Lamassu / Ishum & Papsukkal
Isimud (also Isinu; Usmû; Usumu (Akkadian)) is a minor god, the messenger of the god Enki, in Sumerian mythology. He appears in the myth of Enki and Ninhursag, in which he acts as Enki’s messenger and emissary.
In ancient Sumerian artwork, Isimud is easily identifiable because he is always depicted with two faces facing in opposite directions in a way that is similar to the ancient Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings.
He plays a similar role to Ninshubur, Inanna’s sukkal or second-in-command in Sumerian mythology. Much like Iris or Hermes in later Greek mythology, Ninshubur served as a messenger to the other gods. Her name means “Queen of the East” in ancient Sumerian. Papsukkal, the messenger god and gatekeeper in the Akkadian pantheon, was syncretized with Ninshubur.
The Akkadians associated the god Papsukkal, the messenger god and gatekeeper for the rest of the pantheon in the Akkadian pantheon, with a lamassu and the minor god Išum, the brother of Shamash and an attendant of Erra, with shedu.
Ishum is known particularly from the Babylonian legend of Erra and Ishum. He developed from the Sumerian figure of Endursaga, the herald god in the Sumerian mythology. He leads the pantheon, particularly in times of conflict. He may have been a god of fire and led the gods in war as a herald but was generally regarded as benevolent.
A lamassu (Cuneiform: an.kal; Sumerian: dlammař; Akkadian: lamassu; sometimes called a lamassus) is an Assyrian protective deity, often depicted as having a human head, the body of a bull or a lion, and bird wings. In art, lamassu were depicted as hybrids, with bodies of either winged bulls or lions and heads of human males.
The lamassu was a celestial being from ancient Mesopotamian religion bearing a human head, bull’s body, sometimes with the horns and the ears of a bull, and wings. It appears frequently in Mesopotamian art. The lamassu and shedu were household protective spirits of the common Babylonian people, becoming associated later as royal protectors, and were placed as sentinels at entrances.
Lamassu represent the zodiacs, parent-stars, or constellations. They are depicted as protective deities because they encompass all life within them. In the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, they are depicted as physical deities as well, which is where the lammasu iconography originates, these deities could be microcosms of their microcosmic zodiac, parent-star, or constellation.
To protect houses, the lamassu were engraved in clay tablets, which were then buried under the door’s threshold. They were often placed as a pair at the entrance of palaces. At the entrance of cities, they were sculpted in colossal size, and placed as a pair, one at each side of the door of the city, that generally had doors in the surrounding wall, each one looking towards one of the cardinal points.
Standard iconography pictured Nergal as a lion, and boundary-stone monuments symbolise him with a mace surmounted by the head of a lion. In Assyro-Babylonian ecclesiastical art the great lion-headed colossi serving as guardians to the temples and palaces seem to symbolise Nergal, just as the bull-headed colossi probably typify Ninurta.
The ancient Jewish people were influenced by the iconography of Assyrian culture. The prophet Ezekiel wrote about a fantastic being made up of aspects of a human being, a lion, an eagle and a bull. Later, in the early Christian period, the four Gospels were ascribed to each of these components. When it was depicted in art, this image was called the Tetramorph.
According to Macrobius who cites Nigidius Figulus and Cicero, Janus and Jana (Diana) are a pair of divinities, worshipped as Apollo or the sun and moon, whence Janus received sacrifices before all the others, because through him is apparent the way of access to the desired deity.
A similar solar interpretation has been offered by A. Audin who interprets the god as the issue of a long process of development, starting with the Sumeric cultures, from the two solar pillars located on the eastern side of temples, each of them marking the direction of the rising sun at the dates of the two solstices: the southeastern corresponding to the Winter and the northeastern to the Summer solstice.
These two pillars would be at the origin of the theology of the divine twins, one of whom is mortal (related to the NE pillar, as confining with the region where the sun does not shine) and the other is immortal (related to the SE pillar and the region where the sun always shines).
Later these iconographic models evolved in the Middle East and Egypt into a single column representing two torsos and finally a single body with two heads looking at opposite directions.
Sun (Apollo, Master of Animals) and Moon (Artemis, Potnia Theron)
Amongst the Hurrians and later Hittites Nergal was known as Aplu, a name derived from the Akkadian Apal Enlil, (Apal being the construct state of Aplu) meaning “the son of Enlil”. Aplu may be related with Apaliunas who is considered to be the Hittite reflex of *Apeljōn, an early form of the name Apollo.
