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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.

Triads and Feminine Reflections in Babylonian Religion

“Even at Babylon, however, Merodach did not stand alone. He shared his divine honours, as we have seen, with his wife Zarpanitu and his son Nebo.

The old Accadian cult seems to have had a fancy for trinities or triads, originating perhaps in the primary astronomical triad of the Sun-god, the Moon-god and the Evening Star.

The Accadian triad usually consisted of male deities. The Semites, however, as I hope to point out in the next Lecture, introduced a new idea, that of sex, into the theology of the country. Every god was provided with his female reflection, who stood to him in the relation of the wife to the husband.

Baal, accordingly, had his female reflex, his “face,” as it was termed, Bilat or Beltis. By the side of the Baal of Babylon, therefore, stood Beltis, “the lady” by the side of her “lord.”

Her local name mas Zarpanitu, which a punning etymology subsequently turned into Zir-banitu, “creatress of seed,” sometimes written Zir-panitu, with an obvious  play on the word panu, or “face.”

Zarpanitu was of purely Semitic origin. But she was identified with an older Accadian divinity, Gasmu, “the wise one,” the fitting consort of a deity whose office it was to convey the wishes of the god of wisdom to suffering humanity.

The Accadian goddess, however, must originally have stood rather in the relation of mother than of wife to the primitive Merodach. She was entitled “the lady of the deep,” “the mistress of the abode of the fish,” and “the voice of the deep.”

Hence she must have ranked by the side of Ea, the fish-god and “lord of the deep;” and in the title “voice” or “incantation of the deep,” we may see a reference to the ideas which caused Ea to become the god of wisdom, and brought the fish-god Oannes out of the Persian Gulf to carry culture and knowledge to the inhabitants of Chaldea.

In the roar of the sea-waves, the early dwellers on the shores of the Gulf must have heard the voice of heaven, and their prophets and diviners must have discovered in it a revelation of the will of the gods.

It is not surprising, therefore, if Zarpanit was specially identified with the goddess Lakhamun, who was worshipped in the sacred island of Dilmun, or with the goddess Elagu, whose name was revered in the mountains of Elam.”

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. 110-1.

Primacy of Marduk of Babylon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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