylonian amar-utu). I suspect that the medallions hanging from his neck are none other than the Tablets of Fate.
http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

But this primeval adoration was something very different from the elaborate astro-theology of a later day. So elaborate, indeed, is it that we can hardly believe it to have been known beyond the circle of the learned classes.

The stars in it became the symbols of the official deities. Nergal, for example, under his two names of Sar-nem and ‘Sulim-ta-ea, was identified with Jupiter and Mars. It is not difficult to discover how this curious theological system arose.

Its starting-point was the prominence given to the worship of the evening and morning stars in the ancient religion, and their subsequent transformation into the Semitic Istar. The other planets were already divine; and their identification with specific deities of the official cult followed as a matter of course.

As the astronomy of Babylonia became more developed, as the heavens were mapped out into groups of constellations, each of which received a definite name, while the leading single stars were similarly distinguished and named, the stars and constellations followed the lead of the planets. As Mars became Nergal, so Orion became Tammuz.

The priest had succeeded the old Sumerian sorcerer, and was now transforming himself into an astrologer. To this cause we must trace the rise of Babylonian astro-theology and the deification of the stars of heaven.

The Sabianism of the people of Harrân in the early centuries of the Christian era was no survival of a primitive faith, but the last echo of the priestly astro-theology of Babylonia. This astro-theology had been a purely artificial system, the knowledge of which, like the knowledge of astrology itself, was confined to the learned classes.

It first grew up in the court of Sargon of Accad, but its completion cannot be earlier than the age of Khammuragas. In no other way can we explain the prominence given in it to Merodach, the god of Babylon.”

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. 400-2.

Nergal the Destroyer

“The library of Nineveh contained the copy of a tablet which, according to its concluding lines, was originally written for the great temple of Nergal at Cutha. The words of the text are put in the mouth of Nergal the destroyer, who is represented as sending out the hosts of the ancient brood of chaos to their destruction.

Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.  In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.  The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld.  The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lions suckling at her breast.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.  The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.
In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.
The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld.
The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lions suckling at her breast.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Nergal is identified with Nerra, the plague-god, who smites them with pestilence, or rather with Ner, the terrible “king who gives not peace to his country, the shepherd who grants no favour to his people.”

We are first told how the armies of chaos came into existence.

“On a tablet none wrote, none disclosed, and no bodies or brushwood were produced in the land; and there was none whom I approached.

Warriors with the body of a bird of the valley, men with the faces of ravens, did the great gods create. In the ground did the gods create their city. Tiamat (the dragon of chaos) suckled them. Their progeny (sasur) the mistress of the gods created.

In the midst of the mountains they grew up and became heroes and increased in number. Seven kings, brethren, appeared and begat children. Six thousand in number were their peoples. The god Banini their father was king; their mother was the queen Melili.”

It was the subjects and the offspring of these semi-human heroes whom the god Ner was deputed to destroy.

The reverse side of the god Nergal,  drawn by Faucher-Gudin. This is the back of the bronze plate above; the animal-head of the god appears in relief at the top of the illustration. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0018

The reverse side of the god Nergal, drawn by Faucher-Gudin. This is the back of the bronze plate above; the animal-head of the god appears in relief at the top of the illustration.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0018

It is clear that the legend of Cutha agrees with Berossos in the main facts, however much it may differ in details. In both alike, we have a first creation of living beings, and these beings are of a composite nature, and the nurselings of Tiamat or Chaos.

"Bird men" are depicted.

“Bird men” are depicted.

In both alike, the whole brood is exterminated by the gods of light. A curious point in connection with the legend is the description of chaos as a time when writing was as yet unknown and records unkept. Perhaps we may see in this an allusion to the fact that the Babylonian histories of the pre-human period were supposed to have been composed by the gods.

The date to which the legend in its present form may be assigned is difficult to determine. The inscription is in Semitic only, like the other creation-tablets, and therefore cannot belong to the pre-Semitic age. It belongs, moreover, to an epoch when the unification of the deities of Babylonia had already taken place, and the circle of “the great gods” was complete.

Ea, Istar, Zamama, Anunit, even Nebo and “Samas the warrior,” are all referred to in it. We must therefore place its composition after the rise not only of the hymns of Sippara, but also of the celebrity of the Semitic god of Borsippa.

On the other hand, the reference to the pateśi or priest-king in the concluding lines seems to prevent us from assigning too late a date to the poem. Perhaps we shall not be far wrong in ascribing it to the era of Khammuragas.”

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. 372-4.

More on the Babylonian Zodiac

“Jupiter, the largest of the planets, was identified with Merodach, head of the Babylonian pantheon. We find him exercising control over the other stars in the creation story under the name Nibir.

Ishtar was identified with Venus, Saturn with Ninib, Mars with Nergal, Mercury with Nabu. It is more than strange that gods with certain attributes should have become attached to certain planets in more countries than one, and this illustrates the deep and lasting influence which Semitic religious thought exercised over the Hellenic and Roman theological systems.

The connexion is too obvious and too exact not to be the result of close association. There are, indeed, hundreds of proofs to support such a theory. Who can suppose, for example, that Aphrodite is any other than Ishtar?

The Romans identified their goddess Diana with the patroness of Ephesus. There are, indeed, traces of direct relations of the Greek goddess with the moon, and she was also, like Ishtar, connected with the lower world and the sea.

The Greeks had numerous and flourishing colonies in Asia Minor in remote times, and these probably assisted in the dissemination of Asiatic and especially Babylonian lore.

The sun was regarded as the shepherd of the stars, and Nergal, the god of destruction and the underworld, as the “chief sheep,” probably because the ruddy nature of his light rendered him a most conspicuous object.

Anu is the Pole Star of the ecliptic, Bel the Pole Star of the equator, while Ea, in the southern heavens, was identified with a star in the constellation Argo.

Fixed stars were probably selected for them because of their permanent and elemental nature. The sun they represented as riding in a chariot drawn by horses, and we frequently notice that the figure representing the luminary on Greek vases and other remains wears the Phrygian cap, a typically Asiatic and non-Hellenic headdress, thus assisting proof that the idea of the sun as a charioteer possibly originated in Babylonia.

Lunar worship, or at least computation of time by the phases of the moon, frequently precedes the solar cult, and we find traces in Babylonian religion of the former high rank of the moon-god. The moon, for example, is not one of the flock of sheep under guidance of the sun. The very fact that the calendar was regulated by her movements was sufficient to prevent this.

Like the Red Indians and other primitive folk, the Babylonians possessed agricultural titles for each month, but these periods were also under the direct patronage of some god or gods.

Thus the first month, Nizan, is sacred to Anu and Bel; and the second, Iyar, to Ea. Siwan is devoted to Sin, and as we approach the summer season the solar gods are apportioned to various months.

The sixth month is sacred to Ishtar, and the seventh to Shamash, great god of the sun. Merodach rules over the eighth, and Nergal over the ninth month.

The tenth, curiously enough, is sacred to a variant of Nabu, to Anu, and to Ishtar. The eleventh month, very suitably, to Ramman, the god of storms, and the last month, Adar, falling within the rainy season, is presided over by the seven evil spirits.

Assyrian star map from Nineveh (K 8538). Counterclockwise from bottom: Sirius (Arrow), Pegasus + Andromeda (Field + Plough), [Aries], the Pleiades, Gemini, Hydra + Corvus + Virgo, Libra. Drawing by L.W.King with corrections by J.Koch. Neue Untersuchungen zur Topographie des Babilonischen Fixsternhimmels (Wiesbaden 1989), p. 56ff. http://doormann.tripod.com/asssky.htm

Assyrian star map from Nineveh (K 8538). Counterclockwise from bottom: Sirius (Arrow), Pegasus + Andromeda (Field + Plough), [Aries], the Pleiades, Gemini, Hydra + Corvus + Virgo, Libra. Drawing by L.W.King with corrections by J.Koch. Neue Untersuchungen zur Topographie des Babilonischen Fixsternhimmels (Wiesbaden 1989), p. 56ff.
http://doormann.tripod.com/asssky.htm

None of the goddesses received stellar honours. The names of the months were probably quite popular in origin.

