Festival, Month, Marduk, Babylonia, Babylonian, Sacred
We have seen that in the developed system of the Babylonian religion, every day of the year had some significance, and that certain days in each month—so, e.g., the 7th, 14th, 19th, 21st, and 28th—had a special significance. It has also been pointed out that in different religious centers, the days singled out for special significance differed. In view of this, we must be prepared to find that the festival days were not the same in all parts of Babylonia, nor necessarily identical in the various periods of Babylonian and Assyrian history.
The common name for festival was isinnu. If we may judge from the use of assinnu as a general name for priest,—a servant of a deity,—the underlying stem appears to signify simply 'to serve.' Another name that reveals more as to the character of the Babylonian festivals is tashiltu, which is used as a synonym for 'joy, delight.' The festivals were indeed joyous occasions, marked by abundance of offerings and merry-making, though, as we shall see, the somber note in the rejoicings was not absent. The kings dedicate their temples and palaces amidst manifestation of rejoicing. They pray that the gods may occupy the dwellings prepared for them "in joy and jubilance," and the reference to festivals in the historical texts are all of such a character as to make us feel that the Babylonian could appreciate the Biblical injunction to "rejoice" in the divine presence, on the occasions set apart as, in a peculiar sense, sacred.
Defective as our knowledge of the ancient Babylonian festivals still is, the material at our disposal shows that at a comparatively early period, there was one day in the year on which a festival was celebrated in honor of a god or goddess that had a more important character than any other. In the developed zodiacal system of Babylonia each month is sacred to a deity. This system was perfected under the direct influence of the theological schools of Babylonia, but so much of it, at all events, rests upon ancient traditions which assigns a month to each god; and since Marduk is not accorded the first place, but takes his position in a group of solar deities, and since, moreover, these solar deities have a position in the calendar which accords with their specific solar character, we may proceed a step further and assume with some confidence that the Babylonian scholars were guided—in large part, at least—by ancient traditions in parceling out the months as they did. Anu, Bel, and Ea, it is true, may have been assigned to the first three months because of the preëminent position of these three gods as a special triad; but even here the antiquity of the triad furnishes a guarantee that the association of some month with some deity belongs to a very ancient period of Babylonian history. This being the case, it would be natural that the first day of the month sacred to a deity would be regarded as his or her festival par excellence, and in the case of the cult of a deity spreading beyond its original limits, this festival would assume a more general character. On this day the people would come from all parts of the district within which the cult was carried on, to pay their homage to the god or goddess. In the days of Gudea, we find Bau occupying this superior rank. Her festival had assumed such importance as to serve for reckoning the commencement of the year.
Hence it became known simply as the day of zag-muku, that is, the New Year's Day. Whether this festival of Bau was recognized as the New Year's Day throughout Babylonia, we do not know, but it must have been observed in a considerably extensive district, or Gudea would have made the attempt to give some festival connected with his favorite deity Nin-girsu this character. As it is, he can only combine Bau's festival with the cult of Nin-girsu, by making the New Year's Day the occasion of a symbolical marriage between the god and the goddess. Nin-girsu is represented as offering marriage gifts to Bau, on the Zagmuku. How early Bau came to occupy so significant a rank has not been ascertained. It is her quality as the 'great mother,' as the goddess of fertility and abundance, rather than any political supremacy of the district in which she was worshipped, that constitutes the chief factor in giving Bau this preëminence, just as we have found in the case of the other great goddesses of Babylonia,—Ninâ, Nanâ, Ishtar,—specific traits and not political importance lending them the significance they acquired.
At one time we may well suppose that the festival of En-lil at Nippur, which brought worshippers from all parts of Babylonia, was recognized as a 'New Year's Day,' and we may some day find evidence that at a still earlier period the first day of a month sacred to some other god,—Sin or Shamash or Nanâ-Ishtar of Erech,—was recognized in some districts as the starting-point for the year; but to an agricultural community, the spring, when the seeds are sown, or the fall, after the harvest has been gathered, are the two most natural periods for reckoning the beginning of the year. Since we know that at the time when Babylon acquired her supremacy the year began in the spring, the conservatism attaching to religious observances makes it more than probable that Bau's festival also fell in the spring.
