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Tag: Ashtoreth

The Rites of Ishtar

“Her worship was a reflexion of that worship of nature which underlay the Semitic conception of Baalism. The fierce passions excited by an Eastern sun found their expression in it.

Prostitution became a religious duty, whose wages were consecrated to the goddess of love. She was served by eunuchs and by trains of men and boys who dressed like women and gave themselves up to women’s pursuits.

Ishtar in terracotta relief, early 2nd millennium BC., Eshnunna. Currently in the Louvre. Department of Near Eastern antiquities, Richelieu, ground floor, room 3, case 6 Accession numberAO 12456 Purchased 1930 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ishtar_Eshnunna_Louvre_AO12456.jpg

Ishtar in terracotta relief, early 2nd millennium BC., Eshnunna.
Currently in the Louvre.
Department of Near Eastern antiquities, Richelieu, ground floor, room 3, case 6
Accession number AO 12456
Purchased 1930
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ishtar_Eshnunna_Louvre_AO12456.jpg

Istar, in fact, had ceased to be the “pure” goddess of the evening star. The other elements in her hybrid character had come to the front, aided by the Semitic conception of the female side of the divinity. She was now the fruitful goddess of the earth, teeming with fertility, the feminine development of the life-giving Sun-god, the patroness of love.

The worshipper who would serve her truly had to share with her her pains and pleasures. Only thus could he live the divine life, and be, as it were, united with the deity. It was on this account that the women wept with Istar each year over the fatal wound of Tammuz; it was on this account that her temples were filled with the victims of sexual passion and religious frenzy, and that her festivals were scenes of consecrated orgies.

The Burney Relief, Babylon (1800-1750 BCE). The figure in the relief was sometimes identified with Lilith, based on a misreading of an outdated translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Modern research has identified the figure as either Ishtar or Ereshkigal. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Burney_Relief_Babylon_-1800-1750.JPG

The Burney Relief, Babylon (1800-1750 BCE). The figure in the relief was sometimes identified with Lilith, based on a misreading of an outdated translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Modern research has identified the figure as either Ishtar or Ereshkigal.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Burney_Relief_Babylon_-1800-1750.JPG

As the worship of the goddess spread westward, the revolting features connected with it spread at the same time. The prophets of Israel denounce the abominations committed in honour of Ashtoreth and Baal within the sacred walls of Jerusalem itself; the Greek writers stand aghast at the violations of social decency enjoined as religious duties on the adorers of the oriental Aphroditê; and Lucian himself–if Lucian indeed be the author of the treatise–is shocked at the self-mutilation practised before the altar of the Syrian goddess of Hieropolis.

From Syria, the cult, with all its rites, made its way, like that of Attys-Adonis, to the populations beyond the Taurus. At Komana in Kappadokia, the goddess Ma was ministered to by 6000 eunuch-priests, and the Galli of Phrygia rivalled the priests of Baal and Ashtoreth in cutting their arms with knives, in scourging their backs, and in piercing their flesh with darts.

The worship of the fierce powers of nature, at once life-giving and death-dealing, which required from the believer a sympathetic participation in the sufferings and pleasures of his deities, produced alternate outbursts of frenzied self-torture and frenzied lust.

There was, however, a gentler side to the worship of Istar. The cult of a goddess who watched over the family bond and whose help was ever assured to the faithful in his trouble, could not but exercise a humanising influence, however much that influence may have been sullied by the excesses of the popular religion.

But there were many whose higher and finer natures were affected only by the humanising influence and not by the popular faith. Babylonia does not seem to have produced any class of men like the Israelitish prophets; but it produced cultivated scribes and thinkers, who sought and found beneath the superstitions of their countrymen a purer religion and a more abiding form of faith.

Istar was to them a divine “mother,” the goddess who had begotten mankind, and who cared for their welfare with a mother’s love.”

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. 266-7.

Morning Star, Evening Star, Ishtar

“Already, before the days of Sargon of Accad and the compilation of the great Babylonian work on astronomy, it had been discovered that the evening and morning stars were one and the same.

Not only, therefore, was Istar the evening star, the companion of the moon; she became also the morning star, the companion and herald of the sun.

It was thus that she assumed the attributes and titles of a male deity, since Dun-khud-e, “the hero who issues forth at daybreak,” was both a god and the morning star. As the morning star, therefore, Istar was a god and the successor of a god, so that it is not wonderful if the bewildered Semite, who found no visible sign of gender in the name of the divinity he had adopted, should sometimes have regarded Istar as the masculine form of Ashtoreth.

Nebo in the British Museum.

Nebo in the British Museum.

Some of the early Accadian titles of Istar belong to her as the star of the morning, though the title of “Lady of Rising,” given her as “the wife of Anu” (H.C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, 1886, ii. 54,15), would apply equally to the evening star.

In making her the wife of the Sky-god, the mythologists were only expressing in another way what the poet of the legend of the seven evil spirits had denoted by saying that Istar set up her throne by the side of Anu.

Messenger of the gods, Nebo. From a statute in the British Museum.  George Rawlinson - Source: Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 1. (1875) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0018

Messenger of the gods, Nebo. From a statute in the British Museum.
George Rawlinson – Source: Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 1. (1875)
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0018

More usually, however, the relation between Istar and Anu was regarded as a genetic one; she was the daughter, rather than the wife, of the Sky. At times, again, she is called the daughter of the Moon-god, the Moon-god being here the larger body which begets the smaller star.

