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Lecture 3: The Gods of Babylonia

I HAVE already had occasion to refer to one of the gods of Babylonia, En-lil or El-lil of Nippur.1 His worship goes back to the earliest period of Babylonian history; his sanctuary at Nippur was one of the oldest in the land. He belongs to the period when the Sumerian was still supreme, and the name he bore was the Sumerian title of En-lil, “the lord of the ghost-world.” But it was a title only; the “lord of the ghosts” was himself a ghost, albeit the chief among them.

The fact must be kept carefully in mind. As yet there was no god in the proper sense of the term. The superhuman powers that were dreaded and propitiated were ghosts only, like the ghosts of dead men; and, like the latter, they were denizens of the grave and the underground world. It was only at night that they emerged from their retreat, and terrified the passer-by. Primitive man fears the dark as much as does the child; it is then that the powers of evil are active, and spiritual or supernatural foes lurk behind every corner ready to injure or destroy him. The ghosts of the night are accordingly objects of terror, harmful beings from whom all forms of sickness and insanity are derived.

But even these ghosts can be controlled by those who know the magic words or the mystic rites which they are compelled to obey. Between the ghost and his victim the sorcerer or medicine-man can interpose, and by means of his spells force the spirit to quit the body of the sufferer or enter the body of an enemy. By the side of the ghost, therefore, stands the sorcerer, who is at once the master and the minister of the spirit-world.

With the progress of civilisation an organised body of sorcerers necessarily grows up. But an organised body of sorcerers also implies an organised body of spirits, and an organised system of controlling them. The spells and charms which have been handed down from the past are formed into a system, and the spirits themselves are classified and defined, while special functions are assigned to them. The old unorganised animism passes into an organised shamanism, such as still prevails among certain Siberian tribes. The sorcerer is on the high road to becoming a priest.

Between the sorcerer and the priest, however, there is a gulf too wide to be spanned. The religious conceptions presupposed by them differ in kind as well as in degree. The nature of the superhuman beings by whom man is surrounded, and the relations which he bears to them, are essentially different in the two cases. The priest may also be a sorcerer, but the sorcerer cannot be a priest.

Can shamanism develop naturally into theism, and the sorcerer into the priest? Or is there need of foreign influences and of contact with other ideas and religious beliefs? I should myself be inclined to adopt the second alternative. Theism may absorb shamanism, and the priest throw the ægis of his authority over the sorcerer, but the natural development of the one into the other is contrary to the facts of psychology as well as to those of history. The evolution of a god out of the shaman's ghost may be conceivable, but no evidence for it exists. The superstitions and beliefs of shamanism linger, indeed, under a theistic religion, and the polytheism of Babylonia was no exception to the rule. Up to the last the magician flourished there, and the spells he worked were recognised by the religion of the State. But for all that they stood outside the religion of the State, harmonising with it just as little as the superstitions of popular folk-lore harmonise with the religion we profess. No one would assert that the Christianity of to-day has grown out of beliefs like that in the vampire which still holds such sway in some of the Christian countries of Europe; and there is just as little reason for asserting that the vampire of the primitive Sumerian developed into a Babylonian deity. They represent two diverse currents of belief, which may for a time run side by side, but never actually coalesce.

Babylonian tradition itself bore witness to the fact. The Chaldæan historian Berossos tells us that the elements of culture, and therewith of the organised religion of a later day, were brought to Babylonia from abroad. Oannes or Ea, the culture-god, had risen morning by morning out of the waters of the Persian Gulf, and instructed the savage races of the shore in the arts of life. It was not from Nippur and the worshippers of En-lil, but from that mysterious deep which connected Babylonia, with other lands, that its civilisation had come. It was Ea who had taught men “to found the temple” in which the gods of aftertimes were to be adored. The culture-god of Babylonia was Ea, and the home of Ea was not in Babylonia, but in the deep.

There is no mistaking the significance of the legend. The culture of Babylonia originated on the seacoast, and was brought to it across the sea. The elements of civilisation were due to intercourse with other lands. And this civilisation was associated with a god—with a god, too, who represented all the higher aspects of Babylonian religion, and was regarded as the author of its sacred books. The impulse which transformed the “lord of the ghost-world” into a god, and replaced the sorcerer by a priest, came not from within, but from without.

The impulse went back to that primitive age when Sumerian supremacy was still unquestioned in the land. Other races, so the legend averred, were already settled there, but they were all alike rude and savage “as the beasts of the field.” How far distant it may have been in the night of time we can but dimly conjecture. At the rate at which the northern coast of the Persian Gulf is being slowly silted up, it would be at least eight thousand years ago when the old seaport of Eridu and the sanctuary of its god Ea stood on the shores of the sea. But the influence of the Semite was already beginning to be felt, though indirectly, through maritime trade.

New ideas came from the south. Ea was a god, and like the gods of the Semitic race he had a wife and son. While he himself was lord of the deep, Dam-kina, his wife, was the mistress of the land. His son was Aśari, “the prince who does good to man,”2 and who, in contradistinction to the night-demons of Nippur, brought knowledge and healing to the men whom Ea had created. The Sumerian might indeed speak of the “Zi”—“the spirit”—of Ea, or rather of the deep, but to the Semite he was a veritable god.