The Master of Animals or Lord of Animals is a motif in ancient art showing a human between and grasping two confronted animals. It is very widespread in the art of the Ancient Near East and Egypt. Such figures are also often referred to as ‘Lord of the forest’* or ‘Lord of the mountain’. The Greek god shown as “Master of Animals” is usually Apollo, the god of hunting.
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in classical Greek and Roman religion and Greek and Roman mythology. Seen as the most beautiful god and the ideal of the kouros (a beardless, athletic youth), Apollo is considered to be the most Greek of all gods.
The national divinity of the Greeks, Apollo has been variously recognized as a god of music, truth and prophecy, healing, the sun and light, plague, poetry, and more. Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto, and has a twin sister, the chaste huntress Artemis.
Artemis is the goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, wild animals, the Moon, and chastity. Homer’s mention of potnia theron is thought to refer to Artemis and Walter Burkert describes this mention as “a well established formula”. The goddess Diana is her Roman equivalent.
Gemini / Twins
Gemini is the third astrological sign in the zodiac, originating from the constellation of Gemini. Gemini lies between Taurus to the west and Cancer to the east, with Auriga and Lynx to the north and Monoceros and Canis Minor to the south.
Under the tropical zodiac, the sun transits this sign between about May 21 and June 21. Its name is Latin for “twins,” and it is associated with the twins Castor and Pollux, known as the Dioscuri in Greek mythology.
In Greek mythology, Gemini was associated with the myth of Castor and Pollux, the children of Leda and Argonauts both. Pollux was the son of Zeus, who seduced Leda, while Castor was the son of Tyndareus, king of Sparta and Leda’s husband.
Castor and Pollux were also mythologically associated with St. Elmo’s fire in their role as the protectors of sailors. When Castor died, because he was mortal, Pollux begged his father Zeus to give Castor immortality, and he did, by uniting them together in the heavens.
In Babylonian astronomy, the stars Castor and Pollux were known as the Great Twins. The Twins were regarded as minor gods and were called Meshlamtaea and Lugalirra, meaning respectively “The One who has arisen from the Underworld” and the “Mighty King”.
Both names can be understood as titles of Nergal, the major Babylonian god of plague and pestilence, who was king of the Underworld. Nergal’s chief temple at Cuthah bore the name Meslam, from which the god receives the designation of Meslamtaeda or Meslamtaea, “the one that rises up from Meslam”.
The name Meslamtaeda/Meslamtaea indeed is found as early as the list of gods from Fara while the name Nergal only begins to appear in the Akkadian period.
Lugal-irra and Meslamta-ea
In ancient Mesopotamian religion, Lugal-irra and Meslamta-ea are a set of twin gods who were worshipped in the village of Kisiga, located in northern Babylonia. They were regarded as guardians of doorways and they may have originally been envisioned as a set of twins guarding the gates of the Underworld, who chopped the dead into pieces as they passed through the gates.
During the Neo-Assyrian period, small depictions of them would be buried at entrances, with Lugal-irra always on the left and Meslamta-ea always on the right. They are identical and are shown wearing horned caps and each holding an axe and a mace. They are identified with the constellation Gemini, which is named after them.
Nergal’s fiery aspect appears in names or epithets such as Lugalgira, Lugal-banda (Nergal as the fighting-cock), Sharrapu (“the burner”, a reference to his manner of dealing with outdated teachings), Erra, Gibil (though this name more properly belongs to Nusku), and Sibitti or Seven.
A certain confusion exists in cuneiform literature between Ninurta (slayer of Asag and wielder of Sharur, an enchanted mace) and Nergal, who has epithets such as the “raging king”, the “furious one”, and the like.
In the late Babylonian astral-theological system Nergal is related to the planet Mars. As a fiery god of destruction and war, Nergal doubtless seemed an appropriate choice for the red planet, and he was equated by the Greeks to the war-god Ares (Latin Mars)—hence the current name of the planet.
Amongst the Hurrians and later Hittites Nergal was known as Aplu, a name derived from the Akkadian Apal Enlil, (Apal being the construct state of Aplu) meaning “the son of Enlil”. Aplu may be related with Apaliunas who is considered to be the Hittite reflex of *Apeljōn, an early form of the name Apollo.
Nergal seems to be in part a solar deity, sometimes identified with Shamash, but only representative of a certain phase of the sun. Over time Nergal developed from a war god to a god of the underworld. In the mythology, this occurred when Enlil and Ninlil gave him the underworld.
In this capacity he has associated with him a goddess Allatu or Ereshkigal, though at one time Allatu may have functioned as the sole mistress of Aralu, ruling in her own person. In some texts the god Ninazu is the son of Nergal and Allatu/Ereshkigal.
