The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria
by Theophilus G. Pinches
1  2     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


First Published 1906 by Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd.




Lecturer in Assyrian at University College, London, Author of "The Old Testament in the Light of the Records of Assyria and Babylonia"; "The Bronze Ornaments of the Palace Gates of Balewat" etc. etc.


The original text contains a number of characters that are not available even in 8-bit Windows text, such as H with a breve below it in Hammurabi, S with a breve, S and T with a dot below them, U with macron, and superscript M in Tasmetum. These have been left in the e-text as the base letter.

The 8-bit version of this text includes Windows font characters like S with a caron above it (pronounced /sh/) as in Samas, etc. These may be lost in 7-bit versions of the text, or when viewed with different fonts.

Greek text has been transliterated within brackets "{}" using an Oxford English Dictionary alphabet table. Diacritical marks have been lost.




Position, and Period.

The religion of the Babylonians and Assyrians was the polytheistic faith professed by the peoples inhabiting the Tigris and Euphrates valleys from what may be regarded as the dawn of history until the Christian era began, or, at least, until the inhabitants were brought under the influence of Christianity. The chronological period covered may be roughly estimated at about 5000 years. The belief of the people, at the end of that time, being Babylonian heathenism leavened with Judaism, the country was probably ripe for the reception of the new faith. Christianity, however, by no means replaced the earlier polytheism, as is evidenced by the fact, that the worship of Nebo and the gods associated with him continued until the fourth century of the Christian era.

By whom followed.

It was the faith of two distinct peoples—the Sumero-Akkadians, and the Assyro-Babylonians. In what country it had its beginnings is unknown—it comes before us, even at the earliest period, as a faith already well-developed, and from that fact, as well as from the names of the numerous deities, it is clear that it began with the former race—the Sumero-Akkadians—who spoke a non-Semitic language largely affected by phonetic decay, and in which the grammatical forms had in certain cases become confused to such an extent that those who study it ask themselves whether the people who spoke it were able to understand each other without recourse to devices such as the "tones" to which the Chinese resort. With few exceptions, the names of the gods which the inscriptions reveal to us are all derived from this non-Semitic language, which furnishes us with satisfactory etymologies for such names as Merodach, Nergal, Sin, and the divinities mentioned in Berosus and Damascius, as well as those of hundreds of deities revealed to us by the tablets and slabs of Babylonia and Assyria.

The documents.

Outside the inscriptions of Babylonia and Assyria, there is but little bearing upon the religion of those countries, the most important fragment being the extracts from Berosus and Damascius referred to above. Among the Babylonian and Assyrian remains, however, we have an extensive and valuable mass of material, dating from the fourth or fifth millennium before Christ until the disappearance of the Babylonian system of writing about the beginning of the Christian era. The earlier inscriptions are mostly of the nature of records, and give information about the deities and the religion of the people in the course of descriptions of the building and rebuilding of temples, the making of offerings, the performance of ceremonies, etc. Purely religious inscriptions are found near the end of the third millennium before Christ, and occur in considerable numbers, either in the original Sumerian text, or in translations, or both, until about the third century before Christ. Among the more recent inscriptions—those from the library of the Assyrian king Assur-bani-apli and the later Babylonian temple archives,—there are many lists of deities, with numerous identifications with each other and with the heavenly bodies, and explanations of their natures. It is needless to say that all this material is of enormous value for the study of the religion of the Babylonians and Assyrians, and enables us to reconstruct at first hand their mythological system, and note the changes which took place in the course of their long national existence. Many interesting and entertaining legends illustrate and supplement the information given by the bilingual lists of gods, the bilingual incantations and hymns, and the references contained in the historical and other documents. A trilingual list of gods enables us also to recognise, in some cases, the dialectic forms of their names.

The importance of the subject.

Of equal antiquity with the religion of Egypt, that of Babylonia and Assyria possesses some marked differences as to its development. Beginning among the non-Semitic Sumero-Akkadian population, it maintained for a long time its uninterrupted development, affected mainly by influences from within, namely, the homogeneous local cults which acted and reacted upon each other. The religious systems of other nations did not greatly affect the development of the early non-Semitic religious system of Babylonia. A time at last came, however, when the influence of the Semitic inhabitants of Babylonia and Assyria was not to be gainsaid, and from that moment, the development of their religion took another turn. In all probably this augmentation of Semitic religious influence was due to the increased numbers of the Semitic population, and at the same period the Sumero-Akkadian language began to give way to the Semitic idiom which they spoke. When at last the Semitic Babylonian language came to be used for official documents, we find that, although the non-Semitic divine names are in the main preserved, a certain number of them have been displaced by the Semitic equivalent names, such as Samas for the sun-god, with Kittu and Mesaru ("justice and righteousness") his attendants; Nabu ("the teacher" = Nebo) with his consort Tasmetu ("the hearer"); Addu, Adad, or Dadu, and Rammanu, Ramimu, or Ragimu = Hadad or Rimmon ("the thunderer"); Bel and Beltu (Beltis = "the lord" and "the lady" /par excellence/), with some others of inferior rank. In place of the chief divinity of each state at the head of each separate pantheon, the tendency was to make Merodach, the god of the capital city Babylon, the head of the pantheon, and he seems to have been universally accepted in Babylonia, like Assur in Assyria, about 2000 B.C. or earlier.

The uniting of two pantheons.

We thus find two pantheons, the Sumero-Akkadian with its many gods, and the Semitic Babylonian with its comparatively few, united, and forming one apparently homogeneous whole. But the creed had taken a fresh tendency. It was no longer a series of small, and to a certain extent antagonistic, pantheons composed of the chief god, his consort, attendants, children, and servants, but a pantheon of considerable extent, containing all the elements of the primitive but smaller pantheons, with a number of great gods who had raised Merodach to be their king.

In Assyria.

Whilst accepting the religion of Babylonia, Assyria nevertheless kept herself distinct from her southern neighbour by a very simple device, by placing at the head of the pantheon the god Assur, who became for her the chief of the gods, and at the same time the emblem of her distinct national aspirations—for Assyria had no intention whatever of casting in her lot with her southern neighbour. Nevertheless, Assyria possessed, along with the language of Babylonia, all the literature of that country—indeed, it is from the libraries of her kings that we obtain the best copies of the Babylonian religious texts, treasured and preserved by her with all the veneration of which her religious mind was capable,—and the religious fervour of the Oriental in most cases leaves that of the European, or at least of the ordinary Briton, far behind.

The later period in Assyria.

Assyria went to her downfall at the end of the seventh century before Christ worshipping her national god Assur, whose cult did not cease with the destruction of her national independence. In fact, the city of Assur, the centre of that worship, continued to exist for a considerable period; but for the history of the religion of Assyria, as preserved there, we wait for the result of the excavations being carried on by the Germans, should they be fortunate enough to obtain texts belonging to the period following the fall of Nineveh.

In Babylonia.

Babylonia, on the other hand, continued the even tenor of her way. More successful at the end of her independent political career than her northern rival had been, she retained her faith, and remained the unswerving worshipper of Merodach, the great god of Babylon, to whom her priests attributed yet greater powers, and with whom all the other gods were to all appearance identified. This tendency to monotheism, however, never reached the culminating point—never became absolute—except, naturally, in the minds of those who, dissociating themselves, for philosophical reasons, from the superstitious teaching of the priests of Babylonia, decided for themselves that there was but one God, and worshipped Him. That orthodox Jews at that period may have found, in consequence of this monotheistic tendency, converts, is not by any means improbable—indeed, the names met with during the later period imply that converts to Judaism were made.

The picture presented by the study.

Thus we see, from the various inscriptions, both Babylonian and Assyrian—the former of an extremely early period—the growth and development, with at least one branching off, of one of the most important religious systems of the ancient world. It is not so important for modern religion as the development of the beliefs of the Hebrews, but as the creed of the people from which the Hebrew nation sprang, and from which, therefore, it had its beginnings, both corporeal and spiritual, it is such as no student of modern religious systems can afford to neglect. Its legends, and therefore its teachings, as will be seen in these pages, ultimately permeated the Semitic West, and may in some cases even had penetrated Europe, not only through heathen Greece, but also through the early Christians, who, being so many centuries nearer the time of the Assyro-Babylonians, and also nearer the territory which they anciently occupied, than we are, were far better acquainted than the people of the present day with the legends and ideas which they possessed.



The Sumero-Akkadians and the Semites.

