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CHALDEA that is to say, Babylonia and Assyria is, like Persia, the land of the Magi and is commonly regarded as the classic home of occultism; but here again, as we saw in the case of Egypt, the legend is hardly in agreement with the historic reality.
It seems a priori that Chaldea should possess a peculiar interest for us; not because it is likely to teach us anything that we have not learned from India, Egypt, or Persia, to which it was tributary, but because it was probably the principal source of the cabala, which was itself the great fountainhead from which the occultism of the middle ages, as it has come down to us, was fed.
It was hoped that the discovery of the key to the cuneiform inscriptions a discovery scarcely more than fifty years old, and the deciphering of the inscriptions of Nineveh and Babylon, would result in valuable revelations concerning the mysteries of the Chaldean religion. But these inscriptions, which date from 2000, 3750, and in one instance (preserved in the British Museum) 4000 years before Christ, and whose interpretation moreover is far more uncertain and controversial than that of the hieroglyphs or the Sanskrit texts, have yielded us only royal biographies, inventories of conquests, incantatory formulζ, litanies, and psalms which served as models for the Hebrew psalms. From these we perceive that the basis of the very primitive religion of the Sumirs or Sumerians and the Accads or Arcadians who peopled lower Chaldea before the Semitic conquest was one of magic and sorcery. This was followed by a naturalistic polytheism, which the conquering Semites, less civilized than those whom they had conquered, adopted in part, until, about two thousand years before our era, having won the upper hand, they gradually reduced the primitive gods to the rank of mere attributes of Baal, the supreme divinity, the sun-god.
These inscriptions, then, have taught us nothing concerning the secret if there is a secret of the Chaldean religion, and have not contributed anything of any value to the information already in our possession, thanks to certain fragments of Berosus, whose accuracy they have more than once enabled us to verify.
Berosus, as the reader may remember, was a Chaldean astronomer, a priest of Belus in Babylon, who about the year 280 B. C. shortly, that, is, after the death of Alexander wrote in Greek a history of his country. As he could read cuneiform characters he was able to profit by the archives of the temple of Babylon. Unfortunately the work of Berosus is almost entirely lost; all that is left of it is a few fragments collected by Josephus, Eusebius, Tatian, Pliny, Vitruvius, and Seneca. This loss is all the more regrettable in that Berosus, who seems to have been a serious and conscientious historian; declared that he had had access to documents attributed to the beings who preceded the appearance of man on the earth; and his history, according to Eusebius, covered 2,150,000 years. We have also lost his cosmogony, and with it all the astronomical and astrological science of Chaldea, which was the great secret of the Babylonian Magi, whose zodiac dates back 6700 years. We have only the treatise known as "Observations of Bel," translated into Greek by Berosus, though the text that has come down to us is of much later date.
The few pages that are all that is left us of the Chaldean cosmology contain a sort of anticipation of the Darwinian theories of the origin of the world and of man. The first god and the first man were a fish-god and a fish-man which is, by the way, confirmed by embryology born of the vast cosmic ocean; and nature, when she attempted to create, produced at first anomalous monsters unable to reproduce themselves. As for their astrology, according to Professor Sayce, the learned professor of Assyriology at Oxford, it seems to be chiefly based on the axiom, post hoc ergo propter hoc; which is to say that when two events occur in sequence the second is regarded as the result of the first; hence the care with which the astrologers used to observe celestial phenomena in order that they might empirically foretell the future.
To sum up, we are very imperfectly acquainted with the official religion of Assyria and Babylonia, whose gods appear to be rather barbaric. This religion does not become more enlightened or more interesting until after the conquest of Cyrus, which brought into the country the Zoroastrian and Hindu doctrines, or confirmed and completed those that had, in all probability, already found their way into the secrecy of the temples; for Chaldea had always been the great crossroads on which the theologies of India, Egypt, and Persia were of necessity wont to meet. Thus it was that these doctrines found their way into the Bible and the cabala, and thence into Christianity.
But as far as the origin of religion is concerned, we must admit that the authentic documents recently discovered teach us virtually nothing, and that all that has been said of the esoterism and the mysteries of Chaldea is based merely upon legends or writings that are notoriously apocryphal.