SUMER - LAND
OF THE GODS
THERE IS NO DOUBT that the "olden words," which for thousands of
years constituted the language of higher learning and religious
scriptures, was the language of Sumer. There is also no doubt that
the "olden gods" were the gods of Sumer; records and tales and
genealogies and histories of gods older than those pertaining to the
gods of Sumer have not been found anywhere.
When these gods (in their original Sumerian forms or in the later
Akkadian, Babylonian, or Assyrian) are named and counted, the list
runs into the hundreds. But once they are classified, it is clear
that they were not a hodgepodge of divinities.
They were headed by a
pantheon of Great Gods, governed by an Assembly of the Deities, and
related to each other. Once the numerous lesser nieces, nephews,
grandchildren, and the like are excluded, a much smaller and
coherent group of deities emerges - each with a role to play, each
with certain powers or responsibilities.
There were, the Sumerians believed, gods that were "of the heavens."
Texts dealing with the time "before things were created" talk of
such heavenly gods as Apsu, Tiamat, Anshar, Kishar. No claim is ever
made that the gods of this category ever appeared upon Earth. As we
look closer at these "gods," who existed before Earth was created,
we shall realize that they were the celestial bodies that make up
our solar system; and, as we shall show, the so-called Sumerian
myths regarding these celestial beings are, in fact, precise and
scientifically plausible cosmologic concepts regarding the creation
of our solar system.
There were also lesser gods who were "of Earth." Their cult centers
were mostly provincial towns; they were no
more than local deities. At best, they were given charge of some
limited operation - as, for example, the goddess NIN.KASHI
('lady-beer"), who supervised the preparation of beverages. Of them,
no heroic tales were told.
They possessed no awesome weapons, and
the other gods did not shudder at their command. They remind one
very much of the company of young gods that marched last in the
procession depicted on the rocks of Hittite Yazilikaya.
Between the two groups there were the Gods of Heaven and Earth, the
ones called "the ancient gods." They were the "olden gods" of the
epic tales, and, in the Sumerian belief, they had come down to Earth
from the heavens.
These were no mere local deities. They were national gods - indeed,
international gods. Some of them were present and active upon Earth
even before there were Men upon Earth. Indeed, the very existence of
Man was deemed to have been the result of a deliberate creative
enterprise on the part of these gods. They were powerful, capable of
feats beyond mortal ability or comprehension. Yet these gods not
only looked like humans but ate and drank like them and displayed
virtually every human emotion of love and hate, loyalty and
Although the roles and hierarchical standing of some of the
principal deities shifted over the millennia, a number of them never
lost their paramount position and their national and international
veneration. As we take a close look at this central group, there
emerges a picture of a dynasty of gods, a divine family, closely
related yet bitterly divided.
The head of this family of Gods of Heaven and Earth was AN (or Anu
in the Babylonian/Assyrian texts). He was the Great Father of the
Gods, the King of the Gods. His realm was the expanse of the
heavens, and his symbol was a star.
In the Sumerian pictographic
writing, the sign of a star also stood for An, for "heavens," and
for "divine being," or "god" (descended of An).
meaning of the symbol remained through the ages, as the script moved
from the Sumerian pictographic to the cuneiform Akkadian, to the
stylized Babylonian and Assyrian.
From the very earliest times until the cuneiform script faded away -
from the fourth millennium B.C. almost to the time of Christ - this
symbol preceded the names of the gods, indicating that the name
written in the text was not of a mortal, but of a deity of heavenly
Anu's abode, and the seat of his Kingship, was in the heavens.
was where the other Gods of Heaven and Earth went when they needed
individual advice or favor, or where they met in assembly to settle
disputes among themselves or to reach major decisions. Numerous
texts describe Anu's palace (whose portals were guarded by a god of
the Tree of Truth and a god of the Tree of Life), his throne, the
manner in which other gods approached him, and how they sat in his
The Sumerian texts could also recall instances when not only the
other gods but even some chosen mortals were permitted to go up to
Anu's abode, mostly with the object of escaping mortality. One such
tale pertained to Adapa ("model of Man"). He was so perfect and so
loyal to the god Ea, who had created him, that Ea arranged for him
to be taken to Anu.
Ea then described to Adapa what to expect.
thou art going before Anu, the King;
The road to Heaven thou wilt take.
When to Heaven thou hast ascended,
and hast approached the gate of Anu,
the "Bearer of Life" and the "Grower of Truth"
at the gate of Anu will be standing.
Guided by his creator, Adapa,
"to Heaven went up ... ascended to
Heaven and approached the gate of Anu."
But when he was offered the
chance to become immortal, Adapa refused to eat the Bread of Life,
thinking that the angry Anu offered him poisoned food. He was thus
returned to Earth as an anointed priest but still a mortal.
The Sumerian claim that not only gods but also selected mortals
could ascend to the Divine Abode in the heavens is echoed in the Old
Testament tales of the ascents to the heavens by Enoch and the
Though Anu lived in a Heavenly Abode, the Sumerian texts reported
instances when he came down to Earth - either at times of great
crisis, or on ceremonial visits (when he was accompanied by his
spouse ANTU), or (at least once) to make his great-granddaughter
IN.ANNA his consort on Earth.
Since he did not permanently reside on Earth, there was apparently
no need to grant him exclusivity over his own city or cult center;
and the abode, or "high house," erected for him was located at Uruk
(the biblical Erech), the domain of the goddess Inanna.
The ruins of Uruk include to this day a huge man-made mound, where archaeologists
have found evidence of the construction and reconstruction of a high
temple - the temple of Anu; no less than eighteen strata or distinct
phases were discovered there, indicating the existence of compelling
reasons to maintain the temple at that sacred site.
The temple of Anu was called E.ANNA ("house of An"). But this simple
name applied to a structure that, at least at some of its phases,
was quite a sight to behold. It was, according to Sumerian texts,
"the hallowed E-Anna, the pure sanctuary."
that the Great Gods themselves "had fashioned its parts."
cornice was like copper"
"its great wall touching the clouds - a
lofty dwelling place"
"it was the House whose charm was
irresistible, whose allure was unending"
And the texts also made
clear the temple's purpose, for they called it "the House for
descending from Heaven."
A tablet that belonged to an archive at Uruk enlightens us as to the
pomp and pageantry that accompanied the arrival of Anu and his
spouse on a "state visit." Because of damage to the tablet, we can
read of the ceremonies only from some midpoint, when Ami and Antu
were already seated in the temple's courtyard. The gods, "exactly in
the same order as before," then formed a procession ahead of and
behind the bearer of the scepter.
The protocol then instructed:
They shall then descend to the Exalted Court,
and shall turn towards the god Anu.
The Priest of Purification shall libate the Scepter,
and the Scepter-bearer shall enter and be seated.
The deities Papsukal, Nusku and Shala
shall then be seated in the court of the god Anu.
Meanwhile, the goddesses,
"The Divine Offspring of Anu, Uruk's
Divine Daughters," bore a second object, whose name or purpose are
unclear, to the E.NIR, "The House of the Golden Bed of the Goddess Antu."
Then they returned in a procession to the courtyard, to the
place where Antu was seated.
