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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. 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.
 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
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,