In the course of the third millennium B.C. the Sumerians developed religious ideas and spiritual concepts which have left an indelible impress on the modern world, especially by way of Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism.
On the intellectual level Sumerian thinkers and sages, as a result of their speculations on the origin and nature of the universe and its modus operandi, evolved a cosmology and theology which carried such high conviction that they became the basic creed and dogma of much of the ancient Near East.
On the practical and functional level, the Sumerian priests and holy men developed a colorful and variegated complex of rites, rituals, and ceremonies which served to please and placate the gods as well as provide an emotional valve for man’s love of pageantry and spectacle. On the aesthetic plane, the illiterate Sumerian minstrels and bards, and their later heirs, the poets and scribes of the edubba, created what is by all odds the richest mythology of the ancient Near East, which cut the gods down to human size, but did so with understanding, reverence, and above all, Originality and imagination. Let us start with cosmogony and theology. Scientifically speaking, the Sumerian philosophers and thinkers had at their disposal only the most rudimentary and superficial ideas about the nature of the universe and its method of operation.
In the eyes of the Sumerian teachers and sages, the major components of the universe (in the more narrow sense of the word) were heaven and earth; indeed, their term for universe was anki, a compound word meaning “heaven-earth.” The earth was a flat disk surmounted by a vast hollow space, completely enclosed by a solid surface in the shape of a vault. Just what this heavenly solid was thought to be is still uncertain; to judge from the fact that the Sumerian term for tin is “metal of heaven,” it may have been tin. Between heaven and earth they recognized a substance which they called lil, a word whose approximate meaning is wind, air, breath, spirit; its most significant characteristics seem to be movement and expansion, and it therefore corresponds roughly to our “atmosphere.” The sun, moon, planets, and stars were taken to be made of the same stuff as the atmosphere, but endowed, in addition, with the quality of luminosity. Surrounding the “heaven-earth” on all sides, as well as top and bottom, was the boundless sea in which the universe somehow remained fixed and immovable.
From these basic facts concerning the structure of the universe -facts which seemed to the Sumerian thinkers obvious and in-disputable-they evolved a cosmogony to fit. First, they concluded, there was the primeval sea; the indications are that they looked upon the sea as a kind of first cause and prime mover, and they never asked themselves what preceded the sea in time and space. In this primeval sea was somehow engendered the universe (that is, “heaven-earth”), consisting of a vaulted heaven superimposed over a flat earth and united with it. Between them, however, came the moving and expanding “atmosphere” which separated heaven from earth. Out of this atmosphere were fashioned the luminous bodies, the moon, sun, planets, and stars.
Following the separation of heaven and earth and the creation of the light-giving astral bodies, plant, animal, and human life came into existence. Operating, directing, and supervising this universe, the Sumerian theologian assumed, was a pantheon consisting of a group of living beings, manlike in form but superhuman and immortal, who, though invisible to the mortal eye, guided and controlled the cosmos in accordance with well-laid plans and duly prescribed laws. The great realms of heaven, earth, sea, and air; the major astral bodies, sun, moon, and planets; such atmospheric forces as wind, storm, and tempest; and finally, on earth, such natural entities as river, mountain, and plain, such cultural entities as city and state, dike and ditch, field and farm, and even such implements as the pickax, brick mold, and plow-each was deemed to be under the charge of one or another anthropomorphic, but superhuman, being who guided its activities in accordance with established rules and regulations. Behind this axiomatic assumption of the Sumerian theologian lay, no doubt, a logical if perhaps unarticulated inference, since he could hardly have seen any of the human-like beings with his own eyes.
Our theologian probably took his cue from human society as he knew it and reasoned from the known to the unknown. He noted that lands and cities, palaces and temples, fields and farms-in short, all imaginable institutions and enterprises-are tended and supervised, guided and controlled by living human beings; without them lands and cities become desolate, temples and palaces crumble, fields and farms tum to desert and wilderness. Surely, therefore, the cosmos and all its manifold phenomena must also be tended and supervised, guided and controlled by living beings in human form.
But the cosmos being far larger than the sum total of human habitations, and its organization being far more complex, these living beings must obviously be far stronger and much more effective than ordinary humans. Above all they must be immortal; otherwise the cosmos would turn to chaos upon their death, and the world would come to an end, alternatives which for obvious reasons did not recommend them-selves to the Sumerian metaphysician.
It was each of these invisible, anthropomorphic, and at the same time superhuman and immortal beings that the Sumerian designated by his word dingir, which we translate by the word “god.” How did this divine pantheon function? In the first place, it seemed reasonable to the Sumerian to assume that the deities constituting the pantheon were not all of the same importance or of equal rank.
The god in charge of the pickax or brick mold could hardly be expected to compare with the deity in charge of the sun. Nor could the deity in charge of dikes and ditches be expected to equal in rank the deity in charge of the earth as a whole. Then, too, on analogy with the political organization of the human state, it was natural to assume that at the head of the pantheon was a deity recognized by all the others as their king and ruler. The Sumerian pantheon was therefore conceived as functioning as an assembly with a king at its head; the most important groups in this assembly consisted of seven gods who “decree the fates” and fifty deities known as “the great gods.” But a more significant division set up by the Sumerian theologians within their pantheon is that between creative and non-creative deities, a notion arrived at as a result of their cosmological views.
According to these views, the basic components of the cosmos are heaven and earth, sea and atmosphere; every other cosmic phenomenon exists only within one or another of these realms. Hence, it seemed reasonable to infer that the deities in control of heaven, earth, sea, and air were the creative gods and that one or another of these four deities created every other cosmic entity in accordance with plans originated by them. As for the technique of creation attributed to these deities, our Sumerian philosophers developed a doctrine which became dog-ma throughout the Near East, the doctrine of the creative power of the divine word. All that the creating deity had to do, according to this doctrine, was to lay his plans, utter the word, and pronounce the name.
This notion of the creative power of the divine word was probably also the result of an analogical inference based on observation of human society: if a human king could achieve almost all he wanted by command, by no more than what seemed to be the words of his mouth, how much more was possible for the immortal and superhuman deities in charge of the four realms of the universe. But perhaps this “easy” solution of the cosmological problems, in which thought and word alone are so important, is largely a rehection of the drive to escape into hopeful wish fulfillment characteristic of practically all humans in times of stress and misfortune.
Similarly, the Sumerian theologians adduced what was for them a satisfying metaphYSical inference to explain what kept the cosmic entities and cultural phenomena, once created, operating continuously and harmoniously without conHict and confusion; this was the concept deSignated by the Sumerian word me, the exact meaning of which is still uncertain. In general, it would seem to denote a set of rules and regulations assigned to each cosmic entity and cultural phenomenon for the purpose of keeping it operating forever in accordance with the plans laid down by the deity creating it.
In short, another superficial, but evidently not altogether ineffective, answer to an insoluble cosmological problem which merely hid the fundamental difficulties from view with the help of a layer of largely meaningless words. Our primary source of information about the me’s is the myth CCInanna and EnId: The Transfer of the Arts of Civilization from Eridu to Erech” (see pages 160-62). The author of the poem divided civilization as he knew it into over one hundred elements, each of which required a me to originate it and keep it going. He lists the hundred-odd me’s four times in the myth; but in spite of these repetitions, only some sixty-odd are at present intelligible, and some of these are only bare words which, because of lack of context, give but a hint of their real Significance.
Nevertheless, enough remains to show the character and import of this first recorded attempt at culture analysis, resulting in a considerable list of what are now generally termed culture traits and complexes; as will be seen, these items consist of various institutions, priestly offices, ritualistic paraphernalia, mental and emotional attitudes, as well as sundry beliefs and dogmas. Here are the more intelligible portions of the list in the exact order given by the ancient Sumerian writer: (1) en-ship, (2) godship, (3) the exalted and enduring crown, (4) the throne of kingship, (5) the exalted scepter, (6) the royal insignia, (7) the exalted shrine, (8) shepherdship, (9) kingship, (10) lasting ladyship, (11) (the priestly office) “divine lady,” (12) (the priestly office) ishib, (13) (the priestly office) lumah, (14) (the priestly office) guda, (15) truth, (16) descent into the nether world, (17) ascent from the nether world, (18) (the eunuch) kurgarra, (19) (the eunuch) girbadara, (20) (the eunuch) sagursag, (21) the (battle) standard, ( 22 ) the Hood, ( 23 ) weapons ( ? ) , ( 24 ) sexual intercourse, ( 25) prostitution, (26) law (?), (27) libel (?), (28) art, (29) the cult chamber, (30) <Chierodule of heaven,” (31) (the musical instrument) gusilim, (32) music, (33) eldership, (34) heroship, (35) power, (36) enmity, (37) straightforwardness, (38) the destruction of cities, (39) lamentation, (40) rejoicing of the heart, (41) falsehood, (42) art of metalworking, (47) scribeship, (48) craft of the smith, (49) craft of the leatherworker, (50) craft of the builder, (51) craft of the basket weaver, (52) wisdom, (53) attention, (54) holy purification, (55) fear, (56) terror, (57) strife, (58) peace, (59) weariness, (60) victory, ( 61) counsel, (62) the troubled heart, (63) judgment, (64) decision, (65) (the musical instrument) lilis, (66) (the musical instrument) ub, (67) (the musical instrument) mesi. (68) (the musical instrument) ala.
The Sumerian gods
The Sumerian gods, as illustrated graphically by the Sumerian myths, were entirely anthropomorphic; even the most powerful and most knowing among them were conceived as human in form, thought, and deed. Like man, they plan and act, eat and drink, marry and raise families, support large households, and are addicted to human passions and weaknesses. By and large they prefer truth and justice to falsehood and oppression, but their motives are by no means clear, and man is often at a loss to understand them.
They were thought to live on the «mountain of heaven and earth, the place where the sun rose,” at least, presumably, when their presence was not necessary in the particular cosmic entities over which they had charge. Just how they traveled is by no means certain from the available data, although we know that the moon-god traveled in a boat, the sun-god in a chariot, or, according to another version, on foot, and the storm-god on the clouds. Boats were frequently used.
But the Sumerian thinkers seem not to have troubled themselves too much with such practical and realistic problems; and so we are not informed about the way in which the gods were supposed to arrive at their various temples and shrines in Sumer and in what fashion they actually performed such human activities as eating and drinking. The priests presumably saw only their statues, which they no doubt tended and handled with great care. But how the stone, wooden, and metal objects were to be conceived as having bone, muscle, and the breath of life-this kind of question-never occurred to them. Nor do the Sumerian thinkers seem to have been troubled by the inherent contradiction between immortality and anthropo-morphism. Although the gods were believed to be immortal, they nevertheless had to have their sustenance; they could become sick to the point of death; they fought, wounded, and killed, and presumably could themselves be wounded and killed.
No doubt our Sumerian sages developed numerous theological notions in a futile attempt to resolve the inconsistencies and contradictions inherent in a polytheistic system of religion. But to judge from the available material, they probably never wrote them down in systematic form, and we will therefore never learn much about them. In any case, it is hardly likely that they resolved many of the inconsistencies. What saved them from spiritual and intellectual frustration was no doubt the fact that many a question which, according to our way of thinking, should have troubled them, never came to their minds.
By the middle of the third millennium B.C. at the latest, we find that hundreds of deities, at least by name, existed among the Sumerians. We know the names of many of these, not merely from lists compiled in the schools but also from lists of sacrifices on tablets that have been unearthed over the past century and from such proper names as “X is a shepherd,” “X has a great heart,” “who is like X,” “the servant of X,” “the man of X,” “the beloved X,” “X has given me,” etc., in which X represents the name of a deity. Many of these deities are secondary, that is, they are the wives, children, and servants thought up on the basis of the human pattern for the major deities. Others are perhaps names and epithets of well-known deities which we cannot at present identify.
However, quite a large number of deities were actually worshipped throughout the year with sacrifices, adoration, and prayer. Of all these hundreds of deities the four most important were the heaven-god, An, the air-god, Enlil, the water-god, Enki, and the great mother-goddess, Ninhursag. They usually head the god lists and are often listed as performing Significant acts to-gether as a group; at divine meetings and banquets they were given the seats of honor.
