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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 108

In Brazil, Monan, the chief god, sent a great fire to burn up the world and its wicked inhabitants. To extinguish the flames a magician caused so much rain to fall that the earth was flooded.

The Californian Indians had a flood legend, and believed that the early race was diminutive; and the Athapascan Indians of the north-west professed to be descendants of a family who escaped the deluge. Indeed, deluge myths were widespread in the "New World".

The American belief that the first beings who were created were unable to live on earth was shared by the Babylonians. According to Berosus the first creation was a failure, because the animals could not bear the light and they all died.[232] Here we meet with the germs of the Doctrine of the World's Ages, which reached its highest development in Indian, Greek, and Celtic (Irish) mythologies.

The Biblical account of the flood is familiar to readers. "It forms", says Professor Pinches, "a good subject for comparison with the Babylonian account, with which it agrees so closely in all the main points, and from which it differs so much in many essential details."[233]

The drift of Babylonian culture was not only directed westward towards the coast of Palestine, and from thence to Greece during the Phoenician period, but also eastward through Elam to the Iranian plateau and India. Reference has already been made to the resemblances between early Vedic and Sumerian mythologies. When the "new songs" of the Aryan invaders of India were being composed, the sky and ocean god, Varuna, who resembles Ea-Oannes, and Mitra, who links with Shamash, were already declining in splendour. Other cultural influences were at work. Certain of the Aryan tribes, for instance, buried their dead in Varuna's "house of clay", while a growing proportion cremated their dead and worshipped Agni, the fire god. At the close of the Vedic period there were fresh invasions into middle India, and the "late comers" introduced new beliefs, including the doctrines of the Transmigration of Souls and of the Ages of the Universe. Goddesses also rose into prominence, and the Vedic gods became minor deities, and subject to Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. These "late comers" had undoubtedly been influenced by Babylonian ideas before they entered India. In their Doctrine of the World's Ages or Yugas, for instance, we are forcibly reminded of the Euphratean ideas regarding space and time. Mr. Robert Brown, junr., who is an authority in this connection, shows that the system by which the "Day of Brahma" was calculated in India resembles closely an astronomical system which obtained in Babylonia, where apparently the theory of cosmic periods had origin.[234]

The various alien peoples, however, who came under the spell of Babylonian modes of thought did not remain in a state of intellectual bondage. Thought was stimulated rather than arrested by religious borrowing, and the development of ideas regarding the mysteries of life and death proceeded apace in areas over which the ritualistic and restraining priesthood of Babylonia exercised no sway. As much may be inferred from the contrasting conceptions of the Patriarchs of Vedic and Sumerian mythologies. Pir-napishtim, the Babylonian Noah, and the semi-divine Gilgamesh appear to be represented in Vedic mythology by Yama, god of the dead. Yama was "the first man", and, like Gilgamesh, he set out on a journey over mountains and across water to discover Paradise. He is lauded in the Vedic hymns as the explorer of "the path" or "way" to the "Land of the Pitris" (Fathers), the Paradise to which the Indian uncremated dead walked on foot. Yama never lost his original character. He is a traveller in the Epics as in the Vedas.[235]


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