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The Worship of Earth Among Non-Aryan Peoples of Antiquity
§ 1. The Worship of Earth among the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians
Enlil, the Babylonian Earth-god, an ancient Sumerian deity who had his seat at Nippur.
have seen that in Babylonian mythology the Earth-god Enlil held a high rank as a member of the great trinity, of which the other members were Anu, the god of the sky, and Ea, the god of the abyss of water beneath the earth.1
But though Enlil is commonly designated by modern writers as the Earth-god without qualification,2
it seems very doubtful whether from the first he occupied that dignified position. There is no doubt that originally he was the local god of Nippur, the religious centre of Babylonia. His name is Sumerian and means Lord of the Wind or of the Storm, which points to his being a god of the air rather than of the earth. The Semites, in adopting his worship, gave him the Semitic name of Bel, equivalent to Baal, which merely means Lord or Master. But at Nippur he seems to have been never known by any other name than Enlil or Ellil; hence we may infer that he was an ancient Sumerian deity and that at Nippur his worship always remained essentially Sumerian.3
Indeed, he was the chief national god of the Sumerians; his temple at Nippur was the principal shrine of the whole country, and the holy city itself may be called the Sumerian Rome.4
And as the Sumerian city of Nippur was the Rome of Babylonia, so the ancient Sumerian language remained the holy tongue of Babylonia even after it had long been superseded by a Semitic speech in all the usages of daily life, just as Latin has remained the holy tongue of the Catholic Church for centuries after it was displaced by its daughter tongues, the Romance languages. Down to a late time the original Sumerian texts continued to be copied and accompanied by Semitic translations, when Sumerian had become a dead language; nay, it was a rule to add Sumerian versions even to original Semitic texts.5
The ruins of Nippur.
In their origin the great cities of Babylonia were little more than collections of rude huts built of reeds cut in the surrounding marshes; but in time these frail structures gave place to more substantial buildings of clay and sun-dried brick. From the very first it would seem that the shrine of the local god played an important part in the foundation and subsequent development of each centre of population; it formed as it were the nucleus or germ about which a town tended to grow both by the natural multiplication of the inhabitants and by the aggregation of dwellers from the surrounding country, who would be attracted to it, partly by the security afforded by its walls and the strength of its natural position, partly by the reputation of the deity, under whose powerful protection they hoped to place themselves. Such in outline would seem to have been the early history of Nippur. It was built on a group of mounds rising like an island from the dead flat of the marshes. The site, still known by its ancient name in the slightly altered form of Niffer or Nuffar, is marked by the ruins which in recent years have been investigated and excavated by American scholars. The mounds, once occupied by a thriving population, have long been deserted; and, like the sites of many other ancient cities in Babylonia and Assyria, no modern town or village is built upon them or in their immediate neighbourhood. In summer the surrounding marshes consist of pools of water connected by a network of channels meandering through the reed-beds; but in spring, when the snows have melted in the Taurus and the mountains of Kurdistan, the flood-water converts the marshes into a great lagoon, and in the vast level expanse nothing meets the eye but here and there a solitary date-palm and a few hamlets built on knolls that scarcely rise above the waste of waters.6
Of this site of the ancient city, now lying desolate, the words of the prophet may seem to have come true: It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there. But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces.7
The sanctuary of Enlil at Nippur.
The sanctuary of Enlil occupied the centre of the ancient city, and was built on an artificial mound to prevent it from being swamped when the floods were out. An ancient plan of the temple, drawn on a clay tablet which is believed to date from the first half of the second millennium before our era, enables us to form a fairly accurate notion of the general arrangement of the sanctuary, which bore the name of E-Kur. It was surrounded by an irregular wall and cut by a canal or sluice, on one side of which stood the store-houses of the temple. The most striking feature of the sacred area was the great temple-tower (ziggurat
) built of bricks and rising in the form of a pyramid, with a ramp winding round and up it to the summit. Such temple-towers, forming conspicuous landmarks in the flat country of Babylonia, perhaps gave rise to the legend of the Tower of Babel. The great one at Nippur is known from inscriptions to have been built by Ur-Engur, the first king of Ur of the Chaldees, who reigned about 2400 B.C.