For the history of the development of the religion of the Babylonians and Assyrians much naturally depends upon the composition of the population of early Babylonia. There is hardly any doubt that the Sumero-Akkadians were non-Semites of a fairly pure race, but the country of their origin is still unknown, though a certain relationship with the Mongolian and Turkish nationalities, probably reaching back many centuries—perhaps thousands of years—before the earliest accepted date, may be regarded as equally likely. Equally uncertain is the date of the entry of the Semites, whose language ultimately displaced the non-Semitic Sumero-Akkadian idioms, and whose kings finally ruled over the land. During the third millennium before Christ Semites, bearing Semitic names, and called Amorites, appear, and probably formed the last considerable stratum of tribes of that race which entered the land. The name Martu, the Sumero-Akkadian equivalent of Amurru, "Amorite", is of frequent occurrence also before this period. The eastern Mediterranean coast district, including Palestine and the neighbouring tracts, was known by the Babylonians and Assyrians as the land of the Amorites, a term which stood for the West in general even when these regions no longer bore that name. The Babylonians maintained their claim to sovereignty over that part as long as they possessed the power to do so, and naturally exercised considerable influence there. The existence in Palestine, Syria, and the neighbouring states, of creeds containing the names of many Babylonian divinities is therefore not to be wondered at, and the presence of West Semitic divinities in the religion of the Babylonians need not cause us any surprise.

The Babylonian script and its evidence.

In consequence of the determinative prefix for a god or a goddess being, in the oldest form, a picture of an eight-rayed star, it has been assumed that Assyro-Babylonian mythology is, either wholly or partly, astral in origin. This, however, is by no means certain, the character for "star" in the inscriptions being a combination of three such pictures, and not a single sign. The probability therefore is, that the use of the single star to indicate the name of a divinity arises merely from the fact that the character in question stands for /ana/, "heaven." Deities were evidently thus distinguished by the Babylonians because they regarded them as inhabitants of the realms above—indeed, the heavens being the place where the stars are seen, a picture of a star was the only way of indicating heavenly things. That the gods of the Babylonians were in many cases identified with the stars and planets is certain, but these identifications seem to have taken place at a comparatively late date. An exception has naturally to be made in the case of the sun and moon, but the god Merodach, if he be, as seems certain, a deified Babylonian king, must have been identified with the stars which bear his name after his worshippers began to pay him divine honours as the supreme deity, and naturally what is true for him may also be so for the other gods whom they worshipped. The identification of some of the deities with stars or planets is, moreover, impossible, and if Ea, the god of the deep, and Anu, the god of the heavens, have their representatives among the heavenly bodies, this is probably the result of later development.[1]

[1] If there be any historical foundation for the statement that Merodach arranged the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars, assigning to them their proper places and duties—a tradition which would make him the founder of the science of astronomy during his life upon earth—this, too, would tend to the probability that the origin of the gods of the Babylonians was not astral, as has been suggested, but that their identification with the heavenly bodies was introduced during the period of his reign.

Ancestor and hero-worship. The deification of kings.

Though there is no proof that ancestor-worship in general prevailed at any time in Babylonia, it would seem that the worship of heroes and prominent men was common, at least in early times. The tenth chapter of Genesis tells us of the story of Nimrod, who cannot be any other than the Merodach of the Assyro-Babylonian inscriptions; and other examples, occurring in semi-mythological times, are /En-we-dur-an-ki/, the Greek Edoreschos, and /Gilgames/, the Greek Gilgamos, though Aelian's story of the latter does not fit in with the account as given by the inscriptions. In later times, the divine prefix is found before the names of many a Babylonian ruler—Sargon of Agade,[1] Dungi of Ur (about 2500 B.C.), Rim-Sin or Eri-Aku (Arioch of Ellasar, about 2100 B.C.), and others. It was doubtless a kind of flattery to deify and pay these rulers divine honours during their lifetime, and on account of this, it is very probable that their godhood was utterly forgotten, in the case of those who were strictly historical, after their death. The deification of the kings of Babylonia and Assyria is probably due to the fact, that they were regarded as the representatives of God upon earth, and being his chief priests as well as his offspring (the personal names show that it was a common thing to regard children as the gifts of the gods whom their father worshipped), the divine fatherhood thus attributed to them naturally could, in the case of those of royal rank, give them a real claim to divine birth and honours. An exception is the deification of the Babylonian Noah, Ut-napistim, who, as the legend of the Flood relates, was raised and made one of the gods by Aa or Ea, for his faithfulness after the great catastrophe, when he and his wife were translated to the "remote place at the mouth of the rivers." The hero Gilgames, on the other hand, was half divine by birth, though it is not exactly known through whom his divinity came.

[1] According to Nabonidus's date 3800 B.C., though many Assyriologists regard this as being a millennium too early.

The earliest form of the Babylonian religion.

The state of development to which the religious system of the Babylonians had attained at the earliest period to which the inscriptions refer naturally precludes the possibility of a trustworthy history of its origin and early growth. There is no doubt, however, that it may be regarded as having reached the stage at which we find it in consequence of there being a number of states in ancient Babylonia (which was at that time like the Heptarchy in England) each possessing its own divinity—who, in its district, was regarded as supreme—with a number of lesser gods forming his court. It was the adding together of all these small pantheons which ultimately made that of Babylonia as a whole so exceedingly extensive. Thus the chief divinity of Babylon, as has already been stated, as Merodach; at Sippar and Larsa the sun-god Samas was worshipped; at Ur the moon-god Sin or Nannar; at Erech and Der the god of the heavens, Anu; at Muru, Ennigi, and Kakru, the god of the atmosphere, Hadad or Rimmon; at Eridu, the god of the deep, Aa or Ea; at Niffur[1] the god Bel; at Cuthah the god of war, Nergal; at Dailem the god Uras; at Kis the god of battle, Zagaga; Lugal-Amarda, the king of Marad, as the city so called; at Opis Zakar, one of the gods of dreams; at Agade, Nineveh, and Arbela, Istar, goddess of love and of war; Nina at the city Nina in Babylonia, etc. When the chief deities were masculine, they were naturally all identified with each other, just as the Greeks called the Babylonian Merodach by the name of Zeus; and as Zer-panitum, the consort of Merodach, was identified with Juno, so the consorts, divine attendants, and children of each chief divinity, as far as they possessed them, could also be regarded as the same, though possibly distinct in their different attributes.

[1] Noufar at present, according to the latest explorers. Layard (1856) has Niffer, Loftus (1857) Niffar. The native spelling is Noufer, due to the French system of phonetics.

How the religion of the Babylonians developed.

The fact that the rise of Merodach to the position of king of the gods was due to the attainment, by the city of Babylon, of the position of capital of all Babylonia, leads one to suspect that the kingly rank of his father Ea, at an earlier period, was due to a somewhat similar cause, and if so, the still earlier kingship of Anu, the god of the heavens, may be in like manner explained. This leads to the question whether the first state to attain to supremacy was Der, Anu's seat, and whether Der was succeeded by Eridu, of which city Ea was the patron—concerning the importance of Babylon, Merodach's city, later on, there is no doubt whatever. The rise of Anu and Ea to divine overlordship, however, may not have been due to the political supremacy of the cities where they were worshipped—it may have come about simply on account of renown gained through religious enthusiasm due to wonders said to have been performed where they were worshipped, or to the reported discovery of new records concerning their temples, or to the influence of some renowned high-priest, like En-we-dur-an-ki of Sippar, whose devotion undoubtedly brought great renown to the city of his dominion.

Was Animism its original form?

But the question naturally arises, can we go back beyond the indications of the inscriptions? The Babylonians attributed life, in certain not very numerous cases, to such things as trees and plants, and naturally to the winds, and the heavenly bodies. Whether they regarded stones, rocks, mountains, storms, and rain in the same way, however, is doubtful, but it may be taken for granted, that the sea, with all its rivers and streams, was regarded as animated with the spirit of Ea and his children, whilst the great cities and temple-towers were pervaded with the spirit of the god whose abode they were. Innumerable good and evil spirits were believed in, such as the spirit of the mountain, the sea, the plain, and the grave. These spirits were of various kinds, and bore names which do not always reveal their real character—such as the /edimmu/, /utukku/, /sedu/, /asakku/ (spirit of fevers), /namtaru/ (spirit of fate), /alu/ (regarded as the spirit of the south wind), /gallu/, /rabisu/, /labartu/, /labasu/, /ahhazu/ (the seizer), /lilu/ and /lilithu/ (male and female spirits of the mist), with their attendants.

All this points to animism as the pervading idea of the worship of the peoples of the Babylonian states in the prehistoric period—the attribution of life to every appearance of nature. The question is, however, Is the evidence of the inscriptions sufficient to make this absolutely certain? It is hard to believe that such intelligent people, as the primitive Babylonians naturally were, believed that such things as stones, rocks, mountains, storms, and rain were, in themselves, and apart from the divinity which they regarded as presiding over them, living things. A stone might be a /bit ili/ or bethel—a "house of god," and almost invested with the status of a living thing, but that does not prove that the Babylonians thought of every stone as being endowed with life, even in prehistoric times. Whilst, therefore, there are traces of a belief similar to that which an animistic creed might be regarded as possessing, it must be admitted that these seemingly animistic doctrines may have originated in another way, and be due to later developments. The power of the gods to create living things naturally makes possible the belief that they had also power to endow with a soul, and therefore with life and intelligence, any seemingly inanimate object. Such was probably the nature of Babylonian animism, if it may be so called. The legend of Tiawthu (Tiawath) may with great probability be regarded as the remains of a primitive animism which was the creed of the original and comparatively uncivilised Babylonians, who saw in the sea the producer and creator of all the monstrous shapes which are found therein; but any development of this idea in other directions was probably cut short by the priests, who must have realised, under the influence of the doctrine of the divine rise to perfection, that animism in general was altogether incompatible with the creed which they professed.