While the evening meal was being
prepared according to a strict ritual, a special priest smeared a
mixture of "good oil" and wine on the door sockets of the sanctuary
to which Anu and Antu were later to retire for the night - a
thoughtful touch intended, it seems, to eliminate squeaking of the
doors while the two deities slept.
While an "evening meal" - various drinks and appetizers - was being
served, an astronomer-priest went up to the "topmost stage of the
tower of the main temple" to observe the skies. He was to look out
for the rising in a specific part of the sky of the planet named
Great Anu of Heaven.
Thereupon, he was to recite the compositions
"To the one who grows bright, the heavenly planet of the Lord Anu," and "The Creator's image has risen."
Once the planet had been sighted and the poems recited, Anu and Antu
washed their hands with water out of a golden basin and the first
part of the feast began.
Then, the seven Great Gods also washed
their hands from seven large golden trays and the second part of the
feast began. The "rite of washing of the mouth" was then performed;
the priests recited the hymn "The planet of Anu is Heaven's hero."
Torches were lit, and the gods, priests, singers, and food-bearers
arranged themselves in a procession, accompanying the two visitors
to their sanctuary for the night.
Four major deities were assigned to remain in the courtyard and keep
watch until daybreak. Others were stationed at various designated
gates. Meanwhile, the whole country was to light up and celebrate
the presence of the two divine visitors. On a signal from the main
temple, the priests of all the other temples of Uruk were "to use
torches to start bonfires"; and the priests in other cities, seeing
the bonfires at Uruk, were to do likewise.
The people of the Land shall light fires in their homes,
and shall offer banquets to all the gods....
The guards of the cities shall light fires
in the streets and in the squares.
The departure of the two Great Gods was also planned, not only to
the day but to the minute.
On the seventeenth day,
forty minutes after sunrise,
the gate shall be opened before the gods Anu and
bringing to an end their overnight stay.
While the end of this tablet has broken off, another text in all
probability describes the departure: the morning meal, the
incantations, the handshakes ("grasping of the hands") by the other
The Great Gods were then carried to their point of departure
on thronelike litters carried on the shoulders of temple
functionaries. An Assyrian depiction of a procession of deities
(though from a much later time) probably gives us a good idea of the
manner in which Anu and Antu were carried during their procession in
Special incantations were recited when the procession was passing
through "the street of the gods"; other psalms and hymns were sung
as the procession neared "the holy quay" and when it reached "the
dike of the ship of Anu."
Good-byes were then said, and yet more
incantations were recited and sung "with hand-raising gestures."
Then all the priests and temple functionaries who carried the gods,
led by the great priest, offered a special "prayer of departure."
"Great Ami, may Heaven and Earth bless you!" they intoned seven
times. They prayed for the blessing of the seven celestial gods and
invoked the gods that were in Heaven and the gods that were upon
In conclusion, they bade farewell to Anu and Antu, thus:
May the Gods of the Deep,
and the Gods of the Divine Abode,
May they bless you daily -
every day of every month of every year!
Among the thousands upon thousands of depictions of the ancient gods
that have been uncovered, none seems to depict Anu.
Yet he peers at
us from every statue and every portrait of every king that ever was,
from antiquity to our very own days. For Anu was not only the Great
King, King of the Gods, but also the one by whose grace others could
be crowned as kings. By Sumerian tradition, rulership flowed from
Anu; and the very term for "Kingship" was Anutu ("Anu-ship").
insignia of Anu were the tiara (the divine headdress), the scepter
(symbol of power), and the staff (symbolizing the guidance provided
by the shepherd).
The shepherd's staff may now be found more in the hands of bishops
than of kings. But the crown and scepter are still held by whatever
kings Mankind has left on some thrones.
The second most powerful deity of the Sumerian pantheon was EN.LIL.
His name meant "lord of the airspace" - the prototype and father of
the later Storm Gods that were to head the pantheons of the ancient
He was Anu's eldest son, born at his father's Heavenly Abode. But at
some point in the earliest times he descended to Earth, and was thus
the principal God of Heaven and Earth. When the gods met in assembly
at the Heavenly Abode, Enlil presided over the meetings alongside
When the gods met for assembly on Earth, they met at Enlil's court in the divine precinct of Nippur, the city dedicated
to Enlil and the site of his main temple, the E.KUR ("house which is
like a mountain").
Not only the Sumerians but the very gods of Sumer considered Enlil
supreme. They called him Ruler of All the Lands, and made it clear
that "in Heaven - he is the Prince; On Earth - he is the Chief."
"word [command] high above made the Heavens tremble, down below made
the Earth quake":
Whose command is far reaching;
Whose "word" is lofty and holy;
Whose pronouncement is unchangeable;
Who decrees destinies unto the distant future....
The Gods of Earth bow down willingly before him;
The Heavenly gods who are on Earth
humble themselves before him;
They stand by faithfully, according to instructions.
Enlil, according to Sumerian beliefs, arrived on Earth well before
Earth became settled and civilized.
A "Hymn to Enlil, the
All-Beneficent" recounts the many aspects of society and
civilization that would not have existed had it not been for Enlil's
instructions to "execute his orders, far and wide."
No cities would be built, no settlements founded; No stalls would be
built, no sheepfolds erected; No king would be raised, no high
The Sumerian texts also stated that Enlil arrived on Earth before
the "Black-Headed People" - the Sumerian nickname for Mankind - were
created. During such pre-Mankind times, Enlil erected Nippur as his
center, or "command post," at which Heaven and Earth were connected
through some "bond."
The Sumerian texts called this bond DUR.AN.KI
("bond heaven-earth") and used poetic language to describe Enlil's
first actions on Earth:
When you marked off divine settlements on Earth,
Nippur you set up as your very own city.
The City of Earth, the lofty,
Your pure place whose water is sweet.
You founded the Dur-An-Ki
In the center of the four corners of the world.
In those early days, when gods alone inhabited Nippur and Man had
not yet been created, Enlil met the goddess who was to become his
wife. According to one version, Enlil saw his future bride while she
was bathing in Nippur's stream - naked.
It was love at first sight,
but not necessarily with marriage in mind:
The shepherd Enlil, who decrees the fates,
The Bright-Eyed One, saw her.
The lord speaks to her of intercourse;
she is unwilling.
Enlil speaks to her of intercourse;
she is unwilling:
"My vagina is too small [she said],
It knows no copulation;
My lips are too little,
they know not kissing."
But Enlil did not take no for an answer.
He disclosed to his
chamberlain Nushku his burning desire for "the young maid," who was
called SUD ("the nurse"), and who lived with her mother at E.RESH
("scented house"). Nushku suggested a boat ride and brought up a
boat. Enlil persuaded Sud to go sailing with him. Once they were in
the boat, he raped her.
The ancient tale then relates that though Enlil was chief of the
gods they were so enraged that they seized him and banished him to
the Lower World.
"Enlil, immoral one!" they shouted at him. "Get
thyself out of the city!"
This version has it that Sud, pregnant
with Enlil's child, followed him, and he married her. Another
version has the repentant Enlil searching for the girl and sending
his chamberlain to her mother to ask for the girl's hand. One way or
another, Sud did become the wife of Enlil, and he bestowed on her
the title NIN.LIL ("lady of the airspace").
