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Inanna/Ishtar Bibliography

Dec. 30th, 2020 | 08:38 am

Last updated 1 January 2016.

Inanna/Ishtar BibliographyCollapse )

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Sekhmet and related goddesses bibliography

Dec. 29th, 2020 | 11:05 am

Last updated 24 April 2014.

Sekhmet and related goddesses bibliographyCollapse )

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Partial bibliography for this LJ

Feb. 12th, 2020 | 12:56 pm

Partial bibliography for this LJCollapse )

(Last updated 15 February 2014.)

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Near-Eastern iconography and The Magic Roundabout

Feb. 11th, 2016 | 06:54 pm

In Drakōn: dragon myth and serpent cult in the Greek and Roman worlds, Daniel Ogden discusses the "radical reinterpretation of Near-Eastern iconography" which may have formed the basis of some Greek myths: for example, images of Marduk vs Tiamat become the story of Perseus vs the sea-monster, Gilgamesh vs Humbaba becomes Perseus slaying Medusa, and the demoness Lamashtu portrayed with animals becomes Medusa "giving birth" to Pegasus. This is an interesting enough idea in itself, but the reason I mention it is Ogden's analogy: "We may invoke the model of the cult British stop-motion television series, The Magic Roundabout. Eric Thompson created this by watching the episodes of the French original, Le Manège enchant&eacyte;, with the sound down, and spinning his own, whimsical narrations around the characters' ostensible actions, narrations that inevitably has little or no point of contact with the original stories." (A story which appears to be essentially correct. :)

Ogden, Daniel. Drakōn: dragon myth and serpent cult in the Greek and Roman worlds. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.

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Woman-woman marriage in Africa

Feb. 4th, 2016 | 11:07 pm

"Woman-woman marriage - in which one woman pays brideprice to acquire a husband's rights to another woman - has been documented in more than thirty African populations," opens this chapter from Boy-Wives and Female Husbands. "In these groups," the authors go on to say, "female political leaders are also common. These women chiefs rarely have male husbands (whether or not they had wives). Indeed, among the Lovedu, the queen was prohibited from having a male husband and was required instead to have a wife."

Amongst many examples, they quote E.E. Evans-Pritchard about the Nuer version of the practice: "... the husband gets a male kinsman or friend or neighbour... to beget children by her wife and to assist... in those tasks of the home for the carrying out of which a man is necessary." (He's paid in cows for each child and for his work.) And Max Gluckman about the "rich and important Zulu woman" who takes a wife: "she is the pater of her wife's children begotten by some male kinsman of the female husband. They belong to the latter's agnatic lineage as if she were a man." And George W. B. Huntingford about the Nandi: "This gave both women the legal and social status of husband and wife respectively. There was no lesbianism involved here, for the female husband could have her own men friends and the wife could have intercourse with any man of whom her 'husband' approved." (The chapter's authors warn against ethnographers' assumptions that female husbands and their wives never had sexual relations.)

Discussing the gender of the female husband, the authors draw on researchers whose view is that gender or sex are not as important in African societies in general than social standing, age, and lineage. Evans-Pritchard said that a woman who had not had children "for this reason counts in some respects as a man". She is her wives' "legal husband and can demand damages if they have relations with men without her consent... Her children are called after her, as though she were a man, and I was told they address her as 'father'. She administers her home and herd as a man would do, being treated by her wives and children with the deference they would show a male husband and father."

"In other words,' remark Carrier and Murray, "African marriages are between individuals in male and female roles, not necessarily between biological males and females." More than one author calls the female husbands "social males", "promoted" to the status of men. There's a parallel here with the ancient daughters adopted as sons, especially when it comes to inheritance. To what extent are, or were, the female husbands "social men"? Among the Nandi, "to some extent" the women dressed and adorned themselves as men, and stopped doing "women's work", and have the right to attend "public meetings and political discussions" (but don't!). OTOH, amongst the Simiti, husband and wife are considered mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.

