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Lecture 6: Cosmologies

MAN was made in the likeness of the gods, and, conversely, the gods are in the likeness of man. This belief lies at the root of the theology of Semitic Babylonia, and characterises its conception of divinity. It follows from it that the world which we see has come into existence like the successive generations of mankind or the products of human art. It has either been begotten by the creator, or it has been formed out of pre-existing materials. It did not come into being of itself; it is no fortuitous concurrence of atoms; no self-evolved product out of nothing, or the result of continuous development and evolution. The doctrines of spontaneous generation and of development are alike foreign to Babylonian religious thought. That demanded a creator who was human in his attributes and mode of work, who could even make mistakes and experiments, and so call into existence imperfect or monstrous forms which further experience was needed to rectify. There was an earlier as well as a later creation, the unshapely brood of chaos as well as the more perfect creations of the gods of light.

As we have seen, the culture of primitive Babylonia radiated from two main centres, the sanctuary of Nippur in the north, and the seaport of Eridu in the south. The one was inland, the other maritime; and what I may term the geographical setting of the two streams of culture varied accordingly. The great temple of Nippur was known as Ê-kur, “the house of the mountain-land”; it was a model of the earth, which those who built it believed to be similarly shaped, and to have the form of a mountain whose peak penetrated the clouds. Its supreme god was the lord of the nether earth, his subjects were the demons of the underworld, and the theology of his priests was associated with sorcery and witchcraft, and with invocations to the spirits who ruled over the world of the dead.

Eridu, on the contrary, was the dwelling-place of the god of the deep. Its temple, Ê-Saggila, “the house of the high head,” was, we are told, “in the midst” of the encircling ocean on which the whole earth rested, and in it was the home of Ea, “the lord of the holy mound.”1 Its god was the author of Babylonian writing and civilisation, and his son and interpreter was Aśari, “the benefactor of man.” While the theology of Nippur concerned itself with the dead, that of Eridu was preeminently occupied with the living. Aśari is invoked as the god who raised the dead to life, and the arts which make life pleasant were the gifts of Ea himself. It is perhaps not without reason that, while En-lil of Nippur appears as the destroyer of mankind, Ea is their creator and instructor. He not only created them, but he taught them how to live, and provided for them the spells and remedies which could heal the sick and ward off death.

Like Khnum of Egypt, he was called “the potter,” for he had moulded mankind from the clay which his waters formed on the shores of the Persian Gulf.2 Nor was it mankind only that was thus made. The whole world of created things had been similarly moulded; the earth and all that dwelt upon it had risen out of the sea. The cosmology of Eridu thus made water the origin of all things; the world we inhabit has sprung from the deep, which still encircles it like a serpent with its coils.

But the deep over which the creator-god presided was a deep which formed part of that orderly framework of nature wherein the gods of light bear rule, and which obeys laws that may not be broken. It is not the deep where the spirit of chaos held sway, and of which she was an impersonation; that was a deep without limits or law, whose only progeny was a brood of monsters. Between the deep of Ea and the chaos of Tiamât the cosmology of historical Babylonia drew a sharp line of distinction; the one excluded the other, and it was not until the deep of Tiamât had been, as it were, overcome and placed within bounds, that the deep wherein Ea dwelt was able to take its place.

The two conceptions are antagonistic one to the other, and can hardly be explained, except on the supposition that they belong to two different schools of thought, The brood of Tiamât, it must be remembered, were once the subjects of En-lil of Nippur, and the Anunna-ki, or “spirits of the earth,” though they became the orderly ministers of the gods of light, nevertheless continued to have their dwelling-place in the underground world, and to serve its mistress Allat. The motley host that followed Tiamât in her contest with Bel-Merodach were essentially the ghosts and goblins of the theology of Nippur; and it is with the latter, therefore, that we must associate the theory of the divine world with which they are connected. The world of Nippur was a world from which the sea was excluded; it was a world of plain and mountain, and of the hollow depths which lay beneath the surface of the earth. The cosmology of Nippur would naturally concern itself with the land rather than with the sea; the earth and not the water would have been the first in order of existence, and habitation of the gods would be sought on the summit of a Mount Olympus rather than in the depths of an encircling ocean.3

In the chaos of Tiamât, accordingly, I see the last relics of a cosmology which emanated from Nippur, and was accepted wherever the influence of Nippur prevailed. It has been modified by the cosmological ideas of Eridu; and in the story of the struggle between Tiamât and Merodach an attempt has been made to harmonise the two conflicting conceptions of the universe, and to weld them into a compact whole. The world of Tiamât has first been transformed into a watery abyss like that which the theologians of Eridu believed to be the origin of the universe, and then has been absorbed by the deep over which Ea held sway. The creator Ea has taken the place of the spirit of destruction, the culture-god of the dragon of darkness.

