Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Sumerian Hymns and Prayers to God Dumu-Zi

Posted by Fredsvenn on January 5, 2017

There is no myth in any of the known religions which, as regards its importance, can be compared with the so-called Dumuzi-Ninanna myth of the early Sumerians.

The Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania. Sumerian Hymns and

Sumerian Hymns and Prayers to God Dumu-Zi

In it are rooted not only the later conceptions which the Egyptians, Phoenioians, Greeks and Latins entertained with regard to the death and resurrection of their Osiris, Esmun, Adonis, but and this we may now confidently assert – it forms also the prototype of our Christian Lenten season and of the death and resurrection of Christ. It explains why the Lenten season terminates the winter, the time of darkness and death, and why it precedes the Easter festival which celebrates the resurrection of nature and of Christ.

In order to understand, from this point of view, the Dumuzi-Ninanna myth more accurately and thus be put into a position to appreciate its later developments more thoroughly, I shall try to give here in mere outlines its essential features, leaving its details and later accretions for future discussion.

The religion of the Sumerians, together with their conception of the macro-cosmos, is but a reflex of their human institutions as given on hand by their micro-cosmos or kalam, in which they lived.

As this kalam or “Babylonia” proper developed, so the ” world” was thought to have developed. This gives us the maxims: Human society = divine society; micro-cosmos or the kalam of the Sumerians = macro-cosmos or world.

The kalam, originally one whole, presided over by god An, the “king of the kalam”, very soon came to be looked upon, at a period which is still pre-historic for us, as consisting of two parts: a “northern” or “lower” and a “southern” or “upper” part. The latter was represented by the city of Erech with the temple of An: Ean; the former by the city of Nippur with the temple of Enlil: Ekur.

At an other and later period the south was centered in the city of Eridu with the north in A-HA or HA-A, i. e., in “northern Mesopotamia”. At still other times the north was either the city of Girsu or Kutha or Akkad or the Armenian mountains or the so-called “Westland” or even Elam.

At the time of the kings of the II dynasty of Ur – the time from which a large portion of the Nippur Temple Library dates -Babylonia as a whole was designated by Ki-en-gi-ki-Uri (= BUR-BUR) which the Semites translated by “Shumer and Akkad”, the former being the “southern” or “upper” and the latter the “northern” or “lower” part – a designation clearly showing that the physical condition of Babylonia played absolutely no role whatever in the selection of these names, or else the northern mountaineous regions of Babylonia as, e. g., the Armenian mountains, Elam, the Westland, would much rather have deserved the name “highland” or “upper” part of Babylonia.

The “southern” part was the region of the “Father” and the “northern” that of the “Son”; and as the “north” was also the “great abode” (iri-gal) of the Babylonian gods, was, in fact, the “netherworld”, the “Son” came to be looked upon as the “lord of the netherworld”. The first and oldest “lord of the netherworld” was Enlil.

The displacing of An by Enlil necessitated, of course, a shifting of the “southern” center from Erech to Nippur, i. e., Nippur, during the Enlil period, became what Erech was during that of An: the “southern” or “upper” part of Babylonia, with Girsu or Kutha, etc. as the “northern” or “lower” part. Hence, the gods of Girsu (dNin-Girsu), Kutha (dNergal), etc. had necessanly to become not only the “Sons” of Enlil, but also and especially the “lords of the netherworld”.

Similar to the micro-cosmos was the development of the Babylonian macro-cosmos, which, though it originally formed but one whole (the An), was later on made to conform with its micro-cosmic pattern, becoming an an-ki, a “heaven” or “upper” and an “earth” or “lower” part.

But the Sumerians were apparently not satisfied with this, they subdivided the “heaven” as well as the “earth” into two other parts: the “upper” or “southern” heaven, i. e., the heaven as it appears during the “summer” half of the year, and the “lower” or “northern” heaven, i. e., the heaven as it appears during the “winter” half of the year. This latter division applied to the “earth” gives us the “upper” earth as it appears to man, or the “earth” in opposition to the “heaven”, and the “lower” earth or “netherworld”. Even the very “netherworld” seems to have been subdivided into an “upper” and a “lower” netherworld: an-din ki-din.

