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Category: The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria

Cult of Sin, Moon God

“The cult of the moon-god was one of the most popular in Babylonia, the chief seat of his worship being at Uru (now Muqayyar) the Biblical Ur of the Chaldees. The origin of the name Sin is unknown, but it is thought that it may be a corruption of Zu-ena, “knowledge-lord,” as the compound ideograph expressing his name may be read and translated.

Besides this compound ideograph, the name of the god Sin was also expressed by the character for “30,” provided with the prefix of divinity, an ideograph which is due to the thirty days of the month, and is thought to be of late date.

With regard to Nannar, Jastrow explains it as being for Narnar, and renders it “light-producer.” In a long hymn to this god he is described in many lines as “the lord, prince of the gods, who in heaven alone is supreme,” and as “father Nannar.”

Among his other descriptive titles are “great Anu” (Sumerian /ana gale/, Semitic Babylonian /Anu rabû/)–another instance of the identification of two deities. He was also “lord of Ur,” “lord of the temple Gišnu-gala,” “lord of the shining crown,” etc.

He is also said to be “the mighty steer whose horns are strong, whose limbs are perfect, who is bearded with a beard of lapis-stone, [*] who is filled with beauty and fullness (of splendour).”

[*] Probably of the colour of lapis only, not made of the stone itself.

Besides Babylonia and Assyria, he was also worshipped in other parts of the Semitic east, especially at Harran, to which city Abraham migrated, scholars say, in consequence of the patron-deity being the same as at Ur of the Chaldees, where he had passed the earlier years of his life. The Mountain of Sinai and the Desert of Sin, both bear his name.

According to king Dungi (about 2700 B.C.), the spouse of Sin or Nannara was Nin-Uruwa, “the lady of Ur.” Sargon of Assyria (722-705 B.C.) calls her Nin-gala.

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 81-3.

Love, Babylonian-Style–The Tale of Ereš-ki-gal and Nerigal, Goddess and God of the Underworld

“As the prototype of Persephone, this goddess is one of much importance for comparative mythology, and there is a legend concerning her of considerable interest. The text is one of those found at Tel-el-Armana, in Egypt, and states that the gods once made a feast, and sent to Ereš-ki-gal, saying that, though they could go down to her, she could not ascend to them, and asking her to send a messenger to fetch away the food destined for her.

This she did, and all the gods stood up to receive her messenger, except one, who seems to have withheld this token of respect. The messenger, when he returned, apparently related to Ereš-ki-gal what had happened, and angered thereat, she sent him back to the presence of the gods, asking for the delinquent to be delivered to her, that she might kill him.

The gods then discussed the question of death with the messenger, and told him to take to his mistress the god who had not stood up in his presence.

When the gods were brought together, that the culprit might be recognised, one of them remained in the background, and on the messenger asking who it was who did not stand up, it was found to be Nerigal. This god was duly sent, but was not at all inclined to be submissive, for instead of killing him, as she had threatened, Ereš-ki-gal found herself seized by the hair and dragged from her throne, whilst the death-dealing god made ready to cut off her head.

“Do not kill me, my brother, let me speak to thee,” she cried, and on his loosing his hold upon her hair, she continued, “thou shalt be my husband, and I will be thy wife–I will cause you to take dominion in the wide earth. I will place the tablet of wisdom in thine hand–thou shalt be lord, I will be lady.”

Nerigal thereupon took her, kissed her, and wiped away her tears, saying, “Whatever thou hast asked me for months past now receives assent.”

Ereš-ki-gal did not treat her rival in the affections of Tammuz so gently when Ištar descended to Hades in search of the “husband of her youth.”

According to the story, not only was Ištar deprived of her garments and ornaments, but by the orders of Ereš-ki-gal, Namtar smote her with disease in all her members. It was not until the gods intervened that Ištar was set free.

The meaning of her name is “lady of the great region,” a description which is supposed to apply to Hades, and of which a variant, Ereš-ki-gal, “lady of the great house,” occurs in the Hymns to Tammuz in the Manchester Museum.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 78-9.

