ON THE RELIGIOUS BELIEF OF THE ASSYRIANS
By H. F. Talbot, F.R.S., &c.
Read 5th November, 1872.
[Extracted from Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archæology, vol. 2 (1873), pp. 29-79, 346-52.]
In my former paper on this subject I showed, as I think for the first time, that the Assyrians believed in the immortality of the soul. I have since found numerous proofs of it. Many of the tablets in the British Museum contain allusions to it as a belief established and unquestionable. For instance—a man is seized with a mortal sickness, and dies—"May his soul fly up to heaven!" This short prayer, or ejaculation, stands as follows in the original:—
1. kima itzuri ana ashri rapsi lattaprash
like a bird to a place lofty may it fly.
2. ana kati damikti slia ili-su lippakit.
to the hands holy of its god may it return.
Like a bird may it fly to a lofty place!
To the holy hands of its god, may it return!
An Accadian version follows, with the same meaning. I may observe that rapsi (lofty) is the usual epithet of Heaven; [p.30] lattaprash is the optative of the T conjugation of purash to fly, a verb of frequent occurrence.
On another tablet the dying spirit is restored to life by the gods. First, a
prayer to Ishtar. [glyphs] May the great goddess [glyphs] muhulladdat miti, she who
turns death into life [receive him in her hands].—The Accadian version agrees,
[glyphs]: for, in Accadian, tin signifies Life, and durga Death.
Then, a prayer to Marduk, "And thou Marduk lord of mercy, who raisest death to life. Atta Marduk bil rimnu sha miti hidnda irammu, written [glyphs] (death) [glyphs] (life).—The Accadian has [glyphs] Durga Tila substituting Tila (life) for Tin of the former passage. Both words are equally common. Then follows, [glyphs], llil, libib, limmir "may it (the soul) ascend, soar high, and shine!" This phrase is repeated on various other tablets, so that the general meaning of it is apparent. The last line however is the most important: "And may the Sun, greatest of the gods, receive the saved soul into his holy hands!" [glyphs] Salmut-zu, 'his saved soul,' from salam to save. The Accadian has [glyphs] which is almost always the translation of the Assyrian salam. Manifestly this passage implies a judgment, the Sun being the judge, in which the souls of the righteous were saved, but others condemned. And such I find to have been the belief of the Assyrians. I will return to the subject, merely pointing it out here in passing.
I will consider next an interesting tablet, which may be entitled
The Death of the Righteous Man.
It is highly imaginative, and the meaning of some words being still unknown I cannot represent it by a continuous [p.31] translation. It begins I think by saying that heaven and earth sympathised with the sufferings of the sick man.
1. Tempest in heaven, lightning on earth, are raging.
2. Of the brave man who was so strong, his strength has departed.
3. Of the righteous servant, the force does not return.
4. In his bodily frame he lies dangerously ill.
5. But Ishtar smiles upon him with a placid smile,
6. And comes down from her mountain, unvisited of men.
7. At the door of the sick man she speaks.
8. The sick man turns his head:
9. Who is there? Who comes?
10. It is Ishtar, daughter of the moon-god Sin:
11. It is the god (...) son of Bel:
12. It is Marduk, son of the god (....).
13. They approach the body of the sick man.
(The next line 14 is nearly destroyed)
15. They bring a khisihta (jewel?) from their heavenly treasury:
16. They bring a sisbu from their lofty storehouse:
17. To the precious khisihta they pour forth a hymn.
18. That righteous man let him now depart!
19. May he rise as bright as that khisihta!
20. May he soar on high like that sishu!
21. Like pure silver may his figure shine!
22. Like brass may it be radiant!
23. To the Sun, greatest of the gods, may it return!
24. And may the Sun, greatest of the gods, receive the saved soul into his holy hands!
The words used in the list are the same as in the former instance. [glyphs] Sahnut-zu, 'his saved soul,' with the same Accadian translation [glyphs]. I will give the original text of the whole in an Appendix (No. I) to this paper.
Another word for 'a saved soul' was [glyphs] Sidmi, derived from the same verb salam to save. The Accadian translates it as before by [glyphs] Dirna. An example will be found on a tablet which the British Museum published some years ago (Rawlinson's Inscriptions, vol. 2, plate 18, col. ii, 54). The sick man is visited and comforted by the gods. Then we read as follows:
1. The departed man may he be in glory!
2. May his soul shine radiant as brass!
3. To that man
4. May the Sun give life!
5. And Marduk, eldest son of heaven
6. Grant him an abode of happiness!
See the original text in the Appendix (No. II).
They seem to have imagined the Soul like a bird with shining wings rising to the skies. It is curious that they considered polished brass to be more beautiful than gold. A modern poet would have written differently.
This point then seems fully proved—that the Sun received the spirits of just men into a heavenly abode of happiness.
But in fact I might have dispensed with all these proofs, and relied upon this single fact; namely that the great title of the Sun was "the Judge of Men."—For, as it is certain that men are not always judged in this world according to their merits, but that the wicked often remain prosperous to the end, the belief of the Assyrian must have been that there was a judgment after death. The Egyptians had the same belief—that the actions of men would be judged by Osiris: the good deeds against the evil weighed in a balance, and sentence pronounced accordingly.
The great name of the Sun in Assyrian theology was [glyphs]
Daian-nisi or Dian-nisi which means "the Judge of Men." Some years ago I
ventured to affirm that this name is the same with the Dionysus of the Greeks.1
All know that the worship of Dionysus was derived from the East—in very ancient
times, for he is mentioned by Homer. In the early mythologies the name of
Dionysus signified the Sun, for Herodotus says (iii, 8) that the only god
worshipped by the Arabians was Dionysus: now it is certain that the Arabians
worshipped the Sun, and the Assyrian records confirm this by saying that tribute
was brought by the Queen of the Arabians, who used to worship the Sun, Osiris
and Dionysus were the same, according to the judgment of Plutarch (Isis et
Osiris, cap. 28). And he quotes from Heraclitus that Dionysus was Hades. But
Hades, or Pluto, was fabled to be the judge of departed souls.
I will give some examples of the word Dian or Daian 'a judge,' which is evidently the Hebrew דין judex.
Nebuchadnezzar says in his great inscription iv, 29—
Ana Shems Dainu tsiri
To the Sun the Judge supreme
Bit Dian-nisi bit-zu
the temple of Dianisi, his temple,
3. in Babilim
4. in kupri u agurri
in bitumen and bricks
5. shakish ebus
grandly I built.
Here it is to be observed that [glyphs] is the Accadian or
ancient Babylonian word for 'men,' which is nisi in Assyrian. It occurs very
frequently on the tablets.
Another spelling of Dian-nisi is [glyphs] which has the same meaning "judge of men." This title of the Sun was not so much a mere title as an actual name. In proof of which I can point to a tablet (163 a and b, otherwise marked as 204) where no less than forty-eight short phrases or epithets of honour are all explained to mean the god [glyphs] just as the [Greek] of the Greeks, though originally only an epithet of the Sun (brilliant or fiery) became at a later period his proper name.
In the Annals of Ashurakhbal (R 18, 44) the king says: "At the beginning of my reign I sat proudly on my royal throne, holding my sceptre in my hand, &c. &c. And they held over me the umbrella of state, dedicated to the Sun"—whose name is thus written [glyphs] Shamas dian-nisi.
Another example from the Michaux stone (R 70, col., iii, 15). Whoever destroys this tablet, may the Sun the great judge of heaven and earth, condemn him!
Shems Daian rabu shamie u kiti
Sun the great of heaven and earth
judge him with judgment.
The Sun has also the epithet "Destroyer of the Wicked," which
I think must relate to a future judgment.
To resume.—Since the Assyrians believed in a judgment after death, it follows that the immortality of the soul was an established doctrine of their religion.
Mysteries of the Assyrian Religion.
