1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Marduk

MARDUK (Bibl. Merodach[1]), the name of the patron deity of the city of Babylon, who, when Babylon permanently became the political centre of the united states of the Euphrates valley under Khammurabi (c. 2250 B.C.), rose to the position of the head of the Babylonian pantheon. His original character was that of a solar deity, and he personifies more specifically the sun of the spring-time who conquers the storms of the winter season. He was thus fitted to become the god who triumphs over chaos that reigned in the beginning of time. This earlier Marduk, however, was effaced by the reflex of the political development through which the Euphrates valley passed and which led to imbuing him with traits belonging to gods who at an earlier period were recognized as the heads of the pantheon. There are more particularly two gods—Ea and Bel—whose powers and attributes pass over to Marduk. In the case of Ea the transfer proceeds pacifically and without involving the effacement of the older god. Marduk is viewed as the son of Ea. The father voluntarily recognizes the superiority of the son and hands over to him the control of humanity. This association of Marduk and Ea, while indicating primarily the passing of the supremacy once enjoyed by Eridu to Babylon as a religious and political centre, may also reflect an early dependence of Babylon upon Eridu, not necessarily of a political character but, in view of the spread of culture in the Euphrates valley from the south to the north, the recognition of Eridu as the older centre on the part of the younger one. At all events, traces of a cult of Marduk at Eridu are to be noted in the religious literature, and the most reasonable explanation for the existence of a god Marduk in Eridu is to assume that Babylon in this way paid its homage to the old settlement at the head of the Persian Gulf.

While the relationship between Ea (q.v.) and Marduk is thus marked by harmony and an amicable abdication on the part of the father in favour of his son, Marduk’s absorption of the power and prerogatives of Bel of Nippur was at the expense of the latter’s prestige. After the days of Khammurabi, the cult of Marduk eclipses that of Bel (q.v.), and although during the five centuries of Cassite control in Babylonia (c. 1750–1200 B.C.), Nippur and the cult of the older Bel enjoy a period of renaissance, when the reaction ensued it marked the definite and permanent triumph of Marduk over Bel until the end of the Babylonian empire. The only serious rival to Marduk after 1200 B.C. is Assur (q.v.) in Assyria. In the south Marduk reigns supreme, and his supremacy is indicated most significantly by making him the Bel, “the lord,” par excellence.

The old myths in which Bel of Nippur was celebrated as the hero were transformed by the priests of Babylon in the interest of the Marduk cult with the chief rôle assigned to their favourite. The hymns once sung in the temple of Bel were re-edited and adapted to the cult of Babylon. In this process the older Bel was deliberately set aside, and the climax was reached when the conquest of the monster Tiamat, symbolizing the chaos prevailing in primeval days, was ascribed to Marduk instead of, as in the older form of the epic, to Bel. With this stroke Marduk became the creator of the world, including mankind—again setting aside the far older claims of Bel to this distinction.

Besides absorbing the prerogatives of Ea and Bel, Marduk was also imbued with the attributes of other of the great gods, such as Adad, Shamash, Nergal and Ninib, so that, more particularly as we approach the days of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the impression is created that Marduk was the only real deity recognized, and that the other gods were merely the various forms under which he manifested himself. So far as one can speak of a monotheistic tendency in Babylonia it connects itself with this conception that was gradually crystallized in regard to the old solar deity of Babylon.

The history of the city of Babylon can now be traced back to the days of Sargon of Agade (before 3000 B.C.) who appears to have given the city its name. There is every reason to assume, therefore, that the cult of Marduk existed already at this early period, though it must always be borne in mind that, until the days of Khammurabi, his jurisdiction was limited to the city of which he was the patron and that he was viewed solely as a solar deity.

On monuments and cylinders he is represented as armed with the weapon with which he despatched the monster Tiamat. At times this monster is also depicted lying vanquished at his feet, and occasionally the monster with the lance or the lance alone is reproduced instead of the god himself.

In the astral-theological system, Marduk is identified with the planet Jupiter. As the creator of the world, the New Year’s festival, known as Zagmuk and celebrated at the time of the vernal equinox, was sacred to him. The festival, which lasted for eleven days, symbolized the new birth of nature—a reproduction therefore of the creation of the world. The arbiter of all fates, Marduk, was pictured as holding an assembly of the gods during the New Year’s festival for the purpose of deciding the lot of each individual for the year to come. The epic reciting his wonderful deed in despatching the monster Tiamat and in establishing law and order in the world in the place of chaos was recited in his temple at Babylon known as E-Saggila, “the lofty house,” and there are some reasons for believing that the recital was accompanied by a dramatical representation of the epic.

The meaning of the name Marduk is unknown. By a species of word-play the name was interpreted as “the son of the chamber,” with reference perhaps to the sacred chamber of fate in which he sat in judgment on the New Year’s festival. Ideographically he is represented by two signs signifying “child of the day” (or “of the sun”) which is a distinct allusion to his original solar character. Other ideographic signs describe him as the “strong and universal ruler.” The name of his consort was Sarpanit, i.e. the shining or brilliant one—again an allusion to Marduk’s solar traits—and this name was playfully twisted by the Babylonian priests to mean “the seed-producing” (as though compounded of zēr, seed, and bānit, producing), which was regarded as an appropriate appellation for the female counterpart of the creator of mankind and of life in general. The punning etymology betrays the evident desire of the priests to see in Marduk’s consort a form or manifestation of the great mother-goddess Ishtar (q.v.), just as in Assyria Ishtar frequently appears as the consort of the chief god of Assyria, known as Assur (q.v.).  (M. Ja.) 

  1. The name Mordecai denotes “belonging to Marduk.”