Bel-Merodach is, beyond all doubt, the planet Jupiter, which is still called Bel by the Mendaeans. The name Merodach is of uncertain etymology and meaning. It has been compared with the Persian Mardak, the diminutive of mard, “a man,” and with the Arabic Mirrich, which is the name of the planet Mars. But, as there is every reason to believe that the term belongs to the Hamitic Babylonian, it is in vain to have recourse to Arian or Semitic tongues for its derivation. Most likely the word is a descriptive epithet, originally attached to the name Bel, in the same way as Nipru, but ultimately usurping its place and coming to be regarded as the proper name of the deity. It is doubtful whether any phonetic representative of Merodach has been found on the monuments; if so, the pronunciation should, apparently, be Amardak, whence we might derive the Amordacia of Ptolemy.
The titles and attributes of Merodach are of more than usual vagueness. In the most ancient monuments which mention him, he seems to be called “the old man of the gods,” and “the judge;” he also certainly has the gates, which in early times were the seats of justice, under his special protection. Thus he would seem to be the god of justice and judgment—an idea which may have given rise to the Hebrew name of the planet Jupiter, viz. sedek, “justitia.” Bel-Merodach was worshipped in the early Chaldaean kingdom, as appears from the Tel-Sifr tablets. He was probably from a very remote time the tutelary god of the city of Babylon; and hence, as that city grew into importance, the worship of Merodach became more prominent. The Assyrian monarchs always especially associate Babylon with this god; and in the later Babylonian empire he becomes by far the chief object of worship. It is his temple which Herodotus describes so elaborately, and his image, which, according to the Apocryphal Daniel, the Babylonians worshipped with so much devotion. Nebuchadnezzar calls him “the king of the heavens and the earth,” “the great lord,” “the senior of the gods,” “the most ancient,” “the supporter of sovereignty,” “the layer-up of treasures,” etc., and ascribes to him all his glory and success.
We have no means of determining which among the emblems of the gods is to be assigned to Bel-Merodach; nor is there any sculptured form which can be certainly attached to him. According to Diodorus, the great statue of Bel-Merodach at Babylon was a figure “standing and walking.” Such a form appears more often than any other upon the cylinders of the Babylonians; and it is perhaps allowable to conjecture that it may represent this favorite deity. [PLATE XIX., Fig. 8.]
Bel-Merodach has a wife, with whom he is commonly associated, called Zir-banit. She had a temple at Babylon, probably attached to her husband’s, and is perhaps the Babylonian Juno (Hera) of Diodorus. The essential element of her name seems to be Zir, which is an old Hamitic root of uncertain meaning, while the accompanying banit is a descriptive epithet, which may be rendered by “genetrix.” Zir-banit was probably the goddess whose worship the Babylonian settlers carried to Samaria, and who is called Succoth-benoth in Scripture.