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 Pantheon of Assyria, as befitted the religious system of a nation of soldiers, was more highly organized than that of the kindred people of Babylonia, the ranks and relationships of the gods who comprised it were more definitely fixed, it was considerably more compact than that of the southern kingdom, and its lesser luminaries were fewer. It has been assumed that the deities of the Assyrians were practically identical in every respect with those of the Babylonians, with the single exception of Asshur, who equated with Merodach. With all due respect to practical Assyriologists the student of Comparative Religion may perhaps be granted leave to take exception to such a statement. Ethnological differences (and these certainly existed between the peoples of the northern and southern culture-groups), climatic conditions, a different political environment—all these as well as other considerations, as important if less obvious, must have effected almost radical changes in the ideas of the gods as conceived by the Assyrians. Exactly what these changes were we shall probably never know. They are scarcely likely to be revealed by inscriptions or sacred writings which undoubtedly conserve for us little more than the purely ecclesiastical view-point, always anxious to embalm with scrupulous care the cherished theological beliefs of an older day. But little of the religious beliefs of a people can survive in priestly inscriptions and the labours of priestly copyists, nor is it safe or scientific to endorse the character of the faith of a race by comparison or analogy with that of a neighbouring folk. If a striking example were required of the danger of such a proceeding it might be found in the vain attempt to discover an exact parallel between the religious systems of ancient Mexico and those of Guatemala and Yucatan. The city-states of the more northerly group of people had evolved a separate system of worship for each pueblo or town, the deities of which, with minor differences, were substantially identical. But when the pantheons of the more southerly region come to be examined it will be found that, although the gods which figure in them spring apparently from the same stock as those of the Mexican people, and even possess names which are mere translations of those of the gods of Mexico, their attributes and characteristics differ profoundly from those of their Mexican congeners. The reason for this dissimilarity is to be found in variations of climate, culture, and politics, three sure factors in the modification of religion. If, then, we are satisfied that such differences existed in the religious systems of two race-groups almost as closely connected as were the peoples of Babylonia and Assyria, may we not be pardoned for the supposition that similar divergences existed between the faiths of the two great races of Chaldea ?
We find in the Assyrian pantheon numerous foreign deities whom the Assyrian kings included among the national gods by right of conquest. These we shall deal with later. It will suffice for the present to mention Assur-bani-pal, who speaks of the capture of twenty gods of the Elamites. It was, of course, only upon the rise of a distinct Assyrian empire that the religion of the northern kingdom acquired traits that distinguished it from that of Babylonia.
Having outlined the reasons for the differences which we believe to have existed between the Babylonian and Assyrian faiths, let us briefly consider the variation of type between the two peoples which must have caused this divergence. The languages of the two races were not more distinct than the dialects of northern and southern England—indeed among scholars they are designated by the common name of Assyrian. But the Assyrians had a pure strain of that Semitic blood which has done so much to systematize religions ancient and modern. The Semite cannot content himself with half-truths. It is essential to his very life, that he must feel himself upon sure religious ground. He hates doubt and despises the doubter. At an early time in his ancient career he had so securely systematized religion as to supply the earliest instances of pure dogma. There followed the relentless abjuration of all the troublous circumstances of mistrust. A code founded upon the rock of unquestioning faith was instituted. And in the religious systems of Babylonia and especially of Assyria we observe a portion of the process of evolution which assisted in the upbuilding of a narrow yet highly spiritualized system.
The great gods in Assyria were even more omnipotent than in Babylonia. One cause contributing to this was the absorption of the minor local cults by deities associated with the great centres of Assyrian life. Early religion is extremely sensitive to political change, and as a race evolves from the tribal or local state and bands itself into a nation, so the local gods become national and centralized, probably in the great deity of the most politically active city in the state. Nor is it essential to this process that the deities absorbed should be of a like nature with the absorbing god. Quite often a divinity assumes the name and attributes of one with whom he had little in common.
Image right: Symbols of the God Asshur;
From Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria.
by Prof. Jastrow (G. P. Putnam's Sons).
The state religion of Assyria centres in Asshur, nor was any deity ever so closely identified with an empire as he. On the fall of the Assyrian state, Asshur fell with it. Moreover all the gods of’Assyria may be said to have been combined in his person. In Babylonia, Merodach was a leader of hosts. In Assyria, Asshur personified these hosts, that is, the other Assyrian gods had become attributes of Asshur, and we can only understand the remaining Assyrian gods if we regard them as lesser Asshurs, so to speak, as broken lights of the great god of battle and conquest.
Asshur originated in the city of his name situated on the west bank of the Tigris, not far from the point where the lower Zab flows into that river. It was not of course until the rise of this city to political pre-eminence that its god figured as allpowerful. There are conflicting estimates as regards his original nature, some authorities holding that he was lunar, others that he symbolized fire or water. The facts, however, point to the conclusion that he was solar in character.
