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Tag: Supreme House of Life

Nebo, God of Wisdom, God of Writing

In Semitic days, Zarpanit, the inheritor of all these old traditions and worships, fell from her high estate. She ceased to be the goddess of wisdom, the voice of the deep revealing the secrets of heaven to the diviner and priest; she became merely the female shadow and companion of Merodach, to whom a shrine was erected at the entrance to his temple.

Her distinctive attributes all belong to the pre-Semitic epoch; with the introduction of a language which recognized gender, she was lost in the colourless throng of Ashtaroth or Baalat, the goddesses who were called into existence by the masculine Baalim.

Zarpanit, however, had something to do with the prominence given to Nebo in the Babylonian cult. Nebo, the son of Merodach and Zarpanitu, had, as we have seen, a chapel called E-Zida within the precincts of the great temple of his father.

E-Zida, “the constituted house,” derived its name from the great temple of Borsippa, the suburb of Babylon, the ruins of which are now known to travelers as the Birs-i-Nimrúd. Borsippa, it would seem, had once been an independent town, and Nebo, or the prototype of Nebo, had been its protecting deity.

In the middle of the city rose E-Zida, the temple of Nebo and Nana Tasmit, with its holy of holies, “the supreme house of life,” and its lofty tower termed “the house of the seven spheres of heaven and earth.” It had been founded, though never finished, according to Nebuchadnezzar, by an ancient king.

For long centuries it had remained a heap of ruin, until restored by Nebuchadnezzar, and legends had grown up thickly around it. It was known as the tul ellu, “the pure” or “holy mound,” and one of the titles of Nebo accordingly was “god of the holy mound.”

The word Nebo is the Semitic Babylonian Nabiu or Nabû. It means the proclaimer,” “the prophet,” and thus indicates the character of the god to whom it was applied. Nebo was essentially the proclaimer of the mind and wishes of Merodach.

He stood to Merodach in the same relation that an older mythology regarded Merodach as standing to Ea. While Merodach was rather the god of healing, in accordance with his primitively solar nature, Nebo was emphatically the god of science and literature.

The communication of the gifts of wisdom, therefore, which originally emanated from Ea, was thus shared between Merodach and his son. At Babylon, the culture-god of other countries was divided into two personalities, the one conveying to man the wisdom that ameliorates his condition, the other the knowledge which finds its expression in the art of writing.”

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. 112-3.

Marduk as Sun God of Babylon

Here Merodach, it will be observed, though “lord of all that exists,” is nevertheless only the first-born of the gods.

There were gods older than he, just as there were cities older than Babylon. He could not therefore be absolute lord of the world; it was only within Babylon itself that this was the case; elsewhere his rule was shared with others.

Hence it was that while Nebuchadnezzar as a native of Babylon was the work of his hands, outside Babylon there were other creators and other lords. This fact is accentuated in an inscription of Nabonidos, belonging to the earlier part of his reign, in which Merodach is coupled with the Moon-god of Ur and placed on an equal footing with him.

One of the epithets applied by Nebuchadnezzar to Merodach is that of riminu, or “merciful.” It is indeed a standing epithet of the god. Merodach was the intercessor between the gods and men, and the interpreter of the will of Ea, the god of wisdom.

In an old bilingual hymn he is thus addressed: “Thou art Merodach, the merciful lord who loves to raise the dead to life.” The expression is a remarkable one, and indicates that the Babylonians were already acquainted with a doctrine of the resurrection at an early period.

Merodach’s attribute of mercy is coupled with his power to raise the dead. The same expression occurs in another of these bilingual hymns, which I intend to discuss in a future Lecture…

“(Thou art) the king of the land, the lord of the world!

0 firstborn of Ea, omnipotent over heaven and earth.

0 mighty lord of mankind, king of (all) lands,

(Thou art) the god of gods,

(The prince) of heaven and earth who hath no rival,

The companion of Anu and Bel (Mul-lil),

The merciful one among the gods,

The merciful one who loves to raise the dead to life,

Merodach, king of heaven and earth,

King of Babylon, lord of E-Sagila,

King of E-Zida, king of E-makh-tilla (the supreme house of life),

Heaven and earth are thine!

The circuit of heaven and earth is thine,

The incantation that gives life is thine,

The breath that gives life is thine,

The holy writing of the mouth of the deep is thine:

Mankind, even the black-headed race (of Accad),

All living souls that have received a name, that exist in the world,

The four quarters of the earth wheresoever they are,

All the angel-hosts of heaven and earth

(Regard) thee and (lend to thee) an ear.”

[ … ]

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. 98-102.

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