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Tag: Xerxes

Herodotus on E-Sagila

“181. This wall then which I have mentioned is as it were a cuirass for the town, and another wall runs round within it, not much weaker for defence than the first but enclosing a smaller space.

And in each division of the city was a building in the midst, in the one the king’s palace of great extent and strongly fortified round, and in the other the temple of Zeus Belos with bronze gates, and this exists still up to my time and measures two furlongs each way, being of a square shape: and in the midst of the temple is built a solid tower measuring a furlong both in length and in breadth, and on this tower another tower has been erected, and another again upon this, and so on up to the number of eight towers.

An ascent to these has been built running outside round about all the towers; and when one reaches about the middle of the ascent one finds a stopping-place and seats to rest upon, on which those who ascend sit down and rest: and on the top of the last tower there is a large cell, and in the cell a large couch is laid, well covered, and by it is placed a golden table: and there is no image there set up nor does any human being spend the night there except only one woman of the natives of the place, whomsoever the god shall choose from all the woman, as say the Chaldeans who are the priests of this god.

182. These same men say also, but I do not believe them, that the god himself comes often to the cell and rests upon the couch, as happens likewise in the Egyptian Thebes according to the report of the Egyptians, for there also a woman sleeps in the temple of the Theban Zeus (and both these women are said to abstain from commerce with men), and as happens also with the prophetess of the god in Patara of Lykia, whenever there is one, for there is not always an Oracle there, but whenever there is one, then she is shut up during the nights in the temple within the cell.

183. There is moreover in the temple at Babylon another cell below, wherein is a great image of Zeus sitting, made of gold, and by it is placed a large table of gold, and his footstool and seat are of gold also; and, as the Chaldeans reported, the weight of the gold of which these things are made is eight hundred talents.

Outside this cell is an altar of gold; and there is also another altar of great size, where full-grown animals are sacrificed, whereas on the golden altar it is not lawful to sacrifice any but young sucklings only: and also on the larger altar the Chaldeans offer one thousand talents of frankincense every year at the time when they celebrate the feast in honour of this god.

There was moreover in these precincts still remaining at the time of Cyrus, a statue twelve cubits high, of gold and solid. This I did not myself see, but that which is related by the Chaldeans I relate. Against this statue Dareios the son of Hystaspes formed a design, but he did not venture to take it: it was taken however by Xerxes the son of Dareios, who also killed the priest when he forbade him to meddle with the statue. This temple, then, is thus adorned with magnificence, and there are also many private votive-offerings.”

G.C. Macaulay, trans., The History of Herodotus, 1890, pp. Book 1, Clio, 180.

The Fall of Nabonidos

“The destruction of the local cults, the attempt to unify and centralise religious worship, was to the Rab-shakeh, as it was to the Babylonian scribes, and doubtless also to many of the Jews in the time of Hezekiah, an act of the grossest impiety.

An annalistic tablet, drawn up not long after the conquest of Babylonia by Cyrus, hints that before making his final attack on the country, the Elamite prince had been secretly aided by a party of malcontents in Chaldea itself.

It is at all events significant that as soon as the army of Nabonidos was defeated, the whole population at once submitted, and that even the capital, with its almost impregnable fortifications, threw open its gates.

The revolts which took place afterwards in the reigns of Dareios and Xerxes, and the extremities endured by the Babylonians before they would surrender their city, prove that their surrender was not the result of cowardice or indifference to foreign rule. The great mass of the people must have been discontented with Nabonidos and anxious for his overthrow.

The anger of Merodach and the gods, in fact, was but a convenient way of describing the discontent and anger of an important section of the Babylonians themselves. Nabonidos did not belong to the royal house of Nebuchadnezzar; he seems to have raised himself to the throne by means of a revolution, and his attempt at centralisation excited strong local animosities against him.

Religion and civil government were so closely bound up together, that civil centralisation meant religious centralisation also; the surest sign that the cities of Babylonia had been absorbed in the capital was that the images of the gods whose names had been associated with them from time immemorial were carried away to Babylon. The cities lost their separate existence along with the deities who watched over their individual fortunes.