Thus we find that

  • the first month was known as the ‘month of the Sanctuary,’
  • the third as the ‘period of brick-making,’
  • the fifth as the ‘fiery month,’
  • the sixth as the ‘month of the mission of Ishtar,’ referring to her descent into the realms of Allatu.
  • The fourth month was designated ‘scattering seed,’
  • the eighth that of the opening of dams,
  • and the ninth was entitled ‘copious fertility,’
  • while the eleventh was known as ‘destructive rain.’

We find in this early star-worship of the ancient Babylonians the common origin of religion and science. Just as magic partakes in some measure of the nature of real science (for some authorities hold that it is pseudo-scientific in origin) so does religion, or perhaps more correctly speaking, early science is very closely identified with religion.

 The Zodiac of Dendera (or “Dendara”), a stone diagram from an Egyptian temple dated to the mid-1st century BCE, depicts the twelve signs of the zodiac and the 36 Egyptian decans, and numerous other constellations and astronomical phenomena. The Hellenistic-era portrayal of the zodiac is dated to between June 15th and August 15th, 50 BCE based on astronomical data in the diagram.  The positions of planets in specific signs of the zodiac and eclipses that took place on March 7th, 51 BCE and September 25, 52 BCE are depicted. The Dendera Egyptian temple complex dates back to the 4th century BCE, during the rule of the last native Egyptian pharaoh Nectanebo II. It was renovated by later Hellenistic and Roman rulers. http://horoscopicastrologyblog.com/2007/05/24/the-zodiac-of-dendera/


The Zodiac of Dendera (or “Dendara”), a stone diagram from an Egyptian temple dated to the mid-1st century BCE, depicts the twelve signs of the zodiac and the 36 Egyptian decans, and numerous other constellations and astronomical phenomena.
The Hellenistic-era portrayal of the zodiac is dated to between June 15th and August 15th, 50 BCE based on astronomical data in the diagram. The positions of planets in specific signs of the zodiac and eclipses that took place on March 7th, 51 BCE and September 25, 52 BCE are depicted.
The Dendera Egyptian temple complex dates back to the 4th century BCE, during the rule of the last native Egyptian pharaoh Nectanebo II. It was renovated by later Hellenistic and Roman rulers.
http://horoscopicastrologyblog.com/2007/05/24/the-zodiac-of-dendera/

Thus we may believe that the religious interest in their early astronomy spurred the ancient star-gazers of Babylonia to acquire more knowledge concerning the motions of those stars and planets which they believed to be deities.

We find the gods so closely connected with ancient Chaldean astronomy as to be absolutely identified with it in every way. A number was assigned to each of the chief gods, which would seem to show that they were connected in some way with mathematical science.

Thus Ishtar’s number is fifteen; that of Sin, her father, is exactly double that. Anu takes sixty, and Bel and Ea represent fifty and forty. Ramman is identified with ten.

It would be idle in this place to attempt further to outline astrological science in Babylonia, concerning which our knowledge is vague and scanty. Much remains to be done in the way of research before anything more definite can be written about it, and many years may pass before the workers in this sphere are rewarded by the discovery of texts bearing on Chaldean star-lore.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 235-7.

Nergal, God of Death

“It was as the death-dealing lord of Hades that Nergal first became “the hero of the gods,” “who marches in their front.” The metaphor was taken from the champion who, like Goliath, places himself before his comrades and challenges the enemy to combat.

It is thus that we read in the story of the Deluge, when the flood of rain and destruction is described as coming upon the guilty world: “Rimmon in the midst of (heaven) thundered, and Nebo and the Wind-god went in front; the throne-bearers went over mountain and plain; Nergal the mighty removes the wicked; Adar goes in front and casteth down.”

sayce65

As lord of Hades, too, he was made the son of Mul-lil. A hymn (K 5268), the colophon of which tells us that it was composed in Cutha, begins with the words: “Let Nergal be glorified, the hero of the gods, who cometh forth as the strong one, the son of Mul-lil.”

In the same hymn, Marad is declared to be his city, from which we may infer that Marad was near Cutha. Its protecting divinity, however, was, strictly speaking, Lugal-túda,”the royal offspring,” or perhaps “valiant king,” a personification of the thunder-cloud and lightning; but it is evident from the hymn that he had been identified with the death-dealing god of Cutha.

Another depiction of Nergal, patron god of Kutha.

Another depiction of Nergal, patron god of Kutha.

Of Laz, the wife of Nergal, we know little or nothing. Her name survived as the local divinity of Cutha, but her office and attributes were taken by Allat. Even Nergal himself as the lord of Hades belongs rather to the Accadian than to the Semitic period.

Among the Semites he was the hero and champion of the gods, and as such the destroyer of the wicked, rather than the king of death who slays alike the wicked and the good. The sovereignty of Hades had passed out of his hands, and he had become the companion of the solar Adar and the warrior of the gods of heaven.

Under his old name of Ner, however, a curious reminiscence of his primitive character lasted down to late times. In the hymns and other poetical effusions, we not unfrequently come across the phrase, ”mankind, the cattle of the god Ner.”

I have already drawn attention to the agricultural nature of early Chaldean civilisation, and the influence that agriculture had upon the modes of thought and expression of the population. Not only was the sky regarded as the counterpart of the Babylonian plain, and the heavenly bodies transformed into the herds and flocks that fed there, but the human inhabitants of the earth were themselves likened to the cattle they pastured and fed.

One of the earliest titles of the Babylonian kings was “shepherd,” reminding us of the Homeric ποιμην λαων, “shepherd of nations;” and in the Epic of Gisdhubar the sovereign city of Erech is termed the śubur, or “shepherd’s hut.”

Just as the subjects of the king, therefore, were looked upon as the sheep whom their ruler shepherded, so too mankind in general were regarded as the cattle slain by the god of death. They were, in fact, his herd, whom he fed and slaughtered in sacrifice to the gods.”

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. 196-8.

Marduk Assimilates All Other Gods

“THE entire religious system of Babylonia is overshadowed, by Merodach, its great patron deity. We remember how he usurped the place of Ea, and in what manner even the legends of that god were made over to him, so that at last he came to be regarded as not only the national god of Babylonia but the creator of the world and of mankind.

He it was who, at the pleading of the other gods, confronted the grisly Tiawath, and having defeated and slain her, formed the earth out of her body and its inhabitants out of his own blood.

Battle between Marduk (Bel) and Tiamat. Drawn from a bas-relief from the Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal, King of Assyria, 885-860 B.C., at Nimrûd. British Museum, Nimrûd Gallery, Nos. 28 and 29. http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/06/tablet-of-destinies.html

Battle between Marduk (Bel) and Tiamat. Drawn from a bas-relief from the Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal, King of Assyria, 885-860 B.C., at Nimrûd.
British Museum, Nimrûd Gallery, Nos. 28 and 29.
http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/06/tablet-of-destinies.html

It is almost certain that this cosmological myth was at one time recounted of Ea, and perhaps even at an earlier date of Bel. The transfer of power from Ea to Merodach, however, was skilfully arranged by the priesthood, for they made Merodach the son of Ea, so that he would naturally inherit his father’s attributes.

In this transfer we observe the passing of the supremacy of the city of Eridu to that of Babylon. Ea, or Oannes, the fish-tailed god of Eridu, stood for the older and more southerly civilization of the Babylonian race, whilst Merodach, patron god of Babylon, a very different type of deity, represented the newer political power.

A depiction of the God Ea, or Oannes.

A depiction of the God Ea, or Oannes.

Originally Merodach appears to have been a sun-god personifying more especially the sun of the springtime. Thus he was a fitting deity to defeat the chaotic Tiawath, who personified darkness and destruction. But there is another side to him—the agricultural side.

