Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

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Hymn to Adar

A fine hymn to Adar describes the rumbling of the storm in the abyss, the 'voice' of the god:

The terror of the splendour of Anu in the midst of heaven.

The gods, it is said, urge Adar on, he descends like the deluge, the champion of the gods swoops down upon the hostile land. Nusku, the messenger of Mul-lil, receives Adar in the temple and addresses words of praise to him:

[Pg 69]

Thy chariot is as a voice of thunder.
To the lifting of thy hands is the shadow turned.
The spirits of the earth, the great gods, return to the winds.

Many of the hymns assist us to a better understanding of the precise nature of the gods, defining as they do their duties and offices and even occasionally describing their appearance. Thus in a hymn to Nebo we note that he is alluded to as "the supreme messenger who binds all things together," "the scribe of all that has a name," "the lifter up of the stylus supreme," "director of the world," "possessor of the reed of augury," "traverser of strange lands," "opener of wells," "fructifier of the corn," and "the god without whom the irrigated land and the canal are unwatered." It is from such texts that the mythologist is enabled to piece together the true significance of many of the deities of ancient peoples.

A hymn to Nusku in his character of fire-god is also descriptive and picturesque. He is alluded to as "wise prince, the flame of heaven," "he who hurls down terror, whose clothing is splendour," "the forceful fire-god," "the exalter of the mountain peaks," and "the uplifter of the torch, the enlightener of darkness."

Such descriptive hymns are the most valuable assets possible in the hands of the judicious student of myth or comparative religion.

[1] Vol. iii, p. 167. Second Edition. (By kind permission of Messrs Macmillan and Co.)

[2] Ut-Napishtim.

[3] This passage has, however, been interpreted by some Biblical scholars to mean that "Nimrod went out of this land into Asshur" (or Assyria) "and built Nineveh." See Bryant, Antient Mythology, vol. vi, pp. 191-2-3.

[Pg 70]


The Babylonian Myth of Creation

Few creation myths are more replete with interest than those which have literary sanction. These are few in number, as, for example, the creation story in Genesis, those to be found in Egyptian papyri, and that contained in the Popol Vuh of the Maya of Central America. In such an account we can trace the creation story from the first dim conception of world-shaping to the polished and final effort of a priestly caste to give a theological interpretation to the intentions of the creative deity; and this is perhaps more the case with the creation myth which had its rise among the old Akkadian population of Babylonia than with any other known to mythic science. In the account in Genesis of the framing of the world it has been discovered that two different versions have been fused to form a single story; the creation tale of the Popol Vuh is certainly a composite myth; and similar suspicions may rest upon the analogous myths of Scandinavia and Japan. But in the case of Babylonia we may be convinced that no other influences except those of the races who inhabited Babylonian territory could have been brought to bear upon this ancient story, and that although critical examination has proved it to consist of materials which have been drawn from more than one source, yet these sources are not foreign, and they have not undergone sophistication at the hands of any alien mythographer or interpolator.

The Seven Tablets of Creation.—Photo W. A. Mansell and Co.

It would seem that this Babylonian cosmogony was drawn from various sources, but it appears to be contained[Pg 71] in its final form in what are known as the Seven Tablets of Creation, brought from the library of Assur-bani-pal at Nineveh and now in the British Museum. These have from time to time been supplemented by later finds, but we may take it that in this record we have the final official development of Babylonian belief, due to the priests of Babylon, after that city had become the metropolis of the empire. The primary object of the Seven Tablets was to record a terrific fight between Bel and the Dragon, and the account of the creation is inserted by way of introduction. It is undoubtedly the most important find dealing with Babylonian religion that has as yet come to light. Before we advance any critical speculations respecting it, let us set forth the story which it has to tell.