Nabu was the Babylonian wisdom and writing god, as well as the second most important deity in Babylonian mythology. Unfortunately, we lack evidence of many myths which mention Nabu.

Thanks to a few surviving texts, the oldest of which dates back to King Hammurabi’s rule, we know that Nabu held major importance. In this article, we summarized everything you need to know about Nabu, the Babylonian god of wisdom.

Who Is Nabu: God of Wisdom, Patron of Scribes

The ancient Mesopotamians believed that their gods were responsible for giving them everything. Art, culture, technology, and law were all gifts from the gods. To the Babylonians, not only was Nabu the son of their most powerful deity, but he also invented and bestowed writing to civilization.

In Babylonian tradition, Nabu is the divine patron of scribes, the god of wisdom, and the inventor of writing. We also know that mythology tied his role among the gods to his father, Marduk.

The Babylonians believed that Nabu bestowed writing upon their society. Historians recognize that at least four different societies invented writing at the same time. Still, Mesopotamian cuneiform texts are among the oldest discovered. Some are almost 6,000 years old.

What Does the Name “Nabu” Mean?

The name “Nabu” comes from the Semitic root ‘nb’, which means “to name.” Another interpretation of “Nabu” is “announcer” or “herald.” In other words, as a divine scribe, Nabu records and then announces the word of the divine.

Some scholars interpret “Nabu” to mean “speaking.” Texts associate his wife, Taŝmetu, with wisdom, as well. She and Nabu form a match made in heaven, as scholars interpret her name to mean “hearing” or “listening.”

Nabu’s Family

The Babylonian god Nabu is the first-born son of Marduk, the most important deity in Babylonian mythology. Nabu serves as the minister, scribe, and somewhat of a second-in-command to his father. Nabu’s mother is the goddess Sarpanitum, and his wife is the goddess Taŝmetu.

We do not know much about the relationship between Nabu and his mother, nor his wife and children. But, we do know that the Babylonians considered Nabu and his father as nearly of equal importance. Based on sources describing the Akitu festival, you can see that Nabu’s role was closely linked to his father’s.

Marduk and Nabu: A Distinguished Father-Son Duo in Babylonian Mythology

As we mentioned earlier, Nabu is the first-born son of Marduk, the chief god of the Babylonian pantheon. Much of what we know about Nabu’s role in myth and society is related to Marduk.

Mythology describes Marduk as civilization’s protector against the forces of evil. In the Babylonian Epic of Creation (Enuma Elish), Marduk rescued the Tablet of Destinies from Tiamat, the goddess of the sea.

The Tablet of Destinies gave supreme power and authority to whoever possessed it. After Tiamat’s defeat, Marduk split her body to create the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and the heavens.

Marduk gave the roles of minister and scribe to his son, Nabu. Nabu’s most important responsibility as a scribe was to write the king’s name in the Tablet of Destinies each year, marking the end of the Akitu festival.

What Did Nabu Look Like?: Depiction and Other Symbols

The Babylonians depicted Nabu in human form. Many Mesopotamian deities were anthropomorphic. In mythology, this means that the gods would appear human to us but had superhuman powers. In some representations, Nabu possesses wings, and in others, he does not.

Most Babylonian gods had certain cuneiform symbols that represented them in writing. Nabu’s symbols were a single-wedge mark to represent. Sometimes, the symbol was a writing tool (stylus) resting on a clay tablet.

How Was Nabu Worshipped? Why Was He Important?

The Babylonians honored Nabu’s gift of writing often by invoking his name in text. Scribes used his symbols in writing to ask for his blessing and favor. Similarly, at Nabu’s temple, archaeologists have found evidence that scribes may have left writing tablets as an offer to Nabu.

– Nabu and Writing in Mesopotamia

The Mesopotamians revered writing and literacy, but most Mesopotamians could not read nor write. Scholars generally agree that scribes possessed the most critical role in Mesopotamia.

Becoming a scribe was a very lengthy and challenging process that most people could not access nor complete. Without scribes to record and communicate information, many activities that built ancient Mesopotamia would not have been possible.

– Nabu’s Importance

Nabu held considerable importance in Babylonia, present-day Iraq. But, there is also evidence of Nabu’s significance within the Assyrian Empire, present-day Iraq and Syria. A small cult dedicated to Nabu existed in ancient Egypt. Nabu even appears in the Bible as “Nebo.”

