Babylonian Month of June-July

The month of mid-June to mid-July is called “Dumuzi (Tammuz).” This fourth month of the Babylonian year is named for the God of Fertility and Shepherds. With the advent of the hot, dry summer, Dumuzi goes to the Netherworld to live for six months. The months between June and September are the months that the Dead can roam among the living.

On the 18th day of this month, the statue of Istar (Dumuzi’s wife) is washed, and Dumuzi’s one is anointed in oil. Starting on the 25th day, people honored his death. On the “Day of the Striking,” Dumuzi’s statue is displayed. During “The Day of the Screaming,” people wailed for Him. On“The Day He is caught,” barley is burned and his statue is thrown out the main gate. (This refers to the Galla coming from the Underworld to fetch the God.) On the “Day of the Stall (where He was captured),” Dumuzi’s statue lies in state. At this time, a priest whispers prayers into the statue’s ears.

Meanwhile, in Sumer, the month is called “Su-numum” after the Akiti Su-numum (the Ploughing Festival). Ploughing has begun and will continue for four more months. This month is also referred to the “Month of the Barely Seed,” reflecting the preparation for the planting season. Stones and stubble are removed, and the rows are ploughed. Burnt offerings of fruit and oil are made to the plough. (Traditionally, the festival is started at the full moon after the summer solstice.)

Since Su-numun is also the onset of summer, there also rituals that focused on death and mourning. The first day of the month is “The Festival of the Canebrake (Apum).” (This was traditionally held on the new moon after the summer solstice.) “Canebrake” refers to the burial practice of wrapping the corpse in a shroud and laying it in the burial marshes. “In the reeds of Enki” refers to the canebrake receiving the body. Burial marshes were common. During the festival, it is customary to read laments such as “Lament over the Destruction of Ur” and “Lament over the Destruction of Ur and Sumer.” The “Time of the Great Wailing” commemorates when Ur was destroyed by the Elam and Sua peoples in 2004 BCE.

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Ninurta/Ningirsu of Babylon

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First known as the Storm God, Ningirsu was depicted as a thunderbird in Sumerian iconography. Later, He was shown as a God with wings. Both images emphasized this God’s powers in bringing the thunderstorms and floods of the springtime. By flooding the Tigris River, Ningirsu prepares the arid lands for planting.

Later, Ningirsu, the Storm God, becomes Ninurta, the Farmer God (in the “Epic of Anzu”). As the Master of the Fields, He provides the water for irrigation. Called the “life-giving semen of the red land,” Ninurta spreads abundance throughout out the land.

“The Farmer’s Almanac” (circa 1700 BCE) is considered to be Ninurta’s instructions for growing barley. First the fields are flooded in May-June, allowing the water not to rise too high. Then the fields are cleared of weeds and fenced in. Grain is planted and prayers are made to Ninkilim, the Goddess of Field Mice. Instructions for planting and hoeing continue through the planting year. Finally in April-May, the fields are cleaned of the harvest and readied for planting.

After fighting Asag, the Stone Being, Ninurta becomes the Warrior God. In the Lugal-e (“The Exploits of Ninurta”), the rocks of the mountains revolted. Asag, leading the others, aimed to crush the plains. With His Mace, Sharur (the Smasher of Thousands), Ninurta puts down the rebellion. By digging and piling up rocks that came after Him, He creates the irrigation systems of Babylon.

After the rebellion, Ninurta decides which rocks to punish or reward. Those who rebelled against the established order were not permitted strength. The flint would be easily flaked by antlers, and the limestone would crumble easily in water. Meanwhile, those who helped the God were rewarded. The lapis lazuli and hematite would be valued as much as gold. (One could interpret the Lugal-e as describing the beginning of agriculture, metallurgy and alchemy.)

