You are here

Lecture 9: The Ritual of the Temple

THE temple of the god was the centre and glory of every great Babylonian city. The Babylonian States had been at the outset essentially theocratic; their ruler had been a high priest before he became a king, and up to the last he remained the vicegerent and adopted son of the god. It was round the temple that the city had grown and its population clustered. The artisans worked for it, and the agricultural labourers tilled its fields. The art of Babylonia originated within the temple precincts; it was for its adornment that the enamelled tiles were first made, and wood or stone or metal carved into artistic shapes, while the endowments which thus fostered the craftsman's art were derived from landed property or from the tithes paid to the priests upon the produce of the soil. The culture of Babylonia was with good reason traced back to the god Ea.

The place occupied in Assyria by the army was filled in Babylonia by the priesthood. The priests could make and unmake their kings. The last monarch of Babylonia, Nabonidos, was a nominee of the priests of Babylon; it was from them, and not from the rights of heritage, that he had derived his title to the throne. The great sanctuaries of the country influenced its destinies to the last. The influence of Nippur and Eridu, in fact, was wholly religious; we know of no royal dynasties that sprang from them. Even Nabonidos, with all his centralising zeal on behalf of Merodach of Babylon, was constrained to lavish gifts and honours on the sun-god of Sippara, at all events in the early part of his reign.

We must therefore look upon the temple as the oldest unit in the civilisation of Babylonia. Babylonian culture begins with the temple, with the worship of a deity or a spirit, and with the ministers attached to the cult. Centuries before En-lil of Nippur had developed into a Semitic Bel, an earthly dwelling-house had been provided for him which became in time the temple of a god. Its first name, Ê-kur, “the house of the earth” or “mountain,” continued always to cling to it, even though the original meaning of the name was forgotten, and it had come to signify a temple in the later sense of the word.

The temple was the sign and token of the reclamation of the primitive Babylonian swamp. Before it could be erected, it was needful to construct a platform of solid earth and brickwork, which should rise above the pestiferous marsh, and serve as a foundation for the building. The Sumerians called the platform the Ki-gal or “great place”; it was the first place of human or divine habitation wrested from the waters of the swamp, and it marked the triumph of civilised man over nature. Emphatically, therefore, it was a “great place,” a solid resting-place in a world of water and slime.

On the platform the temple buildings were piled. There was no stone in Babylonia; it was a land of mud, and of mud bricks, accordingly, baked in the sun, the temple of the god was constructed. What was lost in beauty or design was gained in solidity. The Babylonian temples were huge masses of brick, square for the most part, and with the four corners facing the four cardinal points. It was only exceptionally that the four sides, instead of the four corners, were made to front the four “winds.”

These masses of brick were continually growing in height. The crude bricks soon disintegrated, and the heavy rains of a Babylonian winter quickly reduced them to their primeval mud. Constant restorations were therefore needed, and the history of a Babylonian temple is that of perpetual repairs. Efforts were made to keep the walls from crumbling away by building buttresses against them, and the bricks were cemented together with bitumen. But all precautions were in vain. A period of national decay inevitably brought with it the decay also of the temples, and a return of prosperity meant their restoration on the disintegrated ruins of the older edifice. The artificial platform became a tel or mound.

But the growth in height was not displeasing to the priestly builders. The higher the temple rose above the level of the plain, the better they were pleased. A characteristic of the Babylonian temple, in fact, was the ziggurat or “tower” attached to each, whose head it was designed should “reach to heaven.” The word ziggurat means a “lofty peak,” and the royal builders of Babylonia vied with one another in making the temple towers they erected as high as possible.

There was more than one reason for this characteristic feature of religious Babylonian architecture. The first settlers in the plain of Babylonia must soon have discovered that the higher they could be above the surface of the ground the better it was for them. The nearer they ascended to the clouds of heaven, the freer they were from the miasmata and insects of the swamp. The same cause which led them to provide a platform for their temples, would have also led them to raise the temple as high as they could above the level of the plain. This, however, will not explain the origin of the tower itself. It would have been a reason for building the temple as high as possible, not for attaching to it a tower. Nor was the tower suitable for defence against an enemy, like the pylons of an Egyptian temple. At most it was a convenient watch-tower from which the movements of a hostile band could be observed. There must have been some other reason, more directly connected with religious beliefs or practices, which found its outward expression in the sacred tower.

The sanctuary of Nippur, it will be remembered, was the oldest in Northern Babylonia. And from time immemorial it had been known as Ê-kur, “the house of the mountain-land.” It represented that underground world which was the home of En-lil and his ghosts; and this underground world, we must observe, was conceived of as a mountain. In fact, the cuneiform character which signifies “country” also signifies “mountain,” and the hieroglyphic picture out of which it developed is the picture of a mountain-range. The land in which it was first drawn and stereotyped in writing must, it would seem, have been a mountainous one, like the land in which the subterranean realm of En lil was regarded as a lofty hill. In other words, the Sumerians must have been the inhabitants of a mountainous country before they settled in the plain of Babylonia and laid the foundations of the temple of Nippur.

And this mountainous country lay to the north or east, where the mountains of Elam and Kurdistan border the Babylonian plain. In the story of the Deluge the ark is made to rest on the summit of the mountain of Nizir, which is probably the modern Rowandiz, to the north-east of Assyria; and the gods were believed to have been born in “the mountain of the world,” in the land of Arallu.1 Here, too, they held their court; “I will ascend into heaven,” the Babylonian monarch is made to say in the 14th chapter of Isaiah, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of El; I will sit also upon the mount of the assembly (of the gods), in the extremities of the north;2 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.” More than one temple in both Babylonia and Assyria took its name from this “mountain of the world”; the ziggurat at Kis was known as “the house of the mountain of mankind,” while a temple at Ur was entitled “the house of the mountain,” and the shrine of Gula at Babylon was “the house of the holy hill.”3

All over Babylonia, accordingly, the mountain is brought into close connection, with the religious cult. Not at Nippur only, but in other cities as well, the home of the gods is on the summit of an Olympos, within whose subterranean recesses they were born when as yet the primitive ghost or spirit had not become a god. Sumerian religion must have grown up rather among the mountains than in the plain, and the memory of its birthplace was preserved by religious conservatism. The ziggurat of the temple goes back to the days when the gods were still gods of the mountain, and the builders of the temple sought to force a way into the heavenly Olympos by raising artificially an imitation of the mountain on the alluvial plain. The tower was a mimic representation of the Ê-kur, or mountain of the earth itself, where En-lil, “the god of the great mountain” (sadu rabu), had his seat. And the earth could have been figured as a mountain only by the inhabitants of a mountainous land.