Says Jastrow (Religion in Babylonia and Assyria, 1893, p. 38):

“At Nippur, as we shall see, there developed an elaborate lamentation ritual for the occasions when national catastrophes, defeat, failure of crops, destructive storms, and pestilence revealed the displeasure and anger of the gods.”

At such times earnest endeavours were made, through petitions accompanied by fasting and other symbols of contrition, to bring about a reconciliation with the angered power.

This ritual, owing to the religious pre-eminence of Nippur, became the norm and standard throughout the Euphrates Valley, so that when Marduk (Merodach) and Babylonia came practically to replace En-lil and Nippur, the formulas and appeals were transferred to the solar deity of Babylon, who, representing more particularly the sun-god of spring, was well adapted to be viewed as the one to bring blessings and favours after the sorrows and tribulations of the stormy season.

Strange as it will appear, although he was patron god of Babylon he did not originate in that city, but in Eridu, the city of Ea, and probably this is the reason why he was first regarded as the son of Ea. He is also directly associated with Shamash, the chief sun-god of the later pantheon, and is often addressed as the “god of canals” and “opener of subterranean fountains.”

In appearance he is usually drawn with tongues of fire proceeding from his person, thus indicating his solar character. At other times he is represented as standing above the watery deep, with a horned creature at his feet, which also occasionally serves to symbolize Ea.

Large bas-relief of Marduk, Louvre.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elam_r_(30).JPG

Large bas-relief of Marduk, Louvre.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elam_r_(30).JPG

It is noteworthy, too, that his temple at Babylon bore the same name—E-Sagila, ‘the lofty house,’—as did Ea’s sanctuary at Eridu.

We find among the cuneiform texts—a copy of an older Babylonian text—an interesting little poem which shows how Merodach attracted the attributes of the other gods to himself. .

Ea is the Marduk (or Merodach) of canals;
Ninib is the Marduk of strength;
Nergal is the Marduk of war;
Zamama is the Marduk of battle;
Enlil is the Marduk of sovereignty and control;
Nebo is the Marduk of possession;
Sin is the Marduk of illumination of the night;
Shamash is the Marduk of judgments;
Adad is the Marduk of rain;
Tishpak is the Marduk of the host;
Gal is the Marduk of strength;
Shukamunu is the Marduk of the harvest.

This would seem as if Merodach had absorbed the characteristics of all the other gods of any importance so successfully that he had almost established his position as the sole deity in Babylonia, and that therefore some degree of monotheism had been arrived at.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 199-201.

A Snake Steals the Plant of Eternal Life

“To return to the epic:

The recital of Ut-Napishtim served its primary purpose in the narrative by proving to Gilgamesh that his case was not that of his deified ancestor.

Meanwhile the hero had remained in the boat, too ill to come ashore; now Ut-Napishtim took pity on him and promised to restore him to health, first of all bidding him sleep during six days and seven nights.

Gilgamesh listened to his ancestor’s advice, and by and by “sleep, like a tempest, breathed upon him.” Ut-Napishtim’s wife, beholding the sleeping hero, was likewise moved with compassion, and asked her husband to send the traveller safely home.

He in turn bade his wife compound a magic preparation, containing seven ingredients, and administer it to Gilgamesh while he slept. This was done, and an enchantment thus put upon the hero.

When he awoke (on the seventh day) he renewed his importunate request for the secret of perpetual life.

His host sent him to a spring of water where he might bathe his sores and be healed; and having tested the efficacy of the magic waters Gilgamesh returned once more to his ancestor’s dwelling, doubtless to persist in his quest for life.

Notwithstanding that Ut-Napishtim had already declared it impossible for Gilgamesh to attain immortality, he now directed him (apparently at the instance of his wife) to the place where he would find the plant of life, and instructed Adad-Ea to conduct him thither.

The magic plant, which bestowed immortality and eternal youth on him who ate of it, appears to have been a weed, a creeping plant, with thorns which pricked the hands of the gatherer; and, curiously enough, Gilgamesh seems to have sought it at the bottom of the sea.

At length the plant was found, and the hero declared his intention of carrying it with him to Erech. And so he set out on the return journey, accompanied by the faithful ferryman not only on the first, and watery, stage of his travels, but also overland to the city of Erech itself.

When they had journeyed twenty kasbu they left an offering (presumably for the dead), and when they had journeyed thirty kasbu, they repeated a funeral chant.

The narrative goes on :

Gilgamesh saw a well of fresh water, he went down to it and offered a libation. A serpent smelled the odour of the plant, advanced . . . and carried off the plant. Gilgamesh sat down and wept, the tears ran down his cheeks.”

He lamented bitterly the loss of the precious plant, seemingly predicted to him when he made his offering at the end of twenty kasbu.

At length they reached Erech, when Gilgamesh sent Adad-Ea to enquire concerning the building of the city walls, a proceeding which has possibly some mythological significance.

The XIIth tablet opens with the lament of Gilgamesh for his friend Eabani, whose loss he has not ceased to deplore.

“Thou canst no longer stretch thy bow upon the earth; and those who were slain with the bow are round about thee. Thou canst no longer bear a sceptre in thy hand; and the spirits of the dead have taken thee captive.

Thou canst no longer wear shoes upon thy feet; thou canst no longer raise thy war-cry on the earth. No more dost thou kiss thy wife whom thou didst love; no more dost thou smite thy wife whom thou didst hate.

No more dost thou kiss thy daughter whom thou didst love; no more dost thou smite thy daughter whom thou didst hate. The sorrow of the underworld hath taken hold upon thee.”[4]

Gilgamesh went from temple to temple, making offerings and desiring the gods to restore Eabani to him; to Ninsum he went, to Bel, and to Sin, the moon-god, but they heeded him not.

At length he cried to Ea, who took compassion on him and persuaded Nergal to bring the shade of Eabani from the underworld. A hole was opened in the earth and the spirit of the dead man issued therefrom like a breath of wind.

Gilgamesh addressed Eabani thus:

“Tell me, my friend, tell me, my friend; the law of the earth which thou hast seen, tell me.”

Eabani answered him:

“I cannot tell thee, my friend, I cannot tell thee.”

But afterwards, having bidden Gilgamesh “sit down and weep,” he proceeded to tell him of the conditions which prevailed in the underworld, contrasting the lot of the warrior duly buried with that of a person whose corpse is cast uncared for into the fields.

“On a couch he lieth, and drinketh pure water, the man who was slain in battle—thou and I have oft seen such an one—his father and his mother (support) his head, and his wife (kneeleth) at his side.

But the man whose corpse is cast upon the field—thou and I have oft seen such an one—his spirit resteth not in the earth.

The man whose spirit has none to care for it—thou and I have oft seen such an one— the dregs of the vessel, the leavings of the feast, and that which is cast out upon the streets, are his food.”

Upon this solemn note the epic closes.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 178-80.

The Etymology of the Name “Moses”

“Josephos has preserved an extract from the Egyptian historian Manetho, which relates the Egyptian version of the story of the Exodus as it was told in the second century before our era. In this it is stated that the earlier name of Moses was Osarsiph, and that he had been priest of Heliopolis or On.

Here it is evident that Moses and Joseph have been confounded together. The name of Joseph, who married the daughter of the priest of On, has been decomposed into two elements, the first of which is the divine name Jeho, and this has been changed into its supposed Egyptian equivalent Osar or Osiris.

It is clear that, whatever might have been his opinion about the name of Joseph, Manetho had no doubt that that of Moses was purely Israelitish. It was not until he had become the Israelitish lawgiver and had ceased to be an Egyptian priest that Osarsiph took the name of Moses.

But Moses finds no satisfactory etymology in the pages of the Hebrew lexicon. It stands alone among Hebrew proper names, like Aaron and David. We do not hear of any other persons who have borne the name. If, therefore, it is Semitic, it must belong to an older stratum of Semitic nomenclature than that preserved to us in the Old Testament. We must look to other branches of the Semitic stock for its explanation.