At the same time it was the conception only of Ea and his family which we need trace to a foreign source. Their names are purely Sumerian, and their origin consequently must be Sumerian too. Doubtless they had once been mere lils or ghosts, belonging to the ghost-world of the god of Nippur, and the spells taught by Ea to mankind were survivals from the day when the sorcerer was still his priest.3 But under Semitic influence the lil had been transformed into a god; the sacred book took the place of the charm, and the priest of the magician. The charm and the magician were still recognised, but it was on the condition that they adapted themselves to the new ideas. Sumerian shamanism was overlaid by Semitic polytheism, and in process of time was absorbed into it.

The culture of Eridu spread northward, along with the religious ideas which formed so integral a part of it. The worship of Ea was adopted in other cities of Babylonia, and the god of Babylon was identified with his son. The lil which had been pictured under animal shape put on human form, and the Sumerian accepted the conviction of the Semite, that man was made in the likeness of his god. En-lil of Nippur had to yield to the influence of the stranger. The antiquity of his worship, the sanctity of his temple, could not save him from his fate. He too became a Semitic god; his old name became an unmeaning title, which survived in literature but not in the mouths of the people, and he was henceforth addressed as a Semitic Bilu or Baal. He ceased to be the chief of the ghosts of night, and was transformed into the divine “Lord” of Semitic worship, who, like the sun, watched over this nether earth. It was a transformation and not a development.

As the Semitic Bel, the god of Nippur continued for long centuries to retain the ancient veneration of the people. Unlike the Greek Kronos, he was not as yet dethroned by the younger gods. The position occupied by the great sanctuary of Nippur and its priesthood long prevented this. But the destiny of Kronos at last overtook him. Babylon became the capital of the kingdom, and its god accordingly claimed precedence over all others. Merodach of Babylon assumed the title of Bel, and little by little the old god of Nippur was robbed of his ancient rank. For the Babylonia of later history Merodach and not En-lil was the supreme Baal, and even the legends that had been told of the god of Nippur were transferred to his younger rival. The memories that still gathered round Nippur were too deeply tinged with the colours of a religion that had passed away, and the beliefs of a darker and less civilised form of faith. Merodach was the champion of the gods of light, En-lil had been the lord of the demons of darkness. Theologically as well as politically it was needful that Merodach should supplant En-lil.

The spread of the worship of Ea, or rather of the religious conceptions with which it was associated, brought with it the effacement of Dam-kina. Dam-kina had once been the earth; just as En-lil at Nippur was “the lord of ghosts,” of whom he was himself one, so at Eridu Dam-kina was the “lady of the earth,” with which, as its Zi or “spirit,” she was herself identified. Sumerian grammar knew no distinction of gender, and in the Sumerian family the woman held a foremost place by the side of the man. It was otherwise among the Semites. The distinction between the masculine and the feminine is engrained in the Semitic languages, but the distinction is attained by forming the feminine out of the masculine. While a considerable part of Semitic flexion is the result of vowel changes within the word itself, the feminine is created by attaching an affix to the masculine form. The masculine presupposes the feminine, but the feminine is dependent on the masculine.

Semitic grammar merely reflects the fundamental ideas of the Semitic mind. For the Semite the woman is the lesser man, formed out of him and dependent upon him. Like the feminine of the noun, she is the colourless reflection of her husband, though without the reflection there can be no husband. Wherever the Semitic spirit has prevailed, the woman has been simply the helpmeet and shadow of the man; for the orthodox Mohammedan she hardly possesses a soul. It is only where the Semitic spirit has been met and checked by the influence of another race that this is not the case; the high place retained by the woman in Babylonian society would of itself have been a proof that Semitic culture had here been engrafted on that of an older people, even if the monuments had not revealed to us that such was indeed the fact.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the goddesses or female spirits of Sumerian faith faded away as the Semitic element in Babylonian religion became stronger. At first Semitic influence had done no more than transform the “handmaid of the lil” into a goddess; then the goddesses themselves became like the woman in Semitic thought, pale and colourless, existing merely for the sake of the god. Dam-kina, the lady of the earth, was remembered only by the antiquarian or by the compiler of a cosmological system. When she became the wife of Ea her fate was sealed.

Her attributes and office, in fact, were transferred to him. At Eridu he had necessarily been more than the lord of the deep; he was lord of the city as well. He had as it were migrated from the deep; he had left his palace of the sea and come to dwell in a sanctuary on land. The ground on which Eridu stood was the gift of the sea, the soft silt which the retreating waves of the Persian Gulf had left behind them. It had once been part of the domain of Ea, if not Ea himself. Ea accordingly came to be addressed as the “lord of the earth” as well as of the sea, and Eridu, his city, was the “city of the lord of the land.” The men who inhabited it were his creation: he had formed them like a potter out of the clay, and as the divine “potter” he was therefore known unto them.4 Like the Egyptian Khnum at the Cataract, he was the first artist in clay, and the models that he made were the first men.

