MESOPOTAMIAN GODS: POWER, SYMBOLISM, POLITICS AND DEMONS

MESOPOTAMIAN GODS

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Dumuzi
Mesopotamians worshiped a wide array of gods, including personal gods, gods associated with each-state and gods of the sun, the moon and the planets. There were also gods for everything imaginable: broken hearts, leatherworking, sexual intercourse, weapons and the destruction of cities. Each topic covered by a god had its own rules and regulations which was supposedly enforced by the god that created it.

In the beginning each Sumerian city-state had its own pantheon of gods. Over time separate groups of gods fused into a pantheon of gods worshiped by everyone in Mesopotamia as well as by people in other regions.

Sumerian gods ate, drank, had sex and bore children just like people. The Mesopotamians had myths to go along with their gods to help explain things like why Sumer was chosen as the center of civilization and why there is a heaven and earth. The answer to the second question the Babylonians said that Marduk defeated a dragon by slitting it in two "like a shellfish."

Ira Spar of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Unlike some later monotheistic religions, in Mesopotamian mythology there existed no systematic theological tractate on the nature of the deities. Examination of ancient myths, legends, ritual texts, and images reveals that most gods were conceived in human terms. They had human or humanlike forms, were male or female, engaged in intercourse, and reacted to stimuli with both reason and emotion. Being similar to humans, they were considered to be unpredictable and oftentimes capricious. Their need for food and drink, housing, and care mirrored that of humans. Unlike humans, however, they were immortal and, like kings and holy temples, they possessed a splendor called melammu. Melammu is a radiance or aura, a glamour that the god embodied. It could be fearsome or awe inspiring. Temples also had melammu. If a god descended into the Netherworld, he lost his melammu. Except for the goddess Inanna (Ishtar in Akkadian), the principal gods were masculine and had at least one consort. Gods also had families.[Source: Spar, Ira. "Mesopotamian Deities", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 2009, metmuseum.org \^/]

“Unlike some later monotheistic religions, in Mesopotamian mythology there existed no systematic theological tractate on the nature of the deities. Examination of ancient myths, legends, ritual texts, and images reveals that most gods were conceived in human terms. They had human or humanlike forms, were male or female, engaged in intercourse, and reacted to stimuli with both reason and emotion. Being similar to humans, they were considered to be unpredictable and oftentimes capricious. Their need for food and drink, housing, and care mirrored that of humans. Unlike humans, however, they were immortal and, like kings and holy temples, they possessed a splendor called melammu. Melammu is a radiance or aura, a glamour that the god embodied. It could be fearsome or awe inspiring. Temples also had melammu. If a god descended into the Netherworld, he lost his melammu. Except for the goddess Inanna (Ishtar in Akkadian), the principal gods were masculine and had at least one consort. Gods also had families.” \^/

Websites and Resources on Mesopotamia: Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu.com/Mesopotamia ; Mesopotamia University of Chicago site mesopotamia.lib.uchicago.edu; British Museum mesopotamia.co.uk ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Louvre louvre.fr/llv/oeuvres/detail_periode.jsp ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/toah ; University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology penn.museum/sites/iraq ; Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago uchicago.edu/museum/highlights/meso ; Iraq Museum Database oi.uchicago.edu/OI/IRAQ/dbfiles/Iraqdatabasehome ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ABZU etana.org/abzubib; Oriental Institute Virtual Museum oi.uchicago.edu/virtualtour ; Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur oi.uchicago.edu/museum-exhibits ; Ancient Near Eastern Art Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org

Archaeology News and Resources: Anthropology.net anthropology.net : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; archaeologica.org archaeologica.org is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe archeurope.com features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine archaeology.org has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine archaeology.co.uk is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily heritagedaily.com is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience livescience.com/ : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons : online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel archaeologychannel.org explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites besthistorysites.net is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities essential-humanities.net: provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Books: Black, Jeremy, and Anthony Green Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. London: British Museum Press, 1992. Collon, Dominique First Impressions: Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East. London: British Museum Publications, 1987. Finkel, Irving L., and Markham J. Geller, eds. Sumerian Gods and Their Representations. Gronibngen: STYX Publications, 1997. Oppenheim, A. Leo. Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization. Rev. ed. by Erica Reiner.. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

Mesopotamian Pantheon of Gods

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Ishtar Eshnunna
There were hundreds of Mesopotamian gods. Sumerian gods included Inana, the great Sumerian goddess of fertility, war, love and success; Ninhursag or Ninmah, the earth goddess; Nergal, the god of death and disease; Anu, the ruler of the sky and the principal god in Uruk; Enlil, storm god and the main god in Nippur; and Sin, the god of the moon. Anu was the supreme being until Uruk was taken over the by city of Nippur and their local god Enlil became the god of gods. These gods were also worshiped by the Babylonians and Assyrians.

The main Babylonian god was Marduk and the main Assyrian god was Ashur. Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of fertility and love, was worshiped by both the Babylonians and Assyrians. The Babylonian and Assyrians created a triad of gods with the addition of an amicable God of the Underworld (Enki or Ea). The Mesopotamians gave each god a number: Anu was 60, Enhil 50, Ea 40, Sin 30, Shamash 20 and Ishtar 15. Some deities had consorts.

Mesopotamia gods were also linked to and had similarities with Gods in other cultures. Ishtar evolved into Diana and Artemis in Asia Minor and Aphrodite in Greece. Ishtar was believed to have the power to provide her worshipers with children and lambs. Her son Tammuz was associated with crops. In the leans months of summer people fasted until Tammuz rose from dead and made the world green again. The myth is similar to the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone. In the Bible the prophet Ezekiel was disgusted by women in Jerusalem who were “weeping for Tammuz.”