An immense multitude of gods are found in the Assyrian Pantheon, but only a few of these appear to have been [p.35] worshipped with real fervour. Amidst the chaos of names a feeling of the real unity of the divine nature is visible. The phrase 'God and man' sometimes occurs. 'God and the King' is very frequent. No particular god is here named or intended, but the word [glyphs] is put absolutely, like the Greek [Greek], and may be translated either 'god' or 'heaven.' But besides their open and popular worship, the Assyrians had mysteries, as the Greeks and Egyptians had. The Egyptian mysteries of Isis and Osiris, and the Eleusinian mysteries of Ceres are well known. They probably produced a profound effect upon the imagination even of those who were indifferent to the ordinary religion. Horace, who was parous deoritm cultor et infrequens probably cared little if he heard one of his friends scoffing at the gods; but he would not embark in the same ship nor sleep under the same roof with a man
.... qui Cereris sacrum
Vulgarit arcanæ ....
The tablets in the British Museum are often very difficult to
understand. This arises partly from their broken and mutilated state, which
continually interrupts the reader. Very often, when an explanation of the
meaning appears to be coming, it is broken off, and so the part which remains
and can be deciphered is nearly useless. Hence, only an imperfect account can be
given at present of many branches of Assyrian learning. Enough is said in these
records to excite our curiosity, but not enough to give accurate knowledge.
I will however point out a class of tablets to which inquiry may be usefully directed, as being likely to lead us to some knowledge of the more esoteric doctrines of the Assyrian religion.
These tablets speak with awe and veneration of a certain object which they name the Mamit. In Assyrian it is written [glyphs] Mamitu, or [glyphs] Mamit. The Accadian has two names for it, viz. [glyphs] which I propose to read Namharu, and [glyphs] or Sakha. The first and primary meaning of Mamitu seems to be an Oath: not an [p.36] ordinary oath, but a solemn one invoking the gods to witness. In this sense it is used by Tiglath-Pileser (v. 11) who says: 'I pardoned the kings of the Nahiri for their rebellion, but I made them swear an oath by the great gods, to do faithful service to me in future.' Mamit ill rahi ana arkat iaini, ana tamu zati, ana ardutti utami sunuti. Here Mamit is written [glyphs], but in 2 R 65, 4 it is [glyphs] mamitu.
In still earlier times we find that the kings of Assyria and Babylonia bound themselves by a solemn oath to keep the peace towards each other (see 2 R 65, 4): mamitu ana akhati iddinu, 'an oath to each other they gave.' The etymology of the word is probably to be found in the verb ימא jurare, whence comes the Chaldee and Syriac מומתא jnramentum, which is almost exactly the Assyrian mamita. It occurs, frequently in the Syriac New Testament, ex. gr. Matth. v, 33, 'thou shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths.'
It has always been the custom, in order to add solemnity to an oath, to swear it in the presence of the most sacred objects, touching them, kissing them, or at any rate invoking them as witnesses. Thus, even in England, the custom remains to this day of kissing the Bible, when an oath is taken.
As a natural consequence, the oath itself and the sacred object on which it was sworn, obtained in course of time the same name. Thus, in Greece [Greek] meant 'an oath,' and also 'the object by which one swears; the witness of an oath,' as the Styx among the gods, [Greek]. (see Liddell and Scott's Lex.). And thus also in Assyria, Mamitu evidently became the name of that holy object in whose presence an oath was taken.
Now, what was the nature of this most venerated object? for that such it was, will appear in the sequel. This is a very difficult question. It appears to be something which came down from heaven, if we may judge from the two following lines, which are consecutive, and seem to correspond in meaning, and to imply the same object. Unluckily the ends of both lines are fractured.
1. Salmitu iiltu kireb abzi it
Salvation from the midst of the heavenly abyss descended
2. Mamitu ultu kireb shamie ur
Mamitu from the midst of heaven descended?
I think we may safely translate [glyphs] Salmitu by
'Salvation,' and these two lines therefore imply that in the mamitu was
salvation. The word abyss or heavenly ocean is used continually in the same
sense as heaven itself.
This makes one think of the Ancile which fell from heaven in the reign of Numa, and upon the safe preservation of which the safety of the Roman empire depended.
The Palladium of Troy also fell down from heaven, and was accounted to be the salvation of the city; for, when it was lost, the kingdom of Priam was overthrown.
A similar wonder was preserved at Ephesus. We read in the Acts of the Apostles (xix, 35) "Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter."
Again, at Pessinus in Phrygia was the heaven-fallen image of the great goddess Cybele. These objects of worship are supposed by many to have been aerolites or meteoric stones, a hypothesis which has great probability.
But was the Mamitu of the Assyrians a Palladium of this kind? This is doubtful: for documents of another kind have to be taken into consideration.
I return to the etymology of the word Mamitu. Syriac מומתא juramentum or sacramentum. This latter word appears to me to present a close analogy to the Assyrian mamitu. I will therefore consider (1) its primitive meaning in classical Latin, (2) its transitional meaning in the works of the Fathers of the Church, (3) its meaning in later times.
1. In the classical authors sacramentum meant 'an oath.'
Non ego perfidum
Dixi sacramentum .... (Hor.)
Etate fessos sacramento solvere, to absolve the old
soldiers from their oath. (Tacitus), [p.38] sive
primi sacra menti memoriam deponerent, he prayed the soldiers not to forget
their first oath. (Caesar).
2. In the Fathers of the Church the transitional sense is seen. Arnobius: 'Fidem rumpere Christianani et salntaiis militiae sacramentum deponere,' likening the Christian oath 'to be true to the faith,' to the pagan soldier's oath 'to be true to his leader and his standard.' Jerome says: 'Remember thy baptism, when, in sacrimenti verba jurasti.' Hence arose the phrase 'the sacrament of baptism.' So also Tertullian says of baptism, 'Cum in sacramenti verba respondimus, vocati sumus ad militiain Dei.' Elsewhere he uses the expressions, 'in baptismatis sacramento,' and 'admittere ad sacramenta baptismatis et eucharistise.'
But soon the word Sacramentum acquired the meaning of Mysterium. Jerome: 'The Veil is torn down, and all the sacraments (mysteries) of the law which formerly were hidden now are exposed to dew.' Fulgentius: 'Redemptionis mysterium, vel sacramentum.' Jerome: 'Crucis sacramentum.'
3. In more recent times the word sacrament has tended more and more to denote 'the holy Eucharist,' especially in Roman Catholic countries. No longer a solemn feeling of the mind only, but a visible tangible object of adoration. The Dictionnaire de l'Academie says: 'le Saint Sacrement est l'Eucharistie. On dit: le voiler: l'exposer: le porter aux malades.' The most solemn oaths were sometimes taken upon it; a curious trace of which remains in the English language, for I may state on the authority of Paley that the phrase 'a corporal oath ' meant an oath on the corporale or linen cloth surrounding the corpus domini or sacred host.2
My argument, as no doubt the reader will have perceived, is that the Assyrian word Mamitu passed through somewhat similar shades of meaning. At first only a solemn oath, it became a Mystery—of what nature I cannot guess. But who knows what the Orphic mysteries were? The passages [p.39] which I am about to adduce from the Assyrian tablets will show, I think, that had it been delivered by Orpheus himself the Mamit could not have been regarded with more profound veneration.
The first is a Hymn to the Mamit, which begins thus:
1. Mamit! Mamit! Treasure which passeth not away!
2. Treasure of the gods, which departeth not!
3. Treasure of heaven and earth, which shall not be removed!
4. The one god who never fails!
5. God and man are unable to explain it!
The Accadian version of the hymn begins similarly: Sakha!
Sakha! jewel not departing, &c. &c. From these remarkable but mysterious
lines we see that the Mamit was accounted to be divine—nay more—it was
the only god.
How this is to be explained I know not. Did the learned men of Babylonia perceive the falsehood of the popular religion? Were they convinced of the unity of the Divine Nature?
Fortunately the two texts, Assyrian and Accadian, are so very clear that it is impossible to doubt their meaning for a moment. And they both give the same meaning.
ilu ishtanu la muspilu.
The god One not failing.
The god One not passing away.
Let us proceed to the next line, which is equally mysterious.
IIu u amilu la ippassaru.
God and man not can explain.