The god of culture was thus also the creator of mankind. He brought civilisation to them from his home beneath the waves, but it was because he had already created them. They were not indeed his children, but the creation of his hands, for the culture-god was necessarily an artist, and the men he moulded were the highest products of his skill. Water and earth had alike gone to their formation; Ea was master not only of the sea, but of the land of Eridu as well.

The heritage of Dam-kina was thus usurped by the god whom Semitic influence had given to her as husband. And therewith the heritage of another goddess of the Sumerian cult was usurped as well. This was Bau, whose native home was probably farther to the north, though she had been as it were domesticated at Eridu in early days. As Dam-kina was made the wife of Ea, so Bau was made his mother. For this there was a special reason. Bau was known as “the great mother,” from whom mankind had received the herd and the flock as well as the crops of the field. She it was who gave fertility to the soil, and protected those who tilled it. The heifer was her symbol, and she may have been originally the local spirit of some field in the neighbourhood of Eridu.5 But in the days when she is first known to us by contemporaneous inscriptions, she is already a goddess, and the Semitic conception of a divine mother is already attached to her.6 She thus resembles another goddess, Aruru by name, whom an old cosmological poem associates with Merodach (or rather Ea) in creating “the seed of man,” which springs forth from her bosom like the reed from the marsh or “the wild cow with its young.” In their origin Bau and Aruru are alike but Dam-kina under other names,—the earth-spirits of the old Sumerian religion, who beget or create all living things. The underground world over which En-lil held rule was not only the home of the dead, it was also the place where the seed must be buried before it can spring up into the green herb. That same ghost-world, consequently, to which the dead must journey, is also the source of life. The lil (or rather the Zi) who inhabits it is the mother of mankind, even though it is also the home of the demon who plagues them with disease.

Hence it was that when Bau assumed the dress of a Semitic goddess, she became first the creatress-mother, and then the mother of the creator. As such, however, she entered into rivalry with another deity who was similarly in process of development out of an earlier form. This was Zi-Kum or Zi-Garum, “the spirit of the sky,” who is called “the mother that has begotten heaven and earth,” and “the seeress of the spirit of the earth” (Ê-kur), that is to say, of En-lil.7 To the primitive seafarer of Babylonia the waters of the Persian Gulf seemed to descend from the vault of heaven which rested upon them; the streams which intersected the ground were fed by the rains, and it was therefore natural to suppose that the sea which blended with the sky was similarly derived from it. The deep was embosomed in the heavens, and the spirit of the deep accordingly must have been begotten by the spirit of the sky.

But this spirit of the sky necessarily owned obedience to the “lord of the ghost-world,” and the mother of Ea of Eridu was thus at the same time a ministering handmaid of En-lil.8 The Zi who was worshipped at Eridu was also a Lil in the theology of Nippur, and the home of the Lil was beneath the earth. In this way we must explain how it is that Zi-Kum, “the heaven,” is also, under another aspect, Zi-Kura, “the earth,” and as such identical with Dam-kina and Bau.9 That she should have coalesced with Bau rather than with Dam-kina, was due to the fact that the one was made the mother of Ea, while the other became his wife. But the lineaments of the old “spirit of the sky” were soon obliterated. As the religion of Babylonia moved further and further away from the animism of the past, the spirit's existence faded into the background and Bau stepped into its place. Zi-Kum, “the spirit of the sky,” ended by becoming a symbol of that primordial deep from which Ea had derived his wisdom, and whose waters were above the visible firmament as well as below it.10 Ea, the god of the mixed Babylonian race, had absorbed the spirits and ghosts of the Sumerian faith. Their attributes had been taken from them, and they had been transformed into goddesses whose sole end was to complete the family of the culture-god.

The old faith was avenged, however, when Babylon became the political head of Babylonia. Ea was supplanted by his son, and the honours he had received were transferred to the younger god. It was his son, too, under a new and foreign name. Merodach was son of Ea only because he had been identified with Aśari, who was son of Ea in the theology of Eridu. Henceforward Ea shines merely by reflected light. His wisdom is handed on to Merodach; even the creation of mankind is denied to him. It is not Ea, but Merodach, who conquers the dragon of chaos and introduces law and order into the world, and it is equally not Ea but Merodach who is the creator of all visible things. Ea is not robbed, like Bel of Nippur, of his name and prerogatives, he is simply effaced.11

Midway between Nippur and Eridu stood the city of Erech. Doubtless it was of Sumerian foundation, like the other great cities of Babylonia, but as far back as we can trace its history it is already a seat of Semitic power and religious cult. Its god was Anu, the sky. It may be that Anu had been brought from elsewhere, for a Babylonian inscription of the twelfth century B.C. calls Dêr rather than Erech his city; but if so, the Semitic inhabitants of Erech knew nothing of it. For them Anu was the protecting god of their city, the father of Istar, whose habitation it was. From the days when Erech first became a Semitic possession, Anu and Istar had been worshipped in it side by side. Indeed, it would seem from the inscription of Lugal-zaggi-śi, discovered at Nippur, that at the remote period to which it belongs Istar had not yet been associated with Anu in the divine government of Erech. Lugal-zaggi-śi was king of Erech, and as a consequence “priest of Ana,” but not of Istar. So far as the evidence goes at present, it points to the fact that the divine patron of Erech was Anu, and that Istar was introduced by the Semites, perhaps from the town of Dilbat (now Dillem).

