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MYTHS OF BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA

Donald A. Mackenzie



TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface
Introduction
I. The Races and Early Civilization of Babylonia
II. The Land of Rivers and the God of the Deep
III. Rival Pantheons and Representative Deities
IV. Demons, Fairies, and Ghosts
V. Myths of Tammuz and Ishtar
VI. Wars of the City States of Sumer and Akkad
VII. Creation Legend: Merodach the Dragon Slayer
VIII. Deified Heroes: Etana and Gilgamesh
IX. Deluge Legend, the Island of the Blessed, and Hades
X. Buildings and Laws and Customs of Babylon
XI. The Golden Age of Babylonia
XII. Rise of the Hittites, Mitannians, Kassites, Hyksos, and
Assyrians
XIII. Astrology and Astronomy
XIV. Ashur the National God of Assyria
XV. Conflicts for Trade and Supremacy
XVI. Race Movements that Shattered Empires
XVII. The Hebrews in Assyrian History
XVIII. The Age of Semiramis
XIX. Assyria's Age of Splendour
XX. The Last Days of Assyria and Babylonia




PREFACE


This volume deals with the myths and legends of Babylonia and Assyria,
and as these reflect the civilization in which they developed, a
historical narrative has been provided, beginning with the early
Sumerian Age and concluding with the periods of the Persian and
Grecian Empires. Over thirty centuries of human progress are thus
passed under review.

During this vast interval of time the cultural influences emanating
from the Tigro-Euphrates valley reached far-distant shores along the
intersecting avenues of trade, and in consequence of the periodic and
widespread migrations of peoples who had acquired directly or
indirectly the leavening elements of Mesopotamian civilization. Even
at the present day traces survive in Europe of the early cultural
impress of the East; our "Signs of the Zodiac", for instance, as well
as the system of measuring time and space by using 60 as a basic
numeral for calculation, are inheritances from ancient Babylonia.

As in the Nile Valley, however, it is impossible to trace in
Mesopotamia the initiatory stages of prehistoric culture based on the
agricultural mode of life. What is generally called the "Dawn of
History" is really the beginning of a later age of progress; it is
necessary to account for the degree of civilization attained at the
earliest period of which we have knowledge by postulating a remoter
age of culture of much longer duration than that which separates the
"Dawn" from the age in which we now live. Although Sumerian (early
Babylonian) civilization presents distinctively local features which
justify the application of the term "indigenous" in the broad sense,
it is found, like that of Egypt, to be possessed of certain elements
which suggest exceedingly remote influences and connections at present
obscure. Of special interest in this regard is Professor Budge's
mature and well-deliberated conclusion that "both the Sumerians and
early Egyptians derived their primeval gods from some common but
exceedingly ancient source". The prehistoric burial customs of these
separate peoples are also remarkably similar and they resemble closely
in turn those of the Neolithic Europeans. The cumulative effect of
such evidence forces us to regard as not wholly satisfactory and
conclusive the hypothesis of cultural influence. A remote racial
connection is possible, and is certainly worthy of consideration when
so high an authority as Professor Frazer, author of _The Golden
Bough_, is found prepared to admit that the widespread "homogeneity of
beliefs" may have been due to "homogeneity of race". It is shown
(Chapter 1) that certain ethnologists have accumulated data which
establish a racial kinship between the Neolithic Europeans, the
proto-Egyptians, the Sumerians, the southern Persians, and the
Aryo-Indians.

Throughout this volume comparative notes have been compiled in dealing
with Mesopotamian beliefs with purpose to assist the reader towards
the study of linking myths and legends. Interesting parallels have
been gleaned from various religious literatures in Europe, Egypt,
India, and elsewhere. It will be found that certain relics of
Babylonian intellectual life, which have a distinctive geographical
significance, were shared by peoples in other cultural areas where
they were similarly overlaid with local colour. Modes of thought were
the products of modes of life and were influenced in their development
by human experiences. The influence of environment on the growth of
culture has long been recognized, but consideration must also be given
to the choice of environment by peoples who had adopted distinctive
habits of life. Racial units migrated from cultural areas to districts
suitable for colonization and carried with them a heritage of
immemorial beliefs and customs which were regarded as being quite as
indispensable for their welfare as their implements and domesticated
animals.