In the “Epic of Anzu,” the Anzu Bird steals the Tablets of Destiny from Enlil, the Holder of the Tablets. (These tablets decreed the fates of the Gods and humans.) The Anzu Bird uses their power to turn back time. Meanwhile, Ninurta volunteers to retrieve the Tablets. After many trials, Ninurta finally defeats the Anzu Bird through trickery, and returns the Tablets to Enlil.

For the Assyrians, Ninurta was the Divine Hero and Prince of the Gods. The King of Assyria strove to be like the God – merciful, just, strong, and able to guarantee order. When the king went into battle, he would invoke Ninurta since this God was the King of Battle. In Assyria, Ninurta was credited with victories in battle.

Note: Nimrod the Mighty Hunter, in Genesis, is Ninurta.

Names of Ninurta
Storm of Majestic Splendor who makes the Rainbow
Master of the Fields
Lord Plough
Farmer of Enlil
Mighty Farmer Turned Warrior
Antelope of Heaven
Conqueror of Chaos
Lord Whose Powerful Arm is Fit to Bear the Mace
Divine Son and Avenger of His Father Ashur
Young Warrior
Champion of the High Gods
Hero of Heaven and Earth
Sheriff of the Gods

Girra (Gibil): God of Fire of Babylon/ Sumer

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The God of Fire, Girra (Gibil) is also the God of Light. His temple in Mesopotamia was called the “House of Awesome Radiance.” Because fire is basic to civilization, He is regarded as the “Founder of the Cities.”

As fire, Girra has many forms. He is the burning heat of summer, the destroyer of crops. Burning the fields, Girra sears the plains. He is the heat that warms the home and cooks the food. As the fire of purification, Girra burns away the baleful energies. He brings the creative fire to the smith and mason.

Note: Gibil and Girra were once regarded as separate Gods. Later, they were merged into one God.

Noble Girra
You purify the temples
You purify the bridal beds

Noble Girra
You sear the land
You set the mountains on fire

Noble Girra
You warm our hearts
You cook our food

Noble Girra
You set the brain on fire
You spark new ideas

Noble Girra
You are the Founder of Cities

Kulla, the Divine Builder of Sumer

closeup photo of brown brick wall

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Before any building can begin, the God of Bricks and Construction needs to be invoked. Kulla protects the building process from the laying of the foundations to the tiling of the roof. He ensures that the building is sound and the workers are safe. When everything is done, Kulla is thanked and sent away.

According to Sumerian texts, the best time to lay the foundation is at sunrise. Once the first trench is dug, offerings of beer, wine, oil, and syrup are poured over it. Then various items such as seeds, cloth and precious stones are scattered between the gaps of the first layer of bricks. The offerings are to appease the spirit of the land, who is disturbed by the digging.

When the construction is completed, Kulla was asked to leave. If He stays, then more building is needed, and the job will never be finished. Moreover, Kulla is needed elsewhere at other sites.

The ritual for sending Kulla away is the same one for exorcism. The builders load the God (a brick) and his provisions on a boat with sails. Then the boat is sent down the river. After that, seven tablets each are broken on the left and right sides of the river, and thrown in. The builder and his workers were then banned from the finished building for three days.

However, there are incantations to thank Kulla and Musdama, the Divine Architect. They ask these Gods to return joyfully to their father, Enki. In my opinion, this allows for better relations between humans and Kulla.

Laying the Foundation of a House:
“Kulla (the Brick God), Lord of Foundation and Wall – oh you! NN, son of NN, who is building this house, by [your] command, by your word may he prosper! Because You are merciful, I have turned [to you], because You are merciful, I seek [you]! The house he has built may last for a long time. This evil of the house […], You [avert] death, loss and evil deed from this house. At your sublime command, which cannot be altered, and by your firm consent, which cannot be changed, may NN, son of NN, live, prosper and sing your praises.” (R. Borger, Symbolae Biblicae et Mesopotamicae F.M.Th. de Liagre Böhl dedicatae, 1973, p. 53-55)