The sun god Shamash crossed the heavens in a chariot as the Egyptian god Aren in Mesopotamian and Egyptian times and the Greek god Apollo would later do. During the night he traveled through the underworld and passed judgement on the dead. The Assyrians had a weather god named Adad who carried lighting bolts in his hand and bore a striking resemblance to Zeus.

Mesopotamian Deities, Power and Nature


Nanna and the Moon

Ira Spar of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Possessing powers greater than that of humans, many gods were associated with astral phenomena such as the sun, moon, and stars, others with the forces of nature such as winds and fresh and ocean waters, yet others with real animals—lions, bulls, wild oxen—and imagined creatures such as fire-spitting dragons. [Source: Spar, Ira. Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 2009, metmuseum.org \^/]

“In the Sumerian hymn "Enlil in the E-Kur," the god Enlil is described as controlling and animating nature: “Without the Great Mountain Enlil . . . the carp would not . . . come straight up[?] from the sea, they would not dart about. The sea would not produce all its heavy treasure, no freshwater fish would lay eggs in the reedbeds, no bird of the sky would build nests in the spacious lands; in the sky, the thick clouds would not open their mouths; on the fields, dappled grain would not fill the arable lands, vegetation would not grow lushly on the plain; in the gardens, the spreading trees of the mountain would not yield fruit. \^/

“As supreme figures, the gods were transcendent and awesome, but unlike most modern conceptions of the divine, they were distant. Feared and admired rather than loved, the great gods were revered and praised as masters. They could display kindness, but were also fickle and at times, as explained in mythology, poor decision makers, which explains why humans suffer such hardships in life. \^/

“Generally speaking, gods lived a life of ease and slumber. While humans were destined to lives of toil, often for a marginal existence, the gods of heaven did no work. Humankind was created to ease their burdens and provide them with daily care and food. Humans, but not animals, thus served the gods. Often aloof, the gods might respond well to offerings, but at a moment's notice might also rage and strike out at humans with a vengeance that could result in illness, loss of livelihood, or death.” \^/

Mesopotamian Deities, Politics and Cities


Assyrian king Sragon II

Ira Spar of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Cuneiform tablets as early as the third millennium indicate that the gods were associated with cities. Each community worshipped its city's patron deity in the main temple. The sky god An and his daughter Inanna were worshipped at Uruk; Enlil, the god of earth, at Nippur; and Enki, lord of the subterranean freshwaters, at Eridu. This association of city with deity was celebrated in both ritual and myth. A city's political strength could be measured by the prominence of its deity in the hierarchy of the gods. Babylon, a minor city in the third millennium, had become an important military presence by the Old Babylonian period and its patron deity, noted in a mid-third millennium text from Abu-Salabikh as ranking near the bottom of the gods, rose to become the head of the pantheon when Babylon ascended to military supremacy in the late second millennium. [Source: Spar, Ira. Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 2009, metmuseum.org \^/]

“Political events influenced the makeup of the pantheon. With the fall of Sumerian hegemony at the end of the third millennium, Babylonian culture and political control spread throughout southern Mesopotamia. At the end of the third millennium B.C., Sumerian texts list approximately 3,600 deities. With the fall of Sumerian political might and the rise of the Amorite dynasties at the end of the third millennium and beginning of the second millennium, religious traditions began to merge. \^/

Older Sumerian deities were absorbed into the pantheon of Semitic-speaking peoples. Some were reduced to subordinate status while newer gods took on the characteristics of older deities. The Sumerian god An became the Semitic Anu, while Enki became Ea, Inanna became Ishtar, and Utu became Shamash. As Enlil, the supreme Sumerian god, had no counterpart in the Semitic pantheon, his name remained unchanged. Most of the lesser Sumerian deities now faded from the scene. At the end of the second millennium, the Babylonian myth "Enuma Elish" refers to only 300 gods of the heavens. In this process of associating Semitic gods with political supremacy, Marduk surpassed Enlil as chief of the gods and, according to "Enuma Elish," Enlil gave Marduk his own name so that Marduk now became "Lord of the World." Similarly, Ea, the god of the subterranean freshwaters, says of Marduk in the same myth, "His name, like mine, shall be Ea. He shall provide the procedures for all my offices. He shall take charge of all my commands." \^/

Development of Mesopotamian Gods

Morris Jastrow said: “The religion of Babylonia and Assyria passes, in the course of its long development, through the various stages of the animistic conception of nature towards a concentration of the divine Powers in a few supernatural Beings. Naturally, when our knowledge of the history of the Euphrates Valley begins, we are long past the period when practically all religion possessed by the people was summed up in the personification of the powers of nature, and in some simple ceremonies revolving largely around two ideas, Taboo and Totemism. The organisation of even the simplest form of government, involving the division of the community into little groups or clans, with authority vested in certain favoured individuals, carries with it as a necessary corollary a selection from the various personified powers who make themselves felt in the incidents and accidents of daily life. This selection leads ultimately to the formation of the pantheon. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]