Merodach had chiefly been worshipped in Babylon. As other Babylonian territories became subject to that city we do not find them placing the god of Babylon above their own local god. But it was different with Asshur. We find temples to him broadcast over Assyria. Indeed as Assyrian history advances, we see different cities alluded to as the chief centre of his worship, and he resides now at Asshur, now at Calah, now at Nineveh, now at Khorsabad. Wherever the Kings of Assyria took up their official residence there Asshur was adored, and there he was supposed to dwell. He was not symbolized by an idol or any man-like statue which would serve to give the populace an idea of his physical likeness, but was represented by a standard consisting of a pole surrounded by a disc enclosed with two wings. Above the disc was the figure of a warrior with bent bow andffarrow on string. This well symbolized the military nature of the Assyrian nation and of its tutelar deity. At the same time indications are not wanting that this pole and its accompanying symbols are the remains of a totem-standard upon which has been superimposed the anthropomorphic figure of a lightning- or tempest-god. The pole is a favourite vehicle for carrying the totenTsymbols into battle, and it looks here as if the sun hacPat one-time been regarded as a tribal totem. The figure of the archer at the top seems representative of a lightning-or storm-god—a mythic character frequently associated with the sun, that ‘strong warrior.’ By virtue of his possession of the lightning arrow the storm-god is often accepted as a god of war.
The etymology of the name of Asshur throws little light upon his character as a divinity. The city which took his name was in all probability originally called ‘The city of the god Asshur.’ To call it by the name of the god alone would not be unnatural. The name is derived from a root meaning ‘to be gracious,’ and therefore means ‘the gracious god,’ ‘the good god.’ But there are indications that an older form of the name had existed, and it has been asserted that the form Anshar has priority. With Kishar, a god Anshar was created as the second pair of deities to see the light, and according to one version it is Anshar who dispatches Anu, Ea, and finally Merodach to destroy the monster Tiawath. This Anshar, then, appears as possessed with authority among the gods. But we find no mention of him in the ancient texts and inscriptions of Babylonia. The version in which Anshar is alluded to may of course have been tampered with, and his inclusion in the creation myth may be regarded as a concession to Assyrian greatness. Indeed in one creation tablet we find Merodach displaced by Asshur as framer of the earth !
The Secret of Assyrian Greatness
Asshur is mentioned in the oldest Assyrian inscription known to us, that of Samsi-Ramman (c. 1850 B.C.), the priest-chief of Asshur, who ruled in the days when as yet the offices of king and high priest were undivided. Indeed, when the title of ‘king’ had come into use some 350 years later, the monarchs of Assyria still retained the right to call themselves ‘priests of the god Asshur.’ The entire faith in and dependence on their beloved deity on the part of these early Assyrian rulers is touching. They are his children and rely wholly upon him first for protection against their cruel enemies the Kassites and afterwards for the extension of their growing empire. No wonder that with such a faith to stimulate her Assyria became great. Faith in her tutelar god was, indeed, the secret of her greatness. The enemies of Assyria are ‘the enemies of Asshur,’ her soldiers are ‘the warriors of Asshur,’ and their weapons are ‘the weapons of Asshur.’ Before his face the enemies of Assyria tremble and are routed, he is consulted oracularly as to the making and conduct of war, and he is present on the battle-field. But the solitary nature of Asshur was remarkable. Originally he possessed ‘ neither kith nor kin,’ neither wife nor child, and the unnaturalness of his splendid isolation appears to have struck the Assyrian scribes, who in an interesting prayer attempted to connect their divinity with the greater gods of Babylonia, to find him a wife, ministers, a court and messengers.
A prayer to Asshur, the king of the gods, ruler over heaven and earth,
the father who has created the gods, the supreme first-born of heaven and earth,
the supreme muttallu who inclines to counsel,
the giver of the sceptre and the throne.
To Nin-lil, the wife of Asshur, the begetter, the creatress of heaven and earth, who by command of her mouth . . .
To Sin, the lord of command, the uplifter of horns, the spectacle of heaven,
To the Sun-god, the great judge of the gods, who causes the lightning to issue forth,
To Anu, the lord and prince, possessing the life of Asshur, the father of the great gods.
To Rammon, the minister of heaven and earth, the lord of the wind and the lightning of heaven.
To Ishtar, the queen of heaven and the stars, whose seat is exalted.
To Merodach, the prince of the gods, the interpreter of the spirits of heaven and earth.
To Adar, the son of Mul-lil the giant, the first-born . . .
To Nebo, the messenger of Asshur (Ansar) . . .
To Nergal, the lord of might and strength . . .
To the god who marches in front, the first-born . . .
To the seven gods, the warrior deities . . .
the great gods, the lords of heaven and earth.