The god and his name were alike borrowed by the Semite from his Sumerian predecessor. Ana was the Sumerian word for “sky,” and it was doubtless a spirit of the sky which had been worshipped by the primitive population of the country. But when the hieroglyphic pictures were first invented, out of which the cuneiform characters afterwards developed, the spirit was already on the way to becoming a god. The eight-rayed star which denotes Ana in the historical days of Babylonia also denotes a god. He thus became a type of the god as distinguished from the spirit, and bears witness to the evolution that was already taking place in the religion of Babylonia.

That there had been spirits of the sky, however, as well as spirits of the earth, was never forgotten. By the side of the Anunna-ki or “spirits of the earth” the later theology continued to retain a memory of the Igigi or spirits of heaven.12 As En-lil was the chief among the spirits of the earth, so it is probable that Ana was chief among the spirits of the sky. But there was not the same difficulty in accommodating his name and personality to the new conception of a god that there was in the case of En-lil. His old Sumerian title brought with it no associations with animism; there was no need to change it, and it could therefore, like the name of Ea, be retained even when the spirit of the sky had become the god of heaven. From the outset Ana had stood outside the sphere and dominion of En-lil; he was no ghost of the underworld to be degraded or renamed.

While, therefore, in En-lil of Nippur, even under his new Semitic form of Bel, the dominant element remained Sumerian, and in Ea of Eridu the Semitic and Sumerian elements were mingled together, Ana of Erech was distinctively a Semitic god. It was only by main force, as it were, that En-lil could be transformed into the semblance of a Semitic Baal; up to the last he continued to be lord of the earth rather than of the sky, whose dwelling-place was below rather than above.13 It was this, perhaps, which facilitated his effacement by Merodach; the lineaments of a Baal were more easily traceable in the sun-god of Babylon than in the god of Nippur. But the sky-god was already a Baal. Between him and the Semitic Baal-shamain, “the lord of heaven,” the distance was but slight, and it was not difficult to clothe him with the attributes which the Semite ascribed to his supreme deity. A consciousness of the fact may possibly be detected in the readiness with which the name and worship of Anu were accepted in the Semitic West; when Babylonian culture made its way to Canaan, it was primarily Anu and the divinities most closely associated with him—Istar, Anat, and Dagon—who found there a home.

Ana, the sky, thus became Anu, the god of a Semitised Babylonia. But a Semitised Babylonia could not conceive of a god without a goddess who stood to him in the relation of the feminine to the masculine gender. Out of Anu was formed Anat, the feminine counterpart of the god. The same process at Nippur had created a Belit or Beltis out of the masculine Bel. The goddesses owed their existence to a grammatical necessity, and their unsubstantial and colourless character justified their origin. They fitly represented the relation in which, according to Semitic ideas, the woman stood to the man. She was formed out of him in nature as the feminine was out of the masculine in language, and her very existence thus depended on her “lord.”

There was, indeed, a goddess, even in Erech, the centre of Semitic influence, who possessed a very strongly-marked and independent character of her own. This was Istar, of whom I shall have to speak at a future time. But it was just because Istar possessed this independent character that she could not be the wife of the god of the sky. The Semitic Baal brooked the presence of no independent goddess in the divine family; the wife of the god could not claim rights of her own any more than the wife of the man. Anu, like Bel and Ea, stood alone.

Erech had been made the capital of a temporarily united Babylonia at an early age in its Semitic history. Before the days of Sargon of Akkad, Lugal-zaggi-śi—we know him only by his Sumerian name—had made himself supreme over the smaller States of the country, and even carried his arms to the distant West. In an inscription he has left us he boasts that his empire extended “from the lower sea of the Tigris and Euphrates to the upper sea,” presumably the Mediterranean; as he further defines his power as stretching “from the rising to the setting of the sun.” Erech became the capital of the kingdom, and it was perhaps at this time that it acquired the name which it bore ever afterwards of “the city” par excellence. Future ages were never allowed to forget that it had once been the premier city of Babylonia.

Lugal-zaggi-śi calls himself “the priest of Anu,” the god of the city which he had made the seat of his power. Anu for awhile was the god of the supreme State in Babylonia, and therefore supreme god of the whole country. The king, it is true, had come from the north, and his authority had been given him by Bel of Nippur; the old sanctuary of Nippur still claimed the first place in the religion of Northern Babylonia, and the cult of its god retained its ancient hold on the veneration of the people. But from henceforward he had to share his divine honours with another; Bel of Nippur, indeed, conferred the sovereignty, but the sovereign was priest and vicegerent of Anu. Bel and Anu were associated together at the head of the pantheon of Northern Babylonia, and the position they occupied in it became more and more unique.

So firmly established was it before the reign of Sargon of Akkad, that even his victories and the empire he founded failed to give them a colleague in the god of the new capital city. Bel and Anu remained supreme; the sun-god of Akkad or Sippar had to content himself with a subordinate rank. The theological system which put Bel and Anu at its head was already formed, and the position assigned to them by the veneration and traditions of antiquity was too firmly fixed to be shaken. Northern Babylonia worshipped a dyad in the shape of two supreme gods.