Statue of Kurlil from the pre-Sumerian Ubiad era

“The gods that are prominent in the cult of a religion, in both its official and its popular forms, may be defined as the remainder of the large and indefinite number of Powers recognised everywhere by primitive man. While in the early animistic stage of religion the Power or spirit that manifests itself in the life of the tree is put on the same plane with the spirit supposed to reside in a flowing stream, or with the Power that manifests itself in the heat of the sun or in the severity of a storm, repeated experience gradually teaches man to differentiate between such Powers as markedly and almost continuously affect his life, and such as only incidentally force themselves on his notice. The process of selection receives, as has been already intimated, a strong impetus by the creation of little groups, arising from the extension of the family into a community. These two factors, repeated experience and social evolution, while perhaps not the only ones involved, constitute the chief elements in the unfolding of the religious life of a people. <>

“In the case of the religion of Babylonia and Assyria we find the process of selection leading in the main to the cult of the sun and the moon, of the Power that manifests itself in vegetation, and of the Power that is seen in storms and in bodies of water. Sun, moon, vegetation, storms, and water constitute the forces with which man is brought into frequent, if not constant, contact. Agriculture and commerce being two leading pursuits in the civilisation that developed in the Euphrates Valley, it is natural to find the chief deities worshipped in the various political centres of the earliest period of Babylonian history to be personifications of one or the other of these five Powers. The reasons for the selection of the sun and moon are obvious. <>

“The two great luminaries of the heavens would appeal to a people even before a stage of settled habitation, coincident with the beginnings of agriculture, would be reached. Even to the homeless nomad the moon would form a guide in his wanderings, and as a measure of time would be singled out among the Powers that permanently and continuously enter into the life of the group and of the individual. With an advance from the lower to the higher nomadic stage, marked by the domestication of animals, with its accompanying pastoral life, the natural vegetation of the meadows would assume a larger importance, while, when the stage is reached when man is no longer dependent upon what nature produces of her own accord but when he, himself, becomes an active partner in the work of nature, his dependency upon the Power that he recognises in the sun would be more emphatically brought home to him. Long experience will teach him how much his success or failure in the tilling of the soil must depend upon the favour of the sun, and of the rains in the storms of the winter season. Distinguishing between the various factors involved in bringing about his welfare, he would reach the conception of a great triad—the sun, the power of vegetation and fertility residing in the earth, and the power that manifests itself in storms and rains. <>

Babylonian and Assyrian Gods and the Climate of Mesopotamia

Morris Jastrow said: ““All this applies with peculiar force to the climate of the Euphrates Valley, with its two seasons, the rainy and the dry, dividing the year. The welfare of the country depended upon the abundant rains, which, beginning in the late fall, continued uninterruptedly for several months, frequently accompanied by thunder, lightning, and strong winds. In the earliest period to which we can trace back the history of the Euphrates Valley we find entire districts covered with a network of canals, serving the double purpose of avoiding the destructive floods occasioned by the overflow of the Euphrates and the Tigris, and of securing a more direct irrigation of the fields. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

“To the sun, earth, and storms there would thus be added, as a fourth survival from the animistic stage, the Power residing in the two great streams, and in the Persian Gulf, which to the Babylonians was the “Father of Waters.” Commerce, following in the wake of agriculture, would lend an additional importance to the watery element as a means of transportation, and the sense of this importance would find a natural expression in the cult of water deities. While the chief gods of the pantheon thus evolved are identical with the Powers or spirits that belong to the animistic stage of religion, we may properly limit the designation “deities” to that period in the development of the religious life with which we are here concerned and which represents, to emphasise the point once more, a natural selection of a relatively small number out of a promiscuous and almost unlimited group of Powers. <>

“It is perhaps more or less a matter of accident that we find in one of the centres of ancient Babylonia the chief deity worshipped as a sun-god, in another as a personification of the moon, and in a third as the goddess of the earth. We have, however, no means of tracing the association of ideas that led to the choice of Shamash, the sun-god, as the patron deity of Larsa and Sippar, the moon-god Sin as patron of Ur and Harran, and Ishtar, the great mother-goddess, the personification of the power of vegetation in the earth and of fertility among animals and mankind, as the centre of the cult in Uruk. On the other hand, we can follow the association of ideas that led the ancient people of the city of Eridu, lying at one time at or near the mouth of the Persian Gulf, to select a water deity known as Ea as the patron deity of the place. In the case of the most important of the storm deities, Enlil or Ellil, associated with the city of Nippur, we can also follow the process that resulted in this association; but this process is of so special and peculiar a character that it merits to be set forth in ampler detail.

Mesopotamian Hierarchy of Deities

Ira Spar of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Beginning in the second millennium B.C., Babylonian theologians classified their major gods in a hierarchical numerical order. Anu was represented by the number 60, Enlil by 50, Ea by 40, Sin, the moon god, by 30, Shamash by 20, Ishtar by 15, and Adad, the god of storms, by 6.” [Source: Spar, Ira. Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 2009, metmuseum.org \^/]

Morris Jastrow said: “Anu, Enlil, Ea, presiding over the universe, are supreme over all the lower gods and spirits combined as Annunaki and Igigi, but they entrust the practical direction of the universe to Marduk, the god of Babylon. He is the first-born of Ea, and to him as the worthiest and fittest for the task, Anu and Enlil voluntarily commit universal rule. This recognition of Marduk by the three deities, who represent the three divisions of the universe—heaven, earth, and all waters,—marks the profound religious change that was brought about through the advance of Marduk to a commanding position among the gods. From being a personification of the sun with its cult localised in the city of Babylon, over whose destinies he presides, he comes to be recognised as leader and director of the great Triad. Corresponding, therefore, to the political predominance attained by the city of Babylon as the capital of the united empire, and as a direct consequence thereof, the patron of the political centre becomes the head of the pantheon to whom gods and mankind alike pay homage. The new order must not, however, be regarded as a break with the past, for Marduk is pictured as assuming the headship of the pantheon by the grace of the gods, as the legitimate heir of Anu, Enlil, and Ea. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]



