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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 177

It may be, therefore, that the cult of Ashur was influenced in its development by the doctrines of advanced teachers from Babylonia, and that Persian Mithraism was also the product of missionary efforts extended from that great and ancient cultural area. Mitra, as has been stated, was one of the names of the Babylonian sun god, who was also a god of fertility. But Ashur could not have been to begin with merely a battle and solar deity. As the god of a city state he must have been worshipped by agriculturists, artisans, and traders; he must have been recognized as a deity of fertility, culture, commerce, and law. Even as a national god he must have made wider appeal than to the cultured and ruling classes. Bel Enlil of Nippur was a "world god" and war god, but still remained a local corn god.

Assyria's greatness was reflected by Ashur, but he also reflected the origin and growth of that greatness. The civilization of which he was a product had an agricultural basis. It began with the development of the natural resources of Assyria, as was recognized by the Hebrew prophet, who said: "Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon with fair branches.... The waters made him great, the deep set him up on high with her rivers running round about his plants, and sent out her little rivers unto all the trees of the field. Therefore his height was exalted above all the trees of the field, and his boughs were multiplied, and his branches became long because of the multitude of waters when he shot forth. All the fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations. Thus was he fair in his greatness, in the length of his branches; for his root was by great waters. The cedars in the garden of God could not hide him: the fir trees were not like his boughs, and the chestnut trees were not like his branches; nor any tree in the garden of God was like unto him in his beauty."[374]

Asshur, the ancient capital, was famous for its merchants. It is referred to in the Bible as one of the cities which traded with Tyre "in all sorts of things, in blue clothes, and broidered work, and in chests of rich apparel, bound with cords, and made of cedar".[375]

As a military power, Assyria's name was dreaded. "Behold," Isaiah said, addressing King Hezekiah, "thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly."[376] The same prophet, when foretelling how Israel would suffer, exclaimed: "O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets."[377]


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