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Lecture 2: Primitive Animism

DEEP down in the very core of Babylonian religion lay a belief in what Professor Tylor has called animism. It belonged to the Sumerian element in the faith of the people, and, as we shall see, was never really assimilated by the Semitic settlers. But in spite of Semitic influences and official attempts to explain it away, it was never eradicated from the popular creed, and it left a permanent impress upon the folk-lore and superstitions of the nation. As in Egypt, so too in Babylonia, animism was the earliest shape assumed by religion, and it was through animism that the Sumerian formed his conception of the divine.

In Egypt it was the Ka which linked “the other world” with that of living men. In Babylonia the place of the Ka, was taken by the Zi. We may translate Zi by “spirit,” but like the Ka it was rather a double than a spirit in our sense of the term. Literally the word signified “life,” and was symbolised in the primitive picture-writing of the country by a flowering plant. Life, however, meant a great deal more to early man than it does to us. It was synonymous with motion, with force and energy. All that moved was endowed with life; life was the only force known to man which explained motion, and, conversely, motion was the sign and manifestation of life. The arrow which sped through the air or the rock which fell from the cliff did so in virtue of their possessing life, or because the motive force of life lay in some way or other behind them. The stars which slowly moved through the sky, and the sun which rose and set day by day, were living beings; it was life which gave them the power of movement, as it gave the power of movement to man himself and the animals by whom he was surrounded. The power of movement, in fact, separated the animate from the inanimate; all that moved possessed life; the motionless was lifeless and dead. Man's experience was necessarily his measure of the universe; the only force he knew of was the force we call life, and his reason seemed to demand that what held true of himself must hold true also of the rest of the world.

But, like the Egyptian, the Sumerian could not conceive of life except under visible and concrete form. The abstract was still embedded, as it were, in the concrete; it could not be divorced from it in thought any more than in those pictorial characters which were used by the scribes. What we mean by “force” would have been unintelligible to the primitive Babylonian; for him life was something real and material, which had a shape of its own, even though this shape was but an unsubstantial shadow, seen indeed by the eye, but eluding the grasp. At the same time it was more than a shadow, for it possessed all the qualities of the object or person to whom it belonged. It was not life in the abstract, but the counterpart of an individual object, which endowed that object with the power of motion, and gave it a place in the animate world.

The Sumerian Zi, therefore, closely resembled the Egyptian Ka. The human Zi was the imperishable part of man; it made him a living soul while he was in this world, and after death continued to represent him in the shadowy world below.1 Unlike the lilla or “ghost,” it represented the man himself in his personality; if that personality were destroyed, it also ceased to exist. While on the one side it was the Zi which gave man life and the power of movement, on the other side, without the individual man there could be no individual Zi. Food and drink were offered to the Babylonian dead as they were to the Egyptian, and the objects the dead man had loved during his lifetime were deposited in his grave. His seal was attached to his wrist, his spear or staff was laid at his side, and at times even dates or fish or poultry were buried with him, lest he might feel hungry in the darkness of the tomb. The child had his favourite toys to play with, the woman her necklace of beads. The water-jar was there, filled with “the pure water” for which the dead thirsted, along with the bowl of clay or bronze out of which it might be drunk. “A garment to clothe him,” says an old hymn, “and shoes for his feet, a girdle for his loins and a water-skin for drinking, and food for his journey have I given him.”2

Like men, the gods too had each his Zi. We hear of the Zi of Ea, the god of the deep;3 and the primeval “mother, who had begotten heaven and earth,” was Zi-kum or Zi-kura, “the life of heaven” and “earth.”4 In the early magical texts “the Zi of heaven” and the “Zi of earth” are invoked to remove the spell that has been cast over the sick or the insane. Even when Ea and his son Aśari had taken the place of the demons of the older faith, the official religion was still compelled to recognise their existence and power. The formula of exorcism put into the mouth of Ea himself ends with an appeal to the “life” of heaven and earth. It begins, indeed, with “the charm of Ea,” through the efficacy of which the evil spell is to be dissolved; but the charm of the god of wisdom is soon forgotten, and it is to the Zi of heaven and earth that the exorcist finally has recourse. “O life of heaven, mayest thou conjure it; O life of earth, mayest thou conjure it!” thus, and thus only, could the exorcism end. The old associations were too strong to be overcome, and the worshippers of Ea had to allow a place at his side for the “spirits” of an earlier age.

