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Myths of Babylon and Assyria: Chapter II. The Land of Rivers and the God of the Deep


The Land of Rivers and the God of the Deep

Fertility of Ancient Babylonia--Rivers, Canals, Seasons, and Climate--Early Trade and Foreign Influences--Local Religious Cults--Ea, God of the Deep, identical with Oannes of Berosus--Origin as a Sacred Fish--Compared with Brahma and Vishnu--Flood Legends in Babylonia and India--Fish Deities in Babylonia and Egypt--Fish God as a Corn God--The River as Creator--Ea an Artisan God, and links with Egypt and India--Ea as the Hebrew Jah--Ea and Varuna are Water and Sky Gods--The Babylonian Dagan and Dagon of the Philistines--Deities of Water and Harvest in Phoenicia, Greece, Rome, Scotland, Scandinavia, Ireland, and Egypt--Ea's Spouse Damkina--Demons of Ocean in Babylonia and India--Anu, God of the Sky--Enlil, Storm and War God of Nippur, like Adad, Odin, &c.--Early Gods of Babylonia and Egypt of common origin--Ea's City as Cradle of Sumerian Civilization.

ANCIENT Babylonia was for over four thousand years the garden of Western Asia. In the days of Hezekiah and Isaiah, when it had come under the sway of the younger civilization of Assyria on the north, it was "a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil olive and of honey". 1 Herodotus found it still flourishing and extremely fertile. "This territory", he wrote, "is of all that we know the best by far for producing grain; it is so good that it returns as much as two hundredfold for the average, and, when it bears at its best, it produces three hundredfold. The blades of the wheat and barley there grow to be full four fingers broad; and from millet and sesame seed, how large a tree grows, I know myself, but shall not record, being well aware that even what has already been said relating to the crops produced has been enough to cause disbelief in those who have not visited Babylonia." 1 To-day great tracts of undulating moorland, which aforetime yielded two and three crops a year, are in summer partly barren wastes and partly jungle and reedy swamp. Bedouins camp beside sandy heaps which were once populous and thriving cities, and here and there the shrunken remnants of a people once great and influential eke out precarious livings under the oppression of Turkish tax-gatherers who are scarcely less considerate than the plundering nomads of the desert.

This historic country is bounded on the east by Persia and on the west by the Arabian desert. In shape somewhat resembling a fish, it lies between the two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, too miles wide at its broadest part, and narrowing to 35 miles towards the "tail" in the latitude of Baghdad; the "head" converges to a point above Basra, where the rivers meet and form the Shatt-el-Arab, which pours into the Persian Gulf after meeting the Karun and drawing away the main volume of that double-mouthed river. The distance from Baghdad to Basra is about 300 miles, and the area traversed by the Shatt-el-Arab is slowly extending at the rate of a mile every thirty years or so, as a result of the steady accumulation of silt and mud carried down by the Tigris and Euphrates. When Sumeria was beginning to flourish, these two rivers had separate outlets, and Eridu, the seat of the cult of the sea god Ea, which now lies 125 miles inland, was a seaport at the head of the Persian Gulf. A day's journey separated the river mouths when Alexander the Great broke the power of the Persian Empire.

In the days of Babylonia's prosperity the Euphrates was hailed as "the soul of the land" and the Tigris as "the bestower of blessings". Skilful engineers had solved the problem of water distribution by irrigating sun-parched areas and preventing the excessive flooding of those districts which are now rendered impassable swamps when the rivers overflow. A network of canals was constructed throughout the country, which restricted the destructive tendencies of the Tigris and Euphrates and developed to a high degree their potentialities as fertilizing agencies. The greatest of these canals appear to have been anciently river beds. One, which is called Shatt en Nil to the north, and Shatt el Kar to the south, curved eastward from Babylon, and sweeping past Nippur, flowed like the letter Stowards Larsa and then rejoined the river. It is believed to mark the course followed in the early Sumerian period by the Euphrates river, which has moved steadily westward many miles beyond the sites of ancient cities that were erected on its banks. Another important canal, the Shatt el Hai, crossed the plain from the Tigris to its sister river, which lies lower at this point, and does not run so fast. Where the artificial canals were constructed on higher levels than the streams which fed them, the water was raised by contrivances known as "shaddufs"; the buckets or skin bags were roped to a weighted beam, with the aid of which they were swung up by workmen and emptied into the canals. It is possible that this toilsome mode of irrigation was substituted in favourable parts by the primitive water wheels which are used in our own day by the inhabitants of the country who cultivate strips of land along the river banks.