There is good reason to believe that An, the heaven-god, was at one time conceived by the Sumerians to be the supreme ruler of the pantheon, although in our available sources reaching to about 2500 B.C. it is the air-god, Enlil, who seems to have taken his place as the leader of the pantheon. The city-state in which An had his main seat of worship was called Erech, a city which played a pre-eminent political role in the history of Sumer and where, not long before the Second World War, a German ex-pedition uncovered hundreds of small clay tablets inscribed was semipictographic signs which date from about 3000 B.C., not long after writing was first invented. An continued to be worshipped in Sumer throughout the millenniums, but he gradually lost much of his prominence. He became a rather shadowy figure in the pantheon, and he is rarely mentioned in the hymns and myths of later days; by that time most of his powers had been conferred upon the god Enlil.
By far the most important deity in the Sumerian pantheon, one who played a dominant role throughout Sumer in rite, myth, and prayer, was the air-god, Enlil. The events leading up to his general acceptance as a leading deity of the Sumerian pantheon are unknown; but from the earliest intelligible records, Enlil is known as «the father of the gods,” «the king of heaven and earth,” “the king of all the lands;” Kings and rulers boast that it is Enlil who has given them the kingship of the land, who has made the land prosperous for them, who gave them all the lands to conquer by his strength.
It is Enlil who pronounces the king’s name and gives him his scepter and looks upon him with a favorable eye. From later myths and hymns we learn that Enlil was conceived to be a most beneficent deity who was responsible for the planning and creation of most productive features of the cosmos. He was the god who made the day come forth, who took pity on humans, who laid the plans which brought forth all seeds, plants, and trees from the earth; it was he who established plenty, abundance, and prosperity in the land. It was Enlil who fashioned the pickax and the plow as the prototypes of the agricultural implements to be used by man.
I stress the beneficent features of Enlil’s character in order to correct a misconception which has found its way into practically all handbooks and encyclopedias treating Sumerian religion and culture, the belief that Enlil was a violent and destructive storm deity whose word and deed practically always brought nothing but evil. As not infrequently hap-pens, this misunderstanding is due largely to an archeological accident; for it happened that among the earliest Sumerian com-positions published, there was an unusually large proportion of lamentation types in which, of necessity, Enlil had the unhappy duty of carrying out the destruction and misfortunes decreed by the gods for one reason or another. As a result he was stigmatized a fierce and destructive deity by earlier scholars, and he has never lived this down.
Actually, when we analyze the hymns and myths -some of which have been published only in more recent days-we find Enlil glorified as a most friendly, fatherly deity who watches over the safety and well-being of all humans and particularly, of course, over the inhabitants of Sumer.
The deep veneration of the Sumerians for the god Enlil and his temple, the Ekur in Nippur, can be sensed in a hymn (whose text has only recently become available) which reads in part as follows: Enul, whose command is far-reaching, whose word is holy, The lord whose pronouncement is unchangeable, who forever decrees destinies, Whose lifted eye scans the lands, Whose lifted beam searches the heart of all the lands, Enul who sits broadly on the white dais, on the lofty dais, Who perfects the decrees of power, lordship, and princeship, The earth-gods bow down in fear before him, The heaven-gods humble themselves before him . . .. . The city (Nippur), its appearance is fearsome and awesome, The unrighteous, evil oppressor, The …. , the informer, .
The arrogant, the agreement-violator, He does not tolerate their evil in the city, The great net …. , He does not let the wicked and evildoer escape its meshes. Nippur-the shrine where dwells the father, the “great mountain,” The dais of plenty, the Ekur which rises … , The high mountain, the pure place … , Its prince, the “great mountain,” Father Enul, Has established his seat on the dais of the Ekur, lofty shrine; The temple-its decrees uke heaven cannot be overturned, Its pure rites like the earth cannot be shattered, Its decrees are like the decrees of the abyss, none can look upon them, Its “heart” is like a distant shrine, unknown like heaven’s zenith …. , Its words are prayers, Its utterances are supplication …. , Its ritual is precious, Its feasts How with fat and milk, are rich with abundance, Its storehouses bring happiness and rejoicing, …. , Enlil’s house, it is a mountain of plenty …. ; The Ekur, the lapis lazuli house, the lofty dwelling place, awe-inspiring, Its awe and dread are next to heaven,
Its shadow is spread over all the lands, Its loftiness reaches heaven’s heart, All the lords and princes conduct thither their holy gifts, offerings, Utter there prayer, supplication, and petition. Enlil, the shepherd upon whom you gaze (favorably), Whom you have called and made high in the land, …. , Who prostrates the foreign lands wherever he steps forth, Soothing libations from everywhere, Sacrifices from heavy booty, Has brought; in the storehouse, In the lofty courtyards, he has directed his offerings; Enlil, of the worthy shepherd, …. , Of the leading herdsman of all who have breath (the king), Brought into being his princeship, Placed the holy crown on his head . . .. . Heaven-he is its princely one; earth-he is its great one, The Anunnaki-he is their exalted god; When, in his awesomeness, he decrees the fates, No god dare look on him.
Only to his exalted vizier, the chamberlain Nusku, The command, the word of his heart, Did he make known, did he inform, Did he commission to execute his all-embracing orders, Did he entrust all the holy laws, all the holy decrees. Without Enlil, the great mountain, No cities would be built, no settlements founded, No stalls would be built, no sheepfolds established, No king would be raised, no high priest born, No mah-priest, no high priestess, would be chosen by sheep-omen, Workers would have neither controller nor supervisor .. The rivers-their flood waters would not bring overflow, The fish of the sea would lay no eggs in the canebrake, The birds of heaven would not build nests on the wide earth, In heaven the drifting clouds would not yield their moisture, Plants and herbs, the glory of the plain, would fail to grow, In field and meadow the rich grain would fail to flower, The trees planted in the mountain forest would not yield their fruit. . .. .
The third of the leading Sumerian deities was Enki, the god in charge of the abyss, or, in Sumerian, the abzu. Enki was the god of wisdom, and it was primarily he who organized the earth in accordance with the decisions of Enlil, who only made the general plans. The actual details and executions were left to Enki, the resourceful, skillful, handy, and wise. We learn much about Enki from the myth “Enki and the World Order: The Organization of the Earth and Its Cultural Processes” (see pages 171-73), which provides a detailed account of Enki’s creative activities in instituting the natural and cultural phenomena essential to civilization.
This myth serves as a vivid illustration of the Sumerians’ superficial notions about nature and its mysteries. Nowhere is there an attempt to get at the fundamental origins of either thc natural or cultural processes; all are ascribed to Enki’s creative efforts usually by merely stating what amounts to “Enki did it.” Where the creative technique is mentioned at all, it consists of the god’s word and command, nothing more. Fourth among the creating deities was the mother-goddess, Ninhursag, also known as Ninmah, “the exalted lady.” In an earlier day this goddess was probably of even higher rank, and her name often preceded that of Enki when the four gods were listed together for one reason or another.
Her name may originally have been Ki, “( mother) Earth,” and she was probably taken to be the consort of An, “Heaven,”-An and Ki thus may have been con-ceived as the parents of all the gods. She was also known as Nintu, “the lady who gave birth.” The early Sumerian rulers liked to describe themselves as “constantly nourished by Ninhursag with milk.”
She was regarded as the mother of all living things, the mother-goddess preeminent. In one of her myths, she plays an important role in the creation of man, and in another she starts a chain of divine births in Dilmun, the paradise of the gods, which leads up to tlle “forbidden fruit” motif.
In addition to these four leading deities, there were three important astral deities: the moon-god, Nanna, who is also known by the name of Sin, which is probably of Semitic origin; Nanna’s son, the sun-god, Utu; and Nanna’s daughter, the goddess Inanna, known to the Semites as Ishtar. It may be that it is this group of seven deities, An, Enlil, Enki, Ninhursag, Nanna-Sin, Utu, and Inanna that is referred to as the seven deities who “decree the fates.” The fifty “great gods” are never named but seem to be identical with the Anunnaki, the children of An, at least with those of them who are not confined to the nether world. No doubt some of the numerous gods mentioned throughout this book be-long to the Anunnaki, or at least to the fifty “great gods.”
There was also a group of gods designated as Igigi, though they seem to playa relatively minor role to judge from the fact that they are but rarely mentioned in the extant literary works. Turning from god to man, we find that the Sumerian thinkers, in line with their world view, had no exaggerated confidence in man and his destiny.
They were firmly convinced that man was fashioned of clay and created for one purpose only: to serve the gods by supplying them with food, drink, and shelter so that they might have full leisure for their divine activities. Man’s life was beset with uncertainty and haunted by insecurity, since he did not know beforehand the destiny decreed him by the unpredictable gods. When he died, his emasculated spirit descended to the dark, dreary nether world where life was but a dismal and wretched reflection of its earthly counterpart.
One fundamental moral problem, a high favorite with Western philosophers, never troubled the Sumerian thinkers at all, namely, the delicate and rather slippery problem of free will. Convinced beyond all need for argument that man was created by the gods solely for their benefit and leisure, the Sumerians accepted their dependent status just as they accepted the divine decision that death was man’s lot and that only the gods were immortal.
All credit for the high moral qualities and ethical virtues that the Sumerians had evolved gradually and painfully over the centuries from their social and cultural experiences was attributed to the gods; it was the gods who planned it that way, and man was only following divine orders.
The Sumerians, according to their own records, cherished goodness and truth, law and order, justice and freedom, righteousness and straightforwardness, mercy and compassion, and naturally abhorred their opposites, evil and falsehood, lawlessness and dis-order, injustice and oppression, sinfulness and perversity, cruelty and pitilessness.
Kings and rulers, in particular, boast constantly of the fact that they have established law and order in the land, protected the weak from the strong and the poor from the rich, and wiped out evil and violence. Urukagina, for example, proudly records that he restored justice and freedom to the long-suffering citizens of Lagash, did away with ubiquitous and oppressive officials, put a stop to injustice and exploitation, and protected the widow and the orphan.
Less than four centuries later, Ur-Nammu, the founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur, promulgated his law code, which lists in its prologue some of his ethical achievements: he did away with a number of prevalent bureau-cratic abuses, regulated weights and measures to ensure honesty in the market place, and saw to it that the widow, the orphan, and the poor were protected from ill treatment and abuse. Some two centuries later Lipit-Ishtar of Isin promulgated a new law code in which he boasts that he was especially selected by the great gods An and Enlil for “the princeship of the Land” in order to establish justice in the Land, to banish complaints, to tum back enmity and rebellion by force of arms, and to bring well-being to the Sumerians and Akkadians.
The hymns of quite a number of Sumerian rulers abound in similar claims of high ethical and moral conduct. The gods, of course, also preferred the ethical and moral to the unethical and immoral, according to the Sumerian sages, and practically all the major deities of the Sumerian pantheon are extolled in their hymns as lovers of the good and the just, of truth and righteousness.
Indeed, there were several deities who had the supervision of the moral order as their main function: for example, the sun-god, Utu. Another deity, the Lagashite goddess named Nanshe, also played a Significant role in the sphere of man’s ethical and moral conduct. She is described in one of her hymns as the goddess Who knows the orphan, who knows the widow, Knows the oppression of man over man, is the orphan’s mother, N anshe, who cares for the widow, Who seeks out (?) justice (?) for the poorest (?).
The queen brings the refugee to her lap, Finds shelter for the weak. In another passage of this hymn, she is pictured as judging man-kind on New Year’s Day; by her side are Nidaba, the goddess of writing and accounts, and her husband, Haia, as well as numerous witnesses.
The evil human types who suffer her displeasure are (People) who walking in transgression reached out with high hand, …. , Who transgress the established nonns, violate contracts, Who looked with favor on the places of evil, …. , Who substituted a small weight for a large weight, Who substituted a small measure for a large measure, Who having eaten (something not belonging to him) did not say “I have eaten it,” Who having drunk, did not say “I have drunk it,” …. , Who said “I would eat that which is forbidden,” Who said “I would drink that which is forbidden.” Nanshe’s social conscience is further revealed in lines which read: To comfort the orphan, to make disappear the widow, To set up a place of destruction for the mighty, To turn over the mighty to the weak …. , Nanshe searches the heart of the people.
