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Tag: Evening Star

Babylonian Astro-Theology

“In the Observations of Bel the stars are already invested with a divine character. The planets are gods like the sun and moon, and the stars have already been identified with certain deities of the official pantheon, or else have been dedicated to them.

The whole heaven, as well as the periods of the moon, has been divided between the three supreme divinities, Anu, Bel and Ea. In fact, there is an astro-theology, a system of Sabaism, as it would have been called half a century ago.

The star constellation of Hydra as a Babylonian Serpent-Dragon called Mushussu meaning "furious snake," with horns and wings from a clay cuneiform tablet of the Persian period.  According to Professor Langdon, Tammuz (Sumerian Dumuzi) was called a "Heavenly Serpent-dragon," he also noted that Ningishzida whose name means "Lord of the Good Tree" according to some scholars, was an aspect of Dumuzi/Tammuz, Dumuzi being called in hymns "Damu, the child Ningishzida."  (For the drawing cf. p. 286. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931). http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

The star constellation of Hydra as a Babylonian Serpent-Dragon called Mushussu meaning “furious snake,” with horns and wings from a clay cuneiform tablet of the Persian period.
According to Professor Langdon, Tammuz (Sumerian Dumuzi) was called a “Heavenly Serpent-dragon,” he also noted that Ningishzida whose name means “Lord of the Good Tree” according to some scholars, was an aspect of Dumuzi/Tammuz, Dumuzi being called in hymns “Damu, the child Ningishzida.”
(For the drawing cf. p. 286. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).
http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

This astro-theology must go back to the very earliest times. The cuneiform characters alone are a proof of this. The common determinative of a deity is an eight-rayed star, a clear evidence that at the period when the cuneiform syllabary assumed the shape in which we know it, the stars were accounted divine.

We have seen, moreover, that the sun and moon and evening star were objects of worship from a remote epoch, and the sacredness attached to them would naturally have been reflected upon the other heavenly bodies with which they were associated.

Totemism, too, implies a worship of the stars. We find that primitive peoples confound them with animals, their automatic motions being apparently explicable by no other theory; and that primitive Chaldea was no exception to this rule has been already pointed out.

Here, too, the sun was an ox, the moon was a steer, and the planets were sheep. The adoration of the stars, like the adoration of the sun and moon, must have been a feature of the religion of primeval Shinar.

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, associated with him, as he overpowered it when he defeated Tiamat the female personfication of the salty sea or ocean, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods until killed by Marduk.  In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat's (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).  This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk's serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur. Marduk's robe is the heavenly night sky with all its stars. he was also called "the son of the Sun,"  "the Sun" and "bull-calf of the Sun" (Babylonian amar-utu). http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, associated with him, as he overpowered it when he defeated Tiamat the female personification of the salty sea or ocean, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods until killed by Marduk.
In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat’s (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).
This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk’s serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur. Marduk’s robe is the heavenly night sky with all its stars. he was also called “the son of the Sun,” “the Sun” and “bull-calf of the Sun” (Babylonian amar-utu). I suspect that the medallions hanging from his neck are none other than the Tablets of Fate.
http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

But this primeval adoration was something very different from the elaborate astro-theology of a later day. So elaborate, indeed, is it that we can hardly believe it to have been known beyond the circle of the learned classes.

The stars in it became the symbols of the official deities. Nergal, for example, under his two names of Sar-nem and ‘Sulim-ta-ea, was identified with Jupiter and Mars. It is not difficult to discover how this curious theological system arose.

Its starting-point was the prominence given to the worship of the evening and morning stars in the ancient religion, and their subsequent transformation into the Semitic Istar. The other planets were already divine; and their identification with specific deities of the official cult followed as a matter of course.

As the astronomy of Babylonia became more developed, as the heavens were mapped out into groups of constellations, each of which received a definite name, while the leading single stars were similarly distinguished and named, the stars and constellations followed the lead of the planets. As Mars became Nergal, so Orion became Tammuz.