In the treasure chambers of the sanctuary were deposited the votive offerings of Sumerian kings and princes particularly vases made of stone and bearing inscriptions.8
Images and titles of Enlil.
Enlil and the tablets of destiny.
Clay figures of the god represent him in human form with long hair and beard. He wears a horned head-dress, the emblem of divinity. He bore the title of the Great Mountain (kur-gal
in Sumerian, shadû-rabû
in Assyrian) or King of the Mountain-lands (lugal kurkura
in Sumerian, bêl mâtati
in Assyrian); and E-Kur
, the name of his temple at Nippur, means House of the Mountain.9
But the god was also known more simply as Lord or King of the Lands, probably in the sense of Lord or King of the whole Earth.10
Further, he was styled the King of Heaven and Earth,11
and the Father of the Gods.12
Possessing dominion over the whole earth, he was able to confer it on his favourites. He also determined the fates, and as a symbol of this supreme power, which few gods could claim, he constantly carried the tablets of destiny. One morning, when he was washing himself, he incautiously took off his crown and laid it on a chair while he performed his ablutions. The storm-bird Zu seized the opportunity to purloin the tablets of destiny and so to rob the deity of his power. It cost Enlil much trouble to recover his stolen property. The story of the theft and the recovery is the theme of an epic poem.13
Enlil's wife Ninlil.
Side by side with Enlil was worshipped his wife Ninlil, a goddess of procreation and fertility, whose name is only a feminine form of Enlil. The Semites called her Belit, the feminine form of Bel, which, as we saw, was the Semitic name of her consort Enlil. She also bore the title of the Lady of Heaven and Earth, corresponding to the title of King of Heaven and Earth bestowed upon her husband. Further, she was akin to, and afterwards identified with, Nin-khar-sag, the Lady of the Mountain, who was known as the Mother of the Gods and was believed to nourish princes with her holy milk. Yet the glory of Ninlil was dimmed by that of her husband Enlil; like most Babylonian goddesses she was only a pale reflection of her powerful Lord.14
Enlil's place in the Babylonian pantheon beside Anu an Ea.
Thus Enlil, from being merely the local god of Nippur, gradually rose to a position of supremacy as the deity of the whole habitable world. It was in virtue of this enhanced dignity that among the Semites he became known simply as Bel, that is Baal, the Lord or Master. As the god of the whole surface of the earth he took his place in the Babylonian pantheon beside Anu, the god of the sky, and Ea, the god of the subterranean waters.15
Enlil in a treaty between Lagash and Umma.
Evidence of the high rank accorded to Enlil among all the gods of Sumer is furnished by a treaty contracted between the neighbouring cities of Lagash and Umma in Southern Babylonia. There had been a dispute between them concerning the boundary line, and with the consent of both sides Mesilim, king of Kish, drew up a treaty of delimitation. The document has been discovered in modern times and is peculiarly interesting because it forcibly illustrates the theocratic sentiment of these early peoples, who conceived themselves to be under the immediate sway of their respective deities far more than under that of their human governors. In accordance with this view the rulers (patesis
) of the two cities are not so much as named in the treaty; the dispute is supposed to have been settled by the gods, not by any mere mortal agents. The president of the peace conference was not a human king nor yet his prime minister; it was the great god Enlil in person, the King of the Lands. On account of the unique position which he held among the deities of Babylonia, his authority was frankly acknowledged by the smaller divinities, the local gods of the other cities. Thus it was at his command that Ningirsu, the god of Lagash, and the city-god of Umma fixed the boundary. It is true that Mesilim, the king of Kish, is named in the treaty, but he only acted at the bidding of his own goddess Kadi, and his duties were merely those of a secretary; all that he had to do was to put down in writing the treaty which the gods themselves had drawn up. We could hardly have a more striking instance of the theocratic spirit which prevailed among the early inhabitants of Babylonia somewhere about three thousand years before our era. Like the Israelites at a much later date, these simple-minded folk regarded the gods as the real rulers of their cities. Human kings and governors (patesis
) were nothing more than ministers or diplomatic agents appointed to carry out the divine will. Hence, when one city made war upon another city, it was not ostensibly because the two peoples owed each other a grudge; the reason, or at all events the pretext, alleged for hostilities was that the gods were at feud, and that therefore the worshippers were bound to support the sacred cause by fire and sword. But we may suspect that in such cases the gods were little more than fair masks to bide the foul passions of men. And in like manner, when the sword was sheathed, it was nominally for the gods to dictate the treaty of peace and for men to submit to it.16
The Sumerian conqueror Lugal-zaggisi ascribed all the glory of his conquests to Enlil.