Image-worship and Sacred Stones.

Whether image-worship was original among the Babylonians and Assyrians is uncertain, and improbable; the tendency among the people in early times being to venerate sacred stones and other inanimate objects. As has been already pointed out, the {diopetres} of the Greeks was probably a meteorite, and stones marking the position of the Semitic bethels were probably, in their origin, the same. The boulders which were sometimes used for boundary-stones may have been the representations of these meteorites in later times, and it is noteworthy that the Sumerian group for "iron," /an-bar/, implies that the early Babylonians only knew of that metal from meteoric ironstone. The name of the god Nirig or Enu-restu (Ninip) is generally written with the same group, implying some kind of connection between the two—the god and the iron. In a well-known hymn to that deity certain stones are mentioned, one of them being described as the "poison-tooth"[1] coming forth on the mountain, recalling the sacred rocks at Jerusalem and Mecca. Boundary-stones in Babylonia were not sacred objects except in so far as they were sculptured with the signs of the gods.[2] With regard to the Babylonian bethels, very little can be said, their true nature being uncertain, and their number, to all appearance, small. Gifts were made to them, and from this fact it would seem that they were temples—true "houses of god," in fact—probably containing an image of the deity, rather than a stone similar to those referred to in the Old Testament.

[1] So called, probably, not because it sent forth poison, but on account of its likeness to a serpent's fang.

[2] Notwithstanding medical opinion, their phallic origin is doubtful. One is sculptured in the form of an Eastern castellated fortress.


With the Babylonians, the gods were represented by means of stone images at a very early date, and it is possible that wood was also used. The tendency of the human mind being to attribute to the Deity a human form, the Babylonians were no exception to the rule. Human thoughts and feelings would naturally accompany the human form with which the minds of men endowed them. Whether the gross human passions attributed to the gods of Babylonia in Herodotus be of early date or not is uncertain—a late period, when the religion began to degenerate, would seem to be the more probable.

The adoration of sacred objects.

It is probable that objects belonging to or dedicated to deities were not originally worshipped—they were held as divine in consequence of their being possessed or used by a deity, like the bow of Merodach, placed in the heavens as a constellation, etc. The cities where the gods dwelt on earth, their temples, their couches, the chariot of the sun in his temple-cities, and everything existing in connection with their worship, were in all probability regarded as divine simply in so far as they belonged to a god. Sacrifices offered to them, and invocations made to them, were in all likelihood regarded as having been made to the deity himself, the possessions of the divinity being, in the minds of the Babylonians, pervaded with his spirit. In the case of rivers, these were divine as being the children and offspring of Enki (Aa or Ea), the god of the ocean.

Holy places.

In a country which was originally divided into many small states, each having its own deities, and, to a certain extent, its own religious system, holy places were naturally numerous. As the spot where they placed Paradise, Babylonia was itself a holy place, but in all probability this idea is late, and only came into existence after the legends of the creation and the rise of Merodach to the kingship of heaven had become elaborated into one homogeneous whole.

An interesting list.

One of the most interesting documents referring to the holy places of Babylonia is a tiny tablet found at Nineveh, and preserved in the British Museum. This text begins with the word Tiawthu "the sea," and goes on to enumerate, in turn, Tilmun (identified with the island of Bahrein in the Persian Gulf); Engurra (the Abyss, the abode of Enki or Ea), with numerous temples and shrines, including "the holy house," "the temple of the seer of heaven and earth," "the abode of Zer-panitum," consort of Merodach, "the throne of the holy place," "the temple of the region of Hades," "the supreme temple of life," "the temple of the ear of the corn-deity," with many others, the whole list containing what may be regarded as the chief sanctuaries of the land, to the number of thirty-one. Numerous other similar and more extensive lists, enumerating every shrine and temple in the country, also exist, though in a very imperfect state, and in addition to these, many holy places are referred to in the bilingual, historical, and other inscriptions. All the great cities of Babylonia, moreover, were sacred places, the chief in renown and importance in later days being the great city of Babylon, where E-sagila, "the temple of the high head," in which was apparently the shrine called "the temple of the foundation of heaven and earth," held the first place. This building is called by Nebuchadnezzar "the temple-tower of Babylon," and may better be regarded as the site of the Biblical "Tower of Babel" than the traditional foundation, E-zida, "the everlasting temple," in Borsippa (the Birs Nimroud)—notwithstanding that Borsippa was called the "second Babylon," and its temple-tower "the supreme house of life."

The Tower of Babel.

Though quite close to Babylon, there is no doubt that Borsippa was a most important religious centre, and this leads to the possibility, that its great temple may have disputed with "the house of the high head," E-sagila in Babylon, the honour of being the site of the confusion of tongues and the dispersion of mankind. There is no doubt, however, that E-sagila has the prior claim, it being the temple of the supreme god of the later Babylonian pantheon, the counterpart of the God of the Hebrews who commanded the changing of the speech of the people assembled there. Supposing the confusion of tongues to have been a Babylonian legend as well as a Hebrew one (as is possible) it would be by command of Merodach rather than that of Nebo that such a thing would have taken place. E-sagila, which is now the ruin known as the mount of Amran ibn Ali, is the celebrated temple of Belus which Alexander and Philip attempted to restore.

In addition to the legend of the confusion of tongues, it is probable that there were many similar traditions attached to the great temples of Babylonia, and as time goes on, and the excavations bring more material, a large number of them will probably be recovered. Already we have an interesting and poetical record of the entry of Bel and Beltis into the great temple at Niffer, probably copied from some ancient source, and Gudea, a king of Lagas (Telloh), who reigned about 2700 B.C., gives an account of the dream which he saw, in which he was instructed by the gods to build or rebuild the temple of Nin-Girsu in his capital city.

E-sagila according to Herodotus.

As the chief fane in the land after Babylon became the capital, and the type of many similar erections, E-sagila, the temple of Belus, merits just a short notice. According to Herodotus, it was a massive tower within an enclosure measuring 400 yards each way, and provided with gates of brass, or rather bronze. The tower within consisted of a kind of step-pyramid, the stages being seven in number (omitting the lowest, which was the platform forming the foundation of the structure). A winding ascent gave access to the top, where was a chapel or shrine, containing no statue, but regarded by the Babylonians as the abode of the god. Lower down was another shrine, in which was placed a great statue of Zeus (Bel-Merodach) sitting, with a large table before it. Both statue and table are said to have been of gold, as were also the throne and the steps. Outside the sanctuary (on the ramp, apparently) were two altars, one small and made of gold, whereon only unweaned lambs were sacrificed, and the other larger, for full-grown victims.

A Babylonian description.

In 1876 the well-known Assyriologist, Mr. George Smith, was fortunate enough to discover a Babylonian description of this temple, of which he published a /precis/. According to this document, there were two courts of considerable extent, the smaller within the larger—neither of them was square, but oblong. Six gates admitted to the temple-area surrounding the platform upon which the tower was built. The platform is stated to have been square and walled, with four gates facing the cardinal points. Within this wall was a building connected with the great /zikkurat/ or tower—the principal edifice—round which were chapels or temples to the principal gods, on all four sides, and facing the cardinal points—that to Nebo and Tasmit being on the east, to Aa or Ea and Nusku on the north, Anu and Bel on the south, and the series of buildings on the west, consisting of a double house—a small court between two wings, was evidently the shrine of Merodach (Belos). In these western chambers stood the couch of the god, and the golden throne mentioned by Herodotus, besides other furniture of great value. The couch was given as being 9 cubits long by 4 broad, about as many feet in each case, or rather more.

The centre of these buildings was the great /zikkurat/, or temple-tower, square on its plan, and with the sides facing the cardinal points. The lowest stage was 15 /gar/ square by 5 1/2 high (Smith, 300 feet by 110), and the wall, in accordance with the usual Babylonian custom, seems to have been ornamented with recessed groovings. The second stage was 13 /gar/ square by 3 in height (Smith, 260 by 60 feet). He conjectured, from the expression used, that it had sloping sides. Stages three to five were each one /gar/ (Smith, 20 feet) high, and respectively 10 /gar/ (Smith, 200 feet), 8 1/2 /gar/ (170 feet), and 7 /gar/ (140 feet) square. The dimensions of the sixth stage are omitted, probably by accident, but Smith conjectures that they were in proportion to those which precede. His description omits also the dimensions of the seventh stage, but he gives those of the sanctuary of Belus, which was built upon it. This was 4 /gar/ long, 3 1/2 /gar/ broad, and 2 1/2 /gar/ high (Smith, 80 x 70 x 50 feet). He points out, that the total height was, therefore, 15 /gar/, the same as the dimensions of the base, i.e., the lowest platform, which would make the total height of this world-renowned building rather more than 300 feet above the plains.

Other temple-towers.

