The Evil Eye

The belief in the magical powers of the Evil Eye is among the most ancient and universal of all beliefs. Virtually “every language, both ancient and modern, contains a word or expression which is the equivalent of ‘Evil Eye’.”(1) The powers of fascination often mentioned in connection with the Evil Eye are the powers that irresistibly attract, bewitch, or enchant by a motionless glance. In ancient times, the ability to fascinate was traditionally attributed to female figures. Thus, throughout history, the possessors of the power of the Evil Eye were women, goddesses, and witches. The eye-womb correlation is given further credence by the fact that so many goddesses endowed with the powers of fertility and generation – most notably Venus, Aphrodite, Isis, Ishtar, and Artemis – are regarded as “protectresses of fascination.”(2) It is therefore not surprising to find a connection between the eye-cult and these goddesses of death and rebirth.(3) The association is of such ancient origin that it receives mention in the earliest cuneiform clay tablets of the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians. 

The eyes are the most exclusive feature of the hundreds of votive figures found in the excavation of the Syrian “Eye Temple” of Tell Brak, a temple that was exclusively “dedicated to the worship of Ishtar (Inanna).”  Bildergebnis für tell brak idolBildergebnis für tell brak idolThe eye-idols, as they are known, are representations of Ishtar.  The variations on their single iconographic form are almost without end. Some of the figures don headdresses, some wear necklaces, others are decorated with chevrons suggestive of breasts, and there are others whose necks and heads are abstracted phallic or vulvar forms.  Each is unique and yet they are the same.  These fascinating eye-idols, which date from about 3500-3300 B.C.E., are more ancient “than the pyramids of Giza and the whole of [the] Minoan culture of Cnossus.” 

It seems reasonable to suggest that the images of Ishtar served a prophylactic function.  In later times, and with much the same intent, the Great Goddess was invoked under a variety of names in prayers against the Evil Eye of jealousy and envy. Bildergebnis für sumerian eye stone

The ancient Sumerians thought that blue eyes were a sign of the gods. The Sumerian nobility were blue eyed and fair haired, as most of their busts show.

One of the earliest mentions of the Evil Eye is in a Sumerian text dating to the 3rd–4th millennium BC.

Taking advantage of the stone’s natural banding, agates were carved to resemble an eye. The votive inscriptions indicate the placement of the object on an altar or in a temple as a gift to a deity. The stones were thought to have some inherent power that would help protect the life of the person named in the inscription. These amulets probably adorned the cult statue of the god inscribed and were most likely worn in precious gold settings.



1. Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, Amulets and Talismans. (New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1968), p. 358.

2. Frederick Thomas Elworthy, The Evil Eye: The Origins and Practices of Superstition. (New York: The Julian Press, Inc., 1958), p. 132.

3. O. G. S. Crawford, The Eye Goddess, op. cit., p. 98.

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Eye Idol Plaque

Mesopotamian Eye Idol Plaque, Euphrates Valley, Late Uruk Period, Late 4th ML BC

This type of carving is known as an ‘eye idol’, and may have been an offering left at a temple. Eye idols were also made in the form of free standing statuettes (example). Wide eyes are believed to have been a demonstration of attentiveness to the gods in much of Mesopotamian art.

The Uruk period (c. 4000 to 3100 BC) existed from the protohistoric Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age period in the history of Mesopotamia, following the Ubaid period and succeeded by the Jemdet Nasr period. Named after the Sumerian city of Uruk,  this period saw the emergence of urban life in Mesopotamia. It was followed by the Sumerian civilization. The late Uruk period (34th to 32nd centuries) saw the gradual emergence of the cuneiform script and corresponds to the Early Bronze Age; it may also be called the Protoliterate period.

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The Syrian Goddess

The Syrian Goddess

De Dea Syria, by Lucian of Samosata

by Herbert A. Strong and John Garstang


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Lucian of Samosata’s De Dea Syria, (the Syrian Goddess) is one of the most ‘notorious’ classical writings. Not only does it acknowledge that at one time a paramount Goddess was worshipped in regions of the Ancient Near East, it goes into details of the practices of her devotees which later generations considered reprehensible. Nonetheless De Dea played an important role in the development of modern Neopaganism; Robert Graves cited it as one of the few actual accounts of ancient Goddess-worship.