The Chaldee verb Pasar
פשר to explain or interpret, is so
common in Assyrian that I do not see what other translation can be given. I am
not, indeed, well satisfied with it: but perhaps the Scribe meant to be
Let us now pass on to another tablet, which is quite different in nature, and yet leads us to the same conclusion that the Mamit was something of indescribable value. It is a hymn or chant in six stanzas, each of which, except the first, consists of ten lines. Each stanza terminates with the same burthen or refrain—in honour of the Mamit. It was apparently sung or chanted in one of the temples.
It is difficult to understand, but I think its general meaning is as follows:
"Supposing this Temple were to take fire and be consumed, in that day of danger what should a man do? What should he try to save?"
The stanzas give an answer to the question. At the commencement of each stanza, the priest apparently threw a log of wood (each time of a different kind) upon the flames of the altar, and as it consumed he sung as follows:
As this log of [Cedar] blazes in the fire and the burning fire consumes it
* * * *
* * * *
Care not to save the sacrificial victims
Nor the precious vestments of god and the king!
In that day, let the fire burn on,
But save the Mamit! place it in safety!
As this log of [Cypress] blazes in the fire
And the burning fire consumes it
* * * *
* * * *
Care not for the title deeds? nor the books of affairs
Regard not the [nabdan] of god and the king!
In that day, let the fire burn on,
But save the Mamit! place it in safety!
As this log of [pine wood] blazes in the fire
And the burning fire consumes it
* * * *
* * * *
Care not to save the newly-written books
Nor the golden vessels of god and the king!
In that day, let the fire burn on.
But save the Mamit! place it in safety!
And so on, for the other stanzas. Various precious objects
are named (some of unknown meaning) but each stanza ends with, "Care not for
them! Think not of them! but save the Mamit! place it in safety!" If this
song was sung by a chorus of voices, the intention may have been to impress upon
the minds of all the paramount value of this mysterious treasure, so that in
case of danger its safe removal should be the first thought of all. There are
four lines in each stanza which I have not translated, not being sure of the
In other tablets the Mamit is brought to the bedside of a sick man. Evil spirits are driven away by it, and it is said "they shall never return." There are numerous other scattered notices, which it would be well to collect and compare together.
I have omitted to mention the following gloss (2 R 10, 28) which was published some years ago, but has not been noticed by Assyrian scholars. It confirms the foregoing arguments.
Supar sa shna la idkri.
which I take to mean
"His jewel whose price cannot be valued"
is the Sakba otherwise called the Mamita.
Sapar, 'jewel.' שפרה.—Sima, 'price.'
[glyphs] or [glyphs]
see 2 R 13, 46. Idkri 'can be valued,' the opt. or potential mood of
יקר 'to value:' See Zechariah xi, 13. [Heb.] 'thy price at which I was
In my version of the preceding song, I have left the phrase 'nabdan of god and the king,' untranslated. But I have little doubt that nabdan [glyphs] 'musical instruments,' being the plural of nabd. Compare the Arab nobat (music), whence nobati 'a musician',—see Catafago's dictionary. And Richardson (p. 1608) has nobat-khanah or nobat-gah 'a music-gallery.'
Another example of the word occurs on the obelisk (1. 70), where the King says that he reached with his army the source of the Tigris, ashar mutzu sha mie sahm, 'where the fountains of its waters are situate.' Great rejoicings followed. The king erected a statue of himself, with an inscription relating his heroic deeds. He then adds: 'I made joyful music,' nabdan khudut askun [glyphs].
Appendix No. 1.
The cuneiform text of the inscription which I have called the "death of the righteous man" is as follows:—
Dihu as shamie rakis as kiti innassikh.
Tempest in heaven lightning on earth Images.
Sha itli bil emuki emuki-su itatti
Of the brave man master of strength, his strength has departed.
Sha ardat: damikti itza val utara
Of the servant righteous, his force not returns.
Sha as zumri marsish saknu
The man in body very sick lies.
Ilat Ishtar sha as nukkhi ulsi ullanus-su
The dicine Ishtai; she with benignity smiled upon him,
maimnau la ibasu sadi userida
[where] no one never dwelt her mountain descended.
Ana binat amili muttalliki
At the door of the man sick she spoke.
Amilu .... etimat
The man moved.
Mannu inakkit? manuu usatba?
Who is there? Who comes?
Ishtar marat ili Sin
Ishtar daughter of the god Sin.
Ilu (...) mar Bil
The god (....) son of Bel.
Ilu Marduk mar (.....)
The god Marduk son of (...)
Zumri amili inuttal-liki usatbu
The body of the man sick they approached.
[The next line 14 is nearly destroyed.]
Khisibta slia islitu tartatsi illu upluni
A jewel which from the treasury exalted they brought.
Sisbu sha islitu zuburi illu upluni
A sisbu which from the storehouse exalted they brought.
Ana kbisibti illiti sha tarbatsi illu sibta idima
To the jewel splendid of the treasury exalted a hymn give.
Amilu tar ili-su lubbit-ma
The man son of his god let him depart!
Amilu su kima khisibti lilil
That man like that jewel very he he bright!
kima sisbi suatu litabbib
Like sisbi that may he shine!
21. [glyphs] (....)
Kima kaspi binit (....) russu-su laddankit
Like silver way his he shining white pure
Kima kiebar lilunmakli
Like brass may it he resplendent!
Ana Shems asarat ilun pikitzu-ma
To the Sun greatest of the gods [is] its return, and
Sliems asarat ilim salmutzu ana kati (...) libkit
The Sun greatest of the gods the saved soul unto hands his may he receive!
Notes and Observations.
1. Innassukh may be the Chald. נשק 'to set on fire.'
2. Itatti is perhaps the T conjugation of the verb אתא 'to depart.'
3. Itza may be עז 'robur.' But the writing is somewhat effaced, and perhaps we should read [glyphs] ismi 'force.'
6. 'She descended from her mountain.' The Assyrian Olympus.
7. Itkhi-ma. Perhaps this should be translated 'she knocked,' from תקע percussit.
8. Etinat, seems a conjugation of מוט 'to move'—'motus est loco' (Schindler). 'His head' is found in the Accadian version, though wanting in the Assyrian.
9. 'Who is there? Who comes?' This is very quaint. The Accadian renders both clauses alike. Aba zizi? aba zizi? [glyphs].
Inakkit appears to come from נגד coram. Mannu inahkit! quis coram? But this is doubtful. The letter may be [glyphs] and not [glyphs], and the word may be innaskit. Mannu innaskit? Quis occurrit? from נשק occurrit: see Psalm 85, 10.
Usatha is the istaphel conjugation of the verb בא venit, intrat, ingreditur.
13. Usathu 'they approach,' is another example of the same verb.
17. Sihta [glyphs]. The Accadian has [glyphs] Kakama 'song' or 'hymn.'
18. 'Son of his god.' This phrase is very often used in the sense of 'religious' or 'pious,' or 'accepted of God.'
'let him depart.' Arab. נבד discessit, aufugit (Schindler). A tense of this
verb innabit (he fled) is very common.
21. Birut from בר purus. But the reading is doubtful.
Laddanhit optative T conjugation of a verb נקד which means 'pure' or 'white' in Syriac, and is used in that language as an epithet of white linen, and milk, see Matth. xxvii, 59 and 1 Peter ii, 2. Or, more simply, from the common verb נקה or נקא purus fuit; the final T being frequently added in Assyrian.
22. Lilimmukh, reading doubtful, but may be the optative of Arab. למא to shine or glitter, which also takes the form למה (see Catafago's dict. p. 206). The verb is used to express 'the shining of the skin,' which is very suitable to the present passage.
Appendix No. II.
Amilu uttalliku as nikrimi
The man departed? in glory.
Sulmi kima kiebar lilininiakh.
His soul like brass may it shine!
The sun may it give him life.
Marduk tar reslitu sha absi ma
Marduk son eldest of the Ocean, also
dimmu dinuku kumniu
grant him a happy habitation.