Again, at a somewhat later period a strong testimony to the overruling power of the great god Enlil is borne by Lugal-zaggisi, lord of Umma, who, about the year 2800 B.C.
, subdued the whole of Sumer and won for himself a dominion as great as, if not greater than, any hitherto acquired by any Sumerian ruler of a city state, for it would seem to have stretched from the Persian Gulf (the Lower Sea) to the Mediterranean (the Upper Sea). The record of his conquests has been pieced together from the inscriptions engraved upon a number of fragments of vases, made of white calcite stalagmite, which Lugal-zaggisi had dedicated to Enlil and deposited as votive offerings at his great temple of E-kur in Nippur, where they were discovered in the course of the excavations carried out by the University of Pennsylvania. In these inscriptions the pious Sumerian king ascribes all the glory of his conquests to Enlil, just as a pious Israelitish king would ascribe all the glory of his conquests to Jehovah.17
Thus King Lugal-zaggisi says: When the god Enlil, the King of the Lands, had bestowed upon Lugal-zaggisi the kingdom of the land, and had granted him success in the eyes of the land, and when his might had cast the lands down, and he bad conquered them from the rising of the sun unto the setting of the same, at that time he made straight his path from the Lower Sea over the Euphrates and the Tigris unto the Upper Sea.18
Prayer of King Lugal-zaggisi to Enlil.
Further, in these inscriptions King Lugal-zaggisi has left on record that he dedicated the vases to Enlil, after making due offerings of loaves in Nippur and pouring a libation of pure water. Then he adds a dedicatory prayer, beseeching the deity to grant life to himself, peace to his country, and a large army. His prayer for these blessings runs as follows: May Enlil, the King of the Lands, pronounce my prayer to Ana, his beloved father! To my life may he add Life! May he cause the lands to dwell in security! Warriors as numerous as the grass may he grant me in abundance! Of the celestial folds may he take care! May he look with kindness on the land of Sumer! May the gods not alter the good destiny they have assigned to me! May I always be the shepherd, who leads his flock!19
Commemorative offerings of kings to Enlil at Nippur.
Other kings commemorated their victories, in inscriptions engraved on stone vases, which they dedicated as thank-offerings to Enlil at Nippur. Some of these vases were made of white calcite stalagmite, others of dark brown sandstone, and others of dark brown tufa or igneous rock. In the land of Sumer, formed of alluvial soil, stone is a rare commodity; and vases made of it were fitting offerings at the shrine of Enlil among the marshes.20
Devotion of two kings of Ur to Enlil of Nippur.
