Damien F. Mackey
“Merodach is most certainly at the head of the Babylonian pantheon, and is so far exalted above the other gods as to give an almost monotheistic character to some passages in the inscriptions”.
We considered in a recent series of articles that the kingdom of neo-Assyria – newly revised to co-ordinate with the mission to Nineveh of the prophet Jonah – may have been influenced at the time by Hebrew monotheism and by certain canonical formulæ of Mosaïc Law.
Here we briefly consider a possibly similar monotheistic influence upon king Nebuchednezzar.
of Nebuchednezzar II
Charles Boutflower has advanced a strong argument in his In and Around the Book of Daniel for evidence of a trend towards a Marduk (Merodach) form of monotheism to be found in various inscriptions of the Chaldean potentate, Nebuchednezzar II ‘the Great’. He writes: https://archive.org/stream/inaroundbookofda00boutuoft/inaroundbookofda00boutuoft_djvu.t
According, then, to this authority, No. 15 is the latest of the inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar, and the Merodach tendency noticed by Langdon is of necessity a monotheistic tendency, for Merodach, who, as we have seen, is always foremost of the gods, appears in some passages of this inscription to stand alone. Now it is just in these monotheistic passages, these “inserted prayers” and “changes of text,” that we seem to see the work of the real Nebuchadnezzar. Thus, immediately after the introductory passage, which describes the position occupied by the king with reference to Merodach and Nebo, there follows a hymn to those divinities, col. i. 23 to ii. 39, extracted from inscriptions 19 …. But in the middle of this hymn we meet with a prayer addressed to Merodach alone : col. i. 51 to ii. 11, and this prayer, be it noted, is an entirely original addition, not found in any previous inscription. Jastrow remarks with reference to it, “The conception of Merodach rises to a height of spiritual aspiration, which comes to us as a surprise in a religion that remained steeped in polytheism, and that was associated with practices and rites of a much lower order of thought.” 2
This remarkable prayer runs thus
“To Merodach my lord I prayed,
I addressed my supplication.
He had regard to the utterance of my heart,
I spake unto him:
Lord of all that is,
for the king whom thou lovest,
whose name thou proclaimest,
who is pleasing to thee :
direct him aright,
lead him in the right path !
I am a prince obedient unto thee,
the creature of thy hands,
thou hast created me,
and hast appointed me to the lordship of multitudes of people.
According to thy mercy, Lord, which thou bestowest upon
all of them,
cause them to love thy exalted lordship :
cause the fear of thy godhead to abide in my heart !
Grant what to thee is pleasing,
for thou makest my life’.” ….
And a similar exaltation of the god, Sîn, in the case of king Nabonidus, is a central feature of Paul-Alain Beaulieu’s book, The Reign of Nabonidus, King of Babylon, 556-539 B.C. (1989).
Beaulieu has interpreted Nabonidus’s exaltation of the moon god, Sîn, as “an outright usurpation of Marduk’s prerogatives”.
Sîn is the ilu/ilani sa ilani, “the god(s) of the gods.”
However, considering my revised view that Nebuchednezzar II, Nabonidus, is actually just the one Chaldean king:
(and that Belshazzar, the son of Nabonidus, was the “King Belshazzzar” of Daniel 5, who succeeded his father Nebuchadnezzar), then “Nabonidus’s exaltation of the moon god, Sin” would simply equate, presumably, with Nebuchednezzar’s similar exaltation of Marduk.
And this indeed appears to be the case from the next section from C. Boutflower’s book, according to which Sin fuses with Marduk (Merodach), “Sin is Merodach …”:
Sin is Merodach the illuminator of the night.
… not only was there a tendency towards monotheism in the Babylonian religion… but … Nebuchadnezzar himself became increasingly monotheistic in his later years, a circumstance which might well be expected in view of the great miracles recorded in the Book of Daniel. Daniel, as we have seen, when interpreting the king’s earlier dream, given in chap, ii., was able to reveal to
him “the God of heaven” as the real Enlil, “the Great Mountain,” and “Lord of the wind” ; and the monarch on that occasion was so far impressed by the discovery and interpretation of his forgotten dream that he freely acknowledged Daniel’s God to be “the God of gods and the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets,” thus putting Jehovah in the place of both Merodach and Nebo.
Later on, in chaps, iii. and iv., he acknowledges the God of the Jews as ” the Most High ” and ” the Most High God.” I am now in a position to show that there were two ways in which he could do this without turning his back on, or abjuring, the Babylonian religion.
When Merodach became the Enlil, the other gods, as we have seen, bestowed on him their names and attributes. This fable of Babylonian mythology tended in the direction of monotheism, and paved the way for the identification of the other deities with Merodach, and for regarding them as so many manifestations of Merodach. This appears most clearly in a tablet known as the
Monotheistic Tablet, from which the following is an extract :
“Ninib is Merodach of the garden (?).
Nergal is Merodach of war.
Zagaga is Merodach of battle.
Enlil is Merodach of lordship and dominion.
Nebo is Merodach of trading.
Sin is Merodach the illuminator of the night.
Shamash is Merodach of righteousness.
Bimmon is Merodach of rain.” 2
Despite all of this, it would probably be going too far to suggest that the Chaldean king ever became a pure monotheist in the mould of a Daniel. Still, the religious reform implemented during this period of Chaldean dominance is certainly most idiosyncratic and confronting.
King Nebuchednezzar II, Nabonidus, in addressing the deity as “Lord of all that is”, and “the god(s) of the gods”, could be mistaken for a moment as a Jewish Yahwist addressing the God of Israel.
‘Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you’.