The ancient conception of the Zi lingered long among the Babylonian population. But, as the Semitic element became predominant, it fell more and more into the background, and survived—so far at least as the official religion was concerned—only in a few old formulæ and names. One of the fixed stars, for example, was called Sib-zi-Anna, “the Shepherd of the Life of Heaven,” and a common form of oath was by “the life of the gods” or “king” (nis ilâni, nis sarri). Even Sennacherib swears by “the life of Assur”; but it is questionable whether either he or any of his contemporaries remembered the original meaning and history of the phrase. The Sumerian Zi had received a Semitic translation, and therewith a Semitic connotation. The ideas attached to the Semitic nêsu were not those which had once clustered around the Zi. On the lips of the Semite even the word Zi itself meant “life” and little more. When Pur-Sin II of Ur, a century or two before Abraham, addresses a dedication in Sumerian to the moon-god, he calls himself “the divine Zi of his country”5—in other words, a “god who gives life to his land.” There is no question here of a vital force which is the counterpart of a man or god; we have, on the contrary, the Semitic conception of a divine father from whom his people derive their life. The Semite has transferred his own ideas to the language of his Sumerian predecessors, and “life” for him is no materialised reflection of an individual thing, but a principle which is diffused, as it were, from a divine centre. The “Zi of heaven” has become the abstract life, which the god can communicate to those about him.

It is only in the dim background of history, therefore, that we find in Babylonia a belief analogous to that which created the Egyptian doctrine of the Ka. It was foreign to the Semitic mind, and with the rise of Semitic supremacy, accordingly, it disappeared from the religion of Babylonia. We have to look for its fossilised relics in the old magical texts, which, like the spells and charms of modern folk-lore, have preserved so many of the beliefs and superstitions of an otherwise forgotten past, or else in divine names and epithets which go back to a remote antiquity. The animism of the Sumerian is difficult to discover and trace, for it was already buried under Semitic modes of thought when the first libraries of Babylonia were being formed.

It was another Sumerian belief which exercised a greater influence upon the Semitic mind. This was the belief in ghosts. The lil or ghost was distinct from the Zi; while the Zi belonged to the world of the living, the lil belonged to the world of the dead. The lil consequently was no counterpart or double of either man or god, but a being with an independent existence of its own. Its home was beneath the earth, where the dead had their dwelling; but it visited this upper world under the shadow of night, or in desert places to which nothing living came.6 It was essentially a spirit of darkness, and one of the names by which it was known was that of “the light-despoiler.”7 It came in the raging wind which darkens the heaven with clouds, or in the cloud of dust which betokens the approach of the storm. The lil, in fact, was essentially a demon, “without husband or wife,” one of those evil spirits who tormented and perplexed mankind.

The sexless Lil was waited on by “a maid,” who under the cover of night enticed men to their destruction, or seduced them in their dreams. She was a veritable vampire, providing the Lil she served with its human food. When the Semite succeeded to the heritage of the Sumerian, the sexless Lil disappeared. Semitic grammar demanded that there should be a distinction between masculine and feminine, and Semitic modes of thought equally demanded that a female Lilît should take her place by the side of a male Lilu. The attributes of the “serving-maid” of the Sumerian Lil were transferred to the new creation of the Semitic mind, and the siren who lured men to their destruction ceased to be a serving-maid, and became the female Lilît herself. But the origin of the powers she exercised was never forgotten. When the name and character of the Babylonian Lilît were borrowed by the Hebrews under the form of Lilith, she was conceived of as a single individual spirit rather than as a class. Isaiah (xxxiv. 14) tells us how Lilith shall haunt the desolate ruins of Edom, and find among them “a place of rest”; while, according to the Rabbis, Lilith had been the first wife of man, in appearance the fairest of women, but in reality a vampire demon who sucked at night the blood of her victims.

