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Category: Temple of the Sun

The World Tree of Eridu

“But the primitive home of Tammuz had been in that “garden” of Edin, or Eden, which Babylonian tradition placed in the immediate vicinity of Eridu. The fragment of an old bilingual hymn has been preserved, which begins in the following way :

1. “(In) Eridu a stalk grew over-shadowing; in a holy place did it become green;

2. its root ([sur]sum) was of white crystal which stretched towards the deep;

3. (before) Ea was its course in Eridu, teeming with fertility;

4. its seat was the (central) place of the earth;

5. its foliage was the couch of Zikum (the primeval) mother.

6. Into the heart of its holy house which spread its shade like a forest hath no man entered.

7. (There is the home) of the mighty mother who passes across the sky.

8. (In) the midst of it was Tammuz.

10. (There is the shrine) of the two (gods).”

The description reminds us of the famous Ygg-drasil of Norse mythology, the world-tree whose roots descend into the world of death, while its branches rise into Asgard, the heaven of the gods.

The Babylonian poet evidently imagined his tree also to be a world-tree, whose roots stretched downwards into the abysmal deep, where Ea presided, nourishing the earth with the springs and streams that forced their way upwards from it to the surface of the ground.

Its seat was the earth itself, which stood midway between the deep below and Zikum, the primordial heavens, above, who rested as it were upon the overshadowing branches of the mighty “stem.” Within it, it would seem, was the holy house of Dav-kina, “the great mother,” and of Tammuz her son, a temple too sacred and far hidden in the recesses of the earth for mortal man to enter.

It is perhaps a reminiscence of this mystic temple that we find in the curious work on Nabathean Agriculture, composed in the fourth or fifth century by a Mandaite of Chaldea, where we are told of the temple of the sun in Babylon, in which the images of the gods from all the countries of the world gathered themselves together to weep for Tammuz.

What the tree or “stalk” was which sprang up like the bean-stalk of our old nursery tale, is indicated in the magical text to which the fragment about it has been appended. In this, Ea describes to Merodach the means whereby he is to cure a man who is possessed of the seven evil spirits.

He is first to go to “the cedar-tree, the tree that shatters the power of the incubus, upon whose core the name of Ea is recorded,” and then, with the help of “a good masal” or phylactery which is placed on the sick man’s head as he lies in bed at night, to invoke the aid of the Fire-god to expel the demons.

It is the cedar, therefore, which played the same part in Babylonian magic as the rowan ash of northern Europe, and which was believed to be under the special protection of Ea; and the parallel, therefore, between the ash Ygg-drasil of Norse mythology and the world-tree of the poet of Eridu becomes even closer than before.”

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. 237-40.

E-Sagila: Temple of the Sun

“May we not conclude, then, that originally Merodach also was a solar deity, the particular Sun-god, in fact, whose worship was carried on at Babylon?

The conclusion is verified by the express testimony of the ritual belonging to Merodach’s temple E-Sagila. Here we read that

“In the month Nison, on the second day, two hours after nightfall, the priest must come and take of the waters of the river, must enter into the presence of Bel; and putting on a stole in the presence of Bel, must say this prayer:

“0 Bel, who in his strength has no equal! O Bel, blessed sovereign, lord of the world, seeking after the favour of the great gods, the lord who in his glance has destroyed the strong, lord of kings, light of mankind, establisher of faith!

0 Bel, thy sceptre is Babylon, thy crown is Borsippa, the wide heaven is the dwelling-place of thy liver. …0 lord of the world, light of the spirits of heaven, utterer of blessings, who is there whose mouth murmurs not of thy righteousness, or speaks not of thy glory, and celebrates not thy dominion?

0 lord of the world, who dwellest in the temple of the Sun, reject not the hands that are raised to thee; be merciful to thy city Babylon, to E-Sagila thy temple incline thy face; grant the prayers of thy people the sons of Babylon.”

Nothing can be more explicit than the statement that E-Sagila, the temple of Merodach, was also the temple of the Sun. We thus come to understand the attributes that are ascribed to Merodach and the language that is used of him.

He is “the light of the spirits of heaven,” even as the Son-god, … is “the illuminator of darkness” whose face is beheld by the spirits of the earth. The wide heaven is naturally his dwelling-place, and he raises the dead to life as the sun of spring revivifies the dead vegetation of winter.

The part that he plays in the old mythological poems, in the poems, that is, which embody the ancient myths and legends of Babylonia, is now fully explained. One of the most famous of these was the story of the combat between Merodach and Tiamat, the dragon of darkness and chaos.”

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. 100-102.

Marduk as Sun God of Babylon

Here Merodach, it will be observed, though “lord of all that exists,” is nevertheless only the first-born of the gods.

There were gods older than he, just as there were cities older than Babylon. He could not therefore be absolute lord of the world; it was only within Babylon itself that this was the case; elsewhere his rule was shared with others.

Hence it was that while Nebuchadnezzar as a native of Babylon was the work of his hands, outside Babylon there were other creators and other lords. This fact is accentuated in an inscription of Nabonidos, belonging to the earlier part of his reign, in which Merodach is coupled with the Moon-god of Ur and placed on an equal footing with him.

One of the epithets applied by Nebuchadnezzar to Merodach is that of riminu, or “merciful.” It is indeed a standing epithet of the god. Merodach was the intercessor between the gods and men, and the interpreter of the will of Ea, the god of wisdom.

In an old bilingual hymn he is thus addressed: “Thou art Merodach, the merciful lord who loves to raise the dead to life.” The expression is a remarkable one, and indicates that the Babylonians were already acquainted with a doctrine of the resurrection at an early period.

Merodach’s attribute of mercy is coupled with his power to raise the dead. The same expression occurs in another of these bilingual hymns, which I intend to discuss in a future Lecture…

“(Thou art) the king of the land, the lord of the world!

0 firstborn of Ea, omnipotent over heaven and earth.

0 mighty lord of mankind, king of (all) lands,

(Thou art) the god of gods,

(The prince) of heaven and earth who hath no rival,

The companion of Anu and Bel (Mul-lil),

The merciful one among the gods,

The merciful one who loves to raise the dead to life,

Merodach, king of heaven and earth,

King of Babylon, lord of E-Sagila,

King of E-Zida, king of E-makh-tilla (the supreme house of life),

Heaven and earth are thine!

The circuit of heaven and earth is thine,

The incantation that gives life is thine,

The breath that gives life is thine,

The holy writing of the mouth of the deep is thine:

Mankind, even the black-headed race (of Accad),

All living souls that have received a name, that exist in the world,

The four quarters of the earth wheresoever they are,

All the angel-hosts of heaven and earth

(Regard) thee and (lend to thee) an ear.”

[ … ]

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. 98-102.

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