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The Assyrian Origin of Devil Worshippers

   The Assyrian Origin of Devil Worshippers

Father Garzoni appears to have been the first among modern travellers who called attention to the singular fact of the Izedis paying adoration, or at least a sort of worship, to the figure of a bird placed on a kind of candlestick, and called Melek Taus. Mr. Rich and Mr. Fraser corroborated the fact. " Once a year," says the latter, " they worship the figure of a cock, which is called Malik Taus, placed before the assembly on a sort of candlestick." Since that time, the same fact has been attested by numerous missionaries and travellers.

Unfortunately, some discrepancy has arisen in the translation of the word MelekTaus, from the convertibility of the vowels, as well as in the orthography, as also the several meanings of the same word, in oriental languages. Melek means king in Hebrew, and malak, angel. Hence Melek Taus has been translated by Hyde {Vet. Pers. Relig. Hist., p. 518) as " angel peacock;" by Layard, in the same page {Nineveh and its Remains, vol. i, p. 245), as both " king" and " angel;" and by the Rev. Dr. Justin Perkins, missionary of American Board, " mighty angel" (see Miss. Her. Feb. 1838, p. 53). But almost all others translate it king cock, or king peacock. Melek, pronounced malik, is a term still used among the Khaldis to designate their chiefs,-in the sense of king, not of angels. A writer in the Journal of the American Oriental Society (vol. iii, p. 502) says : " The gram­matical interpretation of Melek Taus, ' king peacock,' we may now consider as established." So far true, but Taus is also used for the cock simply, as well as for peacock; just as Taok signifies in the Kurdish and Turkish languages poultry generally. It is also used sometimes in the general sense of a bird, and the Taochians, mentioned by Xenophon as met with in Georgia, appear to have been so called from their living like birds, perched on high mountain fortresses.

and cement of all things, as being that by which the natural and spiritual world are comprehended in one idea. (Tusc. Quaest., i, 10.)

The writer was, on the occasion of his visit to Sheikh Adi, unsuccessful in obtaining any information in regard to this bird worship. It appears, indeed, that the greatest secrecy and reserve are observed by the Izedis with respect to the worship of this symbol. When Mr. Layard, at a subsequent period, attended the annual festival of the Izedis at the same place, although he was regarded by them as their friend and protector, still he was not allowed to see the sacred symbol.

" Some ceremony," he relates, " took place before I joined the assembly at the tomb, at which no stranger can be present, nor could I learn its nature from the Kawals. Sheikh Nasr gave me to understand that their holy symbol, the Malek Taus, was then exhibited to the priests, and he declared that, as far as he was concerned, he had no objection to my witnessing the whole of their rites; but many of the Sheikhs were averse to it, and he did not wish to create any ill-feeling in the tribe." (Nineveh and its Remains, vol. i, pp. 293-294.)

It appears from the same authority that there is some asso­ciation of ideas in existence among the Izedis between the Devil and the Melek Taus. "When they speak of the Devil," says Layard, " they do so with reverence as Malik Taus, 'King Peacock,' or Malik al Kut, 'the Mighty Angel.'"

Dr. Forbes says, " At the village of Sheikh Adi is the figure of a peacock in brass, called Malik Taus (King Peacock), which is venerated as the emblem or representative of David and Solomon, to whom they (the Izedis) offer sacrifices, and of whom there are images near the Malik Taus.

When Layard returned to Assyria in 1848-49, in company with the Kawal Yusuf, bearer of an Imperial firman giving the Izedis equal rights with Mussulmans, a complete toleration of their religion, and relief from the much-dreaded laws of conscription, there was nothing that these poor persecuted people would not almost have done for him.