Unfortunately, although the leading deities were assumed to be ethical and moral in their conduct, the fact remained that, in accordance with the world view of the Sumerians, they were also the ones who in the process of establishing civilization had planned evil and falsehood, violence and oppression-in short, all the immoral and unethical modes of human conduct.
Thus, for example, among the list of me’s, the rules and regulations devised by the gods to make the cosmos run smoothly and effectively, there are not only those which regulate “truth,” “peace,” “goodness,” and “justice,” but also those which govern “falsehood,” “strife,” “lamentation,” and “fear.” Why, then, one might ask, did the gods find it necessary to plan and create sin and evil, suffering and misfortune, which were so pervasive that one Sumerian pessimist could say, “Never has a sinless child been born to his mother”? To judge from our available material, the Sumerian sages, if they asked the question at all, were prepared to admit their ignorance in this respect; the will of the gods and their motives were at times inscrutable.
The proper course for a Sumerian Job to pursue was not to argue and complain in face of seemingly unjustifiable misfortune, but to plead and wail, lament and confess, his inevitable sins and failings. But will the gods give heed to him, a lone and not very effective mortal, even if he prostrates and humbles himself in heartfelt prayer? Probably not, the Sumerian teachers would have answered.
As they saw it, gods were like mortal rulers and no doubt had more important things to attend to; and so, as in the case of kings, man must have an intermediary to intercede in his behalf, one whom the gods would be willing to hear and favor. As a result, the Sumerian thinkers contrived and evolved the notion of a personal god, a kind of good angel to each particular individual and family head, his divine father who had begot him, as it were.
It was to him, to his personal deity, that the individual sufferer bared his heart in prayer and supplication, and it was through him that he found his salvation. We learn all this from a recently pieced-together poetic essay dealing with suffering and submission, a theme made famous in world literature and religious thought by the Biblical Book of Job.
The Sumerian poem in no way compares with the latter in breadth of scope, depth of understanding, or beauty of expression. Its major Significance lies in the fact that it represents man’s first recorded attempt to deal with the age-old and yet very modem problem of human suffering-more than a thousand years before the composition of the Book of Job.
The main thesis of our poet is that in cases of suffering and adversity, no matter how seemingly unjustified, the victim has but one valid and effective recourse, which is to continually glorify his god and keep wailing and lamenting before him until he turns a favorable ear to his prayers.
The god concerned is the sufferer’s “personal” god, that is, the deity who, in accordance with the accepted Sumerian credo, acts as the man’s representative and intercessor in the assembly of the gods. To prove his point, our author does not resort to philosophical speculation but to a practical application; he cites a case: Here is a man, unnamed to be sure, who had been wealthy, wise, and righteous, or at least seemingly so, and blest with both friends and kin.
One day sickness and suffering overwhelmed him. Did he defy the divine order and blaspheme? Not at all. He came humbly before his god with tears and lamentation and poured out his heart in prayer and supplication. As a result, his god was highly pleased and moved to compassion; he gave heed to his prayer, delivered him from his misfortune, and turned his suffering to joy.
Structurally speaking, the poem may be tentatively divided into four sections. First comes a brief introductory exhortation, the first five lines of which read: Let man utter constantly the exaltedness of his god, Let the young man praise artlessly the words of his god, Let him who lives in the straightforward Land make moan, In the house of song (?) let him comfort (?) his friend and companion, Let him soothe his heart.
The poet then introduces the unnamed individual who, upon being smitten with sickness and misfmtune, addresses his god with tears and prayers. The sufferer’s petition follows, constituting the major part of the poem. It begins with a description of the ill treatment accorded him by his fellow men-friend and foe alike; continues with a lament against his bitter fate, including a rhetorical request to his kin and to the professional singers to do likewise; and concludes with a confession of guilt and a direct plea for relief and deliverance.
I am a man, a discerning one, yet who respects me prospers not, My righteous word has been turned into a lie, The man of deceit has covered me with the South Wind, I am forced to serve him, Who respects me not has shamed me before you. You have doled out to me suffering ever anew, I entered the house, heavy is the spirit, I, the man, went out to the streets, oppressed is the heart, With me, the valiant, my righteous shepherd has become angry, has looked upon me inimically, My herdsman has sought out evil forces against me who am not his enemy, My companion says not a true word to me, My friend gives the lie to my righteous word, The man of deceit has conspired against me, And you, my god, do not thwart him. (Three lines omitted) I, the wise, why am I bound to the ignorant youths?
I, the discerning, why am I counted among the ignorant? Food is all about, yet my food is hunger, On the day shares were allotted to all, my allotted share was suffering. (Ten lines omitted) My god, [I would stand] before you, Would speak to you …. , my word is a groan, I would tell you about it, would bemoan the bitterness of my path, [Would bewail] the confusion ….. (Three lines omitted) La, let not my mother who bore me cease my lament before you, Let not my sister utter the happy song and chant, Let her utter tearfully my misfortunes before you, Let my wife voice mournfully my suffering, Let the expert singer bemoan my bitter fate.
My god, the day shines bright over the land, for me the day is black, The bright day, the good day has .. like the … , Tears, lament, anguish, and depression are lodged within me, Suffering overwhelms me like one chosen for nothing but tears, Evil fate holds me in its hand, carries off my breath of life, Malignant sickness bathes my body. (About 22 lines omitted) My god, you who are my father who begot me, lift up my face, Like an innocent cow, in pity … the groan, How long will you neglect me, leave me unprotected? Like an ox …. , Leave me without guidance?
They say-valiant sages-a word righteous and straightforward: “Never has a sinless child been born to its mother, …. a sinless youth has not existed from of old.” (14 lines omitted) So much for the man’s prayers and supplication; the “happy end-ing” follows: [The man]-his [god] harkened to [his bitter tears and weeping], [The young man]-his lamentation and wailing soothed the heart of his god, The righteous words, the pure words uttered by him, his god accepted, The words which the young man prayerfully confessed, Pleased (?) the . . . , the flesh (?) of his god, (and) his god withdrew his hand from the evil word, .. which oppresses the heart …. , he embraces, The encompassing sickness-demon, which had spread wide its wings, he swept away, The [disease] which had smitten him like a …. he dissipated, The evil fate which had been decreed for him in accordance with his sentence he turned aside, He turned the man’s (?) suffering into joy. Set by him the .. kindly .. spirit as a watch and guardian, Gave him .. the genii of friendly mien, (And so) [the man] utters constantly the exaltation of his god, [The young man] brings forth …. , makes known …. But guardian angel or not, the fact is that man did die sooner or later, and as far as the rather hard-eyed and realistic Sumerian thinkers could see, he went to the world below never to return. Needless to say, this was a source of anxiety and perplexity; the problem of death and the nether world was beset with enigmas, paradoxes, and dilemmas, and it is no wonder that the Sumerian ideas pertaining to them were neither precise nor consistent, as will be seen from the following analysis of the relevant material.
From the point of view of Sumerian cultural behavior, the royal multiple-burial tombs excavated at Ur with such care and skill by the late Sir Leonard Woolley were of epoch-making significance; they indicate with reasonable certainty that the early rulers of Sumer were customarily accompanied to the grave not only by some of their most precious personal possessions but by a con-siderable human retinue as well.
Needless to say, immediately upon this rather startling discovery, the cuneiformists-and par-ticularly the Sumerologists-began searching the documents for inscriptional verification of one sort or another, but without success.
Moreover, in the past two decades, quite a number of Sumerian myths, epic tales, hymns, lamentations, and historiographic documents have become available, and it seemed not unreasonable to hope that one or another of these might shed light on the Sumerian burial customs relating to the royal tombs. But this hope also failed to materialize to any significant extent, which is not too surprising in view of the fact that the royal tombs date from about 2500 B.C., whereas the majority of our available literary documents were probably first composed about 2000 B.C. As of today, the only Sumerian literary document which seems to confirm the archeological evidence that the ancient rulers were accompanied to their graves by a human retinue is a small tablet in the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania in-scribed with the last 42 lines of a Gilgamesh epic tale, probably the one tentatively entitled “The Death of Gilgamesh,” of which only fragmentary remains are available at present.
This text states in poetic phraseology that Gilgamesh presented gifts and offerings to the various deities of the nether world and to the important dead dwelling there for all who “lay with him” in his “purified palace” in Erech: his wife, son, concubine, musician, entertainer, chief valet, and household attendants. It is not unreasonable to assume that the poet pictured these gifts as presented by Gilga-mesh after he and his retinue had died and descended to the nether world.
If this interpretation should tum out to be correct, we would have literary corroboration for the multiple-burial type of royal tomb uncovered by Woolley, especially since, as we now know from the Tummal composition (see pages 46-49), Gilga-mesh was a contemporary of Mesannepadda and therefore be-longs roughly to the period represented by the tombs.
Another document which sheds no little light on the funerary practices relating to the royal dead is the six-column tablet in the University Museum inscribed with a unique Ur-Nammu com-position belonging to a literary genre as yet unclassifiable. The first column, which is broken away entirely, may have contained a poetic description of Ur-Nammu’s outstanding achievements in war and peace and of the unfortunate incidents leading to his death.
The available text, which begins with the second column, seems to relate how Ur-Nammu, “who had been abandoned on the battlefield like a crushed vessel,” was lying on his bier in his palace, mourned (probably) by his family and kin and by the people of Ur. We next find him in the nether world-as in the case of Gilgamesh-presenting gifts to its “seven gods,” slaughter-ing oxen and sheep to the important dead, and presenting weap-ons, leather bags, vessels, garments, ornaments, jewels, and other paraphernalia to Nergal, Gilgamesh, Ereshkigal (?), Dumuzi, Namtar, Hubishag, and Ningishzida-each in his own palace; he also presented gifts to Dimpimekug and to the “scribe of the nether world.”
How Ur-Nammu got to the nether world with all these rich gifts and offerings is not stated by our poet, unless it should tum out that the “chariots” mentioned in the very obscure lines immediately preceding the “nether world passage” were utilized for this purpose. In any case, Ur-Nammu finally arrived at the spot which (probably) the priests of the nether world had assigned to him. Here certain of the dead were turned over to him, perhaps to be his attendants, and Gilgamesh, his beloved brother, explained to him the rules and regulations of the nether world. But, our poem continues, “after seven days, ten days had passed,” “the wail of Sumer” reached Ur-Nammu.
The walls of Ur which he had left unfinished, his newly built palace which he had left unpurified (?), his wife whom he could no longer tum on his lap, his son whom he could no longer fondle (?) on his knee -all these brought tears to his eyes, and he set up a long and bitter lament. The burden of his outcry seems to be that although he had served the gods well, they failed to stand by him in time of need; now he was dead, and his wife and friends and supporters were sated with tears and lamentation. The conclusion of the composition is altogether unknown since the last column is com-pletely destroyed.
As can be seen from the preceding tentative sketch of its con-tents, it is difficult to classify the literary genre to which the poem belongs; it may be a kind of historiographic composition, similar in some respects to the “Curse of Agade” (see pages 62-66), in which a Sumerian poet gives vent to his feelings at the sad state of affairs existing in Sumer immediately after the death of Ur-Nammu. In any case, the Ur-Nammu document sheds considera-ble light on the life of the dead in the world below as pictured by the Sumerian sages. We find once again the gods who had to be placated as well as the important dead priests.
The newly arrived deceased person had a special place assigned to him and was instructed in the laws of the nether world, at least if he was a king. Though dead, the deceased could in some unexplained manner be in sympathetic contact with the world above, could suffer anguish and humiliation, and could cry out against the undependable gods. Unlike “The Death of Gilgamesh” poem, however, no mention is made of a human retinue attending the king to the nether world; indeed, the wife and children are de-scribed as living in the world above. It would therefore seem safe to conclude that by the time of Ur-Nammu at least it was no longer customary to have the king accompanied to his grave by any of his family or attendants. Turning from royalty to more ordinary mortals, we learn quite a number of hitherto unknown details about the Sumerian nether world from the two dirges on the Pushkin Museum tablet.
