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Tammuz (Syriac: ܬܡܘܙ, Hebrew: תַּמּוּז, Transliterated Hebrew: Tammuz, Tiberian Hebrew: Tammûz, Arabic: تمّوز Tammūz; Turkish: Temmuz Akkadian: Duʾzu, Dūzu; Sumerian: Dumuzid (DUMU.ZI(D) "faithful or true son") was the name of a Sumerian god of food and vegetation.

Ritual mourning

In Babylonia, the month Tammuz was established in honor of the eponymous god Tammuz, who originated as a Sumerian shepherd-god, Dumuzid or Dumuzi, the consort of Inanna and, in his Akkadian form, the parallel consort of Ishtar. The Levantine Adonis ("lord"), who was drawn into the Greek pantheon, was considered by Joseph Campbell among others to be another counterpart of Tammuz,[1] son and consort. The Aramaic name "Tammuz" seems to have been derived from the Akkadian form Tammuzi, based on early Sumerian Damu-zid. The later standard Sumerian form, Dumu-zid, in turn became Dumuzi in Akkadian.

Beginning with the summer solstice came a time of mourning in the Ancient Near East, as in the Aegean: the Babylonians marked the decline in daylight hours and the onset of killing summer heat and drought with a six-day "funeral" for the god. Recent discoveries reconfirm him as an annual life-death-rebirth deity: tablets discovered in 1963 show that Dumuzi was in fact consigned to the Underworld himself, in order to secure Inanna's release,[2] though the recovered final line reveals that he is to revive for six months of each year (see below).

In cult practice, the dead Tammuz was widely mourned in the Ancient Near East. Locations associated in antiquity with the site of his death include both Harran and Byblos, among others. A Sumerian tablet from Nippur (Ni 4486) reads:

She can make the lament for you, my Dumuzid, the lament for you, the lament, the lamentation, reach the desert — she can make it reach the house Arali; she can make it reach Bad-tibira; she can make it reach Dul-šuba; she can make it reach the shepherding country, the sheepfold of Dumuzid
"O Dumuzid of the fair-spoken mouth, of the ever kind eyes," she sobs tearfully, "O you of the fair-spoken mouth, of the ever kind eyes," she sobs tearfully. "Lad, husband, lord, sweet as the date, [...] O Dumuzid!" she sobs, she sobs tearfully.[3]

These mourning ceremonies were observed even at the very door of the Temple in Jerusalem in a vision the Israelite prophet Ezekiel was given, which serves as a Biblical prophecy which expresses Yahweh's message at His people's apostate worship of idols:

"Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord's house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then said he unto to me, 'Hast thou seen this, O son of man? turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these." —Ezekiel 8:14-15

Ezekiel's testimony is the only direct mention of Tammuz in the Hebrew Bible.

Dumuzid in the Sumerian king list

In the Sumerian king list two kings named Dumuzi appear:

  • Dumuzid of Bad-tibira, the shepherd (reigning 36 000 years), the fifth King before the Flood
  • Dumuzid of Kuara, the fisherman (reigning 100 years), the third King of the first dynasty of Uruk, reigning between Lugalbanda and Gilgamesh

Other Sumerian texts showed that kings were to be married to Inanna in a mystical marriage, for example a hymn that describes the mystical marriage of King Iddid-Dagan (ca 1900 BCE).[4]

Dumuzid and Inanna

Today several versions of the Sumerian death of Dumuzi have been recovered, "Inanna's Descent to the Underworld", "Dumuzi's dream" and "Dumuzi and the galla", as well as a tablet separately recounting Dumuzi's death, mourned by holy Inanna, and his noble sister Geštinanna, and even his dog and the lambs and kids in his fold; Dumuzi himself is weeping at the hard fate in store for him, after he had walked among men, and the cruel galla of the Underworld seize him.[5]

A number of pastoral poems and songs relate the love affair of Inanna and Dumuzid the shepherd. A text recovered in 1963 recounts "The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi" in terms that are tender and frankly erotic.

According to the myth of Inanna's descent to the underworld, represented in parallel Sumerian and Akkadian[6] tablets, Inanna (Ishtar in the Akkadian texts) set off for the netherworld, or Kur, which was ruled by her sister Ereshkigal, perhaps to take it as her own. She passed through seven gates and at each one was required to leave a garment or an ornament so that when she had passed through the seventh gate she was entirely naked. Despite warnings about her presumption, she did not turn back but dared to sit herself down on Ereshkigal's throne. Immediately the Anunnaki of the underworld judged her, gazed at her with the eyes of death, and she became a corpse, hung up on a nail.

