Apocrypha: The Sumerians and Akkadians

Discovered by J.E. Taylor, British Consulate, as directed by the Foreign Office, 1854


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Discovered by J.E. Taylor, British Consulate, as directed by the Foreign Office, 1854.

Excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley with joint American-British team, 1923. 16
In his law codes Ur-Nammu was said to have established "equity in the land and banished malediction, violence, and strife", although equal rights based on gender was not one of it’s strong points:
4. If the wife of a man followed after another man and he slept with her,

they shall slay that woman, but that male shall be set free.

5. If a man proceeded by force, and deflowered the virgin slave woman

of another man, that man must pay five shekels of silver.

Another of his promotional poems reads:
I am Ur-Nammu, king of Ur, the protecting genius of my city. I strike against those guilty of capital offences, and make them tremble. The fear I cause ....... My judgments make Sumer and Akkad follow a single path. I place my foot on the necks of thieves and criminals. I clamp down on evildoers, who will be caught like snakes. I ...... fugitives, and their intentions will be set right. I make justice apparent; I defeat wickedness. As if I were fire, even my frowning is enough to create peace.

He says that since he has become king no one has added extra taxes to abundant crops, he has released water into the canals for the trees to grow, lifted the yoke off the male prostitutes of the city, and brought the savage Gutians under control.

This is a time period marked as being an era of Sumerian revival, the golden age of the Sumerian era. Most texts of this era are poetic laments over fallen cities turned into long-winded praises of how awesome their god-kings were. German excavations led by Professor Koldeway done at the beginning of this century into the time of Nebuchadnezzar the Great found nothing but simple mud brick erections, one story high with about three or four rooms surrounding an open court yard. That was in the much admired Chaldean metropolis at the peak of the empire’s power, yet excavations done by Sir Leonard Woolley in Ur found large two-storied villas with 13 or 14 rooms, including an inner court, a reception room and a domestic chapel. The floor was solidly built of burnt brick; the upper floor with mud brick, and the walls were neatly coated with plaster and whitewashed. 16

Because the people living in Sumer by this time had inherited some Akkadian characteristics, these people are sometimes referred to as Neo-Sumerians. Ur-Nammu’s empire was smaller than Sharru-Kin’s; it only reached up to the cities of Ashur and Shusharra, but it had branched out slightly more to the east and west. The Third Dynasty of Ur was more united than the Akkadian one, and far more bureaucratic. Well over a hundred thousand documents from this dynasty have been excavated but most have gone unpublished. Everything was documented from how many fish were given to the temple dogs to how many sheep died of natural causes to documents recording that there was nothing to record.6

The popular acclaim that Ur-Nammu achieved was only matched by the huge disappointment his premature death caused. With the king slain on the battlefield, his administrative poets felt cheated by the gods. The Death of Ur-Nammu is a lament that is deeply fatalistic and almost sacrilegious on tone. For all the talk in prior texts of An and Enlil’s unalterable words, this text bewails how An and went back on his word and Enlil changed his appointed fate. It tells how everyone in the land went silent in heartfelt sorrow over the death of the king. The Anuna gods refused gifts and sacrifices went unaccepted. The text then follows Ur-Nammu on his desolate road to the netherworld. Because a king was crossing, the chariots were covered over and the people of the dead were forced to part away in disorder to make room for him. The king presented gifts to the chief porters of the netherworld. They announced the king to the netherworld travelers and they all cheered for him. The king then slaughtered some bulls and sheep and presented them at a banquet. But the food of the netherworld was bitter and the drink was salty. He then presented the gifts: To Nergal, “The Enlil of the netherworld.”, he gave a mace, a bow with a quiver of arrows, a dagger and a bag. He presented similar weapons and equipment to the “King of the Netherworld” Gilgamesh, and to Ereshkigal, Dumuzi, and to four other gods associated with the netherworld. Like Gilgamesh, he was given the position as a netherworld judge. But after ten days, his longing for Ur overwhelmed him and “his heart became full of tears.” In agony he lamented:

"I, who have been treated like this, served the gods well, set up chapels for them. I have created evident abundance for the Anunna gods. I have laid treasures on their beds strewn with fresh herbs. Yet no god stood by me and soothed my heart. Because of them, anything that could have been a favorable portent for me was as far away from me as the heavens, the ....... What is my reward for my eagerness to serve during the days? My days have been finished for serving them sleeplessly during the night! Now, just as the rain pouring down from heaven cannot turn back, alas, nor can I turn back to brick-built Ur.”

