Nabu (early form Nabium, Biblical form Nebo) was the Mesopotamian scribal god, the patron deity of writing and of wisdom (alongside Enki/Ea and Marduk, presumably on account of the close connection between writing and learning). His wife was the goddess Tašmetu, at least initially, and he seems to have been identified with the planet Mercury.

Iconographically, the god Nabu was symbolised by a single cuneiform wedge (horizontal or vertical), perhaps originally a writing stylus, sometimes resting on a clay tablet. Alternatively, either this symbol or the god himself is frequently depicted standing on the back of his beast: a snake-dragon (mušhuššu).

The cult of Nabu may have been introduced into Mesopotamia from Syria with the arrival of nomadic Amorite tribes from the early second millennium BCE onwards. His centre of worship ultimately came to be located at Borsippa, near Babylon. Integrated from there into the court circle of the Babylonian chief god Marduk, Nabu was initially conceived of as Marduk’s vizier, later (from the Kassite period onwards) as his son, with Nisaba as his consort. During the Babylonian New Year Festival, the cult statue of Nabu was transported from Borsippa to Babylon in order to commune with that of his father Marduk. Eventually, Nabu came to be viewed as a supreme deity of Babylonia alongside Marduk.

Nabu’s cult was readily accepted in Assyria as well as Babylonia, maintaining a strong, long-lived appeal and spreading amongst expatriate Aramaic-speaking communities in both Egypt and Anatolia through to the 4th century BCE, the worship of Nabu persisting in Mesopotamia even after the fall of the Babylonian Empire. Usually identified by the Greeks with Apollo, the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus witnessed the integration of Nabu into a pantheon of deities venerated in central and northern Syria at Palmyra and Dura Europos, his cult surviving in that form until at least the second century CE.

Select Bibliography

Pomponio, F.

1978 Nabû, [Studi Semitici 51], Rome, 1978.

Porter, B.N.

1997 “What the Assyrians Thought the Babylonians Thought about the Relative Status of Nabû and Marduk in the Late Assyrian Period”, in S. Parpola, S. & Whiting, R.M. (ed.), Assyria 1995, Helsinki, 1997, pp.253-260.

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