But little did he and the gods who banished him know that it was not
Enlil who had seduced Ninlil, but the other way around. The truth of
the matter was that Ninlil bathed naked in the stream on her
mother's instructions, with the hope that Enlil - who customarily
took his walks by the stream - would notice Ninlil and wish to
"forthwith embrace you, kiss you."
In spite of the manner in which the two fell for each other, Ninlil
was held in the highest esteem once she was given by Enlil "the
garment of ladyship."
With one exception, which (we believe) had to
do with dynastic succession, Enlil is never known to have had other
indiscretions. A votive tablet found at Nippur shows Enlil and
Ninlil being served food and beverage at their temple. The tablet
was commissioned by Ur-Enlil, the "Domestic of Enlil."
Apart from being chief of the gods, Enlil was also deemed the
supreme Lord of Sumer (sometimes simply called "The Land") and its
A Sumerian psalm spoke in veneration of this
Lord who knows the destiny of The Land,
trustworthy in his calling; Enlil who knows the destiny of Sumer,
trustworthy in his calling; Father Enlil,
Lord of all the lands;
Lord of the Rightful Command; Father Enlil,
Shepherd of the Black-Headed Ones. ... From the Mountain of Sunrise
to the Mountain of Sunset, There is no other Lord in the land;
you alone are King.
The Sumerians revered Enlil out of both fear and gratitude.
he who made sure that decrees by the Assembly of the Gods were
carried out against Mankind; it was his "wind" that Hew obliterating
storms against offending cities. It was he who, at the time of the
Deluge, sought the destruction of Mankind. But when at peace with
Mankind, he was a friendly god who bestowed favors; according to the
Sumerian text, the knowledge of fanning, together with the plow and
the pickax, were granted to Mankind by Enlil.
Enlil also selected the kings who were to rule over Mankind, not as
sovereigns but as servants of the god entrusted with the
administration of divine laws of justice. Accordingly, Sumerian,
Akkadian, and Babylonian kings opened their inscriptions of
self-adoration by describing how Enlil had called them to Kingship.
These "calls" - issued by Enlil on behalf of himself and his father
Anu - granted legitimacy to the ruler and outlined his functions.
Even Hammurabi, who acknowledged a god named Marduk as the national
god of Babylon, prefaced his code of laws by stating that,
Enlil named me to promote the welfare of the people... to cause
justice to prevail in the land."
God of Heaven and Earth, Firstborn of Anu, Dispenser of Kingship,
Chief Executive of the Assembly of the Gods, Father of Gods and Men,
Granter of Agriculture, Lord of the Airspace - these were some of
the attributes of Enlil that bespoke his greatness and powers.
"command was far reaching," his "pronouncements unchangeable"; he
"decreed the destinies." He possessed the "bond heaven-earth," and
from his "awesome city Nippur" he could "raise the beams that search
the heart of all the lands" - "eyes that could scan all the lands."
Yet he was as human as any young man enticed by a naked beauty;
subject to moral laws imposed by the community of the gods,
transgressions of which were punishable by banishment; and not even
immune to mortal complaints.
At least in one known instance, a
Sumerian king of Ur complained directly to the Assembly of the Gods
that a series of troubles that had befallen Ur and her people could
be traced back to the ill-fated fact that,
"Enlil did give the
kingship to a worthless man... who is not of Sumerian seed."
As we go along, we shall see the central role that Enlil played in
divine and mortal affairs on Earth, and how his several sons battled
among themselves and with others for the divine succession,
undoubtedly giving rise to the later tales of the battles of the
The third Great God of Sumer was another son of Anu; he bore two
names, E.A and EN.KI. Like his brother Enlil, he, too, was a God of
Heaven and Earth, a deity originally of the heavens, who had come
down to Earth.
His arrival on Earth is associated in Sumerian texts with A time
when the waters of the Persian Gulf reached inland much farther than
nowadays, turning the southern part of the country into marshlands.
Ea (the name meant literally
"house-water"), who was a master engineer, planned and supervised
the construction of canals, the diking of the rivers, and the
draining of the marshlands. He loved to go sailing on these
waterways, and especially in the marshlands.
The waters, as his name
denoted, were indeed his home. He built his "great house" in the
city he had founded at the edge of the marshlands, a city
appropriately named HA.A.KI ("place of the water-fishes"); it was
also known as E.RI.DU ("home of going afar").
Ea was "Lord of the Saltwaters," the seas and oceans. Sumerian texts
speak repeatedly of a very early time when the three Great Gods
divided the realms among them. "The seas they had given to Enki, the
Prince of Earth," thereby giving Enki "the rulership of the Apsu"
(the "Deep"). As Lord of the Seas, Ea built ships that sailed to far
lands, and especially to places from which precious metals and
semiprecious stones were brought to Sumer.
The earliest Sumerian cylinder seals depicted Ea as a deity
surrounded by flowing streams that were sometimes shown to contain
fish. The seals associated Ea, as shown here, with the Moon
(indicated by its crescent), an association stemming perhaps from
the fact that the Moon caused the tides of the seas.
It was no doubt
in reference to such an astral image that Ea was given the epithet NIN.IGI.KU ('lord bright-eye").
According to the Sumerian texts, including a truly amazing
autobiography by Ea himself, he was born in the heavens and came
down to Earth before there was any settlement or civilization upon
"When I approached the land, there was much flooding," he
He then proceeded to describe the series of actions taken by
him to make the land habitable: He filled the Tigris River with
fresh, "life-giving waters"; he appointed a god to supervise the
construction of canals, to make the Tigris and Euphrates navigable;
and he unclogged the marshlands, filling them up with fish and
making them a haven for birds of all kinds, and causing to grow
there reeds that were a useful building material.
Turning from the seas and rivers to the dry land, Ea claimed that it
was he who,
"directed the plow and the yoke... opened the holy
furrows... built the stalls... erected sheepfolds."
Continuing, the self-adulatory text (named by scholars "Enki and the
World Order") credited the god with bringing to Earth the arts of
brickmaking, construction of dwellings and cities, metallurgy, and
Presenting the deity as Mankind's greatest benefactor, the god who
brought about civilization, many texts also depicted him as
Mankind's chief protagonist at the councils of the gods. Sumerian
and Akkadian Deluge texts, on which the biblical account must have
drawn, depict Ea as the god who - in defiance of the decision of the
Assembly of the Gods - enabled a trusted follower (the Mesopotamian
"Noah") to escape the disaster.
Indeed, the Sumerian and Akkadian texts, which (like the Old
Testament) adhered to the belief that a god or the gods created Man
through a conscious and deliberate act, attribute to Ea a key role:
As the chief scientist of the gods, he outlined the method and the
process by which Man was to be created. With such affinity to the
"creation" or emergence of Man, no wonder that it was Ea who guided
Adapa - the "model man" created by Ea's "wisdom" - to the abode of Anu in the heavens, in defiance of the gods' determination to
withhold "eternal life" from Mankind.
Was Ea on the side of Man simply because he had a hand in his
creation, or did he have other, more subjective
motives? As we scan the record, we find that invariably Ea's
defiance - in mortal and divine matters alike - was! aimed mostly at
frustrating decisions or plans emanating from Enlil.