It is possible that these different views about her descent are derived from different centres of worship; that which made her the daughter of Sin having its origin in Ur, while that which made her the daughter of Anu emanated from Erech.

At any rate, her connection with the Moon-god seems to have been the more popular view in Semitic times.

As a planet, Istar’s ordinary name was the Accadian Dilbat, or “Announcer.” One of the smaller cities of Babylonia had the same name, and was probably the chief seat of the worship of the goddess under this particular form. It is obvious that the name must have been originally applied not to the evening but to the morning star.

It was only as the announcer of day and the herald of the sun that Venus could be the Accadian representative of the Semitic Nebo. The other messengers of the gods were male: and in Semitic times the fact that there had once been a female messenger was forgotten.

The name of Dilbat, it is true, remained, but only as the name of a star; the place of lstar as the herald of the Sun-god was taken, at Babylon at all events, by Nebo.

It is possible that the records of the city of Dilbat, if ever they are recovered, will show us that this was the primal home of the name of Istar itself, and the centre from which it first spread. If so, however, it was little more than the primal home of the goddess’s name.

The real source and centre of the worship of Istar at the dawn of the historical period, the starting-point from which it was handed on to the Semites and became overlaid with Semitic beliefs and practices, was not Dilbat, but Erech.

In the days when Erech had been a leading state, when the cult of the Sky-god had been carried by its people to other parts of the Eastern world, the cult of Istar also had been carried with it. Wherever the worship of Anu had gone, the worship of Istar, the daughter of Anu, went too.”

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. 258-60.

The Avarice of Ishtar

“Away from Accadian influences, in the Phoenician lands of the west, the character, like the name, of the goddess was more closely accommodated to Semitic ideas. Istar had become Ashtoreth, and Ashtoreth had put on the colourless character of the Semitic goddess.

Hence it was that, just as Baal became the common designation of the male deity, Ashtoreth was the common designation of the female. By the side of the Baalim stood the Ashtaroth–those goddesses whose sole right to exist was the necessity of providing the male divinity with a consort.

Ashêrah, the southern Canaanitish goddess of fertility, alone retained some of the independence of the Babylonian Istar.

In the second place, there is a very important difference between the Istar of Babylonia and the Ashtoreth of Phoenicia. Ashtoreth was the goddess of the moon; Istar was not. It was in the west alone that Astartê was

“Queen of heaven with crescent horns;

To whose bright image nightly by the moon

Sidonian virgins paid their vows and songs.”

It was in the west alone that the shrine was erected to Ashtoreth Karnaim, “Ashtoreth of the double horn;” and Greek legend described the wandering Astartê, the name of Eurôpa, crossing the celestial sea on the bull that Anu had created for her so long before to punish the disdainful Gisdhubar.

In Babylonia and Assyria, however, Istar and the moon were separate one from another. The moon was conceived of as a god, not as a goddess, in conformity with pre-Semitic ideas; and the Moon-god Sin was never confounded with the goddess Istar.

I am unsure of the provenance of this drawing of a seal impression.  The goddess Istar appears at far left, the vault of the heavens at her back, identified by her idiosyncratic eight-pointed star atop her head.  The Moon God Sin is depicted at center, denoted by his inverted crescent moon.

I am unsure of the provenance of this drawing of a seal impression.
The goddess Istar appears at far left, the vault of the heavens at her back, identified by her idiosyncratic eight-pointed star atop her head.
The Moon God Sin is depicted at center, denoted by his inverted crescent moon.

It must have been the same wherever the worship of Sin extended, whether in Harran in the north or in Yemen and the Sinaitic desert in the south. But the worship never made its way to Canaan. Sin failed to establish himself there, and the moon accordingly remained the pale mirror and double of the mightier Baal.

The Semites of Phoenicia were too distant from the cultured kingdoms of the Euphrates to allow their religious instincts to be overridden and transformed. The name and cult of were indeed introduced among them, but a new interpretation was given to both. Istar sank to the level and took the place of the older goddesses of the Canaanitish faith.

Perhaps you will ask me what is the meaning of the name of Istar? This, however, is a question which I cannot answer. The Babylonians of the historical age do not seem to have known what was its origin, and it is therefore quite useless for us to speculate on the subject.

Iraq Akkadian Period Reign of Naramsin or Sharkalishari, ca. 2254-2193 B.C. Black stone Purchased in New York, 1947 Oriental Institute Museum A27903 This cylinder seal was dedicated to a little-known goddess, Ninishkun, who is shown interceding on the owner's behalf with the great goddess Ishtar.  Ishtar places her right foot upon a roaring lion, which she restrains with a leash. The scimitar in her left hand and the weapons sprouting from her winged shoulders signify her war-like character. https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Iraq
Akkadian Period
Reign of Naramsin or Sharkalishari, ca. 2254-2193 B.C.
Black stone
Purchased in New York, 1947
Oriental Institute Museum A27903
This cylinder seal was dedicated to a little-known goddess, Ninishkun, who is shown interceding on the owner’s behalf with the great goddess Ishtar.
Ishtar places her right foot upon a roaring lion, which she restrains with a leash. The scimitar in her left hand and the weapons sprouting from her winged shoulders signify her war-like character.
https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Its true etymology was buried in the night of antiquity. But its earliest application appears to have been to the evening star. This is the oldest signification that we can assign to the word, which by the way, it may be noticed, does not occur in any of the Accadian texts that we possess.

