THE TABLET OF DESTINIES
1. New Year Ritual for the Temple of Marduk in Babylon
On the second day of the month Nisan, two hours before the end of the night the high priest* shall rise and wash himself with water from the river. *sheshgallu 'big brother'
He shall go into the presence of Bel, and draw back the linen curtain in front of Bel*. *'Lord', Marduk
He shall recite this prayer:
Bel, without equal when angered,
Bel, merciful king, lord of all lands,
who makes the great gods favourable;
Bel, who overthrows the mighty with his glance,
lord of kings, light of humankind, determiner of destinies.
Bel, Babel is your seat, Borsippa is your crown;
the whole expanse of heaven is your liver;
Bel, with your eyes you see all things;
with your oracles you confirm oracles;
with your glance you give the law;
with your arms you crush the mighty;
with your hands you grasp ...;
when you look on them you show them mercy;
you make them see the light; they declare your might;
lord of all lands, light of the Igigi deities, you bestow blessing.
Who will not speak of you and declare your might?
Who will not tell of your glory and praise your sovereignty?
Lord of all lands, dwelling in Eudul, who extends his hand,
have mercy on your city, Babel,
turn your face toward your temple, Esagila,
ensure the liberty of your protégés, the people of Babel. [Babel = Babylon]
The number of lines is twenty-one. It is a secret of the temple Esagila. It shall be shown to no one but the high-priest.
After he has spoken this prayer, he shall open the door.
The priests shall rise and perform their customary rituals before Bel and Beltiya*; * 'My Lady', Sarpanit, consort of Marduk
and likewise the liturgists** and the singers.... **kalu
On the third day of the the month Nisan ....
At three hours after sunrise the high priest shall summon a metalworker, and give him precious stones and gold from the treasury of the god Marduk, to make two images for the sixth day.
He shall summon a woodworker and give him cedar-wood and tamarisk-wood.
He shall summon a jeweller and give him gold. . . .
The artisans are to be given portions of the sheep offered to Marduk, from the 3rd to 6th day.
On the fourth day of the month Nisan, three and one-third hours before the end of the night, the high-priest shall rise and wash himself with water from the river.
He shall draw back the linen curtain in front of the god Bel and the goddess Beltiya.
He shall recite this prayer, with his hand raised, to Bel:
Almighty lord of the Igigi deities, most exalted of the great gods,
lord of the world, king of the gods, Marduk, who determines destinies;
. . . . (11 lines)
determining the destinies of all the gods,
who hands over the holy sceptre to the king who reveres him;
. . . .
let your light shine upon the people of Babel.
He shall then withdraw from the god Bel and recite this prayer to the goddess Beltiya:
Most powerful goddess, exalted among the goddesses,
Sarpanit, the brightest star, dwelling in Eudul . . . .
Sarpanit whose dwelling is exalted,
brilliant Beltiya, exalted and sublime,
there is none like her among the goddesses,
who prosecutes, and defends,
who abases the rich, and vindicates the poor,
who overthrows the enemy who does not respect her divinity,
who releases the captive and takes the hand of the fallen,
bless the servant who blesses you;
determine the destiny of the king who reveres you.
Grant life to your protégés, the people of Babel;
plead their cause to Marduk, the king of the gods.
May they declare your glory, exalt your majesty,
tell forth your prowess, and magnify your name.
Have mercy on the servant who blesses you,
take his hand when he is in need and in distress;
when in sickness and in pain, grant him life;
let him constantly walk in happiness and joy,
telling your prowess to the whole world.
He shall then go out into the great court, turn to the north, and bless the temple Esagila three times thus:
Star Iku, Esagila, image of heaven and earth.
He shall then open the doors, and all the priests shall come in to perform their customary rituals; likewise the liturgists and the singers.
This done, after the second meal, at the end of the day, the high priest of the temple Ekua shall recite Enuma Elish * to Bel, from beginning to end.
While he is reciting Enuma Elish * to Bel, the crown of the god Anu and the seat of the god Enlil shall be covered. *'when on high', the creation epic of Marduk.
On the fifth day of the month Nisan, four hours before the end of the night, the high priest shall rise and wash himself with river water, from the Tigris and Euphrates. . . .
[He recites a prayer to Marduk and then to Sarpanit; in the two hymns they are addressed as various planets or constellations; for example, Bel is said to be Jupiter, Mercury, Saturn, Mars, Sirius, Sun, Moon; Beltiya is the planet Venus, the star Uz, and so on. The high priest then lets the other functionaries in to perform their rituals.]
Two hours after sunrise, after the tables of Bel and Beltiya have been set, the high priest shall summon an exorcist priest*, who shall purify the temple. *mashmashu
The exorcist shall sprinkle the the temple with water from the reservoir of the Tigris and from the reservoir of the Euphrates. He shall beat the kettle-drum inside the temple. He shall have a censer and a torch brought into the temple. He shall remain in the courtyard, and not enter the chapel of Bel and Beltiya.
