Category: Near & Middle East

Dagon

Alex Thomason

ARH 351

 

 

Dagon was referred to as the Chief Deity of the Philistines that dates back to the Third Millennium BC. He was heavily worshipped in the cities of Azotus, Gaza and Ashkelon. Little is known about Dagon regarding the Canaanite pantheon and Dagon’s role, but the position that he used to play in Palestinian religion is quite evident.

He was the god of fertility and crops. He was typically portrayed with the upper body of a man, and the lower body of a fish. “Dag” is actually the Hebrew translation for “fish,” and “dagan” means grain in Greek. Often times, Dagon was associated with a female deity named Derceto. She also had the upper body of a human with the lower body of a fish. This may explain why Dagon is regularly portrayed as a half-fish, half-man creature. Coins from ancient Phoenician and Philistine cities indicate that Dagon was not solely represented as a fish-like creature. The fish lower body may be due to different perceptions of Dagon that could have developed around the Mediterranean Sea.

Dagon was one of four sons to Anu, the Sumerian sky god. Dagon’s son Baal, later took on the role as the god of fertility. His brother El was the “father of humanity,” and was typically portrayed with bullhorns. The depiction of deities with bullhorns is actually evident in many ancient civilizations. Although Dagon was the Chief Deity in Palestine, he was considered second to El in the Canaanite pantheon.

King Zimri-Lim of Mari made an interesting reference to Dagon in 18th century BC, written by Itur-Asduu an official in the court of Mari and governor of Nahur (the Biblical city of Nahor) (ANET, p. 623). It refers to a dream of a “man from Shaka,” then Dagon appeared. He blamed Zimri-Lim on the failure do defeat the King of the Yaminites because he did not report his actions to Dagon. He promises Zimri-Lim, “I will have the kings of the Yaminites cooked on a fisherman’s spit, and I will lay them before you,” (ANET, p. 623).

The religious practices involving Dagon continued to at least the second century BCE. At the time, the Israelites established a monarchy, and Palestine became their biggest enemy. Dagon’s reign as a deity more than likely ended after to the destruction of temple at Azotus.

 

Sources

  • The Bible NIV Translation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991
  • Knight, Kevin. ‘Dagon,’ The Catholic Encyclopedia 4 (1999): www.newadvent.org, pg. 1-2
  • DeVries, Lamoine. Cities of the Biblical World. Peabody, Massachussetts: 1997
  • Keller, Werner. The Bible as History. New York: Bantam, 1984
  • The Revell Concise Bible Dictionary. Tarrytown, New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1984 

Inanna: Patron Deity of Uruk

The Ancient Near East was a region that could easily have been considered as the cradle of civilization. This was the place of the earliest forms of civilization, which could be seen in places such as Mesopotamia and Sumeria. The goddess Inanna/Ishtar was the foremost deity of Uruk, a city-state of Sumeria, and therefore critical to the Ancient Near East’s culture. Key elements that made this region drastically different than previous civilizations could be the clear utilization of agriculturally-viable environments, and possibly most important, this region was the first to be urbanized. Inanna, the patron deity of the city of Uruk in Sumeria, encompassed the agrarian and environmental aspects of this urbanized society, which can be ascertained from this ceramic head of a ram within this exhibition.

The Sumerian goddess Inanna/Ishtar was the patron deity of Uruk and the goddess who held sway over warfare and politics. Uruk was divided into two regions: one region was dedicated to the deity Anu, and the second region was dedicated to Inanna. Her name was written with a sign that represents a reed stalk tied in a loop at the top, which appears in even the very early texts from the mid-fourth millennium BCE (Inanna Mark Paragraph 1). In the article pertaining to Inanna by Joshua J. Mark, he referenced historian Gwendolyn Leick and her analyses of Mesopotamian culture. She said that from royal inscriptions of the early Dynastic Period, Inanna was frequently cited as a protectress of sorts for the kings, with Sargon of Akkad attributing his success in battles and politics to her (Inanna Mark Paragraph 2). While the deity was known as Inanna initially, as time went by and civilizations fell and rose, she became identified with the Akkadian goddess Ishtar, a Semitic deity associated with fertility. This is in part due to the Akkadian poet Enheduanna, Sargon of Akkad’s daughter, linking the two, and therein bringing Inanna from a local vegetative deity to the Queen of Heaven and ultimately the most popular goddess in Mesopotamia (Inanna Mark Paragraph 1). In this later form, she was a figure of political and military power, but also sexuality, eventually culminating in her surpassing Anu in popularity within Mesopotamia.