“There are also ascribed to him the attributes and powers of all the other great gods, of Ninib, Shamash, and Nergal, the three chief solar deities, of Sin the moon-god, of Ea and Nebo, the chief water deities, of Adad, the storm-god, and especially of the ancient Enlil of Nippur. He becomes like Enlil “the lord of the lands,” and is known pre-eminently as the bel or “lord.” Addressed in terms which emphatically convey the impression that he is the one and only god, whatever tendencies toward a true monotheism are developed in the Euphrates Valley, all cluster about him. <>

“The cult undergoes a correspondingly profound change. Hymns, originally composed in honour of Enlil and Ea, are transferred to Marduk. At Nippur, as we shall see, there developed an elaborate lamentation ritual for the occasions when national catastrophes, defeat, failure of crops, destructive storms, and pestilence revealed the displeasure and anger of the gods. At such times earnest endeavours were made, through petitions, accompanied by fasting and other symbols of contrition, to bring about a reconciliation with the angered Powers. This ritual, owing to the religious preeminence of Nippur, became the norm and standard throughout the Euphrates Valley, so that when Marduk and Babylon came practically to replace Enlil and Nippur, the formulas and appeals were transferred to the solar deity of Babylon, who representing more particularly the sun-god of spring, was well adapted to be viewed as the one to bring blessing and favours after the sorrows and tribulations of the stormy season, which had bowed the country low. <>

“Just as the lamentation ritual of Nippur became the model to be followed elsewhere, so at Eridu, the seat of the cult of Ea, the water deity, an elaborate incantation ritual was developed in the course of time, consisting of sacred formulas, accompanied by symbolical rites for the purpose of exorcising the demons that were believed to be the causes of disease and of releasing those who had fallen under the power of sorcerers. The close association between Ea and Marduk (the cult of the latter, as will be subsequently shown, having been transferred from Eridu to Babylon), led to the spread of this incantation ritual to other parts of the Euphrates Valley. It was adopted as part of the Marduk cult and, as a consequence, the share taken by Ea therein was transferred to the god of Babylon. This adoption, again, was not in the form of a violent usurpation by Marduk of functions not belonging to him, but as a transfer willingly made by Ea to Marduk, as his son. <>

“In like manner, myths originally told of Enlil of Nippur, of Anu of Uruk, and of Ea of Eridu, were harmoniously combined, and the part of the hero and conqueror assigned to Marduk. Prominent among these myths was the story of the conquest of the winter storms, pictured as chaos preceding the reign of law and order in the universe. In each of the chief centres the character of creator was attributed to the patron deity, thus in Nippur to Enlil, in Uruk to Anu, and in Eridu to Ea. The deeds of these gods were combined into a tale picturing the steps leading to the gradual establishment of order out of chaos, with Marduk as the one to whom the other gods entrusted the difficult task. Marduk is celebrated as the victor over Tiamat—a monster symbolising primeval chaos. In celebration of his triumph all the gods assemble in solemn state, and address him by fifty names,—a procedure which in ancient phraseology means the transfer of all the attributes involved in these names. The name is the essence, and each name spells additional power. Anu hails Marduk as “mightiest of the gods,” and, finally, Enlil and Ea step forward and declare that their own names shall henceforth be given to Marduk. “His name,” says Ea, “shall be Ea as mine,” and so once more the power of the son is confirmed by the father.

Images and Symbols of Mesopotamian Deities


Ishtar star

Ira Spar of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “From about the middle of the third millennium B.C., many deities were depicted in human form, distinguished from mortals by their size and by the presence of horned headgear. Statues of the gods were mainly fashioned out of wood, covered with an overleaf of gold, and adorned with decorated garments. [Source: Spar, Ira. Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 2009, metmuseum.org \^/]

“The goddess Inanna wore a necklace of lapis lazuli and, according to the myth "The Descent of Ishtar into the Netherworld," she was outfitted with elaborate jewelry. Texts refer to chests, the property of the god, filled with gold rings, pendants, rosettes, stars, and other types of ornaments that could adorn their clothing. Statues were not thought to be actual gods but were regarded as being imbued with the divine presence. Being humanlike, they were washed, dressed, given food and drink, and provided with a lavishly adorned bedchamber. \^/

“Deities could also be represented by symbols or emblems. Some divine symbols, such as the dagger of the god Ashur or the net of Enlil, were used in oath-taking to confirm a declaration. Divine symbols appear on stelae and naru (boundary stones) representing gods and goddess. Marduk, for example, the patron deity of Babylon, was symbolized with a triangular-headed spade; Nabu, the patron of writing, by a cuneiform wedge; Sin, the moon god, had a crescent moon as his symbol; and Ishtar, the goddess of heaven, was represented by a rosette, star, or lion.” \^/

Symbols of the Gods on Boundary Stones

Boundary Stones with symbols of the gods include one from the reign gf the Kassite King Nazi-maruttash (c. 1320 B.C.) found at Susa and now in the Louvre. Morris Jastrow said: “The symbols shown on Face D are: in the uppermost row, Anu and Enlil, symbolised by shrines with tiaras; in the second row—probably Ea [shrine with goat-fish and ram’s head ], and Ninlil (shrine with symbol of the goddess); third row—spear-head of Marduk, Ninib (mace with two lion heads); Zamama (mace with vulture head); Nergal (mace with lion's head); fourth row, Papsukal (bird on pole), Adad (or Ranunan—lightning fork on back of crouching ox); running along side of stone, the serpen t-god, Siru. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

“On Face C are the symbols of Sin, the moon-god (crescent); Shamash the sun-god (solar disc); Ishtar (eight-pointed star); goddess Gula sitting on a shrine with the dog as her animal at her feet; Ishkhara (scorpion); Nusku, thefire-god (lamp). “The other two faces (A and B) are covered with the inscription. Nineteen gods are mentioned at the dose of the inscription, where these gods are called upon to curse any one who defaces or destroys the stone, or interferes with the provisions contained in the inscription.