Lucian recounts his personal observations of the worship of the Goddess Atargatis (a form of Isthar or Astarte) at the temple of Hierapolis, in what is today Turkey. Lucian writes in the style of Herodotus, and, remarkably, in Herodotus’ dialect of Greek, which at that time was over five hundred years old. Lucian describes huge phalliform idols, cross-dressing priests who castrated themselves, ritual prostitution of female worshippers, and occasional infant human sacrifice. Unlike most of the other writings of Lucian, he is not being explicitly satirical or ironic, nor is he writing fiction. Strong and Garstang claim that this was largely a historically valid description, supported by other ancient writers, texts, and archaeology. Among other passages of interest, there is a variant account of the Greek flood myth of Deucalion which is here blended with pre-biblical Ancient Near Eastern deluge accounts.

Victorian and early 20th century scholars found this text difficult to process. It is conspicuously absent from the expurgated Fowler and Fowler translation of Lucian’s Works of 1905. While A.M. Harmon included De Dea in volume four of the Loeb Classics Library Lucian in 1925, he rendered it in middle English! Harmon’s rationale was that Lucian wrote De Dea in an archaic dialect of Greek, so this was an attempt to convey the experience of a contemporary of Lucian reading this. But it is not helpful for the modern non-academic reader. Fortunately, Strong had translated De Dea into clear modern English in 1913, and so this is the edition which I used. However, the Strong translation has never been reprinted and used copies are almost impossible to come by. I had to obtain a copy of this book by interlibrary loan from a small college in Pennsylvania. Even still, Strong and Garstang wreathe the translation in a thick nimbus of apparatus, which gives the appearance of a scholarly distancing tactic. This tendency has continued into the 21st century: a recent academic edition ran to 600 pages–all for a text about the length of a short magazine article. (Lucian, On the Syrian Goddess, J.L. Lightfoot, Oxford University Press [2003])

Lucian’s authorship of De Dea has been questioned. One issue is the archaic dialect. In addition, his other works are quite cynical about religion. And where is Lucian’s relentless humor? The effect is like watching Robin Williams do a completely straight reading of the Gettysburg Address. Is he being absurdist by affecting not only a different dialect, but a pious attitude, as some have suggested? Or is he being serious, for once? There is one clue: in a personal note at the end, Lucian says that a lock of his youthful hair was dedicated to the Goddess at this temple. This may hold the key to why he wrote this piece.

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The code of Hammurabi

الملك حمورابي واقفا امام الإله شمش، إله العدل

شريعة حمورابي هي مجموعة من القوانين التي سنها الملك البابلي حمورابي (1792-1750 ق.م). حكم حمورابي، من خلال هذه الشريعة، الناس الذين كانوا يعيشون في امبراطوريته التي كانت تشهد نموا سريعا. والتي شملت بحلول وقت وفاة حمورابي، الكثير من مدن العراق الحديث، وامتدت من الخليج العربي على طول نهري دجلة والفرات.   تضمنت هذه الشريعة ما لا يقل عن 300 من القوانين التي تناقش مجموعة واسعة من المواضيع، بما في ذلك القتل، والاعتداء، والطلاق، والديون، والتبني، ورسوم التجارة، والممارسات الزراعية، وحتى المنازعات المتعلقة بتخمير البيرة.   اشتهرت هذه الشريعة بمسلتها التي كتبت عليها والمصنوعة من حجر الديوريت الأسود، بطول أكثر من سبعة أقدام (2.25 متر)، وهي محفوظة الآن في متحف اللوفر في باريس. تم العثور على مسلة حمورابي في مدينة سوسة، في ايران، من خلال الحفريات التي قام بها جاك دي مورغان في بداية القرن ال20. ويعتقد علماء الآثار بأنه تم إحضارها الى سوسة في القرن 12 قبل الميلاد من قبل أحد الحكام العيلاميين الذي قام بمحو جزء منها والإعداد لإضافة نقش خاص به.   في الأصل، فإن حمورابي قد وضع هذه المسلة في مدينة سيبار،  القريبة من بابل، من المحتمل في معبد بارز. حيث كانت مدينة سيبار في العصور القديمة منزلا للإله شمش، إله الشمس. والجزء العلوي من المسلة يظهر صورة حمورابي امام هذا الإله الذي تنطلق الأشعة من كتفيه. ويعتقد الباحثون بأن المسلة هي واحدة من مسلات اخرى كانت تنتشر في مدن الامبراطورية البابلية.   بعد وفاة حمورابي، أصبحت القوانين التي سنها في شريعته نوعا من الكلاسيكية في العالم القديم، ولقد وجد العلماء أمثلة منها مكتوبة على ألواح تم نسخها في وقت متأخر من القرن الخامس قبل الميلاد. أي بأكثر من ألف سنة بعد وفاة حمورابي.

