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Tag: Nin-Girsu

On Divination in Ancient Babylonia

“Divination as practised by means of augury was a rite of the first importance among the Babylonians and Assyrians. This was absolutely distinct from divination by astrology.

The favourite method of augury among the Chaldeans of old was that by examination of the liver of a slaughtered animal. It was thought that when an animal was offered up in sacrifice to a god that the deity identified himself for the time being with that animal, and that the beast thus afforded a means of indicating the wishes of the god.

Simulacrum of a sheep’s liver, inscribed with magical formulae for purposes of divination by the priests of Babylon.   Photo W. A. Mansell and Co. Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1917. P. 281. http://www.wisdomlib.org/uploads/images/clay-object.jpg

Simulacrum of a sheep’s liver, inscribed with magical formulae for purposes of divination by the priests of Babylon.
Photo W. A. Mansell and Co.
Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1917. P. 281.
http://www.wisdomlib.org/uploads/images/clay-object.jpg

Now among people in a primitive state of culture the soul is almost invariably supposed to reside in the liver instead of in the heart or brain. More blood is secreted by the liver than by any other organ in the body, and upon the opening of a carcase it appears the most striking, the most central, and the most sanguinary of the vital parts. The liver was, in fact, supposed by early peoples to be the fountain of the blood supply and therefore of life itself.

Hepatoscopy or divination from the liver was undertaken by the Chaldeans for the purpose of determining what the gods had in mind. The soul of the animal became for the nonce the soul of the god, therefore if the signs of the liver of the sacrificed animal could be read the mind of the god became clear, and his intentions regarding the future were known.

Divinatory clay liver models for training soothsayers.  The one in the middle foretells the destruction of small cities.  Baken clay, 19th–18th centuries BC, from the royal palace at Mari (now in Syria).  Louvre Museum  wikidata:Q19675 Department of Oriental Antiquities, Richelieu, ground floor, room 3 Accession number	AO 19837 Excavated by André Parrot, 1935–1936 Source/Photographer	Jastrow (2005) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Divinatory_livers_Louvre_AO19837.jpg

Divinatory clay liver models for training soothsayers.
The one in the middle foretells the destruction of small cities.
Baken clay, 19th–18th centuries BC, from the royal palace at Mari (now in Syria).
Louvre Museum
wikidata:Q19675
Department of Oriental Antiquities, Richelieu, ground floor, room 3
Accession number AO 19837
Excavated by André Parrot, 1935–1936
Source/Photographer Jastrow (2005)
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Divinatory_livers_Louvre_AO19837.jpg

The animal usually sacrificed was a sheep, the liver of which animal is most complicated in appearance. The two lower lobes are sharply divided from one another and are separated from the upper by a narrow depression, and the whole surface is covered with markings and fissures, lines and curves which give it much the appearance of a map on which roads and valleys are outlined. This applies to the freshly excised liver only, and these markings are never the same in any two livers.

Certain priests were set apart for the practice of liver-reading, and these were exceedingly expert, being able to decipher the hepatoscopic signs with great skill. They first examined the gall-bladder, which might be reduced or swollen. They inferred various circumstances from the several ducts and the shapes and sizes of the lobes and their appendices. Diseases of the liver, too, particularly common among sheep in all countries, were even more frequent among these animals in the marshy portions of the Euphrates Valley.

The literature connected with this species of augury is very extensive, and Assur-bani-pal’s library contained thousands of fragments describing the omens deduced from the practice. These enumerate the chief appearances of the liver, as the shade of the colour of the gall, the length of the ducts, and so forth.

The lobes were divided into sections, lower, medial, and higher, and the interpretation varied from the phenomena therein observed. The markings on the liver possessed various names, such as ‘palaces,’ ‘weapons,’ ‘paths,’ and ‘feet,’ which terms remind us somewhat of the bizarre nomenclature of astrology.

Later in the progress of the art the various combinations of signs came to be known so well, and there were so many cuneiform texts in existence which afforded instruction in them, that a liver could be quickly ‘read’ by the barû or reader, a name which was afterward applied to the astrologists as well and to those who divined through various other natural phenomena.

One of the earliest instances on record of hepatoscopy is that regarding Naram-Sin, who consulted a sheep’s liver before declaring war. The great Sargon did likewise, and we find Gudea applying to his ‘liver inspectors’ when attempting to discover a favourable time for laying the foundations of the temple of Nin-girsu.

Throughout the whole history of the Babylonian monarchy in fact, from its early beginnings to its end, we find this system in vogue. Whether it was in force in Sumerian times we have no means of knowing, but there is every likelihood that such was the case.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 281-3.

