Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 159

[1] But cf. 1 Kings xix 16, ff.; 2 Kings ix and x.

[2] Explorations in Bible Lands (T. and T. Clark, 1903).

[3] Assyrian Discoveries, p. 9 (London, 1875).

[4] Assyrian Discoveries, p. 148 (London, 1875).

[5] Explorations in Bible Lands (T. and T. Clark, 1903).

[6] Hilprecht, Explorations in Bible Lands, p. 232 (T. and T. Clark, 1903).

[7] Explorations in Bible Lands (T. and T. Clark, 1903).

[8] History of Babylon, p. 50 (1915).

[9] History of Babylon, p. 85.

[Pg 377]


With the fall of the Assyrian empire in 606 B.C., Babylonia once more regained her national status. This meant that her national god Merodach was no longer subservient to the Assyrian Asshur in a political sense, and regained his place as sole head of the Babylonian pantheon.

Great must have been the satisfaction of the people of Babylon when, this comparatively mild tyranny removed, they could worship their own gods in their own way, free from the humiliating remembrance that their northern neighbours regarded all Babylonian sacred things as appanages of the Assyrian empire. Nabopolasser and Nebuchadrezzar, his successor, gave effect to these changes, and the latter king placed Nabu on a footing of equality with Merodach. Was this the cause of his punishment? Was it because he had offended in a religious sense that he had to undergo the terrible infliction of which we read in the Scriptures? The priesthood of Merodach must have possessed immense and practically unlimited power in Babylon, and we may feel sure that any such interference with their newfound privilege, as is here suggested, would have met with speedy punishment. Was the wretched monarch led to believe that an enchantment had been cast upon him, and that he had been transformed into animal shape at the command of an outraged deity? We cannot say. The cause of his misfortune must for ever remain one of the mysteries of the ancient world.

The unfortunate Nabonidus, too, attempted to replace the cults of Merodach and Nabu by that[Pg 378] of Shamash. And that hastened his doom, for the priests became his bitter enemies, and when the Persian Cyrus entered the gates of Babylon as a conqueror he was hailed as the saviour of Merodach's honour.

The last native kings of Babylonia were great temple-builders, and this policy they continued until the end. Indeed in the time of Nebuchadrezzar there was a revival of ancient and half-forgotten cults, and many local gods were exalted to a pitch of popularity hitherto unknown.

The Conquering Cyrus

Then in 539 B.C. came the conquering Cyrus, and the period of the decay of the Babylonian religion began. The victor merely upheld the cults of Merodach and Nabu for reasons of policy, and when in turn the Greeks ruled over Babylonia they followed the Persian lead in this respect. By the defeat of the Persian Darius at the battle of Arbela (331 B.C.) the way to Babylon was left open to the mighty Alexander the Great. This was the beginning of the end. The old religion dragged out a broken existence until about the beginning of the Christian era, then slowly but surely vanished beneath the attacks of Hellenic scepticism, Christian propaganda, and pagan caprice.

That a faith so virile, so ancient, so entrenched in the love of a people as that of Babylonia should fall into an oblivion so profound as to be totally forgotten for nearly nineteen centuries is a solemn and impressive reminder of the evanescent character of human affairs. They were men of their hands, these ancient Mesopotamians, great theologians, great builders, great soldiers. Yet their mighty[Pg 379] works, their living faith left 'not a wrack behind' save mounds of rubbish which, when excavated by the modern antiquary, were found to contain a few poor vestiges of the splendour that was Babylon and the pomps of the city of Asshur. Does there not reside in this a great lesson for modernity? Must our civilization, our faith, all that is ours and that we have raised—must these things, too, fade into the shadows of unremembrance as did the civilization of Mesopotamia?