There is only one other branch of the Semitic family whose records are earlier than those of the Hebrews. Arabic literature begins long after the Christian era, when Jewish and Greek and even Christian names and ideas had penetrated into the heart of the Arabian peninsula.

The Arabic language, moreover, belongs to a different division of the Semitic family of speech from that to which Hebrew belongs. To compare Arabic and Hebrew together is like comparing Latin with modern German. There is, however, one Semitic language which has the closest affinities to Hebrew, and this is also the language of which we possess records older than those of the Hebrew Scriptures. I need hardly say that I am referring to Assyrian.

Now the Assyrian equivalent of the Hebrew Mosheh, “Moses,” would be mâsu, and, as it happens, mâsu is a word which occurs not unfrequently in the inscriptions. It was a word of Accadian origin, but since the days of Sargon of Accad had made itself so thoroughly at home in the language of the Semitic Babylonians as to count henceforth as a genuinely Semitic term.

Mâsu signified as nearly as possible all that we mean by the word “hero.” As such, it was an epithet applied to more than one divinity; there was one god more especially for whom it became a name.

This god was the deity sometimes called Adar by Assyrian scholars, sometimes Nin-ip, but whose ordinary name among the Assyrians is still a matter of uncertainty. He was a form of the Sun-god, originally denoting the scorching sun of mid-day. He thus became invested with the sterner attributes of the great luminary of day, and was known to his worshippers as “the warrior of the gods.”

The title of Mâsu, however, was not confined to Adar. It was given also to another solar deity, Merodach, the tutelar god of Babylon and the antagonist of the dragon of chaos, and was shared by him with Nergal, whose special function it was to guard and defend the world of the dead.

But Nergal himself was but the sun of night, the solar deity, that is to say, after he had accomplished his daily work in the bright world above and had descended to illuminate for a time the world below.”

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. 45-7.

Temples of the Cults

” … We have already indicated, in connection with the discussion of the chief figures in the pantheon, the tendency to group around the cult of the patron deity of an important centre the worship of other gods, and we have seen that this tendency goes hand in hand with the political expansion of such a centre, but that the centre is apt to retain a considerable portion at least of its religious prestige even after the political decline has set in.

The force of tradition, playing so effective a part in religion everywhere, would help to maintain rituals and practices once established, even if the conditions giving rise to such rituals and practices no longer prevailed. Confining ourselves to the larger centres and to those best known to us, like Nippur, Lagash, Uruk, Ur, Kish, Eridu, Sippar, Babylon and Borsippa in the south, and Ashur, Calah and Nineveh in the north, we note the gradual extension of the area within which the main temple stood to become a more or less extensive sacred quarter.

So in Nippur E-kur, the name of Enlil’s sanctuary, becomes such a designation to include the temples and shrines erected to the numerous deities grouped around Enlil and brought into a relationship of subserviency to their master, as his sons, daughters, servants, body-guard, ministers and officials. Similarly in Babylon, E-sagila, as the name of Marduk’s temple, grows to be a spacious quarter with numerous sanctuaries, large and small, to Nabu, Ninmakh (or Ishtar), Shamash, Ea, Nergal, Ninib to name only the most important.

The general arrangement of these temples, as we shall have occasion to see in more detail in the chapter on the architecture and art, [1] was in all cases the same, following an ancient prototype which provided an outer and an inner court of almost parallel dimensions, with a corridor leading from the inner court to the innermost smaller chamber, reserved for the priests and the rulers and in which, enclosed in a niche, the image of the.deity in whose honor the temple was erected stood.

Grouped around the three divisions was a series of rooms, varying in number according to the size and importance of the edifice, for the accommodation of the priests and for the administration of the temple, while in the case of the largest centres, special buildings were erected as store-houses for the temple possessions, stables for the animals, and dwellings for the numerous attendants and officials incident to the growing complications of the larger temple organizations. A feature of the main temple in every centre that was never lacking was a stage-tower, consisting of from two to seven stories, and placed either behind or at the side of the temple proper.” [2]

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 269-70.

Origins of the Name Nina, Synonymous with Ishtar

” … In the case of each triad, a fourth figure is often added, Ninlil, originally the consort of Enlil, or Nin-makh (“the great lady”) to the first, and Belit (“the lady”) or Ishtar to the second, both, however, symbolizing the female element which, fructified by the male, is the indispensable complement to the production of life, vegetation, fertility and all blessings that go with the never ending process of vitality, growth, decay and regeneration in nature.

This leads us to a consideration, before leaving the pantheon, of one notable female figure, the great mother-goddess, frequently identified with the earth viewed as a fruitful mother but who should rather be regarded in a still wider sense as the mother of all that manifests life, embracing therefore the life in man and the animal world as well as in the fields and mountains in nature in general.

This natural association of a female element as a complement to the male one leads to assigning to every deity a consort who, however, has no independent existence. So Enlil has at his side Nin-lil, Ninib has Gula A (“the great one”), Ningirsu has Bau, Shamash has A, Sin has Nin-gul, Nergal has Laz, Anu a female counterpart Antum, to Ea a consort Shala (“the woman”) is given, to Marduk, Sarpanit or Nin-makh (“the great lady”), to Nabu, Tashmit (“obedience”), while Ashur’s consort appears as Nin-lil or Belit and at times as Ishtar.

All these figures with the single exception of Ishtar are merely shadowy reflections of their male masters, playing no part in the cult outside of receiving homage in association with their male partners. Ishtar, however, although assimilated in the Assyrian pantheon as the consort of Ashur, is an independent figure, who has her own temples and her distinct cult. She appears under a variety of names: Nana, Innina, Irnini, Ninni, Nina all of which contain an element having the force of “lady,” as is also the case with Nin-makh and Nin-lil, likewise used as epithets of the great mother-goddess. Corresponding to the Sumerian element, we have in Akkadian Belit, “lady” or “mistress,” as one of the generic designations of Ishtar.

All this confirms the view that Ishtar is merely the symbol of the female element in the production of life, and that the specific name is of secondary significance. The circumstance that Ninlil, the consort of Enlil, is also (though in texts of a later period) identified with the mother-goddess would seem to show that the female associate of the head of the pantheon was always an Ishtar, though in a certain sense, as we have seen, the consorts of all the gods were Ishtars.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 232-4.

Seize the Day

“Death in Mesopotamian religious thought did not mean the total extinction of the individual, only of the physical self and of those qualities of a person that made him productive and attractive to other human beings (Bottéro 1992: 268– 86).

A recognizable winged spirit, resembling a dove, passed to the netherworld. This was a dreary, sombre domain ruled by a pitiless hierarchy of deities and demons. There the spirit languished, often in hunger, thirst and misery, unless family or friends remembered to leave offerings of food and drink for the spirit to partake of and prayed for the spirit’s rest and contentment (Foster 1996: 403):

Dust is their sustenance and clay their food,

They see no light but dwell in darkness,

They are clothed like birds in wings for garments,

And dust has gathered on the door and bolt.

A Sumerian poem recounting a visit to the netherworld refers to the dependence of the dead upon the living (Foster 2001: 141):

Did you see the ghost of him who has no one to make funerary offerings?

I saw him. He eats table scraps and bread crusts thrown into the street.

Ghosts and spectres of the dead could trouble the living, sometimes for no apparent reason, sometimes because they had not been properly interred or were discontented because of some human action or neglect. The city Cutha, in northern Babylonia, was considered the city of the dead and the centre of the cult of death.

The netherworld was organized like an earthly or heavenly kingdom, surrounded by walls with seven gates (Lambert 1990). A popular Mesopotamian poem (Dalley 1989: 163–81; Foster 1996: 410–28) told how the netherworld had once been ruled by a queen alone, Ereshkigal, but that she eventually found a husband, Nergal or Erra.

In one version of the story, he forces himself into the netherworld by violence and threatens her into submission. In another, he breaks her loneliness and sexual frustration with a passionate relationship that finally results in their marriage.

