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 case of each triad, a fourth figure is often added, Ninlil, originally the consort of Enlil, or Nin-makh ("the great lady") to the first, and Belit ("the lady") or Ishtar to the second both, however, symbolizing the female element which, fructified by the male, is the indispensable complement to the production of life, vegetation, fertility and all blessings that go with the never ending process of vitality, growth, decay and regeneration in nature.
This leads us to a consideration, before leaving the pantheon, of one notable female figure, the great mother-goddess, frequently identified with the earth viewed as a fruitful mother but who should rather be regarded in a still wider sense as the mother of all that manifests life, embracing therefore the life in man and the animal world as well as in the fields and mountains in nature in general.
This natural association of a female element as a complement to the male one leads to assigning to every deity a consort who, however, has no independent existence. So Enlil has at his side Nin-lil, Ninib has Gula A ("the great one"), Ningirsu has Bau, Shamash has A, Sin has Nin-gul, Nergal has Laz, Anu a female counterpart Antum, to Ea a consort Shala ("the woman") is given, to Marduk, Sarpanit or Nin-makh ("the great lady"), to Nabu, Tashmit ("obedience"), while Ashur's consort appears as Nin-lil or Belit and at times as Ishtar.
All these figures with the single exception of Ishtar are merely shadowy reflections of their male masters, playing no part in the cult outside of receiving homage in association with their male partners. Ishtar, however, although assimilated in the Assyrian pantheon to the consort of Ashur, is an independent figure, who has her own temples and her distinct cult. She appears under a variety of names Nana, Innina, Irnini, Ninni, Nina all of which contain an element having the force of "lady", as is also the case with Nin-makh and Nin-lil, likewise used as epithets of the great mother-goddess. Corresponding to the Sumerian element, we have in Akkadian Belit "lady" or "mistress" as one of the generic designations of Ishtar.
All this confirms the view that Ishtar is merely the symbol of the female element in the production of life, and that the specific name is of secondary significance. The circumstance that Ninlil, the consort of Enlil, is also (though in texts of a later period) identified with the mother-goddess would seem to show that the female associate of the head of the pantheon was always an Ishtar, though in a certain sense, as we have seen, the consorts of all the gods were Ishtars.
The oldest cult of the mother goddess, so far as our material goes, appears indeed to have been in Uruk where she is known as Nana, but we may be quite sure that the cult was never limited to one place. The special place which Nana has in the old Babylonian pantheon is probably due to the peculiar development taken by the chief deity of that centre, Anu, who as we have seen became an abstraction the god of heaven, presiding over the upper realm of the universe. Her temple at Uruk known as E-anna "the heavenly house" and revealing the association of the goddess with Anu as a solar deity became one of the most famous in the Euphrates Valley.
It is in connection with the cult of Nana that we learn of a phase of the worship of the mother-goddess which degenerates into the obscene rites that call forth the amazement of Herodotus.  As the mother-goddess, Nana or Ishtar is not only the source of the fertility displayed by the earth and the kind, gracious mother of mankind, but also the goddess of love the Aphrodite of Babylonia. The mysterious process of conception and the growth of the embryo in the mother's womb gave rise at an early period to rites in connection with the cult of the mother-goddess that symbolized the fructification through the combination with the male element.
There is, however, another side to Ishtar which comes particularly to the fore in Assyria, though it is also indigenous to Babylonia. She is not only the loving mother but, as the protector of her offspring, a warlike figure armed for the fray and whose presence is felt in the midst of the battle. She appears to her favorites in dreams and encourages them to give battle. It is she who places in the hands of the rulers the weapons with which they march to victory. To Ashurbanapal she thus appears armed with bow and arrow and reassures him: "Whithersoever thou goest, I go with thee".  As far back as the days of Hammurapi, Ishtar is thus viewed as the one who encourages her followers for contest and battle.
Both phases of the goddess, as the gracious mother and as the grim Amazon, are dwelt upon in one of the finest specimens of the religious literature of Babylonia in which a penitent sufferer, bowed down with sickness and misfortune, implores Ishtar to grant relief.  The hymn is addressed to the goddess of Uruk but she has become the general mother-goddess and is instead of Nana addressed as Ishtar. Ishtar is here identified with the planet Venus and assigned to a place therefore in the heavens.
As such she is called "the daughter of Sin", the moon-god. She is thus the daughter of Anu, of Enlil and of Sin at one and the same time, a further indication that such epithets merely symbolize a relationship to various gods, according to the traits assigned to her. The composition, too long to quote entirely, begins:
"I pray to thee, mistress of mistresses, goddess of goddesses,
Ishtar, queen of all habitations, guide of mankind,
Irnini  praised be thou, greatest among the Igigi 
Powerful art thou, ruler art thou, exalted is thy name,
Thou art the light of heaven and earth, mighty daughter of Sin,
Thou directest the weapons, arrangest the battle array,
Thou givest commands, decked with the crown of rulership,
lady, resplendent is thy greatness, supreme over all gods.
Where is thy name not! Where is thy command not!
Where are images of thee not made! Where are thy shrines not erected!
Where art thou not great? where not supreme!
Anu, Enlil and Ea have raised thee to mighty rulership among the gods,
Have raised thee aloft and exalted thy station among all the Igigi.
At the mention of thy name, heaven and earth quake,
The gods tremble, the Anunnaki quake.
To thy awe-inspiring name mankind gives heed,
Great and exalted art thou!
All dark-headed ones,  living beings, mankind pay homage to thy power.
I moan like a dove night and day,
I am depressed and weep bitterly,
With woe and pain my liver is in anguish.
What have I done, my god and my goddess — I ?
As though I did not reverence my god and my goddess, am I treated.
I experience, my mistress, dark days, sad months, years of misfortune."
As the planet Venus, the movements of Ishtar in the heavens form a basis for divining what the future has in store.  The prominent part taken by the observation of Venus-Ishtar in Babylonian-Assyrian astrology is reflected in many of the hymns to her. The influence of the priestly speculations in thus combining the popular animistic conceptions of the gods and goddesses with points of view derived from the projection of the gods on to the starry heavens is one of the features of the religion of Babylonia and Assyria.
Ishtar under one name or the other becomes a, favorite subject for myths symbolizing the change of seasons, her period of glory when the earth is in full bloom being the summer followed by the rainy and winter months when nature decays, and which was pictured as due to the imprisonment of the goddess in the nether world. She takes her place in popular tales, half legendary and" half mythical, and we have a number of compositions  further illustrating how the popular myths and tales were embodied into the cult.
Footnotes and references:
Book I, 199.
Cylinder B (ed. Geo. Smith, History of Assurbanapal, p. 125), Col. 5, 61-62. Ishtar is frequently represented as goddess of war on seal cylinders. See Ward, Seal Cylinders of Western Asia (Washington, 1910), Chapter XXV.
King, Seven Tablets of Creation, I, p. 222-237.
An epithet of Ishtar. See above, p. 232.
Here used as a general designation of all the gods.
Here used for mankind in general.
See for details, Jastrow, Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens, II, pp. 612-638.
See pp. 453-461.