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Saturday, October 11, 2014

4000-539 B.C. Mesopotamian gods may heal you

Each Mesopotamean city-state had its own god to worship.
The Sumerians build large Ziggurat's for their gods to live,
and these were located on hills in the center of each city-state.
Long before the creation of the first civilization in Sumer, the people living among and around Mesopotamia rationalized life by speculating it was made possible by all the spirits of dead people that were ever present in the world around them.  These spirits guided them through life, and so to assure happiness and productivity, to assure life would continue, the people must keep these spirits happy.

At some point some of these spirits became gods.  These gods lived in the heavens, and lived just as they did: they ate, drank, slept, fell in love, got married, celebrated, enjoyed life, worried about life, fought, had wars, killed, and died.  It was even more essential people satiate the needs of these gods, to provide them with food through sacrifice, with water through the wells, and through rituals and celebrations.  In return the gods would offer protection from disease and injury, and they would assure that life would continue to the best interest of the people.  

Originally each of the city-states in ancient Babylonia and Assyria worshiped their own gods (or goddesses), although as time progressed some of these gods gained power, and they were worshiped by most people throughout Mesopotamia. These gods probably gained power as one or another city-state gained power, and so now all or most of the people would be aware of that god, and be forced to worship that god. 
Mesopotamian religion was polytheistic,
consisting of over 3,600 gods and demigods.
The gods were also anthropomorphic, or human in form.
They were immortal and all powerful.

Once again, whether or not you were healthy, sick or injured was completely determined by the happiness of these gods. They created the earth and everything in it, including humans, by the mud of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.  They made the sun rise and fall.  They made the crops grow and kept them safe.  They gave the animals life and kept them safe.  Yet at the same time they could make it all end just as easy.  If you got sick, it was probably because you angered one of them, or did not satiate their needs well enough.  (Garrison, page 433)

It was for this reason that priests held rituals at the large temples where the gods lived.  The largest of these were on a hill or mound situated in the middle of each city-state, and these temples were called Ziggurats.  However, there were also various smaller temples and shrines where commoners could worship various gods for health and healing. 

Many of these gods had the ability to create good and bad demons, and many of these demons were also responsible for health, disease and injuries.  Many of these demons also had temples built for them to live in, and either the priests or commoners held rituals for health and healing. The ultimate goal was to keep these demons and gods happy in order for life to continue.  This was especially important to the ancient Sumerians who did not believe in life after death (at least according to most legends).  Worshiping the gods was the only thing that gave them solace in an otherwise dark and gloomy world. 

Generally speaking, each city-state, each society, each person, had a particular god or goddess or demon or spirit they were responsible for keeping happy.  It was the responsibility of the priests, as well as each individual person, to keep this god or goddess or demon or spirit happy.  In return, this deity watched over you.  If you sinned -- purgery, lied, cheated, stole, killed, had an impure thought, etc. --against this god, then there was a chance the god (or spirit guardian) no longer watched over you, and this made you "easy prey" to the demons.  (Sigerist, page 426)

The following are the most common of these gods and demons who had an influence over health and healing during the period of Ancient Mesopotamia between the years of 3500 and 539 B.C. These gods had various cult followings at different times during this period, and were characters in the various myths that evolved.  If you were sick, or had a relative or friend who was sick, you'd worship one of these gods. You worshiped these gods even in good times and in good health in order to maintain this order.  You were at the mercy of these gods. 

Apsu:  He was the god of fresh water.  He mingled with Tiamat and Mumma to form the gods

Tiamat:  She was the goddess of salt water; she was "primeval chaos."  She mingled with Apsu and Mumma to form the gods.(Prioreschi, page 430)

Mumma:  He was the son of Apsu and Tiamat, and represented the mist and clouds.  He mingled with Apsu and Tiamat to form the gods. 