At a still later time the boundaries of Babylonia were so far extended as to include not only the Euphrates and the Tigris, but even the “sea of the going down of the sun” and the “sea of the rising of the sun”, in other words, the kalam at this time was a “world” which was on all sides surrounded by water.

Also this conception was transferred to both the macro-cosmos with its “heavenly” and “terrestrial” ocean and to the netherworld with its Sahan, which was a river consisting, like the Euphrates and Tigris, of two arms, one in the west and one in the east. When entering or leaving the netherworld this Sahan had to be crossed, becoming in this wise the prototype of the later “Styx” among the Greeks.

The conveyance in ships of the Babylonian gods from one temple to the other, at the time of the Sumerian Akiti of “New Year’s” festival, i. e., at the time, of the vernal equinox, is nothing but a symbolic action indicating that the gods have crossed the Sahan and, by doing so, have left the netherworld, the region of the north, the cold, the winter – a conception revealed in the heavens by the sun crossing the muruban or equator.

Another division of the Babylonian macro- and micro-cosmos, of the heavens and the netherworld is into “seven parts”, which seven parts were again modeled after the “seven UB” or “DA”, i. e., “compartments, divisions, spheres” of Erech.

The god of the Babylonian kalam was An of Erech, “the god of the totality of heaven and earth”. At some as yet undefined period of the Sumerian religion An was differentiated into a husband and wife: An + An – a differentiation still betraying the fact that the wife of a god shared with her husband the same name, functions, attributes, and even gender. The wife of An, therefore, was not only the “queen” or “goddess of the totality of heaven and earth”, but also the “lord of heaven and the mistress of earth”.

This is apparent from Zimmern, S. K., p. 32, no. 28: 7a, where Innanna, i. e., Ninanna, the wife of An, speaks of herself: an-na u-mu-un-bi me-en ki-a ga-sha-an-bi me-en, “of the heaven his lord I am; of the earth her lady I am”, a passage showing that Ishtar – and for that matter any other god or goddess – is both male and female, and that the “heaven” and the “earth”, the two parts of the Babylonian macro-cosmos, stand in the relation of “male” and “female”, or “husband” (umun = en) and “wife” (gashan = nin), thus forming the prototype of the Greek Uranus and Gaia, where Gashan-anna tells us that she has received into her hands the E-an-na E-ki-a, “the house of heaven and earth”, identifying herself with Enlil and Ninlil, the “lord” and “lady” of heaven and earth during the Enlil period of the Sumerian religion.

This “heaven” and “earth”: an + an, or an + ki, or differentiated into En (Umun) – an + Nin (Gashan)-an and translated into Semitic by An-um – Antum were the first divine pair, the first “father-mother” (ama-a-a) or parents, the begetters and creators of everything. They had a “Son” (dumu): the god Lil, later on differentiated into Enlil and Ninlil, the well-known gods of Nippur. This son was the original, only and “true son” (Dumu-zi) – thus called to distinguish him from the later sons of An who usurped the role of Enlil, such as dIM, dMAR-TU, dEn-zu, etc.

Enlil was, as his name indicates, the “god of the powers of nature”, i. e., of thunder, lightning, storm, clouds, rain, and thus necessarily the “god of the fertility of the ground”. An, the heaven, as “Father”, Enlil, the god of the powers of nature, as “Son”, and Nin (Gashan)-a*, the earth, as “Mother”, constitute the members of the fist and oldest trinity in the religion of the Sumerians – a trinity, without which an accurate understanding of the so-called Dumuzi-Ninanna myth is evidently impossible.

The origin of this myth is to be sought in the city of Erech (Iriki), signifying in Sumerian merely “city”, “abode”. Here was the temple of An, called &-an, which was the “sphere of influence” of both An and Nin (Gashan)-an, the latter being, thereforc, very often called Nin ashan an)-A-anna, “the mistress of the house of An”. This name, together with that of Nin (Gashan)-anna, are the two foremost ones, in the texts here published, by which the later Ishtar is known.

The significance of, this myth does not offer any difficulties, provided we accept the above offered explanation with regard to Dumu-zi, “the true ‘Son’ “, as the god of the ” powers of nature”, and Gashan-an, the “Mother”, as the goddess of the “earth”. The Dumuzi-Ninanna myth, then, treats of the relation of the “Mother”, or “earth”, to the “Son”, as the god of the “fertility of the ground”.