Towers of a similar nature were to be found in all the great cities of Babylonia, and it is probable that in most cases slight differences of form were to be found. That at Niffer, for instance, seems to have had a causeway on each side, making four approaches in the form of a cross. But it was not every city which had a tower of seven stages in addition to the platform on which it was erected, and some of the smaller ones at least seem to have had sloping or rounded sides to the basement-portion, as is indicated by an Assyrian bas-relief. Naturally small temples, with hardly more than the rooms on the ground floor, were to be found, but these temple-towers were a speciality of the country.

Their origin.

There is some probability that, as indicated in the tenth chapter of Genesis, the desire in building these towers was to get nearer the Deity, or to the divine inhabitants of the heavens in general—it would be easier there to gain attention than on the surface of the earth. Then there was the belief, that the god to whom the place was dedicated would come down to such a sanctuary, which thus became, as it were, the stepping-stone between heaven and earth. Sacrifices were also offered at these temple-towers (whether on the highest point or not is not quite certain), in imitation of the Chaldaean Noah, Ut-napistim, who, on coming out of the ark, made an offering /ina zikkurat sade/, "on the peak of the mountain," in which passage, it is to be noted, the word /zikkurat/ occurs with what is probably a more original meaning.



This is the final development of the Babylonian creed. It has already been pointed out that the religion of the Babylonians in all probability had two stages before arriving at that in which the god Merodach occupied the position of chief of the pantheon, the two preceding heads having been, seemingly, Anu, the god of the heavens, and Ea or Aa, also called Enki, the god of the abyss and of deep wisdom. In order to show this, and at the same time to give an idea of their theory of the beginning of things, a short paraphrase of the contents of the seven tablets will be found in the following pages.

An Embodiment of doctrine.

As far as our knowledge goes, the doctrines incorporated in this legend would seem to show the final official development of the beliefs held by the Babylonians, due, in all probability, to the priests of Babylon after that city became the capital of the federated states. Modifications of their creed probably took place, but nothing seriously affecting it, until after the abandonment of Babylon in the time of Seleucus Nicator, 300 B.C. or thereabouts, when the deity at the head of the pantheon seems not to have been Merodach, but Anu-Bel. This legend is therefore the most important document bearing upon the beliefs of the Babylonians from the end of the third millennium B.C. until that time, and the philosophical ideas which it contains seem to have been held, in a more or less modified form, among the remnants who still retained the old Babylonian faith, until the sixth century of the present era, as the record by Damascius implies. Properly speaking, it is not a record of the creation, but the story of the fight between Bel and the Dragon, to which the account of the creation is prefixed by way of introduction.

Water the first creator.

The legend begins by stating that, when the heavens were unnamed and the earth bore no name, the primaeval ocean was the producer of all things, and Mummu Tiawath (the sea) she who brought forth everything existing. Their waters (that is, of the primaeval ocean and of the sea) were all united in one, and neither plains nor marshes were to be seen; the gods likewise did not exist, even in name, and the fates were undetermined—nothing had been decided as to the future of things. Then arose the great gods. Lahmu and Lahame came first, followed, after a long period, by Ansar and Kisar, generally identified with the "host of heaven" and the "host of earth," these being the meanings of the component parts of their names. After a further long period of days, there came forth their son Anu, the god of the heavens.

The gods.

Here the narrative is defective, and is continued by Damascius in his /Doubts and Solutions of the First Principles/, in which he states that, after Anos (Anu), come Illinos (Ellila or Bel, "the lord" /par excellence/) and Aos (Aa, Ae, or Ea), the god of Eridu. Of Aos and Dauke (the Babylonian Aa and Damkina) is born, he says, a son called Belos (Bel-Merodach), who, they (apparently the Babylonians) say, is the fabricator of the world—the creator.

The designs against them.

At this point Damascius ends his extract, and the Babylonian tablet also becomes extremely defective. The next deity to come into existence, however, would seem to have been Nudimmud, who was apparently the deity Aa or Ea (the god of the sea and of rivers) as the god of creation. Among the children of Tauthe (Tiawath) enumerated by Damascius is one named Moumis, who was evidently referred to in the document at that philosopher's disposal. If this be correct, his name, under the form of Mummu, probably existed in one of the defective lines of the first portion of this legend—in any case, his name occurs later on, with those of Tiawath and Apsu (the Deep), his parents, and the three seem to be compared, to their disadvantage, with the progeny of Lahmu and Lahame, the gods on high. As the ways of these last were not those of Tiawath's brood, and Apsu complained that he had no peace by day nor rest by night on account of their proceedings, the three representatives of the chaotic deep, Tiawath, Apsu, and Mummu, discussed how they might get rid the beings who wished to rise to higher things. Mummu was apparently the prime mover in the plot, and the face of Apsu grew bright at the thought of the evil plan which they had devised against "the gods their sons." The inscription being very mutilated here, its full drift cannot be gathered, but from the complete portions which come later it would seem that Mummu's plan was not a remarkably cunning one, being simply to make war upon and destroy the gods of heaven.

Tiawath's preparations.

The preparations made for this were elaborate. Restlessly, day and night, the powers of evil raged and toiled, and assembled for the fight. "Mother Hubur," as Tiawath is named in this passage, called her creative powers into action, and gave her followers irresistible weapons. She brought into being also various monsters—giant serpents, sharp of tooth, bearing stings, and with poison filling their bodies like blood; terrible dragons endowed with brilliance, and of enormous stature, reared on high, raging dogs, scorpion-men, fish-men, and many other terrible beings, were created and equipped, the whole being placed under the command of a deity named Kingu, whom she calls her "only husband," and to whom she delivers the tablets of fate, which conferred upon him the godhead of Anu (the heavens), and enabled their possessor to determine the gates among the gods her sons.

Kingu replaces Absu.

The change in the narrative which comes in here suggests that this is the point at which two legends current in Babylonia were united. Henceforward we hear nothing more of Apsu, the begetter of all things, Tiawath's spouse, nor of Mummu, their son. In all probability there is good reason for this, and inscriptions will doubtless ultimately be found which will explain it, but until then it is only natural to suppose that two different legends have been pieced together to form a harmonious whole.

Tiawath's aim.

As will be gathered from the above, the story centres in the wish of the goddess of the powers of evil and her kindred to retain creation—the forming of all living things—in her own hands. As Tiawath means "the sea," and Apsu "the deep," it is probable that this is a kind of allegory personifying the productive power seen in the teeming life of the ocean, and typifying the strange and wonderful forms found therein, which were symbolical, to the Babylonian mind, of chaos and confusion, as well as of evil.

The gods hear of the conspiracy.

Aa, or Ea, having learned of the plot of Tiawath and her followers against the gods of heaven, naturally became filled with anger, and went and told the whole to Ansar, his father, who in his turn gave way to his wrath, and uttered cries of the deepest grief. After considering what they would do, Ansar applied to his son Anu, "the mighty and brave," saying that, if he would only speak to her, the great dragon's anger would be assuaged, and her rage disappear. In obedience to this behest, Anu went to try his power with the monster, but on beholding her snarling face, feared to approach her, and turned back. Nudimmud was next called upon to become the representative of the gods against their foe, but his success was as that of Anu, and it became needful to seek another champion.

And choose Merodach as their champion.

The choice fell upon Merodach, the Belus (Bel-Merodach) of Damascius's paraphrase, and at once met with an enthusiastic reception. The god asked simply that an "unchangeable command" might be given to him—that whatever he ordained should without fail come to pass, in order that he might destroy the common enemy. Invitations were sent to the gods asking them to a festival, where, having met together, they ate and drank, and "decided the fate" for Merodach their avenger, apparently meaning that he was decreed their defender in the conflict with Tiawath, and that the power of creating and annihilating by the word of his mouth was his. Honours were then conferred upon him; princely chambers were erected for him, wherein he sat as judge "in the presence of his fathers," and the rule over the whole universe was given to him. The testing of his newly acquired power followed. A garment was placed in their midst:

"He spake with his mouth, and the garment was destroyed, He spake to it again, and the garment was reproduced."

Merodach proclaimed king.

On this proof of the reality of the powers conferred on him, all the gods shouted "Merodach is king!" and handed to him sceptre, throne, and insignia of royalty. An irresistible weapon, which should shatter all his enemies, was then given to him, and he armed himself also with spear or dart, bow, and quiver; lightning flashed before him, and flaming fire filled his body. Anu, the god of the heavens, had given him a great net, and this he set at the four cardinal points, in order that nothing of the dragon, when he had defeated her, should escape. Seven winds he then created to accompany him, and the great weapon called /Abubu/, "the Flood," completed his equipment. All being ready, he mounted his dreadful, irresistible chariot, to which four steeds were yoked—steeds unsparing, rushing forward, rapid in flight, their teeth full of venom, foam-covered, experienced in galloping, schooled in overthrowing. Being now ready for the fray, Merodach fared forth to meet Tiawath, accompanied by the fervent good wishes of "the gods his fathers."

The fight with Tiawath.

