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Tag: Henry Rawlinson

Lenormant on the Great Babylonian Work on Magic

“The great work on magic, many copies of which had been executed by the scribes of Ashurbanipal, according to the pattern placed centuries since in the library of the famous school for priests at Erech in Chaldea, was composed of three different books.

We know the title of one of the three, “The Wicked Spirits,” for we find at the end of each of the tablets, which come from it and which have been preserved entire, “Tablet No. __ of the Wicked Spirits.”

As the title shows, it was filled exclusively with formulae of conjurations and imprecations, which were designed to repulse demons and other wicked spirits, to avert their fatal action, and to shelter the invoker from their attacks.

Portions of a second book exist, and, judging from what remains of it, it would seem to be formed of a collection of these incantations, to which was attributed the power of curing various maladies.

Lastly, the third book contained Hymns to certain gods. A supernatural and mysterious power was attributed to the chanting of these hymns, which are, however, of a very different character from the regular liturgical prayers of the official religion, a few of which have been preserved to us.

It is curious to notice that the three parts composing thus the great work on magic, of which Sir Henry Rawlinson has found the remains, correspond exactly to the three classes of Chaldean doctors, which Daniel (ii, 2; v. II) enumerates, together with the astrologers and divines (Kasdim and Gazrim), that is, the Khartumim or conjurors, the Chakamim or physicians, and the Asaphim or theosophists.”

François Lenormant, Chaldean Magic, “The Magic and Sorcery of the Chaldeans,” Chapter I, 1878, pp. 13-4. Originally published as La Magie Chez Les Chaldeens, 1847.

An Excerpt from Lenormant’s Chaldean Magic, Contrasted with Egyptian Magic

“After having put the reader in the way of comparing for himself the Egyptian and Chaldean magical formula, there is no need for me to pursue further the marked difference between the two systems, for this is evident to all students. The fundamental beliefs and ideas of magic superstition in Egypt and Chaldea were as different in their character as were the forms of their incantations.

In the Egyptian documents we perceive no trace of those elementary spirits, some good and some bad, endowed with a distinct personality, which Chaldeans believed to have been spread all over the world, the objects either of propitiatory incantations or the most terrible exorcisms.

On the other hand, the Chaldeans in no way entertained the idea of being able to elevate a man into a kind of demigod by means of their formulae, and of identifying him with the greatest personages of the celestial hierarchy.

Neither did they pretend that those formulae had any power to command the gods or to compel them to obey. Their magic belonged to the intermediate spiritual state, and there its powers were displayed.

If they required the help of the supreme gods, that was to be obtained by means of prayers and supplications; and not by compulsion; indeed, and we shall refer to this idea again, even their prayers were not all powerful to accomplish the desires of the suppliant unless they were presented to the gods by a mediator.

True indeed there was a supreme name which possessed the power of commanding the gods, and exacting from them a perfect obedience, but that name remained the inviolable secret of Hea.

The initiated need never hope to attain to such an awful height of knowledge as he might in the Egyptian system. In exceptionally grave cases he besought Hea, through the mediator Silik-mulu-khi, to pronounce the solemn word in order to reestablish order in the world and restrain the powers of the abyss.

But the enchanter did not know that name, and could not in consequence introduce it into his formulae, even although they were tested to remain for ever concealed in mystery.

He could not obtain or make use of it, he only requested the god who knew it to employ it, without endeavoring to penetrate the terrible secret himself.

The primitive simplicity of the incantations of Chaldean magic strikes us forcibly when we compare them with those of the Egyptian magic, and this fact gives to them a stamp of greater antiquity.

Every thing is expressed very clearly and simply without any attempt at obscurity, or premeditated complications. The belief in spirits is seen there in its most ancient and perfect form, without any philosophical refinement as to the divine substance, without a single trace of mysticism, and above all without any allusions to the vast number of mythological legends which fill the Egyptian formulae, and render them perfectly unintelligible without a voluminous commentary.

It is easy on the contrary to understand the magical formulae in the Accadian language, which were preserved in Chaldea until the breaking up of the sacerdotal schools on the borders of the Euphrates, and which Ashurbanipal had copied for the royal library in Nineveh about the VIIth century, BCE.

They contain no mysteries, and the sacerdotal secret, if there were one, consisted in the precise knowledge of the exact terms of the incantations, sacred from their antiquity, and no doubt also from the idea that they were of divine origin.

The formulae were the work of a people who possessed as yet no esoteric doctrines and no mystical initiations; amongst whom the science of magic consisted simply in a practical acquaintance by the priests with certain rites and words, by means of which they fancied themselves able to establish a communication with the world of spirits, whilst at the same time their conception of those spirits difference from the popular superstitions only by a little more systematic regularity in their position, hierarchy and privileges.

It is for this reason that the Accadian magic preserved, even during the centuries of the greatest splendor of Babylon and Assyria, the appearance of extreme antiquity and the spirit of the earliest ages, by the side of the learned religion which sprang up later in the same places, and which accepted the existence of this magic by placing in the canon of its sacred books the old Accadian incantations, and giving a place, though indeed an insubordinate one, in its theological system to the genii who were invoked in these incantations.

At the bottom, as we shall see, magic was not separated in Chaldea from the religion of the historical centuries; it was a new twig from an entirely different plant which was grafted for good or for evil upon the trunk from the time that its existence was recognized, and tolerated instead of being annihilated.

But facts oblige us to see in it also the remains of an earlier religious system, of a still rudimentary and coarse naturalism, which arose from the ideas of a primitive population belonging to a race entirely different from that among which the Chaldaic-Assyrian religion existed.

In the civilization which gradually spread over the borders of the Tigris and Euphrates from the fusion of the Sumerians, and the Accadians, the Semit-Kushites and the Turanians, religion and magic were peaceably united, although they originated in the two opposing elements of the people.

This I think will be made evident by placing the doctrines of the magic books which were originally written in the Accadian language, and the discovery of which we owe to Sir Henry Rawlinson, in comparison with those of the later official religion and of the public worship, as they appear in many documents.”

François Lenormant, Chaldean Magic, “Contrasts between the Accadian and Egyptian magic,” Chapter VIII, 1878, pp. 107-110. Originally published as La Magie Chez Les Chaldeens, 1847.

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.

The Behistun Inscription

“In 1854 Sir Henry Rawlinson superintended diggings at Birs Nimrud (Borsippa, near Babylon), and excavated relics of the Biblical Nebuchadrezzar. This notable archaeologist began his career in the East as an officer in the Bombay army. He distinguished himself as a political agent and diplomatist. While resident at Baghdad, he devoted his leisure time to cuneiform studies.

One of his remarkable feats was the copying of the famous trilingual rock inscription of Darius the Great on a mountain cliff at Behistun, in Persian Kurdistan (the Behistun Inscription). This work was carried out at great personal risk, for the cliff is 1700 feet high and the sculptures and inscriptions are situated about 300 feet from the ground.

The Behistun Inscription

Bisotun Iran Relief Achamenid Period” by Hara1603 – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Darius was the first monarch of his line to make use of the Persian cuneiform script, which in this case he utilized in conjunction with the older and more complicated Assyro-Babylonian alphabetic and syllabic characters to record a portion of the history of his reign.

Rawlinson’s translation of the famous inscription was an important contribution towards the decipherment of the cuneiform writings of Assyria and Babylonia.”

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

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