On this tablet we read for the first time that the Sumerian thinkers held the view that the sun after setting continued its journey through the nether world at night, turning its night into day, and that the moon spent its “day of rest,” that is, the last day of each month, in the nether world. We learn, too, that there was a judg-ment of the dead by the sun-god, Utu, and that the moon-god, N anna, too, “decreed the fate” of the dead. In the nether world, according to the tablet, were to be found “bread-eating he-roes (?)” and “. . -drinkers” who satisfy the thirst of the dead with fresh water. We learn, too, that the gods of the nether world can be called upon to utter prayers for the dead, that the personal god of the deceased and his city’s god were invoked in his behalf, and that the welfare of the family of the deceased was by no means overlooked in the funerary prayers.
The Sumerian document which provides the most detailed information about the nether world and the life going on within its confines is the poem “Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Nether World.” According to this composition, which characterizes the nether world euphemistically as the “Great Dwelling,” there was an opening of some sort in Erech that led down to the world of the dead, through which such wooden objects as the pukku and the mikku could fall and into which a hand and foot could be placed.
There was also a gate in Erech in front of which one could sit down and through which a mortal-at least if he was a hero like Enkidu-might descend to the nether world, although just how this descent took place is not made clear.
There were certain taboos, however, which, according to the author of the poem, anyone wishing to descend to the nether world must beware of violating: he must not wear clean clothes, anoint himself with “good” oil, carry a weapon or staff, wear sandals, make a noise, or behave normally toward the members of his family.
If he broke any of those taboos, he would be surrounded by the “stewards” and by the shades inhabiting the lower regions and would be held fast by “the outcry of the nether world.” Once seized by this “outcry,” it was impossible for a mortal to reascend to the earth, unless one or another of the gods intervened on his behalf.
In the case of Enkidu, it was Enki who came to his rescue; he had Utu open the ablal of the nether world, and Enkidu reas-cended to the earth, seemingly “in the flesh” rather than as a ghost. According to the poem, a heartbreaking colloquy between Gilgamesh and Enkidu followed in which the latter is purported to have described the state of the dead, or rather of a few selected categories of the dead.
Turning from mortals, ordinary and extraordinary, to the im-mortal gods, it would seem that the nether world would be the last place to look for their “undying” presence. Nevertheless, we find quite a number of deities there, and while some seem to belong there, as it were, others were originally sky-gods con-demned to the nether world by the Sumerian mythographers as a result of theological speculation and invention.
As of today, however, only a few of the relevant myths have been recovered, and except for one, all concern the ambitious Inanna and her un-fortunate spouse, Dumuzi.
The one exception is the myth “Enlil and Nin1i1: Birth of the Moon-God,” which tells how Enlil himself, the most powerful of the Sumerian gods and the chief of the Sumerian pantheon, was banished to the nether world and followed thither by his wife, Ninlil. This myth is also significant as the sole source for the Sumerian belief that there was a “man-devouring” river which had to be crossed by the dead as well as a boatman who ferried the dead across to their destination, a belief prevalent throughout the ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean world. A highly revealing myth relating to death and the nether world is “In anna’s Descent to the Nether World,” which is now available almost in its entirety.
According to this poem, the nether world is a place to which one descends and from which one ascends-presumably through an opening or a gate situated in Erech, al-though this is nowhere explicitly stated. In the nether world there is a place described as a “lapis lazuli mountain,” whose locked and bolted gates are guarded by gatekeepers under the super-vision of Neti, their chief.
The nether world is governed by divine regulations and rules, among which one of the most important seems to be that its denizens must be stark naked. Another rule, one that proved fatal to Dumuzi, was that no one once in the nether world, not even a deity, could reascend to the world above unless a substitute had been found to take his place. Thus, for example, it was to make sure that Inanna, who had been revived through the clever efforts of Enki, would provide a suitable surrogate to take her place that the seven galla’s stuck by her side until she turned over Dumuzi to them.
All in all, therefore, we find that the Sumerian picture of death and the nether world was rather blurred and contradictory. In general the nether world was believed to be the huge cosmic space below the earth corresponding roughly to heaven, the huge cosmic space above the earth. The dead, or at least the souls of the dead, descended into it presumably from the grave, but there also seem to have been special openings and gates in Erech as well as, no doubt, in all the important city centers.
There was a river which the dead had to cross by ferry, but where it was sit-uated in relation to the earth or the nether world is not stated in the available myths. The nether world was ruled by Ereshkigal and Nergal, who had a special entourage of deities, including seven Anunnaki and numerous unfortunate sky-gods as well as a number of constable-like officials known as galla’s. All of them, except the galla’s, apparently needed food, clothing, weapons, vessels of various sorts, jewels, etc., just like the gods in the sky or mortals on earth.
There was a palace with seven gates where Ereshkigal held court but it is uncertain where it was supposed to be located. The dead seem to have been arranged in a hierarchy, like the living, and no doubt the highest seats were aSSigned to the dead kings and to high priestly officials who had to be taken care of with speCial sacrifices by such of the deceased as Gilgamesh and Ur-Nammu. There were all kinds of rules and regulations in the nether world, and it was the deified Gilgamesh who saw to it that the denizens of the nether world conducted themselves prop-erly.
Although in general one has the feeling that the nether world was dark and dreary, this would seem to be true only of daytime; at night the sun brought light to it, and on the twenty-eighth day of the month the sun was joined by the moon. The deceased were not treated all alike; there was a judgment of the dead by the sun-god, Utu, and to a certain extent by the moon-god, Nanna, and if the judgment was favorable, the dead man’s soul would presumably live in happiness and contentment and have all it desired.
However, the indications are that the Sumerians had but little trust in hopes of a blissful life in the nether world even for the good and the deserving. By and large the Sumerians were convinced that life in the nether world was but a dismal, wretched reflection of life on earth. While private devotion and personal piety were not unimpor-tant, it was rite and ritual which, because of the world view of the Sumerians, played the predominant role in their religion. Since man was created for no other purpose than to serve the gods, it was obviously his major duty to perform and perfect this service in a manner pleasing and satisfactory to his masters. Why was Ziusudra saved from the destruction of the deluge? Because he had humbly and piously performed the daily rites for the gods.
The rulers of Sumer did not weary of repeating that they had performed their cult duties in accordance with the prescribed rules and regulations. The center of the cult was of course the temple. One of the very earliest temples was excavated in Eridu, the city of which Enki was the tutelary deity, at least in later days.
Though it was a shrine of very simple shape measuring only about twelve feet by fifteen, it contained from the beginning two features that characterize the Sumerian temple throughout the millenniums: a niche for the god’s emblem or statue and an offering table of mud brick in front of it. In the course of later rebuilding, this Eridu shrine was enlarged and improved. It then had a cella in the center surrounded by a number of subsidiary rooms, and the altar, faced by an offering table, was placed against one of the short walls; the dull mud-brick walls of the temple were ornamen ted with regularly placed buttresses and recesses, and the whole structure was built on a platform reached by a set of stairs leading up to its entrance on the long side of the building. Farther to the north in Erech, there is a temple probably dedi-cated to the god An, and dating from about 3000 B.C., which is built by and large along the same lines as the Eridu temple, except that the platform is replaced by an artificial hill rising some forty feet above the plain.
A stairway built against its northeastern face led to the summit where a small whitewashed shrine stood. A similar temple was unearthed at Uqair; and although the platform on which it was built was only fifteen feet high, it rose in two stages and may thus be taken to be the prototype of the ziggurat, the staged tower which became the hallmark of Mesopotamian temple architecture and which was intended to serve as con-necting link, both real and symbolic, between the gods in heaven and the mortals on earth. The temple of Uqair is noteworthy for another architectural innovation, one which does not seem to have been followed in the other Sumerian temples: the inside walls were covered with frescoes consisting of color washes and painted ornament.
The arrangement was as follows: First came a band of plain color, usually some shade of red, forming a dado over three feet high all about the room. Above this a band of geometrical ornament over a foot high was painted.
The upper parts of the walls were then decorated with scenes of human and animal figures painted on a plain white ground. Another architectural innovation was made in Erech when the builders of the Eanna temple developed a unique method of ornamenting the dreary-looking mud-brick walls and columns of the building by covering them with tens of thousands of small clay cones that had been dipped in different colors so that their tops were either red, black, or buff. These colored cones were inserted side by side in thick mud plaster in such a way that they formed polychrome triangles, lozenges, zigzags, and other geo-metrical deSigns. The temples continued to follow the same general pattern throughout the third millennium B.C., although they tended to become larger and more complex. The forecourt became a perma-nent feature. The plan of the building might now be oval as well as rectangular in shape.
A new and seemingly not very appropriate building material was introduced-the plano-convex brick, Hat on one side and curved on the other. Foundations were now usually constructed of rough blocks of limestone. By the time of the Third Dynasty of Ur, the temples in the larger cities had become vast building complexes. Thus the Nanna temple of the city of Ur, the Ekishnugal, consisted of an en-closure measuring about 400 X 200 yards which contained the ziggurat as well as a large number of shrines, storehouses, maga-zines, courtyards, and dwelling places for the temple personnel.
The ziggurat, the outstanding feature, was a rectangular tower whose base was some 200 feet in length and 150 feet in width; its original height was about 70 feet. The whole was a solid mass of brickwork with a cover of crude mud bricks and an outer layer of burnt bricks set in bitumen. It rose in three irregular stages and was approached by three stairways consisting of a hundred steps each.
On its top there was probably a small shrine built entirely of blue enameled bricks. The ziggurat stood on a high terrace surrounded by a double wall. Partly on this terrace and partly at its feet lay a large temple for the moon-god, Nanna, with a wide outer court surrounded by numerous store chambers and offices. Not far from it was another temple dedicated to both Nanna and his wife, Ningal; then came a building known as the dublal, which was used as a kind of court house, and finally the temple sacred to N ingal, known as the giparku. The building and rebuilding of a temple was accompanied by numerous rites and diverse rituals, as is evidenced by that long and remarkable hymnal narrative poem inscribed on the two Gudea cylinders excavated in Lagash, which contain 54 columns and close to 1400 “spaces” of text. This document, which is prac-tically the only literary work preserved from this period, was probably composed by one of the poets of the Eninnu temple at Lagash to commemorate its construction by the pious Gudea.
His literary style is rather inHated, grandiloquent, and diffuse, and the picture he paints of the rites and rituals that accompanied the building of Eninnu seem to contain more fancy than fact. Even so, it is highly significant and informative, as the following sketch of its contents will show. To hear the poet tell it, it all began soon after the fates were decreed and the City Lagash was blessed with the rich overflow of the Tigris.
It was then that Ningirsu, the tutelary deity of Lagash, decided to have Gudea build his Eninnu for him in grand fashion. He therefore appeared to Gudea in a dream which reads like a pure ad hoc invention on the part of the poet, although he narrates the events as if they had actually taken place. In the dream, Gudea saw a man of tremendous stature with a divine crown on his head, the wings of a lion-headed bird, and a “flood wave” as the lower part of his body; lions crouched to his right and left.
This huge man commanded Gudea to build his temple, but he could not grasp the meaning of his words. Day broke-in the dream-and a woman appeared holding a gold stylus and studying a clay tablet on which the starry heaven was depicted. Then a “hero” appeared holding a tablet of lapis lazuli on which he drew a plan of a house; he also placed bricks in a brick mold which stood before Gudea together with a carrying basket. At the same time a specially bred male donkey was im-patiently pawing the ground.
Since the meaning of the dream was not clear to him, Gudea decided to consult the goddess Nanshe, who interpreted dreams for the gods. But Nanshe lived in a district of Lagash called Nina, which could best be reached by canal. Gudea therefore journeyed to her by boat, making sure to stop at several important shrines along the way to offer sacrifices and prayers to their deities in order to obtain their support.
