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Chaldean Religon

It seems undeniable that there was among the Babylonians, even at an early date, a tendency to reduce the world of the gods to a single system, and to carry oat the law of correspondence between great and small, heavenly and earthly, time and space, the macrocosm and the microcosm. Temples were numerous in Chaldea, and so were the priests. The gods were worshiped with sacrifices of brutes and human beings, with offerings of flowers, fruits, and bread, with instrumental and vocal music, dancing, and prayer. There was one temple in Babylon where every maiden, before she could marry, was required to sell herself to some stranger, and to give the money to the treasury of the temple. After that time she must be chaste. The Babylonians were a devout people. They used the titles of their divinities in many of the names of their cities, kings, nobles, and common people. Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar, Nabopolassar, and Shalmaneser, are a few monarchs who are reminders of the popular and official piety.

Anu (Anum) stands at the head of the supreme divine triad - Anu, Enlil, Ea. Whatever may have been the original signification of the name, it was interpreted as meaning 'heaven,' corresponding to the Sumerian ana, 'heaven,' and thus the deity was regarded as the heaven-god, over-against Enlil (the earth-god) and Ea (the water-god). He was thought of as enthroned in heaven, especially on the northern pole, which is eternally at rest. Here he reigned as king and father of the gods, who, for their part, had their homes in the stars which circle rouna the pole. Even the evil demons are in the last resort subject to him. The chief seat of the worship of Anu was Uruk; but in later times he had also a temple at Ashshur, in common with the storm-god Adad. But his cult retired strangely into the background. On the other hand, he continues to play a certain part in the mythology, where he is regarded as the supreme disposer of all events. The high esteem which, notwithstanding, Anu at all periods continued to enjoy as the chief of the gods, can only be explained as the after effect of a wide-spread Anu-worship belonging to a pre-historic time. Antu, or Anatu, is mentioned as the wife of Anu. She appears sometimes as the goddess of the earth, in contrast with her husband, the god of the heavens.

Enlil (Ellil) - a name which used to be generally misread Bel ["Lord"] - is the second god of the highest triad. Here he is regarded as the lord of lands, as contrasted with Anu, the lord of the heavens. From the mythical (cosmic) great mountain of the world (earth-mountain), where he had his dwelling-place, he bears the frequent epithet of the 'great mountain.' His wife is called Ninlil, also Belit-matate, the 'lady of lands,' as well as Belit-ile, the 'lady of the gods,' the mother-goddess. Enlil's seat of worship was the city Nippur, with the temple E-kur. The worship of this deity must have held a specially important place in the earlier Babylonian period. This can be gathered, not only from the direct evidence of the excavations at Nippur, but also from the role which, down to the latest times, Enlil plays in the Babylognian mythology (cf. the story of the Flood) and hymns. For, although in later days much which had been ascribed to Enlil was transferred to other gods, particularly to Marduk of Babylon, this very fact proves that at a certain period Enlil must have occupied the chief place. Ellil was the name of the chief god of Babylonia until Marduk supplanted him.

Ea is the third god oi the highest triad, and, as such, ruler of the water-depths. The pronunciation of the name as Ea has not yet been quite fully established. Perhaps the name ought rather to be read Ae or something similar. His seat of worship was Eridu in the south of Babylonia, lying near the sea and the embouchure of the Euphrates and the Tigris. The cult of Ea must also once have enjoyed the highest reputation, as is indicated by the after-effects in the myths (cf., again, the story of the Flood) and the literature of exorcism. Owing to the fact that at a later date the cult of Eridu came to be combined with the cult of Babylon, Ea as the father of Marduk remained an object of living worship to the latest period of the Babylonian religion. He is regarded as the one of the great gods who stands nearest to mankind, and is thus most ready to help in difficult situations, and who, as the wise god, the lord of wisdom, has always the necessary means of assistance at hand. In particular, he helps by means of his own element, the healing water of the streams and the underground springs, which play an exceedingly important part in exorcism-the peculiar domain of the Ea-cult. Here he is assisted by his son Marduk, who in this connexion is to be regarded not as the city-god of Babylon, but rather as a deity of Eridu, whose identification with the god of Babylon was only secondary. Ea's wife is Damkina.

