Morris Jastrow.

The civilization of Babylonia and Assyria: its remains, language, history ... online

. (page 24 of 45)
Online LibraryMorris JastrowThe civilization of Babylonia and Assyria: its remains, language, history ... → online text (page 24 of 45)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


easiness. Popular myths arose, representing the cause
of the disappearance as due to the capture of the moon
by hostile powers; and great was the rejoicing when
the new moon appeared. The time of the disappear-
ance as of the reappearance could only be approx-
imately determined, and according as the disappear-



Digitized by



Google



CULTS AND TEMPLES 261

ance took place on the 27tli or 28th day, it presaged a
different event. Similarly, in the absence of any exact
astronomical calculation, the new moon might appear
to be delayed, which was always looked upon as a bad
omen. The length of the limar months varying some-
what in the calendar as fixed by the priests, tiie day
on which the moon appeared to be full might be the
14th or 15th day, while through defective calculations
it might appear not to be full till the 16th day, or as
early as the 13th day, A too early or a belated appear-
ance of the new moon or full moon was generally re-
garded as an evil omen, though under other attendant
circumstances, the unfavorable sign might be converted
into a favorable one.

Thirdly, we have the further extension of the scope )
of astrological divinaition by the identification of the '
great gods of the pantheon with the planets, Jupiter
with Marduk, Mercury with Nabu, Mars with Nergal,
Saturn with Ninib, and Venus with Ishtar. The condi-
tions under which the planets appeared, whether bright
or pale, their relative position to one another, to certain
stars and to the moon, and such phenomena as the
phases of Ishtar, were noted and interpretations
recorded The ecliptic as the road along which the sun
and the planets appeared to move was recognized, and
a three-fold division set up corresponding to the three-
fold division of the universe. Adopting the terminol-
ogy for the latter, the northern section of the ecliptic
was assigned to Ea, the middle to Anu, and the southern
to Enlil; and according to the position of any planet
at any time, a further means of securing differentiating
interpretations was obtained. Various other devices,
all of a more or less artificial character, were resorted
to in order to build up a system of interpretation, as
for example the parcelling out of the four directions,
South, North, East and West among the four countries.
Babylonia, Assyria, Elam and Amurru, and according



Digitized by



Google



262 BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA

as a phenomenon was observed on one side or the other
of the moon or sun or of one of the planets, the inter-
pretaftion was applied to the corresponding country.

Without entering into f luiher details, suffice it to
say that for obvious reasons astrology was a form of
divination that bore almost exclusively on the public
•welfare — the outcome of a military expedition, the
cropsTgeneral prosperity or national catastrophes, the
effects of storms, inundations, the invasion of the
enemy, the sickness or death of the ruler, rebellion,
change of the dynasty, and the like. The individual
had a very minor share. Only the faint beginnings of
an attempt to read in the stars the fate of the individual
can be detected in Babylonian-Assyrian astrology.
That phase of the pseudo-science was taken up by the
Greeks, who appear to have cultivated astronomy long
before they came into contact with Babylonian-As-
syrian astrology, and who, as we know,*' took over the
aistrological system perfected in the Euphrates Valley
and grafted it on to their own astronomy.

Lastly, the observation of atmospheric phenomena
such as winds, storms, earthquakes, thunder and light-
ning and the movements and shapes of clouds was
added as a supplement to astrology proper, as a fertile
field for determining what the gods, who controlled
these phenomena likevdse, intended to bring to pass on
earth. The factor of fancy entered into this subdivi-
sion of divination even more largely, and according to
the direction of the wind, the number of thimder claps,
the character of the lightning, the fanciful figures of
the clouds, and the conditions under which these and
various other phenomena appeared, the interpreta-
tions, usually bearing on matters of public weal, varied.

**See, for the proof, Jastrow, Religion Babyloniens und As-
syriens, II, pp. 703, seq., and 744, seq,, and the monograph of Bezold
and Ball, Reflexe Astrologischer KeUinschriften hex Oriechischen
SchriftsteUem (Heidelberg, 1911).



