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side of the belly, holes were made, but filled up with wax. done, he challenged the god Ur to oppose his god Canopus, which was accepted of by the Chaldean priests ; but no sooner did the wax which stopped up the holes in the belly of Canopus begin to melt, than the water burst out and drowned the fire.
Adramelech was another idol belonging to the Assyrians; but his supposed power seems to have been confined to some of the more distant provinces ; for we read, that when Salmanessar took captive the greatest part of the ten tribes, he sent in their room the inhabitants of a province called Sepharvaim; and these people were most horrid and barbarous idolaters, for they burnt their children alive, and committed such other abominations as are not proper to be mentioned.
In the latter times of the Assyrian empire, before it was joined to that of Babylon, Nisrock was the god worshipped in Nineveh ; and it was in the temple of this idol that the great Sennacherib was murdered by his two sons Adramelech and Shanezzar. Both the ancients and the moderns ágree, that this idol was represented in the shape of a fowl ; but they differ much concerning the species ; some thinking it was a dove, and others an eagle. The Jewish rabbis tell us that it was made of a plank of Noah's ark, which had been preserved on the mountains of Armenia.
Among the Assyrians, as well as many other nations, some worshipped the fire, and some images ; but both agreed in sacrificing their children to their idols. In time, the number of their idols increased, till at last Efrahaddon removed the seat of empire to Babylon, soon after which the city and temples of Nineveh were neglected, and their magi, or wise men, who had been long in esteem among them, followed the court.
As it was the universal practice of the ancient heathen nation's to worship their idols in groves, before temples were erected, it may be proper here to inquire what gave rise to that notion? It is a principle acquired by experience without reading, that in every act of devotion the mind should be fixed on the grand object of worship. Every one who has walked in a grove will acknowledge that there was more than a common reverential awe upon his mind, which must be owing to the small number of objects that presented themselves. We may justly call them the haunts of meditation; but still, it cannot be denied, that
abominable crimes were committed in them : some parts near their altars were set apart for secret lewdness, and even for such unnatural practices as ought not to be related. Strange, that men cannot use things properly without abusing them!
It is remarkable, that none of those Eastern nations burnt the bodies of their deceased relations, although they offered in sacrifice those of their living ones. They buried the dead bodies in the earth ; and this they did in consequence of a tradition common among them, that the first man was buried.
Their marriages were civil contracts between the parties, and polygamy, or a plurality of wives, was universally allowed. In their temples, discourses were delivered after the sacrifice was over, consisting chiefly of explanations of some of their mysteries, and exhortations to the people to be obedient to their sovereigns. That the idolatry of the Assyrians had been great, we have the evidence of many of the prophets, and all these
prophecies have been literally fulfilled. It is true they repented for some time, at the preaching of Jonah; but they soon relapsed into the practice of their former enormities ; and God has now, in his infinite justice, left nothing of them besides the name. So true are the words of sacred Scripture, namely, that " Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people."
Let the following considerations, therefore, sink deep into the hearts of our readers :
First, that the least deviation from the truth is dangerous; for such is the corruption of human nature, such the propensity of man to everything evil, that he seldom knows where to stop. All idolatry was originally simple, but its professors soon added to it rites of the most odious and horrid nature.
Secondly, let every person learn to form worthy notions of the Divine attributes ; for the want of that is one of the causes of idolatry, and of false religion in general. Let us once imagine God to be such a being as ourselves, and then we shall assuredly offer him up such sacrifice as is unworthy.
Lastly, while we bless God for the purity of religion, let us fear to offend him, lest he should deprive us of the many privileges we enjoy.
SEC. IV.-RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES AND CUSTOMS OF TIIE BABYLONIANS.