After the ancient religious and political centers of the south yielded their privileges to Babylon, it was natural for the priests of Marduk to covet the honor of the New Year's festival for the new head of the pantheon. Accordingly, we find the Zagmuku transformed into a Marduk festival. That it did not originally belong to Marduk follows from the fact that it was celebrated in the month of Nisan,—the first month,—whereas the month sacred to Marduk was Arakh-shamna (or Marcheshwan),—the eighth month. The deliberate transfer of the Zagmuku to Marduk is also indicated by the fact that the festival of Nisan has another name by which it is more commonly designated,—Akitu. The name seems to have been originally a general term for a festival, and it is natural that Marduk's festival should have come to be known as the festival, just as among the Hebrews the annual fall pilgrimage to the sanctuary at Jerusalem became known as the Hag,—the pilgrimage par excellence. To distinguish it from other festivals, Marduk's festival is sometimes spoken of as the "great" or the "lofty" Akitu. The first day was properly the Zagmuku, whereas the Akitu itself extended at least over the first eleven days of Nisan and may indeed have lasted the entire month; but Zagmuku was also used for the festival period. The New Year's Day was marked by a solemn procession. The union of Nabu and Marduk was symbolized by a visit which the former paid to his father, the chief of the Babylonian pantheon. In his ship, magnificently fitted out, Nabu was carried along the street known as Ai-ibur-shabû, leading from Borsippa across the Euphrates to Babylon.
The street was handsomely paved, and everything was done to heighten the impressiveness of the ceremony. The visit of Nabu marked the homage of the gods to Marduk; and Nabu set the example for other gods, who were all supposed to assemble in E-Sagila during the great festival. We have already pointed out that the cult of Nabu at Borsippa at one time was regarded with greater sanctity than the Marduk worship in Babylon. As a concession to the former supremacy of Nabu, the priests of E-Sagila, carrying the statue of Marduk, escorted Nabu back to Borsippa. The return visit raises the suspicion that it was originally Marduk who was obliged to pay an annual homage to Nabu.
However this may be, the double ceremony became to such an extent the noteworthy feature of the Zagmuku or Akitu that when the chroniclers wish to indicate that, because of political disturbances, the festival was not celebrated, they use the simple formula:
Nabu did not come to Babylon.
Bel [i.e., Marduk] did not march out.
The Akitu festival brought worshippers from all parts of Babylonia and Assyria to the capitol. Kings and subjects alike paid their devotions to Marduk. The former approached the divine presence directly, and, seizing hold of the hands of Marduk's statue, were admitted into a kind of covenant with the god. The ceremony became the formal rite of royal installation in Babylonia. "To seize the hands of Bel" was equivalent to legitimizing one's claim to the throne of Babylonia, and the chroniclers of the south consistently decline to recognize Assyrian rulers as kings of Babylonia until they have come to Babylon and "seized the hands of Bel." That this ceremony was annually performed by the kings of Babylonia after the union of the southern states is quite certain. It marked a renewal of the pledge between the king and his god. The Assyrian kings, however, contented themselves with a single visit. Of Tiglathpileser II. and Sargon, we know that they came to Babylonia for the purpose of performing the old ceremony; and others did the same.
The eighth and eleventh days of the festival month were invested with special sanctity. On these days all the gods were brought together in the "chamber of fates" of Marduk's temple. In symbolical imitation of the assembly of the gods in Ubshu-kenna, Marduk sits on his throne and the gods are represented as standing in humble submission before him, while he decrees the fates of mankind for the coming year. The Zagmuku festival in its developed form has striking points of resemblance to the Jewish New Year's Day. On this day, according to the popular Jewish tradition, God sits in judgment with a book before Him in which He inscribes the fate of mankind. Nine days of probation are allowed, and on the tenth day—the Day of Atonement—the fates are sealed. The Jewish New Year is known as Rôsh-hash-shanâ, which is an exact equivalent of the Babylonian rêsh shatti (or zag-muku). A difference, however, between the Babylonian and the Jewish festival is that the latter is celebrated in the seventh month. It is not correct, therefore, to assume that the Hebrews borrowed their Rôsh-hash-shanâ from the Babylonians. Even after they adopted the Babylonian calendar, they continued to regard the seventh month—the harvest month—as the beginning of the year. That among the Babylonians the seventh month also had a sacred character may be concluded from the meaning of the ideographs with which the name is written. The question may, therefore, be raised whether at an earlier period and in some religious center—Nippur, Sippar, or perhaps Ur—the seventh month may not have been celebrated as the Zagmuku. At all events, we must for the present assume that the Hebrews developed their New Year's Day, which they may have originally received from Babylonia, independently of Marduk's festival, though, since the Rôsh-hash-shanâ does not come into prominence among the Jews until the period of the so-called Babylonian exile, the possibility of a direct Babylonian influence in the later conceptions connected with the day cannot be denied.
