Babylonian Gods prior to Hammurabi; Assyrian

With these preliminary remarks, we may turn, as the first part of our subject, to a consideration of the oldest of the Babylonian gods. Our main sources are the inscriptions of the old Babylonian rulers, above referred to. These are, in most cases, of a dedicatory character, being inscribed on statues, cylinders, or tablets, placed in the temples or on objects–cones, knobs, stones–presented as votive offerings to some god. Besides the inscriptions of the rulers, we have those of officials and others. Many of these are likewise connected directly or indirectly with religious worship.

The advantage of the historical texts over the purely religious ones consists in their being dated, either accurately or approximately. For this reason, the former must be made the basis for a rational theory of the development of the Babylonian pantheon through the various periods above instanced. The data furnished by the religious texts can be introduced only, as they accord with the facts revealed by the historical inscriptions in each period.

Taking up the group of inscriptions prior to the union of the Babylonian States under Hammurabi, “i.e.”, prior to 2300 B.C., we find these gods mentioned: Bel, Belit, Nin-khar-sag, Nin-girsu, also appearing as Shul-gur, Bau, Ga-tum-dug, Ea, Nin-a-gal, Nergal, Shamash, under various forms A, who is the consort of Shamash, Nannar or Sin, Nana, Anunit, Ishtar, Innanna or Ninni, Nina, Nin-mar, Dun-shagga, Gal-alim, Anu, Nin-gish-zida, Nin-si-a, Nin-shakh, Dumu-zi, Lugal-banda and his consort Nin-gul, Dumuzi-zu-aba, Nisaba, Ku(?)anna, Lugal-erima(?), Dagan, Ishum, Umu, Pa-sag, Nin-e-gal, Nin-gal, Shul(or Dun)-pa-uddu, and Nin-akha-kuddu.

Regarding these names, it may be said at once that the reading, in many cases, is to be looked upon as merely provisional. Written, as they usually are, in the ideographic “style,” the phonetic reading can only be determined when the deity in question can be identified with one, whose name is written at some place phonetically, or when the ideographs employed are so grouped as to place the phonetic reading beyond doubt. The plan to be followed in this book will be to give the ideographic reading [NOTE:Indicated by separating the syllables composing the name.] as provisional wherever the real pronunciation is unknown or uncertain. The ideographic designation of a deity is of great value, inasmuch as the ideographs themselves frequently reveal the character of the god, though of course the additional advantage is obvious when the name appears in both the ideographic and the phonetic writing. It will, therefore, form part of a delineation of the Babylonian pantheon to interpret the picture, as it were, under which each deity is viewed.

En-lil or Bel.

Taking up the gods in the order named, the first one, Bel, is also the one who appears on the oldest monuments as yet unearthed–the inscriptions of Nippur. His name is, at this time, written invariably as En-lil. In the Babylonian theology, he is ‘the lord of the lower world.’ He represents, as it were, the unification of the various forces whose seat and sphere of action is among the inhabited parts of the globe, both on the surface and beneath, for the term ‘lower world’ is here used in contrast to the upper or heavenly world. Such a conception manifestly belongs to the domain of abstract thought, and it may be concluded, therefore, that either the deity belongs to an advanced stage of Babylonian culture, or that the original view of the deity was different from the one just mentioned. The latter is the case.

Primarily, the ideograph Lil is used to designate a ‘demon’ in general, and En-lil is therefore the ‘chief demon.’ Primitive as such a conception is, it points to some system of thought that transcends primitive Animism, which is characterized rather by the equality accorded to all spirits. The antiquity of the association of En-lil with Nippur justifies the conclusion that we have before us a local deity who, originally the protecting spirit merely, of a restricted territory, acquires the position of ‘chief demon’ as the town of Nippur grows to be the capitol of a large and powerful district. The fame and sanctity of Nippur survives political vicissitudes; and, indeed, in proportion as Nippur loses political prestige, the great deity of the place is released from the limitations due to his local origin and rises to the still higher dignity of a great power whose domain is the entire habitable universe.

As the ‘lord of the lower world,’ En-lil is contrasted to a god Anu, who presides over the heavenly bodies. The age of Sargon (3800 B.C.), in whose inscriptions En-lil already occurs, is one of considerable culture, as is sufficiently evidenced by the flourishing condition of art, and there can therefore be no objection against the assumption that even at this early period, a theological system should have been evolved which gave rise to beliefs in great powers whose dominion embraces the ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ worlds. It was because of this wide scope of his power that he became known as Bel, “i.e.”, the lord “par excellence”; and it is equally natural to find his worship spread over the whole of Babylonia. In the south, the patron deity of Lagash is designated by Gudea as “the mighty warrior of Bel,” showing the supremacy accorded to the latter.

A temple to En-lil at Lagash, and known as E-adda, ‘house of the father,’ by virtue of the relationship existing between the god of Nippur and Nin-girsu, is mentioned by Uru-kagina. The temple is described as a lofty structure ‘rising up to heaven.’ In the north, Nippur remains the place where his worship acquired the greatest importance, so that Nippur was known as the “land of Bel.” The temple sacred to him at that place was a great edifice, famous throughout Babylonian history as E-Kur, “i.e.”, mountain house, in the construction of which, a long line of Babylonian rulers took part. From Naram-Sin, ruler of Agade, on through the period of Cassite rule, the kings of Nippur proudly include in their titles that of ‘builder of the Temple of Bel at Nippur,’ measuring their attachment to the deity by the additions and repairs made to his sacred edifice.[NOTE: At the period when the kings of Ur extend their rule over Nippur, they, too, do not omit to refer to the distinction of having been called to the service of the great god at his temple.] Besides the kings of Agade, the rulers of other places pay their devotions to Bel of Nippur.

So, a king of Kish, whose name is read Alu-usharshid by Professor Hilprecht,[NOTE: The name signifies, ‘He has founded the city,’ the subject of the verb being some deity whose name is omitted] brings costly vases of marble and limestone from Elam and offers them to Bel as a token of victory; and this at a period even earlier than Sargon. Even when En-lil is obliged to yield a modicum of his authority to the growing supremacy of the patron deity of the city of Babylon, the highest tribute that can be paid to the latter, is to combine with his real name, Marduk, the title of “Bel,” which of right belongs to En-lil. We shall see how this combination of En-lil, or Bel, with Marduk reflects political changes that took place in the Euphrates Valley; and it is a direct consequence of this later association of the old Bel of Nippur with the chief god of Babylon, that the original traits of the former become obscured in the historical and religious texts. Dimmed popular traditions, which will be set forth in their proper place, point to his having been at one time regarded as a powerful chieftain armed with mighty weapons, but engaged in conflicts for the ultimate benefit of mankind. On the whole, he is a beneficent deity, though ready to inflict severe punishment for disobedience to his commands. We must distinguish, then, in the case of En-lil, at least four phases:

  1. His original role as a local deity;
  2. The extension of his power to the grade of a great ‘lord’ over a large district;
  3. Dissociation from local origins to become the supreme lord of the lower world; and
  4. The transfer of his name and powers as god of Nippur to Marduk, the god of Babylon.

The last two phases can best be set forth when we come to the period, marked by the political supremacy of the city of Babylon. It is sufficient, at this point, to have made clear his position as god of Nippur.

Nin-lil or Belit.

The consort of En-lil is Nin-Lil, the ‘mistress of the lower world.’ She is known also as Belit, the feminine form to Bel, “i.e.”, the lady “par excellence”. She, too, had her temple at Nippur, the age of which goes back, at least, to the first dynasty of Ur. But the glory of the goddess pales by the side of her powerful lord. She is naught but a weak reflection of Bel, as in general the consorts of the gods are. Another title by which this same goddess was known is Nin-khar-sag.[NOTE: Jensen, “Keils Bibl.” 3, 1, p. 23, proposes to read Nin-Ur-sag, but without sufficient reason, it seems to me. The writing being a purely ideographic form, an “epitheton ornans”, the question of how the ideographs are to be read is not of great moment.] which means the ‘lady of the high or great mountain.’ The title may have some reference to the great mountain where the gods were supposed to dwell, and which was known to Babylonians as the ‘mountain of the lands.’ Bel, as the chief of the gods, is more particularly associated with this mountain. Hence his temple is called the ‘mountain house.’ From being regarded as the inhabitant of the mountain, he comes to be identified with the mountain itself. Accordingly, he is sometimes addressed as the “great mountain,”[NOTE: We may compare the poetic application ‘rock’ to Yahweh in the Old Testament, “e.g.”, Job 1. 12, and frequently in Psalms,–lxii. 3, 7; xcii. 16, 18, etc.] and his consort would therefore be appropriately termed ‘the lady of the great mountain.’ Besides the temple at Nippur, Belit, as Nin-khar-sag, had a sanctuary at Girsu, one of the quarters at Lagash (see under Nin-girsu), the earliest mention of which occurs on an inscription of Ur-Bau. The latter calls the goddess ‘the mother of the gods,’ which further establishes her identity with the consort of Bel. Entemena, another governor of Lagash, places his domain under the protection of Nin-khar-sag. The worship at Nippur, however, remained most prominent. The continued popularity of her cult is attested by the fortress Dur-zakar, which a later king, Samsu-iluna (“c.” 2200), erected in her honor.


In the inscriptions of Gudea and of his time, the god most prominently mentioned is the “Lord of Girsu.” Girsu itself, as the inscriptions show, is one of the four sections into which the capitol city of Lagash was divided. It was there that the temple stood which was sacred to the patron deity, and we may conclude from this that Girsu is the oldest part of the city. Afterwards, Lagash became the general name for the capitol through being the quarter where the great palace of the king was erected. That Girsu was once quite distinct from Lagash is also evident from the title of “king of Girsu,” with which a certain Uru-kagina, who is to be placed somewhat before Gudea, contents himself. The other three quarters, all of which were originally independent cities, are Uru-azagga, Nina, and apparently Gish-galla.[NOTE: Reading doubtful. Jensen suggests Erim. Hommel (“Proc. Soc. Bibl. Arch.” xv. 37 “seq.”) endeavored to identify the place with Babylon, but his views are untenable. If Gish-galla was not a part of Lagash, it could not have been far removed from it. It was Amiaud who first suggested that Shir-pur-la (or Lagash) was the general name for a city that arose from an amalgamation of four originally distinct quarters. (“Sirpurla” in “Revue Archeologique”, 1888.) The suggestion has been generally, though not universally accepted.]

Nin-girsu is frequently termed the warrior of Bel,–the one who in the service of the ‘lord of the lower world,’ appears in the thick of the fight, to aid the subjects of Bel. In this role, he is identical with a solar deity who enjoys especial prominence among the warlike Assyrians, whose name is provisionally read Nin-ib, but whose real name may turn out to be Adar.[NOTE: That Ninib is only an ideographic form is sufficiently clear from the element NIN-, lord. The proof, however, that Ninib is Adar, is still wanting. See Jensen, “Kosmologie der Babylonier”, pp. 457, 458.] The rulers of Lagash declare themselves to have been chosen for the high office by Nin-girsu, and as if to compensate themselves for the degradation implied in being merely “patesis”, or governors, serving under some powerful chief, they call themselves the patesis of Nin-girsu, implying that the god was the master to whom they owed allegiance.