Advancing, he regarded Tiawath's retreat, but the sight of the enemy was so menacing that even the great Merodach (if we understand the text rightly) began to falter. This, however, was not for long, and the king of the gods stood before Tiawath, who, on her side, remained firm and undaunted. In a somewhat long speech, in which he reproaches Tiawath for her rebellion, he challenges her to battle, and the two meet in fiercest fight. To all appearance the type of all evil did not make use of honest weapons, but sought to overcome the king of the gods with incantations and charms. These, however, had not the slightest effect, for she found herself at once enclosed in Merodach's net, and on opening her mouth to resist and free herself, the evil wind, which Merodach had sent on before him, entered, so that she could not close her lips, and thus inflated, her heart was overpowered, and she became a prey to her conqueror. Having cut her asunder and taken out her heart, thus destroying her life, he threw her body down and stood thereon. Her followers then attempted to escape, but found themselves surrounded and unable to get forth. Like their mistress, they were thrown into the net, and sat in bonds, being afterwards shut up in prison. As for Kingu, he was raised up, bound, and delivered to be with Ugga, the god of death. The tablets of fate, which Tiawath had delivered to Kingu, were taken from him by Merodach, who pressed his seal upon them, and placed them in his breast. The deity Ansar, who had been, as it would seem, deprived of his rightful power by Tiawath, received that power again on the death of the common foe, and Nudimmud "saw his desire upon his enemy."

Tiawath's fate.

The dismemberment of Tiawath then followed, and her veins having been cut through, the north wind was caused by the deity to carry her blood away into secret places, a statement which probably typifies the opening of obstructions which prevent the rivers flowing from the north from running into the southern seas, helped thereto by the north wind. Finally her body was divided, like "a /masde/-fish," into two parts, one of which was made into a covering for the heavens—the "waters above the firmament" of Genesis i. 7.

Merodach orders the world anew.

Then came the ordering of the universe anew. Having made a covering for the heavens with half the body of the defeated Dragon of Chaos, Merodach set the Abyss, the abode of Nudimmud, in front, and made a corresponding edifice above—the heavens—where he founded stations for the gods Anu, Bel, and Ae. Stations for the great gods in the likeness of constellations, together with what is regarded as the Zodiac, were his next work. He then designated the year, setting three constellations for each month, and made a station for Nibiru—Merodach's own star—as the overseer of all the lights in the firmament. He then caused the new moon, Nannaru, to shine, and made him the ruler of the night, indicating his phases, one of which was on the seventh day, and the other, a /sabattu/, or day of rest, in the middle of the month. Directions with regard to the moon's movements seem to follow, but the record is mutilated, and their real nature consequently doubtful. With regard to other works which were performed we have no information, as a gap prevents their being ascertained. Something, however, seems to have been done with Merodach's net—probably it was placed in the heavens as a constellation, as was his bow, to which several names were given. Later on, the winds were bound and assigned to their places, but the account of the arrangement of other things is mutilated and obscure, though it can be recognised that the details in this place were of considerable interest.

The creation of man.

To all appearance the gods, after he had ordered the universe and the things then existing, urged Merodach to further works of wonder. Taking up their suggestion, he considered what he should do, and then communicated to his father Ae his plan for the creation of man with his own blood, in order that the service and worship of the gods might be established. This portion is also unfortunately very imperfect, and the details of the carrying out of the plan are entirely wanting.

Berosus' narrative fills the gap.

It is noteworthy that this portion of the narrative has been preserved by Abydenus, George the Syncellus, and Eusebius, in their quotations from Berosus. According to this Chaldaean writer, there was a woman named Omoroca, or, in Chaldaean, Thalatth (apparently a mistake for Thauatth, i.e. Tiawath), whose name was equivalent to the Greek Thalassa, the sea. It was she who had in her charge all the strange creatures then existing. At this period, Belus (Bel-Merodach) came, and cut the woman asunder, forming out of one half the earth, and of the other the heavens, at the same time destroying all the creatures which were within her—all this being an allegory, for the whole universe consists of moisture, and creatures are constantly generated therein. The deity then cut off his own head, and the other gods mixed the blood, as it gushed out, with the earth, and from this men were formed. Hence it is that men are rational, and partake of divine knowledge.

A second creation.

This Belsus, "who is called Zeus," divided the darkness, separated the heavens from the earth, and reduced the universe to order. The animals which had been created, however, not being able to bear the light, died. Belus then, seeing the void thus made, ordered one of the gods to take off his head, and mix the blood with the soil, forming other men and animals which should be able to bear the light. He also formed the stars, the sun, the moon, and the five planets. It would thus seem that there were two creations, the first having been a failure because Belus had not foreseen that it was needful to produce beings which should be able to bear the light. Whether this repetition was really in the Babylonian legend, or whether Berosus (or those who quote him) has merely inserted and united two varying accounts, will only be known when the cuneiform text is completed.

The concluding tablet.

The tablet of the fifty-one names completes the record of the tablets found at Nineveh and Babylon. In this Merodach receives the titles of all the other gods, thus identifying him with them, and leading to that tendency to monotheism of which something will be said later on. In this text, which is written, like the rest of the legend, in poetical form, Merodach is repeatedly called /Tutu/, a mystic word meaning "creator," and "begetter," from the reduplicate root /tu/ or /utu/—which was to all appearances his name when it was desired to refer to him especially in that character. Noteworthy in this portion is the reference to Merodach's creation of mankind:—

Line 25. "Tuto: Aga-azaga (the glorious crown)—may he make the crowns glorious. 26. The lord of the glorious incantation bringing the dead to life; 27. He who had mercy on the gods who had been overpowered; 28. Made heavy the yoke which he had laid on the gods who were his enemies, 29. (And) to redeem(?) them, created mankind. 30. 'The merciful one,' 'he with whom is salvation,' 31. May his word be established, and not forgotten, 32. In the mouth of the black-headed ones[1] whom his hands have made."

[1] I.e. mankind.

Man the redeemer.

The phrase "to redeem them" is, in the original, /ana padi-sunu/, the verb being from /padu/, "to spare," "set free," and if this rendering be correct, as seems probable, the Babylonian reasons for the creation of mankind would be, that they might carry on the service and worship of the gods, and by their righteousness redeem those enemies of the gods who were undergoing punishment for their hostility. Whether by this Tiawath, Apsu, Mummu, Kingu, and the monsters whom she had created were included, or only the gods of heaven who had joined her, the record does not say. Naturally, this doctrine depends entirely upon the correctness of the translation of the words quoted. Jensen, who first proposed this rendering, makes no attempt to explain it, and simply asks: "Does 'them' in 'to redeem(?) them' refer to the gods named in line 28 or to mankind and then to a future—how meant?—redemption? Eschatology? Zimmern's 'in their place' unprovable. Delitzsch refrains from an explanation."

The bilingual account of the creation. Aruru aids Merodach.

Whilst dealing with this part of the religious beliefs of the Babylonians, a few words are needed concerning the creation-story which is prefixed to an incantation used in a purification ceremony. The original text is Sumerian (dialectic), and is provided with a Semitic translation. In this inscription, after stating that nothing (in the beginning) existed, and even the great cities and temples of Babylonia were as yet unbuilt, the condition of the world is briefly indicated by the statement that "All the lands were sea." The renowned cities of Babylonia seem to have been regarded as being as much creations of Merodach as the world and its inhabitants—indeed, it is apparently for the glorification of those cities by attributing their origin to Merodach, that the bilingual account of the creation was composed.. "When within the sea there was a stream"—that is, when the veins of Tiawath had been cut through—Eridu (probably = Paradise) and the temple E-sagila within the Abyss were constructed, and after that Babylon and the earthly temple of E-sagila within it. Then he made the gods and the Annunnaki (the gods of the earth), proclaimed a glorious city as the seat of the joy of their hearts, and afterwards made a pleasant place in which the gods might dwell. The creation of mankind followed, in which Merodach was aided by the goddess Aruru, who made mankind's seed. Finally, plants, trees, and the animals, were produced, after which Merodach constructed bricks, beams, houses, and cities, including Niffer and Erech with their renowned temples.

We see here a change in the teaching with regard to Merodach—the gods are no longer spoken of as "his fathers," but he is the creator of the gods, as well as of mankind.

The order of the gods in the principal lists.

It is unfortunate that no lists of gods have been found in a sufficiently complete state to allow of the scheme after which they were drawn up to be determined without uncertainty. It may, nevertheless, be regarded as probable that these lists, at least in some cases, are arranged in conformity (to a certain extent) with the appearance of the deities in the so-called creation-story. Some of them begin with Anu, and give him various names, among them being Ansar and Kisar, Lahmu and Lahame, etc. More specially interesting, however, is a well-known trilingual list of gods, which contains the names of the various deities in the following order:—


Sumer. Dialect Sumer. Standard Common Explanation (Semit. or Sumer.)