The legend of the assault of the seven wicked spirits upon the moon tells us pretty clearly who the goddess Istar was primarily supposed to be. Mul-lil, it is said, “had appointed Sin, Samas and Istar, to rule the vault of heaven,” and,

“…along with Anu, had given them to share the lordship of the hosts of heaven.

To the three of them, those gods his children, he had entrusted the night and the day; that they cease not their work he urged them.

Then those seven, the wicked gods, darted upon the vault of heaven; before Sin, the god of light, they came in fierce attack; Samas the hero and Rimmon the warrior turned and fled; Istar set up a glittering throne by the side of Anu the king, and plotted for the sovereignty of heaven.”

Thus once more the mythologist gives the goddess an unfavorable character, though it is easy to see what the story means. When the moon is eclipsed, the evening star has no longer any rival in the sky; it shines with increased brilliancy, and seems to meditate ruling the night alone, in company only with the heaven itself.”

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. 255-8.

Conflation of Resurrection Gods Tammuz, Adonis, and Osiris

“In later times, after the revolt of Egypt from the Assyrian king and the rise of the 26th Dynasty, the cult of Adonis at Gebal entered upon a new phase.

Egyptian beliefs and customs made their way into Phoenicia along with Egyptian political influence, and the story of Adonis was identified with that of the Egyptian Osiris. As the Sun-god Osiris had been slain and had risen again from the dead, so, too, had the Phoenician Adonis descended into Hades and been rescued again from its grasp.

Osiris on a lapis lazuli pillar in the middle, flanked by Horus on the left and Isis on the right (22nd dynasty, Louvre, Paris). Public Domain Uploaded by Borislav Created: between 874 and 850 BC (Twenty-second dynasty) Guillaume Blanchard, Own work, July 2004,  Osiris, Isis and Horus: pendant bearing the name of King Osorkon II http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osiris#/media/File:Egypte_louvre_066.jpg

Osiris on a lapis lazuli pillar in the middle, flanked by Horus on the left and Isis on the right (22nd dynasty, Louvre, Paris).
Public Domain
Uploaded by Borislav
Created: between 874 and 850 BC (Twenty-second dynasty)
Guillaume Blanchard, Own work, July 2004,
Osiris, Isis and Horus: pendant bearing the name of King Osorkon II
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osiris#/media/File:Egypte_louvre_066.jpg

 How long, indeed, he had remained in the world below was a matter of doubt. There were some who said that he shared half the year with the goddess of death, and the other half only with the goddess of love; there were others who declared that his year was divided into three–four months was he condemned to dwell in Hades, four months he was free to live where he might choose, while the other four were passed in the companionship of Ashtoreth, and that it was to Ashtoreth that he devoted his months of freedom.

But all agreed that the Sun-god of spring was not compelled to live for ever in the gloomy under-world; a time came when he and nature would alike revive. It was inevitable, therefore, that in the days of Egyptianising fashion, Adonis and Osiris should be looked upon as the same god, and that the festival of Adonis at Gebal should be assimilated to that of Osiris in Egypt.

And so it came about that a new feature was added to the festival of Adonis; the days of mourning were succeeded by days of rejoicing; the death of Adonis was followed by the announcement of his resurrection.

A head of papyrus came from Egypt over the waves; while, on the other hand, an Alexandrian legend told how the mourning Isis had found again at Gebal the chest in which the dismembered limbs of Osiris were laid.

It is clear that the Babylonian poet who sang of the descent of Istar into Hades had no conception of a festival of joy that followed immediately upon a festival of mourning. Nevertheless, the whole burden of his poem is the successful journey of the goddess into the under-world for the sake of the precious waters which should restore her beloved one to life.

Even in Babylonia, therefore, there must have been a season when the name of Tammuz was commemorated, not with words of woe, but with joy and rejoicing. But it could have been only when the fierce heats of the summer were past; when the northern wind, which the Accadians called “the prospering one,” began again to blow; and when the Sun-god regained once more the vigour of his spring-tide youth.

That there had once been a festival of this kind is indicated by the fact that the lamentations for his death did not take place in all parts of Syria at the same time. We learn from Ammianus that when Julian arrived at Antioch in the late autumn, he found the festival of Adonis being celebrated “according to ancient usage,” after the in-gathering of the harvest and before the beginning of the new year, in Tisri or October.

It must have been in the autumn, too, that the feast of Hadad-Rimmon was observed, to which Zechariah alludes; and Ezekiel saw the women weeping for Tammuz in “the sixth month.” Nay, Macrobius even tells us that the Syrian worshippers of Adonis in his time explained the boar’s tusk which had slain the god as the cold and darkness of winter, his return to the upper world being his “victory over the first six zodiacal signs, along with the lengthening day-light.”

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. 229-31.