But this conception of the world of gods and men stands in glaring contrast to the cosmology of Eridu. There the primeval earth was not a mountain peak, but the flat lands reclaimed from the sea. The gods and spirits had their home in the abysses of the ocean, not in the dark recesses of a mountain of the north; the centre of the world was the palace of Ea beneath the waves, not “the mountain-house” of En-lil, or the dark caverns of “the mountain of Arallu.” Once more we are confronted by a twofold element in Babylonian thought and religion, and a proof of its compound nature. Like the contradictory elements in Egyptian religion, which can best be explained by the composite character of the people, the contradictory elements in Babylonian religion imply that mixture of races which is described in the fragments of Berossos.

In the tower or ziggurat, accordingly, we must see a reflection of the belief that this nether earth is a mountain whose highest peak supports the vault of the sky. Around it float the stars and clouds, concealing the heaven of the gods from the eyes of man. But this Olympian heaven was really an afterthought. It was not until the ghosts of the lower world had developed into gods, and been transferred from the heart of the mountain to its summit, that it had any existence at all. It belongs to the age of astro-theology, to the time when the moon and sun and host of heaven became divine, and received the homage of mankind. This is an age to which I shall have to refer again in my next and concluding lecture. It was the time when the ziggurat, began to consist of seven storeys, dedicated to the seven planets, when the ziggurat of Erech was called “the house of the seven black stones,” and that of Borsippa, “of the seven zones of heaven and earth.”4

The ziggurat occupied but a small part of the temple area. What the temple was like we know to a certain extent, not only from the American excavations at Nippur, but more especially from the accounts given us by Herodotos and by a cuneiform tablet which describes the great temple of Bel-Merodach at Babylon. The latter was called Ê-Saggila, “the house of the exalted head”; and though the account of Herodotos is probably quoted from an earlier author, while the cuneiform tablet, which was seen and translated by Mr. George Smith at Constantinople, has unfortunately been lost, there is nevertheless no ground in either case for mistrust. The description given by Herodotos fully agrees with that of the tablet.

The visitor to the temple first entered the “Great” or Outer Court. It was 900 feet in breadth, and more than 1150 in length. If we may judge from the analogy of Nippur and Lagas, an arcade ran round its interior, supported on columns, and two larger, but detached, columns of brick or stone stood on either side of the entrance. At Babylon a second court opened out of the first, devoted to the worship of the goddesses Istar and Zamâmâ. Six gates pierced the walls—the Grand Gate, the Gate of the Rising Sun, the Great Gate, the Gate of the Colossi, the Gate of the Canal, and the Gate of the Tower-view.5 Then came the kigallu, or platform, of the original temple, the sides, and not the corners of which faced the four cardinal points, and which possessed four gates, each in the centre of a side. In it was the ziggurat, “the house of the foundation of heaven and earth,” as it was termed, with its seven stages, which rose one above the other in gradually diminishing proportions to a height of 300 feet.6 A winding ramp led upwards on the outside, connecting the stages with each other, and allowing a chariot to he driven along it to the top. Here in the last of the seven stages was the chamber of the god. It contained no image of the deity, only a couch of gold and a golden table for the shewbread.7 None but a woman into whom the god had breathed the spirit of prophecy was allowed to enter it, and it was to her that Bel revealed himself at night on his golden couch and delivered his oracles. As in Greece, so too in Babylonia and Assyria, women were inspired prophetesses of the gods. It was from the priestesses and serving-women of Istar of Arbela that Esar-haddon received the oracles of the goddess; and we are reminded that in Israel also it was the prophetess Deborah who roused her countrymen to battle, and Huldah, rather than Jeremiah, to whom the high priest betook himself that he might hear “the word of the Lord.”

It is significant that the place of the oracle was the topmost chamber of the tower. The god is conceived as coming down from heaven;8 it is there that he lives, not in the underground recesses of the mountain of the world or fathomless abysses of the sea. When the ziggurat took its final shape, the deities of Babylonia had already been transported to the sky.

It is also significant that there was no image of the god. The spiritual had been finally separated from the material, and where the god himself came in spiritual form no material image of him was needed. Though none might be able to see him with mortal eye save only his inspired priestess, he was nevertheless as actually present as if he had embodied himself in some statue of metal or stone. The denizen of heaven required no body or form of earthly make; the divine spirits who were worshipped in the sun or stars were seen only by the eye of faith.

But it was in the ziggurat only that the deity thus came down from heaven in spiritual guise. In the chapels and shrines that stood at its foot images were numerous; here the multitude, whether of priests or laymen, served and worshipped, and the older traditions of religion remained intact. On the eastern side of the tower was the sanctuary of Nebo, the “angel” or interpreter of the will of Merodach, with Tasmit, his wife. To the north were the chapels of Ea and Nusku, and to the south those of Anu and En-lil, while westward was the temple of Merodach himself. It consisted of a double building, with a court between the two wings. In the recesses of the inner sanctuary was the papakhu, or “Holy of Holies,” with its golden image of the god. Here too was the golden table of shewbread and the parakku, or mercy-seat, which at times gave its name to the whole shrine.

The innermost sanctuary was known as the Du-azagga, or “Holy Hill,” after which the month Tisri received one of its names.9 But the name had really come from Eridu. It was the dwelling-place of Ea on the eastern horizon of the sea, where the sun rises from the deep,10 and Asari accordingly was entitled its “son.” When Asari became Merodach of Babylon, the Holy Mound or Hill migrated with him, and the seat of the oracular wisdom of Ea was transformed into the shrine of Merodach, where he in his turn delivered his oracles on the festival of the New Year.11 Lehmann12 has shown that originally it represented the mercy-seat, the “golden throne” of the description of Herodotos, above which the deity seated himself when he descended to announce the future destinies of man. It was only subsequently that it was extended to the “Holy of Holies” in which the mercy-seat stood.

A golden altar seems to have been raised close to the mercy-seat of the god. If Herodotos may be trusted, lambs only were allowed to be sacrificed upon it. But there was another and larger altar in the outer court. On this whole sheep were offered, as well as frankincense.

