The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria HTML version

Chapter 2. The Religion Of The Babylonians And
The Sumero-Akkadians and the Semites.
For the history of the development of the religion of the Babylonians and Assyrians much
naturally depends upon the composition of the population of early Babylonia. There is
hardly any doubt that the Sumero-Akkadians were non-Semites of a fairly pure race, but
the country of their origin is still unknown, though a certain relationship with the
Mongolian and Turkish nationalities, probably reaching back many centuries--perhaps
thousands of years--before the earliest accepted date, may be regarded as equally likely.
Equally uncertain is the date of the entry of the Semites, whose language ultimately
displaced the non-Semitic Sumero-Akkadian idioms, and whose kings finally ruled over
the land. During the third millennium before Christ Semites, bearing Semitic names, and
called Amorites, appear, and probably formed the last considerable stratum of tribes of
that race which entered the land. The name Martu, the Sumero-Akkadian equivalent of
Amurru, "Amorite", is of frequent occurrence also before this period. The eastern
Mediterranean coast district, including Palestine and the neighbouring tracts, was known
by the Babylonians and Assyrians as the land of the Amorites, a term which stood for the
West in general even when these regions no longer bore that name. The Babylonians
maintained their claim to sovereignty over that part as long as they possessed the power
to do so, and naturally exercised considerable influence there. The existence in Palestine,
Syria, and the neighbouring states, of creeds containing the names of many Babylonian
divinities is therefore not to be wondered at, and the presence of West Semitic divinities
in the religion of the Babylonians need not cause us any surprise.
The Babylonian script and its evidence.
In consequence of the determinative prefix for a god or a goddess being, in the oldest
form, a picture of an eight-rayed star, it has been assumed that Assyro-Babylonian
mythology is, either wholly or partly, astral in origin. This, however, is by no means
certain, the character for "star" in the inscriptions being a combination of three such
pictures, and not a single sign. The probability therefore is, that the use of the single star
to indicate the name of a divinity arises merely from the fact that the character in question
stands for /ana/, "heaven." Deities were evidently thus distinguished by the Babylonians
because they regarded them as inhabitants of the realms above--indeed, the heavens being
the place where the stars are seen, a picture of a star was the only way of indicating
heavenly things. That the gods of the Babylonians were in many cases identified with the
stars and planets is certain, but these identifications seem to have taken place at a
comparatively late date. An exception has naturally to be made in the case of the sun and
moon, but the god Merodach, if he be, as seems certain, a deified Babylonian king, must
have been identified with the stars which bear his name after his worshippers began to
pay him divine honours as the supreme deity, and naturally what is true for him may also
be so for the other gods whom they worshipped. The identification of some of the deities
with stars or planets is, moreover, impossible, and if Ea, the god of the deep, and Anu,