When the purification of the temple is completed, the exorcist shall go into the temple Ezida, into the chapel of the god Nabu. With the censer, the torch, and the water-pot, he shall purify the temple and sanctuary of Nabu, sprinkling them with water from the Tigris and Euphrates reservoirs. He shall smear all the doors of the chapel with cedar-oil. Within the courtyard of the chapel he shall place a silver censer upon which he shall mix incense and cypress. He shall summon a slaughterer to decapitate a sheep. The exorcist shall use the carcass of the sheep to purge the temple. He shall recite the incantations to exorcize the temple.
The exorcist and the slaughterer are then required to take the carcass and head of the sheep to the river Euphrates, and remain outside the city till the end of the festival, because they are now ritually impure.
After the purification of the temple, when it is three and one-third hours after sunrise, the high priest of the temple Ekua shall go out and summon all the craftsmen. They shall bring out the Golden Heaven canopy from the treasury of Marduk, and cover Ezida, the chapel of Nabu . . . .
Then the high priest shall go into the presence of Bel; he shall prepare before Bel the golden offering table, placing on it roast meat, the customary twelve loaves, a gold container filled with salt, a gold pot full of honey, and four gold dishes; he shall set a gold censer in front of the table, with incense and cypress; he shall pour out wine.
He shall recite this prayer:
Marduk, lord, exalted among the gods,
who dwells in the temple Esagila, who creates the laws, . . . .
I praise your prowess.
May your heart turn towards him who takes your hand,
in the temple of prayer . . .
may he lift up his head.
The craftsmen then take the offering table to the bank of the canal where Nabu will arrive by barge from his hometown Borsippa, escorted by the king.
When Nabu arrives they shall set the table for him . . . . They then supply water for washing the king's hands. They accompany him to the temple Esagila. The artisans then go out the gate.
When the king has come into the presence of Bel, the high priest shall come out of the chapel and take the sceptre, the ring, and the mace from the king, and remove his royal crown. These he brings into the presence of Bel, and places them on a seat in front of Bel. He then comes back and strikes the king's cheek. . . .
He conducts him into the presence of Bel, and, dragging him by the ears, makes him kneel on the ground.
The king shall make the following disclaimer, once:
I have not sinned, lord of the lands,
I have not shown disrespect to your divinity.
I have not ruined the city Babel,
I have not caused its disintegration.
I have not undermined the temple Esagila,
I have not forgotten its rituals.
I have not struck citizens on the cheek,
I have not humiliated them.
I have cared for Babel,
I have not demolished its walls. . . .
[The text is broken, but the high priest replies to the king's confession.]
Fear not . . .
Bel will hear your prayer . . .
he will exalt your lordship . . .
he will magnify your kingship . . . .
Bel will bless you for ever;
he will destroy your enemies,
he will overthrow your adversaries.
When the high priest has spoken thus, the king shall be restored to his glorious state; the high priest shall bring the the sceptre, ring, mace, and crown out of the chapel, and return them to the king. He shall then strike the king on the cheek, and if tears come Bel is favourable; but if tears do not come Bel is angry, and so the enemy will rise up and cause his downfall.
This ritual text survives in two copies, both from the Seleucid period of Babylonian history (after 281 B.C.E.). It describes religious rites associated with the New Year festival in ancient Babel, held in the springtime, from the 1st to the 12th day of the month Nisan (Nisannu ), around the vernal equinox and at the time of the barley harvest. The text covers only the second to the fifth day. The New Year festival was centred around Esagila, the temple in which resided Bel ('Lord', Marduk, king of the gods) and Belit ('Lady', or Beltiya, 'My Lady', Sarpanit by name, consort of Marduk). The temple Ezida was also involved in the ceremonies; it was a shrine for Nabu (the firstborn son of Marduk, and the scribal deity), who came from Borsippa to Babel during the festival. (Incidentally, Marduk and Nabu are the 'Bel and Nebo' of Isaiah 46:1). On days 2 to 5 preparation and purification took place at the temple. On the fourth day the temple Esagila is blessed, and in the evening the priest 'presents' (recites?) to Bel the Babylonian creation epic (Enuma elish ), in which Marduk's rise to power, creation of the world, and erecting of Esagila are narrated. During this presentation the crown of Anu and the seat of Enlil are veiled; it was their sovereignty that Marduk took over.
There were six important rites on the fifth day:
(1) The high priest goes into the presence of Marduk and Sarpanit well before dawn, and addresses them by various names of constellations and planets.
(2) After the gods have breakfasted (around 8 a.m.), the high priest calls in an exorcist or sorcerer to purify the temple of Bel, with sprinkled water, incense, light, and drumming (to drive out evil spirits).
(3) The exorcist then cleanses the adjacent Ezida shrine, ready for it to be occupied by Nabu. He uses a slaughtered sheep and incantations for the purification rite.
(4) The high priest (who has kept clear of the two previous ceremonies, lest he contract ritual impurity) orders workmen to bring from the treasury of Marduk a canopy named the Golden Heaven, to be hung over the shrine of Nabu.
(5) After Marduk and his consort have dined, the king arrives by barge with the image of Nabu. The king is taken into the shrine of Marduk and divested of his regalia by the high priest, who requires him to make a negative confession to Bel. Thereafter the king is restored to his state of dignity, but the priest delivers him a second blow on the cheek to test whether Bel is favourably disposed or not; the king's tears are an omen of divine favour.
