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Tag: Bel-Merodach

Cult of Nabu at Calah

“As for Bel, whose place Merodach usurped in the Babylonian pantheon, he was also recognized in Assyria, and Tiglath-pileser I built him a temple in his city of Asshur. Tiglath prefixes the adjective ‘old’ to the god’s name to show that he means Bel, not Bel-Merodach.

Sargon, too, who had antiquarian tastes, also reverts to Bel, to whom he alludes as the ‘Great Mountain,’ the name of the god following immediately after that of Asshur. Bel is also invoked in connexion with Anu as a granter of victory.

His consort Belit, although occasionally she is coupled with him, more usually figures as the wife of Asshur, and almost as commonly as a variant of Ishtar. In a temple in the city of Asshur, Tiglath-pileser I made presents to Belit consisting of the images of the gods vanquished by him in his various campaigns.

Assur-bani-pal, too, regarded Belit as the wife of Asshur, and himself as their son, alluding to Belit as ‘Mother of the Great Gods,’ a circumstance which would go to show that, like most of the Assyrian kings, his egoism rather overshadowed his sense of humour.

In Assur-bani-pal’s pantheon Belit is placed close by her consort Asshur. But there seems to have been a good deal of confusion between Belit and Ishtar because of the general meaning of the word Belit.

 [ … ]

Stephen Thompson - Asshur, Assyrian God, Marble Relief, British Museum, 1872 The Catalogue of a Series of Photographs from the Collections of The British Museum (Photographed by S. Thompson), Part III, W.A. Mansell & Co, London, 1872, p. 30. In the Nimrud Gallery of the Museum, Eastern side, #355. B.C. 884.  Marble slab. Eagle-headed winged deity Asshur (the chief of all the Gods), holding cone and basket, (supposed to represent the receptacle in which the divine gifts are stored,) and standard inscriptions.

Stephen Thompson – Asshur, Assyrian God, Marble Relief, British Museum, 1872
The Catalogue of a Series of Photographs from the Collections of The British Museum (Photographed by S. Thompson), Part III, W.A. Mansell & Co, London, 1872, p. 30.
In the Nimrud Gallery of the Museum, Eastern side, #355. B.C. 884.
Marble slab. Eagle-headed winged deity Asshur (the chief of all the Gods), holding cone and basket, (supposed to represent the receptacle in which the divine gifts are stored) and standard inscriptions.

As in Babylonia so in Assyria, Nabu and Merodach were paired together, often as Bel and Nabu. Especially were they invoked when the affairs of Babylonia were being dealt with. In the seventh century b.c. we find the cult of Nabu in high popularity in Assyria, and indeed Ramman-Nirari III appears to have made an attempt to advance Nabu considerably.

George Rawlinson - Source: Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 1. (1875) The Chaldean god Nebo, from a statue in the British Museum.

George Rawlinson – Source: Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 1. (1875)
The Chaldean god Nebo, from a statue in the British Museum.

He erected a temple to the god at Calah, and granted him many resounding titles. But even so, it does not seem that Ramman-Nirari intended to exalt Nabu at the expense of Asshur. Indeed it would have been impossible for him to have done so if he had desired to.

Asshur was as much the national god of the Assyrian people as Osiris was of the Egyptians. Nabu was the patron of wisdom, and protector of the arts; he guided the stylus of the scribe; and in these attributes he is very close to the Egyptian Thoth, and almost identical with another Babylonian god, Nusku ...

Sargon calls Nabu ‘the Seer who guides the gods,’ and it would seem from some notices of him that he was also regarded as a leader of heavenly or spiritual forces.

Those kings who were fond of erudition paid great devotion to Nabu, and many of the tablets in their literary collections close with thanksgiving to him for having opened their ears to receive wisdom.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 227-9.

