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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 114

It seems remarkable that the doctrine of Eternal Bliss, which obtained in Egypt on the one hand and in India on the other, should never have been developed among the Babylonians. Of course, our knowledge in this connection is derived from the orthodox religious texts. Perhaps the great thinkers, whose influence can be traced in the tendencies towards monotheism which became marked at various periods, believed in a Heaven for the just and good. If they did, their teachings must have been suppressed by the mercenary priests. It was extremely profitable for these priests to perpetuate the belief that the spirits of the dead were consigned to a gloomy Hades, where the degree of suffering which they endured depended on the manner in which their bodies were disposed of upon earth. An orthodox funeral ceremony was costly at all times. This is made evident by the inscriptions which record the social reforms of Urukagina, the ill-fated patesi of Lagash. When he came to the throne he cut down the burial fees by more than a half. "In the case of an ordinary burial," writes Mr. King, "when a corpse was laid in a grave, it had been the custom for the presiding priest to demand as a fee for himself seven urns of wine or strong drink, four hundred and twenty loaves of bread, one hundred and twenty measures of corn, a garment, a kid, a bed, and a seat." The reformer reduced the perquisites to "three urns of wine, eighty loaves of bread, a bed, and a kid, while the fee of his (the priest's) assistant was cut down from sixty to thirty measures of corn".[252]

The conservative element in Babylonian religion is reflected by the burial customs. These did not change greatly after the Neolithic period. Prehistoric Sumerian graves resemble closely those of pre-Dynastic Egypt. The bodies of the dead were laid on their sides in crouching posture, with a "beaker", or "drinking cup" urn, beside the right hand. Other vessels were placed near the head. In this connection it may be noted that the magic food prepared for Gilgamesh by Pir-napishtim's wife, when he lay asleep, was also placed near his head.

The corpse was always decked with various ornaments, including rings, necklaces, and armlets. As has been indicated, these were worn by the living as charms, and, no doubt, they served the same purpose for the dead. This charm-wearing custom was condemned by the Hebrew teachers. On one occasion Jacob commanded his household to "put away the strange gods which were in their hand, and all the ear-rings which were in their ears; and Jacob buried them under the oak which was by Shechem".[253] To Jacob, personal ornaments had quite evidently an idolatrous significance.

"A very typical class of grave furniture", writes Mr. King, "consisted of palettes, or colour dishes, made of alabaster, often of graceful shape, and sometimes standing on four feet.... There is no doubt as to their use, for colour still remains in many of them, generally black and yellow, but sometimes a light rose and light green." Palettes for face paint have also been found in many early Egyptian graves.


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