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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.

Nergal the Destroyer

“The library of Nineveh contained the copy of a tablet which, according to its concluding lines, was originally written for the great temple of Nergal at Cutha. The words of the text are put in the mouth of Nergal the destroyer, who is represented as sending out the hosts of the ancient brood of chaos to their destruction.

Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.  In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.  The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld.  The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lions suckling at her breast.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.  The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.
In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.
The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld.
The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lions suckling at her breast.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Nergal is identified with Nerra, the plague-god, who smites them with pestilence, or rather with Ner, the terrible “king who gives not peace to his country, the shepherd who grants no favour to his people.”

We are first told how the armies of chaos came into existence.

“On a tablet none wrote, none disclosed, and no bodies or brushwood were produced in the land; and there was none whom I approached.

Warriors with the body of a bird of the valley, men with the faces of ravens, did the great gods create. In the ground did the gods create their city. Tiamat (the dragon of chaos) suckled them. Their progeny (sasur) the mistress of the gods created.

In the midst of the mountains they grew up and became heroes and increased in number. Seven kings, brethren, appeared and begat children. Six thousand in number were their peoples. The god Banini their father was king; their mother was the queen Melili.”

It was the subjects and the offspring of these semi-human heroes whom the god Ner was deputed to destroy.

The reverse side of the god Nergal,  drawn by Faucher-Gudin. This is the back of the bronze plate above; the animal-head of the god appears in relief at the top of the illustration. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0018

The reverse side of the god Nergal, drawn by Faucher-Gudin. This is the back of the bronze plate above; the animal-head of the god appears in relief at the top of the illustration.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0018

It is clear that the legend of Cutha agrees with Berossos in the main facts, however much it may differ in details. In both alike, we have a first creation of living beings, and these beings are of a composite nature, and the nurselings of Tiamat or Chaos.

"Bird men" are depicted.

“Bird men” are depicted.

In both alike, the whole brood is exterminated by the gods of light. A curious point in connection with the legend is the description of chaos as a time when writing was as yet unknown and records unkept. Perhaps we may see in this an allusion to the fact that the Babylonian histories of the pre-human period were supposed to have been composed by the gods.

The date to which the legend in its present form may be assigned is difficult to determine. The inscription is in Semitic only, like the other creation-tablets, and therefore cannot belong to the pre-Semitic age. It belongs, moreover, to an epoch when the unification of the deities of Babylonia had already taken place, and the circle of “the great gods” was complete.

Ea, Istar, Zamama, Anunit, even Nebo and “Samas the warrior,” are all referred to in it. We must therefore place its composition after the rise not only of the hymns of Sippara, but also of the celebrity of the Semitic god of Borsippa.

On the other hand, the reference to the pateśi or priest-king in the concluding lines seems to prevent us from assigning too late a date to the poem. Perhaps we shall not be far wrong in ascribing it to the era of Khammuragas.”

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. 372-4.

Temple of Bel, Temple of Marduk, Temple of Babylon, E-Sagila

“He says of it:

Ka-khilibu, the gate of glory, as well as the gate of E-Zida within E-Sagila, I made as brilliant as the sun. The holy seats, the place of the gods who determine destiny, which is the place of the assembly (of the gods), the holy of holies of the gods of destiny, wherein on the great festival (Zagmuku) at the beginning of the year, on the eighth and the eleventh days (of the month), the divine king (Merodach), the god of heaven and earth, the lord of heaven, descends, while the gods in heaven and earth, listening to him with reverential awe and standing humbly before him, determine therein a destiny of long-ending days, even the destiny of my life; this holy of holies, this sanctuary of the kingdom, this sanctuary of the lordship of the first-born of the gods, the prince, Merodach, which a former king had adorned with silver, I overlaid with glittering gold and rich ornament.”

Just within the gate was the “seat” or shrine of the goddess Zarpanit, the wife of Merodach, perhaps to be identified with that Succoth-benoth whose image, we are told in the Old Testament, was made by the men of Babylon.

E-Zida, “the firmly-established temple,” was the chapel dedicated to Nebo, and derived its name from the great temple built in honour of that deity at Borsippa. As Nebo was the son of Merodach, it was only fitting that his shrine should stand within the precincts of his father’s temple, by the side of the shrine sacred to his mother Zarpanit.

It was within the shrine of Nebo, the god of prophecy, that the parakku, or holy of holies, was situated, where Merodach descended at the time of the great festival at the beginning of the year, and the divine oracles were announced to the attendant priests.

The special papakha or sanctuary of Merodach himself was separate from that of his son. It went by the name of E-Kua, “the house of the oracle,” and probably contained the golden statue of Bel mentioned by Herodotus.

Nebuchadnezzar tells us that he enriched its walls with ”glittering gold.” Beyond it rose the stately ziggurat, or tower of eight stages, called E-Temen-gurum, “the house of the foundation-stone of heaven and earth.” As was the case with the other towers of Babylonia and Assyria, its topmost chamber was used as an observatory.