Asshur as Conqueror
An incident which well illustrated the popularity of the Assyrian belief in the conquering power of the national god is described in an account of the expedition of Sargon against Ashdod stamped on a clay cylinder of that monarch’s reign. Sargon states that in his ninth expedition to the land beside the sea, to Philistia and Ashdod, to punish King Azuri of that city for his refusal to send tribute and for his evil deeds against Assyrian subjects, Sargon placed Ahimiti, nephew of Azuri, in his place and fixed the taxes. But the people of Ashdod revolted against the puppet Sargon had placed over them, and by acclamation raised one Yaran to the throne, and fortified their dominions. They and the surrounding peoples sought the aid of Egypt, which could not help them. For the honour of Asshur, Sargon then engaged in an expedition against the Hittites, and turned his attention to the state of affairs in Philistia (c. 711 b.c.), hearing which Yaran, for fear of Asshur, fled to Meroc on the borders of Egypt, where he hid ignominiously. Sargon besieged and captured the city of Ashdod, with the gods, wives, children, and treasures of Yaran.
It is plain that this punitive expedition was undertaken for the personal honour of Asshur, that he was believed to accompany the troops in their campaign against the rebellious folk of Ashdod, and that victory was to be ascribed to him and to him alone. All tribute from conquered peoples became the property of Asshur, to whom it was offered by the Kings of Assyria. Even the great and proud monarchs of this warlike kingdom do not hesitate to affirm themselves the creatures of Asshur, by whom they live and breathe and by whose will they hold the royal authority, symbolized by the mighty bow conferred upon them by their divine master. That these haughty rulers were not without an element of affection as well as fear for the god they worshipped is seen from the circumstance that they frequently allude to themselves as the sons of Asshur, whose viceroys on earth they were. Asshur was, indeed, in later times the spirit of conquering Assyria personalized. We do not find him regarded as anything else than a war-god. We do not find him surrounded by any of the gentler attributes which distinguish nonmilitant deities, nor is it likely that his cult would have developed, had it lasted, into one distinguished for its humanizing influence or its ethical subtlety. It was the cult of a war-god pure and simple, and when Asshur was beaten at his own business of war he disappeared into the limbo of forgotten gods as rapidly as he had arisen.
Ishtar in Assyria
Next to Asshur in the affections of the Assyrian people stood Ishtar. As a goddess in Assyria she was absolutely identical with the Babylonian Ishtar, her favourite shrines in the northern kingdom being Nineveh, Arbela, and the temple of Kidmuru, also in Nineveh. The Assyrians appear to have admitted her Babylonian origin, or at least to have confessed that theirs was originally a Babylonian Ishtar, for Tiglath-pileser I lays emphasis upon the circumstance that a shrine he raised to Ishtar in his capital is dedicated to ‘the Assyrian Ishtar.’ The date of this monarch is ioio b.c., or near it, so that the above is a comparatively early allusion to Ishtar in Assyrian history. The Ishtars of Arbela and Kidmuru do not appear in Assyrian texts until the time of Esar-haddon (68 1 B.C.), thus the Ishtar of Nineveh was much the most venerable of the three. Arbela was evidently a religious centre of importance, and the theory has been advanced that it became the seat of a school of prophets connected with the worship of Ishtar.
Jastrow in his Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (1898, p. 203), writing on this point, says,
“It is quite possible, if not probable, that the three Ishtars are each of independent origin. The ‘queen of Kidmuru,’ indeed, I venture to think, is the indigenous Ishtar of Nineveh, who is obliged to yield her place to the so-called ‘Assyrian Ishtar,’ upon the transfer of the capital of Assyria to Nineveh, and henceforth is known by one of her epithets to distinguish her from her more formidable rival.
The cult of Ishtar at Arbela is probably, too, of ancient date ; but special circumstances that escape us appear to have led to a revival of interest in their cults during the period when Assyria reached the zenith of her power. The important point for us to bear in mind is that no essential distinctions between these three Ishtars were made by the Assyrians. Their traits and epithets are similar, and for all practical purposes we have only one Ishtar in the northern empire.”
Ishtar as a War-Goddess
Ishtar was frequently placed by the side of Asshur as a war-goddess. Ere she left the plains of Babylonia for the uplands of Assyria she had evinced certain bellicose propensities. In the Gilgamesh epic she appears as a deity of destructive and spiteful character, if not actually of warlike nature. But if the Babylonians regarded her first and foremost as the great mother-goddess, the Assyrians took but little notice of this side of her character. To them she was a veritable Valkyrie, and as the Assyrians grew more and more military so she became more the war-goddess and less the nature-mother of love and agriculture. She appeared in dreams to the war-loving Kings of Assyria, encouraging and heartening them with words of cheer to further military exploits. Fire was her raiment, and, as became a goddess of battle, her appearance was terrific. She consumed the enemies of Assur-bani-pal with flames. Still, strangely enough, in the religious texts, influenced probably by Babylonian sources, she was still to a great extent the mild and bountiful mother of nature. It is in the historical texts which ring with tales of conquest and the grandiloquent boastings of conquering monarchs that she appears as the leader of armies and the martial goddess who has slain her thousands and her tens of thousands. So has it ever been impossible for the priest and the soldier to possess the selfsame idea of godhead, and this is so in the modern no less than in the ancient world.