Although she did not stand up for him, Inanna was not happy at An and Enlil’s change of plans, and in a fierce storm destroyed cattle-pins and sheepfolds, wanting to hurl insults at An. She then said she would not enter her temple if her shepherd king wouldn’t be there for her. Among the tears and laments of the people, another fate was decreed: that Ur-Nammu’s name would live on, that people would admire the canals he dug, the reed-beds he drained, the barley fields he harvested and the fortresses and settlements he founded. His name would also be used in order to drive away evil spirits.

Ur-Nammu was succeeded by his son Shulgi (2095-2048 BC), and the hymns of praise written by him are no less self-exalting as those written by his father, growing to ludicrous proportions. Throwing weapons at lions was too sissified for Shugi, so he fought them face to face. He claimed to have run from Nippur to Ur and back in one day during a storm, breaking the four minute mile 200 times consecutively. He claimed to have been able to read omens, been a great musician, and able to speak many different languages, even correcting the foreign Ammorites’ grammar in their own language! He also said that he had never demolished a city or committed an act of violence to another king, whether he was Akkadian or a son of Sumer. He then ensures that all the praises given to him are completely verified:

Why should a singer put them in hymns? An eminent example deserves eternal fame. What is the use of writing lies without truth? For me, the king, the singer has recorded my exploits in songs about the strength of the protective deity of my power; my songs are unforgettable, and my words shall not fall into oblivion. I am the best king of the Land. From the very first origins until the full flourishing of mankind, there will never be any king who can measure himself against my achievements whom An will let wear his crown or wield his scepter from a royal throne.

After continuing with more self-praises for his power, insight and wisdom, he describes himself as a weapon for downfall of the rebel lands. He then makes this vow:

Now, I swear by Utu on this very day -- and my younger brothers shall be witnesses of it in foreign lands where the sons of Sumer are not known, where people do not have the use of paved(?) roads, where they have no access to the written word -- that the firstborn son is a fashioner of words, a composer of songs, a composer of words, and that they will recite my songs as heavenly writings, and that they will bow down before my words as a ......
Shulgi also wrote bedtime lullabies for his son, wishing him a good future wife. Another song dedicated to Shulgi lists all the major cities of Sumer and Akkad that he traveled to. Another text, The Blessing of Shulgi, tells how the “good shepherd” rang in the new year by taking a boat ride to Uruk, where he visited the temple E-anna. He wore a special robe and crown for the occasion and entered the temple leading a sheep and holding a kid goat to his breast. Delighted by Shulgi’s visit, Inanna “spontaneously struck up a song”:

"When I have bathed for the king, for the lord, when I have bathed for the shepherd Dumuzi, when I have adorned my flanks (?) with ointment (?), when I have anointed my mouth with balsamic oil, when I have painted my eyes with kohl, when he has ...... my hips with his fair hands, when the lord who lies down beside holy Inanna, the shepherd Dumuzi, has ...... on his lap, when he has relaxed (?) ...... in my pure (?) arms, when he has intercourse (?) with me ...... like choice beer, when he ruffles my pubic hair for me, when he plays with the hair of my head, when he lays his hands on my holy genitals, when he lies down in the ...... of my sweet womb….
Two more lines of Inanna’s song are unclear, but she ends it saying that if he treats her tenderly in bed, she will do the same. As a ritual of the Sacred Marriage Rite, Shulgi took on the incarnation of Dumuzi and facilitated the god’s husbandly duties in order to ensure the fertility of the empire for the coming year. After practicing the fertility rite the goddess Inanna “decreed a fate“, imitating Inanna’s pledge to Dumuzi in the Courtship of Dumuzi and Inanna, promising to be his leader, armor-bearer, advocate and encourager. Utu then greets him and invites him to his own temple E-Babbar (“House of White”) in Larsa, where we was decreed another good fate and then sent to Ninazu’s temple in the town of Enegir. There Ninazu kept the heaps of rhetoric piling in, asking Shulgi questions like who could stand up to him when he shrieked like an Anzu bird? He was then sent to Suen’s temple of E-Temen-Ni-Guru, where the moon god decreed another good fate to him for accomplishing his mission of reducing the houses of the rebel lands to ruins. The story comes to a finish with Shulgi taking his seat on the holy dais in his lofty palace Ninegala, decreeing judgments so that the strong do not abuse the weak, so that the mother would speak tenderly to the child and the child answer truthfully to his father.