This illustration depicts the dual ziggurats of E-temen-anki and the Temple of Bel, conflating them as E-Sagila, the Temple of Marduk.  http://www.dalamatiacity.com/urantia-clues23.htm

This illustration depicts the dual ziggurats of E-temen-anki and the Temple of Bel, conflating them as E-Sagila, the Temple of Marduk.
http://www.dalamatiacity.com/urantia-clues23.htm

No temple was complete without such a tower; it was to the Babylonian what the high-places were to the inhabitants of a mountainous country like Canaan. It takes us back to an age when the gods were believed to dwell in the visible sky, and when therefore man did his best to rear his altars as near to them as possible. “Let us build us a city and a tower,” said the settlers in Babel, “whose top may reach unto heaven.”

 The Babylonian Bel, accordingly, was Merodach, who watched over the fortunes of Babylon and the great temple there which had been erected in his honour. He was not the national god of Babylonia, except in so far as the city of Babylon claimed to represent the whole of Babylonia; he was simply the god of the single city of Babylon and its inhabitants.

This map depicts more clearly the relative positions of Etemenanki and the Temple of Marduk.  Map of Babylon Creator Jona Lendering Licence Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Linked Babylon, Babylonian Empire, Capture of Babylon (Herodotus), Esagila, Etemenanki (the "Tower of Babel"), Zopyrus Categories Babylonia http://www.livius.org/pictures/a/maps/map-of-babylon/ http://www.livius.org/place/etemenanki/

This map depicts more clearly the relative positions of Etemenanki and the Temple of Marduk.
Map of Babylon
Creator
Jona Lendering
Licence
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
Linked
Babylon, Babylonian Empire, Capture of Babylon (Herodotus), Esagila, Etemenanki (the “Tower of Babel”), Zopyrus
Categories
Babylonia
http://www.livius.org/pictures/a/maps/map-of-babylon/
http://www.livius.org/place/etemenanki/

He was but one Baal out of many Baalim, supreme only when his worshippers were themselves supreme. It was only when a Nebuchadnezzar or a Khammuragas was undisputed master of Babylonia that the god they adored became “the prince of the gods.”

But the other gods maintained their separate positions by his side, and in their own cities would have jealously resented any interference with their ancient supremacy. As we have seen, Nabonidos brought upon himself the anger of heaven because he carried away the gods of Marad and Kis and other towns to swell the train of Merodach in his temple at 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. 94-7.

E-Sagila, The Great Temple of Bel in Babylon

The temple or “tomb”of Bêlos, as it was also called by the Greeks, was one of the wonders of the world.

Hêrodotos, quoting probably from an earlier author, describes it in the following terms :

“The temple of Zeus Bêlos,with bronze gates which remained up to my time, was a square building two furlongs every way. In the middle of the temple was a tower of solid masonry, a furlong in length and breadth, and upon this tower another tower had been erected, and upon that again another, and so on for eight towers.

And the ascent to them was by an incline which wound round all the towers on the outside. About the middle of the incline are a resting-place and seats, where those who ascend may sit and rest. In the topmost tower is a large shrine, within which is a large and well-appointed couch, with a golden table at its side.

But no image is set up there, nor does any one pass the night there except a single woman, a native of the country, whom the god selects for himself from among all the inhabitants, as is asserted by the Chaldeans, the priests of the god.

They further say, though I cannot believe it, that the god himself visits the shrine and takes his rest upon the couch. … There is another shrine below belonging to this Babylonian temple, and containing a great statue of Zeus [Bêlos] of gold in a sitting posture, and a great golden table is set beside it.

The pedestal and chair of the statue are of gold, and, as the Chaldeans used to say, the gold was as much as 800 talents in weight. Outside the shrine is a golden altar. There is also another great altar upon which full-grown sheep are sacrificed, for upon the golden altar only sucklings are allowed to be offered.

Upon the larger altar also the Chaldeans burn each year a thousand talents of frankincense at the time when they keep the festival of the god. In this part of the temple there was still at that time a figure of a man twelve cubits high, of solid gold.”

It is clear from this description that the great temple of Babylon resembled a large square enclosure formed by huge walls of brick, within which rose a tower in eight stages. Below the tower was a shrine or temple, and outside it two altars, the smaller one of gold for special offerings, while the larger one was intended for the sacrifice of sheep as well as for the burning of incense.

We learn a good deal about this temple from the inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar, which show that although Hêrodotos was correct in his general description of the building, he has made mistakes in the matter of details.

The Temple itself stood on the east side of Babylon, and had existed since the age of Khammuragas (B.C. 2250), and the first dynasty which had made Babylon its capital. It bore the title of E-Sagila or E-Saggil, an Accadian name signifying “the house of the raising of the head.”

Its entrance also bore the Accadian title of Ka-khilibu, which Nebuchadnezzar renders “the gate of 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. 92-4.

Intimations of Antediluvian Kings

“Now the annalistic tablet takes us back reign by reign, dynasty by dynasty, to about the year 2400 B.C. Among the monarchs mentioned upon it is Khammuragas, whose reign is placed 112 years later (B.C. 2290). Of Sargon and his son Naram-Sin, however, there is no trace.

