by Lewis Spence | 1917 | 108,912 words
Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, is a book that includes explanations of Babylonian and Assyrian legends and myths as well as the myths themselves. Lewis Spence, in the Preface, describes his purpose in writing the book as providing the reader with "the treasures of romance latent in the subject, the peculiar richness of which has...
THE entire religious system of Babylonia is overshadowed, by Merodach, its great patron deity. We remember how he usurped the place of Ea, and in what manner even the legends of that god were made over to him, so that at last he came to be regarded as not only the national god of Babylonia but the creator of the world and of mankind. He it was who, at the pleading of the other gods, confronted the grisly Tiawath, and having defeated and slain her, formed the earth out of her body and its inhabitants out of his own blood. It is almost certain that this cosmological myth was at one time recounted of Ea, and perhaps even at an earlier date of Bel. The transfer of power from Ea to Merodach, however, was skilfully arranged by the priesthood, for they made Merodach the son of Ea, so that he would naturally inherit his father’s attributes. In this transfer we observe the passing of the supremacy of the city of Eridu to that of Babylon. Ea, or Oannes, the fish-tailed god of Eridu, stood for the older and more southerly civilization of the Babylonian race, whilst Merodach, patron god of Babylon, a very different type of deity, represented the newer political power.
Originally Merodach appears to have been a sun-god personifying more especially the sun of the springtime. Thus he was a fitting deity to defeat the chaotic Tiawath, who personified darkness and destruction. But there is another side to him—the agricultural side.
Says Jastrow (Religion in Babylonia and Assyria , p. 38) :
“At Nippur, as we shall see, there developed an elaborate lamentation ritual for the occasions when national catastrophes, defeat, failure of crops, destructive storms, and pestilence revealed the displeasure and anger of the gods.”
At such times earnest endeavours were made, through petitions accompanied by fasting and other symbols of contrition, to bring about a reconciliation with the angered power. This ritual, owing to the religious pre-eminence of Nippur, became the norm and standard throughout the Euphrates Valley, so that when Marduk (Merodach) and Babylonia came practically to replace En-lil and Nippur, the formulas and appeals were transferred to the solar deity of Babylon, who, representing more particularly the sun-god of spring, was well adapted to be viewed as the one to bring blessings and favours after the sorrows and tribulations of the stormy season.
Strange as it will appear, although he was patron god of Babylon he did not originate in that city, but in Eridu, the city of Ea, and probably this is the reason why he was first regarded as the son of Ea. He is also directly associated with Shamash, the chief sun-god of the later pantheon, and is often addressed as the c god of canals ’ and ‘ opener of subterranean fountains.’ In appearance he is usually drawn with tongues of fire proceeding from his person, thus indicating his solar character. At other times he is represented as standing above the watery deep, with a horned creature at his feet, which also occasionally serves to symbolize Ea. It is noteworthy, too, that his temple at Babylon bore the same name—E-Sagila, ‘the lofty house,’—as did Ea’s sanctuary at Eridu.
We find among the cuneiform texts—a copy of an older Babylonian text—an interesting little poem which shows how Merodach attracted the attributes of the other gods to himself. .
Ea is the Marduk (or Merodach) of canals;
Ninib is the Marduk of strength ;
Nergal is the Marduk of war ;
Zamama is the Marduk of battle ;
Enlil is the Marduk of sovereignty and control ;
Nebo is the Marduk of possession ;
Sin is the Marduk of illumination of the night ;
Shamash is the Marduk of judgments ;
Adad is the Marduk of rain ;
Tishpak is the Marduk of the host ;
Gal is the Marduk of strength ;
Shukamunu is the Marduk of the harvest.
This would seem as if Merodach had absorbed the characteristics of all the other gods of any importance so successfully that he had almost established his position as the sole deity in Babylonia, and that therefore some degree of monotheism had been arrived at.
A New-Year's Ceremony
On the first day of the Babylonian New Year an assembly of the gods was held at Babylon, when all the principal gods were grouped round Merodach in precisely the same manner in which the King was surrounded by the nobility and his officials, for many ancient faiths imagined that the polity of earth merely mirrored that of heaven, that, as Paracelsus would have said, the earth was the microcosm of the heavenly macrocosm—“as above, so below.” The ceremony in question consisted in the lesser deities paying homage to Merodach as their liege lord. In this council, too, they decided the political action of Babylonia for the coming year.
It is thought that the Babylonian priests at stated intervals enacted the myth of the slaughter of Tiawath. This is highly probable, as in Greece and Egypt the myths of Persephone and Osiris were represented dramatically before a select audience ofi ^initiates. We see that these representations are nearly always made in the case of divinities who represent corn or vegetation as a whole, or the fructifying power of springtime. The name of Merodach’s consort Zar-panitum was rendered by the priesthood as ‘seed producing,’ to mark her connexion with the god who was responsible for the spring revival.
Merodach’s ideograph is the sun, and there is abundant evidence that he was first and last a solar god. The name, originally Amaruduk, probably signifies ‘the young steer of day,’ which seems to be a figure for the morning sun. He was also called Asari, which may be compared with Asar, the Egyptian name of Osiris. Other names given him are Sar-agagam, ‘the glorious incantation,’ and Meragaga, ‘the glorious charm,’ both of which refer to the circumstance that he obtained from Ea, his father, certain charms and incantations which restored the sick to health and exercised a beneficial influence upon mankind.
Merodach was supposed to have a court of his own above the sky, where he was attended to by a host of ministering deities. Some superintended his food and drink supply, while others saw to it that water for his hands was always ready. He had also doorkeepers and even attendant hounds, and it is thought that the satellites of Jupiter, the planet which represented him, may have been dimly visible to those among the Chaldean star-gazers who were gifted with good sight. These dogs were called Ukkumu, ‘Seizer,’ Akkulu, ‘Eater,’ Iksuda, ‘Grasper,’ and Iltehu, ‘Holder.’ It is not known whether these were supposed to assist him in shepherding his flock or in the chase, and their names seem appropriate either for sheep-dogs or hunting hounds.