The record is replete with indications of Ea's burning! jealousy of
his brother Enlil.
Indeed, Ea's other (and perhaps first) name was
EN.KI ("lord of Earth"), and the' texts dealing with the division of
the world among the three gods hint that it may have been simply by
a drawing of lots that Ea lost mastery of Earth to his brother Enlil.
The gods had clasped hands together,
Had cast lots and had divided.
Anu then went up to Heaven;
To Enlil the Earth was made subject.
The seas, enclosed as with a loop,
They had given to Enki, the Prince of Earth.
As bitter as Ea/Enki may have been about the results of this
drawing, he appears to have nurtured a much deeper resentment.
reason is given by Enki himself in his autobiography: It was he, not
Enlil, who was firstborn, Enki claimed; it was then he, and not
Enlil, who was entitled to be the heir apparent to Anu:
"My father, the king of the universe,
brought me forth in the universe....
I am the fecund seed,
engendered by the Great Wild Bull;
I am the first born son of Anu.
I am the Great Brother of the gods. ...
I am he who has been born
as the first son of the divine Anu."
Since the codes of laws by which men lived in the ancient Near East
were given by the gods, it stands to reason that the social and
family laws applying to men were copies of those applying to the
Court and family records found at such sites as Mari and Nuzi
have confirmed that the biblical customs and laws by which the
Hebrew patriarchs lived were the laws by which kings and noblemen
were bound throughout the ancient Near East. The succession problems
the patriarchs faced are therefore instructive.
Abraham, deprived of a child by the apparent barrenness of his wife
Sarah, had a firstborn son by her maidservant. Yet this son
(Ishmael) was excluded from the patriarchal succession as soon as
Sarah herself bore Abraham a son, Isaac.
Isaac's wife Rebecca was pregnant with twins. The one who was
technically firstborn was Esau - a reddish, hairy, and rugged
fellow. Holding onto Esau's heel was the more refined Jacob, whom
Rebecca cherished. When the aging and half-blind Isaac was about to
proclaim his testament, Rebecca used a ruse to have the blessing of
succession bestowed on Jacob rather than on Esau.
Finally, Jacob's succession problems resulted from the fact that
though he served Laban for twenty years to get the hand of Rachel in
marriage, Laban forced him to marry her older sister Leah first. It
was Leah who bore Jacob his first son (Reuben), and he had more sons
and a daughter by her and by two concubines. Yet when Rachel finally
bore him her firstborn son (Joseph), Jacob preferred him over his
Against the background of such customs and succession laws, one can
understand the conflicting claims between Enlil and Ea/Enki. Enlil,
by all records the son of Anu and his official consort Antu, was the
But the anguished cry of Enki:
"I am the fecund
seed ... I am the first born son of Anu," must have been a statement
Was he then born to Anu, but by another goddess who was
only a concubine? The tale of Isaac and Ishmael, or the story of the
twins Esau and Jacob, may have had a prior parallel in the Heavenly
Though Enki appears to have accepted Enlil's succession
prerogatives, some scholars see enough evidence to show a continuing
power struggle between the two gods.
Samuel N. Kramer has titled one
of the ancient texts "Enki and His Inferiority Complex."
As we shall
see later on, several biblical tales - of Eve and the serpent in the
Garden of Eden, or the tale of the Deluge - involve in their
original Sumerian versions instances of defiance by Enki of his
At some point, it seems, Enid decided that there was no sense to his
struggle for the Divine Throne; and he put his efforts into making a
son of his - rather than a son of Enlil - the third-generation
successor. This he sought to achieve, at least at first, with the
aid of his sister NIN.HUR.SAG ("lady of the mountainhead").
She, too, was a daughter of Anu, but evidently not by Antu, and
therein lay another rule of succession. Scholars have wondered in
years past why both Abraham and Isaac advertised the fact that their
respective wives were also their sisters - a puzzling claim in view
of the biblical prohibition against sexual relations with a sister.
But as the legal documents were unearthed at Mari and Nuzi, it
became clear that a man could marry a half-sister. Moreover, when
all the children of all the wives were considered, the son born of
such a wife - being fifty percent more of the "pure seed" than a son
by an unrelated wife - was the legal heir whether or not he was the
firstborn son. This, incidentally, led (in Mari and Nuzi) to the
practice of adopting the preferred wife as a "sister" in order to
make her son the unchallenged legal heir.
It was of such a half-sister, Ninhursag, that Enki sought to have a
son. She, too, was "of the heavens," having come to Earth in
earliest times. Several texts state that when the gods were dividing
Earth's domains among themselves, she was given the Land of Dilmun -
"a pure place... a pure land... a place most bright."
A text named
by the scholars "Enki and Ninhursag - a Paradise Myth" deals with Enki's trip to Dilmun for conjugal purposes.
Ninhursag, the text
repeatedly stresses, "was alone" - unattached, a spinster. Though in
later times she was depicted as an old matron, she must have been
very attractive when she was younger, for the text informs us
unabashedly that, when Enki neared her, the sight of her "caused his
penis to water the dikes."
Instructing that they be left alone, Enki "poured the semen in the
womb of Ninhursag. She took the semen into the womb, the semen of
Enki"; and then, "after the nine months of Womanhood... she gave
birth at the bank of the waters." But the child was a daughter.
Having failed to obtain a male heir, Enki then proceeded to make
love to his own daughter. "He embraced her, he
kissed her; Enki poured the semen into the womb." But she, too, bore
him a daughter. Enki then went after his granddaughter and made her
pregnant, too; but once again the offspring was a female. Determined
to stop these efforts, Ninhursag put a curse on him whereby Enki,
having eaten some plants, became mortally sick. The other gods,
however, forced Ninhursag to remove the curse.
While these events had great bearing on divine affairs, other tales
pertaining to Enki and Ninhursag have great bearing on human
affairs; for, according to the Sumerian texts, Man was created by
Ninhursag following processes and formulas devised by Enki.
the chief nurse, the one in charge of medical facilities; it was in
that role that the goddess was called NIN.TI ("lady-life").
Some scholars read in Adapa (the "model man" of Enki) the biblical
Adama, or Adam.
The double meaning of the Sumerian TI also raises
biblical parallels. For ti could mean both "life" and "rib," so that
Ninti's name meant both 'lady of life" and "lady of the rib." The
biblical Eve - whose name meant "life" was created out of Adam's
rib, so Eve, too, was in a way a "lady of life" and a "lady of the
As giver of life to gods and Man alike, Ninhursag was spoken of as
the Mother Goddess.
She was nicknamed "Mammu" - the forerunner of
our "mom" or "mamma" - and her symbol was the "cutter" - the tool
used in antiquity by midwives to cut the umbilical cord after birth.
Enlil, Enki's brother and rival, did have the good fortune to
achieve such a "rightful heir" by his sister Ninhursag. The youngest
of the gods upon Earth who were born in the heavens, his name was NIN.UR.TA ('lord who completes the foundation").
son of Enlil who went forth with net and rays of light" to battle
for his father; "the avenging son... who launched bolts of
His spouse BA.U was also a nurse or a doctor; her epithet
was "lady who the dead brings back to life."
