Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 174


Associated with the Polar Star was the constellation Ursa Minor, "the Little Bear", called by the Babylonian astronomers, "the Lesser Chariot". There were chariots before horses were introduced. A patesi of Lagash had a chariot which was drawn by asses.

The seemingly steadfast Polar Star was called "Ilu Sar", "the god Shar", or Anshar, "star of the height", or "Shar the most high". It seemed to be situated at the summit of the vault of heaven. The god Shar, therefore, stood upon the Celestial mountain, the Babylonian Olympus. He was the ghost of the elder god, who in Babylonia was displaced by the younger god, Merodach, as Mercury, the morning star, or as the sun, the planet of day; and in Assyria by Ashur, as the sun, or Regulus, or Arcturus, or Orion. Yet father and son were identical. They were phases of the One, the "self power".

A deified reigning king was an incarnation of the god; after death he merged in the god, as did the Egyptian Unas. The eponymous hero Asshur may have similarly merged in the universal Ashur, who, like Horus, an incarnation of Osiris, had many phases or forms.

Isaiah appears to have been familiar with the Tigro-Euphratean myths about the divinity of kings and the displacement of the elder god by the younger god, of whom the ruling monarch was an incarnation, and with the idea that the summit of the Celestial mountain was crowned by the "north star", the symbol of Anshar. "Thou shalt take up this parable", he exclaimed, making use of Babylonian symbolism, "against the king of Babylon and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased!... How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend unto heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High."[361] The king is identified with Lucifer as the deity of fire and the morning star; he is the younger god who aspired to occupy the mountain throne of his father, the god Shar--the Polar or North Star.

It is possible that the Babylonian idea of a Celestial mountain gave origin to the belief that the earth was a mountain surrounded by the outer ocean, beheld by Etana when he flew towards heaven on the eagle's back. In India this hill is Mount Meru, the "world spine", which "sustains the earth"; it is surmounted by Indra's Valhal, or "the great city of Brahma". In Teutonic mythology the heavens revolve round the Polar Star, which is called "Veraldar nagli",[362] the "world spike"; while the earth is sustained by the "world tree". The "ded" amulet of Egypt symbolized the backbone of Osiris as a world god: "ded" means "firm", "established";[363] while at burial ceremonies the coffin was set up on end, inside the tomb, "on a small sandhill intended to represent the Mountain of the West--the realm of the dead".[364] The Babylonian temple towers were apparently symbols of the "world hill". At Babylon, the Du-azaga, "holy mound", was Merodach's temple E-sagila, "the Temple of the High Head". E-kur, rendered "the house or temple of the Mountain", was the temple of Bel Enlil at Nippur. At Erech, the temple of the goddess Ishtar was E-anna, which connects her, as Nina or Ninni, with Anu, derived from "ana", "heaven". Ishtar was "Queen of heaven".

Now Polaris, situated at the summit of the celestial mountain, was identified with the sacred goat, "the highest of the flock of night".[365] Ursa Minor (the "Little Bear" constellation) may have been "the goat with six heads", referred to by Professor Sayce.[366] The six astral goats or goat-men were supposed to be dancing round the chief goat-man or Satyr (Anshar). Even in the dialogues of Plato the immemorial belief was perpetuated that the constellations were "moving as in a dance". Dancing began as a magical or religious practice, and the earliest astronomers saw their dancing customs reflected in the heavens by the constellations, whose movements were rhythmical. No doubt, Isaiah had in mind the belief of the Babylonians regarding the dance of their goat-gods when he foretold: "Their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls (ghosts) shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there".[367] In other words, there would be no people left to perform religious dances beside the "desolate houses"; the stars only would be seen dancing round Polaris.

Tammuz, like Anshar, as sentinel of the night heaven, was a goat, as was also Nin-Girsu of Lagash. A Sumerian reference to "a white kid of En Mersi (Nin-Girsu)" was translated into Semitic, "a white kid of Tammuz". The goat was also associated with Merodach. Babylonians, having prayed to that god to take away their diseases or their sins, released a goat, which was driven into the desert. The present Polar Star, which was not, of course, the Polar star of the earliest astronomers, the world having rocked westward, is called in Arabic Al-Jedy, "the kid". In India, the goat was connected with Agni and Varuna; it was slain at funeral ceremonies to inform the gods that a soul was about to enter heaven. Ea, the Sumerian lord of water, earth, and heaven, was symbolized as a "goat fish". Thor, the Teutonic fertility and thunder god, had a chariot drawn by goats. It is of interest to note that the sacred Sumerian goat bore on its forehead the same triangular symbol as the Apis bull of Egypt.