Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Nabu, the Assyrian and Babylonian god of wisdom and writing

Posted by Fredsvenn on August 28, 2014

Enki was associated with the planet Mercury in the Sumerian astrological system. Mercury was later associated with Babylonian Nabu, the Assyrian and Babylonian god of wisdom and writing, worshipped by Babylonians as the son of Marduk and his consort, Sarpanitum (alternately Sarpanitu, Zarpanit, Zarpandit, Zerpanitum, Zerbanitu, or Zirbanit), and as the grandson of Ea/Enki.

Marduk

Marduk (Sumerian spelling in Akkadian: AMAR.UTU “solar calf”; perhaps from MERI.DUG; Biblical Hebrew Merodach; Greek Mardochaios) was the Babylonian name of a late-generation god from ancient Mesopotamia and patron deity of the city of Babylon.

When Babylon became the political center of the Euphrates valley in the time of Hammurabi (18th century BCE) Marduk started to slowly rise to the position of the head of the Babylonian pantheon, a position he fully acquired by the second half of the second millennium BCE. In the city of Babylon, he resided in the temple Esagila.

According to The Encyclopedia of Religion, the name Marduk was probably pronounced Marutuk. The etymology of the name Marduk is conjectured as derived from amar-Utu (“bull calf of the sun god Utu”).

The origin of Marduk’s name may reflect an earlier genealogy, or have had cultural ties to the ancient city of Sippar (whose god was Utu, the sun god), dating back to the third millennium BCE. In the perfected system of astrology, the planet Jupiter was associated with Marduk by the Hammurabi period.

Sarpanitum

Sarpanit is a mother goddess. Her name means “the shining one”, and she is sometimes associated with the planet Venus. By a play on words her name was interpreted as zēr-bānītu, or “creatress of seed”, and is thereby associated with the goddess Aruru, a surname of the Sumerian earth and fertility goddess Ninhursag, who, according to Babylonian myth, created mankind.

Her marriage with Marduk was celebrated annually at New Year in Babylon. She was worshipped via the rising moon, and was often depicted as being pregnant. She is also known as Erua. She may be the same as Gamsu, Ishtar/Inanna, and/or Beltis.

Beltum and Bel

Bêlit is a form of the Akkadian language word beltu or beltum (meaning “lady, mistress”) as used in noun compounds; it appears in titles of goddesses, such as bêlit-ili “lady of the gods”, an Akkadian title of Ninhursag, a mother goddess of the mountains, and one of the seven great deities of Sumer. She is principally a fertility goddess.

The word bêlit appears in Greek form as Beltis, considered to be the name of the wife of the god Bel (from Akkadian bēlu), signifying “lord” or “master”, a title rather than a genuine name, was applied to various gods in the Mesopotamian religion of Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia.

Bel is represented in Greek as Belos and in Latin as Belus. Linguistically Bel is an East Semitic form cognate with Northwest Semitic Ba‘al with the same meaning. Early translators of Akkadian believed that the ideogram for the god called in Sumerian Enlil was to be read as Bel in Akkadian. This is now known to be incorrect; but one finds Bel used in referring to Enlil in older translations and discussions.

Bel became especially used of the Babylonian god Marduk and when found in Assyrian and neo-Babylonian personal names or mentioned in inscriptions in a Mesopotamian context it can usually be taken as referring to Marduk and no other god.

Similarly Belit without some disambiguation mostly refers to Bel Marduk’s spouse Sarpanit. However Marduk’s mother, the Sumerian goddess called Ninhursag, Damkina, Ninmah and other names in Sumerian, was often known as Belit-ili ‘Lady of the Gods’ in Akkadian.

Of course other gods called “Lord” could be and sometimes were identified totally or in part with Bel Marduk. The god Malak-bel of Palmyra is an example, though in the later period from which most of our information comes he seems to have become very much a sun god. Similarly Zeus Belus mentioned by Sanchuniathon as born to Cronus/El in Peraea is certainly most unlikely to be Marduk.

Nabu

The Sumerian goddess Nanibgal, also Nisaba or Nidaba, the Sumerian goddess of writing, learning, and the harvest, was often praised by Sumerian scribes. In the Babylonian period, she was replaced by the god Nabu, who took over her functions at the office of patron of the scribes. In some instances, Nisaba was his instructor or wife before he replaced her.

Originally, Nabu was a West Semitic deity introduced by the Amorites into Mesopotamia, probably at the same time as Marduk shortly after 2000 BC. While Marduk became Babylon’s main deity, Nabu resided in nearby Borsippa in his temple E-zida.