Interestingly, the chapter also mentions an Igbo dike-nwami ("brave-woman"), who described her belief that she "was meant to be a man" and her interest in "manly activities". Childless, she was divorced, dressed as a man, farmed and hunted, was initiated into men's societies, and took two wives (her brother begat her children).

Carrier, Joseph M. and Stephen O. Murray. "Woman-Woman Marriage in Africa". in Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe (eds). Boy-wives and female husbands: studies in African homosexualities. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1998.

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Sekhmet and the Ten Plagues

Jan. 14th, 2016 | 11:30 pm

My standing Google search for "sekhmet" brought up Hashem's Repudiation of the Egyptian Deities (I also found its academia.org incarnation, "And Upon all the Gods of Egypt I Will Execute Judgment": The Egyptian Deity [Sekhmet] and the Ten Plagues) a fascinating article discussing the Ten Plagues described in Exodus, and suggesting that more than one of them was intended to "repudiate" Sekhmet as a false god. Fascinating not so much for its actual content, but because of the idea that you could match the Plagues to particular Egyptian deities, which I hadn't encountered before: for example, the idea that Ra couldn't penetrate the darkness created by the Jewish God.

Unfortunately, Ira Friedman's arguments are convoluted. He suggests that the first plague, the Nile turning to blood, was intended as a sort of signal to the Egyptians to turn (ultimately unsuccessfully) to Sekhmet for protection - a riff on the Destruction of Mankind, in which, he says, "... Sekhmet slaughters disloyal Egyptians, and either their blood or the blood-like substance with which a remorseful Ra subdues Sekhmet flows into the Nile." The idea of connecting the field flooded with blood-coloured beer with the bloody Nile is pretty clever, but the polluting of the Nile with either the beer or the actual blood of Ra's enemies isn't mentioned in the myth. What's more, the image of the bloody beer represents not the goddess' wrath, but her pacification.

In the academia.org paper, Friedman connects Sekhmet to the pestilience that affected domestic animals, but not to the plague of boils. In the article, Friedman skips ahead to the final plague. He says that Sekhmet was known to the Egyptians as "the Destroyer", identifies her (I think?) with "the destroyer" mentioned in Exodus, and so argues that the Egyptians would have been dismayed when God killed their children but prevented Sekhmet from killing the Israelites' children (in revenge, I guess?). tbh, it's an involved argument based on an epithet I'm not sure Sekhmet actually had - Friedman doesn't give us a reference for it. As best I can make out, it doesn't appear in the list of 187 epithets listed in Hoenes' book, nor in the Lexikon.

(More than anything, writing this posting has reminded me that I know far too little about one of the deities that is most personally significant to me - even though I fancy myself as a lay scholar.)

Hoenes, Sigrid-Eike. Untersuchugen zu Wesen und Kult der Göttin Sachmet. Rydolf Habelt Verlag, Bonn, 1976.
Leitz, Christian. Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen. Dudley, MA, Peeters, 2002-2003.

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Sekhmet-of-Sahure again

Jan. 9th, 2016 | 10:07 pm

In a much-annotated and tbh rather muddled posting from 2009, I attempted to describe Sekhmet- of Sahure or Sekhmet-Sahure. This goddess is attested by stelae and inscriptions; her cult lasted from the New Kingdom until at least the Late Period. She is, or was, thought to be a local version of Sekhmet who came into being because of an image of the Fifth Dynasty pharaoh Sahure offering to her in the ruins of his mortuary temple.

However, Tarek el Awady's 2013 article "Sekhmet-Sahure: New Evidence" argues that Sekhmet-Sahure was not a local form of Sekhmet, and that the whole of Sahure's "temple was revived in the New Kingdom as a healing place... and not as a temple of a new local cult".

el Awady points out that Sahure's temple at Abusir is only eight kilometers from "the central worship place of Sekhmet-Ptah in Memphis", so there would have been no need for a local version of the goddess. Also, it's doubtful that an image of the king and Sekhmet survived intact until the New Kingdom; the images of gods and royalty had long since been defaced. (Many of the stelae found in the temple were made of stone recycled from the temple.)