The gods of heaven and netherworld, separated, according to the Babylonian Epic of Creation, into two groups of 600 each, could not visit each other, though they could exchange messengers. Even the great gods feared the netherworld, which barred countless human dead from swarming onto the earth to devour the living in their eternal, unsatiated hunger.

The dead entered the netherworld naked and relinquished all hope of returning to life. How their ghosts escaped to plague the living is not clear. Various Mesopotamian stories told of human beings who learned what happened after a person died.

In one, the Sumerian hero Enkidu volunteered in a fit of bravado to go down to the netherworld to retrieve a favourite athletic object of the king, Gilgamesh. This was apparently a stick and a ball or puck that had fallen down there at the pleas of the people who were oppressed by the violent game that made use of them. The losers resented Gilgamesh’s bullying tactics in the game.

Enkidu recognized his relatives and saw certain distinctions among the dead: heroes were treated better than common folk, for example, and stillborn children had a sort of play area with miniature furniture. He barely escaped alive and forgot in the stress of the moment to bring back the objects (Foster 2001: 129–43).

Much later, an Assyrian dignitary described a vision of the netherworld that included an array of monsters, composites of humans and animals in shape. He, like Enkidu, recognized a dead spirit, but fled in an ecstasy of terror and grief, narrowly escaping permanent confinement (Foster 1996: 715–22):

He darted out into the street like an arrow and scooped up dirt from alley and square in his mouth, all the while setting up a frightful clamor, ‘Woe! Alas! Why have you ordained this for me?’

Mesopotamians honoured the dead of their families with a regular ceremony of remembrance and offering. Dead and sometimes even living kings were accorded divine honours and observances in special sanctuaries. Rulers and other powerful people could be buried in lavish tombs with grave gifts, perhaps more as a splendid way of dying than out of hope that they would need such gifts in the afterlife.

Some Sumerian rulers had chariots, animals and even court attendants buried with them; Assyrian queens might be buried with their finest jewelry. Clay or metal vessels might hold food, drink and cosmetics. Burial might be in vaults in royal palaces, under the floor of homes (especially for children) or in cemeteries outside the city.

Graves were not marked on the surface, so far as is known, and funerary inscriptions, naming the deceased or invoking blessings upon them from future descendants or passers-by, were very rare. One literary text describes an excavation to open an ancient tomb and the horrible shock the investigators felt when they beheld and reflected on the fate in store for them (Foster 1996: 436).

One of the major literary achievements of ancient Mesopotamia, the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh (George 1999; Foster 2001), tells the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, who sought immortal life. This was based on older Sumerian poems about various episodes in Gilgamesh’s life.

In the epic, Gilgamesh’s beloved friend, the wild man Enkidu, dies as the result of an expedition to achieve eternal fame for Gilgamesh by slaying a distant monster and cutting down a great tree. Terrified of dying himself, Gilgamesh abandons all in a desperate quest to find the survivor of the flood, Utanapishtim, to ask him his secret of immortality.

Gilgamesh eventually reaches Utanapishtim after unexampled heroism and hardships, not to mention the timely intervention of several kind-hearted women, but learns that his hope is vain – Utanapishtim was granted immortality for surviving the flood, but this was a one-time event that would not be repeated for Gilgamesh’s sake.

Neither he nor any other human being had any hope of achieving immortality. This poem was popular in learned circles; manuscripts have turned up throughout Mesopotamia, and from Syria and Asia Minor, dating to a time span of 1500 years.

There was no Mesopotamian paradise, no return of the soul in another body for another life, no judgement, and no sense that death might eventually end in a final consummation. Some Mesopotamians responded to this outlook by suggesting that the good for a human being was to enjoy life, love, family and vitality while they were within reach, for even a modest life was better than a grand death, as a tavern keeper advises Gilgamesh (Foster 2001: 75):

When the gods created mankind,

They established death for mankind,

And withheld eternal life for themselves.

As for you, Gilgamesh, let your stomach be full,

Always be happy, night and day.

Make every day a delight,

Night and day play and dance.

Your clothes should be clean,

Your head should be washed,

You should bathe in water,

Look proudly on the little one holding your hand,

Let your mate be always blissful in your loins,

This, then, is the work of mankind.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Mesopotamia,” in John R. Hinnels, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 188-90.

Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk (British Museum, No. 90,858)

The accompanying illustration, which is reproduced from the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk (Brit. Mus., No. 90,858), supplies much information about the symbols of the gods, and of the Signs of the Zodiac in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, King of Babylon, about 1120 B.C.

British Museum number 90858 Description 3/4: Right Limestone stela in the form of a boundary-stone: consisting of a block of calcareous limestone, shaped and prepared on four sides to take sculptures and inscriptions. It is now mounted on a stone plinth.  Faces B and C each bear a single column of inscription, the lines running the full width of the stone.  The top of the stone and Face D have been left blank, except for the serpent, which has been carved to the left of the emblems on Face A.  Inscribed with a Charter from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I.

British Museum number 90858
Description 3/4: Right
Limestone stela in the form of a boundary-stone: consisting of a block of calcareous limestone, shaped and prepared on four sides to take sculptures and inscriptions. It is now mounted on a stone plinth.
Faces B and C each bear a single column of inscription, the lines running the full width of the stone.
The top of the stone and Face D have been left blank, except for the serpent, which has been carved to the left of the emblems on Face A.
Inscribed with a Charter from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I.

Thus in Register 1, we have the Star of Ishtar, the crescent of the Moon-god Sin, and the disk of Shamash the Sun-god. In Reg. 2 are three stands (?) surmounted by tiaras, which represent the gods Anu, Enlil (Bel) and Ea respectively. In Reg. 3 are three altars (?) or shrines (?) with a monster in Nos. 1 and 2. Over the first is the lance of Marduk, over the second the mason’s square of Nabû, and over the third is the symbol of the goddess Ninkharsag, the Creatress. In Reg. 4 are a standard with an animal’s head, a sign of Ea; a two-headed snake = the Twins; an unknown symbol with a horse’s head, and a bird, representative of Shukamuna and Shumalia. In Reg. 5 are a seated figure of the goddess Gula and the Scorpion-man. In Reg. 6 are forked lightning, symbol of Adad, above a bull, the Tortoise, symbol of Ea (?), the Scorpion of the goddess Ishkhara, and the Lamp of Nusku, the Fire-god.  Down the left-hand side is the serpent-god representing the constellation of the Hydra.

Thus in Register 1, we have the Star of Ishtar, the crescent of the Moon-god Sin, and the disk of Shamash the Sun-god.
In Reg. 2 are three stands (?) surmounted by tiaras, which represent the gods Anu, Enlil (Bel) and Ea respectively.
In Reg. 3 are three altars (?) or shrines (?) with a monster in Nos. 1 and 2. Over the first is the lance of Marduk, over the second the mason’s square of Nabû, and over the third is the symbol of the goddess Ninkharsag, the Creatress.
In Reg. 4 are a standard with an animal’s head, a sign of Ea; a two-headed snake = the Twins; an unknown symbol with a horse’s head, and a bird, representative of Shukamuna and Shumalia.
In Reg. 5 are a seated figure of the goddess Gula and the Scorpion-man.
In Reg. 6 are forked lightning, symbol of Adad, above a bull, the Tortoise, symbol of Ea (?), the Scorpion of the goddess Ishkhara, and the Lamp of Nusku, the Fire-god.
Down the left-hand side is the serpent-god representing the constellation of the Hydra.

The mutilated text of the Fifth Tablet makes it impossible to gain further details in connection with Marduk’s work in arranging the heavens. We are, however, justified in assuming that the gaps in it contained statements about the grouping of the gods into triads.

In royal historical inscriptions the kings often invoke the gods in threes, though they never call any one three a triad or trinity. It seems as if this arrangement of gods in threes was assumed to be of divine origin.

In the Fourth Tablet of Creation, one triad “Anu-Bel-Ea” is actually mentioned, and in the Fifth Tablet, another is indicated, “Sin-Shamash-Ishtar.”

