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Lecture 7: The Sacred Books

EVERY organised religion has had its sacred books. They have been as indispensable to it as an organised priesthood; indeed, Mohammedanism is a proof that the sacred book is more necessary to its existence than even a priesthood. The sacred book binds a religion to its past; it is the ultimate authority to which, in matters of controversy, appeal can be made, for it enshrines those teachings of the past upon which the faith of the present professes to rest. It remains fixed and permanent amid the perpetual flow and ebb of human things; the generations of men pass quickly away, rites and ceremonies change, the meaning of symbols is forgotten, and the human memory is weak and deceitful; but the written word endures, and the changes that pass over it are comparatively few and slight.

Babylonia possessed an organised religion, a religion that was official, and to a large extent the result of an artificial combination of heterogeneous elements; and it too, therefore, necessarily possessed its sacred books. But they differed essentially from the sacred books of ancient Egypt. The Egyptian lived for the future life rather than for the present, and his sacred books were Books of the Dead, intended for the guidance of the disembodied soul in its journey through the other world. The interest and cares of the Babylonian, on the contrary, were centred in the present life. The other world was for him a land of shadow and forgetfulness; a dreary world of darkness and semi-conscious existence to which he willingly closed his eyes. It was in this world that he was rewarded or punished for his deeds, that he had intercourse with the gods of light, and that he was, as is often said in the hymns, “the son of his god.” What he needed, accordingly, from his sacred books was guidance in this world, not in the world beyond the grave.

The sacred books of Babylonia thus fall into three classes. We have, first, the so-called magical texts or incantations, the object of which was to preserve the faithful from disease and mischief, to ward off death, and to defeat the evil arts of the witch and the sorcerer. Secondly, there are the hymns to the gods; and, lastly, the penitential psalms, which resemble in many respects the psalms of the Old Testament, and were employed not only by the individual, but also in seasons of public calamity or dismay. We owe the first discovery of this sacred literature to the genius of François Lenormant; he it was who first drew attention to it and characterised its several divisions. It was François Lenormant, moreover, who pointed out that its nearest analogue was the Hindu Veda, a brilliant intuition which has been verified by subsequent research.

Unfortunately our knowledge of it is still exceedingly imperfect. We are dependent on the fragmentary copies of it which have come from the library of Nineveh, and which resemble the torn leaves, mixed pell-mell together, that alone remain in some Oriental library from vanished manuscripts of the Bible and the Christian Fathers. Until the great libraries of Babylonia itself are thoroughly explored, our analysis and explanation of the sacred literature of the country must be provisional only; the evidence is defective, and the conclusions we draw from it must needs be defective as well.

Moreover, the purely ritual texts, which stand to the hymns in the same relation that the Atharva-Veda stands to the Ṛig-Veda, have as yet been but little examined. Their translation is difficult and obscure, and the ceremonies described in them are but half understood. The ritual, nevertheless, constituted an important part of the sacred literature, and its rubrics were regarded with at least as much reverence as the rubrics of the Anglican Prayer-book. Doubtless the actual words of which they consisted did not possess the same magical or divine power as those of the incantations and hymns, they were not—in modern language—verbally inspired, but they prescribed rites and actions which had quite as divine and authoritative an origin as the hymns themselves. They were, furthermore, the framework in which the hymns and spells were set; and they all formed together a single act of divine worship, the several parts of which could not be separated without endangering the efficacy of the whole.

That the incantations were the older portion of the sacred literature of Chaldæa, was perceived by Lenormant. They go back to the age of animism, to the days when, as yet, the multitudinous spirits and demons of Sumerian belief had not made way for the gods of Semitic Babylonia, or the sorcerer and medicine-man for a hierarchy of priests. Their language as well as their spirit is Sumerian, and the zi or “spirit” of heaven and earth is invoked to repel the attack of the evil ghost, or to shower blessings on the head of the worshipper. They transport us into a world that harmonises but badly with the decorous and orderly realm of the gods of light; it is a world in which the lil and the utuk, the galla, and the ekimmu, reign supreme, and little room seems to be left for the deities of the Semitic faith. The gods themselves, when they are introduced into it, wear a new aspect. Ea is no longer the creator and culture god, but a master of magic spells; and his son Aśari displays his goodness towards mankind by instructing them how to remove the sorceries in which they have been involved, and the witcheries with which they are tormented.