Another boundary stone of which two faces are shown is dated in the reign of Marduk-baliddin, King of Babylonia (c. 1170 B.C.) and was found at Susa and now in the Louvre. The symbols shown in the illustration are: Zamama (mace with the head of a vulture); Nebo (shrine with four rows of bricks on it, and homed dragon in front of it); Ninib (mace with two lion heads); Nusku, the god of fire Gamp); Marduk (spear-head); Bau (walking bird); Papsukal (bird perched on pole); Anu and Enlil (two shrines with tiaras); Sin, the moon-god (crescent). In addition there are Ishtar (eight-pointed star),nShamash (sun disc), Ea (shrine with ram's head on it and goat-fish before it), Gula (sitting dog), goddess Ishkhara (scorpiqn), Nergal (mace with lion head), Adad (or Ramman—crouching ox with lightning fork on bade), Sim—the serpent god (coiled serpent on top of stone). <>

“All these gods, with the exception of the last named, are mentioned in the curses at the close of the inscription together with their consorts. In a number of cases, (e. g., Shamash, Nergal, and Ishtar) minor deities of the same character are added which came to be regarded as forms of these deities or as their attendants; and lastly some additional gods notably Tammuz (under the form Damu), his sister Geshtin-Anna (or belit seri), and the two Kassite deities Shukamuna and Shumalia. In all forty-seven gods and goddesses are enumerated which may, however, as indicated, be reduced to a comparatively small number.” <>

Female Consorts of Mesopotamia Gods


Enlil and Ninlil

Morris Jastrow said: “While every male god of the pantheon had a consort, these goddesses had but a comparatively insignificant share in the cult. In many cases, they have not even distinctive names but are merely the counterpart of their consorts, as Nin-lil, “lady of the storm,” by the side of En-lil, “lord of the storm,” or still more indefinitely as Nin-gal, “the great lady,” the consort of the moon-god Sin, or as Dam-kina, “the faithful spouse,” the female associate of Ea, or as Shala, “the lady” paramount, the consort of Adad. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

“In other cases they are specified by titles that furnish attributes reflecting the traits of their consorts, as Sarpanit, “the brilliantly shining one,” the common designation of the consort of Marduk—clearly an allusion to the solar quality of Marduk himself,—or as Tashmit, “obedience,” the consort of Nebo—plausibly to be explained as reflecting the service which Nebo, as son, owes to his father and superior, Marduk. In the case of Anu we find his consort designated by the addition of a feminine ending to his name. As Antum, this goddess is merely a pale reflection of her lord and master. Somewhat more distinctive is the name of the consort of Ninib, Gula, meaning “great one.” This, at least, emphasises the power of the goddess, though in reality it is Ninib to whom “greatness” attaches, while Gula, or Bau, as she is also termed, shines by reflected glory. <>

“In all these instances it is evident that the association of a female counterpart with the god is merely an extension to the circle of the gods of the social customs prevalent in human society; and the inferior rank accorded to these goddesses is, similarly, due to the social position assigned in the ancient Orient to woman, who, while enjoying more rights than is ordinarily supposed, is yet, as wife, under the complete control of her husband—an adjunct and helpmate, a junior if not always a silent partner, her husband’s second self, moving and having her being in him. <>

“But by the side of these more or less shadowy consorts there is one goddess who occupies an exceptional position, and even in the oldest historical period has a rank equal to that of the great gods. Appearing under manifold designations, she is the goddess associated with the earth, the great mother-goddess who gives birth to everything that has life—animate and inanimate. The conception of such a power clearly rests on the analogy suggested by the process of procreation, which may be briefly defined as the commingling of the male and female principles. All nature, constantly engaged in the endeavour to reproduce itself, was thus viewed as a result of the combination of these two principles. On the largest scale sun and earth represent such a combination. The earth bringing forth its infinite vegetation was regarded as the female principle, rendered fruitful by the beneficent rays of the sun. “Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return” illustrates the extension of this analogy to human life, which in ancient myths is likewise represented as springing into existence from mother-earth. It is, therefore, in centres of sun-worship, like that of Uruk, where we find the earliest traces of the distinctive personality of a mother-goddess. To this ancient centre we can trace the distinctive name, Ishtar, as the designation of this goddess, though even at Uruk, she is more commonly indicated by a vaguer title, Nana, which conveys merely the general idea of “lady.” The opening scene of the great national epic of Babylonia, known as the adventures of Gilgamesh, is laid in Uruk, which thus appears as the place in which the oldest portion of the composite tale originated.

