Tag Archives: Sumer

Inanna’s Descent to the Lower World

Descent of the Goddess Ishtar into the Lower World
[From The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, M. Jastrow, 1915]

Inanna, wearing a multi-horned crown stands with her head in the realm of the deities and their devotees. Her bird-clawed feet rest in the underworld, inhabited by strange and demonic creatures. Mesopotamian cylinder seal, 2000-1600 B.C.

Inanna, wearing a multi-horned crown stands with her head in the realm of the deities and their devotees. Her bird-clawed feet rest in the underworld, inhabited by strange and demonic creatures. Mesopotamian cylinder seal, 2000-1600 B.C.

The Sumerian poem, The Descent of Inanna (c. 1900-1600 BCE) chronicles the great goddess and Queen of Heaven Inanna’s journey from heaven, to earth, to the underworld to visit her recently widowed sister Ereshkigal, Queen of the Dead.

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The Curse of Agade

Old Babylonian version


“Curse upon Agade”, a text recounting the ruin of the capital, cursed by the gods when king Naram-Sin destroyed the temple of Enlil in Nippur. (Louvre, Paris, France Photo: Erich Lessing)

1-9 After Enlil’s frown had slain Kic as if it were the Bull of Heaven, had slaughtered the house of the land of Unug in the dust as if it were a mighty bull, and then Enlil had given the rulership and kingship from the south as far as the highlands to Sargon, king of Agade — at that time, holy Inana established the sanctuary of Agade as her celebrated woman’s domain; she set up her throne in Ulmac.

10-24 Like a young man building a house for the first time, like a girl establishing a woman’s domain, holy Inana did not sleep as she ensured that the warehouses would be provisioned; that dwellings would be founded in the city; that its people would eat splendid food; that its people would drink splendid beverages; that those bathed for holidays would rejoice in the courtyards; that the people would throng the places of celebration; that acquaintances would dine together; that foreigners would cruise about like unusual birds in the sky; that even Marhaci would be re-entered on the tribute rolls; that monkeys, mighty elephants, water buffalo, exotic animals, as well as thoroughbred dogs, lions, mountain ibexes (some mss. have instead: mountain beasts (?)) (some mss. have instead: horses), and alum sheep with long wool would jostle each other in the public squares.

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The Myth of Adapa


Adapa brought before Anu

The Myth of Adapa (also known as Adapa and the Food of Life) is the Mesopotamian story of the Fall of Man in that it explains why human beings are mortal. The god of wisdom, Ea, creates the first man, Adapa, and endows him with great intelligence and wisdom but not with immortality, and when immortality is offered Adapa by the great god Anu, Ea tricks Adapa into refusing the gift.

Though it is not expressed directly in the myth, Ea’s reasoning in this seems similar to Yahweh’s in the Genesis story from the Bible where, after Adam and Eve are cursed for eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Yahweh casts them out before they can also eat of the Tree of Life:

“Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever; Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden”(Genesis 3:22-23)

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Atrahasis: Mesopotamian account of the Great Flood


The Epic of Atrahasis on a tablet from the British Museum, London (Britain). © British Museum

The Epic of Atrahasis is the fullest Mesopotamian account of the Great Flood, but it offers more.

The text is known from several versions: two were written by Assyrian scribes (one in the Assyrian, one in the Babylonian dialect), a third one (on three tablets) was written during the reign of king Ammi-saduqa of Babylonia (1647-1626 BCE). Parts are quoted in Tablet XI of the Epic of Gilgamesh; other influences are in the Babylonian History by Berossus.

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The Atrahasis Epic


The Epic of Atrahasis on a tablet from the British Museum, London (Britain). © British Museum

The Atrahasis Epic, named after its human hero, is a story from Mesopotamia that includes both a creation and a flood account. It was composed as early as the nineteenth century B.C.E. In its cosmology, heaven is ruled by the god Anu, earth by Enlil, and the freshwater ocean by Enki. Enlil set the lesser gods to work farming the land and maintaining the irrigation canals. After forty years they refused to work any longer. Enki, also the wise counselor to the gods, proposed that humans be created to assume the work. The goddess Mami made humans by shaping clay mixed with saliva and the blood of the under-god We, who was slain for this purpose.