In the ancient Sumerian poem Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld, Ereshkigal is described as Inanna’s older sister. Inanna and Ereshkigal represent polar opposites. Inanna is the Queen of Heaven, but Ereshkigal is the queen of Irkalla.
In the ancient, medieval, and modern periods, Diana has been considered a triple deity, merged with a goddess of the moon (Luna/Selene) and the underworld (usually Hecate). In later times, the Greeks and Romans appear to have syncretized Ereshkigal with their own goddess Hecate.
Diana is a Roman goddess of the hunt, the Moon, and nature, associated with wild animals and woodland. She is equated with the Greek goddess Artemis, and absorbed much of Artemis’ mythology early in Roman history, including a birth on the island of Delos to parents Jupiter and Latona, and a twin brother, Apollo, though she had an independent origin in Italy.
Ninurta & Bau/Gula
Ninurta, also called Ningirsu, is an ancient Mesopotamian god associated with farming, healing, hunting, law, scribes, and war who was first worshipped in early Sumer. He is the city god of Girsu (Ṭalʿah, or Telloh) in the Lagash region.
In the earliest records, he is a god of agriculture and healing, who releases humans from sickness and the power of demons. He was the farmer’s version of the god of the thunder and rainstorms of the spring. He was also the power in the floods of spring and was god of the plow and of plowing. In later times, as Mesopotamia grew more militarized, he became a warrior deity, though he retained many of his earlier agricultural attributes.
Ninurta’s earliest name was Imdugud (now also read as Anzu), which means “Rain Cloud,” and his earliest form was that of the thundercloud envisaged as an enormous black bird floating on outstretched wings roaring its thunder cry from a lion’s head.
With the growing tendency toward anthropomorphism, the old form and name were gradually disassociated from the god as merely his emblems; enmity toward the older unacceptable shape eventually made it evil, an ancient enemy of the god.
Ninurta was the son of Enlil and Ninlil (Belit) and was married to Bau, in Nippur called Ninnibru, Queen of Nippur. A major festival of his, the Gudsisu Festival, marked in Nippur the beginning of the plowing season.
Astronomers of the eighth and seventh centuries BC identified Ninurta (or Pabilsaĝ) with the constellation Sagittarius. Alternatively, others identified him with the star Sirius, which was known in Akkadian as šukūdu, meaning “arrow”.
The constellation of Canis Major, of which Sirius is the most visible star, was known as qaštu, meaning “bow”, after the bow and arrow Ninurta was believed to carry. In Babylonian times, Ninurta was associated with the planet Saturn.
In ancient Mesopotamia, Sirius, named KAK.SI.DI by the Babylonians, was seen as an arrow aiming towards Orion, while the southern stars of Canis Major and a part of Puppis were viewed as a bow, named BAN in the Three Stars Each tablets, dating to around 1100 BC.
In the later compendium of Babylonian astronomy and astrology titled MUL.APIN, the arrow, Sirius, was also linked with the warrior Ninurta, and the bow with Ishtar, daughter of Enlil. Ninurta was linked to the later deity Marduk, who was said to have slain the ocean goddess Tiamat with a great bow, and worshipped as the principal deity in Babylon. The Ancient Greeks replaced the bow and arrow depiction with that of a dog.
Nintinugga was a Babylonian goddess of healing, the consort of Ninurta. She is identical with the goddess of Akkadian mythology, known as Bau or Baba though it would seem that the two were originally independent. Later as Gula and in medical incantations, Bēlet or Balāti, also as the Azugallatu the “great healer”, same as her son Damu.
Under the name Ninurta, his wife is usually the goddess Gula, but, as Ninĝirsu, his wife is the goddess Bau. Gula was the goddess of healing and medicine and she was sometimes alternately said to be the wife of the god Pabilsaĝ or the minor vegetation god Abu.
The name Bau is more common in the oldest period and gives way to Gula after the First Babylonian Dynasty. Since it is probable that Ninib has absorbed the cults of minor sun-deities, the two names may represent consorts of different gods. However this may be, the qualities of both are alike, and the two occur as synonymous designations of Ninib’s female consort.
Other names borne by this goddess are Nin-Karrak, Nin Ezen, Ga-tum-dug and Nm-din-dug. Her epithets are “great healer of the land” and “great healer of the black-headed ones”, a “herb grower”, “the lady who makes the broken up whole again”, and “creates life in the land”, making her a vegetation/fertility goddess endowed with regenerative power.
She was the daughter of An and a wife of Ninurta. She had seven daughters, including Hegir-Nuna (Gangir). After the Great Flood, she helped “breathe life” back into mankind. The designation well emphasizes the chief trait of Bau-Gula which is that of healer.