Conquering the Gods

“Even Bel-Merodach was absorbed into the Assyrian pantheon. To the Assyrians, Babylonia was the country of Bel, and they referred to their southern neighbours as the ‘subjects of Bel.’ This, of course, must be taken not to mean the older Bel, but Bel-Merodach. They even alluded to the governor whom they placed over conquered Babylonia as the governor of Bel, so closely did they identify the god with the country.

It is only in the time of Shalmaneser II— the ninth century b.c. —that we find the name Merodach employed for Bel, so general did the use of the latter become. Of course it was impossible that Merodach could take first place in Assyria as he had done in Babylonia, but it was a tribute to the Assyrian belief in his greatness that they ranked him immediately after Asshur in the pantheon.

Austen Henry Layard. A Popular Account of Discoveries At Nineveh. London. John Murray. 1852, p. 211.

Austen Henry Layard. A Popular Account of Discoveries At Nineveh. London. John Murray. 1852, p. 211.

The Assyrian rulers were sufficiently politic to award this place to Merodach, for they could not but see that Babylonia, from which they drew their arts and sciences, as well as their religions beliefs, and from which they benefited in many directions, must be worthily represented in the national religion.

And just as the Romans in conquering Greece and Egypt adopted many of the deities of these more cultured and less powerful lands, thus seeking to bind the inhabitants of the conquered provinces more closely to themselves, so did the Assyrian rulers believe that, did they incorporate Merodach into their hierarchy, he would become so Assyrian in his outlook as to cease to be wholly Babylonian, and would doubtless work in favour of the stronger kingdom.

In no other of the religions of antiquity as in the Assyrian was the idea so powerful that the god of the conquered or subject people should become a virtual prisoner in the land of the conquerors, or should at least be absorbed into their national worship.

Some of the Assyrian monarchs went so far as to drag almost every petty idol they encountered on their conquests back to the great temple of Asshur, and it is obvious that they did not do this with any intention of uprooting the worship of these gods in the regions they conquered, but because they desired to make political prisoners of them, and to place them in a temple-prison, where they would be unable to wreak vengeance upon them, or assist their beaten worshippers to war against them in the future.

It may be fitting at this point to emphasize how greatly the Assyrian people, as apart from their rulers, cherished the older beliefs of Babylonia. Both peoples were substantially of the same stock, and any movement which had as its object the destruction of the Babylonian religion would have met with the strongest hostility from the populace of Assyria.

Just as the conquering Aztecs seem to have had immense reverence for the worship of the Toltecs, whose land they subdued, so did the less cultivated Assyrians regard everything connected, with Babylonia as peculiarly sacred.

The Kings of Assyria, in fact, were not a little proud of being the rulers of Babylonia, and were extremely mild in their treatment of their southern subjects—very much more so, in fact, than they were in their behaviour toward the people of Elam or other conquered territories. We even find the kings alluding to themselves as being nominated by the gods to rule over the land of Bel.

The Assyrian monarchs strove hard not to disturb the ancient Babylonian cult, and Shalmaneser II, when he had conquered Babylonia, actually entered Merodach’s temple and sacrificed to him.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp.  225-7.

Bilat, Beltis, Nin-Ki-Gal, Allat, Infernal Queen of the Underworld

“When the god of Nipur became Semitic, his character underwent a change.

As the supreme deity of the state he was necessarily a Baal, but the Semitic Baal embodied very different conceptions from those which were associated with the Accadian Mul-lil. It is true that, as I have just pointed out, his primitive attributes still clung to him, but they were superadded to other attributes which showed him to be the supreme Sun-god of Semitic worship.

That supreme Sun-god, however, revealed himself to his worshippers under two aspects; he might be either the beneficent god who gave life and light to the world, or he might be the fierce and wrathful sun of summer who scorches all nature with his heat, and sinks at night, like a ball of glowing metal, into the darkness of the under-world.

Necessarily it was rather under the latter aspect that the Mul-lil of Nipur became the Semitic Bel.

