admixture of legend and myth, were transferred to the heavens, and so it happens that creation myths, and the accounts of wanderings and adventures of heroes of the past, are referred to movements among the planets and stars as well as to occurrences or supposed occurrences on earth.
The ritual alone which accompanied divination practices and incantation formulae and was a chief factor in the celebration of festival days and of days set aside for one reason or the other to the worship of some god or goddess or group of deities, is free from traces of the astral theology. The more or less elaborate ceremonies prescribed for the occasions when the gods were approached are directly connected with the popular elements of the religion. Animal sacrifice, libations, ritualistic purification, sprinkling of water, and symbolical rites of all kinds accompanied by short prayers, represent a religious practice which in the Babylonian-Assyrian religion, as in all religions, is older than any theology and survives the changes which the theoretical substratum of the religion undergoes.
On the ethical side, the religion of Babylonia more particularly, and to a less extent that of Assyria, advances to noticeable conceptions of the qualities associated with the gods and goddesses and of the duties imposed on man. Shamash the sun-god was invested with justice as his chief trait, Marduk is portrayed as full of mercy and kindness, Ea is the protector of mankind who is grieved when, through a deception practised upon Adapa, humanity is deprived of immortality. The gods, to be sure, are easily aroused to anger, and in some of them the dire aspects predominated, but the view becomes more and more pronounced that there is some cause always for the divine wrath. Though, in accounting for the anger of the gods, no sharp distinction is made between moral offences and a ritualistic oversight or neglect, yet the stress laid in the hymns and prayers, as well as in the elaborate atonement ritual prescribed in order to appease the anger of the gods, on the need of being clean and pure in the sight of the higher powers, the inculcation of a proper aspect of humility, and above all the need of confessing one's guilt and sins without any reserve—all this bears testimony to the strength which the ethical factor acquired in the domain of the religion.
This factor appears to less advantage in the unfolding of the views concerning life after death. Throughout all periods of Babylonian-Assyrian history, the conception prevailed of a large dark cavern below the earth, not far from the Apsu—the ocean encircling and flowing underneath the earth—in which all the dead were gathered and where they led a miserable existence of inactivity amid gloom and dust. Occasionally a favoured individual was permitted to escape from this general fate and placed in a pleasant island. It would appear also that the rulers were always singled out for divine grace, and in the earlier periods of the history, owing to the prevailing view that the rulers stood nearer to the gods than other mortals, the kings were deified after death, and in some instances divine honours were paid to them even during their lifetime.
The influence exerted by the Babylonian-Assyrian religion was particularly profound on the Semites, while the astral theology affected the ancient world in general, including the Greeks and Romans. The impetus to the purification of the old Semite religion to which the Hebrews for a long time clung in common with their fellows—the various branches of nomadic Arabs—was largely furnished by the remarkable civilization unfolded in the Euphrates valley and in many of the traditions, myths and legends embodied in the Old Testament; traces of direct borrowing from Babylonia may be discerned, while the indirect influences in the domain of the prophetical books, as also in the Psalms and in the so-called “Wisdom Literature,” are even more noteworthy. Even when we reach the New Testament period, we have not passed entirely beyond the sphere of Babylonian-Assyrian influences. In such a movement as early Christian gnosticism, Babylonian elements—modified, to be sure, and transformed—are largely present, while the growth of an apocalyptic literature is ascribed with apparent justice by many scholars to the recrudescence of views the ultimate source of which is to be found in the astral-theology of the Babylonian and Assyrian priests.