She is often spoken of as “the great physician,” and accordingly plays a specially prominent role in incantations and incantation rituals intended to relieve those suffering from disease. She is, however, also invoked to curse those who trample upon the rights of rulers or those who do wrong with poisonous potions.
Bau was worshipped “almost exclusively in Lagash” and was sometimes alternately identified as the wife of the god Zababa (also Zamama), a war god who was the tutelary deity of the city of Kish in ancient Mesopotamia.
Zababa is connected with the god Ninurta, and the symbol of Zababa − the eagle-headed staff − was often depicted next to Ninurta’s symbol. Inanna and Baba are variously described as his wife.
Sabazios is the horseman and sky father god of the Phrygians and Thracians. In Indo-European languages, such as Phrygian, the -zios element in his name derives from dyeus, the common precursor of Latin deus (‘god’) and Greek Zeus.
Though the Greeks interpreted Phrygian Sabazios as both Zeus and Dionysus, representations of him, even into Roman times, show him always on horseback, as a nomadic horseman god, wielding his characteristic staff of power.
The Thracian horseman (also “Thracian Rider” or “Thracian Heros”) is the name given to a recurring motif of a horseman depicted in reliefs of the Hellenistic and Roman periods in the Balkans (Thrace, Macedonia, Moesia, roughly from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD).
In the Roman era, the “Thracian horseman” iconography is further syncretised. The rider is now sometimes shown as approaching a tree entwined by a serpent, or as approaching a goddess.
These motifs are partly of Greco-Roman and partly of possible Scythian origin. The motif of a horseman with his right arm raised advancing towards a seated female figure is related to Scythian iconographic tradition. It is frequently found in Bulgaria, associated with Asclepius and Hygeia.
The motif of a standing goddess flanked by two horsemen, identified as Artemis flanked by the Dioscuri, and a tree entwined by a serpent flanked by the Dioscuri on horseback is transformed into a motif of a single horseman approaching the goddess or the tree.
Related to the Dioscuri motif is the so-called “Danubian Horsemen” motif of two horsemen flanking standing goddess. The motif of the Thracian horseman was continued in Christianised form in the equestrian iconography of both Saint George and Saint Demetrius.
In the art of Mesopotamia the motif appears very early, usually with a “naked hero”, for example at Uruk in the Uruk period (c. 4000 to 3100 BC), but was “outmoded in Mesopotamia by the seventh century BC”. In Luristan bronzes the motif is extremely common, and often highly stylized.
In terms of its composition the Master of Animals motif compares with another very common motif in the art of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean, that of two confronted animals flanking and grazing on a Tree of Life.
Alpha and Omega
Alpha (uppercase Α, lowercase α) is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. It was derived from the Phoenician and Hebrew letter aleph Aleph which means an ox or leader. Letters that arose from alpha include the Latin A and the Cyrillic letter А.
In the system of Greek numerals, it has a value of 1. In English, the noun “alpha” is used as a synonym for “beginning”, or “first” (in a series), reflecting its Greek roots. Alpha, both as a symbol and term, is used to refer to or describe a variety of things, including the first or most significant occurrence of something.
Omega (capital: Ω, lowercase: ω;) is the 24th and last letter of the Greek alphabet. The word literally means “great O” (ō mega, mega meaning “great”), as opposed to omicron, which means “little O” (o mikron, micron meaning “little”).
As the last letter of the Greek alphabet, Omega is often used to denote the last, the end, or the ultimate limit of a set, in contrast to alpha, the first letter of the Greek alphabet. The New Testament has God declaring himself to be the “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” (Revelation 22:13, KJV, and see also 1:8).
In Sumerian religion, Ninḫursaĝ was a mother goddess of the mountains. She is principally a fertility goddess. She is the tutelary deity to several Sumerian leaders. Temple hymn sources identify her as the “true and great lady of heaven” (possibly in relation to her standing on the mountain) and kings of Sumer were “nourished by Ninhursag’s milk”.
Frequently she carries a mace or baton surmounted by an omega motif or a derivation, sometimes accompanied by a lion cub on a leash. Sometimes her hair is depicted in an omega shape and at times she wears a horned head-dress and tiered skirt, often with bow cases at her shoulders.
Her symbol, resembling the Greek letter omega Ω, has been depicted in art from around 3000 BC, though more generally from the early second millennium BC. It appears on some boundary stones — on the upper tier, indicating her importance.
The omega symbol is associated with the Egyptian cow goddess Hathor, and may represent a stylized womb. Hathor is at times depicted on a mountain, so it may be that the two goddesses are connected.