Exorcising Kulla
“Kulla, You are torn out, driven away and expelled. Kulla, You are conjured by heaven and You are conjured by the netherworld, You are conjured by Ea and Marduk, You are conjured by Duri and Dari, You are conjured by Lahma and Lahama, You are conjured by Alala and Belili, You are conjured by the Gods residing in heaven, Uou are conjured by the Gods residing in the netherworld! You are conjured by the Apsû, You are conjured by the Gods residing on the Sacred Mount! You shall be torn out, You shall go away, You shall depart, You shall withdraw, You shall move out! I conjure you by Ekur and Gar – You shall never return!” (E.v.Weiher, Spätbabyl. Texte aus Uruk (SBTU) II, No. 16; C. Ambos, Baurituale, no. 2)

Note: The exorcism is referring various Gods of Mesopotamia.

May/June: Month of the Brick Gods of Sumer

In the Standard Mesopotamian Calendar, the month starting from the new moon of May is called Simanu (“Month of the Brick Gods”). The King would lay the first brick in the brick mold. Then brickmaking and construction could begin in earnest. The Gods of Bricks and Building were honored in eight rituals that centered on the brick kilns.

For modern people, this can be the time to celebrate masonry and other aspects of building. Think of how bricks provide for safe and snug homes. The beginnings of civilization could be said to be represented by bricks and mortar.

The Gods of Bricks and Building are:
Girra: The God of Fire. The God of Kilns
Kabta: God of Pickaxes, Construction and Bricks
Kulla: The God of Building.
Musdama: The God of Foundations. The God of Architects
Arazu: The God of Completed Construction
Nuska: The God of Fire. The God of Civilization.

Note: In Sumer, the time of the inundations of the fields also began at the new moon of May. The month of May-June in the Nippur calendar is known as Sig-ga.

The Enuma Elish: History as Mythology

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During the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia, empires rose and fell. In the Enuma Elish, the creation story of the Babylonians, this is told in mythic terms. One part of the Enuma Elish tells of the rise of the Sumerians. Their generation of Gods were Anu (An), Enlil (Ellil), and Enki (Ea), who focused on developing agriculture and decreeing divine law. While Anu ruled the Gods, Enlil granted kingship, and Enki created people. These Gods had overthrown Tiamat of the Saltwater and Apsu of Sweet Water, the original Gods of the Ubaid people of the late Stone Age.

The Sumerians drained the swamps, dug out the canals, and began irrigation. They tamed the “sweetwater” thereby killing Apsu as a God. Moreover, they transformed the salt marshes into farmland. Then in 2330 BCE, Sargon of the Akkadians established the first empire. He began the first dynasty by deciding that his son should rule next. This was the beginning of having males be the heads of families as father figures (paterfamilias).

Then came the dark times, starting in 2218-2047 BCE, when the Gutians invaded from Iran. The wars between the Sumerians, Akkadians, Elamites and Assyrians became endless. The Enuma Elish describes this time as Tiamat raising an army, and defeating Enlil and the other Gods. Through continuous irrigation, salt made the land of the Mesopotamians infertile. Faced with dwindling resources including water, the various cities fought each other to gain these precious resources for their peoples. During this awful time, the suffering people wrote lamentations describing their misery — bodies melting in the sun and cities shrouded in smoke.

Into this war-torn landscape came the Amorites, who adopted the Sumerian culture and established their main city of Babylon. Under their king, Hammurabi, the Babylonians cemented their empire and imposed law and order in Mesopotamia. The Babylonians described their victory in the Enuma Elish. The Sumerian Gods, Enki and Enlil cede their power to Marduk, their principal God. Then He defeats Tiamat, and remakes the Cosmos with her body.

Like Marduk, Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE), who expanded the Babylonian Empire, established order. He wrote down and organized existing laws of various cities into the Code of Hammurabi. These statutes consisted of 282 laws, which ranged from setting wages to punishments for stealing to arranging for divorce. His reign was one of peace and prosperity.

