Category Archives: Bible/Torah
Also Known As: Angel of Death, Death, The Reaper, The Grim Spectre of Death, der Tod (German), Kosač (Slavic), La Muerte (Latin), La Mort (Latin), La Calaca (in Mexico), Pietje de Dood (Dutch), Smrt (Slavic)
“Only two things are certain in life, death and taxes.”
- Benjamin Franklin
In the modern, Western mindset, the Grim Reaper is either a personification of Death, an angel, spirit, or psychopomp who comes to take the souls of the recently deceased to the afterlife.
Since the earliest times, there are numerous stories showing death being a part of life. Even modern literature and media will show that death happens and that the figure of the Grim Reaper is frequently one who’s there to guide people on to the next life.
One can rightfully argue that the concept and personification of the Grim Reaper have existed for a very long time. Even before their modern appearance, numerous cultures have some variation of a Death deity or psychopomp. Prominent deities are the Greek Thanatos, God of Death, and more recently from Brittany, France the Ankou who bears a striking resemblance to the modern Grim Reaper, it’s easy to see them as both the same entity doing the same job.
From European history, it’s easy to see a personification of Death taking on the skeletal visage they have during the fourteenth century when the Black Death plague is sweeping through, with so many people dying and bodies piling up. Artists would paint images of skeletons with weapons or scythes, riding on white horses through the streets with wagons full of bodies. From all of this would eventually come the dark figure dressed in black robes and carrying a scythe.
As for the name “Grim Reaper,” that wouldn’t come until 1847 when the name “Grim” was a popular name for Death that can be traced to the thirteenth century.
The Grim Reaper is often described as a skeleton dressed in black robes with a hood pulled up and carrying a scythe. In Europe, the Grim Reaper or Death may be dressed in white, a traditional color worn during funerals in some cultures.
During the Medieval Ages, the Grim Reaper was thought of as a decaying corpse before becoming the more familiar skeletal figure.
The Grim Reaper is a familiar figure who appears in numerous media and literature and can appear as either his familiar robed figure or as an ordinary person, male or female going about doing their job.
Scythe – It should go without saying, the scythe represents a harvester’s tool for bringing in the grain. So does the scythe representing harvesting a person’s soul or spirit when they did. Depending on the story, the Grim Reaper doesn’t have to use their scythe, just their mere presence and arrival is enough to signify that a person’s time has come.
Hourglass – Some depictions of the Grim Reaper have them with an hourglass representing the ticking off the sands of time and moment of death.
White Horse – When connected as a Horseman of the Apocalypse, the Grim Reaper or Death as they are then known is seen riding a white horse or possibly, riding in a chariot pulled by white horses.
Regardless of the description of the Grim Reaper that you go by or calling them Death, the Angel of Death, their job is that of a psychopomp, an entity that guides and takes the souls of the deceased to the afterlife.
While researching the Grim Reaper, I came across numerous articles that break down and go into all the myriad personifications of Death around the world, either as a deity, angel, or psychopomp. Including dozens of examples of the Grim Reaper in modern media where they are still a very active figure who is simply doing their job.
Or the “Dance of Death” is a medieval French allegory for how death unites everyone, regardless of age or social status in life. The Danse Macabre has been shown in various forms of the arts beginning as theatre plays and poems, wall paintings, and drawings. The majority of these come from the 15th century, an era of numerous famines, plagues, and wars. All things that people associated with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The imagery invoked is Death summoning the spirits of the dead to come and dance along their graves. The more commonly used figures would be the pope, a king, the young, old, and the laborer to remind the audience watching that death is an inevitable part of life and the Danse would highlight those too attached to worldly possessions.
The French believed the Grim Reaper would arise every year in the local cemetery at midnight, the Witching Hour. The Grim Reaper would then play a fiddle, summoning all the skeletons and ghosts of the dead to come dance until dawn, and the rising sun would force them back to their graves. This belief inspired Henri Casalis’ poem “Danse Macabre” which would be made into a musical piece by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns in 1874.
Kalan Goañv – A Breton festival occurring on October 31st and similar to Halloween and Samhain. Similar to the tradition in the Mexican Dio Los Muertos, the Bretons would feed the Ankou, a figure similar to the Grim Reaper with milk, cider, and crepes. The tombstones in cemeteries across Brittany have small cup-like holders where offerings for the dead can be left.
Looking at the Grim Reaper through the lens of Christianity, the Grim Reaper is the angel of death sent by God to do his bidding. This is the angel who is to have smote some 185,000 Assyrians in their camp. The same destroying angel who killed the firstborn of the Egyptians. Just about any time that an angel of death or destroying angels is mentioned, there’s a connection made to the Grim Reaper. With this connection, the Grim Reaper’s name is Azrael. The Talmud will connect him to Samael. In Eastern Orthodox beliefs, Death is one of the three enemies of humanity, with the other two being sin and the devil.
Getting into the Biblical Book of Revelation, particularly in chapter six, there are four horsemen who appear, each signaling another sign of the end of the world and Judgement Day. The four horsemen are said to be Pestilence, Famine, War, and Death. It is the figure of Death, the only one outright named, riding a pale horse that has many connecting the imagery of the Grim Reaper. Many modern depictions of the horseman Death will show him being dressed and looking like the Grim Reaper too.
In the Major Arcana of the tarot cards, death is one of the cards that can turn up. Depending on the specific deck in use, the death card may depict the familiar robed figure of the Grim Reaper.
The modern imagery of the Grim Reaper and how he or she appears varies wildly depending on the media in which the figure appears. From the traditional skeletal figure dressed in robes with a scythe to a very ordinary-looking human woman or man just doing their job. But they almost always appear in some capacity to release the soul of the recently deceased and guide them to the afterlife. For some characters, they’re ready to go, for others they are scared and don’t want to go and try to find a way to cheat death, claiming a false death, one more chance, unfinished business before some stories have the character realize they can’t beat the inevitable and that it’s time.
Playing Games With Death – This has been a popular motif used and spoofed in many media and literature. The Swedish director Ingmar Bergman first brought this concept in his 1957 movie “The Seventh Seal” where a medieval knight plays a game of chess against Death. Since then, many movies and shows have spoofed or made use of this idea later. One of my personal favorites is in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.
“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” – This is a song from 1976 by Blue Oyster Cult found on their album Agents of Fortune. The lyrics to the song encourage listeners to not fear death, but rather instead to see it as symbolizing eternal love. Author Stephen King found inspiration from it for his novel The Stand and the song features in the opening of the 1994 miniseries adaptation and again in the end of the fifth episode for the 2020-2021 miniseries adaptation. Plus, if you want a song with more cowbell, this is for you.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – In the 1988 movie, Baron Munchausen is constantly being pursued by Death, shown as a skeletal angel with raven wings and wielding a scythe and hourglass. At the end of the film, Death takes Munchausen’s soul with Munchausen is given a lavish funeral where Munchausen then boldly states that this was “one of the many times I faced Death” before the movie finally comes to an end.
The Sandman – This graphic novel series and recent Netflix adaptation show Death as an immortal and one of Morpheus’ siblings. In the comics, she is shown as a Goth Girl and in the live-action, she is dressed casually. The episode featuring Death shows her appearing to a person at the time of their death and guiding them on.
I could keep going on with all the various appearances of Death or the Grim Reaper. Suffice to say they are still a rather active figure and one who is truly timeless whose motifs will always fascinate people and seek to explore.
Father Time’s Age-Old Companion
It’s notable how the imagery for both Father Time and the Grim Reaper are very similar in appearance. Both wear a robe, and both carry a scythe. One just happens to be an old man while the other is a skeleton. Despite how similar the two look in certain details, they are not the same being.
Syno-Deities & Entities
As a psychopomp and representation of Death, the Grim Reaper has numerous counterparts around the world. Many of the more European-based figures will certainly share similarities in their depictions while other cultures are likely to have different appearances. They do share in common, either being the guide to the afterlife or the one that greets spirits on arrival.
Ah Puch – The Mayan god or lord of death.
Ankou – Essentially, the Grim Reaper and Ankou are largely the same entity, both wear black robes and carry a scythe. The Grim Reaper is very much the modern Ankou, appearing in several various media and literature.
Arawn – The Celtic god of the Dead, the Ankou is sometimes equated with him.
Azrael – The Angel of Death in Jewish traditions. More accurately, they are the Angel of Light and Darkness from the Talmud.
Azrail – The Angel of Death in Islamic beliefs. He, along with many angels under him will guide and take souls to the afterlife.
Bag an Noz – The Boat of Night, those who live along the seashore in Brittany tell of how the last person to drown in the year, will roam the seas at night to collect the souls of the drowned and guide them to the Afterlife, just as the Ankou does on land. It is a ghost ship that appears whenever something bad is about to happen and disappears when people come too close. The crew of this boat is said to call out soul-wrenching sounds.
Charon – The Greek ferryman of the dead has also been equated with the Grim Reaper due to similar garb and taking souls to the Afterlife.
Church Grim – Or the Grim, in English and Scandinavian lore it is a black dog that has been killed and buried in the graveyard at either the beginning or end of the year in order to protect the church and graveyard. Other animals such as lambs, boars or horses.
Crom Dubh – This one is a bit of a stretch. Crom Dubh was an ancient Celtic fertility god who demanded human sacrifices every year, of which, the preferred method was decapitation. Eventually the god fell out of favor and somehow this god becomes a spirit seekings corpses and eventually becoming the Dullahan.
Death Coach – A general Northern European, especially in Ireland where it is called the Cóiste Bodhar. The Death Coach is known for arriving to collect the soul of a deceased person. Once it arrives on earth to collect a soul, it will not leave empty. It is a black coach or carriage that is driven or led by a headless horseman who is often identified with the Dullahan.
The Dullahan – also known as Dulachán means “dark man” or “without a head.” This being is a headless fairy often seen dressed in black and riding a black headless horse while carrying his head under an arm or inner thigh. The Dullahan is armed with a whip made from a human spine. Death occurs wherever the Dullahan ceases riding and when it calls out a name, the person called dies. Death can also come if the Dullahan tosses a bucket of blood at a person who has been watching it.
In other versions, the Dullahan rides a black carriage. Sometimes they are accompanied by a banshee. Nothing can stop the Dullahan from claiming a victim save the payment of gold.
Giltinė – The Lithuanian personification of Death. She was depicted as an ugly, old woman with a long blue nose and poisonous tongue.
Gwyn ap Nudd – The Welsh god of the Dead, in some later folklore, he leads the Wild Hunt, especially on Halloween to guide and take wayward souls to the afterlife in Arawn.
Hel – In Norse mythology from Scandinavia, she is the goddess of the Dead and rules over a realm with the same name.
Hermes – This is the Greek god sometimes known to guide souls down to the Underworld where Charon, the Ferryman would receive them for the next part of the journey to Hades.
La Calavera Catrina – A popular figure to see in Mexican culture and during Dia De Los Muertos.
Jeoseungsaja – Or Saja is the Korean version of the Grimm Reaper who escorts souls to the afterlife.
Magere Hein – Also known as Pietje de Dood, this is the personification of Death in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Maweth – In Hebraic scriptures, Death or Maweth is the personification of either the angel of death or a devil.
Memitim – A name for a class of angels in biblical lore that presides over those dying whom a Guardian Angel was no longer protecting.
Mercury – The Roman version of the Grecian Hermes, he too is a psychopomp that guides souls to Avernus, a crater in Italy thought to be the entrance to the underworld.
Mictecacihuatl – The Aztec goddess of death
Mictlantecutli – The Aztec god of death
Morana – The Slavic goddess of winter, death, and rebirth.
Mot – The Canaanite personification and god of Death.
Omolu – The Brazilian spirits known to bring death, disease, and even healing.
Pesta – Meaning the “plague hag,” in Scandinavia, during the Black Plague, she was depicted as an old woman wearing a black hood. Pesta would come into town carrying either a rake or broom. If she brought the rake, it meant some people would survive the plague. If she brought the broom, it meant that everyone would die.
Samael – This the name for another angel in Jewish tradition who does the Lord’s bidding as his executioner.
San La Muerte – A similar figure found in South America, mainly Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.
