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The Mesopotamian Religions – The Sumerians (Third part)

The first mythical tale of the flood

The deluge represents a real “end of the world”. Only one human being was saved, Ziusudra in the Sumerian version and Utnapishtim in the Akkadian version. In deference to the biblical flood, where Noah dwells on the renewed earth, the only surviving being is deified and lives in a very distant place. Zisudra lives in Dilmun and Utnapishtim lives at the mouth of the two rivers.

Gods decide to destroy humanity. However An and Enlil note the pious king Ziusudra, to whom the gods give instructions on the construction of the ark. The flood lasts seven days and seven nights. At the end of the flood Zisudra prostrates before the solar god, Utu. An and Enlil then confer to Ziusudra the life of a god and the eternal breath of the gods, taking him to the heavenly village of Dilmun. The flood’s story is attested in almost all the religions and cultures of the world. The cause may be the sins of men or simply a new creation of the cosmos that had deteriorated. What happens every year on New Year’s Eve, also happens at the macrocosmic level. The old world ends and the new one begins.

 

The descent into the underworld and the annunaki

Among the Sumerians there were three celestial deities: Nanna-suen (the moon), Utu (the sun), Inanna (goddess of the star Venus and goddess of the Love). The latter will survive for a long time. It will be called Ishtar among the Akkadians and later still Astarte, a name that will also appear in the Bible. According to mythology, Inanna will marry the pastor Dumuzi, to whom Inanna will announce an infamous destiny.

Inanna decided one day to go down to the underworld to supplant her older sister Ereshkigal, lady of the underworld. Inanna, already a celestial sovereign, wanted to supplant her sister and she wanted to reign even in the underworld. He wanted to penetrate the palace of Ereshkigal, but to do so he had to pass seven doors. At each door, Inanna stripped off some clothes, until she showed up in front of her completely naked sister. En-lil sends two messengers with the “food of life” to Ereshkigal. So they revive Inanna and prepare to ascend, while the Anunakis held her back, saying that she could go back on condition that someone took her place. So she went back to earth accompanied by demons who would have escorted her back to the underworld if she had not found her substitute. She found Dumuzi who wasn’t sad for the fate of the bride. Instead he sat rich and satisfied on the throne of the city. So the goddess pointed out to the demons that Dumuzi would be her substitute. At the end the goddess takes pity and allows Dumuzi to stay in the underworld only half a year, while the other half he would have substituted by her sister.

One can find here the mythical scheme of the hieros gamos – the sacred nuptials – between the king and the divinity, followed by the ritual death of the king to propitiate universal fruitfulness. The mystery hidden behind all this is that of Tammuz. He was the first spouse. Inanna had established national lamentations for him, in which she cried for the Tammuz descent into the underworld the 18th of the homonymous month (i.e. Tammuz = June-July). This ritual death of the king, followed by lamentations, symbolized the return of the world to chaos and its recreation. Th cult of Tammuz was widespread and it is also attested in the Bible (e.g. Ez 7:14).

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Simone Venturini

Writer and Researcher at Vatican Secret Archives, Professor of Bible at Pontifical University of the Holy Cross od Rome

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