As the son of the mighty god Enki, creator and protector of humanity, Marduk plays an important role in Mesopotamian mythology and the history of Babylon.
Babylon was the “sacred city” dedicated to the cult of Marduk, who had his temple there and a golden statue. In ancient times, Babylon was considered almost the “center of the world.” Even, Alexander the Great was charmed by its beauty and power.
From an ancient Assyrian text known as the “Marduk Prophecy”, also referred to as the “Sulgi Prophecies,” one can learn about Marduk’s journeys to the lands of the Hittites, Assyrians, and Elamites and the prediction of a future king who will lead Marduk back from Elam, an ancient country in southwestern Iran.
According to historians, the Marduk Prophecy was written sometime between 713-612 B.C. The ancient document was unearthed in the House of the Exorcist close to a temple in the city of Ashur, the first capital of the Assyrian Empire.
Since this document was most likely written during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar I, most historians suggest it served as a propaganda piece to celebrate his victory.
The Marduk prophecy describes the return of a strong and powerful king who will restore peace and order to the city by bringing home the statue of the god.
Detail from kudurru of Nebuchadnezzar granting Šitti-Marduk freedom from taxation. Credit: Public Domain
King Nebuchadnezzar I “marched into Elam and repatriated the stolen statue of Marduk”. 1 The Babylonian King List informs he ruled for 22 years, and one kudurru reveals King Nebuchadnezzar I retrieved the statue of god Marduk during his battle against the Elamites. 2
Babylonians had the so-called ‘kudurrus’, stone steles that were sculpted and carved with inscriptions. They were important not only for economic and religious reasons but also as almost the only works of art, which survived from the period of Kassite rule in Babylonia (c. 16th-c. 12th century BC). Many significant historical events were inscribed on these kudurrus.
Although most think the Marduk Prophecy was written as a tribute to King Nebuchadnezzar I, it’s also possible the document served another purpose.
Interestingly, while excavating in the House of the Exorcist, archaeologists found several cuneiform tablets that also relate to other events.
“Apart from the “Marduk Prophecy,” the inventory includes no text relevant to Nebuchadnezzar’s Elamite campaign which is likely to have been the primary concern of the author of our text, but there are some texts proclaiming the superiority of the Assyrian chief deity Assur over Marduk (e.g. the “Marduk Ordeal”).
This suggests that the owner of the Assur exemplar had far more interest in theological reflection on the relationship between the Assyrian and the Babylonian state gods, which was presumably stimulated by the Assyrian abduction of the Marduk statue under Sennacherib (689 B.C.), than in the triumph of Nebuchadnezzar.” 1
This has led some to speculate whether the Marduk Prophecy was perhaps written in connection as to how Marduk should be evaluated in relation to the god Assur, the most important deity of the Assyrian capital Ashur.
Ashur, the chief god of the Assyrian pantheon in Mesopotamian religion, worshipped mainly in the northern half of Mesopotamia, and parts of north-east Syria and south-east Asia Minor (old Assyria). A close-up view of a wall relief depicting the God Ashur (Assur) inside a winged- disc. The hands of Ashurbanipal II partially appear (who makes a gesture of worship to the God Ashur). Credit: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) – CC BY-SA 4.0
The prophecy also contains astrological omen texts and mentions certain ancient places associated with specific constellations.
Many predictions in the Marduk and Sulgi prophecies, as well as in the Uruk Prophecy, likewise have exact parallel in the astrological corpus.” 3
Since Babylonians and Sumerians had advanced knowledge of astronomy, it’s not surprising to discover they relied on celestial objects for a number of reasons, and there are specific parallels between prophecy predictions, astrological omens, and astronomical events.