An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 89Allatu and her chiefs enjoy thrones of gold adorned with precious stones, as though to mark emphatically the difference between themselves and the culprits. Allatu may recompense or condemn, according to the needs of the cases that come[Pg 202] before her, and has the power, for instance, to strike an offender with disease of the body, or to consign him to prison.
The Assyrian Hades was separated from the land of the living by a river of Death. It had no substance, shape, or atmosphere, but was filled with chilling cold and melancholy gloom. It boasted a department of judgment, like the Hebrew Sheol, which in later years became further developed, and marks a most important variation in the evolution of the idea of a place of punishment. The journey to this hall of judgment was full of dangers and horrors of every description, through which the deceased must pass.
The Babylonian Hades resembles the medieval Hell inasmuch as the disembodied souls wander about in search of escape. Allatu, with her divining rod, ruled her dominion with relentless power; and being the goddess of death and barrenness, she lived in constant dread of Ea, the god of wisdom, who could alone cancel the spells of the Underworld and cause men to live again.
The idea of personifying the stars and planets, so that besides appearing in the sky they presided on the earth in living bodies, is exemplified in the later Babylonian mythology. This astral system had the outstanding feature that occurrences on earth closely corresponded to the movements in Heaven. The gods and goddesses had seats assigned to them in the heavens while their spirits pervaded the earth. Shamash and Sin, the two greatest deities, represented the sun and moon, and were followed by the other planetary gods. Anu became the greatest of the gods and assumed supreme command of the heavens.
The Babylonians pictured a region in Hades for the reception of righteous souls. Into this region those who after judgment appeared to merit recompense gained admission. Under a peaceful silver sky ancient prophets, crowned in triumph, sat amid pleasant fields. A clear stream rippled past and quenched the thirst of the seers from year's end to year's end. This was the water of life, belonging to Ishtar, and endowing her with the power to return to earth. From this region spirits passed into a firmament above, consisting of the earthly sphere in addition to the heavenly. It had windows from which[Pg 203] the rain descended, and a flight of steps leading from the zenith to the earth.
The Jewish place of punishment was Gehenna, where corporal as well as spiritual torment was meted out to the wicked. In later Jewish eschatology, it was the place of eternal punishment for the Gentile races, apostate Jews being retained there in a description of purgatory until, their sin atoned for, they could pass to Paradise. Sheol, on the other hand, was perhaps a more purely Hebrew conception than Gehenna, which probably had its origin in the old Accadian Gi-umuna. Sheol is the common abode of just and unjust alike after death, and life there was shadowy and unsubstantial as in the Greek Hades, It is well described in Isaiah xiv, 9-11: