Front Page Titles (by Subject) XX: THE FUNCTIONS AND ORGANIZATION OF THE TEMPLE - Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters
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XX: THE FUNCTIONS AND ORGANIZATION OF THE TEMPLE - Rev. Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters 
Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904).
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THE FUNCTIONS AND ORGANIZATION OF THE TEMPLE
The great importance of the templeThe temple exerted an overwhelming financial influence in smaller towns. Only in certain large cities was it rivalled by a few great firms. Its financial status was that of the chief, if not the only, great capitalist. Its political influence was also great. This was largely enlisted on the side of peace at home and stability in business.
Varieties and origin of temple duesThe importance of the temple was partially the result of the large dues paid to it. These consisted primarily of a ginû, or fixed customary daily payment, and a sattukku, or fixed monthly payment. How these arose is still obscure. They were paid in all sorts of natural products, paid in kind, measured by the temple surveyor on the field. Doubtless, these were due from temple lands, and grew out of the endowments given to the temple. These often consisted of land, held in perpetuity by a family, charged with a payment to the temple. The land could not be let or sold by the temple, nor by the family. Such land was usually freed from all other state dues. The endowment was thus at the expense of the state. An enormous number of the tablets which have reached us from the later Babylonian times concern the payment of these dues. They mostly consisted of corn and sesame, or other offerings, and the tablets are receipts for them. In Assyrian times the ginû also included flesh of animals and birds. In some few cases we have long lists of these daily dues, accompanied by precious gifts in addition. The gifts were perishable, but were accompanied by a note specifying them, and the good wishes or purpose of the donor.1 These notes were preserved as mementos of the donor’s good-will.
The temples as owners of rented landTemples, however, also possessed lands which they could let. They also held houses which they might let.2 In fact, the temples could hold any sort of property, but apparently could not alienate any. Some lands the temple officials administered themselves, having their own work-people. We have mention of these lands from the earliest times (e.g., the very early tablet referred to above),3 right down through the Sumerian period. We have almost endless temple accounts, many of which relate to the fields of the temple, giving their dimensions and situation, with the names of the tenants, or serfs, and the rents or crops expected of them. Then, in the First Dynasty of Babylon, we find the lands, gardens, courts, et cetera, of the gods named. We no longer have the temple accounts, but the private business transactions of the citizens, whose neighbors are often the gods themselves, as direct land-owners. In Assyrian times the mention of temple lands is very common. In later Babylonian times there is abundant evidence of the same custom. Dr. Peiser devotes a considerable portion of the introduction to his Babylonische Verträge to this subject. How the temple became possessed of these lands we do not know. We do know of large gifts of land by kings, rich land-owners and the like, but we do not know whether originally the temple started with land. When a king speaks of building a temple to a god, we may understand that he really rebuilt it, or erected a new temple on the site. Before kings, the patêsis did the same. But did a patêsi precede a temple or vice versâ? and did the first founder, or the town, grant the first temple lands?
Their income from private sourcesThe temples had further a variable revenue from private sources. There were many gifts and presents given voluntarily, often as thank-offerings. The temple accounts give extensive lists of these from the earliest times to the latest. They were of all sorts, most often food or money. But they were often accompanied by some permanent record, a tablet, vase, stone or metal vessel, inscribed with a votive inscription. These form our only materials for history in long spaces of time.
Share of the temple in the sacrificesSacrifices were, of course, largely consumed by the offerers and those invited to share the feast. But the temple took its share. The share was a fixed or customary right to certain parts. For one example, the temple of Shamash at Sippara had its fixed share of the sacrifice, taking “the loins, the hide, the rump, the tendons, half the abdominal viscera and half the thoracic viscera, two legs, and a pot of broth.” The usage was not the same at all temples. In the temple of Ashur and Bêlit at Nineveh we have a different list.1 For the parallels with Mosaic ritual, and the Marseilles sacrificial tablet, see Dr. J. Jeremias, Die Cultus Tafel von Sippar. The list was drawn up by Nabû-aplu-iddin, King of Babylon bc 884-860.2
Sometimes sold for cashThis was of course a variable source of income, depending upon the popularity of the cult and the population of the district. It was also perishable and could not be stored. It is certain that in some cases this source of income was so large that the temple sold its share for cash.3 This must be carefully distinguished from the ginû and sattukku mentioned on page 208, which were constant and regular supplies.
The temple as a business institutionThe temple was also a commercial institution of high efficiency. Their accumulations of all sorts of raw products were enormous. The temple let out or advanced all kinds of raw material, usually on easy terms. To the poor, as a charity, advances were made in times of scarcity or personal want, to their tenants as part of the metayer system of tenure, to slaves who lived outside its precincts, and to contractors who took the material on purely commercial terms. The return was expected in kind, to the full amount of advance, or with stipulated interest. Also in some cases, especially wool and other clothing stuffs, in madeup material. Definite fabrics, mostly garments and rugs or hangings, were expected back. Some quantity was needed for garments and vestments for temple officials, some for the gods. But a great deal was used for trade. We have references to temple treasuries and storehouses from the earliest times to the latest.
The temple as a place of deposit and trafficThe temples did a certain amount of banking business. By this we mean that they held money on deposit against the call of the depositor. Whether they charged for safe-keeping or remunerated themselves by investing the bulk of their capital, reserving a balance to meet calls, does not yet appear. But the relatively large proportion of loans, where the god is said to be owner of the money, points to investment as the source of a considerable income. Here a careful distinction must be made between the loans without interest, or with interest only charged in default of payment to time, and those where interest is charged at once. The latter are banking business, the former were probably only the landlord’s bounden duty to his tenant by the custom of his tenure. The temples also bought and sold for profit.
The temple staffThe greater officials, of course, appear often at court. The king was accompanied by a staff of priestly personages. They frequently appear in the inscriptions and on the monuments. His court reproduced that of the gods above. The officials in one answered, man for man and office for office, with those above.
The priestly influence over the kingThe king, by his religion, could do nothing without religious sanction. The support of the priestly party was essential. In the more unsettled times they were to a great extent king-makers. To estrange the priests was a dangerous policy always. Besides their immense wealth they had the sanctions of religion on their side. To all men certain things were right, and the priests then had what right there was on their side. A king was under obligation to come to Babylon to take the hands of Bêl-Merodach each New Year’s Day. If he did not, he not only offended the priests, but also committed a wrong in the eyes of his people.
Their influence on the whole predominantly ethicalBut the kings were often inclined to rely upon conjurers, soothsayers, magicians, and the like. It would be a fatal mistake to confuse these with the priests. The best kings were those who set their face against magic and supported the more rational local or national worships. Sargon II., Esarhaddon, Nebuchadrezzar II., are examples of the latter, while Ashurbânipal is a great example of the magic-ridden kings. ammurabi apparently strove to put down magic. The eternal struggle between the “science” (falsely so-called) of magic and divination on the one hand and the higher claims of religious duty on the other, is the key to much that is misunderstood in the politics of the time. It would be too much to say that the priestly party were always on the side of morality, or that they were not often allied with the soothsayers, but it is certain that what ethical progress there was, was due to them. In religious texts alone have we aspiration after higher ideals. Who can fancy a wizard troubled about ethics?
Honors paid to priesthoodThe priest proper, šangû, was a person of the highest rank. He appears very little on the whole. His chief function was to act as mediator between god and man, as over the sacrifice offered.
Additional dutiesHe had public duties outside his priestly office. He inspected canals.1 He often acted as a judge.
Their collegeThere was a college of priests attached to some temples, over which was a šangû mau or “high-priest.”
Their exact functions uncertainThe general idea that mašmašu, “charmer”; kalû, “restrainer”; (?) maû, “soothsayer”; surru; lagaru; šâ’ilu, “inquirer”; mušêlu, “necromancer”; âšipu, “sorcerer”; all properly “magicians,” are subdivisions of the general term šangû, is yet to be proved. Except when, in rare cases, the same man was both, the scribes carefully distinguish them. The idea seems to arise from the same modern confusion of thought which starts by calling an unknown official first a eunuch, then a priest. We do not yet fully know the functions or methods of these officials. They remain to be studied.2
The wardenThe êpu, or “warden,” was over the temple servants. He let the temple lands. He inspected the temple slaves and work-people.3
The stewardThe šatammu was over the revenues. This name is clearly connected with the šutummu or storehouse.
Certain officials, as surveyors or measurers, scribes, et cetera, may have been of priestly rank and held these offices as well. But as a rule, a man appears with an official title, without our being able to see whether he was a priest or not.
The workmenThe temple kept its artificers, who had board and wages. It had its serfs, or land laborers, not actual slaves, but free except for their duty to the temple. They lived on the produce of their holdings, subject to a fixed, or producerent.
There were temple slaves, who performed the menial offices without wages, but were clothed and fed.
Within these classes doubtless came some of those who appear as slaughterers, water-carriers, doorkeepers, bakers, weavers, and the like. A temple also had its shepherds, cultivators, irrigators, gardeners, et cetera; but it is far from easy to determine the exact degree of dependence in each case.
The temple even had its own doctor.1
Similarity of the temple to the monastic systemIn all these cases we may compare the monastic institutions of the Middle Ages. We are not as a rule able to see whether they were “lay brothers,” or had become “clerics,” as well as “clerks.” But there is no sign of celibacy. Even the priests were married.
Attached to the temple were votaries.2 In not a few cases the above offices might also be held by women, even such an office as surveyor might be held by a woman. There were many female “clerks.” All the temple staff were maintained by the temple, boarded, fed, and clothed, at the temple expense. But private persons might undertake to keep a definite temple official, perhaps were bound to do so, by the terms of some endowment.3
Hereditary rightsThe right to serve in certain offices was hereditary in some families. As these multiplied, the office was held in turn by members of the family for a short time, so that it may well be that an individual priest only exercised his functions for a very limited part of the year.
