By Alexander Hislop
How Nimrod died, Scripture is entirely silent. There was an ancient tradition that he came to a violent end. The circumstances of that end, however, as antiquity represents them, are clouded with fable. It is said that tempests of wind sent by God against the Tower of Babel overthrew it, and that Nimrod perished in its ruins. This could not be true, for we have sufficient evidence that the Tower of Babel stood long after Nimrod's day. Then, in regard to the death of Ninus, profane history speaks darkly and mysteriously, although one account tells of his having met with a violent death similar to that of Pentheus, Lycurgus, * and Orpheus, who were said to have been torn in pieces. **
* Lycurgus, who is commonly made the enemy of Bacchus, was, by the Thracians and Phrygians, identified with Bacchus, who it is well known, was torn in pieces.
The identity of Nimrod, however, and the Egyptian Osiris, having been established, we have thereby light as to Nimrod's death. Osiris met with a violent death, and that violent death of Osiris was the central theme of the whole idolatry of Egypt. If Osiris was Nimrod, as we have seen, that violent death which the Egyptians so pathetically deplored in their annual festivals was just the death of Nimrod. The accounts in regard to the death of the god worshipped in the several mysteries of the different countries are all to the same effect. A statement of Plato seems to show, that in his day the Egyptian Osiris was regarded as identical with Tammuz; * and Tammuz is well known to have been the same as Adonis, the famous HUNTSMAN, for whose death Venus is fabled to have made such bitter lamentations.
* See WILKINSON'S Egyptians. The statement of Plato amounts to this, that the famous Thoth was a counsellor of Thamus, king of Egypt. Now Thoth is universally known as the "counsellor" of Osiris. Hence it may be concluded that Thamus and Osiris are the same.
As the women of Egypt wept for Osiris, as the Phoenician and Assyrian women wept for Tammuz, so in Greece and Rome the women wept for Bacchus, whose name, as we have seen, means "The bewailed," or "Lamented one." And now, in connection with the Bacchanal lamentations, the importance of the relation established between Nebros, "The spotted fawn," and Nebrod, "The mighty hunter," will appear. The Nebros, or "spotted fawn," was the symbol of Bacchus, as representing Nebrod or Nimrod himself. Now, on certain occasions, in the mystical celebrations, the Nebros, or "spotted fawn," was torn in pieces, expressly, as we learn from Photius, as a commemoration of what happened to Bacchus, * whom that fawn represented.
* Photius, under the head "Nebridzion" quotes Demosthenes as saying that "spotted fawns (or nebroi) were torn in pieces for a certain mystic or mysterious reason"; and he himself tells us that "the tearing in pieces of the nebroi (or spotted fawns) was in imitation of the suffering in the case of Dionysus" or Bacchus. (PHOTIUS, Lexicon)
The tearing in pieces of Nebros, "the spotted one," goes to confirm the conclusion, that the death of Bacchus, even as the death of Osiris, represented the death of Nebrod, whom, under the very name of "The Spotted one," the Babylonians worshipped. Though we do not find any account of Mysteries observed in Greece in memory of Orion, the giant and mighty hunter celebrated by Homer, under that name, yet he was represented symbolically as having died in a similar way to that in which Osiris died, and as having then been translated to heaven. *
* See OVID'S Fasti. Ovid represents Orion as so puffed up with pride on account of his great strength, as vain-gloriously to boast that no creature on earth could cope with him, whereupon a scorpion appeared, "and," says the poet, "he was added to the stars." The name of a scorpion in Chaldee is Akrab; but Ak-rab, thus divided, signifies "THE GREAT OPPRESSOR," and this is the hidden meaning of the Scorpion as represented in the Zodiac. That sign typifies him who cut off the Babylonian god, and suppressed the system he set up. It was while the sun was in Scorpio that Osiris in Egypt "disappeared" (WILKINSON), and great lamentations were made for his disappearance. Another subject was mixed up with the death of the Egyptian god; but it is specially to be noticed that, as it was in consequence of a conflict with a scorpion that Orion was "added to the stars," so it was when the scorpion was in the ascendant that Osiris "disappeared."
From Persian records we are expressly assured that it was Nimrod who was deified after his death by the name of Orion, and placed among the stars. Here, then, we have large and consenting evidence, all leading to one conclusion, that the death of Nimrod, the child worshipped in the arms of the goddess-mother of Babylon, was a death of violence.
Now, when this mighty hero, in the midst of his career of glory, was suddenly cut off by a violent death, great seems to have been the shock that the catastrophe occasioned. When the news spread abroad, the devotees of pleasure felt as if the best benefactor of mankind were gone, and the gaiety of nations eclipsed. Loud was the wail that everywhere ascended to heaven among the apostates from the primeval faith for so dire a catastrophe. Then began those weepings for Tammuz, in the guilt of which the daughters of Israel allowed themselves to be implicated, and the existence of which can be traced not merely in the annals of classical antiquity, but in the literature of the world from Ultima Thule to Japan.
Of the prevalence of such weepings in China, thus speaks the Rev. W. Gillespie: "The dragon-boat festival happens in midsummer, and is a season of great excitement. About 2000 years ago there lived a young Chinese Mandarin, Wat-yune, highly respected and beloved by the people. To the grief of all, he was suddenly drowned in the river. Many boats immediately rushed out in search of him, but his body was never found. Ever since that time, on the same day of the month, the dragon-boats go out in search of him." "It is something," adds the author, "like the bewailing of Adonis, or the weeping for Tammuz mentioned in Scripture." As the great god Buddh is generally represented in China as a Negro, that may serve to identify the beloved Mandarin whose loss is thus annually bewailed. The religious system of Japan largely coincides with that of China. In Iceland, and throughout Scandinavia, there were similar lamentations for the loss of the god Balder. Balder, through the treachery of the god Loki, the spirit of evil, according as had been written in the book of destiny, "was slain, although the empire of heaven depended on his life." His father Odin had "learned the terrible secret from the book of destiny, having conjured one of the Volar from her infernal abode. All the gods trembled at the knowledge of this event. Then Frigga [the wife of Odin] called on every object, animate and inanimate, to take an oath not to destroy or furnish arms against Balder. Fire, water, rocks, and vegetables were bound by this solemn obligation. One plant only, the mistletoe, was overlooked. Loki discovered the omission, and made that contemptible shrub the fatal weapon.
Among the warlike pastimes of Valhalla [the assembly of the gods] one was to throw darts at the invulnerable deity, who felt a pleasure in presenting his charmed breast to their weapons. At a tournament of this kind, the evil genius putting a sprig of the mistletoe into the hands of the blind Hoder, and directing his aim, the dreaded prediction was accomplished by an unintentional fratricide. The spectators were struck with speechless wonder; and their misfortune was the greater, that no one, out of respect to the sacredness of the place, dared to avenge it. With tears of lamentation they carried the lifeless body to the shore, and laid it upon a ship, as a funeral pile, with that of Nanna his lovely bride, who had died of a broken heart. His horse and arms were burnt at the same time, as was customary at the obsequies of the ancient heroes of the north." Then Frigga, his mother, was overwhelmed with distress. "Inconsolable for the loss of her beautiful son," says Dr. Crichton, "she despatched Hermod (the swift) to the abode of Hela [the goddess of Hell, or the infernal regions], to offer a ransom for his release. The gloomy goddess promised that he should be restored, provided everything on earth were found to weep for him. Then were messengers sent over the whole world, to see that the order was obeyed, and the effect of the general sorrow was 'as when there is a universal thaw.'" There are considerable variations from the original story in these two legends; but at bottom the essence of the stories is the same, indicating that they must have flowed from one fountain.