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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.

Trinities versus Male-Female Dualism

“The early importance and supremacy of Erech in Semitic Babylonia caused its god to assume a place by the side of Ea of Eridu and Mul-lil, the older Bel. It is possible that the extension of his cult had already begun in Accadian days. The Ana, or Sky-god, to whom Gudea at Tel-loh erected a temple, may have been the Sky-god of Erech, more especially when we remember the connection that existed between Erech and Eridu on the one hand, and between Tel-loh and Eridu on the other.

However this may be, from the commencement of the Semitic period Anu appears as the first member of a triad which consisted of Anu, Bel or Mul-lil, and Ea. His position in the triad was due to the leading position held by Erech; the gods of Nipur and Eridu retained the rank which their time-honoured sanctity and the general extension of their cult had long secured to them; but the rank of Anu was derived from the city of which he was the presiding god.

The origin of the triad was thus purely accidental; there was nothing in the religious conceptions of the Babylonians which led to its formation. Once formed, however, it was inevitable that a cosmological colouring should be given to it, and that Anu, Bel and Ea, should represent respectively the heaven, the lower world and the watery element.

Later ages likened this cosmological trinity to the elemental trinity of the Sun, the Noon and the Evening Star; and below the triad of Anu, Bel and Ea, was accordingly placed the triad of of Samas, Sin and Istar. But this secondary trinity never attracted the Babylonian mind.

This finely cut seal depicts Ishtar, Mesopotamian goddess of sexuality and warfare.  Her strength as a warrior is stressed here, as she is shown with weapons rising from her shoulders. Ishtar appears to have been associated at an early period with the Sumerian goddess Inanna and both deities are depicted with symbols of fertility, such as the date palm, and of aggression, such as the lion.  This iconography survived relatively unchanged for over a thousand years. Here, Ishtar's astral quality is also emphasized: above her crown is a representation of the planet Venus.  In the first millennium BC more unusual stones were used to make seals: this one is made of green garnet, which may have come from northern Pakistan. British Museum, ME 89769, acquired 1835. D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder seals (London, The British Museum Press, 1987) H. Frankfort, Cylinder seals (London, Macmillan, 1939) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/g/garnet_cylinder_seal_ishtar.aspx

This finely cut seal depicts Ishtar, Mesopotamian goddess of sexuality and warfare.
Her strength as a warrior is stressed here, as she is shown with weapons rising from her shoulders.
Ishtar appears to have been associated at an early period with the Sumerian goddess Inanna and both deities are depicted with symbols of fertility, such as the date palm, and of aggression, such as the lion.
This iconography survived relatively unchanged for over a thousand years. Here, Ishtar’s astral quality is also emphasized: above her crown is a representation of the planet Venus.
In the first millennium BC more unusual stones were used to make seals: this one is made of green garnet, which may have come from northern Pakistan. British Museum, ME 89769, acquired 1835.
D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder seals (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)
H. Frankfort, Cylinder seals (London, Macmillan, 1939)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/g/garnet_cylinder_seal_ishtar.aspx

Up to the last, as we have seen, Sin continued to be the father of Samas and Istar, and Babylonian religion remained true to its primitive tendency to dualism, its separation of the divine world into male and female deities.

The only genuine trinity that can be discovered in the religious faith of early Chaldea was that old Accadian system which conceived of a divine father and mother by the side of their son the Sun-god.

The Semitic Anu necessarily produced the feminine Anat, and as necessarily Anat was identified with the earth as Anu was with the sky. In this way the Accadian idea of a marriage union between the earth and the sky was adapted to the newer Semitic beliefs. But we must not misunderstand the nature of the adaptation.

Anat never became an independent deity, as Dav-kina, for example, had been from the outset; she had no separate existence apart from Anu. She is simply a Bilat matati, “a mistress of the world,” or a Bilat ili, “a mistress of the gods,” like the wife of Bel or of Samas: she is, in fact, a mere colourless representation of the female principle in the universe, with no attributes that distinguish her from Anunit or Istar except the single one that she was the feminine form of Anu.

Goddess Ishtar, center, with wings, standing armed with one foot on a lion, her symbol.  The goddess is portrayed wearing the horned headdress of divinity and indistinct weaponry on her back.

Goddess Ishtar, center, with wings, standing armed with one foot on a lion, her symbol.
The goddess is portrayed wearing the horned headdress of divinity and indistinct weaponry on her back.

