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....
From this point of view it is therefore significant to find the large place taken in the practice of the religion by incantation rituals and divination practices. It is inconceivable that the hymns and the incantations should be the product of the same order of thought, and as we proceed in our study of the religion of Babylonia and Assyria the evidence increases for the thesis that the incantation texts, growing by accumulation from age to age, represent the older products which are retained by the side of compositions expressive of more advanced thought.
The power appealed to to furnish relief must be addressed, and naturally the priests will endeavor to embody in this address the conceptions of the god or goddess that have been developed as a result of their speculations and attempts at systematization. The technical term shiptu for "incantation" is therefore attached to the hymns as a further indication that they form an ingredient part of this subdivision of the religious literature.
Taking up the incantations proper, we find the basic idea to be the theory that sickness and all forms of bodily suffering are due to the activity of demons that have either of their own accord entered the body of the victim, or that have been induced to do so through the power exercised by a special class of sorcerers or sorceresses who are able to bewitch one with the aid of the demons. This theory of ailments of the flesh is of course the one commonly held among people in a primitive stage of culture, and which is carried over to the higher phases.
That aches and fevers should be ascribed to the activity of demoniac forces within one is a natural corollary to the animistic conception controlling the religion of Babylonia and Assyria, and which ascribes life to everything that manifests power. A cramp, a throbbing of the head, a shooting pain, a burning fever naturally give the impression that something to speak indefinitely is inside of you producing the symptoms; and modern science curiously enough with its germ theory to account for so many diseases comes to the aid of the primitive notion of demoniac possession.
Fig. 1 (top), Types of Demons
Fig. 2 (bottom), Human-Headed Lion
To secure relief, it was therefore necessary to get rid of the demon to exorcise the mischievous being. It was also natural to conclude that the demons, ordinarily invisible, lurking in the corners, gliding through doors, hiding in out of the way places to pounce upon their victims unawares, should be under the control of the gods as whose messengers they thus acted. The presence of a demon in the body was therefore a form of punishment sent by a deity, angered because of some sin committed.
But besides the gods, certain individuals were supposed to have the power over the demons to superinduce them to lay hold of their victims.
Giants and dwarfs, the crippled and deformed, persons with a strange expression in their eyes, inasmuch as they represented deviations from the normal, were regarded as imbued with such power, and curiously enough women were more commonly singled out than men, perhaps because of the mysterious function of the female in harboring the new life in her womb. As a survival from this point of view, we find the witch far down into the Middle Ages a commoner figure than the sorcerer, and in fact surviving the belief in the latter.
In whatever way the demon may have found his way into the victim, the appeal had to be made to a god or goddess to drive him out; nor was the theory that the demon represented the punishment sent by an angered deity affected by the power ascribed to certain individuals to bewitch individuals, for it was also in this case because the deity was offended that the sorcerer or sorceress could exercise his or her power. With the good will and favor of the gods assured, one was secure from demons and sorcerers alike.
The existence of several elaborate incantation series in Ashurbanapal's library, prescribing a large number of formulas to be recited in connection with symbolical rites to get rid of the demons, furnishes the proof for the practical significance attached to incantations in both Babylonia and Assyria.
These series, Babylonian in origin, revert to Sumerian prototypes and represent compilations stretching over a long period, with additions intended to adapt them to conditions prevailing in Assyria.
The scribes of Ashurbanapal were not indulging in a purely academic exercise in copying the archives of Babylonian temples ; their purpose, as was also the aim of the king, was to make Nineveh the central religious authority as well as the political mistress by having in their control the accumulated experience of the past, in dealing with the religious needs and problems of their own age.
A feature which these incantation series  have in common is the recognition of a large number of demons, with special functions assigned in many cases to the one class or the other.
So, for example, there is a demon Labartu, represented as a horrible monster with swine sucking at her breasts,  who threatens the life of the mother at childbirth; a group known as Ashakku who cause varieties of wasting diseases, another demon Ti'u, whose special function was to cause diseases, manifesting themselves by headaches accompanied by fever, and so on through a long list. It will be apparent that there is no differentiation between the demon and the disease. The one is the synonym of the other, and accordingly in medical texts the demons are introduced as the designations of the diseases themselves.
The names given to the demons in many cases convey the "strength" or "size" ascribed to them, such as Utukku, Alu, Shedu, Gallu, or they embody a descriptive epithet like AkKkhazu, "seizer" (also the name of a form of jaundice); 'Eabisu, the one lying-in-wait; Labasu, "overthrower"; Lilu and the feminine Lilitu, "night-spirit"; Etimmu, ghost or shade, suggesting an identification of some demons with the dead who return to plague the living, Namtar, "pestilence", and more the like.
The descriptions given of them, cruel, horrible of aspect, blood-thirsty, flying through space, generally invisible though sometimes assuming human or animal shape or a mixture of the two, further illustrate the conceptions popularly held. A group of seven frequently occurring in the texts and depicted on monuments  is described as follows: 
"Seven, they are they seven,
In the deep they are seven,
Settling in heaven they are seven.
In a section of the deep they were nurtured;
Neither male nor female are they,
Destructive whirlwinds are they,
They have no wife, they produce no offspring.
Mercy and pity they know not,
Prayer and petition they hear not,
Horses raised in the mountains  are they.
Hostile to Ea  are they,
Throne bearers of the gods are they,
To hem the way they set themselves up in the streets.
Evil are they, evil are they,
Seven are they, they are seven, twice seven are they."
Their universality as well as their function in seizing hold of their victims, taking up their seat in any part of the human body, is emphasized in another description.
More specific is the description of the demon Ti'u, the demon of head troubles and of fevers. 
"The head disease roams in the wilderness, raging like the wind,
Flaming like lightning, tearing along above and below,
Crushing him who fears not his god like a reed,
Cutting his sinews like a khinu-reed,
Maiming the limbs of him who has not a protecting goddess,
Glittering like a star of heaven, flowing like water,
Besetting a man like a whirlwind, driving him like a storm ;
Killing that man,
Piercing another as in a cramp, 
So that he is slashed like one whose heart has been torn out,
Burning like one thrown into the fire, 
Like a wild ass whose eyes are clouded, 
Attacking his life, in league with death,
So is Ti'u, who is like a heavy storm whose course no one can follow,
Whose final goal no one knows."
Elsewhere the invisibility of the demons is dwelled upon. Of the Ashakku it is said  that, sweeping along like a storm, driving through the streets and highways
"He stands at the side of a man, without anyone seeing him,
He sits at the side of a man, without anyone seeing him,
He enters a house, without anyone seeing his form,
He leaves a house, without anyone observing him."
Footnotes and references:
Large portions of five series have now been published, having the names: (1) Utukki limnuti (the evil utukki), (2) Ashakki marsuti (disease ashakki), (3) Labartu-series, (4) Shurpu (burn- ing), (5) Maklu ("consuming"). See copious specimens in Jastrow, Religion Babylonians und Assyriem, I, pp. 273-392.
See the illustration at the bottom of the bronze plaque, Plate LXVI, Fig. 1 and p. 411.
See Plate LXVI, Fig.l, and Plate LXVII, Pig. 2. 8
Cuneiform Texts, XVI, PL 15, 28-57.
I.e., wild horses.
The god of humanity. See above, p. 210, seq.
Cun. Texts, xvii, PL 19, 1-30.
He writhes in pain like one seized by a cramp, literally "cutting of the inside".
A description of a burning fever.
In the medical texts the blinding headache is described in thia way as clouding a man 's vision.
Cun. Texts, xvii, PI. 3, 21-28.