But a curious legend, which has been much misunderstood, still preserves traces of the old cosmology of the great sanctuary of Northern Babylonia. It describes the war made against a king of Babylonia by the powers of darkness, the gnome-like beings who dwelt “in the ground,” where Tiamât had suckled them, and where they had multiplied in the cavernous depths of a mountain land. They were, we are told, composite monsters, “warriors with the bodies of birds, men with the faces of ravens,” over whom ruled a king and his wife and their seven sons.4 Year after year the war continued, and, in spite of charms and incantations, host after host sent forth from Akkad was annihilated by the unclean and superhuman enemy. The Babylonian king was in despair; in vain he appealed to the gods, and declared how “terror and night, death and plague, earthquake, fear and horror, hunger, famine, and destruction,” had come upon his unfortunate people. “The plain of Akkad” seemed about to become the prey of the demons of the night. How it was rescued from the danger that threatened it we do not know; the story is unfortunately broken, and the end of it has not been found. But the origin and character of the superhuman enemy is not difficult to discover; their dwelling-place is in the tomb-like recesses of the mountains, their mother was Tiamât herself, and they have the monstrous shapes of the ghosts and spirits of the ancient animism of Nippur.5

The legend was fitly preserved in the sanctuary of Nergal, the god of the dead, at Kutha. It too has undergone the harmonising process of later times: the cosmologies of Nippur and Eridu are again set in antagonism, one against the other, and there is a first creation as well as a second engaged in the same struggle as that which under a different form is described in the legends of Eridu and Babylon. But the antagonists in it are alike the inhabitants of the dry land; there is no watery abyss from which they have sprung, whether it be the chaotic deep of Tiamât or the ocean home of the god of culture. The conceptions on which it rests belong to the inland plain of Babylonia rather than to the shores of the sea. Influenced though it has been by the cosmology of Eridu, the elements of which it is composed go back to an inland and not to a maritime State.

It will be seen that our knowledge of the cosmology of Nippur is still scanty and uncertain. The world which it presupposed had the form of a mountain, on the peak of which the gods lived among the clouds of heaven, while the cavernous depths below it were peopled with hosts of spirits and demons, the shades of the dead and the ghosts of a primitive animism. There was no encircling ocean, no abysmal deep on which it floated, and from which it had been produced. What its origin, however, was believed to be we do not yet know, or to what creative Zi or Lil it was held to owe its existence. For an answer to these questions we must wait until the ancient libraries of Nippur have been thoroughly excavated and explored.6

It is otherwise with the cosmology of Eridu. We know a good deal about it, thanks to the theologians of Babylon, whose god Merodach was the successor and representative of the god of Eridu. It is true that its form has been changed and modified in part for the greater glory of Merodach and his city, that Merodach has even taken the place of Ea as the creator, and that the cosmology of Nippur—or at all events of a similar school of thought—has been combined with that of Eridu, with the result that there are two creations, the first chaotic, and the second that of the present world. But it is still easy to disentangle the earlier from the later elements in the story, and to separate what is purely Babylonian from what belongs to Eridu.

One of the versions of the story that have come down to us has been preserved in a spell, of which, like verses of the Bible in modern times, it has been used to form a part. Its antiquity is shown by the fact that it is written in the ancient language of Sumer. It is thus that it begins—

“No holy house, no house of the gods in a holy place had as yet been built,

no reed had grown, no tree been planted,

no bricks bad been made, no structure formed,

no house had been built, no city founded,

no city built where living things could dwell.

Nippur was unbuilt, its temple of Ê-kur was unerected;

Erech was unbuilt, its temple of Ê-ana was unerected;7

the deep sea was uncreated, Eridu unbuilt.

The site of (its) holy house, the house of the gods, existed not,

all the earth was sea,

while in the midst of the sea was a water-course.

In those days was Eridu built and the temple of Ê-Saggil founded,

Ê-Saggil wherein dwells the divine king of the holy mound

in the midst of the deep;—

Babylon was built, Ê-Saggil completed;—

the spirits of the earth were created together,

they called it by the mighty name of the holy city, the seat of their well-being.8

Merodach9 tied (reeds) together to form a weir in the water,

he made dust and mixed it with the reeds of the weir,

that the gods might dwell in the seat of (their) well-being.10

Mankind he created,—

the goddess Aruru created the seed of mankind with him,11

the cattle of the field, the living creatures in the field, he created;

the Tigris and Euphrates he made, and set them in their place,

giving them good names.

Moss and seed-plant of the marsh, reed and rush he created,

he created the green herb of the field,

the earth, the marsh, the jungle,

the cow and its young, the calf, the sheep and its young,

the lamb of the fold,

the grove and the forest,

the goat, (and) the gazelle multiplied (?) for him.