The evidence points to "a small settlement" for "priests-physicians and patients" on the south side of the temple. For example, votive stelae asked Sekhmet-Sahure for "healthy limbs, youthful limbs, sound body, sound mouth, goodly lifespan, breath and pleasure". Stelae were also found for Bastet and Sobek, who, like Sekhmet, are "well attested as healers". Many wedjat and Tawaret amulets were uncovered. Amongst the goddess' epithets was "the eye of Re upon the sun disk", also an epithet of goddesses such as Hathor and Bastet in their roles as healers.

el Awady suggests that Sahure's own knowledge of medicine is the reason that a cult of Sekhmet and a sort of hospital sprang up in the ruins of his funerary temple (in which Sekhmet, Bastet, and Sobek were all depicted). The pharaoh's chief physician was named Ni-ankh-Sekhmet.

The article includes a photograph of a limestone stela found in "the upper northern side of Sahure's causeway" which shows a worshipper facing Sekhmet-Sahure and (behind her) Qadesh. Also found at the site were a fragment of a stela to either Reshef or Astarte, and another to Qadesh "beloved of Ptah".

el Awady, Tarek. "Sekhmet-Sahure: new evidence." in Etudes et Travaux XXVI. Centre D'Archeologie Mediterraneenne de L'Academie Polonaises des Sciences, Varsovie, 2013. Vol 1, pp 57-63.
Gaber, Amr Aly Aly. "Aspects of the Deification of some Old Kingdom Kings". in Eyma, A.K. and C.J. Bennett (eds). A Delta-Man in Yebu: occasional volume of the Egyptologist's Electronic Forum 1, 2003. pp 12-31.

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Sons and daughters

Jan. 2nd, 2016 | 09:50 pm

It's been a long time since I made one of my postings about gender in the ancient world. Until now, I've mostly posted about "third genders" which undermine the assumption that "man" and "woman" are universal constants in all times and places. This time I want to share my notes on a practice which calls into question the "natural" nature of gender. In at least three ancient Near Eastern cities, a woman could become a man, or simultaneously a man and a woman - at least for the purposes of inheritance.

Counting descent solely through the male line requires any society to tie itself into knots*, especially when sons are necessary not just to inherit the property of the paterfamilias, but to perform ancestor worship. In the ancient Near East, a daughter could inherit, but then her father's property would go to her husband's household. In the absence of a son, an ancient Near Eastern man would usually appoint his son-in-law, brother, or brother's son as his male heir; or he might adopt a son. However, as Zafrira Ben-Barak points out, a man from another household could be a dangerous place to stash your patrimony. We have the documents from a case in which, through a series of dodgy steps, the son-in-law's brother ended up inheriting everything - taking the original testator's property entirely out of his household, and extinguishing his line to boot.

One solution? If you had a daughter, you could make her into a son. In a will from the Hittite city of Emar, a man's will states: "I have established my daughter Al-ḫati as female and male [MUNUS ù NITAḪ]." and charges her with the worship of the household gods and ancestors. (His brothers were called as witnesses to the will; I wonder what they thought of not being appointed his legal heirs.) He also appoints his wife "father and mother [a-bu ù AMA] of my estate".

In another will, also from Emar, the testator's wife is appointed "mother and father of the house", and his daughter is declared to be "male and female" and again given a son's responsibility of maintaining worship of the family's gods and ancestors.

From the city of Nuzi, in the Hurrian-speaking kingdom of Mitanni, comes a will in which Unap-tae declares: "My daughter Šilwa-turi as a son I made." "Using the accepted term for son-adoption, marutu ["sonship"], the father adopts his daughter as a son," writes Ben-Barak. Another will gives three daughters all the status of sons and leaves the testator's property and gods to them. And finally, in a will from the Syrian city at el-Qitar, the testator adopts the wife of his adopted son as his own son.