Nineveh, Cult Center of Ishtar Worship

“From the name /Nin/, which Ištar bore, there is hardly any doubt that she acquired the identification with Nina, which is provable as early as the time of the Lagašite kings, Lugal-anda and Uru-ka-gina.

As identified with Aruru, the goddess who helped Merodach to create mankind, Ištar was also regarded as the mother of all, and in the Babylonian story of the Flood, she is made to say that she had begotten man, but like “the sons of the fishes,” he filled the sea.

Nina, then, as another form of Ištar, was a goddess of creation, typified in the teeming life of the ocean, and her name is written with a character standing for a house or receptacle, with the sign for “fish” within.

Her earliest seat was the city of Nina in southern Babylonia, from which place, in all probability, colonists went northwards, and founded another shrine at Nineveh in Assyria, which afterwards became the great centre of her worship, and on this account the city was called after her Ninaa or Ninua.

As their tutelary goddess, the fishermen in the neighbourhood of the Babylonian Nina and Lagaš were accustomed to make to her, as well as to Innanna or Ištar, large offerings of fish.

As the masculine deities had feminine forms, so it is not by any means improbable that the goddesses had masculine forms, and if that be the case, we may suppose that it was a masculine counterpart of Nina who founded Nineveh, which, as is well known, is attributed to Ninos, the same name as Nina with the Greek masculine termination.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 75-6.

Cult of Ishtar

” … In all probability Ištar, the spouse of Tammuz, is best known from her descent into Hades in quest of him when with Persephone (Ereš-ki-gal) in the underworld.

In this she had to pass through seven gates, and an article of clothing was taken from her at each, until she arrived in the underworld quite naked, typifying the teaching, that man can take nothing away with him when he departs this life.

During her absence, things naturally began to go wrong upon the earth, and the gods were obliged to intervene, and demand her release, which was ultimately granted, and at each gate, as she returned, the adornments which she had left were given back to her. It is uncertain whether the husband whom she sought to release was set free, but the end of the inscription seems to imply that Ištar was successful in her mission.

In this story she typifies the faithful wife, but other legends show another side of her character, as in that of Gilgameš, ruler of her city Erech, to whom she makes love.

Gilgameš, however, knowing the character of the divine queen of his city too well, reproaches her with her treatment of her husband and her other lovers–Tammuz, to whom, from year to year, she caused bitter weeping; the bright coloured Allala bird, whom she smote and broke his wings; the lion perfect in strength, in whom she cut wounds “by sevens”; the horse glorious in war, to whom she caused hardship and distress, and to his mother Silili bitter weeping; the shepherd who provided for her things which she liked, whom she smote and changed to a jackal; Išullanu, her father’s gardener, whom she tried, apparently, to poison, but failing, she smote him, and changed him to a statue (?).

On being thus reminded of her misdeeds, Ištar was naturally angry, and, ascending to heaven, complained to her father Anu and her mother Anatu, the result being, that a divine bull was sent against Gilgameš and Enki-du, his friend and helper.

The bull, however, was killed, and a portion of the animal having been cut off, Enki-du threw it at the goddess, saying at the same time that, if he could only get hold of her, he would treat her similarly. Apparently Ištar recognised that there was nothing further to be done in the matter, so, gathering the hand-maidens, pleasure-women and whores, in their presence she wept over the portion of the divine bull which had been thrown at her.

The worship of Ištar, she being the goddess of love and war, was considerably more popular than that of her spouse, Tammuz, who, as among the western Semitic nations, was adored rather by the women than the men. Her worship was in all probability of equal antiquity, and branched out, so to say, in several directions, as may be judged by her many names, each of which had a tendency to become a distinct personality.

Thus the syllabaries give the character which represents her name as having also been pronounced /Innanna/, /Ennen/, and /Nin/, whilst a not uncommon name in other inscriptions is /Ama-Innanna/, “mother Ištar.”

The principal seat of her worship in Babylonia was at Erech, and in Assyria at Nineveh–also at Arbela, and many other places. She was also honoured (at Erech and elsewhere) under the Elamite names of Tišpak and Šušinak, “the Susian goddess.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 72-5.