Digitized by



Google



CULTS AND TEMPLES 263

VI

A third system of divination that flourished in
Babylonia and Assyria and, like the two others, made
its influence widely felt in antiquity was the interpreta-
tion of abnormalities of all kinds in the case of infants
and the young of animals, observed at the time of birth.
The new life issuing so mysteriously out of the mother
marked a transition to which all the greater importance^
was attached because of the profound impression made
by the mystery of life in general. This system falls,
as does astrology, in the class of omens which are forced
on one's attention — ^not deliberately sought out, as in
the case of hepatoscopy. The observation of birth-
signs shares, however, with hepatoscopy its bearing on
the fate of the individual as well as on the public
welfare, and indeed to a greater extent than is the case
in divination through the liver of the sacriflcial animal,
resorted to, as we have seen, chiefly for public and of-
ficial purposes. The house in which an infant with
anom^ous features is bom or the stall in which an
animal deviating in one way or the other from normal
conditions makes its appearance were supposed to be
directly affected by the unusual phenomenon, but in
many cases an alternative interpretation is offered,
bearing on public affairs, while in the event of an ex-
traordinary deviation such as the birth of an unusually
large litter, or so rare an occurrence as triplets or four
or even five infants bom to a woman, or the birth of
some monstrous creature, the sign was an ominous one "^
for the whole country primarily, if not exclusively. The
range of anomalies recorded in the compilations of tiie ^
diviners and in official reports is exceedingly large and,
as more texts come to light, reaches proportions almost
too large to be controlled. In general the deviation
from the normal was regarded as an evil omen, though
tfiiere are not infrequent exceptions. The distinction
between the right as the favorable side and the left as



Digitized by



Google



r



264 BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA

the unfavorable one, is introduced as a basis for varying

interpretations. Thus, if a lamb is bom with the right

ear lacking, it signifies that **the rule of the king will

oome to an end,'* ** confusion in the land,'' *Uoss of

^jattle" and the like, whereas the lack of the left ear

^ prognoeticates corresponding misf ortimes to the enemy

and his country, and is therefore favorable to Babylonia

and Assyria, Again, two ears appearing on the right

side and none on tiie left is an unfavorable sign,

whereas two ears on the left and none on the right is

unfavorable for the enemy and therefore favorable for

y you. In the enumeration of anomalies we must again

( take into account the factor of fancy and the desire to

I make the collections complete so as to be prepared for

j all emergencies. Many of the entries are therefore

[ purely ** academic."*^'

The factor of fancy manifests itself in these hand-
. books of the Babylonian-Assyrian diviners in a form
which is especially interesting, because of the explana-
tion it affords for the widespread belief in antiquity in
hybrid creatures such as satyrs, mermaids, f aims, har-
pies, sphinxes, wiuged serpents and the many fabulous
monsters of mythology and folk-lore. We have long
lists of the young of animals having the features or
parts of the body of another animal. Instead, however,
of being recorded as a mere resemblance, an ewe giving
birth to a lamb having a head which suggests that of a
1 lion, or of a dog, an ass, of a fox or a gazelle, or ears or
eyes which suggest those of another animal, it is stated
that the ewe has given birth to a lion, dog, ass, fox ga-
zelle, as the case may be. In the same way, since it often
happens that the face of an infant suggests a bird, a
dog, a pig, a lamb, or what not, the fancied resemblance
leads to ttie statement that a woman has given birth to
the animal in question, which thus becomes an omen,
the interpretation of which varies according to the

**See, for details, Jastrow, Bdbylonian^Assyrian Birth-omens
and their Cultural Significance (Giessen, 1914).



Digitized by



Google



>

25

D
CO ^

> o w

so 5 !^

c

G
>

o

>
o



g



Digitized by



Google



Digitized by



Google



CULTS AND TEMPLES 265

ideas associated with the particular animal. A lion
suggests power and enlargement, and therefore a lamb
or an infant with a lion-like face i)oints to increase and
prosperity in the land and to the growing strength of
the ruler, and is also a favorable sign for the stall or
house in which such a creature is bom. Favorable ideas,
though of a different order, are associated with the
lamb, pig, ox and ass, whereas with the dog as an un-
clean animal in the ancient as well as in the modem
Orient, the association of ideas was unfavorable, and
similarly with the serpent, wild cow and certain other
animals, the interpretation refers to some misfortune,
either of a public or private character, and occasionally
of both. This feature of a fancied resemblance be-
tween one animal and another and between an infant
and some animal was the starting-point which led,
through the further play of the imagination, to the
belief in hybrid creatures and all kinds of monstros-
ities. The case of an infant being bom with feet
united so as to suggest the tail of a fish is actually
recorded in our lists of btrth-signg, and from such an
anomaly to the belief in mermaids and tritons, half
human and half fish, is only a small step, rendered still
more credible by the representation in art which con-
verts the resemblance to a fish tail into a real tail.
Since we have the direct proof *'' of the spread of the
Babylonian-Assyrian system of divination from birth-
omens, as of the two otiier systems above discussed, to
Asia Minor, Greece and Rome, there is every reason to
believe that we are justified in tracing back to this
system the belief in fabulous beings of all kinds, though
it may of course be admitted that there are also other
factors involved. We find this belief in Babylonia and
Assyria, where we encounter in the ancient art hippo-
centaurs as well as bulls and eagles with human faces,
and in the Assyrian art the winged monsters with