In Babylonia there are two seasons--the rainy and the dry. Rain falls from November till March, and the plain is carpeted in spring by patches of vivid green verdure and brilliant wild flowers. Then the period of drought ensues; the sun rapidly burns up all vegetation, and everywhere the eye is wearied by long stretches of brown and yellow desert. Occasional sandstorms darken the heavens, sweeping over sterile wastes and piling up the shapeless mounds which mark the sites of ancient cities. Meanwhile the rivers are increasing in volume, being fed by the melting snows at their mountain sources far to the north. The swift Tigris, which is 1146 miles long, begins to rise early in March and reaches its highest level in May; before the end of June it again subsides. More sluggish in movement, the Euphrates, which is 1780 miles long, shows signs of rising a fortnight later than the Tigris, and is in flood for a more extended period; it does not shrink to its lowest level until early in September. By controlling the flow of these mighty rivers, preventing disastrous floods, and storing and distributing surplus water, the ancient Babylonians developed to the full the natural resources of their country, and made it--what it may once again become--one of the fairest and most habitable areas in the world. Nature conferred upon them bountiful rewards for their labour; trade and industries flourished, and the cities increased in splendour and strength. Then as now the heat was great during the long summer, but remarkably dry and unvarying, while the air was ever wonderfully transparent under cloudless skies of vivid blue. The nights were cool and of great beauty, whether in brilliant moonlight or when ponds and canals were jewelled by the lustrous displays of clear and numerous stars which glorified that homeland of the earliest astronomers.

Babylonia is a treeless country, and timber had to be imported from the earliest times. The date palm was probably introduced by man, as were certainly the vine and the fig tree, which were widely cultivated, especially in the north. Stone, suitable for building, was very scarce, and limestone, alabaster, marble, and basalt had to be taken from northern Mesopotamia, where the mountains also yield copper and lead and iron. Except Eridu, where ancient workers quarried sandstone from its sea-shaped ridge, all the cities were built of brick, an excellent clay being found in abundance. When brick walls were cemented with bitumen they were given great stability. This resinous substance is found in the north and south. It bubbles up through crevices of rocks on river banks and forms small ponds. Two famous springs at modern Hit, on the Euphrates, have been drawn upon from time immemorial. "From one", writes a traveller, "flows hot water black with bitumen, while the other discharges intermittently bitumen, or, after a rainstorm, bitumen and cold water. . . . Where rocks crop out in the plain above Hit, they are full of seams of bitumen." 1 Present-day Arabs call it "kiyara", and export it for coating boats and roofs; they also use it as an antiseptic, and apply it to cure the skin diseases from which camels suffer.

Sumeria had many surplus products, including corn and figs, pottery, fine wool and woven garments, to offer in exchange for what it most required from other countries. It must, therefore, have had a brisk and flourishing foreign trade at an exceedingly remote period. No doubt numerous alien merchants were attracted to its cities, and it may be that they induced or encouraged Semitic and other raiders to overthrow governments and form military aristocracies, so that they themselves might obtain necessary concessions and achieve a degree of political ascendancy. It does not follow, however, that the peasant class was greatly affected by periodic revolutions of this kind, which brought little more to them than a change of rulers. The needs of the country necessitated the continuance of agricultural methods and the rigid observance of existing land laws; indeed, these constituted the basis of Sumerian prosperity. Conquerors have ever sought reward not merely in spoil, but also the services of the conquered. In northern Babylonia the invaders apparently found it necessary to conciliate and secure the continued allegiance of the tillers of the soil. Law and religion being closely associated, they had to adapt their gods to suit the requirements of existing social and political organizations. A deity of pastoral nomads had to receive attributes which would give him an agricultural significance; one of rural character had to be changed to respond to the various calls of city life. Besides, local gods could not be ignored on account of their popularity. As a result, imported beliefs and religious customs must have been fused and absorbed according to their bearing on modes of life in various localities. It is probable that the complex character of certain deities was due to the process of adjustment to which they were subjected in new environments.

