Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 157

There proceedeth from thee the strong Orion in heaven at evening, at the resting of every day!
Lo it is I (Isis), at the approach of the Sothis (Sirius) period, who doth watch for him (the child Osiris),
Nor will I leave off watching for him; for that which proceedeth from thee (the living Osiris) is revered.
An emanation from thee causeth life to gods and men, reptiles and animals, and they live by means thereof.
Come thou to us from thy chamber, in the day when thy soul begetteth emanations,--
The day when offerings upon offerings are made to thy spirit, which causeth the gods and men likewise to live.[309]

This extract emphasizes how unsafe it is to confine certain deities within narrow limits by terming them simply "solar gods", "lunar gods", "astral gods", or "earth gods". One deity may have been simultaneously a sun god and moon god, an air god and an earth god, one who was dead and also alive, unborn and also old. The priests of Babylonia and Egypt were less accustomed to concrete and logical definitions than their critics and expositors of the twentieth century. Simple explanations of ancient beliefs are often by reason of their very simplicity highly improbable. Recognition must ever be given to the puzzling complexity of religious thought in Babylonia and Egypt, and to the possibility that even to the priests the doctrines of a particular cult, which embraced the accumulated ideas of centuries, were invariably confusing and vague, and full of inconsistencies; they were mystical in the sense that the understanding could not grasp them although it permitted their acceptance. A god, for instance, might be addressed at once in the singular and plural, perhaps because he had developed from an animistic group of spirits, or, perhaps, for reasons we cannot discover. This is shown clearly by the following pregnant extract from a Babylonian tablet: "Powerful, O Sevenfold, one are ye". Mr. L.W. King, the translator, comments upon it as follows: "There is no doubt that the name was applied to a group of gods who were so closely connected that, though addressed in the plural, they could in the same sentence be regarded as forming a single personality".[310]

Like the Egyptian Osiris, the Babylonian Merodach was a highly complex deity. He was the son of Ea, god of the deep; he died to give origin to human life when he commanded that his head should be cut off so that the first human beings might be fashioned by mixing his blood with the earth; he was the wind god, who gave "the air of life"; he was the deity of thunder and the sky; he was the sun of spring in his Tammuz character; he was the daily sun, and the planets Jupiter and Mercury as well as Sharru (Regulus); he had various astral associations at various seasons. Ishtar, the goddess, was Iku (Capella), the water channel star, in January-February, and Merodach was Iku in May-June. This strange system of identifying the chief deity with different stars at different periods, or simultaneously, must not be confused with the monotheistic identification of him with other gods. Merodach changed his forms with Ishtar, and had similarly many forms. This goddess, for instance, was, even when connected with one particular heavenly body, liable to change. According to a tablet fragment she was, as the planet Venus, "a female at sunset and a male at sunrise[311]"--that is, a bisexual deity like Nannar of Ur, the father and mother deity combined, and Isis of Egypt. Nannar is addressed in a famous hymn:

Father Nannar, Lord, God Sin, ruler among the gods....