The ancient portraits of Ninurta showed him holding a unique weapon
- no doubt the very one that could shoot "bolts of light."
ancient texts hailed him as a mighty hunter, a fighting god renowned
for his martial abilities. But his greatest heroic fight was not in
behalf of his father but for his own sake. It was a wide-ranging
battle with an evil god named ZU ("wise"), and it involved no less a
prize than the leadership of the gods on Earth; for Zu had illegally
captured the insignia and objects Enlil had held as Chief of the
The texts describing these events are broken at the beginning, and
the story becomes legible only from the point when Zu arrives at the
E-Kur, the temple of Enlil. He is apparently known, and of some
rank, for Enlil welcomes him,
"entrusting to him the guarding of the
entrance to his shrine."
But the "evil Zu" was to repay trust with
betrayal, for it was "the removal of the Enlilship" - the seizing
of the divine powers - that "he conceived in his heart."
To do so, Zu had to take possession of certain objects, including
the magical Tablet of Destinies.
The wily Zu seized his opportunity
when Enlil undressed and went into the pool for his daily swim,
leaving his paraphernalia unattended.
At the entrance of the sanctuary,
which he had been viewing,
Zu awaits the start of day.
As Enlil was washing with pure water -
his crown having been removed
and deposited on the throne -
Zu seized the Tablet of Destinies in his hands,
took away the Enlilship.
As Zu fled in his MU (translated "name," but indicating a flying
machine) to a faraway hideaway, the consequences of his bold act
were beginning to take effect.
Suspended were the Divine Formulas;
Stillness spread all over; silence prevailed....
The Sanctuary's brilliance was taken off.
"Father Enlil was speechless."
"The gods of the land gathered one by
one at the news."
The matter was so grave that even Anu was informed
at his Heavenly Abode.
He reviewed the situation and concluded that Zu must be apprehended
so that the "formulas" could be restored.
Turning "to the gods, his
children," Anu asked,
"Which of the gods will smite Zu? His name
shall be greatest of all!"
Several gods known for their valor were called in. But they all
pointed out that having taken the Tablet of Destinies, Zu now
possessed the same powers as Enlil, so that "he who opposes him
becomes like clay."
At this point, Ea had a great idea: Why not call
upon Ninurta to take up the hopeless fight?
The assembled gods could not have missed Ea's ingenious mischief.
Clearly, the chances of the succession falling to his own offspring
stood to increase if Zu were defeated; likewise, he could benefit if
Ninurta were killed in the process. To the amazement of the gods,
Ninhursag (in this text called NIN.MAH - "great lady"), agreed.
Turning to her son Ninurta, she explained to him that Zu robbed not
only Enlil but Ninurta, too, of the Enlilship. "With shrieks of pain
I gave birth," she shouted, and it was she who "made certain for my
brother and for Anu" the continued "Kingship of Heaven."
So that her
pains not be in vain, she instructed Ninurta to go out and fight to
Launch thy offensive... capture the fugitive Zu....
Let thy terrifying offensive rage against him....
Slit his throat! Vanquish Zu!...
Let thy seven ill Winds go against him....
entire Whirlwind to attack him....
Let thy Radiance go
Let thy Winds carry his Wings to a secret
Let sovereignty return to Ekur;
Let the Divine Formulas return
to the father who begot thee.
The various versions of the epic then provide thrilling descriptions
of the battle that ensued.
Ninurta shot "arrows" at Zu, but "the
arrows could not approach Zu's body... while he bore the Tablet
of Destinies of the gods in his hand." The launched "weapons were
stopped in the midst" of their flight. As the inconclusive battle
wore on, Ea advised Ninurta to add a til-lum to his weapons, and
shoot it into the "pinions," or small cog-wheels, of Zu's "wings."
Following this advice, and shouting "Wing to wing," Ninurta shot the
til-lum at Zu's pinions. Thus hit, the pinions began to scatter, and
the "wings" of Zu fell in a swirl. Zu was vanquished, and the
Tablets of Destiny returned to Enlil.
Who was Zu? Was he, as some scholars hold, a "mythological bird"?
Evidently he could fly. But so can any man today who takes a plane,
or any astronaut who goes up in a spaceship. Ninurta, too, could
fly, as skillfully as Zu (and perhaps better). But he himself was
not a bird of any kind, as his many depictions, by himself or with
his consort BA.U (also called GU.LA), make abundantly clear. Rather,
he did his flying with the aid of a remarkable "bird," which was
kept at his sacred precinct (the GIR.SU) in the city of Lagash.
Nor was Zu a "bird"; apparently he had at his disposal a "bird" in
which he could fly away into hiding. It was from within such "birds"
that the sky battle took place between the two gods. And there can
be no doubt regarding the nature of the weapon that finally smote
Called TIL in Sumerian and til-lum in Assyrian, it was
written pictorially thus: >----------- , and it must have meant then
what til means nowadays in Hebrew: "missile."
Zu, then, was a god - one of the gods who had reason to scheme at
usurpation of the Enlilship; a god whom Ninurta, as the legitimate
successor, had every reason to fight.
Was he perhaps MAR.DUK ("son of the pure mound"), Enki's firstborn
by his wife DAM.KI.NA, impatient to seize by a ruse what was not
There is reason to believe that, having failed to achieve a son by
his sister and thus produce a legal contender for the Enlilship,
Enki relied on his son Marduk. Indeed, when the ancient Near East
was seized with great social and military upheavals at the beginning
of the second millennium B.C., Marduk was elevated in Babylon to the
status of national god of Sumer and Akkad.
Marduk was proclaimed
King of the Gods, replacing Enlil, and the other gods were required
to pledge allegiance to him and to come to reside in Babylon, where
their activities could easily be supervised.
This usurpation of the Enlilship (long after the incident with Zu)
was accompanied by an extensive Babylonian effort to forge the
The most important texts were rewritten and altered
so as to make Marduk appear as the Lord of Heavens, the Creator, the
Benefactor, the Hero, instead of Anu or Enlil or even Ninurta. Among
the texts altered was the "Tale of Zu"; and according to the
Babylonian version it was Marduk (not Ninurta) who fought Zu. In
this version, Marduk boasted: "Mahasti moh il Zu" ("I have crushed
the skull of the god Zu").
Clearly, then, Zu could not have been
Nor would it stand to reason that Enki, "God of Sciences," would
have coached Ninurta regarding the choice and use of the successful
weapons against his own son Marduk. Enki, to judge by his behavior
as well as by his urging Ninurta to "cut the throat of Zu," expected
to gain from the fight, no matter who lost. The only logical
conclusion is that Zu, too, was in some way a legal contender to the
This suggests only one god: Nanna, the firstborn of Enlil by his
official consort Ninlil. For if Ninurta were eliminated, Nanna would
be in the unobstructed line of succession.
Nanna (short for NAN.NAR - "bright one") has come down to us through
the ages better known by his Akkadian (or "Semitic") name Sin.
As firstborn of Enlil, he was granted sovereignty over Sumer's
best-known city-state, UR ("The City"). His temple there was called
E.GISH.NU.GAL ("house of the seed of the throne"). From that abode,
Nanna and his consort NIN.GAL ("great lady") conducted the affairs
of the city and its people with great benevolence. The people of Ur
reciprocated with great affection for their divine rulers, lovingly
calling their god "Father Nanna" and other affectionate nicknames.