Finally the boat arrived at the quay of Nina, and Gudea went with lifted head to the court of the temple where he made sacrifices, poured out libations, and offered prayers. He then told her his dream and she in-terpreted it for him pOint by point, thus: The man of tremendous stature with a divine crown on his head, the wings of a lion-headed bird, a flood wave as the lower part of his body, and lions crouching to his right and left-that is her brother Ningirsu, who commanded him to build the temple Eninnu.
The breaking of day over the horizon-that is Ningish-zida, Gudea’s personal god, rising like the sun. The woman hold-ing a gold stylus and studying a clay tablet on which the starry heaven was depicted-that is Nidaba (the goddess of writing and the patron deity of the edubba), who directs you to build the house in accordance with the “holy stars.” The hero holding a tablet of lapis lazuli-that is the (architect) god Nindub drawing the temple plan.
The carrying basket and brick mold in which “the brick of fate” was placed-these betoken the bricks for the Eninnu temple. The male donkey pawing the ground impatiently -that, of course, is Gudea himself, who is impatient to carry out his task. Nanshe then proceeded to advise Gudea to construct a new and beautifully decorated war chariot for Ningirsu and to present it to him together with its span of male donkeys and the god’s emblem and weapons, accompanied by the sound of drums.
This done, Ningirsu, in another dream, gave him more detailed direc-tions, blessed Lagash with abundance and overflow, and assured Gudea that his people would work most diligently to build the Eninnu with all kinds of wood and stone brought to him from different lands the world over. Gudea rose from his sleep and, after making a sacrifice and finding its omen favorable, proceeded humbly to carry out Ningirsu’s directions.
He issued instructions to the people of his city, who responded enthusiastically and unitedly. He first puri-fied the city morally and ethically: there were to be no complaints and accusations or punishments; the mother must not scold her child, nor must the child raise its voice against the mother; the slave was not to be punished for wrongdoing; the slave girl was not to be struck by her mistress for disrespect; all the unclean were banished from the city. Following another series of omens and oracles, sacrifices, ceremonies, and prayers, he proceeded valiantly to the task of building the Eninnu, which is then de-scribed by the poet in great, repetitive, and unfortunately, often obscure detail.
The poem inscribed on the first cylinder ends with the comple-tion of the building of the Eninnu complex. The hymnal narrative then continues on the second cylinder, beginning with a prayer of Gudea to the Anunnaki, followed by his announcement to Ningirsu and his wife, Bau, that the temple has been completed and is ready for habitation. With the help of a number of deities, Gudea then cleansed the temple and prepared all food, libations, and incense to be used in the ceremony celebrating the entrance of the gods to their home.
Once again Gudea cleansed the city, ethically and morally. He next proceeded to appoint a whole group of deities to care for the temple needs: a doorkeeper, a butler, two armorers, a messenger, a chamberlain, a coachman, a goatherd, two musicians, a grain inspector, a fisheries inspector, a gamekeeper, and a bailiff.
These appointments are described in a style reminiscent of the description of the appointment of the various supervising deities by Enki in the myth “Enki and the World Order” (see pages 179-82). Mter Ningirsu and Bau had united in marital bliss, there followed a seven-day celebration crowned by a banquet for the great gods An, Enlil, and Ninmah. Following a blessing by Ningirsu, the poem closes with a paean of praise for the Eninnu and its god, Ningirsu. Turning from this highly idealized picture of a temple and its cult to the actual day-by-day rites and rituals, we may take it for granted that in the temple of every major city daily sacrifices were offered, consisting of animal and vegetable foods, libations of water, wine, and beer, and the burning of incense. No doubt the ceremonies were much more spectacular and impressive on spe-cial feasts and holidays.
There were numerous perennial festivals, judging from such month names as “The Month of the Eating of Barley of Ningirsu,” “The Month of the Eating of the Gazelles,” and “The Month of the Feast of Shulgi.” Some of these feasts lasted several days and were celebrated with special sacrifices and processions. In addition, there were regular monthly feasts on the day of the new moon as well as on the seventh, fifteenth, and last day of each month. The most important holiday of all was the New Year holiday, which was probably celebrated over several days with special feasts and celebrations.
The most Significant rite of the New Year was the hieros-gamos, or holy marriage, between the king, who represented the god Dumuzi, and one of the priestesses, who rep-resented the goddess Inanna, to ensure effectively the fecundity and prosperity of Sumer and its people. Just how and when this rite Originated is uncertain, although we may perhaps reconstruct the events as follows.
Early in the third millennium B.C., Dumuzi was a prominent ruler of the important Sumerian city-state of Erech, and his life and deeds made a deep impression upon his own and future generations. The tutelary deity of Erech was Inanna, a goddess who throughout Sumerian history was deemed to be the deity primarily responsible for sexual love, fertility, and procreation, and the names of Dumuzi and Inanna no doubt became closely intertwined in the early myth and ritual of Erech. Toward the middle of the third millennium, however, when the Sumerians were becoming more and more nationally minded and the the-ologians were in the process of systematizing and classifying the Sumerian pantheon accordingly, a seemingly quite plausible and not unattractive idea arose that the king of Sumer, no matter who he was or from what city he originated, must become the husband of the life-giving goddess of love, that is, Inanna of Erech, if he was to ensure effectively the fecundity and prosperity of the land and its people. After the initial idea had become accepted dogma, it was carried out in ritual practice by the consummation of a marriage ceremony, which was probably repeated every New Year, between the king and a specially selected hierodule from Inanna’s temple in Erech.
To lend importance and prestige to both the credo and the rite, however, it was advisable to trace them back to earlier times, and the honor of being the first mortal ruler to have become the husband of Inanna, Erech’s most revered deity, not unnaturally fell to Dumuzi, the Erech ruler who over the centuries had become a memorable figure in Sumerian legend and lore. Concerning the priests in charge of the cult, we know little more than the names of their offices. The administrative head of the temple was the sanga, and his duties were, no doubt, to keep the temple buildings and finances in good order and to see to it that the temple personnel carried out their duties efficiently.
The spiritual head of the temple was the en, who lived in a part of the temple known as the gipar. The en’s, it seems, could be women as well as men, depending upon the sex of the deity to whom their services were dedicated. Thus in Erech’s main temple, the Eanna, of which the goddess Inanna became the main deity, the en was a man; the heroes Enmerkar and Gilgamesh were originally designated en’s, though they may also have been kings and were certainly great military leaders. The en of the Ekish-nugal in Ur, whose main deity was the moon-god, Nanna, was a woman and usually the daughter of the reigning monarch of Sumer. (We actually have the names of almost all, if not all, the en’s of the Ekishnugal from the days of Sargon the Great.)
Under the en were a number of priestly classes, including guda, mah, ishib, gala, and nindingir, of whose duties we know very little except that the ishib may have been in charge of libations and lustrations, and the gala may have been a kind of temple singer and poet. There were also a whole corps of singers and musicians and-especially in the temples dedicated to Inanna-large numbers of eunuchs (castrates) and hierodules.
In addition to those involved in one way or another in the religious services, the temple personnel included many secular officials, workers, and slaves who helped conduct its various agricultural and economic enterprises, as is evidenced by the innumerable administrative documents excavated in the ancient Sumerian temples. The destruction of a Sumerian temple was the most disastrous calamity that could befall a city and its people, as revealed by the bitter laments composed by distressed temple poets and bards.
To cite only one example, here is a stanza from the “Lamentation over the Destruction of Ur,” which paints a picture of the utter desolation that befell Ur and its temple, the Ekishnugal, after the Elamites had attacked it and carried off Ibbi-Sin, the last ruler of the Third Dynasty of Ur: o queen, how has your heart led you on, how can you stay alive! o Ningal, how has your heart led you on, how can you stay alive! o righteous woman whose city has been destroyed, how now can you exist! o Ningal, whose land has perished, how has your heart led you on! After your city had been destroyed, how now can you exist! After your house had been destroyed, how has your heart led you on! Your city has become a strange city; how now can you exist! Your house has become a house of tears, how has your heart led you on! Your city which has been made into ruins-you are no longer its mistress, Your righteous house which has been given over to the pickax-you no longer inhabit it, Your people who have been led to slaughter-you are no longer their queen, Your tears have become strange tears, your land weeps not, Without “tears of supplication” it inhabits foreign lands, Your land like one who has multiplied … shuts tight its mouth.
Your city has been made into ruins; how can you exist! Your house has been laid bare; how has your heart led you on! U r, the shrine, has been given over to the wind; how now can you exist! Its guda-priest no longer walks in well-being; how has your heart led you on! Its en dwells not in the gipar; how now can you exist! Its … who cherishes lustrations makes no lustrations for you, Father Nanna, your ishib-priest has not perfected the holy vessels for you, Your mah in the holy giguna dressed not in linen, Your righteous en chosen … , in the Ekishnugal, Proceeds not joyfully from the shrine to the gipar, In the ahu, your house of feasts, they celebrated not the feasts; On the ub and ala they played not for you that which brings joy to the heart, the tigi-music.
The black-headed people do not bathe themselves for your feast, Like flax dirt has been decreed for them; their appearance has changed. Your song has been turned into weeping, …. , Your tigi-music has been turned into lamentation …. Your ox has not been brought into its stable, its fat is not prepared for you, Your sheep stays not in its fold, its milk is not presented to you, Who used to bring your fat, no longer brings it to you from the stall, …. Who used to bring your milk no longer brings it to you from the sheepfold, …. The fisherman who med to bring you fish is overtaken by misfortune, The bird hunters who used to bring you birds were carried off by the … , you can now barely exist, Your river which had been made fit for the magur-boats-in its midst the … -plant grows, On your road which had been prepared for the chariots, the mountain thorn grows. a my queen, your city weeps before you as its mother; Ur, like the child of a street which has been destroyed, searches for you, The house, like a man who has lost everything, stretches out the hands to you, Your brickwork of the righteous house, like a human being, cries your “Where, pray?” o my queen, you have departed from the house; you have departed from the city.
How long, pray, wUl you stand aside in the city like an enemy? o Mother Ningal, (how long) will you hurl challenges in the city like an enemy? Although you are a queen beloved of her city, your city … you have abandoned; [Although] you are a queen beloved of her people, your people … you have abandoned. o Mother Ningal, like an ox to your stable, like a sheep to your foldl Like an ox to your stable of former days, like a sheep to your fold! Like a young child to your chamber, 0 maid, to your house! May An, the king of the gods, utter your” ’tis enough.” May Enlil, the king of all the lands, decree your (favorable) fate. May he return the city to its place for you; exercise its queenshipl May he return Ur to its place for you; exercise its queenshipl In turning now to Sumerian mythology, it is important to note first of all that Sumerian myths have little if any connection with rite and ritual in spite of the fact that the latter played so im-portant a role in Sumerian religious practice. Practically all the extant Sumerian myths are literary and etiological in character; they are neither “rite spoken,” as myth has often been erroneously categorized, nor verbalized appendages to ritual acts.
They re-volve primarily about the creation and organization of the uni-verse, the birth of the gods, their loves and hates, their spites and intrigues, their blessings and curses, their acts of creation and destruction.
There is very little in them about the struggle for power between the gods, and even when this does occur, it is never depicted as a bitter, vindictive, and gory conflict. Intellectually speaking, the Sumerian myths reveal a rather mature and sophisticated approach to the gods and their divine activities; behind them can be recognized considerable cosmologi-cal and theological reflection. By and large, however, the Su-merian mythographers were the direct heirs of the illiterate minstrels and bards of earlier days, and their first aim was to compose narrative poems about the gods that would be appealing, inspIrIng, and entertaining. Their main literary tools were not logic and reason but imagination and fantasy.
In telling their stories, they did not hesitate to invent motives and incidents patterned on human action that could not possibly have any basis in rational and speculative thought. Nor did they hesitate to adopt legendary and folkloristic motifs that had nothing to do with cosmological inquiry and inference. As yet, no Sumerian myths have been recovered dealing direct-ly and explicitly with the creation of the universe; what little is known about the Sumerian cosmogonic ideas has been inferred from laconic statements scattered throughout the literary documents.