In these triads Anu represents the sky or heaven, Bel or Enlil the region under the sky and including the earth, Ea the underworld, Sin the Moon, Shamash the Sun, and Ishtar the star Venus.

When the universe was finally constituted several other great gods existed, e.g., Nusku, the Fire-god, Enurta, a solar god, Nergal, the god of war and handicrafts, Nabu, the god of learning, Marduk of Babylon, the great national god of Babylonia, and Ashur, the great national god of Assyria.

E.A. Wallis Budge, et al, & the British Museum, The Babylonian Legends of the Creation & the Fight Between Bel & the Dragon Told by Assyrian Tablets from Nineveh (BCE 668-626), 1901, pp. 11-2.

In the End, Dwelling at the Mouth of the Rivers

[THE ABUBU (CYCLONE) AND ITS EFFECTS DESCRIBED.]

“97. As soon as something of dawn shone in the sky

98. A black cloud from the foundation of heaven came up.

99. Inside it the god Adad thundered,

100. The gods Nabû and Sharru (i.e., Marduk) went before,

101. Marching as messengers over high land and plain,

102. Irragal (Nergal) tore out the post of the ship,

103. En-urta went on, he made the storm to descend.

104. The Anunnaki brandished their torches,

105. With their glare they lighted up the land.

106. The whirlwind (or, cyclone) of Adad swept up to heaven.

107. Every gleam of light was turned into darkness.

108. . . . . . the land . . . . . as if had laid it waste.

109. A whole day long [the flood descended] . . .

110. Swiftly it mounted up . . . . . [the water] reached to the mountains

111. [The water] attacked the people like a battle.

112. Brother saw not brother.

113. Men could not be known (or, recognized) in heaven.

114. The gods were terrified at the cyclone.

115. They shrank back and went up into the heaven of Anu.

116. The gods crouched like a dog and cowered by the wall.

117. The goddess Ishtar cried out like a woman in travail.

118. The Lady of the Gods lamented with a sweet voice [saying]:

[ISHTAR’S LAMENT.]

119. May that former day be turned into mud,

120. Because I commanded evil among the company of the gods.

121. How could I command evil among the company of the gods,

122. Command battle for the destruction of my people?

123. Did I of myself bring forth my people

124. That they might fill the sea like little fishes?

[UTA-NAPISHTIM’S STORY CONTINUED.]

125. The gods, the Anunnaki wailed with her.

126. The gods bowed themselves, and sat down weeping.

127. Their lips were shut tight (in distress) . . .

128. For six days and nights

129. The wind, the storm raged, and the cyclone overwhelmed the land.

[THE ABATING OF THE STORM.]

130. When the seventh day came the cyclone ceased, the storm and battle

131. which had fought like an army.

132. The sea became quiet, the grievous wind went down, the cyclone ceased.

133. I looked on the day and voices were stilled,

134. And all mankind were turned into mud,

135. The land had been laid flat like a terrace.

136. I opened the air-hole and the light fell upon my cheek,

137. I bowed myself, I sat down, I cried,

138. My tears poured down over my cheeks.

139. I looked over the quarters of the world, (to] the limits of ocean.

140. At twelve points islands appeared.

141. The ship grounded on the mountain of Nisir.

142. The mountain of Nisir held the ship, it let it not move.

143. The first day, the second day, the mountain of Nisir held the ship and let it not move.

144. The third day, the fourth day, the mountain of Nisir held the ship and let it not move.

145. The fifth day, the sixth day, the mountain of Nisir held the ship and let it not move.

146. When the seventh day had come

147. I brought out a dove and let her go free.

148. The dove flew away and [then] came back;

149. Because she had no place to alight on she came back.

150. I brought out a swallow and let her go free.

151. The swallow flew away and [then] came back;

152. Because she had no place to alight on she came back.

153. 1 brought out a raven and let her go free.

154. The raven flew away, she saw the sinking waters.

155. She ate, she waded (?), she rose (?), she came not back.

[UTA-NAPISHTIM LEAVES THE SHIP.]

156. Then I brought out [everything] to the four winds and made a sacrifice;

157. I set out an offering on the peak of the mountain.

158. Seven by seven I set out the vessels,

159. Under them I piled reeds, cedarwood and myrtle (?).

160. The gods smelt the savour,

161. The gods smelt the sweet savour.

162. The gods gathered together like flies over him that sacrificed.

[SPEECH OF ISHTAR, LADY OF THE GODS.]

163 Now when the Lady of the Gods came nigh,

164. She lifted up the priceless jewels which Anu had made according to her desire, [saying]

165. O ye gods here present, as I shall never forget the sapphire jewels of my neck

166. So shall I ever think about these days, and shall forget them nevermore!

167. Let the gods come to the offering,

168. But let not Enlil come to the offering,

16q. Because he took not thought and made the cyclone,

170. And delivered my people over to destruction.”

[THE ANGER OF ENLIL.]

171. Now when Enlil came nigh

172. He saw the ship; then was Enlil wroth

173. And he was filled with anger against the gods, the Igigi [saying]:

174. Hath any being escaped with his life?

175. He shall not remain alive, a man among the destruction

[SPEECH OF EN-URTA.]

176. Then En-urta opened his mouth and spake

177. And said unto the warrior Enlil:

178. Who besides the god Ea can make a plan?

179. The god Ea knoweth everything that is done.

18o. The god Ea opened his mouth and spake

181. And said unto the warrior Enlil,

182. O Prince among the gods, thou warrior,

183. How, how couldst thou, not taking thought, make a cyclone?

184. He who is sinful, on him lay his sin,

185. He who transgresseth, on him lay his transgression.

186. But be merciful that [everything] be not destroyed be long-suffering that [man be not blotted out].

187. Instead of thy making a cyclone,

188. Would that the lion had come and diminished mankind.

189. Instead of thy making a cyclone

190. Would that the wolf had come and diminished mankind.

191. Instead of thy making a cyclone

192. Would that a famine had arisen and [laid waste] the land.

193. Instead of thy making a cyclone

194. Would that Irra (the Plague god) had risen up and [laid waste] the land.

195. As for me I have not revealed the secret of the great gods.

196. I made Atra-hasis to see a vision, and thus he heard the secret of the gods.

197. Now therefore take counsel concerning him.

[ENLIL DEIFIES UTA-NAPISHTIM AND HIS WIFE.]

198. Then the god Enlil went up into the ship,

199. He seized me by the hand and brought me forth.

200. He brought forth my wife and made her to kneel by my side.

201. He touched our brows, he stood between us, he blessed us [saving],

202. Formerly Uta-Napishtim was a man merely,

203. But now let Uta-Napishtim and his wife be like unto us gods.

204. Uta-Napishtim shall dwell afar off, at the mouth of the rivers.

[UTA-NAPISHTIM ENDS HIS STORY OF THE DELUGE.]

205. And they took me away to a place afar off, and made me to dwell at the mouth of the rivers.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic of Gilgamish1929, pp. 35-40.

The Ten Lost Tribes

” … Shalmaneser died before Samaria was captured, and may have been assassinated. The next Assyrian monarch, Sargon II (722-705 B.C.), was not related to either of his two predecessors. He is referred to by Isaiah, and is the Arkeanos of Ptolemy. He was the Assyrian monarch who deported the “Lost Ten Tribes.”

“In the ninth year of Hoshea” (and the first of Sargon) “the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.”

In all, according to Sargon’s record, “27,290 people dwelling in the midst of it (Samaria) I carried off.”

They (the Israelites) left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven (the stars), and served Baal.

And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.

And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof….

And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth (Cuthah) made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharites burnt their children in fire to Adram-melech and Anam-melech, the gods of Sepharvaim.

A number of the new settlers were slain by lions, and the king of Assyria ordered that a Samaritan priest should be sent to “teach them the manner of the God of the land.” This man was evidently an orthodox Hebrew, for he taught them “how they should fear the Lord…. So they feared the Lord,” but also “served their own gods … their graven images.”

