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Colossal statue of the god Nabu, 8th century BCE, from Nimrud, Iraq Museum.jpg
Colossal statue of the god Nabu, 8th century BC, from Nimrud, on display in the National Museum of Iraq
SymbolClay tablet and stylus
ParentsMarduk and Sarpanitum
Greek equivalentHermes
Roman equivalentMercury
Egyptian equivalentThoth
Norse equivalentOdin
Late Assyrian seal. Worshipper between Nabu and Marduk, standing on their servant dragon Mušḫuššu. 8th century BCE.

Nabu (Akkadian: cuneiform: 𒀭𒀝 Nabû[1] Syriac: ܢܵܒܼܘܼ\ܢܒܼܘܿ\ܢܵܒܼܘܿ Nāvū or Nvō or Nāvō[2][3]) is the ancient Mesopotamian patron god of literacy, the rational arts, scribes, and wisdom.

Etymology and meaning[edit]

The Akkadian "nabû" means 'announcer/authorised person',[4] derived from the Semitic root N-B.[5] It is cognate with the Syriac ܢܒܝܐ (nvīyā), Arabic نبي (nabiyy), and the Hebrew נביא (naví),[6] all meaning 'prophet'.


Nabu was worshiped by the Babylonians and the Assyrians.[7] Nabu gained prominence among the Babylonians in the 1st millennium BC when he was identified as the son of the god Marduk.[7]

Nabu was worshipped in Babylon's sister city Borsippa, from where his statue was taken to Babylon each New Year so that he could pay his respects to his father.[7] Nabu's symbols included a stylus resting on a tablet as well as a simple wedge shape; King Nabonidus, whose name references Nabu, had a royal sceptre topped with Nabu's wedge.[7][8]: 33–34  Clay tablets with especial calligraphic skill were used as offerings at Nabu's temple. His wife was the Akkadian goddess Tashmet.[7]

Nabu was the patron god of scribes, literacy, and wisdom.[7] He was also the inventor of writing, a divine scribe, the patron god of the rational arts, and a god of vegetation.[8]: 33–34 [9] As the god of writing, Nabu inscribed the fates assigned to men and he was equated with the scribe god Ninurta.[9][10] As an oracle he was associated with the Mesopotamian moon god Sin.[8]: 33–34  In the Babylonian tradition, planet Mercury was connected with Ninurta (as well as Saturn); because in the MUL.APIN Ninurta is consistently identified with Mercury,[11][12][13] and it is read that: "Mercury whose name is Ninurta travels the (same) path the Moon travels." As Marduk took over the role of King of the gods from Enlil and inherited both his cultic roles and epithets as well as his position within the pantheon – the role of the most important son of the father of the gods that had previously belonged to Ninurta as son of Enlil (now replaced by Marduk); was thus taken over by Nabu, and Nabu became associated with the planet Mercury as well as being given connections with the moon god Sin, because as addressed in the MUL.APIN – even when Mercury was considered the planet of Ninurta, it still retained some moon-like aspects since it traveled the same path of the moon.

Nabu wore a horned cap, and stood with his hands clasped in the ancient gesture of priesthood. He rode on a winged dragon known as Sirrush that originally belonged to his father Marduk. In Babylonian astrology, Nabu was identified with the planet Mercury.[14][15]

Nabu was continuously worshipped until the 2nd century, when cuneiform became a lost art.[7]

Today in Mandaean cosmology, the name for Mercury is ʻNbu (ࡏࡍࡁࡅ), which is derived from the name Nabu.[16]

Outside Mesopotamia[edit]

Nabu's cult spread to ancient Egypt.[17] Nabu was one of five non-Egyptian deities worshipped in Elephantine.[citation needed]

In the Bible, Nabu is mentioned as Nebo in Isaiah 46:1 and Jeremiah 48:1.[7][18][19]

In Hellenistic times, Nabu was sometimes identified with the Greek Apollo as a giver of prophesies.[7][8]: 71  As the god of wisdom and a divine messenger, Nabu was linked with the Greek Hermes, the Roman Mercury, and the Egyptian Thoth.[8]: 71 


  1. ^ Lanfranchi, Giovanni B. (1987). The Correspondence of Sargon II. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press. p. 92. ISBN 9515700043.
  2. ^ "Dukhrana Lexicon Lookup". Dukhrana Analytical Lexicon of the Syriac New Testament. Dukhrana Biblical Research. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  3. ^ "The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon". The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  4. ^ Richter, Thomas (2006). "Nabû". Brill’s New Pauly. Brill. Retrieved 2022-10-14.
  5. ^ "Semitic Roots Appendix". The American Heritage Dictionary. Retrieved 6 December 2019. nbʾ To name, proclaim, summon."
  6. ^ p.1571, Alcalay. An alternative translation of this Hebrew word is derived from an Akkadian word "Nabu," meaning to call. The Hebrew "Navi" has a passive sense and means "the one who has been called" (see HALOT, p.661).
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bertman, Stephen (2005). Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia (Paperback ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 122. ISBN 9780195183641. Retrieved 2016-08-08.
  8. ^ a b c d e Green, Tamara M. (1992). The City of the Moon God: Religious Traditions of Harran. Leiden: Brill Publishers. ISBN 9004095136. Retrieved 2017-01-04.
  9. ^ a b "Nabu". Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on July 2, 2016. Retrieved August 4, 2019.
  10. ^ Leick, Dr Gwendolyn (2002). A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Mythology. Routledge. p. 124. ISBN 9781134641024. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
  11. ^ Koch 1995, p. 127.
  12. ^ Hunger & Steele 2018, p. 127.
  13. ^ Horowitz 1998, p. 172.
  14. ^ Colligan, L. H. (January 15, 2010). Mercury. Marshall Cavendish. p. 22. ISBN 9780761445517. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
  15. ^ Lewis, James R. (Mar 1, 2003). The Astrology Book: The Encyclopedia of Heavenly Influences (Second ed.). Visible Ink Press. p. 442. ISBN 9781578593019. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
  16. ^ Bhayro, Siam (10 February 2020). "Cosmology in Mandaean Texts". Hellenistic Astronomy. Leiden: Brill Publishers. pp. 572–579. doi:10.1163/9789004400566_046. ISBN 9789004243361. S2CID 213438712. Retrieved 8 February 2022.
  17. ^ Porten, Bezalel (1968). Archives from Elephantine: The Life of an Ancient Jewish Military Colony (First ed.). University of California Press. p. 166. ISBN 9780520010284. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  18. ^ "Isaiah 46:1 NIV – Gods of Babylon – Bel bows down, Nebo". Retrieved 2015-06-23.
  19. ^ "Jeremiah 48:1 NIV – A Message About Moab – Concerning Moab". Retrieved 2015-07-02.


  • Horowitz, Wayne (1998). Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography. Eisenbrauns. ISBN 978-0931464997.
  • Hunger, Hermann; Steele, John (2018). The Babylonian Astronomical Compendium MUL.APIN. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1351686815.
  • Koch, Ulla Susanne (1995). Mesopotamian astrology: an introduction to Babylonian and Assyrian celestial divination. Museum Tusculanum Press. ISBN 978-8772892870.

External links[edit]