The lord and ruler of the Lils was the god who was worshipped at Nippur. He bore, accordingly, the title of En-lil, “the lord of the ghost-world,” and his temple was one of the oldest sanctuaries of Sumerian Babylonia.8 It was a centre of primeval civilisation, and the source of the magical arts which gathered round the belief in the spirits of the underworld. But the lordship of the underworld implied also a lordship over the earth, of which it formed a part. En-lil, “the lord of the ghost-world,” thus became in time the ruler, not only of the dead, but also of the living. His empire ceased to be confined to the realms of darkness, and was extended to this upper world of light and of mankind. Up to the last, however, his primitive character was never forgotten. In the story of the Deluge he appears as the destroyer of men; Namtar, the plague-demon, is his minister; and like Kingu, the demon-god of chaos, he wore the tablets of destiny, which determine when men shall die.9

En-lil was accordingly the sovereign of the dead as well as of the spirits of the underworld. The Sumerian lil must therefore have once included the ghosts of men as well as other ghosts which never had a material existence in the flesh. The lil must once have meant that immaterial part of man which, after death, had its home in the underworld, from whence it issued at night to satisfy its cravings for food with the garbage of the streets. By the side of the Zi there must also have been the Lil; but we must wait till more monuments of Sumerian antiquity are discovered before we can define the exact relationship between them.10

In the Epic of Gilgames it is said that when the shade of Ea-bani was called up from the dead, like that of the shade of Samuel by the Witch of Enclor, “it arose from the earth like a cloud of dust.”11 It was fitting that the ghost should be likened to a dust-storm. Its home was in the ground; and there, in the dark underworld, its food, we are told, was dust. But the word used by the poet for the ghost of Ea-bani is not lil. It is another word, utukku, which occurs frequently in the magical texts. Here the utukku is a general name for a demon, and we hear of the utukku “of the field,” “of the mountain,” “of the sea,” and “of the grave.” The “utukku of the grave” must be the restless ghost of some dead man which has become a spirit of darkness, working evil to mankind. The ordinary utukku, however, had no human ancestry; it was a demon pure and simple, which sat upon the neck of the sufferer and inflicted upon him pain and death. It corresponded with the vampire of European folk-lore; and just as the ranks of the vampire might be recruited from the dead, so too might the class of demons whom the Babylonians termed utukki.

It was the same with another species of demon, the ekimmu, which hovered around the tomb and attacked the loins of those who fell in its way. But the ekimmu was a being whose origin was known. It was the spirit of an unburied corpse over whose unsanctified remains the funeral rites had never been performed. The mystic ceremonies and magical words which consigned the dead to their last resting-place had been neglected, and the hapless spirit was left unprovided with the talismans that would enable him to cross the river of death, or join his comrades in the passive tranquillity of the lower world. Restlessly, therefore, it wandered about the desert places of the earth, finding at times a shelter in the bodies of the living, whom it plagued with sore diseases, and seeking to satiate its hunger under the cover of night with the refuse it could pick up “in the street.” The food and drink which pious hands laid in the tomb were denied to the tombless ghost, and it had to search for them where it could. The Epic of Gilgames concludes with a description of it, which paints in vivid colours the old Babylonian belief—

“He whose body lies forsaken in the field,

As thou and I alike have seen,

His ekimmu rests not in the earth.

He whose ekimmu has none to care for him,

As thou and I alike have seen,

The garbage of the pot, the refuse of food,

Which is thrown into the street, must he eat.”

It is no wonder that a Babylonian king prays that the body of his enemy may be “cast aside, and no grave allowed to him,”12 or that Assur-bani-pal should have torn the bodies of the Elamite kings from their tombs at Susa. Sennacherib similarly desecrated the burial-places of the ancestors of Merodach-baladan; and one of the oldest of Babylonian monuments, the so-called Stela of the Vultures, depicts the bodies of the slaughtered enemy exposed to the vultures that feed upon them, while the slain Babylonians themselves are buried by their companions under a tumulus of earth.