The prosperity of Ur was attributed by its people directly to Nanna.
Shulgi, a ruler of Ur (by the god's grace) at the end of the third
millennium B.C., described the "house" of Nanna as "a great stall
filled with abundance," a "bountiful place of bread offerings,"
where sheep multiplied and oxen were slaughtered, a place of sweet
music where the drum and timbrel sounded.
Under the administration of its god-protector Nanna, Ur became the
granary of Sumer, the supplier of grains as well as of sheep and
cattle to other temples elsewhere.
A "Lamentation over the
Destruction of Ur" informs us, in a negative way, of what Ur was
like before its demise:
In the granaries of Nanna there was no grain.
The evening meals of the gods were suppressed;
in their great dining halls, wine and honey ended....
In his temple's lofty oven, oxen and sheep are not prepared;
The hum has ceased at Nanna's great Place of
that house where commands for the ox were shouted -
its silence is overwhelming…
Its grinding mortar and pestle lie inert…
The offering boats carried no offerings…
Did not bring offering bread to Enlil in Nippur.
Ur's river is empty, no barge moves on it…
No foot trods its banks; long grasses grow there.
Another lamentation, bewailing the "sheepfolds that have been
delivered to the wind," the abandoned stables, the shepherds and
herdsmen that were gone, is most unusual: It was not written by the
people of Ur, but by the god Nanna and his spouse Ningal themselves.
These and other lamentations over the fall of Ur disclose the trauma
of some unusual event. The Sumerian texts inform us that Nanna and
Ningal left the city before its demise became complete. It was a
hasty departure, touchingly described.
Nanna, who loved his city,
departed from the city. Sin, who loved Ur,
no longer stayed in his House. Ningal...
fleeing her city through enemy territory, hastily put on a garment,
departed from her House.
The fall of Ur and the exile of its gods have been depicted in the
lamentations as the results of a deliberate decision by Anu and
Enlil. It was to the two of them that Nanna appealed to call off the
May Anu, the king of the gods,
utter: "It is enough"; May Enlil, the king of the lands,
decree a favorable fate!
Appealing directly to Enlil, "Sin brought his suffering heart to his
father; curtsied before Enlil, the father who begot him," and begged
O my father who begot me,
Until when will you look inimically
upon my atonement?
Until when? ...
On the oppressed heart that you have made
flicker like a flame -
please cast a friendly eye.
Nowhere do the lamentations disclose the cause of Anu's and Enlil's
wrath. But if Nanna were Zu, the punishment would have justified his
crime of usurpation. Was he Zu?
He certainly could have been Zu because Zu was in possession of some
kind of flying machine - the "bird" in which he escaped and from
which he fought Ninurta. Sumerian psalms spoke in adoration of his
"Boat of Heaven."
Father Nannar, Lord of Ur...
Whose glory in the sacred Boat of Heaven is ...
Lord, firstborn son of Enlil.
When in the Boat of Heaven thou ascendeth,
Thou art glorious.
Enlil hath adorned thy hand
With a scepter everlasting
When over Ur in the Sacred Boat thou mountest.
There is additional evidence. Nanna's other name, Sin, derived from
SU.EN, which was another way of pronouncing ZU.EN.
The same complex
meaning of a two-syllable word could be obtained by placing the
syllables in any order: ZU.EN and EN.ZU were "mirror" words of each
other. Nanna/Sin as ZU.EN was none other than EN.ZU ("lord Zu"). It
was he, we must conclude, who tried to seize the Enlilship.
We can now understand why, in spite of Ea's suggestion, the lord Zu
(Sin) was punished, not by execution, but by exile. Both Sumerian
texts, as well as archaeological evidence, indicate that Sin and his
spouse fled to Haran, the Human city protected by several rivers and
mountainous terrain. It is noteworthy that when Abraham's clan, led
by his father Terah, left Ur, they also set their course to Haran,
where they stayed for many years en route to the Promised Land.
Though Ur remained for all time a city dedicated to Nanna/Sin, Haran
must have been his residence for a very long time, for it was made
to resemble Ur - its temples, buildings, and streets - almost
Andre Parrot (Abraham et son temps) sums up the
similarities by saying that,
"there is every evidence that the cult
of Harran was nothing but an exact replica of that of Ur."
When the temple of Sin at Haran - built and rebuilt over the
millennia - was uncovered during excavations that lasted more than
fifty years, the finds included two stelae (memorial stone pillars)
on which a unique record was inscribed.
It was a record dictated by Adadguppi, a high priestess of Sin, of how she prayed and planned
for the return of Sin, for, at some unknown prior time,
Sin, the king of all the gods,
became angry with his city and his temple,
and went up to Heaven.
That Sin, disgusted or despairing, just "packed up" and "went up to
Heaven" is corroborated by other inscriptions.
These tell us that
the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal retrieved from certain enemies a
sacred "cylinder seal of the costliest jasper" and "had it improved
by drawing upon it a picture of Sin." He further inscribed upon the
sacred stone "a eulogy of Sin, and hung it around the neck of the
image of Sin."
That stone seal of Sin must have been a relic of
olden times, for it is further stated that,
"it is the one whose face
had been damaged in those days, during the destruction wrought by
The high priestess, who was born during the reign of Ashurbanipal,
is assumed to have been of royal blood herself.
In her appeals to
Sin, she proposed a practical "deal": the restoration of his powers
over his adversaries in return for helping her son Nabunaid become
ruler of Sumer and Akkad. Historical records confirm that in the
year 555 B.C. Nabunaid, then commander of the Babylonian armies, was
named by his fellow officers to the throne.
In this he was stated to
have been directly helped by Sin. It was, the inscriptions by Nabunaid inform us, "on the first
day of his appearance" that Sin, using "the weapon of Ami" - was
able to "touch with a beam of light" the skies and crush the enemies
down on Earth below.
Nabunaid kept his mother's promise to the god. He rebuilt Sin's
temple E.HUL.HUL ("house of great joy") and declared Sin to be
Supreme God. It was then that Sin was able to grasp in his hands,
"the power of the Anu-office, wield all the power of the
Enlil-office, take over the power of the Ea-office - holding thus in
his own hand all the Heavenly Powers."
Thus defeating the usurper Marduk, even capturing the powers of Marduk's father Ea, Sin assumed
the title of "Divine Crescent" and established his reputation as the
so-called Moon God.
How could Sin, reported to have gone back to Heaven in disgust, have
been able to perform such feats back on Earth?
Nabunaid, confirming that Sin had indeed "forgotten his angry
command... and decided to return to the temple Ehulhul," claimed
A miracle "that has not happened to the Land since the
days of old" had taken place: A deity "has come down from Heaven."
This is the great miracle of Sin,
That has not happened to the Land
Since the days of old;
That the people of the Land
Have not seen, nor had written
On clay tablets, to preserve forever:
Lord of all the gods and goddesses,
Residing in Heaven,
Has come down from Heaven.
Regrettably, no details are provided of the place and manner in
which Sin landed back on Earth.
But we do know that it was in the
fields outside of Haran that Jacob, on his way from Canaan to find
himself a bride in the "old country," saw "a ladder set up on the
earth and its top reaching heavenward, and there were angels of the
Lord ascending and descending by it."