But it must be borne in mind that the incantations do not all belong to the same age. The description I have just given holds good only of the oldest part of them. The Sumerian population continued to exist in Babylonia after the Semitic occupation of the country, and Sumerian animism continued to exist as well. By the side of the higher Semitic faith, with its gods and goddesses, its priesthood and its cult, the ancient belief in sorcery and witchcraft, in spells and incantations, and in the ghost-world of En-lil, flourished among the people. And as in India, where Braḥhmanism has thrown its protection over the older cults and beliefs of the native tribes, assimilating them as far as possible, or explaining them in accordance with the orthodox creed; so too in ancient Babylonia, the primeval animism of the people was tacitly recognised by the religion of the State, and given an official sanction. There was no declaration of hostility towards it such as was made by the religion of Israel; on the contrary, the old incantations were preserved and modernised, and the sanctity with which they had been invested allowed to remain unimpaired. At the same time, they were harmonised, so far as could be, with the official creed. The gods of the State religion were introduced into them, and to these gods appeal was made rather than to “the spirit of heaven” and “the spirit of earth.” The spirits and ghosts of the night existed, indeed, but from henceforth they had to be subservient to the deities of the official faith. It was no longer the medicine-man, but the priest of the Semitic deity, who recited the incantation for the suppliant and the sufferer.

We can almost trace the growth of what I will term the Book of Incantations down to the time when it assumed its final form. It was no Book, however, in the proper sense of the term, and it is doubtful whether all the collections which might have been comprised in it were ever combined together. But it is convenient to speak of it in the singular, so long as we remember that this is merely a mode of speech.

As a matter of fact, each great sanctuary seems to have had its own collection. These were added to from time to time; some of them were amalgamated together, or parts belonging to one collection were incorporated into another. Spells which had been found effective in warding off disease or preventing evil, were introduced into a collection which related to the same subject, whatever may have been their source, and the list of gods invoked was continually being enlarged, in the hope that some one at least among them might give the sufferer relief. The older collections were modified in accordance with the requirements of the State religion, and the animism that inspired them accommodated to the orthodox belief; while new collections came into existence which breathed the later Semitic spirit, and were drawn up under the supervision of the Babylonian priesthood. Hymns and even penitential psalms were embodied in them, like the verses of the Bible or the Qoran, which are still used as charms in Christian and Mohammedan countries; and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the hymn that served merely as an incantation and the hymn that was chanted in the service of the gods. Indeed, incantatory formulæ are not unfrequently intermixed with the words of the hymn or psalm, producing that grotesque and embarrassing medley of exalted spiritual thought and stupid superstition which so often meets us in the religions literature of Babylonia. How late some of the collections are in the history of Babylonian religion, may be judged from the fact that a time came when the old Sumerian language was no longer considered necessary to ensure the efficacy of the charm, and collections of incantations were made in the Semitic language of later Babylonia.

Criticism will hereafter have to sift and distinguish these collections one from the other, and, above all, determine the earlier and later elements contained in each. At present such a task is impossible. Few, if any, of the collections have come down to us in a perfect state; there are many more, doubtless, which future research will hereafter bring to light; and as long as we are dependent solely on the copies made for the library of Nineveh, without being able to compare them with the older texts of the Babylonian libraries, the primary condition of scientific investigation is wanting. Nevertheless there are certain collections which stand out markedly from among the rest. They display features of greater antiquity, and the animism presupposed by them is but thinly disguised. It is comparatively easy to separate in them the newer and older elements, which have little in common with each other. Most of them point to Eridu as the source from which they have been derived, though there are others the origin of which is probably to be sought at Nippur.

In these older incantations the gods of the official cult are absent, except where their names have been violently foisted in at a later date, and their place is taken by the spirits or ghosts of early Sumerian belief. The Zi or “spirit of the sky,” “the spirit of the earth,” “the spirit of Ansar and Kisar,” such are the superhuman powers that are invoked, and to whom the worshipper turns in his extremity. Even when we come across a name that is borne by one of the deities of the later Babylonian religion, we find that it is the name not of a god, but of a denizen of the ghost-world. “O spirit of Zikum, mother of Ea,” we read in one place; “O spirit of Nina, daughter of Ea”; “O spirit, divine lord of the mother-father of Eu-lil; O spirit, divine lady of the mother-father of Nin-lil”; “O spirit of the moon, O spirit of the sun, O spirit of the evening star!” There is as yet neither Bel of Nippur, nor Sin and Samas and Istar; the sorcerer knows only of the spirits that animate the universe, and bring good and evil upon mankind. Nothing can be more striking than the enumeration of the divine powers to whom the prayer is directed, in an incantation of which I have given the translation in my Hibbert Lectures (p. 450 sqq.)—

