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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 225

Some such explanation is necessary to account for the specialization of certain goddesses as fish, snake, cat, or bird deities. Aphrodite, who like Ishtar absorbed the attributes of several goddesses of fertility and fate, had attached to her the various animal symbols which were prominent in districts or among tribes brought into close contact, while the poppy, rose, myrtle, &c., which were used as love charms, or for making love potions, were also consecrated to her. Anthropomorphic deities were decorated with the symbols and flowers of folk religion.

From the comparative evidence accumulated here, it will be seen that the theory of the mythical Semiramis's Median or Persian origin is somewhat narrow. It is possible that the dove was venerated in Cyprus, as it certainly was in Crete, long centuries before Assyrian and Babylonian influence filtered westward through Phoenician and Hittite channels. In another connection Sir Arthur Evans shows that the resemblance between Cretan and early Semitic beliefs "points rather to some remote common element, the nature of which is at present obscure, than to any definite borrowing by one side or another".[494]

From the evidence afforded by the Semiramis legends and the inscriptions of the latter half of the Assyrian Middle Empire period, it may be inferred that a renascence of "mother worship" was favoured by the social and political changes which were taking place. In the first place the influence of Babylon must have been strongly felt in this connection. The fact that Adadnirari found it necessary to win the support of the Babylonians by proclaiming his descent from one of their ancient royal families, suggests that he was not only concerned about the attitude assumed by the scholars of the southern kingdom, but also that of the masses of old Sumerian and Akkadian stocks who continued to bake cakes to the Queen of Heaven so as to ensure good harvests. In the second place it is not improbable that even in Assyria the introduction of Nebo and his spouse made widespread appeal. That country had become largely peopled by an alien population; many of these aliens came from districts where "mother worship" prevailed, and had no traditional respect for Ashur, while they regarded with hostility the military aristocracy who conquered and ruled in the name of that dreaded deity. Perhaps, too, the influence of the Aramaeans, who in Babylonia wrecked the temples of the sun god, tended to revive the ancient religion of the Mediterranean race. Jehu's religious revolt in Israel, which established once again the cult of Ashtoreth, occurred after he came under the sway of Damascus, and may have not been unconnected with the political ascendancy elsewhere of the goddess cult.

Nebo, whom Adad-nirari exalted at Kalkhi, was more than a local god of Borsippa. "The most satisfactory view", says Jastrow, "is to regard him as a counterpart of Ea. Like Ea, he is the embodiment and source of wisdom.... The study of the heavens formed part of the wisdom which is traced back to Nebo, and the temple school at Borsippa became one of the chief centres for the astrological, and, subsequently, for the astronomical lore of Babylonia.... Like Nebo, Ea is also associated with the irrigation of the fields and with their consequent fertility. A hymn praises him as the one who fills the canals and the dikes, who protects the fields and brings the crops to maturity." Nebo links with Merodach (Marduk), who is sometimes referred to as his father. Jastrow assumes that the close partnership between Nebo and Merodach "had as a consequence a transfer of some of the father Marduk's attributes as a solar deity to Nebo,[495] his son, just as Ea passed his traits on to his son, Marduk".[496]


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