But this is not all. On the shelves of the British Museum you may see huge sun-dried bricks, on which are stamped the names and titles of kings who erected or repaired the temples where they have been found. In the dynasties of the annalistic tablet their names are as much absent as is the name of Sargon.

They must have belonged to an earlier period than that with which the list of the tablet begins, and have reigned before the time when, according to the margins of our Bibles, the flood of Noah was covering the earth, and reducing such bricks as these to their primeval slime.

But the kings who have recorded their constructive operations on the bricks are seldom connected with one another. They are rather the isolated links of a broken chain, and thus presuppose a long period of time during which their reigns must have fallen.

This conclusion is verified by another document, also coming from Babylonia and also first published by Mr. Pinches. This document contains a very long catalogue of royal names, not chronologically arranged, as is expressly stated, but drawn up for a philological purpose–that of explaining in Assyrian the Accadian and Kossaean names of the non-Semitic rulers of Babylonia.

Though the document is imperfect it embodies about sixty names which do not occur on the annalistic tablet, and must therefore be referred to an earlier epoch than that with which the latter begins.

[ … ]

Moreover, whatever might have been the original character of the Semitic occupation of Babylonia, from the time of Sargon I downwards it was of a more or less peaceable nature; Accadians and Semites mingled together, and from the mixture sprang the peculiar civilisation of Babylonia, and the peculiar type of its people.”

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. 23-6.

The Genesis of the Kings List

“The single fact which has shaken it to its very foundations is the discovery of the date to which the reign of Sargon of Accad must be assigned. The last king of of Babylonia, Nabonidos, had antiquarian tastes, and busied himself not only with the restoration of the old temples of his country, but also with the disinterment of the memorial cylinders which their builders and restorers had buried beneath their foundations.

It was known that the great temple of the Sun-god at Sippara, where the mounds of Abu-Habba now mark its remains, had been originally erected by Naram-Sin the son of Sargon, and attempts had been already made to find the records which, it was assumed, he had entombed under its angles. With true antiquarian zeal, Nabonidos continued the search, and did not desist until, like the Dean and Chapter of some modern cathedral, he had lighted upon “the foundation-stone” of Naram-Sin himself.

The Foundation Stone of Naram-Sin.

The Foundation Stone of Naram-Sin.

 This “foundation-stone,” he tells us, had been seen by none of his predecessors for 3200 years. In the opinion, accordingly, of Nabonidos, a king who was curious about the past history of his country, and whose royal position gave him the best possible opportunities for learning all that could be known about it, Naram-Sin and his father Sargon I, lived 3200 years before his own time, or 3750 B.C.

The date is so remote and so contrary to all our preconceived ideas regarding the antiquity of the Babylonian monarchy, that I may be excused if at first I expressed doubts as to its accuracy. We are now accustomed to contemplate with equanimity the long chronology which the monuments demand for the history of Pharaonic Egypt, but we had also been accustomed to regard the history of Babylonia as beginning at the earliest in the third millennium before our era. Assyrian scholars had inherited the chronological prejudices of a former generation, and a starveling chronology seemed to be confirmed by the statements of Greek writers.

I was, however, soon forced to re-consider the reasons of my scepticism. The cylinder on which Nabonidos accounts his discovery of the foundation-stone of Naram-Sin was brought from the excavations of Mr. Hormuzd Rassam in Babylonia, and explained by Mr. Pinches six years ago.

Soon afterwards, Mr. Pinches was fortunate enough to find among some other inscriptions from Babylonia fragments of three different lists, in one of which the kings of Babylonia were arranged in dynasties, and the number of years each king reigned was stated, as well as the number of years the several dynasties lasted.

An Assyrian copy of a similar list had been already discovered by Mr. George Smith, who, with his usual quickness of perception, saw that it must have resembled the lists from which Berossos, the Greek historian of Chaldaea, drew the materials of his chronology; but the copy was so mere a fragment that the chronological position of the kings mentioned upon it was a matter of dispute.

Happily this is not the case with the principal test published by Mr. Pinches. It had been compiled by a native of Babylon, who consequently began with the first dynasty which made Babylon the capital of the kingdom, and who seems to have flourished in the time of Nabonidos. We can check the accuracy of his statements in a somewhat curious way.

One of the two other texts brought to light by Mr. Pinches is a schoolboy’s exercise copy of the first two dynasties mentioned on the annalistic tablet. There are certain variations between thc two texts, however, which show that the schoolboy or his master must have used some other list of the early kings than that which was employed by the compiler of the tablet; nevertheless, the names and the regnal years, with one exception, agree exactly in each.

In Assyria, an accurate chronology was kept by means of certain officers, the so-called Eponyms, who were changed every year and gave their names to the year over which they presided. We have at present no positive proof that the years were dated in the same way in Babylonia; but since most Assyrian institutions were of Babylonian origin, it is probable that they were.

At all events, the scribes of a later day believed that they had trustworthy chronological evidence extending back into a dim antiquity; and when we remember the imperishable character of the clay literature of the country, and the fact that the British Museum actually contains deeds and other legal documents dated in the rein of Khammuragas, more than four thousand years ago, there is no reason why we should not consider the belief to have been justified.”

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. 21-3.

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