At the same time that Nabunaid restored the powers and temples of
Nanna/Sin, he also restored the temples and worship of Sin's twin
children, IN.ANNA ("Ami's lady") and UTU ("the shining one").
The two were born to Sin by his official spouse Ningal, and were
thus by birth members of the Divine Dynasty. Inanna was technically
the firstborn, but her twin brother Utu was the firstborn son, and
thus the legal dynastic heir. Unlike the rivalry that existed in the
similar instance of Esau and Jacob, the two divine children grew up
very close to each other. They shared experiences and adventures,
came to each other's aid, and when Inanna had to choose a husband
from one of two gods, she turned to her brother for advice.
Inanna and Utu were born in time immemorial, when only the gods
inhabited Earth. Utu's city-domain Sippar was listed among the very
first cities to have been established by the gods in Sumer.
stated in an inscription that when he undertook to rebuild Utu's
temple E.BABBARA ("shining house") in Sippar:
I sought out its ancient foundation-platform,
and I went down eighteen cubits into the soil.
Utu, the Great Lord of Ebabbara...
Showed me personally the foundation-platform
of Naram-Sin, son of Sargon, which for 3,200 years
no king preceding me had seen.
When civilization blossomed in Sumer, and Man joined the gods in the
Land Between the Rivers, Utu became associated primarily with law
Several early law codes, apart from invoking Anu and
Enlil, were also presented as requiring acceptance and adherence
because they were promulgated "in accordance with the true word of
The Babylonian king Hammurabi inscribed his law code on a stela, at the top of which the king is depicted receiving the laws
from the god.
Tablets uncovered at Sippar attest to its reputation in ancient
times as a place of just and fair laws. Some texts depict Utu
himself as sitting in judgment on gods and men alike; Sippar was, in
fact, the seat of Sumer's "supreme court."
The justice advocated by Utu is reminiscent of the Sermon on the
Mount recorded in the New Testament.
A "wisdom tablet" suggested the
following behavior to please Utu:
Unto your opponent do no evil;
Your evildoer recompense with good.
Unto your enemy, let justice be done. ...
Let not your heart be induced to do evil....
To the one begging for alms -
give food to eat, give wine to drink....
Be helpful; do good.
Because he assured justice and prevented oppression - and perhaps
for other reasons, too, as we shall see later on - Utu was
considered the protector of travelers.
Yet the most common and
lasting epithets applied to Utu concerned his brilliance. From
earliest times, he was called Babbar ("shining one"). He was "Utu,
who sheds a wide light," the one who "lights up Heaven and Earth."
Hammurabi, in his inscription, called the god by his Akkadian name,
Shamash, which in Semitic languages means "Sun." It has therefore
been assumed by the scholars that Utu/Shamash was the Mesopotamian
Sun God. We shall show, as we proceed, that while this god was
assigned the Sun as his celestial counterpart, there was another
aspect to the statements that he "shed a bright light" when he
performed the special tasks assigned to him by his grandfather
Just as the law codes and the court records are human testimonials
to the actual presence among the ancient peoples of Mesopotamia of a
deity named Utu/Shamash, so there exist endless inscriptions, texts,
incantations, oracles, prayers, and depictions attesting to the
physical presence and existence of the goddess Inanna, whose
Akkadian name was Ishtar.
A Mesopotamian king in the thirteenth
century B.C. stated that he had rebuilt her temple in her brother's
city of Sippar, on foundations that were eight hundred years old in
his time. But in her central city, Uruk, tales of her went back to
Known to the Romans as Venus, to the Greeks as Aphrodite, to the
Canaanites and the Hebrews as Astarte, to the Assyrians and
Babylonians and Hittites and the other ancient peoples as Ishtar or
Eshdar, to the Akkadians and the Sumerians as Inanna or Innin or
Ninni, or by others of her many nicknames and epithets, she was at
all times the Goddess of Warfare and the Goddess of Love, a fierce,
beautiful female who, though only a great-granddaughter of Anu,
carved for herself, by herself, a major place among the Great Gods
of Heaven and Earth.
As a young goddess she was, apparently, assigned a domain in a far
land east of Sumer, the Land of Aratta. It was there that "the lofty
one, Inanna, queen of all the land," had her "house."
But Inanna had
greater ambitions. In the city of Uruk there stood the great temple
of Anu, occupied only during his occasional state visits to Earth;
and Inanna set her eyes on this seat of power.
Sumerian king lists state that the first non-divine ruler of Uruk was
Meshkiaggasher, a son of the god Utu by a human mother. He was
followed by his son Enmerkar, a great Sumerian king. Inanna, then,
was the great-aunt of Enmerkar; and she found little difficulty in
persuading him that she should really be the goddess of Uruk, rather
than of the remote Aratta.
A long and fascinating text named "Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta"
describes how Enmerkar sent emissaries to Aratta, using every
possible argument in a "war of nerves" to force Aratta to submit
because "the lord Enmerkar who is the servant of Inanna made her
queen of the House of Anu."
The epic's unclear end hints at a happy
ending: While Inanna moved to Uruk, she did not "abandon her House
That she might have become a "commuting goddess" is not
so improbable, for Inanna/Ishtar was known from other texts as an
Her occupation of Anu's temple in Uruk could not have taken place
without his knowledge and consent; and the texts give us strong
clues as to how such consent was obtained.
Soon Inanna was known as
"Anunitum," a nickname meaning "beloved of Anu." She was referred to
in texts as "the holy mistress of Anu"; and it follows that Inanna
shared not only Anu's temple but also his bed - whenever he came to
Uruk, or on the reported occasions of her going up to his Heavenly
Having thus maneuvered herself into the position of goddess of Uruk
and mistress of the temple of Anu, Ishtar proceeded to use trickery
for enhancing Uruk's standing and her own powers.
Farther down the
Euphrates stood the ancient city of Eridu - Enki's center. Knowing
of his great knowledge of all the arts and sciences of civilization,
Inanna resolved to beg, borrow, or steal these secrets. Obviously
intending to use her "personal charms" on Enki (her great-uncle),
Inanna arranged to call on him alone.
That fact was not unnoticed by Enki, who instructed his housemaster to prepare dinner for two.
Come my housemaster Isimud,
hear my instructions;
a word I shall say
heed my words:
has directed her step
to the Abzu...
Have the maiden enter the Abzu of Eridu,
Give her to eat barley
cakes with butter,
Pour for her cold water that freshens the heart,
Give her to drink beer ...
Happy and drunk, Enki was ready to do anything for Inanna.
boldly asked for the divine formulas, which were the basis of a high
civilization. Enki granted her some one hundred of them, including
divine formulas pertaining to supreme lordship, Kingship, priestly
functions, weapons, legal procedures, scribeship, woodworking, even
the knowledge of musical instruments and of temple prostitution.
the time Enki awoke and realized what he had done, Inanna was
already well on her way to Uruk. Enki ordered after her his "awesome
weapons," but to no avail, for Inanna had sped to Uruk in her "Boat
Quite frequently, Ishtar was depicted as a naked goddess; flaunting
her beauty, she was sometimes even depicted raising her skirts to
reveal the lower parts of her body.