When consideration is given in this connection to the conservative
element in primitive religion, it is not surprising to find that the
growth of religious myths was not so spontaneous in early
civilizations of the highest order as has hitherto been assumed. It
seems clear that in each great local mythology we have to deal, in the
first place, not with symbolized ideas so much as symbolized folk
beliefs of remote antiquity and, to a certain degree, of common
inheritance. It may not be found possible to arrive at a conclusive
solution of the most widespread, and therefore the most ancient folk
myths, such as, for instance, the Dragon Myth, or the myth of the
culture hero. Nor, perhaps, is it necessary that we should concern
ourselves greatly regarding the origin of the idea of the dragon,
which in one country symbolized fiery drought and in another
overwhelming river floods.

The student will find footing on surer ground by following the process
which exalts the dragon of the folk tale into the symbol of evil and
primordial chaos. The Babylonian Creation Myth, for instance, can be
shown to be a localized and glorified legend in which the hero and his
tribe are displaced by the war god and his fellow deities whose
welfare depends on his prowess. Merodach kills the dragon, Tiamat, as
the heroes of Eur-Asian folk stories kill grisly hags, by casting his
weapon down her throat.

He severed her inward parts, he pierced her heart,
He overcame her and cut off her life;
He cast down her body and stood upon it ...
And with merciless club he smashed her skull.
He cut through the channels of her blood,
And he made the north wind to bear it away into secret places.

Afterwards

He divided the flesh of the _Ku-pu_ and devised a cunning plan.

Mr. L.W. King, from whose scholarly _Seven Tablets of Creation_ these
lines are quoted, notes that "Ku-pu" is a word of uncertain meaning.
Jensen suggests "trunk, body". Apparently Merodach obtained special
knowledge after dividing, and perhaps eating, the "Ku-pu". His
"cunning plan" is set forth in detail: he cut up the dragon's body:

He split her up like a flat fish into two halves.

He formed the heavens with one half and the earth with the other, and
then set the universe in order. His power and wisdom as the Demiurge
were derived from the fierce and powerful Great Mother, Tiamat.

In other dragon stories the heroes devise their plans after eating the
dragon's heart. According to Philostratus,[1] Apollonius of Tyana was
worthy of being remembered for two things--his bravery in travelling
among fierce robber tribes, not then subject to Rome, and his wisdom
in learning the language of birds and other animals as the Arabs do.
This accomplishment the Arabs acquired, Philostratus explains, by
eating the hearts of dragons. The "animals" who utter magic words are,
of course, the Fates. Siegfried of the _Nibelungenlied_, after slaying
the Regin dragon, makes himself invulnerable by bathing in its blood.
He obtains wisdom by eating the heart: as soon as he tastes it he can
understand the language of birds, and the birds reveal to him that
Mimer is waiting to slay him. Sigurd similarly makes his plans after
eating the heart of the Fafner dragon. In Scottish legend
Finn-mac-Coul obtains the power to divine secrets by partaking of a
small portion of the seventh salmon associated with the "well dragon",
and Michael Scott and other folk heroes become great physicians after
tasting the juices of the middle part of the body of the white snake.
The hero of an Egyptian folk tale slays a "deathless snake" by cutting
it in two parts and putting sand between the parts. He then obtains
from the box, of which it is the guardian, the book of spells; when he
reads a page of the spells he knows what the birds of the sky, the
fish of the deep, and the beasts of the hill say; the book gives him
power to enchant "the heaven and the earth, the abyss, the mountains
and the sea".[2]

Magic and religion were never separated in Babylonia; not only the
priests but also the gods performed magical ceremonies. Ea, Merodach's
father, overcame Apsu, the husband of the dragon Tiamat, by means of
spells: he was "the great magician of the gods". Merodach's division
of the "Ku-pu" was evidently an act of contagious magic; by eating or
otherwise disposing of the vital part of the fierce and wise mother
dragon, he became endowed with her attributes, and was able to proceed
with the work of creation. Primitive peoples in our own day, like the
Abipones of Paraguay, eat the flesh of fierce and cunning animals so
that their strength, courage, and wisdom may be increased.

The direct influence exercised by cultural contact, on the other hand,
may be traced when myths with an alien geographical setting are found
among peoples whose experiences could never have given them origin.



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