Santa Muerte – The female version of the Grim Reaper. Her imagery is very similar in appearance to the Ankou and Grim Reaper wearing robes and wielding a scythe. Santa Muerte is worshiped primarily among many Hispanics & Latinos, especially in places like Mexico.
San Pascualito – A folk saint of Death found in Guatemala and Mexico.
Śmierć – This figure of Death is female and comes from Poland where instead of dressing in black like the Grim Reaper, they dress in white.
Shinigami – These are the Japanese gods of Death.
Thanatos – The Greek god of Death.
Valkyries – The “choosers of the slain” and warrior maidens in Norse mythology, they would escort the souls of the dead with half going to Odin’s realm in Valhalla and the other half going to Freya’s Hall of Folkvangr.
Yama – The Hindu god of death, as well as the judge of souls in the afterlife.
Yanluo – From Chinese mythology, Yanluo is the god of the dead and ruler of Di Yu.
And if I have done nothing else, let death be greeted as an old friend instead of something to be feared…
Also Called: An (Sumerian), Anum, Ilu
Epitaphs: “The Father,” “Father of the Gods,” “King of the Gods”
Etymology: “Heaven” Sumerian “One on High”
In Mesopotamian mythology, Anu is a god of the sky and heavens, he was lord of the constellations and the king of the gods, spirits and demons. Anu was worshiped primarily by the Sumerians, but also among the Akkadians and Babylonians. In Sumer, Anu is known as An and his worship dates back to at least 3,000 B.C.E. and is one of the oldest gods in the Mesopotamian myths.
Patron of: Kings, Aristocrats
Planet: Saturn, Uranus
Sphere of Influence: Law, Order, Justice, Weather, Rain, Sky
Symbols: Horned Cap
In art, Anu is often shown wearing a horned headdress or helmet that symbolized his strength. Anu is sometimes shown as being seated in his throne. Early art shows him as a bull and later on that a bull is his companion animal.
What’s In A Name
Being a primordial god and one of the earliest, it can be difficult to pinpoint when exactly Anu or An appears as a deity. Part of what makes it difficult is that the sign for “An” can be read in several different ways. As a title and for the sky itself. In the third millennium B.C.E., the first attestations of An as a deity appear on the Fara god-list with his name appearing more frequently later on.
In Sumerian, An’s name is never written down denote the usage of his name as a divine being or god. In Akkadian, as Anu, his name is read as dAN, leading to being read as da-nu, da-num, and an-nu.
There are a couple of temples dedicated to Anu found in Uruk and Assur. The Eanna in Uruk was dedicated to Anu and his consort Antu or Anatum. Sometimes this consort is given as Inana or Ishtar who was worshiped with Anu.
During the Achaemenid and Seleucid eras, Anu was worshipped at the Res temple with Antu.
Both the Mesopotamian cities of Der and Uruk held the title as “the City of Anu.” In the city of Lagas, there was a temple dedicated to Anu or An by Gudea. Later, Ur-Namma would build a garde and shrine for Anu in Ur. That was also a “seat” for Anu in the main temple in Babylon, Esagil. Offerings to Anu were given in Nippur, Sippar and Kish. In Assur, there was a doubled temple dedicated for both Anu and Adad.
This is the abode and the level of heaven that Anu resides in as mentioned in the Akkadian-Babylonian epic called the Atrahasis that recounts the Great Flood myth.
This third heaven is also the highest of the three heavens and is made of a reddish luludānitu stone. Other scholars have put forward that the floor or ground of this heaven is made of that color stone.
The Third Heaven that Anu resides in is thought to be located towards the northern pole found within the Draco constellation.
The earliest of the Mesopotamian texts make no mention of Anu’s origins. He just is and it isn’t until the third millennium B.C.E. that we find Sumerian texts that there is mention of Anu or An and his consort Uraš who give birth to the other gods.
Over the next few millennia of Mesopotamian culture, different cultures and eras would assign a different consort to Anu along with his stepping back to allow another deity to take over rulership of the gods.
In later texts such as the Enuma Elis, Anu is given as the son of Anšar, the Sky and Kišar, the Earth. If we go by the lineage with Tiamat, Anu would properly be one of the Igigi, the third and fourth generation of gods.
Parentage & Family
Apsu – Primordial god of Fresh Water
Tiamat – Primordial Goddess of the Oceans and Abyssal Deeps
Alalu – Anu’s father in Hurrian and Hittite religion and mythology.
In Sumerian religion, the sea goddess Nammu is given as Anu’s mother.
Anšar (the Sky) and Kišar (the Earth) in East Semitic religions and mythos.
Aside note has that though there are different goddesses mentioned as Anu’s wife, the name she goes by varies from one Mesopotamian culture to another and which era of history the story was written down.
Antu – An East Semitic goddess, she is also called Antum, Anatum, Uras (early Sumerian), she is a creation goddess and wife of Anu. In Akkadian, the name Antu is merely the feminine form of Anu.
Ishtar – Also called Innina, later myths would place Ishtar as being Anu’s wife.
Ki – Earth goddess, sister and consort to An in later Sumerian myths.
Nammu – A water goddess and consort to Anu in Neo-Sumerian myths. In Sumerian religion, Nammu is instead Anu’s mother.
As an all-father figure, Anu is the father of many gods, spirits, and demons. Depending on the text, depends on which gods are stated to be Anu’ children directly.
With Ki, the goddess of the earth, they give birth to the Anunnaki (“the offspring of Anu”), a group of 50 gods who are the most powerful pantheon of gods in Mesopotamian myths.
With Nammu, Anu is the father of Enki/Ea and Ningikuga.
With Uras, Anu is the father of Ninsuna, the mother of the legendary Gilgamesh.
Inscriptions found at Lagas give Baba, Gatumdug and Ningirsu as Anu’s children.
Adad, Enlil, Girra, Nanna/Sin, Nergal and Šara are some who are listed as sons.
Inana/Ištar, Nanaya, Nidaba, Ninisinna, Ninkarrak, Ninmug, Ninnibru, Ninsumun, Nungal and Nusku are some who are listed as daughters.
Anammelech – Going by the Hebrew Bible, she is a lunar goddess worshiped in Assyria and Mesopotamian religion. Her name means “Daughter of Anu” and is thought to be his daughter.
Kumarbi – Anu’s son in Hurrian and Hittite mythology and religion.
Asag – A demon so monstrous, his presence would cause fish to boil in the rivers.
Lamashtu – A Demoness who preyed on infants
Utukki – Seven evil demons
Enki – Is one of Anu’s notable children, a god of wisdom, intelligence, magic, trickery, fertility and creation to name a few of Enki’s attributes.
Sebitti – In Akkadian and Babylonian traditions, the Sebitti are a group of seven minor war gods who follow Erra into battle. Depending on which tradition and myth is being retold, is if the Sebitti are seen as good or evil. I would say evil, given that in one version of the myths, Erra is a plague god, while in others texts he is a war god. The Sebitti are given various powers and fates that allow them to help Erra in killing over populous people and animals.
Attendants Of Ani
Ilabrat – He is an attendant and minister of state to Anu.
The Bull Of Heaven
As An, he dates back to 3,000 B.C.E. in Sumerian history. During this time, An was depicted as a great bull. Later, An would become separated into two distinct beings, the god An and the Bull of Heaven. The sound of thunder was thought to be caused by An in his bull form as he moved across the heavens or sky.
An’s holy city was Uruk or Erech along the southern region of Mesopotamia known for herding and grazing lands. There are several bovine images found in the area that appear to suggest An being part of a pastoral pantheon.
Dingir – In Sumerian, this cuneiform represented by an eight-pointed star meant “god” or “goddess” when used in punctuation. By itself, it is the Sumerian word for “sky.”
As a god of the sky, the Sumerians saw rain that fell as being Anu’s seed coming down to impregnate his consort Uraš or Ki, the Earth, depending on which era of text we are referring to and who’s given as his current wife. The Akkadians have Antu, a feminine form of Anu as his consort. They believed that the clouds were Antu’s breasts and that rain falling was her milk.
King Of The Gods!
Seen as the King of the Gods, King of the Igigi, Anu ruled over the other gods.
This status also associated Anu as the god of Kings whom he favored and not the common people. So, unless you were legit royalty, don’t expect any divine favors.
At the same time, Anu is considered to be very benevolent and his compassion for all creation caused him to retreat further and higher up into the heavens where he was distant from all creation, humankind, and the other gods. Over time, Anu would be worshiped less and less with his name becoming synonymous with the sky.
Only Anu’s son, Enlil could gain access to him, relaying messages. Eventually, he would be prayed to less and less, Anu was still seen as the power behind the throne so to speak. Even as Enlil in turn became ruler of the gods, he too would take on more and more of Anu’s qualities of compassion and benevolence. The same with Marduk, when he takes over the role of King of the Gods and assumes Anu’s position and thus power, gains these qualities over time.
With the passage of time, Anu would fade further to the background, retreating to the Heavens and leaving the matters of governing and ruling to Marduk and the younger generations of gods, the Igigi.
Clearly one of the few times where power isn’t going to corrupt.
Tablet of Destinies
This clay tablet is a legal document written in cuniform with cylinder seals that Anu carried with him as a sign of his divine authority. This tablet would be passed on in turn to Enlil and Marduk in turn as they each assumed rulership.
Tiamat is to have bestowed this tablet on Kingu when she made him the head of her army. A couple of other Mesopotamian poems have where the tablet is stolen by Anzu, but the tablet is always returned to Enlil.
Truth, Justice And The Sumerian Way!
One of Anu’s roles as head of the pantheon is that of Judge. Anu would judge those who had committed various crimes.
Anu’s word was law. In terms of a comic book, he would be considered a Reality Warper, that whatever he spoke or decreed, to become real. He delegated the functions, roles, and status of the other gods.
Anûtu – The elevating of status among the gods to leadership was even called anûtu or the “Anu Power” or “Heavenly Power.” An example of this is seen in the Enuma Elis when Marduk becomes the ruler of the gods after Enlil by their saying “Your word is Anu!”
A Partial List Of Anu’s Decrees
As King of the Gods, Anu hits a point where he often has a cameo role in a greater myth where he dispenses with divine wisdom, judgment, and punishments.
- The divine Bull of Heaven is sent on Ishtar’s behalf to go after Gilgamesh.
- Anu decrees that either Gilgamesh or Enkidu are to die for killing Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven.
- Kakka is sent to Kurnugi to inform Ereshkigal to send a messenger to return with a gift.
- It is Anu who creates a whirlwind and flood to rile up Tiamat.
- When the griffin-like monster Anzu steals the Tablet of Destinies from Enlil to hide on a mountaintop, it is Anu who orders the other gods to bring back the tablet.
Lord Of The Constellations
Ruling the heavens has its perks, one of which is there is an army of stars that Anu could command to destroy his foes and evildoers.
Calendar – Closely related, Anu is also the lord of the Calendar. A fact that makes sense is when many early cultures and civilizations used the movement of the heavens to track the seasons.
Draco – Anu has been identified with the Draco constellation. I’d think with the Bull of Heaven epitaph, he would be identified with Taurus.
Kishru – These shooting stars are reputed to have great strength.
In Sumerian beliefs, Anu formed a triad or holy trinity with Enlil (God of the Air and the Earth) and Enki (God of Water). This division of power could easily reflect the importance each of these deities held in their patron city and show the pantheons of different city-states merging into a more unified whole. Anu represented the “transcendental” and obscure, Enlil represented the “transcendent” and Enkil represented the “immanent” aspects of this divine triad.
Mesopotamian theology also divided the sky into three regions that the sun passed through. A northern, middle, and southern region. In Babylonian cosmology, the Way of Anu covered the equator and much of the classical zodiacs. The Way of Enlil covered the northern sky and the Way of Ea covered the southern sky. In Akkadian cosmology, Anu, Enlil, and Ea (Enki) are credited with creating the universe.
This an ancient epic creation poem was written in the 18th century B.C.E. when the city of Babylon becomes the political capital of Mesopotamia. It’s largely written to show Marduk’s birth, many of his heroic deeds, and how Anu stepped down from being King of the Gods to Ea (Enki) who in turn steps down to allow Marduk, in a relatively peaceful succession for the transfer of power to become the king and head of the pantheon.