Sin, the moon-god, the first of the second triad of gods consisting of Sin, Shamash, and Ishtar (or also Sin, Shamash, and Adad), is the city-god of Urn (OT Ur) in South Babylonia, where his temple, E-kUhshirgal ('house of light'), stood. But the Sin-cult had a strong hold at an early date also at Harran in Mesopotamia. For even as early as the sources derived from Boghazkoi (middle of the 2nd millenium BC), Sin of Harran is mentioned. Here also a name readily applied to him is Belffarran, 'lord of Harran.' His wife is always called Ningal, 'the great lady,' 'the queen.' His son is Shamash, the sun-god (in Harran, Nusku specially appears as the son of Sin). According to the one view at least, Ishtar is regarded as his daughter. The figure of Sin was undoubtedly connected from the very first with the worship of the moon, for the name Sin was actually used by the Babylonians as an appellative for the moon. Moreover, in the hymns addressed to Sin his character as moon-god is quite clear; and it may be noted in this connexion that the moon-god is regarded as a pre-eminently benignant and welldisposed deity. Also connected with the moon is Sin s role as the god of oracles, although in this respect he is somewhat overshadowed by Shamash, the oracle-god.

Shamash, the sun-god, comes next to Sin in the series of deities, and is regarded as his son - a circumstance to be explained perhaps by a later sun-cult having displaced an earlier cult of the moon. In the case of Shamash also the name of the god is identical with the Babylonian and the common Semitic name for the sun, so that here also the connexion of this deity with the great star of day is at all events original. The sun-god, moreover, of Babylonian religion is always of the male sex; whereas in South Arabia, e.g., the sun was worshipped as a goddess. The seats of worship peculiar to Shamash are: in Southern Babylonia, Larsa; in Northern, Sippar. In both of these places his temple was called E-babbar, 'clear shining house,' that which ' is as the dwelling of heaven.' His wife or mistress is Aja, ' the bride.' As son of Sin he is also regarded as the brother of Ishtar. As children of his are mentioned Kettu, 'justice,' and Mesharu, 'rectitude' - personifications of qualities which belong to Shamash pre-eminently as the supreme divine judge. There is further associated with him his charioteer, Bunene. In many hymns Shamash is celebrated as the sun-god, who every morning favours mankind with his light, who is the champion of all good and the enemy and avenger of all evil. Thus he is specially regarded, as is noted above, as the supreme judge in heaven and on the earth, to whom all legislation is ascribed (cf. the introduction to the laws of Hammurabi and the relief figure of Shamash on the stele containing this code). As sun-god he was at the same time the supreme oracle-god, in whose name all soothsaying was carried on, and who was the patron-god of the gild of soothsaying priests which held so important a place in Babylonia.

Ishtar, often placed third in the triad of divinities along with Sin and Shamash, is the most prominent female deity in the Babylonian pantheon. Starting with local cults in which, as a female deity, she occupied the chief place, Ishtar came in the end practically to absorb all other goddesses of the Assyro-Babylonian pantheon, so that her name became, even at an early date, a Babylonian appellative for 'goddess.' Whether her cult, like that of Sin and Shamash, was from the beginning connected with star-worship - especially that of Venus-cannot be decided with certainty, although this connexion of Ishtar with the planet Venus and her character as 'queen of heaven' may go back to remote antiquity. The name Ishtar, whose origin and etymology are still matter of dispute, does provide any definite conclusion on this point. From the Astarte figures of the other Semitic religions, which are in name and character closely related to the Babylonian Ishtar, is is possible to assume a greater antiquity for her character as the goddess of fertility. Her principal seats of worship were Uruk (where she was also worshipped as Nona), Akkad (here worshipped as Anunitu), Nineveh, and Arbela. Here too, as is indicated by the very names Nana and Anunitu, are undoubtedly to do with what were originally independent local deities, who came only in the course of time to be connected and identified. This no doubt also accounts for the way in which, in the later Assyro-Babylonion religion, quite heterogeneous elements are combined in the figure of Ishtar.