At a later time two kings of Ur, by name Bur-Sin and, his son Gimil-Sin, manifested their devotion to Enlil of Nippur in many ways. Both of them fully recognized the importance of the central shrine at Nippur and laid stress on Enlil's position at the head of the Babylonian pantheon. Both of them dedicated offerings to the god at his great temple of E-kur; and both of them publicly acknowledged that to him they owed their elevation to the throne of Ur. Thus in the inscriptions Bur-Sin's regular titles are generally preceded by the phrase, whose name Enlil has pronounced in Nippur; while his son Gimil-Sin describes himself as the beloved of Enlil, whom Enlil has chosen as his heart's beloved, or whom Enlil in his heart has chosen to be the shepherd of the land and of the four quarters. From inscriptions found at Nippur we know that Bur-Sin enlarged the great temple of E-Kur, and also built a store house for offerings of honey, butter, and wine, while his third year was dated by the construction of a great throne in honour of En-lil. The king's son and successor, Gimil-Sin, appears to have been equally zealous in his devotion to the shrine; for out of his short reign two years take their titles from the setting up of a great sculptured slab and the building of a sacred boat, both offerings being dedicated to the glory of Enlil and his wife Ninlil.21
The titles of Enlil of Nippur afterwards assumed by Marduk of Babylon.
When the centre of political power shifted northwards from Sumer to Akkad and settled definitely at Babylon, the local god of Babylon, by name Marduk, naturally aspired to a dignity in the pantheon suitable to the rank which his city had assumed in the sublunary sphere; and this natural ambition was gratified by investing him with the title and attributes of the oldest and greatest of the ancient Sumerian deities, Enlil of Nippur. Thus Marduk usurped the title of Lord of the Lands (bél matâti) which for ages had been the property of Enlil; and in later times he abridged the title into Bêl, the general Semitic name for Lord or Master, which really belonged to Enlil. Further, he annexed without scruple not a few myths and hymns which, time out of mind, had been recited and chanted in honour of Enlil and other gods. Nay, he went so far as to oust Enlil from the dignity of Creator and to pose in that lofty character himself. Thus, to take a single instance, it was indubitably Enlil, the mighty warrior, who in the beginning fought and conquered the great dragon Tiamat, parted the earth and sky, and fashioned this terrestrial globe in the manner in which it has continued to exist, with very little change, down to our own time. Yet these beneficent exploits were in later ages transferred bodily from Enlil of Nippur to Marduk of Babylon. However, the ancient deity in a sense took his revenge on the unscrupulous upstart who had made free with his property and tricked himself out in borrowed plumes; for more and more, as time went on, the name of Marduk tended to fall into abeyance, until at last it was almost entirely replaced by that of Be!, the ancient Semitic title of Enlil.22
Enlil hardly a personification of the material earth.
Yet though Enlil rose to the rank of a god of the whole earth, he seems to have held that position rather as a lord or possessor of the surface of the earth than as a personification of its material substance. Hence if by an Earth-god we mean the personification of the earth as a divine being, Enlil can hardly lay claim to the title.
§ 2. The Worship of Earth among the Ancient Egyptians
The Egyptian Earth-god Seb or Keb.
Seb reckoned the fourth king of Egypt and the successor of Ra.
We have seen that the ancient Egyptians personified the earth as a male god named Seb or Keb, who was married to the Sky-goddess, Nut.23
But apart from his marriage to the personified sky and his relation to the dead, the Earth-god plays little part in Egyptian mythology and religion.24
In art he is represented as a man either with a crown, sometimes of a peculiar shape, or with a goose on his head. Sacred geese of a particular species were sacred to him and bore his name (seb
), because he was thought to have flown through the air in the shape of a goose. In hieroglyphic writing one of his symbols is a goose, and another is an egg. He personified both the element earth and the surface of the earth on which trees and plants grow. Hence the earth was conceived of as his body, but also as his house; for it was called the House of Keb, just as the air was called the House of Shu, the heaven the House of Ra, the Sun-god, and the underworld the House of Osiris.25
There was no special city or district set apart for his worship, but his chief seat appears to have been at Heliopolis, the City of the Sun, where he and his wife laid and hatched a great egg, out of which the Sun-god burst in the shape of a phoenix. In virtue of having laid this celebrated egg, the god sometimes went by the name of the Great Cackler.26
He is also described as one of the porters of heaven's gate, who draws back the bolt and opens the door to let the light of the Sun-god stream upon the world; when he moves, thunder rolls in the sky, and the earth quakes.27
According to the lists of the divine dynasties in Memphis and Thebes, he was the fourth king of Egypt, and was therefore to be reckoned as one of the younger gods. In the Legend of the Destruction of Mankind he is installed as king in immediate succession to the Sun-god Ra.28
Hence in the hierarchy at the court of Ra he bore a title equivalent to Heir Apparent or Crown-prince of the Gods; the throne belonged of right to him as the future king, and his seat was regularly styled the Chair of the Heir to the Throne.29
And he passed on the inheritance to his son Osiris. In a hymn addressed to Osiris it is said that his father Seb gave him the kingdom of the two Egypts. He made over to him the government of the lands for good luck and gave him this land into his hand; his water, his air, his herbs, all his herds, all that flies and all that hovers, his creeping things and his wild beasts, were given to the son of Nut, and the two lands (Upper and Lower Egypt) were content therewith.30
Earthly kings and queens boasted of being heirs of Seb and of occupying his chair, as a proof of their legitimacy and their right to the throne.31
The connexion of Seb with the worship of the dead.