The human population worked and grew, but so did the noise they made. Because it disturbed Enlil’s sleep, he decided to destroy the human race. First he sent a plague, then a famine followed by a drought, and lastly a flood. Each time Enki forewarned Atrahasis, enabling him to survive the disaster. He gave Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood and told him to build a boat. Atrahasis loaded it with animals and birds and his own possessions. Though the rest of humanity perished, he survived. When the gods realized they had destroyed the labor force that had produced food for their offerings they regretted their actions. The story breaks off at this point, so we learn nothing of the boat’s landing or the later Atrahasis.

The account has similarities to the Primeval History, including the creation of humans out of clay (see Genesis 2:7), a flood, and boat-building hero. For the text of the Atrahasis Epic see Pritchard (1969: 104-106). For a detailed study see W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, Atrahasis (Oxford: Clarendon Lambert, 1969).

Atrahasis & Human Creation
When the Gods did the work they grew weary and decided to create human beings.

This later Akkadian version of the flood story and the creation of humanity and fits between the Sumerian version and the Babylonian version in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The following excerpt is taken from Myths From Mesopotamia: Gilgamesh, The Flood, and Others, translated by Stephanie Dalley. It is related here for educational purposes only.

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Zecharia Sitchin’s Last Wish


Sitchin died hoping the DNA of queen Puabi could prove his theories right.

“Maybe by comparing her genome with ours, we would find out what are those missing genes that they deliberately did not give us. Maybe. I cannot guarantee that, but maybe.”

This is one of the last statements made by Dr. Zecharia Sitchin (1920-2010), one of the best known researchers of the Sumerian clay tablets. Dr. Sitchin devoted over 30 years of his life to studying these tablets, and developed the theory about the Anunnaki and planet Nibiru. According to this theory, an alien race called the “Anunnaki” arrived to the Earth more than 5000 years ago and created humans through a genetic experiment.

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Epic of Gilgamesh Addenda – Tablet 12

Scholars disagree about the relation of Tablet XII to the other eleven tablets. The general consensus is that it was an appendage added to the other Gilgamesh stories at a later date.

This tablet presents a stark contrast to the earlier eleven in style and content. The appearance of a “resurrected” Enkidu is especially startling. In light of these inconsistencies with Tablets I-XI, why include Tablet XII?

Gilgamesh_002Tablet XII provides further insight into some of the major themes and questions explored in the first eleven tablets. Is there an afterlife? What is the nature of it? What earthly behaviors are rewarded there? By the conclusion of Tablet XI, Gilgamesh was forced to accept the limits of mortal existence and be satisfied with its attainable rewards. Questions about the “state of being” in death had fiercely possessed him, however, and the answers remained a mystery.

The defining and “coming to terms” with human mortality has been the province of every system of religious beliefs throughout history. Here is our first recorded vision of an afterlife. it is for these reasons that Tablet XII is included here.
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The Sumerian King List – Weld-Blundell Prism

From time immemorial since the Land was founded until the people multiplied, who has ever seen a reign of kingship that would take precedence for ever? Lament of Sumer and Ur (Oxford etcsl 1998 368-70).

The Weld-Blundell Prism

Kingslist_000The term ‘Sumerian King List’ refers to the listings of Sumerian and neighbouring ruling dynasties derived from a number of sources mainly discovered early in the last century. The principal, most comprehensive, of these is the ‘Weld-Blundell Prism’. There are some twenty copies of the list or parts of it, some of which had been discovered before the Prism (Bienkowski & Millard 2000 169); (Wikipedia). Later king lists preserved and utilised this format at least up to the ‘Babylonica’, the History of Babylon, written by Berossus during the Hellenistic period in about 280 BC. (Burstein 1989 1)

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The Sumerian King List

Sumerian King List

The Sumerian King List is an ancient manuscript originally recorded in the Sumerian language, listing kings of Sumer (ancient southern Iraq) from Sumerian and neighboring dynasties, their supposed reign lengths, and the locations of “official” kingship. Kingship was believed to have been handed down by the gods, and could be transferred from one city to another, reflecting perceived hegemony in the region. Throughout its Bronze Age existence, the document evolved into a political tool. Its final and single attested version, dating to the Middle Bronze Age, aimed to legitimize Isin’s claims to hegemony when Isin was vying for dominance with Larsa and other neighboring city-states in southern Mesopotamia.


The Weld-Blundell Prism – The Sumerian kings list artifact, displaying all four sides.

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