Cybele & Attis
Cybele (“Mountain Mother”) is an Anatolian mother goddess; she may have a possible precursor in the earliest neolithic at Çatalhöyük, where statues of plump women, sometimes sitting, have been found in excavations dated to the 6th millennium BC and identified by some as a mother goddess.
She is Phrygia’s only known goddess, and was probably its national deity. In Greece, Cybele met with a mixed reception. She was partially assimilated to aspects of the Earth-goddess Gaia, her possibly Minoan equivalent Rhea, and the harvest–mother goddess Demeter.
In Greece, Cybele is associated with mountains, town and city walls, fertile nature, and wild animals, especially lions. In Greece, as in Phrygia, she was a “Mistress of animals” (Potnia Therōn), with her mastery of the natural world expressed by the lions that flank her, sit in her lap or draw her chariot.
She was readily assimilated to the Minoan-Greek earth-mother Rhea, “Mother of the gods”, whose raucous, ecstatic rites she may have acquired. As an exemplar of devoted motherhood, she was partly assimilated to the grain-goddess Demeter, whose torchlight procession recalled her search for her lost daughter, Persephone. In Rome, Cybele was known as Magna Mater (“Great Mother”).
Many of her Greek cults included rites to a divine Phrygian castrate shepherd-consort Attis, who was also a Phrygian god of vegetation. In his self-mutilation, death and resurrection he represents the fruits of the earth which die in winter only to rise again in the spring.
The most important representation of Attis is the lifesize statue discovered at Ostia near the mouth of Rome’s river. The statue is of a reclining Attis, after the emasculation. In his left hand is a shepherd’s crook, in his right hand a pomegranate.
His head is crowned with a pine garland with fruits, bronze rays of the sun, and on his Phrygian cap is a crescent moon. It was discovered in 1867 at the Campus of the Magna Mater together with other statues.
Aphrodite & Adonis
Inanna is an ancient Mesopotamian goddess associated with love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, justice, and political power. She was originally worshipped in Sumer and was later worshipped by the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians under the name Ishtar.
She was known as the “Queen of Heaven” and was the patron goddess of the Eanna temple at the city of Uruk, which was her main cult center. She was associated with the planet Venus and her most prominent symbols included the lion and the eight-pointed star.
Her husband was the god Dumuzid (later known as Tammuz) Dumuzid, an ancient Mesopotamian god associated with shepherds, and her sukkal, or personal attendant, was the goddess Ninshubur (who later became the male deity Papsukkal).
Inanna-Ishtar is alluded to in the Hebrew Bible and she greatly influenced the Phoenician goddess Astoreth, who later influenced the development of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, an ancient Greek goddess associated with love, beauty, pleasure, passion and procreation.
Aphrodite is identified with the planet Venus, which is named after the Roman goddess Venus, with whom she was extensively syncretized. Aphrodite’s major symbols include myrtles, roses, doves, sparrows, and swans.
Adonis was the mortal lover of the goddess Aphrodite in Greek mythology. In Ovid’s first-century AD telling of the myth, he was conceived after Aphrodite cursed his mother Myrrha to lust after her own father, King Cinyras of Cyprus.
Myrrha had sex with her father in complete darkness for nine nights, but he discovered her identity and chased her with a sword. The gods transformed her into a myrrh tree and, in the form of a tree, she gave birth to Adonis. Aphrodite found the infant and gave him to be raised by Persephone, the queen of the Underworld.
Adonis grew into an astonishingly handsome young man, causing Aphrodite and Persephone to feud over him, with Zeus eventually decreeing that Adonis would spend one third of the year in the Underworld with Persephone, one third of the year with Aphrodite, and the final third of the year with whomever he chose. Adonis chose to spend his final third of the year with Aphrodite.
One day, Adonis was gored by a wild boar during a hunting trip and died in Aphrodite’s arms as she wept. His blood mingled with her tears and became the anemone flower. Aphrodite declared the Adonia festival commemorating his tragic death, which was celebrated by women every year in midsummer.
During this festival, Greek women would plant “gardens of Adonis”, small pots containing fast-growing plants, which they would set on top of their houses in the hot sun. The plants would sprout, but soon wither and die. Then the women would mourn the death of Adonis, tearing their clothes and beating their breasts in a public display of grief.
Aphrodite is an ancient Greek goddess associated with love, beauty, pleasure, passion and procreation. She is identified with the planet Venus, which is named after the Roman goddess Venus, with whom Aphrodite was extensively syncretized. Aphrodite’s major symbols include myrtles, roses, doves, sparrows, and swans.
The cult of Aphrodite was largely derived from that of the Phoenician goddess Astarte, which, in turn, was influenced by the cult of the Mesopotamian goddess known as “Ishtar” to the East Semitic peoples and as “Inanna” to the Sumerians.
