Nabu Puts It in Writing

It seems that most pantheons of gods have a member who serves as a scribe, although that’s often but one of the deity’s functions. The Greeks give that position to Hermes, also the messenger god, deity of commerce, and patron of thieves. In Egyptian mythology, Thoth was the scribe, as well as the judge of the dead and mediator of the gods. The Babylonian deity who filled this role was Nabu, known as the son of Marduk.

These gods were linked to each other throughout the history of Mesopotamia, and are thought to have both been adopted around 2000 BC. Nabu was actually originally a Western Semitic god, but he later became the most popular god in Assyria, and significant to the Babylonians as well. His main center of worship was in Borsippa, but his statue was brought to Babylon for the New Year’s festivities, which represented his rescuing his father from the underworld. Nabu was not only credited as the inventor of cuneiform writing, but also as the keeper of the tablets on which the destinies of mankind were written. Also, he was sometimes associated with agriculture.

Like some other significant Mesopotamian deities, including his father Marduk, Nabu was said to ride a dragon, or mushhushshu.

The name of that animal roughly translates to “splendor-serpent,” and the most famous depictions of the creature can be found on the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, which has been reconstructed in Berlin.

Apparently Robert Koldewey, the archaeologist who discovered the gate, thought the mushhushshu was a real animal, hence bringing it into the realm of cryptozoology. Why cryptozoology enthusiasts seem to think ancient artists had no imagination isn’t entirely clear. Maybe in another 3000 years, conspiracy theorists will start looking for evidence that the animals in Dr. Seuss books were real.

In one of the episodes from the Book of Daniel that didn’t make it to the Tanakh but was included in the Septuagint, there is a dragon in a Babylonian temple that Daniel kills by feeding it cakes made of pitch, fat, and hair.

(Who knew dragons had such sensitive stomachs? Maybe that’s why they’re always belching out fire. Also, for what it’s worth, Alexander the Great has apparently been credited with doing pretty much the same thing.) Koldowey associated this dragon with the mushhushshu.

Speaking of the Jewish captivity in Babylon, a reference to Nabu can be found in the name of the infamous Chaldean conqueror Nabû-kudurri-uṣur. What? Never heard of him? You probably have, just by his more Westernized name Nebuchadnezzar.

The deity’s name is also an element in the names of his father Nabopolassar and his eventual successor Nabonidus, the latter of whom overthrew Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson-in-law Labashi-Marduk. (Succession through regicide seems to have been pretty standard in those days.) Nabonidus was the father of Belshazzar, who for some reason is identified in Daniel as the son of Nebuchadnezzar.

One possible explanation for this lies in the fact that Nabonidus is known to have stayed in the desert for several years as a devotee of the moon god.

The account in Daniel of Nebuchadnezzar turning into a wild beast and eventually converting to Judaism could actually be a reference to this, although I also can’t help seeing the connection to King Midas turning to the worship of the wild nature god Pan and being given donkey ears by Apollo.

The Wikipedia entry also identifies Nabu as the namesake for the planet from the Star Wars series Why people a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away would name a planet after a Mesopotamian deity isn’t clear, but I guess gods are capable of getting around. On Earth, Nabu was associated with the planet Mercury, which is probably where it got its name (since Mercury was also the god of writing, hence associated by the Romans with Nabu).

Sources consulted:
Gateways to Babylon
Myths Encyclopedia
The Conlanger’s Library
The Spectacled Bear: Mushhushshu

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This entry was posted in Babylonian, Christianity, Greek Mythology, History, Judaism, Mesopotamia, Mythology, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Nabu Puts It in Writing

  1. Will says:

    letting my geek flag fly>>>
    Naboo (pronounced /nə’bu/) was a planet that was the sector capital of the Chommell Sector near the Outer Rim territories. It was a largely unspoiled world with large plains, swamps and seas. It was mostly known as the homeworld of notable historical figures who played major roles in the downfall of the Old Republic and the rise of the Galactic Empire, namely Padmé Amidala, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine and Jar Jar Binks.

  2. Will says:

    Of course there is Dr. Fate from DC Comics

    Powered through an amulet and helmet by the Lord or Order named Nabu, Kent Nelson became one of the most powerful heroes of the Golden Age. He lives on inside the current Fate’s amulet, able to provide guidance when needed.

    Nabu here is not the god Nabu but a Lord of Order

    In the DC Universe there are lords of Order and Chaos

    • vilajunkie says:

      I remember those because they were trying to get a hold of the realm of Hell when Lucifer gave it up in Sandman.

  3. Will says:

    Gaiman’s Sandman is in the DC Universe, later the publishers put a wall between the super-heroe properties & Vertigo’s.

    • vilajunkie says:

      Right. I think fans of Sandman tend to forget how much of the DC superhero line Gaiman really used in the series. Plus all those horror comic narrators showing up as denizens of the Dreaming.

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