(6) Just before sunset a hole is opened up in the temple courtyard; in it the priest places a bundle of reeds; over them honey, ghee, and oil are poured; a white bull is also involved (slaughtered?); the king sets fire to the sacrifice; the king and the priest utter a prayer to the planet Mercury ('the star of Marduk'; its heliacal rising occurs in the month Nisan). This shows that the king is the supreme priest of Marduk.
On the sixth day, the statues of the other gods were brought from their homes in other towns.The subsequent days were devoted to the akitu festival, as distinct from the zagmukku festival (New Year). The gods and goddesses moved out of the city to the akitu building (bit akitim): led by Marduk they drove down the processional way in their chariots, and then travelled in canal boats. The king took Marduk by the hand to inaugurate this procession, and 'taking Bel by the hand' was used by chroniclers as a way of referring to the akitu festival (cp. the Cyrus cylinder). Here in the countryside, picnicking for the people and feasting for the deities took place. The sacred marriage rite between the god and the goddess (Marduk and Sarpanit) took place at this time, but it is unclear whether it happened in the akitu building or in the chamber at the summit of the ziggurat of Esagila, the 'tower of Babel' inside the city.On the eleventh day, the procession returned to Babel for a final assembly of the gods in the shrine of destinies, in Nabu's sanctuary, where 'the destinies of the land' were fixed. On the eighth day a similar ceremony of 'decreeing destinies' had been performed, in which Marduk (and presumably also the king) had his kingship confirmed. This would doubtless be a re-enactment of the scene in the creation myth (Enuma elish 6:76-122). The twelfth day saw the deities dispersing to their own towns.
The Babylonian New Year festival thus included six significant things:
(1) celebration of the new year (zagmukku festival),
(2) festivities for the spring barley harvest (akitu harvest festival),
(3) recitation and partial re-enactment of the creation epic (Enuma elish ),
(4) enthronement of Marduk and affirmation of his sovereignty ('taking Bel by the hand'),
(5) confirmation of the king as the appointee of Marduk ('Bel will magnify your kingship'),
(6) ensuring good prospects for the ensuing year ('determining the destinies').
Edition and Translations
F. Thureau-Dangin, Rituels accadiens (Paris 1921) 127-154.
A. Sachs, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 331-334.
S. H. Hooke, Babylonian and Assyrian Religion (Oxford 1962) 101-109.
J. A. Black, The New Year ceremonies in ancient Babylon: 'Taking Bel by the hand' and a cultic picnic, Religion 11 (1981) 39-59.
2. Inscription of King Sinakherib of Assyria
1 The tablet of destinies, the bond of supreme power*, *Enlil-ship
of dominion over the gods of heaven and earth*, *including the underworld
of sovereignty over the Igigi deities and the Anunnaki divinities,
the secret of the heavens and the netherworld,
5 the cable linking Anu's canopy* and Ganzir**, * the sky **the underworld
the leash of [ ],
which Ashur king of the gods took in his hand and held [at his breast];
on it is an image of his form, a replication of his features;
his hand grasps the leashes of the great heavens,
the cable linking the Igigi and the Anunnaki.
10 Sinakherib*, king of the world, king of the land of Ashur, *Sennacherib
who fashioned the images of the gods Ashur, Anu, Sin, Shamash, Adad,
of the goddesses Belet-ili and Ishtar of the Bit Kitmuri temple,
the shepherd who makes humble obeisance, the agent of Ashur his lord,
a portrait of himself he placed in front of the image of his lord Ashur.
15 [ O Ashur, father of] heaven, king of the gods, determiner of destinies,
you alone hold in your hands the tablet of destinies of the gods;
watch over the reign of Sinakherib, king of Ashur*, *Assyria
and decree a fine destiny for me . . . .
Exalt my head among all who reign,
20 and let the base of my throne be firm like a mountain, into the distant future.
for me, your provisioner, from the east* *'sunrise'
to the west* subject to my yoke [all foreign lands]. *'sunset'
May the black-headed people* beseech you *humankind
that my sons, my grandsons, my dynasty shall endure among them for ever.
This text is an inscription of King Sinakherib (Sennacherib) of Ashur (Assyria), who reigned in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. (704-681). It describes the Tablet of Destinies, or a replica of it, which apparently bore a portrait of the god Ashur, presumably a seal impression; a representation of the king in homage before Ashur was also said to be on the clay tablet. The Tablet of Destinies (tuppi shimati ) bestowed supreme sovereignty (enlilutu, Enlil-ship) on its possessor. In the Epic of Marduk (Enuma elish ) it is first worn on his breast by Qingu (Kingu, the consort of Tiamat, 1:146-161), and then by Marduk (4:119-122), who returns it to Anu (5:69-72). In the Assyrian version of Enuma elish, the god Ashur takes the place of Marduk, and as the holder of the Destinies Tablet, Ashur is 'king of the gods, determiner of destinies' (line 15 above).
Edition and Translation
A.R. George, Sennnacherib and the Tablet of Destinies, Iraq 49 (1987) 133-146.