Mesopotamian Levantine Arabian Mesopotamia Primordial beings 7 gods who decree Demigods & heroes Spirits & monsters Tales from Babylon The Great Gods
The name Nergal, Nirgal, or Nirgali (Hebrew: נֵרְגַל, Modern Nergal Tiberian Nērḡál; Aramaic ܢܹܪܓܵܐܠ; Latin: Nergel) refers to a deity in Babylon with the main seat of his cult at Cuthah represented by the mound of Tell-Ibrahim. Nergal is mentioned in the Hebrew bible as the deity of the city of Cuth (Cuthah): "And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal" (2 Kings, 17:30). He is the son of Enlil and Ninlil.
Nergal actually seems to be in part a solar deity, sometimes identified with Shamash, but only a representative of a certain phase of the sun. Portrayed in hymns and myths as a god of war and pestilence, Nergal seems to represent the sun of noontime and of the summer solstice that brings destruction, high summer being the dead season in the Mesopotamian annual cycle.
Nergal was also the deity who presides over the netherworld, and who stands at the head of the special pantheon assigned to the government of the dead (supposed to be gathered in a large subterranean cave known as Aralu or Irkalla). In this capacity he has associated with him a goddess Allatu or Ereshkigal, though at one time Allatu may have functioned as the sole mistress of Aralu, ruling in her own person. In some texts the god Ninazu is the son of Nergal and Allatu/Ereshkigal.
Nergal's fiery aspect appears in names or epithets such as Lugalgira, Sharrapu ("the burner," a reference to his manner of dealing with outdated teachings), Erra, Gibil (though this name more properly belongs to Nusku), and Sibitti. A certain confusion exists in cuneiform literature between Ninurta and Nergal. Nergal has epithets such as the "raging king," the "furious one," and the like. A play upon his name—separated into three elements as Ne-uru-gal (lord of the great dwelling) -- expresses his position at the head of the nether-world pantheon.
In the late Babylonian astral-theological system Nergal is related to the planet Mars. As a fiery god of destruction and war, Nergal doubtless seemed an appropriate choice for the red planet, and he was equated by the Greeks either to the combative demigod Heracles (Latin Hercules) or to the war-god Ares (Latin Mars) -- hence the current name of the planet. In Babylonian ecclesiastical art the great lion-headed colossi serving as guardians to the temples and palaces seem to symbolise Nergal, just as the bull-headed colossi probably typify Ninurta.
Nergal's chief temple at Cuthah bore the name Meslam, from which the god receives the designation of Meslamtaeda or Meslamtaea, "the one that rises up from Meslam". The name Meslamtaeda/Meslamtaea indeed is found as early as the list of gods from Fara while the name Nergal only begins to appear in the Akkadian period. Amongst the Hurrians and later Hittites Nergal was known as Aplu, a name derived from the Akkadian Apal Enlil, (Apal being the construct state of Aplu) meaning "the son of Enlil". As God of the plague, he was invoked during the "plague years" during the reign of Suppiluliuma, when this disease spread from Egypt.
The cult of Nergal does not appear to have spread as widely as that of Ninurta, but in the late Babylonian and early Persian period, syncretism seems to have fused the two divinities, which were invoked together as if they were identical. Hymns and votive and other inscriptions of Babylonian and Assyrian rulers frequently invoke him, but we do not learn of many temples to him outside of Cuthah. Sennacherib speaks of one at Tarbisu to the north of Nineveh, but significantly, although Nebuchadnezzar II (606 BC - 586 BC), the great temple-builder of the neo-Babylonian monarchy, alludes to his operations at Meslam in Cuthah, he makes no mention of a sanctuary to Nergal in Babylon. Local associations with his original seat—Kutha—and the conception formed of him as a god of the dead acted in making him feared rather than actively worshipped. Nergal was also called Ni-Marad in Akkadian. Like Lugal Marad in Sumerian, the name means "king of Marad," a city, whose name means "Rebellion" in Akkadian, as yet unidentified. The name Ni-Marad, in Akkadian means "Lord of Marad". The chief deity of this place, therefore, seems to have been Nergal, of whom, therefore, Lugal-Marad or Ni-Marad is another name. Thus, some scholars have drawn the connection of Ni-Marad being yet another deified name for Nimrod, the rebel king of Babylon and Assyria mentioned in Genesis 10: 8-11.
Being a deity of the desert, god of fire, which is one of negative aspects of the sun, god of the underworld, and also being a god of one of the religions which rivalled Christianity and Judaism, Nergal was sometimes called a demon and even being identified with Satan. According to Collin de Plancy and Johann Weyer, Nergal was said to be the chief of Hell's "secret police", and said to be "an honorary spy in the service of Beelzebub".
In popular culture
- In the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, Nergal is the name of an outcast devil. Additionally, the demigod Jergal of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting derives his name from Nergal.
- In the Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Nergal is a demon and recurring villain, but later marries Billy's aunt Sis and has a child named Nergal Jr.
- In the DC Comics universe, Nergal (also spelled Negal) was originally a Golden Age villain opposing Doctor Fate. He was also shown as a primary antagonist to the Vertigo character John Constantine. He is the primary villain in the Doctor Fate story in Countdown to Mystery mini-series. His name appeared as Nergal in the Hellblazer comics and in the reprint of More Fun Comics #67 in Weird Secret Origins, though in Countdown to Mystery and The Golden Age Doctor Fate Archives, he is referred to as "Negal," even in the latter's reprint of More Fun #67.
- In the seventh Fire Emblem video game, Nergal is the name of the main villain; Ereshkigal is the name of his tome (magic weapon), a reference to Nergal's wife, goddess of the Irkalla, land of the dead.
- In the MMORPG Lunia, Nergal is the boss of the tenth floors of the Cave of Chaos raid.
- A customizable parody video circulated by MoveOn.org has Glenn Beck claiming that the viewer of the video is in league with Nergal, using a convoluted transliteration and translation process from English to Greek to Aramaic and back to English with the letters N G and L added.
- In 1988 Finnish gothic rock group Russian Love released their first album entitled Nergal. The album was re-released in 2007 by Finnish record company Plastic Passion and Italian record company Eibon Records.
- Nergal is also the stage name of Adam Darski, the vocalist/guitarist of the Polish black/death metal band Behemoth. "And Nergal to me is more important than my real name, which is Adam, and only my parents and my girlfriend Doda call me Adam or Adaś. Most people just call me Nergal or Ner."
- Swedish Symphonic metal band Therion wrote a song dedicated to Nergal titled The Siren of the Woods.
- In both table top RPGs Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 by Games Workshop Nergal is a direct inspiration to the major chaos god Nurgle.
- In Catherine (video game) there is a demon named Nergal, who is the father of Catherine and lord of the Underworld.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
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