Nabu was first called the “scribe and minister of Marduk”. During the Babylonian New Year Festival, the cult statue of Nabu was transported from Borsippa to Babylon in order to commune with his father Marduk.

Nabu later became one of the principal gods in Assyria and Assyrians addressed many prayers and inscriptions to Nabu and named children after him. Nabu was the god of writing and scribes and was the keeper of the Tablets of Destiny, in which the fates of humankind was recorded. He was also sometimes worshiped as a fertility god and as a god of water.

His symbols are the clay writing tablet with the writing stylus. He wears a horned cap, and stands with hands clasped, in the ancient gesture of priesthood. He rides on a winged dragon (mušhuššu, also known as Sirrush), initially Marduk’s.

His power over human existence is immense because Nabu engraves the destiny of each person, as the gods have decided, on the tablets of sacred record. Thus, He has the power to increase or diminish, at will, the length of human life. As the god of wisdom and writing, he was equated by the Greeks to either Apollo or Hermes, the latter identified by the Romans with their own god Mercury.

Tashmetu

The etymology of Nabu is disputed. It could be derived from the root nb´ for “to call or announce”, meaning something like “He who has called”. Nabu’s consort was Tashmetum (Tashmetu). She is called upon to listen to prayers and to grant requests.

Tashmetum and Nabu both shared a temple in the city of Borsippa, in which they were patron deities. Tashmetum’s name, which means “the lady who listens,”. She is also known as Tashmit and Tashmetu, and she was known by the epithets Lady of Hearing and Lady of Favor.

Nisaba

The Sumerian goddess Nanibgal, also Nisaba or Nidaba, the Sumerian goddess of writing, learning, and the harvest, was often praised by Sumerian scribes. In the Babylonian period, she was replaced by the god Nabu, who took over her functions at the office of patron of the scribes. In some instances, Nisaba was his instructor or wife before he replaced her.

Many clay-tablets end with the phrase, (DINGIR.NAGA.ZAG.SAL; nisaba za-mi), “Nisaba be praised” to honor the goddess. She is considered the teacher of both mortal scribes and other divine deities. Her sanctuaries were E-zagin at Eresh (Uruk) and at Umma.

The god of wisdom, Enki, organized the world after creation and gave each deity a role in the world order. Nisaba was named the scribe of the gods, and Enki then built her a school of learning so that she could better serve those in need. She keeps records, chronicles events, and performs various other bookwork related duties for the gods. She is also in charge of marking regional borders.

As the goddess of knowledge, she is related to many other facets of intellectual study and other gods may turn to her for advice or aid. Some of these traits are shared with her sister Ninsina. She is also associates with grain, reflecting her association with an earth goddess mother.

On a depiction found in Lagash, Nisaba appears with flowing hair, crowned with horned tiara bearing supporting ears of grain and a crescent moon. Her dense hair is evoked in comparison in the description of similarly hairy Enkidu in the Gilgamesh epic.

As with many Sumerian deities, Nisaba’s exact place in the pantheon and her heritage appears somewhat ambiguous. Nisaba is the daughter of An and Urash, a goddess of earth and the mother of the goddess Ninsun, the mother of Gilgamesh, and a grandmother of the hero Gilgamesh. However, Urash may only have been another name for Antum, Anu’s wife. The name Urash even became applied to Anu himself, and acquired the meaning “heaven”. Ninurta also was apparently called Urash in later times.

From Sumerian texts, the language used to describe Urash is very similar to the language used to describe Ninhursag (earth and mother goddess). Therefore, the two goddesses may be one and the same. Nisaba is the sister of Ninsun. If Urash and Ninhursag are the same goddess, then Nisaba is also the half sister of Ninhursag, Nanshe and in some versions Ninurta (Nin Ur: God of War), the god of Lagash, identified with Ningirsu with whom he may always have been identified.

Nanshe

In Sumerian mythology, Nanshe was the daughter of Enki (god of wisdom, magic and fresh water) and Ninhursag (earth and mother goddess). Her functions as a goddess were varied. She was a goddess of social justice, prophecy, fertility and fishing. Like her father, she was heavily associated with water. She held dominion over the Persian Gulf and all the animals within. Her seat of power was the Sirara temple, located in the city of Nina.

Nanshe’s birth is described in the Sumerian myth ‘Enki and Ninhursag.’ In the tale, Enki consumes several forbidden plants under the protection of his wife. In retaliation, Ninhursag places a curse on him. Enki soon becomes crippled with ailments, and the gods are left helpless.

Enlil, the powerful sky god, manages to ease Ninhursag’s anger after sending a fox, a sacred animal of Ninhursag, to speak with her. She then returns to Enki’s side and lifts the curse. To heal Enki, Ninhursag gives birth to several healing gods.