Being in Redwan, a town in Kharzan, part of ancient Armenia, on the upper Tigris, at the time that the Kawals were collecting the revenues, upon which occasion they always have with them their national symbol the Melek Taus, he asked to see the mysterious figure, and was not refused. ' " I was conducted," he relates, " early in the morning into a dark inner room in Nazi's house. It was some time before my eyes had become sufficiently accustomed to the dim light to distin­guish an object, from which a large red coverlet had been raised on my entry. The Kawals drew near with every sign of respect, bowing and kissing the corner of the cloth in which it was placed. A stand of bright copper or brass, in shape like the candlesticks generally used in Musul and Baghdad, was surmounted by the rude image of a bird in the same metal, and more like an Indian or Mexican idol than a cock or pea­cock. Its peculiar workmanship indicated some antiquity, but I could see no traces of inscription upon it."

This, it is to be understood, was only a copy of the original symbol or banner of the tribe kept at Sheikh Adi. Layard tells us there are four such images, one for each district visited by the Kawals.

The Izedis declare that, notwithstanding the frequent wars and massacres to which the sect has been exposed, and the plunder and murder of the priests during their journeys, no Melek Taus has ever fallen into the hands of the Mussulmans. Kawal Yusuf, once crossing the desert on a mission to Sinjar, and seeing a body of Bedwin horsemen in the distance, buried the Melik Taus. Having been robbed and then left by the Arabs, he dug it up, and carried it in safety to its destination.

Not the least interesting fact associated with the existence of this strange ornithological symbol is the connexion that is manifest between it and certain sacred symbols found carved on the rocks at Bavian, near Sheikh Adi. In the latter we have simple or ornamented stands, staffs, or cylinders, bearing the ram's head, sacred among the Izedis as well as the Assyrians, bulls' heads, and the fir cone, citron, or other well known conical emblem. In the Melek Taus, we have a bird instead of the more common Assyrian symbols; and, for want of a better, a modern brass candlestick is made to serve for a pedestal or staff. Perhaps it is not so in the original at Sheikh Adi. Still, the evident connexion between this modern symbol and the more ancient sacred symbols of the Assyrians sculptured on the Royal Tablets at Bavian, tends to identify still more closely the Izedis with their predecessors in the same country. And the very fact of these sculptures being met with in the vicinity of their chief sanctuary, and where they keep their sacred banner, lends additional strength to this view of the subject.

With one exception, all travellers agree that, whatever may be the reading of Melek Taus, king or angel, cock or peacock (and the poor ignorant and superstitious Izedis may confound the four), that the bird symbol is associated with the Evil Spirit.

That exception is Dr. Grant, who, on the contrary, asserts that the angel of light, or good principle, is represented by the Melek Taus; and he remarks that' it is represented not by a peacock but by a cock, that bird being the harbinger of day.

It is not, however, solely from its association with old Assyrian symbol worship, as depicted on the neighbouring rocks of Bavian, that we would deduce the pre-Magian or Persian origin of this bird-worship, but other circumstances come to the support of this view of the subject.

The idol of the Cuthites, called Nergal in 2 Kings xvii, 30, has been identified by the Rabbinical commentators with the cock. The Babylonian Talmudic treatise Sanhedrin (fol. 63, p. 2) offers the following explanation of the passage which states that the men of Kuth made Nergal their god. "And what was it? A cock."

Another Rabbinical allusion to the cock, as connected with the evil principle, is the following, which is taken from the same Talmudic treatise, Beracoth (fol. 6, p. 2): " He that wisheth to know them (the evil spirits) let him take sieved ashes, and lay them on the bed, and in the morning he will perceive thereon footsteps of a cock."

This identification has been disputed by Nerberg, Gesenius, and other inquirers into the astrolatry of the Assyrians and Chaldaeans, and who consider that the idol represented Mars. The two conjectures are not inconsistent with one another, for the harbinger of day has been from remote times associated with the worship of the god of war.

According to Professor Movers, in his valuable work Die Religion der Phcenizier, p. 423, the cock was the symbol of the planet Mars, from the fact of the combative propensity of this bird, which therefore constituted him the type of the god of war. Movers considers the word as a co-ordinate form of another, which signifies an axe, and we have a representation of the latter on the lintel of the door at Sheikh Adi. (Compare the Syriac translation in Deut. xix, 5, and Matthew iii, 10.)

