Dumuzi, Inanna, and Sacred Marriage
To the early period before the development of cities and of a hierarchical and orderly pantheon belongs the story of Dumuzi's wooing of Inanna, the subject of many poems. Dumuzi is the spirit of new life in the date palm; seen as a farmer, he is the power causing the crops to grow; and he is most especially the shepherd bringing about the increase of his flocks. Pictured as a young man at the height of his powers, handsome and vigorous, he is the essence of the desirable lover but also the suitable bridegroom who can amply support his bride. Inanna is depicted as a teenager, spoiled, capricious, and flirtatious.
In one poem Inanna makes the first move, confiding her love for Dumuzi to his sister Geshtinanna, knowing the information will be passed on. In another, Dumuzi follows the accepted rules, making a formal offer of marriage to Inanna's brother and guardian, the sun god Utu, and having to demonstrate that he can keep her in the manner to which she is accustomed—which includes exemption from household chores. Dumuzi and Inanna slip away together to exchange kisses, or Inanna teases Dumuzi by playing inaccessible: The scope of the genre was endless.
The courtship reaches its destined conclusion, the marriage ceremony, which is dealt with in detail. Dumuzi and his three best men come bearing gifts. Inanna is bathed and anointed and dressed in her finery. After a show of reluctance, she opens her door, a symbolic gesture that leads to the consummation of the marriage. The story symbolizes the harnessing of nature's fertility to provide for the community.
This is echoed in the sacred marriage, a major festival about which tantalizingly little is known. Probably originating in Uruk, Inanna's city, and celebrated by the Ur III kings and Isin-Larsa-period kings of Isin, it may have been more widespread, possibly elsewhere involving a marriage between the king and a different deity. The entum priestess at Ur was regarded as the bride of Nanna, and there are indications that a sacred marriage formed part of the New Year festival here, presumably with the king enacting the part of Nanna and the entum representing his wife, Ningal. A bedroom in the shrine in her residence, the giparu, was probably intended for this celebration. An Isin text describes in detail the preparation of the bedchamber, then the goddess bathing and anointing herself, before the king Iddin-Dagan "went to the pure loins with head high" (Postgate 1994: 265, after Romer 1965, lines 167-168). Nevertheless, accounts of the ceremony make it impossible to say whether the ritual was purely symbolic, the king spending a night in the goddess's chamber in her spiritual presence, or entailed the actual physical union between the king, representing Dumuzi, and Inanna, personified by a priestess. Nor is it known whether this took place annually as part of the New Year festival, or more infrequently, for example, at the first New Year after the king's accession.
Although the union between Dumuzi and Inanna brought fertility to the land, Inanna did not become a mother. All too soon, the marriage was cut short by tragedy: The reflection of the end of vernal lushness and abundance as the summer's drought took hold. Dumuzi was attacked, pursued, and eventually killed, as in mythologies the world over (cf. "John Barleycorn"), dying to provide food and drink, cut down in the harvest and the slaughter of the year's new lambs and calves.
Distraught, Dumuzi's womenfolk sought him. Inanna yielded to lamentation but Geshtinanna, his sister, and sometimes Ninsun, his mother, continued the quest, eventually locating him in the underworld. Lamentations for the death of Dumuzi formed an integral part of a major summer festival, widely celebrated in early times and perhaps later, which also involved processions and paeans for Dumuzi.
The Babylonian New Year Festival
The Akitu festival, the most important of the Babylonian year, was the celebrated in Babylon at the New Year, from the first to twelfth days of the first month, Nisannu (March/April). Only the second to fifth days are well known, from surviving fragments of a detailed Neo-Babylonian text.
The main purpose of the festival was to inaugurate the New Year when the gods not only began the annual cycle anew but also recreated the world. For this reason, a complete reading of Enuma elish had become an integral part of the ceremonies in Babylon by the first millennium. The New Year also coincided with the time of the barley harvest in Babylonia, the high point of the agricultural year. Marduk, as chief of the gods in later Babylonia, creator of the universe according to Enuma elish, and city deity of Babylon, played the central role in the festival.
It opened with purification ceremonies, and rituals began in earnest on the second day. One priest known as sheshgallu rose early each morning, washing in river water and offering prayers before the statue of Marduk before opening the doors of the shrine to admit other priests, who performed a number of rituals. On the fourth day the curtains were drawn back from the images of Marduk and his wife, and the Esagila was blessed. Later in the day the shesh-gallu recited the whole of Enuma elish.