The connexion of Seb with the worship of the dead is very slight; nevertheless he is often named incidentally in the texts,32
particularly in the Book of the Dead
. Thus he is one of the company of gods who watch the weighing of the heart of the deceased in the Judgment Hall of Osiris. The righteous were provided with the magic words which enabled them to escape from the earth, wherein their bodies were laid, but the wicked were held fast by Seb. It was to Seb that the dead man prayed to open wide his two jaws for him, to unseal his eyes, and to loose his legs from the bandages in which they were swathed. To Seb the dead man appealed for help against serpents, and he never tired of boasting that his cakes were on the earth with the god Seb, and that the gods had declared that he was to live upon the bread of Seb. Again, a certain Nu, the overseer of the house of the overseer of the seal, is represented as saying, in a burst of joy at the prospect of his blissful future, The doors of heaven are opened for me, the doors of earth are opened for me, the bars and bolts of Seb are opened for me; and again, I exchange speech with Seb, I am decreed to be the divine heir of Seb, the lord of the earth, and to be the protector therein. The god Seb refresheth me, and he maketh his risings to be mine.33
Seb the Earth-god identified by the Greeks with Cronus: resemblances in their myths.
As the father of his five childrenOsiris, the elder Horus, Set, Isis, and Nephthysthe Earth-god Seb was called the Father of the Gods.34
The Greeks identified him with their ancient and mysterious god Cronus.35
In two passages of the Book of the Dead
there is an allusion to a myth concerning Seb which may perhaps explain and justify his identification with Cronus. In one of these passages the dead man says, I, even I, am Osiris, who shut in his father together with his mother on the day of making the great slaughter, and the text adds, Now the father is Seb, and the mother is Nut. Here the Egyptian word for slaughter is shat
, and we are told that there is no doubt whatever about its meaning. It is derived from a root signifying, to cut, to cut in pieces, to sever. The eminent Egyptologist Brugsch conjectured that the reference was to a mutilation which Osiris inflicted on his father Seb, like the mutilation which the Greek god Cronus inflicted on his father Uranus (the Sky). He points out that the same word shat
is applied in the Book of the Dead
to the mutilation which the Sun-god Ra is said to have inflicted on himself, and that out of the drops of blood falling from his severed member certain deities are said to have sprung, just as from the blood of Uranus, mutilated by his son, the Furies and Giants are said to have originated in Greek mythology.36
The parallel thus suggested between the Egyptian and the Greek myths may be carried a step further. For Osiris, who seems to have mutilated his father Seb, was himself afterwards mutilated in like manner by his wicked brother Typhon, that is, Set;37
and in Greek mythology Cronus, who had mutilated his father Uranus, is said to have been in turn mutilated by his son Zeus.38
As the life of the gods is regularly modelled on the life of men, the double parallel suggests that in certain families, or under certain circumstances, the practice of mutilation may have been hereditary.