1. Nikrimi, seems related to Arab. כרמ to be glorified-see Schindler.
2. Lilimmakh is the verb we had before to express the shining of brass.
6. Is doubtful, because the first letter is effaced, and another inscription has hunnu dummuk-umma.
It is said in line 6 of the former inscription that Ishtar descended from her mountain. In fact 'Lady of the Mountain' was one of her chief titles. Nebuchadnezzar says: (E. I. H. 4, 14) 'I built a temple to the great goddess my mother, the goddess Nin Harrissi' (i.e. lady of the mountain) written [glyphs]. And Mr. G. Smith (Early History of Babylonia, p. 19) gives an Accadian inscription of great antiquity, addressed to Ri lady of the mountain (Nin Harris).
By H. F. Talbot, F.R.S., &c.
Read 1st April, 1873.
WHEN the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity they
brought with them a multitude of new opinions and superstitions, which had not
been known in former times; and also some much purer doctrines, among which, was
preeminent a belief in the immortality of the soul, which, after the captivity,
was universally received, except by the sect of the Sadducees, who rejected it.
I have already given some proofs from the tablets that this doctrine was held by
the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians, and during their long captivity the Jews
adopted the belief, and retained it ever after. At the same time they accepted
many other opinions which they found prevalent in the land of their captivity.
The Babylonians believed most strongly in Demoniacal possession; in the power of
exorcism; in charms, talismans, and holy water; in the constant presence of good
and evil spirits, angels, and demons, some merely fantastic, others very hurtful
Among other things the Jews brought from Babylon the names of their 12 months, Nisan, Iyyar, Sivan, Tammuz, &c., which are foreign and not Hebrew words; and these have now been found on Babylonian tablets, agreeing exactly both in name and order, which, be it said in passing, is a convincing proof of the correctness of Assyrian decipherment.
It may not be without interest to bring forward some instances of accordance between these ancient Eastern writings and the opinions of the Jews. Those who are able to search the Talmud would probably find an ample store of coincidences; but I shall confine myself to comparing certain passages of the Bible with some phrases of the Assyrian tablets.
I will first give several parallel passages from the Old Testament, and then some much closer ones from the New Testament.
§ 1. Power of the Deity
A celebrated passage in the song of Moses, Exod. xv, 11, is the following:—
Who is like unto thee, Lord, among the gods
Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, &c., &c.
It has been conjectured that the Maccabees inscribed these words upon their flag:—
Who is like thee among the gods, Jehovah?
[Heb.] or rather, the initial letters of the words, namely, מכב, which may be read Maccabee, and it is supposed they took their name from their flag. But be that as it may, it is interesting to find a similar thought written on one of the tablets; thus:—
Who can compare with thee, Ninib son of Bel?
Thou didst not stretch forth thy hand ....
[The rest is broken off—perhaps it stood "thou didst not stretch forth thy hand in vain"]. Elsewhere we find:
O thou! thy words who can learn? who can rival them?
Among the gods thy brothers, thou hast no equal.
The following is part of an address to some deity:—
In heaven who is great? Thou alone art great!
On earth who is great? Thou alone art great!
When thy voice resounds in heaven, the gods fall prostrate!
When thy voice resounds on earth, the genii kiss the dust!
This passage appears to me to approach the spirit of Hebrew poetry.
§ 2. Resemblance of some peculiar phrases.
In Psalm cxli, 3, the following phrase occurs: "Set a watch, Lord, before my mouth: keep the door of my lips." This phrase I also find on a tablet:
The god my creator, may his watchfulness never cease!
Keep thou the door of my lips! guard thou my hands,
O Lord of light!
In a previous line of the same Psalm cxli we read: "Let the
lifting up of my hands be as the evening sacrifice!"
This phrase, 'the lifting up of my hands,' Nish hati-ya, is constantly employed on the tablets in lieu of the word Prayer. Example:
Shems ana nish kati-ya kula-mma
Sun to the lifting up of my hands show favour!
It is a close translation of the Accadian term for "prayer,"
viz.: [glyphs] su gathula (from su 'hand,' gathula 'to
Obs. Kida-mma in the foregoing line is the Heb. כול to receive, support, sustain, regard favourably. Lat. tueri.
§ 3. Self-mutilation.
The following is an illustration of a passage in the 1st Book
of Kings xviii, 26, the well known history of Elijah contending with the 450
prophets of Baal. It is there written: "They called on the name of Baal from
morning even until noon, saying, 'Baal hear us!' But there was no voice, nor any
that answered. And it came to pass at noon that Elijah mocked them and said 'Cry
aloud!' And they cried aloud, and cut themselves AFTER THEIR MANNER with knives
and lancets till the blood gushed out upon them."
The writer of this history drew no ideal picture. A tablet shows the existence of this savage custom, and that it was accounted highly meritorious. [p.53] After saying, "The man who worships not his god shall be cut down like a reed," it continues:
He who stabs his flesh in honour of Ishtar, the goddess unrivalled,
Like the stars of heaven he shall shine: like the river of night he shall flow!
By 'the river of night' I understand the Milky Way; for this
would bring the two metaphors into harmony.
Judging from the greatness of the glory promised, perhaps this passage means, "He who slays himself in honour of Ishtar," &c. &c. For the verb employed is the Hebrew שחט, which both in Hebrew and on the tablets means 'to sacrifice a victim,' as in Leviticus i, 5; and even a human victim, Genesis xxii, 10.
I am not aware whether self-immolation was a passport to the highest heaven in other religious systems.
§ 4. The custom of prostration before a superior being,
Tobit xii, 15. "When the angel said 'I am Raphael,' then they
were troubled, and fell upon their faces: for they feared."
With this compare a passage from a tablet: "With repeated sacrifices, and uplifting of hands, and falling flat on my face, every day that I live I have worshipped him."
This is exactly the phrase used in Numbers xxii, 31, "When Balaam saw the Angel of the Lord he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face." The authorised version is correct, for such is the meaning, although the Hebrew has not the word flat. For the Assyrian writers use the phrase frequently and always add the epithet 'fled.' Here is an example of it from another tablet:
Before his god in prayer he fell flat on his face.
These phrases may suffice, taken from the Old Testament. I now proceed to some opinions of the later Jews.
§ 5. Magic knots.
Justin Martyr, speaking of the Jewish exorcists, says,
[Greek]. These [Greek] were magic ties or knots (Liddell and Scott, quoting
Plato). A similar usage prevailed among the Babylonians, as appears from a
tablet. I can only give a few lines of it, the remainder is too difficult and
The god Marduk wishes to soothe the last moments of a dying man. His father Hea says:
Go, my son!
Take a woman's linen kerchief,
Bind it round thy right hand: loose it from the left hand,
Knot it with seven knots: do so twice;
Bind it round the head of the sick man;
Bind it round his hands and feet, like manacles and fetters:
Sit down on his bed:
Sprinkle holy water over him:
The gods will receive his dying spirit.
I have abridged the last few lines.
§ 6. Talismans, Amulets, and Phylacteries.
There is a great deal in the tablets about the cure of
diseases. I do not find any mention of the use of medicine: They seem to have
relied wholly on charms and incantations.
The first step was to guard the entrance of the sick man's chamber. A tablet says:
That nothing Evil may enter, place at the door the god (....) and the god (.....).
That is to say, their images. I believe these were little
figures of the gods, brought by the priests, perhaps a sort of Seraphim.
The following line is more explicit:
Place the guardian statues of Hea and Marduk at the door, on the right hand and on the left.
But they added to this another kind of protection:
Right and left of the threshold of the door spread out holy texts or sentences.
Place on the statues, texts bound around them (masi kissuruti).
These must have been long strips like ribbons, of parchment or papyrus. The following line is still clearer:
In the night time bind around the sick man's head, a sentence taken from a good book.
The word which I have rendered 'book' is [glyphs] dupti.