To further understand Inanna in Mesopotamian culture, one must look to mythological history and written texts of the time. Some particular sources that Mark addresses are Inanna and the Huluppu-Tree, which was an early creation myth, Inanna and the God of Wisdom, in which she brings knowledge and culture to Uruk, The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi, a tale of Inanna’s marriage to a vegetation god, and a poem entitled The Descent of Inanna in which the Queen of Heaven journeys to the underworld (Inanna Mark Paragraph 3). Within this vast mythological record of Uruk, Inanna was often said to have stolen the sacred meh from her father-god Enki at the sacred city of Eridu and brought them with her to Uruk. The meh were described as “divine decrees which are the basis of the culture pattern of Sumerian civilization.” Eridu was considered by the Sumerians to be the first city created by gods and therefore a place holy to them. By Inanna removing these decrees, she signified a transference of power from one city to another. In the aforementioned Inanna and the God of Wisdom, Enki makes an attempt to retrieve the decrees and return them to Eridu; however this is all in vain. Inanna successfully tricked her father and made Uruk, not Eridu, the seat of power in Sumeria. The moral to this story, particularly in relation to how Sumerians viewed the goddess Inanna, would be that Eridu was associated with rural life, whereas Uruk was the embodiment of the new way of life which was the city. This story would have given ancient Mesopotamians a reason as to why Eridu declined in importance as Uruk rose in size: it was the work of the gods (Uruk Mark Paragraph 5).

 

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Metropolitan Museum of Art. Copyright and Proprietary Rights. The text, images, trademarks, data, audio files, video files and clips, software, documentation or other information contained in these files, and other content on the Websites (collectively, the “Materials”) are proprietary to the Museum or its licensors. The Museum retains all rights, including copyright, in the Materials. Copyright and other proprietary rights may be held by individuals or entities other than, or in addition to, the Museum.

Keeping all of that information regarding Inanna in mind, this specific image depicts the head of a ram, made from clay. It may not immediately be clear how this artifact would pertain to Inanna, as she was said to ultimately be the goddess of war, politics, and later, sexuality; however, prior to her association with the Akkadian deity Ishtar, Inanna was a local vegetative god, with far less power than she had later. On the Metropolitan Museum’s website containing this image, it further explains this line of thinking, saying, “Indeed, it seems that images of sheep were common in the city at this time, especially within buildings associated with the cult of Inanna, goddess of Uruk. This might indicate that animal sculptures, such as this example, played a role in religious practice” (Metmuseum.org). Therefore, in this state, Inanna would have been represented in art as an animal, to encompass the importance of agriculture and the environment. It also would have represented Inanna’s ability to better society through the citizen’s continual devotion to her.

– Allison Lee

Works Cited

Mark, Joshua J. “Inanna,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified October 15, 2010. http://www.ancient.eu/Inanna/.

Mark, Joshua J. “Uruk,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified April 28, 2011. http://www.ancient.eu/uruk/.

“Head of a Ram.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed March 10, 2015. http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/326655?rpp=30&pg=1&ft=inanna&pos=1.

Enki

Enki, or Ea (Akkadian), is the Mesopotamia god of fresh waters known as apsu. He is the god of wisdom, farming, building, magic and crafts. Enki is depicted as a bearded man surrounded by flowing water (Foster, 151). Two symbols associated with Enki are the goatfish and a scepter with a ram’s head. Enki is one of the three most powerful gods in the Mesopotamian pantheon, including Anu and Enlil.

Sumerian texts about Enki often include sexual portrayals of his virile masculinity. There is a metaphorical link between the life-giving properties of Enki’s semen and the fresh water from the apsu (Horry). Enki is associated with the city of Eridu, and his temple was called E-abzu, meaning house of the apsu (foster, 643-644). Among Enki’s various roles in Mesopotamian society, he was in charge of making the lands fertile and civilizing it’s cities. The text Enki and Ninhursanga describes Enki’s role in transforming the land around the marshes of Tilum into fertile ground using water from the apsu (Horry). The Sumerian myth of Inanna and Enki tells about the rules of the universe, called the ‘me’. In the beginning, Enki controls the me. Inanna gets Enki drunk and she tricks him into giving her the me. When Enki realizes he has given Inanna the me, he tries to recover them. Inanna takes the me back to Uruk and Enki can’t get them back. The story of Inanna and Enki is believed to be about a treaty between the cities of Uruk and Eridu (Horry).

