Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 85We find in the Assyrian pantheon numerous foreign deities whom the Assyrian kings included among the national gods by right of conquest. These we shall deal with later. It will suffice for the present to mention Assur-bani-pal, who speaks of the capture of twenty gods of the Elamites. It was, of course, only upon the rise of a distinct Assyrian empire that the religion of the northern kingdom acquired traits that distinguished it from that of Babylonia.
Having outlined the reasons for the differences which we believe to have existed between the Babylonian[Pg 205] and Assyrian faiths, let us briefly consider the variation of type between the two peoples which must have caused this divergence. The languages of the two races were not more distinct than the dialects of northern and southern England—indeed among scholars they are designated by the common name of Assyrian. But the Assyrians had a pure strain of that Semitic blood which has done so much to systematize religions ancient and modern. The Semite cannot content himself with half-truths. It is essential to his very life, that he must feel himself upon sure religious ground. He hates doubt and despises the doubter. At an early time in his ancient career he had so securely systematized religion as to supply the earliest instances of pure dogma. There followed the relentless abjuration of all the troublous circumstances of mistrust. A code founded upon the rock of unquestioning faith was instituted. And in the religious systems of Babylonia and especially of Assyria we observe a portion of the process of evolution which assisted in the upbuilding of a narrow yet highly spiritualized system.
The great gods in Assyria were even more omnipotent than in Babylonia. One cause contributing to this was the absorption of the minor local cults by deities associated with the great centres of Assyrian life. Early religion is extremely sensitive to political change, and as a race evolves from the tribal or local state and bands itself into a nation, so the local gods become national and centralized, probably in the great deity of the most politically active city in the state. Nor is it essential to this process that the deities absorbed should be of a like nature with the absorbing god. Quite often a divinity assumes the name and attributes of one with whom he had little in common.
The state religion of Assyria centres in Asshur, nor was any deity ever so closely identified with an empire as he. On the fall of the Assyrian state, Asshur fell with it. Moreover all the gods of Assyria may be said to have been combined in his person. In Babylonia, Merodach was a leader of hosts. In Assyria, Asshur personified these hosts, that is, the other Assyrian gods had become attributes of Asshur, and we can only understand the remaining Assyrian gods if we regard them as lesser Asshurs, so to speak, as broken lights of the great god of battle and conquest.