But Babylonia itself was a dual State. It was probably on this account that Lugal-zaggi-śi had fixed his capital at Erech in the centre of the country, midway between north and south. And the gods of Northern Babylonia were not necessarily those of the south. Here Ea was at the head of the divine host; for the south his city of Eridu was what Nippur was for the north, and the same causes which made Bel the dispenser of power to the northern princes, made Ea the guardian and guide of the monarchy in the south. For their worshippers Bel and Ea stood on the same level; the cult of each alike had descended from a remote antiquity, and their priests exercised a similar influence and power. As the Babylonians of the north were called the people of Bel whom Bel could grant to whom he would, so too the mixed races of the south were the creation of Ea to whom the god of Eridu had taught the arts of life.

The union of north and south consequently brought with it the formation of a divine triad. Ea joined himself to Bel and Anu, and the supreme triad of Anu, Bel, and Ea thus came into existence. The process of formation was facilitated by the fact that the three gods were already distinguished from one another in their main features. Anu was the god of the sky; the earlier history of Bel had given him naturally the dominion of the earth; and though, in becoming a Semitic Baal, he had acquired the attributes of a god of the upper sphere, these were allowed to fall into the background. Ea was even easier to deal with; his home was in the deep, and his rule was accordingly confined to the waters and the sea. That he had once been a god of the land as well as of the sea, was dropped out of sight, and in the later centuries of Babylonia it even began to be forgotten that he had created man out of the dust of the ground. He ceased to be the divine potter, and became instead the god of the waters, who pours out the Tigris and Euphrates from the vases in his hands. As god of the earth and the living things upon it, his place was taken by his son. Aśari, transformed into the Semitic sun-god Merodach, became the inheritor of his father's wisdom, and therewith of his father's power.

The formation of the Babylonian triad, and the differentiation of the divine persons who composed it, must have been the work of a theological school. It is an artificial scheme elaborated after the union of the northern and southern parts of the country. The universe is divided between the three divine representatives of Northern, Central, and Southern Chaldæa, whose sanctuaries were the oldest in the land, and whose cult had been handed down from time immemorial. The triad once formed became a model after which others could be created. The other great gods followed the example that had been set them, and were similarly resolved into triads. As the orthodox theological system of Egypt rested on the Ennead, the corresponding Babylonian system rested on the triad. The principle in each case was much the same. The Ennead was but a multiple of the triad, and presupposed the sacred number. Perhaps we may see in it the result of a contact between Sumerian modes of thought and the Semitic conception of the divine family. Where the god had a wife and a son, the godhead would naturally be regarded as a trinity.14

Under the first and supreme triad came the second triad of Sin, Samas, and Hadad. Sin, the moon-god, was adored under many names and in many forms. But his two chiefest temples were at Ur and at Harran. Ur, the modern Muqayyar, on the western bank of the Euphrates, had been dedicated to his service from the earliest times. The ruins of his temple still rise in huge mounds from the ground. The city stood outside the limits of the Babylonian plain, in the Semitic territory of the Arabian desert, and its Semitic population was therefore probably large. Harran, the other seat of the moon-god, was equally beyond the limits of Babylonia, and guarded the high road of commerce and war that led from the East to the West. But the name Harran, “the road,” is Babylonian, and, like its temple and god, the city doubtless owed its origin to Babylonian colonists. They probably came from Ur.

The moon-god of Ur is called the son of En-lil of Nippur, and it may be therefore that Nippur was the mother-city of Ur. But it must be remembered that whereas Ur was built on the desert plateau of Arabia, Nippur stood among the marshes of the Babylonian plain. Its sanctuary could not have been founded before the marshes had been, at all events, partially drained, and the inundating rivers been regulated by dykes and canals. A settlement on the higher and drier ground would seem more naturally to precede one in the pestiferous swamps below it, and the fact that Ur was the neighbour of Eridu seems to point to its early foundation and connection with the old seaport of the country. At the same time the worship of the moon-god is associated with the Semites of Arabia and the west rather than with Eridu, whose god revealed himself to mankind by day and not in the shades of night.15

It was right and fitting, however, that the moon-god should be “the firstborn” of the god of Nippur. The realm of En-lil was in the underground world of darkness, and the spirits over whom he had ruled plied their work at night. Naturally, therefore, it was from him and the dark world which originally belonged to him that the moon-god proceeded. It may be that Sin had once been one of the spirits in the domain of En-lil, a mere ghost whom the sorcerer could charm. But with his elevation to the rank of a god his attributes and character grew fixed and defined. In the ancient hymns addressed to him he is far more than a mere god of the moon. His worshipper at Ur, where he was known under the name of Nannar, addressed him as not only “lord of the moon,” but also “prince of the gods,” “the begetter of gods and men.” It is thus that we read in an old bilingual hymn—

“Father, long-suffering and full of forgiveness, whose hand upholds the life of all mankind,

Lord, thy divinity, like the far-off heaven, fills the wide sea with fear …

Firstborn, omnipotent, whose heart is immensity, and there is none who shall discern it …

Lord, the ordainer of the laws of heaven and earth, whose command may not be [broken] …

In heaven, who is supreme? Thou alone, thou art supreme! On earth, who is supreme? Thou alone, thou art supreme! As for thee, thy will is made known in heaven, and the angels bow their faces.