The Enuma Elish begins at the start of time when the universe is nothing more than chaos with freshwater represented by Apsu and saltwater (or the abyss) represented by Tiamat, a dragoness. The male and female principles, are not unlike the concept seen in the Japanese Yin & Yang. The joining of these two primordial deities would see the creation of all the other gods and other beings. Their most notable children are Lachmu and Lachamu, protective deities, and Anshar and Kishar who go on to sire the other gods and goddesses, known as the Anunnaki. The other children of Apsu and Tiamat are giant sea serpents, dragons, snakes, storm demons, fish-men, scorpion-men
While Tiamat loved all her children, Apsu on the other hand didn’t care for them, saying they were too noisy, keeping him up all night, and unable to get any work done during the day. Apsu’s response to this problem was to kill his children, specifically the younger, Igigi deities.
A horrified Tiamat told her eldest son, Enki (later version its Ea) of what Apsu has planned. Enki decided that the best plan for dealing with this was to capture and put Apsu into a deep sleep and then kill him. From Apsu’s corpse, Enki then creates his home, the earth, and the marshy region of Eridu.
Kingu, one of Tiamat and Apsu’s sons, soon to consort to Tiamat is upset and goes to report what happened. This further horrifies Tiamat who wasn’t expecting Enki to just up and kill Apsu. As a result, she decided to wage war on her own children. The mighty Tiamat raises up an army of chaos consisting of twelve monsters: Bašmu, “Venomous Snake,” Ušumgallu, “Great Dragon,” Mušmahhu, “Exalted Serpent,” Mušhuššu, “Furious Snake,” Lahmu, the “Hairy One,” Ugallu, the “Big Weather-Beast,” Uridimmu, “Mad Lion,” Girtablullû, “Scorpion-Man,” Umu dabrutu, “Violent Storms,” Kulullû, “Fish-Man,” and Kusarikku, “Bull-Man” who are all led by Kingu (Quingu) as the general of this army.
This has Enki and the other gods worried about what to do. At first, Anu says he will try to speak with Tiamat to resolve the problem. When Anu fails diplomatically to resolve the problem, that is when Marduk steps forward, saying he will lead everyone in this war. Marduk has one condition, that is that he be named as the new king of the pantheon. Enki agrees and Marduk leads the Anunnaki to battle.
Marduk prepares his weapons consisting of bow and arrows, a mace, lightning as he is a storm god, flames, and a net. Gathering up the four winds, Marduk encircles and nets the mighty Tiamat to prevent her from escaping him. New winds are created by Marduk such as whirlwinds and tornadoes. As he is a storm god, Marduk brings down a fierce flood of rain. It’s a battle between a storm god and a primordial goddess of chaos and the sea, it’s epic as Marduk rides in his storm-chariot pulled by four horses who have poison in their mouths. Spellcasting and an herbal antidote as Marduk faces off against one of the mightiest dragons known in mythology.
After Marduk finally slays Tiamat with an arrow to her stomach, he then goes after Tiamat’s son, Kingu who oversaw the army and wears the Tablet of Destiny over his chest. Marduk makes short work of Kingu in single combat, claiming the tablets and establishing himself as the new head of the pantheon.
This is a lot of power that Marduk has now accumulated, and he sets about to create the universe. But didn’t that already exist? He’s at least making a new one as Marduk takes the two halves of Tiamat’s corpse to create the heavens and the earth, completing the work started by Enki. From Tiamat’s eyes, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow. With the creation of the heavens, Anu, Enlil and Ea each take their roles and stations.
With Kingu’s blood, Marduk mixes it with the earth to create the first humans who would be the servants of the Igigi (the younger Mesopotamian gods). The creation of humans would allow the gods the leisure time and the time to focus on higher purposes, taking care of human needs as humanity basically did the grunt work. All humans would need to do is respect and give heed to the will of the gods living in Eridu with Marduk ruling overall as a benevolent god.
That doesn’t sound like it will end well and I’m sure there’s another story concerning that.
Side Note: Early versions of this story have Anu, later replaced by Enlil and then in the last version, it is Marduk who gets the promise from the other gods about becoming head of the pantheon.
Marduk’s version dates from the first dynasty of the Babylonians, whereas the other versions are much older. Even then, depending on the version of the creation myth, it is solely Marduk involved in all of it and there’s no mention of Enki at all. Scholars who look at when the Enuma Elish was written generally believe that it represents political and religious propaganda meant to justify and install Marduk as the head of the Babylonian pantheon as the city-state rose to political power in the region.
As for Apsu, the Enuma Elish is the first time he’s treated as a deity. Before, he’s just a concept, what they called the fresh water found beneath the earth in the aquifers.
Adapa And The Food Of Life
This story dates from the Kassite Period between 1595 to 1155 B.C.E., after the fall of Babylon.
In this myth, Enki (Ea) creates the first man Adapa, endowing him with great wisdom and intelligence but not immortality. Adapa is aware of his own pending mortality yet resolves to serve his king in Eridu.
One day, Adapa heads out to sea in his boat for some fishing only to have the South Wind blow him back ashore. An enraged Adapa breaks the wings of the South Wind and returns home. After some seven days have passed, Anu begins to wonder why the South Wind isn’t blowing and asks his right-hand man, Ilabrat what the cause is. Ilabrat replies that it is because Adapa, the priest of Enki (Ea) has broken the South Wind’s wings.
Anu demands that Adapa be summoned before him to explain himself. Enki, fearing Anu’s wrath on his son, instructs Adapa on how to behave when he arrives in the heavens. How he should greet the gatekeepers Tammuz and Gishida. That when he arrives, Adapa should refuse to eat or drink anything, warning his son how Anu is angry and that anything offered is likely to be the food of death or poisoned.
The time comes and Adapa arrives at the gates of heaven and is received in by Anu. Following the advice of his father, Adapa does as instructed and when Anu listens to Adapa’s story of what happened, he has the Food and Water of Life brought in, expecting he will be able to give Adapa the gift of immortality when Enki has refused to do so.
When Adapa refuses the gift of immortality, Anu becomes confused and inquires of Adapa why he is refusing this gift.
Unfortunately, the second and third tablets that this story is written on have been broken and we don’t have the full account.
What we can surmise of what we do have, is that Adapa does tell Anu of the advice that Enki gave him. For this, Anu becomes angry and seeks to punish Enki.
It is clear that knew Enki knew Adapa was going to be offered immortality and had purposefully prevented this from happening. That this gift was something that could only be offered once because when Adapa refuses, there is no second chance given.
Scholars have noted similarities between the story of Adapa and the Food of Life and that of the Fall of Man in Genesis. Notably between Enki’s reasoning and that of God or Yahweh that Adam and Eve would be cast out from the Garden of Eden for eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil before they can eat of the Tree of Life.
It appears clear that Enki didn’t want humans to become like the gods as that would upset the natural order and that he would need to keep Adapa mortal in order to keep him in his place.
The Akkadian epic does seem to fill in the gap here. It tells how humans were created with mortality by the will of the gods. Enki sees Anu as upsetting what’s supposed to be the natural order. But Anu makes the offer to Adapa out of compassion, feeling that it was wrong for Enki to have created Adapa wise and intelligent enough to be aware of his own mortality while unable to do anything about it to escape death.
These aspects of Anu trying to bring compassion and understanding were to also be seen in the Enuma Elish in the versions where Anu is trying diplomacy to end the war with Tiamat.
Erra And Išum
An eighth century B.C.E. Akkadian epic poem; Anu gives the Sebettu to the plague god Erra to help him massacre the humans when they become too numerous and noisy.
Epic Of Gilgamesh
This is a Sumerian myth and the second oldest known religious text. There are numerous Akkadian copies of this epic from the late 2,000 B.C.E. that have been found. The prologue of this epic is the source of what’s known about the Sumerian creation story. How in the beginning, there was only Nammu, a primeval sea goddess. Nammu gives birth to An, the sky and Ki, the earth. An and Ki give birth to the god Enlil. It is Enlil who separate the heaven from the earth, An and Ki. Enlil goes on to rule over the earth as his domain with An ruling over the sky.
It is in the Epic of Gilgamesh that Anu and the Bull of Heaven are seen as separate beings when Ishtar petitions him to release the Bull to punish Gilgamesh for refusing to marry her. Of course when the Bull is sent after Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu, the Bull is slain.
Inanna And Ebih
This is a 184-line poem written by the Akkadian poetess Enheduanna.
The poem tells of Inanna, An’s granddaughter who petitions An to allow her to destroy Mount Ebih. An tries to warn Inanna not to attack the mountain, but she does so and destroys it in the process.
Inanna Takes Command Of Heaven
This is another poem that only survives in fragments. What has been translated tells of Inanna’s conquering the Eanna temple in Uruk. Inanna is lamenting to her brother Utu how the Eanna temple isn’t under their influence and that she wants to claim it. Fragments of the poem detail Inanna’s difficulties with traveling through a marshland and some fishermen telling her the best route to take. Eventually Inanna reaches the temple where An is surprised by her arrogance. An however does concede control of the temple to Inanna saying she has won it.
The poem ends extoling on Inanna’s greatness. It is thought the poem represents a transfer of power between the priests of An to those of Inanna.
The story, “The Kingship of Heaven,” begins with how Alalu, the King of Heaven ruled for seven years and then is overthrown by Anu, who in turn rules for seven years before being overthrown by Kumarbi. This time, Kumarbi when he attacks his father Anu, he bites off his genitals and when he spits it out, there were three new gods. Kumarbi is deposed of by his own son Teshub in time.
When Anu is overthrown, Kumarbi banishes Anu to the underworld, along with his allies, the old gods. The Hittites would equate these gods with the Anunnaki.
Amurru – Amorite God
Depending on your source, Amurru is a patron god of the Mesopotamian city Ninab. He was a god of the steppes, the mountain, and a storm god. Some sources will equate Amurru with Anu while other sources will place him as Anu’s son.
Caelus – Roman God
A primordial Roman god of the sky who has been equated with Anu.
El – Canaanite God
The supreme god in Canaanite beliefs who symbol is also a bull. The ancient Canaanites clearly equated El with Anu as the two share many of the same attributes such as being a ruler of the gods and the ability to make decrees that only he could make.
Jupiter – Roman God
The ruler of the Roman pantheon, he too has been equated with Anu.
Shamem – Canaanite God
Like Anu, Shamem is the personification of the sky. Shamem however does not appear in any Canaanite myths.
Uranus – Greek God
Anu is equated with Uranus, a primordial Greek God of the Heavens who with Gaia would father and originate all creation. Also known as Ouranos.
Zeus – Greek God
Similarities between Anu and Zeus have been noted in some of their myths. Namely were in the Epic of Gilgamesh, where Ishtar goes before Anu after being rejected by Gilgamesh and complains to her mother Antu. The scene seems to echo what’s found in the Iliad where Aphrodite flees to Mount Olympus after being wounded by Diomedes while trying to save her son Aeneas. Here, Aphrodite cries to her mother Dione, is mocked by Athena, and is rebuked by Zeus for her actions, how she is the goddess of love, not war. The chapter in the Iliad that Dione appears in is the only time, the rest of the time, Zeus’ consort is named Hera. Where Antu is a feminine form of Anu, Dione is the feminine of Zeus.
It’s an interesting connection and observation.
Eagle – Sacred Bird
The Golden Eagle specifically is Zeus’ sacred bird. A giant bird that had once been the seer Phineus, was always by Zeus’ side.
The Sky Tides
They are a group of four siblings: Bia (“Force”), Kratos (“Power“), Nike (“Victory”), and Zelus (“Zeal”). They are the winged enforcers or Sky Tides for Zeus. The four siblings received this honor from Zeus as their mother, Styx was the first to come to show her support during the Titanomachy or War against the Titans.
Hounds Of Zeus
Not really hounds, they were just called that, and by they, I mean the Harpies, the winged half-bird half-women creatures of Greek myth.