Bibliography.—Morris Jastrow, jun., Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens (Giessen, 1904), enlarged and re-written form of the author's smaller Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (Boston, 1898); A. H. Sayce, The Religion of the Ancient Babylonians (Hibbert Lectures, London, 1887), now superseded by the same author's Religions of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia (Gifford Lectures, Edinburgh, 1902); Friedrich Jeremias, Die Babylonier und Assyrer, in de la Saussaye's Lehrbuch der Religionsgeschichte (3rd ed., Tübingen, 1905), vol. i.; L. W. King, Babylonian Religion and Mythology (London, 1899); T. G. Pinches, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (London, 1906). Of special texts and monographs bearing on the religion may be mentioned various volumes in the new series of cuneiform texts from Babylonian tablets, &c., in the British Museum (London, 1901- ), especially parts v., xii., xv., xvii., xviii., xx. and xxi. and vol. iv. of the earlier series of Selections from the Miscellaneous Inscriptions of Western Asia, ed. by H. C. Rawlinson (2nd ed., London, 1891); H. Zimmern, Beiträge zur Kenntniss der babylonischen Religion (Leipzig, 1901); J. A. Craig, Assyrian and Babylonian Religious Texts (Leipzig, 1895-1897); L. W. King, The Seven Tablets of Creation (London, 1902); R. C. Thompson, The Reports of the Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon (London, 1900); A. Boissier, Documents assyriens relatifs aux présages (Paris, 1894-1897); and his Choix de textes relatifs à la divination assyro-babylonienne (Geneva, 1905-1906); Ch. Fossey, La Magie assyrienne (Paris, 1902); G. A. Reisner, Sumerisch-babylonische Hymnen (Berlin, 1896); L. W. King, Babylonian Magic and Sorcery (London, 1896); R. C. Thompson, Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia (London, 1903-1904); K. L. Tallqvist, Die assyrische Beschwörungsserie Maqlū (Leipzig, 1895); J. A. Knudtzon, Assyrische Gebete an den Sonnengott (Leipzig, 1893); Virolleaud, L'Astrologie chaldéenne (Paris, 1906- ); Craig, Astrological-Astronomical Texts (Leipzig, 1892); Martin, Textes religieux assyriens et babyloniens (Paris, 1900 and 1903); Paul Haupt, Das babylonische Nimrodepos (Leipzig, 1891); Friedrich Delitzsch, Das babylonische Weltschöpfungsepos (Leipzig, 1896); P. Jensen, “Assyrisch-babylonische Mythen und Epen,” in Schrader's Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek, vol. vi. part 1 (Berlin, 1900); also his Das Nationalepos der Babylonier, &c. (Strassburg, 1906); H. Zimmern in vol. ii. of 3rd ed. of Schrader's Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament (Berlin, 1903); Alfred Jeremias, Die babylonisch-assyrischen Vorstellungen von Leben nach dem Tode (Leipzig, 1887); and his Das Alte Testament im Lichte des Alten Orients (2nd ed., Leipzig, 1906-1907); and Babylonisches im Neuen Testament (Leipzig, 1905). On the religious literature of Babylonia and Assyria, see also chapters xv. to xxiv. in Jastrow's work (German and English edition), Carl Bezold's Ninive and Babylon (Bielefeld, 1905), chapters vi. to xii., and the same author's monumental catalogue of the cuneiform tablets in the Kuyunjik collection of the British Museum (5 vols., London, 1889-1899).
BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY, the name generally given to the deportation of the Jews to Babylon by Nebuchadrezzar. Three separate occasions are mentioned (Jer. lii. 28-30). The first was in the time of Jehoiachin in 597 B.C., when the temple of Jerusalem was partially despoiled and a number of the leading citizens removed. After eleven years (in the reign of Zedekiah) a fresh rising of the Judaeans occurred; the city was razed to the ground, and a further deportation ensued. Finally, five years later, Jeremiah (loc. cit.) records a third captivity. After the overthrow of Babylonia by the Persians, Cyrus gave the Jews permission to return to their native land (537 B.C.), and more then forty thousand are said to have availed themselves of the privilege. (See Jehoiakim; Jehoiachin; Zedekiah; Ezra-Nehemiah and Jews: History.)
BABYLONIAN LAW. The material for the study of Babylonian law is singularly extensive without being exhaustive. The so-called “contracts,” including a great variety of deeds, conveyances, bonds, receipts, accounts and, most important of all, the actual legal decisions given by the judges in the law courts, exist in thousands. Historical inscriptions, royal charters and rescripts, despatches, private letters and the general literature afford welcome supplementary information. Even grammatical and lexicographical works, intended solely to facilitate the study of ancient literature, contain many extracts or short sentences bearing on law and custom. The so-called “Sumerian Family Laws” are thus preserved. The discovery of the now celebrated Code of Khammurabi (Hammurabi) (hereinafter simply termed
- For the transliteration of Babylonian and Assyrian names generally, see Babylonia and Assyria, section ix., Proper Names.