Myths of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 29There can be little doubt but that Ea, as he survives to us, is of later characterization than the first pair of primitive deities who symbolized the deep. The attributes of this beneficent god reflect the progress, and the social and moral ideals of a people well advanced in civilization. He rewarded mankind for the services they rendered to him; he was their leader and instructor; he achieved for them the victories over the destructive forces of nature. In brief, he was the dragon slayer, a distinction, by the way, which was attached in later times to his son Merodach, the Babylonian god, although Ea was still credited with the victory over the dragon's husband.
When Ea was one of the pre-Babylonian group--the triad of Bel-Enlil, Anu, and Ea--he resembled the Indian Vishnu, the Preserver, while Bel-Enlil resembled Shiva, the Destroyer, and Anu, the father, supreme Brahma, the Creator and Father of All, the difference in exact adjustment being due, perhaps, to Sumerian political conditions.
Ea, as we have seen, symbolized the beneficence of the waters; their destructive force was represented by Tiamat or Tiawath, the dragon, and Apsu, her husband, the arch-enemy of the gods. We shall find these elder demons figuring in the Babylonian Creation myth, which receives treatment in a later chapter.
The ancient Sumerian city of Eridu, which means "on the seashore", was invested with great sanctity from the earliest times, and Ea, the "great magician of the gods", was invoked by workers of spells, the priestly magicians of historic Babylonia. Excavations have shown that Eridu was protected by a retaining wall of sandstone, of which material many of its houses were made. In its temple tower, built of brick, was a marble stairway, and evidences have been forthcoming that in the later Sumerian period the structure was lavishly adorned. It is referred to in the fragments of early literature which have survived as "the splendid house, shady as the forest", that "none may enter". The mythological spell exercised by Eridu in later times suggests that the civilization of Sumeria owed much to the worshippers of Ea. At the sacred city the first man was created: there the souls of the dead passed towards the great Deep. Its proximity to the sea--Ea was Nin-bubu, "god of the sailor"--may have brought it into contact with other peoples and other early civilizations. Like the early Egyptians, the early Sumerians may have been in touch with Punt (Somaliland), which some regard as the cradle of the Mediterranean race. The Egyptians obtained from that sacred land incense-bearing trees which had magical potency. In a fragmentary Babylonian charm there is a reference to a sacred tree or bush at Eridu. Professor Sayce has suggested that it is the Biblical "Tree of Life" in the Garden of Eden. His translations of certain vital words, however, is sharply questioned by Mr. R. Campbell Thompson of the British Museum, who does not accept the theory. It may be that Ea's sacred bush or tree is a survival of tree and water worship.