I can only imagine that Zeus claimed the famed winged horse to hold and carry his thunderbolts after Perseus’ adventures. At least the version where Perseus tames the winged horse and isn’t using Hermes’ winged sandals.
Zeus’ Cup Bearer
Zeus’ Herald Of The Gods
Hermes is often employed by Zeus to act as his personal herald and envoy for his decrees, sometimes acting as a diplomat.
Zeus’ Messenger Of The Gods
While more modern takes on Greek mythos place Hermes to this role, it belongs to Iris, goddess of the rainbow who relayed messages and commands to the other gods word for word.
Zeus’ High Council
This was slightly surprising to come across, that Zeus would have councilors.
On this council sat Themis, the goddess of law and order, along with their daughters the Moirai or Fates and the Horai or Seasons. These goddesses were tasked with maintaining the order of the cosmos and have it function.
Themis also had the additional job of summoning all of the gods to Zeus’ courtyard when he was ready to declare a new law or edict.
Of course, if we looked at them as the real power behind the throne… but that could just be inviting hubris…
Keeper Of Fate & Divine Destiny
Before the birth of the Moirai, it was Zeus who dispensed out fate, the good and the bad that he doled out from the jars of Fate that he kept near his feet. When a mortal’s time of death was carefully weighed on a set of golden scales.
Once the Moirai were born, the task of men’s fates and their time of deaths were given to them.
Xenia – Hospitality Laws
Xenia is the Greek word for the concept of hospitality and forms the ancient customs of Hospitality. Of all the attributes that Zeus is known for, he was originally the deity who presided over this custom of Xenia. For this, he was known as Zeus Xenios and was at one time, the god of travelers.
Xenia consists of three basic rules:
1) The respect from host to guest. The host must be hospitable to the guest and provide them with food and drink and a bath, if required. It was not polite to ask questions until the guest had stated his or her needs.
2) The respect from guest to host. The guest must be courteous to their host and not be a burden.
3) The parting gift (xenion) from host to guest. The parting gift was to show the host’s honor at receiving the guest.
The custom of Xenia was really important in ancient times as people believed that the gods mingled among them. If a person played a poor host to a stranger, there was the risk of inciting the wrath of a god disguised as the stranger.
This custom of Xenia extended to include the protection of traveling musicians, known as Rhapsode who could expect to receive hospitality in the form of a place to sleep, food and possible other gifts in return for a night of entertainment and news from other parts of the world. The protection and safety of these Rhapsode was believed to be enforced by the god Zeus and any harm to them or violation of Xenia was sure to place the offender at the mercy of Zeus or any god he deemed necessary to enforce this rule.
This is one of Zeus’ symbols, it was created from the skin of the goat Amaltheia that helped raise him as an infant. It was either a breastplate or shield.
This is the stone that Cronus had swallowed was apparently set down at Pytho in the glens of Parnassus as proof to mortal people that the event really happened.
The stone would be placed at the Delphi Oracle as Zeus had wanted to find the center of the earth. In his search, Zeus sent out two eagles from either ends of the earth and where they met at would mark the center.
This variation of Zeus was worshiped in Ancient Athens as the god of farmlands and crops. He had a festival held on the 10th of Maimakterion to commemorate the start of plowing the fields. Sacrifices were also made to Zeus Georgos at the time of harvesting.
In a story that won’t end well, Antiochus IV Epiphanes erected a statue of Zeus Olympios in the Judean Temple in Jerusalem. This figure was known as Baal Shamen or “Lord of Heaven” among the Hellenized Jews of the time.
There is a story that appears in the Apocrypha, namely 2 Maccabees where the Maccabees or The Hammerers come in to reclaim the temple, tear down the statue and we get the story of Channukah or the Miracle of Lights.
Zeus did not prove almighty in this one.
Other Biblical Mentions
In the New Testament, Zeus will be mentioned twice in Acts. First in Acts 14 where two of the Apostles: Paul and Barnabas are mistaken for the gods Hermes and Zeus in the city of Lystra. Where people get excited for archeological proof, in 1909, two inscriptions were found near Lystra testifying of the worship of Hermes and Zeus.
Well sure, the Greek gods were worshiped in a lot of places around the Mediterranean, so I imagine finding mention of them in a lot of places to be common. Zeus was the head of the pantheon and All-Father, he would have been everywhere.
The other mention will occur again in Acts 28, where the ship taking the prisoner Paul to the island of Malta; the figurehead is said to of the “sons of Zeus” Castor and Pollux.
In this school of thought and philosophy, Zeus’ relation to the other gods is that of the Demiurge or the Divine Mind. This idea is found in Plotinus’ work the Enneads and the Platonic Theology of Proclus.
Grecian Flood Myth
In a myth connected to the constellation and zodiac sign Aquarius, Zeus is the one who causes a great flooding of the earth. A man by the name of Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha are who survive a great flood that washed over the earth. Deucalion had been told by his father, Prometheus in some versions of this story, to build a boat and to fill it with provisions. The two did and they floated in the boat over the sea for nine days and nights before coming to ground on Mount Parnassus.
Safe now, the two found that they were the only survivors and began to wander more as the flood waters receded. Deucalion and his wife couldn’t have been the only survivors of this flood if they were able to consult an oracle who told them to “throw over your shoulders the bones of your mother.”
The solution seemed pretty easy to Deucalion who guessed that the bones of Mother Earth must be stones and so he and Pyrrha began picking up stones to toss over their shoulders. After a bit of this, they looked back and saw that there were now people. The stones thrown by Deucalion had become men and the stones thrown by Pyrrha had become women.
In this myth, Aquarius is seen or becomes a taker as well as giver of life. This myth of a world flood and the rebirth of life on Earth is a very common myth that can be found in numerous cultures around the world.
Sometimes in an effort to have the Grecian Flood myth story parallel the Biblical Flood story of Noah and the Ark, it is Zeus himself who tells Deucalion to build a boat and not Prometheus.
Homer’s The Iliad is the main source for the gods’ involvement in the Trojan War. Zeus sided with the Trojans during this war while Hera took the side of the Greeks. Zeus took a rather significant part in the story of the Trojan War.
A lesser-known work, The Cypria and attributed to Stasinus, reveals the whole Trojan War was planned on by Zeus and Themis. There’s only about 50 lines of text from the Cypria and it’s seen as a prequel to Homer’s The Iliad and explains how the events come about.
Zeus’ part of this epic starts off by sending Agamemnon a dream and through which, the god is able to influence Agamemnon’s decisions. Next is Zeus telling Hera that he’s going to destroy the City of Troy come the end of the war. Together, both Zeus and Poseidon destroy the Achaeans fortress.
The war hits a point where Zeus tells all the other Olympian gods that they can’t fight each other as Zeus returns to Mount Ida where he thinks over his decision on having the Greeks lose this war.
Soon it is Hera’s time to shine as she seduces her husband Zeus, distracting him with her affections while helping out the Greeks.
When Zeus wakes up, he discovers that not only has Poseidon been helping the Greeks, but Hector and Apollo have been helping to fight the Trojans. Follow it up by Zeus getting upset that he can’t save Sarpedon’s life as that would contradict an earlier decree he made. Zeus is further upset by what happens to Hector.
Now Zeus decides that yeah, the other gods can join in and help out whichever side they owe it to. Towards the end, Zeus’ last part in the story, he demands that Achilles release Hector’s body so it can have an honorable burial.
The Theogony is an 8th to 7th century B.C.E. epic poem written by Hesiod. It is perhaps the most famous, if not familiar story that tells the origins of the Greek pantheon. The most interesting parts are the story of Zeus usurping the throne from his father Cronus after having swallowed all of his other children.
It’s interesting in hindsight, come 1876 when the Enuma Elish is translated and then, later in 1946 with the translation of the Hittite Kingship of Heaven text, that we are able to see a strong Middle Eastern influence on Greek myths.
Ammon – Egyptian God
Zeus is sometimes equated with this god.
Ba’al – Canaanite God
A sun god, Ba’al was Hellenized and worshiped as Zeus Helioupolites at Heliopolis, modern-day Baalbek.
Baal Zephon – Canaanite God
A weather god of the ancient Canaanites. The Hellenized version of this god is known as Zeus Kasios where he was worshiped at a site along the Syrian-Turkish border.
Hadad – Canaanite God
Another Canaanite sun deity who was Hellenized as Zeus Adados. The Assyrian Adad also had the same Hellenized name.
Indra – Hindu God
Zeus is seen as similar to this deity in India.
Jupiter – Roman God
Where Zeus is the head of the Greek Pantheon, his Roman counterpart is Jupiter
Thanks greatly to the influence of the Romans, many people will identify and equate Zeus with Jupiter. The Romans were famous for subsuming many deities in their conquest across Europe, particularly the Mediterranean area, and identifying their gods with those of a conquered culture. The most famous being the Greeks, where many deities were renamed to those of Roman gods. Prominent examples like Zeus and Jupiter, Hera and Juno, Ares and Mars, and so on down the line.
With the Hellenization of Latin literature, many Greek writers and even Roman writers rewrote and intertwined the myths of these two deities so that they would virtually become one and the same. And that’s the tradition passed down through the centuries and has become accepted. Just that there are still some differences that separate the two.
Odin & Thor – Norse Gods
Zeus is equated with each of these deities in Norse mythology. Odin as he is the All-Father and head of the Norse Pantheon, Thor as he is a god of Thunder & Lightning like Zeus.
Perun – Slavic God
Zeus is equated as a cognate of this god.
Sabazios – Phrygian God
As Greek culture spread throughout the Mediterranean region, absorbing the local beliefs and equating the local deities with those of the Greek pantheon, Sabazios is one deity whose attributes and role were absorbed by both Dionysus and Zeus, notably as a divine child and god of rebirth.
Teshub – Hurrian God
A storm and sky god of the Hurrians, as Zeus Labrandos, Zeus is equated with this deity, particularly in his worship at Caria. He held a sacred site at Labranda where Zeus would be shown wielding a double-edged ax known as a labrys.
Tinia – Etruscan God
A cognate for Zeus in the little-known Etruscan beliefs and mythology.
Vajrapāni – Buddhist
In Greco-Buddhist art, Zeus is depicted as Vajrapāni, the protector of the Buddha.
Velchanos – Minoan God
Zeus is equated with this deity in Crete or Minoan culture, such that the name Velchanos is used as another name or epitaph. As a separate deity, before getting Hellenized, Velchanos was very likely an Vegetation Deity or Spirit. Velchanos was likely associated with the rooster and bees, which is why the Boy-Zeus in Hellenized Crete will be shown with those animals.
Etymology: “Bull Calf of the Sun,” “Calf of the Sun” or “Solar Calf”
Also known as: Bel (“Lord,” Akkadian), Bel-Marduk, Murdoch
Other Spellings: 𒀭𒀫𒌓 (Cuniform), dAMAR.UTU, Amar utu k (Sumerian), Μαρδοχαῖος, Mardochaios (Greek), מְרֹדַךְ, Mərōdaḵ (Masoretic Hebrew), Merōḏaḵ (Tiberian), Marōdak (Septuagint), Merodach (Biblical Hebrew), Martuk
In Mesopotamian mythology, Marduk is a fertility and storm deity of Babylon. He is known for defeating the dragon goddess Tiamat and becoming the Leader of the Babylonian pantheon.
Marduk came to prominence as the patron deity of the city of Babylon during the rule of Hammruabi, the sixth king of the First Babylonian dynasty of the Amorites in the 18th century B.C.E. when Babylon became the political center of the Euphrates valley. Marduk’s full acceptance as the head of the Babylonian pantheon would be completed by the last half of the second millennium B.C.E.
Animal: Dogs, Horse, Mušḫuššu (Snake-Dragon)
Element: Air, Water
Sphere of Influence: Fertility, Judgement, Storms, Vegetation
Symbols: Hoe, Spade
In what surviving art and texts we have, Marduk is shown as being human dressed in royal robes decorated with stars. Marduk is often accompanied by his snake-dragon that he got from the god Tishpak.
When shown riding in his war chariot, Marduk carries his other emblems of a scepter, arrows, bow, spear, net and lightning bolt.
What’s In A Name?