The petty kingdoms of Sumeria appear to have been tribal in origin. Each city was presided over by a deity who was the nominal owner of the surrounding arable land, farms were rented or purchased from the priesthood, and pasture was held in common. As in Egypt, where we find, for instance, the artisan god Ptah supreme at Memphis, the sun god Ra at Heliopolis, and the cat goddess Bast at Bubastis, the various local Sumerian and Akkadian deities had distinctive characteristics, and similarly showed a tendency to absorb the attributes of their rivals. The chief deity of a state was the central figure in a pantheon, which had its political aspect and influenced the growth of local theology. Cities, however, did not, as a rule, bear the names of deities, which suggests that several were founded when Sumerian religion was in its early animistic stages, and gods and goddesses were not sharply defined from the various spirit groups.

A distinctive and characteristic Sumerian god was Ea, who was supreme at the ancient sea-deserted port of Eridu. He is identified with the Oannes of Berosus, 1 who referred to the deity as "a creature endowed with reason, with a body like that of a fish, with feet below like those of a man, with a fish's tail". This description recalls the familiar figures of Egyptian gods and priests attired in the skins of the sacred animals from whom their powers were derived, and the fairy lore about swan maids and men, and the seals and other animals who could divest themselves of their "skin coverings" and appear in human shape. Originally Ea may have been a sacred fish. The Indian creative gods Brahma and Vishnu had fish forms. In Sanskrit literature Manu, the eponymous "first man", is instructed by the fish to build a ship in which to save himself when the world would be purged by the rising waters. Ea befriended in similar manner the Babylonian Noah, called Pir-napishtim, advising him to build a vessel so as to be prepared for the approaching Deluge. Indeed the Indian legend appears to throw light on the original Sumerian conception of Ea. It relates that when the fish was small and in danger of being swallowed by other fish in a stream it appealed to Manu for protection. The sage at once lifted up the fish and placed it in a jar of water. It gradually increased in bulk, and he transferred it next to a tank and then to the river Ganges. In time the fish complained to Manu that the river was too small for it, so he carried it to the sea. For these services the god in fish form instructed Manu regarding the approaching flood, and afterwards piloted his ship through the weltering waters until it rested on a mountain top. >1

If this Indian myth is of Babylonian origin, as appears probable, it may be that the spirit of the river Euphrates, "the soul of the land", was identified with a migrating fish. The growth of the fish suggests the growth of the river rising in flood. In Celtic folk tales high tides and valley floods are accounted for by the presence of a "great beast" in sea, loch, or river. In a class of legends, "specially connected with the worship of Atargatis", wrote Professor Robertson Smith, "the divine life of the waters resides in the sacred fish that inhabit them. Atargatis and her son, according to a legend common to Hierapolis and Ascalon, plunged into the waters--in the first case the Euphrates, in the second the sacred pool at the temple near the town--and were changed into fishes". The idea is that "where a god dies, that is, ceases to exist in human form, his life passes into the waters where he is buried; and this again is merely a theory to bring the divine water or the divine fish into harmony with anthropomorphic ideas. The same thing was sometimes effected in another way by saying that the anthropomorphic deity was born from the water, as Aphrodite sprang from sea foam, or as Atargatis, in another form of the Euphrates legend, . . . was born of an egg which the sacred fishes found in the Euphrates and pushed ashore." 2

As "Shar Apsi", Ea was the "King of the Watery Deep". The reference, however, according to Jastrow, "is not to the salt ocean, but the sweet waters flowing under the earth which feed the streams, and through streams and canals irrigate the fields". 1 As Babylonia was fertilized by its rivers, Ea, the fish god, was a fertilizing deity. In Egypt the "Mother of Mendes" is depicted carrying a fish upon her head; she links with Isis and Hathor; her husband is Ba-neb-Tettu, a form of Ptah, Osiris, and Ra, and as a god of fertility he is symbolized by the ram. Another Egyptian fish deity was the god Rem, whose name signifies "to weep"; he wept fertilizing tears, and corn was sown and reaped amidst lamentations. He may be identical with Remi, who was a phase of Sebek, the crocodile god, a developed attribute of Nu, the vague primitive Egyptian deity who symbolized the primordial deep. The connection between a fish god and a corn god is not necessarily remote when we consider that in Babylonia and Egypt the harvest was the gift of the rivers.