Gilgamesh, a ruler of Uruk circa 2900 B.C. who was also partly
divine (having been born to a human father and a goddess), reported
how Inanna enticed him - even after she already had an official
Having washed himself after a battle and put on "a fringe
cloak, fastened with a sash,"
Glorious Ishtar raised an eye at his beauty.
"Come, Gilgamesh, be thou my lover!
Come, grant me your fruit.
Thou shall be my male mate, I will be thy female."
But Gilgamesh knew the score.
"Which of thy lovers didst thou love
forever?" he asked. "Which of thy shepherds pleased thee for all
Reciting a long list of her love affairs, he refused.
As time went on - as she assumed higher ranks in the pantheon, and
with it the responsibility for affairs of state - Inanna/Ishtar
began to display more martial qualities, and was often depicted as a
Goddess of War, armed to the teeth.
The inscriptions left by Assyrian kings describe how they went to
war for her and upon her command, how she directly advised when to
wait and when to attack, how she sometimes marched at the head of
the armies, and how, on at least one occasion, she granted a
theophany and appeared before all the troops.
In return for their
loyalty, she promised the Assyrian kings long life and success.
"From a Golden Chamber in the skies I will watch over thee," she
Was she turned into a bitter warrior because she, too, came upon
hard times with the rise of Marduk to supremacy?
In one of his
inscriptions Nabunaid said:
"Inanna of Uruk, the exalted princess
who dwelt in a gold cella, who rode upon a chariot to which were
harnessed seven lions - the inhabitants of Uruk changed her cult
during the rule of king Erba-Marduk, removed her cella and
unharnessed her team."
Inanna, reported Nabunaid, "had therefore
left the E-Anna angrily, and stayed hence in an unseemly place"
(which he does not name). (Fig 54)
Seeking, perhaps, to combine love with power, the much-courted
Inanna chose as her husband DU.MU.ZI, a younger son of Enki.
ancient texts deal with the loves and quarrels of the two. Some are
love songs of great beauty and vivid sexuality. Others tell how
Ishtar - back from one of her journeys - found Dumuzi celebrating
her absence. She arranged for his capture and disappearance into the
Lower World - a domain ruled by her sister E.RESH.KI.GAL and her
consort NER.GAL. Some of the most celebrated Sumerian and Akkadian
texts deal with the journey of Ishtar to the Lower World in search
of her banished beloved.
Of the six known sons of Enki, three have been featured in Sumerian
the firstborn Marduk, who
eventually usurped the supremacy
Nergal, who became ruler of the
Dumuzi, who married
Enlil, too, had three sons who played key roles in both divine and
Ninurta, who, having been born to Enlil by his sister
Ninhursag, was the legal successor
Nanna/Sin, firstborn by Enlil's
official spouse Ninlil
a younger son by Ninlil named ISH.KUR
("mountainous," "far mountain land"), who was more frequently called
As brother of Sin and uncle of Utu and Inanna, Adad appears to have
felt more at home with them than at his own house.
texts constantly grouped the four together. The ceremonies connected
with the visit of Anu to Uruk also spoke of the four as a group. One
text, describing the entrance to the court of Anu, states that the
throne room was reached through "the gate of Sin, Shamash, Adad, and
Ishtar." Another text, first published by V. K. Shileiko (Russian
Academy of the History of Material Cultures) poetically described
the four as retiring for the night together.
The greatest affinity seems to have existed between Adad and Ishtar,
and the two were even depicted next to each other, as on this relief
showing an Assyrian ruler being blessed by Adad (holding the ring
and lightning) and by Ishtar, holding her bow. (The third deity is
too mutilated to be identified.)
Was there more to this "affinity" than a platonic relationship,
especially in view of Ishtar's "record"?
It is noteworthy that in
the biblical Song of Songs, the playful girl calls her lover dod - a
word that means both "lover" and "uncle." Now, was Ishkur called
Adad - a derivative from the Sumerian DA.DA - because he was the
uncle who was the lover?
But Ishkur was not only a playboy; he was a mighty god, endowed by
his father Enlil with the powers and
prerogatives of a storm god.
As such he was revered as the Hurrian/Hittite Teshub and the Urartian Teshubu ("wind blower"), the
Amorite Ramanu ("thunderer"), the Canaanite Ragimu ("caster of
hailstones"), the Indo-European Buriash ("light maker"), the Semitic
Meir ("he who lights up" the skies).
A god list kept at the British Museum, as shown by
(Der Akkadwche Wettergott in Mesopotamen), clarifies that Ishkur was
indeed the divine lord in lands far from Sumer and Akkad.
Sumerian texts reveal, this was no accident. Enlil, it seems,
willfully dispatched his young son to become the "Resident Deity" in
the mountain lands north and west of Mesopotamia.
Why did Enlil dispatch his youngest and beloved son away from
Several Sumerian epic tales have been found about the arguments and
even bloody struggles among the younger gods. Many cylinder seals
depict scenes of god battling god; it would seem that the original
rivalry between Enki and Enlil was carried on and intensified
between their sons, with brother sometimes turning against brother -
a divine tale of Cain and Abel. Some of these battles were against a
deity identified as Kur - in all probability, Ishkur/Adad.
well explain why Enlil deemed it advisable to grant his younger son
a far-off domain, to keep him out of the dangerous battles for the
The position of the sons of Anu, Enlil, and Enki, and of their
offspring, in the dynastic lineage emerges clearly through a unique
Sumerian device: the allocation of numerical rank to certain gods.
The discovery of this system also brings out the membership in the
Great Circle of Gods of Heaven and Earth when Sumerian civilization
blossomed. We shall find that this Supreme Pantheon was made up of
The first hint that a cryptographic number system was applied to the
Great Gods came with the discovery that the names of the gods Sin,
Shamash, and Ishtar were sometimes substituted in the texts by the
numbers 30, 20, and 15, respectively.
The highest unit of the
Sumerian sexagesimal system - 60 - was assigned to Anu; Enlil "was"
50; Enki, 40; and Adad, 10. The number 10 and its six multiples
within the prime number 60 were thus assigned to male deities, and
it would appear plausible that the numbers ending with 5 were
assigned to the female deities.
From this, the following
cryptographic table emerges:
60 - Anu
50 - Enlil
40 - Ea/Enki
30 - Nanna/Sin
20 - Utu/Shamash
10 - Ishkur/Adad
6 male deities
55 - Antu
4.5 - Ninlil
35 - Ninki
25 - Ningal
15 - Inanna/Ishtar
5 - Ninhursag
6 female deities
Ninurta, we should not be surprised to learn, was assigned the
number 50, like his father. In other words, his dynastic rank was
conveyed in a cryptographic message: If Enlil goes, you, Ninurta,
step into his shoes; but until then, you are not one of the Twelve,
for the rank of "50" is occupied.
Nor should we be surprised to learn that when Marduk usurped the
Enlilship, he insisted that the gods bestow on him "the fifty names"
to signify that the rank of "50" had become his.
There were many other gods in Sumer - children, grandchildren,
nieces, and nephews of the Great Gods; there were also several
hundred rank-and-file gods, called Anunnaki, who were assigned (one
may say) "general duties."
But only twelve made the Great Circle.
Return to Contents