The city of Babylon owes its origin to the vanity and madness of those people who built a tower on the spot, and not to Niinrod, as many ancient heathen writers would have us to believe; for Nimrod was alive at the time when the confusion of languages took place, and therefore, we cannot reasonably imagine he would boldly set himself at defiance against Heaven, after he had seen such a signal instance of the Divine displeasure. Thus we may naturally conclude, that what was left of the tower was some years after enclosed within a wall; but the exact time of its being enlarged, so as to deserve the name of a city, cannot now be known. In time, however, it rose to grandeur ; but idolatry increased so fast in it, that many of the prophets denounced the most dreadful judgments upon it. Like the Assyrians, they worshipped the fire and images; of which we have a striking instance in the book of Daniel, chap. ij. Like most other ancient nations, the Babylonians bad strange notions concerning the first promulgation of their religion. Whether they worshipped fire or images, yet they indiscriminately gave the names of Bell or Belus to all their deities. This idol was the same with what is called Baal in the Old Testament, and always signifies “strength.” Some are of opinion that it was Nimrod, but more probably his son Ninus, who, according to ancient testimony founded the city and kingdom of Babylon. Berosius, a very ancient writer, tells us, that the god Belus having but the chaos of darkness, divided the heaven and earth from each other, and reduced the world into
proper order ; but seeing that there were no people to inhabit it, he commanded one of the gods to cut off his own head and mix the earth with the blood, from whence proceeded men, with the several species of animals; and Belus regulated the motions of the sun, moon, and stars, with all the rest of the heavenly bodies.
This idol, Bell, was of such repute among the people of Babylon, that a most magnificent temple was erected for him on the ruins of the famous tower which was built by the descendants of Noah in order to perpetuate their name upon the earth. This, we are told by Herodotus, was one of the most magnificent temples in the world. It was adorned with many curious statues, among which was one of gold, forty feet high ; and the rest of the furniture of the temple amounted to eight hundred talents of gold. It is probable, nor indeed bas it ever been disputed amongst the learned, that this famous image was the same which king Nebuchadnezzar set up in the plains of Babylon, and commanded all his subjects to worship it.
It is not our intention to consider any of the books called Apocryphal, as written by Divine inspiration ; and yet we cannot see why the same degree of credit should not be paid to them as to other human compositions, if the evidence by which they are supported is rational. And let us now appeal to every unprejudiced person, whether the history of Bell and the Dragon has not a more rational appearance than some things related by the best heathen authors. Nothing was more common than for the Pagan priests to make their votaries believe that all the sacrifices offered in their temples were eaten up by their idols, although the priests sold them in the markets. The story of Bell and the Dragon is as follows: Cyrus having taken Babylon, like most of the ancient conquerors, worshipped Bell or Belus, the god of the country ; but the rites and ceremonies not being so simple as those in Persia, where he had been educated, he began to entertain some doubts concerning them. Daniel being, without dispute, at that time prime minister to Cyrus, and the king being a man of an inquisitive turn of mind, naturally entered into conversation with Daniel concerning the religion of the Jews. In this, there is nothing at all surprising ; for, first, the Jews were a people different in their manners, customs, and religion, from all others in the world; and secondly, they were then about to return from captivity.
The great fame of Daniel had undoubtedly procured him admittance into the temple of Belus, not to worship, but to discover the knavery of the priests. Zealous to promote the worship of the true God, he mentioned to the king the circumstance of his being imposed on by the priests, and pointed out the way to detect them, namely, by causing the floor of the temple to be sprinkled with ashes. The priests, who were seventy in number, desired the king to seal up the door, which was done ; but they had a private passage under the table or altar, through which they with their wives and children passed, and ate up the provisions set before the idol, and what was not eaten up they carried away. In the morning, the king, accompanied by. Daniel, went to the temple, where he found the door sealed, but on going in, saw the marks of feet on the pavement. The king being much incensed, ordered the priests to show him the privy door, and as soon as he had extorted from them a confession of their guilt, he ordered them all to be massacred, with their wives and children,—a practice very common in that age, and in other periods of time, of which many examples will be given.
Nor is the account of the Dragon less probable ; for, besides Bell, the Babylonians had many other idols whom they worshipped ; and what
serves most to support the truth of the narrative, is, that a great insurrection took place in Babylon, on account of the king's partiality to the Jews. It is true, Cyrus was prophesied of above two hundred years before he was born, as a great prince, who was to deliver the Jews from captivity ; but the means to be used by him were not pointed out. God, in his allwise government of the world, often produces great events from causes which we look upon as trifling. But here we meet with something striking and natural, and consistent with all those rules by which the evidence of history has in all ages been regulated.
Cyrus had not been brought up in the religion of the Babylonians; and although as a political prince he complied with their outward form of worship, yet no sooner had he discovered the tricks practised by their priests, than he let loose his vengeance upon them, and granted many privileges to the Jews. The only objection that can be brought against any part of this narrative is, that the author mistakes some names and facts; which is not to be wondered at, when we consider, that the best historians of antiquity have done so.