“Whether it be the spirit of the divine lord of the earths;

or the spirit of the divine lady of the earths;

or the spirit of the divine lord of the stars;

or the spirit of the divine lady of the stars;

or the spirit of the divine lord of progenies;

or the spirit of the divine lady of progenies;

or the spirit of the divine lord of …;

or the spirit of the divine lady of …;

or the spirit of the divine lord of the holy mound (Ea);

or the spirit of the divine lady of the holy mound


or the spirit of the divine lord of the dayspring of life;

or the spirit of the divine lady of the dayspring of life;

or the spirit of the divine chanter of the spirit-hosts


or the spirit of the divine chantress of the spirit-hosts.”1

Even the word “divine,” which I have used here in default of anything better, imports theological ideas into the texts which were really foreign to them. The original means nothing more than “superhuman” or perhaps “non-human”; the Sumerian term is dimmer, of which dimme “a ghost,” and dimmea, “a spectre,” are but other forms; and the ideograph by which it is symbolised is an eight-rayed star.2 “The divine lord” and “divine lady” of the incantation are but the lil and its handmaid under another guise; they are merely the ghost-like spirits who display themselves at night in the points of light that twinkle and move through the sky.

The theologians of a later day amused themselves by cataloguing the Sumerian names of the spirits invoked in the ancient incantations, and transforming them into titles of the deities of the official pantheon. The same process had been followed in the Semitic translations which were added to the incantatory texts. The spirit of the sun became Samas, the spirit of the evening star became Istar. En-lil of Nippur was transmuted into Bel, and Nin-lil, the lady of the ghost-world, into Bilat or Beltis. The process was facilitated by the changes undergone at Eridu by the magical texts themselves, even before the days of Semitic influence. Maritime intercourse with other lands had already deeply affected the theology of Eridu; the crude animism of an earlier epoch had made way for the conception of a culture-god who taught men the elements of civilisation, and wrote books for their instruction. He was still a “spirit” rather than a god in the Semitic sense of the word, but he was a spirit who had emerged above the rest, who had acquired those family ties which formed the very foundation of civilised life, and to whom the creation of the world was due, Ea was not indeed a Baal, but he was already on the way to become a god in human form.

At the same time, both Ea and his son Aśari still appear in animal shape. Aśari is, it is true, “the benefactor of man,” but he is also “the mighty one of the princely gazelle,” and even “the gazelle” himself; while Ea is “the antelope of the deep,” or more simply “the antelope.”3 At other times he is the “lord of the earth” which he has created, or the “king” of that “holy mound” of waters which rose up against the sky like a mountain, and behind which the sun appeared at dawn. The titles that he bears point unmistakably to Eridu. Here alone Ea was the creator of the earth, and here too, in the temple of the god, was a likeness of that “holy mound” whereon the future destinies of mankind were declared. The oldest incantations which have come down to us must have been composed at Eridu in the days of its Sumerian animism.

There are other divine or semi-divine names in them which tell the same tale. The pure waters which heal the sick and destroy the power of witchcraft are brought by the water-spirit Nin-akha-kudda, “the mistress of spells,” whom the theologians of a later time transformed into a daughter of Ea. Bau, too, the heifer of the city of Isin,4 appears along with the water-spirit. Like Zikum, she was the mother of Ea and “the generatress of mankind,” and she shared with Aśari the honours of the New Year's festival. But Bau, it would seem, was not originally from Eridu. She had come there from a neighbouring city, and her presence in the incantations is a proof that even in these oldest monuments of a sacred literature we are still far from the beginnings of Babylonian religion.

At Nippur it was the ghosts and vampires, who had their habitation beneath the ground, that were objects of terror to the men who lived upon it. At Eridu the demons were rather the raging winds and storm-clouds which lashed the waters of Ea into fury, and seemed for a time to transform his kingdom into a chaos of lawless destruction. The fisherman perished in his bark, while the salt waves inundated the land and ravaged the fields of the husbandman. It was here, on the shores of the Persian Gulf, that the story of the great flood was perhaps first thrown into literary form, and that conception of the universe grew up which found its last expression in the legend of the struggle between Merodach and the forces of anarchy. At any rate it was here that the spirits of evil were pictured as the seven evil demons in whom the tempest was, as it were, incarnated—

“Seven are they, seven are they,

in the hollow of the deep seven are they!

Gleams (?) of the sky are those seven.

In the hollow of the deep, in a palace, they grew up.

Male they are not, female they are not.

Destructive whirlwinds are they.

Wife they have not, child they beget not;

compassion and mercy they do not know.

Prayer and supplication hear they not.

Horses bred in the mountains are they.

