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Ancient Jewish History: Marduk

Marduk is the patron deity of the city of Babylon.

Although known as a minor god as early as the third millennium, Marduk became an important local deity at the time of the advent of the First Babylonian Dynasty as can be seen mainly from the literary introduction of the Hammurapi Stele and other documents. However, he was elevated to the rank of the chief deity and national god of Babylon only during the Middle Babylonian period and especially during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I (c. 1100 B.C.E.; post-Kassite period) and not, as is commonly assumed, during the reign of Hammurapi (1848–1806 B.C.E.). This can be ascertained from the diffusion during the Old and Middle Babylonian periods of the name Marduk as a component of personal names or as a titular deity in legal and other procedures. Apart from its appearance in Jeremiah 50:2, the name Marduk is found in the Bible in personal names such as Evil-Merodach and Merodach-Baladan . In Jeremiah 50:2, the name of Marduk is paralleled by the word bel (Heb. בֵּל), a transliteration of the Akkadian attribute of Marduk, bēlum, "lord" (Sumerian EN), which he inherited in the second millennium from Enlil, the "former" most powerful god of the Mesopotamian pantheon. (According to the Old Babylonian conception expressed in the introduction to the Hammurapi Code, he received at this time only the illilūtu, the governorship of the people, which had formerly rested on Enlil.) The origin of Marduk's name is unknown but there are some suggested etymologies, the most accepted being from Sumerian (A) MAR. UTU (K), "the young bull [or calf] of Samaš [Utu] the Sungod." This explanation was well known in the Babylonian tradition. (For "the 50 names of Marduk" see below.) Another etymology, put forward by Th. Jacobsen, is "the son of the storm" (or "maker of storm"?), Marud(d)uk, which brings the form of his name closer to the Aramaic-Hebrew transliteration. Abusch understands the name to reflect original Sumerian amar.uda.ak, meaning "Calf of the Storm," because Marduk was never a solar deity.

Marduk's rise to the status of national god was slow but exceptionally comprehensive. It is very possible that, apart from being an historical process, his elevation was deeply influenced by his connection – not entirely proven – with Enki (Ea), the benevolent god of wisdom, incantations, and the sweet waters of the deep (Sum. ABZU, Akk. apsû), from Eridu, the most ancient holy city of Sumer.

This connection with Enki was maintained in the theology and practice of the cult of Marduk, e.g., in his identification with Asalluhi, the son of Enki, active in healing or exorcistic incantations, and in the naming of his temple in Babylon Esagila ("the house of the [high] raised head") after that of Enki in Eridu. Thus Marduk emerges as a national and popular god of the "second [younger] generation," who exercises influence in every walk of life as the healer and saviour of the Babylonians. In this capacity he appears in incantations, prayers, hymns, philosophical poems (e.g., Ludlul bēl nēmeqi, "Let me praise the God of wisdom," a variant of which was known also in Ugarit, see Job ), and epics such as the Erra Epic, where the "disappearance" of Marduk because of displeasure wreaks havoc in the world and brings about the temporary rule of Erra, the god of destruction.

Marduk is the hero of Enūma eliš ("When above …"), the Babylonian creation myth. In this myth the Son of the Storm is appointed by the gods to lead the fight against Tiāmat (Heb תְּהוֹם, "Ocean") who has planned to destroy them. In the struggle between these two personified natural elements, Marduk gains the upper hand. At the end of the didactic-cultic epic the assembly of gods praises Marduk with 50 name-exegeses and builds the Esagila in his honor.

Enūma eliš was read aloud in front of Marduk's statue during the akītu (New Year; see Klein), Babylonia's most important festival. In these ceremonies the statues of Marduk and his son Nab – (Heb. נְבוֹ) were carried from Marduk's temple in Babylon to the house of the akītu festival outside the city walls. The elaborate ritual of this festival, known chiefly from a late (Seleucid) edition, greatly influenced many theories about supposed parallel developments in the Israelite cult (see Psalms , Kingship ).