مصطلح “شريعة“ هو مصطلح حديث نسبيا أطلق في القرن التاسع عشر على مجموعة قوانين عرفت بشريعة نابليون. ينهمك باحثي الاثار اليوم في مناقشة المعنى وراء المسلة التي هي الآن في متحف اللوفر وعما إذا كانت قوانين حمورابي قد سنت فعلا لتمثل شريعة متكاملة.وبغض النظر عن إجابات هذه الأسئلة، فإن حمورابي نفسه يقول في مقدمة شريعته بأنه استمد الحق، له وحده، في اصدارها من قبل الآلهة أنفسهم. “آنو وإنليل كلفوا حمورابي، الأمير الورع الذي يخشى الآلهة، لإحقاق العدالة في الأرض، وتدمير الشر، وإلى وقف استغلال  الأقوياء للضعفاء، ليرتفع مثل شمش على جميع الناس، … وليعم الضوء على الأرض.

 شريعة قاسية وغير متكافئة

 يتكون كل قانون من وصف لحالة محتملة يليها الحكم المنصوص عليه. قد تكون الاحكام قاسية جدا، حيث نلاحظ ” بأن عقوبة الإعدام ترد فيها بما لا يقل عن ثلاثين مرة. فهي عقوبة سارق المعبد وسارق القصر وهي كذلك عقوبة من يمنح العبد الهارب ملاذا. علاوة على ذلك فإن العقوبات لم تكن متكافئة وتعتمد كثيرا على المكانة الاجتماعية للجاني وللمجني عليه. أما عقوبة “العين بالعين والسن بالسن” فتطبق فقط اذا كانا الاثنين من نفس الطبقة الاجتماعية. فعلى سبيل المثال، إذا فقأ شخصا من النخبة عين أحد العامة فإنه يدفع اوقية واحدة من الفضة كغرامة، في حين تكون العقوبة اشد بكثير اذا كان الجاني من طبقة اجتماعية أوطأ من المجني عليه. وفي أحد القوانين “إذا اعتدى شخصا من النخبة بالضرب على أحد أعضاء النخبة الذي هو من مكانة اجتماعية أعلى منه، فيجب أن يتم جلد الجاني علنا بالسوط 60 جلدة” كذلك فأن المرأة لم تكن أوفر حظا، ففي أحد القوانين نقرأ “اذا كثر الحديث عن خيانة امرأة متزوجة لزوجها مع رجل آخر، فعليها ان تلقي بنفسها في النهر لإثبات عدم خيانتها له”.من ناحية اخرى نرى بعض القوانين تضمن للمرأة، وحسب مكانتها الاجتماعية، حق الميراث من زوجها أو أبيها. كذلك فهناك قوانين تحمي المرأة التي تأخذ أطفالها وبيت زوجها لتعيش مع رجل آخر اذا كان زوجها أسيرا ولم يكن لدها ما تعيل به نفسها وأولادها.

عقوبات ضد المشتكي والقاضي

 في شريعة حمورابي لم تكن العقوبات موجهة ضد المتهم فقط، بل هناك عقوبات ضد المشتكي الذي يفشل في اثبات اتهامه. فعلى سبيل المثال نرى ان عقوبة جريمة القتل تنص على “اذا قام رجل باتهام رجل آخر بالقيام بجريمة قتل ولم يستطع اثبات اتهامه فيقتل!” كذلك هناك عقوبات على القضاة، فقد حكم حمورابي امبراطورية مترامية الأطراف ولم يكن قادرا على النظر في كل قضية بنفسه، لذلك كان هناك لجنة من الرجال في كل مدينة لتقوم مقام القاضي. أما عقوبة القاضي الذي يحكم خطأ في احدى قضايا التعويض فهي ان يدفع القاضي الخسارة  المترتبة على حكمه 12 ضعفا.