Unto Ea are they hostile.

The throne-bearers of the gods are they.

To work mischief in the street they settle in the highway.

Evil are they, evil are they!

Seven are they, seven are they, seven twice again are they!”

The seven evil spirits played an important part in the demonology of ancient Eridu, and echoes of it survive in the later literature. They were even transmuted into a god, and unified in his person under the name of “the divine seven”;5 while the last month of the year, the stormy Adar, was dedicated to them. But in earlier days it needed all the wisdom of Ea to counteract their wicked devices. The fire-god himself was sent to drive them from their victims, and to disclose their nature and origin—

“In the mountain of the sunset,” it is said, “those seven were born;

in the mountain of the sunrise those seven grew up;

in the hollows of the earth they have their dwelling;

on the high-places of the earth their names are proclaimed.

As for them, in heaven and earth they have no dwelling,

hidden is their name.

Among the sentient gods they are not known.

Their name in heaven and earth exists not.

Those seven from the mountain of the sunset gallop forth,

those seven in the mountain of the sunrise are bound to rest.

In the hollows of the earth they set the foot;

on the high-places of the earth they lift the neck.

They by nought are known; in heaven and earth there is no knowledge of them.”

The hymn or incantation which thus describes them belongs to a late period in the history of Babylonian religion. The animism of primitive times has been replaced by the gods and goddesses of the later official faith. But the belief in the seven evil spirits still lingered, not only in the popular mind, but also in the ranks of the official hierarchy; and it was still remembered that they had been at the outset the spirits of the tempest, born in the clefts of the ravine or on the stormy mountain-top, from whence they issued like wild horses. The flame of sacrifice could alone avert their onset, and incantations were still composed under official sanction, with the help of which they might be driven away. The fact shows to how late an epoch the composition of spells and incantatory hymns may come down, even when the atmosphere they breathe is still that of Eridu, and the language in which they are written is still the sacred Sumerian. But there are collections of magical hymns and formulæ which are even yet later in date. The eight books of the so-called Maqlû or “Burning” collection are written throughout in Semitic Babylonian;6 and though two out of the nine books of another collection—that of the Surpu or “Consuming Fever”—are bilingual, they have been clearly translated from the more original Babylonian into Sumerian, like the Latin exercises of to-day.7 The official canon of the magical texts, in fact, was long in formation, and did not assume its final shape until the age of Khammurabi or later, even though its roots go back to the earliest period of Babylonia, to the age of animism and the medicine-man, when the Sumerian was still dominant in the land, and the Semitic nomad or trader was content to learn from him the elements of civilisation.

The official canon had been collected together from all sides. Most of the great sanctuaries of the country had probably contributed to it; in most, if not in all, of them there must have been magical rituals which had grown up under the care and supervision of the priesthood, and in which the old beliefs of the people were disciplined and harmonised with the dogmas of the State creed. Up to the last, one of the classes into which the priesthood was divided was known as the Êni or “Chanters,” whose name was derived from the Sumerian ên, “an incantation.” It is this word which is prefixed to the charms and incantatory hymns that constitute so integral a part of the magical texts; and though in course of time it came to denote little more than “recitation,” it was a recitation which possessed magical powers, and for which, therefore, a special training was necessary. A single mistake in pronunciation or intonation, a single substitution of one word for another, was sufficient to destroy the charm and necessitate the repetition of the ceremony. Some of the incantations had even to be recited in a whisper, like certain parts of the Roman missal; and a whole series or collection is accordingly termed the ritual of “the whispered charm,” reminding us of the passage in the Book of Isaiah where the prophet refers to “the wizards that peep and that mutter.”8

By the side of the “Book of Incantations”—whether it ever existed or not-—there was another sacred book containing hymns to the gods. Here, again, it is more than doubtful whether the various collections of hymns compiled for use in the great sanctuaries of the country were ever combined together and incorporated into a single volume. The tendency to religious centralisation and unification in Babylonia was arrested before it could produce in religion what the seventy-two books of the “Illumination of Bel” were for astronomy and astrology, a compilation in which the observations of the past were collected and brought together.9 Babylon, despite its political predominance, never succeeded in absorbing the religious cults of the more venerable sanctuaries of the country; the historical conservatism of the people was too strong, and even Nabonidos was forced to lavish gifts on the shrine of the sun-god at Sippara as well as upon that of Merodach at Babylon. The priesthood of Babylon were content to be chief among their peers; there was no monotheistic zeal to sweep away the rival temples, and the intensely localised character of Babylonian religion prevented the rise of monotheism. And without religious centralisation a common service-book and canon are not very probable. Perhaps, moreover, the hymns to the gods were too long in detaching themselves from the magical ritual, and too late in acquiring a sacred character of their own, to attain the same degree of divine authority as the incantations. Many of them are not only in Semitic Assyrian, but were composed as late as the reigns of the last Assyrian kings, while even those which are bilingual seem to have been in many cases the work of Semitic poets, the Sumerian text being a translation from the Semitic into the sacred language of theology.

