Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 80

The appointment of Merodach to the supreme position in the Babylonian pantheon naturally necessitated a rearrangement so far as the relationship of the other deities to him was concerned. This meant a re-shaping of myth and tradition generally for the purpose of ensuring consistency. The men fitted to accomplish such a task were to hand, for the age of Khammurabi was fertile in writers, scholastic and legal, who would be well equipped to carry out a change of the description indicated. Ea had not in the past enjoyed any very exalted sphere. But as the chief god of the important country in the neighbourhood of the Persian Gulf, the most ancient home of Babylonian culture, Ea would probably have exercised a great influence upon the antiquarian and historic sense of a man like Khammurabi. As the god of wisdom he would strongly appeal to a monarch whose whole career was marked by a love of justice and by sagacity and insight. From a local god of Eridu, Ea became a universal deity of wisdom and beneficence, the strong shield of man, and his benefactor by the gifts of harvest and water. Civilized and softer emotions must have begun to cluster around the cult of this kindly god who, when the angered deities resolved to destroy mankind, interceded for poor humanity and succeeded in preserving it from the divine wrath. As a god of medicine, too, Ea is humane and protective in character, and all the arts fall under his patronage. He is the culture-god of Babylon par excellence. He might not transcend Merodach, so he became his father. Thus did pagan theology succeed in merging the cults of deities which might otherwise[Pg 193] have been serious rivals and mutually destructive.


Zu was a storm-god symbolized in the form of a bird. He may typify the advancing storm-cloud, which would have seemed to those of old as if hovering like a great bird above the land which it was about to strike. The North-American Indians possess such a mythological conception in the Thunder-bird, and it is probable that the great bird called roc, so well known to readers of the Arabian Nights, was a similar monster—perhaps the descendant of the Zu-bird. We remember how this enormous creature descended upon the ship in which Sindbad sailed and carried him off. Certain it is that we can trace the roc or rukh to the Persian simurgh, which is again referable to a more ancient Persian form, the amru or sinamru, the bird of immortality, and we may feel sure that what is found in ancient Persian lore has some foundation in Babylonian belief. The Zu-bird was evidently under the control of the sun, and his attempt to break away from the solar authority is related in the following legend.

The Legend of Zu

It is told of the god Zu that on one occasion ambition awaking in his breast caused him to cast envious eyes on the power and sovereignty of Bel, so that he determined to purloin the Tablets of Destiny, which were the tangible symbols of Bel's greatness.

At this time, it may be recalled, the Tablets of Destiny had already an interesting history behind them. We are told in the creation legend how Apsu, the primeval, and Tiawath, chaos, the first parents[Pg 194] of the gods, afterward conceived a hatred for their offspring, and how Tiawath, with her monster-brood of snakes and vipers, dragons and scorpion-men and raging hounds, made war on the hosts of heaven. Her son Kingu she made captain of her hideous army—

To march before the forces, to lead the host,
To give the battle-signal, to advance to the attack,
To direct the battle, to control the fight.

To him she gave the Tablets of Destiny, laying them on his breast with the words: "Thy command shall not be without avail, and the word of thy mouth shall be established." Through his possession of the divine tablets Kingu received the power of Anu, and was able to decree the fate of the gods. After several deities had refused the honour of becoming champion of heaven, Merodach was chosen. He succeeded at length in slaying Tiawath and destroying her evil host; and having vanquished Kingu, her captain, he took from him the Tablets of Destiny, which he sealed and laid on his own breast. It was this Merodach, or Marduk, who afterward became identified with Bel.