Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 84It is thought that the Babylonian priests at stated intervals enacted the myth of the slaughter of Tiawath. This is highly probable, as in Greece and Egypt the myths of Persephone and Osiris were represented[Pg 202] dramatically before a select audience of initiates. We see that these representations are nearly always made in the case of divinities who represent corn or vegetation as a whole, or the fructifying power of springtime. The name of Merodach's consort Zarpanitum was rendered by the priesthood as 'seed producing,' to mark her connexion with the god who was responsible for the spring revival.
Merodach's ideograph is the sun, and there is abundant evidence that he was first and last a solar god. The name, originally Amaruduk, probably signifies 'the young steer of day,' which seems to be a figure for the morning sun. He was also called Asari, which may be compared with Asar, the Egyptian name of Osiris. Other names given him are Sar-agagam, 'the glorious incantation,' and Meragaga, 'the glorious charm,' both of which refer to the circumstance that he obtained from Ea, his father, certain charms and incantations which restored the sick to health and exercised a beneficial influence upon mankind.
Merodach was supposed to have a court of his own above the sky, where he was attended to by a host of ministering deities. Some superintended his food and drink supply, while others saw to it that water for his hands was always ready. He had also door-keepers and even attendant hounds, and it is thought that the satellites of Jupiter, the planet which represented him, may have been dimly visible to those among the Chaldean star-gazers who were gifted with good sight. These dogs were called Ukkumu, 'Seizer,' Akkulu, 'Eater,' Iksuda, 'Grasper,' and Iltehu, 'Holder.' It is not known whether these were supposed to assist him in shepherding his flock or in the chase, and their names seem appropriate either for sheep-dogs or hunting hounds.
The Pantheon of Assyria, as befitted the religious system of a nation of soldiers, was more highly organized than that of the kindred people of Babylonia, the ranks and relationships of the gods who comprised it were more definitely fixed, it was considerably more compact than that of the southern kingdom, and its lesser luminaries were fewer. It has been assumed that the deities of the Assyrians were practically identical in every respect with those of the Babylonians, with the single exception of Asshur, who equated with Merodach. With all due respect to practical Assyriologists the student of Comparative Religion may perhaps be granted leave to take exception to such a statement. Ethnological differences (and these certainly existed between the peoples of the northern and southern culture-groups), climatic conditions, a different political environment—all these as well as other considerations, as important if less obvious, must have effected almost radical changes in the ideas of the gods as conceived by the Assyrians. Exactly what these changes were we shall probably never know. They are scarcely likely to be revealed by inscriptions or sacred writings which undoubtedly conserve for us little more than the purely ecclesiastical view-point, always anxious to embalm with scrupulous care the cherished theological beliefs of an older day. But little of the religious beliefs of a people can survive in priestly inscriptions and the labours of priestly copyists, nor is it safe or scientific to endorse the character of the faith of a race by comparison or analogy with that of a neighbouring folk. If a[Pg 204] striking example were required of the danger of such a proceeding it might be found in the vain attempt to discover an exact parallel between the religious systems of ancient Mexico and those of Guatemala and Yucatan. The city-states of the more northerly group of people had evolved a separate system of worship for each pueblo or town, the deities of which, with minor differences, were substantially identical. But when the pantheons of the more southerly region come to be examined it will be found that, although the gods which figure in them spring apparently from the same stock as those of the Mexican people, and even possess names which are mere translations of those of the gods of Mexico, their attributes and characteristics differ profoundly from those of their Mexican congeners. The reason for this dissimilarity is to be found in variations of climate, culture, and politics, three sure factors in the modification of religion. If, then, we are satisfied that such differences existed in the religious systems of two race-groups almost as closely connected as were the peoples of Babylonia and Assyria, may we not be pardoned for the supposition that similar divergences existed between the faiths of the two great races of Chaldea?