To start, there is some controversy over the translation of Marduk’s name. There is the Sumerian dAMAR.UD that translates as: “calf of the sun/sun-god.” Then comes the suggestion that this spelling should call for the translation of: “calf of the storm,” “the son of the storm, and “maker of storms.” The latter translation is often rejected due to a lack of evidence with Marduk’s role as a storm god. Accepting this interpretation of the name nixes any connection to Marduk as a solar deity.
The Akkadian spelling for Marduk’s name is AMAR.UTU that translates to mean MERI.DUG. The name is translated to mean “Solar Calf.” In the Hebrew Torah, his name is spelled as Merodach and the Greek spelling of his name is given as Mardochaios.
Marduk’s name is thought to derive from the phrase: amar-Utu meaning: “Bull Calf of the Sun God Utu.” This naming convention could easily be an indicator of early genealogy. Or, it’s an indicator of cultural ties to the city of Sippar, whose main deity was Utu, a Sun God. The city of Sippar dates to the third millennium B.C.E.
The Encyclopedia of Religion comments that the name Marduk was likely pronounced as Marutuk.
Esagila – “Temple whose top is raised” or “Proud/Honored Temple.” While Marduk would come to claim prominence throughout most of Mesopotamia, his primary temple is Esagila, located in Babylon. This is the famous ziggurat that’s described by Herodotus.
Etemenanki – “Temple that is the foundation of Heavens and Earth” A ziggurat with Marduk’s shrine located at the top. This may be the temple that inspired the “Tower of Babel.”
Cult of Marduk – As the patron god of Babylon, this city was the main location for Marduk’s worship. The rise and popularity of this religion venerating Marduk is tied closely with the rise of Babylon as a strong political power and capital of the Mesopotamian empire. To the degree that many other deities were subsumed and seen as aspects and epitaphs of Marduk. Outside of Babylon, Marduk was worshipped in Borsippa, Nippur, and Sippar.
In the Assyrian period of Babylonian history, Aššur becomes the head of the pantheon and Marduk takes on a symbolic role of Babylon’s resistance to Assyrian rule. The cult of Aššur would compete with the cult of Marduk. In the Assyrian version of the Enūma Eliš, it is Aššur who becomes the head of the pantheon, not Marduk.
The Marduk Prophecy also shows the conflicts of this change of power as Marduk’s statue is continually “taken captive” until finally the resulting destruction of Babylon and Esagila with the different shifts of power in the region.
This is a very important aspect of the ancient world beliefs and Mesopotamia is no different. Within the temple of Esagila there was a golden statue of Marduk. This statue wasn’t just dedicated to Marduk, the ancient Mesopotamians believed that statue to actually be the god himself. Seen in the Marduk Prophecy, if the statue of the god wasn’t present, then he wasn’t in his temple or there to protect his city-state and all sorts of calamities and problems would happen.
Originating during the rule of the Kassites, a new king wishing to see his rule as legitimate, needed to “take the hands of Marduk,” symbolizing the king’s submission and accepting the will and guidance of the god.
In 485 B.C.E., the Persian king Xerxes attacked the city of Babylon and there is no mention of Marduk’s statue. The same goes when Alexander the Great conquers Babylon in 331 B.C.E., there’s no mention of the statue. This lack of evidence and records leads many scholars to believe and agree that Marduk’s statue disappearance from history means that it has, in all likelihood been destroyed.
Without a statue, the Babylonian religion and worship of Marduk declined.
This was the ancient New Year’s festival that the Sumerians and Mesopotamian cultures celebrated. This festival occurred sometime during March and April, marking the planting of barley. This festival was presided over by Nabu and Marduk to such a degree, that a text known as the Akitu Chronicle documents a time when the festival couldn’t be observed as Marduk (his physical statue, thus him) wasn’t present in the city of Babylon. Without the statue to carry through the city out to a small house outside the city walls, the people thought that disaster would soon befall them if the patron god wasn’t there to stop the forces of chaos.
Every year at the Akitu House located outside the city, the Enuma Elish would be recited for the New Year’s festival. There was also involved a ritual slapping of the king. Gotta’ stay humble, I guess.
Parentage and Family
Anu – Grandfather and the original head of the Mesopotamian pantheon before other deities arrive on the scene.
Ea – The previous head and leader of the gods before stepping down. Known as Enki in Sumerian. Ea was the creator god, associated with the fresh, life-giving waters.
Damkina – A Fertility and Mother goddess originally known as Ninhursag.
Sarpanitu – Also spelled Zarpanitu. She is a Mother and Fertility Goddess
Nanaya – She is sometimes given as Marduk’s wife in the myths.
Nabu – Son and god of literature, scribes and wisdom. Nabu was originally Marduk’s first minister before being identified as his son.
Birth Of A Legend
For as old and ancient as the Mesopotamian mythologies are, it makes sense that we might not know that much about them. To a point.
Marduk goes from obscurity with almost nobody knowing anything about him in the third millennium B.C.E. to the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon in Babylon in the first millennium B.C.E.
By the time the Enuma Elish is written, Marduk’s original nature has already been altered and obscured. As now, he’s a deity linked to the attributes of judgment, magic, vegetation, and water. He is now identified as the son of Ea and Damkina.
As the politics of Babylon and the whole of the Euphrates Valley ramped up, Marduk’s attributes and aspects begin to alter as he would be placed as the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, especially for his patron city-state of Babylon.
Once Babylon becomes the capital of Mesopotamia, Marduk who was currently just a patron deity of the city now ascends to become the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon and a supreme deity, ruling or presiding over everything else. Explaining this power shift of head honcho, head god and the transfer of power from Ea to Marduk, the Enûma Elish gets written, showing a peaceful abdication of power as Ea steps down and concedes rulership to his son.
There are a couple little snags later on, such as the revival of the god Enlil’s worship to Marduk, reflecting a real-world, historical rise of the cult of Enlil during Kassite control in Babylon between 1570 B.C.E. to 1157 B.C.E. The worship of Marduk and thus, his triumph over Enlil returns at the end of this era of Kassite control.
The other snag to Marduk’s popularity and his being the supreme deity comes during 1000 B.C.E. when the deity Aššur up north in Assyria gains popularity and worship. Down in the southern parts of the region, Marduk is still the head deity. The history of these events is reflected in the Marduk Prophecy.
This ancient epic creation poem was written in the 18th century B.C.E. when the city of Babylon becomes the political capital of Mesopotamia. It’s largely written to show Marduk’s birth, many of his heroic deeds and how Ea (Enki) steps down to allow Marduk, in a relatively peaceful transfer of power to become the king and head of the pantheon.
The Enuma Elish begins at the start of time when the universe is nothing more than chaos with freshwater represented by Apsu and saltwater represented by Tiamat, a dragoness. The male and female principles, not unlike the concept seen in the Japanese Yin & Yang. The joining of these two primordial deities would see the creation of all the other gods, known as the Anunnaki.
While Tiamat loved all her children, Apsu, on the other hand, didn’t care for them, saying they were too noisy, keeping him up all night and unable to get any work done during the day. Apsu’s response to this problem was to kill his children.
A horrified Tiamat told her eldest son, Enki of what Apsu planned. Enki decided that the best plan for dealing with this was to put Apsu into a deep sleep and then kill him. From Apsu’s corpse, Enki then creates his home, the earth and the marshy region of Eridu.
This further horrifies Tiamat who wasn’t expecting for Enki to just up and kill Apsu. As a result, she decided to wage war on her own children. The mighty Tiamat raises up an army of chaos and sets Kingu (Quingu) as the general of this army and her new consort.
This has Enki and the other gods worried about what to do. That is, until Marduk steps forward, saying he will lead everyone in this war. Marduk has one condition, that is that he be named as the new king of the pantheon. Enki agrees and Marduk leads the Anunnaki to battle.
Marduk prepares his weapons consisting of bow and arrows, a mace, lightning as he is a storm god, flames and a net. Gathering up the four winds, Marduk encircles and nets the mighty Tiamat to prevent her from escaping him. New winds are created by Marduk such as whirlwinds and tornadoes. As he is a storm god, Marduk brings down a fierce flood of rain. It’s a battle between a storm god and a primordial goddess of chaos and the sea, it’s epic as Marduk rides in his storm-chariot pulled by four horses who have poison in their mouths. Spellcasting and an herbal antidote as Marduk faces off against one of the mightiest dragons known in mythology.
After Marduk finally slays Tiamat with an arrow to her stomach, he then goes after Tiamat’s son, Kingu who oversaw the army and wears the Tablets of Destiny over his chest. Marduk makes short work of Kingu in single combat, claiming the tablets and establishing himself as the new head of the pantheon.
This is a lot of power that Marduk has now accumulated and he sets about to create the universe. But didn’t that already exist? He’s at least making a new one as Marduk takes the two halves of Tiamat’s corpse to create the heavens and the earth, completing the work started by Enki. From Tiamat’s eyes, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow.
With Kingu’s blood, Marduk mixes it with the earth to create the first humans. The creation of humans would allow the gods the leisure time and the time to focus on higher purposes, taking care of human needs as humanity basically did the grunt work. All humans would need to do is respect and give heed to the will of the gods living in Eridu with Marduk ruling overall as a benevolent god.
That doesn’t sound like it will end well and I’m sure there’s another story concerning that.
Side Note: Depending on the version of the creation myth, it is solely Marduk involved in all of it and there’s no mention of Enki.
Further, knowing that this is a revision of the original myths, I’m curious about what the originals may have been.
Eridu – The First City
Yes, there really is a historical site for an ancient city of this name. Eridu is the oldest city built by the Mesopotamians around 5400 B.C.E. Depending on who you ask, it may be the oldest city in the world. In the Babylonian texts, namely Enuma Elish, it is a holy city where all the other gods lived a life of leisure.
This city was originally the city-state for the god Enki who is later known as Ea by the Akkadians. For modern times, it was first excavated by John George Taylor in 1855. Later, archeological discoveries found that the city was ultimately abandoned around 600 B.C.E. due to a change in climate as the water became more salinized from all the constant irrigation.
As seen later, in the Marduk Prophecy, with the Enuma Elish, the story here likely reflects on the transition from Eridu to Babylon as it became the political and religious center of the Euphrates valley and a cultural shift as the newer city becomes more prominent over the older city of Eridu.
Revisionist History – Scholars have noted that the city of Eridu is founded in the 5th millennium B.C.E. and that Marduk ascends to head of the Mesopotamian pantheon in the 2nd millennium B.C.E. That is a lot of time to have passed. It clearly marks that someone decided to rewrite the myths to favor Marduk when his popularity and the importance of Babylon as a political center become prominent.
Marduk is a god of fertility and vegetation and thus, agriculture. The triangular spade or hoe that Marduk is shown with in some art represents his role and power over fertility and vegetation.
The roles and aspects of Marduk being a Spring, Storm and Solar god also blend in with this function. However, making these connections relies on accepting certain etymological interpretations for Marduk’s name.
As a patron god, Marduk, not just King of the gods, also presided over the city of Babylon. The importance of a patron deity is shown in the Marduk Prophecy where Babylon has fallen to chaos and disarray when Marduk’s statue and thus the god himself leaves and order is later restored when King Nebuchadnezzar returns Marduk’s statue to the city.
Not the Original Patron – This was a fun little fact to come across. Before Marduk became the patron god of Babylon, that honor belonged to Inanna, goddess of sexuality and warfare. She would still be a prominent and important goddess throughout the Mesopotamian culture.
Marduk’s role as Patron, also places him prominently as a protector deity. Aside from the Akitu Chronicles and the Marduk Prophecy, there are two other texts: “The Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi” and “The Wrath of Erra” that highlight just how vital having one’s patron deity present was, not just for the city, but for the individual as well.
The Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi – Also called the “Let me praise the Lord of Wisdom” or “The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer,” it is often classified as “Wisdom Literature.” This text is a long treatise some four tablets long with 120 lines each. that details the amount of suffering that Tabu-utu-bel, a city official of Nippur goes through because Marduk isn’t close enough to help as he is too far away for any meaningful help. Biblical scholars have compared this text with the Book of Job for the themes of suffering when one’s God seems absent.