The architectural arrangement of a Babylonian temple, however, was not always the same. The orientation of the temple of Merodach, as we have seen, differed from that of the majority of the Babylonion sanctuaries. The number of chapels included within the sacred precincts varied greatly, and even the position of the great tower was not uniform. But the general plan was alike everywhere. There was first the great court, open to the sky, and surrounded by cloisters and colonnades. Here were the houses of the priests and other ministers of the temple, the library and school, shops for the manufacture and sale of votive objects, even the stalls wherein the animals were kept that were intended for sacrifice. In the centre of the court stood an altar of sacrifice, with large vases for the purposes of ablution by the side of it, as well as a “sea,” or basin of water, which derived its name from the fact that it was a symbol of the primeval “deep.” The basin was of bronze or stone, and was at times supported on the backs of twelve oxen, as we learn from an old hymn which describes the construction of one of them.13 At other times, as at Lagas, the basin was decorated with a frieze of female figures, who pour water from the vases in their outstretched hands.14 The purifying effects of the water of the “deep”were transferred to that of the mimic “sea,” and the worshipper who entered the temple after washing in it became ceremonially pure.

The great court, with its two isolated columns in front of the entrance, led into a second, from the floor of which rose the ziggurat or tower. The second court formed the approach to the temple proper, which again consisted of an outer sanctuary and an inner shrine. Whether the laity were admitted into its inner recesses is doubtful. No one, indeed, could appear before the god except through the mediation of a priest; and on the seal-cylinders a frequent representation is that of a worshipper whom the priest is leading by the hand and presenting to the image of a deity. But it is not certain that the image represented on them was that which stood in the Holy of Holies, or innermost shrine; it may have been a second image, erected in another part of the temple. On the other hand, the numerous chapels of the secondary gods who formed the court of the chief deity of a city, can hardly have been furnished with more than one statue, and it is even questionable whether they consisted of more than one chamber. Perhaps it was only from the topmost room of the tower that the layman was absolutely excluded.

The Babylonian temple, it will be seen, thus closely resembled the temple of Solomon. That, too, had its two courts, its chambers for the priests, its sanctuary, and its Holy of Holies. Both alike were externally mere rectangular boxes, without architectural beauty or variety of design. It was only in the possession of a tower that the Babylonian temple differed from the Israelite. They agreed even in the details of their furniture. The two altars of the Babylonian sanctuary are found again in the temple of Jerusalem; so too are the mercy-seat and the table of shewbread. Even the bronze “sea” of Solomon, with its twelve oxen, is at last accounted for; it was modelled after a Babylonian original, and goes back to the cosmological ideas which had their source in Eridu. Yet more striking are the twin pillars that flanked the gateway of the court, remains of which have been found both at Nippur and at Tello. They are exactly parallel to the twin pillars which Solomon set up “in the porch of the temple,” and which he named Yakin and Boaz. In these, again, we may find vestiges of a belief which had its roots in the theology of Eridu. When Adapa, the first man, was sent by Ea to the heaven of Anu, he found on either side of the gate two gods clothed in mourning, and weeping for their untimely removal from the earth. Like the two cherubim who guarded the tree of life, they guarded the gate of heaven. One of them was Tammuz, the other Nin-gis-zida, “the lord of the firmly planted stake.” Each had perished, it would seem, in the prime of life, and hence were fitly set to guard the gates of heaven and prevent mortal man from forcing his way into the realm of immortality. Yakin, it should be noticed, is a very passable translation of the Sumerian Nin-gis-zida; perhaps Boaz preserves, under a corrupted form, a reminiscence of Tammuz.

There was yet another parallelism between the temples of Babylonia and Jerusalem. The Hebrew ark was replaced in Babylonia by a ship. The ship was dedicated to the god or goddess whose image it contained, and was often of considerable size. Its sides were frequently inlaid with gems and gold, and it always bore a special name. One at least of the names indicates that the ship goes back to the days when as yet the gods had not assumed human forms; the ship of Bau is still that of “the holy cow.” In early times the ship was provided with captain and crew; later, it was reduced in size so that it could be carried like an ark on the shoulders of men. But its original object is clear. On days of festival the god was rowed in it on the sacred river, where he could enjoy the cool breeze, and return, as it were, to the “pure” waters of the primeval deep. Gradually it became merely his travelling home when he left his usual dwelling-place. In Assyria its place was even taken by a throne or platform borne upon the shoulders in the religious processions. The ship, in fact, passed into an ark, the curtained palanquin or shrine wherein the deity could conceal himself from the eyes of the profane when he left his own sanctuary.

A discovery made by Mr. Hormuzd Rassam in the mounds of Balawât, some fifteen miles from Mossul, shows that in Assyria the development of the ship into the ark was as complete as it was in Israel. Here he found a small chapel dedicated to the god of dreams. At the entrance of the sanctuary was a stone coffer, which contained two small alabaster slabs thickly covered with cuneiform writing. They proved to be records of the conquests of Assur-nazir-pal, the builder of the chapel, and each tablet contained the same text. It was not surprising that the native workmen when they opened the coffer believed that they had discovered the veritable tables of the Mosaic Law! We are told in the Old Testament that the latter were kept in the ark. Not far from the coffer in the north-west corner of the shrine was a stone altar the ascent to which was by a flight of five steps.

The temples were served by an army of priests. At the head came the pateśi or “high priest,” who in the early days of Babylonian history performed the functions of a king. But the pateśi was essentially the vicegerent of the god. The god delegated his powers to him, and allowed him to exercise them on earth. It was the doctrine of priestly mediation carried to its logical conclusion. Only through the priest could the deity be approached, and in the absence of the deity the high priest took his place. At Babylon, as we have seen, the divine rights were conferred by an act of adoption; the vicegerent of Bel, by “taking the hand” and becoming the son of the god, acquired the right to exercise his sovereignty over men. An early king of Erech calls himself the son of the goddess Nin-śun. From the outset the Babylonian monarchy was essentially theocratic; the king was simply the high priest in a new form.

But with the rise of Semitic supremacy the king himself became a god. The vicegerent had taken to himself all the attributes of the deity, the adopted son succeeded to the rights and powers of his divine father. The pateśi ceased to be the king himself, and became instead his viceroy and lieutenant. Wherever the supreme monarch had a governor who acted in his name, he had also a representative of his divine authority. There were high priests of the god on earth as well as of the gods in heaven.