1. Dimmer Dingir Ilu God. 2. U-ki En-ki E-a Ea or Aa. 3. Gasan(?)-ki Nin-ki Dawkina Dauke, the consort of Ea. 4. Mu-ul-lil En-lil-la Bel The God Bel. 5. E-lum A-lim Bel 6. Gasan(?)-lil Nin-lil-la dam-bi sal Bel's consort. 7. U-lu-a Ni-rig Enu-restu The god of Niffer. 8. U-lib-a Ni-rig Enu-restu

9-12 have Enu-restu's consort, sister, and attendant.

13. U-sab-sib En-sag-duga Nusku Nusku

14-19 have two other names of Nusku, followed by three names of his consort. A number of names of minor divinities then follow. At line 43 five names of Ea are given, followed by four of Merodach:—

48. U-bi-lu-lu En-bi-lu-lu Marduk Merodach 49. U-Tin-dir ki En-Tin-dir ki Marduk Merodach as "lord of Babylon." 50. U-dimmer-an-kia En-dinger-an-kia Marduk Merodach as "lord god of heaven and earth." 51. U-ab-sar-u En-ab-sar-u Marduk Merodach, apparently as "lord of the 36,000 steers." 52. U-bar-gi-si Nin-bar-gi-si Zer-panitum Merodach's consort. 53. Gasan-abzu Nin-abzu dam-bi sal "the Lady of the Abyss," his consort.

The remainder of the obverse is mutilated, but gave the names of Nebo in Sumerian, and apparently also of Tasmetum, his consort. The beginning of the reverse also is mutilated, but seems to have given the names of the sun-god, Samas, and his consort, followed by those of Kittu and Mesarum, "justice and righteousness," his attendants. Other interesting names are:


8. U-libir-si En-ubar-si Dumu-zi Tammuz 9. Sir-tumu Sir-du ama Dumuzi-gi the mother of Tammuz 12. Gasan-anna Innanna Istar Istar (Venus) as "lady of heaven." 20. Nin-si-anna Innanna mul Istar the star (the planet Venus). 21. Nin Nin-tag-taga Nanaa a goddess identified with Istar. 23. U-sah Nina-sah Pap-sukal the gods' messenger. 24. U-banda Lugal-banda Lugal-banda 26. U-Mersi Nin-Girsu Nin-Girsu the chief god of Lagas. 27. Ma-sib-sib Ga-tum-duga Bau Bau, a goddess identified with Gula.

Four non-Semitic names of Gula follow, of which that in line 31 is the most interesting:—

31. Gasan-ti-dibba Nin-tin-guua Gula "the lady saving from death." 33. Gasan-ki-gal Eres-ki-gala Allatu Persephone. 36. U-mu-zi-da Nin-gis-zi-da Nin-gis-zida "the lord of the everlasting tree." 37. U-urugal Ne-eri-gal Nerigal Nergal. 42. Mulu-hursag Galu-hursag Amurru the Amorite god. 43. Gasan-gu-edina Nin-gu-edina (apparently the consort of Amurru).

In all probability this list is one of comparatively late date, though its chronological position with regard to the others is wholly uncertain—it may not be later, and may even be earlier, than those beginning with Anu, the god of the heavens. The important thing about it is, that it begins with /ilu/, god, in general, which is written, in the standard dialect (that of the second column) with the same character as that used for the name of Anu. After this comes Aa or Ea, the god of the earth, and his consort, followed by En-lilla, the older Bel—Illinos in Damascius. The name of Ea is repeated again in line 43 and following, where he is apparently re-introduced as the father of Merodach, whose names immediately follow. This peculiarity is also found in other lists of gods and is undoubtedly a reflection of the history of the Babylonian religion. As this list replaces Anu by /ilu/, it indicates the rule of Enki or Ea, followed by that of Merodach, who, as has been shown, became the chief divinity of the Babylonian pantheon in consequence of Babylon having become the capital of the country.




The name of this divinity is derived from the Sumero-Akkadian /ana/, "heaven," of which he was the principal deity. He is called the father of the great gods, though, in the creation-story, he seems to be described as the son of Ansar and Kisar. In early names he is described as the father, creator, and god, probably meaning the supreme being. His consort was Anatu, and the pair are regarded in the lists as the same as the Lahmu and Lahame of the creation-story, who, with other deities, are also described as gods of the heavens. Anu was worshipped at Erech, along with Istar.


Is given as if it were the /Semitic/ equivalent of /Enki/, "the lord of the earth," but it would seem to be really a Sumerian word, later written /Ae/, and certain inscriptions suggest that the true reading was /Aa/. His titles are "king of the Abyss, creator of everything, lord of all," the first being seemingly due to the fact that Aa is a word which may, in its reduplicate form, mean "waters," or if read /Ea/, "house of water." He also, like Anu, is called "father of the gods." As this god was likewise "lord of deep wisdom," it was to him that his son Merodach went for advice whenever he was in doubt. On account of his knowledge, he was the god of artisans in general—potters, blacksmiths, sailors, builders, stone-cutters, gardeners, seers, barbers, farmers, etc. This is the Aos (a form which confirms the reading Aa) of Damascius, and the Oannes of the extracts from Berosus, who states that he was "a creature endowed with reason, with a body like that of a fish, and under the fish's head another head, with feet below, like those of a man, with a fish's tail." This description applies fairly well to certain bas-reliefs from Nimroud in the British Museum. The creature described by Berosus lived in the Persian Gulf, landing during the day to teach the inhabitants the building of houses and temples, the cultivation of useful plants, the gathering of fruits, and also geometry, law, and letters. From him, too, came the account of the beginning of things referred to in chapter III. which, in the original Greek, is preceded by a description of the composite monsters said to have existed before Merodach assumed the rule of the universe.

The name of his consort, Damkina or Dawkina, probably means "the eternal spouse," and her other names, /Gasan-ki/ (Sumerian dialectic) and /Nin-ki/ (non-dialectic), "Lady of the earth," sufficiently indicates her province. She is often mentioned in the incantations with Ea.

The forsaking of the worship of Ea as chief god for that of Merodach seems to have caused considerable heartburning in Babylonia, if we may judge from the story of the Flood, for it was on account of his faithfulness that Utnipistim, the Babylonian Noah, attained to salvation from the Flood and immortality afterwards. All through this adventure it was the god Ea who favoured him, and afterwards gave him immortality like that of the gods. There is an interesting Sumerian text in which the ship of Ea seems to be described, the woods of which its various parts were formed being named, and in it, apparently, were Enki (Ea), Damgal-nunna (Damkina), his consort, Asari-lu-duga (Merodach), In-ab (or Ines), the pilot of Eridu (Ea's city), and Nin-igi-nagar-sir, "the great architect of heaven":—

"May the ship before thee bring fertility, May the ship after thee bring joy, In thy heart may it make joy of heart . . . ."

Ea was the god of fertility, hence this ending to the poetical description of the ship of Ea.


The deity who is mentioned next in order in the list given above is the "older Bel," so called to distinguish him from Bel-Merodach. His principal names were /Mullil/ (dialectic) or /En-lilla/[1] (standard speech), the /Illinos/ of Damascius. His name is generally translated "lord of mist," so-called as god of the underworld, his consort being /Gasan-lil/ or /Nan-lilla/, "the lady of the mist," in Semitic Babylonian /Beltu/, "the Lady," par excellence. Bel, whose name means "the lord," was so called because he was regarded as chief of the gods. As there was considerable confusion in consequence of the title Bel having been given to Merodach, Tiglath-pileser I. (about 1200 B.C.) refers to him as the "older Bel" in describing the temple which he built for him at Assur. Numerous names of men compounded with his occur until the latest times, implying that, though the favourite god was Merodach, the worship of Bel was not forgotten, even at Babylon—that he should have been adored at his own city, Niffur, and at Dur-Kuri-galzu, where Kuri-galzu I. built a temple for "Bel, the lord of the lands," was naturally to be expected. Being, like Ea, a god of the earth, he is regarded as having formed a trinity with Anu, the god of heaven, and Ea, the god of the deep, and prayer to these three was as good as invoking all the gods of the universe. Classification of the gods according to the domain of their power would naturally take place in a religious system in which they were all identified with each other, and this classification indicates, as Jastrow says, a deep knowledge of the powers of nature, and a more than average intelligence among the Babylonians—indeed, he holds it as a proof that, at the period of the older empire, there were schools and students who had devoted themselves to religious speculation upon this point. He also conjectures that the third commandment of the Law of Moses was directed against this doctrine held by the Babylonians.

[1] Ordinarily pronounced /Illila/, as certain glosses and Damascius's /Illinos/ (for /Illilos/) show.


This goddess was properly only the spouse of the older Bel, but as /Beltu/, her Babylonian name, simply meant "lady" in general (just as /Bel/ or /belu/ meant "lord"), it became a title which could be given to any goddess, and was in fact borne by Zer-panitum, Istar, Nanaa, and others. It was therefore often needful to add the name of the city over which the special /Beltu/ presided, in order to make clear which of them was meant. Besides being the title of the spouse of the older Bel, having her earthly seat with him in Niffur and other less important shrines, the Assyrians sometimes name Beltu the spouse of Assur, their national god, suggesting an identification, in the minds of the priests, with that deity.

