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The god Aššur

  • W. G. Lambert

Considerable mystery surrounds the state god of Assyria, Aššur. Though this country was a little removed from the centres of Sumero-Babylonian culture and had distinctive traits of its own, compared with Syria and Elam it was definitely within the cultural milieu of Mesopotamia. This applies to religion also, where Adad and Ištar, for example, as worshipped in Assyria, are clearly the counterparts of the Adad and Ištar known from southern Mesopotamia. But the state god Aššur is different. He was peculiarly an Assyrian god without other cult centres, except when Assyrians established them, and he is not fully a deus persona. One seeks in vain for his identity. First, he lacks the family connections which are characteristic of all the major gods and goddesses of the Babylonians and Sumerians, uniting them in one big clan. Who was his wife? He sometimes is named with Ištar as though they were husband and wife, but this is not expressly stated, and one may wonder if the pre-eminence of Ištar in Nineveh does not explain this. They were the chief deities of the two main Assyrian cities. After a while Ninlil begins to appear as his wife, but this merely reflects his identification with the old Sumerian chief god—he is called “Assyrian Enlil”—and this use of Enlil's wife Ninlil merely underlines the lack of any native Assyrian wife of his. The same applies to the rare mentions of Ninurta and Zababa as his sons: they were long before sons of the Sumero-Babylonian Enlil. The only relative not clearly borrowed from southern Mesopotamia is Šeru'a, who, despite a little confusion, is not the same as Eru'a, a title of Zarpānītum, Marduk's wife. Yet even in Neo-Assyrian theological texts it is openly disputed whether she is Aššur's wife or daughter!

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1 The biggest collection of data is still to be found in Tallqvist, K., Der assyrische Gott (SO IV/3, 1932); cf. the same author's Akkadische Götterepitheta (SO VII, 1938, 265 ff.), but further information is now available from many new sources. See especially G. Van Driel, The Cult of Aššur, and B. Menzel, Assyrische Tempel. “Tallqvist” here refers to his monograph on this god.

2 Tallqvist, p. 21.

3 Tallqvist, p. 22.

4 Tallqvist, p. 23. The one passage for Zababa, KAV 39 obv. (!) 1–2, is correctly rendered by Ebeling, E., SVAS, p. 11, incorrectly by Oppenheim, A. L., The Interpretation of Dreams, p. 354. It is: bi-ri ab-re-e-ma dāá-maš u dadad áš-al-ma um-ma dza-ba 4-ba 4mār an.šár šu-ú “I performed an extispicy and asked Šamaiš and Adad, ‘Is Zababa son of Aššur?’”

The asking of the question implies that a positive answer was conceivable to the inquirer.

5 Tallqvist, p. 23. The only evidence for equating Eru('a) and Šeru'a is the writing EDIN(-u-a) for Šeru'a in personal names, e.g. Muballiṭat-dše-ru-ú-a/dEDIN-u-a (A. K. Grayson, ABC, 159 9, 171 5), which is not strong evidence.

6 G. Van Driel, op. cit., 102 53–7; B. Menzel, op. cit., II, T 68.

7 Cf. Dhorme, P., La Religion Assyro-babylonienne (1910), 101: “Nous aimerions mieux trouver dans les textes quelque attribut caractéristique qui nous permît de déterminer la nature du dieu.” Also note Jastrow, M., The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (1898), p. 193: “He was never worshipped, so far as can be ascertained, as a manifestation of any of the great powers of nature …”. (The older writers on religion are often of very great value still.)

8 More commonly, due to the third-person formulation of the inscriptions, bēlīšu “his lord” occurs. See passim the inscriptions of Irišum, Ikunum and Puzur-Sin.

9 Larsen, M. T., The Old Assyrian City-State and its Colonies, 115 ff.

10 M. T. Larsen, op. cit., 127 ff.

11 Hirsch, H., Untersuchungen zur altassyrischen Religion (1961), 728 and 78.

12 Garelli, P., RA 56 (1962), 201.

13 M. T. Larsen, op. cit., 116.

14 Stamm, J. J., Die akkadische Namengebung, 84 ff.

15 The name of Adad (with various endings or none) is documented by Schlobies, H., MAOG I/3, 114; for the place Muru see RG I–III, sub voce IM.

16 RG I–II, sub voce Ebiḫ; III, sub voce Abiḫ; also puzur4-e-bi-iḫ (RA 74, 74 49). In the documentation of this and the other divine geographical features in personal names not every single example may be quoted.

17 Stol, M., On Trees, Mountains, and Millstones, 25 ff.

18 H. Hirsch, op. cit., 34.

19 Roberts, J. J. A., The Earliest Semitic Pantheon, 17.

20 H. Hirsch, op. cit., 32 f.

21 RG I, p. 210; II, p. 259.

22 RG III, p. 312; also, probably early Old Babylonian, šu-dDA-ba-an (RA 74, 74 55).

23 ARM XVI/1, 263; RG III, p. 287; and puzur 4d.ididiglat (RA 74, 74 62).

24 The first in Saporetti, C., Onomastica Medio-Assira I, 497; the last two in Freydank, H. and Saporetti, G., Nuove Attestazioni dell'Onomastica Medio-Assira, 51. The divine names are written: d(id)(IDIGNA and dEN.TI.

25 Pettinato, G., OA 18, 150 v 25.

26 Pettinato, G., OA 18, 344 i 4; also in the forth-coming work of M. Krebernik.

27 SLT 122 rev. vii 17. The whole section is lacking from the duplicates SLT 123 and 124.

28 MSL XIV, 190 f., where a parallel passage in Diri is cited.

29 See the recent work of V. Haas, Hethitische Berggötter und hurritische Steindämonen.

30 In this connection it is important to note, first, that ancient languages often do not distinguish between “hill” and “mountain”; secondly, that we should not be influenced by modern geographical knowledge with its specification of heights of mountains in feet or metres above sea level. The ancients were influenced by what struck their senses. “Mount” Zion is a hill by our standards, but that did not prevent its being religiously very important.

31 Garelli, P., RA 56, 191 ff.

32 From Puzur-Aššur III to Enlil-nirari Assyrian royal inscriptions promise that Aššur and Adad will hear (i.e. and grant) the prayers of a pious ruler. This implies power to put the prayers into effect.

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