Ningishzida, in Mesopotamian religion, Sumerian deity, city god of Gishbanda, near Ur in the southern orchard region. Although Ningishzida was a power of the netherworld, where he held the office of throne bearer, he seems to have originally been a tree god, for his name apparently means “Lord Productive Tree.” In particular, he probably was god of the winding tree roots, since he originally was represented in serpent shape. When pictured in human form, two serpent heads grow from his shoulders in addition to the human head, and he rides on a dragon. He was a son of Ninazu and Ningirda and was the husband of Ninazimua.
In This drawing we see Ningishzida (middle figure) bringing Adapa of Eridu to God Anu (on throne at right)
Ningishzida is portrayed as either a serpent with the head of a man, or, more frequently, as a double-headed serpent coiled into a double helix. It is believed that the Greeks also made use of this symbolism in their myth of the caduceus, the wand of Hermes/Mercury which is associates with theft, deception, and death. Of course contemporary people are familiar with the double helix as well. We know that DNA, the fundamental blueprint of life is latticed together on a double helix. It is strange that the first use of this symbol is a mysterious Sumerian tree/snake god who apparently also appealed to Jewish scholars during the Babylonian captivity.
The Vase of Gudea
On exhibit in the Louvre is a green libation vase, which was excavated from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Lagash. The inscription on it, from King Gudea of Lagash circa 2025 BC, is a dedication to Ningizzida. Also on the vase is an image of two entwined snakes on a rod. Some have dated the vase as far back as 4000 B.C. The rod is most likely to be Axis Mundi, the world tree, Yggdrasil, the tree of life. Ningizzida, a fertility god, was also known as ‘Lord of the Tree of Life’. He was often depicted as a serpent with a human head, and later became a god of healing and magic. His companion was Tammuz/Dumuzi, who personified the creative powers of spring.
The Tree of Life had also been linked with the serpent or dragon (winged serpent) for over 1,000 years before Genesis was written. In 2025 BC the cup of the Sumerian King Gudea of Lagash (see Chapter 5, Fig. 22) showed two winged dragons holding back a pair of opening doors to reveal a caduceus of uniting snakes, the incarnation of the god Ningizzida, one of the names given to the consort of the mother goddess, to whom the cup is inscribed: ‘Lord of the Tree of Truth’.
Associated with his role in agriculture, Ningišzida is said to travel to the underworld at the time of the death of vegetation (in Mesopotamia – mid-summer to mid-winter). This journey is recorded in both Sumerian and Akkadian myths (Ningišzida’s Journey to the Netherworld, ETCSL 1.7.3 and Lambert 1990: 293). In the Adapa legend, Ningišzida, under the name Gišzida, is one of the two deities who are said to have disappeared from the land.
In northern Babylonia the goddess of the Tree of Life was called the ‘divine Lady of Eden’ or Edin, and in the south she was called the ‘Lady of the Vine’, an understandable change of name given that the Sumerian sign for ‘life’ was originally a vine leaf. However, in the myth of Eden, where there is no unifying image of a goddess, there is significantly also not one tree but two trees, or, it could be said, the one tree has become two, and now the fruit of both of them is forbidden. In earlier mythologies the one tree offered both ‘knowledge’ and ‘life’, or ‘wisdom’ and ‘immortality’. Here, knowledge of good and evil is split apart from eternal life, so that a perception of duality is rendered absolutely antithetical to a perception of life’s unity. Campbell comments that: ‘The principle of mythic dissociation, by which God and his world, immortality and mortality, are set apart in the Bible is expressed in a dissociation of the Tree of Knowledge from the Tree of Immortal Life.