*^ Given in the author's monograph on Babylonian-Assyrian
Birth-omens, pp. 50-64. See also Plate XXXII, Fig. 2; Plate
XXXIII ; Plate LII and Plate LXXIV for hybrid figures.



Digitized by



Google



266 BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA

human faces and liie bodies of bulls or winged human
figures with eagle faces. The process once begun would
naturally lead to all kinds of ramificationfi and com-
binations.

vn

The three systems of divination which we have
analyzed all entered directly into the religious life of
the people and illustrate some of the religious prac-
tises which were maintained, like the incantation
rituals, throughout all periods. The longing to pierce
the unknown future, to pull aside the veil which sepa-
rates us from a knowledge of coming events, is so strong
in man as to have all the force of an innate quality — ^an
instinct of which he himself only gradually becomes
fully conscious. It plays an imusually prominent part
in tiie religion of Babylonia and Assyria, indeed so
prominent as to justify us in asserting that by the side
of the ever present fear of the demons, the significance
attached to omens was the most conspicuous outward
manifestation of the religious spirit of the people taken
as a whole. This conclusion is strengthened by the
knowledge that we now have of other forms of divina-
tion, such as pouring a few drops of oil into a basin of
water, and according to the action of the oil in forming
rings and bubbles that sink and rise and the directions
in which they spread, conclusions were drawn of a more
or less specific character, and suggested by a more or
less artificial association of ideas with the action of the
oil — bearing either on public affairs or on private
matters, according to the questions asked of the
diviners, to which they were expected to give an
answer.**

Within the other category of involimtary divina-
tion where the sign is obtruded on your notice, falls the
importance attached to dreams, the interpretation of

*• For details see Jastrow, Religion BabyUmiens und Assyriens,
II, pp. 749-775.



Digitized by



Google



CULTS AlO) TEMPLES 267

which formed in fact one of the most important f imc-
tions of the Babylonian- Assyrian priests acting as
diviners. Bef erences to dreams are frequent botii in
the older and later inscriptions of Babylonian and
Assyrian rulers/*^ A majestic; figure reaching from
eartii to heaven appears to Gudea in a dream; it turns
out to be the god Ningirsu. A female figure also rises
up with a tablet and a stylus who is the goddess Nisaba.
The sun mounting up from the earth is explained to be
the god of vegetation, Ningishzida. Various utensils
and building material and an ass to carry burdens
which the ruler sees in his dream leave no doubt as
to the interpretation of the vision. It is the order to
Gudea to build a temple according to the plan drawn
on a tablet by a second male figure appearing to him,
and who turns out to be the god Nin-dub. The inter-
pretation is given to the ruler in this instance by the
goddess Nina as whose son he designates himself.
Ordinarily, however, it is to a priest to whom rulers
and people go to learn the meaning of dreams, in the
belief that dreams are omens or signs sent by the gods
as a means of indicating what is about to happen; and
even in Gudea ^s case we may safely assume that the
interpretation ascribed to the goddess directly was
furnished to him through the mediation of the priests.
At the other end of Babylonian history, we find Ne-
buchadnezzar and a goddess appearing to Nabonnedos,
the last king of Babylonia, in dreams to explain certain
strange signs that had lately been reported. In the
inscriptions of Ashurbanapal, the great king of As-
syria, there are several references to dreams. The
goddess Ishtar rises before him and encourages the
king to give battle. A diviner has a dream in which
he sees certain ominous words written on the moon.
The priests made compilations of all kinds of phenom-
ena that might appear to people in dreams with the

*• See examples in Jastrow, Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens,
n, p. 955-958.