Elements of the Cult of Tammuz

” … Whilst on earth, he was the one who nourished the ewe and her lamb, the goat and her kid, and also caused them to be slain–probably in sacrifice.

“He has gone, he has gone to the bosom of the earth,” the mourners cried, “he will make plenty to overflow for the land of the dead, for its lamentations for the day of his fall, in the unpropitious month of his year.”

There was also lamentation for the cessation of the growth of vegetation, and one of these hymns, after addressing him as the shepherd and husband of Ištar, “lord of the underworld,” and “lord of the shepherd’s seat,” goes on to liken him to a germ which has not absorbed water in the furrow, whose bud has not blossomed in the meadow; to the sapling which has not been planted by the watercourse, and to the sapling whose root has been removed.

In the “Lamentations” in the Manchester Museum, Ištar, or one of her devotees, seems to call for Tammuz, saying, “Return, my husband,” as she makes her way to the region of gloom in quest of him.

Ereš-ê-gala, “the lady of the great house” (Persephone), is also referred to, and the text seems to imply that Ištar entered her domain in spite of her. In this text other names are given to him, namely, /Tumu-giba/, “son of the flute,” /Ama-elaggi/, and /Ši-umunnagi/, “life of the people.”

The reference to sheep and goats in the British Museum fragment recalls the fact that in an incantation for purification the person using it is told to get the milk of a yellow goat which has been brought forth in the sheep-fold of Tammuz, recalling the flocks of the Greek sun-god Helios.

These were the clouds illuminated by the sun, which were likened to sheep–indeed, one of the early Sumerian expressions for “fleece” was “sheep of the sky.” The name of Tammuz in Sumerian is Dumu-zi, or in its rare fullest form, Dumu-zida, meaning “true” or “faithful son.” There is probably some legend attached to this which is at present unknown.

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 71-2.

The Myth of Tammuz, or Adonis

“The date of the rise of the myth of Tammuz is uncertain, but as the name of this god is found on tablets of the time of Lugal-anda and Uru-ka-gina (about 3500 B.C.), it can hardly be of later date than 4000 B.C., and may be much earlier.

As he is repeatedly called “the shepherd,” and had a domain where he pastured his flock, Professor Sayce sees in Tammuz “Daonus or Daos, the shepherd of Pantibibla,” who, according to Berosus, ruled in Babylonia for 10 /sari/, or 36,000 years, and was the sixth king of the mythical period.

According to the classic story, the mother of Tammuz had unnatural intercourse with her own father, being urged thereto by Aphrodite whom she had offended, and who had decided thus to avenge herself.

Being pursued by her father, who wished to kill her for this crime, she prayed to the gods, and was turned into a tree, from whose trunk Adonis was afterwards born.

Aphrodite was so charmed with the infant that, placing him in a chest, she gave him into the care of Persephone, who, however, when she discovered what a treasure she had in her keeping, refused to part with him again.

Zeus was appealed to, and decided that for four months in the year Adonis should be left to himself, four should be spent with Aphrodite, and four with Persephone; or, as a variant account makes it, he should spend six months with Persephone, and six with Aphrodite on earth. He was afterwards slain, whilst hunting, by a wild boar.

Nothing has come down to us as yet concerning this legend except the incident of his dwelling in Hades, whither Ištar, the Babylonian Venus, went in search of him.

It is not by any means unlikely, however, that the whole story existed in Babylonia, and thence spread to Phœnicia, and afterwards to Greece. In Phœnicia it was adapted to the physical conditions of the country, and the place of Tammuz’s encounter with the boar was said to be the mountains of Lebanon, whilst the river named after him, Adonis (now the Nahr Ibrahim), which ran red with the earth washed down by the autumn rains, was said to be so coloured in consequence of being mingled with his blood.

The descent of Tammuz to the underworld, typified by the flowing down of the earth-laden waters of the rivers to the sea, was not only celebrated by the Phœnicians, but also by the Babylonians, who had at least two series of lamentations which were used on this occasion, and were probably the originals of those chanted by the Hebrew women in the time of Ezekiel (about 597 B.C.).”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 69-70.