Her many-sided origin is again reflected in the varying genealogical relation in which she is placed to the other gods. Thus she appears at one time as the daughter of Ann, at another as the daughter of Sin. The following are the most prominent of the varied qualities of Ishtar. She is the goddess of love and of the life of Nature in general, the goddess in whose cult, particularly at Uruk, temple-prostitution was a feature. Ishtar's sacred harlots [whence the "Whore of Babylon"] belonged to an organized hierarchy, painstakingly recorded by the Babylonians. The top-ranking priestesses were called entu, and wore special clothing to distinguish them from the others. The Babylonian naditu, ranking next in importance to the entu, were drawn from the highest families in the land. Beneath these women came the qadishtu (sacred women) and the ishtaritu, many of whom specialized in the arts of dancing, music and singing.

In the mythological literature, especially in 'Ishtar's descent to Hades,' this characteristic of Ishtar as the goddess of the sexual impulse occupies a prominent place. On the other hand, she is expressly the goddess of war and of the chase. In this aspect she is hailed with predilection by the Assyrian kings who were lovers of war and the chase. The character of a mother-goddess appears to have been attached to the person of Ishtar only after the figures of other mothergoddesses, particularly Ninlil (Belit-ile) and Damkina, had been assimilated by her. In respect of astral connexion, we find Ishtar associated not only with the planet Venus, but also with the brightest fixed star Shins. Her sacred animal is the lion, but perhaps the dove also belongs to her. In the countless hymns addressed to her Ishtar is hailed as goddess in all the aspects mentioned above. But these Ishtar-hymns sometimes reach also a relatively high ethical level, glorifying her as the mightiest and most merciful elper of mankind, who frees from curse and sickness, and forgives sin and guilt. A unique feature in Babylonian mythology is the relation between Ishtar and Tammuz.

Marduk (OT Merodach), was the city-god of Babylon. Ellil was the name of the chief god of Babylonia until Marduk supplanted him. Marduk is, from the point of view of his significance in the Babylonian mythology, most closely connected with the fate of the city of Babylon. Just as Babylon came to the front politically at a late date as compared with the other cities of Babylonia, but thereafter always overshadowed the whole in importance and power, so also Marduk is a younger figure in the Babylonian system of deitieB, and yet he finally comes near to absorbing all the other gods. The meaning of the name Marduk has not yet been satisfactorily explained. His temple in Babylon was called E-tagila ('lofty house'), with the temple-tower E-temenanki ('house of the foundation of heaven and earth'). Mention is found of his wife Sarpanitu ('the silver-gleaming one'), of his father Ea, and of his son Nabu. But this connecting of Marduk with Ea and Nabu is undoubtedly accounted for by an assimilation of the local cults of Eridu and Borsippa and their gods Ea and Nabu with those of Babylon.

On the other hand, an original feature of the Marduk-cult at Babylon appears to be present in the fact that his chief feast, the later general New Year festival of Babylonia, fell at the time of the spring equinox. This fact, along with many other phenomena, leads to the conclusion that Marduk was essentially a deity who, as far as the year is concerned, was conceived as embodied in the spring sun bringing new life and light, and similarly embodied in the morning son by day. At a still earlier date, perhaps, he was regarded as only a god of vegetation, who had his chief form of manifestation in the reviving vegetation of spring-time. On the other hand, the role of arbiter of destiny, which Marduk assumes at this New Year festival, seems to have been first taken over from Nairn. The same holds good with regard to further features, which came later to be regarded as essential characteristics of Marduk, although certain original traits in his character may have facilitated this assimilation.

