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Babylonians, Religion of the.

1. Composite polytheistic form of religion in which the religious ideas current in the area of Babylon were ultimately merged with those prevailing in the city-states of the lower Tigris-Euphrates valley, when the latter were gradually absorbed into the Babylonian Empire under the 1st dynasty of Babylon (ca. 1800 BC). Marduk (Bel, i. e., Lord), chief deity of Babylon, the victorious city, emerged as head of the empire's pantheon. But homage was paid also to the gods of the conquered cities, chief among them Nabu (god of wisdom and writing) of Borsippa, Shamash (sun god) of Larsa and Sippar, Sin (moon god) of Ur, Ishtar (mother goddess) of Uruk (see also Hittites), Ea (god of the watery deep) of Eridu, Enlil (storm god) of Nippur. As the names indicate, the arising religion included elements of Sumerian and Semitic origin. Worship of these gods included votive offerings, prayers which voiced the worshiper's praise of the respective god or presented petitions to him, the recitation of psalms of repentance, and, at the time of the spring equinox, the great ceremonial procession in connection with the New Year festival. On the latter occasion the king of Babylon took the hands of Marduk, a symbolic action to express that he was the god's adopted son.

2. The Babylonians further recognized the existence of a large number of demons, depicted in frightful form, which plagued mankind with disease and a host of other evils. To ward these off, the religious Babylonian wore amulets and resorted to incantations, the chanting of which was a specialty of a certain class of priests. There was, however, also a belief that there were beneficent genii, and each Babylonian was thought to have his particular patron god or goddess to whom he could appeal for help and protection and who would intercede in his behalf before the great gods. Witches and the evil eye were greatly feared.

3. The religious cult was in charge of a numerous priesthood grouped in many classes and ranks. Besides being in charge of the temple worship carried on in the sanctuaries of the various gods, the priests were the recognized authorities in divination carried on by inspecting sheep's livers (hepatoscopy), reading the future in the stars (astrology), and interpreting dreams and omens of a wide variety (abnormalities of newborn children and animals; the shape assumed by a drop of sesame oil on water). The priests, however, were also the learned men of their time and devoted themselves to the preservation of religious and other literature, copying it for use in the temple libraries.

4. Imposing temples housed the images of the many gods, and kings considered it of special merit to erect such sanctuaries in the centers where each god was worshiped. A special feature in connection with some of these structures was the ziggurat, a square tower of as many as 7 stories of decreasing size, with a ramp running around the outside and serving as a staircase leading to the top. Famous is the temple-tower at Borsippa, forming part of the temple of Nabu. Today a large mound known as Birs Nimrud (Tower of Nimrod) marks the location.

5. Death to the Babylonian meant the separation of the soul from the body, the former entering the realm of the dead to continue a cheerless and shadowy existence in dark surroundings. Rulers of this nether world were the goddess Allatu, or Ereshkigal, and her husband Nergal, or Ninazu. In order that the soul might come to rest it was essential that the body be properly interred and not be disturbed in the grave.

6. Two of the abundant remains of the religious literature of the Babylonians are most important: an epic glorifying Marduk and the so-called Gilgamesh epic. The former relates how the gods, the universe, and the human race came into being and how Marduk attained the position of leadership among the gods. The latter epic contains an account of the Flood* that in many respects closely parallels the Biblical story.

7. The religious beliefs of the Assyrians were essentially the same as those of the Babylonians, with the exception that their chief god was Ashur. With the fall of Nineveh (612 BC) and the capture of Babylon by Cyrus (539 BC) the religion of the Babylonians and Assyrians fell into disuse. GVS

M. Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (Boston, 1898) and Die Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens, 2 vols. in 3 (Giessen, 1905–12); R. W. Rogers, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (New York, 1908).


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

Internet Version Produced by
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod


Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
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Content Reproduced with Permission

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