The ekimmu, was thus, properly speaking, the ghost of the unburied corpse; whereas the utukku was the ghost of a corpse which had obtained burial, but through some accident or other had escaped from the realms of the dead. While, therefore, the ekimmu, necessarily had a human origin, the utukku was only accidentally a human ghost. The rites with which its body had been laid in the grave, ought to have confined it to the underground regions of the dead; and the “pure water” and food with which it had been provided were sufficient to sustain it in its existence below. If it returned to the upper world it could only have been through the arts of the necromancer, and the sufferings it may have inflicted upon men were but the revenge it took for being disturbed. The utukku, like the lil, belonged to a class of supernatural beings who manifested their presence in a particular way, and it was only as it were accidentally that the ghost of a dead man came to be included among them.

But it must be noticed that no distinction was drawn in the mind of the Babylonian between these supernatural beings and the ghosts of the dead, at all events so far as their nature and to a certain extent their powers were concerned The ghost might become an ekimmu just as it might become a lil; all were alike denizens of the underground world, and in primeval times obeyed the rule of the En-lil, “the lord of ghosts.”

The same belief must once have prevailed in Palestine. When the spirit of Samuel was called up from the dead, the witch declared she saw Elohim rising up from the earth in the form of an old man clothed in a mantle. Now Elohim or “gods” was the general term under which the Canaanite included all the beings of the spiritual world in whom he believed; and in calling the spirit of Samuel “Elohim,” the witch was accordingly asserting that the human ghost she had evoked had become thereby one of them. As the ghost of Ea-bani when summoned from its resting-place became an utukku, so the ghost of Samuel for the same reason became one of the Elohim.

The ghost, like the body to which it had belonged, was dependent for its existence upon food and drink. The legend of the descent of Istar into Hades describes the ghosts of the dead as flitting like winged bats through their gloomy prison-house, drinking dust and eating clay. The bread and dates and water offered at the tombs of the dead were a welcome substitute for such nauseous food. Food, however, of some kind it was necessary for the ghost to have, otherwise it would have suffered from the pangs of hunger, or died the second death for want of nourishment.

Like the Egyptian Ka, consequently, the Babylonian ghost was conceived of as a semi-material counterpart of the body, needing, like the body, drink and food; and if recalled to the upper world in the form of an utukku or an ekimmu, resembling the body in every detail, even to the clothes it wore. Moreover, as in Egypt, the doctrine of the double must be extended to inanimate objects as well as to living things. The offerings deposited with the dead included not only poultry and fish, but also dates and grain, wine and water. The objects, too, which the dead had loved in his life were laid in his grave—toys for the child, mirrors and jewellery for the woman, the staff and the seal for the man. It must have been the doubles of the food and drink upon which the ghost fed in the world below, and the doubles of the other objects buried with the corpse, which it enjoyed in its new mode of existence. There must have been ghosts of things as well as ghosts of men.

The overlaying of primitive Sumerian animism by Semitic conceptions and beliefs naturally introduced new elements into the views held about the imperishable part of man, and profoundly modified the old theories regarding it. The Zi, as we have seen, became synonymous with the vital principle; the lil, the utukku, and the ekimmu were banished to the domain of the magician and witch. The words survived, like “ghost” in English, but the ideas connected with them insensibly changed. In place of En-lil, “the lord of the ghost-world,” a new conception arose, that of Bilu or Baal, “the lord” of mankind and the visible universe, whose symbol was the flaming sun.13 The ghosts had to make way for living men, the underground world of darkness for the world of light. En-lil became a Semitic Baal, and man himself became “the son of his god.”14

With the rise of Semitic influence came also the influence of the culture that emanated from Eridu. The character of Ea of Eridu lent itself more readly to Semitic conceptions than did the character of En-lil. There was no need for violent change; the old Sumerian god (or rather “spirit”) retained his name and therewith many of his ancient attributes. He remained the god of wisdom and culture, the father of Aśari, “who does good to man.”