Yet occasionally the stern Assyrian kings unbent, and it was probably in a brief interval of peace that Assur-nazir-pal alluded to Ishtar as the lady who “loves him and his priesthood.” Sennacherib also spoke of the goddess in similar terms. It is necessary to state that the name or title of Belit given to Ishtar does not signify that she is the wife or consort of Bel, but merely that she is a ‘great lady,’ for which the title ‘Belit’ is a generic term. If she is at times brought into close association with Asshur she is never regarded as his wife. She is not the consort of any god, but an independent goddess in her own right, standing alone, equal with Asshur and the dependant of no other divinity. But it was later only that she ranked with Asshur, and purely because of her military reputation.
Ninib as an Assyrian War-God
Such a deity as Ninib (another name for Nin-girsu, the god of Lagash) was certain to find favour among the Assyrians by virtue of those characteristics which would render him a valuable ally in war. We find several kings extolling his prowess as a warrior, notably Tiglath - pileser I, and Assur-rishishi, who allude to him as “the courageous one,” and “the mighty one of the gods.” His old status as a sun-and-wind god, in which he was regarded as overthrowing and levelling with the ground everything which stood in his path, would supply him with the reputation necessary to a god of battles. He is associated with Asshur in this capacity, and Tiglath-pileser brackets them as those “who fulfil his desire.” But Ninib’s chief votary was Assur-nazir-pal (858-60 B.C.), who commenced his annals with a paean of praise in honour of Ninib, which so abounds in fulsome eulogy that we feel that either he must have felt much beholden to the god, or else have suffered from religious mania. The epithets he employs in praise of Ninib are those usually lavished upon the greatest of gods only. This proceeding secured immense popularity for Ninib and gave him a social and political vogue which nothing else could have given, and we find Shamsi-ramman, the grandson of Assur-nazir-pal, employing the selfsame titles in honouring him.
The great temple of Ninib was situated in Calah, the official residence of Assur-nazir-pal, and within its walls that monarch placed a tablet recording his deeds, and a great statue of the god. He further endowed his cult so that it might enjoy continuance.
We can readily understand how the especial favour shown to such a god as Ninib by an Assyrian monarch originated. Asshur would be regarded by them as much too popular and national a deity to choose as a personal patron. But more difficult to comprehend are the precise reasons which actuated the Assyrian kings, or indeed the kings of any similar ancient state, in choosing their patrons. Does a polytheistic condition of religion permit of the fine selection of patron deities, or is it not much more probable that the artful offices of ecclesiastical and political wire-pullers had much to do with moulding the preferences of the King before and after he reached the throne ? The education of the monarch while yet a prince would almost certainly be entrusted to a high ecclesiastical dignitary, and although many examples to the contrary exist, we are pretty safe in assuming that whatever the complexion of the tutor’s mind, that of the pupil would to some extent reflect it. On the other hand there is no resisting the conclusion that the Assyrian kings were very often vulgar parvenus, ostentatious and ‘impossible,’ as such, people usually are, and that, after the manner of their kind, they ‘doted’ upon everything ancient, and, possibly, everything Babylonian, just as the later Romans praised everything Greek.
Ninib as Hunter-God
Image right: Tiglath-Pileser I directed by Ninib.
But Ninib ministered to the amusement of his royal devotees as well as to their warlike desires. We find Assur-nazir-pal invoking him before commencing a long journey in search of sport, and Tiglath-pileser I, who was a doughty hunter of lions and elephants, ascribes his success to Ninib, who has placed the mighty bow in his hands.
Jensen in his Kosmologie points out that Ninib represents the eastern sun and the morning sun. If this is so, it is strange to find a god representing the sun of morning in the status of a war-god. It is usually when the sun-god reaches the zenith of the heavens that he slays his thousands and his tens of thousands. As a variant of Nin-girsu he would of course be identified with Tammuz. His consort was Gula, to whom Assur-nazir-pal erected a sanctuary.
Dagan the fish-god, who, we saw, was the same as Oannes or Ea, strangely enough rose, to high rank in Assyria. Some authorities consider him of Philis-tian or Aramean origin, and do not compare him with Ea, who rose from the waters of the Persian Gulf to enlighten his people, and it is evident that the Mesopotamian-Palestinian region contained several versions of the origin of this god, ascribing it to various places. In the Assyrian pantheon he is associated with Anu, who rules the heavens, Dagan supervising the earth. It is strange to observe a deity, whose sphere must originally have been the sea, presiding over the terrestrial plane, and this transference it was which cost Dagan his popularity in Assyria, for later he became identified with Bel and disappeared almost entirely from the Assyrian pantheon.
