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Akitu or Akitum was a spring festival in ancient Mesopotamia. The Babylonian and Assyrian Akitu festival has played a pivotal role in the development of theories of religion, myth and ritual. While the purpose of the festival remains a point of contention among both historians of religion and Assyriologists, it is certain to have played a pivotal role in the regular setting of an agenda, priorities, and in the overall advancement of western civilization as being one of the first regularly occurring forums where proposals for social maintenance or change could consistently be made and crucial issues readily addressed.
The Babylonian festival traditionally started on 4 Nisannu. All the people in the city would celebrate, including the awilu (upper class), muskena (middle class), wardu (lower class), High Priest, and the King.
First to Third DayEdit
The priest of Ésagila (Marduk's house) would recite sad prayers with the other priests and the people would answer with equally sad prayers which expressed humanity's fear of the unknown. This fear of the unknown explains why the high priest would head to the Ésagila every day asking for Marduk's forgiveness, begging him to protect Babylon, his holy city, and asking him to have favor on the city. This prayer was called "The Secret Of Ésagila". It reads as followed:
"Lord without peer in thy wrath,
Lord, gracious king, lord of the lands,
Who made salvation for the great gods,
Lord, who throwest down the strong by his glance,
Lord of kings, light of men, who dost apportion destinies,
O Lord, Babylon is thy seat, Borsippa thy crown
The wide heavens are thy body....
Within thine arms thou takest the strong....
Within thy glance thou grantest them grace,
Makest them see light so that they proclaim thy power.
Lord of the lands, light of the Igigi, who pronnouncest blessings;
Who would not proclaim thy, yea, thy power?
Would not speak of thy majesty, praise thy dominion?
Lord of the lands, who livest in Eudul, who takest the fallen by the hand;
Have pity upon thy city, Babylon
Turn thy face towards Esagila, thy temple
Give freedom to them that dwell in Babylon, thy wards!"
On the third day special craftsmen would create two puppets made of wood, gold, and precious stones and dress them in red. These puppets were set aside and would be used on the sixth day.
Before the gods arrived, the day would be filled with commotion. The puppets that were made on the third day would be burned and mock battle would be taking place as well. This commotion signified that without Marduk, the city would be in constant chaos.
The gods return accompanied by their Lord Marduk to meet again in the Destinies Hall "Upshu Ukkina", where they met for the first time on the eighth day, this time they will decide the fate of the people of Marduk. In ancient Assyrian philosophy Creation in general was considered as a covenant between heaven and earth as long as a human serves the gods till his death, therefore, gods' happiness isn't complete except if humans are happy as well, thus a human's destiny will be to be given happiness on the condition that he serves the gods. So Marduk and the gods renew their covenant with Babylon, by promising the city another cycle of seasons. After the fate of mankind is decided, Marduk returns to the heavens.
The festival was also adopted in the Neo-Assyrian Empire following the destruction of Babylon. King Sennacherib in 683 BC built an "Akitu house" outside the walls of Assur. Another Akitu house was built outside Nineveh. The Akitu festival was continued throughout the Seleucid Empire and into the Roman Empire period. At the beginning of the 3rd century, it was still celebrated in Emessa, Syria, in honour of the god Elagabal. The Roman emperor Elagabalus (r. 218-222), who was of Syrian origin, even introduced the festival in Italy (Herodian, Roman History, 5.6).
The new moon of Aviv, the month of barley ripening, marks the beginning of the Jewish ecclesiastical year. (Exodus 13:4; 23:15) Since the Babylonian captivity, this month has mainly been called Nisan (Nehemiah 2:1, Esther 3:7)
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