The Babylonians had a most horrid practice with respect to the promiscuous use of women; and prostitution was not only tolerated, but even enjoined as an article of religion. The temple of Mylitta, a goddess resembling Venus, was a common brothel. On a certain festival, once every year, all the young women in the city were obliged to attend in the temple, and submit to public prostitution; and not only in their temples, but likewise in the streets, and on the highways. Baruch says, chap. vi. 43. “ The women also with cords about them, sitting in the ways, burn bran for perfume ; but if any of them, drawn by some that passeth by, lie with him, she reproacheth her fellow that she was not thought as worthy as herself, nor her cord broken."
Another idol worshipped in Babylon, was called Merodach, of whom we read, “ Babylon is taken, Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces, her idols are confounded, her images are broken in pieces.” Jer. 1. 2.
It is not certain who this Merodach was; but probably he was an ancient king of Babylon, who having performed some wonderful exploit, was afterwards considered as a deity, as was common among other heathen nations. Several of their kings seem to have been named after him, such as Evil-Meradach, and Merodach-Baladan ; which last began to reign about seven hundred and seventeen years before the birth of Christ.
Succoth-Benoth was another idol worshipped by the Babylonians; as is evident from what we read in 2 Kings, xvii. 29, 30.
“ Howbeit, every nation made gods of their own, and the men of Babylon made SuccothBenoth.”
The Babylonians, who worshipped this idol, were a colony sent to Samaria ; and the image represented a hen and chickens, thereby pointing out fertility. There was a temple erected for this goddess, where all the young women were obliged to submit to prostitution once every year ; for the truth of which we have the testimony of Herodotus.
The Babylonians buried their dead in the same manner as the Assyrians, namely, by laying the bodies in the earth; and dark and confused as their notions were in many respects, yet they believed in a future state of rewards and punishments. This is the more to be wondered at, when we consider that their religion was little more than a system of crimes; but then let us reflect, that the people knew no better,—they had forgotten eren tradition itself, and were become slaves to the worst of all passions.
Having said thus much concerning the religion of the ancient Babylonians, we shall now proceed to describe in what manner that magnificent city was destroyed; which were we to omit, would be utterly inconsistent with the plan we have laid down. This, indeed, is one of the most remarkable events upon record, and serves to point out the wisdom and justice of the Divine Being. Here let the profligate tremble, and the deist hide his face! That the children of Israel should be taken captives to Babylon, was foretold long before the event took place ; but the same prophets, who pointed out their afflictions, predicted, at the same time, the fate of this hanghty city. Say, it was promised, that at the end of seventy years, the Jews should be delivered, and that God would bring everlasting destruction upon Babylon.
We mortals are too apt to be filled with pride, when we consider the victories obtained by conquerors, who although instruments in the hands of God, to accomplish the designs of his Providence, yet are considered by him in the most diminutive point of view—or rather, as most illustrious robbers and murderers, as scourges for men's impieties, and such as God will in his vengeance cut off.
It had been prophesied long before, that this great city should be taken by the Medes and Persians, under the command of Cyrus, and that it was to be attacked in a very extraordinary manner. They reckoned their strength to consist in the river Euphrates, and yet that river proved their folly by being the means of their destruction. The city was to be taken in the night, during a great festival. Their king was to be seized in an instant: and so was Belshazzar, when Cyrus took their city. Lastly, their king was to have no burial: and Belshazzar's carcase was thrown to the dogs. See Jer. 1. 5), with many other passages in the prophetic writings.
Cyrus having besieged the city of Babylon upwards of two years, contrived to cut a vast ditch, or canal, to draw off the
stream of the Euphrates ; and just about the time he had got it completed, he was told that there was to be a solemn feast in the city, and he availed himself of that circumstance. During the night, the inhabitants of Babylon were lost in all manner of debauchery, and the king, as if intending to mock the great God, sent for the sacred vessels which had been brought from Jerusalem: but mark the justice of God! at a time when men forget him. During the feast, a hand appeared, writing the following words on the wall :-“ Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin.” Dan. v. 25. The king being much terrified, sent for the magicians, desiring them to interpret the meaning of the words, which none of them could do, for they were written in those characters which are now called Syriac. The king, not knowing what to make of this extraordinary circumstance, was desired by the queen to send for Daniel; and this queen, whom the Greeks call Nitocris, must have been either the mother or grandmother of Belshazzar, for she had been long acquainted with Daniel, and he was at that time a very old man. Daniel explained the words to the king, but he was too much lost in drunkenness to pay any regard to them.