Anu in Assyria did not differ materially from Anu in Babylon, but he suffered, as did other southern deities, irom the all-pervading worship of Asshur. He had a temple in Asshur’s own city, which was rebuilt by Tiglath-pileser I 641 years, after its original foundation. He was regarded in Assyria as lord of the Igigi and Anunnaki, or spirits of heaven and earth, probably the old animistic spirits, and to this circumstance, as well as to the fact that he belonged to the old triad along with Bel and Ea, he probably owed the prolongation of his cult. As an elemental and fundamental god opposition could not possibly displace him, and as ruler of the spirits of air and earth he would have a very strong hold upon the popular imagination. Gods who possess such powers often exist in folk-memory long after the other members of the pantheon which contained them are totally forgotten, and one would scarcely be surprised to find Anu lingering in the shadows of post-Assyrian folk-lore, if any record of such lore could be discovered. Anu was frequently associated with Ramman, but more usually with Bel and Eausas in Babylonia.
Ramman enjoyed much greater popularity in Assyria than in Babylonia, for there he exercised the functions of a second Asshur, and was regarded as destruction personified. Says an old Assyrian hymn concerning Ramman :
The mighty mountain, thou hast overwhelmed it.
At his anger, at his strength,
At his roaring, at his thundering,
The gods of heaven ascend to the sky,
The gods of the earth ascend to the earth,
Into the horizon of heaven they enter,
Into the zenith of heaven they make their way.
What a picture have we here in these few simple lines of a pantheon in dread and terror of the wrath and violence of one of its number. We can almost behold the divine fugitives crowding in flight, some into the upper regions of air to outsoar the anger of the destroyer, others seeking the recesses of the earth to hide themselves from the fierceness of his countenance, the roar of his thunderbolts, and the arrows of his lightning. Simple, almost bald, as the lines are they possess marvellous pictorial quality, bringing before us as they do the rout of a whole heaven in a few simple words.
The weapons of Ramman are lightning, deluge, hunger, and death, and woe to the nation upon whom he visits his wrath, for upon it he visits flood and famine. Thus his attributes as a storm-god are brought into play when he figures as a war deity, for just as a weather-god of the lightning wields it as a spear or dart in the fight, so Ramman as storm-god brings to bear the horrors of tempest upon the demoted head of the enemy.
So highly did the Assyrian kings value the assistance of Ramman that they sacrificed to him during the stress and bustle of a campaign in the field. They liken an attack of their troops to his onslaught, and if they wish to depict the stamping out of an adversary, his ‘eating up,’ as Chaka’s Zulus were wont to term the process, they declare that their men swept over the enemy as Ramman might have done. Assur-nazir-pal alludes to Ramman as ‘the mightiest of the gods,’ but as in reality that phrase was employed in connexion with all the principal deities at one time or another by kings or priests who favoured them, there is no reason to suppose that anything more is intended than that Ramman occupied a place of importance in the Assyrian pantheon.
The worship of Ramman in later times came very much into prominence. It was only in the days of Khammurabi that he came into his kingdom, as it were, and even then his worship was not very firmly established in Babylonia. With the rise of the Kassite dynasty, however, we find him coming more into favour, and his name bestowed upon Babylonian kings. He seems to have formed a triad with Sin and Shamash, and in the Hymn of Khammurabi we find him appealed to along with Shamash as ‘Divine Lords of Justice.’ Nebuchadrezzar I appears to have held him in high esteem, although he was unfriendly to the dynasty which first brought him into prominence, and this monarch couples him with Ishtar as the divinity who has chiefly assisted him in all his great undertakings. Indeed, Nebuchadrezzar evinced much partiality for Ramman, perhaps feeling that he must placate the especial god of those he had cast from power. He speaks of him as the ‘lord of the waters beneath the earth,’ and of the rains from heaven.
The place of Ramman’s origin seems obscure. We have already dealt with his manifestations in more primitive days, but opinions appear to differ regarding the original seat of his worship, some authorities holding that it was Muru in Southern Babylonia, others that it is necessary to turn to Assyria for traces of his first worship. His cult is found in Damascus and extended as far south as the Plain of Jezreel.
As Milton says :
. . . Rimmon, whose delightful seat
Was fair Damascus, on the fertile banks
Of Abbana and Pharphar, lucid streams.
He also ’gainst the house of God was bold
A leper once he lost, and gained a king,
Ahaz his sottish conqu’ror, whom he drew
God’s altar to disparage and displace
For one of Syrian mode, whereon to burn
His odious offerings, and adore the gods
Whom he had vanquish’d.”