Sun Gods in Mesopotamia

Morris Jastrow said: “Whatever the reasons that led to this concentration of all the unfavourable phases of the sun-god on Nergal, the prominence that the cult of Babbar (or Shamash) at Sippar acquired was certainly one of the factors involved. This cult cannot be separated from that at Larsa. The designation of the god at both places is the same, and the name of the chief sanctuary of the sun-god at both Larsa and Sippar is E-Babbar (or E-Barra), “the shining house.” The cult of Babbar was transferred from the one place to the other, precisely as Marduk’s worship was carried from Eridu to Babylon. While Larsa appears to be the older of the two centres, Sippar, from the days of Sargon onward, begins to distance its rival, and, in the days of Hammurabi, it assumes the character of a second capital, ranking immediately after Babylon, and often in close association with that city. Even the cult of Marduk could not dim the lustre of Shamash at Sippar. During the closing days of the neo-Babylonian empire, the impression is imparted that there was, in fact, some rivalry between the priests of Sippar and those of Babylon. Nabonnedos, the last king of Babylonia, is described as having offended Marduk by casting his lot in with the adherents of Shamash, so that when Cyrus enters the city he is hailed as the saviour of Marduk’s prestige and received with open arms by the priests of Babylon. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]


Shamash

“The original solar character of Marduk, we have seen, was obscured by his assuming the attributes of other deities that were practically absorbed by him, but in the case of Shamash at Sippar no such transformation of his character took place. He remains throughout all periods the personification of the beneficent power residing in the sun. The only change to be noted as a consequence of the pre-eminence of the cult at Sippar is that the sun-god of this place, absorbing in a measure many of the minor localised sun-cults, becomes the paramount sun-god, taking the place occupied in the older Babylonian pantheon by Ninib of Nippur. The Semitic name of the god—Shamash— becomes the specific term for the sun, not only in Babylonia but throughout the domain of the Semites and of Semitic influence. <>

“A place had, however, to be found for sun-cults at centres so important that they could not be absorbed even by Shamash of Sippar. Nippur retained its religious prestige throughout all vicissitudes, and its solar patron was regarded in the theological system as typifying more particularly the sun of the springtime; wThile at Cuthah Nergal was pictured as the sun of midsummer with all the associations connected with that trying season. The differentiation had to a large extent a purely theoretical import. The practical cult was not affected by such speculations and no doubt, at Cuthah itself, Nergal was also worshipped as a beneficent power. On the other hand, Ninib, as a survival of the period when he was the “Shamash” of the entire Euphrates Valley, is also regarded, like Nergal, as a god of war and of destruction along with his beneficent manifestations. In ancient myths dealing with his exploits his common title is “warrior,” and the planet Saturn, with which he is identified in astrology, shares many of the traits of Mars-Nergal. Shamash of Sippar also illustrates these two phases. Like Ninib, he is a “warrior,” and often shows himself enraged against his subjects. <>

“The most; significant feature, however, of the sun-cult in Babylonia, which applies more particularly to Shamash of Sippar, is the association of justice and righteousness with the god. Shamash, as the judge of mankind, is he who brings hidden crimes to light, punishing the wrongdoers and righting those who have been unjustly condemned. It is he who pronounces the judgments in the courts of justice. The priests in their capacity of judges speak in his name. Laws are promulgated as the decrees of Shamash; it is significant that even so ardent a worshipper of Marduk as Hammurabi places the figure of Shamash at the head of the monument on which he inscribes the regulations of the famous code compiled by him, thereby designating Shamash as the source and inspiration of law and justice. <>

“The hymns to Shamash, almost without exception, voice this ascription. He is thus addressed:
“The progeny of those who deal unjustly will not prosper.
What their mouth utters in thy presence
Thou wilt destroy, what issues from their mouth thou wilt dissipate.
Thou knowest their transgressions, the plan of the wicked thou rejectest.
All, whoever they be, are in thy care;
Thou directest their suit, those imprisoned thou dost release;
Thou hearest, O Shamash, petition, prayer, and imploration.” <>
Another passage of the hymn declares that
“He who takes no bribe, who cares for the oppressed
Is favoured by Shamash,—his life shall be prolonged. <>

Mesopotamian Demons

Ira Spar of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Demons were viewed as being either good or evil. Evil demons were thought to be agents of the gods sent to carry out divine orders, often as punishment for sins. They could attack at any moment by bringing disease, destitution, or death. Lamastu-demons were associated with the death of newborn babies; gala-demons could enter one's dreams. Demons could include the angry ghosts of the dead or spirits associated with storms. [Source: Spar, Ira. Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 2009, metmuseum.org \^/]

“Some gods played a beneficent role to protect against demonic scourges. A deity depicted with the body of a lion and the head and arms of a bearded man was thought to ward off the attacks of lion-demons. Pazuzu, a demonic-looking god with a canine face and scaly body, possessing talons and wings, could bring evil, but could also act as a protector against evil winds or attacks by lamastu-demons. Rituals and magic were used to ward off both present and future demonic attacks and counter misfortune. Demons were also represented as hybrid human-animal creatures, some with birdlike characteristics. \^/

“Although the gods were said to be immortal, some slain in divine combat had to reside in the underworld along with demons. The "Land of No Return" was to be found beneath the earth and under the abzu, the freshwater ocean. There the spirits of the dead (gidim) dwelt in complete darkness with nothing to eat but dust and no water to drink.This underworld was ruled by Eresh-kigal, its queen, and her husband Nergal, together with their household of laborers and administrators. \^/

Types of Demons in Mesopotamia


demon Pazuzu

Morris Jastrow said: “The evil spirits, supposed to cause sickness and other ills, were of various kinds, and each class appears to have had its special function. Some clearly represent the shades of the departed, who return to earth to plague the living; others are personifications of certain diseases. The existence of special demons for consumption (or wasting disease), fever, ague, and headache forms a curious parallel to specialisation in the practice of modem medicine. There was even a “gynecological” demon, known as Labartu, whose special function it was to attack women in childbirth, and steal the offspring.[Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