Nipur, City of Magic

“It is thus clear that, just as Eridu in southern Babylonia was the primitive seat of the worship of the Chaldean culture-god and of the civilisation with which his name was connected, Nipur in northern Babylonia was the original home of a very different kind of worship, which concerned itself with ghosts and demons and the various monsters of the under-world.

It was, in fact, the home of that belief in magic, and in the various spirits exorcised by the magician, which left so deep an impression upon the religion of early Babylonia, and about which I shall have to speak in a future Lecture.

The analogy of Eridu would lead us to infer, moreover, that it was not only the home of this belief, but also the source from which it made its way to other parts of the country.

In the pre-historic age, Eridu in the south and Nipur in the north would have been the two religious centres of Babylonian theology, from whence two wholly different streams of religious thought and influence spread and eventually blended.

The mixture formed what I may call the established religion of Chaldea in the pre-Semitic period. That this conclusion is not a mere inference is shown by the monuments discovered at Tel-loh.

Tel-loh was geographically nearer to Eridu than to Nipur, and its theology might therefore be expected to be more largely influenced by that of Eridu than by that of Nipur. And such, indeed, is the case.

Temples and statues are dedicated to Ea, “the king of Eridu,” and more especially to Bahu, a goddess who occupied a conspicuous place in the cosmological legends of Eridu.

But Mul-lil, the god of Nipur, appears far more frequently in the inscriptions of Tel-loh than we should have anticipated.

Nin-kharsak, “the mistress of the mountain,” and “mother of the gods,” in whom we may see a local divinity, is associated with him as wife; and Nin-girśu himself, the patron god of Tel-loh, is made his “hero” or “champion.”

So close, indeed, is the connection of the latter with Mul-lil, that the compilers of the mythological tablets, in a latter age, identified him with the “warrior” god of Nipur, Adar the son of Mul-lil.

Adar, or Ninep, or Uras--for his name has been read in these various fashions, and the true reading still remains unknown–played a conspicuous part in Babylonian, and more especially Assyrian theology.

He was regarded as emphatically the warrior and champion of the gods, and as such was naturally a favourite object of worship amongst a nation of warriors like the Assyrians. Indeed, it may be suspected that the extent to which the name of the older Bel was reverenced in Assyria was in some measure due to the favour in which his son Adar was held.

In the inscriptions of Nineveh, the title of “hero-god” (masu) is applied to him with peculiar frequency; this was the characteristic upon which the Assyrian kings more particularly loved to dwell.

In Babylonia, on the other hand, Adar was by no means so favourite a divinity. Here it was the milder and less warlike Merodach that took his place. The arts of peace, rather than those of war, found favour among the Semitic population of the southern kingdom.”

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. 150-2.

Hammurabi Restored the Temples

” … Hammurabi’s reign was long as it was prosperous. There is no general agreement as to when he ascended the throne–some say in 2123 B.C., others hold that it was after 2000 B.C.–but it is certain that he presided over the destinies of Babylon for the long period of forty-three years.

There are interesting references to the military successes of his reign in the prologue to the legal Code. It is related that when he “avenged Larsa,” the seat of Rim-Sin, he restored there the temple of the sun god.

Other temples were built up at various ancient centres, so that these cultural organizations might contribute to the welfare of the localities over which they held sway. At Nippur he thus honoured Enlil, at Eridu the god Ea, at Ur the god Sin, at Erech the god Anu and the goddess Nana (Ishtar), at Kish the god Zamama and the goddess Ma-ma, at Cuthah the god Nergal, at Lagash the god Nin-Girsu, while at Adab and Akkad, “celebrated for its wide squares,” and other centres he carried out religious and public works.

In Assyria he restored the colossus of Ashur, which had evidently been carried away by a conqueror, and he developed the canal system of Nineveh.

[ … ]

Hammurabi referred to himself in the Prologue as “a king who commanded obedience in all the four quarters.” He was the sort of benevolent despot whom Carlyle on one occasion clamoured vainly for–not an Oriental despot in the commonly accepted sense of the term.

As a German writer puts it, his despotism was a form of Patriarchal Absolutism. “When Marduk (Merodach),” as the great king recorded, “brought me to direct all people, and commissioned me to give judgment, I laid down justice and right in the provinces, I made all flesh to prosper.”

That was the keynote of his long life; he regarded himself as the earthly representative of the Ruler of all–Merodach, “the lord god of right,” who carried out the decrees of Anu, the sky god of Destiny.”

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

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