This later theory would make him of Aramaic origin, but his cult appears to have been of very considerable antiquity in Assyria, and it might have been indigenous there. Moreover, the earliest mention of his worship is in the city of Asshur. As has been indicated, he was probably a storm-god or a thunder-and-lightning god, but he was also associated with the sun-god Shamash. But whatever he may have been in Babylonia, in Assyria he was certainly the thunder-deity first and foremost.
A Babylonian text of some antiquity contains a really fine hymn to Ramman, which might be paraphrased as follows, omitting redundancies :—
“O lord Ramman, thy name is the great and glorious Bull, child of heaven, lord of Karkar, lord of plenty, companion of the lord Ea. He that rideth the great lion is thy name. Thy name doth charm the land, and covers it like a garment. Thy thunder shakes even the great mountain, En-lil, and when thou dost rumble the mother Nin-lil trembles.
Said the lord En-lil, addressing his son Ramman :
‘O son, spirit of wisdom, with all-seeing eyes and high vision, full of knowledge as the Pleiades, may thy sonorous voice give forth its utterance. Go forth, go up, who can strive with thee ? The father is with thee against the cunning foe. Thou art cunning in wielding the hail-stones great and small. Oh, with thy right hand destroy the enemy and root him up !’
Ramman hearkened to the words of his father and took his way from the dwelling, the youthful lion, the spirit of counsel.”
In later times in Babylonia Ramman seems to have typified the rain of heaven in its beneficent as well as its fertilizing aspect. Not only did he irrigate the fields and fill the wells with water, but he was also accountable for the dreadful tempests which sweep over Mesopotamia. Sometimes he was malevolent, causing thorns to grow instead of herbs. The people, if they regarded him in some measure as a fertilizing agent, also seem to have looked upon him as a destructive and lion-like deity quite capable of desolating the country-side and ‘eating up the land.’ His roar is typical of him, filling all hearts with affright as it does, and signifying famine and destruction. It is not strange that Mesopotamian regions should have had so many deities of a destructive tendency when we think of the furious whirlwinds which frequently rush across the face of the land, raising sand-storms and devastating everything in their track. Ramman was well likened to the roaring lion, seeking what he may devour, and this seems to have symbolized him in the eyes of the peasant population of the land. Indeed, the Assyrians, impressed by his destructive tendencies, made a war-god of him, and considered his presence as essential to victory. No wonder that the great god of storm made a good war-god !
Image right: Assur-nazir-pal attended by a Winged Mythological Being;
Bas-relief from the north-western palace at Nimrud
Photo W. A. Mansell and Co.
The cult of Shamash in Assyria dates from at least 1340 B.C., when Pudilu built a temple to this god in the city of Asshur. He entitled Shamash ‘The Protecting Deity,’ which name is to be understood as that of the god of justice, whose fiat’is unchangeable, and in this manner Shamash differed somewhat from the Babylonian idea concerning him. In the southern kingdom he was certainly regarded as a just god, but not as the god of justice—a very different thing. It is interesting as well as edifying to watch the process of evolution of a god of justice. Thus in Ancient Mexico Tezcatlipoca evolved from a tribal deity into a god who was beginning to bear all the marks and signs of a god of justice when the conquering Spaniards put an end to his career. We observe, too, that although the Greeks had a special deity whose department was justice, other divinities, such as Pallas Athene, displayed signs that they in time might possibly become wielders of the balances between man and man. In the Egyptian heavenly hierarchy Maat and Thoth both partook of the attributes of a god of justice, but perhaps Maat was the more directly symbolical of the two. Now in the case of Shamash no favours can be obtained from him by prayer or sacrifice unless those who supplicate him, monarchs though they be, can lay claim to righteousness. Even Tiglath-pileser I, mighty conqueror as he was, recognized Shamash as his judge, and, naturally, as the judge of his enemies, whom he destroys, not because they are fighting against Tiglath, but because of their wickedness. When he set captives free Tiglath took care to perform the gracious act before the face of Shamash, that the god might behold that justice dwelt in the breast of his royal servant. Tiglath, in fact, is the viceroy of Shamash upon earth, and it would seem as if he referred many cases regarding whose procedure he was in doubt to the god before he finally pronounced upon them.
Both Assur-nazir-pal and Shalmaneser II exalted the sun-cult of Shamash, and it has been suggested that the popularity of the worship of Ra in Egypt had reflected upon that of Shamash in Assyria. It must always be extremely difficult to trace such resemblances at an epoch so distant as that of the ninth century B.C. But certainly it looks as if the Ra cult had in some manner influenced that of the old Babylonian sun-god. Sargon pushed the worship of Shamash far to the northern boundaries of Assyria, for he built a sanctuary to the deity beyond the limits of the Assyrian Empire—where, precisely, we do not know. Amongst a nation of warriors a god such as Shamash must have been valued highly, for without his sanction they would hardly be justified in commencing hostilities against any other race.