But we do have a number of myths concerned with the organization of the universe and its cultural processes, the crea-tion of man, and the establishment of civilization. The major protagonists involved in these myths are relatively few in num-ber: the air-god, Enlil, the water-god, Enki, the mother-goddess, Ninhursag (also known as Nintu and Ninmah), the god of the south wind, Ninurta, the moon-god, Nanna-Sin, the Bedu-god, Martu, and most frequently, the goddess lnanna, particularly in relation to her unlucky spouse, Dumuzi. Enlil, as has already been noted earlier in this chapter, was the most important deity of the Sumerian pantheon, “the father of the gods,” “the king of heaven and earth,” “the king of all the lands.”
According to the myth “Enlil and the Creation of the Pickax,” he was the god who separated heaven from earth, brought up “the seed of the land” from the earth, brought forth “whatever was needful,” fashioned the pickax for agricultural and building purposes, and presented it to the “black-heads,” that is, the SumerianS, or perhaps even mankind as a whole.
According to the disputation “Summer and Winter,” Enlil was the god who brought forth all trees and grains, produced abundance and prosperity in “the Land,” and appointed “Winter” as the “Farmer of the Gods,” in charge of the life-producing waters and of all that grows. The gods-even the most important among them-were all eager for his blessing. One myth relates how the water-god, Enki, after building his “sea-house” in Eridu, journeyed to Enlil’s temple in Nippur in order to obtain his approval and benediction.
When the moon-god, Nanna-Sin, the tutelary deity of Ur, wanted to make sure of the well-being and prosperity of his domain he journeyed to Nippur on a boat loaded with gifts and thus obtained Enlil’s generous blessing.
Although Enlil was the chief of the Sumerian pantheon, his powers were by no means unlimited and absolute. One of the more human and tender of the Sumerian myths concerns Enlil’s banishment to the nether world as a result of the following events: When man had not yet been created and the city of Nippur was inhabited by gods alone, “its young man” was the god Enlil; “its young maid” was the goddess Ninlil; and “its old woman” was Ninlil’s mother, Nunbarshegunu. One day, the latter, evidently haVing set her mind and heart on Ninlil’s marriage to Enlil, in-structs her daughter thus: In the pure stream, woman, bathe in the pure stream, Ninlil, walk along the bank of the stream Nunbirdu, The bright-eyed, the lord, the bright-eyed, The “great mountain,” father Enlil, the bright-eyed, will see YOll, The shepherd … who decrees the fates, the bright-eyed will see you, Will forthwith embrace (?) you, kiss you.
Ninlil joyfully follows her mother’s instructions: In the pure stream, the woman bathes, in the pure stream, Ninlil walks along the bank of the stream Nunbirdu, The bright-eyed, the lord, the bright-eyed, The “great mountain,” father Enlil, the bright-eyed, saw her, The shepherd … who decrees the fates, the bright-eyed 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 little, it knows not to copulate, My lips are too small, they know not to kiss” ….. Whereupon Enlil calls his vizier, Nusku, and tells him of his desire for the lovely Ninlil. Nusku brings up a boat, and Enlil rapes Ninlil while sailing on the stream and. impregnates her with the moon-god, Sin.
The gods are dismayed by this immoral deed, and although Enlil is their king, they seize him and banish him from the city to the nether world. The relevant passage, one of the few to shed some indirect light on the organization of the pantheon and its method of operation, reads as follows: Enlil walks about in the Kiur (Ninlil’ s private shrine), As Enlil walks about in the Kiur, The great gods, the fifty of them, The fate-decreeing gods, the seven of them, Seize Enlil in the Kiur (saying): “Enlil, immoral one, get you out of the city, Nunamnir (an epithet of Enlil), immoral one, get you out of the city.” And so Enlil, in accordance with the fate decreed by the gods, departs in the direction of the Sumerian Hades. Ninlil, however, now pregnant with child, refuses to remain behind and follows Enlil on his forced journey to the nether world.
This disturbs Enlil, for it would seem that his son Sin, originally destined to be in charge of the largest luminous body, the moon, would have to dwell in the dark gloomy nether world instead of in the sky. To circumvent this, he seems to have devised the follOwing rather complicated scheme. On the way to the nether world from Nippur, the traveler meets three individuals, minor deities no doubt: the gatekeeper in charge of the Nippur gates, the “man of the nether world river,” and the ferryman, the Sumerian “Charon,” who ferries the dead across to Hades.
Enlil takes the form of each of these in turn-the first known example of divine metamorphosis-and impregnates Ninlil with three nether world deities as substitutes for their older brother Sin, who is thus free to ascend to heaven. One of the more detailed and revealing of the Sumerian myths concerns the organization of the universe by Enki, the Sumerian water-god and god of wisdom; a new, complete translation of it will be found in chapter v (“Literature: The Sumerian Belles-Lettres”). Another Enki myth tells an intricate and as yet some-what obscure tale involVing the paradise-land Dilmun, perhaps to be identified in part with ancient India. Very briefly sketched, the plot of this Sumerian “paradise” myth, which treats of gods, not humans, runs as follows: Dilmun is a land that is “pure,” “clean,” and “bright,” a “land of the living” which knows neither sickness nor death. What is lacking, however, is the fresh water so essential to animal and plant life.
The great Sumerian water-god, EnId, therefore orders Utu, the sun-god, to fill it with fresh water brought up from the earth. Dilmun is thus turned into a divine garden, green with fruit-laden fields and meadows. In this paradise of the gods eight plants are made to sprout by Ninhursag, the great mother-goddess of the Sumerians, perhaps originally Mother Earth. She succeeds in bringing these plants into being only after an intricate process involving three genera-tions of goddesses, all conceived by the water-god and born-so our poem repeatedly underlines-without the slightest pain or travail. But probably because Enid wanted to taste them, his messenger, the two-faced god Isimud, plucks these precious plants one by one and gives them to his master, who proceeds to eat them each in tum. Whereupon the angered Ninhursag pronounces the curse of death upon him.
Then, eVidently to make sure that she will not change her mind and relent, she disappears from among the gods. Enki’s health begins to fail; eight of his organs become sick. As Enki sinks fast, the great gods sit in the dust. Enlil, the air-god, the king of the Sumerian gods, seems unable to cope with the situation when a fox speaks up. If properly rewarded, he says to Enlil, he, the fox, will bring Ninhursag back.
As good as his word, the fox succeeds in some way-the relevant passage is unfortu-nately destroyed-in having the mother-goddess return to the gods and heal the dying water-god. She seats him by her vulva, and after inquiring which eight organs of his body ache, she brings into existence eight corresponding healing deities, and Enki is brought back to life and health. Although our myth deals with a divine, rather than a human, paradise, it has numerous parallels with the Biblical paradise story.
In fact, there is some reason to believe that the very idea of a paradise, a garden of the gods, originated with the Sumerians. The Sumerian paradise is located, according to our poem, in Dilmun, a land somewhere to the east of Sumer. It is in this same Dilmun that the Babylonians, the Semitic people who con-quered the Sumerians, later located their “land of the living,” the home of their immortals. And there is good indication that the Biblical paradise, too, which is described as a garden planted eastward in Eden, from whose waters How the four world rivers, including the Tigris and Euphrates, may have originally been identical with Dilmun, the Sumerian paradise-land. Again, the passage in our poem describing the watering of Dilmun by the sun-god with fresh water brought up from the earth is reminiscent of the Biblical passage: “But there went up a mist (?) from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground” (Genesis 2:6).
The birth of the goddesses without pain or travail illuminates the background of the curse against Eve that it shall be her lot to conceive and bear children in sorrow. And obviously enough, Enki’s eating of the eight plants and the curse uttered against him for this misdeed recall the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge by Adam and Eve and the curses pronounced against each of them for this sinful action.
But perhaps the most interesting result of our comparative analYSis of the Sumerian poem is the explanation which it pro-vides for one of the most puzzling motifs in the Biblical paradise story, the famous passage describing the fashioning of Eve, «the mother of all living,” from the rib of Adam-for why a rib? Why did the Hebrew storyteller find it more fitting to choose a rib rather than any other organ of the body for the fashioning of the woman whose name, Eve, according to the Biblical notion, means approximately “she who makes live.”
The reason becomes quite clear if we assume a Sumerian literary background, such as that represented by our Dilmun poem, to underly the Biblical paradise tale; for in our Sumerian poem, one of Enki’s sick organs is the rib. Now the Sumerian word for “rib” is ti (pronounced tee); the goddess created for the healing of Enki’s rib was there-fore called in Sumerian Nin-ti, “the Lady of the rib.” But the Sumerian word ti also means “to make live.” The name Nin-ti may thus mean “the Lady who makes live” as well as “the Lady of the rib.” In Sumerian literature, therefore, “the Lady of the rib” came to be identified with “the Lady who makes live” through what may be termed a play on words.
It was this, one of the most ancient of literary puns, which was carried over and perpetuated in the Biblical paradise story, although there, of course, the pun loses its validity, since the Hebrew words for “rib” and “who makes live” have nothing in common.
There is another Enki-Ninhursag myth concerned with the creation of man from “clay that is over the abyss.” The story begins with a description of the difficulties of the gods in pro-curing their bread, especially, as might have been expected, after the female deities had come into being. The gods complain, but Enki, who, as the Sumerian god of wisdom, might have been expected to come to their aid, is lying asleep in the deep and fails to hear them.
Thereupon his mother, the primeval sea, “the mother who gave birth to all the gods,” brings the tears of the gods before Enki, saying: o my son, rise from your bed, from your … work what is wise, Fashion servants of the gods, may they produce their doubles (?). Enki gives the matter thought, leads forth the host of “good and princely fashioners,” and says to his mother, Nammu, the primeval sea: o my mother, the creature whose name you uttered, it exists, Bind upon it the image (?) of the gods; Mix the heart of the clay that is over the abyss, The good and princely fashioners will thicken the clay, You, do you bring the limbs into existence; Ninmah (another name for Ninhursag) will work above you, The goddesses (of birth) …. will stand by you at your fashioning; o my mother, decree its (the new-born’s) fate, Ninmah will bind upon it the mold (?) of the gods, It is man ….. The poem then turns from the creation of man as a whole to the creation of certain imperfect human types in an obvious at-tempt to explain the existence of these abnormal beings.
It tells of a feast arranged by Enki for the gods probably to commemorate man’s creation. At this feast Enki and Ninmah drink much wine and become somewhat exuberant. Ninmah takes some of the clay which is over the abyss and fashions six different varieties of abnormal individuals, while Enki decrees their fates and gives them bread to eat. Mter Ninmah has created these six types of man, Enki decides to create one of his own.
The manner in which he goes about it is not clear, but whatever it is, the resulting creature is a failure; it is weak and feeble in hody and spirit. Enki is now anxious that Ninmah help this forlorn creature; he there-fore addresses her as follows: Of him whom your hand has fashioned, I have decreed the fate, Have given him bread to eat; Do you decree the fate of him whom my hand has fashioned, Do you give him bread to eat. Ninmah tries to be, good to the creature but to no avail. She talks to him, but he fails to answer. She gives him bread to eat, but he does not reach out for it.
He can neither sit nor stand nor bend his knees. Following a long but as yet unintelligible con-versation between Enki and Ninmah, the latter utters a curse against Enki because of the sick, lifeless creature that he pro-duced, a curse which Enki seems to accept as his due. Concerning Ninurta, the god of the stormy south wind, there is a myth with a dragon-slaying motif. FollOWing a brief hymnal passage to the god, the plot begins with an address to Ninurta by Sharur, his personified weapon. For some unstated reason, Sharur had set his mind against Asag, the demon of sickness and disease, whose abode is in the kUf, or nether world. In a speech, which is full of phrases extolling the heroic qualities and deeds of Ninurta, he urges him to attack and destroy the monster.