The temple sacred to him at Girsu was called E-ninnu, and also by a longer name that described the god as the one ‘who changes darkness into light,’–the reference being to the solar character of the god Nin-ib with whom Nin-girsu is identified. In this temple, Gudea and other rulers place colossal statues of themselves, but temper the vanity implied, by inscribing on the front and back of these statues, an expression of their devotion to their god. To Nin-girsu, most of the objects found at Tell-loh are dedicated; conspicuous among which are the many clay cones, that became the conventional objects for votive offerings.

There was another side, however, to his nature, besides the belligerent one. As the patron of Lagash, he also presided over the agricultural prosperity of the district. In this role he is addressed as Shul-gur or Shul-gur-an, “i.e.”, the “god of the corn heaps”; Entemena and his son Enanna-tuma in erecting a kind of storehouse which they place under the protection of Nin-girsu, declare that their god is Shul-gur;[NOTE: From the context (De Sarzec, “Decouvertes”, pl. 6, no. 4, ll. 13-21, and pl. 31, no. 3, col iii. ll. 2-6), there can be no doubt that Shul-gur (or Shul-gur-ana) is an epithet of Nin-girsu. The ideographs descriptive of the edifice suggest a corn magazine of some kind. One is reminded of the storehouses for grain in Egypt. See Jensen’s Notes, “Keils Bibl.” 3, 1, pp. 15, 18, 73. A comparison of the two texts in question makes it probable that Ab-gi and E-bi-gar are synonymous.] and an old hymn [NOTE: Rawlinson, iv. 27, no. 6; 11, 45-46.]identifies him with Tammuz, the personification of agricultural activity. Such a combination of apparently opposing attributes is a natural consequence of the transformation of what may originally have been the personification of natural forces, into local deities. Each field had its protecting spirit, but for the city as a whole, a local deity, whose rule mirrored the control of the human chief over his subjects, alone was available. To him who watched over all things pertaining to the welfare of the territory coming under his jurisdiction, various attributes, as occasion required, were ascribed, and quite apart from his original character, the god could thus be regarded, as the warrior and the peaceful husbandman at the same time.


Perhaps the most prominent of the goddesses in the ancient Babylonian period was Bau. One of the rulers of Lagash has embodied the name of the goddess in his name, calling himself Ur-Bau. It is natural, therefore, to find him more especially devoted to the worship of this deity. He does not tire of singing her praises, and of speaking of the temple he erected in her honor. Still, Ur-Bau does not stand alone in his devotion; Uru-kagina, Gudea, and others refer to Bau frequently, while in the incantation texts, she is invoked as the great mother, who gives birth to mankind and restores the body to health. In the old Babylonian inscriptions she is called the chief daughter of Anu, the god of heaven. Among her titles, the one most frequently given is that of ‘good lady.’

She is the ‘mother’ who fixes the destinies of men and provides ‘abundance’ for the tillers of the soil. Gudea calls her his mistress, and declares that it is she who “fills him with speech,”–a phrase whose meaning seems to be that to Bau he owes the power he wields. Locally, she is identified with Uru-azagga (meaning ‘brilliant town’), a quarter of Lagash; and it was there that her temple stood. As a consequence, we find her in close association with Nin-girsu, the god of Girsu. We may indeed go further and assume that Girsu and Uru-azagga are the two oldest quarters of the city, the combination of the two representing the first natural steps in the development of the principality, afterwards known as Lagash, through the addition of other quarters[NOTE: It is noticeable that there is no mention made of a special god of Lagash, which points to the later origin of the name.].

She is indeed explicitly called the consort of Nin-girsu; and this relation is implied also, in the interesting phrase used by Gudea, who presents gifts to Bau in the name of Nin-girsu, and calls them ‘marriage gifts’.[NOTE: Inscr. D, col. li. 13; G, col. ii. ll. 1-8; iii. 4 “seq.”] It is interesting to find, at this early period, the evidence for the custom that still prevails in the Orient, which makes the gifts of the bridegroom to his chosen one, an indispensable formality.[NOTE: See Gen. xxiv. 53. Burkhardt, “Notes on the Bedouins”, i. 109, gives an example of the custom.] These gifts were offered on the New Year’s Day, known as Zag-muk, and the importance of the worship of Bau is evidenced by the designation of this day, as the festival of Bau.

The offerings, themselves, consist of lambs, sheep, birds, fish, cream, besides dates and various other fruits. When Uru-azagga becomes a part of Lagash, Bau’s dignity is heightened to that of ‘mother of Lagash.’ As the consort of Ningirsu, she is identified with the goddess Gula, the name more commonly applied to the ‘princely mistress’ of Nin-ib, whose worship continues down to the days of the neo-Babylonian monarchy.

It is quite certain, however, that Bau is originally an independent goddess, and that the association of Uru-azagga and Girsu [NOTE: The two names are used by Gudea (Inscr. G, col. iii. 12) in a way to indicate that they embrace the whole district of Lagash.] lead to her identification with Gula. Regarding her original nature, a certain index is her character as “daughter of Anu.” Anu being the god of heaven, Bau must be sought in the upper realm of personified forces, rather than elsewhere; but exactly which one she is, it is difficult to say. Hommel, indeed,[NOTE: “Semit. Voelker”, p. 382.] is of opinion that she is the personified watery depth, the primitive chaos which has only the heavens above it; but in giving this explanation, he is influenced by the desire to connect the name of Bau with the famous term for chaos in Genesis,“Tohu-wa-bohu”. There is, however, no proof whatsoever that Bau and Bohu have anything to do with one another. A goddess who can hardly be distinguished from Bau is Ga-tum-dug.[NOTE: See Jensen, “Keils Bibl.” 3, 1, 28, note 2.]

Indeed, from the fact that she is also the ‘mother of Lagash,’ it might seem that this is but another name for Bau. However, elsewhere, in two lists of deities invoked by Gudea (NOTE: Inscr. B, col. ii. 17), Ga-tum-dug is given a separate place by the side of Bau, once placed before and once after the latter; and it is clear therefore that she was originally distinct from Bau. For Gudea, Ga-tum-dug is the mother who produced him.

He is her servant and she is his mistress. Lagash is her beloved city, and there he prepares for her a dwelling-place, which later rulers, like Entena, embellish. She is called the ‘brilliant’ (“Azag”), but as this title is merely a play upon the element found in the city, Uru-azagga, sacred to Bau, not much stress is to be laid upon this designation.

Unfortunately, too, the elements composing her name are not clear,[NOTE: The first signifies ‘to make,’ the third means “good, favorable,” but the second, upon which so much depends, is not clear. Amiaud reads “tum” instead of “sig”] and it must be borne in mind that the reading is purely provisional. So much, at least, seems certain: that Bau and Ga-tum-dug are two forms under which one and the same natural element was personified. Bau is called in the incantation texts, the mother of Ea. The latter being distinctly a water god, we may conclude that in some way, Bau is to be connected with water as a natural element. The conjecture may be hazarded that she personifies originally the waters of the upper realm–the clouds. Since Ea, who is her son, represents the waters of the lower realm, the relation of mother and son reflects perhaps a primitive conception of the origin of the deep, through the descent of the upper waters. When we come to the cosmogony of the Babylonians, it will be seen that this conception of a distinction between the two realms of waters is a fundamental one. This character as a spirit of the watery elements is shared by others of the goddesses appearing in the old Babylonian inscriptions.

 En-ki or Ea.

This god, who, as we shall see, becomes most prominent in the developed form of Babylonian theology, does not occupy the place one should expect in the early Babylonian inscriptions. Ur-Bau erects a sanctuary to Ea, at Girsu. Another of the governors of Lagash calls himself, priest of Ea, describing the god as the “supreme councillor.” From him, the king receives “wisdom.”[NOTE: De Sarzec, pl. 7, col. i. 12.] A ruler, Rim-Sin, of the dynasty of Larsa, associates Ea with Bel, declaring that these “great gods” entrusted Uruk into his hands with the injunction to rebuild the city that had fallen in ruins. The ideograms, with which his name is written, En-ki, designate him as god of that ‘which is below,’–the earth in the first place; but with a more precise differentiation of the functions of the great gods, Ea becomes the god of the waters of the deep. When this stage of belief is reached, Ea is frequently associated with Bel, who, it will be recalled, is the ‘god of the lower region,’ but who becomes the god of earth “par excellence”. When, therefore, Bel and Ea are invoked, it is equivalent, in modern parlance, to calling upon earth and water; and just as Bel is used to personify, as it were, the unification of the earthly forces, so Ea becomes, in a comprehensive sense, the watery deep. Ea and Bel assume therefore conspicuous proportions in the developed Babylonian cosmogony and theology. In the cosmogony, Bel is the creator and champion of mankind, and Ea is the subterranean deep which surrounds the earth, the source of wisdom and culture; in the theology, Ea and Bel are pictured in the relation of father and son, who, in concert, are appealed to, when misfortune or disease overtakes the sons of man; Ea, the father, being the personification of knowledge, and Bel, the practical activity that ’emanates from wisdom,’ as Professor Sayce,[ NOTE: “Hibbert Lectures”, p. 104.] adopting the language of Gnosticism, aptly puts it; only that, as already suggested, Marduk assumes the role of the older Bel.

Confining ourselves here to the earlier phases of Ea, it seems probable that he was originally regarded as the god of Eridu,–one of the most ancient of the holy cities of Southern Babylonia, now represented by Abu-Shahrein, and which once stood on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Ur-Bau expressly calls the god the ‘king of Eridu.’ The sacredness of the place is attested by Gudea, who boasts of having made the temple of Nin-girsu as sacred as Eridu.[NOTE: Inscr. D, col. iv. ll. 7, 8.] It is over this city that Ea watches.

The importance of the Persian Gulf to the growth of the city, would make it natural to place the seat of the god in the waters themselves. The cult of water-deities arises, naturally, at places which are situated on large sheets of water; and in the attributes of wisdom which an older age ascribed to Ea, there may be seen the embodiment of the tradition that the course of civilization proceeds from the south. The superiority of the Persian Gulf over the other waters of Babylon–over the two great rivers with their tributary streams and canals–would be another factor that would lead to the god of the Persian Gulf being regarded as the personification of the watery element in general. For the Babylonians, the Persian Gulf, stretching out indefinitely, and to all appearances one with the great ocean whose ulterior shores could not be reached, was the great ‘Okeanos,’ that flowed around the earth and on which the earth rested. Ea, accordingly (somewhat like En-lil), was delocalized, as it were, and his worship was maintained long after the recollection of his connection with Eridu had all but disappeared. At the same time, for the very reason that he was cut loose from local associations, no place could lay claim to being the seat of the deity. Ur-Bau, when erecting a sanctuary to Ea at Girsu, significantly calls the god ‘the king of Eridu.’ The sanctuary is not, in this case, the dwelling-place of the god.