This word, of frequent occurrence, is usually rendered 'a tablet,' but here the
context shows that it must have been a paper or parchment writing. Add to which,
that the word dupti, which in Chaldean is דפ tabula, is used in
Rabbinic literature for folium libri and pagina. These holy texts
bound round the limbs, appear to have been the origin of the [Greek] or
phylacteries of the Jews, which, as the name imports (from [Greek] to guard
oneself) were considered to be protections from all evil. Schleusner in his
lexicon of the N. Test. says they were 'laminæ
seu schedee membranacege quibus inscriptte erant variee legis Mosaicae sectiones:
quia Judaei credebant inesse his ligamentis vim ad avertenda quasvis mala,
maxime ad damwnes fugandos ut apparet ex Targum ad Cantic. Vlll, 3.' And he adds
that they were fastened on the forehead and left arm, Justin Martyr says they
were written on very thin membranes.
The word which I have rendered 'text' or 'sentence' is masal, which is very interesting, being exactly the same as the Hebrew word xxx which Gesenius renders sententia and [Greek]. He also says it means a Carmen in general, of that kind where each verse consists of two half verses of the same meaning and form. Now it is remarkable that the Chaldaean tablets abound in verses of that kind, so that if one half of the line is intelligible the other may be guessed at, and frequently with success. But sometimes instead of masal we find masa with the same meaning. Here again the Hebrew [p.56] agrees, having the word משא sententia, see Gesenius, who quotes this passage of Proverbs:
The words of King Lemuel: the sentences (משא) which his mother had taught him. Proverbs xxxi, 1.
§ 7. Demoniacal possession.
This is a very frequent subject of the tablets. The following one was published long ago in the 2nd vol. of British Museum Inscriptions, pl. 18. It says of a sick man:
"May the goddess wife of the god pani-su ana ashi shanuma likiin, turn his face in another direction; udukku siuli litzi-ma, as akhati lizbat, that the Evil Spirit may come out of him and be thrust aside: sidi tuki, lamassi tuki as zumri-su lu-kayan, that good spirits and good powers may dwell in his body."
I have already mentioned that divine images were brought into the chamber and written texts taken from holy books were placed on the walls and bound around the sick man's brows. If these failed recourse was had to the influence of the mamit, which the evil powers were unable to resist.
§ 8. The Mamit used as a Charm.
The account of this in pl. 17 of vol. 2 British Museum Inscriptions, contains only the Accad version, the Assyrian being broken off except a mere fragment. It says:
Take a white cloth. In it place the Mamit, in the sick man's right hand. And take a black cloth; wrap it round his left hand
Then all the evil spirits [a long list of them is given] and the sins which he has committed shall quit their hold of him, and shall never return.
The symbolism of the black cloth in the left hand seems evident. The dying man repudiates all his former evil deeds. And he puts his trust in holiness symbolized by the white cloth in his right hand. [p.57] The Accadian language being difficult, some part of the above is doubtful. There are some obscure lines about the spirits.
Their heads shall remove from his head:
Their hands shall let go his hands:
Their feet shall depart from his feet:
which perhaps may be explained thus: We learn, from another tablet, that the various classes of evil spirits troubled different parts of the body. Some injured the head, some the hands and feet, &c., &c. Therefore the passage before us may mean: "The spirits whose power is over the hand, shall loose their hands from his," &c., &c. But I can offer no decided opinion on such obscure points of their superstition.
§ 9. Various New Testament passages.
I now proceed to point out several remarkable resemblances
with passages in the New Testament.
The following striking passage occurs in what may well be called, a penitential psalm.
O my Lord! be not angry with thy servant!
In the waters of the great storm, seize his hand!
In reading this, it is impossible not to think of Christ and Peter walking on the waves in the midst of the storm. And he cried saying, Lord save me! and immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand and caught him. Matth. xiv, 31.
§ 10. Inherited or imputed Sins.
I come next to an extraordinary opinion which was held by the
disciples of Jesus, but which their Master promptly rebuked (John ix, 1-3). And
as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his
disciples asked him saying, Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that
he was born blind? Jesus answered. Neither hath this man sinned, nor his
It is interesting to find this belief very strongly expressed upon a Chaldean tablet, and we hence see that the Jews derived this superstitious notion from the East. In this [p.58] tablet, a man is grievously tormented by pains, which are attributed to Evil Spirits. The god Marduk hears his cries and takes pity on him. He hastens to the abode of his father the god Hea and takes counsel with him. Hea among other things advises him to unfold the Mamit, and to say:
Depart, thou evil spirit, from his body!
Whether thou art the sin of his father
Or whether thou art the sin of his mother
Or whether thou art the sin of his elder brother
Or whether thou art the sin of some one who is unknown.
The Accadian text agrees closely. It is evident that these sins or curses only descended. They could not ascend from a younger brother to an elder. I have translated the word [glyphs] amit 'sins' rather than 'curses' (which it means in some texts) because I find the word [glyphs] aran very plainly used in the sense of 'sins' in a prayer to the Sun: "Sun! absolve his sins: put away his trespasses!"
§ 11. The holy number Seven.
The Book of Revelations (i, 4) speaks of the seven spirits which are before the throne of God, and likens them to seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, and to seven eyes (Rev. iv, 5 and v, 6). Commentators explain this by saying that seven was a holy and a mystical number among the Jews. And we now find that it was still more so among the Babylonians, for the doctrine is stated most emphatically in the tablets—for instance in the following:
Song of the Seven Spirits.
They are seven! they are seven!
In the depths of Ocean they are seven!
In the heights of Heaven they are seven!
In the Ocean stream, in a Palace they were born!
Male they are not! Female they are not!
Wives they have not! Children are not born to them!
Rule they have not! Government they know not!
Prayers they hear not!
They are seven! and they are seven! Twice over they are seven!
I have omitted some obscure lines of this curious song. The
spirits of this tablet seem to have been neither very good nor very bad. It was
different with others of their race, as I shall show elsewhere.
Now let us turn to a remarkable text of the New Testament, Matth. xii, 43; Luke xi, 26. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out, and when he is come he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he and taketh with himself, seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in, and dwell there.
Probably our Lord on this occasion used popular language, and if so, we may conclude that it was a long-standing opinion among the Jews, that Spirits of whatever nature, whether the holiest or the most impure, by virtue of their nature were numbered by sevens. So also were the Angels (see Tobit xii, 15): "I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels which present the prayers of the Saints and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One." And in Revelations xv, 6: "Seven angels came out of the Temple."
To return however to the subject of seven evil spirits at once entering into a man, there are frequent allusions to them, and to their expulsion, on the tablets. One runs thus:
The god (....) shall stand by his bed side:
Those seven evil spirits he shall root out, and expel them from his body.
And those seven shall never return to the sick man again!
§ 12. Sins and Trespasses.
Again we meet with the mystical number seven, when sins and
trespasses are spoken of in the New Testament: [p.60]
Luke xvii, 4. "O thy brother trespass against thee seven times in a day,
and seven times in a day return again to thee praying, I repent: thou shalt
But the most remarkable saying of our Lord on this subject, was in reply to Peter. Matth. xviii, 21, "Then Peter came to him and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? till seven times?' Jesus said unto him, I say not until seven times, but until seventy times seven."
Everybody understands that Jesus here used a proverbial or idiomatic expression, implying a great but indefinite number. Had such an expression not been readily intelligible he would not have used it. But it was deeply rooted in the Semitic idiom, as the following words of an Assyrian prayer plainly show:
O my god! my sins are seven times seven!
The penitent then turns to his goddess, beginning, 'my goddess!' and repeats the same confession. Here are some further portions of this Assyrian psalm:
O my Lord! my sins are many, my trespasses are great:
Wherefore the wrath of the gods has plagued me with disease
And with sickness and sorrow.
I fainted: but no one stretched forth his hand!
I cried aloud: but no one heard me!
A few lines afterwards, the penitent hopes for pardon:
But Lord! save thy servant!
And the sins which he has sinned turn thou to holiness!
These instances will show that the study of these ancient tablets may be of use in illustrating some points of Biblical phraseology.
Containing the Cuneiform text, with notes and observations.
For facility of reference the texts are placed in the order in which they occur in my memoir.
Ninib billi mar Bel maunii isannan
O Ninib Lord, son of Bel, who can compare with thee?
it-ka la tassa ..... (word lost)
thy hand not thou liftest up ....