 كيف تشكلت القوانين

لم يكن حمورابي الأول في كتابة القوانين، فقد سبقه في ذلك ثلاثة من ملوك وادي الرافدين. كما يذكر .أقدمها شريعة أور نمو، الملك الذي حكم مدينة أور في جنوب العراق (2111-2094 ق.م)، ثلاثة قرون قبل مجيء حمورابي. ومن الواضح أن هذه الشرائع كانت مصدرا لإلهام حمورابي في كتابة قوانينه، بالاضافة لذلك، فمن المحتمل أن حمورابي قام بكتابة شريعته اعتمادا على تجربته الشخصية في الحكم على قضايا مشابهة.

 الغرض من انشاء المسلة

هناك لغز واجه الباحثون في متحف اللوفر حيث توجد مسلة حمورابي، وهو معرفة السبب من انشاء هذه المسلة. فلو افترضنا معرفة الناس في سيبار بالقراءة فإن مراجعة القوانين المكتوبة على المسلة لم تكن بالأمر الهين. لكن حمورابي يوضح لنا في خاتمة مسلته بأنه وضعها ليتسنى للناس من أرجاء امبراطوريته ان يطلعوا عليها ولتكون قانونا مكتوبا لا يحمل الشك، كذلك يذكر حمورابي في خاتمة مسلته بأن الغرض من انشائها هو لكي تبقى تلك القوانين نافذة لمن سوف يليه من الحكام للعمل بها وعدم تغييرها

 أما اذا قام احدهم بتغيير هذه القوانين أو عدم العمل بها فإن لعنات الإله أنو، وباقي الآلهة سوف تلاحقه الى الأبد كما يذكر حمورابي في خاتمة مسلته. من هذا نستطيع القول بأن هذه المسلة وضعت ليبقى ذكر حمورابي خالدا وتبقى شريعته سائدة على مر الزمن.

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Sumerian Mythology, Kramer

Sumerian Mythology

By: Samuel Noah Kramer

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The Sumerians were a non-Semitic, non-Indo-European people who lived in southern Babylonia from 4000-3000 B.C.E. They invented cunieform writing, and their spiritual beliefs influenced all successive Near Eastern religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They produced an extensive body of literature, among the oldest in the world. Samuel Noah Kramer spent most of his life studying this literature, by piecing together clay tablets in far-flung museums. This short work gives translations or summaries of the most important Sumerian myths.

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Statue of Ningal

Statue of the Sumerian reed goddess Ningal found at Ur (in modern day Iraq), 1953-1935 B.C.

Diorite, Penn-museum                    

Ningal was the daughter of Enki and Ningikurga and was the mother of Inanna, Utu, and Ereshkigal.

The statue contains an inscription on the side (picture to the right) from a priestess named Enannatumma, the daughter of Ishem-Dagan, possibly a Sumerian king.  The inscription says that the statue itself is dedicated to the goddess Ningal.

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The drinking God

God/Ilu seated on his throne, as depicted on a Ugaritic stele. Note the horns on his head. (Museum of Aleppo)


The following text is from ancient Ugarit (located in modern Syria), a city whose textual archives from the 15th-13th centuries BCE have provided a huge trove of literary epics, mythic lore, and linguistic data.

Ever wonder where the phrases “hair of the dog” and “he looks like hell” first appeared?  Look no further.  This is the epic saga of how God (Ilu/El, the father god in Levantine religion) got so drunk that his sons had to carry him to bed, while their lady friends cooked up a hangover cure.  Really.

I. The Gods Feast

God slaughtered venison in his home, [1]
       livestock within his palace,
       and welcomed the gods to the feast.
The gods ate and drank;
       they grew tipsy on wine,
       drunk on beer.

Moon-God Yarihu prepared his goblet;
       like a dog, he clambered [2]
       underneath the table.
Each god who recognized him
       prepared him scraps of meat —
but each god who did not recognized him
       hit him with a stick, [3]
       underneath the table.