Hence it is that the Canaanites had not only their Ashtaroth, but their Anathoth as well, for the Anathoth or “Anats” differed from the Ashtaroth or “Ashtoreths” in little else than name. So far as she was an active power, Anat was the same as Istar; in all other respects she was merely the grammatical complement of Anu, the goddess who necessarily stood at the side of a particular god.”

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. 192-4.

On the Annunaki

“Hence it is that in a bilingual hymn the Anúnas of the lower world are called “the great gods;” while another text declares that while “the great gods are fifty in number, the gods of destiny are seven and the Anúna of heaven are five.”

Besides the five Anúnas of the heaven, there were the more famous Anúnas of the lower world, whose golden throne was placed in Hades by the side of the waters of life. They were called the Anú-na-ge, “the masters of the underworld,” a term which the Semites pronounced Anúnaki.

These Anúnaki were opposed to the Igigi or angels, the spirits of the upper air, and, the real origin of their name being forgotten, took the place of the older Anúnas.

In one of the texts I heve quoted, the Semitic translator not only renders the simple Anúnas by “Anúnaki,” he even speaks of the “Anúnaki of heaven,” which is a contradiction in terms.

Though Anunit was considered merely a local form of Istar (H.C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, 1886, 49, 12), the great temple of Ulbar–if that is the right pronunciation of the word–which had been erected by Zabu about B.C. 2340, preserved her special name and cult at Sippara, from whence it passed into Assyria.

Nabonidos tells us that he restored the temple

“for Anunit, the mistress of battle, the bearer of the bow and quiver, the accomplisher of the command of Bel her father, the sweeper away of the enemy, the destroyer of the wicked, who marches before the gods, who has made (his) omens favourable at sunrise and sunset.”

In calling her the lady of battle and daughter of Bel, Nabonidos identifies her with Istar, an identification which is made even more plain a few lines further on (col. iii. 42, 48-51), where he makes her the sister of Samas and daughter of Sin.

This identity of Anunit and Istar brings Sippara into close connection with Erech, the modern Warka, the city specially consecrated to the goddess of love.

Erech, we are told in the story of the plague-demon Nerra, was “the seat of Anu and Istar, the city of the choirs of the festival-girls and consecrated maidens of Istar,” where in E-Ana, “the house of heaven,” dwelt her priests, “the festival-makers who had devoted their manhood in order that men might adore the goddess, carrying swords, carrying razors, stout dresses and flint-knives,” “who minister to cause reverence for the glory of Istar.”

Erech, too, was the city with whose fortunes the legend of Gisdhubar (Gilgamesh) was associated; it was here that he slew the bull Anu had created to avenge the slight offered by him to Istar; and it was here in Uruk śuburi, “in Erech the shepherd’s hut,” that he exercised his sovereignty.

Erech is thus connected with the great epic of the Semitic Babylonians, and it is probable that its author, Siu-liqi- unnini, was a native of the place.

However this may be, Erech appears to have been one of the centres of Semitic influence in Babylonia from a very early period. The names of the kings stamped upon its oldest bricks bear Semitic names, and the extent to which the worship of Istar as developed at Erech spread through the Semitic world points to its antiquity as a Semitic settlement.”

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. 183-.5.

Sippara, Pantibibla, Book Town

“It was as Kur(?)-nigin-gára, “the god who makes the palace (of the setting sun),” that the Sun-god of Larsa seems to have been known to his worshippers in pre-Semitic days.

But when the Accadian was superseded by the Semite, his special name was merged in the general title of Samsu or Samas, “the Sun.” He became the Baal of Larsa, who differed but little, save in the name by which he was addressed, from the other Baalim of Babylonia.

The fame of the Samas of Larsa, however, was obscured at an early period by that of the Samas of Sippara. Sippara in historical times was pre-eminently the city of the Sun-god. It was there that Ê-Bábara, the house of lustre,” the great temple of the Sun-god, had been erected in days to which tradition alone went back, and it was around its shrine that Semitic sun-worship in Babylonia was chiefly centred.

Sippara and its immediate neighbourhood had been the seat of early Semitic supremacy in Chaldea. It was, it is true, of pre-Semitic foundation; its primitive name Zimbir would show this, like the name of E-Bábara itself; and we know that Samas had once been worshipped within its walls under the Accadian title of Bábara or Birra.

But in these remote days Sippara was probably an insignificant town; at all events, the memory of later ages knew of Sippara only in connection with the empire of Sargon of Accad and the Semitic version of the story of the Deluge.

