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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 12

supply. Her son, the corn god, became, as the Egyptians put it, "Husband of his Mother". Each year he was born anew and rapidly attained to manhood; then he was slain by a fierce rival who symbolized the season of pestilence-bringing and parching sun heat, or the rainy season, or wild beasts of prey. Or it might be that he was slain by his son, as Cronos was by Zeus and Dyaus by Indra. The new year slew the old year.

The social customs of the people, which had a religious basis, were formed in accordance with the doings of the deities; they sorrowed or made glad in sympathy with the spirits of nature. Worshippers also suggested by their ceremonies how the deities should act at various seasons, and thus exercised, as they believed, a magical control over them.

In Babylonia the agricultural myth regarding the Mother goddess and the young god had many variations. In one form Tammuz, like Adonis, was loved by two goddesses--the twin phases of nature--the Queen of Heaven and the Queen of Hades. It was decreed that Tammuz should spend part of the year with one goddess and part of the year with the other. Tammuz was also a Patriarch, who reigned for a long period over the land and had human offspring. After death his spirit appeared at certain times and seasons as a planet, star, or constellation. He was the ghost of the elder god, and he was also the younger god who was born each year.

In the Gilgamesh epic we appear to have a form of the patriarch legend--the story of the "culture hero" and teacher who discovered the path which led to the land of ancestral spirits. The heroic Patriarch in Egypt was Apuatu, "the opener of the ways", the earliest form of Osiris; in India he was Yama, the first man, "who searched and found out the path for many".

The King as Patriarch was regarded during life as an incarnation of the culture god: after death he merged in the god. "Sargon of Akkad" posed as an incarnation of the ancient agricultural Patriarch: he professed to be a man of miraculous birth who was loved by the goddess Ishtar, and was supposed to have inaugurated a New Age of the Universe.

The myth regarding the father who was superseded by his son may account for the existence in Babylonian city pantheons of elder and younger gods who symbolized the passive and active forces of nature.

Considering the persistent and cumulative influence exercised by agricultural religion it is not surprising to find, as has been indicated, that most of the Babylonian gods had Tammuz traits, as most of the Egyptian gods had Osirian traits. Although local or imported deities were developed and conventionalized in rival Babylonian cities, they still retained traces of primitive conceptions. They existed in all their forms--as the younger god who displaced the elder god and became the elder god, and as the elder god who conciliated the younger god and made him his active agent; and as the god who was identified at various seasons with different heavenly bodies and natural phenomena. Merodach, the god of Babylon, who was exalted as chief of the National pantheon in the Hammurabi Age, was, like Tammuz, a son, and therefore a form of Ea, a demon slayer, a war god, a god of fertility, a corn spirit, a Patriarch, and world ruler and guardian, and, like Tammuz, he had solar, lunar, astral, and atmospheric attributes. The complex characters of Merodach and Tammuz were not due solely to the monotheistic tendency: the oldest deities were of mystical character, they represented the "Self Power" of Naturalism as well as the spirit groups of Animism.

The theorizing priests, who speculated regarding the mysteries of life and death and the origin of all things, had to address the people through the medium of popular beliefs. They utilized floating myths for this purpose. As there were in early times various centres of culture which had rival pantheons, the adapted myths varied greatly. In the different forms in which they survive to us they reflect, not only aspects of local beliefs, but also grades of culture at different periods. We must not expect, however, to find that the latest form of a myth was the highest and most profound. The history of Babylonian religion is divided into periods of growth and periods of decadence. The influence of domestic religion was invariably opposed to the new and high doctrines which emanated from the priesthood, and in times of political upheaval tended to submerge them in the debris of immemorial beliefs and customs. The retrogressive tendencies of the masses were invariably reinforced by the periodic invasions of aliens who had no respect for official deities and temple creeds.

We must avoid insisting too strongly on the application of the evolution theory to the religious phenomena of a country like Babylonia.


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