The removal of the gods, however, implied something more than the removal of a number of images and the visible loss of local self-government or autonomy. Each image was the centre of a particular cult, carried on in a particular temple in a particular way, and entrusted to the charge of a special body of priests.

It was no wonder, therefore, that the high-handed proceedings of Nabonidos aroused the enmity of these numerous local priesthoods, as well as of all those who profited in any way from the maintenance of the local cults.

Most of the cities which were thus deprived of their ancestral deities were as old as Babylon; many of them claimed to be older; while it was notorious that Babylon did not become a capital until comparatively late in Babylonian history.

The Sun-god of Sippara, the Moon-god of Ur, were alike older than Merodach of Babylon. Indeed, though in the age of Nabonidos the title of Bel or “lord”had come to be applied to Merodach specially, it was known that there was a more ancient Bel–Belitanas, “the elder Bel,” as the Greeks wrote the word–whose worship had spread from the city of Nipur, and who formed one of the supreme triad of Babylonian gods.”

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. 85-6.

Babylonian Origins of Jewish Purim

We have already questioned whether the Scripture story of Esther is in some manner connected with the goddess Ishtar. Writing of the Jewish feast of Purim, Sir James Frazer says (Golden Bough, vol. iii, p. 153):

“ From the absence of all notice of Purim in the older books of the Bible, we may fairly conclude that the festival was instituted or imported at a comparatively late date among the Jews. The same conclusion is supported by the Book of Esther itself, which was manifestly written to explain the origin of the feast and to suggest motives for its observance.

For, according to the author of the book, the festival was established to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews from a great danger which threatened them in Persia under the reign of King Xerxes. Thus the opinion of modern scholars that the feast of Purim, as celebrated by the Jews, was of late date and Oriental origin, is borne out by the tradition of the Jews themselves.

An examination of that tradition and of the mode of celebrating the feast renders it probable that Purim is nothing but a more or less disguised form of the Babylonian festival of the Sacaea or Zakmuk. . . .

But further, when we examine the narrative which professes to account for the institution of Purim, we discover in it not only the strongest traces of Babylonian origin, but also certain singular analogies to those very features of the Sacaean festival with which we are here more immediately concerned.

The Book of Esther turns upon the fortunes of two men, the vizier Haman and the despised Jew Mordecai, at the court of a Persian king. Mordecai, we are told, had given mortal offence to the vizier, who accordingly prepares a tall gallows on which he hopes to see his enemy hanged, while he himself expects to receive the highest mark of the King’s favour by being allowed to wear the royal crown and the royal robes, and thus attired to parade the streets, mounted on the King’s own horse and attended by one of the noblest princes, who should proclaim to the multitude his temporary exaltation and glory.

But the artful intrigues of the wicked vizier miscarried and resulted in precisely the opposite of what he had hoped and expected; for the royal honours which he had looked for fell to his rival Mordecai, and he himself was hanged on the gallows which he had made ready for his foe.

In this story we seem to detect a reminiscence, more or less confused, of the Zoganes of the Sacaea, in other words, of the custom of investing a private man with the insignia of royalty for a few days, and then putting him to death on the gallows or the cross. . . .

“A strong confirmation of this view is furnished by a philological analysis of the names of the four personages. It seems to be now generally recognised by Biblical scholars that the name Mordecai, which has no meaning in Hebrew, is nothing but a slightly altered form of Marduk or Merodach, the name of the chief god of Babylon, whose great festival was the Zakmuk; and further, it is generally admitted that Esther in like manner is equivalent to Ishtar, the great Babylonian goddess whom the Greeks called Astarte, and who is more familiar to English readers as Ashtaroth.

The derivation of the names of Haman and Vashti is less certain, but some high authorities are disposed to accept the view of Jensen that Haman is identical with Humman or Homman, the national god of the Elamites, and that Vashti is in like manner an Elamite deity, probably a goddess whose name appears in inscriptions.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 140-2.

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