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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 178

We expect to find Ashur reflected in these three phases of Assyrian civilization. If we recognize him in the first place as a god of fertility, his other attributes are at once included. A god of fertility is a corn god and a water god. The river as a river was a "creator" (p.

In Ezekiel's comparison of Assyria to a mighty tree, there is no doubt a mythological reference. The Hebrew prophets invariably utilized for their poetic imagery the characteristic beliefs of the peoples to whom they made direct reference. The "owls", "satyrs", and "dragons" of Babylon, mentioned by Isaiah, were taken from Babylonian mythology, as has been indicated. When, therefore, Assyria is compared to a cedar, which is greater than fir or chestnut, and it is stated that there are nesting birds in the branches, and under them reproducing beasts of the field, and that the greatness of the tree is due to "the multitude of waters", the conclusion is suggested that Assyrian religion, which Ashur's symbols reflect, included the worship of trees, birds, beasts, and water. The symbol of the Assyrian tree--probably the "world tree" of its religion--appears to be "the rod of mine anger ... the staff in their hand"; that is, the battle standard which was a symbol of Ashur. Tammuz and Osiris were tree gods as well as corn gods.

Now, as Ashur was evidently a complex deity, it is futile to attempt to read his symbols without giving consideration to the remnants of Assyrian mythology which are found in the ruins of the ancient cities. These either reflect the attributes of Ashur, or constitute the material from which he evolved.

As Layard pointed out many years ago, the Assyrians had a sacred tree which became conventionalized. It was "an elegant device, in which curved branches, springing from a kind of scroll work, terminated in flowers of graceful form. As one of the figures last described[378] was turned, as if in act of adoration, towards this device, it was evidently a sacred emblem; and I recognized in it the holy tree, or tree of life, so universally adored at the remotest period in the East, and which was preserved in the religious systems of the Persians to the final overthrow of their Empire.... The flowers were formed by seven petals."[379]


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