Note.—The Accadian version agrees: it-zu nu mun-gatluda. Gathula is the usual word for 'lifting up.' This is from Tablet K 2862, 4 R 13.
ka-ata amat-ka mannu ilammad mannu isanan
thou! thy lord who shall learn, who shall rival?
as ili atkhi-ka makhiri val tisi
among the gods thy brothers, an equal not thou hast.
Notes.—Atkhi for al-ki (brothers) occurs frequently on the tablets. But it is a singular usage. It was probably pronounced Atthi. The Accadian version leaves no doubt of the meaning. [glyphs] brothers thy among. Makhira val isu (he has no equal) is a very common phrase. But it is rare to find it in the second person tisi (thou hast).—Tablet K 2831, 4R 9.
as sami mannu tsiru atta edissi-ka tsirat
in heaven who (is) great? thou only thou (art) great!
as kiti mannu tsuu atta edissi-ka
on earth who (is) great? thou only thou [art great].
ka-ata amat-ka izakkar-ma ili appa ilabbinu
thou thy voice in heaven resounds, the gods (on) their face fall flat:
as kin thou thy voice on earth
izakar-ma Anuniiaki kakkaru iinasaku
resounds, the Genii the dust kiss.
Note.—Observe the two spellings of the word izakkar. From the same Tablet, 1. 54.
Nmi bani-ya ida ai liz
the god my creator (his) care never may it cease.
mutzu pi-ya sutisur, kataya
the door of my lips keep thou; my hands
sutisir-amma bil nuri
guard likewise Lord of light!
Note.—Nini 'a god' occurs not unfrequently: see Syllab. 688 [glyphs] nini ili, and my Glossary No. 420. The above is found on Tablet K 256, 4 R 17.
la palikh ilu-su kina kani ikhtazzi
not worshipping his god, like a reed shall he cut down.
Sha Ishtar pakida la isu siri-su usukkhath
He who (for) Ishtar (who) an equal not has his flesh stabs
kiiua kakkab shamumi izarrur kinia mie musi illak
like a star of heaven he shall shine, like the river of night he shall flow.
Notes.—Ikktazzi. T conjugation of [glyphs] to cut.
Usukkhath, 'stabs': as it were sacrificially. This is the Heb. שתט mactavit pecudem, and is the word specially employed in Hebrew for 'slaying a victim.' The Accadian version has [glyphs] papaga 'to sacrifice,' which agrees well.
Illak, 'shall flow.' The verb [glyphs] is frequently used of a river, whence [glyphs] its 'flow' or 'course.' Tablet K 31 09, 4R 3.
ikribi-ya sunuldiuti nisli kati-ya u laban appi-ya sba tami sani? abullu ustamimii-su
with my sacrifices repeated, (and) uplifting of my hands and falling flat on my face on day every (that) I lived I have worshipped him.
Notes.—[glyphs] very often means 'every.' I am not sure
whether it was pronounced sam.
Ustaninnu is a conjugation of utnin to pray, and related to unninni prayers. Tablet K 3444, 4 R 20.
ana iki-su as uuniui appa-su ilabbin
before his god in prayer, (on) his face he fell flat.
The above is from Tablet K 4899, 4 R 27.
pasaktu imna latsib-ma sumila litzib
a female linen kerchief (on thy) right hand bind? (on thy) left hand leave loose.
kitsir sibit kutzur-ma
with knots seven, knot it.
adi sina kaksu marzi ruzu-ma
times twice, the head of the sick man bind it round.
kishacl marzi ruzu-ma
the brows of the sick man bind it round:
(and on) his hands and feet like fetters, also.
usa-su lisib-ma mie sibti eli-su idi-ma
his bed sit down upon: (and) water pure? over him cast.
From Tablet K 31G9, 4 R 3.
Notes.—Line 1. [glyphs] 'female.' The word often occurs, but
I do not know its pronunciation.
Pasaktu. Heb. פשת linum.
Line 2. Heb. קשר ligavit, whence subst. kitzir, and verb kutzur.
Sibit 'seven.' The Accadian always renders it by the numeral sign [glyph].
Adi 'times.' Heb. עת tempus. The Accadian employs the same
word, viz. [glyphs] Adu.
Sina 'two.' Heb. שנא, The Accadian renders it by the numeral sign [glyph].
Line 3. Ruzu, to bind. Heb. רצע 'lorum,' a band or strap.
Line 4 has almost the same meaning as line 3. I think these lines were alternative: the reader selected the one which he preferred.
Line 5. Mishriti is explained (here and elsewhere) by the Accadian [glyphs] 'hands and feet.'
Tsinkish adv. 'like fetters,' from Heb. צנק 'a fetter.'
Line 6. Irsa 'a bed.' Heb. ערש 'lectus.' The Accadian has [glyphs] 'a conch.'
Line 7. Sihti. Accadian [glyphs] Namru, 'bright.'
Ana nin sini nu tie ilu ilu as babi
That nothing evil not may enter, the god (...) and the god (..) at the door [place].
Note.—Sini. The Accadian renders it [glyphs] evil.
Tie. Accad. [glyphs] a verb which seems usually to mean "to enter and hurt." This line is on Tablet K3197, 4R21.
Zalam mazzari sha ili Hea u ili (Marduk) ana babu imna u kabbu
The statues guardian of the god Hea and the god Marduk at the door, on the right and left (place).
[Same Tablet, line 38]
Note.—Zalam. The Accadian version has the monogram for
Mazzari. The Accadian has [glyphs] 'guardian,' or 'watching over.'
Marduk. The name is lost in the Assyrian text, but restored from the Accadian: as is also part of the word kabbu.
The lines which I have next quoted, from the same Tablet, are much broken.
Masi muntaksi as sibbi babi inma u sumila
Sentences spread out ... upon the threshold of the door right and left [place].
Note.—Masi. Heb. משא sententia. The
Accadian version has [glyphs] the plural of [glyph] Mas, which is
frequently used on the tablets for 'sentence,' in such phrases as 'this tablet
has twenty sentences,' which on counting them I have found to be correct.
Muntaksi. Heb. נטש expansus est. Fuerst says to stretch, extend, spread out.
Sihhi. Heb. and Chald. ספ limen: threshold.
sina zalam masi kitzuruti
(On) the two statues [place] the sentences bound around them.
[Same Tablet, line 18.]
Note.—Kitzuruti is another word derived from the root קשר. Gesenius renders it fascia 'a band,' and 'alligavit sibi cinguli instar.' This verb קשר is the one used in the following passage of Deuteronomy, which is so illustra- [p.69] tive of this Assyrian tablet concerning phylacteries, that I will quote it at length. "Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart, and (קשר) bind them for a sign upon your hand, and as frontlets between your eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates"—Deut. xi, 18. These holy words, thus commanded to be bound round the hand, and the brows, were doubtless written on parchment, and it may reasonably be concluded that the Assyrian masi were so likewise.
as musi masal as dupti dabti as mailu as rish amilu muttallika lukayan
ill the night-time a sentence out of a book good, in his bed upon the head of the man sick bind.
[Tablet K 111, 4 R 15.]
Notes.—Masai. Heb. משל sententia. The
Accadian renders it [glyphs].
Kayan, to make fast: to stand fast. Heb. כון confirmavit. This verb is frequent.
Mailu, sometimes [glyphs] mayal 'a bed.' From the Arabic מול or מאל to recline. Schindler p. 983. So in Greek [Greek] 'a bed' from [Greek], to lie down. The Accadian version agrees, having [glyphs] 'a bed.'
Muttallik I derive doubtfully from [Greek] cecidit
super lectum (Schindler). Buxtorf gives examples of this verb: among them
the following, [Heb.] 'et ceciderit in lectum segrotus.' These three
words in their Assyrian form are all very common on the tablets, and therefore I
think they support each other as being identical with the Chaldee roots which I
The next passage is written in the difficult Accadian language, and I cannot translate the whole of it. It is published in the 2nd vol. of Rawlinson's British Museum Inscriptions, plate 17, line 55.
Cloths white two
sakba it banin-shar
the Mamit in his hand wrap around.
