Elements of the Cult of Tammuz

by Esteban

” … Whilst on earth, he was the one who nourished the ewe and her lamb, the goat and her kid, and also caused them to be slain–probably in sacrifice.

“He has gone, he has gone to the bosom of the earth,” the mourners cried, “he will make plenty to overflow for the land of the dead, for its lamentations for the day of his fall, in the unpropitious month of his year.”

There was also lamentation for the cessation of the growth of vegetation, and one of these hymns, after addressing him as the shepherd and husband of Ištar, “lord of the underworld,” and “lord of the shepherd’s seat,” goes on to liken him to a germ which has not absorbed water in the furrow, whose bud has not blossomed in the meadow; to the sapling which has not been planted by the watercourse, and to the sapling whose root has been removed.

In the “Lamentations” in the Manchester Museum, Ištar, or one of her devotees, seems to call for Tammuz, saying, “Return, my husband,” as she makes her way to the region of gloom in quest of him.

Ereš-ê-gala, “the lady of the great house” (Persephone), is also referred to, and the text seems to imply that Ištar entered her domain in spite of her. In this text other names are given to him, namely, /Tumu-giba/, “son of the flute,” /Ama-elaggi/, and /Ši-umunnagi/, “life of the people.”

The reference to sheep and goats in the British Museum fragment recalls the fact that in an incantation for purification the person using it is told to get the milk of a yellow goat which has been brought forth in the sheep-fold of Tammuz, recalling the flocks of the Greek sun-god Helios.

These were the clouds illuminated by the sun, which were likened to sheep–indeed, one of the early Sumerian expressions for “fleece” was “sheep of the sky.” The name of Tammuz in Sumerian is Dumu-zi, or in its rare fullest form, Dumu-zida, meaning “true” or “faithful son.” There is probably some legend attached to this which is at present unknown.

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 71-2.