At the same time, Lenormant was not far wrong in comparing the religious hymns of Chaldæa with those of the Ṛig-Veda. Like the latter, they belong to different periods of time, and comprise poems as unlike one another as war-songs and incantations and philosophic addresses to the gods. Moreover, as in the case of the incantations, there were collections of hymns addressed to the god or gods of the sanctuary in whose service they were used. Thus many of them belong to a collection that must have been made for the temple of the sun-god at Sippara or Larsa; all alike are addressed to the sun-god, the supreme judge of mankind; and the language that is used of him is the same in each. Other hymns celebrate the moon-god of Ur, while others belong to Nippur or to the sanctuary of Merodach at Babylon. The hymn to the god was as much a necessary portion of divine service as the incantation or the ceremonial rite.

The ritual texts tell us how and when it was employed. Thus on the festival of the New Year the service in the temple of Bel-Merodach was opened by a hymn in honour of his ark; and on the second of Nisan the priest was ordered to go down to the Euphrates at the beginning of the first hour of the night, and then, after putting on the prescribed vestment, and taking the waters of the river in his hand, to “enter into the presence of Bel,” and there recite a long hymn in praise of the god. The hymn closed with a prayer—

“Show mercy to thy city of Babylon;

to Ê-Saggil thy temple incline thy face;

grant the prayers of thy people the sons of Babylon!”

But there is yet another proof of the sacred character that attached itself to the hymns. Many of them were employed as incantations. Not only were they introduced into the magical texts, like the verses of the Bible when used as charms, but the magical element was inserted in the hymn itself. The address to the deity was combined with spells and incantations, producing a confused medley of spiritual expressions and grovelling superstition that is at once repellent and grotesque to our modern notions. The hymn, moreover, is prefaced by the word ên or “incantation,” which makes its words as authoritative and unalterable as the rest of the magical ritual. The same sacredness that invests the latter invests also the hymn. The hymn, in short, is as much verbally inspired as the incantation or spell; indeed, between the hymn and the incantation no clear line of demarcation was drawn by the Babylonian, and it is questionable whether he would have recognised that there was any such line at all.

It was in the use that was made of them, and not in their essential nature, that the hymn to the god and the incantation differed from one another. And as animism preceded the official religion of Babylonia, and the belief in spirits preceded the worship of the gods, so too did the incantation precede the hymn. The sacredness that was acquired by the hymn was originally reflected from the incantation; it was not the contents of the hymn, but the actual words of which it was composed, that gave it its sacred and authoritative character, and consecrated its employment by the priestly caste.

It is accordingly with good reason that I have described the hymns, like the incantations proper, as verbally inspired. The inspiration lay in the words more than in the sense they conveyed; an error of pronunciation was more fatal than a misunderstanding of their meaning. As long as the words were recited correctly, it mattered little whether either priest or people understood precisely what they meant.

I have already in an earlier lecture quoted some lines from the hymn to the moon-god which was probably composed for the services in the great temple of Ur. The hymns in honour of the sun-god are much more numerous, and formed part of a collection which seems to have been made by the priests of Bit-Uri, the temple of the sun-god at Sippara. The sun-god they celebrate is the incorruptible “judge of mankind,” the rewarder of the innocent and the punisher of the guilty, who sees all that is done on earth, and acts towards those who call upon him with justice and mercy.

“O lord,” we read in one of them,10 “illuminator of the darkness, opener of the sickly face,

merciful god, who setteth up the fallen, who helpeth the weak,

unto thy light look the great gods,

the spirits of earth all gaze upon thy face.

Tongues in unison like a single word thou directest, smiting their heads they look to the light of the mid-day sun.

Like a wife thou standest, glad and gladdening.

Thou art their light in the vault of the far-off heaven.

Thou art the object of their gaze in the broad earth.

Men far and near behold thee and rejoice!”

The language of another hymn is in a similar strain—

“Direct the law of the multitudes of mankind!

Thou art eternal righteousness in the heavens!

Thou art of faithful judgment towards all the world!

Thou knowest what is right, thou knowest what is wrong.

O sun-god, righteousness hath lifted up its foot!