The Third Dynasty of Ur came to operate large factories, workshops, and trading posts, and oversaw thousands of laborers in agriculture, industry, public works, civil service, and police. In one hymn Shulgi boasts to have worked out the mileages of the trade routes, built official posts at set distances, and hired experienced men to guard the highways from bandits. Workers were either freemen who paid taxes in corvées and military service, lesser paid serfs under the king's protection, or slaves. Officials received free meat, beer, and clothes and could own houses, fields, asses, and slaves. Governors and generals who were paid by taxes could be quite wealthy. In a middle class between these two extremes were some merchants and small land owners who farmed by borrowing at one-fifth to one-third interest rates. 6

A letter sent by Shulgi to his foreign administrator Ishbi-Irra was dedicated towards congratulating him for an important purchase of grain from Mari. For this Shulgi bestowed Ishbi-Irra with a great honor:

You are to receive the gold and silver from him, and purchase grain everywhere according to (?) whatever exchange rate they will take from you. May your .... nothing at all. From today (?), you are my son who makes me happy. The cities of (?) the province (?), the land of the Martu, Elam -- all of them I have placed before you: you are just as important as I am. So sit before them on a throne on a golden dais ....! Let their messengers prostrate themselves in front of you!
He then gives Ishbi-Irra the authority to appoint and remove governors, commanders, and captains and to blind any murderers that are caught. Ishbi-Irra would continue to be a major official in the Ur III government after Shulgi‘s rule as well.

Another letter addressed to Shulgi, tells the plight of the governor Sharrum-bani in his reply to an order of Shulgi’s to build a fortification between the mountains of Ebih to keep out the barbaric Martu (Amorites):

If my lord agrees, may he provide me with additional workmen and set the wages (?) for me. ...... did not succeed ...... tribute of the provinces (?).

I sent a messenger to the province of Murub: the attitude (?) of the province has altered. I will not neglect to build the fortification -- in fact I am building and engaging in military action at the same time. After all, as 'Sage of the Assembly' I descend (?) from a great lineage! I have been advised that the attitude (?) of the province has not altered.

At the time I sent my messenger to you, I sent another messenger, after him, to Lu-Nanna [Lu-Enki?], the ruler of the province of Zimudar. He has sent you 7,200 workers.

Basket men are available; however, men fit to engage in military action are limited. If my lord should arrange the dismissal of the workers ready to work, let me pursue military action together with them, when I have removed (?) them.

The dignitaries of your provinces are sending a man to them. They have presented themselves before me, announcing: "As far as we are concerned, we are unable to guard all the cities. But how exactly will any troops be given to you?" My messenger has been sent to them (?).

Once my lord has given me instructions, I will repeatedly return to (?) work at nightfall and at midnight, as well as engaging in military action. I stand at the disposal of the fame and word of my lord, and so I (?) will bring weapons to bear. No strength has yet been displayed (?), nor any firmness shown (?) by means of weapons. Let the storm cover (?) all the lands! May my lord know!

Shulgi reigned for 47 years and then died, leaving his throne to his son Amar-Suena. A single text from this time records that the people turned against this king and the lands were invaded by foreign lands, causing Enki’s temple, E-Engur (also called E-A or E-Abzu) to be laid waste. The text laments that it took nine whole years to finally rebuild the temple, due to a long list of excuses the king kept coming up with. Amar-Suena’s idleness was duly punished by the destruction of his own palace, although the text is too fragmented to determine the circumstances.