When Aśari was identified with Merodach the sun-god of Babylon, Semitic influence was already in the ascendant. Merodach was already a Semitic Baal; the supremacy of his city made him the supreme Baal of Babylonia. The older Baal of Nippur was absorbed by the younger Baal of Babylon, and the official cult almost ceased to remember what his attributes and character had originally been. Even the reciter of the magical texts probably forgot that the god had once been a chief lil or ghost and nothing more.

This altered conception of the god of Nippur was necessarily accompanied by an altered conception of the ghost-world over which he had ruled. It was handed over to other gods in the State religion, or else passed into the possession of the wizard and necromancer. Nergal of Cutha became the lord of Hades, which he shared with the goddess Eris-kigal or Allat. Legend told how at the command of the gods of light, Nergal had forced his way into the dark recesses of the underworld, and there compelled the goddess to become his bride. From henceforward Hades was a realm under the control of the gods of heaven, and part of that orderly universe which they governed and directed.

The conquest of Hades by the gods of light implied the conquest by them of death. The dead was no longer a mere ghost, beyond the reach of the lords of heaven, and able to play havoc in their own sphere when darkness had swallowed up the light. The lords of heaven now claimed the power of “raising the dead to life.” It is an epithet that is applied more especially to Merodach, the minister and interpreter of his father Ea, through whose magic words and wise teaching he heals the diseases of mankind, and even brings them again from the world of the dead.

It is evident that we here have a new conception before us of the imperishable part of man. The gods are with man beyond the grave as they are on this side of it. There is no inexorable destiny forbidding them to bring him back to life. In other words, there is a life in the next world as well as in this. It may be a very inferior and shadowy kind of life, but it is a life nevertheless, and not the existence of a bloodless ghost which would perish if it could not satisfy its cravings with food and drink. The religious consciousness has passed beyond the stage when the future world is peopled with the doubles and counterparts of existing things, and it has attained to the conception of a spritual life which man can share with the immortal gods. Animism has made way for polytheism.

How close this connection between the gods and the souls of men became in later days, may be seen from the fact that when Assur-bani-pal visited the tombs of his forefathers, he poured out a libation in their honour and addressed to them his prayers. They had, in short, become gods, like the gods of light to whom temples were erected and offerings made. The change in point of view had doubtless been quickened by that deification of the king of which I shall have to speak in a future lecture, and which seems to have been of Semitic origin. When the king became a god, to whom priests and temples were dedicated both in his lifetime and after his death, it was inevitable that new ideas should arise in regard to the nature of the soul. The spirit who was addressed as a god, and set on a level with the divine lords of heaven, was no powerless and starveling ghost in the underworld of En-lil, but a spirit in the more modern sense of the word, who dwelt in the realms of light, where he could hear and answer the prayers that were laid before him. The ghost had been transformed into a soul, whose nature was the same as that of the gods themselves, and which, like them accordingly, could move freely where it would, listening to the petitions of those on earth, and interceding for them.

This conception of the soul had already been arrived at in the age of Sargon of Akkad, the earliest to which at present anything like full contemporaneous records reach back. But it was an age in which Semitic influence was already dominant; Sargon was the founder of a Semitic empire which extended to the shores of the Mediterranean, and the Sumerian epoch of Babylonian civilisation had long since passed away. Remote as the age seems to us of to-day, it was comparatively late in the history of Chaldæan culture. And deification was not confined to the person of the king. The high priests of the Babylonian cities who owned allegiance to him were similarly deified by their subjects. The daily offering was made, for instance, to the deified Gudea, the Sumerian governor of Lagas; he who had ruled on earth, whether Semite or Sumerian, was adjudged worthy of a place among the gods of the official creed. King and noble alike could be raised to the rank of a divinity; and we even find Gimil-Sin, the king of Ur, erecting a temple to his own godhead.15 We are reminded of the shrines built by the later Pharaohs in honour of their own Kas.

