NERGAL, the name of a solar deity in Babylonia, the main seat of whose cult was at Kutha or Cuthah, represented by the mound of Tell-Ibrahim. The importance of Kutha as a religious and at one time also as a political centre led to his surviving the tendency to concentrate the various sun-cults of Babylonia in Shamash (q.v.). He becomes, however, the representative of a certain phase only of the sun and not of the sun as a whole. Portrayed in hymns and myths as a god of war and pestilence, there can be little doubt that Nergal represents the sun of noontime and of the summer solstice which brings destruction to mankind. It is a logical consequence that Nergal is pictured also as the deity who presides over the nether-world, and stands at the head of the special pantheon assigned to the government of the dead, who are supposed to be gathered in a large subterranean cave known as Arâlu or Irkalla. In this capacity there is associated with him a goddess Allatu, though there are indications that at one time Allatu was regarded as the sole mistress of Arâlu, ruling in her own person. Ordinarily the consort of Nergal is Laz. Nergal was pictured as a lion and on boundary-stone monuments his symbol is a mace surmounted by the head of a lion.
As in the case of Ninib, Nergal appears to have absorbed a number of minor solar deities, which accounts for the various names or designations under which he appears, such as Lugalgira, Sharrapu (“ the burner,” perhaps a mere epithet), Ira, Gibil (though this name more properly belongs to Nusku, q.v.) and Sibitti. A certain confusion exists in cuneiform literature between Ninib and Nergal, perhaps due to the traces of two different conceptions regarding these two solar deities. Nergal is called the “ raging king,” the “ furious one,” and the like, and by a play upon his name—separated into three elements Ne-uru-gal “ lord of the great dwelling ”—his position at the head of the nether-world pantheon is indicated. In the astral-theological system he is the planet Mars, while in ecclesiastical art the great lion-headed colossi serving as guardians to the temples and palaces seem to be a symbol of Nergal, just as the bull-headed colossi are probably intended to typify Ninib.
The name of his chief temple at Kutha was E-shid-lam, from which the god receives the designation of Shidlamtäea, “ the one that rises up from Shidlam.” The cult of Nergal does not appear to have been as widespread as that of Ninib. He is frequently invoked in hymns and in votive and other inscriptions of Babylonian and Assyrian rulers, but we do not learn of many temples to him outside of Kutha. Sennacherib speaks of one at Tarbisu to the north of Nineveh, but it is significant that although Nebuchadrezzar II. (606–586 B.C.), the great temple-builder of the neo-Babylonian monarchy, alludes to his operations at E-shid-lam in Kutha, he makes no mention of a sanctuary to Nergal in Babylon. Local associations with. his original seat—Kutha—and the conception formed of him as a god of the dead acted in making him feared rather than actively worshipped. (M. Ja.)