According to the king lists, those nine years made up the full length of his reign, and then his son Shu-Suen became king. One of his praise poems refers to Shu-Suen as the son of Shulgi, making him Amar-Suena’s brother, but this may just refer to ancestry. Shu-Suen came into conflict with the Amarru tribe (Martu; Amorites), who were contemptuously described as not knowing anything about cooking, agriculture or even burial. 2034 BC he built ’the Amorite wall’ in order to keep the city safe from barbarian attacks. During his reign, quite a few love songs were written for him during his reign:

Man, you have become attracted to me. Speak to my mother and I will give myself to you; speak to my father and he will make a gift of me. I know where to give physical pleasure to your body -- sleep, man, in our house till morning. I know how to bring heart's delight to your heart -- sleep, lad, in our house till morning.

Another praise text sings of the power of the warrior Ninurta, comparing his ability to torch the rebel lands to that of a fire-breathing dragon and asking Shu-Suen to trust in Ninurta’s strength.

Shu-Suen ruled another 9 years before his young son Ibbi-Suen became king. The poems written for Ibbi-Suen suck up to him as much as the rest of the propaganda reminiscent of the Ur III. Records indicate Ibbi-Suen had a very hard time keeping the empire together. One city after another soon began to withdraw their recognition of the emperor. In the 6th year of his reign, defensive walls were repaired at the cities of Ur and Nippur. That same year offerings to Nanna stopped in Ur. Invading Amorites took control of the roads and food became scarce. The honored Ishbi-Irra of Mari wrote to Ibbi-Suen informing him that he successfully purchased the grain just before the price doubled, but to no avail since to Amorite forces had taken over the country‘s fortresses one by one, making it impossible for him to get it back to him. Ibbi-Suen wrote back to him saying:

As long as Enlil was my lord (?), what course were you following? And is this how you alter your word? Today Enlil detests me, he detests his son Suen, and is handing Ur over to the enemy. Its central part (?) is gone, the enemy has risen up, and all the lands are thrown into disarray. But on the day when Enlil turns again towards his son Suen, you and your word will be marked out!

You have received 20 talents of silver to purchase grain. You purchase it at the price of one shekel of silver per 2 gur of grain, but in dealing with me, you fix the price at one shekel of silver per 1 gur of grain!

How could you allow Puzur-Numushda, the commander of the fortress Igi-hursaga, to let the hostile Martu penetrate into my Land? Until now (?) he has not (?) sent to you word (?) about engaging in battle. There are puny men in the Land! Why has he not (?) faced the Martu?
Desperation set in and massive inflation took over. In the 7th year of his reign, barley and fish sold for 50 to 60 times their normal price.6 Rebellion and uprisings became rampant. The city of Nippur withdrew it’s recognition and Ur III soon came to an end. The empire lasted about 100 years.

In the 12th year of Ibbi-Suen’s rule, Ishbi-Irra successfully repelled an army of Elamites from Isin and Nippur. Soon after this success, he withdrew his own allegiance to Ur and declared himself King of Isin. He then began to carve out a kingdom for himself at Ibbi-Suen’s expense. The governor of Kazallu sent this letter to the Emperor of Ur:

A messenger of Ishbi-Irra came to me. He presented himself before me announcing: "Ishbi-Irra, my lord, sends you a message:

'Enlil, my lord, has ...... the shepherdship of the land. Enlil has told me to bring before Ninisina the cities, deities and troops of the region of the Tigris, Euphrates, Ab-gal and Me-Enlila watercourses, from the province of Hamazi to the sea of Magan, so as to make Isin the storehouse of Enlil, to make it famous, and to make those regions its spoils of war and to make Isin's citizens occupy their cities as spoils of war.

Why do you oppose (?) me? I swear by the name of my lord Enlil and by Dagan, my personal god, that I will indeed get hold of Kazallu!

The cities and the province which Enlil has promised me I want to build up within Isin in their ....... I want to perform at their eshesh festivals. I want to install my statues, my emblems, my en priests and nindigir priestesses in their jipar shrines. Before Enlil, within the E-Kur, before Nanna, within the E-Kishnugal, the ...... shall speak their prayers.