Thus the quality of Marduk as the god of healing and the helper in all sickness and need - the ro1e which he accordingly plays in the literature of exorcism - is derived, as in the case of Ea, from the cult of Eridu. The same source, in all likelihood, is responsible for the emphasis laid on Marduk as the wise and prudent among the gods. In like manner, the role of creator, ascribed to Marduk in the Babylonian mythology, was only secondary and transferred to him from other gods, like Enlil of Nippur and Ea of Eridu - a conclusion indicated by the respective myths themselves. The connecting of Marduk with one of the planets - during the supremacy of the city of Babylon, with the clear shining Jupiter - is certainly not original, but merely a product of priestly astral speculation.

The proper name Marduk was, in the later period, more and more displaced by the appellative belu, 'the lord,' so that finally Marduk was almost exclusively designated as Bel. In like manner, his spouse came to be called by preference Bilit, 'lady.' In the extant hymns to Marduk naturally all the features are reflected which were finally ascribed to him as the supreme being, the king of all the gods. Like the hymns addressed to Ishtar and Shamash, the Marduk-hymns belong to the noblest and relatively highest ethical products of the Babylonian literature.

Ramman (also called Adad) is the special storm and thunder-god of the Babylonians. Both forms of his name, Ramman and Adad, of which the latter is the more common in Assyria, are of Semitic origin, and may refer to the roar of the thunderstorm. It is likely that the designation Adad is not native to Assyro-Babylonia, but goes back to the Western Semitic Hadad. But in any case the figure of a storm-god as such is of very old standing in the Babylonian pantheon, being found even in the Sumerian period, when he seems to have borne the name Iskkur. The great importance assigned to the storm-god in the Babylonian pantheon is evident not only from the role which he plays in the myths (e.g. the story of the Flood), but also, e.g., from the fact that, in the official lists of the gods, he often occupies the third place in the second divine triad, namely, Sin, Shamash, and Adad, instead of the usual Sin, Shamash, and Ishtar. As storm-god he was naturally hailed as the giver of the beneficent rains; while, on the other hand, by withholding rain he could bring drought and famine on the land. In his aspect as thunder-god he is readily viewed as one who by his thunder and lightning destroys the host of the enemy. His symbol is the thunderbolt, his sacred animal the ox. In Babylonia, among other seats of Kamman - worship, there is mention of Karkara and Khallab; in Assyria, at the ancient capital Ashshur, a temple was consecrated to him in common with Ann, who is represented as his father. Ramman also appears with Shamash as the god of oracles. The name of his wife is given as Shala.

Tammuz is a deity who occupies an altogether unique position in the Babylonian pantheon. He does not belong to the number of the great principal gods. His cult must, notwithstanding, have enjoyed great prestige. This is indicated by the fact that the Tammuz-cult survived in the lands adjoining Babylonia on the west, and in the post-Babylonian period. The name Tammuz is derived from the Sumerian Dumuzi, and signifies literally 'real child'; the older form is Dumuzi-iuab = 'real child of the water-depths.' He is described as the god of the green plant-growth, which is produced and nourished by fresh water. For Tammuz is essentially the god of vegetation, whose reviving in spring and withering in midsummer this deity personifies. It is not clear whether (as in the Egyptian Osirus-cult and probably in the later Tammuz-Adonis-cult outside Babylonia) the native Babylonian Tammuz-cult saw in that deity a figure of human life with it growth and decay, and even included the hope of a continuance of life for man after death. One of the main features of this cult is the mourning for the premature death of the youthful Tammuz, which found expression in the weeping for him by male and female professional mourners - a custom witnessed to by a number of hymns referring to it. There are also traces of a joyous festival in honor of the revivification of Tammuz. The myth of Tammuz brings him into close connexion with Ishtar, making him ner husband, or rather her lover. True, it is Ishtar also at whose door, according to the Gilgamesh epic, lies the responsibility for the yearly mourning for Tammuz. But side by side with this appears another conception, for instance in several Tammuz-hymns and m the so-called 'Descent of Ishtar to Hades,' according to which it is Ishtar that follows Tammuz to the depths of the under world and seeks to bring him up again. The sister of Tammuz, Geshtinanna, is also found playing this part.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:48:29 ZULU