The cult and theology of Marduk began its expansion during the renewed expansion of Babylonian culture beyond Babylon in the Middle Babylonian-Assyrian period. Marduk was accepted into the Assyrian royal pantheon after Aššur and other important gods. The Babylonian elaboration of the theology of Marduk, which expressed itself also in speculative identification and the absorption of the functions of other gods into that of Marduk (this was not exclusive to Marduk), as well as the identification of Marduk with the Babylonian national entity, had momentous consequences in that in the course of time Marduk became identified as a symbol of Babylonian resistance to Assyria. The conception of Marduk decisively influenced the cult of Aššur who was also elevated to a parallel or even higher position. Thus, for example, in the Assyrian version of Enūma eliš, Aššur takes the place of Marduk. The tension between the two nations resulted in a most decisive dislike of Marduk in the middle of the first millennium. After the "experiments" of Tiglath-Pileser III and Sargon , who were kings of Babylon in every respect, came Sennacherib who during most of his reign was uniformly anti-Babylonian and "anti-Marduk," and who expressed this by destroying Babylon and Esagila. The emblems and statues of Marduk went into "captivity" many times. The return of the statue of Marduk, which was always connected with Babylonian resurrection, was interpreted as a theological change of destiny and as a punishment inflicted by Marduk on Babylon's enemies, as in the case of Sennacherib. Thus, this antagonism became a major issue in the entire destiny of the Ancient Near East in the middle of the first millennium. A very striking example of this antagonism is found in an Assyrian satirical, quasi-theological composition (correctly reinterpreted by W. von Soden) which, far from being an "apotheosis" of the "dead and resurrected Marduk" (as was suggested earlier), is a "mock trial" of Marduk ending probably with his "execution," as a god who – from the point of view of the Assyrians and other peoples – caused much enmity and treachery (see below). This trial is a "logical" continuation of that of the god Kingu and of his execution in Enūma eliš, where Marduk was the judge.

In the time of the final Assyrian period (Esarhaddon, Ašhurbanipal) and the Neo-Babylonian Dynasty, from Nabopolossar on, and again in the Early Persian period (Cyrus), Marduk was the chief god of Babylon. Because they opposed the oppressive measures of Nabonidus, the last Neo-Babylonian king, the priests of Marduk were those who made possible the peaceful occupation of Babylon by Cyrus (539; see also Babylon ; Mesopotamia ).

Marduk is first mentioned in the West (Syria-Palestine) in Akkadian documents from Ugarit (Middle Babylonian period around 1350; see: Ugaritica, 5 (1968), 792) where, as mentioned, one version of the philosophical treatise Ludlul bēl nēmeqi was known. Also there is an incantation letter against nambul ("The Wrong"; "The Bad") directing him to appear before Marduk. The first appearance of Marduk in Palestine occurs in the same period and takes the form of the personal name of Šulum-Marduk in the el-Amarna letters (EA). According to EA 256:20, as interpreted by Albright (in BASOR, 89 (1943), 12ff.), the royal house at ʿAštartu (the contemporary king being A-ia-ab (= Job)) was called "The House of Šulum-Marduk." (Another reading for "house" is advocated by Moran, 309, but the name Šulum-Marduk remains.) Marduk was known also among the Hittites, and Middle Babylonian cylinder seals dedicated to him have been found at Thebes, Greece. In the first millennium Marduk's name appears in Assyrian and Aramean treaties from Sefire that were concluded with King Matiʾilu of Arpad (COS II, 213). In the Bible, apart from Marduk (see above), Bel (his appellative attribute) together with his son Nab – (see above) is mentioned in Isaiah 46:1 and Jeremiah 51:44. In both these prophecies divine judgment (not the judgment of a "rival" as in the case of Aššur) is pronounced against a symbolic polytheistic entity within the framework of a particular stage in history. The historical placement of these verses is difficult. Nevertheless, the announcement of biblical-prophetic judgment is consistent with the attitude of the other antagonists to Marduk and Babylon, described above.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

S.A. Pallis, The Babylonian Akîtu Festival (1926); W.F. Albright, in: BASOR, 89 (1943), 12; E. Dhorme, Les Religions de Babylonie et d'Assyrie (1949), 139–50; F.M. Th. Boehl, Opera Minora (1953), 282–312; W. von Soden, in: ZA, 51 (1955), 130–66; 53 (1957), 229–34; Pritchard, Texts, 60–72, 331–4; H. Schmoekel, in: Revue d'assyrologie et d'archéologie orientale, 53 (1959), 183ff.; H. Tadmor, in: Eretz-Israel, 5 (1959), 150–63; W.G. Lambert, in: W.S. McCullough (ed.), The Seed of Wisdom (1964), 3–13; B. Meissner, Die Keilschrift, ed. by K. Oberhuber (1967), 153–4; Th. Jacobsen, in: JAOS, 88 (1968), 104–8; P. Artzi, in: EM, 5 (1968), 442–5. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPY: W. Moran, The Amarna Letters (1992); J. Klein, in: ABD, 1:138–40; L. Handy, in: ABD, 4:522–23; T. Abusch, in: DDD, 543–49.