The priest had succeeded the old Sumerian sorcerer, and was now transforming himself into an astrologer. To this cause we must trace the rise of Babylonian astro-theology and the deification of the stars of heaven.

The Sabianism of the people of Harrân in the early centuries of the Christian era was no survival of a primitive faith, but the last echo of the priestly astro-theology of Babylonia. This astro-theology had been a purely artificial system, the knowledge of which, like the knowledge of astrology itself, was confined to the learned classes.

It first grew up in the court of Sargon of Accad, but its completion cannot be earlier than the age of Khammuragas. In no other way can we explain the prominence given in it to Merodach, the god of Babylon.”

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. 400-2.

An Accadian Hymn to Ishtar

“The light of heaven, who blazeth like the fire, art thou,

0 goddess (istaritum), when thou fixest thy dwelling-place in the earth;

thou who art strong as the earth!

Ishtar, in a characteristic posture atop a lion, her animal. The goddess has weaponry on her back, and handles her lion with a leash. Her eight-pointed star is on her head.

Ishtar, in a characteristic posture atop a lion, her animal. The goddess has weaponry on her back, and handles her lion with a leash. Her eight-pointed star is on her head.

Thee, the path of justice approaches thee

when thou enterest into the house of man.

A hyena, who springs to seize the lamb, art thou!

A lion, who stalks in the midst, art thou!

By day, 0 virgin, adorn the heaven!

0 virgin Istar, adorn the heaven!

Thou who art set as the jewelled circlet of moonstone adorn the heaven!

Companion of the Sun-god, adorn the heaven!

‘To cause enlightenment to prevail am I appointed, alone am I appointed.

By the side of my father the Moon-god to cause enlightenment to prevail am I appointed, alone am I appointed.

By the side of my brother the Sun-god to cause enlightenment to prevail am I appointed, alone am I appointed.

The original relief of the drawing above.

The original relief of the drawing above.

My father Nannaru has appointed me; to cause enlightenment to prevail am I appointed.

In the resplendent heaven to cause enlightenment to prevail am I appointed, alone am I appointed.

In the beginning was my glory, in the beginning was my glory.

In the beginning was I a goddess (istaritum) who marched on high.

Istar the divinity of the evening sky am I.

Istar the divinity of the dawn am I.

Istar the opener of the bolts of the bright heaven is my (name of) glory.

My glory extinguishes the heaven, it spoils the earth.

The extinguisher of the heaven, the spoiler of the earth is my glory.

That which glows in the clouds of heaven, whose name is renowned in the world, is my glory.

As queen of heaven above and below may my glory be addressed.

My glory sweeps away the mountains altogether.

Thou art the mighty fortress of the mountains, thou art their mighty bolt, O my glory.'”

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. 268-70.

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.

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.

Assyrian Monotheism versus Babylonian Pantheism

“Henceforward “the heaven of Anu” denoted the serene and changeless regions to which the gods fled when the deluge had broken up the face of the lower heaven, and which an Assyrian poet calls “the land of the silver sky.”

It was to this spiritualised heaven that the spirit of Ea-bani, the friend of Gisdhubar, ascended, and from which he gazed placidly on the turmoil of the earth below; and it was from his seat therein that Anu assigned their places in the lower heaven to Samas, Sin and Istar, the Sun, the Moon and the Evening Star, according to the legend of the seven wicked spirits.

But the spiritualisation of Anu did not stop here. As a Semitic Baal he had become a supreme god, the lord and father of the universe. It was only a step further, therefore, to make him himself the universe, and to resolve into him the other deities of the Babylonian pantheon.

We read occasionally in the hymns of “the one god.”

“The ban, the ban,” a poet writes, personifying the priestly sentence of excommunication, like the Ara of Aeskhylos or the divine burden of Zechariah (ix.l),

“is a barrier which none may overpass; the barrier of the gods against which they cannot transgress, the barrier of heaven and earth which cannot be changed; the one god against whom none may rebel; god and man cannot explain (it); it is a snare not to be passed which is formed against the evil, the cord of a snare from which there is no exit which is turned against the evil.”