Bel-Merodach12 filled a space at the edge of the sea,

[there] he made an enclosure of reeds,

he constructed [a site?],

he created [the reeds], he created the trees,

he laid [a platform] in the place,

[he moulded bricks], the structure he formed;

[he built houses], he founded cities,

[cities he founded and] filled them with living things;

Nippur he built, Ê-kur he erected,

Erech he built, Ê-ana he erected,13

[the deep he created, Eridu he built].”

It is evident that the poem was written by one who lived on the marshy shores of the Persian Gulf, and had watched how land could be formed by tying the reeds in bundles and building with them a weir. It was in this way that the first cultivators of Eridu protected their fields from the tide, or reclaimed the land from the sea. None but those who had actually seen the process could have devised a cosmology which thus applied it to the creation of the world. To the question—“How did this world come into existence?” the primitive inhabitant of Eridu seemed to have a ready answer: he too was able to create new land, out of which the rush and the herb could grow, where the cattle could be pastured, and the house built. What he could do, the gods had doubtless done at the beginning of time; all things must have come from the primeval deep, and the earth itself was but an islet rescued from the tides and created by obstructing their ebb and flow.

But it is also evident that the old poem has been revised and re-edited by the priesthood of Babylon. Ê-Saggil, the temple of Bel-Merodach of Babylon, has been confounded with the earlier Ê-Saggil of Eridu, and the creator-god Ea has been supplanted by Merodach. The supplanter, however, cannot conceal his foreign origin. The “enclosure” or “dwelling-place,” “at the edge of the sea,” must have been made in the first instance by the god of the deep, not by the sun-god of Babylon. Merodach had nothing to do with the sea and marshland, with cities that stood on the margin of the ocean, or reeds that grew by its shores. He was the god of an inland city, and he symbolised the sun and not the sea.

It is possible that even before its alteration at the hands of the theologians of Babylon, the old cosmological poem of Eridu had been modified in accordance with the requirements of a theology which resulted from a fusion of Sumerian and Semitic ideas. The doctrine of the triad is already presupposed by it; Nippur, Erech, and Eridu, with their sanctuaries of Bel, Anu, and Ea, already represent Babylonia, and the temples of Bel and Anu even take precedence of that of Ea. At the same time the parallelism between Nippur and Erech on the one side, and Eridu on the other, is imperfect. The uncreated “deep,” on the margin of which Eridu stood, has nothing corresponding with it in the two preceding lines, while the place of the temples of Nippur and Erech is occupied by the name of the city of Eridu. It seems clear that the reference to the two great sanctuary-cities of Northern and Central Babylonia is an interpolation, which breaks and injures the sense. Originally, we may conclude, the poem named Eridu only; its author knew nothing of the other shrines of Babylonia; for him the temple of Ea at Eridu was the house of all “the gods.”

Ea, under the mask of Merodach, is the creator of mankind, as of all things else. In this act of creation the goddess Aruru is coupled with him; we have no materials at present for explaining why she should have been introduced, or whether the introduction formed part of the original legend. It is not the only passage, however, in which she appears as a creatress. According to the Epic of Gilgames, she had created the great hero of Babylonia, and it was she also who moulded Ea-bani, the companion of Gilgames, out of clay which she had kneaded with her hands. Like Ea, therefore, she was a modeller in clay, and there was good reason for associating her with the divine potter who had made man. Had she been a god she would doubtless have been identified with him; as it was, she had to remain his companion and associate, whose name could not be forgotten even by a worshipper of Ea. Probably she was the goddess of some Babylonian city where she played the part that Ea played at Eridu; it may be that her sanctuary was at Marad, which claimed, as it would seem, to be the birthplace of Gilgames.

The name of the first man was Adapa, “the son of Eridu.” Ea had created him without a helpmeet; he had endowed him with wisdom and knowledge, but had denied to him the gift of immortality. Each day he baked the bread and poured pure water into the bowl; at night he drew the bolts of the gates of Eridu, and at dawn he sailed forth in his bark to fish in the waters of the Persian Gulf. Once, so the story ran, the south wind upset his skiff, and in revenge he broke its wings. But the south wind was a servant of Anu, and the god of the sky demanded the punishment of the daring mortal. Ea, however, intervened to save the man he had created. He clad Adapa in a mourner's robe, and showed him the road to heaven, telling him what he was to do in the realm of Anu, but forbidding him to eat or drink there. The gate of heaven was guarded by the gods Tammuz and Nin-gis-zida, who asked him the meaning of the mourner's garment which he wore.14 When he answered that it was for their own selves, because they had vanished from the earth, their hearts were softened, and they became his intercessors with Anu. Anu listened, and forgave; but that a mortal man should behold the secrets of heaven and earth was so contrary to right, that he ordered the food and water of life to be offered him. Adapa, however, remembered the commands of Ea, and, unlike the biblical Adam, refused the food of immortality. Man remained mortal, and it was never again in his power to eat of the tree of life. But in return, sovereignty and dominion were bestowed upon him, and Adapa became the father of mankind.