Of the other festivals of the Babylonians and Assyrians but few details are known. Several references have already been made to the Tammuz festival. Originally a solar festival, celebrated in the fourth month at the approach of the summer solstice, it became through the association of ideas suggested by the mourning of Ishtar for her lost consort Tammuz a kind of 'All Souls' Day,' on which the people remembered their dead. Dirges were sung by the wailing women to the accompaniment of musical instruments; offerings were made to the dead, and it is plausible to assume that visits were paid to the graves. The mourning was followed by a festival of rejoicing, symbolizing the return of the solar-god. The Tammuz festival appears to have had a strong hold upon the masses, by reason of the popularity of the Tammuz myth; nor was it limited to the Babylonians. Among the Phoenicians the cult of Tammuz, known by his title Adôn (whence Adonis), was maintained to a late period, and the Hebrews, likewise, as late as the days of Ezekiel, commemorated with rites of mourning the lost Tammuz. The calendar of the Jewish Church still marks the 17th day of Tammuz as a fast, and Houtsma has shown that the association of the day with the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans represents merely the attempt to give an ancient festival a worthier interpretation. The day was originally connected with the Tammuz cult. Eerdmans has recently endeavored to show that the festival of Hosein, celebrated by the Shiitic sect of Mohammedanism in memory of the tragic death of the son of Ali, is in reality a survival of the Babylonian-Phoenician Tammuz festival. The spread of the Tammuz-Adonis myth and cult to the Greeks is but another indication of the popularity of this ancient Semitic festival.
The old Zagmuku festival in honor of Bau and the Tammuz festival, celebrated in spring and summer, respectively, are also closely associated with agricultural life. The spring as the seedtime is, as we have seen, a natural period for beginning the calculation of the New Year, while a first harvest of the wheat and barley is reaped in Babylonia at the time of the summer solstice. We should expect, therefore, to find a third festival in the fall, at the close of the harvest and just before the winter rains set in. The seventh month—Tishri—was a sacred month among the ancient Hebrews as well as among the Babylonians, but up to the present no distinct traces of a festival period in Tishri have been found in Babylonian texts. We must content ourselves, therefore, with the conjecture, above thrown out, that an Akitu was originally celebrated in this month at some ancient religious center of the Euphrates Valley. Further publications of cuneiform texts may throw light upon this point. The unpublished material in European and American museums harbors many surprises.
In Ashurbanabal's annals there is an interesting reference to a festival celebrated in honor of the goddess Gula, the goddess of healing, on the twelfth day of Iyyar, the second month. The festival is described ideographically as Si-gar, but from the fact that the same ideographs are used elsewhere to describe a day sacred to Sin and Shamash, it would appear that Si-gar is not a specific appellation, but a general name again for festival. This month Iyyar and this particular day, as a "favorable one," is chosen by Ashurbanabal for his installation as king of Assyria. The same month is selected for a formal pilgrimage to Babylonia for the purpose of restoring to E-Sagila a statue of Marduk that a previous Assyrian king had taken from its place, and Lehmann is probably correct in concluding that this month of Iyyar was a particularly sacred one in Assyria, emphasized with intent perhaps by the kings, as an offset against the sacredness of Nisan in Babylonia.
Festivals in honor of Ninib were celebrated in Calah in the months of Elul—the sixth month—and Shabat—the eleventh month. The sixth month, it will be recalled, is sacred to Ishtar. Ninib being a solar deity, his festival in Elul was evidently of a solar character. From Ashurbanabal, again, we learn that the 25th day of Siwan—the third month—was sacred to Belit of Babylon, and on that day a procession took place in her honor. The Belit meant is Sarpanitum in her original and independent rôle as a goddess of fertility. The statue of the goddess, carried about, presumably in her ship, formed the chief feature of the procession. Ashurbanabal chooses this "favorable" day as the one on which to break up camp in the course of one of his military expeditions. We would naturally expect to find a festival month devoted to the god Ashur in Assyria. This month was Elul—the sixth month. The choice of this month lends weight to the supposition that Ashur was originally a solar deity. The honors once paid to Ninib in Calah in this month could thus easily be transferred to the head of the Assyrian pantheon. Although in the calendar the sixth month is sacred to Ishtar, her festival was celebrated in the fifth month, known as Ab. This lack of correspondence between the calendar and the festivals is an indication of the greater antiquity of the latter.
In the great temple to Shamash at Sippar, there appear to have been several days that were marked by religious observances. Nabubaliddin (ninth century) emphasizes that he presented rich garments to the temple for use on six days of the year,—the 7th day of Nisan (first month), 10th of Iyyar (second month), 3rd of Elul (sixth month), 7th of Tishri (seventh month), 15th of Arakh-shamna (or Marcheshwan, eighth month), and the 15th of Adar (twelfth month). These garments are given to Shamash, to his consort Malkatu, and to Bunene. Since from a passage in a Babylonian chronicle it appears that it was customary for Shamash on his festival to leave his temple, we may conclude that the garments were put on Shamash and his associates, for the solemn procession on the six days in question.