The conception of Anu, however, as “the one god” was pantheistic rather than monotheistic. The cosmological deities of an older phase of faith were in the first instance resolved into him. In place of the genealogical, or gnostic, system which we find in the account of the Creation in days, we have a pantheistic system, in which Lakhama and the other primeval forces of nature are not the parents of Anu, but are identified with Anu himself.

It is easy to conceive how the old deity An-sar, “the upper firmament,” with all its host of spirits, might be identified with him; but when we find Uras also, the Sun-god of Nipur, made one with Anu, “the hearer of prayer,” and the eagle-like Alala, the bridegroom of Istar and double of Tammuz, equally resolved into the god of Erech, it is plain that we have to do with an advanced stage of pantheism.

This monotheistic, or rather pantheistic, school of faith has been supposed by Sir Henry Rawlinson to have grown up at Eridu; but the fact that it centres round the name of Anu points rather to Erech as its birth-place. How long it flourished, or whether it extended beyond a narrow group of priestly thinkers, we have no means of ascertaining.

Assyrian bas-relief perhaps showing their warrior god Asshur as an Eagle, accompanying Assyrian warriors from the west palace at Nimroud, biblical Calah (p. 214. Austen Henry Layard. A Popular Account of Discoveries at Nineveh. London. John Murray. 1852).  http://www.bibleorigins.net/SundiscEagleAssyrian.html

Assyrian bas-relief perhaps showing their warrior god Asshur as an Eagle, accompanying Assyrian warriors from the west palace at Nimroud, biblical Calah (p. 214. Austen Henry Layard. A Popular Account of Discoveries at Nineveh. London. John Murray. 1852).
http://www.bibleorigins.net/SundiscEagleAssyrian.html

It is interesting, however, as showing that the same tendency which in Assyria exalted Assur to the position of an all-powerful deity who would brook neither opposition nor unbelief, among the more meditative Babylonians produced a crude system of pantheism.

Austen Henry Layard. A Popular Account of Discoveries At Nineveh. London. John Murray. 1852, p. 211. http://www.bibleorigins.net/Sundiscarcherdrawnbow.html

Austen Henry Layard. A Popular Account of Discoveries At Nineveh. London. John Murray. 1852, p. 211.
http://www.bibleorigins.net/Sundiscarcherdrawnbow.html

Whatever question there may be as to whether the pure and unmixed Semite is capable of originating a pantheistic form of faith, there can be little doubt about it where the Semite is brought into close contact with an alien race. The difference between the Assyrian and the Babylonian was the difference between the purer Semite and one in whose veins ran a copious stream of foreign blood.”

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. 190-2.

Sin, Moon God

Nannar was now invoked as Sin–a name which at first appears to have denoted the orb of the moon only–and the name and worship of Sin spread not only in Babylonia, but in other parts of the Semitic world.

His name has been found in an inscription of southern Arabia, and Sinai itself, the sacred mountain, is nothing more than the sanctuary “dedicated to Sin.”

It may be that the worship of the Babylonian Moon-god was brought to the peninsula of Sinai as far back as the days when the sculptors of Tel-loh carved into human shape the blocks of diorite they received from the land of Magan.

However this may be, the Moon-god of Ur, like the city over which he presided, took primary rank among the Babylonians. His worshippers invoked him as the father and creator of both gods and men. It is thus that Nabonidos celebrates his restoration of the temple of Sin at Harran:

“May the gods who dwell in heaven and earth approach the house of Sin, the father who created them.

As for me, Nabonidos, king of Babylon, the completer of this temple, may Sin, the king of the gods of heaven and earth, in the lifting up of his kindly eyes, with joy look upon me month by month at noon and sunset; may he grant me favourable tokens, may he lengthen my days, may he extend my years, may he establish my reign, may he overcome my foes, may he slay my enemies, may he sweep away my opponents.

