Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 81

Now Zu, in his greed for power and dominion, was eager to obtain the potent symbols. He beheld the honour and majesty of Bel, and from contemplation of these he turned to look upon the Tablets of Destiny, saying within himself:

"Lo, I will possess the tablets of the gods, and all things shall be subject unto me. The spirits of heaven shall bow before me, the oracles of the gods shall be in my hands. I shall wear the crown, symbol of sovereignty, and the robe, symbol of godhead, and then shall I rule over all the hosts of heaven."

[Pg 195]

Thus inflamed, he sought the entrance to Bel's hall, where he awaited the dawn of day. The text goes on:

Now when Bel was pouring out the clear water, (i.e. thelight of day?)
And his diadem was taken off and lay upon the throne,
(Zu) seized the Tablets of Destiny,
He took Bel's dominion, the power of giving commands.
Then Zu fled away and hid himself in his mountain.

Bel was greatly enraged at the theft, and all the gods with him. Anu, lord of heaven, summoned about him his divine sons, and asked for a champion to recover the tablets. But though the god Ramman was chosen, and after him several other deities, they all refused to advance against Zu.

The end of the legend is unfortunately missing, but from a passage in another tale, the legend of Etana, we gather that it was the sun-god, Shamash, who eventually stormed the mountain-stronghold of Zu, and with his net succeeded in capturing the presumptuous deity.

This legend is of the Prometheus type, but whereas Prometheus (once a bird-god) steals fire from heaven for the behoof of mankind, Zu steals the Tablets of Destiny for his own. These must, of course, be regained if the sovereignty of heaven is duly to continue, and to make the tale circumstantial the sun-god is provided with a fowler's net with which to capture the recalcitrant Zu-bird. Jastrow believes the myth to have been manufactured for the purpose of showing how the tablets of power were originally lost by the older Bel and gained by Merodach, but he has discounted the reference in the Etana legend relating to their recovery.

[Pg 196]


We find a good deal of confusion in later Babylonian religion as to whether the name 'Bel' is intended to designate the old god of that name or is merely a title for Merodach. Khammurabi certainly uses the name occasionally when speaking of Merodach, but at other times he quite as surely employs it for the older divinity, as for example when he couples the name with Anu. One of the Kassite kings, too, speaks of "Bel, the lord of lands," meaning the old Bel, to whom they often gave preference over Merodach. They also preferred the old city of Nippur and its temple to Babylon, and perhaps made an attempt at one time to make Nippur the capital of their Empire.

Hall in Assyrian Palace (Restored). From a drawing made on the spot by Sir Henry Layard.

Some authorities appear to think it strange that Bel should have existed at all as a deity after the elevation of Merodach to the highest rank in the pantheon. It was his association with Anu and Ea as one of a triad presiding over the heavens, the earth, and the deep which kept him in power. Moreover, the very fact that he was a member of such a triad proves that he was regarded as theologically essential to the well-being of the Babylonian religion as a whole. The manufacture or slow evolution of a trinity of this description is by no means brought about through popular processes. It is, indeed, the work of a school, of a college of priests. Strangely enough Khammurabi seems to have associated Anu and Bel together, but to have entirely omitted Ea from their companionship, and it has been thought that the conception of a trinity was subsequent to his epoch. The god of earth and the god of heaven typify respectively that which is above and that which is below, and are reminiscent of the Father-sky[Pg 197] and Mother-earth of many primitive mythologies, and there is much to say for the theory that Ea, god of the deep, although he had existed long prior to any such grouping, was a later inclusion.