On the fifth day an exorcist purified Marduk's shrine by sprinkling it with water. The shrine of Marduk's son Nabu, patron of the nearby city of Borsippa, was also purified, ready for his arrival in the person of his statue. The shrine was wiped ritually clean with the body of a sacrificed sheep, which was then thrown in the river, carrying away any evil.
In Marduk's temple prayers were said, and he and his wife were served a meal. Now came one of the high points of the festival, when the king answered to Marduk for his year's care of Babylonia. Everyone left the cella except the sheshgallu and the king. The priest removed the king's regalia—scepter, circle, and sword—which he placed before Marduk. He then slapped the king's face and dragged him by the ear before Marduk, forcing him to bow. The king assured the god of his righteousness in avoiding sin and fulfilling his duties throughout the year; he "took Bel (i. e., Marduk) by the hand" and the priest restored the regalia to him. He then slapped the king again hard: If tears came to the king's eyes, this signified that Marduk was pleased and well disposed.
At sunset of the fifth day, a trench was dug in the courtyard outside Marduk's sanctum. Into it were poured oil, honey, and cream, along with reeds. The king set this alight and sacrificed a white bull, reciting prayers along with a priest.
The rest of the festival is only scrappily known. One of the ceremonies involved breaking and burning two divine images made earlier in the festival from valuable wood covered by sheets of precious metal. Statues of Marduk and his divine court were brought together to discuss the fate of the king and the Babylonians, with Nabu recording their decisions. The climax was a great procession that carried these statues in palanquins along the magnificent Processional Way, paved with limestone slabs, its walls and the magnificent Ishtar Gate (see photo p. 34) decorated with glazed bricks, blue for the background contrasting with orange low-relief figures of the dragon of Marduk (mushhusshu) and the bull of Adad on the gate and lions on the wall. This road led from Esagila through the Ishtar Gate to the Akitu temple outside the inner city wall. The procession, which may have taken more than a day to complete, had seven stages, including each god crossing the Euphrates in his own boat. At the Akitu temple, Marduk was installed in the central shrine and it is likely that a ceremony took place commemorating and perhaps reenacting Marduk's great victory over Tiamat.
This supremely important festival could not be celebrated in the dark years when Marduk's statue was absent, stolen by the city's conquerors. Nor could it take place without the king, as for example during Nabonidus's decade in
Taima. The accepted performance of the festival by certain Assyrian kings was an affirmation of their authority over and responsibility for Babylonia.
A Neo-Babylonian seal of the eighth or seventh century B. C.E., showing two figures engaged in the worship of the moon god Sin (Nanna). (Zev Radovan/Land of the Bible Picture Archive)
A New Year festival was performed from early times in many cities, with different deities at its center (in Ur, for example, the festival centered around Nanna), but little is known about their form outside first-millennium B. C.E. Babylon. The "Offerings to Ishtar" festival at Mari may have taken place at the New Year: Held in the king's garden, it involved feasting and probably the reinvestiture of the king by the goddess, a ceremony shown in a painting on the palace wall. In Assyria the festival also involved the renewal of oaths of allegiance to the king by his principal followers.
Like Babylon, Assur and Uruk both had a processional way leading to an extramural akitu temple (bit ak-
Itu). Although akitu in Babylon was the New Year festival, the term was widely used in earlier times for a variety of rural festivals, not necessarily associated with the New Year. Though little is known of festivals other than the Babylonian akitu, they probably generally included processions, music and dancing, feasting, and other communal activities. People probably traveled from a wide area to attend festivals. Individual deities had their own special festival days, and smaller-scale celebrations were widely held for the phases of the moon, on the first, seventh, and fifteenth days of each month.
Mesopotamian gods paid each other formal visits in the person of their statues, often traveling by water in a sacred boat. In third-millennium Sumer and Akkad, city gods visited their mentor Enki in Eridu and their leader Enlil in Nippur, as well as more local visits between deities of similar status. The occasion of these visits might be a festival in which the deity wished to participate, like Nabu attending the New Year festival, or an important event such as the consecration of a major temple. In addition, a god's statue, or more commonly his emblem, often traveled locally to support situations where an oath was to be taken or divine authority required, for example in a lawsuit or for official validation of the size of a harvest.