This is the Bel whose cult was carried to Assyria, and whose name is mentioned frequently in the inscriptions of Nineveh, where among other titles he bears that of “father of the gods.”

This is a title which he received, not in virtue of his primitive character, but because he had become the Semitic Bel.

He was distinguished from the younger Bel of Babylon, Bel-Merodach, as βελιτανας or βολαθην (Βêl-êthûn), (ed. note: Greek sic) “the older Baal,” when Babylon became the imperial city, and its Bel claimed to be the father and head of the Babylonian gods.

But the distinction, as might be expected, was not always observed, and the older and younger Bel are sometimes confounded together.

The confusion was rendered the more easy by the fact that the wife of the Bel of Nipur was addressed as Bilat, and thus was undistinguished in name from Beltis of Babylon.

But she was in reality, as we have seen, the queen of Hades, Nin-ki-gal as the Accadians called her, or Allat as she is named in the Semitic texts.

Allat is interpreted “the unwearied;” like the Homeric epithet of Hades, αδαμαστος, “the inflexible” divinity who ceases not to deal on all sides his fatal blows. Her proper title, however–that, at least, under which she had originally been known at Nipur–was Nin-lil, “the lady of the ghost-world.”

It is under this name that Assur-bani-pal addresses her (Trustees of the British Museum (H.C. Rawlinson), The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, ii. 66) as “the mistress of the world, whose habitation is the temple of the library” (i.e. the temple of Istar at Nineveh).

As Allat, the goddess of Hades, she was a much-dreaded and formidable figure, who is described in the legend of the Descent of Istar as inflicting upon her sister-goddess all the pains and diseases which emanated from her demoniac satellites.

The unfortunate Istar, stripped of her clothing and adornments, is held up to the scorn of the lower world; and Namtar, the plague-demon, is ordered by Allat to smite her with maladies in the eyes, in the sides, in the feet, in the heart, in the head, and, in short, in all the limbs.

Throughout the legend Namtar appears as the messenger of the infernal queen.”

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. 148-50.

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.

Assur, National Deity of Assyria

“Supreme over the old Babylonian pantheon rises the figure of a new god, the national deity of Assyria, its impersonation Assur. Assur is not merely primus inter pares, merely the president of the divine assembly, like Merodach; he is their lord and master in another and more autocratic sense.

Like the Yahveh of Israel, he claims to be “king above all gods,” that “among all gods” there is none like unto himself. In his name and through his help the Assyrian kings go forth to conquer; the towns they bum, the men they slay, the captives they take, are all his gifts.

It is to destroy “the enemies of Assur,” and to lay their yoke upon those who disbelieve in his name, that they load their armies into other lands; it is his decrees, his law, that they write upon the monuments they erect in conquered countries.

The gods of Babylonia are invoked, it is true; their old Babylonian titles are accorded to them; they are called upon to curse the sacrilegious in the stereotyped phrases of the ancient literature; but it is Assur, and Assur alone, to whom the Assyrian monarch turns in moments of distress; it is Assur, and Assur alone, in whose name he subdues the infidel. Only the goddess Istar finds a place by the side of Assur.

It is not difficult to account for all this. In passing from their native homes to Assyria, the Babylonian deities lost that local character which was the very breath of their existence. How far they owe their presence in Assyrian literature to the literary class, how far they had been brought from Babylonia in early days by the people themselves, I am not prepared to say.

One fact, however, is clear; in becoming Assyrian the Babylonian gods have lost both their definiteness and their rank. The invocations addressed to them lack their old genuine ring, their titles are borrowed from the literature of the southern kingdom, and their functions are usurped by the new god Assur.

It is almost pitiable to find Bel-Merodach invoked, in phrases that once denoted his power above other deities, by the very kings who boast of their conquests over his people, or who even razed his city to the ground.

The Assyrian, in fact, occupied much the same position as an Israelite who, while recognizing the supremacy of his national God, thought it prudent or cultivated to offer at the same time a sort of inferior homage to the Baalim of Canaan.”