A new term was wanted to take the place of pateśi, which had thus come to have a secular as well as a religious signification. It was found in sangu, which, more especially in the Assyrian period, meant a chief priest. Every great sanctuary had its chief priests who corresponded to the Hebrew “sons of Aaron,” with a “high priest” or sangam-makhu at their head.15 Under them were a large number of subordinate priests and temple ministers—the kali or “gallos-priests,”16 the niśakki or “sacrificers,” the ramki or “pourers of libations,” and the pasisi or “anointers with oil.” There was even a special class of bakers who made the sacred cakes that were used in the temple service, as well as “chanters” and “wailers,” “carriers of the axe” and “of the spear.” Above all, there were the prophets and augurs, the soothsayers (makhkhi) and necromancers (musêli), and those who “inquired” of the dead (saili).

The asipi or “prophets” constituted a class apart. In some respects they resembled the prophets of Israel. It was “by order of the college of prophets “that Assur-bani-pal purified the shrines of Babylon after the capture of the city, and the prophet accompanied even an army in the field. At times they predicted the future; more often it was rather an announcement of the will of Heaven which they delivered to mankind.17 As they prophesied they poured out libations; hence it is that the purification of the shrines of the Babylonian temples was their special care, and that an old ritual text commands the prophet to pour out libations “for three days at dawn and night during the middle watch.”18 The word was borrowed by the writer of the Book of Daniel (ii. 10) under the form of ashshâph, which the Authorised Version renders “astrologers.” But the Babylonian asip or “prophet” was not an astrologer; he left to others the interpretation of the stars, and contented himself with counselling or foretelling the destinies of men. Like his master Bel-Merodach, he was the interpreter of the wisdom of Ea, and the revealer of his counsels. The Holy of Holies in the great temple of Babylon, where Bel uttered his oracles, was known as the “house of prophecy,” like the ship also in which the image of the god was ferried across the stream.19 The prophet may have been part of the heritage bequeathed by Eridu to the Babylonian people.

By the side of the prophet stood the seer (sabrû).20 The seer and the prophet were distinct from one another; there was no confusion between their offices, as seems to have been at one time the case in Israel. The seer was not the “speaker” who declared the will of the gods or the fate that was decreed for man; it was, on the contrary, through visions and trances that the future was made known to him. Assur-bani-pal tells us how, on the eve of the Elamite war, after he had invoked the aid and protection of Istar, “a seer slept and dreamed a prophetic dream; a vision of the night did Istar reveal unto him; he repeated it to me, saying: ‘Istar, who dwelleth in Arbela, came down, and on the right hand and on the left hung (her) quivers; in her hand she held the bow; she drew the sharp war-sword and held it before her. Like a mother she speaketh with thee, she calleth thee; Istar, the queen of the gods, appointeth for thee a doom: … “Eat food, drink wine, make music, exalt my divinity, until I march and this work of mine be accomplished. I will give thee thy heart's desire; thy face shall not grow pale, thy feet shall not totter.”’”

Here the message of the seer passes into a prophecy, and his office is distinguished from that of the prophet only through the difference in the mode of revelation. The seer went back to the earliest ages of Semitic Babylonia. The “seer” of the palace of Sargon of Akkad is already mentioned on a contemporaneous tablet by the side of “the king” and “the queen”21 Like the other priests among whom he was reckoned, it was necessary that he should be without bodily blemish. The leper, the blind, and the maimed were excluded from the service of the gods.22

How far the Babylonian prophet resembled the Hebrew prophet it is at present impossible to say. But there were certainly two important points in which they differed. The Babylonian prophet was, on the one side, a member of the priestly body; the mere peasant could not become an “utterer” of the will of heaven without previous training and consecration. There was, consequently, no such distinction between the prophet and the priest as prevailed in Israel; Babylonia was a theocratic, not a democratic State. On the other side, the prophet was closely linked with the magician and necromancer. Magic had been taken under the protection of the State religion, not repudiated and persecuted as among the Israelites. Hence, while the prophet was a priest to whom the rites of purification were specially entrusted, he was at the same time classed with the sailu who “inquired” of the dead, the musêlu or necromancer, and the makhkhu or “soothsayer.”

On the other hand, there were prophetesses as well as prophets in both Babylonia and Israel. The employment of women in the temple services peculiarly characterised Babylonia. As we have seen, it was a woman only who was privileged to enter the secret shrine of Bel-Merodach at Babylon; while unmarried women were consecrated, not only to Istar, but also to the sun-god, and, like the priests, formed a corporate community. We are told that in the lower world of Hades there were female as well as male soothsayers; it was the home of the black art, and so reflected the constitution of the professors of sorcery in the upper world.

Along with the seer and the soothsayer, the prophet was thus annexed by the temple. A definite duty was assigned to him there; he was “the pourer out” of libations. The libations were doubtless originally of “pure” water, to which was subsequently added wine, whether made from the palm or the vine. Along with the libations all the first-fruits of the cultivated land were offered to the gods. Milk and butter and oil, dates and vegetables, were given in abundance. So too were the spices and incense that were brought from the southern coast of Arabia, the corn that was grown in the fields, garlic and other herbs from the garden, and honey from the hive. But animal sacrifices were not forgotten. Oxen and calves, sheep and lambs, goats and kids, fish and certain kinds of birds, were slain upon the altar, and so presented to the gods. It is noticeable that it was only the cultivated plant and the domesticated beast that were thus offered to the deity. The dog and swine, or rather wild boar, are never mentioned in the sacrificial lists. What man gave to heaven was what he ate himself, and reared or grew with the sweat of his brow. The gazelle, indeed, is named, but it is a scape-goat which is driven into the desert like the Hebrew Azazel, carrying away with it the sins and sickness of those who let it loose.23 The gods of Semitic Babylonia were essentially human, and what man lived upon they too required. They had, moreover, given their worshippers all they most needed and prized—fruitful fields, fat cattle, rain in its season, and the blessings of the sunshine. In return they demanded the first-fruits of what was in reality their own; they could, if they so chose, deprive man of the whole, but they were generously satisfied with a part. The Semitic Baal was indeed like a divine king; lord and master though he was of the cultivated soil and of all that it produced, he was content only with a share.

