TW Viewpoint | From Babylon to a United EuropeJuly 31, 2019 | Jonathan Riley
The year is 539 BC and the city of Babylon has fallen to the Medo-Persian Empire by the hands of Cyrus the Great. However, the Babylonian priesthood, or Chaldean magi as they are also known, continued to play an important role alongside the conquering Persians. The Chaldean priesthood played an intermediary role between their god ‘Bel-Marduk’ and the king. At the start of each year in spring they would celebrate the barley harvest, with what is known as the Akitu festival. On the fifth day of the festival the High Priest would conduct an unusual ceremony in order to humiliate the king. In the words of religious historian Jonathan Zittel Smith:
When he (the king) arrives before Bel [or Marduk], the high Priest leaves, taking the mace, the loop and the scepter. He (also) takes the crown of his kingship. He then brings them before Bel and places them on a pedestal before Bel. He leaves and strikes the king’s cheek. He places [the king] behind him and brings him before Bel. He drags him in by his ears. He forces him to kneel down on the ground.... If, as he strikes his cheek, tears flow, Bel is friendly. If tears do not flow, Bel is angry. The enemy will arise and bring about his downfall.
The Chaldean magi were therefore still fully integrated into the politico-religious affairs of Babylon. After nearly fifty years of their intrusive practises and two attempts to usurp the throne, Xerxes I punished the priesthood in 487 BC by removing “…the statue of Marduk from its sanctuary, by preventing further celebration of the Akitu (or new year) festival, [and] by destroying the city” (p.2) The eventual effect of this was the relocation and re-establishing of the Chaldean Magi to another area, in the ancient city of Pergamon, modern day Turkey. Historian William B. Barker stated that “…the defeated Chaldeans fled to Asia Minor, and fixed their central college at Pergamos, and took the palladium of Babylon, the cubic stone, with them. Here, independent of state control, they carried on the rites of their religion”. (William B. Barker, Lares and Penates: or, Cilicia and Its Governors, Ingram, Cooke and Co., London, 1853, pp. 232–233)
Shortly after the success of Alexander the Great’s military campaign in 336 BC, Pergamon entered the Hellenistic period. The Babylonian system, its religion and pagan gods continued, albeit now in the guise of Greek mythology. According to Greek Historian, Diodorius, the Assyrian queen Semiramis “…built in the centre of the [Babylon ] a temple of Zeus whom… the Babylonians call Belus.” (Diodorius Book II Chp. 9:4) Henry Layard also proved the origins of Greek mythology in his book ‘Nineveh and its Remains’:
“Amongst the ruins of Khorsabad were discovered two circular altars, which are so much like the Greek tripod, that they may be cited as an additional proof of the Assyrian origin of many forms of religious types, afterwards prevalent in Asia Minor and Greece.” (Henry H. Layard, Nineveh and its Remains, p.469)
Let me take a moment to just to clarify that Assyrian religious origin that Layard refers to include the Babylonian religion as they were almost identical. Layard stated this fact in his later book ‘Nineveh and Babylon’: “…the Babylonian palaces and temples resembled those of Assyria. We know that the arts, the religion, the customs, and the laws of the two kindred people were nearly identical.” (Henry H. Layard, Nineveh and Babylon, p.295)
The power and influence wielded from Pargamon ended with the death of Attalus III in 133 BC. Upon his death, Attalus bequeathed his domain and title of Pontifex Maximum to Rome. The interesting origin of this title is recorded by François Lenormant in his book ‘Chaldean Magic: Its Origin and Development’:
“All the Greek and Latin writers acquainted with the Persian religion at this period give to its ministers the title of Magi.
In the great Pehlevi inscription of Nakch-i-Rajab, the Roman title Pontifex Maxiumus is rendered magupat[…] 'chief of the Magi'.” (François Lenormant, ‘Chaldean Magic: Its Origin and Development’, p.221)
In 63 BC Julius Caesar was officially recognised as Pontifex Maximus and this tradition was continued by successive Roman Emperors until 376 AD when Gratian refused the title. Two years later, however, the Bishop of Rome, Pope Demasus I was elected Pontifex Maximus.
In the words of William Barry, in his book on The Papal Monarchy “…the Pontifex Maximus abides; he is now the Vicar of Christ” (William Barry, The Papal Monarchy, p.46) Yet the role of the Chief Magi has nothing to do with Christianity. It merely adopted Christianity to serve its purpose; you can watch our Viewpoint titled Constantine & Christianity to learn more about this.
Today the Pontif, as we know him, sits on the same seat of power that the Chaldean Chief Magi once occupied in Babylon. According to the Bible , this religious seat is the center of the Babylonian Mystery religion and it patiently awaits a harmonious revival between both Church and State, which results in anything but harmony!