Her main festival was the Aphrodisia, which was celebrated annually in midsummer. In Laconia, Aphrodite was worshipped as a warrior goddess. She was also the patron goddess of prostitutes, an association which led early scholars to propose the concept of “sacred prostitution”, an idea which is now generally seen as erroneous.
Aphrodite took on Inanna-Ishtar’s associations with sexuality and procreation. Furthermore, she was known as Ourania , which means “heavenly”, a title corresponding to Inanna’s role as the Queen of Heaven. Early artistic and literary portrayals of Aphrodite are extremely similar on Inanna-Ishtar.
Like Inanna-Ishtar, Aphrodite was also a warrior goddess; the second-century AD Greek geographer Pausanias records that, in Sparta, Aphrodite was worshipped as Aphrodite Areia, which means “warlike”.
He also mentions that Aphrodite’s most ancient cult statues in Sparta and on Cythera showed her bearing arms. Modern scholars note that Aphrodite’s warrior-goddess aspects appear in the oldest strata of her worship and see it as an indication of her Near Eastern origins.
The Greeks considered Adonis’s cult to be of Oriental origin. Examples of gods who die and later return to life are most often cited from the religions of the Ancient Near East, and traditions influenced by them include Biblical and Greco-Roman mythology and by extension Christianity.
The concept of a dying-and-rising god was first proposed in comparative mythology by James Frazer’s seminal The Golden Bough (1890). Frazer associated the motif with fertility rites surrounding the yearly cycle of vegetation. Frazer cited the examples of Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis and Attis, Dionysus and Jesus Christ.
Adonis’s name comes from a Canaanite word meaning “lord” and modern scholars consider the story of Aphrodite and Adonis to be derived from the earlier Mesopotamian myth of Inanna (Ishtar) and Dumuzid (Tammuz). This word is related to Adonai, one of the titles used to refer to the God of the Hebrew Bible and still used in Judaism to the present day.
The cult of Inanna and Dumuzid may have been introduced to the Kingdom of Judah during the reign of King Manasseh.Ezekiel 8:14 mentions Adonis under his earlier East Semitic name Tammuz and describes a group of women mourning Tammuz’s death while sitting near the north gate of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Dawn Goddess
Ushas is a Vedic goddess of dawn in Hinduism. She repeatedly appears in the Rigvedic hymns where she is “consistently identified with dawn, revealing herself with the daily coming of light to the world, driving away oppressive darkness, chasing away evil demons, rousing all life, setting all things in motion, sending everyone off to do their duties”.
She is the life of all living creatures, the impeller of action and breath, the foe of chaos and confusion, the auspicious arouser of cosmic and moral order called the Ṛta (“order, rule; truth”), the principle of natural order which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it, in Hinduism.
She is portrayed as a beautifully adorned young woman riding in a golden chariot or a hundred chariots, drawn by golden red horses or cows, on her path across the sky, making way for the Vedic sun god Surya. Some of the most beautiful hymns in the Vedas are dedicated to her. Her sister is Ratri, or the night.
Vedic uṣás is derived from the word uṣá which means “dawn”. This word comes from Proto-Indo-Iranian *Hušā́s (“ušā” in Avestan), which in turn is from Proto-Indo-European *h₂éusōs (“dawn”), and is related to “ēṓs” in Greek and “aušrà” in Lithuanian. It is also the basis for the word “east” in Indo-European traditions, state Mallory and Adams.
Ushas is related to the Proto-Indo-European goddess *h₂ausos-. Her cognates in other Indo-European pantheons include the Greek goddess Eos, the Roman goddess Aurora, the Lithuanian goddess Ausrine, and the English goddess Ēostre, whose name is probably the root of the modern English word “Easter.”
The Dawn Goddess is hypothesised to have been one of the most important deities to the Proto-Indo-Europeans, due to the consistency of her characterisation as well as the relevance of Ushas in the Rig Veda. Her attributes have not only been mixed with those of solar goddesses in some later traditions, but have subsequently expanded and influenced female deities in other mythologies.
The Dawn Goddess is thought to have been envisioned as the daughter of Dyeus, though in some other Indo-European derivations this is not the case, though nonetheless the epithet “daughter of heaven” remains in nearly all Indo-European mythologies. This reflects her status as a relevant goddess as well as a celestial deity.
She is also envisioned as the sister of the Divine Twins, with Ushas still maintaining this relation to the Ashvins. Nearly all reflexes are associated with reddish horses, perhaps due to syncretism with solar goddesses as well as the hypothesised relation with the Divine Twins.