May Nin-gal, the mother of the mighty gods, in the presence of Sin, her loved one, speak like a mother.

May Samas and Istar, the bright offspring of his heart, to Sin, the father who begat them, speak of blessing.

May Nuzku, the messenger supreme, hearken to my prayer and plead for me.”

The moon existed before the sun.

This is the idea which underlay the religious belief of Accad, exact converse, as it was, of the central idea of the religion of the Semites. It was only where Accadian influence was strong that the Semite could be brought in any way to accept it.

It was only in Babylonia and Assyria and on the coasts of Arabia that the name of Sin was honoured; elsewhere the attributes of the Moon-god were transferred to the goddess Istar, who, as we shall see hereafter, was originally the evening star.

But in Babylonia, Sin became inevitably the father of the gods. His reign extended to the beginning of history; Sargon, as the representative of the Babylonian kings and the adorer of Merodach, speaks of “the remote days of the period of the Moon-god,” which another inscription makes synonymous with “the birth of the land of Assur.”

As the passage I have quoted from Nabonidos shows, Sin was more particularly the father of Samas and Istar, of the Sun-god and the goddess of the evening star.”

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. 164-6.

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.

More on the Babylonian Zodiac

” … Then returning to the dead body of Tiâmat he smashed her skull with his club and scattered her blood to the north wind, and as a reward for his destruction of their terrible foe, he received gifts and presents from the gods his fathers.

The text then goes on to say that Marduk “devised a cunning plan,” i.e., he determined to carry out a series of works of creation.

He split the body of Tiâmat into two parts; out of one half he fashioned the dome of heaven, and out of the other he constructed the abode of Nudimmud, or Ea, which he placed over against Apsu, i.e., the deep.

He also formulated regulations concerning the maintenance of the same. By this “cunning plan” Marduk deprived the powers of darkness of the opportunity of repeating their revolt with any chance of success.

Having established the framework of his new heaven and earth Marduk, acting as the celestial architect, set to work to furnish them. In the first place he founded E-Sharra, or the mansion of heaven, and next he set apart and arranged proper places for the old gods of the three realms–Anu, Bel and Ea.

Illustration: Tablet sculptured with a scene representing the worship of the Sun-god in the Temple of Sippar.  The Sun-god is seated on a throne within a pavilion holding in one hand a disk and bar which may symbolize eternity.  Above his head are the three symbols of the Moon, the Sun, and the planet Venus.  On a stand in front of the pavilion rests the disk of the Sun, which is held in position by ropes grasped in the hands of two divine beings who are supported by the roof of the pavilion.  The pavilion of the Sun-god stands on the Celestial Ocean, and the four small disks indicate either the four cardinal points or the tops of the pillars of the heavens.  The three figures in front of the disk represent the high priest of Shamash, the king (Nabu-aplu-iddina, about 870 B.C.) and an attendant goddess. [No. 91,000.]

Illustration: Tablet sculptured with a scene representing the worship of the Sun-god in the Temple of Sippar.
The Sun-god is seated on a throne within a pavilion holding in one hand a disk and bar which may symbolize eternity.
Above his head are the three symbols of the Moon, the Sun, and the planet Venus.
On a stand in front of the pavilion rests the disk of the Sun, which is held in position by ropes grasped in the hands of two divine beings who are supported by the roof of the pavilion.
The pavilion of the Sun-god stands on the Celestial Ocean, and the four small disks indicate either the four cardinal points or the tops of the pillars of the heavens.
The three figures in front of the disk represent the high priest of Shamash, the king (Nabu-aplu-iddina, about 870 B.C.) and an attendant goddess. [No. 91,000.]

Museum number 91000 The engraved text contains a record of Nabu-apla-iddina's re-endowment of the Sun-Temple at Sippar. The inscription is engraved in six columns, three upon the obverse and three upon the reverse; and the upper part of the obverse is occupied by a scene sculptured in low relief; the edges of the tablet are bevelled.