The legend is a Babylonian attempt to explain the existence of death. It is like, and yet unlike, the story in Genesis. The biblical Adam lost the gift of immortality because his desire to become as God, knowing good and evil, had caused him to be driven from the Paradise in which grew the tree of life. Adapa, on the other hand, was already endowed with knowledge by his creator Ea, and his loss of immortality was due, not to his disobedience, but to his obedience to the commands of the god. Adam was banished from the Garden of Eden, “lest he should put forth his hand and take of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever”; while in the Babylonian legend it was Anu himself who was reluctant that one who had entered the gate of heaven should remain a mere mortal man. Babylonian polytheism allowed the existence of divided counsels among the gods; the monotheism of Israel made this impossible. There was no second Yahveh to act in contradiction to the first; Yahveh was at once the creator of man and the God of heaven, and there was none to dispute His will. There is no room for Anu in the Book of Genesis; and as Ea, the creator of Adapa, was unwilling that the man he had created should become an immortal god, so Yahveh, the creator of Adam, similarly denied to him the food of immortal life.

That there is a connection between the Biblical story and the Babylonian legend is, however, rendered certain by the geography of the Biblical Paradise. It was a garden in the land of Eden, and Edin was the Sumerian name of the “plain” of Babylonia in which Eridu stood. Two of the rivers which watered it were the Tigris and Euphrates, the two streams, in fact, which we are specially told had been created and named by Ea at the beginning of time. Indeed, the name that is given to the Tigris in the Book of Genesis is its old Sumerian title, which survived in later days only in the religious literature. Even the strange statement that “a river went out of Eden,” which “was parted and became into four heads,” is explained by the cuneiform texts. The Persian Gulf was called “the Salt River,” and, thanks to its tides, was regarded as the source of the four streams which flowed into it from their “heads” or springs in the north. On early Babylonian seals, Ea, the god of the sea, is depicted as pouring sometimes the four rivers, sometimes only the Tigris and Euphrates, from a vase that he holds in his hands. Years ago I drew attention to a Sumerian hymn in which reference is made to the garden and sacred tree of Eridu, the Babylonian Paradise in the plain of Eden. Dr. Pinches has since discovered the last line of the hymn, in which the picture is completed by a mention of the rivers which watered the garden on either side. It is thus that the text reads—

“In Eridu a vine15 grew over-shadowing; in a holy place was it brought forth;

its root was of bright lapis, set in the world beneath.

The path of Ea was in Eridu,16 teeming with fertility.

His seat (there) is the centre of the earth;

his couch is the bed of the primeval mother.17

Into the heart of its holy house, which spreads its shade like a forest, hath no man entered.

In its midst is Tammuz,

between the mouths of the rivers on both sides.”18

The sacred tree of the garden of Eridu was, however, not the tree of life. It was rather the tree of knowledge. This is shown by an inscription of Eri-Aku or Arioch, in which he describes himself as “the executor of the oracle of the sacred tree of Eridu.” Perhaps it is to the same tree that reference is made in a magical text, in which a man possessed of “the seven evil spirits” is healed with the help of “the tree which shatters the power of the incubus, and upon whose core the name of Ea is recorded.”19 But Ea was not only the god of wisdom, he was also the god of “life,” and the trees of both wisdom and life might therefore be fitly placed under his protection.

When Babylon became the supreme head of Babylonia under Khammurabi and his successors, the creative functions of Ea were usurped by Merodach. A long poem celebrating the glories and power of Merodach, his struggle with chaos and creation of the world, and, finally, his formal investiture with the names and prerogatives of Ea, has been preserved to us in part. Ever since its discovery by Mr. George Smith it has been known as the Epic of the Creation, and the parallelism between the first tablet composing it and the first chapter of Genesis has long attracted attention. But the poem is of late date. It belongs to an age of religious syncretism and materialistic philosophy; the mythological beings of popular belief are resolved into cosmological principles, and the mythological dress in which they appear has a theatrical effect. The whole poem reminds us of the stilted and soulless productions of the eighteenth century, in which commonplace ideas and a prosaic philosophy masquerade as Greek nymphs or Roman gods. It is only here and there, as in the description of the contest with Tiamât, or in the concluding lines,—if, indeed, they belong to the poem at all,—that it rises above the level of dull mediocrity.

But mediocre as it may be from a literary point of view, it is of considerable value to the student of Babylonian cosmology. The author is fortunately not original, and his materials, therefore, have been drawn from the folk-lore or the theology of the past. A welcome commentary on the first tablet has been preserved, moreover, in the Problems and Solutions of First Principles, written by the philosopher Damascius, the contemporary of Justinian, whose accuracy and acquaintance with Babylonian sources it proves. Unfortunately the tablet is broken, and the final lines of it are consequently lost—

“When above unnamed was the heaven,

the earth below by a name was uncalled,

the primeval deep was their begetter,

the chaos of Tiamât was the mother of them all.

