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Category: Sun God of Sippara

The Contention Between Samas and Merodach

“With the spread and fame of the empire of Sargon, the worship of Samas spread and became famous also. The empire and the cult were alike Semitic; wherever the Semite planted himself, the Sun-god was worshipped under some form and name.

The extent, therefore, of the worship of the Sun-god of Sippara marks the extent and power of Sargon’s kingdom. The older Samas of Larsa was eclipsed by the new deity; henceforward Sippara, and not Larsa, was the chief seat of the adoration of Samas in Babylonia. It is to Sippar in all probability that the hymns addressed to the Sun-god belong.

Bas relief of the Tablet of Shamash, portraying the god Shamash on his throne, IXth century BCE. British Museum.

Bas relief of the Tablet of Shamash, portraying the god Shamash on his throne, IXth century BCE. British Museum.

 They are the product of an age of new ideas and aspirations. They represent the meeting and amalgamation of Semitic and Accadian thought. The scribes and poets of Sargon’s court were partly Semites, partly Accadians; but the Semites had received an Accadian education, and the Accadians had learnt the language and imitated the style of their Semitic masters.

Though the originals of most of the hymns are written in the old language of Accad–a language that had become sacred to the Semites, and in which alone the gods allowed themselves to be addressed–the thoughts contained in them are for the most part Semitic.

We have no longer to do with a Mul-lil, a lord of ghosts and demons, nor even with an Ea, with his charms and sorceries for the removal of human ills, but with the supreme Baal of Semitic faith, the father and creator of the world, who was for his adorer at the moment of adoration the one omnipotent god.

[ … ]

In the closing days of the Babylonian monarchy, Nabonidos, after restoring the temple of the Sun-god at Sippara, addresses him in the following words:

“O Samas, (mighty lord) of heaven and earth, light of the gods his fathers, offspring of Sin and Nin-gal, when thou enterest into E-Babbara, the temple of thy choice, when thou inhabitest thy everlasting shrine, look with joy upon me, Nabonidos, the king of Babylon, the prince who has fed thee, who has done good to thy heart, who has built thy dwelling-place supreme, and upon my prosperous labours; and daily at noon and sunset, in heaven and earth, grant me favourable omens, receive my prayers, and listen to my supplications. May I be lord of the firmly-established sceptre and sword, which thou hast given my hands to hold, for ever and ever!”

Nabonidos, the Babylonian, the peculiar protege of Merodach, could not regard Samas with the same eyes as the old poets of the city of the Sun-god. His supreme Baal was necessarily Merodach, whose original identity with Samas had long since been forgotten; and Samas of Sippara was consequently to him only the Baal of another and a subject state.

Samas is therefore but one of the younger gods, who illuminates his divine fathers in the higher heaven. He shares the power and glory of his fathers only as the son shares the authority of the father in the human family.

Nothing can illustrate more clearly the local character of Babylonian religion than this difference between the position assigned to Samas in the hymns and in the inscription of Nabonidos.

In the one, he is the supreme god who brooks no equal; in the other, the subordinate of Merodach and even of the Moon-god Sin.”

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. 170-5.

The Fall of Nabonidos

“The destruction of the local cults, the attempt to unify and centralise religious worship, was to the Rab-shakeh, as it was to the Babylonian scribes, and doubtless also to many of the Jews in the time of Hezekiah, an act of the grossest impiety.

An annalistic tablet, drawn up not long after the conquest of Babylonia by Cyrus, hints that before making his final attack on the country, the Elamite prince had been secretly aided by a party of malcontents in Chaldea itself.

It is at all events significant that as soon as the army of Nabonidos was defeated, the whole population at once submitted, and that even the capital, with its almost impregnable fortifications, threw open its gates.

The revolts which took place afterwards in the reigns of Dareios and Xerxes, and the extremities endured by the Babylonians before they would surrender their city, prove that their surrender was not the result of cowardice or indifference to foreign rule. The great mass of the people must have been discontented with Nabonidos and anxious for his overthrow.

The anger of Merodach and the gods, in fact, was but a convenient way of describing the discontent and anger of an important section of the Babylonians themselves. Nabonidos did not belong to the royal house of Nebuchadnezzar; he seems to have raised himself to the throne by means of a revolution, and his attempt at centralisation excited strong local animosities against him.

Religion and civil government were so closely bound up together, that civil centralisation meant religious centralisation also; the surest sign that the cities of Babylonia had been absorbed in the capital was that the images of the gods whose names had been associated with them from time immemorial were carried away to Babylon. The cities lost their separate existence along with the deities who watched over their individual fortunes.

The removal of the gods, however, implied something more than the removal of a number of images and the visible loss of local self-government or autonomy. Each image was the centre of a particular cult, carried on in a particular temple in a particular way, and entrusted to the charge of a special body of priests.

It was no wonder, therefore, that the high-handed proceedings of Nabonidos aroused the enmity of these numerous local priesthoods, as well as of all those who profited in any way from the maintenance of the local cults.

Most of the cities which were thus deprived of their ancestral deities were as old as Babylon; many of them claimed to be older; while it was notorious that Babylon did not become a capital until comparatively late in Babylonian history.

The Sun-god of Sippara, the Moon-god of Ur, were alike older than Merodach of Babylon. Indeed, though in the age of Nabonidos the title of Bel or “lord”had come to be applied to Merodach specially, it was known that there was a more ancient Bel–Belitanas, “the elder Bel,” as the Greeks wrote the word–whose worship had spread from the city of Nipur, and who formed one of the supreme triad of Babylonian 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. 85-6.

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