Based on the incomplete texts as first found, it was assumed that Ishtar/Inanna's descent into Kur occurred after the death of Tammuz/Dumuzid rather than before and that her purpose was to rescue Tammuz/Dumuzid. This is the familiar form of the myth as it appeared in M. Jastrow's Descent of the Goddess Ishtar into the Lower World, 1915, widely available on the Internet. New texts uncovered in 1963 filled in the story in quite another fashion,[2] showing that Dumuzi was in fact consigned to the Underworld himself, in order to secure Inanna's release.

Inanna's faithful servant attempted to get help from the other gods but only wise Enki/Ea responded. The details of Enki/Ea's plan differ slightly in the two surviving accounts, but in the end, Inanna/Ishtar was resurrected. However, a "conservation of souls" law required her to find a replacement for herself in Kur. She went from one god to another, but each one pleaded with her and she had not the heart to go through with it until she found Dumuzid/Tammuz richly dressed and on her throne. Inanna/Ishtar immediately set her accompanying demons on Dumuzid/Tammuz. At this point the Akkadian text fails as Tammuz' sister Belili, introduced for the first time, strips herself of her jewelry in mourning but claims that Tammuz and the dead will come back.

There is some confusion here. The name Belili occurs in one of the Sumerian texts also, but it is not the name of Dumuzid's sister who is there named Geshtinana, but is the name of an old woman whom another text calls Bilulu.

In any case, the Sumerian texts relate how Dumuzid fled to his sister Geshtinana who attempted to hide him but who could not in the end stand up to the demons. Dumuzid has two close calls until the demons finally catch up with him under the supposed protection of this old woman called Bilulu or Belili and then they take him. However Inanna repents.

Inanna seeks vengeance on Bilulu, on Bilulu's murderous son G̃irg̃ire and on G̃irg̃ire's consort Shirru "of the haunted desert, no-one's child and no-one's friend". Inanna changes Bilulu into a waterskin and G̃irg̃ire into a protective god of the desert while Shirru is assigned to watch always that the proper rites are performed for protection against the hazards of the desert.

Finally, Inanna relents and changes her decree thereby restoring her husband Dumuzi to life; an arrangement is made by which Geshtinana will take Dumuzid's place in Kur for six months of the year: "You (Dumuzi), half the year. Your sister (Geštinanna), half the year!" This newly-recovered final line upset Samuel Noah Kramer's former interpretation, as he allowed: "my conclusion that Dumuzi dies and "stays dead" forever (cf e.g. Mythologies of the Ancient World p. 10) was quite erroneous: Dumuzi according to the Sumerian mythographers rises from the dead annually and, after staying on earth for half the year, descends to the Nether World for the other half".[7]

The "Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi"

Aside from this extended epic "The Descent of Inanna," a previously unknown "Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi" was first translated into English and annotated by Sumerian scholar Samuel Noah Kramer and folklorist Diane Wolkstein working in tandem, and published in 1983.[8] In this tale Inanna's lover, the shepherd-king Dumuzi, brought a wedding gift of milk in pails, yoked across his shoulders.

The myth of Inanna and Dumuzi formed the subject of a Lindisfarne Symposium, published as The Story of Inanna and Dumuzi: From Folk-Tale to Civilized Literature: A Lindisfarne Symposium, (William Irwin Thompson, editor, 1995).

In Arabic sources

Tammuz is the month of July in Iraqi Arabic and Levantine Arabic (see Arabic names of calendar months),[9] and references to Tammuz appear in Arabic literature from the 9th to 11th centuries AD.[10] In a translation of an ancient Nabataean text by Kuthami the Babylonian, Ibn Wahshiyya (c. 9th-10th century AD), adds information on his own efforts to ascertain the identity of Tammuz, and his discovery of the full details of the legend of Tammuz in another Nabataean book:

"How he summoned the king to worship the seven (planets) and the twelve (signs) and how the king put him to death several times in a cruel manner Tammuz coming to life again after each time, until at last he died; and behold! it was identical to the legend of St. George which is current among the Christians."[11]

Ibn Wahshiyya also adds that Tammuz lived in Babylonia before the coming of the Chaldeans and belonged to an ancient Mesopotamian tribe called Ganbân.[10] On rituals related to Tammuz in his time, he adds that the Sabaeans in Harran and Babylonia still lamented the loss of Tammuz every July, but that the origin of the worship had been lost.[10]