Their waters were embosomed in one place,

the corn-stalk was ungathered, the marsh-plant ungrown.

At that time the gods had not appeared, any one of them,

by no name were they called, no destiny [had they fixed].

Then were the [primeval] gods created,

Lakhmu and Lakhamu came forth [the first].

Until they grew up …

Ansar and Kisar were created …

Long were the days …

Ann [Bel and Ea were made].”

To the Babylonian, name and existence were one and the same. Nothing could exist unless it had a name, and whatever had a name necessarily existed. That the heaven and earth were unnamed, therefore, was equivalent to saying that they were not yet in being. The words with which the Book of Genesis begins are a curious contradiction of the statement of the Babylonian cosmologist. But the contradiction illustrates the difference between the Hebrew and the Babylonian points of view. The Hebrew was not only a monotheist; he believed also that everything, even from the beginning, had been made by the one supreme God; the Babylonian, on the contrary, started with a materialistic philosophy. There are no gods at the outset; the gods themselves have been created like other things; all that existed at first was a chaos of waters. The Babylonian cosmology is that of Genesis without the first verse.

The word I have rendered “chaos” is mummu. Damascius explains it as νοητὸς κόσμος, “the world of thought” or “ideas.” It is a world which has as yet no outward form or content, a world without matter, or perhaps more probably a world in which matter is inseparable from thought. And for this reason it is formless; matter as yet had assumed no shape, there is no single part of it which is so defined and separated from the rest as to receive a name and thereby to exist. There is nothing but a dark and formless deep, which can be imagined but not pictured or described.

The chaos, however, is a chaos of waters. Once more, therefore, we are taken back to Eridu and the shores of the Persian Gulf, and to the cosmology which saw in the water the origin of all things. But the cosmology itself has been strangely changed. There is no longer a creator god, no longer an Ea, who, like Yahveh, existed before creation, and to whom the earth and its inhabitants owe their existence. He has been swept aside, and an atheistic philosophy has taken his place. The mythological garb of the larger part of the poem cannot disguise the materialism of its preface; in the later tablets of it Tiamât may once more be the dragon of popular imagination, but the first tablet is careful to explain that this is but an adaptation to folk-lore and legend, and that Tiamât is really what her name signifies, the chaos of waters.

The process of creation is conceived of under the Semitic form of generation. The Deep and the chaos of waters become male and female principles, from whom other pairs are generated. The process of generation easily passed into the emanation of the Gnostic systems of theosophy under the influence of Greek metaphysics. But the poet of Babylon remained true to his Semitic point of view; for him creation is a process of generation rather than of emanation; and though the divine or superhuman beings of the old mythology have become mere primordial elements, they are still male and female, begetting children like men and gods.

To find the elemental deities or principles that could thus form links in the chain of evolution, it was necessary to fall back on the spirits or ghosts of the early Sumerian cult who were essentially material in their nature, and had nothing in common with the Semitic Baal. Lakhmu and his consort were part of the monstrous brood of Tiamât; they represented the first attempts to give form and substance to the universe. But the form was still chaotic and immature, suitably symbolised by beings, half human and half bestial, which had descended to Semitic Babylonia from Sumerian animism, and whose memory was kept alive by religious art.

Lakhmu and Lakhamu were followed by An-sar and Ki-sar, the upper and lower firmament. The one originally denoted the spirit-world of the sky, the other the spirit-world of the earth.20 They were not gods in the Semitic sense of the term. But the Babylonian theologians transformed them into abstractions, or rather into Platonic archetypes of the heaven and earth. Their appearance meant that the world had at last taken form and substance; the reign of chaos was over, and limits had been set which should never again be overpassed. The earth and the sky bounded and defined one another; the age of formlessness was ended, and an orderly universe was being prepared fit to receive the present creation.

But the work of preparation was a long one, and not until it was finished could the gods of Semitic Babylonia be born. But even they have ceased to be gods for the philosophic cosmologist. They are replaced and represented by the triad of Anu, Bel, and Ea, who thus become mere symbols of the sky, the earth, and the water, the elements which Babylonian philosophy regarded as constituting the present world. Doubtless, did we possess the rest of the tablet, we should read how the other “great gods” were sprung from them.

The later tablets of the Epic, which are devoted to the glorification of Merodach, are for the most part of little interest for the cosmologist. They describe at wearisome length and with tedious reiteration the challenge of Tiamât to the gods, the arming of Merodach, and his victory over the dragon. Religions and mythological conceptions of all kinds have been laid under contribution, and confusedly mingled together. It was necessary that Merodach, the supreme god of Babylon, should have been the creator of the world; and it was therefore also necessary that the creative acts of the other creator gods of Babylonia should be transferred to him, however diverse they may have been. Hence, in the course of the poem, Merodach is described as destroying and creating by his word alone,—a cosmological conception which reminds us of that of the Egyptian school of Hermopolis, while after the destruction of Tiamât he is said to have cut her in half like a flat fish, forming the canopy of heaven with one half, above which the “fountains of the great deep” were kept firmly barred. This is in flagrant contradiction with the cosmogony of the Introduction, but it is probable that it was derived from Nippur, where En-lil was perhaps described as creating the heavens and earth in a similar fashion. When the creative functions of En-lil were usurped by Merodach, the old myth was transferred to the god of Babylon; and accordingly, in the pæan which seems to form the end of the Epic, Bel of Nippur is declared to have bestowed upon Merodach his name of “lord of the earth,” and therewith the powers and functions which accompanied it.