Ninurta sets out to do as bidden. At first, however, he seems to have met more than his match, and he “flees like a bird.” Once again the Sharur addresses him with reassuring and encouraging words. Ninurta now attacks the Asag fiercely with all the weapons at his command, and the demon is destroyed. With the destruction of the Asag, however, a serious calamity overtook Sumer. The primeval waters of the Kur rose to the surface, and as a result of their violence, no fresh waters could reach the fields and gardens. The gods of Sumer who “carried its pickax and basket,” that is, who had charge of irrigating Sumer and preparing it for cultivation, were desperate. The Tigris did not rise; it had no “good” water in its channel. Famine was severe, nothing was produced, At the small rivers, there was no “washing of the hands,” The waters rose not high, The fields are not watered,
There was no digging of (irrigation) ditches, In all the lands there was no vegetation, Only weeds grew. Thereupon the lord put his lofty mind to it, Ninurta, the son of Enlil, brought great things into being. Ninurta set up a pile of stones over the Kur and heaped them up like a great wall in front of Sumer. These stones held back “the mighty waters,” and as a result, the waters of the Kur could rise no longer to the surface of the earth.
As for the waters which had already Hooded the land, Ninurta gathered them and led them into the Tigris, which was now able to water the fields with its overflow. What had been scattered, he gathered, What of the Kur had been scattered, He guided and hurled into the Tigris, The high waters it pours over the fields. Behold, now, everything on earth, RejOiced afar at Ninurta, the king of the land, The fields produced abundant grain, The vineyard and orchard bore their fruit, The harvest was heaped up in granaries and hills, The lord made mourning to disappear from the land, He made happy the spirit of the gods. Hearing of her son’s great and heroic deeds, his mother, Ninmah, is taken with pity for him; she becomes so restless that she is unable to sleep in her bedchamber.
She therefore addresses Ninurta from afar with a prayer for permission to visit him and gaze upon him. Ninurta looks at her with the “eye of life,” saying: o Lady, because you would come to the Kur, o Ninmah, because for my sake you would enter the inimical land, Because you have no fear of the terror of the battle surrounding me, Therefore, of the hill which I, the hero, have heaped up, Let its name be Hursag (mountain) and you be its queen. Ninurta then blesses the Hursag that it may produce all kinds of herbs, wine and honey, various kinds of trees, gold, silver, and bronze, and cattle, sheep, and all “four-legged creatures.” Following this blessing, he turns to the stones, cursing those which had been his enemies in his battle with the Asag-demon and blessing those which had been his friends. Not a few of the Sumerian myths revolve about the ambitious, aggressive, and demanding goddess of love, Inanna-the Akkadian Ishtar-and her husband, the shepherd-god, Dumuzi-the Biblical Tammuz. The wooing of the goddess by Dumuzi is told in two versions.
In the first he contends for her favor with the farmer-god, Enkimdu, and is successful only after a good deal of quarrel-some argument leading to threats of violence. In the other, Dumuzi seems to find ready and immediate acceptance as Inanna’s lover and husband. But little does he dream that his marriage to Inanna will end in his perdition and that he will be literally dragged down to Hell. This story is told in one of the best preserved Sumerian myths, “Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World,” which has been published and revised three times in the course of the past twenty-five years, and is about to be revised a fourth time with the help of several hitherto unknown tablets and fragments. Briefly sketched, this myth tells the following tale.
Inanna, “Queen of Heaven,” the ambitious goddess of love and war whom the shepherd Dumuzi had wooed and won for a wife, decides to descend to the nether world in order to make herself its mistress and thus perhaps to raise the dead. She collects the appropriate divine laws and, having adorned herself with her queenly robes and jewels, is ready to enter the “land of no return.” The queen of the nether world is her older sister and bitter enemy, Ereshkigal, the Sumerian goddess of death and gloom.
Fearing, not without reason, lest her sister put her to death in the domain she rules, Inanna instructs her vizier Ninshubur, who is always at her beck and call, that if after three days she has failed to return, he is to set up a lament for her by the ruins in the assembly hall of the gods. He is then to go to Nippur, the city of Enlil, the leading god of the Sumerian pantheon, and plead with him to save her and not let her be put to death in the nether world. If Enlil refuses, Ninshubur is to go to Ur, the city of the moon-god, Nanna, and repeat his plea. If Nanna, too, re-fuses, he is to go to Eridu, the city of Enki, the god of wisdom, who ‘1mows the food of life,” who “knows the water of life,” and he will surely come to her rescue. Inanna then descends to the nether world and approaches Ereshkigars temple of lapis lazuli. At the gate she is met by the chief gatekeeper, who demands to know who she is and why she has come. Inanna concocts a false excuse for her visit, and the gatekeeper, on instructions from his mistress, leads her through the seven gates of the nether world.
As she passes through one gate after another, her garments and jewels are removed piece by piece in spite of her protests. Finally, after passing through the last gate, she is brought stark naked and on bended knees before Ereshkigal and the Anunnaki, the seven dreaded judges of the nether world. They fasten upon her their eyes of death, and she is turned into a corpse, which is then hung from a stake.
Three days and three nights pass. On the fourth day, Ninshubur, seeing that his mistress has not returned, proceeds to make the rounds of the gods in accordance with her instructions. As Inanna had surmised, both Enlil and Nanna refuse all help. Enki, how-ever, devises a plan to restore her to life. He fashions the kurgarra and the kalaturra, two sexless creatures, and entrusts to them the “food of life” and the “water of life,” with which they are to proceed to the nether world where Ereshkigal, “the birth giving mother,” lies sick “because of her children”; naked and uncovered, she keeps moaning, “woe my inside” and “woe my outside.” They, the kurgarra and kalaturra, are to repeat her cry sympathetically and add, “From my ‘inside’ to your ‘inside: from my ‘outside’ to your ‘outside.”’ They will then be offered water of the rivers and grain of the fields as gifts, but, Enki warns, they must not accept them. Instead, they are to say, “Give us the corpse hanging from a nail,” and to sprinkle upon it “the food of life” and “the water of life,” which he had entrusted to them, and thus revive the dead Inanna.
The kurgarra and kalaturra do exact-ly as Enki bid them, and Inanna revives. Though Inanna is once again alive, her troubles are far from over, for it was an unbroken rule of the nether world that no one who had entered its gates might return to the world above unless he produced a substitute to take his place. Inanna could not be an exception to the rule. She was indeed permitted to reascend to the earth, but was accompanied by a number of heartless demons with instructions to bring her back to the lower regions if she failed to provide another deity to take her place. Sur-rounded by these ghoulish constables, Inanna first proceeds to visit the two Sumerian cities Umma and Bad-tibira. The pro-tecting gods of these cities, Shara and Latarak, terrified at the sight of the unearthly arrivals, clothe themselves in sackcloth and grovel in the dust before Inanna.
Inanna seems to be gratified by their humility, and when the demons threaten to carry them off to the nether world, she restrains the demons and thus saves the lives of the two gods. Inanna and the demons, continuing their journey, arrive at Kullab, a district in the Sumerian city-state of Erech. The king of this city is the shepherd-god, Dumuzi, who, instead of bewail-ing the fact that his wife had descended to the nether world where she had suffered torture and death, has “put on a noble robe, sat high on a throne,” that is, he was actually celebrating her misfortune. Enraged, Inanna looks down upon him with “the eye of death” and hands him over to the eager and unmerciful demons to be carried off to the nether world. Dumuzi turns pale and weeps.
He lifts his hands to the sky and pleads with the sun-god, Utu, who is Inanna’s brother and therefore his own brother-in-law. Dumuzi begs Utu to help him escape the demons by changing his hand into the hand of a snake and his foot into the foot of a snake. But at that point in the story-in the middle of Dumuzi’s prayer -the available tablets come to an end, and until recently the reader has been left hanging in mid-air. Now, however, we have the melancholy end: Dumuzi, in spite of three interventions by Utu, is carried off. to die in the nether world as a substitute for his angered and embittered wife, Inanna. This we learn from a hitherto largely unknown poem which is not actually a part of the “Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World” but is intimately related to it, and which, moreover, speaks of Dumuzi’s changing into a gazelle rather than a snake. This new composition has been found inscribed on twenty-eight tablets and fragments dat-ing from about 1750 B.C.; the full text has only recently been pieced together and translated, at least tentatively, although some of the pieces were published decades ago.
In fact, the first of the pieces belonging to the myth was published as early as 1915 by Hugo Radau, but it contained only the last lines of the poem. In 1930, the French scholar, Henri de Genouillac, pub-lished two additional pieces which contained the initial fifty-five lines of the poem. But since the entire middle portion was still unknown, there was no way of knowing that the Radau and De Genouillac pieces belonged to the same poem.
By 1953 six additional pieces of the poem, published and unpublished, be-came available, and Thorkild Jacobsen, of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, was the first to give an idea of its plot and to translate several passages. Since then, I have identi-fied nineteen additional tablets and fragments, ten of which are in the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul (copies of these ten have been made by me and the curators of the tablet collec-tion of the museum, Mmes Muazzez <;ig and Hatice Kizilyay).
As a result of all these new documents, it was possible, at long last, to restore the text of the poem almost in full and to prepare the tentative translation on which the following sketch of its content is based.
The myth, which may be entitled “The Death of Dumuzi,” beginS with an introductory passage in which the author sets the melancholy tone of the tale he is to tell. Dumuzi, the shepherd of Erech, has a premonition that his death is imminent and so goes forth to the plain with tearful eyes and bitter lament: His heart was :filled with tears, He went forth to the plain, The shepherd-his heart was :filled with tears, He went forth to the plain, Dumuzi-his heart was :filled with tears, He went forth to the plain, He fastened his Hute (?) about his neck, Gave utterance to a lament: Set up a lament, set up a lament, o plain, set up a lament! o plain, set up a lament, set up a wail (?) I Among the crabs of the river, set up a lamentl Among the frogs of the river, set up a lamentl Let my mother utter words of (lament), Let my mother, Sirtur, utter words of (lament).
Let my mother who has (?) not five breads (?) utter words of (lament) (?), Let my mother who has (?) not ten breads (?) utter words of (lament), On the day I die she will have none to care (?) for her, On the plain, like my mother, let my eyes shed tears (?), On the plain, like my little sister, let my eyes shed tears. Dumuzi, the poem continues, then lies down to sleep and has an ominous and foreboding dream: Among the buds (?) he lay down, among the buds (?) he lay down, The shepherd-among the buds (?) he lay down, As the shepherd lay down among the buds (?), he dreamt a dream, He arose-it was a dream, he trembled (?)-it was a vision, He rubbed his eyes with his hands, he was dazed. The bewildered Dumuzi calls his sister, Geshtinanna, the divine poetess, singer, and interpreter of dreams, before him and tells her his portentous vision: My dream, 0 my sister, my dream,This is the heart of my dreaml Rushes rise up all about me, rushes sprout all about me, One reed standing all alone bows its head for me, Of the reeds standing in pairs, one is removed for me, In the wooded grove, tall (?) trees rise fearsomely all about me, Over my holy hearth, water is poured, Of my holy churn-its stand (?) is removed, The holy cup hanging from a peg, from the peg has fallen, M y shepherd’s crook has vanished, An owl holds a …. , A falcon holds a lamb in its claws, My young goats drag their lapis beards in the dust. My sheep of the fold paw the ground with their bent limbs, The churn lies (shattered), no milk is poured, The cup lies (shattered), Dumuzi lives no more, The sheepfold is given over to the wind.
Geshtinanna, too, is deeply disturbed by her brother’s dream: Oh, my brother, your dream is not favorable, which you tell mel Oh, Dumuzi, your dream is not favorable which you tell mel Rushes rise up all about you, rushes sprout all about you. (This means) outlaws will rise up to attack you.
One reed standing all alone bows its head for you, (This means) your mother who bore you will lower her head for you, Of the reeds standing in pairs, one is removed, (This means) I and you-one of us will be removed … Geshtinanna proceeds to interpret, item by item, her brother’s somber and foreboding dream, ending with a warning that the demons of the nether world, the galla’s, are closing in on him and that he must hide immediately.