Sin in the Northern Land
We do not find Sin, the Babylonian moon-god, extensively worshipped in Assyria. Assur-nazir-pal founded a temple to him in Calah, and Sargon raised several sanctuaries to him beyond the Assyrian frontier. It is as a war-god chiefly that we find him depicted in the northern kingdom—why, it would be difficult to say, unless, indeed, it was that the Assyrians turned practically all the deities they borrowed from other peoples into war-gods. So far as is known, no lunar deity in any other pantheon possesses a military significance. Several are not without fear-inspiring attributes, but these are caused chiefly by the manner in which the moon is regarded among primitive peoples as a bringer of plague and blight. But' we find Sin in Assyria freed from all the astrological significances which he had for the Babylonians. At the same time he is regarded as a god of wisdom and a framer of decisions, in these respects equating very fully with the Egyptian Thoth. Assur-bani-pal alludes to Sin as ‘the firstborn son of Bel’ just as he is alluded to in Babylonian texts, thus affording us a clue to the direct Babylonian origin of Sin.
Nusku of the Brilliant Sceptre
It is strange that although we know that Nusku had been a Babylonian god from early times, and had figured in the pantheon of Khammurabi, it is not until Assyrian times that we gain any very definite information regarding him. The symbols used in his name are a sceptre and a stylus, and he is called by Shalmaneser I 4 The Bearer of the Brilliant Sceptre.’ This circumstance associates him closely with Nabu, to designate whom the same symbols are employed. It is difficult, however, to believe that the two are one, as some writers appear to think, for Nusku is certainly a solar deity, while Nabu appears to have originally been a water-god. There are, however, not wanting cases where the same deity has evinced both solar and aqueous characteristics, and these are to be found notably among the gods of American races. Thus among the Maya of Central America the god Kukulcan is depicted with both solar and aqueous attributes, and similar instances could be drawn from lesser-known mythologies. Nusku and Nabu are, however, probably connected in some way, but exactly in what manner is obscure. In Babylonian times Nusku had become amalgamated with Gibil, the god of fire, which perhaps accounts for his virtual efface-ment in the southern kingdom. In Assyria we find him alluded to as the messenger of Bel-Merodach, and Assur-bani-pal addresses him as ‘the highly honoured messenger of the gods.’ The Assyrians do not seem to have identified him in any way with Gibil, the fire-god.
Even Bel-Merodach was absorbed into the Assyrian pantheon. To the Assyrians, Babylonia was the country of Bel, and they referred to their southern neighbours as the ‘subjects of Bel.’ This, of course, must be taken not to mean the older Bel, but Bel-Merodach. They even alluded to the governor whom they placed over conquered Babylonia as the governor of Bel, so closely did they identify the god with the country. It is only in the time of Shalmaneser II— the ninth century b.c. —that we find the name Merodach employed for Bel, so general did the use of the latter become. Of course it was impossible that Merodach could take first place in Assyria as he had done in Babylonia, but it was a tribute to the Assyrian belief in his greatness that they ranked him immediately after Asshur in the pantheon.
The Assyrian rulers were sufficiently politic to award this place to Merodach, for they could not but see that Babylonia, from which they drew their arts and sciences, as well as their religions beliefs, and from which they benefited in many directions, must be worthily represented in the national religion. And just as the Romans in conquering Greece and Egypt adopted many of the deities of these more cultured and less powerful lands, thus seeking to bind the inhabitants of the conquered provinces more closely to themselves, so did the Assyrian rulers believe that, did they incorporate Merodach into their hierarchy, he would become so Assyrian in his outlook as to cease to be wholly Babylonian, and would doubtless work in favour of the stronger kingdom. In no other of the religions of antiquity as in the Assyrian was the idea so powerful that the god of the conquered or subject people should become a virtual prisoner in the land of the conquerors, or should at least be absorbed into their national worship. Some of the Assyrian monarchs went so far as to drag almost every petty idol they encountered on their conquests back to the great temple of Asshur, and it is obvious that they did not do this with any intention of uprooting the worship of these gods in the regions they conquered, but because they desired to make political prisoners of them, and to place them in a temple-prison, where they would be unable to wreak vengeance upon them, or assist their beaten worshippers to war against them in the future.
It may be fitting at this point to emphasize how greatly the Assyrian people, as apart from their rulers, cherished the older beliefs of Babylonia. Both peoples were substantially of the same stock, and any movement which had as its object the destruction of the Babylonian religion would have met with the strongest hostility from the populace of Assyria. Just as the conquering Aztecs seem to have had immense reverence for the worship of the Toltecs, whose land they subdued, so did the less cultivated Assyrians regard everything connected, with Babylonia as peculiarly sacred. The Kings of Assyria, in fact, were not a little proud of being the rulers of Babylonia, and were extremely mild in their treatment of their southern subjects—very much more so, in fact, than they were in their behaviour toward the people of Elam or other conquered territories. We even find the kings alluding to themselves as being nominated by. the gods to rule over the land of Bel.
