Myths of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 179This tree looks like a pillar, and is thrice crossed by conventionalized bull's horns tipped with ring symbols which may be stars, the highest pair of horns having a larger ring between them, but only partly shown as if it were a crescent. The tree with its many "sevenfold" designs may have been a symbol of the "Sevenfold-one-are-ye" deity. This is evidently the Assyrian tree which was called "the rod" or "staff".
In Sumeria the gods were given human form, but before this stage was reached the bull symbolized Nannar (Sin), the moon god, Ninip (Saturn, the old sun), and Enlil, while Nergal was a lion, as a tribal sun god. The eagle is represented by the Zu bird, which symbolized the storm and a phase of the sun, and was also a deity of fertility. On the silver vase of Lagash the lion and eagle were combined as the lion-headed eagle, a form of Nin-Girsu (Tammuz), and it was associated with wild goats, stags, lions, and bulls. On a mace head dedicated to Nin-Girsu, a lion slays a bull as the Zu bird slays serpents in the folk tale, suggesting the wars of totemic deities, according to one "school", and the battle of the sun with the storm clouds according to another. Whatever the explanation may be of one animal deity of fertility slaying another, it seems certain that the conflict was associated with the idea of sacrifice to procure the food supply.
In Assyria the various primitive gods were combined as a winged bull, a winged bull with human head (the king's), a winged lion with human head, a winged man, a deity with lion's head, human body, and eagle's legs with claws, and also as a deity with eagle's head and feather headdress, a human body, wings, and feather-fringed robe, carrying in one hand a metal basket on which two winged men adored the holy tree, and in the other a fir cone.
Layard suggested that the latter deity, with eagle's head, was Nisroch, "the word Nisr signifying, in all Semitic languages, an eagle". This deity is referred to in the Bible: "Sennacherib, king of Assyria, ... was worshipping in the house of Nisroch, his god". Professor Pinches is certain that Nisroch is Ashur, but considers that the "ni" was attached to "Ashur" (Ashuraku or Ashurachu), as it was to "Marad" (Merodach) to give the reading Ni-Marad = Nimrod. The names of heathen deities were thus made "unrecognizable, and in all probability ridiculous as well.... Pious and orthodox lips could pronounce them without fear of defilement." At the same time the "Nisr" theory is probable: it may represent another phase of this process. The names of heathen gods were not all treated in like manner by the Hebrew teachers. Abed-nebo, for instance, became Abed-nego, Daniel, i, 7), as Professor Pinches shows.
Seeing that the eagle received prominence in the mythologies of Sumeria and Assyria, as a deity of fertility with solar and atmospheric attributes, it is highly probable that the Ashur symbol, like the Egyptian Horus solar disk, is a winged symbol of life, fertility, and destruction. The idea that it represents the sun in eclipse, with protruding rays, seems rather far-fetched, because eclipses were disasters and indications of divine wrath; it certainly does not explain why the "rays" should only stretch out sideways, like wings, and downward like a tail, why the "rays" should be double, like the double wings of cherubs, bulls, &c, and divided into sections suggesting feathers, or why the disk is surmounted by conventionalized horns, tipped with star-like ring symbols, identical with those depicted in the holy tree. What particular connection the five small rings within the disk were supposed to have with the eclipse of the sun is difficult to discover.