Enu-restu or Nirig.[1]

Whether /Enu-restu/ be a translation of /Nirig/ or not, is uncertain, but not improbable, the meaning being "primeval lord," or something similar, and "lord" that of the first element, /ni/, in the Sumerian form. In support of this reading and rendering may be quoted the fact, that one of the descriptions of this divinity is /assarid ilani ahe-su/, "the eldest of the gods his brothers." It is noteworthy that this deity was a special favourite among the Assyrians, many of whose kings, to say nothing of private persons, bore his name as a component part of theirs. In the bilingual poem entitled /Ana-kime gimma/ ("Formed like Anu"), he is described as being the son of Bel (hence his appearance after Bel in the list printed above), and in the likeness of Anu, for which reason, perhaps, his divinity is called "Anuship." Beginning with words praising him, it seems to refer to his attitude towards the gods of hostile lands, against whom, apparently, he rode in a chariot of the sacred lapis-lazuli. Anu having endowed him with terrible glory, the gods of the earth feared to attack him, and his onrush was as that of a storm-flood. By the command of Bel, his course was directed towards E-kur, the temple of Bel at Niffur. Here he was met by Nusku, the supreme messenger of Bel, who, with words of respect and of praise, asks him not to disturb the god Bel, his father, in his seat, nor make the gods of the earth tremble in Upsukennaku (the heavenly festival-hall of the gods), and offers him a gift.[2] It will thus be seen that Enu-restu was a rival to the older Bel, whose temple was the great tower in stages called E-kura, in which, in all probability, E-su-me-du, the shrine of Enu-restu, was likewise situated. The inscriptions call him "god of war," though, unlike Nergal, he was not at the same time god of disease and pestilence. To all appearance he was the god of the various kinds of stones, of which another legend states that he "determined their fate." He was "the hero, whose net overthrows the enemy, who summons his army to plunder the hostile land, the royal son who caused his father to bow down to him from afar." "The son who sat not with the nurse, and eschewed(?) the strength of milk," "the offspring who did not know his father." "He rode over the mountains and scattered seed—unanimously the plants proclaimed his name to their dominion, among them like a great wild bull he raises his horns."

[1] /Enu-restu/ is the reading which I have adopted as the Semitic Babylonian equivalent of the name of this divinity, in consequence of the Aramaic transcription given by certain contract-tablets discovered by the American expedition to Niffer, and published by Prof. Clay of Philadelphia.

[2] The result of this request is not known, in consequence of the defective state of the tablets.

Many other interesting descriptions of the deity Nirig (generally read Nin-ip) occur, and show, with those quoted here, that his story was one of more than ordinary interest.


This deity was especially invoked by the Assyrian kings, but was in no wise exclusively Assyrian, as is shown by the fact that his name occurs in many Babylonian inscriptions. He was the great messenger of the gods, and is variously given as "the offspring of the abyss, the creation of Ea," and "the likeness of his father, the first-born of Bel." As Gibil, the fire-god, has likewise the same diverse parentage, it is regarded as likely that these two gods were identical. Nusku was the god whose command is supreme, the counsellor of the great gods, the protector of the Igigi (the gods of the heavens), the great and powerful one, the glorious day, the burning one, the founder of cities, the renewer of sanctuaries, the provider of feasts for all the Igigi, without whom no feast took place in E-kura. Like Nebo, he bore the glorious spectre, and it was said of him that he attacked mightily in battle. Without him the sun-god, the judge, could not give judgment.

All this points to the probability, that Nusku may not have been the fire-god, but the brother of the fire-god, i.e. either flame, or the light of fire. The sun-god, without light, could not see, and therefore could not give judgment: no feast could be prepared without fire and its flame. As the evidence of the presence of the shining orbs in the heavens—the light of their fires—he was the messenger of the gods, and was honoured accordingly. From this idea, too, he became their messenger in general, especially of Bel-Merodach, the younger Bel, whose requests he carried to the god Ea in the Deep. In one inscription he is identified with Nirig or Enu-restu, who is described above.


Concerning this god, and how he arose to the position of king of all the gods of heaven, has been fully shown in chapter III. Though there is but little in his attributes to indicate any connection with Samas, there is hardly any doubt that he was originally a sun-god, as is shown by the etymology of his name. The form, as it has been handed down to us, is somewhat shortened, the original pronunciation having been /Amar-uduk/, "the young steer of day," a name which suggests that he was the morning sun. Of the four names given at the end of chapter III., two—"lord of Babylon," and "lord god of heaven and earth,"—may be regarded as expressing his more well-known attributes. /En-ab-sar-u/, however, is a provisional, though not impossible, reading and rendering, and if correct, the "36,000 wild bulls" would be a metaphorical way of speaking of "the 36,000 heroes," probably meaning the gods of heaven in all their grades. The signification of /En-bilulu/ is unknown. Like most of the other gods of the Babylonian pantheon, however, Merodach had many other names, among which may be mentioned /Asari/, which has been compared with the Egyptian Osiris, /Asari-lu-duga/, "/Asari/ who is good," compared with Osiris Unnefer; /Namtila/, "life", /Tutu/, "begetter (of the gods), renewer (of the gods)," /Sar-azaga/, "the glorious incantation," /Mu-azaga/, "the glorious charm," and many others. The last two refer to his being the god who, by his kindness, obtained from his father Ea, dwelling in the abyss, those charms and incantations which benefited mankind, and restored the sick to health. In this connection, a frequent title given to him is "the merciful one," but most merciful was he in that he spared the lives of the gods who, having sided with Taiwath, were his enemies, as is related in the tablet of the fifty-one names. In connection with the fight he bore also the names, "annihilator of the enemy," "rooter out of all evil," "troubler of the evil ones," "life of the whole of the gods." From these names it is clear that Merodach, in defeating Tiawath, annihilated, at the same time, the spirit of evil, Satan, the accuser, of which she was, probably, the Babylonian type. But unlike the Saviour in the Christian creed, he saved not only man, at that time uncreated, but the gods of heaven also. As "king of the heavens," he was identified with the largest of the planets, Jupiter, as well as with other heavenly bodies. Traversing the sky in great zigzags, Jupiter seemed to the Babylonians to superintend the stars, and this was regarded as emblematic of Merodach shepherding them—"pasturing the gods like sheep," as the tablet has it.

A long list of gods gives as it were the court of Merodach, held in what was apparently a heavenly /E-sagila/, and among the spiritual beings mentioned are /Mina-ikul-beli/ and /Mina-isti-beli/, "what my lord has eaten," and "what has my lord drunk," /Nadin-me-gati/, "he who gives water for the hands," also the two door-keepers, and the four dogs of Merodach, wherein people are inclined to see the four satellites of Jupiter, which, it is thought, were probably visible to certain of the more sharp-sighted stargazers of ancient Babylonia. These dogs were called /Ukkumu/, /Akkulu/, /Ikssuda/, and /Iltebu/, "Seizer," "Eater," "Grasper," and "Holder." Images of these beings were probably kept in the temple of E-sagila at Babylon.


This was the name of the consort of Merodach, and is generally read Sarp(b)anitum—a transcription which is against the native orthography and etymology, namely, "seed-creatress" (Zer-banitum). The meaning attributed to this word is partly confirmed by another name which Lehmann has pointed out that she possessed, namely, /Erua/ or /Aru'a/, who, in an inscription of Antiochus Soter (280-260 B.C.) is called "the queen who produces birth," but more especially by the circumstance, that she must be identical with Aruru, who created the seed of mankind along with Merodach. Why she was called "the lady of the abyss," and elsewhere "the voice of the abyss" (/Me-abzu/) is not known. Zer-panitum was no mere reflection of Merodach, but one of the most important goddesses in the Babylonian pantheon. The tendency of scholars has been to identify her with the moon, Merodach being a solar deity and the meaning "silvery"—/Sarpanitum/, from /sarpu/, one of the words for "silver," was regarded as supporting this idea. She was identified with the Elamite goddess named Elagu, and with the Lahamum of the island of Bahrein, the Babylonian Tilmun.

Nebo and Tasmetum.

As "the teacher" and "the hearer" these were among the most popular of the deities of Babylonia and Assyria. Nebo (in Semitic Babylonian Nabu) was worshipped at the temple-tower known as E-zida, "the ever-lasting house," at Borsippa, now the Birs Nimroud, traditionally regarded as the site of the Tower of Babel, though that title, as has already been shown, would best suit the similar structure known as E-sagila, "the house of the high head," in Babylon itself. In composition with men's names, this deity occurs more than any other, even including Merodach himself—a clear indication of the estimation in which the Babylonians and Assyrians held the possession of knowledge. The character with which his name is written means, with the pronunciation of /ak/, "to make," "to create," "to receive," "to proclaim," and with the pronunciation of /me/, "to be wise," "wisdom," "open of ear," "broad of ear," and "to make, of a house," the last probably referring to the design rather than to the actual building. Under the name of /Dim-sara/ he was "the creator of the writing of the scribes," as /Ni-zu/, "the god who knows" (/zu/, "to know"), as /Mermer/, "the speeder(?) of the command of the gods"—on the Sumerian side indicating some connection with Addu or Rimmon, the thunderer, and on the Semitic side with Enu-restu, who was one of the gods' messengers. A small fragment in the British Museum gave his attributes as god of the various cities of Babylonia, but unfortunately their names are lost or incomplete. From what remains, however, we see that Nebo was god of ditching(?), commerce(?), granaries(?), fasting(?), and food; it was he who overthrew the land of the enemy, and who protected planting; and, lastly, he was god of Borsippa.