Cloths black two
it kabbu ani tuba banhi-shar
hand left his wrap around.
A long list of evil daemons follows, and it is said of them—
head his from:
hands their, hand his from:
feet their, foot his from (shall depart?)
never shall they come to injure (him)
never shall they return.
A small portion of the end of the Assyrian version remains, which serves to confirm the Accadian. It gives [glyphs] kati-sun, their hands. [glyphs] sepi-sun their feet. Baran is translated [glyphs] Ai 'never.' We had the Accadian verb [glyphs] 'come and hurt' in a passage which I quoted before, [glyphs] 'that nothing evil may enter' (the sick man's chamber). And the verb [glyphs] is very frequent, being usually rendered by the Assyrian tir 'to return.'
Billi ardu-ka la tasakip
my Lord! thy servant do not let fall!
as mie rutakti nadi
in the waters of the storm great
his hand seize!
[Tablet K 2811, 4 R 10.]
Note.—Billi. The final i is the pronoun, ns
appears from the Accadian version which has [glyph] (my).
Rutakti (storm). The whole importance of the passage depends upon this word. I will therefore show by another very clear example that it is correctly translated. In Mr. Smith's Annals of Assurbauipal, p. 192, there is an account of the shipwreck of Tammaritu king of Elam, which begins thus: "The ship of Tammaritu, which a whirlwind and a storm ([glyphs] rutalctu) had caught ([glyphs] idatu).' The word omtahu is derived from the Heb. רתח astuavit: commovit: ebullivit.
Mamit-zu busur-ma, mamit-zu buthur-ma.
The mamit for him unfold, the mamit for him bring forth.
Limnu dalkhu sha zumri-su
Evil spirit disturber of his body
Lu arrat abi-su
Whether the sin of his father;
lu arrat ummi-su
or whether the sin of his mother:
lu arrat akli-rabi
or whether the sin of his elder brother:
lu-irrat sakluti sha amili
or whether the sin of a man
[K 65, 4 K 7.]
Notes.—Line 1. Bimir. The Accadian version has
[glyphs] passur, which generally means 'explicavit.'
Buthur. Heb. פטר emissus est: apertus est: exivit.
Line 6. Nu tzu is Accadian. Words of that language frequently occur in the Assyrian text. Usually the scribe translates nu tzil by la idu, but here he has not done so.
Shems as kibiti-ka innit-zu lippadir
Sun by thy word his sins absolve,
his trespasses remove.
[K 256, 4 R 17.]
Notes.—Lippadir. Heb. פטר liberavit.
Aran is rendered by the Accadian word which generally renders 'sins' or 'trespasses.' Linnasihh. Heb. גסר to take away.
Song of the Seven Spirits.
Sibitti sun, sibitti sun
Seven they are, seven they are,
as nagab abzie sibitti sun
in the stream of Ocean seven they are,
as zunuti shamic sibitti sun
ill the light of heaven seven they are
as nao-ab abzie irbu-sun
in the stream of Ocean as in a palace they were born,
val zilvaru sun, val smi
not male they are, not female they are.
assatu val ikhzu, mam val aldu sun.
wives not they have, a child not is horn to them.
Edira gamala val idu
Order and government not they know:
ikriba taslita? val isimmu
prayers not they hear:
sibitti sun, sibitti sun,
seven they are, seven they are,
sibit adi sina sun.
seven times two they are.
[Tablet K 3121, 4 R 2.]
Notes.—Line 2. Nagab. Another copy has [glyphs]
Line 3. Zunuti. This word is doubtful.
Line 4. Kummi "a palace" is not unfrequent. The Accadian version has [glyphs] 'Royal house.'
Line 5. Zikaru. The other copy has [glyphs] Zik-ru. The Accadian version has [glyphs] 'male,' and [glyphs] 'female.'
Line 6. Assat or Ashat 'a wife,' is frequent. It is the Heb. אשת.
Ikhzu: probably the Heb. אחז to possess.
Line 7. Edira and Gamala are usually joined together.
Edira is 'order' or 'rule.' Heb. עדר ordinavit.
Line 8. Taslita is doubtful, but may mean 'prayers,' from Chald. צלא 'to pray.'
Line 9. Sina. The Accadian version has the numeral [glyphs].
Ilu ana rabitzuti-su lizziz.
The god of fire at his bedside shall stand:
Siimti sibitti su lisshinursu-ma as zu-su latrud
Wicked ones seven those he shall root out, and from his body he shall expel:
ana marzi sibitti sun ai itkliu
to the sick man those seven never shall return.
[Tablet K 111, 4 R 15.]
Notes.—Line 1. Lizziz, from Ziz to stand. More
clearly written in line 49 of this tablet [glyphs].
Line 2. Asshursu, probably from שרש radix.
Latrud, opt. of the verb tarud 'to expel,' Chald. טרר ejecit, which occurs frequently on the tablets.
Zu 'the body' is Accadian. The Assyrian is Zumur, but they frequently employ the Accadian form Zu for brevity.
Marzi 'sick' occurs very often on the tablets. Arabic marid (sick) Catafago's dictionary; which Schindler writes מרצ. In fact the letter [Arab.] answers to the Heb. צ in various words as צבוע hyena; צחק 'to laugh,' &c., &c.
Itkhu is [glyphs] in the Accadian version, which generally means "to come or return."
Sins and Trespasses.
The first passage which I have quoted under this head is in the Accadian language: it has no Assyrian translation annexed to it.
O god mine, my sins (are) seven times seven.
O mother goddess mine [remainder the same as in line 1.]
[Tablet K 2811, 4 R 10, col. II, 45.]
Note.—The syntax is "seven (repeated) seven times": compare the passage quoted previously, "seven (repeated) two times."
The following is from the same Tablet, col. I.
Billi annu-a niahida raba khidatu-a
my Lord I my sins are many, great (are) my trespasses!
Billi as ukkum libbi-su ikkilman-anni
my Lord in the anger of his heart smote me
Hi as uzzi libbi-su usamkhir-anni
my god in the fiery (wrath) of his heart sent me plagues.
Ishtar eli-ya izbuz-ma martsish usiman-aimi
Ishtar upon me sent troubles, perilously she poisoned me
astanihi-ma manman gati val izabit
I fainted, and no one my hand not took
kubie agabbi, manman val spohe, isiman-anni
loud words (but) no one not heard me.
Notes.—Line 2. Ikkilma, from Arabic
כלמ to wound or
injure (Furst, p. 663).
Line 3 is an alternative line to 2. Uzzi 'fire' or 'fiery,' is rendered here, and often elsewhere, by the Accadian [glyphs]
Umniklnr. S conjugation of Mahhar, to send a plague, or dire disease, see the Annals of Assurbanipal, p. 118.
As tami-su-ma niildiru imkhar-su
In those same days a plague attacked him.
Line 4. Izbuz may be from root
Usiman. Chald. סמ venenum. Arab. sammam 'to poison' (Cataf.). On the first Michaux stone, one of the curses is, "May the goddess Gula afflict his body with poison that cannot be healed," simma la azza [glyphs].
Line 5. Astanihi is the tan conj. of שתה to fall prostrate. The Hebrew uses a different conjugation ישתהו and השתחוה which wants the letter N so frequently inserted in Assyrian verbs.
By H. F. Talbot, F.R.S., &c.
Read 2nd December, 1873.
Future Punishment of the Wicked.
I HAVE shown in my previous papers that the Assyrians
believed that the spirits of just men rose to heaven, to the company of the
gods. It remains to learn, what was the fate of the wicked? A recent ingenious
writer3 has asserted, that in
the Assyrian Hades "there appears no trace, as far as we know, of a distinction
of rewards and punishments."4
It will be my object in this paper to prove the contrary, and to show that the souls of the wicked were believed to be tormented in flames.
Some lines in the "Legend of Ishtar" have led me to this conclusion; but the passage is so short, and so much injured by fractures of the tablet, that I missed the meaning of it in my former translation. I there said that Ishtar saw "the shades of those who did evil on earth, men, women, and children." But if this were all it would only show that the souls of the wicked were so far punished that they were immured in Hades, and excluded from heaven.