And as for you, I want to remove from within his country the man in whom you placed your trust! I want to rebuild the fortification of Isin and name it Idil-pacunu!’

The letter then reports that Ishbi-Irra took control of the area and did everything he said he would. The letter ends saying:
Now Ishbi-Irra is looking in my direction. I have no ally, nobody with whom I can align myself. Since he has not yet been able to get me in his grasp, let me come to you when he falls upon me. My lord should know this!
To this pitiful cry for help, Ibbi-Suen gave this reply:

When I had chosen for you ...... from among the troops, they were at your disposal, as governor of Kazallu. But as in my own case, are not your troops proof (?) of your importance?

Why have you sent me somebody saying: "Ishbi-Irra has got his eyes upon me -- so let me come to you when he falls upon me"?

How come you did not know how long it would take to make Ishbi-Irra return to the mountain lands? Why have you and Girbubu, the governor of Jirikal, not confronted him with the troops which you had at hand? How could you allow (?) him to restore (?) ......?

Today (?) Enlil loathes Sumer and has elevated to the shepherdship of the Land an ape which has descended from those mountain lands. Now Enlil has given kingship to an idiot, a seller of spice -- to Ishbi-Irra, who is not of Sumerian origin.

See, the assembly where the gods are and Sumer itself have been dispersed! Father Enlil, whose words prevail (?), said: "Until the enemy has been expelled (?) from Ur, Ishbi-Irra, the man from Mari, will tear out Ur's foundations. He will indeed measure out Sumer like grain." He has spoken just so.

Even though you were installed as governors of the various ...... the others will defect to Ishbi-Irra, in accordance with Enlil's word. Should you hand over your city to the enemy like your companions, Ishbi-Irra will not recognize you as his faithful and agreeable servant.

May it now be brought about (?) that good words should be restored and treason extinguished. Let Ishbi-Irra (?) participate in the harvest among the people there; but you yourself, do not, and do not come to me! His grasp should not get hold of the city! This man from Mari, with the understanding of a dog, should not exercise lordship!

Now Enlil, my helper, has made the Martu rise from their mountain lands They will repel Elam and seize Ishbi-Irra. To regain the Land will indeed make our might known in all the foreign lands. It is urgent! Do not be neglectful!

Within the next two of three years, Ishbi-Irra was able to extend his authority to Nippur and Uruk to become the next official king of Sumer and Akkad.

About a decade later, the Elamites began to conduct raids against Sumer and in the 24th year of Ishbi-Irra’s reign (2006 B.C.), they finally to put forth a major offensive that put an end to Ibbi-Suen‘s rule. The walls of Ur were breached, the city was sacked, and the Elamites captured both the emperor and the statue of Suen. Ibbi-Suen was deported to Anshan, a rebel Elamite city he had once himself devastated. He would spend the rest of his life there.

It was about this time that the Biblical patriarch Avram (Abraham) is said to have left Ur to travel around the Syrian Desert to Canaan but instead settled in Haran, a city far up and to the east of the Euphrates (Gen. 11:31).

Drawn by Sir Leonard Woolley

Abraham’s Migration from Ur

The Sumerian language, which had already been on the decline, was soon replaced once again by Akkadian. Amorites from the west began to immigrate into the lands in the masses. Ishbi-Irra, ruling from Isin, took on the title “King of Ur” to quickly gain the distinctions lost by his former king. It was he who inherited kingship from Ur III in the king lists. It is said that he restored civil order to the lands and restored foreign trade. He was succeeded by four descendants, carving out a dynasty that survived longer than Ur-Nammu‘s. His son Shu-Ilishu rebuilt much of Ur and invaded Elam to return with the statue of Suen.

The reign of Shu-Ilishu’s son, Iddin-Dagan was a peaceful one and his son Ishme-Dagan set about some social reforms to “set justice in the land”. The next son in line was Lipit-Ishtar, who propagated a new law code. Once again, the Amorites became a problem during his reign, and he was forced to allow the rival king of Larsa to peacefully annex the city of Ur in order to defend it from the Amorite invaders. The king of Isin’s daughters were even allowed to keep their priesthood. But the move cost Isin a lot of it’s prestige and as a consequence, Isin lost even more power. Lipit-Ishtar died that same year and his crown was usurped.