The Lamentations for Tammuz

“On the one hand, we now know who was that Tammuz in whose honour Ezekiel saw the women of Jerusalem weeping at the gate of “the Lord’s house.”

On the other hand, it is clear that the Tammuz and Istar of the Babylonian legend are the Adonis and Aphrodite of Greek mythology. Like Tammuz, Adonis, the beloved one of Aphrodite, is slain by the boar’s tusk of winter, but eventually ransomed from Hades by the prayers of the goddess.

It has long been recognised that Aphrodite, the Kyprian goddess of love and war, came to Hellas from Phoenicia, whether or not we agree with Dr. Hommel in seeing in her name a mere etymological perversion of the Phoenician Ashtoreth.

Adonis is the Phoenician Adoni, “my lord,” the cry with which the worshippers of the stricken Sun-god mourned his untimely descent into the lower world.

The cry was familiar throughout the land of Palestine. In the valley of Megiddo, by the plain of Jezreel, each year witnessed “the mourning for Hadad-Rimmon” (Zechariah xii. ll),while hard by Amos heard the men of Israel mourning for “the only son” (Amos viii. lo), and the prophet of Judah gives the very words of the refrain: “Ah me, my brother, and ah me, my sister! Ah me, Adonis, and ah me, his lady!” (Jeremiah xxii. 18).

Monument funéraire, Adonis mourant: Museu Gregoriano Etrusco, Vatican. Uploaded by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adonis#/media/File:0_Monument_funéraire_-_Adonis_mourant_-_Museu_Gregoriano_Etrusco.JPG

Monument funéraire, Adonis mourant: Museu Gregoriano Etrusco, Vatican.
Uploaded by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adonis#/media/File:0_Monument_funéraire_-_Adonis_mourant_-_Museu_Gregoriano_Etrusco.JPG

 The words were carried across the western sea to men of an alien race and language. “Cry ailinon, ailinon! woe!” says the Greek poet of Athens, and already in Homeric days the dirge was attributed to a mythic Linos whose magic fate was commemorated in its opening words: “0 Linos, Linos!”

Linos, however, had no existence except in a popular etymology; the Greek ailinos is in reality the Phoenician ai-lénu, “alas for us!” with which the lamentations for the death of the divine Adonis were wont to begin.

Like the refrain quoted by Jeremiah, the words eventually go back to Babylonia, and find their counterpart in the closing lines of the old Babylonian poem I have translated above. When Tillili commences her wail over the dead Tammuz, she cries, like the women of Judah and Phoenicia, “0 my brother, the only one!”

It was, above all, in the Phoenician town of Gebal or Byblos that the death of Adonis was commemorated. Here, eight miles to the north of Beyrût, the ancient military road led from eastern Asia to the shores of the Mediterranean, and brought from early days the invading armies of Babylonia and Assyria to the coasts and cities of Canaan.

Hard by was the river of Adonis, the Nahr Ibrahim of to-day, which rolled through a rocky gorge into the sea. Each year, when the rains and melting snow of spring stained its waters with the red marl of the mountains, the people of Gebal beheld in it the blood of the slaughtered Sun-god.

It was then, in the month of Tammuz or June, that the funeral-festival of the god was held. For seven days it lasted. “Gardens of Adonis,” as they were called, were planted, pots filled with earth and cut herbs, which soon withered away in the fierce heat of the summer sun–fitting emblems of the lost Adonis himself.

Meanwhile, the streets and gates of the temples were filled with throngs of wailing women. They tore their hair, they disfigured the face, they cut the breast with sharp knives, in token of the agony of their grief.

Their cry of lamentation went up to Heaven mingled with that of the Galli, the emasculated priests of Ashtoreth, who shared with them their festival of woe over her murdered bridegroom.

Adonis, the young, the beautiful, the beloved of Ashtoreth, was dead; the bright sun of the springtide, like the verdure of nature which he had called into life, was slain and withered by the hot blasts of the summer.”

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. 227-9.

On Dagon, Anu, Ishtar

In the Assyrian inscriptions Anu is coupled with Dagan, “the exalted one,” whose female consort seems to have been Dalas or Salas.

Thus Assur-natsir-pal calls himself “the beloved of Anu and Dagon;” and Sargon asserts that he “had extended his protection over the city of Harran, and, according to the ordinance of Anu and Dagon, had written down their laws.”

Here Dagan or Dagon is associated with Harran, the half-way house, as it were, between the Semites of Babylonia and the Semites of the west. From Harran we can trace his name and cult to Phoenicia.

Beth-Dagon was a city of Asher, in the neighbourhood of Tyre and Zidon (Joshua xix. 27), and the fragments of Philôn Byblios, the Greek translator of the Phoenician writer Sankhuniathon, tell us expressly that Dagon was a Phoenician god.

That the statement is genuine is made clear by the false etymology assigned to the name, from the Semitic dâgân, “corn.” But it was among the Philistines in the extreme south of Palestine that the worship of Dagon attained its chief importance.

Here he appears to have been exalted into a Baal, and to have become the supreme deity of the confederate Philistine towns. We hear of his temples at Gaza (Joshua xvi. 21-30) and at Ashdod (1 Samuel v. 1 sp.), as well as of a town of Beth-Dagon, and we gather from the account given of his image that he was represented as a man with head and hands.

