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Where do gods go when they die?

March 8, 2010

I am dallying in several streams of research at the moment. These include (but are not limited to): Gilgamesh, Nergal, Adapa and Mesopotamian concepts of death more generally. A confluence of research occurred this morning while reading more of Dina Katz’s The Image of the Netherworld in the Sumerian Sources. It makes me wonder to what extent all dead gods go to heaven in late Mesopotamian sources.

In the story “Adapa and the South Wind,” the protagonist is required to appear before the high god Anu for a curse he unleashed which has broken the wing of the South wind. Adapa’s patron god Ea gives him wise advice before going before Anu. Part of this advice is to ingratiate himself to two gods who stand at the gate of Anu: Dumuzi and Gizzida.

There are several oddities to having Dumuzi and Gizzida at Anu’s gate in the heavens. Dumuzi and Gizzida are dying and rising gods, why are they in the heavens? Ea has Adapa wear mourning garments for the two gods whose presence is missing in the land, so wouldn’t they be in the Netherworld?

The situation became even more confusing this morning while reading of the lineage of Gizzida (aka Gišzida, Ningišzida). Ningišzida is the son of Ninanzu. Ninanzu is the son of Ereškigal (the queen of the Netherworld), the son who she is mourning in Inanna’s Descent to the Netherworld. Further, Ningišzida’s mother is Ninazimua, a goddess who is identified with Geštinanna. Geštinanna is the sister of Dumuzi who agrees at the end of Inanna’s Descent to spend half the year in the Netherworld so her brother can spend part of the year above ground. In short, Dumuzi is guarding the gates of Anu with his nephew, who also happens to be the grandson of the queen of the Netherworld.

What does this all mean? I’m still not sure. Shlomo Izre’el has done a lot of work on Adapa and issues of life and death. The assemblage of chthonic deities in Gizzida’s lineage certainly emphasizes this aspect of the story. However, I can’t help but entertain ideas of an early astralization of the Netherworld hinted at in the text.

  1. March 10, 2010 4:14 am

    What about Ninurta?

    As for Adapa, you’ve gotta read Liverani’s take in his Myth and History volume. Very nice.

    • March 10, 2010 8:46 am

      Liverani’s book is also on my list of things to read (which only gets longer, not shorter).

      Ninurta is very high on my priorities too. Obviously so 😉

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