Friday, October 2, 2015

In the Name of the Mesopotamian Gods

This magnificent object is a Kudurru, a carved stone used to mark a royal land grant. Old books call them "boundary stones", but they were kept in the palace or temple archives, not placed out on the borders of the grant. This one comes from Babylon, the Second Dynasty of Isin, 1157-1025 BC; I found it in an online exhibit at the California Museum of Ancient Art.

This stone is carved of black limestone, 16.5 inches tall (42 cm). The designs are full of significance. On the front:
the Mesopotamian pantheon is presented. The four great gods come first. Anu ("father of the gods" and god of heaven) and Enlil (god of wind, kingship and the earth), are shown as a multi-horned divine crown each on its own temple facade. Then Ea (god of water, magic and wisdom), is shown as a curved stick ending in a ram's head atop a temple facade pulled by the foreparts of a horned goat. Above the first two deities, a female headdress in the shape of an omega sign, symbolizes Ninhursag ("mother of the gods" and goddess of fertility).

The leading Babylonian god, Marduk, and his son Nabu, appear next. A triangular spade pointing up and a scribe's wedge-shaped stylus, respectively, each sits atop a temple facade pulled by the foreparts of a snake-dragon known as a Mushus. All five temple facades float on fresh, underground waters known as the Apsu or the Deep. Following these divinities, we find the mace, perhaps a local war god, the scepter with double lion heads of Ninurta (god of war), the arrow, a symbol of the star Sirius, and the two-pronged lightning bolt of Adad. This storm god is called by the similar name Haddad in the Levant. The running bird Papsukkal (minister of the gods, associated with the constellation Orion), is followed by the scorpion Ishara (goddess of oaths), the seated dog Gula (goddess of healing) and a bird on a perch, symbolizing both Shuqamuna and Shumalia (patron deities of the Kassite royal family).
The top of the kudurru, representing the heavens, is surrounded and enclosed by the body of a large snake. Nirah (the snake god) encompasses four astral deities the crescent moon of Sin (the moon god), a multi-rayed circular sun disc of Shamash (the sun god), a star inside a disc for Ishtar (the goddess of love -especially sexuality- and war) and the lamp of Nusku (the god of fire and light). Ishtar, considered the most important Mesopotamian female deity, is associated with the morning and evening star, the planet Venus.
Fascinating. More here.

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