Digitized by



Google



268 BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA

interpretations added, and no doubt the endeavor was
made also in these handbooks to be prepared for all
emergencies. If one dreams of carrjdng dates on one's
head, it meant distress, if vegetables that things will
go well, if salt that he will suffer some injury, if a
moimtain that he will have no rival. If one dreams
that one is flying away, it is a prognostication that good
fortune will take wings; if he descends into the earth
and sees dead persons, it is an indication of approaching
death. Eating figs and drinking wine in a dream are
good omens; dust, clay and pitch are bad signs, and so
on ad infinitum.

The movements and actions of animals formed
another fertile field of divination. Among the animals,
snakes and serpents, dogs, cows, sheep, goats, gazelles,
falcons, mice, horses, pigs, foxes, eagles, chickens, swal-
lows, fishes and various insects occur in lists of such
omens preserved for us. Seeing a snake on getting up
in the morning on New Year's Day was interpreted as
an indication of approaching death; if the snake falls
on a man, it means severe sickness or serious misfor-
tune ; if it falls behind a man, the omen was a good one ;
if it falls on the right side, that he wiU be seized by a
demon of sickness, whereas on the left side the omen
was partiy favorable, partiy unfavorable. The inter-
pretations vary again according to the month and the
day of the month on which the incident occurs, so that
once more the field is enlarged to almost limitiess
proportions.

A white dog entering a palace means siege of a city ;
a yellow dog, that the palace will escape disaster; a
dog of mixed colors, that the enemy wiU plimder the
palace. Dogs barking at the gates prognosticate a
pestilence, mad dogs the destruction of the city, howl-
ing dogs the overthrow of the city. A falcon fiying into
a man's house means that his wife will die ; if the falcon
carries off something from a man's house, that the man
wiU die of a lingering disease ; if a bird builds its nest



Digitized by



Google



CULTS AND TEMPLES 269

and lays its young in a man's house, at the entrance or
in the court, the omen is unfavorable.

These examples will suffice to illustrate the general
character of .the collections as well as the nature of
the interpretations, based in part upon the same asso-
ciation of ideas which we encountered in the case of the
other systems of divination, and in part no doubt on the
record of what happened in the past when the sign in
question was observed. Li addition we must always ^j
allow a large leeway for fancy and the purely arbi- 1
trary factor, as well as the ** academic'' character of \
very many of the omens registered which probably
never occurred, and are entered merely through the
desire of the priests to be prepared for all possibilities
— ^and impossibilities.

VIII

To complete the general survey of the religion of
Babylonia and Assyria, it remains for us to summa-
rize the organization of the temples and to add some
indications of the festal occasions on which special
rites were observed in honor of the gods, and the manner
in which on such occasions they were approached.

We have already indicated, in connection with the
discussion of the chief figures in the pantheon, the
tendency to group around the cult of the patron deity
of an important centre the worship of other gods, and
we have seen that this tendency goes hand in hand with
the political expansion of such a centre, but that the
centre is apt to retain a considerable portion at least of
its religious prestige even after the political decline has
set in. The force of tradition, playing so effective a
part in religion everywhere, would help to maintain
rituals and practices once established, even if the con-
ditions giving rise to such rituals and practices no
longer: prevailed. Confining ourselves to the larger
centres and to those best Imown to us, like Nippur,
Lagash, Uruk, Ur, Kish, Eridu, Sippar, Babylon and



Digitized by



Google



270 BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA

Borsippa in the south, and Ashnr, Oalah and Nineveh
in the north, we note tibe gradual extension of the area
within which the main temple stood to become a more
or less extensive sacred quarter. So in Nippur E-kur,
the name of Enlil^s sanctuary, becomes such a designa-
tion to include the temples and shrines erected to the
numerous deities grouped around Enlil and brought
into a relationship of subserviency to their master, as
his sons, daughters, servants, body-guard, ministers
and officials. Similarly in Babylon, £-sagila, as the
name of Marduk^s temple, grows to be a spacious
quarter with numerous sanctuaries, large and small, to
Nabu, Ninmakh (or Ishtar), Shamash, Ea, Nergal,
Ndnib — ^to name only the most important. The general
arrangement of these temples, as we shall have occa-
sion to see in more detail in the chapter on the archi-
tecture and art,"^ was in all cases the same, following
an ancient prototype which provided an outer and an
inner court of almost parallel dimensions, with a cor-
ridor leading from the inner court to the innermost
smaller chamber, reserved for the priests and the rulers
and in which, enclosed in a niche, the image of the deity
in whose honor the temple was erected stood. Grouped
around the three divisions was a series of rooms, vary-
ing in number according to the size and importance of
the edifice, for the accommodation of the priests and
for the administration of the temple, while in the case
of the largest centres, special buildings were erected as
store-houses for the temple possessions, stables for the
animals, and dwellings for the numerous attendants and
officials incident to the growing complications of the
larger temple organizations. A feature of the main
temple in every centre that was never laisking was a
stage-tower, consisting of from two to seven stories,
and placed either behind or at the side of the temple
proper.^^