As for thee, thy will is made known on earth, and the spirits below kiss the ground.

As for thee, thy will is blown on high like the wind; the stall and the fold are quickened.

As for thee, thy will is done on the earth, and the herb grows green.”

Such language is fitter for a supreme Baal than for a local moon-god; and, in fact, it was as a supreme Baal rather than as a local moon-god that Nannar was adored at Ur. His connection with the moon was, as it were, an accident; the essential point about him was that he was the guardian god of the city. Its temple had been dedicated to him in prehistoric days, and with the rise of Semitic influence all the attributes associated with a Semitic Baal gathered round his person. He remained, it is true, a moon-god, but he was also more than a moon-god. He was the chief deity of a city whose kings had ruled throughout Babylonia, and carried their arms to the distant West.

His transformation into a supreme Baal was doubtless assisted by the important place filled by the moon in early Babylonian culture. The moon was the measurer of time; the first calendar was a lunar one, and time was marked by the movements of the moon and not by those of the sun. It was on this account that the moon-god was called En-zu, “the lord of knowledge,” by the Sumerians; through him they learned how to regulate the year and the festivals of the gods. Astronomy had been cultivated in Babylonia from the beginning of its history, and for a nation of astronomers the moon was naturally an object of veneration and regard. It was the symbol of law and order as well as of the light that illuminated the darkness of the night.

But we must notice that it was only at Ur and Harran that Sin or Nannar was thus elevated to the rank of a supreme Baal. The official theology refused to include him among the three chief gods of the land. He was, in fact, as Professor Hommel has shown, rather the Baal of the Semities of Arabia and the West than of the Babylonians themselves, and the place occupied by his cult at Ur proves how completely this city lay outside the limits of the true Babylonia, and was peopled by an Arabian population.

The sun-god was born of the moon. The lunar year preceded the solar, and to the primitive Babylonian the moon was a more important agent of culture even than the sun. Moreover, the sun seemed to rise from that world of night over which the moon held sway; the day was begotten by the night, and was accordingly reckoned from evening to evening. It is not until we come to the later age of Babylonian history that we find the old system making way for a new one, in which the day begins at midnight; and the 1st chapter of Genesis, with its “evening and morning,” perpetuates the ancient system of Babylonian astronomy.

The sun-god was known under many names, and, like the moon-god, was worshipped in many of the Babylonian cities. But just as in historical times there were two chief seats of the worship of the moon-god,—at Ur in the south, and at Harran in the north,—so too there were two chief seats of the worship of the sun-god, one in Southern and the other in Northern Babylonia. The southern seat was Larsa, the northern Zimbir or Sippara on the borders of Mesopotamia. And as the moon-god of Ur was older than the moon-god of Harran, so there are reasons for thinking that the sun-god of Larsa was older than his rival at Sippara. Babylonian culture moved from south to north.

Both at Larsa and at Sippara the temple of the sun-god was called Ê-Babbara,—Bit-Uri in Semitic,—“the house of light.” At Sippara it had been founded or restored by Naram-Sin, the son of Sargon of Akkad, in the early days of Semitic supremacy. The Sumerian Utu had already become the Semitic Samas, and clothed himself in the attributes of a Semitic Bel. And therewith he had necessarily taken to himself a wife. This was Â, who, in becoming the consort of a Semitic Baal, was compelled to change her sex. For the Sumerian  was a male god, a local sun-god, in fact, whom Professor Jastrow suggests may originally have been the sun-god of one of the separate villages out of the amalgamation of which the city of Sippara arose.16 Sumerian grammar, however, did not recognise gender; so far as outward form was concerned, the same word, as in English, might be indifferently masculine or feminine, and there was therefore nothing in the name of  itself which would forbid the foreigner from dealing with it as he would. Samas of Sippara needed a wife, and Â, despite her male origin, was accordingly given to him. But the gift was fatal to  herself. She lost her individuality, and became the mere double of her husband. Samas absorbed her attributes and worship, and gradually she sinks out of sight, or survives only in the works of theological antiquarians or in the literature of the past.17

Hadad, the third in the second triad of the Babylonian State religion, had no city which he could peculiarly call his own. He had developed out of the Sumerian spirits of the storm, who revealed themselves in the raging wind or the tempest of rain. More than one elemental spirit or demon had gone to his making and there was consequently no single sanctuary in which his cult had been handed down from the beginning of time. Wherever the storm raged or the deluge descended, Hadad was to be found, like the spirits from whom he had descended.

Under the influence of Semitic ideas he gradually became the god of the air. His old character, indeed never deserted him; up to the last he remained the divine power, who not only gave the fertilising rain in answer to the prayer of the farmer, but also swept the guilty away in an inundating torrent. His voice was the thunder, and he carried the forked lightning in his hand. God of the air though he was, he continued to be the storm-god as well.