The deification of man, and therewith a belief in the higher destinies of the human soul, can thus be traced back to an early period of Semitic supremacy in Babylonia. Unfortunately our evidences for this belief in the higher destinies of the soul are still but scanty. In this respect Babylonia offers a striking contrast to Egypt. There the larger part of the monumental records we possess are derived from tombs; and Egyptian belief in regard to the future life is abundantly described not only on the tombstones, but also on the inscribed and pictured walls of the sepulchre itself. We know almost more of what the Egyptian thought about the imperishable part of man and its lot hereafter, than we do about any other portion of his creed. In Babylonia and Assyria, on the contrary, there are no tombstones, no pictured and inscribed tombs. The literature we possess tells us but little concerning the future life and the beliefs connected with it. The ritual and the hymns to the gods are concerned with this life, not with the next, and we have to grope our way, as it were, through obscure allusions and ambiguous phrases if we would find in them any references to the world beyond the grave. To fall back on mythological poems and heroic epics is dangerous and misleading. The literary myth will give us as false an idea of the psychology of a people as it will of their theology; at most it will express the beliefs of the individual writer, or enshrine old terms and phrases, the primitive meaning of which has passed away. To extract a psychology from literary legends is as difficult as to extract from them sober history. The poets who depicted Hades, with its batlike ghosts that fed upon dust, were using the language of the past rather than of the age in which they lived. We might as well infer that the Englishman of the eighteenth century believed in the Muses whom his poets invoked, as infer from the language of the poets of Babylonia that the Hades they described was the Hades of popular belief. The cult of the kings and nobles is sufficient of itself to prove that such could not have been the case. And when primitive conceptions become the commonplaces of literature, their true signification is lost or blurred.

Still less help can be obtained from the magical texts. And by an unfortunate accident the magical texts constitute a very undue proportion of those which have hitherto been examined. Until recently we have been dependent for our knowledge of Babylonian literature on the relics of the library of Nineveh, the greater part of which was collected by Assur-bani-pal, and Assur-bani-pal had a special predilection for charms and exorcisms, and the pseudo-science of the augur or astrologist. The world of the magical texts was a world that stood apart by itself. Magic was only half recognised by the orthodox faith; its beliefs and practices had come down from an age when that orthodox faith did not as yet exist, and its professors were looked upon with suspicion by the official priesthood. The creed upon which it rested, therefore, was a creed of the remote past rather than of the present. Its gods and goddesses were not those of the State religion except in name; the Istar who patronised the witch and superintended the mixture of the poisonous philtre under the cloak of night, was a very different Istar from the goddess of love and war who promised help and comfort to Esar-haddon in his need, and was known to be “the mother” of mankind. The State religion, indeed, wisely temporising, had recognised magic so far as it could be regulated, and placed, as it were, under the supervision of the priesthood; “the black art” was never a heresy to be suppressed by force, as in ancient Israel; but for all that it stood outside the official faith, and embodied principles and conceptions which could be harmonised but imperfectly with the higher and more enlightened ideas of the historical period. We may find in the magical texts survivals from the primeval age of animism, if only we know how to interpret them rightly, for the religious conceptions of a later age we shall look in vain. They offer us magic and not religion, the wizard or witch and not the priest.

Such, then, are the reasons why it is impossible for the present to describe the psychology of the Babylonians with the same accuracy and fulness as that of the Egyptians, or to trace its history with the same detail. The materials are wanting, and probably we shall never have them in the same abundance as in Egypt. But one thing is clear. Behind the polytheistic view of the human spirit which prevailed in later times, there lay an animistic view which closely resembled the primitive Egyptian doctrine of the Ka. The animistic view passed away with the rise of Semitic supremacy and the deification of man, and to discover and define it must be largely a matter of inference. The doctrine of the double was superseded by the doctrine of the soul—that is to say, of an immortal element which after death was reunited with the gods. The Zi, with the Lil and the Ekimmu, had to make way for a higher and purer conception of the spirit of man. The old names, indeed, still remained, but more and more emptied of their earlier meaning, or banished to the outer darkness of the magician and witch. The water and food that once served to nourish the ghost in the world below, became offerings to the dead man, and to the gods under whose protection he continued to be. “All the furniture that befitteth the grave,” says an Assyrian king, “the due right of his sovereignty, I displayed before the sun-god, and beside the father who begat me I set them in the grave. Gifts unto the princes, even the spirits of earth, and unto the gods who inhabit the grave, I then presented.”16 The gifts, it will be noticed, are not only set by the side of the dead, but are also presented to the sun-god, who is thus associated with the deceased king. They are consecrated to the god of light, who judged mankind, before they can be claimed by the gods of the grave.