Was the firstborn of man included among the sacrifices that were deemed acceptable to heaven? Years ago I published an early text which seemed to show that such was the case. My interpretation of the text has been disputed, but it still appears to me to be the sole legitimate one. The text is bilingual in both Sumerian and Semitic, and therefore probably goes back to Sumerian times. Literally rendered, it is as follows: “Let the abgal proclaim: the offspring who raises his head among men, the offspring for his life he must give; the head of the offspring for the head of the man he must give, the neck of the offspring for the neck of the man he must give, the breast of the offspring for the breast of the man he must give.”24 It is difficult to attach any other meaning to this than that which makes it refer to the sacrifice of children.

The question, however, is really settled by the evidence of archæology. On the famous stela of the Vultures, now in the Louvre, a sort of wicker-work cage is represented, filled with captives who are waiting to be put to death by the mace of the king.25 On a certain class of seal-cylinders, moreover, a scene is engraved which Ménant seems to me to have rightly explained as depicting a human sacrifice. In later times, it is true, human sacrifice ceased to be practised; there are few, if any, references to it in the inscriptions, and the human victim is replaced by an ox or sheep. It was to the offended majesty of the Assyrian king rather than of the god Assur that the Assyrian conqueror impaled or burnt the beaten foe; and among the lists of offerings that were made to the deified rulers of Babylonia, we look in vain for any mention of man or child. As in Israel, so too in the kingdoms of the Euphrates and Tigris, human sacrifice seems to have disappeared at an early date.

So, moreover, does another custom which has been revealed to us by the archaic sculptures of Tello. That was the custom of approaching the deity stripped of clothing;26 and Professor Jastrow aptly compares with it not only the scanty dress of the Mohammedan pilgrims on Mount Arafat, but also Saul's conduct when the spirit of prophecy fell upon him. A similar custom prevailed in Keltic Ireland, and the Hindu still strips himself when he sits down to eat.

The growth of culture, and it may be also the mixture of races, thus deprived the gods of two of the prerogatives they had once enjoyed. They could no longer claim the firstborn of men, nor require that the worshipper should enter their presence naked and defenceless. But they retained all their other kingly rights. A tithe of all that the land produced was theirs, and it was rigorously exacted, for the support of the temples and priests. Babylonia, in short, was the inventor of tithe.

Why it should have been a tenth we cannot say. The numerical system of the Babylonians was sexagesimal and duodecimal, not decimal, and the year consisted of twelve months, not of ten. Perhaps the institution went back to a period when the year of twelve months had not yet been fixed, and, like the lunar year of the modern Mohammedan, it still possessed but ten months. However this may be, the tithe became a marked characteristic of Babylonian religious life. It was paid by all classes; even the king and his heir were not exempt from it. One of the last acts of the crown prince Bel-shazzar was to pay the tithe, forty-seven shekels in amount, due from his sister to the temple of the sun-god at Sippara, at the very moment when Cyrus was knocking at the gates of Babylon.27 It is probable that the daily sacrifices were provided for in great measure out of the tithe; at all events, Assur-bani-pal tells us that after the suppression of the Babylonian revolt, he levied upon the people the provision needed for the sacrifices made to Assur and Beltis and the gods of Assyria. They were, however, often endowed specially; thus Nebuchadrezzar made special provision for the daily sacrifice of eight lambs in the temple of Nergal at Cuthah; and an earlier king of Babylonia describes how he had increased the endowment of the stated offerings at Sippara.

The daily sacrifice was called the śattûku, a term which goes back to the age when the Semite was first mingling with the older Sumerian.28 There were other terms in use to denote the various kinds of offering that were presented to the gods. The animal sacrifice had the name of zîbu, the meal-offering being known as manitu.29 The free-will offering was nidbu; the “gift” or “benevolence” demanded by the god upon the produce of the field being qurbannu, the Hebrew qorbân. Other terms also were employed, the exact sense of which is still uncertain; among them is one which probably means “trespass-offering.”

It is impossible not to be struck by the many points of similarity between the Babylonian ritual and arrangement of the temples and that which existed among the Israelites. The temple of Solomon, in fact, was little more than a reproduction of a Babylonian sanctuary. And just as the palace of the Hebrew king adjoined the temple in which he claimed the right of offering sacrifice, so too at Babylon the palace of Nebuchadrezzar—who, it must be remembered, was a pontiff as well as a king—stood close to the temple of Merodach. Even the bronze serpent which Hezekiah destroyed finds its parallel in the bronze serpents erected in the gates of the Babylonian temples.30 The internal decoration of the sanctuary, moreover, was similar in both countries. The walls were made gorgeous with enamelled bricks, or with plaques of gold and bronze and inlaid stones. Sometimes they were painted with vermilion, the monsters of the Epic of the Creation being pictured on the walls. But more often the painted or sculptured figures were, as at Jerusalem, those of cherubim and the sacred tree or other vegetable devices. At Erech, bull-headed colossi guarded the doors.

But the resemblance between the Babylonian and Hebrew rituals extends beyond the ceremonial of the temple of Solomon into the Levitical Law. In fact, the very term for law, the torâh, as the Israelites called it, was borrowed from the Babylonian tertu, as was first pointed out by Professor Haupt. It is even a question whether the word is not a derivative from the verb ahâru, “to send” or “direct,” from which the name of Aaron was also formed. However this may be, even the technical words of the Mosaic Law recur in the ritual texts of early Babylonia. The biblical kipper, “atonement,” is the Assyrian kuppuru; and the qorbân, as we have seen, is the Assyrian qurbannu. A distinction was made between the offerings of the rich and of the poor (muskînu), 31 and the sacrificial animal was required to be “without blemish” (salmu). The “right” thigh or shoulder of the victim was given to the priest, along with the loins and hide, the rump and tendons, and part of the stomach.32 Still more interesting is it to find in the ritual of the prophets instructions for the sacrifice of a lamb at the gate of the house, the blood of which is to be smeared on the lintels and doorposts, as well as on the colossal images that guarded the entrance.33 To this day in Egypt the same rite is practised, and when my dahabiah was launched I had to conform to it. On this occasion the blood of the lamb was allowed to fall over the sides of the lower deck.