This Nin-anna appears in our texts soon as “virgin” (ki-el), and soon as “mother” (ama), “sister” (SAL-KU = ahat),’ or “bride” (dam) of Dumuzi, while the latter is termed either the “youthful one” kal-tur), or “brother” (ses), “son” (dumu), and “husband” (mu-tan-na) of Nin-anna.

These very names, it would seem, should suffice for a correct understanding of this myth. Nin-anna is the “Mother”, because she bore, as the wife of An, Dumuzi. But she is, or may become, the “wife” also of her own beloved “Son”, i. e., she as “earth” enters every year, at the time of the early spring, into wedlock with the god of “rain” or of the “fertility of the ground”, in consequence of which she becomes pregnant and produces the “vegetation” or the “new life of nature”.

This production of the new life of nature is described partly as a “resurrection” and partly as a “giving of birth”. Though the actual wedlock took place in the “netherworld”, i. e., in the “north” where there is the “mountain of the gods”, it was celebrated or re-enacted upon “earth” in the various temples, and revealed in the “heavens”.

Up to the time of the vernal equinox Nin-anna was a “virgin”, appearing in the heavens as “virgo”; with the occurrence of the equinox this virgin becomes the “Mother”, the “creatrix and bearer of everything”, revealing herself in the heavens as the “sublime lady” (Win-mah), who holds a “babe” in her arms which she nourishes. Who or what this babe is, is not difficult to explain: it is the personified vegetation (spica), the new-born creation, the “resurrected” and hence “new-born god of vegetation”.

No wonder, then, that before the IV century A. D., some Christian sects believed that Christ was born at the end of March, and that, though this belief was later on discarded in favor of the 26. of December, the Christian Church saw fit to compromise on this question by naming the first sunday after Easter quasi modo geniti, “like the new-born babes”.

The two-fold idea of Nin-anna’s being a “virgin” and “mother” we still find in our modern “virgin soil” and “mother earth”. The remaining peculiarity according to which Nin-anna was also the “sister” of Dumuzi, is due mainly to the fact that the Sumerians considered the husband and wife to be “one”. From this it follows that Nin-anna had to become, as “bride” of Dumuzi, the “daughter” of An, just as Dumuzi himself was the “son” of An. Dumuzi and Ninanna, then, as husband and wife, are the “son” and “daughter” of An, and hence “brother” and “sister”.

Later on, when the myth of Dumuzi and Nin-anna was transferred to the “Son” and “Mother” of the various other Sumerian trinities, it came to pass that Nin-anna or Ishtar as well as Dumuzi or Tamuz were looked upon as the “son” and “daughter” of each and every god who happened to play, in a particular city, the role of the “Father”. This is the reason for the various and manifold genealogies of both Ishtar and Tamuz which make them the “daughter” and “son” of An, Enlil, Enzu, Enki (ahzu), Ningishzida, etc., etc., and for their being identified with practically each and every “Mother” and “Son” of the Sumerian trinities.

The above mentioned wedlock of Dumuzi and Nin-anna is, however, only one of, the two relations in which they stand. The texts published in this volume do not refer to this marriage at all. On the contrary, we find that the “mother”, “bride” and “sister” of Dumuzi is pictured in them as being on her way to or through the “netherworld” in search for her “beloved”, who is described as being “dead”, having taken up his abode in the Sumerian hades – a locality or state referred to by extremely interesting and highly descriptive names.

While on her way to the “abode of Dumuzi”, Nin-anna passes the so-called “street full of wailing” (sil a-si-ga) continually crying out a, or a-a, or u-a, or wa-wa, i. e., “alas”, or “how long still”, or “when at last”, sc., “shall I be joined to my beloved?” Numerous and difficult are the obstacles which Nin-anna has to overcome until she at last is permitted to find her “beloved”, with whom she enters the “bridal chamber”.

The meaning of this episode in the myth is plain. Dumuzi, the god of the “fertility of the ground”, is “dead” (dig) or “powerless” (u-la) during the winter, at which time he was thought to have descended into the netherworld, situated in the north.