We are justified, therefore, in going back many centuries, before reaching the period when Ea was, merely, the local god of Eridu. Whether Ea is to be regarded as the real name of the god, or is also an ideograph like En-ki, is again open to doubt. If Ea is the real pronunciation, then the writing of the name is a play upon the character of the deity, for it is composed of two elements that signify ‘house’ and ‘water,’–the name thus suggesting the character and real seat of the deity. A point in favor of regarding Ea as the real name, albeit not decisive, is the frequent use of the unmistakable ideographic description of the god as En-ki. The consort of Ea who is Dam-kina also occurs in the historical texts of the first period.

The origin of Babylonian civilization at the Persian Gulf, together with the dependence of Babylonia for her fertility upon the streams and canals, account for the numerous water-deities to be found in the ancient Babylonian pantheon, some of which have already been discussed. We will meet with others further on. Every stream, large or small, having its special protecting deity, the number of water-deities naturally increases as the land becomes more and more dissected by the canal system that conditioned the prosperity of the country.

Ea, as we shall see, appears under an unusually large number ofnames.[NOTE: In Rawlinson, ii. 58, no. 6, there is a list of some seventy names.] One of these is Nin-a-gal, which, signifying ‘god of great strength,’ is given to him as the patron of the smith’s art.[NOTE: Rawlinson, ii. 58, no. 6, 58.] A god of this name is mentioned by Ur-Bau,[NOTE: De Sarzec, pl. 8, col v. ll. 4-6.] who speaks of a sanctuary erected in honor of this deity. But since the king refers to Ea (as En-ki) a few lines previous, it would appear that at this period Nin-agal is still an independent deity. The later identification with Ea appears to be due to the idea of ‘strength’ involved in the name of Nin-agal. In the same way, many of the names of Ea were originally descriptive of independent gods who, because of the similarity of their functions to those of the great Ea, were absorbed by the latter. Their names transferred to Ea, are frequently the only trace left of their original independent existence.


Nergal, the local deity of Cuthah (or Kutu), represented by the mound Tell-Ibrahim, some distance to the east of Babylon, was of an entirely different character from Ea, but his history in the development of the Babylonian religion is hardly less interesting. The first mention of his famous temple at Cuthah is found in an inscription of Dungi (NOTE: to be read Ba’u-ukin, according to Winckler [“Keils Bibl.” 3, 1, 80, note 3.]) who belongs to the second dynasty of Ur (“c.” 2700 B.C.). Its origin, however, belongs to a still earlier period. Such was the fame of the temple known as E-shid-lam, and the closeness of the connection between the deity and his favorite seat, that Nergal himself became known as shid-lam-ta-ud-du-a, “i.e.”, the god that rises up from E-shid-lam. It is by this epithet that the same Dungi describes him in one of his inscriptions.[NOTE: Rawlinson, iv. 35, no. 2, 1.] Down to the latest period of Assyro-Babylonian history, Nergal remains identified with Kutu, being known at all times as the god of Kutu.[NOTE: See a syllabary giving lists of gods, Rawlinson, ii. 60, 12. Dungi, indeed, calls Nergal once the king of lawful control over Lagash (Rawlinson, iv. 35, no. 2, ll. 2, 3). The exact force of the title is not clear, but in no case are we permitted to conclude as Amiaud does (“Rec. of the Past”, N.S., i. 59) that Shid-lam-ta-udda is identical with Nin-girsu.] When Sargon, the king of Assyria, upon his conquest of the kingdom of Israel (“c.” 722 B.C.), brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, and so forth, across to the lands of the Jordan to take the place of the deported Israelites, the Hebrew narrator (II Kings, xvii. 24-35) tells us in an interesting manner of the obnoxious foreign worship which these people brought to the land, each division bringing the gods of their place with them. The men of Cuthah, he adds (v. 30), made a statue of Nergal.

Singamil, of the dynasty, having its capital at Uruk (“c.” 2750 B.C.), likewise testifies to his devotion to Nergal by busying himself with improvements and additions to his temple at Cuthah. His worship, therefore, was not confined to those who happened to reside at Cuthah; and closely as he is identified with the place, the character of the god is a general and not a special one. The full form of his name appears to have been Ner-unu-gal, of which Nergal, furnished by the Old Testament passage referred to, would then be a contraction or a somewhat corrupt form.

The three elements composing his name signify “the mighty one of the great dwelling-place,” but it is, again, an open question whether this is a mere play upon the character of the god, as in the name of Ea (according to one of the interpretations above suggested), or whether it is an ideographic form of the name. The Old Testament shows, conclusively, that the name had some such pronunciation as Nergal. Jensen, from other evidences, inclines to the opinion that the writing Ner-unu-gal is the result of a species of etymology, brought about by the prominence given to Nergal as the god of the region of the dead. It is in this capacity that he already appears in the inscription of Singamil, who calls him ‘king of the nether world.’ The “great dwelling-place,” therefore, is clearly the dominion over which Nergal rules, and when we come to the cosmogony of the Babylonians,[NOTE: See Jensen, “Kosmologie der Babylonier”, pp. 476-87.] it will be found that this epithet for the nether world–the great dwelling-place–accords with their conception of the life after death. But while Nergal, with a host of lesser demons about him, appears as the Babylonian Pluto, particularly in the religious texts, his functions are not limited to the control of the dead. He is the personification of some of the evils that bring death to mankind, particularly pestilence and war. The death that follows in his path is a violent one, and his destructive force is one that acts upon large masses rather than upon the individual. Hence, one of the most common ideographs used to express his name is that which signifies ‘sword.’

War and pestilence are intimately associated in the mind of the Babylonians. Among other nations, the sword is, similarly, the symbol of the deity, as the plague-bringer as well as the warrior. To this day, a pestilence is the general accompaniment of war in the East, or follows in its wake. Different from Nin-ib, who is also a god of war, Nergal symbolizes more particularly the “destruction” which accompanies war, and not the strong champion who aids his subjects in the fight. Nergal is essentially a destroyer, and the various epithets applied to him in the religious texts, show that he was viewed in this light. He is at times the ‘god of fire,’ again ‘the raging king,’ ‘the violent one’ ‘the one who burns’; and finally identified with the glowing heat of flame. Often, he is described by these attributes, instead of being called by his real name.[NOTE: See Jensen, “Kosmologie der Babylonier”, pp. 476-87.]

Dr. Jensen has recently shown in a satisfactory manner, that this phase of his character must be the starting-point in tracing the order of his development. As the ‘glowing flame,’ Nergal is evidently a phase of the sun, and Jensen proves that the functions and aspects of the sun at different periods being differentiated among the Babylonians, Nergal is more especially the hot sun of midsummer or midday, the destructive force of which was the chief feature that distinguished it. The hot sun of Babylonia, that burns with fierce intensity, brings pestilence and death, and carries on a severe contest against man. From being the cause of death, it is but a step, and a natural one, to make Nergal preside over the region, prepared for those whom he has destroyed.

The course taken by Babylonian theology is responsible for the prominence given to the latter role of Nergal, which finally overshadows his other phases to the extent of suggesting the fanciful interpretation of his name as the ‘ruler of the great dwelling place for the dead.’ In the light of the facts set forth, another explanation for his name must be looked for that would connect the god with solar functions. The name may in fact be divided into two elements, the first having the force of chief or ruler, the second ‘great.’ The combination would be an appropriate designation for the sun, in the role of a destructive power. But Nergal, after all, represents only one phase of the sun-god. The god who was worshipped as the personification of the sun “par excellence” and the sun as a whole, was


Written with an ideograph that describes him as the ‘god of the day,’ there is no deity whose worship enjoys an equally continued popularity in Babylonia and Assyria. Beginning at the earliest period of Babylonian history, and reaching to the latest, his worship suffers no interruption. Shamash, moreover, maintains his original character with scarcely any modification throughout this long period. For all that, he bears a name which signifies ‘attendant’ or ‘servitor,’ and which sufficiently shows the subsidiary position that he occupied in the Babylonian pantheon. One of the rulers belonging to the dynasty of Isin calls the sun-god, the offspring of Nannar,–one of the names of the moon-god,–and the last king of Babylonia, Nabonnedos, does the same. In combination with the moon-god, the latter takes precedence of Shamash,[NOTE: So in the inscription of Rim-Sin (“Keils Bibl.” 3, 1, p. 97).] and in the enumeration of the complete pantheon, in the inscriptions of both Assyrian and Babylonian kings, the same order is preserved.

Other evidence that points to the superior rank accorded to Sin, the moon-god over the sun deity in Babylonia, is the reckoning of time by the moon phases. The day begins with the evening, and not with sunrise. The moon, as the chief of the starry firmament, and controlling the fate of mankind, was the main factor in giving to the orb of night, this peculiar prominence. The ‘service,’ accordingly implied in the name of Shamash appears to have been such as was demanded by his subsidiary position to the moon-god. Beyond the general recognition, however, of this relationship between the two, it does not appear that the worship paid to Shamash, was at all affected by the secondary place, that he continued to hold in the theoretically constructed pantheon. Less than is the case with the other gods, is he identified with any particular city, and we therefore find in the most ancient period, two centers of Southern Babylonia claiming Shamash as their patron saint,–Larsa, represented by the mound of Senkereh, and Sippar, occupying the site of the modern Abu-Habba. It is difficult to say which of the two was the older; the latter, in the course of time, overshadowed the fame of the former, and its history can be traced back considerably beyond the sun-worship at Larsa, the first mention of which occurs in the inscriptions of rulers of the second dynasty of Ur (“c.” 2900 B.C.).

Since Ur, as we shall see, was sacred to the moon-god, it is hardly likely that the Shamash cult was introduced at Larsa by the rulers of Ur. The kings of Ur would not have forfeited the protection of Sin, by any manifestation of preference for Shamash. When Ur-Gur, therefore, tells us that he ‘built’ a temple to Shamash at Larsa, he must mean, as Sin-iddina of the dynasty of Larsa does, in using the same phrase, that he enlarged or improved the edifice. What makes it all the more likely that Ur-Gur found sun-worship at Larsa in existence is, that in the various places over which this ruler spread his building activity, he is careful in each case to preserve the status of the presiding deity.

So at Nippur, he engages in work at the temples of En-lil and of Nin-lil; while at Uruk he devotes himself to the temple of Nana. In thus connecting their names with the various sacred edifices of Babylonia, the rulers emphasized, on the one hand, their control of the territory in which the building lay, and on the other, their allegiance to the deity of the place, whose protection and favor they sought to gain.

The mention of a temple to Shamash at Sippar reverts to a still earlier period than that of its rival. Nabonnedos tells us that it was founded by Naram-Sin. Sargon has put his name on some object[NOTE: Perhaps the knob of a sceptre. “Proc. Soc. Bibl. Arch.” viii. 68.] that he dedicates to the sun-god at Sippar. That there was an historical connection between the two temples may be concluded from the fact that the name of the sacred edifices was the same in both,–E-babbara, signifying the ‘house of lustre.’ Such a similarity points to a dependence of one upon the other, and the transfer or extension of the worship directly from one place to the other; but, as intimated, we have no certain means of determining which of the two is the older.