There are other parallels between Babylonia and Mosaic Israel which have been brought forward by Professor Zimmern. In the “Tabernacle of the Congregation,” or “Tent of meeting,” he sees the place where “the proper time” (moêd, Assyr. adannu) for an undertaking was determined by the barû or seer; at any rate, “to determine the proper time” (sakânu sa adanni) was one of the functions of the Babylonian seer.34 By the side of the rituals for the seers and prophets, moreover, there was another for the zammâri or “singers.” The hierarchy of a Babylonian temple was, in short, the same as that of Israel.

But in addition to the architecture of the temple and the regulations of the ritual, there were yet other resemblances between the religious law of Babylonia and that of the Israelites. They may be traced in the numerous festivals of the calendar, and the time of year at which they were held. Foremost among them was the festival of the New Year. Babylonia was primarily an agricultural community, and the festivals of its gods, like the names of the months, were determined by the necessities of agriculture. Spring and autumn were marked by the sowing of the seed and the garnering of the harvest. But neither the one nor the other took place in all parts of the country at the same time of the year. In the south the harvest might be gathered in when the corn was sown in the north, or the seed sown when in colder regions the harvest was gathered in.

Hence it was that the same festival might commemorate either the beginning or the end of the agricultural year. But in either case it was a period of rejoicing and rest from labour, of thanking the gods for their benefits, and offering them the first-fruits of the field. In the old days of Gudea of Lagas the year commenced with the festival of the goddess Bau in the middle of October; in the later Babylon of Khammurabi the feast was transferred to the spring, and the first month of the year began in March. But the older calendar of Babylonia had been already carried to the West, and there preserved in a country to whose climatic and agricultural conditions it was really inapplicable. The ancient Canaanitish year began in the autumn in what the later calendar reckoned the seventh month. It was not, however, till after the final unification of the country under Khammurabi that a fixed and uniform calendar was imposed upon all the sanctuaries of Babylonia. At an earlier epoch the great sanctuaries had each its own calendar; the months were variously named, and the deities to whom the festivals were dedicated were not always the same.35 At Lagas it was Bau to whom the festival of the New Year was sacred; at Babylon it was Merodach.

Besides the festivals of the spring and autumn, there was yet a third festival belonging to the agricultural year. This was the feast of the summer solstice, which fell in the month of June. It marked the drying up of the soil and the disappearance of the crops and vegetation of the spring. In some of the early States of Babylonia it was consecrated to a god Bil-´si;36 in the calendar of Assyria, Tammuz took the place of the older god. Tammuz had perished by an untimely death, and it was fitting that the death of the god should be celebrated when nature also seemed to die. There was a time, however, when the festival of Tammuz had been observed, at all events in some parts of Babylonia, in October rather than in June. The same month that had witnessed the feast of the New Year witnessed also that of Tammuz risen again from the dead.

The three great feasts of the Babylonian agriculturist are found again in Canaan. But it is noticeable that the third of them—the feast of Weeks, as it was called by the Hebrews—was there the correspondent of the spring festival in Babylonia. It was, in fact, a repetition of the festival of spring. And the latter accordingly becomes a prelude and anticipation of it. On the 16th of Nisan the Levitical Law ordered a sheaf of the first-fruits of the harvest to be presented (Lev. xxiii. 10–14), and the unleavened bread eaten at the festival itself symbolised the ingathering of the corn which was thus dedicated to God in the form of consecrated cakes.

The three great agricultural festivals were supplemented by others. Many of these occurred at fixed times of the year, and commemorated the divinities worshipped in one or other of the sanctuaries of Babylonia. Some of them were observed throughout the country; others only in a particular city and district. With the deification of a new king came a new festival in his honour; and if his cult lasted, the festival continued also by the side of the established festivals of the older gods. But new festivals might further be instituted for other reasons. The building or restoration of a sanctuary, or even the dedication of a statue, was a quite sufficient pretext. When Gudea consecrated the temple of Inguriśa at Lagas, he tells us how he had “remitted penalties and given presents. During seven days no service was exacted. The female slave was made the equal of her mistress; the male slave was made the equal of his master; the chief and his subject have been made equal in my city. All that is evil I removed from this temple.”37

The temporary freedom thus granted to the slave seems to have been a characteristic of the Babylonian festival. Berossos stated that in the month of Lôos or July, the feast of Sakæa was celebrated at Babylon for five days, when it was “the custom that the masters should obey their domestics, one of whom is led round the house clothed in a royal garment.”38 The custom has often been compared with that which prevailed at the Roman Saturnalia, and a baseless theory has recently been put forward connecting with it the Hebrew feast of Purim.39 But the custom was really the exaggeration in the Greek age of Babylonian history of the old doctrine which underlay the Babylonian conception of a holy day. A holy day was essentially a holiday, a day when the whole people rested from work, and when, accordingly, even the slave recovered for awhile his freedom. The summer feast of Sakæa, at least in its original form, or the festival ordained by Gudea at the consecration of the temple of Ê-Ninnu, was thus a parallel to the Hebrew year of Jubilee. In the year of Jubilee we have the western reflection of beliefs and usages that were familiar to the ancestors of Abraham.

The Sabbath-rest was essentially of Babylonian origin. The word Sabbath itself was borrowed from Babylonia, where it had the form Sabattu, and was derived by the native lexicographers from the Sumerian sa, “heart,” and “bat, to cease,” and so explained as “a day of rest for the heart.” 40 The derivation is, of course, absurd, but it indicates the antiquity of the term. There was yet another name, sulum, or “quiet day,” which was more especially used as a translation of the Sumerian udu khul-gal, “dies nefastus,” on which it was unlawful or unlucky to perform certain kinds of work.41 Thus, in a list of what we should call the Saints' days in the month of the Second Elul, we read that the 7th, 14th, 19th, 21st, and 28th days of the month were all alike days of quiet and rest. “The 7th day,” we are told, “is a day dedicated to Merodach and Zarpanit. It is a lucky day and a quiet day. The shepherd of mighty nations (i.e. the king) must not eat flesh cooked at the fire or in the smoke. His clothes he must not change. White garments he must not put on. He must not offer sacrifice. The king must not drive a chariot. He must not issue royal decrees. In a secret place the seer must not prophesy. Medicine for the sickness of his body he must not apply. For making a spell it is not fitting.”42 Here the Sabbath recurs, as among the Hebrews, every seven days; and Professor Jensen has pointed out that the 19th of the month, on which there was also a Sabbath, was forty-nine days or seven weeks from the beginning of the previous month. There was therefore not only a week of seven days, but a week of seven-day weeks as well. In fact, the chief difference between the Babylonian and the Hebrew institution lay in the subordination of the Sabbath to the festival of the “new moon” among the Babylonians. There was no Sabbath on the first day of the month; its place was taken by freewill offerings to the moon.