When Astarte and Anat arrived,
       Astarte offered him a rump steak,
       and Anat a shoulder cut. [4]
The gatekeeper of God’s house scolded them:
       “Hey! Why are you offering a dog rump steak,
       offering a shoulder cut to a mongrel?
He scolded God, his father: “He is sitting (there)!” [5]

II. God Over-Indulges

God invited in the drinkers;
       God sat down in his saloon.
He grew tipsy on wine,
       drunk on beer.
God headed back to his house
       and entered his chambers.
They loaded him onto Thukamunu and Shunamu, his sons,
       and the two chastized the groaning man, [6]
       he who had horns and a tail.
He soiled himself with shit and piss,
       and God fell down as if dead;
       God (looked) like someone descending to Hades.

Anat and Astarte began to hunt.

[The next several lines are nearly unreadable; the only legible phrases are “holy,” “Astarte and Anat,” and “and with them, she brought back.”  Most scholars assume that the women are hunting down the ingredients for their cure.]

As soon as she treated (him), he was suddenly revived.

III. The Medical Treatment

The following should be placed:
on his forehead, the hairs of a dog, [7]
and (on) the head, colocynth, and (on) his navel. [8]
At the same time, he should drink green olive juice. [9]

Source: The Marzeah in the Prophetic Literature: References and Allusions in Light, by John L. MacLaughlin (2001). pp.24–6. ISBN 9004099956. Quoted as fair use.

[1] “Venison” is used in the archaic sense of “any animal hunted for meat.”  The exact species of animal being eaten is unclear.

[2] Scholars are divided here; this verb may mean one of several dog-like activities: crawling, digging, or even swishing a tail.

[3] Alternately, Yarihu could be the subject: “if a god doesn’t notice him, [Yarihu] hits [the other god] with a stick.”  That alternative makes a bit more narrative sense, to be honest.  However, this version works better with my theory about the dog hair (cf. note 7): for whatever reason, the gods give a painful hangover to drinkers whom they don’t recognize.

[4] Again, the meat identifications are a bit tentative.  But if they are accurate, they may be allusions to the goddess’s associations; Astarte’s domain included sexuality, connected to the thigh (cf. Enkidu throwing the Bull of Heaven’s thigh at Ishtar [=Astarte]), while Anat was associated with warfare and the strength of arm and shoulder.

[5] Most translations include “He is sitting” with the next stanza; either this line continues the direct speech (“Scold God, his father!”) or adds an addendum (“He [also] scolds God, his father.”).  The problem with that line division is that it creates an odd redundancy: Ilu is sitting, then calls for his fellow drinkers, then sits again.

[6] Here I follow Noegel, who reads the Ugaritic ḥabayu as an epithet for Ilu, mumbling and groaning like a mooing cow in his intoxication.  Since Ilu is frequently described as a bull, the horns and tail are not surprising attributes; they may emphasize that while drunk, he resembles a strong but unthinking animal.  (Fun fact: Ilu’s title is specifically ṯôru Ilu, “Bull God.”  Ṯôru is probably one of the rare words so ancient that it’s shared by Semitic and Indo-European languages — so it’s ultimately related to “taurus” and “steer.”)  The other alternative, which was the mainstream translation for many years, translates Habayu as a demonic figure who appears on the scene, frightening Ilu until he soils himself.  (If this reading is accurate, an allusion to the horned Habayu may also appear in the Hebrew Bible in Habakkuk 3:4.)

[7] Placing dog hairs on the forehead clearly has no modern medical value; while the motives behind ancient magico-medical treatments are not always straightforward, the fact that a dog is mentioned twice earlier in the story is likely no coincidence.  (A dog may have appeared a third time in the textual gap if it was the women’s prey; their verb does normally refer to animal hunting, not vegetable harvesting.)  There’s no scholarly consensus about the purpose of the ingredient.  My very tentative guess is that the dog hairs ritually place the patient in the role of Yarihu, who acted “like a dog” in the first section of the story.  Despite the chastising of Ilu’s gatekeeper, the gods feed Yarihu scraps of meat and allow him to enjoy his drink — unless they don’t recognize him, in which they beat him, perhaps causing the headache of a hangover.  In contrast, Ilu’s attempt at maintaining dignity leaves him unconscious in his own excrement.  By humbling himself to the role of a dog, the patient will receive divine pity.