The Wrath of Erra – This is another text, in which the war god, Erra (Irra or Nergal) grows bored and decides the only way to cure his boredom is to attack Babylon. The other gods try to persuade Erra that this is a bad idea and don’t do it. Undaunted, Erra heads off to Babylon anyways. Once there, Erra convinces Marduk that his clothes are shabby and perhaps he should go about getting some new threads. Marduk says he’s much too busy to take of this matter and Erra convinces Marduk that he’ll watch over the city. Off Marduk goes and Erra takes advantage of the opportunity to proceed with destroying the city and killing civilians. Depending on the source translated from, either the other gods stop Erra’s path of destruction or he’s halted when Marduk finally returns with his fancy new duds. Regardless, the story ends with giving praise to Erra, the god of war for sparing a part of the city so people could rebuild.
The idea of having a protector and patron god of one’s city was very strong among the Babylonians. This was their whole city and personal identity that in 485 B.C.E. the Persian king Xerxes had Marduk’s statue destroyed when he sacked the city. Eventually, with the sands of time, Babylon is deserted and left to ruin and people have forgotten about worshiping Marduk.
King Of The Gods
As head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, Marduk takes on a lot of aspects. In some cases, this is taking over the role of other gods who had previously been the head of the pantheon. Such aspects that Marduk comes to preside over are justice, compassion, mercy, healing, regeneration, magic.
A “snake-dragon, mušḫuššu is Marduk’s sacred animal that he got from the god Tishpak. The mušḫuššu is depicted on the city walls of Babylon.
If you ask me this is a lot of titles and epitaphs to be known by. We get this list from two different sources, “The Seven Tablets of Creation” that Leonard W. King studied in 1902 to reconstruct from fragments a list of names. Then there is the “King’s List” that Franz Bohl studied in 1936. Finally, we get to 1958, when Richard Litke compared and noticed similarities with Marduk’s name between the two lists of An (Anum, a deity list) and Enuma Elish.
These names demonstrate the level of prominence that Marduk held within the Babylonian pantheon. These fifty names of Marduk are found and documented in the Enûma Elish and the Anum.
Why 50? – The number 50 was originally associated with the god Enlil, the former head of the pantheon. So this is just part of showing the transfer of power from Enlil to Marduk.
Asalluhi – As Marduk came to prominence, he took over the role and identity of Asalluhi, the son of Ea and god of incantations and magic. With both Asalluhi and Marduk becoming equated as the same entity, Asalluhi’s name survives as one of Marduk’s many names and epitaphs. Some commentary has noted that equating or syncretizing Marduk and Asalluhi together is a means to create a stronger tie to the god Ea and the city of Eridu as Ea was not part of the original pantheon.
Bel – Meaning “Lord,” this is the name that Marduk would eventually be known by, making him a god of order and destiny.
He is normally referred to as Bel “Lord”, also bel rabim “great lord”, bêl bêlim “lord of lords”, ab-kal ilâni bêl terêti “leader of the gods”, aklu bêl terieti “the wise, lord of oracles”, muballit mîte “reviver of the dead”, etc.
The Marduk Prophecy
This is an interesting text, not so much as it’s telling prophecies, but more about being a history around the movement of Marduk’s cult as they follow Marduk’s statue from Babylon. This text was found at the House of the Exorcist in Assur and dates from 713 to 612 B.C.E. It appears to be similar to another set of texts, the Shulgi prophecy.
It begins with Marduk’s statue getting stolen by Mursilis I of Hatti in 1531 B.C.E. The god Marduk is described as visiting the land of Assyria. Then, when a Tukulti-Ninurta I overthrows Kashtiliash IV in 1225 B.C.E., Marduk’s statue is taken Assur and then Elam as Kudur-nahhunte sacks the city in 1160 B.C.E.
Each time, Marduk is described as willingly heading off to visit these places. Which makes sense when you remember that this far back, a statue of a deity… hence an idol was the actual deity in question, not just a representation.
The way Marduk’s travels are told, they are allegories of the history involved. The first couple of journeys that Marduk takes are fairly favorable. When it comes to the city-state of Elam, that’s a whole other matter as the other gods following after Marduk, likely shows the changing climate of the region as they abandon Babylon due to famine and pestilence.
There’s also a familiar theme as Marduk prophecies that he will return again to Babylon with a new king will rise to power bringing about redemption and salvation to the city, taking it back from the Elamites and restoring the Ekursagila temple. Where the Marduk Prophecy is concerned, King Nabu-kudurri-uṣur (Nebuchadnezzar), who reigned from 1125 to 1103 B.C.E. is accepted as being the king who returns Marduk’s statue to Babylon and is victorious over the Elamites.
The main importance of the Marduk Prophecy text is to highlight the necessity of the patron deity staying in Babylon. Each time that the Marduk statue (Marduk himself) is abducted, chaos falls on the city of Babylon while the places where the statue resides, prosper.
Like some epic game of football where the opposing team comes and steals the home team’s mascot to weaken their morale.
No! Say it isn’t so!
Remember the previously mentioned King Nebuchadnezzar? It’s been noted that the dates of when the Marduk Prophecy (1 millennium B.C.E.) and even the Enuma Elish both date to around the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s rule and reign between 1125-1103 B.C.E. It makes him look good for restoring order (his defeat of the Elamites and bringing Marduk’s statue back) that he’s the prophesied king come to do Marduk’s will.
Jupiter – Roman
With Marduk’s position and role as the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, the Romans equated him with Jupiter, the head of their pantheon.
Zeus – Greek
With Marduk’s position and role as the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, the Greeks equated him with Zeus, the head of their pantheon.
Bel – Babylonian
Yes, Bel is previously mentioned earlier as one of Marduk’s fifty names.
He is mentioned as being a separate deity here as in the 1 millennium B.C.E., by the time we get to this era of history, as a title, Bel is the name that other deities Enlil and Dumuzid, not just Marduk have been known by.
Taken separately, Bel holds all the titles and aspects that Enlil did. To the point that Bel eventually becomes a god of order and destiny. Even Greek historians mentioned Bel in their writings. As a separate deity, Bel was the god of order and destiny. Both Marduk and Bel’s cults were similar, so it’s not hard to see how Bel becomes absorbed and an epitaph for Marduk.
Bel and the Dragon – This is a Jewish story and apocryphal addition to the Book of Daniel in which the Babylonians offer a substantial amount of food and wine every day to an idol of Bel. This vast quantity of food seemingly, miraculously disappears each night. This is enough to convince the Persian king Cyrus the Great that the idol is alive, and he tells Daniel this.
Daniel being a wise man and rather smart knows this isn’t the case. Afterall Daniel says it’s clay on the inside and bronze outside. It likely has never eaten anything. To prove this, Daniel discreetly covers the floor of the temple with ash.
Both Daniel and Cyrus leave for the night. When they return in the morning, Daniel is able to point out the footprints left behind, thus proving that it is the seventy priests of Bel who are eating the food, not the idol.
Some scholars point out that the name Bel is derived from the Semitic word “Baal” that has the same meaning of “Lord.” There are several places within the Bible where Bel is mentioned, this more than likely referencing Marduk. The Hebrew version of Marduk’s name, Merodach is found in many places in the Bible as a surname for non-Israeli kings.
Continuing this trend for Biblical Connections, Marduk and a couple other Mesopotamian and Canaanite deities are made mention of in the Torah or Old Testament.
Thanks to Cyrus the Great of Persia, when he captured Babylon, he reversed the policies of the previous ruler by calling for the rebuilding of temples and reinstating religions that had been destroyed or banned before.
Where the Bible (Torah) is concerned, Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple to Yahweh. Cyrus records inspiration for this as coming from Marduk. The bible will say that it is Yahweh who inspired Cyrus.
The “Cyrus Cylinder” found in 1879 at Babylon records the following: “Marduk, the great Lord, established as his fate for me a magnanimous heart of one who loves Babylon, and I daily attended to his worship… I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there [in Babylon], to their places; and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings… at the command of Marduk.”
In the Book of Ezra 5:13 this event is recorded: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God.”
The Book of Isaiah is where Yahweh is given credit for inspiring Cyrus.
“I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness:
I will make all his ways straight.
He will rebuild my city
and set my exiles free” (Isaiah 45:13)
The connections don’t end there, Biblical scholars see a similar theme with Marduk’s slaying Tiamat with the Canaanite story of Baal slaying Tannin and notably Yahweh’s defeating the giant sea monster Leviathan in Psalm 74: 13-14 or a future time in Isaiah 27:1.
The previously mentioned Etemenanki temple is thought to be the inspiration for the Tower of Babel. Babylon’s destruction is prophesied in the book of Jeremiah (50:2).
Who do you accept? It’s a matter of two different religions, cultures and perspectives. Of course, it’s easy, after the fact, to say there was divine intervention and that it is all prophesied.
According to Zecharia Sitchin, the claim is made that the great battle between Tiamat and Marduk is symbolic for the creation of our solar system’s asteroid belt. Sitchin writes that this asteroid belt was once a planet that the Sumerians called Tiamat. Due to an impact, the planet was destroyed, creating the “Great Band” or asteroid belt. The planetary impact responsible is that of the planet Nibiru, associated with the god Marduk.
Babylonian Astronomy, Astrology & Zodiac
I will call bunk on Sitchin’s ideas.
When you look at the word Nibiru in the Akkadian language, it refers to a crossing or transition points like with rivers. In Babylonian astronomy, Nibiru came to refer to the Equinox, notably, the Autumn Equinox. In their star lore, the term nibiru can refer to any crossing. Tracking the movement of the stars and planets in the heavens as they appear from Earth. The star or planet associated with Marduk is the one we know modernly as Jupiter.
For the Babylonians, the Autumn Equinox occurred in the month of Tisritum, roughly coinciding with between September and October. If we’re following the Greek Zodiac, then the constellation of Libra is prominent. A further fun fact, depending on the time of the year and the location of the planet Mercury, it could sometimes be called Nibiru.
Some of it is confusing. Mainly it’s understanding how to read and interpret what the Babylonians meant when tracking the night sky.
It should come as no surprise, that as old as the Mesopotamian cultures and religions are, that they would have mapped out the night sky to mark the turning of the seasons, creating a calendar. Many of these early constellations and zodiacs were adopted by the later Greeks who incorporated the constellations into their own mythology.
In Babylonian beliefs, it is Marduk who creates the astrological calendar and mapped out the different signs of the Zodiac. Marduk would be identified with the planet Jupiter, who of course is later equated with the Greek Zeus and renamed for the Roman deity Jupiter as all three are heads of their respective pantheons.
Cetus – Greek Mythology & Constellation
While many are familiar with the constellation’s connection to the Grecian story of Andromeda and Perseus in its role as the giant sea monster sent by Poseidon to destroy the coast of Aethiopia.
The constellation of Cetus has been identified with Tiamat, the dragon goddess of Chaos. Marking Tiamat’s story one of many that the Greeks likely inherited from the Mesopotamians and retold for their legends.
Etymology – Crocodile (Modern Hebrew), Serpent or Snake, Dragon
There may be a root word that means “howling” or it is in reference to the way smoke spirals or coils upwards. The first part of the word, “tan” likely means or refers to snakes and lizards that are seen as foul or hidden. In Modern Hebrew, tannin can refer to either alligators or crocodiles.
Alternate Spellings: tannina (tannine for plural), Tanin, Tinnin (Arabic), Tunannu (Ugaritic), Ophioneus (Phoenician)
For those who are Bible Scholars and know their Torah or the Old Testament, they will likely already be familiar with Tannin (or Tanninim for plural) of who and what it is.
Depending on the interpretations and the context that Tannin appears, it will be either a dragon, a serpent or a large sea monster.
The struggle against Chaos; this is a familiar motif found throughout the world in many different regions and mythologies of a culture hero or god going up against a creature of chaos. This creature is often shown as and takes the form of a great serpent or dragon. This is the familiar Knight slaying the Dragon seen in many European mythologies. Parallels to this concept are even found in other cultures.
