Myths of Babylonia and Assyria
Figure V.5. PLAQUE OF UR-NINA
In Limestone. From the original in the Louvre, Paris. (See pages
Jastrow suggests that the women of Israel wept for Tammuz, offered cakes to the mother goddess, &c., because "in all religious bodies ... women represent the conservative element; among them religious customs continue in practice after they have been abandoned by men". The evidence of Jeremiah, however, shows that the men certainly co-operated at the archaic ceremonials. In lighting the fires with the "vital spark", they apparently acted in imitation of the god of fertility. The women, on the other hand, represented the reproductive harvest goddess in providing the food supply. In recognition of her gift, they rewarded the goddess by offering her the cakes prepared from the newly ground wheat and barley--the "first fruits of the harvest". As the corn god came as a child, the children began the ceremony by gathering the wood for the sacred fire. When the women mourned for Tammuz, they did so evidently because the death of the god was lamented by the goddess Ishtar. It would appear, therefore, that the suggestion regarding the "conservative element" should really apply to the immemorial practices of folk religion. These differed from the refined ceremonies of the official cult in Babylonia, where there were suitable temples and organized bands of priests and priestesses. But the official cult received no recognition in Palestine; the cakes intended for a goddess were not offered up in the temple of Abraham's God, but "in the streets of Jerusalem" and those of other cities.
The obvious deduction seems to be that in ancient times women everywhere played a prominent part in the ceremonial folk worship of the Great Mother goddess, while the men took the lesser part of the god whom she had brought into being and afterwards received as "husband of his mother". This may account for the high social status of women among goddess worshippers, like the representatives of the Mediterranean race, whose early religion was not confined to temples, but closely associated with the acts of everyday life.
Civilization well advanced--The Patesi--Prominent City States--Surroundings of Babylonia--The Elamites--Biblical References to Susa--The Sumerian Temperament--Fragmentary Records--City States of Kish and Opis--A Shopkeeper who became a Queen--Goddess Worship--Tammuz as Nin-Girsu--Great Dynasty of Lagash--Ur-Nina and his Descendants--A Napoleonic Conqueror--Golden Age of Sumerian Art--The First Reformer in History--His Rise and Fall--The Dynasty of Erech--Sargon of Akkad--The Royal Gardener--Sargon Myth in India--A Great Empire--The King who Purchased Land--Naram Sin the Conqueror--Disastrous Foreign Raid--Lagash again Prominent--Gudea the Temple Builder--Dynasty of Ur--Dynasty of Isin--Another Gardener becomes King--Rise of Babylon--Humanized Deities--Why Sumerian Gods wore Beards.
When the curtain rises to reveal the drama of Babylonian civilization we find that we have missed the first act and its many fascinating scenes. Sumerians and Akkadians come and go, but it is not always possible to distinguish between them. Although most Semites are recognizable by their flowing beards, prominent noses, and long robes, some have so closely imitated the Sumerians as to suffer almost complete loss of identity. It is noticeable that in the north the Akkadians are more Semitic than their contemporaries in the south, but it is difficult at times to say whether a city is controlled by the descendants of the indigenous people or those of later settlers. Dynasties rise and fall, and, as in Egypt at times, the progress of the fragmentary narrative is interrupted by a sudden change of scene ere we have properly grasped a situation and realized its significance.