The goddess Ishtar, wearing the horned headdress of divinity, with spears and maces on her back. The goddess is winged, and stands with her foot upon a lion, her sacred animal.

The goddess Ishtar, wearing the horned headdress of divinity, with spears and maces on her back. The goddess is winged, and stands with her foot upon a lion, her sacred animal.

It is probable that the worship of Anu migrated westward along with the worship of Istar. The god and goddess of Erech could not well be dissociated from one another, and the spread of the worship of the goddess among the Semitic tribes brought with it the spread of the worship of the god also.

Detail of the goddess Ishtar. From a cylinder seal in the British Museum.

Detail of the goddess Ishtar. From a cylinder seal in the British Museum.

I am inclined to think that this must be placed at least as early as the age of Sargon of Accad. The worship of Istar found its way to all the branches of the Semitic family except the Arabic; and, as we shall see in a future Lecture, the form of the name Ashtoreth, given to the goddess in Canaan, raises a presumption that this was due, not to the campaigns of the early Babylonian kings, but to the still earlier migrations of the Semitic population towards the west.

Ishtar, goddess of sexuality and warfare. She appears frequently on seals, relief carvings, and in descriptions as a mighty warrior who protects the king.  Ishtar was 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

Ishtar, goddess of sexuality and warfare. She appears frequently on seals, relief carvings, and in descriptions as a mighty warrior who protects the king.
Ishtar was 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

The old sky-god of the Accadians must have become the Semitic Anu at a very remote period indeed.

But it was the sky-god of Erech only. It does not follow that where the divine Ana, or “sky,” is mentioned in the Accadian texts, the god who became the Semitic Anu is referred to, even though the Semitic translators of the texts imagined that such was the case.

There were numerous temples in Chaldea into whose names the name of the deified sky entered, but in most cases this deified sky was not the sky-god of Erech. It is only where the names have been given in Semitic times, or where the Accadian texts are the production of Semitic literati composing in the sacred language of the priests, like the monks of the Middle Ages, that we may see the Anu of the mythological tablets.

Without doubt the Semitic scribes have often confounded their Anu with the local sky-god of the ancient documents, but this should only make us the more cautious in dealing with their work.”

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. 188-90.

The God Assur

“The transference of the centre of power from Assur to Nineveh made the anthropomorphic side of Assur’s nature still more prominent. He represented now the whole nation and the central power which governed the nation. He was thus the representative at once of the people and of the king in whose hands the government of the people was centred.

Assyria became “the land of the god Assur,” belonging to him in much the same way as the city of Babylon belonged to Bel-Merodach. But whereas Bel-Merodach was the Baal of a particular city only, Assur was, like the Yahveh of Israel, the national god of a race.

There was yet another respect in which Assur resembled the Yahveh of Israel. There was no goddess Assurritu by the side of Assur, as there was an Anatu by the side of Anu, a Beltis by the side of Bel. If, in imitation of Babylonian usage, Bilat or Beltis is sometimes addressed as the consort of Assur, it is simply a literary affectation; Assur was not a Bel or Baal, like Merodach.

Bilat is a Babylonian goddess; she is properly the wife of the older Bel, in later times identified with Zarpanit. There is no indication that Assur had a “face” or reflection; he stands by himself, and the inspiration received from him by the Assyrian kings is received from him alone. When a female divinity is invoked along with him, it is the equally independent goddess Istar or Ashtoreth.

We possess a list of the deities whose images stood in the temples of Assur at Assur and Nineveh.

At the head of each list the name of Assur is thrice invoked, and once his name is followed by that of Istar. There was, in fact, a special form of Istar, under which she was worshipped as “the Istar of Nineveh;” but the form was purely local, not national, arising from the existence there of a great temple dedicated to her. There was no national goddess to place by the side of the national god.

Assur consequently differs from the Babylonian gods, not only in the less narrowly local character that belongs to him, but also in his solitary nature. He is “king of all gods” in a sense in which none of the deities of Babylonia were.

He is like the king of Assyria himself, brooking no rival, allowing neither wife nor son to share in the honours which he claims for himself alone. He is essentially a jealous god, and as such sends forth his Assyrian adorers to destroy his unbelieving foes. Wife-less, childless, he is mightier than the Babylonian Baalim; less kindly, perhaps, less near to his worshippers than they were, but more awe-inspiring and more powerful.

We can, in fact, trace in him all the lineaments upon which, under other conditions, there might have been built up as pure a faith as that of the God of Israel.”

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. 126-9.

Babylonian Origins of Jewish Purim

We have already questioned whether the Scripture story of Esther is in some manner connected with the goddess Ishtar. Writing of the Jewish feast of Purim, Sir James Frazer says (Golden Bough, vol. iii, p. 153):

“ From the absence of all notice of Purim in the older books of the Bible, we may fairly conclude that the festival was instituted or imported at a comparatively late date among the Jews. The same conclusion is supported by the Book of Esther itself, which was manifestly written to explain the origin of the feast and to suggest motives for its observance.

For, according to the author of the book, the festival was established to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews from a great danger which threatened them in Persia under the reign of King Xerxes. Thus the opinion of modern scholars that the feast of Purim, as celebrated by the Jews, was of late date and Oriental origin, is borne out by the tradition of the Jews themselves.