Tannin is no different as it is used as a symbol of chaos and evil in the ancient Canaanite, Mesopotamian and Phoenician mythologies and beliefs that are much older and more ancient than medieval stories of slaying dragons. Much like how Tiamat is equated as a symbol of chaos in Mesopotamian mythology. It is this part of being a sea monster or dragon and symbolic of chaos that has modern scholars identifying Tiamat with Tannin.
Tanninim appears in the Hebraic Books of Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Job, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. Tanninim are among the many creatures created by God or Yahweh on the fifth day during the creation story in Genesis. The description of these creatures varies widely depending on the context of the scripture they’re referenced in.
The translation into the King James Bible will translate most of these instances to mean a whale. Back to the Genesis creation story, tanninim are translated as whales.
Why mention one particular creature, Tannin in all of these other passages and books and then call it a dag gadol in one Jonah? It’s assumed that whales are what’s being mentioned. Yet when we get into Isaiah, tannin is again mentioned as a sea monster that will be slain by God or Yahweh. When we go back into the King James Bible, that translation of tannin becomes dragon.
So, if dag gadol is a whale or rather, a great fish; then what’s tannin? Sticking to just Jewish mythology, tannin is often linked to the sea monsters Leviathan, Lotan and Rehab. In modern Hebrew, tannin means crocodile or alligator.
Alongside the name Rahab, Tannin is the name used to reference ancient Egypt after the exodus to Canaan.
It’s really interesting and fascinating the number of times that the word tannin is used, such as Aaron’s staff turning into a tannin in the Hebrew version of Exodus and the King James translation uses snake. Or wherein other instances, the translation is dragon.
Jackals – Since we’re already about translations. When translating the word Tannin into English, a bit of care needs to be taken.
Tannin is singular and Tanninim is plural for serpents or dragons. If the word is misspelled, then you get Tannim, the plural for Tan or Jackal. Something that can cause confusion among Bible scholars when translating texts and given the confusion with Tannin alone, this just adds fuel to the fire for which context and what creature is being referred to.
Whales – Since Tannin could exist on land and sea, given the variety of translations, such as in the Greek bible, Septuagint a whale is sometimes mentioned as being what’s referred to, notably in the Genesis creation story and the story of Jonah and the Whale.
Kabbalah – A blind, cosmic dragon called Tanin’iver is Lilith’s steed.
It’s not just in the Kabbalah, the name Tannin can also be the name for a demon as they can take the shape of dragons.
Tannin is a monstrous servant of the sea god Yam who is defeated by Baal or it is bound by his sister Anat. In the myth, Tannin is described as serpentine in appearance and likely has a double tail.
As the story goes, from the Ugarit texts found at Ras Shamra and other places that have been translated, Baal and Yamm weren’t the best of buddies and their conflicts are symbolic of the short Syrian winters with the conflicting weather of rain, hail, and tides. Baal and Yamm were fighting over who would take over as head of the pantheon after El is stepping down. El had told Yamm he would get to take charge and Baal wasn’t happy with the news.
Yamm keeps on sending messengers to Baal about this edict and Baal is having none of it. With the aid of Kothar to create some magical clubs, Baal eventually defeats Yamm.
Baal’s conquering of Tannin and defeating Yam has been seen as being similar to the myths of Zeus defeating the Titans to become King of the Gods or when Zeus usurps Poseidon as King of the Gods from Mycenean Greece to the more well-known Ancient Greece.
Jumping back to the Judaic mythology, scholars have noted that a passage in the book of Isaiah parallels the Baal Cycle. In the Ugaritic passage for the Baal Cycle, Tannin is described as “the encircler.” The other description given is “the mighty one with seven heads.” It gets debated between the Ugaritic and Hebraic texts if this is three separate figures being described or if these are epitaphs of Lotan or Leviathan.
Me, being a lover of mythology, “the encircler” makes me think of Norse mythology and the Midgard serpent Jormungand. And the seven heads, D&D anyone and the evil dragon goddess of chaos, Tiamat?
The Enuma Elish from Babylonian myth is a creation myth showcasing Marduk and his rise to becoming the head god of the Babylonian pantheon of gods. Tiamat is the primordial goddess of chaos often depicted as a dragon. After she declares war on the gods, Ea tasks his son Marduk to go slay Tiamat. The result of which is her death and the creation of heaven and earth from the two halves of her body.
Tiamat – It has been noted the similarities between Tannin in the Baal Cycle with Marduk defeating Tiamat.
It’s not hard to see a similarity and a possible connection between the two. And, for the longest time, Biblical scholars did think that the Old Testament or Torah referenced the Babylonian myths. That would change in 1924 with the discovery of texts found in Ras Shamra or Ugarit as it was anciently known. Once the Ugarit texts were translated, it became apparent that the Old Testament references the ancient Canaanite mythology more.
Dragons & Dinosaurs
Dinosaurs in the Bible! The usage of the word Tannin and how it gets translated to mean dragon, based on the context to which it’s translated into the King James and other versions of the Bible, likely and strongly contributes to this idea.
After all, there are those who, on taking a cursory look at paleontology and history know that anciently, people who came across the fossilized remains of giant creatures from millions of years ago believed that it was possible that these creatures and monsters were still around. There wasn’t the understanding of fossils, how they form and just how ancient these remains are.
The word and term dinosaur are relatively new as it originates in 1841 with British scientist Sir Richard Owen. Before this, the term dragon was applied, especially to the more reptilian looking fossils. The descriptions between both dinosaur and dragon could lead many, who want a literal translation and understanding of the Bible to mean dinosaur.
However, seeing that Tannin has the meaning of crocodile in Hebraic. We’re still describing a real creature. This just may be a more plausible explanation. Especially with any of the prehistoric crocodiles. Even today, the alligators in Florida, U.S.A. can get fairly huge.
Those who aim for a more scholarly approach to the Bible, know that mention of dragons tended to be poetical or symbolic and likely remnants of mythology within this text, the triumph of order over chaos.
There certainly is a level of confusion and some suppositions put forward say it could be Hippopotamuses that are being referenced. Some might try and apply the newer understandings from paleontology and the classification of animals that Tannin is just a generalized use word for any large, unknown animal that could be dangerous and thus scary.
Sea Serpents By Any Other Name….
Cetus – The Grecian sea monster that depending on the translation given, is either a sea monster or a monstrous whale.
Illuyanka – The name of a giant serpent killed by Tarḫunz in Hittite mythology.
Jormungand – This is the infamous sea serpent from Norse mythology that encircles the earth.
Leviathan – The name of a giant, monstrous sea serpent mentioned in the Books of Job, Isaiah, Amos, and Psalms.
Lotan – Originating more in Canaanite mythology, this is a sea creature much older than Leviathan and was just one of Yam’s many sea servants he could call on. Additionally, Lotan is also known by the name Tannanu that is similar to the name Tannin.
Rahab – A sea serpent associated with the Red Sea, Rahab is often equated with Tannin. It also the more poetic name for Egypt in medieval Jewish folklore.
Etymology – “Big Fish” or Whale
Alternate Spellings: Κηφεύς Kepheús (Greek), Ketos, Cetea (plural)
Cetus is the name of the monstrous sea creature whom King Cepheus was to sacrifice his daughter Andromeda. The giant monster has a bit part in the overall story of Perseus and Andromeda, though it is enough to earn it a place up in the heavens to be immortalized as a constellation.
The name cetus can mean any large fish, especially a shark, whale or a sea monster. In Greek art, as well as seen in the Hercules The Legendary Journeys series, the cetea were shown as large sea serpents. And yes, both Hercules and Perseus slay giant sea monsters in their adventures.
Visualizing Cetus as a huge, monstrous sea serpent makes it easier to see how it could destroy the coast of Aethieopia or rise up out of the sea to try and devour Andromeda.
Side Note – The art historian John Boardman has the idea that the images of the cetus along the silk road influenced the image of the Chinese dragons and the Indian makara.
Story Of Perseus
In the Greek story of Perseus, Cepheus was the king of Acrisios or Aethiopia, the husband of Queen Cassiopeia and the father to Andromeda. For the Greeks, Cepheus is known as the father of the Royal Family.
The story begins when Cassiopea started bragging about how Andromeda was more beautiful than the Nereids. This kind of attitude of extreme arrogance and pride, especially when a person claims to be better than the gods, creates what’s known as hubris.
Offended by Cassiopeia’s remarks, the Nereids approached Poseidon and complained, asking him to punish this mortal woman. Poseidon agreed and he sent a flood as well as the sea monster Cetus (or Kraken) to destroy the coastline of Aethiopia.
After consulting with the oracle of Ammon (identified by the Greeks with Zeus,) located at an oasis near Siwa in the Libyan desert, Cepheus was told that he would be able to end the destruction of his country by giving up his daughter Andromeda in sacrifice to Cetus. At the urging of his people, Cepheus had Andromeda chained to a rock by the sea to await her fate.
Luck was with Andromeda, for the hero Perseus was flying by on the Pegasus and on seeing her, he flew down to ask her why she was bound to the rocks. Andromeda told her story to the hero Perseus.
After hearing the story, Perseus went to Cepheus, saying he could save Andromeda from the sea monster and that in return, he wanted her hand in marriage. Cepheus told Perseus that he could have what he wanted.
At that, Perseus then, depending on the accounts given, pulled his sword and found a weak spot in the scales of the sea monster Cetus or he used the severed head of Medusa to turn the monster to stone.
In either event, the monster is slain, Perseus saved Andromeda and a grateful Cepheus and Cassiopeia welcomed them to a feast where the two were married.
The story doesn’t completely end there as it seems Andromeda had also been promised to her uncle Phineus to marry. This wouldn’t have been disputed or contested if Phineus had been the one to save Andromeda and slay Cetus himself. So Phineus picked a fight with Perseus about his right to marry Andromeda at the wedding.
After slaying a Gorgon and a Sea Monster, a mere mortal man is no challenge for Perseus who once again pulls out Medusa’s head and turns Phineus to stone. Given variations of the story, sometimes this is when Cepheus and Cassiopeia are also turned to stone when they accidentally look at the gorgon’s severed head. With Phineus now dead, Andromeda accompanies Perseus back to his home Tiryns in Argos where they eventually founded the Perseid dynasty.
Some accounts give that Perseus and Andromeda had seven sons and two daughters. Others place this count a little differently saying its seven children all together, six sons and one daughter. Most accounts agree that the eldest son, Perses founds his own kingdom and becomes the ancestor to the kings of Persia. A variation to this account is that Perses was adopted by his grandfather Cepheus and named an heir to the throne.
Eventually, years later, as the major figures of the storied died and passed away, the goddess Athena placed Cepheus and the others up into the heavens as constellations to immortalize and commemorate this story.
In another account, because Cepheus was descended from one of Zeus’ lovers, the nymph Io, that earned him a place in the night sky.
Further, it is the god Poseidon who places both Cepheus and Cassiopeia up into heavens to become a constellation.
Hyginus’ Account – By his account, Cepheus’ brother is Agenor who confronts Perseus as he was the one to whom Andromeda had been promised in marriage. This is who Perseus ends up killing instead of Phineus.
Aethiopia or Ethiopia?
The accounts can vary and much of this owes to some lack of clarity among the ancient Greek Scholars and Historians. Homer is the first to have used the term Aethiopia in his Iliad and Odyssey. The Greek historian Herodotus uses the name Aethiopia to describe all of the inhabited lands south of Egypt. The name also features in Greek mythology, where it is sometimes associated with a kingdom said to be seated at Joppa, (what would be modern-day Tel-Aviv) or it is placed elsewhere in Asia Minor such as Lybia, Lydia, the Zagros Mountains, and even India.
Modern-day Ethiopia is located on the horn of Africa and has some tentative ties to the legend of Andromeda. The Egyptian priest Manetho, who lived around 300 BCE called Egypt’s Kushite dynasty the “Aethiopian dynasty.” And with the translation of the Hebrew Bible or Torah into Greek around 200 BCE, the Hebrew usage of “Kush” and Kushite” became the Greek “Aethiopia” and “Aethiopians.” This again changes later to the modern English use of “Ethiopia” and “Ethiopians” with the arrival of the King James Bible.