Gungunum of Larsa (1932-1906 B.C.) was the brother of the former king of Larsa, Zabaja, and was a sheik of the Amorites. After annexing Ur, he went on to conquer Lagash, Uruk and the Elamite capital of Susa, and then revived trade overseas with the kingdom of Dilmun. His son Abi-Sare invaded Isin, and killed Lipit-Ishtar’s usurper Ur-Ninurta. This did not stop Ur-Ninurta’s son Bur-Suen from taking the crown though.

Abi-Sare’s son Sumuel took the throne in 1895 B.C. and wrestled control of Nippur away from Isin. Sumuel ruled almost three decades before a he was overthrown by a commoner named Nur-Adad. Nur-Adad ruled for 16 years and then his son Suen-Iddinam took over. After him were three more kings who ruled no more than 5 years a piece: the last of which was Silli-Adad, who was killed in a battle with Babylon. His throne was usurped by a man named Kudurmabuk, who took control over the lands and installed his son Warad-Suen on the throne. Although Kudurmabuk is an Elamite name, he was probably an Amorite chieftain. After a short reign, Warad-Suen was succeeded by his brother Rim-Suen (1822-1763).

The last Sumerian king was the most adaptable monarch of them all. At 59 years, Rim-Suen had the longest authenticated reign in Mesopotamian history and was also the last monarch to claim divinity. He defeated Babylon in battle in 1794 B.C. and then conquered Isin, making himself the sole ruler of the greater half of southern Babylonia. In 1787 B.C. Khammurapi of Babylon invaded and conquered Isin, but failed to take Uruk. That was the last war between them until the end. In 1779 they signed a treaty in which he may have regained Isin. But the peace treaty was broken and his land conquered by Khammurapi (better known as Hammurabi). By this Khammurapi installed the beginnings of the Babylonian Empire and extinguished the last flowering bud of Sumerian culture.

What was to continue was a religious derivation built on top of the Sumerian and Akkadian traditions. The theology since the Early Dynastic Period built the right to kingship on the acceptance of a council in Nippur, acceptance that was given when the king brought about a military defeat on the present capital. Powerful families from each city would conserve money and resources for many generations before a king from a long and prestigious line would attempt a coup and have all the cities bring tribute to their hometown. But by holding on to these traditions, there was always the shadow of inevitable defeat. Some of these dynasty changes would set off chain reactions of battles, which would only better open the land up to foreign invasion. But ever since the Akkadian Empire, cities had been becoming more and more centralized, and the Babylonian Empire was the most centralized yet. The centralization was more than just political, it was also theological. A new god was brought into the pantheon, Marduk, the son of Ea (Enki). His common name Ba’al (“Lord” or “Husband”) is linked to the name of the devil in the New Testament. In many respects, he mirrored the legends of Ninurta. By slaying the dragon Tiamat (Nammu), the storm god was able to take the Tablets of Destiny for himself. Fulfilling their end of the bargain, the gods all gave their epithets over to him, making him the new king of the gods. Having given all their titles over to Marduk, the gods became incarnations of Marduk. Now, it was Marduk who had created the world by splitting Tiamat’s body, it was Marduk who created the Tigris and Euphrates out of Tiamat’s eyes, and it was Marduk who created man from out of the blood of god. The Assyrians took on many of the same traditions as Babylon but appeneded their own national deity, Ashur (Anshar) in place of Marduk’s. New ranks among the pantheon were formed as the patron city god system made way for the patron country god system.

With the new system, Babylon was able to usurp all of Nippur’s authority. In Babylonian writings, Enlil was designated to the same station as Anu: making decrees but never actually acting out a role in the story. His name almost always follows that of Anu, as if they have been merged into one god. Although Babylonian legends would of course never portray the antagonism the people of Nippur must have felt over this, it may not have been lost on those who traveled there. This may have been the source of conflict that the storm god had with his father in the Hurrian and Greek legends. Just as a younger god was able to become king over the pantheon by slaying the original mother of the universe, so to did the Amorites who inherited Sumero-Akkadian culture conquer those who taught it to them.

Dragon of Marduk


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