But with all this it must be allowed that a great contrast exists between the Babylonian and the later Egyptian view of the imperishable part of man and its lot in the other world. And this difference of view results from a further difference in the view taken of this present life. To the Egyptian the present life was but a preparation for the next; not only the spiritual elements of which he was composed, but, as he hoped, his body itself would survive beyond the grave. It was otherwise in Babylonia. No traces of mummification are to be found there; at most we hear of the corpse being anointed for death, as it were, with oil or honey; and cremation, partial or complete, seems to have been practised. The thoughts of the Babylonian were fixed rather on this world than on the next; his horizon, speaking generally, was bounded by death. It was in this world that he had relations with the gods and duties towards them, and it was here that he was punished or rewarded for the deeds committed in the flesh. The practical character of the Babylonians did not lend itself to dreams and speculations about the future: the elaborate map of the other world, which is drawn in the sacred books of Egypt, would have been impossible for them. They were too much absorbed in commerce and trade and the practical pursuit of wealth, to have leisure for theories that concerned themselves with a doubtful future and an invisible world. The shadow of the old religion of Nippur, moreover, with its underground Hades of darkness and gloom, rested to the last on the mind of the Babylonian people. The brighter views which had emanated from Eridu never succeeded in overcoming it altogether. The gods of light ruled, indeed, over a world that had once belonged to the demons of night, but their victory never extended further. The land of Hades still continued to be a land of darkness, even though the waters of life gushed up from below the golden throne of the spirits who dwelt there. We find no conception in Babylonian literature parallel to the Egyptian fields of Alu, no judgment-hall of Hades before which the conscience of the dead man is arraigned. The Babylonian was judged in this life and not in the next, and the god who judged him was the sun-god of day, and not the dead sun-god of the other world.

It is usually the fashion to ascribe this concentration of religion upon the present world, with its repellent views of Hades and limitation of divine rewards and punishments to this life, to the inherent peculiarities of the Semitic mind. But for this there is no justification. There is nothing in the Semitic mind which would necessitate such a theological system. It is true that the sun-god was the central object of the Semitic Babylonian faith, and that to the nomads of Arabia the satisfaction of their daily wants was the practical end of existence. But it is not among the nomads of Arabia that we find anything corresponding with the Babylonian idea of Hades and the conceptions associated with it. The idea was, in fact, of Babylonian origin. If the Hebrew Sheol resembles the Hades of Babylonia, or the Hebrew conception of rewards and punishments is like that of the Assyrians and Babylonians, it is because the Hebrew beliefs were derived from the civilisation of the Euphrates. Historically we know that the Israelites traced their origin from Ur of the Chaldees, and that in days long before Abraham, Canaan formed part of a Babylonian empire, and was permeated by Babylonian culture; on the theological side the derivation of the Hebrew doctrines is equally clear. The Hebrew Sheol is too exactly a counterpart of the Babylonian world of the dead not to have been borrowed from it, like Lilith and the other spirits whose home it was, and the theology which taught that the sun-god was the supreme judge of men, punishing in this lite their sins or rewarding their good deeds, was part of the culture which came from Babylonia to the West. It was no inherent heritage of Semitic nature, but the product of a civilisation whose roots went back to a non-Semitic race. The ruling caste in Egypt were of Semitic extraction, but their religion contains little or no trace of the ideas which underlay the Babylonian doctrines of divine retribution and the future life of the soul.