The struggle between Tiamât, the dragon of darkness, and Merodach, the god of light, must originally have symbolised the dispersion of the black rain-cloud and raging tempest by the rays of the sun. But the author of the poem evidently regards it from a cosmological point of view. For him it is the victory of order over chaos, of the present creation over the formless world of the past, and of fixed law over anarchy and confusion. The conception of a law, governing the universe and unable to be broken, lay deep in the Babylonian mind. Even the gods could not escape it; they too had to submit to that inexorable destiny which distinguished the world in which we live from the world of chaos. All they could do was to interpret and reveal the decrees of fate; the decrees themselves were unalterable. It was not Bel who issued them; they were contained in the tablets of destiny which he wore on his breast as the symbol of his supremacy, and which enabled him to predict the future. These were, indeed, the Urim and Thummim which, like the high priest of Israel, he was privileged to consult.21 What they did was not to make him the arbiter of fortune, but its interpreter and seer. He learned from them how the laws of the universe were going to work, what destiny had in store for it, and how, therefore, it was needful to act. It does not even seem that his prevision extended beyond a year; at all events, when Bel of Nippur had yielded up his rights to Bel of Babylon, we are told that the latter had to sit each New Year's day in the mystic “chamber of the fates,” determining the destiny of mankind during the ensuing year.

The victory over Tiamât was followed by the assignment of particular posts in the sky to Anu, Bel, and Ea. This again harmonises but ill with the cosmology of the preface to the poem; but the astronomers had long since divided the heaven between the gods of the Babylonian triad, and the honour of first doing so is accordingly assigned to Merodach. Then comes an account of the creation of the heavenly bodies—

“He prepared the stations of the great gods;

the stars corresponding to them he established as constellations;

he made known the year, and marked out the signs of the zodiac.

Three stars he assigned to each of the 12 months,

from the beginning of the year till (its) close.

He established the station of Jupiter that they might know their bounds,

that they should not sin, should not go astray, any one of them.

The stations of Bel and Ea he fixed along with it.

He opened gates on both sides,

he strengthened (their) bolts on the left hand and the right;

in the middle he set a staircase.22

He made the moon appear illuminating the night;

he established it as the luminary of night that the days might be known.”

Here it will be noticed that, as in Genesis, the heavenly bodies are regarded as already in existence. What the creator did was to establish them in their stations, and appoint them to mark and register time. In fact, as soon as Ansar—the upper firmament—appeared, they appeared also, though in an embryonic form. Merodach is thus an arranger rather than a creator, the founder of astronomy and the calendar rather than the maker of the stars. It is significant, however, that there is no reference to the sun; the sun-god could hardly fix for himself the laws he had to obey.

It has usually been supposed that the account of the orderly arrangement of the stars was followed by that of the creation of animals. But the tablet on which the latter is found is a mere fragment, and Professor Zimmern may be right in thinking that it belongs to a different story of the creation. At any rate, the creation in it is assigned to “the gods” generally “in their assembly” rather than to Merodach alone. On the other hand, as we have seen, the author of the Epic did not hesitate to introduce into it cosmological myths and ideas which agreed but badly together, and it is not likely that he would have omitted to notice the creation of animate things.

But a description of the creation of the world, or even of the great struggle between the gods of light and the dragon of darkness, was not the main purpose of the Babylonian poem. This was the glorification of the god of Babylon. The story of the creation was introduced into it because it was necessary that the supreme god of the universe should also be its creator, and it was for the same reason that the overthrow of the powers of darkness and anarchy was assigned to Merodach alone. He usurped and absorbed the prerogatives and attributes of the older gods; their virtues, as it were, passed to him along with their sovereignty and kingdom. The fact is very plainly expressed in what appears to be the concluding tablet of the Epic. Here the names, and therewith the essential natures, of the other deities are formally handed over to Bel-Merodach of Babylon. Henceforward he is acknowledged in heaven as well as in earth, the supreme Bel or Baal of Semitic faith, the father of gods and men. Ea, the lord of the deep, and Bel of Nippur, “the lord of the earth,” alike yield up to him their powers; he assumes their names and titles; and, thanks to the centralising influence of Babylon, Babylonian religion approaches monotheism as nearly as its local character ever allowed it to do. The creator alone could rightfully claim the worship of the creatures he had made.