The Assyrian monarchs strove hard not to disturb the ancient Babylonian cult, and Shalmaneser II, when he had conquered Babylonia, actually entered Merodach’s temple and sacrificed to him.
The Assyrian Bel and Belit
As for Bel, whose place Merodach usurped in the Babylonian pantheon, he was also recognized in Assyria, and Tiglath-pileser I built him a temple in his city of Asshur. Tiglath prefixes the adjective ‘old’ to the god’s name to show that he means Bel, not Bel-Merodach. Sargon, too, who had antiquarian tastes, also reverts to Bel, to whom he alludes as the ‘Great Mountain,’ the name of the god following immediately after that of Asshur. Bel is also invoked in connexion with Anu as a granter of victory. His consort Belit, although occasionally she is coupled with him, more usually figures as the wife of Asshur, and almost as commonly as a variant of Ishtar. In a temple in the city of Asshur, Tiglath-pileser I made presents to Belit consisting of the images of the gods vanquished by him in his various campaigns. Assur-bani-pal, too, regarded Belit as the wife of Asshur, and himself as their son, alluding to Belit as ‘Mother of the Great Gods,’ a circumstance which would go to show that, like most of the Assyrian kings, his egoism rather overshadowed his sense of humour. In Assur-bani-pal’s pantheon Belit is placed close by her consort Asshur. But there seems to have been a good deal of confusion between Belit and Ishtar because of the general meaning of the word Belit.
Nabu and Merodach
As in Babylonia so in Assyria, Nabu and Merodach were paired together, often as Bel and Nabu. Especially were they invoked when the affairs of Babylonia were being dealt with. In the seventh century b.c. we find the cult of Nabu in high popularity in Assyria, and indeed Ramman-Nirari III appears to have made an attempt to advance Nabu considerably. He erected a temple to the god at Calah, and granted him many resounding titles. But even so, it does not seem that Ramman-Nirari intended to exalt Nabu at the expense of Asshur. Indeed it would have been impossible for him to have done so if he had desired to. Asshur was as much the national god of the Assyrian people as Osiris was of the Egyptians. Nabu was the patron of wisdom, and protector of the arts ; he guided the stylus of the scribe ; and in these attributes he is very close to the Egyptian Thoth, and almost identical with another Babylonian god, Nusku, alluded to on pages 224, 225. Sargon calls Nabu ‘the Seer who guides the gods,’ and it would seem from1 some notices of him that he was also regarded as a leader of heavenly or spiritual forces. Those kings who were fond of erudition paid great devotion to Nabu, and many of the tablets in their literary collections close with thanksgiving to him for having opened their ears to receive wisdom.
Ea was of course accepted into the Assyrian pantheon because of his membership in the old Assyrian triad, but he was also regarded as a god of wisdom, possibly because of his venerable reputation; and we find him also as patron of the arts, and especially of building and architecture. Threefold was his power of direction in this respect. The great Colossi, the enormous winged bulls and mythological figures which flanked the avenues leading to the royal places, the images of the gods, and, lastly, the greater buildings, were all examples of the architectural art of which he was the patron.
Another Babylonian deity who was placed in the ranks of the Assyrian pantheon was Dibbarra, the plague-god, who can only be called a god through a species of courtesy, as he partook much more of a demoniac character, and was at one time almost certainly an evil spirit. We have already alluded to the poem in which he lays low people and armies by his violence, and it was probably from one of the texts of this that Assur-bani-pal conceived the idea that those civilians who had perished in his campaigns against Babylonia had been slaughtered by Dibbarra.
Some of the lesser Babylonian gods, like Damku and Sharru-Ilu, seem to have attracted a passing interest to themselves, but as little can be found concerning them in Babylonian texts, it is scarcely necessary to take much notice of them in such a chapter as this. Most probably the Assyrians accepted the Babylonian gods on the basis not only of their native reputation, but also of the occurrence of their names in the ancient religious texts, with which their priests were thoroughly acquainted, and though, broadly speaking, they accepted practically the whole of the Babylonian religion and its gods in entirety, there is no doubt that some of these by their very natures and attributes appealed more to them than others, and therefore possessed a somewhat different value in their eyes from that assigned to them by the more peace-loving people of the southern kingdom.
Image: Procession of Gods;
Rock-relief at Malatia (Anti-Taurus range). Order from right to left : Asshur, Ishtar, Sin, En-lil, Shamash, Adad, and Ishtar of Arbela.—From Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria,
by Prof. Jastrow (G. P. Putnam’s Sons).