The biblical book of Ezekiel mentions, with great disapproval, an ancient Near Eastern ritual associated with the death of Ishtar's husband Tammuz. As recorded in the Bible, God points Ezekiel toward a temple: “Then He brought me to the entrance of the gate of the Lord's house which was toward the north; and behold, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz.” This is described in the Bible as an “abomination”—an all-female ritual in which the priestesses mourned the death of Tammuz for forty days.
Interestingly, some historians have suggested that the Christian practice of observing Lent—a period of forty days of prayer and penitence before Easter—stems from the ancient forty-day mourning period for Tammuz. Both Lent and the mourningforTammuz precede a resurrection.
Of all the previous lovers she had harmed. Enraged, Ishtar sent the fierce Bull of Heaven to kill Gilgamesh, but he and his friend Enkidu (pronounced EN-kee-doo) killed the beast instead.
The other well-known myth of Ishtar concerns her descent to the underworld (land of the dead) and the sacrifice of her husband Tammuz (pronounced TAH-mooz, also known as Dumuzi). In this story, Ishtar decided to visit the underworld, which was ruled by her sister Ereshkigal (pronounced ay-RESH-kee-gahl), perhaps to seize power there. Before departing, she instructed her follower Ninshubur (pronounced neen-SHOO-boor) to seek the help of the gods if she did not return.
To reach the underworld, Ishtar had to pass through seven gates and remove a symbol of her power—such as an article of clothing or a piece of jewelry—at each one. At the last gate, the goddess, naked and deprived of all her powers, met her sister Ereshkigal, who announced that Ishtar must die. She died immediately, and her corpse was hung on a stake.
Meanwhile, the god Enki (pronounced EN-kee) learned from Ninshubur that Ishtar was missing and sent two messengers who restored her to life. However, in order to leave the underworld, Ishtar had to substitute another body for her own. The goddess offered her young husband, Tammuz, to take her place. This tale of death and rebirth was associated with fertility and linked to the seasons and agricultural cycles, much like the story of Persephone (pronounced per-SEF-uh-nee) in Greek mythology. In another version of the story, Ishtar travels to the underworld to rescue Tammuz, who has died, and manages to bring him back—but only for part of each year. Thus the death and rebirth of Tammuz is also linked to fertility and agricultural cycles.