Greenstone cylinder seal of the scribe Adda ; c.2300-2200 BCE. (BM 89115). © The British Museum.
Greenstone cylinder seal of the scribe Adda ; c.2300-2200 BCE. (BM 89115). © The British Museum.

Enki can be seen on the Greenstone seal of Adda. The seal of Adda is an Akkadian seal dating back to 2300-2200 BCE (Reade). The cuneiform inscription identifies the owner of the seal as the scribe Adda. The figures on the seal can be identified as Enki, Usimu, Shamash and Inanna. The figure armed with a bow and quiver has not been identified with certainty, but may represent a hunting god like Nusku (Collon). The seal represents the gods’ roles in everyday Mesopotamian life. Enki is represented with streams of water and fish flowing from his shoulders. He is depicted this way because he is the god of water, fertility and wisdom. Behind Enki is Usimu, Enki’s two-faced minister. In the middle of the seal is the sun god, Shamash. Shamash is shown with rays of light rising from his shoulders. He also has a sword that he is using to cut his way through the mountains so he may rise at dawn (Reade). The winged goddess to the left is Inanna. She is shown with weapons rising from her shoulders and a handful of dates. Inanna is represented this way because she is the goddess of war, fertility, wisdom and love.

There are many different gods that represent a variety of things in ancient Mesopotamian culture. The people of these ancient societies used the gods to explain how and why all different aspects of life exist. The seal of Adda shows Enki, Shamash and Inanna doing their duties as gods and goddesses. Enki is shown giving life to the earth with water from the apsu. Through this seal, the people of this culture could better understand the gods and the roles they played on earth.

– Jesse Busby

Works Cited

Horry, Ruth, ‘Enki/Ea (god)’, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, Oracc and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2013 http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/enki/.

Foster, B.R. 2005. Before the Muses: an Anthology of Akkadian Literature. 3rd edition. Bethesda, MD: CDL Press.

Reade, J.E. , Mesopotamia (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

Collon, D., First impressions: cylinder se (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)

Collon, D., Catalogue of the Western Asi-1 (London, 1982)

Anu-Father of the Gods

Anu is one of the father gods of Mesopotamia and completes a triad of gods including Enlil and Enki. Anu, referred to as this name in Akkadian culture, is seen as the supreme god who was the ruler of all the kings. Anu was indeed the most important god to the extent that if another god reached a higher level of importance, they would have been said to gain the status of, “Anu-power” (Stevens). Many of the other deities from this time would have been described as his children, since he is this father of all gods. His depiction in the Akkadian culture was a headdress with horns to show his strength and power.

Anu was also an important god to the Sumerian culture, but would have been referred to by the name of An. An was still depicted as this supreme god with just some different aspects within this culture. For instance, instead of being depicted with the headdress with horns, he was depicted as a powerful bull. Some say later this depiction was the Bull of Heaven, which An owned but still significant in relation to the god (Anu). Anu was a very important god for both of these cultures in leading all the gods, and especially in leading the society’s religious ceremonies.

Anu was worshipped in many cities throughout the time of Mesopotamia, but Urak was seen as Anu’s specific holy city. Anu was worshipped often with Inanna, god associated with grain. Therefore, when worshipping the two gods, the Mesopotamians would have often been worshipping for good weather and plentiful of food. Anu was seen also as the god associated with animals or vegetation that would have been crucial for their survival. Anu was also connected with being the god of all evil spirits and demons, such as Lamastu. Anu did have temples across Mesopotamia where people could worship him for being the creation of the universe and to give him offerings to continue having an abundance of animals.

The object I have chosen is found at the British Museum, it is the

Image used with permission of the British Museum
Image used with permission of the British Museum

Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic. This epic explains Babylon’s version of the flood story. It depicts Anu being the ruler of heaven and the gods, the earth ruled by Enlil and the water ruled by Enki. This story explains how Enlil destroys everything by famine, drought, and finally a large flood. After, the gods were very unhappy because there was no one left to worship them and give the gods offerings. This is a very important story to the Babylon religion. Anu is seen here as the supreme god, but within this story he does not commit much action to the actual story. This kind of goes to show that in the culture of Babylon even though Anu is above all gods, he is not important in specifically being worship because other gods had more specific roles in their everyday society. Anu was still worshipped for his power and creation of the universe, but this is why there are not as many depictions of him in temples by himself but associated with other gods.