The Euphrates, indeed, was hailed as a creator of all that grew on its banks.
O thou River who didst create all things,
When the great gods dug thee out,
They set prosperity upon thy banks,
Within thee Ea, the King of the Deep, created his dwelling . . .
Thou judgest the cause of mankind!
O River, thou art mighty! O River, thou art supreme!
O River, thou art righteous! 2

In serving Ea, the embodiment or the water spirit, by leading him, as the Indian Manu led the Creator and "Preserver" in fish form, from river to water pot, water pot to pond or canal, and then again to river and ocean, the Babylonians became expert engineers and experienced agriculturists, the makers of bricks, the builders of cities, the framers of laws. Indeed, their civilization was a growth of Ea worship. Ea was their instructor. Berosus states that, as Oannes, he lived in the Persian Gulf, and every day came ashore to instruct the inhabitants of Eridu how to make canals, to grow crops, to work metals, to make pottery and bricks, and to build temples; he was the artisan god--Nun-ura, "god of the potter"; Kuski-banda, "god of goldsmiths", &c.--the divine patron of the arts and crafts. "Ea knoweth everything", chanted the hymn maker. He taught the people how to form and use alphabetic signs and instructed them in mathematics: he gave them their code of laws. Like the Egyptian artisan god Ptah, and the linking deity Khnumu, Ea was the "potter or moulder of gods and man". Ptah moulded the first man on his potter's wheel: he also moulded the sun and moon; he shaped the universe and hammered out the copper sky. Ea built the world "as an architect builds a house". 1 Similarly the Vedic Indra, who wielded a hammer like Ptah, fashioned the universe after the simple manner in which the Aryans made their wooden dwellings. 2

Like Ptah, Ea also developed from an artisan god into a sublime Creator in the highest sense, not merely as a producer of crops. His word became the creative force; he named those things he desired to be, and they came into existence. "Who but Ea creates things", exclaimed a priestly poet. This change from artisan god to creator (Nudimmud) may have been due to the tendency of early religious cults to attach to their chief god the attributes of rivals exalted at other centres.

Ea, whose name is also rendered Aa, was identified with Ya, Yau, or Au, the Jah of the Hebrews. "In Ya-Daganu, 'Jah is Dagon'", writes Professor Pinches, "we have the elements reversed, showing a wish to identify Jah with Dagon, rather than Dagon with Jah; whilst another interesting name, Au-Aa, shows an identification of Jah with Aa, two names which have every appearance of being etymologically connected." Jah's name "is one of the words for 'god' in the Assyro-Babylonian language". 1

Ea was "Enki", "lord of the world", or "lord of what is beneath"; Amma-ana-ki, "lord of heaven and earth"; Sa-kalama, "ruler of the land", as well as Engur, "god of the abyss", Naqbu, "the deep", and Lugal-ida, "king of the river". As rain fell from "the waters above the firmament", the god of waters was also a sky and earth god.

The Indian Varuna was similarly a sky as well as an ocean god before the theorizing and systematizing Brahmanic teachers relegated him to a permanent abode at the bottom of the sea. It may be that Ea-Oannes and Varuna were of common origin.

Another Babylonian deity, named Dagan, is believed to be identical with Ea. His worship was certainly of great antiquity. "Hammurabi", writes Professor Pinches, "seems to speak of the Euphrates as being 'the boundary of Dagan', whom he calls his creator. In later inscriptions the form Daguna, which approaches nearer to the West Semitic form (Dagon of the Philistines), is found in a few personal names. 2

