1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Assur (Biblical)

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15670931911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 2 — Assur (Biblical)John Dyneley Prince

ASSUR (Auth. Vers. Asshur), a Hebrew name, occurring in many passages of the Old Testament, for the land and dominion of Assyria.[1] The country of Assyria, which in the Assyro-Babylonian literature is known as mat Aššur (ki), “land of Assur,” took its name from the ancient city of Aššur, situated at the southern extremity of Assyria proper, whose territory, soon after the first Assyrian settlement, was bounded on the N. by the Zagros mountain range in what is now Kurdistan and on the S. by the lower Zab river. The kingdom of Assyria, which was the outgrowth of the primitive settlement on the site of the city of Assur, was developed by a probably gradual process of colonization in the rich vales of the middle Tigris region, a district watered by the Tigris itself and also by several tributary streams, the chief of which was the lower Zab.[2]

It seems quite evident that the city of Assur was originally founded by Semites from Babylonia at quite an early, but as yet undetermined date. In the prologue to the law-code of the great Babylonian monarch Khammurabi (c. 2250 B.C.), the cities of Nineveh and Assur are both mentioned as coming under that king’s beneficent influence. Assur is there called A-usar (ki),[3] in which combination the ending -ki (“land territory”) proves that even at that early period there was a province of Assur more extensive than the city proper. It is probable that this non-Semitic form A-usar means “well watered region,”[4] a most appropriate designation for the river settlements of Assyria. The problem as to the meaning of the name Assur is rendered all the more confusing by the fact that the city and land are also called Aššur (as well as A-usar), both by the Khammurabi records[5] and generally in the later Assyrian literature. Furthermore, the god- and country-name Assur also occurs at a late date in Assyrian literature in the forms An-šar, An-šar (ki), which form[6] was presumably read Assur. In the Creation tablet, the heavens personified collectively were indicated by this term An-šar, “host of heaven,” in contradistinction to the earth = Ki-šar, “host of earth.” In view of this fact, it seems highly probable that the late writing An-sar for Assur was a more or less conscious attempt on the part of the Assyrian scribes to identify the peculiarly Assyrian deity Asur (see Assur, the god, below) with the Creation deity An-sar. On the other hand, there is an epithet Ašir or Ashir (“overseer”) applied to several gods and particularly to the deity Ašur, a fact which introduced a third element of confusion into the discussion of the name Assur. It is probable then that there is a triple popular etymology in the various forms of writing the name Aššur; viz. A-usar,[7] An-šar and the stem ašāru, all of which is quite in harmony with the methods followed by the ancient Assyro-Babylonian philologists.[8]

See also A. H. Layard, Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon (1853); G. Smith, Assyrian Discoveries (1875); R. W. Rogers, History of Babylonia and Assyria, i. 297; ii. 13; ii. 30, 76, 102; J. F. M‘Curdy, History, Prophecy and the Monuments, §§ 74, 171 f., 247, 258, 283; 57, 59 f. (on the god).  (J. D. Pr.) 

  1. The name Assur is not connected with the Asshur of 1 Chron. ii. 24; ii. 45. Note that it is customary to spell the god-name Ašur and the country-name Aššur.
  2. Cf. Rassam, Asshur and the Land of Nimrod, 250-251, and many other works.
  3. Robert Harper, Code of Hammurabi, pp. 6-7, lines 55-58.
  4. Thus already Delitzsch, Wo lag das Paradies? p. 252. The element a means “water,” and in u-sar it is probable that u also means “water,” while sar is “park, district.” See Prince, Materials for a Sumerian Lexicon, s.v. usar.
  5. The name appears as Aš-šur (ki) and Aš-šu-ur (ki). See King, Letters and Inscriptions of Hammurabi, iv. p. 23, obv. 27; and Nägel, Beiträge zur Assyriologie, iv. p. 404; also Cun. Texts from Bab. Tablets, vi. pl. 19, line 7.
  6. Meissner-Rost, Bauinschrift Sanheribs, K. 5413a; K. 1306, rev. 16.
  7. See on this entire subject, Morris Jastrow, Jr., Journal Amer. Orient. Soc., xxiv. pp. 282-311; also Die Religion Bab. u. Assyr., pp. 207 ff.
  8. On the philological methods of the ancient Babylonian priesthood, see Prince, Materials for a Sumerian Lexicon, Introduction.