Due to the dawn heralding the sun and inducing the daily routine, the Dawn Goddess is associated with instilling the cosmic order. Ushas is the arouser of Ṛta, while the role of Aušrinė as the maid of the sun renders her a moral example in Lithuanian traditions and helped her syncretism with the Virgin Mary.
The Dawn Goddess was associated with weaving, a behaviour sometimes used as a metaphor for the generative properties of sunlight. This characteristic is normally seen in solar goddesses and it might indicate a large amount of syncretism between dawn and solar deities.
Utu / Shamash
Utu, later worshipped by East Semitic peoples as Shamash, is the ancient Mesopotamian god of the sun, justice, morality, and truth, and the twin brother of the goddess Inanna (later known as Ishtar), the Queen of Heaven. Utu was believed to take an active role in human affairs, and was thought to aid those in distress.
Utu was believed to ride through the heavens in his sun chariot and see all things that happened in the day. At night, Utu was believed to travel through the Underworld as he journeyed to the east in preparation for the sunrise.
One Sumerian literary work refers to Utu illuminating the Underworld and dispensing judgement there and Shamash Hymn 31 states that Utu serves as a judge of the dead in the Underworld alongside the malku, kusu, and the Anunnaki.
Utu’s main symbol was the solar disc, a circle with four points in each of the cardinal directions and four wavy, diagonal lines emanating from the circle between each point. This symbol represented the light, warmth, and power of the sun.
Utu’s main personality characteristics are his kindness and generosity, but, like all other Mesopotamian deities, he was not above refusing a request which inconvenienced him. He was the enforcer of divine justice and was thought to aid those in distress.
Alongside his sister Inanna, Utu was the enforcer of divine justice. In Sumerian texts, Inanna and Utu are shown as extremely close; in fact, their relationship frequently borders on incestuous.
In the Sumerian flood myth, Utu emerges after the flood waters begin to subside, causing Ziusudra, the hero of the story, to throw open a window on his boat and fall down prostrate before him. Ziusudra sacrifices a sheep and an ox to Utu for delivering him to salvation.
The authors of the Hebrew Bible generally attempt to portray the sun in a non-anthropomorphic manner, sometimes using it as a symbol of Yahweh’s power. The Hebrew word for “sun”, šapaš or šemeš, is often substituted for euphemisms, such as the word or, meaning “light”.
These authors appear to have made a conscious effort to avoid implications of sun worship, even of a Yahwistic variety, at all costs. However, the Woman of the Apocalypse in the Book of Revelation, may directly allude to ancient Near Eastern sun goddesses.
Sherida / Aya
His wife was the goddess Sherida, later known in Akkadian as Aya. Aya is Akkadian for “dawn”, and by the Akkadian period she was firmly associated with the rising sun and with sexual love and youth.
The Babylonians sometimes referred to her as kallatu (the bride), and as such she was known as the wife of Shamash. By the Neo-Babylonian period at the latest (and possibly much earlier), Shamash and Aya were associated with a practice known as Hasadu, which is loosely translated as a “sacred marriage.”
As the Sumerian pantheon formalized, Utu became the primary sun god, and Sherida was syncretized into a subordinate role as an aspect of the sun alongside other less powerful solar deities (c.f. Ninurta) and took on the role of Utu’s consort.
When the Semitic Akkadians moved into Mesopotamia, their pantheon became syncretized to the Sumerian. Inanna to Ishtar, Nanna to Sin, Utu to Shamash, etc. The minor Mesopotamian sun goddess Aya became syncretized into Sherida during this process.
Sherida was a goddess of beauty, fertility, and sexual love, possibly because light was seen as inherently beautiful, or because of the sun’s role in promoting agricultural fertility.
Ishara is an ancient pre-Hurrian and perhaps pre-Semitic deity of unknown origin from northern modern Syria. She first appeared as one of the chief goddesses of Ebla in the mid 3rd millennium, and by the end of the 3rd millennium, she had temples in Nippur, Sippar, Kish, Harbidum, Larsa, and Urum. Her name appears as an element in theophoric names in Mesopotamia in the later 3rd millennium (Akkad period).
The etymology of Ishara is unknown. Ishara first appears in the pre-Sargonic texts from Ebla and then as a goddess of love in Old Akkadian potency-incantations. Her main epithet was belet rame, lady of love, which was also applied to Ishtar. In the Epic of Gilgamesh (Tablet II, col. v.28) it says: ‘For Ishara the bed is made’ and in Atra-hasis (I 301-304) she is called upon to bless the couple on the honeymoon.”