The worship of Nebo was not always as popular as it became in the later days of the Babylonian empire and after its fall, and Jastrow is of opinion that Hammurabi intentionally ignored this deity, giving the preference to Merodach, though he did not suppress the worship. Why this should have taken place is not by any means certain, for Nebo was a deity adored far and wide, as may be gathered from the fact that there was a mountain bearing his name in Moab, upon which Moses—also an "announcer," adds Jastrow—died. Besides the mountain, there was a city in Moab so named, and another in Judaea. That it was the Babylonian Nebo originally is implied by the form—the Hebrew corresponding word is /nabi/.

How old the worship of Tasmetum, his consort, is, is doubtful, but her name first occurs in a date of the reign of Hammurabi. Details concerning her attributes are rare, and Jastrow regards this goddess as the result of Babylonian religious speculations. It is noteworthy that her worship appears more especially in later times, but it may be doubted whether it is a product of those late times, especially when we bear in mind the remarkable seal-impression on an early tablet of 3500-4500 B.C., belonging to Lord Amherst of Hackney, in which we see a male figure with wide-open mouth seizing a stag by his horns, and a female figure with no mouth at all, but with very prominent ears, holding a bull in a similar manner. Here we have the "teacher" and the "hearer" personified in a very remarkable manner, and it may well be that this primitive picture shows the idea then prevailing with regard to these two deities. It is to be noted that the name of Tasmetum has a Sumerian equivalent, namely, /Kurnun/, and that the ideograph by which it is represented is one whose general meaning seems to be "to bind," perhaps with the additional signification of "to accomplish," in which case "she who hears" would also be "she who obeys."

Samas and his consort.

At all times the worship of the sun in Babylonia and Assyria was exceedingly popular, as, indeed, was to be expected from his importance as the greatest of the heavenly bodies and the brightest, without whose help men could not live, and it is an exceedingly noteworthy fact that this deity did not become, like Ra in Egypt, the head of the pantheon. This place was reserved for Merodach, also a sun-god, but possessing attributes of a far wider scope. Samas is mentioned as early as the reign of E-anna-tum, whose date is set at about 4200 B.C., and at this period his Semitic name does not, naturally, occur, the character used being /Utu/, or, in its longer form, /Utuki/.

It is worthy of note that, in consequence of the Babylonian idea of evolution in the creation of the world, less perfect beings brought forth those which were more perfect, and the sun was therefore the offspring of Nannara or Sin, the moon. In accordance with the same idea, the day, with the Semites, began with the evening, the time when the moon became visible, and thus becomes the offspring of the night. In the inscriptions Samas is described as "the light of things above and things below, the illuminator of the regions," "the supreme judge of heaven and earth," "the lord of living creatures, the gracious one of the lands." Dawning in the foundation of the sky, he opened the locks and threw wide the gates of the high heavens, and raised his head, covering heaven and earth with his splendour. He was the constantly righteous in heaven, the truth within the ears of the lands, the god knowing justice and injustice, righteousness he supported upon his shoulders, unrighteousness he burst asunder like a leather bond, etc. It will thus be seen, that the sun-god was the great god of judgment and justice—indeed, he is constantly alluded to as "the judge," the reason in all probability being, that as the sun shines upon the earth all day long, and his light penetrates everywhere, he was regarded as the god who knew and investigated everything, and was therefore best in a position to judge aright, and deliver a just decision. It is for this reason that his image appears at the head of the stele inscribed with Hammurabi's laws, and legal ceremonies were performed within the precincts of his temples. The chief seats of his worship were the great temples called E-babbara, "the house of great light," in the cities of Larsa and Sippar.

The consort of Samas was Aa, whose chief seat was at Sippar, side by side with Samas. Though only a weak reflex of the sun-god, her worship was exceedingly ancient, being mentioned in an inscription of Man-istusu, who is regarded as having reigned before Sargon of Agade. From the fact that, in one of the lists, she has names formed by reduplicating the name of the sun-god, /Utu/, she would seem once to have been identical with him, in which case it may be supposed that she personified the setting sun—"the double sun" from the magnified disc which he presents at sunset, when, according to a hymn to the setting sun sung at the temple at Borsippa, Aa, in the Sumerian line Kur-nirda, was accustomed to go to receive him. According to the list referred to above, Aa, with the name of Burida in Sumerian, was more especially the consort of Sa-zu, "him who knows the heart," one of the names of Merodach, who was probably the morning sun, and therefore the exact counterpart of the sun at evening.

Besides Samas and Utu, the latter his ordinary Sumerian name, the sun-god had several other non-Semitic names, including /Gisnu/,[*] "the light," /Ma-banda-anna/, "the bark of heaven," /U-e/, "the rising sun," /Mitra/, apparently the Persian Mithra; /Ume-simas/ and Nahunda, Elamite names, and Sahi, the Kassite name of the sun. He also sometimes bears the names of his attendants Kittu and Mesaru, "Truth" and "Righteousness," who guided him upon his path as judge of the earth.

[*] It is the group expressing this word which is used for Samas in the name of Samas-sum-ukin (Saosduchinos), the brother of Assur-bani-apli (Assurbanipal). The Greek equivalent implies the pronunciation /Sawas/, as well as /Samas/.

Tammuz and Istar.

The date of the rise of the myth of Tammuz is uncertain, but as the name of this god is found on tablets of the time of Lugal-anda and Uru-ka-gina (about 3500 B.C.), it can hardly be of later date than 4000 B.C., and may be much earlier. As he is repeatedly called "the shepherd," and had a domain where he pastured his flock, Professor Sayce sees in Tammuz "Daonus or Daos, the shepherd of Pantibibla," who, according to Berosus, ruled in Babylonia for 10 /sari/, or 36,000 years, and was the sixth king of the mythical period. According to the classic story, the mother of Tammuz had unnatural intercourse with her own father, being urged thereto by Aphrodite whom she had offended, and who had decided thus to avenge herself. Being pursued by her father, who wished to kill her for this crime, she prayed to the gods, and was turned into a tree, from whose trunk Adonis was afterwards born. Aphrodite was so charmed with the infant that, placing him in a chest, she gave him into the care of Persephone, who, however, when she discovered what a treasure she had in her keeping, refused to part with him again. Zeus was appealed to, and decided that for four months in the year Adonis should be left to himself, four should be spent with Aphrodite, and four with Persephone, and six with Aphrodite on earth. He was afterwards slain, whilst hunting, by a wild boar.

Nothing has come down to us as yet concerning this legend except the incident of his dwelling in Hades, whither Istar, the Babylonian Venus, went in search of him. It is not by any means unlikely, however, that the whole story existed in Babylonia, and thence spread to Phoenicia, and afterwards to Greece. In Phoenicia it was adapted to the physical conditions of the country, and the place of Tammuz's encounter with the boar was said to be the mountains of Lebanon, whilst the river named after him, Adonis (now the Nahr Ibrahim), which ran red with the earth washed down by the autumn rains, was said to be so coloured in consequence of being mingled with his blood. The descent of Tammuz to the underworld, typified by the flowing down of the earth-laden waters of the rivers to the sea, was not only celebrated by the Phoenicians, but also by the Babylonians, who had at least two series of lamentations which were used on this occasion, and were probably the originals of those chanted by the Hebrew women in the time of Ezekiel (about 597 B.C.). Whilst on earth, he was the one who nourished the ewe and her lamb, the goat and her kid, and also caused them to be slain—probably in sacrifice. "He has gone, he has gone to the bosom of the earth," the mourners cried, "he will make plenty to overflow for the land of the dead, for its lamentations for the day of his fall, in the unpropitious month of his year." There was also lamentation for the cessation of the growth of vegetation, and one of these hymns, after addressing him as the shepherd and husband of Istar, "lord of the underworld," and "lord of the shepherd's seat," goes on to liken him to a germ which has not absorbed water in the furrow, whose bud has not blossomed in the meadow; to the sapling which has not been planted by the watercourse, and to the sapling whose root has been removed. In the "Lamentations" in the Manchester Museum, Istar, or one of her devotees, seems to call for Tammuz, saying, "Return, my husband," as she makes her way to the region of gloom in quest of him. Eres-e-gala, "the lady of the great house" (Persephone), is also referred to, and the text seems to imply that Istar entered her domain in spite of her. In this text other names are given to him, namely, /Tumu-giba/, "son of the flute," /Ama-elaggi/, and /Si-umunnagi/, "life of the people."

1  2     Next Part
Home - Random Browse