Katarzyna Grosz suggests that this custom - which, from the documents, was clearly a well-established practice - paved the way for "full legal independence" for women. What I'd like to find out is whether a woman's legal status as "head of the household" gave her any other rights which were normally exclusively male - or was her new status only relevant when it came to the family?

Ben-Barak's analysis of the term "male and female" is that it doesn't literally mean Šilwa-turi is a legal hermaphrodite; rather, she is "a female with the status of a male". The entire business is a reminder that "man" and "woman" are social categories which can be changed by a bit of clay with marks on it**.

(In one of the wills from Nuzi, the testator says that should his nephews try to make a claim on his estate, "may this tablet break their teeth". I just had to get that in somewhere.)

ETA: Left out a bit. There's a parallel from India, the putrika-putra, a "daughter appointed as a son". Because she was considered a son, her son would not be the heir of her husband, but the son of her father: "As the merits of a son and grandson are equal (eg in offerings made to ancestors)," writes Grosz, "the latter ranked as a son." (A quick Google showed that this is only a glimpse at the complexities of traditional Hindu inheritance law.)

* We're watching the TV series Wolf Hall at the moment. When you're the King of England, the lack of a male heir has world-changing consequences, not to mention getting a lot of people killed. (Do matrilineal societies have the same kind of crazy problems?)

** Come to think of it, I wonder if there's any chance those curses - "may Ishtar impress female parts on your male parts" - have some basis in some real-life events? I have no doubt that the goddess can change anybody's physical sex, but perhaps the ancient civilisations of the Near East were familiar with a change of gender, and might wish the inferior social status of "woman" on their male enemies?


Ben-Barak, Zafrira. "The legal status of the daughter as heir in Nuzi and Emar." in Society and economy in the Eastern Mediterranean (c.1500-1000 B.C.): proceedings of the International Symposium held at the University of Haifa from the 25th of April to the 2nd of May 1985 / edited by M. Heltzer and E. Lipinski (eds). Leuven, Uitgeverij Peeters, 1988.

Grosz, Katarzyna. "Daughters adopted as sons at Nuzi and Emar". in Jean-Marie Durand (ed). La Femme dans le Proche-Orient Antique: compte rendu de la XXXIIIe Rencontre assyriologique internationale (Paris, 7-10 juillet 1986) (Rencontre assyriologique internationale 33). Paris, Recherche sur les civilisations, 1987.

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Rider on the storm

Jan. 1st, 2016 | 07:11 pm

Inanna's magnificence was certainly distracting as I tried to read about an Old Babylonian tigi-hymn to Inanna (BM 96739, CT 36, 33-34). The hymn is about Inanna's investiture of Dumuzi and by extension the Babylonian king with authority, and scholar Daniel Foxvog examines its astronomical references, but as usual I got caught up on lines like these:
Lady, though (first) joyfully formed beautifully by Ningal for delight,
She then provided you with the power to destroy, like a dragon (ušumgal).

... from your mother's very womb you have girded on the utug and mitum maces.

Lady, the matters of your heart are greater than all heaven and all earth, who can know (anything) about you,
And at your word, a doubled cord that cannot be cut, the whole heaven is consumed.
Fabulous stuff! Inanna is also described as "mounted upon the storm winds", which IIRC is more characteristic of a male war-god such as Yahweh ("him who rides on the clouds", Psalm 68:4). But, as Foxvog points out, despite her awesome power she is a benevolent figure in this hymn (as she is in many others): "Could this be a memory of a time before her syncretism with Ištar?" (Dumuzi, by contrast, is an unusually martial figure.)