Al-Nadim in his 10th century work Kitab al-Fehrest drawing from a work on Syriac calendar feast days, describes a Tâ'ûz festival that took place in the middle of the month of Tammuz.[10] Women bewailed the death of Tammuz at the hands of his master who was said to have "ground his bones in a mill and scattered them to the wind."[10] Consequently, women would forgo the eating of ground foods during the festival time.[10] The same festival is mentioned in the 11th century by Ibn Athir as still taking place at the appointed time on the banks of the Tigris river.[10]

Literary references

  • John Milton, "Paradise Lost", Book I

THAMMUZ came next behind,
Whose annual wound in LEBANON allur'd
The SYRIAN Damsels to lament his fate
In amorous dittyes all a Summers day,
While smooth ADONIS from his native Rock
Ran purple to the Sea, suppos'd with blood
Of THAMMUZ yearly wounded: the Love-tale
Infected SION'S daughters with like heat,
Whose wanton passions in the sacred Porch
EZEKIEL saw, when by the Vision led
His eye survey'd the dark Idolatries
Of alienated JUDAH.

  • Oscar Wilde, "Charmides"

And then each pigeon spread its milky van,
The bright car soared into the dawning sky
And like a cloud the aerial caravan
Passed over the Ægean silently,
Till the faint air was troubled with the song
From the wan mouths that call on bleeding Thammuz all night long

Church of the Nativity and Shrine of Adonis-Tammuz

According to some scholars[12], the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is built over a cave that was originally a shrine to Adonis-Tammuz.

The Church Father Jerome, who died in Bethlehem in 420, reports in addition that the holy cave was at one point consecrated by the heathen to the worship of Adonis, and a pleasant sacred grove planted before it, to wipe out the memory of Jesus. Modern mythologists, however, reverse the supposition, insisting that the cult of Adonis-Tammuz originated the shrine and that it was the Christians who took it over, substituting the worship of their own god.[13]


  1. Joseph Campbell "the dead and resurrected god Tammuz (Sumerian Dumuzi), prototype of the Classical Adonis, who was the consort as well as son by virgin birth, of the goddess-mother of many names: Inanna, Ninhursag, Ishtar, Astarte, Artemis, Demeter, Aphrodite, Venus" (in Oriental Mythology: The Masks of God pp 39-40).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Edwin M. Yamauchi, "Tammuz and the Bible" Journal of Biblical Literature 84.3 (September 1965:283-290).
  3. Inana and Bilulu: an ulila to Inana, from Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Robson, E., and Zólyomi, G., The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (Oxford)[1][2]
  4. Samuel Noah Kramer, "Cuneiform studies and the history of literature: The Sumerian sacred marriage texts", ''Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 107 (1963:485-527).
  5. Samuel Noah Kramer, "The Death of Dumuzi: A New Sumerian Version" Anatolian Studies 30, Special Number in Honour of the Seventieth Birthday of Professor O. R. Gurney (1980:5-13).
  6. Two editions, one ca 1000 BCE found at Ashur, the other mid seventh century BCE from the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh.
  7. S. N. Kramer, "Dumuzi's Annual Resurrection: An Important Correction to 'Inanna's Descent'" Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 183 (October 1966:31), interpreting this newly-recovered final line as uttered by Inanna, though the immediately preceding context is incomplete.
  8. Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer editors/translators 1983. Inanna, Queen of Heaven & Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. (New York: Harper Colophon).
  9. Cragg, 1991, p. 260.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 Fuller, 1864, pp. 200-201.
  11. de Azevedo and Stoddart, 2005, pp. 308-309.
  12. Giuseppe Ricciotti, Vita di Gesù Cristo, Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana (1948) p. 276 n.
  13. Marcello Craveri, The Life of Jesus, Grove Press (1967) pp. 35-36


  • de Azevedo, Mateus Soares; Stoddart, William (FWD) (2005), Ye shall know the truth: Christianity and the perennial philosophy, World Wisdom, Inc, ISBN 0941532690, 9780941532693 
  • Cragg, Kenneth (1991), The Arab Christian: A History in the Middle East, Westminster John Knox Press, ISBN 0664221823, 9780664221829 
  • Fuller, John Mee (1864), Essay on the Authenticity of the Book of Daniel, Deighton, Bell and co. 

Further reading

  • Campbell, Joseph, 1962, Oriental Mythology: The Masks of God (New York:Viking Penguin)
  • Campbell, Joseph, 1964. Occidental Mythology: The Masks of God (New York:Viking Penguin)
  • Kramer, Samuel Noah and Diane Wolkstein, 1983. Inanna : Queen of Heaven and Earth (New York : Harper & Row) ISBN 0-06-090854-8
  • Jacobsen, Thorkild, 1976, The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press)

External links