BLTC Press Titles


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Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross


Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle


The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting


Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Hebrew and Babylonian traditions

by Morris Jastrow

Excerpt:

The desire to trace things to their origin is so strong in man as to suggest the possibility of its being a deeply ingrained instinct. From the 1 child's curiosity to see the wheels go round to the question, "what makes them go round?" is merely a step, and from this, again, to "who makes the wheels?" another step, and not a very large one. Curiosity is, indeed, the beginning of wisdom, and the most modern and most advanced scientific spirit is merely curiosity, plus the application of a proper method to satisfy it. Creation stories abound everywhere among people in a primitive state of culture, the stage of nai've curiosity, and from this stage they are carried over to the higher level, the stage of methodical inquiry, modified somewhat and transformed to adapt them to higher points of view but in all essentials they are still the old stories, handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth until through the rise of the literary spirit they are given a definite form. The characters in these early endeavours to picture the universe com

65

ing into being are naturally the gods, and as the religious life, keeping pace with the social status and the political turmoils, becomes more definitely regulated, the gods assume a definite relationship to one another with variations in rank corresponding to those which hold good for human society. Instead of an indefinite series of powers, representing the personification of the many forces manifesting themselves in nature and that condition man's welfare, we have a selection, and the powers so selected form a pantheon which becomes more or less systematically organised. At .this stage Creation stories—one may say everywhere, for the exceptions if such there be are negligible—assume the character of a nature-myth, that is to say, a story of some occurrence in nature in which gods as actors personify the occurrence itself. The particular myth chosen will depend largely upon climatic conditions. In tropical districts, suitable for man in the early stages of culture, the two seasons of the year, the rainy and the dry, generally suggest by analogy the change from the rainy to the dry season as the beginning of the universe, or at all events, as the condition for the appearance of life in nature, of regularity and order as contrasted with the violence of storms and the destruction wrought during the rainy season, when forces of disorder seem to be in unbridled control. Such is the case with the various versions of Babylonian Creation myths that have been preserved, wholly or in part, but which appears most clearly in what may be designated as the main version. This is the story of a contest between the forces of evil and lawlessness, symbolising the wintry and rainy season, and the opponents of these forces endeavouring to establish law and order.

We can now say with certainty that in each one of the great religious centres of Babylonia substantially the same story was told, with merely a different arrangement of the actors on the stage. The hero who triumphs in the contest with violent forces is in each case the chief deity of a particular centre. So in Nippur, which early acquired a sacred position, it is Enlil, the patron of the city, who is represented as quelling a general uprising of the powers of nature. At Eridu, situated on or near the Persian Gulf, it is a water deity, Ea. At Uruk it is a solar deity, Anu; and, no doubt, at Sippar, the chief city of the worship of Shamash (the general designation of the sun), it was the sun-god who was pictured as the conqueror. But these originally distinct and early phases all gave way in time to the claims of the god of the city of Babylon, Marduk, who, with the rise of Babylon as the political capital of the entire Euphratean Valley, definitely assumes the headship of the pantheon. In its final and most elaborate form the Babylonian Creation story thus becomes a paean in praise of the power of Marduk, who, endowed with the attributes of all the other gods and thus surpassing any one of them in strength and glory, is represented as accomplishing a task in which others fail, or from which they shrink. The local variations of the naturemyth are combined, but instead of any of the local gods, whether sun-deities or water-gods or stormgods, succeeding in establishing order and in creating the universe, they are represented in this final version as having been foiled in the attempt and as proclaiming Marduk to be the only one who can overcome the chaotic condition produced through the rainy and stormy season. This condition was at an early date symbolised as the rule of a huge monster, with an army of minor but yet formidable monsters at her command.

II

Let us take up this story, which is known to us chiefly from fragments of clay tablets in the library of Ashurbanapal, King of Assyria (668-626 B. C), though we also have some portions of it in neoBabylonian tablets from some of the temples in the south, such as Babylon, Borsippa, and Sippar.1 In addition to these we have much-distorted accounts in Greek writers, who quote as their source Berosus, a Chaldean priest who flourished in Babylonia towards the end of the fourth century, and who wrote a history of Babylonia and Assyria which is unfortunately lost. The story, which is poetic in form, begins as follows:

"When above, the heavens were not named,
Below, the terra firma was not called a name.


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