Sumerian religion

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The Sumerian religion is considered to be the first written religion in the Mesopotamia region ; it inspired many cultures in the subsequent epochs. B. the Akkadians , Assyrians and Babylonians .

Creation and resurrection

Before the creation of man came the creation of the gods. In the first act of creation, the goddess Nammu , who represented the primordial sea, created the earth goddess Uraš and the sky god An . In the further course of creation, Enlil , the god of vegetation and air, and his wife Ninlil , who was symbolically worshiped as a grain goddess for nutrition, followed. The god of war Nergal and the underworld goddess Ereškigal as well as the goddess of the reeds Ningal and the moon god Nanna were created as further divine descendants . Ningal and Nanna are the parents of the sun god Utu , the fertility goddess Inanna and Nusku , the fire god.

The Sumerians believed that after the creation of the gods, man was created through the utterance of the divine words . The ME were created for the world order : a collection of irrevocable rules and laws that emerged from divine wisdom. Everyone had to follow these rules, otherwise chaos threatened and the person was doomed.

In addition to the creator deities, the three heavenly deities Nanna, Utu and Inanna were of outstanding importance. Another god of great importance was Ninurta , the god of the south wind. The shepherd god Dumuzi was very popular . Originally he was a mortal ruler whose marriage to Inanna was supposed to ensure the fertility of the land. However, the marriage ends in tragedy: Inanna felt too little attention from Dumuzi. The background was the underworld journey from Inanna to Ereschkigal in the realm of the dead. Inanna wanted to gain knowledge of death and was killed by Ereshkigal for this reason. With the help of two gods who were sent by Geštinanna to Ereschkigal, Inanna was able to re- enter the realm of the living as a resurrection after three days in the realm of the dead . Dumuzi was not very concerned about Inanna during the three days, which is why he was sentenced to spend six months a year in the underworld. This verdict resulted in the dry, barren months of hot summer. Because of her great love for Dumuzi, Geschtinanna was willing to come to earth in Dumuzi's absence and to represent him. After the return of Dumuzi, Geschtinanna had to travel to the realm of the dead for six months. Dumuzi's reunion with his wife led to a revival and renewed fertility in the animal and plant kingdom. The Sumerians celebrated the New Year with the holy wedding of Dumuzi and Inanna. The climax of this celebration was the ritual union, with the king impersonating Dumuzi and a high priestess impersonating Inanna.

At the side of the gods stood the Anunna (Sumerian DINGIRA.NUN.NA, which are from the seed anus). In the Sumerian religion they represent the divine council of elders. The Anunna were additionally given the title DINGIRGAL.GAL.E.NE (the great ones of the great gods). The syllable KI as an appendix to Anunnaki, the Akkadian variation, had, among other things, the meaning of "earth".

Sumerian pantheon

The god Enki ( En-ki means "lord of the earth"), nicknamed "lord of cunning" or "lord of Eridu ", the god of wisdom and knowledge, is the god of secrets. His throne was located underground in connection with the Abzu / Apsu in Eridu, with two streams of water emerging from vessels attached to the throne. He was also understood as a groundwater and spring deity. In contrast, the salty water of the sea was seen as a separate unit. Enki manipulated or cheated and deceived both other gods and humans for his own purposes. So Enki was ascribed to have confused the original language of the people with a so-called nam-shub and thus brought about the end of a golden age (the story shows similarities to the biblical story of the confusion of languages ​​at the “ Tower of Babel ”). In contrast, the god Enlil teaches people the language. The lands of the Shubur-Hamazi , the polyglot Sumerians , Ur , and the land of the Martu are named as his homeland .

The oldest layer of the Sumerian gods are probably the Anunna or Anunaki. So the Sumerians believed that agriculture, as well as cattle breeding and weaving were brought to the people from the holy mountain Du-Ku . That is where the Anunna gods lived. They were once gods from a very ancient time with no individual names.

Cult of the dead

Sacrifices were made to kings, high dignitaries and influential citizens at the kianag ( place where the dead are allowed to drink ). The sacrifice of libated liquids, mostly beer or water, took place on the eve of important religious festivals. For example, in the tombs of the kings of Ur, tubes were vertically embedded, which were used to receive the libations.