Mr. Smith in his recent translation says that Ishtar was a personage of very loose moral character (as appears from divers other tablets) and she had mortally offended Ninkigal (the Queen of Hades) by the violence of her conduct and language. Therefore the Queen "resolved on consigning [p.347] Ishtar to the region reserved for husbands (or lords) who leave their wives, and wives (or slaves) who depart from the bosom of their husbands—certainly, according to the story, a most appropriate place for the fickle goddess."
This explanation appears to me quite correct. Ishtar was doomed for her sins to share the punishment of these wicked ones. But what was it? Not merely an imprisonment in Hades. A careful examination of each word and letter of the injured text gives the following meaning.
The Queen had just received a message of defiance from Ishtar, mingled with bitter curses. On receiving it she stormed, and exclaimed:
32. This insult I will revenge upon her!
33. Light up consuming flames! Light up blazing straw!
34. Let her doom be with the husbands who deserted their wives!
35. Let her doom be with the wives who from their husband's side departed!
36. Let her doom be with the youths who led dishonoured lives!
I may observe that line 33, savage as it is, accords with the
furious character of Ninkigal, who a little further on (lines 69 to 75)
according to Mr. Smith's version, commands her attendant spirit to torment
Ishtar with pains and diseases in all parts of her body.
It will now be necessary minutely to examine the lines I have quoted, since they involve so important a point of Assyrian religious belief.
The first line is—
Kima nuri akalim, kima kasi ashatim .....
Light lip flames consuming, light up straw blazing .......... [some words lost]
Notes.—Kima. I took this at first for the adverb
kima 'like' or 'as it were.' But this produces only a very feeble meaning.
Besides, a verb is wanted. Kima is 'to burn': for example, in 3 R b2, 34
we read [glyphs] as him ikimi 'in fire shall be burnt.'
The verb akmu 'I burned' occurs continually. Nakmut is 'a burning',' [glyphs] speaking of the destruction of the enemy's cities—hitar nakmuti-sun 'the smoke of their burning,' like a mighty cloud, obscured the face of high heaven.
The verb kamu [glyphs] 'burn' occurs in 2 R 34, 69 and 35, 15 where it is explained, [glyphs] by the verb [glyphs] orahu which is the Heb. שרפ 'to burn,' and secondly by the verb kalu [glyphs] which is the Heb. קלה 'to burn,' see my Glossary No. 312. And [glyphs] meaning 'fire' is generally transcribed as kum (see Smith's Phonetic Values, No. 179). For these reasons I propose to translate kima in this passage 'burn!' or 'set on fire!' [glyphs] 'flames.' If we turn to the sign [glyphs] in Smith's Phonetic Values No. 324 we find that mini 'fire' was one of its values.
Akalim 'consuming' is the pure Hebrew אכל consumpsit, absumpsit, perdidit, see Schindler p. 72, and particularly the following: "De igne metaphorice dicitur," Job i, 16. Ignis Dei decidit ex cselo, et arsit in grege et pueris [Heb.] et consumpsit eos. Again, Nahum iii, 15, [Heb.] comedet te ignis.
[glyphs] Kassi is plural of the Hebrew קש Kas 'straw,' meaning therefore heaps or loads of straw. Compare Isaiah xlvii, 14, 'see they are become as straw, the fire hath consumed them [glyphs]. Also Isaiah v, 24, 'as fire ([Heb.] lingua flammas) devoureth the stubble' ([Heb.]). And Joel ii, 5, 'like the noise of a flame of fire ([Heb.]) that devoureth the stubble,' [Heb.]. And Nahum i, 10, 'they shall be devoured as stubble fully dry' [Heb.].
[glyphs] Ashat is the Heb. אשת ashat, Chald. אשתא ashta 'fire,' I have gone into these details that it may be seen that this line agrees throughout with the Hebrew idiom.
The next line 34 is as follows:—
lupki ana itli sha ezibu
let her doom be with the husbands who abandoned their wives.
Notes.—Lupki is the optative of the verb
פגע which means in Hebrew, to meet
some one by chance: to occur: to happen: to befall some one (Schindler 'casu
occurrere') whence the substantive [glyphs] chance, lot, fate, or doom.
means 'occursus mains' (Buxt.) a mischance or misfortune. Solomon says to Hiram
(1 Kings v, 4) "The Lord my God hath given me rest on every side, so that I have
no enemy and no misfortune" [glyphs]. I therefore translate lupki 'may
her lot be I.'
[glyphs] sounded itlu, which generally means man or gentleman; and may be rendered Herr: Sieur: Signor.
Ezib is the Hebrew verb ענב to leave or abandon. It occurs very frequently. Gesenius renders it 'reliquit: deseruit.' [glyphs] is the feminine sign, and was not sounded.
The next line 35 is—
lupki ana killati sha ta ur khairi-sin
let her doom be with the wives who from their husband's side [departed].
Notes.—Killati 'wives' occurs in several passages. It is the Heb.
uxor, Syr. כלתא.
[glyphs] is not sounded.
Ur may be rendered Conjugium: it occurs in several other passages. The verb is lost by a fracture of the tablet.
The next line 36 is—
ana tar lakie lupki sha as la pani-sun
with the youths dissolute let her doom be who in their dishonour [were cut off, or died].
Notes.—Lakie should probably be la-kini 'wicked,' a word of frequent occurrence.
Parri is the Hebrew פאר Honour. Schindler says Decor. Ornatus. Hence la-parri
In Dante's Inferno the different classes of sinners were separated, in circles or regions apart from each other, where they met with punishments appropriate to then- sins. Some Eastern traditions of this kind may have reached the Italian poet, since there was a region set apart in the Assyrian Hades for faithless husbands and wives.
I will now turn to some other passages which appear to me to imply a future punishment of the wicked.
The Sun, who was "the Judge of Men," is called "the destroyer of the wicked." And what this future judgment would be, may be inferred from a passage in the third Michaux Stone, col. 4, 11, where it is said "the remover of this landmark shall be accursed," and "the Sun, the great Judge of heaven and earth shall condemn him and shall thrust him into the fire."
The original passage is as follows:—
Shems daian rabu shamie u kiti
The Sun judge great of heaven and earth
lu-dina din-su-ma ina parti lizzitzu!
may he judge his judgment, and into the fire thrust him!
Parti is an oblique case or inflexion of Par, which I consider to be the Hebrew
בער "fire," in Greek [Greek]. But this meaning of the word cannot be guaranteed
until more examples of it have been found.
The same passage occurs, with a slight difference, in the first Michaux Stone, col. iii, line 15, as follows:
Shems daian rabu shamie u kiti
The Sun judge great of heaven
lu-dinnu din-su-ma as parti
and earth may he judge his judgment, and into the fire
may he thrust him!
Here I transcribe the word as parti on the faith of the third Michaux Stone: otherwise the reading would have been doubtful.
Lizzitz ''let him thrust" occurs frequently in the accounts of the exorcizing
evil spirits. For example, see the 2nd vol., of British Museum Inscriptions,
18. "Let the Evil Spirit come out of him, and be thrust aside." Udukku sinii
litzi-ma, as akhati lizzitz.
The last word is [glyphs] as in the first Michaux. The sign [glyph] ziz or zitz occurs very frequently. The third Michaux, it will be observed, has [glyphs], zi.tzu.
1 See my paper in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature, vol. 8, p. 297.
2 Du Fresne. Corporale palla est, qua Saerificium oontegitur iu altari. Siiulon quani solemus Corporale nom'mare (Aliuarius de Eccles. offic. c. 19). Corporale pallium in a letter of St. Boniface. But Du Fresne differs as to Corporale juramenhim, which, he says, prrestatiir protensa niauu, tactis sacrosarictis Evangeliis, Cruce Domiuir vel sauetoi'uni reliquiie admotis.
3 Lenormant, le Deluge, p. 25.
4 Un enfer oil n'apparait pas—du moins dans ce que jious en connaissoiis—de trace d'une distinction do recompenses et de peines.