Museum number 91000
The engraved text contains a record of Nabu-apla-iddina’s re-endowment of the Sun-Temple at Sippar. The inscription is engraved in six columns, three upon the obverse and three upon the reverse; and the upper part of the obverse is occupied by a scene sculptured in low relief; the edges of the tablet are bevelled.

Museum number 91000 Group of Objects Pottery box and the limestone sun-god tablet and its covers deposited in it by Nabopolassar.

Museum number 91000
Group of Objects
Pottery box and the limestone sun-god tablet and its covers deposited in it by Nabopolassar.

The text of the Fifth Tablet, which would undoubtedly have supplied details as to Marduk’s arrangement and regulations for the sun, the moon, the stars, and the Signs of the Zodiac in the heavens is wanting.

The prominence of the celestial bodies in the history of creation is not to be wondered at, for the greater number of the religious beliefs of the Babylonians are grouped round them. Moreover, the science of astronomy had gone hand in hand with the superstition of astrology in Mesopotamia from time immemorial; and at a very early period the oldest gods of Babylonia were associated with the heavenly bodies.

Thus the Annunaki and the Igigi, who are bodies of deified spirits, were identified with the stars of the northern and southern heaven, respectively. And all the primitive goddesses coalesced and were grouped to form the goddess Ishtar, who was identified with the Evening and Morning Star, or Venus.

The Babylonians believed that the will of the gods was made known to men by the motions of the planets, and that careful observation of them would enable the skilled seer to recognize in the stars favourable and unfavourable portents. Such observations, treated from a magical point of view, formed a huge mass of literature which was being added to continually.

From the nature of the case this literature enshrined a very considerable number of facts of pure astronomy, and as early as the period of the First Dynasty (about 2000 B.C.), the Babylonians were able to calculate astronomical events with considerable accuracy, and to reconcile the solar and lunar years by the use of epagomenal months.

They had by that time formulated the existence of the Zodiac, and fixed the “stations” of the moon, and the places of the planets with it; and they had distinguished between the planets and the fixed stars. In the Fifth Tablet of the Creation Series (l. 2) the Signs of the Zodiac are called Lumashi, but unfortunately no list of their names is given in the context.

 Illustration: Tablet inscribed with a list of the Signs of the Zodiac. [No. 77,821.]


Illustration: Tablet inscribed with a list of the Signs of the Zodiac. [No. 77,821.]

Now these are supplied by the little tablet (No. 77,821) of the Persian Period of which a reproduction is here given. It has been referred to and discussed by various scholars, and its importance is very great. The transcript of the text, which is now published (see p. 68) for the first time, will be acceptable to the students of the history of the Zodiac.

Egyptian, Greek, Syriac and Arabic astrological and astronomical texts all associate with the Signs of the Zodiac twelve groups, each containing three stars, which are commonly known as the “Thirty-six Dekans.”

The text of line 4 of the Fifth Tablet of the Creation Series proves that the Babylonians were acquainted with these groups of stars, for we read that Marduk “set up for the twelve months of the year three stars apiece.” In the List of Signs of the Zodiac here given, it will be seen that each Sign is associated with a particular month.

At a later period, say about 500 B.C., the Babylonians made some of the gods regents of groups of stars, for Enlil ruled 33 stars, Anu 23 stars, and Ea 15 stars. They also possessed lists of the fixed stars, and drew up tables of the times of their heliacal risings.

Such lists were probably based upon very ancient documents, and prove that the astral element in Babylonian religion was very considerable.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, et al, & the British Museum, The Babylonian Legends of the Creation & the Fight Between Bel & the Dragon Told by Assyrian Tablets from Nineveh (BCE 668-626), 1901, pp. 10-11.