O sun-god, wickedness hath been cut down as with a knife!

O sun-god, the minister of Anu and Bel art thou!

O sun-god, the judge supreme of heaven and earth art thou!

O lord of the living creation, the pitiful one (who directest) the world!

O sun-god, on this day purify and illumine the king the son of his god!

Whatever worketh evil in his body let it be taken away!

Cleanse him like the goblet of the Zoganes!

Illumine him like a cup of ghee;

like the copper of a polished tablet let him be made bright!

Release him from the ban!”11

The last words illustrate that strange mixture of spiritual thought and the arts of the sorcerer to which I have more than once alluded. The hymns to the sun-god were not yet emancipated from the magical beliefs and ceremonies in which they had had their origin; they were still incantations rather than hymns in the modern sense of the word. The collection to which they belonged must have been used by the class of priests known as “Chanters” or “Enchanters,” who had succeeded to the sorcerers and medicine-men of the pre-Semitic past; and the fact explains how it is that in many of them we have an alternating antiphonal service, portions of them being recited by the priest and other portions by the worshipper. In some instances, indeed, the verses seem to have been alternately intoned by the priest and the assistant ministers, like the canticles or psalms in the Christian worship of to-day. The practice had its origin in the magical ritual, where the sorcerer first recited the incantation, and then called upon the individual to repeat it once or oftener after him. It is another proof of the intimate connection that existed between the hymns and the incantations out of which they had sprung; like the Veda or the Zend-Avesta, the sacred books of ancient Chaldæa mixed magic and the spiritual worship of the gods together in a confusion which seems to us difficult to understand.

It was the same with the penitential psalms which constitute the third division of the sacred literature of Babylonia. In many respects they resemble the psalms of the Old Testament. Like them they are intended for public use, in spite of their individualistic form; the individual represents the community, and at times it is the national calamity and the national sin to which reference is made. After the revolt and reconquest of Babylon by Assur-bani-pal, when the city was still polluted by the corpses of those who had perished by famine or the sword, the prophets12 ordered that its shrines and temple-roads should be purified, that its “wrathful gods and angry goddesses” should be “appeased by prayers and penitential psalms,” and that then, and only then, the daily sacrifices in the temples should be offered once more.13 Doubtless the penitential psalms were in the first instance the spontaneous outpouring of the heart of the individual; it was his sufferings that they depicted, and his sins that they deplored; but as soon as they had been introduced into the worship of the temple, and become part of the public cult, the individual element in them fell into the background, and in the sins and sufferings of the individual both priest and laity saw those of the whole community.

Like the Hebrew psalms, again, they express the belief that sin is the cause of suffering and calamity, and that it can be removed by penitence and prayer to the offended deity. But whereas the Hebrew monotheist knew of one God only who could inflict punishment and listen to the repentant words of the sinner, the Babylonian polytheist was distracted by the uncertainty as to what particular divinity he had offended, and to whom, therefore, his penitent appeal should be addressed. In the penitential psalms, accordingly, it is the vague and general “god” and “goddess” that are invoked, rather than a particular deity. It is only occasionally that the names of special gods are introduced, and then a long list of them is sometimes given, in the hope that among them might be the divinity whose anger had been excited, and whose wrath the sufferer was eager to appease.

Sin, it must be remembered, in the eyes of the Babylonian included a good deal more than moral wrong-doing. There were ritual sins as well as moral sins, offences against the ceremonial law as well as against the moral or spiritual code. The sin was not unfrequently involuntary, and the sufferer did not even know in what particular respect he had offended against the divine laws. It may have been the eating of forbidden food, such as that which drove Adam and Eve from the sinless garden of Paradise. Or, again, it may have been a real sin, a sin of thought and word committed in the secrecy of the heart. “Was he frank in speaking,” it is asked in a confession which is put into the mouth of a suppliant, “but false in heart? Was it ‘yes’ with his month, but ‘no’ in his heart?” So far as the punishment was concerned, little distinction was made between moral and ceremonial sin; both were visited alike, and the sin of ignorance was punished as severely as the sin that was committed with deliberate intent.

The recitation of the penitential psalms was accompanied by fasting. “Food I have not eaten,” the penitent is made to say, “pure water I have not drunk.” And, as in the case of the incantations and hymns, the recitation was antiphonal. Portions of the psalms were recited by the priest, who acted as the mediator between the penitent and the offended deity; other portions by the penitent himself, or a choir of attendant ministers. The ideas which had been associated with the use of the incantations still dominated the public cult. Indeed, the penitential psalm sometimes very nearly approaches the incantation in character. On the one side, it is difficult to distinguish from the psalm a confession like that from which I quoted just now, and which nevertheless forms part of a magical ritual; on the other side, the psalm itself at times degenerates into the language of magic. Babylonia never shook off the influence of those collections of incantations which constituted its first sacred book, and gave it its first conception of a divinely-inspired literature; up to the last the descendants of the old medicine-man occupied a recognised place in the priestly hierarchy, and the “Chanter” and “Augur” stood on the same footing as the “prophet” and the “priest.”