In view of the general observation to be made in what pertains to the religion of the Babylonians, that fame and age go hand in hand, the balance is in favor of Sippar, which became by far the more famous of the two, received a greater share of popular affection, and retained its prominence to the closing days of the neo-Babylonian monarchy. We shall have occasion in a succeeding chapter to trace the history of the sun-temple at Sippar so far as known. It is interesting to note that Nabonnedos, feeling the end of his power to be near, undertakes, as one of the last resorts, the restoration of this edifice, in the hope that by thus turning once more to the powerful Shamash, he might secure his protection, in addition to that of Marduk, the head of the later Babylonian pantheon.

In Ur itself, Shamash was also worshipped in early days by the side of the moon-god. Eannatum, of the dynasty of Isin (“c.” 2800 B.C.), tells of two temples erected to him at that place; and still a third edifice, sacred to both Nannar (the moon god) and Shamash at Ur, is referred to by a king of the Larsa dynasty, Rim-Sin (“c.” 2300 B.C.).

The titles given to Shamash by the early rulers are sufficiently definite to show in what relation he stood to his worshippers, and what the conceptions were that were formed of him. He is, alternately, the king and the shepherd. Since the kings also called themselves shepherds, no especial endearment is conveyed by this designation. In the incantations, Shamash is frequently appealed to, either alone, or when an entire group of spirits and deities are enumerated. He is called upon to give life to the sick man. To him the body of the one who is smitten with disease is confided. As the god of light, he is appropriately called upon to banish ‘darkness’ from the house, darkness being synonymous with misfortune; and the appeal is made to him more particularly as the ‘king of judgment.’ From this, it is evident that the beneficent action of the sun, was the phase associated with Shamash. He was hailed as the god that gives light and life to all things, upon whose favor the prosperity of the fields and the well-being of man depend. He creates the light and secures its blessings for mankind. His favor produces order and stability; his wrath brings discomfiture and ruin to the state and the individual. But his power was, perhaps, best expressed by the title of “judge”–the favorite one in the numerous hymns that were composed in his honor.

He was represented as seated on a throne in the chamber of judgment, receiving the supplications of men, and according as he manifested his favor or withdrew it, enacting the part of the decider of fates. He loosens the bonds of the imprisoned, grants health to the sick, and even revivifies the dead. On the other hand, he puts an end to wickedness and destroys enemies. He makes the weak strong, and prevents the strong from crushing the weak. From being the judge, and, moreover, the supreme judge of the world, it was but natural that the conception of justice was bound up with him. His light became symbolical of righteousness, and the absence of it, or darkness, was viewed as wickedness. Men and gods look expectantly for his light. He is the guide of the gods, as well as the ruler of men.

While there are no direct indications in the historical texts known at present, that this conception of the sun-god existed in all its details before the days of Hammurabi, there is every reason to believe that this was the case; the more so, in that it does not at all transcend the range of religious ideas that we have met with in the case of the other gods of this period. Nor does this conception in any way betray itself, as being due to the changed political conditions that set in, with the union of the states under Hammurabi. Still, the age of the religious texts not being fixed, it is thus necessary to exercise some caution before using them without the basis of an allusion in the historical texts.


It but remains, before passing on, to note that the same deity appears under various names. Among these are Utu [NOTE: “E.g.”, Hammurabi (“Revue d’Assyriologie”, ii. col. i. 21); but also Gudea and a still earlier king.] and apparently also Babbar[NOTE: Amlaud; and there seems some reason to believe that the name was used by the side of Utu, though perhaps only as an epithet.] in the old Babylonian inscriptions. For the latter, a Semitic etymology is forthcoming, and we may therefore regard it as representing a real pronunciation, and not an ideographic writing. Babbar, a contracted form from Barbar, is the reduplication of the same stem “bar”[NOTE: Compare “birbiru”, ‘sheen,’ and the stem “baru”, ‘to see,’ etc.] that we have already met with, in the name of the temple sacred to Shamash. Like E-babbara, therefore, Babbar is the “brilliantly shining one,”–a most appropriate name for the sun, and one frequently applied to him in the religious texts. As to Utu, there is some doubt whether it represents a real pronunciation or not. My own opinion is that it does, and that the underlying stem is “atu”, which in Babylonian has almost the same meaning as “bar” or “baru”, viz., ‘to see.’ ‘Utu’ would thus again designate the sun as ‘that which shines forth.’

It will be recalled, that other instances have been noted of the same god appearing under different names. The most natural explanation for this phenomenon is, that the variation corresponds to the different localities where the god was worshipped. The identification would not be made until the union of the various Babylonian states had been achieved.

Such a union would be a potent factor in systematizing the pantheon. When once it was recognized that the various names represented, in reality, one and the same deity, it would not be long before the name, peculiar to the place where the worship was most prominent, would set the others aside or reduce them to mere epithets.

It may well be that Shamash was the name given to the god at Sippar, whereas at Ur he may have been known as Utu. Ur-Bau (of the first Ur dynasty) calls him Utu also, when speaking of the temple at Larsa, but it would be natural for the kings of Ur to call the sun-god of Larsa by the same name that he had in Ur. That Hammurabi, however, calls the sun-god of Larsa, Utu, may be taken as an indication that, as such he was known at that place, for since we have no record of a sun-temple at Babylon in these days, there would be no motive that might induce him to transfer a name, otherwise known to him, to another place.

The testimony of Hammurabi is therefore as direct as that of Sargon, who calls the sun-god of Sippar, Shamash. It is not always possible to determine, with as much show of probability, as in the case of the sun-god, the distribution of the various names, but the general conclusion, for all that, is warranted in every instance, that a variety of names refers, originally, to an equal variety of places over which the worship was spread,–only that care must be exercised to distinguish between distinctive names and mere epithets.


A consort of the sun-deity, appearing frequently at his side in the incantation texts, is A. It is more particularly with the Shamash of Sippar, that A is associated. She is simply the ‘beloved one’ of the sun-deity, with no special character of her own. In the historical texts, her role is quite insignificant, and for the period with which we are at present concerned she is only mentioned once by a North Babylonian ruler, Ma-an-ish-tu-su,[NOTE: See “Keils Bibl.” 3, I, 100. Reading of name uncertain.] who dedicates an object to her. The reading of the ideogram A, or Nin-A (“i.e.”, Lady A), is doubtful.

Malkatu (“mistress” or “queen”) is offered as a plausible conjecture.[NOTE: Suggested by Rawlinson, ii. 57, 10. See Schrader, “Zeits. f. Assyr.” iii. 33 “seq.”] Lehman (NOTE: “Keils Bibl.” iii. I, 202) suggests “A-Ja”, but on insufficient grounds. In any case A has the force of mistress, and Nin-A simply designates the goddess as the lady, mistress, or queen. It is likely that A was originally an independent deity, and one of the names of the sun-god in a particular locality. It occurs in proper names as a title of Shamash. Instead, however, of becoming identified with Shamash, A degenerated into a pale reflection of Shamash, pictured under the relationship of consort to him. This may have been due to the union of Shamash with the place where A was worshipped.

If, as seems likely, that near Sippar, there was another city on the other side of the Euphrates, forming a suburb to it (as Borsippa did to Babylon), the conclusion is perhaps warranted that A was originally the sun-god worshipped at the place which afterwards became incorporated with Sippar.[NOTE: On Sippar, see Sayce, “Hibbert Lectures”, etc., 168-169, who finds in the Old Testament form “Sepharvayim” a trace of this double Sippar. Dr. Ward’s suggestion, however, in regard to Anbar, as representing this ‘second’ Sippar, is erroneous.] Such an amalgamation of two originally male deities into a combination of male and female, strange as it may seem to us, is in keeping with the lack of sharp distinction between male and female in the oldest forms of Semitic religions. In the old cuneiform writing the same sign is used to indicate “lord” or “lady” when attached to deities. Ishtar appears among Semites both as a male[NOTE: “E.g.”, in Southern Arabia. See W. Robertson Smith, “The Religion of the Semites”, I. 59.] and as a female deity. Sex was primarily a question of strength. The stronger god was viewed as masculine; the weaker as feminine.

Nannar and Sin.

Nannar, a reduplicated form like Babbar, with the assimilation of the first r to n (nar-nar = nannar), has very much the same meaning as Babbar. The latter, as we have seen, is the “lustrous one,” the former, the “one that furnishes light.” The similarity in meaning is in keeping with the similarity of function of the two deities, thus named: Babbar being the sun and Nannar, the moon. It was under the name of Nannar that the moon-god was worshipped at Ur, the most famous and probably the oldest of the cities over which the moon-god presided. The association of Nannar with Ur is parallel to that of Shamash with Sippar,–not that the moon-god’s jurisdiction or worship was confined to that place, but that the worship of the deity of that place eclipsed others, and the fame and importance at Ur led to the overshadowing of the moon-worship there, over the obeisance to him paid elsewhere.

What further motives led to the choice of the moon-god as the patron of Ur, lies beyond the scope of our knowledge. Due allowance must be made for that natural selection, which takes place in the realm of thought as much as in the domain of nature. Attention has already been called to the predominance given by the Babylonians to the moon over the sun. The latter is expressly called the “offspring of the lord of brilliant beginning,” that is, the moon-god (NOTE: Delitzsch, “Assyr. Hdw.”, p. 234“a”). It is needless, therefore, to do more, at this place, than to emphasize the fact anew. The moon serving much more as a guide to man, through the regular character of its constant changes, than the sun, was connected in the religious system with both the heavenly and the terrestrial forces. In view of Nannar’s position in the heavens, he was called the “heifer of Anu.” Anu, it will be recalled, was the god of heaven (and heaven itself), while the “heifer”[NOTE: In Rabbinical literature, the moon is compared to a ‘heifer’ (Talmud Babli Rosh-hashana 22 “b”).] is here used metaphorically for offspring, the picture being suggested probably by the “horn” that the moon presents at a certain phase. This ‘horn’ constitutes his crown, and he is frequently represented on seal cylinders with a crescent over his head, and with a long flowing beard, that is described as having the color of lapislazuli. A frequent title is the ‘lord of the crown.’ On the other hand, by virtue of its influence on the earth, regulating, as the ancients observed, the tides, the moon was connected by the Babylonians with the reckoning of time.

Because of this connection with the ‘lower world,’ it seems, he was also regarded as the first-born of Bel. His sacred edifice at Ur was one to which all rulers of the place devoted themselves. Ur-Gur, Nur-Ramman, Sin-iddina, and Kudur-mabuk tell of their embellishment of the temple, each one appropriating to himself the title of ‘builder,’ in which they gloried. So close, again, was the identification of the city with the deity, that the latter was frequently known simply as the god of Ur, and the former, as the city of Nannar.

