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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 184

Temples were erected to Ashur, but he might be worshipped anywhere, like the Queen of Heaven, who received offerings in the streets of Jerusalem, for "he needed no temple", as Professor Pinches says. Whether this was because he was a highly developed deity or a product of folk religion it is difficult to decide. One important fact is that the ruling king of Assyria was more closely connected with the worship of Ashur than the king of Babylonia was with the worship of Merodach. This may be because the Assyrian king was regarded as an incarnation of his god, like the Egyptian Pharaoh. Ashur accompanied the monarch on his campaigns: he was their conquering war god. Where the king was, there was Ashur also. No images were made of him, but his symbols were carried aloft, as were the symbols of Indian gods in the great war of the Mahabharata epic.

It would appear that Ashur was sometimes worshipped in the temples of other gods. In an interesting inscription he is associated with the moon god Nannar (Sin) of Haran. Esarhaddon, the Assyrian king, is believed to have been crowned in that city. "The writer", says Professor Pinches, "is apparently addressing Assur-bani-apli, 'the great and noble Asnapper':

"When the father of my king my lord went to Egypt, he was crowned (?) in the ganni of Harran, the temple (lit. 'Bethel') of cedar. The god Sin remained over the (sacred) standard, two crowns upon his head, (and) the god Nusku stood beside him. The father of the king my lord entered, (and) he (the priest of Sin) placed (the crown?) upon his head, (saying) thus: 'Thou shalt go and capture the lands in the midst'. (He we)nt, he captured the land of Egypt. The rest of the lands not submitting (?) to Assur (Ashur) and Sin, the king, the lord of kings, shall capture (them)."[403]

Ashur and Sin are here linked as equals. Associated with them is Nusku, the messenger of the gods, who was given prominence in Assyria. The kings frequently invoked him. As the son of Ea he acted as the messenger between Merodach and the god of the deep. He was also a son of Bel Enlil, and like Anu was guardian or chief of the Igigi, the "host of heaven". Professor Pinches suggests that he may have been either identical with the Sumerian fire god Gibil, or a brother of the fire god, and an impersonation of the light of fire and sun. In Haran he accompanied the moon god, and may, therefore, have symbolized the light of the moon also. Professor Pinches adds that in one inscription "he is identified with Nirig or En-reshtu" (Nin-Girsu = Tammuz).[404] The Babylonians and Assyrians associated fire and light with moisture and fertility.

The astral phase of the character of Ashur is highly probable. As has been indicated, the Greek rendering of Anshar as "Assoros", is suggestive in this connection. Jastrow, however, points out that the use of the characters Anshar for Ashur did not obtain until the eighth century B.C. "Linguistically", he says, "the change of Ashir to Ashur can be accounted for, but not the transformation of An-shar to Ashur or Ashir; so that we must assume the 'etymology' of Ashur, proposed by some learned scribe, to be the nature of a play upon the name."[405] On the other hand, it is possible that what appears arbitrary to us may have been justified in ancient Assyria on perfectly reasonable, or at any rate traditional, grounds. Professor Pinches points out that as a sun god, and "at the same time not Shamash", Ashur resembled Merodach. "His identification with Merodach, if that was ever accepted, may have been due to the likeness of the word to Asari, one of the deities' names."[406] As Asari, Merodach has been compared to the Egyptian Osiris, who, as the Nile god, was Asar-Hapi. Osiris resembles Tammuz and was similarly a corn deity and a ruler of the living and the dead, associated with sun, moon, stars, water, and vegetation. We may consistently connect Ashur with Aushar, "water field", Anshar, "god of the height", or "most high", and with the eponymous King Asshur who went out on the land of Nimrod and "builded Nineveh", if we regard him as of common origin with Tammuz, Osiris, and Attis--a developed and localized form of the ancient deity of fertility and corn.


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