It has lately been argued, however, by Dr. Jblowicz, that the cock worship of the Cuthites had nothing to do with Mars, but that it was a Moloch cultus, comprising the sacrifice of children. Dr. Jolowicz argues, in favour of this view of the subject, that the Talmud classified the cock among the demons on account of its lustful propensities; that the Izedis at the present day call their deified cock Melek Taus, in which the term Moloch is plainly discernible; and because the Assyrian coins show the representation of Dagon together with Nergal (the fish and the cock), he says there is little doubt but that both gods thus placed together represent the Phallus and Moloch worship.

There is no doubt that the Satanic associations connected with the Melek Taus lend some countenance to the view enter­tained by Dr. Jolowicz, but they are not borne out by the other bearings of the question. The word Nergal, for example, contains the Cuthian (ancient Mede and Persian) word for fire, as well as the Sabian name for Mars, according to Nerberg and Gesenius. Van Bohlen finds the name also in the Sanscrit Nrigal, " man devourer," spoken of a fierce warrior, and corresponding to Merodach, the Mars of the Assyrians and Chaldseans. (Gesenius, Thesaur. p. 913, and Comment, zu Jesu, ii, p. 344.)

The word is also traceable in a variety of forms, all having reference more or less to the same idea. Thus Nergal Sharezer, prince of fire (Jer. xxxix, 3), Boanerges, son of thunder (Mark iii, 17), Anerges or Astara, of the dynasty of Phanagoria (Du-bois de Montpereux, tome v, p. 59.). Nur in the Arabic, as Kalah en Nur, Castle of Light, and Jebel en Nur, Mountain of Light, in Cilicia, and Nurhag, or fire temple, in Sardinia.

The site of the city of the Cuthites, in Babylonia, called by the Hebrews Kuth or Cutha, and by Abu Muhammed, in his Universal History, Kutha, has been for some time proximatively known to archaeologists (Mes. in Assyria, p. 165). Dr. Julius Oppert believes the mound which constitutes the north-east corner of the boundaries of ancient Babylon, and which is in the present day called Oheimer, to be the actual ruins of the Temple of Nergal. {Trans, of the Hist. Soc. of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol. viii, p. 97.)

There seems little doubt that the cock symbol was not con­fined to the temple of the Cuthites, but was known extensively among the Chaldaeans and Assyrians, for it is met with on several Assyrian cylinders. A gem has been figured by Mr. Layard, being an agate cone, upon the base of which is en­graved a winged priest or deity, standing in an attitude of prayer before a cock on an altar. On a cylinder in the British Museum, a priest is represented, wearing the sacrificial dress, standing at a table before an altar bearing a crescent, and a smaller altar, on which stands a cock.

The cock may indeed be considered at the head of what were known in antiquity as Iynges or sacred birds, and more particularly connected with the Assyrian as well as Babylonian religions. They were a kind of demons who exercised a peculiar influence over mankind, resembling the Ferouher of the Zoroastrian system. (Ignatius de Insomn., p. 134, ed. Patav. Schol. Niceph.) The oracles attributed to Zoroaster describe them as powers animated by God --

(The intelligible Iynges themselves understand from the Father; By ineffable counsels being moved so as to understand.)

Their images, made of gold, were in the palace of the King of Babylon, according to Philostratus (lib. i, c. 25, and lib. vi, c. 2.). They were con­nected with magic. (Selden de Dis Syriis, p. 39.) It is possible that the bird borne by warriors, in a bas relief from the ruins of the central palace of Nimrud, may represent the Iynges. Layard has given a representation of this bird in Nineveh and its Remains, vol. ii, p. 462. This figure, he adds, may, however, resemble the golden eagle carried before the Persian monarchs. (Xenophon, Cyroped. lib. vii; Anab. lib. ix; Quintus Curtius, lib. iii, c. 3.)

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W. Francis Ainsworth, 1861

Primitive Christian Worship

   The Assyrian Origin of Devil Worshippers
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The Assyrian Origin of Devil Worshippers