Another name of the moon-god was Sin,–the meaning of which escapes us. At the side of Ur, Harran is the place most celebrated by reason of its moon-worship, and there is every reason to believe that the name Sin was originally attached to Harran. The migrations of the ancient Hebrews were connected as we now know with political movements in Babylonia. They proceed from Ur–or Ur-Kasdim, “i.e.”, Chaldean Ur–northward to Harran, which, by virtue of its position, became a town of much importance. This association of Ur with Harran furnishes an indication for historical relations of some sort, existing between the two places. It is therefore not accidental, that the patron deity of both places was the same. As yet, no excavations have been made at Harran, and we are, therefore, dependent upon incidental notices for our knowledge of its history.

These sufficiently show that the place continued through a long period to preserve its sacred character. The old temple there, was one of the many that stirred up the religious zeal of Nabonnedos; and previous to this, we find several Assyrian kings occupied in embellishing and restoring the structure. An interesting reference to Harran, bearing witness to its ancient dignity, is found in an inscription of Sargon II. of Assyria (722-706 B.C.), who enumerates among his claims to the favor of the gods, that he restored the “laws and customs of Harran,” by which he evidently means that he was instrumental in giving the place, the dignity it once enjoyed. A curious feature connected with Sin, is the occurrence of the name in Mount Sinai, in the wilderness of Sin, as well as in an inscription of Southern Arabia.

May not this be a further testimony to the association of Harran with Sin, since it is from Harran that the departure of the Hebrews for the west took place? What more natural than that in the migrations which carried the Hebrews to the west, the worship of Sin should have been transferred to Arabia?[NOTE: That the name of Sin should have been introduced into Mesopotamia through the ‘Arabic’ dynasty (see above, p. 39) is less probable, though not impossible in the light of recent discoveries.] Important as Ur and Harran are as sacred towns, politically they do not retain their prominence after the days of Hammurabi. The amalgamation of Nannar with Sin, and the almost exclusive occurrence of the latter name in later times, does not of necessity point to a preponderating influence of Harran over Ur, but may be due to the greater fame which the former place acquired as the goal of religious pilgrimages. The situation of Harran–the name itself signifies ‘road’–as the highway leading to the west, must have been an important factor, in bringing this about. However this may be, Sin and Nannar are as thoroughly identical in the period following Hammurabi, as Babbar and Shamash. The attributes of the one are transferred to the other so completely, that a separation of the two is no longer possible.

The ideographs with which the name of Sin is written show him to have been regarded as the god of wisdom, but while wisdom and light may be connected, it is Nannar’s character as the “illuminator” that becomes the chief trait of the god. No doubt the preeminence of Ea in this respect, who is the personification of wisdom, “par excellence”, made it superfluous to have another deity possessing the same trait. It is, accordingly, as the god of light, that Sin continues to be adored in the Babylonian religion; and when he is referred to, in the historical texts and hymns, this side of his nature is the one dwelt upon. Through his light, the traps laid by the evil spirits, who are active at night, are revealed. In later times, apparently through Assyrian influence, the reckoning of time was altered to the extent of making the day begin with sunrise, instead of with the approach of night; and this, together with the accommodation of the lunar cycle to the movements of the sun, brought about a partial change of the former conditions, and gave somewhat greater prominence to Shamash. As a consequence, the role of Sin is not as prominent in the hymns that belong to a later period as in those of earlier days.

The oracles of the Assyrian kings are addressed to Shamash, and not to Sin. Moreover, the personal factor in the case of Sin, if one may express oneself thus, is not as strong as in that of some other gods. His traits are of a more general kind. He is supreme; there is none like him, and the spirits are subservient to his will. But terms of endearment are few, while on the mythological side, comparatively little is made of him. He is strong and he is holy. He is called upon to clothe the evil-doer with leprosy, as with a dress. In a robe, befitting his dignity, he stalks about. Without him, no city is founded, no district restored to former glory. Sin is called the father of the gods, but in a metaphorical rather than in a real sense. The only one of his children who takes an important part in the later phases of Babylonian-Assyrian worship is his daughter Ishtar. She seems to have taken to herself some of the traits of right belonging to Sin, and the prominence of her worship may be regarded as an additional factor in accounting for the comparative obscurity to which Sin gradually is assigned. At all events, Sin is a feature of the earlier period of the Babylonian religion rather than of the later periods.


The secondary position held by the female deities in the Babylonian pantheon has been repeatedly referred to. This trait of the religion finds an illustration not only in the ‘shadowy’ character of the consorts of the gods, but also in the manner in which goddesses, originally distinct from one another and enjoying an existence independent of any male consort, lose their individuality, as it were, and become merely so many forms of one and the same deity. Indeed, as we approach the moment when the gods of the Babylonian pantheon are ranged into a system, the tendency becomes pronounced to recognize only “one” goddess, representative of the principle of generation–one ‘great mother,’ endowed with a variety of traits according to the political and social conditions prevailing at different times in Babylonia and Assyria. In the earliest period which we are now considering, we can still distinguish a number of goddesses who afterwards became merged into this one great goddess. These are Ninni (or Innanna), Nana, and Anunit.

Ninni and Innanna are names that appear to have a common origin.[NOTE: Innanna may be separated into “In” = lord or lady, and “nanna”; “in” and “nanna” would then be elements added to “lady,” conveying perhaps the idea of greatness. See Jensen’s remarks, “Keils Bibl.” 3, I, 20, note 4.] Both embody the notion of ‘ladyship.’ The worship of this goddess centers in the district of Lagash. Ur-Bau (c. 3000 B.C.), who addresses her as ‘glorious and supreme,’ builds a temple in her honor at Gishgalla, and Gudea refers to a temple known as E-anna, “i.e.”, heavenly house in Girsu.[NOTE: “Rec. of the Past”, N.S., ii. p. 104.]For Gudea, Ninni is the “mistress of the world.” Another ruler of Lagash whose name is doubtfully read as E-dingir-ra-na-gin,[NOTE: “Keils Bibl.” 3, I, 16. See Jensen’s note on the reading of the name.] but who is even earlier than Ur-Bau, declares that he has been ‘called’ by Innanna to the throne. She is mentioned by the side of Nin-khar-sag. We are still in the period where local associations formed a controlling factor in ensuring the popularity of a deity, and while the goddesses attached to the gods of the important centers are still differentiated, the tendency already exists to designate the female consorts simply as the ‘goddess,’–to apply to all, the traits that may once have been peculiar to one. As we pass from one age to the other, there is an increasing difficulty in keeping the various local ‘goddesses’ apart. Even the names become interchangeable; and since these goddesses all represented essentially the same principle of generation and fertility, it was natural that with the union of the Babylonian states they should become merged into one great mother-goddess. A ‘local’ goddess who retains rather more of her individuality than others, is


Her name is again playfully interpreted by the Babylonians–through association with Nin–as ‘the lady’ “par excellence”. She was the chief goddess of the city of Uruk. Her temple at Uruk is first mentioned by Ur-Gur, of the second dynasty of Ur. It is restored and enlarged by Dungi, the successor of Ur-Bau, and so thoroughly is she identified with her edifice known as E-anna (again a play upon her name), that she becomes known as the Lady of E-anna.[NOTE: The fame of this temple outlasts the political importance of the place, and as late as the days of the Assyrian monarchy is an object of fostering care on the part of the kings.] She appears to have had a temple also at Ur, and it is to this edifice that later rulers of Larsa–Kudur-Mabuk and Rim-Sin, as well as the kings of the Isin dynasty, Gamil-Ninib, Libit-Ishtar, and Ishme-Dagan–refer in their inscriptions.

The members of the Isin dynasty pride themselves upon their control over Uruk, and naturally appear as special devotees to Nana, whose chosen “consort” they declare themselves to be, wielding the sceptre, as it were, in union with her. Already at this period, Nana is brought into connection with the moon-god, being called by Kudur-Mabuk the daughter of Sin. The relationship in this case indicates, primarily, the supremacy exercised by Ur, and also a similarity in the traits of the two deities. In the fully developed cosmology, Nana is the planet Venus, whose various aspects, as morning and evening star, suggested an analogy with the phases of the moon.

Venus, like the moon, served as a guide to man, while her inferiority in size and importance to the former, would naturally come to be expressed under the picture of father and daughter. In a certain sense, all the planets appearing at the same time and in the same region with the moon were the children of the latter. Sin, therefore, is appropriately called the father of gods, just as Anu, the personification of the heaven itself, is the supreme father of Sin and Shamash, and of all the heavenly bodies. The metaphorical application of ‘father’ as ‘source,’ throughout Oriental parlance, must be kept in mind in interpreting the relationship between the gods. Still another name of the goddess is Anunit, which appears to have been peculiar to the North Babylonian city Agade, and emphasizes her descent from “Anu,” the god of heaven. Her temple at Agade, known as E-ul-mash, is the object of Sargon’s devotion, which makes her, with Bel and Shamash, the oldest triad of gods mentioned in the Babylonian inscriptions. But the name which finally displaces all others, is


Where the name originated has not yet been ascertained, as little as its etymology,[NOTE: That the name is Semitic is no longer seriously questioned by any scholar. The underlying stem suggests etymological relationship with the god Ashur. If this be so, Ishtar may mean ‘the goddess that brings blessing’ to mankind, but all this is tentative, as are the numerous other etymologies suggested.] but it seems to belong to Northern Babylonia rather than to the south.

In time, all the names that we have been considering–Innanna, Nana, and Anunit–became merely so many designations of Ishtar. She absorbs the titles and qualities of all, and the tendency which we have pointed out finds its final outcome in the recognition of Ishtar as the one and only goddess endowed with powers and an existence independent of association with any male deity, though even this independence does not hinder her from being named at times as the associate of the chief god of Assyria–the all-powerful Ashur. The attempt has been made by Sayce and others to divide the various names of Ishtar among the aspects of Venus as morning and evening star, but there is no evidence to show that the Babylonians distinguished the one from the other so sharply as to make two goddesses of one and the same planet.

It is more in accord with what, as we have seen, has been the general character of the Babylonian pantheon, to account for the identification of Ninni, Nana, and Anunit with Ishtar on the supposition that the different names belonged originally to different localities. Ishtar was appropriately denominated the brilliant goddess. She is addressed as the mother of gods, which signals her supreme position among the female deities. ‘The mistress of countries’ alternating with ‘the mistress of mountains,'[NOTE: The ideographs for ‘country’ and ‘mountain’ are identical Assyrian. The alternation in the title of Ishtar must not be taken to point to a mountainous origin of the goddess.] is one of her common titles; and as the growing uniqueness of her position is one of the features of the Babylonian-Assyrian religion, it is natural that she should become simply “the” goddess. This was especially the case with the Assyrians, to whom Ishtar became a goddess of war and battle, the consort, at times, of the chief god of the Assyrian pantheon. At the same time it is important to note that the warlike character of the goddess goes back to the time of Hammurabi (“Keils Bibl.” 3, 1, 113), and is dwelt upon by other Babylonian kings (“e.g.”, Nebuchadnezzar I., c. 1130 B.C.) prior to the rise of the Assyrian power. How Ishtar came to take on so violent a character is not altogether clear.

