Babylonian Religion and Mythology

by Leonard William King | 1903 | 52,755 words

An account of the principal facts concerning Babylonian religion and mythology. This account is based upon the cuneiform inscriptions which have been excavated in Mesopotamia during the last fifty-five years....

The object of the present work is to offer to the reader in a handy ‘form an account of the principal facts concerning Babylonian religion and mythology. This account is based upon the cuneiform inscriptions which have been excavated in Mesopotamia during the last fifty-five years, and, as far as possible, the Semitic peoples of the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates have been made to reveal their religious beliefs and superstitions by means of their own writings. Although so much has been done in recent years to explain their religious literature, no finality in the matter must be expected for some time to come, certainly not as long as any important religious text remains unpublished.

The fragmentary nature of the available material alone is a great obstacle to the construction of any consecutive narrative, and to the correct grouping of facts, while the renderings of rare Sumerian words and complex ideograms in some cases offer almost insuperable difficulties. Moreover, the variations in the translations made by English and German scholars proclaim the difficulty of the subject, and no systematic and final description of the religion of Babylonia and Assyria is at present possible. In the preparation of this little book the works of the most trustworthy writers on the subject have been diligently consulted, and the translations of cuneiform texts given in the following pages have been specially prepared for the purpose. Every endeavour has also been made to incorporate the results obtained from recently discovered texts, to which in all important cases references are given.

From the facts here printed it is clear that the Babylonians and Assyrians believed in a series of nature gods, and that they had no conception of the existence of one supreme and almighty God. The worship of their gods was tinctured with magic, and many of their prayers and formulae which they recited during the performance of their religious ceremonies can be regarded as little else than spells, charms, and incantations. Although little by little a higher idea of the majesty of certain gods was developed, and although the Babylonian’s conception of a man’s duty towards them and towards his neighbour eventually became of a comparatively high moral character, he never succeeded in freeing himself from a belief in the power of magic, sorcery and witchcraft. He attached great importance to the performance of burial ceremonies, imagining that his arrival in the next world depended absolutely upon them; but the life which he believed the soul would lead after death in the underworld seems to have been of a peculiarly joyless character.

Owing to want of space no attempt has been made to discuss from a comparative point of view the legends of the cosmogony and the deluge written in cuneiform, and only the most obvious parallels between parts of them and certain chapters of Genesis have been drawn. It was unnecessary to treat the subject exhaustively, as it is now generally admitted by scholars that the writers of the Pentateuch drew upon the traditions of Babylonia for a number of the statements made in the early chapters of Genesis.

I take this opportunity of expressing my indebtedness to the works of Delitzsch, Jensen, Gunkel, Zimmern, Jeremias, Jastrow, and others, and of thanking Dr. Wallis Budge for his great help in the preparation of the work.

L. W. KING.

London,
     October 7th, 1899.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: