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Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 134

This bestowal of departmental characteristics upon the gods of Babylonia and Assyria was contemporary with the erection of these countries into empires. No pantheon can exist on high without a political reflex in the world below. Like the granting of most departmental offices in religious systems, these changes took place at a comparatively late date in the evolution of Semitic religion. Whenever we find[Pg 316] the departmental deities of a religious system more or less sharply outlined as to their duties and status we may premise two things: first, that temporal power has been acquired by the race which conceived them, and secondly that this power is of comparatively recent origin.

Semitic Conservatism

When we speak of departmental deities of a country like Babylonia or Egypt we must bear in mind that these lands knew so many dynasties and had such an extended history that their religious systems must from first to last have experienced the most profound changes. In Egypt, for example, religious phenomena altered slowly and by imperceptible degrees. The changes experienced in the course of fifty centuries of religious evolution must have made the cults of Egypt exhibit very different conditions at the close of their development from, let us say, those seen midway in their evolutionary course. We have seen how the Babylonian and Assyrian faiths altered in the course of generations, but withal there appears to have been something more strongly conservative in the nature of Semitic religion than in any other. Probably in no other land did the same ritual and the same religious practices obtain over so long a period as in Babylonia, where the national life was much stronger and much more centralized than in Egypt, and where, if rival cults did exist, they were all subservient to one, as was by no means the case in the land of the Nile.

Teutonic and Celtic Comparisons

Compared with the great Germanic religion the Babylonian offers few points of resemblance. In[Pg 317] the faith of the Teutons departmental deities were the rule rather than the exception; in fact in no mythic system are the gods so associated with departments as in the Teutonic, and this despite the fact that no definite empire was ruled by Teutonic tribes. (Was the Teutonic system the remains of a religious aristocracy which had hived off from some centre of political power?) Nor do the Semitic religions have much in common with the Celtic so far as their basis of polity is concerned, although numerous valiant attempts have been made by antiquarian gentlemen, of the type so common half a century ago and not yet defunct, to prove Babylonian influence upon Celtic faith and story. Thus we have been told that the Celtic Bilé was as certainly allied to the Semitic Bel as the Roman Mars was to the Greek Ares, and this of course through Phœnician influence, the people of Tyre and Sidon having been traced to Ireland as colonists. These 'theories' are, of course, not worth the paper they are printed upon, any more than is the supposition that the Scottish-Celtic festival of Beltane has any connexion with the Babylonian Bel. It was, in fact, presided over by the god Bilé, a Celtic deity who has on other counts been confounded with the Babylonian god.


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