Were the Babylonian Kings … Gods?

“Though there is no proof that ancestor-worship in general prevailed at any time in Babylonia, it would seem that the worship of heroes and prominent men was common, at least in early times.

The tenth chapter of Genesis tells us of the story of Nimrod, who cannot be any other than the Merodach of the Assyro-Babylonian inscriptions; and other examples, occurring in semi-mythological times, are /En-we-dur-an-ki/, the Greek Edoreschos, and /Gilgameš/, the Greek Gilgamos, though Aelian’s story of the latter does not fit in with the account as given by the inscriptions.

In later times, the divine prefix is found before the names of many a Babylonian ruler–Sargon of Agadé,[*] Dungi of Ur (about 2500 B.C.), Rim-Sin or Eri-Aku (Arioch of Ellasar, about 2100 B.C.), and others.

It was doubtless a kind of flattery to deify and pay these rulers divine honours during their lifetime, and on account of this, it is very probable that their godhood was utterly forgotten, in the case of those who were strictly historical, after their death.

The deification of the kings of Babylonia and Assyria is probably due to the fact, that they were regarded as the representatives of God upon earth, and being his chief priests as well as his offspring (the personal names show that it was a common thing to regard children as the gifts of the gods whom their father worshipped), the divine fatherhood thus attributed to them naturally could, in the case of those of royal rank, give them a real claim to divine birth and honours.

An exception is the deification of the Babylonian Noah, Ut-napištim, who, as the legend of the Flood relates, was raised and made one of the gods by Aa or Ea, for his faithfulness after the great catastrophe, when he and his wife were translated to the “remote place at the mouth of the rivers.”

The hero Gilgameš, on the other hand, was half divine by birth, though it is not exactly known through whom his divinity came.”

[*] According to Nabonidus’s date 3800 B.C., though many Assyriologists regard this as being a millennium too early.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 13-4.

Was Marduk the Founder of Astronomy?

“In consequence of the determinative prefix for a god or a goddess being, in the oldest form, a picture of an eight-rayed star, it has been assumed that Assyro-Babylonian mythology is, either wholly or partly, astral in origin.

This, however, is by no means certain, the character for “star” in the inscriptions being a combination of three such pictures, and not a single sign. The probability therefore is, that the use of the single star to indicate the name of a divinity arises merely from the fact that the character in question stands for /ana/, “heaven.”

Deities were evidently thus distinguished by the Babylonians because they regarded them as inhabitants of the realms above–indeed, the heavens being the place where the stars are seen, a picture of a star was the only way of indicating heavenly things.

That the gods of the Babylonians were in many cases identified with the stars and planets is certain, but these identifications seem to have taken place at a comparatively late date. An exception has naturally to be made in the case of the sun and moon, but the god Merodach, if he be, as seems certain, a deified Babylonian king, must have been identified with the stars which bear his name after his worshippers began to pay him divine honours as the supreme deity, and naturally what is true for him may also be so for the other gods whom they worshipped.

The identification of some of the deities with stars or planets is, moreover, impossible, and if Êa, the god of the deep, and Anu, the god of the heavens, have their representatives among the heavenly bodies, this is probably the result of later development.[*]

[*] If there be any historical foundation for the statement that Merodach arranged the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars, assigning to them their proper places and duties–a tradition which would make him the founder of the science of astronomy during his life upon earth–this, too, would tend to the probability that the origin of the gods of the Babylonians was not astral, as has been suggested, but that their identification with the heavenly bodies was introduced during the period of his reign.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 11-3.

Origins of the Jews?

“Babylonia, on the other hand, continued the even tenor of her way. More successful at the end of her independent political career than her northern rival had been, she retained her faith, and remained the unswerving worshipper of Merodach, the great god of Babylon, to whom her priests attributed yet greater powers, and with whom all the other gods were to all appearance identified.

