Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 152

Summarizing his 'explanations' of the ruins at Bint-el-Amir, Hilprecht writes: "1. A stage-tower of smaller dimensions existed at Nippur before Sargon I (about 3800 B.C.). 2. In pre-Sargonic times the ground around the sacred enclosure was a vast graveyard, a regular fire necropolis. 3. One of the names of the stage-tower of Nippur suggested the idea of a tomb to the early inhabitants of the country. In the course of time certain zikkurats were directly designated by the Babylonians as tombs of the gods. 4. The stage-tower of Bel did not occupy the centre of the enclosed platform, but the south-west section of it, while the north-east part was reserved for 'the house of Bel,' his principal sanctuary, which stood at the side of the stage-tower.[Pg 362] 5. The temple of Bel consisted of two large courts adjoining each other, the north-west court with the zikkurat and 'the house of Bel' representing the most holy place or the inner court, while the south-east (outer) court seems to have been studded with the shrines of all the different gods and goddesses worshipped at Nippur, including one for Bel himself. 6. Imgur-Marduk and Nimit-Marduk, mentioned in the cuneiform inscriptions as the two walls of Nippur (dûru and Shalkhû), cannot have surrounded the whole city. According to the results of the excavations conducted under my own supervision, only the temple was enclosed by a double wall, while in all probability the city itself remained unprotected. 7. The large complex of buildings covering the top of Bint-el-Amir has nothing to do with the ancient temple below, but represents a huge fortified Parthian palace grouped around and upon the remains of the stage-tower then visible."[7]

By means of careful tunnelling Hilprecht also unearthed the south-east side of a pre-Sargonic temple-tower, but the nature of the excavation, risking as it did a sudden collapse of soil and bricks, was too dangerous to permit of further labours upon it.

The House of the Dead

A building-record of Assur-bani-pal was brought to light which described the temple-tower of Nippur as E-gigunnû, 'House of the Tomb.' Before this other titles of it had been recovered which alluded to it as 'Mountain of the Wind,' and it was understood to have been a local representation of the great mythological 'mountain of the world,' Kharsag-kurkura.[Pg 363] This was puzzling until Hilprecht found that the tower penetrated so far into the earth as to descend to the 'city of the dead' which, according to Babylonian belief, was directly below and within the earth.

The Temple Library

Hilprecht now turned his attention to the temple library in 'Tablet Hill,' with results most important for the science of Assyriology. This building, contemporary with the time of Abram, now yielded large quantities of ancient tablets, occurring in strata of from one to four feet in thickness, as if they had once been disposed upon wooden shelves.

A Babylonian Museum

An important find was made of a jar containing about twenty inscribed objects, mostly clay tablets, which constituted a veritable small Babylonian museum, evidently collected by a late Babylonian priest or someone connected with the temple library. Archæology was probably fashionable about the time of Nabonidus (556-539 B.C.), himself a monarch of antiquarian tastes. The collector of this 'museum' had actually taken a 'squeeze' or impression of an inscription of Sargon I (3800 B.C.), in his time about 3340 years old, and had even placed upon it a label stating that the object was a 'squeeze' or 'mould' of an inscribed stone "which Nabûzêrlishir, the scribe, saw in the palace of King Naram-Sin at Agade."