But it was an approach merely; the final step was never taken, even by the more speculative theologians of Babylonia, which swept away the polytheism of the local cults, and left Merodach without a rival.

Herein lies the great contrast between the Babylonian and the Hebrew conceptions of the creation. The Hebrew cosmology starts from the belief in one God, beside whom there is none else, whether in the orderly world of to-day or in the world of chaos that preceded it. On its forefront stand the words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” There was chaos, it was true, but it was a chaos which had no existence apart from God, who was its absolute master to carve and fashion as He would. The deep, too, was there; but the deep was neither the impersonation of Tiamât nor the realm of Ea; the breath of the one God brooded over it, awaiting the time when the creative word should be uttered, and the breath of God should become the life of the world. The elements, indeed, of the Hebrew cosmology are all Babylonian; even the creative word itself was a Babylonian conception, as the story of Merodach has shown us; but the spirit that inspires the cosmology is the antithesis of that which inspires the cosmologies of Babylonia. Between the polytheism of Babylonia and the monotheism of Israel a gulf is fixed which cannot be spanned.

The Babylonian Epic of the Creation, as we may continue to call it, sums up and incorporates the various cosmological systems and fancies that had been current in the country. They are thrown into a mythological form with a philosophical introduction. We may therefore regard it as embodying the latest and most fully elaborated attempt of the Babylonian mind to explain the origin of things. It is probably not much older than the age of the Second Assyrian empire, though the materials out of which it has been composed go back to the earliest days of Babylonian antiquity. But it exemplifies the three principles or fundamental ideas upon which Babylonian cosmology rested—the belief that water is the primal element, the belief in a lawless chaos from which the present world has, as it were, been rescued after a long and fierce struggle between the powers of darkness and light, and a belief in generation as the primary creative force. The doctrine that in water we must see the source of all things—a doctrine that made its way through the cosmologies of Phœnicia and Israel into that of the Greek philosopher Thales—can be traced back to the days when Eridu was the seaport of Babylonia, and its inhabitants reclaimed the marshlands from the sea, and speculated on the origin of the soil on which they dwelt. The belief in the two creations of darkness and light, of confusion and law, may have arisen from the first contact between the teaching of Nippur and that of Eridu, and the endeavour to reconcile the antagonistic conceptions that underlay them, and the contrary systems of creation which they presupposed. The belief, finally, in generation as a motive force was part of the religious heritage that was common to the Semitic race. Semitic religion centred in a divine family which corresponded to the family of the worshipper on earth; the gods were fathers and mothers, and begat children like the human parents, after whom they were modelled. In so far, therefore, as the universe was divine, it too must have been evolved in the same fashion; it was only when it ceased to partake of the divine nature, and to assume its present form, that the god could deal with the materials of which it consisted, as the potter dealt with his clay; or could even create by the simple word of his mouth, like the man who similarly created the names of things, and therewith the things themselves which the names denoted. With the rise of philosophic speculation the process of divine generation became a process of emanation. The gods passed into mere symbols, or rather cosmic principles and elements; they retained, indeed, their double nature as male and female; but that was all. The human element that once was in them disappeared, the concrete became the abstract. Mummu Tiamât was explained as the world of immature ideas,—the simple “apprehension,” we might almost say, of the Hegelian philosophy,—and the first of the “Æons” of the later Gnosticism was thus started on its way. Babylonian religion had been narrowly local and anthropomorphic; under the guidance of a cosmological philosophy it tended to become an atheistic materialism. The poet who wrote the introduction to the Epic of the Creation could have had but little faith in the gods and goddesses he paraded on the scene; in the self-evolved universe of the schools there was hardly room even for the creator Merodach himself.

  • 1.

    Du-azagga. As the “holy mound” was the home of Ea, it follows that it was originally part of the Persian Gulf; on the other hand, the name given to it implies that it resembled a mountain lifting itself up into the sky. The sun rose from it (WAI. v. 50. 5a); hence it must have been the eastern horizon, which, to an inhabitant of Eridu, would have been the horizon of the sea, that ascended towards the heavens like a great mound. A model was made of it, which became the parakku or mercy-seat of Ea in his temple at Eridu. When Eridu and its god were supplanted by Babylon and Bel-Merodach, the Du-azagga was transferred to the latter city and became “the seat of the oracles” in the shrine of Bel-Merodach, “whereon,” according to Nebuchadrezzar, “at the festival of Zagmuku, at the beginning of the year, on the 8th and 11th days, the king of the gods of heaven and earth, Bel, the god, seats himself, while the gods of heaven and earth reverently regard him, standing before him with bowed heads.” When Nebo became the minister of Merodach, he too was addressed as “the god of the holy mound” (WAI. ii. 54. 71), and one of “the three great names of Anu” was said to be “the king who comes forth from the holy mound,” another of the names being “the creator of the heavenly hosts” (WAI. iii. 68. 19, 20). Even Istar, or rather Iskhara, is called “the goddess of the holy mound” (WAI. iii. 68. 27). It may be added that a lexical tablet makes the “holy mound” a synonym of the deep (WAI. v. 41, No. 1).

