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Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 94

It is strange that although we know that Nusku had been a Babylonian god from early times, and had figured in the pantheon of Khammurabi, it is not until Assyrian times that we gain any very definite information regarding him. The symbols used in his name are a sceptre and a stylus, and he is called by Shalmaneser I 'The Bearer of the Brilliant Sceptre.' This circumstance associates him closely with Nabu, to designate whom the same symbols are employed. It is difficult, however, to believe that the two are one, as some writers appear to think, for Nusku is certainly a solar deity, while Nabu appears to have originally been a water-god. There are, however, not wanting cases where the same deity has evinced both solar and aqueous characteristics, and these are to be found notably among the gods of American races. Thus among the Maya of Central America the god Kukulcan is depicted with both solar and aqueous attributes, and similar[Pg 225] instances could be drawn from lesser-known mythologies. Nusku and Nabu are, however, probably connected in some way, but exactly in what manner is obscure. In Babylonian times Nusku had become amalgamated with Gibil, the god of fire, which perhaps accounts for his virtual effacement in the southern kingdom. In Assyria we find him alluded to as the messenger of Bel-Merodach, and Assur-bani-pal addresses him as 'the highly honoured messenger of the gods.' The Assyrians do not seem to have identified him in any way with Gibil, the fire-god.

Bel-Merodach

Even Bel-Merodach was absorbed into the Assyrian pantheon. To the Assyrians, Babylonia was the country of Bel, and they referred to their southern neighbours as the 'subjects of Bel.' This, of course, must be taken not to mean the older Bel, but Bel-Merodach. They even alluded to the governor whom they placed over conquered Babylonia as the governor of Bel, so closely did they identify the god with the country. It is only in the time of Shalmaneser II—the ninth century B.C.—that we find the name Merodach employed for Bel, so general did the use of the latter become. Of course it was impossible that Merodach could take first place in Assyria as he had done in Babylonia, but it was a tribute to the Assyrian belief in his greatness that they ranked him immediately after Asshur in the pantheon.

Prisoner-Gods

The Assyrian rulers were sufficiently politic to award this place to Merodach, for they could not but see that Babylonia, from which they drew their arts[Pg 226] and sciences, as well as their religious beliefs, and from which they benefited in many directions, must be worthily represented in the national religion. And just as the Romans in conquering Greece and Egypt adopted many of the deities of these more cultured and less powerful lands, thus seeking to bind the inhabitants of the conquered provinces more closely to themselves, so did the Assyrian rulers believe that, did they incorporate Merodach into their hierarchy, he would become so Assyrian in his outlook as to cease to be wholly Babylonian, and would doubtless work in favour of the stronger kingdom. In no other of the religions of antiquity as in the Assyrian was the idea so powerful that the god of the conquered or subject people should become a virtual prisoner in the land of the conquerors, or should at least be absorbed into their national worship. Some of the Assyrian monarchs went so far as to drag almost every petty idol they encountered on their conquests back to the great temple of Asshur, and it is obvious that they did not do this with any intention of uprooting the worship of these gods in the regions they conquered, but because they desired to make political prisoners of them, and to place them in a temple-prison, where they would be unable to wreak vengeance upon them, or assist their beaten worshippers to war against them in the future.


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