Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 83

Originally Merodach appears to have been a sun-god personifying more especially the sun of the springtime. Thus he was a fitting deity to defeat the chaotic Tiawath, who personified darkness and destruction. But there is another side to him—the agricultural side. Says Jastrow (Religion in Babylonia and Assyria, p. 38): "At Nippur, as we shall see, there developed an elaborate lamentation ritual[Pg 200] for the occasions when national catastrophes, defeat, failure of crops, destructive storms, and pestilence revealed the displeasure and anger of the gods." At such times earnest endeavours were made, through petitions accompanied by fasting and other symbols of contrition, to bring about a reconciliation with the angered power. This ritual, owing to the religious pre-eminence of Nippur, became the norm and standard throughout the Euphrates Valley, so that when Marduk (Merodach) and Babylonia came practically to replace En-lil and Nippur, the formulas and appeals were transferred to the solar deity of Babylon, who, representing more particularly the sun-god of spring, was well adapted to be viewed as the one to bring blessings and favours after the sorrows and tribulations of the stormy season.

Strange as it will appear, although he was patron god of Babylon he did not originate in that city, but in Eridu, the city of Ea, and probably this is the reason why he was first regarded as the son of Ea. He is also directly associated with Shamash, the chief sun-god of the later pantheon, and is often addressed as the 'god of canals' and 'opener of subterranean fountains.' In appearance he is usually drawn with tongues of fire proceeding from his person, thus indicating his solar character. At other times he is represented as standing above the watery deep, with a horned creature at his feet, which also occasionally serves to symbolize Ea. It is noteworthy, too, that his temple at Babylon bore the same name—E-Sagila, 'the lofty house,'—as did Ea's sanctuary at Eridu.

We find among the cuneiform texts—a copy of an older Babylonian text—an interesting little poem which shows how Merodach attracted the attributes of the other gods to himself.

[Pg 201]

Ea is the Marduk (or Merodach) of canals;
Ninib is the Marduk of strength;
Nergal is the Marduk of war;
Zamama is the Marduk of battle;
Enlil is the Marduk of sovereignty and control;
Nebo is the Marduk of possession;
Sin is the Marduk of illumination of the night;
Shamash is the Marduk of judgments;
Adad is the Marduk of rain;
Tishpak is the Marduk of the host;
Gal is the Marduk of strength;
Shukamunu is the Marduk of the harvest.

This would seem as if Merodach had absorbed the characteristics of all the other gods of any importance so successfully that he had almost established his position as the sole deity in Babylonia, and that therefore some degree of monotheism had been arrived at.

A New-Year's Ceremony

On the first day of the Babylonian New Year an assembly of the gods was held at Babylon, when all the principal gods were grouped round Merodach in precisely the same manner in which the King was surrounded by the nobility and his officials, for many ancient faiths imagined that the polity of earth merely mirrored that of heaven, that, as Paracelsus would have said, the earth was the microcosm of the heavenly macrocosm—"as above, so below." The ceremony in question consisted in the lesser deities paying homage to Merodach as their liege lord. In this council, too, they decided the political action of Babylonia for the coming year.