An examination of that tradition and of the mode of celebrating the feast renders it probable that Purim is nothing but a more or less disguised form of the Babylonian festival of the Sacaea or Zakmuk. . . .

But further, when we examine the narrative which professes to account for the institution of Purim, we discover in it not only the strongest traces of Babylonian origin, but also certain singular analogies to those very features of the Sacaean festival with which we are here more immediately concerned.

The Book of Esther turns upon the fortunes of two men, the vizier Haman and the despised Jew Mordecai, at the court of a Persian king. Mordecai, we are told, had given mortal offence to the vizier, who accordingly prepares a tall gallows on which he hopes to see his enemy hanged, while he himself expects to receive the highest mark of the King’s favour by being allowed to wear the royal crown and the royal robes, and thus attired to parade the streets, mounted on the King’s own horse and attended by one of the noblest princes, who should proclaim to the multitude his temporary exaltation and glory.

But the artful intrigues of the wicked vizier miscarried and resulted in precisely the opposite of what he had hoped and expected; for the royal honours which he had looked for fell to his rival Mordecai, and he himself was hanged on the gallows which he had made ready for his foe.

In this story we seem to detect a reminiscence, more or less confused, of the Zoganes of the Sacaea, in other words, of the custom of investing a private man with the insignia of royalty for a few days, and then putting him to death on the gallows or the cross. . . .

“A strong confirmation of this view is furnished by a philological analysis of the names of the four personages. It seems to be now generally recognised by Biblical scholars that the name Mordecai, which has no meaning in Hebrew, is nothing but a slightly altered form of Marduk or Merodach, the name of the chief god of Babylon, whose great festival was the Zakmuk; and further, it is generally admitted that Esther in like manner is equivalent to Ishtar, the great Babylonian goddess whom the Greeks called Astarte, and who is more familiar to English readers as Ashtaroth.

The derivation of the names of Haman and Vashti is less certain, but some high authorities are disposed to accept the view of Jensen that Haman is identical with Humman or Homman, the national god of the Elamites, and that Vashti is in like manner an Elamite deity, probably a goddess whose name appears in inscriptions.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 140-2.

Interpretations of the Myth of Ishtar and Tammuz

“A truly allegorical elucidation of the myth of Ishtar’s descent into Hades would depict Ishtar, as the goddess of fertility, seeking in the underworld for her husband, the sun-god, slain by the icy breath of winter. During her sojourn in the nether regions all fertility ceases on the earth, to be resumed only when she returns as the joyful bride of the springtide sun.

The surrender of her clothing and jewels at the seven gates of Aralu represents the gradual decay of vegetation on the earth, and the resumption of her garments the growing beauty and verdure which mark her return.

Another hypothesis identifies Ishtar with Dawkina, goddess of the earth, wife of Ea and therefore mother as well as consort of Tammuz. According to this view Ishtar represents not the fertility of the earth, but the earth itself, deprived of its adornments of flowers and leafage by the approach of winter, or variously, by the burning heat of summer.

The waters of life, with which she sprinkles and restores her husband,[8] are the revivifying rains which give to the sun-god his youthful vigour and glory. Against this view it has been urged (e.g. by Sir James Frazer) that “there is nothing in the sun’s annual course within the temperate and tropical zones to suggest that he is dead for half or a third of the year, and alive for the other half or two-thirds.”

Alternatively it is suggested that Tammuz is a god of vegetation, and that Ishtar doubles the role. The slaying of Tammuz and the journey of Ishtar would thus represent two distinct myths, each typifying the decay and subsequent revival of vegetation. Other instances may be recalled in which two myths of the same class have become fused into one.

This view, then, presents some elements of probability; not only Tammuz but most of his variants appear to possess a vegetable significance, while the Ishtar type is open to interpretation on the same lines. Thus Adonis is associated with the myrrh-tree, from whose trunk he was born, and Osiris with the tamarisk, used in the ritual connected with his cult, while Attis after his death became a pine-tree.

Tammuz himself was conceived of as dwelling in the midst of a great world-tree, whose roots extended down to the underworld, while its branches reached to the heavens. This tree appears to have been the cedar, for which the ancient Babylonians had an especial reverence.

One feature which leads us to identify the deities of this class, both male and female, with gods of vegetation is their association with the moon. Osiris is regarded, and with much reason, as a moon-god; in one of her aspects Aphrodite is a lunar deity, while a like significance belongs to Proserpine and to the Phoenician Ashtoreth. Ishtar herself, it is true, was never identified with the moon, which in Babylonia was a male divinity; yet she was associated with him as his daughter.

Among primitive peoples the moon is believed to exercise a powerful influence on vegetation, and indeed on all manner of growth and productivity. The association of a god with the moon therefore argues for him also a connexion with vegetation and fertility.

It may be remarked, in passing, that a lunar significance has been attached by some authorities to the story of Ishtar’s descent into Hades, and to kindred myths. It is held that the sojourn of the goddess in Aralu typifies a lunar eclipse, or perhaps the period between the waning of the old moon and the appearance of the new.