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. 122-3.

The Twilight of Babylon

“Nabonidus (555-539 b.c.) was the last of the Babylonian kings—a man of a very religious disposition and of antiquarian tastes. He desired to restore the temple of the moon-god at Harran and to restore such of the images of the gods as had been removed to the ancient shrines. But first he desired to find out whether this procedure would meet with the approval of the god Merodach. To this end he consulted the augurs, who opened the liver of a sheep and drew thence favourable omens.

But on another occasion he aroused the hostility of the god and incidentally of the priests of E-Sagila by preferring the sun-god to the great Bel of Babylon. He tells us in an inscription that when restoring the temple of Shamash at Sippar he had great difficulty in unearthing the old foundation-stone, and that, when at last it was unearthed, he trembled with awe as he read thereon the name of Naram-sin, who, he says, ruled 3200 years before him.

But destiny lay in wait for him, for Cyrus the Persian invaded Babylonia in 538 b.c., and after defeating the native army at Opis he pressed on to Babylon, which he entered without striking a blow. Nabonidus was in hiding, but his place of concealment was discovered. Cyrus, pretending to be the avenger of Bel-Merodach for the slights the unhappy Nabonidus had put upon the god, had won over the people, who were exceedingly wroth with their monarch for attempting to remove many images of the gods from the provinces to the capital.

Cyrus placed himself upon the throne of Babylon and about a year before his death (529 b.c.) transferred the regal power to his son, Cambyses.

Assyrian-Babylonian history here ceases and is merged into Persian. Babylonia recovered its independence after the death of Darius. A king styling himself Nebuchadrezzar III arose, who reigned for about a year (521-520 b.c.), at the end of which time the Persians once more returned as conquerors. A second revolt in 514 b.c. caused the partial destruction of the walls, and finally the great city of Babylon became little better than a quarry out of which the newer city of Seleucia and other towns were built.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 40-2.

Bel-Merodach Returns to Babylon

” … Babylon welcomed its new king–a Babylonian by birth and the son of a Babylonian princess. The ancient kingdom rejoiced that it was no longer to be ruled as a province; its ancient dignities and privileges were being partially restored.

But one great and deep-seated grievance remained. The god Merodach was still a captive in the temple of Ashur.

No king could reign aright if Merodach were not restored to E-sagila. Indeed he could not be regarded as the lord of the land until he had “taken the hands of Bel.”

The ceremony of taking the god’s hands was an act of homage. When it was consummated the king became the steward or vassal of Merodach, and every day he appeared before the divine one to receive instructions and worship him. The welfare of the whole kingdom depended on the manner in which the king acted towards the god.

If Merodach was satisfied with the king he sent blessings to the land; if he was angry he sent calamities. A pious and faithful monarch was therefore the protector of the people.

This close association of the king with the god gave the priests great influence in Babylon. They were the power behind the throne. The destinies of the royal house were placed in their hands; they could strengthen the position of a royal monarch, or cause him to be deposed if he did not satisfy their demands.

A king who reigned over Babylon without the priestly party on his side occupied an insecure position. Nor could he secure the co-operation of the priests unless the image of the god was placed in the temple. Where king was, there Merodach had to be also.

Shamash-shum-ukin pleaded with his royal brother and overlord to restore Bel Merodach to Babylon. Ashur-bani-pal hesitated for a time; he was unwilling to occupy a less dignified position, as the representative of Ashur, than his distinguished predecessor, in his relation to the southern kingdom.

At length, however, he was prevailed upon to consult the oracle of Shamash, the solar lawgiver, the revealer of destiny. The god was accordingly asked if Shamash-shum-ukin could “take the hands of Bel” in Ashur’s temple, and then proceed to Babylon as his representative.

In response, the priests of Shamash informed the emperor that Bel Merodach could not exercise sway as sovereign lord so long as he remained a prisoner in a city which was not his own.