There are no indications of this role in the incantation texts, where she is simply the kind mother who is appealed to, to release the sufferer from the power of the disease-bringing spirits. In the prayers, as will be shown in the proper place, she becomes the vehicle for the expression of the highest religious and ethical thought attained by the Babylonians. On the other hand, in the great Babylonian epic, dealing with the adventures of a famous hero, Gilgamesh, Ishtar, who makes her appearance at the summer solstice, is a raging goddess who smites those who disobey her commands with wasting disease. Starting with this phase of the goddess’ character, one can at least understand the process of her further development into a fierce deity presiding over the fortunes of war.

The epic just referred to belongs to the old Babylonian period. It embodies ancient traditions of rivalry between the Babylonian principalities, though there are traces of several recasting’s which the epic received. The violent Ishtar, therefore, is a type going back to the same period as the other side of her character that is emphasized elsewhere. Since, moreover, the Ishtar in the Gilgamesh epic is none other than the chief goddess of Uruk, all further doubt as to the union of such diverging traits in one and the same personage falls to the ground. In this same epic, Ishtar appears as sympathizing with the sufferings of mankind, and bewailing the destruction that was at one time decreed by the gods.

It is noteworthy that the violent Ishtar appears in that portion of the epic which, on the assumption of a zodiacal interpretation for the composition, corresponds to the summer solstice, whereas, the destruction which arouses her sympathy takes place in the eleventh month. It is quite possible, therefore, that the two aspects of Venus, as evening and morning stars, corresponding, as they do, to the summer and winter seasons, are reflected in this double character of the goddess. We are not justified, however, in going further and assuming that her double role as daughter of Sin and daughter of Anu is to be accounted for in the same manner.

In the Gilgamesh epic, she is found in association with Anu, and to the latter she appeals for protection as her father, and yet it is as the daughter of Sin that she enters the world of the dead to seek for the waters that may heal her bridegroom, Tammuz.[NOTE: Again, in the incantation texts she appears only as the daughter of Anu, coordinate with Sin and Shamash] Evidently, the distinction between Ishtar as the daughter of Anu and as the daughter of Sin is not an important one, the term daughter in both cases being a metaphor to express a relationship both of physical nature and of a political character. Of the various forms under which the goddess appears, that of Anunit–a feminine form indicating descent from and appertaining to Anu–attaches itself most clearly to the god of heaven, and it may be that it was not until the assimilation of Anunit and Nana with Ishtar that the goddess is viewed as at once the daughter of Anu and of Sin. If this be so, there is surely nothing strange in the fact that a planet like Venus should be regarded in one place as the daughter of heaven and in another brought into relationship with the moon. She actually belongs to both.

Just as in Babylonia, so in Assyria, there were various Ishtars, or rather various places where the goddess was worshipped as the guardian spirit, but her role in the north is so peculiar that all further consideration of it must be postponed until we come to consider, in due time, the Assyrian pantheon. There will be occasion, too, when treating of the Gilgamesh epic, to dwell still further on some of her traits. All that need be said here is to emphasize the fact that the popularity of the Babylonian Ishtar in Assyria, as manifested by Esarhaddon’s zeal in restoring her temple at Uruk, and Ashurbanabal’s restoration of Nana’s statue (“c.” 635 B.C.) which had been captured by the Elamites 1635 years before Ashurbanabal’s reign, is largely due to the effected identity with the goddess who, for the Assyrians, was regarded chiefly as the goddess of war and strife. In worshipping the southern Ishtars, the Assyrian kings felt themselves to be showing their allegiance to the same deity to whom, next to Ashur, most of their supplications wereaddressed, and of whom as warriors they stood in dread.


A goddess who, while sharing the fate of her sister goddesses in being overshadowed by Ishtar, yet merits a special treatment, is one whose name is plausibly conjectured to be read Nina. The compound ideogram expressing the deity signifies ‘house of the fish.’ The word ‘house’ in Semitic parlance is figuratively extended to convey the idea of ‘possessing or harboring.’ Applied to a settlement, the ideogram would be the equivalent of our ‘Fishtown.’ It is with this same ideogram that the famous capitol of Assyria, Nineveh, is written in the cuneiform texts, and since the phonetic reading for the city, Ni-na-a, also occurs, it is only legitimate to conclude that the latter is the correct reading for the deity as well. As a matter of course, if the goddess bears a name identical with that of a city, it cannot be the Assyrian city which is meant in the old Babylonian inscriptions, but some other place bearing the same name. Such a place actually occurs in the inscriptions of Gudea. It is, in fact, one of the three towns that combined with Shirpurla to create the great capitol bearing the latter name; and Jensen[ NOTE: “Keils Bibl.” 3, 1, 72, note. Some scholars, as Hommel (“Gesch. d. alt. Morgenlandes”, p. 68), propose to identify this place with the Assyrian Nineveh, but the conjecture lacks proof and is altogether improbable.] has called attention to a passage in one of Gudea’s inscriptions in which the goddess is brought into direct association with the town, so that it would appear that Nina is the patron of Nina, in the same way that Nin-girsu is the protector of Girsu. In keeping with this we find the mention of the goddess limited to the rulers of Lagash. Several of them–En-anna-tuma, Entemena, and Gudea–declare themselves to have been chosen by her. She is said to regard Gudea with special favor. She determines destinies. Another king, Ur-Nina, embodies the name of the goddess in his own, and devotes himself to the enlargement of her temple.

From the manner in which she is associated with Nin-girsu, aiding the latter in guarding his temple E-ninnu, and uniting with the god in granting the sceptre to Gudea, one is tempted to conclude that the two towns, Girsu and Nina, were amalgamated before their absorption into Lagash, so that the god and goddess acquired the relationship to one another of husband and consort. As for the connection between this Babylonian Nina and the late Assyrian capital, it is quite possible that the origin of the latter is to be traced to a settlement made by inhabitants of the former, although it should be added that there is no positive evidence that can be adduced in support of this proposition. It accords, however, with the northward movement of culture and civilization in Mesopotamia. If this connection between the two Ninevehs be accepted, the question suggests itself whether, in time, Nina did not become merely another form of Ishtar. The Assyrian capital is frequently spoken of as the ‘beloved city’ of Ishtar, and unless it be supposed that this epithet simply reflects the comparatively late popularity of the distinctively Assyrian Ishtar, the most natural explanation would be to propose the equation Nina = Ishtar.

In the incantation texts, Nina is frequently appealed to as the daughter of Ea,–the god of the deep. This relationship, as well as the interpretation of the ideogram above set forth, points to the original character of the goddess as a water-deity. This goddess, therefore, would be of an entirely different form from the ones discussed in the previous paragraphs. Instead of being a member of the heavenly pantheon, her place is with the kingdom over which Ea presides, and whose dwelling-place is the watery deep. In any case, Nina is originally distinct from Ishtar, Nana, and Anunit; and she retains an independent existence to a later period than most of the other great goddesses that have been discussed. In an inscription of the days of Belnadinaplu (“c.” 1100 B.C.), published by Hilprecht,[NOTE: “Old Babylonian Inscriptions”, I. pls. 30, 31. (See now Peiser, “Keils Bibl.” 4, pp. 64-66.)] Nina appears as the patron deity of Der,–a city of Southern Babylonia. There too she is called the ‘daughter of Ea,’ the creator of everything. She is ‘the mistress of goddesses.’ Attached to her temple there are lands that having been wrongfully wrested from the priests are returned upon royal command, under solemn invocation of the goddess. How her worship came to be transferred to Der we do not know. She appears in the inscription in question by the side of a goddess who–following Hommel–is none other than Bau. Der is called the city of the god Anu, and we can only suppose that it must at one time have risen to sufficient importance to harbor in its midst a number of deities. It is presumably[NOTE: Questioned by Peiser, “ib.”] the place whence Nebuchadnezzar I. sets out in the twelfth century to drive the Cassites off the throne of Babylonia. May it be that, during the days of the foreign rule, priests attached to the service of various of the old gods and goddesses transferred the worship of these deities to places more secure from interference?

Be this as it may, if our Nina has any connection with the goddess of Nineveh, it is certain that Ishtar has retained none of Nina’s traits. The fusion in this case has been so complete that naught but the faintest tradition of an original and independent Nina has survived in the North.


This god, who, from a theoretical point of view (as will be shown in a subsequent chapter), was regarded as standing at the head of the organized Babylonian pantheon, figures only incidentally in the inscriptions prior to the days of Hammurabi. Ur-Gur of the second dynasty of Ur, in invoking Nannar, calls the latter ‘the powerful bull of Anu.’ The reference is interesting, for it shows that already in these early days the position of Anu, as the god of the heavenly expanse, was fixed. The moon appearing in the heavens, and the resemblance of its crescent to a bull’s horn,[NOTE: Among many nations the moon is pictured as a horned animal. See Robert Brown’s interesting monograph on “The Unicorn”, pp. 27 “seq. et passim”; also above, p. 76.] are the two factors that account for the expressive epithet used by Ur-Bau.

That the worship of the god of heaven “par excellence” should not have enjoyed great popularity in the early days of the Babylonian religion might seem strange at first sight. A little reflection, however, will make this clear. A god of the heavens is an abstract conception, and while it is possible that even in an early age, such a conception may have arisen in some minds, it is not of a character calculated to take a popular hold.

As we proceed in our attempt to trace the development of the Babylonian religion, we will find the line of demarcation separating the theological system, as evolved by the schoolmen, from the popular phases of the religion, becoming more marked. In the inscriptions of the old Babylonian rulers, comparatively little of the influence of the Babylonian theologians is to be detected. Even the description of the moon as the bull of heaven falls within the domain of popular fancy.

It is different in the days after Hammurabi, when political concentration leads to the focusing of intellectual life in the Euphrates Valley, with all the consequences that the establishment of a central priesthood, with growing powers over ever-increasing territory, involves. It is to be noted, moreover, that the manner in which in the old Babylonian inscriptions “Anu” is written,[NOTE: Simply the sign AN (= god, heaven) and the phonetic complement“na”.] indicates that the abstraction involved in the conception of a god of heaven had not yet been reached, though some measure of personification was of course inevitable at a time when animistic notions still held sway. A direct indication of this personification of heaven without the deification appears in the epithet ‘child of Anu,’ bestowed upon the goddess Bau.

The reference to the heavens in this connection is an allusion to Bau’s position as the patroness of that quarter of Lagash known as the ‘brilliant town,’ and where Bau’s temple stood. The transference of the quality of ‘brilliancy’ from the town to the goddess would be expressed by calling the latter the offspring of that part of visible nature which is associated in the mind with ‘brilliancy.’

Somewhat mysterious, and still awaiting a satisfactory explanation, is the title ‘sacrificer,’ or ‘priest of Anu,’ which one of the rulers of Lagash, Ur-Nin-girsu, assumes. It is scarcely possible that the god of heaven can be meant; and, on the other hand, if we are to assume merely a personification of heaven, we encounter fresh difficulties. It seems to me that the use of Anu[NOTE: Written An-na, without the determinative for deity. De Sarzec, “Decouvertes en Chaldee”, pl. 37, no. 8.] here is purely metaphorical for ‘high’ or ‘lofty,’ and that the king merely wishes to emphasize the dignity of his station by declaring himself to be the heavenly priest, somewhat as we should say ‘priest by divine grace,’ or ‘supreme priest.’

