Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 98The idea of space, too, must have assisted in such a conception as the residence of the gods in the upper[Pg 235] regions of air. The earth would not be large enough for them, but the boundless vault above would afford them plenty of space in which to dwell. Again, the sun and moon being gods, it would be only natural for the other deities to dwell beside them, that is, in the 'heaven of Anu,' as the Babylonians called the sky. It has been suggested that the conception of a pantheon dwelling in the sky originated in theological processes forwarded by a school or priesthood, but there is no reason to suppose that this was so, and the possibilities are easily covered by the circumstances of the animistic theory.
Jupiter, the largest of the planets, was identified with Merodach, head of the Babylonian pantheon. We find him exercising control over the other stars in the creation story under the name Nibir. Ishtar was identified with Venus, Saturn with Ninib, Mars with Nergal, Mercury with Nabu. It is more than strange that gods with certain attributes should have become attached to certain planets in more countries than one, and this illustrates the deep and lasting influence which Semitic religious thought exercised over the Hellenic and Roman theological systems. The connexion is too obvious and too exact not to be the result of close association. There are, indeed, hundreds of proofs to support such a theory. Who can suppose, for example, that Aphrodite is any other than Ishtar? The Romans identified their goddess Diana with the patroness of Ephesus. There are, indeed, traces of direct relations of the Greek goddess with the moon, and she was also, like Ishtar, connected with the lower world and the sea. The Greeks had numerous and flourishing colonies[Pg 236] in Asia Minor in remote times, and these probably assisted in the dissemination of Asiatic and especially Babylonian lore.
The sun was regarded as the shepherd of the stars, and Nergal, the god of destruction and the underworld, as the 'chief sheep,' probably because the ruddy nature of his light rendered him a most conspicuous object. Anu is the Pole Star of the ecliptic, Bel the Pole Star of the equator, while Ea, in the southern heavens, was identified with a star in the constellation Argo. Fixed stars were probably selected for them because of their permanent and elemental nature. The sun they represented as riding in a chariot drawn by horses, and we frequently notice that the figure representing the luminary on Greek vases and other remains wears the Phrygian cap, a typically Asiatic and non-Hellenic head-dress, thus assisting proof that the idea of the sun as a charioteer possibly originated in Babylonia. Lunar worship, or at least computation of time by the phases of the moon, frequently precedes the solar cult, and we find traces in Babylonian religion of the former high rank of the moon-god. The moon, for example, is not one of the flock of sheep under guidance of the sun. The very fact that the calendar was regulated by her movements was sufficient to prevent this. Like the Red Indians and other primitive folk, the Babylonians possessed agricultural titles for each month, but these periods were also under the direct patronage of some god or gods. Thus the first month, Nizan, is sacred to Anu and Bel; and the second, Iyar, to Ea. Siwan is devoted to Sin, and as we approach the summer season the solar gods are apportioned to various months. The sixth month is sacred to Ishtar, and the seventh to Shamash, great god of the[Pg 237] sun. Merodach rules over the eighth, and Nergal over the ninth month. The tenth, curiously enough, is sacred to a variant of Nabu, to Anu, and to Ishtar. The eleventh month, very suitably, to Ramman, the god of storms, and the last month, Adar, falling within the rainy season, is presided over by the seven evil spirits.