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Enlil was the name of a chief deity in Babylonian religion, perhaps pronounced and sometimes rendered in translations as Ellil in later Akkadian. The name is Sumerian and has been believed to mean 'Lord Wind' though that is debated.
Enlil was the god of wind, or the sky between earth and heaven. One story has him originate as the exhausted breath of An (God of the heavens) and Ki (goddess of the Earth) after sexual union. Another accounts is that he and his sister Ninhursag/Ninmah/Aruru were children of an obscure god Enki 'Lord Earth' (not the famous Enki) by Ninki 'Lady Earth'.
When Enlil was a young god, he was banished from Dilmun, home of the gods, to Kur, the underworld for raping a young girl named Ninlil. Ninlil followed him to the underworld where she bore his first child, the moon god Sin. After fathering three more underworld deities, Enlil was allowed to return to Dilmun when Ninlil admitted that it was her plan to seduce him all along.
Enlil was also known as the inventor of the pickaxe/hoe (favorite tool of the Sumerians) and the cause of plants growing. He used be in the possession of all the holy Me, until he gave them to Enki for safe keeping, who summarily lost them to Inanna in a drunken stupor.
Enlil's relation to An 'Sky', in theory the supreme god of the Sumerian pantheon, was somewhat like that of a Frankish mayor of the palace compared to the king, or that of a Japanese shogun compared to the emperor, or to a prime minister in a modern constitutional monarchy compared to the supposed monarch. While An was ruler in name in the highest heavens it was Enlil who mostly did the actual ruling over the world.
By his wife Ninlil or Sud, Enlil was father of the moon god Nanna (in Akkadian Sin) and of Ninurta (also called Ningirsu). Enlil is sometimes father of Nergal, of Nisaba the goddess of grain, of Pabilsag who is sometimes equated with Ninurta, and sometimes of Enbilulu . By Ereshkigal Enlil was father of Namtar.
Enlil is associated with the ancient city of Nippur, and since Enlu with the determinative for "land" or "district" is a common method of writing the name of the city, it follows, apart from other evidence, that Enlil was originally the patron deity of Nippur.
At a very early period—prior to 3000 BC—Nippur had become the centre of a political district of considerable extent. Inscriptions found at Nippur, where extensive excavations were carried on during 1888–1900 by Messrs Peters and Haynes, under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania, show that Enlil was the head of an extensive pantheon. Among the titles accorded to him are "king of lands," "king of heaven and earth" and "father of the gods".
His chief temple at Nippur was known as Ekur , signifying 'House of the mountain', and such was the sanctity acquired by this edifice that Babylonian and Assyrian rulers, down to the latest days, vied with one another in embellishing and restoring Enlil's seat of worship, and the name Ekur became the designation of a temple in general.
Grouped around the main sanctuary there arose temples and chapels to the gods and goddesses who formed his court, so that Ekur became the name for an entire sacred precinct in the city of Nippur. The name "mountain house" suggests a lofty structure and was perhaps the designation originally of the staged tower at Nippur, built in imitation of a mountain, with the sacred shrine of the god on the top.
When, with the political rise of Babylon as the centre of a great empire, Nippur yielded its prerogatives to the city over which Marduk presided, the attributes and the titles of Enlil were largely transferred to Marduk. But Enlil did not, however, entirely lose his right to have any considerable political importance, while in addition the doctrine of a triad of gods symbolizing the three divisions—heavens, earth and water—assured to Enlil, to whom the earth was assigned as his province, his place in the religious system.
It was no doubt in part Enlil's position as the second figure of the triad that enabled him to survive the political eclipse of Nippur and made his sanctuary a place of pilgrimage to which Assyrian kings down to the days of Assur-bani-pal paid their homage equally with Babylonian rulers.
The Sumerian ideogram for Enlil or Ellil was formerly incorrectly read as Bel by scholars, but in fact Enlil was not especially given the title Bel 'Lord' more than many other gods. The Babylonian god Marduk is mostly the god persistently called Bel in late Assyrian and Babylonian inscriptions and it is Marduk that mostly appears in Greek and Latin texts as Belos or Belus. References in older literature to Enlil as the old Bel and Marduk as the young Bel derive from this error in reading.
Portions of this entry are from the 1911 Encyclopędia Britannica article Bel.
- ETCSL "Enlil and Ninlil" and "Enlil and Sud": Unicode and ASCII.
- Gateway to Babylon: "Enlil and Ninlil", trans. Thorkild Jacobsen.
- ETCSL "Enlil in the Ekur": Unicode and ASCII.
- Houghton-Mifflin: A Hymn to the Sky-God Enlil.
- "The Song of the Hoe" in ETCSL—Songs, elegies and related compositions: Unicode and ASCII.
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