[8] There is some dispute over the meaning of this line, although “head” and “his navel” are pretty straightforward.  The term in between (PQQ) could be two words — “mouth (and) throat” — or a single name, perhaps for a plant.  In Akkadian, peqqūtu/peqû is a name for the colocynth, a bitter melon that’s widespread in the Middle East.  The colocynth was used extensively in medical concoctions in the ancient world, and its notoriously bitter flavor might further have shocked an unconscious patient into wakefulness, so I have gone with this translation.  If the term means “mouth (and) throat,” it could refer either to applying the dog hairs to those locations on the patient, or to sacrificing a dog and literally placing its head, mouth, and throat on the patient.

[9] “Green olive juice” is, more literally, “the blood/juice of an olive of autumn.”  Since ripe olives are harvested in November/December, an “autumn olive” may have been a green (i.e. unripe) olive, as contrasted to a ripe “winter olive.”  The oil from unripe olives is especially bitter and grassy, so it could have assisted the colocynth in waking the patient.  However (contra most translations), I don’t think that this necessarily refers to oil, since Ugaritic has another perfectly good word for oil.  Amurca, the liquid byproduct of olive oil production, is bitter-tasting and dark-colored, and it inhibits food-borne pathogens.  The dark color would explain the term “blood” (not the normal term for juice, let alone oil), and the bitter flavor and antibiotic properties would explain its medical use.


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خدمة العملاء في وادي الرافدين

رسالة شكوى من تاجر بابلي الى تاجر نحاس من دلمون (البحرين) يتذمر فيها من سوء التعامل ورداءة النحاس المرسل اليه، مكتوبة على لوح طيني في مدينة أور في حوالي سنة 1750 ق.م.

من ضمن القطع الأثرية من أرض الرافدين التي يحتفظ بها المتحف البريطاني، رسالة شكوى وتذمر كتبها التاجر البابلي “ناني” الى التاجر “إي-ناصر” من دلمون (البحرين) في سنة 1750 ق.م. والتي تدور حول مشاكل رافقت استلامه شحنة رديئة من النحاس.

ظهرت الترجمة الكاملة لهذه الرسالة في كتاب استاذ علم الآشوريات، ليو أوبنهايم الموسوم “رسائل من أرض الرافدين“، حيث نقرأ فيها:

“من ناني الى إي-ناصر

عندما جئت الى هنا قلت لي الآتي: عندما يأتيني جيميل-سين سأعطيه سبائك ممتازة من النحاس، ثم سافرت. لكنك لم تفِ بوعدك. وضعت امام رسولي عندما جاء اليك سبائك نحاس رديئة. وقلت له: هذه هي نوعية النحاس التي عندي، خذها إن أعجبتك أو ارحل بدونها.

كيف تسول لك نفسك أن تعاملني بهذا الازدراء؟ أرسلت لك سابقا رجالا محترمين، مثلي ومثلك، ليحصّلوا الدين الذي لي عليك، نقودي التي لا تزال عندك. لكنك اسأت معاملتهم وأرسلتهم خاليي الوفاض في كل مرة، هذا وأنت تعلم انهم عليهم أن يمروا في أراضي العدو ليصلوا اليك! لا أحد من تجار دلمون اساء معاملتي كما فعلت، أنت الوحيد الذي يزدري رسلي ويسيء معاملتهم! إذا كان رطل الفضة التافه، الذي أدين لك به، هو الذي يجعلك تتصرف بهذه الطريقة، في الوقت الذي دفعت انا عنك 1080 رطلا من النحاس ضريبة الى القصر، ومثلها فعل أومي-أبوم عندما دفع عنك 1080 رطلا من النحاس هو الأخر. ناهيك عن الرسائل التي كتبناها وختمناها بأختامنا لتوضع في معبد الإله شماش.

لكن أنظر كيف أسأت معاملتي في صفقة النحاس. احتفظت بنقودي في أرض الأعداء، الان جاء دورك لتردها لي كاملة بدون نقصان.

ليكن بعلمك، من الآن فصاعدا، لن اقبل منك أي شحنة نحاس ان لم تكن ممتازة النوعية. من اليوم، سأفحص سبائك النحاس التي ترسلها بنفسي، وسأمارس حقي الشرعي في رفض السبائك الرديئة وسأعيدها اليك، لأنك عاملتني بازدراء.”

