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Tag: Triads

Triads and Feminine Reflections in Babylonian Religion

“Even at Babylon, however, Merodach did not stand alone. He shared his divine honours, as we have seen, with his wife Zarpanitu and his son Nebo.

The old Accadian cult seems to have had a fancy for trinities or triads, originating perhaps in the primary astronomical triad of the Sun-god, the Moon-god and the Evening Star.

The Accadian triad usually consisted of male deities. The Semites, however, as I hope to point out in the next Lecture, introduced a new idea, that of sex, into the theology of the country. Every god was provided with his female reflection, who stood to him in the relation of the wife to the husband.

Baal, accordingly, had his female reflex, his “face,” as it was termed, Bilat or Beltis. By the side of the Baal of Babylon, therefore, stood Beltis, “the lady” by the side of her “lord.”

Her local name mas Zarpanitu, which a punning etymology subsequently turned into Zir-banitu, “creatress of seed,” sometimes written Zir-panitu, with an obvious  play on the word panu, or “face.”

Zarpanitu was of purely Semitic origin. But she was identified with an older Accadian divinity, Gasmu, “the wise one,” the fitting consort of a deity whose office it was to convey the wishes of the god of wisdom to suffering humanity.

The Accadian goddess, however, must originally have stood rather in the relation of mother than of wife to the primitive Merodach. She was entitled “the lady of the deep,” “the mistress of the abode of the fish,” and “the voice of the deep.”

Hence she must have ranked by the side of Ea, the fish-god and “lord of the deep;” and in the title “voice” or “incantation of the deep,” we may see a reference to the ideas which caused Ea to become the god of wisdom, and brought the fish-god Oannes out of the Persian Gulf to carry culture and knowledge to the inhabitants of Chaldea.

In the roar of the sea-waves, the early dwellers on the shores of the Gulf must have heard the voice of heaven, and their prophets and diviners must have discovered in it a revelation of the will of the gods.

It is not surprising, therefore, if Zarpanit was specially identified with the goddess Lakhamun, who was worshipped in the sacred island of Dilmun, or with the goddess Elagu, whose name was revered in the mountains of Elam.”

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. 110-1.

Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk (British Museum, No. 90,858)

The accompanying illustration, which is reproduced from the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk (Brit. Mus., No. 90,858), supplies much information about the symbols of the gods, and of the Signs of the Zodiac in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, King of Babylon, about 1120 B.C.

British Museum number 90858 Description 3/4: Right Limestone stela in the form of a boundary-stone: consisting of a block of calcareous limestone, shaped and prepared on four sides to take sculptures and inscriptions. It is now mounted on a stone plinth.  Faces B and C each bear a single column of inscription, the lines running the full width of the stone.  The top of the stone and Face D have been left blank, except for the serpent, which has been carved to the left of the emblems on Face A.  Inscribed with a Charter from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I.

British Museum number 90858
Description 3/4: Right
Limestone stela in the form of a boundary-stone: consisting of a block of calcareous limestone, shaped and prepared on four sides to take sculptures and inscriptions. It is now mounted on a stone plinth.
Faces B and C each bear a single column of inscription, the lines running the full width of the stone.
The top of the stone and Face D have been left blank, except for the serpent, which has been carved to the left of the emblems on Face A.
Inscribed with a Charter from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I.

Thus in Register 1, we have the Star of Ishtar, the crescent of the Moon-god Sin, and the disk of Shamash the Sun-god. In Reg. 2 are three stands (?) surmounted by tiaras, which represent the gods Anu, Enlil (Bel) and Ea respectively. In Reg. 3 are three altars (?) or shrines (?) with a monster in Nos. 1 and 2. Over the first is the lance of Marduk, over the second the mason’s square of Nabû, and over the third is the symbol of the goddess Ninkharsag, the Creatress. In Reg. 4 are a standard with an animal’s head, a sign of Ea; a two-headed snake = the Twins; an unknown symbol with a horse’s head, and a bird, representative of Shukamuna and Shumalia. In Reg. 5 are a seated figure of the goddess Gula and the Scorpion-man. In Reg. 6 are forked lightning, symbol of Adad, above a bull, the Tortoise, symbol of Ea (?), the Scorpion of the goddess Ishkhara, and the Lamp of Nusku, the Fire-god.  Down the left-hand side is the serpent-god representing the constellation of the Hydra.

Thus in Register 1, we have the Star of Ishtar, the crescent of the Moon-god Sin, and the disk of Shamash the Sun-god.
In Reg. 2 are three stands (?) surmounted by tiaras, which represent the gods Anu, Enlil (Bel) and Ea respectively.
In Reg. 3 are three altars (?) or shrines (?) with a monster in Nos. 1 and 2. Over the first is the lance of Marduk, over the second the mason’s square of Nabû, and over the third is the symbol of the goddess Ninkharsag, the Creatress.
In Reg. 4 are a standard with an animal’s head, a sign of Ea; a two-headed snake = the Twins; an unknown symbol with a horse’s head, and a bird, representative of Shukamuna and Shumalia.
In Reg. 5 are a seated figure of the goddess Gula and the Scorpion-man.
In Reg. 6 are forked lightning, symbol of Adad, above a bull, the Tortoise, symbol of Ea (?), the Scorpion of the goddess Ishkhara, and the Lamp of Nusku, the Fire-god.
Down the left-hand side is the serpent-god representing the constellation of the Hydra.

The mutilated text of the Fifth Tablet makes it impossible to gain further details in connection with Marduk’s work in arranging the heavens. We are, however, justified in assuming that the gaps in it contained statements about the grouping of the gods into triads.

In royal historical inscriptions the kings often invoke the gods in threes, though they never call any one three a triad or trinity. It seems as if this arrangement of gods in threes was assumed to be of divine origin.

In the Fourth Tablet of Creation, one triad “Anu-Bel-Ea” is actually mentioned, and in the Fifth Tablet, another is indicated, “Sin-Shamash-Ishtar.”

In these triads Anu represents the sky or heaven, Bel or Enlil the region under the sky and including the earth, Ea the underworld, Sin the Moon, Shamash the Sun, and Ishtar the star Venus.

When the universe was finally constituted several other great gods existed, e.g., Nusku, the Fire-god, Enurta, a solar god, Nergal, the god of war and handicrafts, Nabu, the god of learning, Marduk of Babylon, the great national god of Babylonia, and Ashur, the great national god of Assyria.

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. 11-2.

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