The Weeping of the Infant Christ and the Lament for Adonis

” … When we reflect how often the Church has skilfully contrived to plant the seeds of the new faith on the old stock of paganism, we may surmise that the Easter celebration of the dead and risen Christ was grafted upon a similar celebration of the dead and risen Adonis, which, as we have seen reason to believe, was celebrated in Syria at the same season.

The type, created by Greek artists, of the sorrowful goddess with her dying lover in her arms, resembles and may have been the model of the Pietà of Christian art, the Virgin with the dead body of her divine Son in her lap, of which the most celebrated example is the one by Michael Angelo in St. Peters. That noble group, in which the living sorrow of the mother contrasts so wonderfully with the languor of death in the son, is one of the finest compositions in marble. Ancient Greek art has bequeathed to us few works so beautiful, and none so pathetic.

In this connexion a well-known statement of Jerome may not be without significance. He tells us that Bethlehem, the traditionary birthplace of the Lord, was shaded by a grove of that still older Syrian Lord, Adonis, and that where the infant Jesus had wept, the lover of Venus was bewailed.

Though he does not expressly say so, Jerome seems to have thought that the grove of Adonis had been planted by the heathen after the birth of Christ for the purpose of defiling the sacred spot. In this he may have been mistaken. If Adonis was indeed, as I have argued, the spirit of the corn, a more suitable name for his dwelling-place could hardly be found than Bethlehem, “the House of Bread,” and he may well have been worshipped there at his House of Bread long ages before the birth of Him who said, “I am the bread of life.”

Even on the hypothesis that Adonis followed rather than preceded Christ at Bethlehem, the choice of his sad figure to divert the allegiance of Christians from their Lord cannot but strike us as eminently appropriate when we remember the similarity of the rites which commemorated the death and resurrection of the two.

One of the earliest seats of the worship of the new god was Antioch, and at Antioch, as we have seen, the death of the old god was annually celebrated with great solemnity. A circumstance which attended the entrance of Julian into the city at the time of the Adonis festival may perhaps throw some light on the date of its celebration. When the emperor drew near to the city he was received with public prayers as if he had been a god, and he marvelled at the voices of a great multitude who cried that the Star of Salvation had dawned upon them in the East.

This may doubtless have been no more than a fulsome compliment paid by an obsequious Oriental crowd to the Roman emperor. But it is also possible that the rising of a bright star regularly gave the signal for the festival, and that as chance would have it the star emerged above the rim of the eastern horizon at the very moment of the emperor’s approach. The coincidence, if it happened, could hardly fail to strike the imagination of a superstitious and excited multitude, who might thereupon hail the great man as the deity whose coming was announced by the sign in the heavens.

Or the emperor may have mistaken for a greeting to himself the shouts which were addressed to the star. Now Astarte, the divine mistress of Adonis, was identified with the planet Venus, and her changes from a morning to an evening star were carefully noted by the Babylonian astronomers, who drew omens from her alternate appearance and disappearance.

Hence we may conjecture that the festival of Adonis was regularly timed to coincide with the appearance of Venus as the Morning or Evening Star. But the star which the people of Antioch saluted at the festival was seen in the East; therefore, if it was indeed Venus, it can only have been the Morning Star.

At Aphaca in Syria, where there was a famous temple of Astarte, the signal for the celebration of the rites was apparently given by the flashing of a meteor, which on a certain day fell like a star from the top of Mount Lebanon into the river Adonis. The meteor was thought to be Astarte herself, and its flight through the air might naturally be interpreted as the descent of the amorous goddess to the arms of her lover.

At Antioch and elsewhere the appearance of the Morning Star on the day of the festival may in like manner have been hailed as the coming of the goddess of love to wake her dead leman from his earthy bed. If that were so, we may surmise that it was the Morning Star which guided the wise men of the East to Bethlehem, the hallowed spot which heard, in the language of Jerome, the weeping of the infant Christ and the lament for Adonis.”

James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion  (1922)
Chapter 33:: The Gardens of Adonis, np.