Works Used:
Baigent, Michael, “Astrology in Ancient Mesopotamia.” Bear & Company: Rochester (VT). 2015.
Black, Jeremy and Green, Anthony, “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary.” University of Texas Press, Austin, 1992.
Jacobsen, Thorkild, “The Treasures of Darkness.” Yale University Press, New Haven, 1976.
Mark, Joshua, “Sumer.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 28, April 2011. Web. https://www.ancient.eu/sumer/. <accessed 12 October 2018.>
Siren, Christopher, “Assyro-Babylonian Mythology FAQ.” 2000. Web.
https://stason.org/TULARC/education-books/assyro-babylonian-mythology/index.html. <accessed 12 October 2018.>
–, “Sumerian Mythology FAQ.” 2000. Web. http://humanpast.net/files/sumerianmyths.htm. <accessed 12 October 2018.>

Beginnings of Writing: Cuneiform

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Alphabets and hence writing is magic incarnate. This is why there are Gods of Writing and Scribes to ensure that the words are right. The following is an essay on cuneiform which became the basis for the Roman alphabet used today.

In Mesopotamia, during the Uruk Period (3500 – 3100 BCE), many villages became cities. As they expanded, each new city had to reorganize to better govern and support their burgeoning populations. Out of this development came agriculture, trade, and writing.

In Sumer (3100- 2800 BCE), cities were organized around temples. The “en” (the economic official of the temple) kept track of the offerings and wealth. To keep inventory, an en had his “sangu” (accountants) survey everything. Since Sumer is located in an area of “clay muck”, the Sumerian accountants made clay figures for tallying. But, when the volume of goods became great, these figures became cumbersome to use. Then, the accountants started marking items on clay tablets. Because they were using wet clay, various scribes used a stylus which made wedge-shaped markings (cuneiform) in the clay.

Because Sumer had little in natural resources, many citizens focused on manufacturing finished goods. Their merchants developed trading organizations (“Karums”) to govern trade in raw and finished materials. Because of the Karums, Sumerian trade expanded from Mesopotamia to Egypt and Syria.

Adopting the inventory methods of the temples, merchants started using various tally symbols for items. Since, they needed to convey the concepts of orders, sales, and general merchandising issues, many scribes started using pictograms. These pictograms could then be combined to convey meaning. Merchants were able to convey crude messages over time and distance.

The first known writer by name was the priestess Enheduanna (daughter of Sargon of Akkad). After she wrote her hymns to Inanna, The Morning Star, she signed the tablet with her name and seal. The use of writing was both religious in nature as well as practical. Nisaba the Goddess of Writing was also the Goddess of Accountants.

Because Sumerian was a monosyllabic language, their scribes could convey any meaning by using pictograms as ideograms. Since Sumerian was rich in homonyms and homophones, they could have a pictogram represent a sound (phonogram), an object, or an idea. By using sounds as puns, Sumerian scribes expanded their writing vocabulary. They grouped symbols together to convey various concepts.

Later, Sumerian writing was adopted by the Akkadians and Elamites. Since their languages were radically different from Sumerian, these peoples needed to differentiate the meanings of each of the Sumerian symbols. Determinations (additions and modifications) were added to indicate parts of speech. Cuneiform was developed into a working alphabet.

The Phoenicians owe their phonetic writing system to the Sumerians. The Phoenicians did not invent their alphabet as much as exported their adapted version of the Sumerian one throughout the Mediterranean. The Greeks adopted their alphabet from the Phoenicians, calling it “Alpha, Beta” from the Semitic “Aleph, Beth.”

Notes:

1. Homophones: Words with the same sounds but different meanings and spellings.
Example: Pear and pair. A pair of pears is two pieces of fruit.

2. Homonym: Words with the same sound and spellings but different meanings.
Example: Fair and fair. Because the weather is fair, we are going to the county fair.

3. Please note that regional accents will change what are homonyms and homophones. In New England, aunt and ant are pronounced differently, while route and root are said in the same way.