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Inanna and Šukalletuda (1)

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Topics (move over topic to see place in topic list)

04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

02 Religious and ideological symbols and iconographic motifs

04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

Neo-Assyrian Empire
Sumerian Ur III Empire
Akkadian poetry
Old Testament
Sumerian poetry

The Sumerian story of Inanna and Šukalletuda begins with describing how Inanna, the lady of all the great divine powers, once abandoned the heaven and earth and “went up” or “descended” (the verb e₁₁.d/èd means both to “ascend” and to “descend”) the mountain (KUR) in order to “detect falsehood and justice, to inspect the Land closely, to identify the criminal against the just” (ll. 6-8). On the mountain, namely in the garden of Šukalletuda, there grew a sacred tree, a poplar, which was extraordinary in its character: it had broad shade, which did not diminish in the morning, at midday or in the evening. Therefore the tree provided continuous shelter. Apart from this single tree, there was nothing else growing in the garden because, although it was his task to take care of this garden, the gardener had uprooted and destroyed everything. According to the story, after tiring herself with going around the world, Inanna falls asleep at the root of this tree. It is as if by sleeping at the root of the sacred tree, she becomes part of it. Šukalletuda notices her in the garden, approaches her, removes the belt of seven me’s on her vulva, and rapes her while she is asleep. Šukalletuda’s terrible actions have a horrible effect on the Land and its people: Inanna becomes furious after realizing what has happened, and, until she has found the rapist, takes revenge on the Land and the people: she fills the wells with blood - also one of the ten plagues in Exodus (Exodus 7:14-24) - causes a flash flood, and blocks the highways of the Land. She truly manifests her destructive side by obstructing the divine harmony from flowing from above and filling the Land and its people. Šukalletuda goes three times to his father for help, who each time advises him that he should join the city-dwellers because Inanna would not be able to find him there. After searching for her rapist in vain, Inanna finally goes to her father Enki for help, who willingly points out the gardener to her. Thus Inanna finds the gardener and sentences him to death for what he had done. Unfortunately, the last lines are destroyed so we do not know the very end of the story.

Šukalletuda as the gardener whose task it is to look after the garden parallels Adam as the keeper of the Garden of Eden. Adam was the first man, whose actions in paradise had an impact on the whole human race; here Šukalletuda’s actions in the garden brings vengeance upon all the Land. Since the story was written in a Mesopotamian context, the only person whose actions would have had a similar impact on the human race or on all the Land was the king. His actions were under constant scrutiny because the well-being of the country depended on him. Thus the story suggests that Šukalletuda was in fact the king. By sexually assaulting Inanna, the gardener violates the divine realm symbolized by Inanna and the Tree. In other words, this sexual union is without Inanna’s consent, and the removal of her belt of the divine powers unbalances the cosmic order. He continues to act destructively: he has already stopped looking after the garden, and now he violates the Divine Order by raping the goddess. Normally, the king is given permission to have intercourse with the goddess through his intimate relationship with her: in this way, he is allowed to reach the divine powers (well-being, long life, etc.) through Inanna.

Šukalletuda’s punishment parallels that of Dumuzi (= the king) in the Descent of Ištar to the Netherworld. Strikingly, Dumuzi is also called the “gardener,” albeit in a first millennium source (SAA 3 16.18). But as seen above in the Sumerian love songs, Dumuzi/the king possesses a garden and is therefore implicitly understood as a gardener. The king as a gardener is found in the Birth Legend of Sargon, where Ištar fell in love with Sargon, the gardener. Moreover, according to a Neo-Babylonian chronicle, an Isin dynasty ruler, Enlil-bani, was a gardener. Šukalletuda’s garden is situated on the KUR, or the garden equals KUR - here translated as the mountain. The Sumerian word KUR is frequently used to imply the netherworld, which is probably also the case in this story, thus following the idea of the Descent. Whatever the direction, Inanna goes to the KUR, which in both the Descent and Inanna and Šukalletuda, represents something dangerous and hostile to the goddess. The sacred tree, which plays an important role in the Šukalletuda story, is depicted in the iconography as growing on a mound or a mountain (KUR). This mound is the base of the cosmic tree, and corresponds to the position of Nergal, the god of the netherworld. Nergal’s number 14 (2×7) symbolizes the ascent and descent through the seven gates of the netherworld in Inanna’s/Ištar’s Descent. Allegorically, the netherworld (KUR) is the physical world; a prison of the human souls. Correspondly, in the Descent, Inanna/Ištar as a soul frees herself from the bondage of the physical world (= netherworld).

Sources (list of abbreviations) (source links will open in a new browser window)
Exodus 7:14-24
Inanna and Šukalletuda 6-8
SAA 3 16.18


Lapinkivi 2004, 220-222Lapinkivi, Pirjo. The Sumerian Sacred Marriage in the Light of Comparative Evidence. State Archives of Assyria Studies 15. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Coprus Project 2004.

Pirjo Lapinkivi

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