It is possible that the Philistine deity Dagon was a specialized form of ancient Ea, who was either imported from Babylonia or was a sea god of more than one branch of the Mediterranean race. The authorities are at variance regarding the form and attributes of Dagan. Our know-ledge regarding him is derived mainly from the Bible. He was a national rather than a city god. There are references to a Beth-dagon 1 , "house or city of Dagon"; he had also a temple at Gaza, and Samson destroyed it by pulling down the two middle pillars which were its main support. 2 A third temple was situated in Ashdod. When the captured ark of the Israelites was placed in it the image of Dagon "fell on his face", with the result that "the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left". 3 A further reference to "the threshold of Dagon" suggests that the god had feet like Ea-Oannes. Those who hold that Dagon had a fish form derive his name from the Semitic "dag = a fish", and suggest that after the idol fell only the fishy part (dāgo) was left. On the other hand, it was argued that Dagon was a corn god, and that the resemblance between the words Dagan and Dagon are accidental. Professor Sayce makes reference in this connection to a crystal seal from Phoenicia in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, bearing an inscription which he reads as Baal-dagon. Near the name is an ear of corn, and other symbols, such as the winged solar disc, a gazelle, and several stars, but there is no fish. It may be, of course, that Baal-dagon represents a fusion of deities. As we have seen in the case of Ea-Oannes and the deities of Mendes, a fish god may also be a corn god, a land animal god and a god of ocean and the sky. The offering of golden mice representing "your mice that mar the land", 1 made by the Philistines, suggests that Dagon was the fertilizing harvest god, among other things, whose usefulness had been impaired, as they believed, by the mistake committed of placing the ark of Israel in the temple at Ashdod. The Philistines came from Crete, and if their Dagon was imported from that island, he may have had some connection with Poseidon, whose worship extended throughout Greece. This god of the sea, who is somewhat like the Roman Neptune, carried a lightning trident and caused earthquakes. He was a brother of Zeus, the sky and atmosphere deity, and had bull and horse forms. As a horse he pursued Demeter, the earth and corn goddess, and, like Ea, he instructed mankind, but especially in the art of training horses. In his train were the Tritons, half men, half fishes, and the water fairies, the Nereids. Bulls, boars, and rams were offered to this sea god of fertility. Amphitrite was his spouse.

An obscure god Shony, the Oannes of the Scottish Hebrides, received oblations from those who depended for their agricultural prosperity on his gifts of fertilizing seaweed. He is referred to in Martin's Western Isles, and is not yet forgotten. The Eddie sea god Njord of Noatun was the father of Frey, the harvest god. Dagda, the Irish corn god, had for wife Boann, the goddess of the river Boyne. Osiris and Isis of Egypt were associated with the Nile. The connection between agriculture and the water supply was too obvious to escape the early symbolists, and many other proofs of this than those referred to could be given.

Ea's "faithful spouse" was the goddess Damkina, who was also called Nin-ki, "lady of the earth". "May Ea make thee glad", chanted the priests. "May Damkina, queen of the deep, illumine thee with her countenance; may Merodach (Marduk), the mighty overseer of the Igigi (heavenly spirits), exalt thy head." Merodach was their son: in time he became the Bel, or "Lord", of the Babylonian pantheon.

Like the Indian Varuna, the sea god, Ea-Oannes had control over the spirits and demons of the deep. The "ferryman" who kept watch over the river of death was called Arad-Ea, "servant of Ea". There are also references to sea maidens, the Babylonian mermaids, or Nereids. We have a glimpse of sea giants, which resemble the Indian Danavas and Daityas of ocean, in the chant:
Seven are they, seven are they,
In the ocean deep seven are they,
Battening in heaven seven are they,
Bred in the depths of ocean. . . .
Of these seven the first is the south wind,
The second a dragon with mouth agape. . . .1

A suggestion of the Vedic Vritra and his horde of monsters.

These seven demons were also "the messengers of Anu", who, although specialized as a sky god in more than one pantheon, appears to have been closely associated with Ea in the earliest Sumerian period. His name, signifying "the high one", is derived from "ana", "heaven"; he was the city god of Erech (Uruk). It is possible that he was developed as an atmospheric god with solar and lunar attributes. The seven demons, who were his messengers, recall the stormy Maruts, the followers of Indra. They are referred to as
Forcing their way with baneful windstorms,
Mighty destroyers, the deluge of the storm god,
Stalking at the right hand of the storm god. 2

When we deal with a deity in his most archaic form it is difficult to distinguish him from a demon. Even the beneficent Ea is associated with monsters and furies. "Evil spirits", according to a Babylonian chant, were "the bitter venom of the gods". Those attached to a deity as "attendants" appear to represent the original animistic group from which he evolved. In each district the character of the deity was shaped to accord with local conditions.

