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History of Philosophy
Babylonia and Assyria
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)

When, probably about the year 3800 B.C., the Semites conquered Babylonia, they found there a civilization which is commonly called that of the Accadians and Sumerians, and is by many regarded as the source of all the civilizations of the East. The religion of the Accadians was originally Shamanistic: every object, every force in nature, was believed to possess a spirit (Zi) who could be controlled by the magical exorcisms of the Shaman, or sorcerer-priest.[3] Gradually certain of these spirits had been elevated to the dignity of gods, as, for instance, Anu (the sky), Mul-ge, or Enum (the earth), and Hea (the deep). It was not, however, until the time of Assurbanipal (seventh century B.C.) that this primitive system of theogony began to develop into a system of cosmogony based on the idea that the universe arose out of a chaos of waters. Before that time, there prevailed in Accadia a vague traditional belief that the present cosmic system was preceded by an anarchical chaos in which there existed composite creatures, -- men with the bodies of birds and the tails of fishes, -- Nature's first attempts at creation. With this creationist legend was associated an equally vague belief in a gloomy Hades, or underworld, where the spirits of the dead hover like bats and feed on dust.
[3] Cf. Sayce, The Ancient Empires of the East (New York, 1896), pp. 145 ff.
From the earliest times the Accadians devoted attention to the observation of the heavenly bodies, and it may be said that among them Astronomy found its first home. Their crude attempts at astronomical observations were, however, connected with astrological practices, so that the Chaldaeans became famous among the ancients as adepts in the magic arts: Chaldaeos ne consulito. In like manner, the first efforts at numerical computation and notation were made subservient to the demands of the magician.

It was through the Phoenicians, who inaugurated the trade of western Asia, that the civilization of the Assyrians influenced the religious and artistic life of the Greeks and of the other nations of the Mediterranean.
For bibliography, cf. De la Saussaye, Lehrbuch der Religionsgeschichte, I, 163; cf. also Manual of the Science of Religion, by De la Saussaye, trans. by B. Colyer Ferguson (London, 1891), pp. 458 ff. The latter is a translation of the first volume of the first edition of the Lehrbuch. To De la Saussaye's list add Jastrow, The Religion of Assyria and Babylonia (Boston, 1898).


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