  • 2.

    WAI. ii. 58. 57. His Sumerian title as the divine potter was Nunurra, which is explained as “god of the pot,” or more literally “lord of the pot” (Brünnow, Classified List, 5895). See Scheil, Recueil de Travaux, xx. p. 125.

  • 3.

    El-lil, it should be noted, was called “the great mountain” (Kur-gal, Sadu-rabu in Semitic), and the name of his temple was Ê-kur, “the house of the mountain.” It is probable that the belief in the Kharsag-kurkurra, or “mountain of the world,” on which the gods lived, originated at Nippur. From Isa. xiv. 13 we gather that it was placed in the north. Nin-lil, the wife of En-lil, is called Nin-kharsag, “the lady of the mountain,” by Samsu-iluna, who describes her as “the mother who created me” (Brit. Mus., pl. 199, l. 41).

  • 4.

    These are the creatures described by Berossos as sprung from the bosom of Tiamât—winged men, with four or two faces, or with the feet of horses and goats; human-headed bulls; dog-headed horses, and the like—which were depicted on the walls of the temple of Bel-Merodach, the successor of Bel of Nippur (Syncell, p. 29; Euseb, Chron. Armen. p. 10, ed. Mai).

  • 5.

    A variant fragment of the legend, as was first recognised by myself in the Proc. SBA. xx. pp. 187–189, was published by Dr. Scheil from an early Babylonian tablet in the Recueil de Travaux, xx. pp. 66, 67.

  • 6.

    An indication may, however, be found in the statement that the Lillum or “Lil” was the “mother-father” of En-lil (WAI. iv. 27. 5), and the further reference to the Zi or “spirit” who was the “mother-father” of En-lil and Nin-lil (WAI. iv. 1. Col. ii. 25–28). The genderless Sumerian knew of no distinction of sex; the creative principle was at once female and male. It will be noticed that the female element takes precedence of the male in contradistinction to Semitic ideas.

  • 7.

    These two lines are an interpolation.

  • 8.

    These three lines have been interpolated.

  • 9.

    The name of Merodach has been substituted for that of Ea.

  • 10.

    A play on the name of Eri-dugga, “the good city.”

  • 11.

    Probably an interpolation.

  • 12.

    Originally Ea.

  • 13.

    These two lines do not belong to the original poem.

  • 14.

    For Tammuz and Nin-gis-zida, see above, p. 350, note. It may be added that in the Maqlû collection of incantation texts, Nin-gis-zida seems to be regarded as a goddess and the consort of Nusku, the fire-god. Nin, in Sumerian, more often signified “lady” than “lord.” It is possible that at Eridu she was held to be the wife of Tammuz.

  • 15.

    Perhaps Hommel is right in translating “palm.”

  • 16.

    Cp. Gen. iii. 8.

  • 17.

    Zikum or Nammu, the abyss, who is called the mother of Ea. Nammu is given as the Sumerian name or title of Zikum in Cuneiform Texts, xii. p. 26, 1. 20.

  • 18.

    See my Hibbert Lectures, p. 238, and Pinches, Journal of the Victoria Institute, xxix. p. 44.

  • 19.

    WAI, iv. 15, Col. ii. 5, 6.

  • 20.

    So in WAI. iv. 25. 49, an-sar ki-sar is translated “the hosts of heaven and earth.” In WAI. v. 43. 27, the Sumerian “the divine scribe, the creator of the hosts of earth,” is paraphrased by the Semitic translator Nabû pakid kissat samê u irtsiti, “Nebo, the captain of the hosts of heaven and earth.” For the Semite, the god he worshipped was lord of the hosts of heaven as well as of the spirits of the earth.

  • 21.

    It is possible that the Hebrew Urim and Thummim were really connected with the Babylonian “tablets of destiny.” The latter were fastened “on the breast,” according to the Epic of the Creation, like the Urim and Thummim of the Israelitish high priest. In WAI. iv. 18, No. 3, Ea describes a sort of magical breastplate, made of gold, which was to be set with precious stones and fastened to the breast. Nine stones are named, which seem to have been carved into figures of the gods, like Egyptian amulets, since they are said to be “the flesh of the gods.” Professor Zimmern even suggests (Beiträge zur Kenntniss der babylonischen Religion, p. 91) that Urim is to be identified with the Assyrian urtu, a synonym of tertu (tôrâh), “instruction” or “law.”

  • 22.

    Compare the “ladder” of Jacob (Gen. xxviii. 12). A similar staircase or ladder is represented on the conical or egg-shaped stone which symbolised the moon-god of Harran (e.g. Lajard, Culte de Mithra, 54, 4).