There is no evidence to suggest that the “Ten Lost Tribes,” “regarding whom so many nonsensical theories have been formed,” were not ultimately absorbed by the peoples among whom they settled between Mesopotamia and the Median Highlands.

The various sections must have soon lost touch with one another. They were not united like the Jews (the people of Judah), who were transported to Babylonia a century and a half later, by a common religious bond, for although a few remained faithful to Abraham’s God, the majority of the Israelites worshipped either the Baal or the Queen of Heaven.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 455-6.

The Enduring, Syncretic Cult of the Great Mother

” … Tashmit, whose name signifies “Obedience,” according to Jastrow, or “Hearing,” according to Sayce, carried the prayers of worshippers to Nebo, her spouse.

As Isis interceded with Osiris, she interceded with Nebo, on behalf of mankind. But this did not signify that she was the least influential of the divine pair. A goddess played many parts: she was at once mother, daughter, and wife of the god; the servant of one god or the “mighty queen of all the gods.”

The Great Mother was, as has been indicated, regarded as the eternal and un-decaying one; the gods passed away, son succeeding father; she alone remained. Thus, too, did Semiramis survive in the popular memory, as the queen-goddess of widespread legends, after kings and gods had been forgotten.

To her was ascribed all the mighty works of other days in the lands where the indigenous peoples first worshipped the Great Mother as Damkina, Nina, Bau, Ishtar, or Tashmit, because the goddess was anciently believed to be the First Cause, the creatrix, the mighty one who invested the ruling god with the powers he possessed–the god who held sway because he was her husband, as did Nergal as the husband of Eresh-ki-gal, queen of Hades.

The multiplication of well-defined goddesses was partly due to the tendency to symbolize the attributes of the Great Mother, and partly due to the development of the great “Lady” in a particular district where she reflected local phenomena and where the political influence achieved by her worshippers emphasized her greatness.

Legends regarding a famous goddess were in time attached to other goddesses, and in Aphrodite and Derceto we appear to have mother deities who absorbed the traditions of more than one local “lady” of river and plain, forest and mountain.

Semiramis, on the other hand, survived as a link between the old world and the new, between the country from which emanated the stream of ancient culture and the regions which received it. As the high priestess of the cult, she became identified with the goddess whose bird name she bore, as Gilgamesh and Etana became identified with the primitive culture-hero or patriarch of the ancient Sumerians, and Sargon became identified with Tammuz.

No doubt the fame of Semiramis was specially emphasized because of her close association, as Queen Sammu-rammat, with the religious innovations which disturbed the land of the god Ashur during the Middle Empire period.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 436-8.

Hammurabi Restored the Temples

” … Hammurabi’s reign was long as it was prosperous. There is no general agreement as to when he ascended the throne–some say in 2123 B.C., others hold that it was after 2000 B.C.–but it is certain that he presided over the destinies of Babylon for the long period of forty-three years.

There are interesting references to the military successes of his reign in the prologue to the legal Code. It is related that when he “avenged Larsa,” the seat of Rim-Sin, he restored there the temple of the sun god.

Other temples were built up at various ancient centres, so that these cultural organizations might contribute to the welfare of the localities over which they held sway. At Nippur he thus honoured Enlil, at Eridu the god Ea, at Ur the god Sin, at Erech the god Anu and the goddess Nana (Ishtar), at Kish the god Zamama and the goddess Ma-ma, at Cuthah the god Nergal, at Lagash the god Nin-Girsu, while at Adab and Akkad, “celebrated for its wide squares,” and other centres he carried out religious and public works.

In Assyria he restored the colossus of Ashur, which had evidently been carried away by a conqueror, and he developed the canal system of Nineveh.

[ … ]

Hammurabi referred to himself in the Prologue as “a king who commanded obedience in all the four quarters.” He was the sort of benevolent despot whom Carlyle on one occasion clamoured vainly for–not an Oriental despot in the commonly accepted sense of the term.

As a German writer puts it, his despotism was a form of Patriarchal Absolutism. “When Marduk (Merodach),” as the great king recorded, “brought me to direct all people, and commissioned me to give judgment, I laid down justice and right in the provinces, I made all flesh to prosper.”

That was the keynote of his long life; he regarded himself as the earthly representative of the Ruler of all–Merodach, “the lord god of right,” who carried out the decrees of Anu, the sky god of Destiny.”

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

Nether Cuthah

” … In the Descent of Ishtar the Babylonian Underworld is called Cuthah.

This city had a famous cemetery, like Abydos in Egypt, where many pious and orthodox worshippers sought sepulture. The local god was Nergal, who symbolized the destructive power of the sun and the sand storm; he was a gloomy, vengeful deity, attended by the spirits of tempest, weariness, pestilence, and disease, and was propitiated because he was dreaded.

In Nether Cuthah, as Ea-bani informed Gilgamesh, the worm devoured the dead amidst the dust and thick darkness.

It is evident that this Underworld was modelled on the grave. In early times men believed that the spirits of the dead hovered in or about the place of sepulture. They were therefore provided with “houses” to protect them, in the same manner as the living were protected in their houses above the ground.

The enemies of the human ghosts were the earth spirits. Weapons were laid beside the dead in their graves so that they might wage war against demons when necessary.

The corpse was also charmed, against attack, by the magical and protecting ornaments which were worn by the living–necklaces, armlets, ear-rings, &c.

Even face paint was provided, probably as a charm against the evil eye and other subtle influences.

So long as corpses were left in their graves, the spirits of the dead were, it would appear, believed to be safe. But they required food and refreshment. Food vessels and drinking urns were therefore included in the funerary furniture, and the dead were given food offerings at regular intervals.

Once a year the living held feasts in the burial ground, and invited the ghosts to share in the repast. This custom was observed in Babylonia, and is not yet obsolete in Egypt; Moslems and Coptic Christians alike hold annual all-night feasts in their cemeteries.

[ … ]

According to Babylonian belief, the dead who were not properly buried roamed through the streets searching for food, eating refuse and drinking impure water.”

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

An Underworld Love Story

“The Persephone of the Babylonian Underworld was Eresh-ki-gal, who was also called Allatu. A myth, which was found among the Egyptian Tel-el-Amarna Letters, sets forth that on one occasion the Babylonian gods held a feast.

All the deities attended it, except Eresh-ki-gal. She was unable to leave her gloomy Underworld, and sent her messenger, the plague demon Namtar, to obtain her share.

The various deities honoured Namtar, except Nergal, by standing up to receive him. When Eresh-ki-gal was informed of this slight she became very angry, and demanded that Nergal should be delivered up to her so that he might be put to death.

The storm god at once hastened to the Underworld, accompanied by his own group of fierce demons, whom he placed as guardians at the various doors so as to prevent the escape of Eresh-ki-gal.

Then he went boldly towards the goddess, clutched her by the hair, and dragged her from her throne.

After a brief struggle, she found herself overpowered. Nergal made ready to cut off her head, but she cried for mercy and said: “Do not kill me, my brother! Let me speak to thee.”

This appeal indicated that she desired to ransom her life–like the hags in the European folk tales–so Nergal unloosed his hold.

Then Eresh-ki-gal continued: “Be thou my husband and I will be thy wife. On thee I confer sovereignty over the wide earth, giving thee the tablet of wisdom. Thou shalt be my lord and I will be thy lady.”

Nergal accepted these terms by kissing the goddess. Affectionately drying her tears, he spoke, saying: “Thou shalt now have from me what thou hast demanded during these past months.”

In other words, Nergal promises to honour her as she desired, after becoming her husband and equal.”

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

Excerpts from the Epic of Gilgamesh

” … Pir-napishtim made answer, reminding the pilgrim that all men must die. Men built houses, sealed contracts, disputed one with another, and sowed seeds in the earth, but as long as they did so and the rivers rose in flood, so long would their fate endure. Nor could any man tell when his hour would come. The god of destiny measured out the span of life: he fixed the day of death, but never revealed his secrets.