Sacrificial festivals

Sumerian myths

  • In Enki and Nammu the creation of man is portrayed. The goddesses Nammu and Ninmach are commissioned by the god Enki to create humans in the image of the gods. From the connection of clay and the holy water of the primeval ocean, man is said to be formed and guided by the gods in the future
  • Adapa is the story of a man who was given the opportunity to immortality . For this purpose, he should only take food and drinks from the gods, which were offered to him by Tammuz and Ningišzida on behalf of An . But since his god Enki had advised him not to eat from it, because otherwise he would die, he refused both. Instead, Enki gave his follower Adapa great wisdom and magical powers. The god An was upset when he learned of this. For comparison, see the motifs of the Greek Prometheus saga, in which Prometheus angered Zeus , the father of the gods , because he brought fire to people.
  • The eleventh panel of the Gilgamesh epic tells the story of a flood disaster . A completely preserved version is no longer available. Therefore, the text was translated from the Sumerian , Babylonian , Akkadian , Hurrian, and Hittite fragments. In the Sumerian version, the god Enki warns Ziusudra about a flood that will destroy all life and advises him to build a ship. The situation is complicated by an oath of secrecy that Enki had to swear to the other gods, so that Enki uses a ruse to speak against the reed wall of the house in which Ziusudra sleeps. So Ziusudra experiences the warning in the form of a dream, who then follows Enki's orders from the dream, tears down his house and builds a boat from it. On Enki's instructions, he does not reveal anything to the other people about the impending doom. Ziusudra lets the animals of the steppe, his wife and the entire clan board the boat . The Babylonian version further reports on the catastrophe, which breaks in in the form of several tidal waves from the ground over the country and causes the whole country to sink. After the water has run down, Enlil rewards Ziusudra and his wife for saving living beings with the deification of both and a divine life on the island of the gods Dilmun (The place Šuruppak in lower Mesopotamia is specified in the Gilgamesh epic as the city that was the starting point of the flood ). The archaeological findings from this region confirm several floods of the Euphrates and Tigris . A previously believed connection between the floods and the deluge can no longer be confirmed today.
  • Inanna and the World Tree is a Sumerian myth that tells of the creation of the Holy Throne and the Holy Bed of Inanna.

Cultural-historical meanings

The world tree

At the beginning of time, a tree grows on the earth, while the world, as is customary in archaic mythology, was divided into the three levels of heaven, earth and the underworld . The sacred order is before creation. The tree growing on the Euphrates is about to be uprooted. Inanna saves the tree and plants it in her own garden. This act symbolizes the first culture-creating order. The tree becomes a dwelling ; The divine sky bird lives in the top, the goddess Lilith in the trunk and the snake as a symbol for the underworld in the roots. The goddess Lilith is portrayed as a demonic deity in this story .

The Inanna Throne

Inanna gives the instruction to cut down the world tree. Her divine throne and bed are supposed to be made as symbols of power from the material of the world tree for her seat in Uruk. This symbolic act justifies the creation of the sacred order in which Inanna herself now rises to the axis and center of the world. The plot also represents the rise of Uruk to the holy city. From the Sumerian list of kings it is clear that in the beginning it was female deities who were responsible for the construction of the first cities. Typically Utu helps cut down the World Tree. The ancient oriental name Innin , the counterpart to the Sumerian expression Inanna , also symbolizes the goddess of primeval water and the goddess of the moon. Inanna is the goddess of the whole sky and the associated stars, who are also present when the sun has long since set. Her symbols were the crescent moon and the planet Venus as an eight-pointed star. Utu's help shows the order of the time in which only the male deities could wield the symbolic double ax, while the female deities were dependent on the strength of the male deities, but ultimately made the decisions. In later times the male deities rose in the pantheon and took over the functions of many ancient female deities.

The holy wedding

Enki had foretold Inanna what the knowledge of truth consists of: the art of love and the celebration of the holy wedding . It consequently means to experience the laws of life and death for oneself. Before the holy wedding there is courtship for the bride. Inanna's brother and mother play the most important role as the family chooses the bridegroom; a young “inexperienced” woman does not have the necessary wisdom for this. At first there was open outrage when choosing Dumuzi: What should I do with a shepherd? Better give me the farmers! In this process, the initial attitude of the Sumerians becomes visible, who placed more value on agriculture and saw the restless, wandering nomads as a threat to society. This becomes particularly clear in the Inanna's saying: Why should I choose the shepherd who belongs to a different culture, the nomads who raise cattle on the steppe? But the story solves the problem at hand by attempting to unite both cultures. The advantages for the Sumerian Kingdom from the inclusion of the nomads are seen in an increase in the country's economy. Inanna's resistance ends with the mother's decision: My mother's kind word is law for me. This is followed by the ritual chants of the promotion of the holy wedding. This is followed by the official act of state in the form of the enthronement of Dumuzi as the new king of Sumer. In the culture of the Sumerians, this act was not carried out through conquest and rule, but through divine assignment , which is why the coronation did not take place in the palace. The coronation place was the wedding bed of Inanna, which stood in the middle of her holy temple. There, in no other place, the goddess Inanna handed over the divine power and the symbols of government to the kings.