The Sabbath, it will be noticed, was not a fast-day. Fasts, however, were not infrequent in Babylonia and Assyria, and in times of danger and distress might be specially ordained. When Esar-haddon was hard pressed by his northern enemies, he ordered prayers to be made and ceremonies to be performed to the sun-god, lasting for one hundred days and nights. It was a long period of public humiliation, and the god was asked to grant favourable visions to the “seers” who implored his help. In the penitential psalms, fasting is alluded to more than once. “Instead of food,” says the penitent, “I eat bitter tears; instead of palm-wine, I drink the waters of misery.” Or, again: “Food I have not eaten, weeping is my nourishment; water I have not drunk, tears are my drink.”43

The fast and the feast alternated as they did in Israel. As we come to know more of the ritual of Babylonia, the resemblance it bears to that of the Hebrews becomes at once more striking and extensive. They both start from the same principles, and agree in many of their details. Between them, indeed, lies that deep gulf of difference which separates the religions of Israel and Babylonia as a whole; the one is monotheistic, the other polytheistic. But, apart from this profound distinction, the cult and ritual have more than a family relationship. Customs and rites which have lost their primitive meaning in the Levitical Law, find their explanation in Babylonia; even the ecclesiastical calendar of the Pentateuch looks back to the Babylonia of the age of Khammurabi. It cannot be an accident that the Khammurabi or Ammurapi of the cuneiform inscriptions is the Amraphel of Genesis, the contemporary of Abram the Hebrew, who was born in “Ur of the Chaldees.” The Mosaic Law must have drawn its first inspiration from the Abrahamic age, modified and developed though it may have been in the later centuries of Israelitish history.

  • 1.

    See my Hibbert Lectures, pp. 360–363, where the various passages relating to the Babylonian Olympos are quoted.

  • 2.

    The land of Arallu or Hades.

  • 3.

    This, however, is rather the “holy mound”of waters, in which Ea had his home, than the inland mountain of En-lil.

  • 4.

    Ur is the Sumerian word for “zone.” It is translated by arâru, “to bind”; etsêdu, “to bind the sheaves” for harvest; and khamâmu, “to bind” or “fix” laws.

  • 5.

    From Mr. Smith's words it is difficult to determine whether the gates were in the first or second court, or whether (as seems the more probable) the tablet intended us to understand that the gates belonged to both courts.

  • 6.

    The first stage was 300 feet square and 110 feet high, while the topmost was 80 feet long by 70 broad and 50 high.

  • 7.

    For the shewbread, see Zimmern, Beiträge zur Kenntniss der babylonischen Religion, pp. 94, 95; and Haupt, “Babylonian Elements in the Levitic Ritual,” p. 59 (Journal of Biblical Literature, 1900). Sometimes six dozen cakes were laid before the god, sometimes three dozen, more often only one dozen, as among the Israelites. The shewbread is called akal pani, which is the exact equivalent of the Hebrew lekhem happânîm; and Professor Haupt has pointed out that it was required to be unleavened (mutqu).

  • 8.

    Cp. Gen. xi. 5.

  • 9.

    The Sumerian du has, of course, nothing to do with the Semitic Babylonian , “a chapel” (unless, indeed, the latter is borrowed from the Sumerian word). It is properly the equivalent of tilu, “a mound” or “hill”; but as the tilu or tel was generally inhabited, it came further to acquire the signification of subtu, “a dwelling-place.”

  • 10.

    WAI. v. 50. i. 5; 41. 1, Rev. 18.

  • 11.

    See above, p. 374, note 1.

  • 12.

    Samassumukin, ii. pp. 47–51. Nebuchadrezzar calls the Du-azagga, “the place of the oracles of the Ubsu-ginna, the mercy-seat of destinies, which on the festival of the New Year (Zag-muku), on the eighth and eleventh days,” Bel announces before the assembled gods. Jensen (Kosmologie der Babylonier, pp. 239–242) first pointed out that the Ubsu-ginna was “the assembly-place” of the gods, which was located in or upon Ê-kur, “the Mountain of the World” (WAI. iv. 63. 17.). It thus corresponds with “the mount of the Assembly” of Isa. xiv. 13, and illustrates the combination of the theology of Eridu with that of Nippur.

  • 13.

    WAI. iv. 23, No.1, translated in my Hibbert Lectures, p. 495.

  • 14.

    De Sarzec, Découvertes en Chaldée, pp. 216, 217.

  • 15.

    The sangu was called êbar in Sumerian, with which the name of Eber in Gen. xi. 15 may possibly be compared.

  • 16.

    Not “astrologers,” as has sometimes been supposed. Kalû is borrowed from the Sumerian kal, as makhkhû is from makh. At their head was the abba-kalla, aba-kal, or ab-gal, a word which under the first form is used as a proper name in early Babylonian texts. Assyrian colonists carried it to Kappadokia, and Strabo accordingly tells us that the high priest of Komana was called Abaklês. A Hellenised form of the title, Bakêlos, is given by Hesychius, who renders it by “the grandee” and “the gallospriest” (see my note in the Proc. SBA. xxiii. p. 106). Abgal is stated to be the equivalent not only of the borrowed Assyrian abkallu, but also of bil terti, “master of the law”; khaśśu and imqu, “the learned one” (like the Arabic ᾽alim); and mar ummani, “the craftsman” or “professional” (WAI. v. 13. 37–42) The relation of kalû to gallu, (Sumerian kal and galla), “a servant,” is not yet clear, though it must be remembered that the gallos was the “servant” of Kybelê. On the use of kal, “servant” in the Sumerian texts, see Reisner, Tempelurkunden aus Telloh, pp. 20, 21.

  • 17.

    So in a text quoted in my Hibbert Lectures, p. 81, “like Bel on the mercy-seat of the destinies the prophecy shall be uttered, this shall be said: ‘Bel has come forth, the king has looked after me.’” A special class of “prophets” bore the name of masmas (whence masmasu in Assyrian), which is translated mullilu, “the praiser” of the gods (Heb. hillêl).