At Nippur, which was situated on the vague and shifting boundary line between Sumer and Akkad, the chief god was Enlil, whose name is translated "lord of mist", "lord of might", and "lord of demons" by various authorities. He was a storm god and a war god, and "lord of heaven and earth", like Ea and Anu. An atmospheric deity, he shares the attributes of the Indian Indra, the thunder and rain god, and Vayu, the wind god; he also resembles the Semitic Adad or Rim-man, who links with the Hittite Tarku. All these are deities of tempest and the mountains--Wild Huntsmen in the Raging Host. The name of Enlil's temple at Nippur has been translated as "mountain house", or "like a mountain", and the theory obtained for a time that the god must therefore have been imported by a people from the hills. But as the ideogram for "mountain" and "land" was used in the earliest times, as King shows, with reference to foreign countries, 1 it is more probable that Enlil was exalted as a world god who had dominion over not only Sumer and Akkad, but also the territories occupied by the rivals and enemies of the early Babylonians.

Enlil is known as the "older Bel" (lord), to distinguish him from Bel Merodach of Babylon. He was the chief figure in a triad in which he figured as earth god, with Anu as god of the sky and Ea as god of the deep. This classification suggests that Nippur had either risen in political importance and dominated the cities of Erech and Eridu, or that its priests were influential at the court of a ruler who was the overlord of several city states.

Associated with Bel Enlil was Beltis, later known as "Beltu--the lady". She appears to be identical with the other great goddesses, Ishtar, Nana, Zer-panitum, &c., a "Great Mother", or consort of an early god with whom she was equal in power and dignity.

In the later systematized theology of the Babylonians we seem to trace the fragments of a primitive mythology which was vague in outline, for the deities were not sharply defined, and existed in groups. Enneads were formed in Egypt by placing a local god at the head of a group of eight elder deities. The sun god Ra was the chief figure of the earliest pantheon of this character at Heliopolis, while at Hermopolis the leader was the lunar god Thoth. Professor Budge is of opinion that "both the Sumerians and the early Egyptians derived their primeval gods from some common but exceedingly ancient source", for he finds in the Babylonian and Nile valleys that there is a resemblance between two early groups which "seems to be too close to be accidental". 1

The Egyptian group comprises four pairs of vague gods and goddesses--Nu and his consort Nut, Hehu and his consort Hehut, Kekui and his consort Kekuit, and Kerh and his consort Kerhet. "Man always has fashioned", he says, "and probably always will fashion, his god or gods in his own image, and he has always, having reached a certain stage in development, given to his gods wives and offspring; but the nature of the position taken by the wives of the gods depends upon the nature of the position of women in the households of those who write the legends and the traditions of the gods. The gods of the oldest company in Egypt were, the writer believes, invented by people in whose households women held a high position, and among whom they possessed more power than is usually the case with Oriental peoples." 1

We cannot say definitely what these various deities represent. Nu was the spirit of the primordial deep, and Nut of the waters above the heavens, the mother of moon and sun and the stars. The others were phases of light and darkness and the forces of nature in activity and repose.

Nu is represented in Babylonian mythology by Apsu-Rishtu, and Nut by Mummu-Tiamat or Tiawath; the next pair is Lachmu and Lachamu, and the third, Anshar and Kishar. The fourth pair is missing, but the names of Anu and Ea (as Nudimmud) are mentioned in the first tablet of the Creation series, and the name of a third is lost. Professor Budge thinks that the Assyrian editors substituted the ancient triad of Anu, Ea, and Enlil for the pair which would correspond to those found in Egypt. Originally the wives of Anu and Ea may have made up the group of eight primitive deities.

There can be little doubt but that Ea, as he survives to us, is of later characterization than the first pair of primitive deities who symbolized the deep. The attributes of this beneficent god reflect the progress, and the social and moral ideals of a people well advanced in civilization. He rewarded mankind for the services they rendered to him; he was their leader and instructor; he achieved for them the victories over the destructive forces of nature. In brief, he was the dragon slayer, a distinction, by the way, which was attached in later times to his son Merodach, the Babylonian god, although Ea was still credited with the victory over the dragon's husband.