Perhaps it was the same influence which demanded that the language of the penitential psalm should be the extinct Sumerian. That some of the psalms went back to Sumerian times and were composed by Sumerians in their own tongue, I have little doubt; but it seems also unquestionable that many of the psalms which have come down to us were of Semitic origin, the Sumerian version attached to them being really a translation of the original Semitic text. At all events, penitential psalms were written in later times in Assyria, whose authors either did not care or did not know how to provide them with a Sumerian text. It may be that they did not possess the same sacred authority as the older psalms, but, like the latter, they were used in the public services of the northern kingdom with the authorisation of the king. The king in Assyria, it must be remembered, exercised the influence that was wielded by the priesthood in the southern kingdom. The Assyrian psalms, in fact, were like our modern hymns; the sanctity that surrounded the older penitential psalms of Babylonia was indeed denied them, but they better suited the newer age and the character of the Assyrian people, and there was no omnipotent priesthood to forbid their introduction into the public cult. They stood, it is true, outside the sacred canon of Babylonia, in the sense that no dogmas of religion could be built on them, and it is probable that they never received the sanction of the Babylonian priests; but for all that the spirit they breathe is that of the older psalms; and had the Assyrian empire lasted longer, it is possible that they too might have become a sacred book.

I will conclude my lecture with one of the penitential psalms, which, we are told, might be addressed “to any god”—

“The heart of my lord is wroth; may it be appeased!

May the god that I know not be pacified!

May the goddess whom I know not be pacified!

May the god I know and (the god) I know not be pacified!

May the goddess I know and (the goddess) I know not be pacified!

May the heart of my god be appeased!

May the heart of my goddess be appeased!

May the god and the goddess I know and I know not be pacified!

May the god (who has smitten me be pacified)!

May the goddess (who has smitten me be pacified)!

The sin that (I sinned) I knew not;

the sin (that I committed I knew not).

The word of blessing (may my god pronounce upon me);

a name of blessing (may the god I know and know not) record for me!

The word of blessing (may the goddess pronounce upon me)!

Food I have not eaten,

pure water I have not drunk.

An offence against my god unknowingly have I committed;

an offence against my goddess unknowingly I have wrought.

O lord, my sins are many, my transgressions are great!

O my god, my sins are many, my transgressions are great!

O my goddess, my sins are many, my transgressions are great!

O god whom I know and whom I know not, my sins are many, my transgressions are great!

O goddess whom I know and whom I know not, my sins are many, my transgressions are great!

The sin that I sinned I knew not,

the transgression I committed I knew not.

The offence I committed I knew not,

the offence that I wrought I knew not.

The lord in the wrath of his heart has regarded me;

god has visited me in the anger of his heart;

the goddess has been violent against me, and has put me to grief.

The god whom I know and whom I know not has oppressed me,

the goddess whom I know and whom I know not has brought sorrow upon me.

I sought for help, and none took my hand;

I wept, and none stood at my side;

I cried aloud, and there was none that heard me.

I am in trouble and hiding, and dare not look up.

To my god, the merciful one, I turn myself, I utter my prayer,

the feet of my goddess I kiss and water with tears.

To the god whom I know and whom I know not I utter my prayer.

O lord, look upon (me; receive my prayer)!

O goddess, look upon (me; receive my prayer)!

O goddess whom I know (and whom I know not, receive my prayer)!

How long, O god, (must I suffer)?

How long, O goddess, (shall thy face be turned from me)?

How long, O god whom I know and whom I know not, shall the anger (of thy heart continue)?

How long, O goddess whom I know and whom I know not, shall the wrath of thy heart be unappeased?

Mankind is made to wander, and there is none that knoweth.

Mankind, as many as have a name, what do they know?

Whether he shall have good or ill, there is none that knoweth.

O lord, cast not away thy servant!

Overflowing with tears, take him by the hand!

The sins I have sinned, turn to a blessing;

the transgressions I have committed may the wind carry away!

Strip off my manifold transgressions as a garment.

O my god, seven times seven are my transgressions; forgive my sins!

O my goddess, seven times seven are my transgressions; forgive my sins!