Nin-si-a. {NOTE:The second element may also be read “dar”. See Jensen, “Keils Bibl.” 3, 1, p. 24, note 1.] Ur-Bau and Gudea alone of the ancient rulers refer to this god. The former erects a temple in honor of the god in some quarter of his capitol city, while the latter emphasizes the strength that the god has given him. These references, however, show that the god must have been of considerable importance, and in this case, his disappearance from the later pantheon is probably due to the absorption of his role by the greater god of Lagash,–Nin-girsu. Like Nin-girsu, Nin-si-a was a god of war, and his worship, imported perhaps from some ancient site to Lagash, falls into desuetude, as the attribute accorded to him becomes the distinguishing trait of the chief deity of the place.


Among the various deities to whom Gudea gives praise for the position and glory which he attains is Gal-alim. From him he has received great rule and a lofty sceptre. The phrase is of a very general nature and reveals nothing as to the special character of the god in question. An earlier king, Uru-kagina, refers to the temple of the god at Lagash.

Gal-alim may have been again a merely local deity belonging to one of the towns that fell under Gudea’s rule, and whose attributes again were so little marked that this god too disappeared under the overshadowing importance of Nin-girsu. He and another god, Dun-shagga, are viewed as the sons of Nin-girsu.

Coming to some of the deities that we may designate as minor, it is to be noted that in the case of certain ones, at least, it will be found that they may be identified with others more prominent, and that what seem to be distinct names are in reality descriptive epithets of gods already met with. This remark applies more particularly to such names as begin with the element Nin, signifying either ‘lord’ or ‘lady,’ and which, when followed by the name of a place, always points to its being a title, and, when followed by an ideographic compound, only diminishes that probability to a slight degree.

We have already come across several instances; thus Nin-girsu, the lord of Girsu, has been shown to be a form of Ninib, itself an ideogram, the reading of which, it will be recalled, is still uncertain; and again, Nin-khar-sag has been referred to, as one of the titles of the great goddess Belit. Similarly, Nin-gish-zida, whose name signifies ‘the lord of the right-hand (or propitious) sceptre,’ becomes a title and not a name, and when Gudea speaks of this god as the one who leads him to battle, and calls him ‘king,’ he is simply describing the same god who is elsewhere spoken of as Nin-girsu.

By the side of Nin-girsu and Nin-gish-zida appears Nin-shakh, who, as Oppert[NOTE: See Hommel, “Semitische Kulturen”, p. 389.] has shown, is like Nin-girsu the prototype of the well-known god of war, Ninib. However, Nin-shakh occupies, in contradistinction to Nin-gish-zida and others, a position in the old Babylonian pantheon of an independent character, so that it is hardly justifiable, in such a case, to identify him completely with Ninib, and place the name on a par with the epithets just referred to. The dividing line between the mere title and an independent god thus becomes at times very faint, and yet it is well to maintain it whenever called for. In the following enumeration of the minor gods of the old Babylonian pantheon, the attempt will be made to bring out this distinction in each instance.

Beginning with Nin-shakh the element “Nin”, as has several times been mentioned, points to an ideographic form. The second element signifies ‘wild boar,’ and from other sources we know that this animal was a sacred one in Babylonia, as among other Semitic nations.[ NOTE: For the sacred character of the swine among the Semites, see W. Robertson Smith’s “The Religion of the Semites”, pp. 201, 272, 332, 457. Rawlinson, iii. 68, 22, occurs a deity, ‘swine of the right hand,’ “i.e.”, propitious.] Its flesh, on certain days of the Babylonian calendar, was forbidden to be eaten, from which we are permitted to conclude that these days were dedicated to the animal, and the prohibition represents perhaps the traces of some old religious festival. May Nin-shakh therefore have been a ‘swine deity,’ just as Nergal is symbolized by the ‘lion’? In both cases the animal would be a symbol of the violent and destructive character of the god.

The ferocious character of the ‘swine’ would naturally result in assigning to Nin-shakh warlike attributes; and as a matter of fact he is identified at times with Ninib. His subordinate position, however, is indicated by his being called the ‘servant,’ generally of En-lil, occasionally also of Anu, and as such he bears the name of Pap-sukal,[NOTE: Rawlinson, ii. 59, 23. The second element in Pap-sukal is the common Babylonian word for ‘servant,’ or ‘messenger;’ other deities therefore standing in a subsidiary position are also called Pap-sukal. So “e.g.”, Nebo and Nusku. See further on and compare Hommel, “Semiten”, pp. 479, 480.] “i.e.”, ‘divine messenger.’ Rim-Sin builds a temple to Nin-shakh at Uruk, and from its designation as his ‘favorite dwelling place’ we may conclude that Rim-Sin only restores or enlarges an ancient temple of the deity. In the light of this, the relationship above set forth between Nin-girsu, Nin-gish-zida, and Nin-shakh becomes somewhat clearer. The former, the local deity of Girsu, would naturally be called by the kings ‘the lord of the true sceptre,’ while the subordination of Girsu as a quarter of Lagash finds its reflection in the relationship of master and servant pictured as existing between En-lil and Nin-girsu.

Again, the warlike character of the patron deity of Girsu would lead to an identification with Nin-shakh of Uruk, possessing the same traits; and the incorporation of Uruk as a part of the same empire which included Lagash and its quarters, would be the last link bringing about the full equation between the three. With Ninib–the solar deity–coming into prominence as the god of war, all three names, Nin-girsu, Nin-gish-zida, and Nin-shakh, would be regarded by a later age as merely descriptive of one and the same god.


Gudea makes mention in one of his inscriptions, by the side of Nin-gish-zida, of a god Dun-shagga, whose name signifies the ‘chief hero,’ but the phonetic reading of which it is impossible to determine.[ NOTE: Uru-kagina, earlier than Gudea (de Sarzec, pl. 32), appears to have built a temple to Dun-shagga, but the passage is not altogether clear. The element also appears in the name of the ruler of Ur, “Dungi”,“i.e.”, ‘the legitimate hero,’ as Sargon is the ‘legitimate king.’] Like Nin-gish-zida, he is a warlike god, and from that one might suppose that he too is only another form of Nin-girsu-Ninib. At all events, he did not differ materially from the latter. It is from him, that Gudea again declares his power to be derived, just as elsewhere he accords to Nin-girsu this distinction.

The element ‘Dun,’ which is very much the same as ‘Nin,’ speaks in favor of regarding Dun-shagga as a title; but, in default of positive evidence, it will not be out of place to give him an independent position, and to regard his identification with Nin-girsu as a later phase due to the extension of Nin-girsu’s jurisdiction and his corresponding absorption of a varying number of minor gods. This tendency on the part of the greater gods to absorb the minor ones is as distinctive a trait in the development of the Babylonian religion, as is the subordination of one god to the other, whether expressed by making the subordinate god the consort, the chief, or the servant of a superior one. We have seen that such terms of relationship correspond to certain degrees of political conditions existing between the conquering and the conquered districts.

Amalgamation of two cities or districts is portrayed in the relation of the two patron deities as husband and wife, the stronger of the two being the former, the more subservient pictured as the latter. The more pronounced superiority of the one place over the other finds expression in the relation of father to child, while that of master and servant emphasizes the complete control exercised by the one over the other.

Lastly, the absorption of one deity into another, is correlative either with the most perfect form of conquest, or the complete disappearance of the seat of his worship in consequence of the growing favor of one possessing sufficiently similar qualities to warrant identification with the other.


Sin-gashid of the dynasty of Uruk makes mention of this deity at the beginning of one of his inscriptions. To him and to his consort, Nin-gul, a temple as ‘the seat of their joy’ at that place is devoted.

This association of the god with the town points again to a local deity, but possessing a character which leads to the absorption of the god in the solar god, Nergal, whom we have already encountered, and who will occupy us a good deal when we come to the period after Hammurabi. The identification of the two is already foreshadowed in an inscription of another member of the same dynasty, Sin-gamil, who places the name of Nergal exactly where his predecessor mentions Lugal-banda. The first element in his name signifies ‘king,’ the second apparently ‘strong,’ so that in this respect, too, the god comes close to Nergal, whose name likewise indicates ‘great lord.’ The consort of Lugal-banda is


Her name signifies ‘the destructive lady,’–an appropriate epithet for the consort of a solar deity. It is Sin-gashid again who associates Ningul with Lugal-banda, and emphasizes his affection for the goddess by calling her his mother. In one inscription, moreover, Sin-gashid addresses himself exclusively to the goddess, who had an equal share in the temple at Uruk.


Among the deities appealed to by Ur-Bau appears one whose name is to be interpreted as the ‘unchangeable child of the watery deep.’ The great god of the deep we have seen is Ea. Dumuzi-zu-aba therefore belongs to the water-deities, and one who, through his subordinate rank to Ea, sinks to the level of a water-spirit. Ur-Bau declares himself to be the darling of this deity, and in the town of Girsu he erects a temple to him. Girsu, however, was not the patron city of the god, for Ur-Bau gives Dumuzi-zu-aba, the appellation of ‘the lord of Kinunira,'[NOTE: Signifying, according to Jensen, “Keils Bibl.” 3, 1, p. 25,’fighting-place’.] a place the actual situation of which is unknown. Dumuzi-zu-aba, accordingly, is to be regarded as a local deity of a place which, situated probably on an arm of the Euphrates, was the reason for the watery attributes assigned to the god. The comparative insignificance of the place is one of the factors that accounts for the minor importance of the god, and the second factor is the popularity enjoyed by another child of the great Ea, his child “par excellence”, Marduk, who is best known as the patron god of the city of Babylon. By the side of Marduk, the other children of Ea, the minor water-deities, disappear, so that to a later generation Dumuzi-zu-aba appears merely as a form of Marduk.

With Dumuzi-zu-aba, we must be careful not to confuse  Dumu-zi,  who in the old Babylonian inscriptions is mentioned once by Sin-iddina,[NOTE: Published by Delitzsch, “Beitraege zur Assyr.” I. 301-311.] in connection with the sun-god. Dumu-zi, signifying ‘child of life,’ has a double aspect–an agricultural deity and at the same time a god of the lower world. He plays an important part in the eschatological literature of the Babylonians, but hardly none at all in the historical and incantation texts. A fuller treatment may therefore be reserved for a future chapter.


A purely local deity, if the reading and interpretation offered by Jensen, ‘King of the city Erim,’ is correct. The mention of the deity in an inscription of Ur-Bau, who calls himself the ‘beloved servant’ of this god, would be due to the circumstance that the district within which the city in question lay was controlled by the rulers of Lagash. To invoke as large a number of deities as possible was not only a means of securing protection from many sides, but was already in the early days of Babylonian history indulged in by rulers, as a means of emphasizing the extent and manifold character of their jurisdiction.

Nin-e-gal and Ningal.