– Busy Hopper

Works Cited

“Anu | Mesopotamian God.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2015.

 

Kathryn Stevens, ‘An/Anu (god)’, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, Oracc and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2013 [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/an/]

Genii

   As a part of your subconscious, the genii is a specific divine figure with an unspecific content flowing through every living creature representing the intercessor between the realms of God and man. The genii attends man throughout the duration of a life as his second or spiritual self, forever influencing and shaping ideals that the Gods set forth. As far as the literary testimonies concerned, what stands out is the overwhelming ratio of personal individual Genii, a revealing aspect for the central feature of this religious phenomenon, it’s paradoxical character that can be seen in every culture and religion.

   Every Human at birth receives a genius. The genius can be conceived as a friendly towards one person, and as a hostile towards another, or that it manifested itself to the same person in different ways at different times. The other popular theory is that we obtain two genii, one for the power of good with the other to the power of evil, and that at death depending on the influence we either rise to a higher state of existence or are condemned to a lower one. Along with the two different types of genius there are two different names regarding the gender that it resides in. Women called there genius Juno, regarding the genii of men as being in some way connected with Jupiter (mythindex.com). Among the Romans the name genius was given to the God who had the power of doing all things. The genius was a God who had the power of generating all things and presiding over them when produced. The Genii are emanations from the great gods that would act as the mediator; the agent that interprets the gods’ wills onto mankind, to keep the harmony between dimensions in order (Encyclopaedia Perthensis).

   The genii was normally depicted as a winged character by the cultures of the near middle east. However, the interpretation of this 5th-6th century bottle can more accurately describe the role the genii plays. On the outside there is a flowing pattern using four main characters who have  women’s bodies with a men’s faces representing the genii is equally a part of both genders. Each of these characters hold different objects, such as; a child, a plant, a bird and an offering plate, alluding to the fact that the genii resides in all living aspects of the world. The object being the bottle describes the idea of the genii living inside of every living thing, as part of who we are, how are personality is, our life blood.

Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2008 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2008 Free Software Foundation, Inc. <http://fsf.org/>

– Dustin Savage

Works Cited:

Encyclopaedia Perthensis; Or Universal Dictionary of the Arts, Science, Literature, etc. : Volume 10

http://www.mythindex.com/roman-mythology/G/Genius.html

Lamassu

 

Photo: Author
Photo: Author

 

Under the reign of two great Assyrian kings known as Ashurnasirpal II and Sargon II they both established prominent capitals a century apart with a common inclusion of a hybrid mythological guardian creature known as the Lamassu. Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883-859 BC), the first great Assyrian king, constructed a new capital in Kalhu (present day Nimrud) to represent his power and reign over his vast empire. This capital occupied over 900 acres and a mud-brick wall enclosed the southwest corner where temples, palaces, and offices of administrators of the empire were located. At the entrances to this palace complex that was now the capital, there were hybrid supernatural figures with a bearded human head, the body of a lion, wings of a bird, and 5 legs that stood guard at all entrances to the palace; this creature is known as the Lamassu (or Shedu). Often in pairs these human-animal figures, such as the Lamassu, functioned as protective guardians against outside supernatural powers and its 5 legs could be viewed from the front as standing firm with 2 legs planted against a threat or by the side where it is depicted as striding forward against evil with 4 long and strong legs. Alongside with warding away supernatural elements, the massive size of the figure warded away natural forces, such as enemy troops and outsiders, by their imposing presence of standing from 10 to 14 feet tall and to also serve as a clear reminder of the king’s authority over all of his empire. During Sargon II control (reigned 721-705 BC) there were only small changes during his reign. The first change was the capital was moved to Dur Sharrukin (present day Khorsabad) and second the Lamassu was presented on a bull’s body compared to a lions and seems to be slightly smiling.

In the Assyrian mythology there were human headed winged bulls/lions that were protective genies. During the 9th century Nimrud Genies were protective, powerful elements placed in palaces to enhance the king’s prestige and power but to also serve as a guardian to him in his most vulnerable states (The Lamassu and Shedu were protective household spirits in Babylon (Pauline). The Akkadians associated the human-bull hybrid as a gatekeeper associated with the god Papsukkal, who is the attendant deity of Anu (sky god of the supreme deities) and functions as a gatekeeper in the spiritual world by providing a pathway between the higher gods and humans (Heffron). While these hybrid creatures were supernatural beings, they were superior to humans but were not considered to be deities. Even though the Lamassu does wear a horned cap/tiara, which proves their divinity, they were not considered deities in their culture.