“Other demons appear to have been associated chiefly with the terrors of the storm, or with the night, while some seem to have been of a general character or, if they had a special function, it has not as yet been discovered. Their general dwelling place was in the nether world—the domain of Nergal, the god of pestilence and death. The names given to these demons, such as “pestilence,” the “seizer,” the “one lying in wait,” “destroyer,” “storm,” illustrate the uncompromisingly forbidding and gloomy views held of them, which is even further emphasised by the terrifying shapes given to them—leopards, dragons, serpents, etc. <>

“Not confined solely to the nether world, their presence was also seen in the angry clouds that rolled across the heavens, their voice was heard in the storms that swept over the land. They come up from their habitation and conceal themselves in dark holes and unsuspected crannies, ready to pounce upon their victims unawares. In short, like the modern “germs” of which they are the remote prototypes, they are universal and everywhere. <>

Textual References to Mesopotamian Demons

One ancient Mesopotamian texts describes how demons like to operate in groups of seven:
“Destructive storms and evil winds are they,
A storm of evil, presaging the baneful storm,
A storm of evil, forerunner of the baneful storm.
Mighty children, mighty sons are they,
Messengers of Namtar are they,
Throne-bearers of Ereshkigal.
The flood driving through the land are they.
Seven gods of the wide heavens,
Seven gods of the broad earth,
Seven robber gods are they.
Seven gods of universal sway,
Seven evil gods,
Seven evil demons,
Seven evil and violent demons,
Seven in heaven, seven on earth. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

One incantation describes them as: “Neither male nor female are they.
Destructive whirlwinds they,
Having neither wife nor offspring.
Compassion and mercy they do not know.
Prayer and supplication they do not hear.
Horses reared in the mountains, Hostile to Ea.
Throne-bearers of the gods are they.
Standing on the highway, befouling the street.
Evil are they, evil are they,
Seven they are, seven they are, Twice seven they are. <>

On their ability to penetrate everywhere: “The high enclosures, the broad enclosures like a flood they pass through.
From house to house they dash along.
No door can shut them out,
No bolt can turn them back.
Through the door, like a snake, they glide,
Through the hinge, like the wind, they storm.
Tearing the wife from the embrace of the man,
Snatching the child from the knees of a man,
Driving the freedman from his family home. <>

Seven Demons of Mesopotamia


demon Humbada

“The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia” come from the sixteenth tablet of a series called the "Evil Demon Series," of which we have an Assyrian with a parallel Sumerian text, implying it was a very ancient legend. It goes: “Raging storms, evil gods are they, Ruthless demons, who in heaven's vault were created, are they, Workers of evil are they, They lift up the head to evil, every day to evil Destruction to work. Of these seven the first is the South wind...The second is a dragon, whose mouth is opened... That none can measure. The third is a grim leopard, which carries off the young ... The fourth is a terrible Shibbu ... The fifth is a furious Wolf, who knoweth not to flee. The sixth is a rampant ... which marches against god and king. The seventh is a storm, an evil wind, which takes vengeance. [Source: “Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia”, The seven demons or devil hostile to god. Evil Demon Series, translated by R.C. Thompson London 1903, piney.com]

“Seven are they, messengers to King Anu are they, From city to city darkness work they, A hurricane, which mightily hunts in the heavens, are they Thick clouds, that bring darkness in heaven, are they, Gusts of wind rising, which cast gloom over the bright day, are they, With the Imkhullu (1) the evil wind, forcing their way, are they, The overflowing of Adad mighty destroyers, are they, At the right of Adad stalking, are they, In the height of heaven, like lightning flashing, are they, To wreak destruction forward go they , In the broad heaven, the home of Anu, the King, evilly do they arise, and none to oppose. [(1) The Imkhullu (Imhullu) appears also in the Babylonian Creation Epic "The Enuma Elish"]

"Imhullu the atrocious wind, the tempest, the whirlwind, the hurricane, the wind of four and the wind of seven, the tumid wind, worst of all". When Enlil heard these tidings, a plan in his heart he pondered, With Ea, exalted Massu of the gods, he took counsel. Sin, Shamash, and Ishtar, whom he had set to order the vault of heaven, With Anu he divided the lordship of the whole heaven, To these three gods, his offspring Day and night, without ceasing, he ordained to stand,

“When the seven evil gods stormed the vault of heaven, Before the gleaming Sin, they set themselves angrily, The mighty Shamash, Adad the warrior, they brought on their side, Ishtar, with Anu the King, moved into a shining dwelling, exercising dominion over the heavens, ANU Son of the first pair of gods, Anshar and Kishar. Consort was Antu (Anatum) later replaced by Ishtar He was the son of Anshar and Kishar.

“Day and night he was dark (Sin), in the dwelling of his dominion he sat not down, The evil gods, the messengers of Anu, the King, are they, Raising their evil heads, in the night shaking themselves, are they, Evil searching out, are they, From the heaven, like a wind, over the land rush they. Enlil saw the darkening of the hero Sin in heaven, The lord spoke to his minister Nusku, O My minister Nusku, my message unto the ocean bring, The tidings of my son Sin, who in heaven has been sadly darkened, Unto Ea, in the ocean, announce it."

