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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 113

In the Gilgamesh epic the only ray of hope which relieves the gloomy closing passages is Ea-bani's suggestion that the sufferings endured by the dead may be alleviated by the performance of strict burial rites. Commenting on this point Professor Jastrow says: "A proper burial with an affectionate care of the corpse ensures at least a quiet repose.

Such a one rests on a couch and drinks pure water;
But he whose shade has no rest in the earth, as I have seen and you will see,
His shade has no rest in the earth
Whose shade no one cares for ...
What is left over in the pot, remains of food
That are thrown in the street, he eats."[250]
Gilgamesh Epic.

By disseminating the belief that the dead must be buried with much ceremony, the priests secured great power over the people, and extracted large fees.

In Egypt, on the other hand, the teachers of the sun cult sold charms and received rewards to perform ceremonies so that chosen worshippers might enter the sun-barque of Ra; while the Osirian priests promised the just and righteous that they would reach an agricultural Paradise where they could live and work as on earth, but receive a greater return for their labour, the harvests of the Otherworld being of unequalled abundance.

In the sacred books of India a number of Paradises are referred to. No human beings, however, entered the Paradise of Varuna, who resembles the Sumerian Ea-Oannes. The souls of the dead found rest and enjoyment in the Paradise of Yama, while "those kings that yield up their lives, without turning their backs on the field of battle, attain", as the sage told a hero, "to the mansion of Indra", which recalls the Valhal of Odin. It will thus be seen that belief in immortality was a tenet of the Indian cults of Indra and Yama.

It is possible that the Gilgamesh epic in one of its forms concluded when the hero reached the island of Pir-napishtim, like the Indian Yama who "searched and spied the path for many". The Indian "Land of the Pitris" (Ancestors), over which Yama presided, may be compared to the Egyptian heaven of Osiris. It contains, we are told, "all kinds of enjoyable articles", and also "sweet, juicy, agreeable and delicious edibles ... floral wreaths of the most delicious fragrance, and trees that yield fruits that are desired of them". Thither go "all sinners among human beings, as also (those) that have died during the winter solstice"[251]--a suggestion that this Paradise was not unconnected with the Tammuz-like deity who took up his abode in the spirit land during the barren season.

The view may be urged that in the Gilgamesh epic we have a development of the Tammuz legend in its heroic form. Like Ishtar, when she descended to Hades, the King of Erech could not return to earth until he had been sprinkled by the water of life. No doubt, an incident of this character occurred also in the original Tammuz legend. The life of the god had to be renewed before he could return. Did he slumber, like one of the Seven Sleepers, in Ea's house, and not awake again until he arrived as a child in his crescent moon boat--"the sunken boat" of the hymns--like Scef, who came over the waves to the land of the Scyldings?


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