  • 18.

    See my Hibbert Lectures, p. 79.

  • 19.

    Ê-kua and Mâ-Kua, bit-assaputi and elip-assaputi in Semitic. Jastrow mistranslates “dwelling-house” instead of “oracle” or “prophecy”; the true meaning of the word was already discovered by Oppert in the early days of cuneiform decipherment.

  • 20.

    The sabrû was distinct from the barû, whose name seems to have a more general signification, and Professor Haupt is probably right in regarding it as the shaphel form of the latter. He gives barû, however, too wide a meaning when he makes it denote a “diviner” of every kind and sort. It is true that magic was taken under the ægis of Babylonian theology, and that just as the asipi or “prophets” might be made to include the “enchanters” and “pronouncers” of spells, so the bari might include those who sought to divine the future by examining the entrails of victims or by means of a cup (cp. Gen. xliv. 5). But, properly speaking, the barû, like the sabru, “revealed” the future by means of dreams. Haupt's correction of baddîm into bârîm, “diviners,” in Isa. xliv. 25 and Jer. 1. 36, is brilliant (Babylonian Elements in the Levitic Ritual, p. 57). The Sumerian equivalent of barû is KHAL (or more correctly âkhal); that of sabrû, PA AL, where PA means “the official.”

  • 21.

    Thureau-Dangin, “Tablettes chaldéennes inédites,” in the Revue d' Assyriologie, iv. 3, pl. xiii 40, Obv.

  • 22.

    So too was a person of illegitimate birth, as has been pointed out by Haupt (Journal of Biblical Literature (1900), p. 57).

  • 23.

    J. D. Price in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, xxi. 2, pp. 1–22. In the hemerology published in WAI. iv. 32, the animal mentioned in col. 1, line 3, is not a gazelle, as I have supposed in my Hibbert Lectures, p. 70, but a “goat” (Sumerian sikku, Assyrian sapparu).

  • 24.

    There is no question here of a scape-goat or anything similar. The word “offspring” is uritsu, which is the regular equivalent of BIR “suboles.” The addition of the words sa amiluti, “of mankind,” confines it in this case to man. Already, in 1875, in my Elementary Assyrian Grammar (p. 123), I pointed out that it was connected with the Arabic warats, which I see (like many other things of the same sort) has recently been announced as a new discovery. The verb ittadin, by the way, is an Iphteal, not a Niphal, and therefore cannot be translated as a passive.

  • 25.

    De Sarzec, Découvertes en Chaldée, iv. 1, pl. 4 bis. This was in the time of king E-anna-du. A bas-relief of the time of Entemena on the same plate, 5 bis (3b), represents what may also be a human sacrifice, one naked captive lying on the ground already slain, while another is being led to execution.

  • 26.

    References are given in Jastrow, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, p.666.

  • 27.

    The tithe was paid on the 5th of Ab; on the 16th of Tammuz, nineteen days earlier, Gobryas had entered Babylon with the soldiers of Cyrus.

  • 28.

    A more comprehensive term was (ginû, “the fixed offering,” which included not only the daily sacrifices, but all other stated sacrifices as well.

  • 29.

    See my Hibbert Lectures, p. 72, note 2.

  • 30.

    WAI. i. 65, ii. 19–21; 54. iii. 48–50. See Trumbull, The Threshold Covenant, pp. 110, 116.

  • 31.

    Cp. Lev. v. 7, 11.

  • 32.

    Haupt, Babylonian Elements in the Levitic Ritual, pp. 60, 61.

  • 33.

    Zimmern, Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Babylonischen Religion, p. 127.

  • 34.

    L.c., p. 88, note 2.

  • 35.

    On the early Babylonian calendar, see Radau, Early Babylonian History, pp. 287–307.

  • 36.

    The real reading of the god's name is unknown. He was identified with Nin-ip (WAI. ii. 57. 68), the sun of the south (WAI. ii. 57. 51), and therefore the midday sun—not the morning sun, as has recently been maintained. Nin-ip was the messenger or “angel” of El-lil of Nippur, and consequently Bil-´si is further identified with “the moon of Nippur” (WAI. 57. 56), the angel of the lord of the ghost-world being more properly the moon than the sun. When Bel-Merodach of Babylon usurped the functions of El-lil, Bel-´si naturally became Nebo, “the power of strength” (WAI. v. 43. 37), who stood in the same relation to Merodach that Nin-ip did to El-lil. Bil-´si was also the seventh of the tikpi-stars (WAI. ii. 49. 10–13, iii. 50–52).

  • 37.

    Amiaud's translation in Records of the Past, new ser., ii. pp. 83, 84.

  • 38.

    Athenæus, Deipnosophist. 14.

  • 39.

    The most obvious derivation of the Hebrew Purim is that which I have proposed in the Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archæology, xix. 7, pp. 280, 281, little as it may suit certain fashionable hypotheses. On the Black Obelisk (175), Shalmaneser says: “For the second time the Pûr-festival of Assur and Hadad I celebrated”; and a deed of sale (Rm. 2. 19) is dated in the eponymy of Bel-danan, B.C. 734, “in the year of his Pûr-office” (ina sanê puri-su). Pur, which is interpreted “a lot,” has naturally no connection with the Assyrian bur, which is stated to mean “a stone.” That we must read bur and not pur, is shown by the variant spelling ba-ar (Sa 5. iv. 10).

  • 40.

    WAI. ii. 32. 16. The reading of Delitzsch and myself has been called in question, the tablet having apparently been damaged since we examined it, but all doubts have now been set at rest by K 93037, Obv. 24 (published in Cuneiform Texts, xii. 6), where sabattum is the equivalent of a Sumerian “the day” par excellence. Babylonia was the home of astronomy and of the sacredness of the number seven, due to the fact that there were seven planets, so that a seventh-day Sabbath was natural there.

  • 41.

    Compare the Rabbinical phrase, “soiling the hands,” applied to the inspired boots of Scripture.

  • 42.

    A translation of the whole text is given in my Hibbert Lectures, pp. 70–76. With the last prohibition, compare Isa. lviii. 13, “not speaking thine own words” on the Sabbath-day.

  • 43.

    Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, pp. 322, 323.