Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 46

[Pg 108]

And with alacrity Ishum obeyed, "directing his countenance to the mountain of Khi-khi. This, with the help of the god Sibi, a warrior unequalled, he attacked and destroyed all the vineyards in the forest of Khashur, and finally the city of Inmarmaon. These last atrocious acts roused Ea, the god of humanity, and filled him with wrath," though what attitude he adopted towards Dibarra is not known.

"Listen all of you to my words, because of sin did I formerly plan evil, my heart was enraged and I swept peoples away."

This was Dibarra's defence when eventually he was propitiated and all the gods were gathered together in council with him. Ishum at this point changing his tactics urged on Dibarra the necessity for pacifying the gods he had incensed.

"Appease," said he, "the gods of the land who are angry. May fruits and corn flourish, may mountains and seas bring their produce."

As he had listened to Ishum before, Dibarra listened again, and the council of the gods was closed by his promising prosperity and protection to those who would fittingly honour him.

"He who glorifies my name will rule the world. Who proclaims the glory of my power will be without rival. The singer who sings of my deeds will not die through pestilence, to kings and nobles his words will be pleasing. The writer who preserves them will escape from the grasp of the enemy, in the temple where the people proclaim my name, I will open his ear. In the house where this tablet is set up, though war may rage and the god Sibi work havoc, sword and pestilence will not touch him—he will dwell in safety. Let this song resound for ever and endure for eternity. Let all lands hear[Pg 109] it and proclaim my power. Let the inhabitants of all places learn to glorify my name."


Shamash, god of the sun, was one of the most popular deities of the Babylonian and Assyrian pantheon. We find him mentioned first in the reign of E-Anna-Tum, or about 4200 B.C. He is called the son of Sin, the moon-god, which perhaps has reference to the fact that the solar calendar succeeded the lunar in Babylonia as in practically all civilizations of any advancement. The inscriptions give due prominence to his status as a great lord of light, and in them he is called the 'illuminator of the regions,' 'lord of living creatures,' 'gracious one of the lands,' and so forth. He is supposed to throw open the gates of the morning and raise his head over the horizon, lighting up the heaven and earth with his beams. The knowledge of justice and injustice and the virtue of righteousness were attributed to him, and he was regarded as a judge between good and evil, for as the light of the sun penetrates everywhere, and nothing can be hidden from its beams, it is not strange that it should stand as the symbol for justice. Shamash appears at the head of the inscription which bears the laws of Khammurabi, and here he stands as the symbol for justice. The towns at which he was principally worshipped were Sippar and Larsa, where his sanctuary was known as E-Babbara, or the 'shining house.' Larsa was probably the older of the two centres, but from the times of Sargon, Sippar became the more important, and in the days of Khammurabi ranked immediately after Babylon. In fact it appears to have threatened the supremacy of the capital[Pg 110] to some extent, and Nabonidus, the last King of Babylon, as we shall remember, offended Merodach and his priests by his too eager notice of Shamash. During the whole course of Babylonian history, however, Shamash retained his popularity, and was perhaps the only sun-god who was not absorbed by Merodach. One finds the same phenomenon in ancient Mexico, where various solar deities did not succeed in displacing or absorbing Totec, the ancient god of the sun par excellence. But Shamash succeeded in absorbing many small local sun-gods, and indeed we find his name used as that of the sun throughout Semitic lands. There were several solar deities, such as Nergal, and Ninib, whom Shamash did not absorb, probably for the reason that they typify various phases of the sun. There is reason to believe that in ancient times even Shamash was not an entirely beneficent solar deity, but, like Nergal, could figure as a warrior on occasion. But in later times he was regarded as the god who brings light and life upon all created things, and upon whom depends everything in nature from man to vegetable. His consort was Aa, who was worshipped at Sippar along with him. Her cult seems to have been one of great antiquity, but she does not appear to have any distinctive character of her own. She was supposed to receive the sun upon his setting, and from this circumstance it has been argued she perhaps represents the 'double sun,' from the magnified disk which he presents at sunset; but this explanation is perhaps rather too much on allegorical lines. Jastrow thinks that she may have been evolved from the sun-god of a city on the other side of the Euphrates from Sippar. "Such an amalgamation of two originally male deities into a combination[Pg 111] of male and female, strange as it may seem to us," he says, "is in keeping with the lack of sharp distinction between male and female in the oldest forms of Semitic religions. In the old cuneiform writing the same sign is used to indicate 'lord' or 'lady' when attached to deities. Ishtar appears amongst the Semites both as male and female. Sex was primarily a question of strength; the stronger god was viewed as masculine, the weaker as feminine."


Ea was the third of the great Babylonian triad of gods, which consisted of Anu, En-lil, and himself. He was a god of the waters, and like Anu is called the 'father of the gods.' As a god of the abyss he appears to have been also a deity of wisdom and occult power, thus allegorically associated with the idea of depth or profundity. He was the father of Merodach, who consulted him on the most important matters connected with his kingship of the gods. Indeed he was consulted by individuals of all classes who desired light to be thrown upon their crafts or businesses. Thus he was the god of artisans in general—blacksmiths, stone-cutters, sailors, and artificers of every kind. He was also the patron of prophets and seers. As the abyss is the place where the seeds of everything were supposed to fructify, so he appears to have fostered reproduction of every description. He was supposed to dwell beside Anu, who inhabited the pole of the ecliptic. The site of his chief temple was at Eridu, which at one time stood, before the waters receded, upon the shore of the Persian Gulf. We have seen already that Ea, under his Greek name of Oannes, was supposed to bring knowledge and culture to the people of Eridu.[Pg 112] There are many confusing myths connected with him, and he seems in some measure to enter into the Babylonian myth of the deluge. Alexander Polyhistor, Apollodorus, and Eusebius, copying from Berossus, state that he rose from the sea upon his civilizing mission, and Abydenus says that in the time of Daon, the shepherd king of the city of Pantibiblon (meaning the 'city where books were gathered together'), "Annedatus appeared again from the Eruthrean sea, in the same form as those who had showed themselves before, having the shape of a fish blended with that of a man. Then reigned Aedorachus of Pantibiblon for the term of eighteen sari. In his days there appeared another personage from the sea of Eruthra, like those above, having the same complicated form between fish and man: his name was Odacon." From remarks by Apollodorus it would seem that these beings were messengers from Oannes, but the whole passages are very obscure. The chief extract from the fragments of Berossus concerning Oannes states that: "In the first year there made its appearance from a part of the Eruthrean sea, which bordered upon Babylonia, an animal endowed with reason, who was called Oannes. According to the accounts of Apollodorus the whole body of the animal was like that of a fish; and had under a fish's head another head, and also feet below, similar to those of a man, subjoined to the fish's tail. His speech, too, was articulate and human; and there was a representation of him to be seen in the time of Berossus. This Being in the daytime used to converse with men; but took no food at that season; and he gave them an insight into letters and science, and every kind of art. He taught them to construct houses, to found temples, to compile[Pg 113] laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and showed them how to collect fruits; in short, he instructed them in everything which could tend to soften manners and humanize mankind. From that time, so universal were his instructions, nothing material has been added by way of improvement. When the sun set, it was the custom of this Being to plunge again into the sea, and abide all the night in the deep." After this there appeared other creatures like Oannes, of which Berossus promises to give an account when he comes to the history of the kings.