She was then incorporated to the Hurrian pantheon. She was worshipped with Teshub and Simegi at Alakh, and also at Ugarit, Emar and Chagar Bazar. She then entered the Hittite pantheon and had her main shrine in Kizzuwatna. Ishara is the Hittite word for “treaty, binding promise”, also personified as a goddess of the oath.
As a goddess, Ishara could inflict severe bodily penalties to oathbreakers, in particular ascites. In this context, she came to be seen as a “goddess of medicine” whose pity was invoked in case of illness. There was even a verb, isharis- “to be afflicted by the illness of Ishara”.
In Hurrian and Semitic traditions, Išḫara is a love goddess, often identified with Ishtar. She was invoked to heal the sick. In Alalah, her name was written with the Akkadogram IŠTAR plus a phonetic complement -ra, as IŠTAR-ra. Variants of the name appear as Ašḫara (in a treaty of Naram-Sin of Akkad with Hita of Elam) and Ušḫara (in Ugarite texts). In Ebla, there were various logographic spellings involving the sign AMA “mother”.
She was associated with the underworld. Her astrological embodiment is the constellation Scorpio and she is called the mother of the “Seven” or the “Seven Gods” (“the Seven Stars”; Sumerian Iminbi; Akkadian Sebittu), minor war gods in Babylonian and Akkadian tradition whose power could be marshalled beneficently against demons and their influence by the means of magical incantations and depiction.
Asherah is identified as the queen consort of the Sumerian god Anu, and Ugaritic El, the oldest deities of their respective pantheons, as well as Yahweh, the god of Israel and Judah. This role gave her a similarly high rank in the Ugaritic pantheon. Despite her association with Yahweh in extra-biblical sources, Deuteronomy 12 has Yahweh commanding the destruction of her shrines so as to maintain purity of his worship.
The name Dione, which like ‘Elat means “Goddess”, is clearly associated with Asherah in the Phoenician History of Sanchuniathon, because the same common epithet (‘Elat) of “the Goddess par excellence” was used to describe her at Ugarit. The Book of Jeremiah, written circa 628 BC, possibly refers to Asherah when it uses the title “Queen of Heaven” in Jeremiah 7:16-18 and Jeremiah 44:17-19, 25.
Sources from before 1200 BC almost always credit Athirat with her full title rabat ʾAṯirat yammi, “Lady Athirat of the Sea” or as more fully translated “she who treads on the sea”. This occurs 12 times in the Baʿal Epic alone.
The name is understood by various translators and commentators to be from the Ugaritic root ʾaṯr “stride”, cognate with the Hebrew root ʾšr, of the same meaning. There she appears to champion Yam, god of the sea, in his struggle with Ba’al.
Her other main divine epithet was qaniyatu ʾilhm which may be translated as “the creatrix of the Gods (Elohim)”. In those texts, Athirat is the consort of the god El; there is one reference to the 70 sons of Athirat, presumably the same as the 70 sons of El. She is also called Elat, “Goddess”, the feminine form of El (compare Allat) and Qodesh, “holiness”.
Athirat in Akkadian texts appears as Ashratum (or, Antu), the wife of Anu, the God of Heaven. In contrast, ʿAshtart is believed to be linked to the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar who is sometimes portrayed as the daughter of Anu while in Ugaritic myth, ʿAshtart is one of the daughters of El, the West Semitic counterpart of Anu. Among the Hittites this goddess appears as Asherdu(s) or Asertu(s), the consort of Elkunirsa (“El the Creator of Earth”) and mother of either 77 or 88 sons.
Lugalbanda / Pabilsag & Ninsun
In the Hurro-Akkadian bilingual Weidner god list, Utu is equated with the Hurrian sun-god Šimigi. In the Ugaritic trilingual version of the Weidner god list, Šimigi and Utu are both equated with Lugalbanda (young/fierce king), a character found in Sumerian mythology and literature.
In royal hymns of the Ur III period, Ur-Nammu of Ur and his son Shulgi describe Lugalbanda and Ninsun as their holy parents, and in the same context call themselves the brother of Gilgamesh. Sin-Kashid of Uruk also refers to Lugalbanda and Ninsun as his divine parents, and names Lugalbanda as his god.
In the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh and in earlier Sumerian stories about the hero, the king of Uruk, Gilgamesh, calls himself the son of Lugalbanda and Ninsun (lady of the wild cows), a goddess, best known as the mother of the legendary hero Gilgamesh, and as the tutelary goddess of Gudea of Lagash.
Other names include Rimat-Ninsun (from Akkadian rimātu “cattle”), the “August Cow”, the “Wild Cow of the Enclosure”, and “The Great Queen”. In Sumerian mythology, Ninsun was originally called Gula until her name was later changed to Ninisina. Later, Gula became a Babylonian goddess.