Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 10

O thou River, who didst create all things,
When the great gods dug thee out,
They set prosperity upon thy banks,
Within thee Ea, the king of the Deep, created his dwelling.[10]

The Sumerians observed that the land was brought into existence by means of the obstructing reeds, which caused mud to accumulate. When their minds began to be exercised regarding the origin of life, they conceived that the first human beings were created by a similar process:

Marduk (son of Ea) laid a reed upon the face of the waters,
He formed dust and poured it out beside the reed ...
He formed mankind.[11]

Ea acquired in time, as the divine artisan, various attributes which reflected the gradual growth of civilization: he was reputed to have taught the people how to form canals, control the rivers, cultivate the fields, build their houses, and so on.

But although Ea became a beneficent deity, as a result of the growth of civilization, he had also a demoniac form, and had to be propitiated. The worshippers of the fish god retained ancient modes of thought and perpetuated ancient superstitious practices.

The earliest settlers in the Tigro-Euphrates valley were agriculturists, like their congeners, the proto-Egyptians and the Neolithic Europeans. Before they broke away from the parent stock in its area of characterization they had acquired the elements of culture, and adopted habits of thought which were based on the agricultural mode of life. Like other agricultural communities they were worshippers of the "World Mother", the Creatrix, who was the giver of all good things, the "Preserver" and also the "Destroyer"--the goddess whose moods were reflected by natural phenomena, and whose lovers were the spirits of the seasons.

In the alluvial valley which they rendered fit for habitation the Sumerians came into contact with peoples of different habits of life and different habits of thought. These were the nomadic pastoralists from the northern steppe lands, who had developed in isolation theories regarding the origin of the Universe which reflected their particular experiences and the natural phenomena of their area of characterization. The most representative people of this class were the "Hatti" of Asia Minor, who were of Alpine or Armenoid stock. In early times the nomads were broken up into small tribal units, like Abraham and his followers, and depended for their food supply on the prowess of the males. Their chief deity was the sky and mountain god, who was the "World Father", the creator, and the wielder of the thunder hammer, who waged war against the demons of storm or drought, and ensured the food supply of his worshippers.

The fusion in Babylonia of the peoples of the god and goddess cults was in progress before the dawn of history, as was the case in Egypt and also in southern Europe. In consequence independent Pantheons came into existence in the various city States in the Tigro-Euphrates valley. These were mainly a reflection of city politics: the deities of each influential section had to receive recognition. But among the great masses of the people ancient customs associated with agriculture continued in practice, and, as Babylonia depended for its prosperity on its harvests, the force of public opinion tended, it would appear, to perpetuate the religious beliefs of the earliest settlers, despite the efforts made by conquerors to exalt the deities they introduced.