Marduk vs. the Moon-God

Another example of conflict between fallen spirits in the unseen realm comes from the western Amorite kingdom of Ugarit in a myth about a drunken feast at the house of the creator-god El.

Yarikh [the moon-god] arched his back like a d[o]g;
he gathered up crumbs beneath the tables.

(Any) god who recognized him
threw him meat from the joint.

But (any god) who did not recognize him
hit him with a stick beneath the table.

At the call of Athtart [Astarte/Ishtar] and Anat [the Canaanite war-goddess] he approached.

Athtart threw him a haunch,
and Anat a shoulder of meat.

The porter of El’s house shouted:

“Look! Why have you thrown a haunch to the dog,
(why) to the cur have you thrown a shoulder?”[1]

This is a great example of a text that drives scholars crazy. The meaning is unclear; it could refer to ritual drinking to reach an altered state of consciousness, or it could simply be a long and convoluted cure for a hangover.[2] Either way, the moon-god, bearing his Amorite name, Yarikh, is depicted as a dog, and canines were not man’s best friend in the ancient Near East. This text comes from the final years of Ugarit in the thirteenth century BC. That was the time of the judges in Israel, after the conquest—in other words, after the moon-god had been humiliated at the Wilderness of Sîn, Mount Sinai, Jericho, and the Valley of Aijalon.

Does this text reflect a demotion in the infernal council? The moon-god was at or near the top of the pantheon in Mesopotamia until Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan. After the Long Day, the moon-god faded into the background until his devotee Nabonidus took the crown of Babylon nearly a thousand years later.

Then the Medes and Persians destroyed Babylon as an independent kingdom, and a couple of centuries later, the Greeks and Romans came. Quick, now: How many myths about the Greco-Roman moon-goddess, Selene/Luna, do you know? Probably not many, if any. In the pantheon of Greece and Rome, the moon-deity was strictly supporting cast, a back-bencher.

Again, this is speculation, an attempt to discern the history of the unseen realm from evidence in the natural. We have limited ability to see into the spirit realm. It does, however, fit recorded history. Before Christ, the Fallen fought amongst themselves as well as with God. After the Resurrection, it appears that they put aside some of their mutual distrust. We’ll explore that in more depth as we go along.

The conquest of Babylon by Cyrus apparently frustrated the plans of the moon-god to take over the empire of Nebuchadnezzar. But worship of the moon-god didn’t disappear with the Chaldean kingdom. The land south and southeast of Edom, around the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba, ancient Midian, was still moon-god territory. Tayma, the second home of Babylon’s last king, Nabonidus, was there, although it was no longer called Midian by his day.

Most of what scholars know about the pre-Islamic gods of northwestern Arabia, the area closest to the kingdom of Judah, comes from inscriptions found at Tayma and the other major oases in northern Arabia, Dumah and Dedan (Al-Ula).[3] All three were strategically located along caravan routes connected to the spice trade between southern Arabia, Mesopotamia, and the Mediterranean world.

Tayma, sometimes spelled Tema, is especially important because the last king of Babylon, Nabonidus (Nabû-naʾid, “Nabu [god of wisdom] is praised”), established himself there for ten years, leaving his son, Belshazzar, in Babylon as his coregent. This didn’t sit well with the priesthood of Marduk because certain rituals at the annual akitu festival required the king.

Bad Moon Rising

But we need to remember that fake news wasn’t invented by the American media. Politicians have a long and sordid history of spinning news for their own goals. When histories are written based on fake news, they solidify into “fact” because most of us don’t have time to chase down original sources to get closer to the truth.

Cyrus the Great of Persia was certainly used by God. There is no question about it. But he was a shrewd political operator who used what was at hand to win over the public. That was especially important in a time and place when transfers of power didn’t happen on schedule every four years, but whenever enough people with swords and spears decided another ruler offered them a better deal.

Here’s what Cyrus had going for him: When it became obvious that the Medes and Persians were about to attack, Nabonidus transferred idols of many of the Mesopotamian gods from their home cities to Babylon.

In the month of […?] Lugal-Marada and the other gods of the town Marad, Zabada and the other gods of Kish, the goddess Ninlil and the other gods of Hursagkalama visited Babylon. Till the end of the month Ulûlu all the gods of Akkad—those from above and those from below—entered Babylon. The gods of Borsippa, Cutha, and Sippar did not enter.[4]

Why did he do this? Idols were thought to be spiritual focal points for the gods. The statues gave the deities locality from which they’d protect their cities, as long as they were properly cared for. Nabonidus, knowing this (and painfully aware of the superior army Cyrus had assembled), brought the priests needed to care for the gods to Babylon as well. Not only was this to prevent the gods of Babylonia from falling into Persian hands, but Nabonidus hoped it would strengthen Babylon’s defenses by adding divine protection.

Several months before the final clash of arms at Opis on the Tigris, Nabonidus was already facing the eventuality of a Persian invasion and was making preparations accordingly. These preparations included the gathering of statues in the capital.… During the months preceding the Persian invasion, Babylon became a vast repository of cult statues attended to and cared for by hundreds, if not thousands, of members of their respective clergies.[5]

As a veteran military commander, Nabonidus knew he was in deep trouble. By the summer of 539 BC, the Medes and Persians had conquered everything north and east of the Fertile Crescent. Looking at a modern map, Cyrus controlled everything from Afghanistan in the east to all of Turkey in the west. To make matters worse, his patron deity, the moon-god Sîn, went into partial eclipse on June 13 of that year, which was Simānu 14 on the Babylonian calendar.[6] In a thirty-day lunar month, the moon should have been nearly full that night, and it wasn’t.

The Babylonian astrological text Enuma Anu Enlil offers several possible interpretations for a lunar eclipse falling on Simānu 14. They vary with certain factors—weather conditions, color of the moon, etc.—but they’re described by scholars as “uniformly catastrophic for the land.”[7]

With the army of Cyrus massing for invasion, it’s not surprising that the moon-god worshiper Nabonidus reacted with something like panic.

[1] Nicolas Wyatt, “KTU 1.114: The Myth of El’s Banquet: A Medical Text.” Religious texts from Ugarit (2nd ed.)(London; New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 407-409.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Robert Wenning, “North Arabian Deities and the Deities of Petra.” Men on the Rocks: The Formation of Nabataean Petra, M. Mouton and S.G. Schmid (eds.) (Berlin: Logos Verlag Berlin, 2012), 335.

[4] “Chronicle Concerning the Reign of Nabonidus.”, retrieved 12/26/18. Interesting to note that the gods who “did not enter” Babylon were Shamash, the sun-god; Nergal (Resheph/Apollo), the underworld gatekeeper and plague-god; and Nabu, the god of wisdom and Marduk’s top assistant.

[5] Paul-Alain Beaulieu, “An Episode in the Fall of Babylon to the Persians.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Oct., 1993), 257.

[6] Ibid., 260.

[7] Ibid., 261.

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