But, as has been said, the ancient Babylonians saw in the luminary of night a male deity, so that any lunar characteristics pertaining to Ishtar must be regarded as of merely secondary importance.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 136-8.

Origins of the Sacred Marriage

” … The Great Mother goddess was worshipped from the earliest times, and she bore various local names. At Comana in Pontus she was known to the Greeks as Ma, a name which may have been as old as that of the Sumerian Mama (the creatrix), or Mamitum (goddess of destiny); in Armenia she was Anaitis; in Cilicia she was Ate (‘Atheh of Tarsus); while in Phrygia she was best known as Cybele, mother of Attis, who links with Ishtar as mother and wife of Tammuz, Aphrodite as mother and wife of Adonis, and Isis as mother and wife of Osiris.

The Great Mother was in Phoenicia called Astarte; she was a form of Ishtar, and identical with the Biblical Ashtoreth. In the Syrian city of Hierapolis she bore the name of Atargatis, which Meyer, with whom Frazer agrees, considers to be the Greek rendering of the Aramaic ‘Athar-‘Atheh–the god ‘Athar and the goddess ‘Atheh. Like the “bearded Aphrodite,” Atargatis may have been regarded as a bisexual deity.

Some of the specialized mother goddesses, whose outstanding attributes reflected the history and politics of the states they represented, were imported into Egypt–the land of ancient mother deities–during the Empire period, by the half-foreign Rameses kings; these included the voluptuous Kadesh and the warlike Anthat.

In every district colonized by the early representatives of the Mediterranean race, the goddess cult came into prominence, and the gods and the people were reputed to be descendants of the great Creatrix. This rule obtained as far distant as Ireland, where the Danann folk and the Danann gods were the children of the goddess Danu.

Among the Hatti proper–that is, the broad-headed military aristocracy–the chief deity of the pantheon was the Great Father, the creator, “the lord of Heaven,” the Baal. As Sutekh, Tarku, Adad, or Ramman, he was the god of thunder, rain, fertility, and war, and he ultimately acquired solar attributes.

A famous rock sculpture at Boghaz-Köi depicts a mythological scene which is believed to represent the Spring marriage of the Great Father and the Great Mother, suggesting a local fusion of beliefs which resulted from the union of tribes of the god cult with tribes of the goddess cult.

So long as the Hatti tribe remained the predominant partner in the Hittite confederacy, the supremacy was assured of the Great Father who symbolized their sway. But when, in the process of time, the power of the Hatti declined, their chief god “fell… from his predominant place in the religion of the interior,” writes Dr. Garstang. “But the Great Mother lived on, being the goddess of the land.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 267-8.

Human Sacrifice

“The goddesses of classic mythology had similar reputations. Aphrodite (Venus) had many divine and mortal lovers. She links closely with Astarte and Ashtoreth (Ishtar), and reference has already been made to her relations with Adonis (Tammuz). These love deities were all as cruel as they were wayward. When Ishtar wooed the Babylonian hero, Gilgamesh, he spurned her advances, as has been indicated, saying:

On Tammuz, the spouse of thy youth,

Thou didst lay affliction every year.

Thou didst love the brilliant Allalu bird

But thou didst smite him and break his wing;

He stands in the woods and cries “O my wing.”

He likewise charged her with deceiving the lion and the horse, making reference to obscure myths:

Thou didst also love a shepherd of the flock,

Who continually poured out for thee the libation,

And daily slaughtered kids for thee;

But thou didst smite him and didst change him into a leopard,

So that his own sheep boy hunted him,

And his own hounds tore him to pieces.

These goddesses were ever prone to afflict human beings who might offend them or of whom they wearied. Demeter (Ceres) changed Ascalaphus into an owl and Stellio into a lizard. Rhea (Ops) resembled

The tow’red Cybele,

Mother of a hundred gods,

the wanton who loved Attis (Adonis). Artemis (Diana) slew her lover Orion, changed Actaeon into a stag, which was torn to pieces by his own dogs, and caused numerous deaths by sending a boar to ravage the fields of Oeneus, king of Calydon.

Human sacrifices were frequently offered to the bloodthirsty “mothers.” The most famous victim of Artemis was the daughter of Agamemnon, “divinely tall and most divinely fair.” Agamemnon had slain a sacred stag, and the goddess punished him by sending a calm when the war fleet was about to sail for Troy, with the result that his daughter had to be sacrificed.

Artemis thus sold breezes like the northern wind hags and witches.”

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

Revolting Unmoral Rites

“There is another phase, however, to the character of the mother goddess which explains the references to the desertion and slaying of Tammuz by Ishtar. “She is,” says Jastrow, “the goddess of the human instinct, or passion which accompanies human love. Gilgamesh … reproaches her with abandoning the objects of her passion after a brief period of union.” At Ishtar’s temple “public maidens accepted temporary partners, assigned to them by Ishtar.”

The worship of all mother goddesses in ancient times was accompanied by revolting unmoral rites which are referred to in condemnatory terms in various passages in the Old Testament, especially in connection with the worship of Ashtoreth, who was identical with Ishtar and the Egyptian Hathor.

Ishtar in the process of time overshadowed all the other female deities of Babylonia, as did Isis in Egypt. Her name, indeed, which is Semitic, became in the plural, Ishtar·te, a designation for goddesses in general. But although she was referred to as the daughter of the sky, Anu, or the daughter of the moon, Sin or Nannar, she still retained traces of her ancient character.