Nanshe (referred to as Nazi in the original myth) was meant to heal her father’s neck. At the conclusion of the myth, she is betrothed to the god Nindara.

Nanshe’s father, Enki, was later tasked with organizing the world and assigning every god a function. Nanshe was assigned dominion over the Persian Gulf, on which floated her father’s awe inspiring sea shrine.

As a secondary function, she was to ensure than shipments of fish reached the mainland. When heading onto the mainland, she sailed by barge from the Gulf. She had a strong connection with wildlife, especially birds and bats. In one hymn, she converses with ravens and pelicans, among other species.

During the time of Gudea (2144 – 2124 BC) many hymns to Nanshe appeared showing her in an elevated position in the pantheon. She was the widely worshiped goddess of social justice. She nurtured orphans, provided for widows, gave advice to those in debt, and took in refugees from war torn areas. Several other gods appeared to be under the command of Nanshe. Hendursag and Haia were her assistants.

Nisaba, sometimes portrayed as Nanshe’s sister, was her chief scribe. On the first day of the new year, she and Nanshe work together to settle disputes between mortals and give aid to those in need. Nisaba keeps record of the visitors seeking aid and then arranges them into a line to stand before Nanshe, who will then judge them. Nisaba is also seen as a caretaker for Ninhursag’s temple at Kesh, where she gives commands and keeps temple records.

A festival was held at her temple on the first day of the new year. People came from all over the land to seek her wisdom and aid. Visitors were cleansed in the river of ordeals and then, if worthy, given an audience with the goddess. Nanshe settled disputes and handled court cases amongst mortals.

Holding a higher ranking in the pantheon during this era, Nanshe sometimes shared the same tasks as Utu, the traditional god of justice. She sat on the holy thrones with the other prominent gods, and was seen as a goddess of protection. At one point, Ninurta, the mighty god of war, turns to her for guidance.

Nanshe had the ability to give oracular messages and determine the future through dream interpretation (Oneiromancy). Her priests were also granted these abilities after conducting a ritual that represented death and resurrection. Despite the ritual, Nanshe is not depicted as life-death-rebirth deity in any known hymns or myths.

In the Nanše Hymn she is described as having a role seeing that weights and measures are correct. The Nanše Hymn attributes to Nanshe, in her role as a protective goddess, special concern for vulnerable members of society. She is also, perhaps due to her role as Lady of the Storeroom and its associated aspects of fertility and bounty, associated with beer mash, yeast, and honey.

Nanshe has two major symbols, both of which are also seen in Christian folklore. The fish represents her original role as a water and fishing goddess. The pelican, said in folklore to rip open its own chest to feed its young, represents her role as a protector and caregiver.

Ninlil

In some other tales, Nisaba is considered the mother of Ninlil (NIN.LÍL”lady of the open field” or “Lady of the Wind”), also called Sud, in Assyrian called Mulliltu, and by extension, the mother-in-law of Enlil.

In Sumerian religion, Ninlil is the consort goddess of Enlil. Her parentage is variously described. Most commonly she is called the daughter of Haia (god of stores) and Nunbarsegunu (or Ninshebargunnu [a goddess of barley] or Nisaba).

Another Akkadian source says she is the daughter of Anu (aka An) and Antu (Sumerian Ki). Other sources call her a daughter of Anu and Nammu. Theophilus G. Pinches noted that Nnlil or Belit Ilani had seven different names (such as Nintud, Ninhursag, Ninmah, etc.) for seven different localities.

She lived in Dilmun with her family. Raped and ravaged by her husband Enlil, who impregnated her with water, she conceived a boy, Nanna/Suen, the future moon god. As punishment Enlil was dispatched to the underworld kingdom of Ereshkigal, where Ninlil joined him.

Enlil impregnated her disguised as the gatekeeper, where upon she gave birth to their son Nergal, god of death. In a similar manner she conceived the underworld god Ninazu when Enlil impregnated her disguised as the man of the river of the nether world, a man-devouring river.

Later Enlil disguised himself as the man of the boat, impregnating her with a fourth deity Enbilulu, god of rivers and canals. All of these act as substitutes for Nanna/Suen to ascend. In some texts Ninlil is also the mother of Ninurta, the heroic god who slew Asag the demon with his mace, Sharur.

After her death, she became the goddess of the wind, like Enlil. She may be the Goddess of the South Wind referred to in the story of Adapa, as her husband Enlil was associated with northerly winter storms. As “Lady Wind” she may be associated with the figure of the Akkadian demon “Lil-itu”, thought to have been the origin of the Hebrew Lilith legend.

 

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