Ashur-bani-pal accepted the verdict, and then visited Ashur’s temple to plead with Bel Merodach to return to Babylon.

“Let thy thoughts,” he cried, “dwell in Babylon, which in thy wrath thou didst bring to naught. Let thy face be turned towards E-sagila, thy lofty and divine temple. Return to the city thou hast deserted for a house unworthy of thee. O Merodach! lord of the gods, issue thou the command to return again to Babylon.”

Thus did Ashur-bani-pal make pious and dignified submission to the will of the priests. A favourable response was, of course, received from Merodach when addressed by the emperor, and the god’s image was carried back to E-sagila, accompanied by a strong force.

Ashur-bani-pal and Shamash-shum-ukin led the procession of priests and soldiers, and elaborate ceremonials were observed at each city they passed, the local gods being carried forth to do homage to Merodach.

Babylon welcomed the deity who was thus restored to his temple after the lapse of about a quarter of a century, and the priests celebrated with unconcealed satisfaction and pride the ceremony at which Shamash-shum-ukin “took the hands of Bel.”

The public rejoicings were conducted on an elaborate scale. Babylon believed that a new era of prosperity had been inaugurated, and the priests and nobles looked forward to the day when the kingdom would once again become free and independent and powerful.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 480-2.

Destroyer of Babylon

” … In 691 B.C. Sennacherib again struck a blow for Babylonia, but was unable to depose Mushezib-Merodach. His opportunity came, however, in 689 B.C. Elam had been crippled by raids of the men of Parsua (Persia), and was unable to co-operate with the Chaldaean king of Babylon.

Sennacherib captured the great commercial metropolis, took Mushezib-Merodach prisoner, and dispatched him to Nineveh.

Then he wreaked his vengeance on Babylon.

For several days the Assyrian soldiers looted the houses and temples, and slaughtered the inhabitants without mercy. E-sagila was robbed of its treasures, images of deities were either broken in pieces or sent to Nineveh: the statue of Bel-Merodach was dispatched to Asshur so that he might take his place among the gods who were vassals of Ashur.

“The city and its houses,” Sennacherib recorded, “from foundation to roof, I destroyed them, I demolished them, I burned them with fire; walls, gateways, sacred chapels, and the towers of earth and tiles, I laid them low and cast them into the Arakhtu.”

“So thorough was Sennacherib’s destruction of the city in 689 B.C.,” writes Mr. King, “that after several years of work, Dr. Koldewey concluded that all traces of earlier buildings had been destroyed on that occasion. More recently some remains of earlier strata have been recognized, and contract-tablets have been found which date from the period of the First Dynasty.

Moreover, a number of earlier pot-burials have been unearthed, but a careful examination of the greater part of the ruins has added little to our knowledge of this most famous city before the Neo-Babylonian period.”

[ … ]

Sennacherib’s palace was the most magnificent building of its kind ever erected by an Assyrian emperor. It was lavishly decorated, and its bas-reliefs display native art at its highest pitch of excellence.

The literary remains of the time also give indication of the growth of culture: the inscriptions are distinguished by their prose style. It is evident that men of culture and refinement were numerous in Assyria. The royal library of Kalkhi received many additions during the reign of the destroyer of Babylon.


Like his father, Sennacherib died a violent death. According to the Babylonian Chronicle he was slain in a revolt by his son “on the twentieth day of Tebet” (680 B.C). The revolt continued from the “20th of Tebet” (early in January) until the 2nd day of Adar (the middle of February). On the 18th of Adar, Esarhaddon, son of Sennacherib, was proclaimed king.

Berosus states that Sennacherib was murdered by two of his sons, but Esarhaddon was not one of the conspirators. The Biblical reference is as follows:

“Sennacherib … dwelt at Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch (?Ashur) his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer (Ashur-shar-etir) his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia (Urartu). And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.”

Ashur-shar-etir appears to have been the claimant to the throne.

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 468-70.

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