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Tag: First Dynasty

Babylonian Creation Myths Echo Down the Centuries

” … The evidence furnished by these recently discovered tablets with regard to the date of Babylonian legends in general may be applied to the date of the Creation legends.

While the origin of much of the Creation legends may be traced to Sumerian sources, 1 it is clear that the Semitic inhabitants of Mesopotamia at a very early period produced their own versions of the compositions which they borrowed, modifying and augmenting them to suit their own legends and beliefs.

The connection of Marduk with the Dragon-Myth, and with the stories of the creation of the world and man, may with considerable probability be assigned to the subsequent period during which Babylon gradually attained to the position of the principal city in Mesopotamia.

On tablets inscribed during the reigns of kings of the First Dynasty we may therefore expect to find copies of the Creation legends corresponding closely with the text of the series Enuma elish. It is possible that the division of the poem into seven sections, inscribed upon separate tablets, took place at a later period; but, be this as it may, we may conclude with a considerable degree of confidence that the bulk of the poem, as we know it from late Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian copies, was composed at a period not later than B.C. 2000.

The political influence which the Babylonians exerted over neighbouring nations during long periods of their history was considerable, and it is not surprising that their beliefs concerning the origin of the universe should have been partially adopted by the races with whom they came in contact.

That Babylonian elements may be traced in the Phoenician cosmogony has long been admitted, but the imperfect, and probably distorted, form in which the latter has come down to us renders uncertain any comparison of details. 1

Some of the beliefs concerning the creation of the world which were current among the Egyptians bear a more striking resemblance to the corresponding legends of Babylonia. Whether this resemblance was due to the proto-Semitic strain which probably existed in the ancient Egyptian race, 1 or is to be explained as the result of later Babylonian influence from without, is yet uncertain.

But, whatever explanation be adopted, it is clear that the conception of chaos as a watery mass out of which came forth successive generations of primeval gods is common to both races. 2

It is in Hebrew literature, however, that the most striking examples of the influence of the Babylonian Creation legends are to be found.”

Leonard William King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, London, 1902. pp. lxxix-lxxxi.

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 Fifty Names of Marduk

” … it is clear that a dispute broke out between Marduk and the gods after he had created them, and the tradition of it has made its way into the religious literatures of the Hebrews, Syrians, Arabs, Copts and Abyssinians.

The cuneiform texts tell us nothing about the cause of the dispute, but tradition generally ascribes it to the creation of man by the supreme God; and it is probable that all the apocryphal stories which describe the expulsion from heaven of the angels who contended against God under the leadership of Satan, or Satnael, or Iblîs, are derived from a Babylonian original which has not yet been found.

The “Fifty Names,” or laudatory epithets mentioned above, find parallels in Seventy-five Praises of Rā, sung by the Egyptians under the XIXth dynasty, 15 and in the Ninety-nine Beautiful Names of Allâh, which are held in such great esteem by the Muḥammadans. 16

The respect in which the Fifty Names were held by the Babylonians is well shown by the work of the Epilogue on the Seventh Tablet, where it is said, “Let them be held in remembrance, let the first-comer (i.e., any and every man) proclaim them; let the wise and the understanding consider them together. Let the father repeat them and teach them to his son. Let them be in the ears of the herdsman and the shepherd.”

The object of the writer of the Fifty Names was to show that Marduk was the “Lord of the gods,” that the power, qualities and attributes of every god were enshrined in him, and that they all were merely forms of him.

This fact is proved by the tablet (No. 47,406), 17 which contains a long list of gods who are equated with Marduk in his various forms. 18

The tendency in the later Babylonian religion to make Marduk the god above all gods has led many to think that monotheistic conceptions were already in existence among the Babylonians as early as the period of the First Dynasty, about 2000 B.C. It is indisputable that Marduk obtained his pre-eminence in the Babylonian Pantheon at this early period.

But some authorities deny the existence of monotheistic conceptions among the Babylonians at that time, and attribute Marduk’s kingship of the gods to the influence of the political situation of the time, when Babylon first became the capital of the country, and mistress of the greater part of the known world.

Material for deciding this question is wanting, but it may be safely said that whatever monotheistic conceptions existed at that time, their acceptance was confined entirely to the priests and scribes. They certainly find no expression in the popular religious texts.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Legends of the Creation and the Fight Between Bel and the Dragon, 1921.

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.

46800

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.

Desecration of the Dead, Depredations of the Dead

” … Sometimes the bodies of the Sumerians were placed in sarcophagi of clay. The earlier type was of “bath-tub” shape, round and flat-bottomed, with a rounded lid, while the later was the “slipper-shaped coffin,” which was ornamented with charms. There is a close resemblance between the “bath-tub” coffins of Sumeria and the Egyptian pottery coffins of oval shape found in Third and Fourth Dynasty tombs in rock chambers near Nuerat. Certain designs on wooden coffins, and tombs as early as the First Dynasty, have direct analogies in Babylonia.

No great tombs were erected in Sumeria. The coffins were usually laid in brick vaults below dwellings, or below temples, or in trenches outside the city walls. On the “stele of victory,” which belongs to the period of Eannatum, patesi of Lagash, the dead bodies on the battlefield are piled up in pairs quite naked, and earth is being heaped over them; this is a specimen of mound burial.

According to Herodotus the Babylonians “buried their dead in honey, and had funeral lamentations like the Egyptians.” The custom of preserving the body in this manner does not appear to have been an ancient one, and may have resulted from cultural contact with the Nile valley during the late Assyrian period. So long as the bones were undisturbed, the spirit was supposed to be assured of rest in the Underworld. This archaic belief was widespread …

… In Babylonia the return of the spirits of the dead was greatly dreaded. Ishtar once uttered the terrible threat: “I will cause the dead to rise; they will then eat and live. The dead will be more numerous than the living.”

When a foreign country was invaded, it was a common custom to break open the tombs and scatter the bones they contained. Probably it was believed, when such acts of vandalism were committed, that the offended spirits would plague their kinsfolk.

Ghosts always haunted the homes they once lived in, and were as malignant as demons. It is significant to find in this connection that the bodies of enemies who were slain in battle were not given decent burial, but mutilated and left for birds and beasts of prey to devour.

The demons that plagued the dead might also attack the living. A fragmentary narrative, which used to be referred to as the Cuthean Legend of Creation, and has been shown by Mr. L.W. King to have no connection with the struggle between Merodach and the dragon, deals with a war waged by an ancient king against a horde of evil spirits, led by “the lord of heights, lord of the Anunaki (earth spirits).” Some of the supernatural warriors had bodies like birds; others had “raven faces,” and all had been “suckled by Tiamat.”

For three years the king sent out great armies to attack the demons, but “none returned alive.” Then he decided to go forth himself to save his country from destruction. So he prepared for the conflict, and took the precaution of performing elaborate and therefore costly religious rites so as to secure the cooperation of the gods.

His expedition was successful, for he routed the supernatural army. On his return home, he recorded his great victory on tablets which were placed in the shrine of Nergal at Cuthah.

This myth may be an echo of Nergal’s raid against Eresh-ki-gal. Or, being associated with Cuthah, it may have been composed to encourage burial in that city’s sacred cemetery, which had been cleared by the famous old king of the evil demons which tormented the dead and made seasonal attacks against the living.”

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

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