The civilization of Babylonia and Assyria

Its remains, language, history, religion, commerce, law, art, and literature

by Morris Jastrow | 1915 | 168,585 words

This work attempts to present a study of the unprecedented civilizations that flourished in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley many thousands of years ago. Spreading northward into present-day Turkey and Iran, the land known by the Greeks as Mesopotamia flourished until just before the Christian era....

We have thus passed in review the chief figures of the Babylonian-Assyrian pantheon and in the course of this review have endeavored to show the close association between the conceptions formed of the gods and the course of political development in the south and the north. We have seen how as a consequence of this association solar gods, moon gods, storm gods and water gods lose their original character by having attributes given to them which are intended to symbolize the supremacy they assumed because of the political prestige acquired by the centres in which they were worshipped.

Attempts are made in earlier and later periods to specify the relationship of the great gods to one another and also to the minor local deities. A pantheon arises with Enlil as the head which is subsequently replaced by another with Marduk taking the rank of Enlil, while in Assyria, Ashur eclipses both Enlil and Marduk. Gradually, a selection out of the large number of local deities is made. The pantheon takes on a more definite shape.

The hundreds of minor gods fade into the background, becoming merely designations or attributes of the more important gods, or are placed in lists drawn up by the priests in the relation of members of the household, relatives, servants, officials of a great god. Through a process reflecting the speculations in the temple schools, a triad is evolved, consisting of Anu, Enlil and Ea, dividing among themselves the three parts of the universe heaven, earth and water. A second triad is placed by the side of this one, summing up the chief manifestations of divine power in the universe, Sin (the moon), Shamash (the sun) and Adad (the storm, including water). In the Enlil, and Ea thrown into one.

The process towards concentrating all divine attributes in one being is carried to even further lengths in Assyria than in Babylonia, for Marduk is always associated with Ea as the father and with Nabu as the son. Ashur stands entirely alone in his majesty. Representing the spirit of Assyria which was so intensely martial as to make her at one time the greatest military power of the ancient world, Ashur naturally becomes primarily a warrior. The artists of Assyria yield to this influence and spoil the beautiful symbol of the god by placing a warrior with bow and arrow within the solar disc.

Without this addition, the disc might indeed have become a symbol of a spiritualized power, as the swastika and the cross became. For the rulers, more particularly, Ashur is merely the warrior whose standard is carried into the midst of the battle field so as to ensure the presence and aid of the god. "By the might of Ashur" is the standing phrase in the votive and historical inscriptions of Assyrian kings. It is Ashur who mows down the enemies, who burns and pillages cities, who captures the women and children, and who spreads the misery and desolation incident to bloody warfare.

As Ashur reflects the genius and spirit of Assyria, so the god follows the varying fortunes of the country. With the transfer of the capital to Calah and thence to Nineveh, the centre of Ashur's cult shifts to the political stronghold. Wherever the kings reside, there is Ashur's seat; and when the king himself leads the military exploits, Ashur follows.

Ashur is not bound to a definite centre like his two older rivals. He and Assyria become synonymous terms in a sense which never applied to Marduk. He becomes the lord or Bel, par excellence, who has nothing to fear from any possible rival. A centralizing tendency arises more pronounced than previous endeavors in this direction, and without disturbing the time-honored traditions that grew up around Nippur, Sippar, Uruk, Cuthah, Eridu and other sites. Nineveh as the capital of Assyria rises to a supremacy equal to the rank acquired by Ashur himself unsurpassed in majesty, without a rival in power and glory.

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