When Ea was one of the pre-Babylonian group--the triad of Bel-Enlil, Anu, and Ea--he resembled the Indian Vishnu, the Preserver, while Bel-Enlil resembled Shiva, the Destroyer, and Anu, the father, supreme Brahma, the Creator and Father of All, the difference in exact adjustment being due, perhaps, to Sumerian political conditions.

Ea, as we have seen, symbolized the beneficence of the waters; their destructive force was represented by Tiamat or Tiawath, the dragon, and Apsu, her husband, the arch-enemy of the gods. We shall find these elder demons figuring in the Babylonian Creation myth, which receives treatment in a later chapter.

The ancient Sumerian city of Eridu, which means "on the seashore", was invested with great sanctity from the earliest times, and Ea, the "great magician of the gods", was invoked by workers of spells, the priestly magicians of historic Babylonia. Excavations have shown that Eridu was protected by a retaining wall of sandstone, of which material many of its houses were made. In its temple tower, built of brick, was a marble stairway, and evidences have been forthcoming that in the later Sumerian period the structure was lavishly adorned. It is referred to in the fragments of early literature which have survived as "the splendid house, shady as the forest", that "none may enter". The mythological spell exercised by Eridu in later times suggests that the civilization of Sumeria owed much to the worshippers of Ea. At the sacred city the first man was created: there the souls of the dead passed towards the great Deep. Its proximity to the sea--Ea was Nin-bubu, "god of the sailor"--may have brought it into contact with other peoples and other early civilizations. Like the early Egyptians, the early Sumerians may have been in touch with Punt (Somali-land), which some regard as the cradle of the Mediterranean race. The Egyptians obtained from that sacred land incense-bearing trees which had magical potency. In a fragmentary Babylonian charm there is a reference to a sacred tree or bush at Eridu. Professor Sayce has suggested that it is the Biblical "Tree of Life" in the Garden of Eden. His translations of certain vital words, however, is sharply questioned by Mr. R. Campbell Thompson of the British Museum, who does not accept the theory. 1 It may be that Ea's sacred bush or tree is a survival of tree and water worship.

If Eridu was not the "cradle" of the Sumerian race, it was possibly the cradle of Sumerian civilization. Here, amidst the shifting rivers in early times, the agriculturists may have learned to control and distribute the water supply by utilizing dried-up beds of streams to irrigate the land. Whatever successes they achieved were credited to Ea, their instructor and patron; he was Nadimmud, "god of everything".


21:1 2 Kings, xviii, 32.
22:1 Herodotus, i, 193.
25:1 Peter's Nippur, i, p. 160.
27:1 A Babylonian priest of Bel Merodach. In the third century B.C. he composed in Greek a history of his native land, which has perished. Extracts from it are given by Eusebius, Josephus, Apollodorus, and others.
28:1 Indian Myth and Legend, pp. 140, 141.
28:2 The Religion of the Semites, pp. 159, 160.
29:1 Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, M. Jastrow, p. 88.
29:2 The Seven Tablets of Creation, L. W. King, vol. i, p. 129.
30:1 Religious Belief in Babylonia and Assyria, M. Jastrow, p. 88.
30:2 Cosmology of the Rigveda, Wallis, and Indian Myth and Legend, p. 10.
31:1 The Old Testament in the Light of the Historical Records and Legends of Assyria and Babylonia, T. G. Pinches, pp. 59-61.
31:2 The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, T. G. Pinches, pp. 91, 92.
32:1 Joshua, xv, 41; xix, 27.
32:2 Judges, xvi, 1.
32:3 1 Sam., v, 1-9.
33:1 1 Sam., vi, 5.
34:1 The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia, R. Campbell Thompson, London, 1903, vol. i, p. xlii.
34:2 The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia, R. C. Thompson, vol. i, p. xliii.
35:1 A History of Sumer and Akkad, L. W. King, p. 54.
36:1 The Gods of the Egyptians, E. Wallis Budge, vol. i, p. 290.
37:1 The Gods of the Egyptians, vol. i, p. 287.
39:1 The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia, vol. i, Intro. See also Sayce's The Religion of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia(Gifford Lectures, 1902), p. 385, and Pinches' The Old Testament in the Light of Historical Records, &c., p. 71.
Next: Chapter III. Rival Pantheons and Representative Deities


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