The god of the storm was naturally the god of the mountains. When the armies of Babylonia first made their way to the West, they found themselves in a land of mountains, where the storm burst suddenly upon them, and the streams flowed swollen with rain into the sea. Here, therefore, in the land of the Amorites the Babylonian seemed to have discovered the true home of the god he worshipped. Hadad was an Amorite rather than a Babylonian, and the title, accordingly, by which he was most frequently addressed in early days was that of “the Amorite god.”

The title is Sumerian in origin, and must therefore have been given while as yet the Sumerian was dominant. This raises the question whether the name by which the god was subsequently known in Semitic Babylonia was not rather of Amorite than of Babylonian derivation. And there is much in favour of the view. Hadad, or Rimmon as he was also termed, was in a special way the god of Syria. His worship was spread along the whole length of the Syrian seaboard, and we find him holding there the rank of a supreme Baal. It is not as the god of storms, but as the sun-god himself, that he was adored in Syria, and his very name there became synonymous with deity. That the Semitised Sumerian of Babylonia should have identified the supreme god of a land of mountains and storms with his own storm-god, we can understand; that the Syrian should have transferred the name of a Babylonian god of storms to his own chief Baal, would be difficult to explain. However this may be, the person of Hadad is peculiarly Semitic. The features which he inherited from his Sumerian ancestry were obscured or dropped, and he became in all respects a Semitic god. We need not be surprised, therefore, at finding that he was a special favourite in Assyria. Assur-nazir-pal calls him “the mightiest of the gods,” and the Assyrian troops in their onset are likened to him.18

The doctrine of the triad was not confined to the more prominent gods. It was extended to others also who occupied a lower rank in the divine hierarchy or in the public cult. Thus Samas helps to form the subordinate triad of Samas, Malik, and Bunênê, in which the local sun-gods, Malik and Bunênê, are distinguished from Samas of Sippara, and Bunênê is transformed into a female divinity, the consort of Malik. But in all cases the principle is the same. The Semitic conception of the divine family, husband, wife, and son, is combined with the older ideas of genderless Sumerian, which placed the goddess on the same level as the god, and the result is a triad in which the Sumerian element has so far prevailed as to exclude the mother and son, and leave three gods of equal power and rank.19

The Babylonian triad is thus in no way a trinity. The divine persons who compose it are coequal and independent one of the other, the sphere of each being limited by that of the other. But they divide the whole universe between them, or at all events that part of the universe over which their attributes and authority extend. They are partners with carefully defined powers, arranged in groups of three. None of them is a supreme Baal dominant over the other two. Nor, indeed, are they Baalim at all in the strict sense of the word. For the Semitic Baalim admitted of no such grouping; each was supreme god in his own locality, where his powers were neither shared nor limited by another god. A triad like that of Anu, Bel, and Ea could not exist where each local Baal claimed all the attributes that were divided between the three Babylonian deities, and its existence in Babylonia is one of many proofs that, though Babylonian religion in its later form was moulded by Semitic hands, the elements that composed it had come in large measure from an older faith.

  • 1.

    By assimilation En-lil became El-lil (and Ul-lil) in one of the Sumerian dialects (WAI. v. 37. 21). Hence the Illinos (for which Illillos must be read) of Damascius.

  • 2.

    Aśari-galu-dugga. We owe the interpretation of the name to the insight and learning of Fr. Lenormant, from whose untimely death the investigation of Babylonian religion has suffered grievously.

  • 3.

    Is it possible that the original difference between the Zi and the Lil was that the one term was used at Eridu the other at Nippur, the meaning being pretty much the same in both cases? Unfortunately we have no materials at present for answering the question.

  • 4.

    WAI. ii. 55. 43, 58. 57; iii. 67. 156.

  • 5.

    Her assignment as a wife to the sun-god of Kis or to Nin-ip of Nippur belongs to a later period; see my Hibbert Lectures, p. 263.

  • 6.

    Originally, however, she had been merely a spirit in the form of a heifer; WAI. ii. 62. 45, where “the ship of Bau” is called “the ship of the holy cow.” The name is doubtless Sumerian, and it seems to be the origin of the Baau of Phœnician cosmology, which asserted that the first men, Æôn and Protogonos, were born of “the wind Kolpia and his wife Baau, which is interpreted Night” (Eusebius, Præpar. Evang. i. 10). Baau is probably the Hebrew Bohu.

  • 7.

    See my Hibbert Lectures, pp. 262, 374, 375. Ê-kur, “the house of the earth,” was the name of the temple of En-lil at Nippur. It was the abode of the “lord of the spirits” of the earth and the underworld.

  • 8.

    She is called “the handmaid of the spirit of E-kura” (WAI. ii. 54. 18). The “spirit of E-kura” is En-lil, whose temple E-kura was, and consequently the title identifies her with the kiel lilla, or “handmaid of the Lil,” who eventually became the Lilith of Jewish folk-lore.

  • 9.

    Hence in the hymn which describes the oracular tree of Eridu (WAI. v. 15*) the “couch” of Ea is called “the bed of Zi-Kum” in “the central place of the earth.”

  • 10.

    See my Hibbert Lectures on the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, pp. 374, 375.

  • 11.

