S. H. Hooke: A Sumerian or Babylonian Trinity?
The historian S. H. Hooke is sometimes cited by critics of the doctrine of the Trinity to support their view that the doctrine is pagan in origin. Specifically, they cite Hooke to show that the ancient pagan Sumerians or Babylonians believed in a trinity. The Jehovah’s Witness book Reasoning from the Scriptures cites him as follows:
“There were triads of gods, and among their divinities were those representing various forces of nature and ones that exercised special influence in certain activities of mankind. (Babylonian and Assyrian Religion, Norman, Okla.; 1963, S. H. Hooke, pp. 14-40).”1
The above statement is actually a fair representation of what Hooke says. Unfortunately, the subtext of the Watchtower Society’s use of this citation is the insinuation that the doctrine of the Trinity is somehow comparable to the Babylonian “triads of gods.”
A far less careful statement is given in an article on the website of Herald Magazine, the periodical of the Pastoral Bible Institute, a group that broke away from the Watchtower Society after its founder Charles Taze Russell died in 1916. This article claims:
“The historian S. H. Hooke tells in detail of the ancient Sumerian trinity: Anu was the primary god of heaven, the ‘Father’, and the ‘King of the Gods’; Enlil, the ‘wind-god’ was the god of the earth, and a creator god; and Enki was the god of waters and the ‘lord of wisdom’ (15-18).”2
Hooke does not use the term “trinity” and his description of the Sumerian and Babylonian deities is incompatible with any sort of Trinitarian belief. He identifies two triads of gods—that’s six deities—and other divine beings associated with them. There is “the high god, Anu” (comparable to Zeus), Enlil, and Enki; in addition to these three deities in the first triad the god Anu was typically thought to have a consort (a goddess).3 “Next in order in the early god-lists comes a second triad of divinities with an associated female deity. This triad was composed of Sin, the moon-god, Shamash, the sun-god, and Adad, or Hadad, the storm-god, while the associated female figure was that of the goddess Ishtar.”4 Thus Hooke identifies eight separate gods in these two “triads,” and this does not even begin to exhaust the “god lists” in Babylonian sources.
In sum, according to Hooke, (1) the Sumerians and Babylonians worshipped a multiplicity of gods, not one God; (2) they had at least two separate triads of deities; (3) each triad had a fourth deity, a goddess figure, associated with it; (4) there is no essential “threeness” to the divine in this description; and (5) the term “trinity” plays no part in Hooke’s account of ancient Mesopotamian religion.
Thus, Hooke’s study provides no evidence whatsoever of any real analogue to the doctrine of the Trinity in ancient pagan religion, let alone any evidence of Babylonian influence on the development of the doctrine of the Trinity.
1. “Babylon the Great,” in Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1995), 51.
3. S. H. Hooke, Babylonian and Assyrian Religion (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963), 16-18.
4. Ibid., 19.