This tendency to monotheism, however, never reached the culminating point–never became absolute–except, naturally, in the minds of those who, dissociating themselves, for philosophical reasons, from the superstitious teaching of the priests of Babylonia, decided for themselves that there was but one God, and worshipped Him.

That orthodox Jews at that period may have found, in consequence of this monotheistic tendency, converts, is not by any means improbable–indeed, the names met with during the later period imply that converts to Judaism were made.

Thus we see, from the various inscriptions, both Babylonian and Assyrian–the former of an extremely early period–the growth and development, with at least one branching off, of one of the most important religious systems of the ancient world.

It is not so important for modern religion as the development of the beliefs of the Hebrews, but as the creed of the people from which the Hebrew nation sprang, and from which, therefore, it had its beginnings, both corporeal and spiritual, it is such as no student of modern religious systems can afford to neglect.

Its legends, and therefore its teachings, as will be seen in these pages, ultimately permeated the Semitic West, and may in some cases even had penetrated Europe, not only through heathen Greece, but also through the early Christians, who, being so many centuries nearer the time of the Assyro-Babylonians, and also nearer the territory which they anciently occupied, than we are, were far better acquainted than the people of the present day with the legends and ideas which they possessed.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 7-9.

Primacy of Marduk of Babylon

“Of equal antiquity with the religion of Egypt, that of Babylonia and Assyria possesses some marked differences as to its development.

Beginning among the non-Semitic Sumero-Akkadian population, it maintained for a long time its uninterrupted development, affected mainly by influences from within, namely, the homogeneous local cults which acted and reacted upon each other.

The religious systems of other nations did not greatly affect the development of the early non-Semitic religious system of Babylonia. A time at last came, however, when the influence of the Semitic inhabitants of Babylonia and Assyria was not to be gainsaid, and from that moment, the development of their religion took another turn.

In all probably this augmentation of Semitic religious influence was due to the increased numbers of the Semitic population, and at the same period the Sumero-Akkadian language began to give way to the Semitic idiom which they spoke.

When at last the Semitic Babylonian language came to be used for official documents, we find that, although the non-Semitic divine names are in the main preserved, a certain number of them have been displaced by the Semitic equivalent names, such as Šamaš for the sun-god, with Kittu and Mêšaru (“justice and righteousness”) his attendants; Nabú (“the teacher” = Nebo) with his consort Tašmêtu (“the hearer”); Addu, Adad, or Dadu, and Rammanu, Ramimu, or Ragimu = Hadad or Rimmon (“the thunderer”); Bêl and Bêltu (Beltis = “the lord” and “the lady” /par excellence/), with some others of inferior rank.

In place of the chief divinity of each state at the head of each separate pantheon, the tendency was to make Merodach, the god of the capital city Babylon, the head of the pantheon, and he seems to have been universally accepted in Babylonia, like Aššur in Assyria, about 2000 B.C. or earlier.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 4-5.

Babylonian Religion

” … Outside the inscriptions of Babylonia and Assyria, there is but little bearing upon the religion of those countries, the most important fragment being the extracts from Berosus and Damascius referred to above.

Among the Babylonian and Assyrian remains, however, we have an extensive and valuable mass of material, dating from the fourth or fifth millennium before Christ until the disappearance of the Babylonian system of writing about the beginning of the Christian era.

The earlier inscriptions are mostly of the nature of records, and give information about the deities and the religion of the people in the course of descriptions of the building and rebuilding of temples, the making of offerings, the performance of ceremonies, etc.

Purely religious inscriptions are found near the end of the third millennium before Christ, and occur in considerable numbers, either in the original Sumerian text, or in translations, or both, until about the third century before Christ.

Among the more recent inscriptions–those from the library of the Assyrian king Aššur-bani-âpli and the later Babylonian temple archives–there are many lists of deities, with numerous identifications with each other and with the heavenly bodies, and explanations of their natures.

It is needless to say that all this material is of enormous value for the study of the religion of the Babylonians and Assyrians, and enables us to reconstruct at first hand their mythological system, and note the changes which took place in the course of their long national existence.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 2-4.

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