“Nusku exalted the word of his lord, To Ea, in the ocean, he went quickly, To the prince, the exalted Massu the lord Nudimmud. Nusku, the word of his lord there announced Ea in the ocean heard that word, He bit his lip and filled his mouth with wailing; Ea called his son Marduk, and gave him the message: "Go, my son Marduk, Son of a prince, the gleaming Sin has been sadly darkened in heaven, His darkening is seen in the heavens, The seven evil gods, death-dealing, fearless are they, The seven evil gods, like a flood, rush on, the land they fall upon, do they, Against the land, like a storm, they rise, do they, Before the gleaming Sin, they set themselves angrily; The mighty Shamash, Adad the warrior, they brought on their side."

Description of the Seven Demons and the Charm Used Against Them

The description of the seven demons in “The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia” reads: I: Destructive storms and evil winds are they, A storm of evil, presaging the baneful storm, A storm of evil, forerunner of the baneful storm. Mighty children, mighty sons are they, Messengers of Namtar are they, Throne-bearers of Ereshkigal. The flood driving through the land are they. Seven gods of the wide heavens, Seven gods of the broad earth, Seven robber-gods are they. Seven gods of universal sway, Seven evil gods, Seven evil demons, Seven evil and violent demons, Seven in heaven, seven on earth.[Source: “Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia”, The seven demons or devil hostile to god. Evil Demon Series, translated by R.C. Thompson London 1903, piney.com]

“II: Neither male nor female are they. Destructive whirlwinds they, Having neither wife nor offspring. Compassion and mercy they do not know. Prayer and supplication they do not hear. Horses reared in the mountains, Hostile to Ea. Throne-bearers of the gods are they. Standing on the highway, befouling the street. Evil are they, evil are they, Seven they are, seven they are, Twice seven they are.

“III: The high enclosures, the broad enclosures like a flood they pass through. From house to house they dash along. No door can shut them out, No bolt can turn them back. Through the door, like a snake, they glide, Through the hinge, like the wind, they storm. Tearing the wife from the embrace of the man, Snatching the child from the knees of a man, Driving the freedman from his family home.

“Charm Against the Seven Evil Spirits: Seven are they, seven are they! In the channel of the deep seven are they! In the radiance of heaven seven are they! In the channel of the deep in a palace grew they up. Male they are not, female they are not. In the midst of the deep are their paths. Wife they have not, son they have not. Order and kindness know they not. Prayer and supplication hear they not. The cavern in the mountain they enter. Unto Ea are they hostile. The throne-bearers of the gods are they. Disturbing the lily in the torrents are they set. Baleful are they, baleful are they. Seven are they, seven are they, seven twice again are they. May the spirits of heaven remember, may the spirits of earth remember.”

Destroying the Serpent Gutium


demon Lamashtu

Poem of Utu-hejal — Destroying the Serpent Gutium — Enemy of the Gods reads: “Enlil , the king of all the lands, entrusted Utu-hejal, the mighty man, the king of Unug, the king of the four quarters, the king whose orders cannot be countermanded, with wiping out the name of Gutium, the fanged snake of the mountains, who acted with violence against the gods, who carried off the kingship of Sumer to foreign lands, who filled Sumer with wickedness, who took away spouses from the married and took away children from parents, who made wickedness and violence normal in the Land. [Source: Babylonia Index, piney.com]

“He went to his lady, Inana, and prayed to her: "My lady, lioness in the battle, who butts the foreign lands, Enlil has entrusted me with bringing back the kingship to Sumer. May you be my help!" The enemy troops established themselves everywhere. Tirigan, the king of Gutium ...... the mouths of the channels . Nobody came out of his city to face him; he already occupied both part of the Tigris. In the south, in Sumer, he blocked the water from the fields, in the uplands he closed off the roads. Because of him the grass grew high on the highways of the land.

“But the king, endowed with power by Enlil, chosen by Inana with her heart -- Utu-hejal, the mighty man, came out from Unug to face him and set up camp at the temple of Ickur. He addressed a speech to the citizens of his city: "Enlil has given Gutium to me and my lady Inana will be my help! Dumu-zid-ama-ucumgal-ana has declared "It is a matter for me!" and assigned Gilgamec, the son of Nin-sun to me as a constable!" The citizens of Unug and Kulaba rejoiced and followed him with one accord. He lined up his élite troops.

“After departing from the temple of Ickur, on the fourth day he set up camp in Najsu on the Surungal canal, and on the fifth day he set up camp at the shrine at Ili-tappê. He captured Ur-Nin-azu and Nabi-Enlil, generals of Tirigan sent as envoys to Sumer, and put them in handcuffs. After departing from the shrine atIli-tappê, on the sixth day he set up camp at Karkara. He went to Ickur and prayed to him: "O Ickur, Enlil has provided me with weapons, may you be my help!" In the middle of that night, ...... he departed and above Adab he went to the rising Utu and prayed to him: "O Utu, Enlil has given Gutium to me, may you be my help!" He laid a trap there behind the Gutian. Utu-hejal, the mighty man, defeated their generals.

“Then Tirigan the king of Gutium ran away alone on foot. He thought himself safe in Dabrum, where he fled to save his life; but since the people of Dabrum knew that Utu-hejal was a king endowed with power by Enlil, they did not let Tirigan go, and an envoy of Utu-hejal arrested Tirigan together with his wife and children in Dabrum. He put handcuffs and a blindfold on him. Before Utu, Utu-hejal made him lie at his feet and placed his foot on his neck. He made Gutium, the fanged snake of the mountains drink again from the crevices , he ......, he ...... and he ...... boat. He brought back the kingship of Sumer.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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