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Ningirsu Son of Gudea

Ur-Ningirsuensi of Lagash, circa 2120 – 2113 B.C.

Ur-Ningirsu was the son of Gudea, the ensi (ruler, governor) of Lagash. Gudea reigned during difficult and dangerous times. The Akkadian Empire, which had ruled Sumer for 200 years, had been overrun by the Gutians, nomadic tribesman from the north. The Gutians also conquered parts of Sumer. Despite the political instability of the region, Gudea managed to give his citizens twenty years of peace and prosperity. The people of Lagash also enjoyed an artistic renaissance during his reign.

In 1924, the Louvre Museum acquired the body of this statuette from clandestine excavations in Telloh; the head, which entered into a private American collection, was bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1947. Since 1974, an agreement between the two museums allows the sculpture to be displayed in its entirety in Paris then in New York alternately, for a period of five years.
 The base of this statue of the Prince of Lagash is engraved with kneeling tribute bearers.
It illustrates these words of the psalmist that the Apostle Paul was to apply to Jesus Christ: “The utterance of Jehovah to my Lord is:“Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet.” – Psalm 110:1


The “years names” of Ur-Ningirsu’s reign:

The Sumerians did not have a single comprehensive calendar for the entire nation. Instead, each city-state had its own individual calendar based on the reign of its monarch. The years were not numbered (e.g., 2013). Rather, each year was named for an important event that occurred within it.

The year Ur-Ningirsu became governor

The year after Ur-Ningirsu became governor

Year in which the šita-abba priest was chosen by means of the omens

Year in which the lumah priest of Baba was chosen by means of the omens

Year in which the high priestess of Iškur was chosen by means of the omens

Year the throne bearer of the god Ningirsu was chosen

Year in which the city of Uruk was destroyed

The first thing noticeable about this list is the second year of Ur-Ningirsu’s reign, “the year after Ur-Ningirsu became governor”. Although it wasn’t unusual for a Sumerian year name to be titled “the year after” an important event, this suggests there were no accomplishments in Ur-Ningirsu’s second year that were worthy of mention. By contrast, Gudea’s second year was named “the year in which the canal Ningirsu-ushumgal (‘Ningirsu is a dragon’) was dug.” Ur-Namma’s second year was “the year in which Ur-Namma the king put in order the ways (of the people in the country) from below to above.” The lack of any major accomplishments in Ur-Ningirsu’s second year may be due to his youth and inexperience. He was quite young when he became a king.

The second thing noticeable about the year names is the preponderance of religious themes. Although Sumerian year names frequently mention religion, in Ur-Ningirsu’s reign there is little mention of anything else. There is no political agenda, such as “the year Ur-Namma made justice in the land” or the year that he built a defensive wall around the city of Ur. Notably absent from the year names of Ur-Ningirsu is a reference to major building projects, like the digging of a canal, the construction of a new temple, or the completion of a city wall. Also missing is any reference to war. He was named for the god of war (Ningirsu), and his statue shows humble emissaries at his feet offering him tribute, but there is no record of him being involved in wars of foreign conquest or civil wars against other Sumerian city-states. Although the year names indicate that Ur-Ningirsu was deeply religious like his father, it seems likely that Ur-Ningirsu would have added other non-religious year names (that dealt with war, politics, and justice) had he lived longer.

This leads to the third thing noticeable about the list. It is a very short list. Ur-Ningirsu reigned for only seven years. He was quite young when he died.

There is some debate about the final year name, “the year in which the city of Uruk was destroyed” (by the Gutians). Some scholars think it occurred during the reign of Gudea rather than Ur-Ningirsu. In either case, it is a significant event. Uruk was the city of Utu-hengal. His seven year reign is roughly contemporaneous with that of Ur-Ningirsu. Along with his young military governor, Ur-Namma, Utu-hengal won a major victory over the Gutians, capturing
their king Tirigan and two of his generals. This was the beginning of Sumerian independence
after two centuries of foreign domination. Even so, the Gutians continued to be a threat.
Ur-Namma fought them again after he became the king of Ur; one of his year names was
called, “the year Gutium was destroyed”. He would later die in combat in yet another battle
with the Gutians.

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