A temple was erected to Nin-e-gal by the wife of Rim-Sin, of the dynasty ruling in Larsa. Her name as interpreted in the tablet dedicated to her, signifies again, as in several cases already noted, ‘great lady.’ She was probably therefore only the consort of some patron deity; and Nannar being the most prominent god invoked by Rim-Sin, it would seem that the goddess to whom the queen pays her respects is again one of the consorts of the moon-god.[NOTE: So also Jensen, “Kosmologie”, p. 14, note 3.] This conclusion is supported by the direct association of Nannar of Ur and Ningal in an inscription emanating from an earlier member of the same dynasty to which Rim-Sin belongs.

Nur-Ramman speaks of building temples to these deities in the city of Ur. Hence the goddess is also represented as interceding with Sin on behalf of those who appeal to her. The form Nin-e-gal is but a variant of Nin-gal, so that the identification of the two lies beyond doubt, and it may very well be that the temple erected by the consort of Rim-Sin is the same as the one referred to by Nur-Ramman.

In a land where polygamy was a prevailing custom, the gods too might be represented as having a number of consorts. There would of course be, just as in human relations, one chief consort, but there might be others ranged at the side of the latter.[NOTE: So Anu appears to have concubines.] Some of these may have been consorts of other minor deities, worshipped in the same district, and who were given to the more important divinity as he gradually overshadowed the others. In this way, we may account for the large variety of ‘ladies’ and ‘great ladies’ met with in the Babylonian pantheon, and who, being merely ‘reflections’ of male deities, with no sharply marked traits of their own, would naturally come to be confused with one another, and finally be regarded as various forms of one and the same goddess. A member of the dynasty ruling in Isin, En-anna-tuma, earlier even than Nur-Ramman, invokes Nin-gal in an inscription found in the ancient capital, Ur. Here, too, the goddess appears in association with Nannar; but, curiously enough, she is designated as the mother of Shamash. It will be borne in mind that in the city of Ur, the sun-god occupied a secondary place at the side of the moon-god. This relationship is probably indicated by the epithet ‘offspring of Nin-gal,’ accorded to Shamash in the inscription referred to. The moon being superior to the sun, the consort of the moon-god becomes the mother of the sun-god.

Reference has several times been made to Nin-gish-zida,  who, originally a distinct solar deity, becomes scarcely distinguishable from Nin-girsu, and is eventually identified with the great Nin-ib. It is noticeable that these four deities, Nin-girsu, Nin-shakh, Nin-gish-zida, and Nin-ib, who are thus associated together, all contain the element “Nin” in their names,–a factor that may turn out to be of some importance when more abundant material shall be forthcoming for tracing their development in detail. One of Gudea’s inscriptions begins with the significant statement, ‘Nin-gish-zida is the god of Gudea’; and elsewhere when speaking of him, he is ‘my god,’ or ‘his god.’ None of the ancient Babylonian rulers make mention of him except Gudea, though in the incantation texts he is introduced and significantly termed ‘the throne-bearer’ of the earth. The purely local character of the deity is, furthermore, emphasized by the reference to his temple in Girsu, on a brick and on a cone containing dedicatory inscriptions, inscribed by Gudea in honor of the god.[NOTE: De Sarzec, pl. 37, no. 5; “Trans. Soc. Bibl. Arch.” vi. 279.]

Shul (or Dun)-pa-uddu.

The wife of the famous Gudea, Gin-Shul-pa-uddu, bears a name in which one of the elements is a deity, the phonetic reading of whose name is still uncertain.[NOTE: Jensen, “Kosmologie”, p. 127, proposes to read Umun-pauddu.] The elements comprising it, namely, ‘lord’ (?), ‘sceptre,’ and ‘radiant,’ leave little doubt as to the solar character of the god. Besides Gudea’s wife, a ruler, Ur-Shul-pa-uddu,[NOTE: Hilprecht, “Old Babylonian Inscriptions”, i. 2, no. 93. The name also appears in syllabaries as Shul-pa-ud-du-a. For the element “pa-udda”, see p. 103. In Nergal’s name Shid-lam-ta-uddu-a (p. 65), the same final elements are found which appear to be characteristic epithets of solar deities. The first element in the name has also the value Dun (as in Dun-gi)] belonging apparently to a somewhat earlier period, embodies this deity in his name. The worship of the deity, therefore, belongs to a very early epoch, and appears at one time to have enjoyed considerable popularity within a certain district of Babylonia. To what region of Babylonia he belongs has not yet been ascertained. Judging from analogous instances, he represented some phase of the sun worshipped in a particular locality, whose cult, with the disappearance of the place from the surface of political affairs, yielded to the tendency to concentrate sun-worship in two or three deities,–Shamash and Ninib more especially. In the astronomy of the Babylonians the name survived as a designation of Marduk-Jupiter.[NOTE: Jensen, “Kosmologie”, pp. 125, 126.]


A local deity, designated as the lady of Mar, is invoked by Ur-Bau, from whom we learn that she was the daughter of Nina. “Mar”, with the determinative for country, “Ki”, appears to have been the name of a district extending to the Persian Gulf.[NOTE: See “Journal Asiatique”, September-October, 1895, p. 393.] The capital of the district is represented by the mound Tel-Id, not far from Warka. Her subsidiary position is indicated in these words, and we may conclude that Nin-Mar at an early period fell under the jurisdiction of the district in which Nina was supreme. For all that, Nin-Mar, or the city in which her cult was centralized, must have enjoyed considerable favor. Ur-Bau calls her the ‘gracious lady,’ and erects a temple, the name of which, Ish-gu-tur,[NOTE; De Sarzec, pl. 8, col. v. ll. 8-12.] “i.e.”, according to Jensen’s plausible interpretation, ‘the house that serves as a court for all persons,’ points to Mar as a place of pilgrimage to which people came from all sides. Gudea, accordingly, does not omit to include ‘the lady of Mar’ in his list of the chief deities to whom he pays his devotions; and on the assumption of the general favor in which the city of Mar stood as a sacred town, we may account for the fact that a much later ruler, Dungi, of the dynasty of Ur, erects a temple to her honor.


A deity, the phonetic reading of whose name is unknown, or at all events uncertain,[NOTE: Jensen regards Pa-sag as a possible phonetic form, but his view is hardly tenable.] is mentioned once by Gudea in the long list of deities that has been several times referred to. The ideographs with which his name is written designate him as a chief of some kind, and in accord with this, Gudea calls him ‘the leader of the land.’ Pa-sag is mentioned immediately after the sun-god Utu, and in view of the fact that another solar deity, I-shum, whom we shall come across in a future chapter, is designated by the same title[NOTE: See Zimmern, “Busspsalmen”, pp. 60, 61.] as Pa-sag, it seems safe to conclude that the latter is likewise a solar deity, and in all probability, the prototype of I-shum, if not indeed identical with him.

  Nisaba (or Nidaba).

In a dream which the gods send to Gudea, he sees among other things, a goddess, whose name may be read Nisaba or Nidaba.[NOTE: Cylinder A, cols. iv. and v. Amiaud read the name “Nirba”.] Nina, who interprets the dream to the ruler of Shirpurla, declares that Nisaba is her sister. In a text belonging to a still earlier age, the deity is mentioned as the begetter of a king whose name is read Lugal-zaggisi.[NOTE: Just published by Hilprecht, “Old Babylonian Inscriptions”, i. 2, pls. 38-47. “Cf.” p. 52] From the manner in which the name of the goddess is written, as well as from other sources, we know that Nisaba is an agricultural deity. In historical texts she plays scarcely any role at all, but in incantations she is often referred to; and from the fact that Nisaba is appealed to, to break the power of the demons in conjunction with Ea, it would appear that the position once occupied by her was no insignificant one.

Nin-girsu, it will be recalled, has also traits which connect him with agricultural life, and Nina being the daughter of Nin-si-a, one of the forms under which Ningirsu-Ninib appears, we may connect Nisaba directly with the cults of which Lagash formed the center. Nisaba must have been the consort of one of the agricultural gods, whose jurisdiction falls within Gudea’s empire. Lugal-zaggisi, as the king of Uruk, assigns to the goddess a first place. Her origin must, therefore, be sought in this region. In later days the name of the goddess is used to describe the fertility of the soil in general. So Ashurbanabal, describing the prosperity existing in his days, says that grain was abundant through the ‘increase of Nisaba.’


A goddess of this name–reading of the first sign doubtful–is mentioned by Ur-Bau, who builds a temple to her in Girsu. If Amiaud is correct in his reading of the first sign, the goddess was identified at one time by the Babylonians with the consort of Ramman–the storm-god. This would accord with the description that Ur-Bau gives of the goddess. She is the one who deluges the land with water–belonging therefore to the same order as Bau.

In a list of deities enumerated by a ruler of Erech, Lugal-zaggisi, are found (1) a local goddess, Umu,  designated as the ‘priestess of Uruk,'[NOTE: Hilprecht, “ib.” no. 87, col i. 30.] and occupying an inferior rank to (2) a goddess,

Nin-akha-kuddu,[NOTE: “Ib.” i. 32. Hilprecht reads Nin-a-gid-kha-du, but this can hardly be correct.] who is called ‘the mistress of Uruk.’ The importance of Erech in the early history of Babylonia is emphasized by the inscriptions from Nippur, recently published by Dr. Hilprecht. It is natural, therefore, to find several deities of a purely local type commemorated by kings who belong to this region. The goddess Umu is not heard of again. The great goddess of Uruk, Nana, absorbs the smaller ones, and hence Nin-akha-kuddu survives chiefly in incantation texts as ‘the lady of shining waters,’ of ‘purification,’ and of ‘incantations.'[NOTE: The two ideas, ‘water’ and ‘incantation,’ are correlated. The ‘waters’ meant are those used for purification purposes in connection with the magic formulas.]

Lastly, a passing reference may be made to several deities to whom sanctuaries are erected by Uru-Kagina in the great temple of Bau at Uru-azaga, and whom Amiaud regards as sons of Bau.

Uru-Kagina enumerates three, Za-za-uru, Im-pa-ud-du, and Gim-nun-ta-ud-du-a.[NOTE: De Sarzec, pl. 32, col. ii. 9-11.] The element “ud-du” in the last two names signifies ‘radiant’ or ‘rising up’; while “pa-ud-du” (like in Shul-pa-ud-du, p. 99) means ‘radiant sceptre.’ If to this, we add that “Im” is ‘storm,’ it will appear plausible to see in the second name a form of a raging solar deity and perhaps also in the third; “gim nun” in the latter name may mean ‘creating lord.’ To these Amiaud[NOTE: “Records of the Past”, N.S., i. 59. Amiaud reads the second name Im-ghud-ena and the third Gim (or Ur)-nun-ta-ena. The publication in De Sarzec favors my readings.] adds from other sources, Khi-gir-nunna, Khi-shaga, Gurmu, and Zarmu. He takes these seven deities as sons of Bau, but he offers no conclusive evidence for his theory. Some of these deities may turn out to be synonymous with such as have already been met with.

SOURCE: Handbooks on the History of Religions: VOLUME II: The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (1893); Edited by ; Morris Jastrow, Jr., PH.D. “Professor of Semitic Languages in the University of Pennsylvania”

Babylonia: Gods and Rites


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