    Similarly, as I first indicated in my Hibbert Lectures (p. 132), the first two antediluvian kings of Babylonia given by Berossos do not belong to the original list, but have been prefixed to it when Babylon became the leading city of the country, and it was accordingly necessary to make it the capital of the kingdom from the very beginning of time. It is worth notice that, just as the first two antediluvian Babylonian kings are a later addition to the original list, so the first two antediluvian patriarchs in the Book of Genesis seem to have been added to the original eight. Adam and Enos are synonyms like Cainan and Cain, for whom Seth, the Sutu or Bedâwin (Num. xxiv. 17), was substituted. In the Babylonian list, Amelon or Amilu, “man,” corresponds with Enos, just as Ammenon (Ummanu, “the craftsman”) corresponds with Cainan or Cain, “the smith.” For both the Babylonian and the Hebrew, man in the abstract was followed immediately by civilised man.

  • 12.

    The Igigi are represented ideographically by v + ii (the ideograph of plurality). Perhaps, therefore, they were originally the spirits of the five planets duplicated according to their appearance in the evening and morning. If the opinion of Pognon (L' Inscription de Bavian, i. p. 25) could be sustained that the original ideograph was really vii and not v + ii, we should have a better explanation of them as the seven planets which, in Chaldæan astronomy, included the sun and moon. The meaning of the name is unknown. Guyard's supposition, that it is derived from the Assyrian agâgu, “to be angry” (not “to be strong,” as he imagined), is devoid of probability. In K 2100, col. Iv., it is also written Igâgâ, and explained by isartum, “justice,” or “straight direction.” In WAI. ii. 35. 37, the NUN-GAL (pronounced Kisagal) is called the Rîbu which Jensen would connect with the Hebrew Rahab.

  • 13.

    The divine “lord” of a place or territory, such as is met with in a South Arabian or Phœnician inscription, is totally different from the lord, of the ghost-world at Nippur. The one was master of a definite territory on the surface of the earth, the other was a spirit ruling over other spirits in an underground world. The two conceptions have nothing in common with one another.

  • 14.

    The evidence that has since come to light shows that I was wrong in my Hibbert Lectures (pp. 110, 193) in supposing that the origin of the triad was purely Sumerian. It was really due to the fusion of the Sumerian and Semitic elements in the official Babylonian religion. Possibly the astronomical triad of the sun, moon, and evening star may have suggested the artificial grouping of the gods of the three great seats of religious culture, but that was all. The origin of the triad must be sought in geography, or rather in the fact that Ana, En-lil, and Ea represented the three chief sanctuaries and centres of religious influence in Babylonia. I have already pointed out (Hibbert Lectures, p. 192) that from the fact that Ana is the first of the triad we may infer that the whole doctrine originated in the theological school of Erech. Erech, in fact, was the meeting-place of the Semite and Sumerian, where the Semitic influence first found itself supreme. The Baal of historical Semitic religion was a sky-god, despite Robertson Smith's ingenious philological attempts to find a terrestrial source for him.

  • 15.

    Cf. Hommel, Aufsätze und Abhandlungen, ii. pp. 149-165. Hommel has proved, with the help of the Minæan inscriptions, that primitive Semitic religion consisted of moon and star worship, the moon-god Athtar and an “angel” god standing at the head of the pantheon, while the sun-goddess was attached to them as daughter or wife. The supreme Baal of the Western Semites was thus originally the moon-god, a fact that throws light on his cult at Ur and Harran, which lay outside Babylonia proper, and were inhabited by a large Weat Semitic population.

  • 16.

    Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, p. 74.

  • 17.

    The name of the Edomite king Â-rammu in the time of Sennacherib shows that the name and worship of  had been carried to the West. Compare also the name of Ehud (Judg. iii. 15).  seems to have been a title signifying “the father,” the actual Sumerian name of the deity being Sirrigam (see my Hibbert Lectures, p. 178).

  • 18.

    For the absorption by Hadad of the Sumerian god of the air, Meri or Mermer, the divine patron of the city of Muru, my Hibbert Lectures, p. 202 sqq., may be consulted. Gubára, “the lady of the plain,” was apparently originally the wife of Meri; when Meri passed into Hadad, Gubára necessarily became the wife of the latter, “the lord of the mountain,” as he was called. As Hadad was already provided with a wife, Sala, the next step was to identify Sala and Gubára. Properly speaking, Gubára represented the Canaanitish goddess Ashêrah, Asirtum in Babylonian: see Reisner, “Sumerisch-babylonische Hymnen nach Thontafeln griechischer Zeit,” in the Mittheilungen aus den orientalischen Sammlungen zu Berlin, x. p. 139, where the Sumerian Martue mulu Kharsagga-ga Gubarra gasan gu-edin is translated Amurru bel sadî Asratum belit tseri, “the Amorite god (Hadad), the lord of the mountain; Asratum (Ashêrah), the lady of the plain.”

  • 19.

    The triad of Athtar, the moon-god and the “angel-messenger,” which Hommel has shown to be presupposed in the South Arabian inscriptions, was due to the influence of Babylonian culture. This is made clear by the Babylonian name of the moon-god, Sin, in the inscriptions of Hadhramaut, and of Anbây, i.e. Nebo, in those of Katabân. On the other hand, the addition of the sun-goddess to the triad is purely Semitic.