O god whom I know and whom I know not, seven times seven are my transgressions; forgive my sins!

O goddess whom I know and whom I know not, seven times seven are my transgressions; forgive my sins!

Forgive my sins, and let me humble myself before thee.

May thy heart be appeased as the heart of a mother who has borne children!

May it be appeased as that of a mother who has borne children, as that of a father who has begotten them!”

  • 1.

    En-me, literally, “lord of the voice,” appears to have been pronounced ên in Sumerian, since the Semitic ênu was borrowed from it. The word has the same root as ên, “an incantation,” and the ênu denoted the priest who “recited” the incantatory ritual. He may thus be compared with the Egyptian kher-heb. There was anênu or “chanter of Istar,” whose technical name was ukurrim, and another of Ea, “the holy father,” who was called the sennu. The incantatory formulæ, it must be remembered, relate for the most part to Ea and Istar. Another class of the ênu was called sailu, “the magian,” in Assyrian (literally, “the questioner” of the spirits who may have practised ventriloquism); in Sumerian the name may be read ên-lil, “the chanter of the lil.”

  • 2.

    I can still see no better etymology for dimmer, dingir, “god,” than the one I proposed in my Hibbert Lectures (p. 143), viz. dim, “to create” or “make.” From the same root we have dim or dimma, “offspring” (WAI. v. 29. 71), which illustrates the antithesis between the Sumerian who regarded generation as an act of creation, and the Semite who regarded creation as an act of generation. In WAI. ii. 47. 29, dim takes the place of dumu, “son.” Dimme and dimmea show that in dimmer the final consonant is a suffix.

  • 3.

    WAI, ii. 55. 27, iv. 25. 40. I have retained here the ordinary rendering of “gazelle” for the Assyrian ditanu, though it is more probable that its Sumerian equivalent elim (perhaps the Heb. âyîl) means “ram.” At all events elim is given as kuśarikku, or “ram” in Sc. 315. But there is a difficulty about the god to whom the name was originally applied. In WAI. ii. 55. 31–33, “the princely elim,” “the mighty elim,” and “the earth-creating elim” are given as names of Ea; whereas in WAI. v. 21. 11, elim is a synonym of the god Aśari, and in Sc. 312 it is the equivalent of El-lil. As “the ship” or ark of Ea was “the ship of the antelope of the deep,” Ea must have been the antelope (turakhu) rather than the ram or gazelle; and I believe, therefore, that the transference of what was properly the name of El-lil to Aśari and Ea was due to the confusion that grew up between El-lil after his transformation into the Semitic Bel and Aśari after his transformation into the Semitic Bel-Merodach. The ideograph which denotes elim represents a quadruped, sometimes with an eye, sometimes with the ideograph of sheep, attached to it.

  • 4.

    WAI. v. 52, Col. iv. 8.

  • 5.

    Perhaps, however, the “divine seven” was descended from the seven gods who were sons of En-me-sarra, according to WAI. iv. 23, No. 1. En-me-sarra means “the incantation-priest of the (heavenly) hosts (ênu sa. kissati), and his “sons” therefore remind us of Job xxxviii. 7. It will not be forgotten that Philo Byblius made “the seven sons of Sydyk, the Kabeiri, with their eighth brother Asklêpios (Ashmûn),”the first writers of history (Euseb. Prœp. evang. i, 10).

  • 6.

    It has been edited and translated by Tallqvist, Die Assyrische Beschwörungsserie Maqlû (1894), who calculates that it contained 1550 lines, or more than 9000 words.

  • 7.

    The whole work is in the metrical form characteristic of Semitic Babylonian. It has been edited by Zimmern, Beiträge zur Kenntniss der babylonischen Religion: Die Beschwörungstafeln Shurpu (1896).

  • 8.

    Isa. viii. 19. The beginning, for instance, of the second book of the Maqlû collection had to be recited in a whisper before a wax image.

  • 9.

    As the title of the latter work is sometimes written UD-MA AN EN-LIL as well as UD AN EN-LIL, the real translation may be “when (enu-ma) Bel,” rather than “Illumination (namaru) of Bel,” these having been the opening words of the first tablet. Since, however, it was translated into Greek by Berossos as a work of “Bel” (Seneca, Quœst Nat. iii. 29), the name assigned to it in the test is on the, whole to be preferred.

  • 10.

    WAI. iv. 19, No. 2.

  • 11.

    WAI. iv. 28, No. 1.

  • 12.

    Literally, “the prophetdom” or “college of prophets” (isipputi).

  • 13.

    WAI. v. 4. 86–91.