In the Old Testament, Sippara appears as a dual city–Sepharvaim, “the two Sipparas.” One of these has been discovered in the mounds of Abu-Habba by Mr. Hormuzd Rassam, who has brought from it a monument on which is carved a curious image of the divine solar disk.

The other has been found by Dr. Hayes Ward in the mounds of Anbar, an hour’s distance from Sufeirah and the Euphrates.

The fragment of a geographical tablet seems indeed to mention no less than four Sipparas–Sippara proper, Sippara of the desert, Sippara “the ancient,” and Sippara of the Sun-god; but since the historical texts know of two only–Sippara of Anunit and Sippara of Samas--it is best to regard the three first names as alike denoting the same place, Sippara of Anunit, the modern Anbar.

It must have been from this Sippara that the Euphrates received its title, “river of Sippara,” since Abu-Habba is seven miles distant from the present bed of the stream.

In the close neighborhood of this double Sippara, Sargon built or restored the city to which he gave a name, and from which the whole of northern Babylonia received its title of Accad. It is called Agadhé in the non-Semitic texts, Accad (Akkadu) in the Semitic; though whether the name is of Semitic or non-Semitic origin cannot at present be decided.

Sargon’s patronage of literature, and the celebrated library he founded in Accad, caused the district to be known as “the region of books.” A popular etymology afterwards connected the name of Sippara itself with sepher, “a book,” and the city accordingly appears in the fragments of Berossos as Pantibibla, or “Book-town.”

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. 167-70.

Lady Ishtar, Goddess

Ishtar was undoubtedly a goddess of Semitic origin and symbolized the fertility of the earth. She was the great mother’ who fostered all vegetation and agriculture.

It is probable that her cult originated at Erech, and in the course of centuries and under many nominal changes dispersed itself throughout the length and breadth of western Asia and even into Greece and Egypt. It is probable that a number of lesser goddesses, such as Nana and Anunit, may have become merged in the conception of this divinity, and that lesser local deities of the same character as herself may have taken her name and assisted to swell her reputation.

She is frequently addressed as ‘mother of the gods,’ and indeed the name ‘Ishtar’ became a generic designation for ‘goddess.’ But these were later honours. When her cult centred at Erech, it appears to have speedily blossomed out in many directions, and, as has been said, lesser cults probably eagerly identified themselves with that of the great earth-mother, so that in time her worship became more than a Babylonian cult.

Indeed, wherever people of Semitic speech were to be found, there was the worship of Ishtar. As Ashteroth, or Astarte, she was known to Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Greeks, and there is some likelihood that the cult of Aphrodite had also its beginnings in that of Ishtar. We shall enquire later whether she can be the Esther of the Scriptures.

Astrologically she was identified with the planet Venus, but so numerous were the attributes surrounding her taken from other goddesses with which she had become identified that they threatened to overshadow her real character, which was that of the great and fertile mother. More especially did her identification with Nin-lil, the consort of En-lil, the storm-god, threaten to alter her real nature, as in this guise she was regarded as a goddess of war.

It is seldom that a goddess of fertility or love achieves such a distinction. Gods possessing an agricultural significance are nearly always war-gods, but that is because they bring the fertilizing thunder-clouds and therefore possess the lightning arrow or spear. But Ishtar is specifically a goddess of the class of Persephone or Isis, and her identification with battle must be regarded as purely accidental.

In later times in Assyria she was conceived as the consort of Asshur, head of the Assyrian pantheon, in days when a god or goddess who did not breathe war was of little use to a people like the Assyrians, who were constantly employed in hostilities, and this circumstance naturally heightened her reputation as a warlike divinity.

But it is at present her original character with which we are occupied, indeed in some texts we find that, so far from being able to protect herself, Ishtar and her property are made the prey of the savage En-lil, the storm-god.

“His word sent me forth,” she complains; “as often as it comes to me it casts me prostrate upon my face. The unconsecrated foe entered my courts, placed his unwashed hands upon me, and caused me to tremble. Putting forth his hand he smote me with fear. He tore away my robe and clothed his wife therein : he stripped off my jewels and placed them upon his daughter. Like a quivering dove upon a beam I sat. Like a fleeing bird from my cranny swiftly I passed. From my temple like a bird they caused me to fly.”

Such is the plaint of Ishtar, who in this case appears to be quite helpless before the enemy.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 123-5.

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