Inanna's underworld journey

Inanna resolutely embarks on the journey through the underworld because she wants to learn not only the laws of heaven and earth but also the laws of death. After crossing the Ḫubur underworld river and arriving in the realm of the dead, she gradually loses her divine attributes , since Ereschkigal is the ruling goddess in the realm of the dead. Ereschkigal kills Inanna with a single look. There is no reason for Inanna to be killed, since Ereshkigal, as the embodiment of death, transfers everyone to the realm of death without asking why. Inanna's youthful aspect appears again and again in the form of the Ninschubur , fighting Amazons as guardians who serve Inanna unconditionally. Ninschubur fight with the weapons of the air and the sky. They commissioned Enki to bring Inanna the water and food of life. Ultimately, however, it is Ereschkigal himself, Inanna's older sister, who turns fate. Ereschkigal gives birth to Inanna again from the realm of the dead, lying in labor pains. The two divine helpers who come to Ereschkigal on behalf of Enki help her with the birth. In gratitude, Ereschkigal allows them to take the newly born Inanna, who now knows the laws of death, back into the realm of the living.

Yet the law of death requires a sacrifice for rebirth. When asked about the victim in question, Inanna weighs the advantages and disadvantages of the candidates in question. The choice falls on Dumuzi. The reasons lie in the strangeness of Dumuzi and the non-mourning for Inanna. Dumuzi, who had only experienced power through Inanna, realizes that without the goddess he has no power. In contrast to Inanna, who voluntarily entered the realm of the dead, Dumuzi is sent to the underworld as a condemned man and loses all heroic attributes in the descent. Through this divinely induced act, human mortality is made clear and played a central role in the cult of the Sumerians. Inanna, born again through the knowledge of the underworld, acts like Ereschkigal: with a single glance she sends Dumuzi into the underworld.

The great flood

In the story of the flood, Ziusudra is presented as the opposite of Gilgamesh. The later form of the name Utnapishtim means: The very clever one , he is humble and even listens to divine instructions when he personally has different views. He is stylized as the hero of mankind against a hasty decision by the gods. The godless noise and non-observance of divine commandments formed the basis for the gods' plan . The salvation of mankind through ziusudra is not understood as a self-glorifying act, but reflects the service to the gods and life. In the Sumerian myth, Inanna is the main acting deity who, after initial disinterest, understands what the decision means for everyone, people and gods. She becomes more contradictory and changes her mind. At the sight of people dying, she acts like a mother who wanted to punish her own children but did not know the extent of the punishment. Their cries of lament come too late, their fate seems decided. However, Enki had circumvented the gods' plan with wise foresight, since he was the only one who considered the consequences. The air god Enlil, who prematurely triggered the storm surge with his obedience, is clearly ashamed in the end. Inanna recognizes the wisdom of Enki and gives Ziusudra and his wife eternal life on the island of the gods. Gilgamesh, on the other hand, cannot do anything with the story of Ziusudra. Another proof of Gilgamesh's inadequacies for eternal life. He desires it for selfish reasons and does not recognize the essence of the heroic deed of ziusudra, which is why he falls asleep over it. Sleep here symbolizes its blindness and deafness.

Sumerian Myths and the Bible

The following themes and schemes can be found with a similar Bible equivalent:

See also


  • Helmut Freydank u. a .: Lexicon of the Old Orient. Egypt * India * China * Western Asia. VMA-Verlag, Wiesbaden 1997, ISBN 3-928127-40-3 .
  • Brigitte Groneberg : The gods of the Mesopotamia. Cults, myths, epics. Artemis & Winkler, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-7608-2306-8 .
  • Samuel Noah Kramer : History Begins at Sumer, Twenty-seven 'Firsts' in Man's Recorded History. Doubleday Anchor Books, Garden City-New York 1956, 1959, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia 1981, ISBN 0-8122-7812-7 .
  • Samuel Noah Kramer, John Maier: Myths of Enki, the Crafty God. Oxford University Press, New York-Oxford 1989, ISBN 0-19-505502-0 .
  • Gebhard J. Selz : Sumerians and Akkadians. CH Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-50874-X .
  • Diane Wolkenstein: Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth. Revised cuneiform texts by Samuel Noah Kramer - Harper & Row, New York 1983.

Web links

Notes and evidence

  1. ↑ In the Epic of Gilgamesh, nothing is reported about rains, which in the Bible let the world go under. The downfall is portrayed here with blazing firestorms and breaking tidal waves. The term rain is not mentioned in any word.
  2. God Adad floods the land, "like a bull" ( kīma alpi gu 4 / = gud ) and destroys it.
  3. Original text excerpt From the black clouds, Adad roared that the throne-bearers Schullat and Hanisch are leading him over mountain and country. Errakal tears the pegs, he went with Ninurta and let the weirs overflow. The underworld gods raised the torches and set all the land on fire ... On the first day the storm rolled down the land furiously. Then the east wind brought the tide, which hit the people like a slaughter with force. Nobody could see the other in the annihilation. Even the gods withdrew for fear of the mighty tide ... People now fill the sea like fish ... Nights go along with wind, weather, storm and high tide, but on the 7th day the ocean came to rest.
  4. The flood story is in the new and expanded version by Stefan M. Maul The Gilgamesch Epos , CH Beck Verlag, 3rd edition 2006, ISBN 3-406-52870-8 of the story described here as the basis. In the new publication, interim finds of further fragments have been translated and now allow a more detailed insight into the Gilgamesh narrative