Originally she was a great mother goddess, who was worshipped by those who believed that life and the universe had a female origin in contrast to those who believed in the theory of male origin. Ishtar is identical with Nina, the fish goddess, a creature who gave her name to the Sumerian city of Nina and the Assyrian city of Nineveh.

Other forms of the Creatrix included Mama, or Mami, or Ama, “mother,” Aruru, Bau, Gula, and Zerpanitum. These were all “Preservers” and healers. At the same time they were “Destroyers,” like Nin-sun and the Queen of Hades, Eresh-ki-gal or Allatu.

They were accompanied by shadowy male forms ere they became wives of strongly individualized gods, or by child gods, their sons, who might be regarded as “brothers” or “husbands of their mothers,” to use the paradoxical Egyptian term.

Similarly Great Father deities had vaguely defined wives. The “Semitic” Baal, “the lord,” was accompanied by a female reflection of himself–Beltu, “the lady.” Shamash, the sun god, had for wife the shadowy Aa.

As has been shown, Ishtar is referred to in a Tammuz hymn as the mother of the child god of fertility. In an Egyptian hymn the sky goddess Nut, “the mother” of Osiris, is stated to have “built up life from her own body.” Sri or Lakshmi, the Indian goddess, who became the wife of Vishnu, as the mother goddess Saraswati, a tribal deity, became the wife of Brahma, was, according to a Purana commentator, “the mother of the world … eternal and undecaying.”

The gods, on the other hand, might die annually: the goddesses alone were immortal. Indra was supposed to perish of old age, but his wife, Indrani, remained ever young. There were fourteen Indras in every “day of Brahma”, a reference apparently to the ancient conception of Indra among the Great Mother-worshipping sections of the Aryo-Indians.

In the Mahabharata the god Shiva, as Mahadeva, commands Indra on “one of the peaks of Himavat,” where they met, to lift up a stone and join the Indras who had been before him. “And Indra on removing that stone beheld a cave on the breast of that king of mountains in which were four others resembling himself.”

Indra exclaimed in his grief, “Shall I be even like these?” These five Indras, like the “Seven Sleepers,” awaited the time when they would be called forth. They were ultimately reborn as the five Pandava warriors.”

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

The Names of the Great Mother

“THE dawn of history in all parts of Western Asia discloses the established worship of a nature-goddess in whom the productive powers of the earth were personified. 1 She is our Mother Earth, known otherwise as the Mother Goddess or Great Mother. Among the Babylonians 2 and northern Semites she was called Ishtar: she is the Ashtoreth of the Bible, and the Astarte of Phœnicia. In Syria her name was ‘Athar, and in Cilicia it had the form of ‘Ate (‘Atheh). At Hierapolis, with which we are primarily concerned, it appears in later Aramaic as Atargatis, a compound of the Syrian and Cilician forms.

In Asia Minor, where the influence of the Semitic language did not prevail, her various names have not survived, though it is recorded by a later Greek writer as “Ma” at one of her mountain shrines, and as Agdistis amongst one tribe of the Phrygians and probably at Pessinus. These differences, however, are partly questions of local tongue; for in one way and another there was still a prevailing similarity between the essential attributes and worship of the nature-goddess throughout Western Asia.

The “origins” of this worship and its ultimate development are not directly relevant to our present enquiry; but we must make passing allusion to a point of special interest and wide significance. As regards Asia Minor, at least, a theory that explains certain abnormal tendencies in worship and in legend would attribute to the goddess, in the primitive conception of her, the power of self-reproduction, complete in herself, a hypothesis justified by the analogy of beliefs current among certain states of primitive society.

However that may be, a male companion is none the less generally associated with her in mythology, even from the earliest historical vision of Ishtar in Babylonia, where he was known as Tammuz. While evidence is wanting to define clearly the original position of this deity in relation to the goddess, the general tendency of myth and legend in the lands of Syria and Asia Minor, with which we are specially concerned, reveals him as her offspring, the fruits of the earth.

The basis of the myth was human experience of nature, particularly the death of plant life with the approach of winter and its revival with the spring. In one version accordingly “Adonis” descends for the six winter months to the underworld, until brought back to life through the divine influence of the goddess. The idea that the youth was the favoured lover of the goddess belongs to a different strain of thought, if indeed it was current in these lands at all in early times. In Asia Minor at any rate the sanctity of the goddess’s traditional powers was safeguarded in popular legend by the emasculation of “Attis,” and in worship by the actual emasculation of her priesthood, perhaps the most striking feature of her cult.

The abnormal and impassioned tendencies of her developed worship would be derived, according to this theory, from the efforts of her worshippers to assist her to bring forth notwithstanding her singleness. However that may be, the mourning for the death of the youthful god, and rejoicing at his return, were invariable features of this worship of nature. It is reasonable to believe that long before the curtain of history was raised over Asia Minor the worship of this goddess and her son had become deep-rooted.”

Herbert A. Strong and John Garstang, Lucian’s the Syrian Goddess, A Translation of De Dea Syria  with a Life of Lucian, 1913, pp. 1-4.