Make Mine Marduk

Even a casual study in the history of religion will reveal that a significant part of its development is based not on anything supernatural, but on all too human political matters. It’s been pretty much the norm that conquering tribes and nations will impose their own religions on conquered people. Not every conqueror will do this, but it’s quite common. Hey, if your god brings a victory against the enemy, then he must be the true god, or at least the strongest god, right? There can be peaceful transfers of gods and religious ideas from one nation to another as well. What often results is a combination of two or more religions. Fortunately, in polytheistic belief systems, adding a few more gods to the mix tended not to matter too much. Sometimes, however, we see heavenly transfers of power suspiciously mirroring earthly ones. One good example of this is the rise of Marduk, whom I mentioned a few years back in his role as creator of the world.

This was actually a fairly late development in Mesopotamian religion, however. In fact, it seems like the Mesopotamian pantheon was in pretty constant turmoil as far as leadership was concerned. Internet sources refer to a triumvirate of gods with individual functions who were all considering the main god at various times. One was Ea, the god of fresh water, who was earlier known as Enki to the Sumerians. He was worshipped at first in the city of Eridu, but his cult spread throughout the area.

Anu and Enlil were both sky gods, but the former was associated more with the high heavens and stars, and the latter with the wind.

Like Ea/Enki, Marduk also began as a local god, his center of worship being the city of Babylon.

As we know, Babylon eventually came to dominate Mesopotamia and other nearby lands, so their god came to be the main one in Babylonian religion. It seems that Marduk might have originally been a storm god, but in his new role as chief deity, he took on many other traits and attributes. Many of the earlier gods were retained, but some were not. Enlil, regarded as the creator of mankind, was pretty much totally replaced by Marduk. Ea lived on as Marduk’s father, whose place the younger god took after his victory over Tiamat. Marduk then created humanity, with their origin being in (surprise, surprise) Babylon. This story is told in the ancient Babylonian epic known as the Enuma Elish, after its first two words. The poem itself seems to have been written mostly to give credence to Marduk as ruler of the gods.

When the worship of Marduk became dominant, respect for him increased, and it became common to refer to him not by his name but by “Bel,” meaning “Lord.” Sound familiar? It should, not just because Bibles in English (and probably other languages as well) translate the name “Yahweh” as simply “Lord,” but because Bel (which would have been “Baal” in Semitic languages) is referenced in the Bible as a rival to Yahweh. Marduk was also known by many other names, and the Babylonians came to regard some of their other gods as aspects of the big guy. So what happened to the worship of Marduk? I’m not entirely sure, but as the Chaldeans and Assyrians battled for control of the area, worshippers of Marduk and Ashur were also in constant conflict.

Later, as Babylon and Mesopotamia were conquered by the Persians and Greeks, it likely became more common for people to worship their deities instead. Obviously Islam is now the major religion in Iraq, but more than a millennium passed in between the fall of the Babylonian Empire and the life of Muhammad. It kind of bothers me when people simply identify a religion as “pagan” or “polytheistic,” because that encompasses a lot of different religions and even more gods.

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15 Responses to Make Mine Marduk

  1. vilajunkie says:

    Pagan doesn’t even really fit unless you’re talking about a tribe in a developing country, that hasn’t been touched by urban civilization yet, as pagan (I think) just refers to “peasants” or “farmers”, specifically ones that one in fields. The Babylonians at the time of the rise of Marduk were very much urbanized, so if anything, Marduk was a city god (or instituted by the state religion), not a country god. It’s just weird for us to consider the Babylonians as civilized and urbanized today, since our cities don’t resemble each other very much. Indoor plumbing and air conditioning, for one thing.

    • vilajunkie says:

      *ones that work in fields

      Oops.

      • Nathan says:

        So does the term “heathen” come from “heath”? I think both terms were originally used as insults, implying the people with those beliefs were uncivilized. It’s like how “Philistine” has come to mean “uncultured,” even though evidence suggests that the Philistines had a much more advanced civilization than the Israelites of the same era. I guess the neo-pagan movement has started using “pagan” positively.

      • vilajunkie says:

        Dunno about “heathen” but I know the Philistines were considered uncultured because they defaced all the Israelite artwork and architecture during a siege, or something like that. I read about that a few weeks ago, but now I can’t remember the whole story behind it.

      • Nathan says:

        Isn’t that basically the same thing the Israelites are said to have done to the Canaanites back in Joshua’s time, though?

      • vilajunkie says:

        Of course. Don’t tell the Orthodox Jews and the right-wing Christians that though! :P

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  3. coolhansa says:

    Hi there…very comprehensive topics…I would like to ask permission to use your image of Marduk on my blog…looking forward to your reply

  4. FRANK G WOOLLEY says:

    What this means is we have all been brain washed and
    genetically manipulated as have trillions of trillions before us’ on other worlds throughout the universe / cosmos’ by these so called ”gods” Who are really supernatural supreme entities’ that with all their powers would of course be as gods to all the other primitive beings on those primitive worlds what they in their arrogance obviously overlooked was the fact ‘ that all those they genetically manipulated would also advance in ”abilities” /knowledge/ e.c.t . and in the passage of TIME be like them’ _so they may well be afraid of ”US”_ for we will be even more awesome than them” = cosmic PAYBACK at last’

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