Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 95It may be fitting at this point to emphasize how greatly the Assyrian people, as apart from their rulers, cherished the older beliefs of Babylonia. Both peoples were substantially of the same stock, and any movement which had as its object the destruction of the Babylonian religion would have met with the strongest hostility from the populace of Assyria. Just as the conquering Aztecs seem to have had[Pg 227] immense reverence for the worship of the Toltecs, whose land they subdued, so did the less cultivated Assyrians regard everything connected, with Babylonia as peculiarly sacred. The Kings of Assyria, in fact, were not a little proud of being the rulers of Babylonia, and were extremely mild in their treatment of their southern subjects—very much more so, in fact, than they were in their behaviour toward the people of Elam or other conquered territories. We even find the kings alluding to themselves as being nominated by the gods to rule over the land of Bel.
The Assyrian monarchs strove hard not to disturb the ancient Babylonian cult, and Shalmaneser II, when he had conquered Babylonia, actually entered Merodach's temple and sacrificed to him.
As for Bel, whose place Merodach usurped in the Babylonian pantheon, he was also recognized in Assyria, and Tiglath-pileser I built him a temple in his city of Asshur. Tiglath prefixes the adjective 'old' to the god's name to show that he means Bel, not Bel-Merodach. Sargon, too, who had antiquarian tastes, also reverts to Bel, to whom he alludes as the 'Great Mountain,' the name of the god following immediately after that of Asshur. Bel is also invoked in connexion with Anu as a granter of victory. His consort Belit, although occasionally she is coupled with him, more usually figures as the wife of Asshur, and almost as commonly as a variant of Ishtar. In a temple in the city of Asshur, Tiglath-pileser I made presents to Belit consisting of the images of the gods vanquished by him in his various campaigns. Assur-bani-pal, too, regarded Belit as the wife of Asshur, and himself[Pg 228] as their son, alluding to Belit as 'Mother of the Great Gods,' a circumstance which would go to show that, like most of the Assyrian kings, his egoism rather overshadowed his sense of humour. In Assur-bani-pal's pantheon Belit is placed close by her consort Asshur. But there seems to have been a good deal of confusion between Belit and Ishtar because of the general meaning of the word Belit.
As in Babylonia so in Assyria, Nabu and Merodach were paired together, often as Bel and Nabu. Especially were they invoked when the affairs of Babylonia were being dealt with. In the seventh century B.C. we find the cult of Nabu in high popularity in Assyria, and indeed Ramman-Nirari III appears to have made an attempt to advance Nabu considerably. He erected a temple to the god at Calah, and granted him many resounding titles. But even so, it does not seem that Ramman-Nirari intended to exalt Nabu at the expense of Asshur. Indeed it would have been impossible for him to have done so if he had desired to. Asshur was as much the national god of the Assyrian people as Osiris was of the Egyptians. Nabu was the patron of wisdom, and protector of the arts; he guided the stylus of the scribe; and in these attributes he is very close to the Egyptian Thoth, and almost identical with another Babylonian god, Nusku, alluded to on pages 224, 225. Sargon calls Nabu 'the Seer who guides the gods,' and it would seem from some notices of him that he was also regarded as a leader of heavenly or spiritual forces. Those kings who were fond of erudition paid great devotion to Nabu, and many of the tablets in[Pg 229] their literary collections close with thanksgiving to him for having opened their ears to receive wisdom.