It is to Babylonia, therefore, that we must look for the origin of those views of the future world and of the punishment of sin in this life which have left so deep an impression on the pages of the Old Testament. They belonged primarily to Babylonia, and were part of the price which the Semites of the West had to pay for the inestimable gift of culture that came to them, from the banks of the Euphrates. They were views from which the Israelite was long in emancipating himself. The inner history of the Old Testament is, in fact, in large measure a history of the gradual widening of the religious consciousness of Israel in regard to them, and their supersession by a higher and more spiritual form of faith. The old belief, that misfortune implies sin and prosperity righteousness, is never, indeed, entirely eradicated, and Sheol long continues to be a land of shadow and unsubstantiality, where good and bad share the same fate, and the things of this life are forgotten; but little by little newer and purer views make their way into the religion of the people, and the higher message which Israel was destined to receive takes the place of the teaching of the old culture of Babylonia. Babylonia had done its part; new forces were needed for the education of mankind.

  • 1.

    Thus we have the phrase “to swear by the Zi of the king” (see Delitzsch, Assyrisches Handwörterbuch, s. v. nisu). The Zi included the ekim or specific ghost, whose prominence belongs rather to post-Sumerian days than to the early ages of Babylonian history.

  • 2.

    King, Babylonian Religion, p. 46.

  • 3.

    WAI. ii. 36. 54, 56. 33–38.

  • 4.

    See my Hibbert Lectures on Babylonian, Religion, p. 375. A common phrase is “the Zi (Assyr. nis) of the great gods” (Delitzsch, Assyrisches Handwörterbuch, s. v. nisu). In the incantation text, WAI. iv. 1, 2, the gods of later times are still Zis. A translation of part of the text will be given in a future chapter. For the possibility that the Zi and the Lil originally had much the same meaning, the one being used at Eridu and the other at Nippur, see the next lecture.

  • 5.

    Scheil in Recueil de Travaux, xxii. p. 38.

  • 6.

    See Sm. 1981. 3, where the edinna or “desert” is called the home of the lilla

  • 7.


  • 8.

    By assimilation En-lil became El-lil. The name is literally “ghost-lord,” where the singular lil represents a class. Hence En-lil is “lord of the ghosts” in general, conceived of as “the devil” is often conceived of in Christian literature, or as Hades sometimes meant all the denizens of the underworld in Greek. Dialectic forms of the name are Mul-lil and U-lil.

  • 9.

    Under Semitic influence these “tablets of destiny” lost their primitive signification, and became, like the Urim and Thummim of the Old Testament, simply a means of predicting the future.

  • 10.

    At Eridu the Zi seems to have taken the place occupied by the Lil at Nippur; at all events, just as En-lil was the chief Lil or Lilla at Nippur, so Ea seems to have been the chief Zi at Eridu. On this see the next lecture.

  • 11.

    Zaqiqu is of course a “cloud of dust,” not “a wind,” as some scholars have translated it. A wind does not rise up out of the earth, but comes from the air or sky. In WAI. v. 6, vi. 64, the meaning of zaqiqi can be “dust” and nothing else: ilâni-su, istarâti-su amnâ ana zakiki, “its gods and goddesses I reduced to dust.”

  • 12.

    WAI. v, 61, vi. 54, 55, where we must read kibira.

  • 13.

    Professor Hommel has shown that among the Arabian and Western Semites (the Canaanites excepted) the original Baal was rather the moon-god than the sun-god. The supremacy of the sun-god belongs to Semitic Babylonia (Aufsätze und Abhandlungen, ii. pp. 149–165).

  • 14.

    With this phrase, which is so frequent in the Babylonian texts, Hommel compares names like Ben-Ammi, “the son of (the god) Ammi.”

  • 15.

    Thureau-Dangin in the Recueil de Travaux, xix. p. 186.

  • 16.

    Quoted by King, Babylonian Religion, p. 49.