It’s clear, then, that Nabu has had persistent importance through the years as civilizations changed with the times.

Nabu’s Temple

Ezida, the temple of Nabu, sits atop a ziggurat in the ancient city of Borsippa, present-day Iraq. Located east of the Euphrates river and around 16 miles south of the ancient city of Babylon, Borsippa is Nabu’s home and patron city.

The ancient Mesopotamians believed that a deity’s temple was its physical home. Inside the temple, they placed a cult statue created in the image of the god associated with the temple.

The ziggurat is a mountain-like structure that served as a base for the temple. Priests and priestesses climbed the ziggurat to perform rituals while worshippers watched below.

During the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar II (694-562 BCE), Nabu became a more important deity. He rebuilt the ziggurat at Borsippa, as well as Nabu’s temple, Ezida. In nearby Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar rebuilt Nabu’s shrine in Marduk’s temple, Esaglia.

– Uncovering Ezida: Nabu’s Heavenly Home

In 1998, a team of Austrian archaeologists announced that they determined what Borsippa’s ziggurat looked like in ancient times. Nabu’s home, Ezida, included wings for his children, his wife, Taŝmetu, servants, and priests.

Though Ezida was a central hub of knowledge and learning for the Babylonians, the team only found little evidence of a school or library. But, archaeologists did find evidence that scribes left offerings of clay tablets and writing at Nabu’s temple. The team also discovered tablets that described Nebuchadnezzar’s plans for reconstructing the ziggurat.

Nabu’s ziggurat remains a topic of discussion for many scholars. Some claim that his father Marduk’s ziggurat was the mythical Tower of Babel, while others insist that the Tower of Babel was Nabu’s ziggurat in nearby Borsippa. Nebuchadnezzar rebuilt both the towers in Babylon and Borsippa. Still, nobody knows for sure which was the real Tower of Babel.

– Other Nabu Temples

As mentioned earlier, Babylonia was not the only society that worshipped Nabu. The Assyrians also built a temple dedicated to Nabu in the city of Nimrud, present-day northern Iraq, but this temple possessed a far different layout than the temple in Borsippa.

The Babylonian Akitu Festival: Nabu and Marduk

The Babylonians celebrated the Akitu festival to begin the new year. On the modern calendar, the festival would start sometime in March. Marduk and Nabu were the principal deities involved in the festival.

– What Was the Akitu Festival About?

The festival’s primary function was to renew the Babylonian king’s divine right to rule for the coming year and to ensure good fortune for the kingdom. As they did for other festivals, the people thanked the gods for bountiful harvests and asked them for their continued favor.

– Akitu Festivites

Over twelve days, priests and priestesses performed various activities such as cleaning the temples of Marduk and Nabu and reciting the Enuma Elish. Meanwhile, Nabu’s cult statue traveled from Borsippa to Babylon by boat. In Marduk’s temple, Esaglia, Nabu’s statue would meet with Marduk and would pay tribute to his father.

Once Nabu’s statue was in Babylon, Marduk would renew the king’s right to rule on the festival’s final day. Nabu held the significant responsibility of recording Marduk’s decision by writing the king’s name into the Tablet of Destinies. Nabu’s duty was so important that some rulers referred to him as a “king-maker.” Often, Babylonian kings would ask for Nabu’s protection and favor.

Conclusion

Let’s outline the most pertinent details that we mentioned about Nabu’s place in Babylonian mythology:

  • Nabu was the Babylonian god of wisdom, the patron deity of scribes, and the inventor of writing
  • Nabu was often depicted in human form
  • A single-wedge cuneiform mark and a stylus resting on a tablet were symbols that represented Nabu in text
  • His father was Marduk, the chief god of the Babylonian pantheon
  • Nabu served as minister and scribe to his father, Marduk
  • Ezida, the temple of Nabu, is located in his patron city of Borsippa
  • Nabu and his father Marduk were the focus of the Akitu festival
  • Nabu was sometimes referred to as the “king-maker”

In conclusion, the Babylonians saw Nabu as the deity who blessed their society with written language. To honor Nabu, they centered their civilization around respect for writing and knowledge. The Mesopotamians likely inspired later empires to do the same and celebrate their own gods of writing.

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