The necessary consequence of this impotency on the part of the “god of the fertility of the ground” was the barrenness of the earth or mother. The earth is barren during the winter season and, as the winter corresponds to the north, Nin-anna likewise is said to be in the north, where there is the netherworld, hoping, longing and praying to be united with her “beloved” in holy wedlock and thus be able to produce the new verdure, the new life of nature.

These observations alone would justify us in maintaining that the so-called “wailings of Nin-anna for Dumuzi”, which are the subject of the tablets here published, must have taken place some time during the winter season. Elsewhere I have shown that the 6th month of a year beginning with the autumnal equinox was the month of the “wailings for Dumuzi”.

This 6th month corresponded to our February-March and was called Ululu, from which we have the Latin ulul-are (howl or cry) frequently used in connection with the wailings of Aphrodite for Adonis. Now, as the resurrection of Dumuzi falls at the time of the vernal equinox, and as the wailings for Dumuzi take place in the month immediately preceding it, we may confidently assert, that these two features of the Dumuzi-Ninanna myth constitute the prototype of the Christian Lenten and Resurrection festivals. Both have for their basis the annual barrenness of nature and its resurrection to new life, and both are nature and spring festivals.

But each and every festival, though primarily given on hand by the immutable laws of nature, was at one time or another connected with actual, historical facts. The Christian lenten and resurrection festivals were connected with the actual and historical death and resurrection of Christ. The same is true of the Sumerian lenten and resurrection festivals. Again and again Nin-anna complains about the “enemies” and “dogs” who have invaded Babylonia, defiled and destroyed its cities and temples, asking and praying that these her cities and temples “be again restored”.

Thanks to the tablets of the Nippur Library, we know now who these “enemies” and “dogs” were and whence they came. They were the “hords” from the north of Babylonia: the Guti, Lulubi, Elamites etc., etc.

The macro-cosmic barrenness of the earth during the winter corresponds exactly to the destruction of Babylonia as micro-cosmos – a destruction which is wrought by the people from the north, the region of the winter and of the netherworld. To overcome this enemy, Dumuzi, like the later Nin-ib of the Nippur trinity, has to go to the north and smite this foe of Babylonia. And he does. As soon as this northern enemy is overcome, the rebuilding and dedication of the Babylonian cities and temples may and does take place.

The destruction of the temples and cities represents the historical micro-cosmic lent; the dedication of the temples the historical micro-cosmic resurrection, while the “wailings” of Nin-anna, from this point of view, are nothing but the appeal of her “lamentation men” and “women” to the generosity and liberality of the Babylonian kings and faithful ones to open their purses and make a most liberal offering at “Easter (Ishtar) time”. This having been complied with, the gods, more particularly the “Son” and “Bride”, can again take up their abode in the restored and dedicated temples, be re-united, and enter into holy wedlock.

This conception, it is needless to say, introduced into the Dumuzi-Ninanna myth quite a new feature: – a fight between the “enemy from the north” and the “god of the powers of nature”. And seeing that the north was also the region of the netherworld, this fight of Dnmuzi acquired very soon a mythological significance – it was looked upon as a fight between the “powers of nature” and the “powers of darkness” (Humbaba): the winter, the cold, mythologically pictured as a serpent (sahan).

It became a fight between the winter and spring, between darkness and light, between death and life – a fight such as took place not only at the “beginning of the world”, when Marduk overcame Tiamat, or when Jahveh conquered Rahab-Liviathan, but a fight which is repeated every year, month (Enzu as Dumuzi) and day (Utu as Dumuzi) until the end of the world.

The outcome of this fight is well-known: the enemy from the north as well as the mythological foe is overcome; Dumuzi the god of the powers of nature remains victorious. Also this victory is revealed in the heavens by the appearance, at the time of the Sumerian resurrection festival, i. e., at the time of the vernal equinox, of the star En-te-na MASH (BAR)-SIG (LUM), informing the faithful upon earth that now the dragon, the winter, the cold (en-te-nu) has been conquered, that its rulership has come to an end and that, in consequence of this victory, the new life, the new creation, the resurrection has not only been made possible but has become an actual fact.

Dumuzi having overcome the foes of Babylonia – both historical and mythological – receives as a reward the power to “judge” the universe, its living and its dead. The vernal equinox with the sign libra tells us that this his judgment is one of absolute justice and equity: it is as evenly balanced as is the day and night as this time.

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