Throughout the reign of Ashurnasirpal II and Sargon II, the construction of a new capital presented opportunities to prove the most important aspects of culture and beliefs of the time. With the geographical differences along with a new ruler, the Lamassu stayed a prevalent part of the Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian culture.

 

Jessica Honeycutt

 

Work Cited

 

  1. Heffron, Yaǧmur. “Papsukkal (god).” Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses -. January 1, 2013. Accessed March 12, 2015. http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/papsukkal/.
  2. Lendering, Jona. “Lamassu (bull-man).” – Livius. October 22, 2004. Accessed March 12, 2015. http://www.livius.org/mythology/lamassu-bull-man/.
  3. Pauline, Albenda. “Work Winged Human-headed Bull.” Winged Human-headed Bull. January 1, 1993. Accessed March 12, 2015. http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/winged-human-headed-bull.

Robson, Eleanor. “The Genies on the Stairs: Stone Carvings in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.” Nimrud: Materialities of Assyrian Knowledge Production -. February 15, 2015. Accessed March 12, 2015. http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/nimrud/livesofobjects/stonegenies

Shamash: The Sun God

Shamash was the ancient Mesopotamian sun god. Known as Utu in the Sumerian tradition, he was the twin brother of Inanna and the son of the moon god, Nanna. In Akkadian culture he was called Šamaš, and was the son of Anu or Enlil and his wife was Aya (Black and Green, 182-4; Horry).  In ancient Mesopotamia, Shamash formed an astronomical collation with Sin, Ishtar, and the goddess Venus that was worshipped throughout the fertile crescent (Encyclopedia Britannica). 

Shamash was a prominent literary and religious figure throughout Mesopotamia. Shamash was in control of bringing light and warmth to the land. This life bringing light enabled crops to flourish (Encyclopedia Britannica). Also known as the divine figure of justice, Shamash was thought to be the judge of the gods and humans. During the dark of night Shamash exercised his role as governor of the universe to the judge the underworld (Encyclopedia Britannica). The Code of Hammurabi is said to be written as a contract to Shamash (Horry). Shamash had some cult followers, and temples were built for him in Sippar and Larsa. Shamash played a key role in divination ritual sacrifices. The king would have a sheep sacrificed then examine the liver to find answers. Shamash was in charge of making sure these answers were fair and correct (Horry).

The Metropolitan Museum, The Collection Online, Part of a model chariot, with an impression of the sun god Shamash rising over the mountains, Old Babylonian
The Metropolitan Museum, The Collection Online, Part of a model chariot, with an impression of the sun god Shamash rising over the mountains, Old Babylonian

 Many images connected to Shamash’s  key attributes have been recovered from  numerous  ancient sites. Shamash was said to be a protector of travelers and play a key role in the safe  arrival of travelers to their destination (Mark). This image depicts Shamash on a chariot above  a mountain. Shamash is commonly illustrated traveling on a boat, chariot, or horseback which  correlates to sailors, soldiers, and travelers/merchants (Encyclopedia Britannica; Mark).  Shamash’s location on top of a mountain is another indication of his godly status. On the top  of the image, the sun disk symbol for Shamash can be seen. This disk is usually portrayed with  four points with spherical shapes between each point (Horry). Shamash is often depicted with  this disk in the sky that represents the sun (Encyclopedia Britannica). In his right hand he holds  a dagger. The dagger is a representation of Shamash cutting through the mountains at sunrise  to bring light to the universe (Mark). His right foot in placed on a stool, which is another indication to the viewer that this is a god, not a ruler. This object is a testament to the widespread symbols and worship of Shamash.

– Taylor Lawhon

“Works Cited”

Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. London: The British Museum Press, 1992.

Horry, Ruth.  ‘Utu/Šamaš (god)’, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses. Oracc and the UK Higher Education Academy. 2013 [http:// oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/utu/]

Mark, Joshua. “The Mesopotamian Pantheon.” In Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified February 25, 2011. http://www.ancient.eu/article/221/

“Shamash.” In Encyclopedia Britannica. Last modified April 8, 2014.  

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/538274/Shamash