Gilgamesh then asked Pir-napishtim how it chanced that he was still alive. “Thou hast suffered no change,” he said, “thou art even as I am. Harden not thy heart against me, but reveal how thou hast obtained divine life in the company of the gods.”

Pir-napishtim thereupon related to his descendant the story of the deluge … The gods had resolved to destroy the world, and Ea in a dream revealed unto Pir-napishtim how he could escape. He built a ship which was tossed about on the waters, and when the world had been destroyed, Bel discovered him and transported him to that island in the midst of the Sea of Death.

Gilgamesh sat in the boat listening to the words of his ancestor. When the narrative was ended, Pir-napishtim spoke sympathetically and said: “Who among the gods will restore thee to health, O Gilgamesh? Thou hast knowledge of my life, and thou shalt be given the life thou dost strive after. Take heed, therefore, to what I say unto thee. For six days and seven nights thou shalt not lie down, but remain sitting like one in the midst of grief.”

Gilgamesh sat in the ship, and sleep enveloped him like to a black storm cloud.

Pir-napishtim spoke to his wife and said: “Behold the hero who desireth to have life. Sleep envelops him like to a black storm cloud.”

To that lone man his wife made answer: “Lay thine hand upon him so that he may have perfect health and be enabled to return to his own land. Give him power to pass through the mighty door by which he entered.”

Then Pir-napishtim addressed his wife, saying: “His sufferings make me sad. Prepare thou for him the magic food, and place it near his head.”

On the day when Gilgamesh lay down, the food was prepared by seven magic processes, and the woman administered it while yet he slept. Then Pir-napishtim touched him, and he awoke full of life.

Gilgamesh spake unto Pir-napishtim and said: “I was suddenly overcome by sleep…. But thou didst awaken me by touching me, even thou…. Lo! I am bewitched. What hast thou done unto thy servant?”

Then Pir-napishtim told Gilgamesh that he had been given to eat of the magic food. Afterwards he caused Arad Ea to carry Gilgamesh to a fountain of healing, where his disease-stricken body was cleansed. The blemished skin fell from him, and he was made whole.

Thereafter Gilgamesh prepared to return to his own land. Ere he bade farewell, however, Pir-napishtim revealed unto him the secret of a magic plant which had power to renew life and give youth and strength unto those who were old.

Arad Ea conducted the hero to the island where the plant grew, and when Gilgamesh found it he rejoiced, and said that he would carry it to Erech, his own city, where he would partake of it and restore his youth.

So Gilgamesh and Arad Ea went on their way together, nor paused until they came to a well of pure water. The hero stooped down to draw water. But while he was thus engaged that demon, the Earth Lion, crept forth as a serpent, and, seizing the magic plant of life, carried it away. Stricken with terror, Gilgamesh uttered a curse. Then he sat down and wept bitterly, and the tears streamed over his face. To Arad Ea he spake, saying: “Why has my health been restored to me? Why should I rejoice because that I live? The benefit which I should have derived for myself has now fallen to the Earth Lion.”

The two travellers then resumed their journey, performing religious acts from time to time; chanting dirges and holding feasts for the dead, and at length Gilgamesh returned to Erech. He found that the city walls were crumbling, and he spake regarding the ceremonies which had been performed while yet he was in a far-distant country.

During the days which followed Gilgamesh sorrowed for his lost friend Ea-bani, whose spirit was in the Underworld, the captive of the spirits of death. “Thou canst not draw thy bow now,” he cried, “nor raise the battle shout. Thou canst not kiss the woman thou hast loved; thou canst not kiss the child thou hast loved, nor canst thou smite those whom thou hast hated.”

In vain Gilgamesh appealed to his mother goddess to restore Ea-bani to him. Then he turned to the gods, and Ea heard him. Thereafter Nergal, god of death, caused the grave to yawn, and the spirit of Ea-bani arose like a wind gust.

Gilgamesh, still dreading death, spoke to the ghost of his friend, saying: “Tell me, my friend, O tell me regarding the land in which thou dost dwell.”

Ea-bani made answer sorrowfully: “Alas! I cannot tell thee, my friend. If I were to tell thee all, thou wouldst sit down and weep.”

Said Gilgamesh: “Let me sit down and weep, but tell me regarding the land of spirits.”

The text is mutilated here, but it can be gathered that Ea-bani described the land where ill-doers were punished, where the young were like the old, where the worm devoured, and dust covered all. But the state of the warrior who had been given burial was better than that of the man who had not been buried, and had no one to lament or care for him.

“He who hath been slain in battle,” the ghost said, “reposeth on a couch drinking pure water–one slain in battle as thou hast seen and I have seen. His head is supported by his parents: beside him sits his wife. His spirit doth not haunt the earth.

But the spirit of that man whose corpse has been left unburied and uncared for, rests not, but prowls through the streets eating scraps of food, the leavings of the feast, and drinking the dregs of vessels.”

So ends the story of Gilgamesh in the form which survives to us.”

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

Gods, Goddesses, Demons

” … In the early stages of Sumerian culture, the gods and goddesses who formed groups were indistinguishable from demons. They were vaguely defined, and had changing shapes. When attempts were made to depict them they were represented in many varying forms. Some were winged bulls or lions with human heads; others had even more remarkable composite forms. The “dragon of Babylon”, for instance, which was portrayed on walls of temples, had a serpent’s head, a body covered with scales, the fore legs of a lion, hind legs of an eagle, and a long wriggling serpentine tail. Ea had several monster forms. The following description of one of these is repulsive enough:–

The head is the head of a serpent,

From his nostrils mucus trickles,

His mouth is beslavered with water;

The ears are like those of a basilisk,

His horns are twisted into three curls,

He wears a veil in his head band,

The body is a suh-fish full of stars,

The base of his feet are claws,

The sole of his foot has no heel,

His name is Sassu-wunnu,

A sea monster, a form of Ea.

R.C. Thompson’s Translation.

Even after the gods were given beneficent attributes to reflect the growth of culture, and were humanized, they still retained many of their savage characteristics. Bel Enlil and his fierce son, Nergal, were destroyers of mankind; the storm god desolated the land; the sky god deluged it with rain; the sea raged furiously, ever hungering for human victims; the burning sun struck down its victims; and the floods played havoc with the dykes and houses of human beings.

In Egypt the sun god Ra was similarly a “producer of calamity,” the composite monster god Sokar was “the lord of fear”. Osiris in prehistoric times had been “a dangerous god,” and some of the Pharaohs sought protection against him in the charms inscribed in their tombs.

The Indian Shiva, “the Destroyer”, in the old religious poems has also primitive attributes of like character.

The Sumerian gods never lost their connection with the early spirit groups. These continued to be represented by their attendants, who executed a deity’s stern and vengeful decrees. In one of the Babylonian charms the demons are referred to as “the spleen of the gods”–the symbols of their wrathful emotions and vengeful desires.

Bel Enlil, the air and earth god, was served by the demons of disease, “the beloved sons of Bel,” which issued from the Underworld to attack mankind. Nergal, the sulky and ill-tempered lord of death and destruction, who never lost his demoniac character, swept over the land, followed by the spirits of pestilence, sunstroke, weariness, and destruction.

Anu, the sky god, had “spawned” at creation the demons of cold and rain and darkness. Even Ea and his consort, Damkina, were served by groups of devils and giants, which preyed upon mankind in bleak and desolate places when night fell. In the ocean home of Ea were bred the “seven evil spirits” of tempest–the gaping dragon, the leopard which preyed upon children, the great Beast, the terrible serpent, &c.

In Indian mythology Indra was similarly followed by the stormy Maruts, and fierce Rudra by the tempestuous Rudras.

In Teutonic mythology Odin is the “Wild Huntsman in the Raging Host.”

In Greek mythology the ocean furies attend upon fickle Poseidon.

Other examples of this kind could be multiplied.”

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

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