Dumuzi agrees and implores his sister not to tell the galla’s of his hiding place: My friend, I will hide among the plants, Tell no one my (hiding) place, I will hide among the small plants, Tell no one my (hiding) place. I will hide among the large plants, Tell no one my (hiding) place. I will hide among ditches of Arallu, Tell no one my (hiding) place. To which Geshtinanna replies: If I tell your (hiding) place, may your dogs devour me, The black dogs, your dogs of “shepherdship,” The wild dogs, your dogs of “lordship,” May your dogs devour me. And so the galla’s, the inhuman creatures who Eat no food, know not water, Eat not sprinkled flour, Drink not libated water, Accept no gifts that mollify, Sate not with pleasure the wife’s bosom, Kiss not the children, the sweet . . . . , come searching for the hidden Dumuzi but cannot find him.
They seize Geshtinanna and try to bribe her to tell them of Dumuzi’s whereabouts, but she remains true to her word. Dumuzi, however, returns to the city, probably because he fears that the demons will kill his sister. There the galla’s catch him, belabor him with blows, punches, and lashes, bind his hands and arms fast, and are ready to carry him off to the nether world.
Whereupon Dumuzi turns to the sun-god, Utu, the brother of his wife, Inanna, with the prayer to turn him into a gazelle so that he can escape the galla’s and carry off his soul to a place known by the name of Shubirila (as yet unidentified), or as Dumuzi himself puts it: Utu, you are my wife’s brother, I am your sister’s husband, I am he who carries food for Eanna (Inanna’s temple), In Erech I brought the marriage gifts, I kissed the holy lips (?), Caressed (?) the holy lap, the lap of Inanna-Tum my hands into the hands of a gazelle, Tum my feet fnto the feet of a gazelle, Let me escape my galla-demons, Let me carry off my soul to Shubirila . . .• . The sun-god hearkened to Dumuzi’s prayer; in the words of the poet: U tu took his tears as a gift, Like a man of mercy, he showed him mercy, He turned his hands into the hands of a gazelle, He turned his feet into the feet of a gazelle, He escaped his galla-demons, Carried off his soul to Shubirila . . .. .
Unfortunately, the pursuing demons catch up with him once again and beat and torture him as before. A second time, there-fore, Dumuzi turns to Utu with the prayer to turn him into a gazelle; this time, he wishes to carry off his soul to the house of a goddess known as “Belili, the wise old lady.” Utu answers his prayer, and Dumuzi arrives at the house of Belili, pleading: Wise lady, I am not a man, I am the husband of a goddess, Of the libated water, let me drink a little (?), Of the flour which has been sprinkled, let me eat a little (?).
He has barely had time to partake of food and drink when the galla’s appear and beat and torment him a third time. Again Utu turns him into a gazelle, and he escapes to the sheepfold of his sister, Geshtinanna. But all in vain; five of the galla’s enter the sheepfold and strike Dumuzi on the cheek with a nail and a stick, and Dumuzi dies. Or, to quote the melancholy lines that end the poem: The first galla enters the sheepfold, He strikes Dumuzi on the cheek with a piercing (?) nail (?), The second one enters the sheepfold, He strikes Dumuzi on the cheek with the shepherd’s crook, The third one enters the sheepfold, Of the holy churn, the stand (?) is removed, The fourth one enters the sheepfold, The cup hanging from a peg, frotn the peg falls, The fifth one enters the sheepfold, The holy chum lies (shattered), no milk is poured, The cup lies (shattered), Dumuzi lives no more The sheepfold is given to the wind. Thus Dumuzi comes to a tragic end, a victim of lnanna’s love and hate. Not all the lnanna myths, however, concern Dumuzi. There is one, for example, which relates how the goddess, through trickery, obtained the divine laws, the me’s which govern mankind and his institutions.
This myth is of considerable anthropological interest because its author found it desirable, in connection with the story, to give a full list of the me’s, and to divide civilization as he con-ceived it into over one hundred culture traits and complexes re-lating to man’s political, religious, and social institutions, to the arts and crafts, to music and musical instruments, and to a varied assortment of intellectual, emotional, and social patterns of be-havior (see page 116). Briefly sketched, the plot of this revealing myth runs as follows.
lnanna, queen of heaven, the tutelary goddess of Erech, is anxious to increase the welfare and prosperity of her city, to make it the center of Sumerian civilization, and thus to exalt her name and fame. She, therefore, decides to go to Eridu, the ancient seat of Sumerian culture, where Enki, the lord of wisdom, “who knows the very heart of the gods,” dwells in his watery abyss, the Abzu; for Enki has under his charge all the divine decrees that are fundamental to civilization. If she can obtain them, by fair means or foul, and bring them to Erech, its glory and her own will indeed be unsurpassed.
As she approaches the Abzu of Eridu, Enki-no doubt taken in by her charm-calls his messenger Isimud, whom he addressed as follows: Come, my messenger Isimud, give ear to my instructions, A word I shall say to you, take my word. The maid, all alone, has directed her step to the Abzu, Inanna, all alone, has directed her step to the Abzu, Have the maid enter the Abzu of Eridu, Give her to eat barley cake with butter, Pour for her cold water that freshens the heart, Give her to drink beer in the “face of the lion” At the holy table, the “table of heaven,” Speak to Inanna words of greeting.
Isimud did exactly as bidden by his master, and Inanna and Enki sit down to feast and banquet. After their hearts had become happy with drink, Enki exclaims: By the name of power, by the name of my power, To holy Inanna, my daughter, I shall present the divine decrees. He thereupon presents, several at a time, the more than one hundred divine decrees which, according to our author, control the culture pattern of civilization. Inanna is only too happy to accept the gifts offered her by the drunken Enki. She takes them and loads them on her “boat of heaven,” and embarks for Erech with her precious cargo.
But after the effects of the banquet have worn off, Enki notices that the me’s are gone from their usual place. He turns to Isimud, who informs him that he, Enki himself, presented them to his daughter, Inanna. Greatly upset, Enki re-grets his munificence and decides to prevent at all costs the “boat of heaven” from reaching Erech. He therefore dispatches his messenger together with a group of sea monsters to follow Inanna and her boat to the first of the seven stopping stations that are situated between the Abzu of Eridu and Erech. Here the sea monsters are to seize the “boat of heaven” from Inanna; Inanna herself, however, must be permitted to continue her journey to Erech afoot.
Isimud does as bidden. He overtakes Inanna and the “boat of heaven” and informs her that Enki has changed his mind, and that while she is free to go on to Erech, he will have to take the boat and its precious cargo from her and bring it back to Erech. Whereupon Inanna berates Enki roundly for breaking his word and oath; she turns to her vizier, the god Ninshubur, for help, and the latter rescues her and the boat from Isimud and the sea monsters. Enki is persistent; again and again he sends Isimud accompanied by various sea monsters to seize the “boat of heav-en.”
But on each occasion Ninshubur comes to the rescue of his mistress. Finally Inanna and her boat arrive safely at Erech, where, amidst jubilation and feasting on the part of the delighted inhabitants, she unloads the precious divine me’s one at a time. In another Inanna myth a mortal plays an important role; its plot runs as follows: There once lived a gardener named Shukalletuda, whose diligent efforts at gardening had met with nothing but failure. Although he had carefully watered his furrows and garden patches, the plants had withered away; the raging winds smote his face with the “dust of the mountains”; all that he had carefully tended turned desolate. He thereupon lifted his eyes east and west to the starry heavens, studied the omens, observed and learned the divine decrees.
As a result of this newly acquired wisdom, he planted the sarbatu-tree (as yet unidenti-fied) in the garden, a tree whose broad shade lasts from sunrise to sunset. As a consequence of this ancient horticultural experi-ment, Shukalletuda’s garden blossomed forth with all kinds of green. One day, continues our myth, the goddess Inanna, after trav-ersing heaven and earth, lay down to rest her tired body not far from Shukalletuda’s garden. The latter, who had spied her from the edge of his garden, took advantage of Inanna’s extreme weari-ness and had intercourse with her. When morning came and the sun rose, Inanna looked about her in consternation and de-termined to ferret out at all costs the mortal who had so shame-fully abused her. She therefore sent three plagues against Sumer. First, she filled all the wells of the land with blood, so that all the palm groves and vineyards were saturated with blood. Second, she sent destructive winds and storms against the land. The nature of the third plague is uncertain since the relevant lines are too fragmentary.
But in spite of all three plagues, she was unable to locate her defiler, for after each plague Shukalletuda went to his father’s house and informed him of his danger. The father advised his son to direct his step to his brothers, the “black-headed people,” that is, the people of Sumer, and to stay close to the urban centers. Shukalletuda followed this advice, and as a result, Inanna was unable to find him. After her third failure, Inanna realized bitterly that she was unable to avenge the out-rage committed against her. She therefore decided to go to Eridu, to the house of Enki, the Sumerian god of wisdom, and ask his advice and help. Here, unfortunately, the tablet breaks off, and the end of the story remains unknown. Except for references to mankind as a whole, mortals play little role in the Sumerian myths.
In addition to the Inanna-Shukalletuda myth just recounted, there is only one other myth involving a mortal. This is the long-known Flood-story, so important for comparative Biblical studies. Unfortunately, only one tablet in-scribed with this myth has been excavated to date, and only one-third of this tablet has been preserved.
The beginning of the myth is broken away, and the first intelligible lines concern the creation of man, vegetation, and animals; the heavenly origin of kingship; the founding and naming of five antediluvian cities, which are presented to five tutelary deities. Next we learn that a number of deities are bitter and unhappy because of a divine decision to bring the flood and destroy mankind. Ziusudra, the Sumerian counterpart of the Biblical Noah, is then introduced in the story as a pious, god-fearing king who is constantly watching for divine dreams and revelations. He stations himself by a wall, where he hears the voice of a deity, probably Enki, informing him of the decision taken by the assembly of the gods to send a deluge and “destroy the seed of mankind.”
The myth must have continued with detailed instructions to Ziusudra to build a giant boat and thus save himself from de-struction. But all this is missing because of a rather large break in the tablet. When the text resumes, we find that the flood in all its violence has already come upon the earth where it rages for seven days and nights.
At the end of that time, the sun-god, Utu, comes forth lighting and warming up the earth, and Ziusudra prostrates himself before him and offers him sacrifices of oxen and sheep. The last extant lines of the myth describe the deification of Ziusudra: after he had prostrated himself before An and Enlil, he was given ‘life like a god” and transported to Dilmun, the divine paradise-land, “the place where the sun rises.” Finally, there is a Sumerian myth which, although concerned with gods only, provides an interesting bit of anthropological information about the Semitic Bedu people known as Martu.
The action of the story takes place in the city of Ninab, “the city of cities, the land of princeship” (a still unidentified locality in Mesopotamia). Its tutelary deity seems to have been Martu, god of the nomadic Semites who lived to the west and southwest of Sumer. The relative time when the events took place is described in cryptic, antithetical, and obscure phrases, thus: Ninab existed, Aktab existed not, The holy crown existed, the holy tiara existed not, The holy herbs existed, holy nitrum existed not. … The god Martu, the story beginS, decides to marry.
He asks his mother to find him a wife, but she advises him to go and find a wife for himself in accordance with his own desire. One day, the story continues, a great feast is prepared in Ninab, and to it comes Numushda, the tutelary deity of Kazallu, a city-state located to the northeast of Sumer, together with his wife and daughter. During this feast Martu performs some heroic deed which brings joy to the heart of Numushda.
As a reward, the latter offers Martu silver and lapiS lazuli. But Martu refuses; it is the hand of Numushda’s daughter that he claims as a reward. Numushda gladly consents; so, too, does his daughter, although her girl friends try to dissuade her from marrying Martu since he is nothing but a barbaric, tent-dwelling Bedu who eats raw meat and “is not brought to burial when he dies.”
- Jacobsen and Kramer, “The Myth of Inanna and Bilulu,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, XII, 165-66; and Leo Oppenheim, “The Interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East,” Transactiofls of the American Philosophical Society, 1956, p.246.