It is remarkable that the religious emblems of the Assyrian are almost always free from that character of grossness which in the classical works of art, so often offends modern delicacy. The sculptured remains present us with no representations at all parallel to the phallic emblems of the Greeks. Still we are perhaps not entitled to conclude, from this comparative purity, that the Assyrian religion was really exempt from that worst feature of idolatrous systems—a licensed religious sensualism. According to Herodotus the Babylonian worship of Beltis was disgraced by a practice which even he, heathen as he was, regarded as “most shameful.” Women were required once in their lives to repair to the temple of this goddess, and there offer themselves to the embrace of the first man who desired their company. In the Apocryphal Book of Baruch we find a clear allusion to the same custom, so that there can be little doubt of its having really obtained in Babylonia; but if so, it would seem to follow, almost as a matter of course, that the worship of the same identical goddess in the an joining country included a similar usage. It may be to this practice that the prophet Nahum alludes, where he denounces Nineveh as a “well-favored harlot,” the multitude of whose harlotries was notorious.
Such then was the general character of the Assyrian religion. We have no means of determining whether the cosmogony of the Chaldaeans formed any part of the Assyrian system, or was confined to the lower country. No ancient writer tells us anything of the Assyrian notions on this subject, nor has the decipherment of the monuments thrown as yet any light upon it. It would be idle therefore to prolong the present chapter by speculating upon a matter concerning which we have at present no authentic data.
CHRONOLOGY AND HISTORY.
The chronology of the Assyrian kingdom has long exercised, and divided, the judgments of the learned. On the one hand, Ctesias and his numerous followers—including, among the ancients, Cephalion, Castor, Diodorus Siculus, Nicolas of Damascus, Trogus Pompeius, Velleius Paterculus, Josephus, Eusebius, and Moses of Chorene; among the moderns, Freret, Rollin, and Clinton have given the kingdom a duration of between thirteen and fourteen hundred years, and carried hack its antiquity to a time almost coeval with the founding of Babylon; on the other, Herodotus, Volney, Ileeren, B. G. Niebuhr, Brandis, and many others, have preferred a chronology which limits the duration of the kingdom to about six centuries and a half, and places the commencement in the thirteenth century B.C. when a flourishing empire had already existed in Chaldaea, or Babylonia, for a thousand years, or more. The questions thus mooted remain still, despite of the volumes which have been written upon them, so far undecided, that it will be necessary to entertain and discuss theirs at some length in this place, before entering on the historical sketch which is needed to complete our account of the Second Monarchy.