Origin of clan namesGreat families took their clan name from their office; for example, the Gula priests in later Babylonian times, or as the mandidu, “measurer,” or “surveyor,” attached to a temple, became a clan name.
Proprietary rights to share in temple incomesHence arose property in temple incomes. That these were considerable we know from the lists of temple accounts. These form the bulk of the earliest documents. From them we learn that each day certain officials received certain allowances, mostly food and drink. From later documents we learn that men apparently not connected with the temple had become lay impropriators of the temple allowances originally intended only for temple officers.
These rights negotiableThe right to receive these was a valuable and negotiable asset. Thus we read of a right to five days per year in the temple of Nannar, sixteen days per year in the temple of Bêlit, and eight days in the shrine of Gula as being the namar of Sin-imgurâni and Sin-uzili.1 This was confirmed to them by a legal decision in the time of Rîm-Sin. We read also of a right to act as šatammu, for six days per month, in the temple of Shamash.2 In later times the mandidûtu, or surveyorship, to the temple of Anu, Ib, and Bêlit-êkalli, exercised in the temple, storehouse, and field, was sold, shared, and pledged.3 Another such right was given on condition that it was not sold for money, granted to another, pledged, nor diminished in any way, and should pass to the possessor’s daughter on his death.4 The porter’s post at Bâb Salimu was given as a pledge. Shares in these incomes were regularly traded in, sold, and pledged.
Other endowments of officeThe position of a priest, or other official, carried with it an endowment. On this point the Code is very explicit for the cases of the ridû ṣâbê and the bâ’iru, officials charged with the collection of local quotas for the army and public works. They were recruiting sergeants, press-gang officers, and post-office officials. The office was endowed by royal grant. They were liable to be called on in the discharge of their duties to make lengthy journeys and be absent from home for a length of time, even years. In their absence, their duties could be delegated to a son, if old enough, otherwise a substitute was put in. They could claim reinstatement within a certain time. But their endowment was inalineable from the office and could not be treated as private property.
Also the great offices at courtQuite similarly the great state officials in Assyria had endowments which were not personal, but went with the office. Thus we learn from the arran census that certain lands paid rent or crops to certain offices.
These rights maintained by inheritanceIn later times the rights to income are very prominent, perhaps solely in virtue of the class of documents which has reached us. Occasionally we are able to learn exactly what they were. For example, the surveyor for the temple of Anu had a right to two GUR of corn, two GUR of dates, fifty A of wheat, six KA of sesame, on every eighteen A of land. When the corn and dates were harvested, on one GUR, six A were levied.
The relation to the stateIt is not clear that a temple had any direct duties to the state. Peiser thinks that they collected dues for the state. Certainly they had attached to them the king’s storehouses. Certain amounts were paid in for certain state officials. In the Code of ammurabi we see that a temple might be called upon to ransom a member of the town who had been taken captive.
The loaning of moneyIn certain circumstances the king’s officials might borrow of the temples.1 Thus Nikkal-iddina borrowed of the temple of Bêlit of Akkad a vessel of silver, weight fifteen minas, when the Elamites invaded the land.
Forced loansSome kings laid hands on the treasures of the temple for their own use. Doubtless this was done under bond to repay. The cases in which we read of such practices are always represented as a wrong. When Shamash-shûm-ukîn sent the bribes to the King of Elam, Ummanigash, he spoiled the treasuries of Merodach at Babylon, of Nabû at Borsippa, and of Nêrgal at Cutha, and this was reckoned one of his evil deeds, which led to his downfall. But if he had been successful and had repaid his forced loans, doubtless it would have been excused, and his memory would have been blessed.
The temple a trading institutionMuch confusion is introduced by the fact that we do not know when a temple official acts in his own private capacity and when on behalf of the temple. The deeds, which do not expressly state that the money or property belongs to the god, or the temple, may often be only concerned with private transactions, but were preserved in the temple archives on account of the official position of the parties. But there are plenty of cases, where no doubt exists, to justify us in regarding the temple as acting in all the capacities of a private individual, or a firm of traders.
[1 ] , 998-1092.
[2 ] , 428, 439.
[3 ] Page 196.
[1 ] , Nos. 998-1013, etc.
[2 ] Haupt, Journal of Biblical Literature, xix., p. 60.
[3 ] 213 with 396.
[1 ] 19.
[2 ] Professor H. Zimmern has made a splendid beginning in his Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Babylonischen Religion by determining the functions of the barû, the âsipu, and the zammaru. He calls them all “priests.” But he does not show that either was a šangû. It may really be so, but why confuse what the Babylonians kept distinct?
[3 ] 292.
[1 ] 352.
[2 ] Page 76.
[3 ] 773.
[1 ] M. A. P., 41.
[2 ] 2175 A.
[3 ] P. A. S., II., 8.
[4 ] P. A. S., II., 23.
[1 ] , No. 930.