The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria HTML version

Chapter 1. Foreword
Position, and Period.
The religion of the Babylonians and Assyrians was the polytheistic faith professed by the
peoples inhabiting the Tigris and Euphrates valleys from what may be regarded as the
dawn of history until the Christian era began, or, at least, until the inhabitants were
brought under the influence of Christianity. The chronological period covered may be
roughly estimated at about 5000 years. The belief of the people, at the end of that time,
being Babylonian heathenism leavened with Judaism, the country was probably ripe for
the reception of the new faith. Christianity, however, by no means replaced the earlier
polytheism, as is evidenced by the fact, that the worship of Nebo and the gods associated
with him continued until the fourth century of the Christian era.
By whom followed.
It was the faith of two distinct peoples--the Sumero-Akkadians, and the Assyro-
Babylonians. In what country it had its beginnings is unknown--it comes before us, even
at the earliest period, as a faith already well-developed, and from that fact, as well as
from the names of the numerous deities, it is clear that it began with the former race--the
Sumero-Akkadians--who spoke a non-Semitic language largely affected by phonetic
decay, and in which the grammatical forms had in certain cases become confused to such
an extent that those who study it ask themselves whether the people who spoke it were
able to understand each other without recourse to devices such as the "tones" to which the
Chinese resort. With few exceptions, the names of the gods which the inscriptions reveal
to us are all derived from this non-Semitic language, which furnishes us with satisfactory
etymologies for such names as Merodach, Nergal, Sin, and the divinities mentioned in
Berosus and Damascius, as well as those of hundreds of deities revealed to us by the
tablets and slabs of Babylonia and Assyria.
The documents.
Outside the inscriptions of Babylonia and Assyria, there is but little bearing upon the
religion of those countries, the most important fragment being the extracts from Berosus
and Damascius referred to above. Among the Babylonian and Assyrian remains,
however, we have an extensive and valuable mass of material, dating from the fourth or
fifth millennium before Christ until the disappearance of the Babylonian system of
writing about the beginning of the Christian era. The earlier inscriptions are mostly of the
nature of records, and give information about the deities and the religion of the people in
the course of descriptions of the building and rebuilding of temples, the making of
offerings, the performance of ceremonies, etc. Purely religious inscriptions are found near
the end of the third millennium before Christ, and occur in considerable numbers, either
in the original Sumerian text, or in translations, or both, until about the third century
before Christ. Among the more recent inscriptions--those from the library of the Assyrian