The festivals in Nisan and Elul are distinctly of a solar character. The choice of two other months immediately following Nisan and Elul cannot be accidental. The interval of thirty-three days between the Nisan and Iyyar festivals and thirty-four days between the Elul and Tishri festivals may represent a sacred period. Tishri, moreover, as has been pointed out, is a sacred month in a peculiar sense. Marcheshwan, it may be well to bear in mind, is sacred to Marduk,—a solar deity,—while the 15th of Adar, curiously enough, is an old solar festival that, modified and connected with historical reminiscences, became popular among the Jews of Persia and Babylonia during the Persian supremacy in the Semitic Orient, and survives to this day under the name of the Purim festival. At all events, the six days may be safely regarded as connected in some way, direct or indirect, with solar worships, and it is natural to find that in so prominent a center of sun-worship as Sippar, all the solar festivals were properly and solemnly observed.
It is disappointing that up to the present so little has been ascertained of the details of the moon-cult—the great rival to Shamash worship—in the old cities of Ur and Harran. In the Babylonian calendar, the third month—Siwan—is sacred to Sin, but since, as we have found, the festivals in honor of the gods do not always correspond to the assignment of the months, we cannot be certain that in this month a special festival in honor of Sin was observed. Lastly, besides the regular and fixed festivals, the kings, and more especially the Assyrian rulers, did not hesitate to institute special festivals in memory of some event that contributed to their glory. Agumkakrimi instituted a festival upon restoring the statues of Marduk and Sarpanitum to Babylon, and Sargon does the same upon restoring the palace at Calah. Dedications of temples and palaces were in general marked by festivities, and so when the kings return in triumph from their wars, laden with spoils and captives, popular rejoicings were instituted. But such festivals were merely sporadic, and, while marked by religious ceremonies, were chiefly occasions of general jollification combined with homage to the rulers. Such a festival was not called an isinnu, but a nigatu,—a 'merrymaking.' More directly connected with the cult was a ceremony observed in Assyria upon the installation of an official, known as the limmu, who during his year of service enjoyed the privilege of having official documents dated with his name. The ceremony involved a running of some kind, and reminds one of the running between the two hills Marwa and Safa in Mekka that forms part of the religious observances in connection with a visit to the Kaaba. The name of the ceremony appears to have been puru (or buru). To connect this word with the Jewish festival of Purim, as Sayce proposes, is wholly unwarranted. The character of the Puru ceremony points to its being an ancient custom, the real significance of which in the course of time became lost. Fast days instituted for periods of distress might also be added to the cult, but these, too, like the special festivals, were not permanent institutions. For such occasions many of the penitential psalms which were discussed in a previous chapter were composed. To conciliate angered gods whose temples had been devastated in days of turmoil, atonement and purification rites were observed. So Ashurbanabal upon his conquest of Babylonian cities tells us that he pacified the gods of the south with penitential psalms and purified the temples by magic rites; and Nabubaliddin, incidental to his restoration of the Shamash cult at Sippar, refers to an interesting ceremony of purification, which consisted in his taking water and washing his mouth according to the purification ritual of Ea and Marduk, preliminary to bringing sacrifices to Shamash in his shrine. Sippar had been overrun by nomads, the temple had been defiled, and before sacrifices could again be offered, the sacred edifice and sacred quarter had to be purified. The king's action was a symbol of this purification. Many such customs must have been in vogue in Babylonia and Assyria. Some—and these were the oldest—were of popular origin. On the seal cylinders there is frequently represented a pole or a conventionalized form of a tree, generally in connection with a design illustrating the worship of a deity. This symbol is clearly a survival of some tree worship that was once popular. The comparison with the ashera or pole worship among Phoenicians and Hebrews is fully justified, and is a proof of the great antiquity of the symbol, which, without becoming a formal part of the later cult, retained in some measure a hold upon the popular mind. Other symbols and customs were introduced under the influence of the doctrines unfolded in the schools of thought in the various intellectual centers, and as an expression of the teachings of the priests. The cult of Babylonia, even more so than the literature, is a compound of these two factors,—popular beliefs and the theological elaboration and systematization of these beliefs. In the course of this elaboration, many new ideas and new rites were introduced. The official cult passed in some important particulars far beyond popular practices.
|Written By Morris Jastrow|
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