As for the astronomical bit: Foxvog discusses the constellations associated with various deities, including Orion (Papsukkal aka Ninshubur), Aries (Dumuzi/Tammuz), and Anunitu, "the eastern fish of Pisces" (Inanna / Ishtar). He suggests an astronomical interpretation of one of the concluding lines of the hymn: "Heaven shall beget him [Dumuzi] (anew) each month on the day of the new moon like the Moon (himself)". "The sun moves through the entire zodiacal belt of constellations over the course of a year, but the moon makes the same circuit monthly," he explains. In an idealized lunar calendar, "the moon would return each month to its starting point in its apparent course through the zodiacal belt, and the first visibility of the new crescent would invariable coincide with the first visibility of Aries. In this way, for the purposes of a priestly hymnographer uninterested in the details, the sky could indeed be said to 'give birth' every month to both Suen and Amaušumgalanna/Aries on the day of the new moon." (I'm not qualified to comment on the accuracy of the astronomy here!)

Foxvog gives a table of the correspondences between the Mesopotamian and Classical zodiac - here's a simplified version:

Aries ram
Taurus (Pleiades) bull
Orion and Gemini men
Cancer water (perhaps the Tigris and Euphrates)
Leo lion
Virgo grain
Libra scales
Scorpio scorpion
Sagittarius (tablet is damaged)
Capricorn goat
Aquarius figure
Pisces (tablet is damaged)

Foxvog, Daniel. "Astral Dumuzi". in The Tablet and the scroll: Near Eastern studies in honor of William W. Hallo. CDL Press, Bethesda MD, 1993.

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Finding Inanna / Ishtar

Dec. 30th, 2015 | 10:45 pm

If we don't include the Deities and Demigods Cyclopedia*, the first time I encountered the goddess Inanna, aka Ishtar, was the remarkable book Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, co-written by scholar Samuel Noah Kramer and folklorist and storyteller Diane Wolkstein. It presents an accurate but accessible "portrait" of the goddess through ancient Mesopotamian literature, as well as background info from Kramer and a slightly dodgy analysis by Wolkstein (about which Kramer was later scathing). It was one of my first Pagan-ish books, bought from a New Age bookshop some time in the early-to-mid nineties, around the time I was starting to discover Wicca, though I'm not sure which came first - Kramer and Wolkstein's Inanna or Starhawk's description of the Great Goddess in The Spiral Dance.

I had fallen rather in love with the cosmically** powerful character of Phoenix from the X-Men comics - particularly in her incarnation of Dark Phoenix. A friend once pointed out that Dark Phoenix is, literally, expressing the uncontrollable rage of a victim of rape. Without making that comparison - at school the continual attacks were rarely physical, let alone sexual - what could be more attractive to a young woman unable to escape or stop the bullying than her unrestrained, uncontrollable, shameless, gleeful destructiveness?

The other figure that had caught hold of my soul was Hundra, the eponymous barbarian warrior from a sort of paella sword-and-sorcery flick - an unapologetically feminist story, despite all the titillation. At about the same time I watched the video with a friend, I stumbled across a poem which I now understand was a parody - although til this day I still don't know which poet was being parodied - which contained the line: "the weasel burst, in colours past belief". Somehow my increasingly hypomanic mind fused all of this together into the character of the Weasel, who then appears throughout my adolescent art and poetry.

So I was very ready to encounter the queen who kicked over the mountain Ebih when it failed to show her proper respect, who sent her own husband to hell for the same crime. "You fasten combat and battle to your side", writes Wolkstein. But to my surprise, on looking through the book as I write up this personal account, there's very little reference to Inanna's impulsive, conflict-loving nature, her annihilating wrath - of the monster who eats corpses on the battlefield like a dog. That must have come when I discovered Enheduanna's poems Lady of Largest Heart and The Exaltation of Inanna. But how did I get from the regal lover of Kramer and Wolkstein's book to that Hundra - Dark Phoenix figure? Is there any way to reconstruct that path at this point?

* Or whatever that children's book was that taught me the word "Mesopotamia" and the idea of a stratified society, with people called "artisans" somewhere in the middle. Must try to figure out what that was.

** This is actually a word.


Kramer, Samuel Noah and Diane Wolkstein. Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. Harper and Row, New York, 1983.

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