»« Chap VII. See also Plate XXXVIII.

'^ See p. 374 seq. on the special s&gnificance of these towers.



Digitized by



Google



CULTS AND TEMPLES 271

Corresponding to the growth of the temples, we find'
the organization of the cult extending its scope; and
with this extension, the steadily increasing power and
authority of the priests. In the small beginnings of
the Euphratean cities, the priestly and secular func-
tions no doubt rested in one and the same person.
The ruler of a city or district, as we have seen,** was
regarded as the representative of the deity. As such he
stood in a special relation to the deity, acting as a
mediator between the latter and the people, while upon
his good standing with the god, the general welfare of
the people depended. On the very ancient monument
of Ur-Nina*^ we find the ruler himself offering the
libation to the god, though behind him stands an attend-
ant who is probably a priest to assist in carrying out
the rite. As early, however, as the days of Gudea (c.
2450 B.C.) the ruler himself is led into the presence of
the deity through the mediation of a priest. Gudea is
so depicted on seal cylinders and other monuments, and
presumably therefore the marked differentiation be-
tween priest and ruler thus illustrated was at the time
an established custom of long standing. The mediator-
ship may, indeed, be set down as the chief prerogative
of the priest in Babylonia and Assyria. With this as a
starting-point, his other functions as sacrificer, as ex-
erciser, as inspector of the liver for the purpose of
ascertaining the disposition of the deity, as astrologer
and as diviner in general, interpreting birth-signs,
dreams, and furnishing the answer as to the meaning
of all kinds of occurrences that deviated from the
normal or that in any way aroused attention, may be
derived. The people could proceed as far as the inner
court of the temples, where an altar stood, but beyond
that the priests alone could venture, and the rulers only
if accompanied by a priest who as the privileged ser-
vitor of the deity had access to the divine presence.

" Above, p. 127 and Plate XLVI.
■• See above, p. 255 and below p. 468.



Digitized by



Google



272 BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA

Intercession is thus a distinguishing function of the
priest, as a corollary to his role as mediator.

The growth of tiie temple organizations along the
lines above set forth naturally resulted in a dif-
ferentiation of priestly fimctions. Besides a num-
ber of general names for priest, such as shangu, enu,
** votary '^ and ummdnu (expert), with gradations of
rank as indicated by the title shangu maJchJchu,
**high priest,'' we find over thirty classes of priests
recorded in the materisd at our disposal. The *'exor-
ciser'' (mashmashu or dshipu) is separated from the
"diviner'' (bdru, literally **inspector"), and these two
from the "singer" (zammeru)^ "anointer"" (pashi-
8hu)y and "musician" (kalu, lallaru, nam, etc.) and
from the "snake charmers" (mushlakhkhu)^ who
formed a class by themselves and perhaps had other
functions than the name suggests. Each of these had
numerous subdivisions such as "libationist" (ramku,
nisakku)j "anointer" {pushishu),^^ "dream inter-
preter" and "oracle" (sha'ilu) and others such as uri-
gallu, and the abkallu, aharakku, whose exact func-
tions still escape us.*^*^ Women also took a large part as
priestesses of one kind or another in the temple ser-
vice ^^ — ^as singers, "howlers" (chanting the lamenta-
tions), musicians, exorcisers and furnishing oracles.
We find also several classes of holy women leading a
secluded life in special homes which would correspond
to our cloisters and nunneries, and who were regarded



Online LibraryMorris JastrowThe civilization of Babylonia and Assyria: its remains, language, history ... → online text (page 24 of 45)