Given the way that Countries, Empires, Kingdoms, and Nations rise and fall, expand and shrink, it’s very well possible that both Aethiopia and Ethiopia are one and the same and that modern-day Tel-Aviv once known as Joppa (Jaffa) may have once been part of Ethiopia. Some sources cite Joppa as having been a city of Phoenicia. There is a lot of history that has been lost to the sands of time that can only be guessed at and speculated upon.
Hercules Vs Cetus
This is a very similar story that follows much the same theme that the story of Perseus and Andromeda follows.
Now, Hesione is a Trojan princess and the daughter of King Laomedon. Being Trojan, Hesione in some versions and not Helena gets the blame as the trigger for the famous Trojan War.
Enough of that, the gods Apollo and Poseidon became angry with King Laomedon when he refused to pay his tribute to the gods for the construction of Troy’s walls. Fair enough, if you don’t pay, we’ll send a plague and a giant sea monster after you to collect.
After consulting the Oracles for what he could do to set things right, Laomedon was told he would need to sacrifice his daughter Hesione to the monster Cetus. Some versions say a series of pulling lots saw Hesione get this fate. Like Andromeda, Hesione too is chained to the rocks near the ocean for Cetus to come and get.
The hero Hercules along with Oicles and Telamon were returning from their campaign against the Amazons when they come across Hesione chained up and exposed. Hercules finds out what’s going on and goes to her father, Laomedon saying that he can save her for a price.
What price? The horses Laomedon received from Zeus as compensation when Ganymede was abducted. Though it’s Tros who is often given as the father of Ganymede and Laomedon is a nephew of said Ganymede. This story follows the lineage with Laomedon as Ganymede’s father rather than a nephew.
Back on track, Laomede agrees to Hercules’ price of giving the horse and the hero sets off to kill the sea monster Cetus.
When it came time for Hercules to collect his reward, Laomedon refused to pay. Why am I not surprised by that? Some people just don’t learn.
Hercules and his companions are angry enough that they come back to attack Troy, killing Laomedon and all his sons except for Podarces. Telamon takes Hesione for his wife and Podarces, becoming king of Troy, changes his name to Priam.
The whole famous Trojan War fits in as Priam wanted Hesione returned to Troy. When Antenor and Anchises, both sent by Priam, couldn’t get Hesione, they return. Paris is then sent to Greece to bring Hesione back and while on the way, brings back Helen, Queen of Sparta and wife to Menelaus.
Other Grecian Legends
Gates of the Underworld – With Cetus’ location under the ecliptic, it’s stars, along with those of Pisces are connected to the capture of Cerberus in The Twelve Labors of Hercules. Having written a post for Pisces, this is the first I’ve come across this story being connected to either constellation. It seems to me, part of a series of connection several constellations to the story of Hercules and his labors.
The constellation known as Cetus is one of 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy in his book, Almagest. Today it remains as one of the 88 current or modern constellations. The Cetus constellation is found in region of the sky called “The Sea” with other water-based constellations of: Aquarius, Capricornus, Eridanus, Piscis Austrinus, and Pisces.
17th-century astronomer, Johannes Bayers thought Cetus resembled a dragonfish. In his star map or Uranographia, Johann Elert Bode gives an alternative name of Monstrum Marinum for Cetus. Other astronomers, Willem Jansson Blaeu and Cellarius saw a Whale in the Cetus constellation. It’s not unusual either for Cetus to be shown as a giant, monstrous fish with varying animal heads on it.
The Cetus constellation is found in the southern hemisphere where it can most likely be seen during autumn evenings, especially in November, along with several other constellations named after characters in the myth of Perseus. Because of its southern location, Cetus is visible between the 70° and -90° latitude lines and for observers farther south it lies below the horizon. It is 4th largest constellation found in the night sky. Bordering constellations to Cetus are: Aquarius, Aries, Eridanus, Fornax, Pisces, Sculptor and Taurus.
Arab astronomers were aware of Ptolemy’s constellations, in their star lore, one of the hands from the Pleiades (Al-Thurayya) is said to extend into part of the Cetus constellation. Additionally, two pearl necklaces were seen as making up the stars of Cetus. One necklace is intact and whole while the other is depicted as broken and the pearls scattered.
The Tukano and Kobeua people see a jaguar in the Cetus constellation. This jaguar is the god of hurricanes and violent storms. The stars Lambda, Mu, Xi, Nu, Gamma and Alpha Ceti make up the head. The stars Omicron, Zeta and Chi Ceti make up the body with the stars Eta Eri, Tau Ceti and Upsilon Ceti making up the legs and feet. Lastly, the stars Theta, Eta, and Beta Ceti mark the tail of the jaguar.
The stars of Cetus are located in two areas of the Chinses Night Sky, the Black Tortoise of the North or Bei Fang Xuán Wu and the White Tiger of the West or Xi Fang Bái Hu.
The area of the night sky that Cetus occupies is associated with Autumn, agriculture and the harvest season, especially with the need for storing grains and cereals.
Bakui – This is an old asterism comprised of the stars 2, 6 and 7 Ceti that represents a bird catching net. In older maps, this asterism will be placed further south in the constellations of Sculptor and Phoenix. It’s thought that perhaps Chinese astronomers have moved this asterism further north with the slow precession of stars in the night sky.
Chuhao – Or called Chugao, it is located south of Tianjun. This asterism is made up of six stars, two of which are Epsilon and Rho Ceti that border with Eridanus. This asterism represents either a measure of animal feed or medicinal herbs.
Tiancang – Is a square granary, made up of six stars from main body of Cetus, including Iota, Eta, Theta, Zeta, Tau and Upsilon Ceti form this asterism.
Tianhun – This asterism is a loop of seven stars near Eta Ceti and represents either a manure pit or pig sty.
Tianjun – Is a circular granary, made up of thirteen stars from the head and neck of Cetus, including Alpha, Gamma, Delta and Xi Ceti form this asterism.
Tianlin – Is a third granary that borders between the Cetus and Taurus constellations. It is comprised of four stars Omicron, Xi, 4 and 5 Tauri. This storehouse or granary is used to store millet or rice.
Tusikong – One star, Beta Ceti marks this asterism that represents the Minister of Works and Land Usage Overseer.
It’s thought that this constellation was called Na Kuhi and the star, Omicron Ceti might have been called Kane.
As I study the old Grecian myths and the history behind them, the stronger a connection and correlation between the Greek and Mesopotamian myths appears. The story of Andromeda and Perseus is just one set of myths the Greeks inherited from the Mesopotamian cultures.
The constellation of Cetus has been identified with Tiamat, the dragon goddess of Chaos. She bore many demons for her husband, Apsu, but eventually she decided to destroy them in a war that ended when Marduk killed her. He used her body to create the constellations as markers of time for humans.
Biblical Connection – Lost In Translation!
The Greeks weren’t the only ancient people that the Mesopotamians influenced. We see another interesting connection come in the Torah or Hebrew Bible and with the Canaanites.
Jonah and the Whale – This is the story that many people are most likely familiar with for any connection of Cetus with the Bible. If you don’t really dig any further, that can be good enough for people when linking this constellation to the Bible.
If we go a little further, yes, the Hebrew text in Jonah calls the whale a dag gadol, meaning “great fish.” And yes, when the Old Testament was translated to the Greek Bible or Septuagint, the translation is “mega ketos.” Then translated again, in the Latin Vulgate, it translates to Cetus and then later to “piscis grandis.”
Torah – What gets interesting, is another creature, Tanninim (or Tannin for singular) that gets mentioned in the Hebraic Books of Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Job, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Now, the translation into the King James Bible will translate many of these instances to mean a serpent or whale.
Why mention one particular creature, Tannin in all of these other passages and books and call it a dag gadol in Jonah? It’s assumed that whales are what’s being mentioned. Yet when we get into Isaiah, tannin is again mentioned as a sea monster that will be slain by God or Yahweh. When we go into the King James Bible, that translation of tannin becomes dragon.
If dag gadol is a whale or rather, a great fish; then what’s tannin? Sticking to just Jewish mythology, tannin is often linked to the sea monsters Leviathan, Lotan and Rehab. In modern Hebrew, tannin means crocodile.
Canaanite Mythology – Tannin also appears in Canaanite myths, specifically the Baal Cycle. It is a story very similar to the Mesopotamian myth of Marduk (or Enlil) slaying Tiamat and the Grecian Perseus slaying Cetus.
Tannin is a monstrous servant of the sea god Yam who is defeated by Baal or is bound by his sister Anat. This serpentine sea monster is used in Canaanite, Hebrew and Phoenician mythologies as being symbolic of chaos and evil. Much like how Tiamat is equated as a symbol of chaos. It is this part of being a sea monster or dragon and chaos that has modern scholars identifying Tiamat with Tannin.
Nautical Lore & Superstitions
A ship or a ship’s maidenhead will be called Cetus to indicate a ship undaunted by the sea or a fearsome and ruthless pirate ship.
By sailors, the name Cetus is an omen and harbinger of a bad storm or misfortune. The name could also mean lost cargo, the presence of pirates or getting steered/pulled off course. The superstition was so great, that sailors would avoid mentioning the name Cetus.
Here Be Dragons! – Continuing the bit of nautical connection, some retellings of Perseus and Andromeda will refer to Cetus as being a sea serpent or outright calling it a dragon.
Release The Kraken!
Thanks to the 1981 stop-motion movie Clash of the Titans and it’s later 2010 remake, the part that Cetus played is replaced with an even scarier and more compelling monster, the now famous Kraken that rises up to destroy a coastline and kill Andromeda.
Think about it, “Release the Cetus!” just doesn’t have as dramatic of flair as “Release the Kraken!” does. Even the old stop-motion Kraken is more ominous to see on the screen then a giant whale or monstrous sea serpent rising up out of the ocean. It’s more exciting for a modern audience whether seen in theaters or on the small screen to watch.
This also simply shows how Hollywood will often change the source material for what they think is more exciting and action-oriented. Then, when enough people are familiar with this version as the story of Perseus and Andromeda, it shows how these stories and mythologies are still active and evolve with the different cultures that retell them.
It’s been pointed out that the Kraken isn’t even Greek in origin, it’s from Norse & Icelandic lore and mythologies.
Even in Renaissance paintings depicting Perseus, this is where we see the hero going from wearing Hermes’ flying sandals to riding the winged horse Pegasus.
All these constellations have some connection to the overall legend and myth of the Grecian hero Perseus.
Stars Of Cetus
Alpha Ceti – Also known as Menkar that means “nose.” It is a giant red star. It forms a double star with 93 Ceti. Alpha Ceti gets to have a bit of a claim to fame with it’s use in Science Fiction, particularly the original Star Trek series. It is Alpha Ceti V where Khan and his crew are exiled. Then in Star Trek: Enterprise, Alpha Ceti V is the planet that humans find refuge at after the Xindi destroy Earth.
Beta Ceti – Also known as Deneb Kaitos and Diphda is the brightest star found within Cetus. It is an orange star. The name Deneb Kaitos comes from the Arabic phrase Al Dhanab al Ḳaiṭos al Janūbīyy meaning: “the whale’s tail.” The name Diphda comes from the Arabic: “aḍ-ḍafdaʿ aṯ-ṯānī” meaning: “the second frog.” It should be noted that the star Fomalhaut found within Piscis Austrinus is the first frog.
Gamma Ceti – This a double star, the main star is yellow while the secondary star is blue.
Omicron Ceti – Also known as Mira, meaning “The Wonderful,” is the first variable star to have been discovered. Because this star seems to appear and disappear to the unaided eye, it was given the common name of “The Amazing One.” It was discovered by David Fabricius in 1596.
Tau Ceti – Is only notable for being a star similar to the Earth’s own sun. There aren’t any known planets for this star.
AA Ceti – Is a triple star system. The third star is only known by the shadow it casts when passing in front of the primary star.
NGC 246 also known as the Cetus Ring, is a planetary nebula found within the Cetus constellation. It’s roughly 1600 light-years away from Earth. It earns the nickname of Pac-Man Nebula due to how its central stars and surrounding star field appear.
There are a series of three meteor shows associated as originating out of Cetus, they are the October Cetids, the Eta Cetids and finally, the Omicron Cetids.