Babylonian And Assyrian Religion. The development of the religion of Babylonia, so far as it can be traced with the material at hand, follows closely along the lines of the periods to be distinguished in the history of the Euphrates valley. Leaving aside the primitive phases of the religion as lying beyond the ken of historical investigation, we may note the sharp distinction to be made between the pre-Khammurabic age and the post-Khammurabic age. While the political movement represented by Khammurabi may have been proceeding for some time prior to the appearance of the great conqueror, the period of c. 2250 B.C., when the union of the Euphratean states was effected by Khammurabi, marks the beginning of a new epoch in the religion as well as in the political history of the Euphrates valley. Corresponding to the states into which we find the country divided before 2250 B.C., we have a various number of religious centres such as Nippur, Erech, Kutha (Cuthah), Ur, Sippara (Sippar), Shirgulla (Lagash), Eridu and Agade, in each of which some god was looked upon as the chief deity around whom there were gathered a number of minor deities and with whom there was invariably associated a female consort.
The jurisdiction of this chief god was, however, limited to the political extent or control of the district in which the main seat of the cult of the deity in question lay. Mild attempts, to be sure, to group the chief deities associated with the most important religious and political centres into a regular pantheon were made - notably in Nippur and later in Ur - but such attempts lacked the enduring quality which attaches to Khammurabi's avowed policy to raise Marduk - the patron deity of the future capital, Babylon - to the head of the entire Babylonian pantheon, as Babylon itself came to be recognized as the real centre of the entire Euphrates valley.
Associated with Marduk was his consort Sarpanit, and grouped around the pair as princes around a throne were the chief deities of the older centres, like Ea and Damkina of Eridu, Nebo and Tashmit of Borsippa, Nergal and Allatu of Kutha, Shamash and Ā of Sippar, Sin and Ningal of Ur, as well as pairs like Ramman (or Adad) and Shala whose central seat is unknown to us. In this process of accommodating ancient prerogatives to new conditions, it was inevitable that attributes belonging specifically to the one or the other of these gods should have been transferred to Marduk, who thus from being, originally, a solar deity becomes an eclectic power, taking on the traits of Bel, Ea, Shamash, Nergal, Adad and even Sin (the moon-god) - a kind of composite residuum of all the chief gods.
In the religious literature this process can be traced with perfect definiteness. The older incantations, associated with Ea, were re-edited so as to give to Marduk the supreme power over demons, witches and sorcerers: the hymns and lamentations composed for the cult of Bel, Shamash and of Adad were transformed into paeans and appeals to Marduk, while the ancient myths arising in the various religious and political centres underwent a similar process of adaptation to changed conditions, and as a consequence their original meaning was obscured by the endeavour to assign all mighty deeds and acts, originally symbolical of the change of seasons or of occurrences in nature, to the patron deity of Babylon - the supreme head of the entire Babylonian pantheon. Besides the chief deities and their consorts, various minor ones, representing likewise patron gods of less important localities and in most cases of a solar character were added at one time or the other to the court of Marduk, though there is also to be noted a tendency on the part of the chief solar deity, Shamash of Sippara, and for the chief moon-god to absorb the solar and lunar deities of less important sites, leading in the case of the solar gods to the differentiation of the functions of Shamash during the various seasons of the year and the various times of the day among these minor deities.
In this way Ninib, whose chief seat appears to have been at Shirgulla (Lagash), became the sun-god of the springtime and of the morning, bringing joy and new life to the earth, while Nergal of Kutha was regarded as the sun of the summer solstice and of the noonday heat - the harbinger of suffering and death.
There were, however, two deities who appear to have retained an independent existence - Anu (q.v.), the god of heaven, and Ishtar (q.v.), the great mother-goddess, who symbolized fertility and vitality in general. There are some reasons for believing that the oldest seat, and possibly the original seat, of the Anu cult was in Erech, as it is there where the Ishtar cult that subsequently spread throughout Babylonia and Assyria took its rise. While Anu, with whom there was associated as a pale reflection a consort Antum, assigned to him under the influence of the widely prevalent view among the early Semites which conceived of gods always in pairs, remained more or less of an abstraction during the various periods of the Babylonian-Assyrian religion and taking little part in the active cult of the temples, his unique position as the chief god of the highest heavens was always recognized in the theological system developed by the priests, which found an expression in making him the first figure of a triad, consisting of Anu, Bel and Ea, among whom the priests divided the three divisions of the universe, the heavens, the earth with the atmosphere above it, and the watery expanse respectively.
Postponing the discussion of this triad, it is to be noted that the systematization of the pantheon after the days of Khammurabi did not seriously interfere with the independence of the goddess Ishtar. While frequently associated with Marduk, and still more closely with the chief god of Assyria, the god Assur (who occupies in the north the position accorded to Marduk in the south), so much so as to be sometimes spoken of as Assur's consort - the lady or Belit par excellence - the belief that as the source of all life she stands apart never lost its hold upon the people and found an expression also in the system devised by the priests. By the side of the first triad, consisting of Anu, Bel and Ea - disconnected in this form entirely from all local associations - we encounter a second triad composed of Shamash, Sin and Ishtar. As the first triad symbolized the three divisions of the universe - the heavens, earth and the watery element - so the second represented the three great forces of nature - the sun, the moon and the life-giving power.