Anu:  Lord of the Heavens. He was worshiped throughout ancient Mesopotamia, from the Sumerians all the way through to the Persians. The same was true of Enlil, Nintu, and Inki. Gods like Marduk and Ashur were usually identified with them, although the various civilizations and societies may have different names for them. (Sigerist, page 410)  As with most gods, he is the son of Apsu. 

Antu:  She was goddess of the earth, and by her relationship with Anu was formed the gods and goddess of the underworld that were called the Anunnaki. They also created the seven demons (utukki).  In later mythology Antu was replaced by the Babylonian Ishtar (Sumerians called her Innana) as wife of Anu. 

Murduk:  The god of the Akkadians and son of Ea (or Enki, depending on what mythology was followed).  He was the lord of magic who lived in the Ziggurut of Babylon, and he became a prominent god who was worshiped all over Babylonia. He was identified with Enlil.  (Sigerist, page 385) Once the Babylonians obtained control of most of southern Mesopotamia, Murduk became one of the most prominent gods in the area around 2,000 B.C.  He essentially rose to the head of the Babylonian pantheon of gods and goddesses. He gained his power because he "imposed a new world order after a fight among the gods that climaxed with a battle that saw Marduk on one side and Tiamat and her second husband, Kingu, on the other. Marduk challenged Tiamat in a single combat; as she opens her mouth to swallow him, he sends a terrible wind right in her mouth, to distend her like a balloon, and then slays her with an arrow.  He binds Kingu, takes from him the Tablets of Destiny (which contain the Code of Hammurabi), and splits the body of Tiamat into two parts.  One he lifts up as the sky, the other he puts down as the ocean below.  After his victory over the forces of chaos, Marduk proceeds to set the universe in order and each of the great gods, Anu, Enlil and Ea, was assigned a portion of the heavens." (Prioreschi, page 433)

Ea (Enki):  He is the son of Anu and that father of the Babylonian god Marduk. He is the god of wisdom and arts and crafts.  He is a part of the Great Triad that consists of Ea, Anu and Enlil. ( Some considered him "Lord of the Water... Physicians worshiped him as their ancestor." (Sigerist, page 433) He separated the earth from the sky to create the world. (Foster, page 41) Lord of the water. (Sigerist, page 410) He was also Lord of the earth, of the rivers, lakes, streams, wells.  Since you drank his water you may want to pray to him that he keeps you healthy by his water, and doesn't infest you with poisons. Azu (physician-priests) may worship him, because the Azu were experts in turning water into medicine.

Enlil:  He was the chief deity of the Sumerian and Akkadian people, although his home was in Nippur.  He was adapted by the Babylonians, Assyrians, Hittites, etc. He was the son of Ashar and Kishar. He was Lord of the Storm. He was identified with Enlil (Sigerist, page 384, 388) He was the god of air and agriculture. (

Damkina:  According to, she was " the Babylonian earth mother goddess, the wife of Ea and mother of Marduk."

Nergal:  Mesopotamian god of disease and death (Garrison, page 56). He was the god of pestilance. (Sigerist, page 399)

Baal-Zebul (the Beelzebub of the Bible):  Phoenician god of medicine.  He was interrogated by even the Jews as an oracle of health and disease, although the writers of the Bible preached against it.  (Baal, page 29)

Esmun:  A special god worshiped by the Phoenicians as the god of medicine. (Bass, page 29)

Bel:  Tutelary diety of the capital (The Asiatic Journal, page 37)

Hea:  He was worshiped by the Akkadians and Syrians.   He was “the mysterious Rite, the formula, the all-powerful secret word, which would thwart the efforts of the formidable powers of the Abyss.”  He was "emphatically the god of healing; who had revealed medicine to mankind."  His symbol was usually on one side of the door of an invalid, with the symbol of Merodakh on the other. It was also common to "hang sacred texts about his room and head, in order to exorcise the evil spirits that had caused the disease." Incantations like the following were also said:  (wilder, page 18)

Merodakh:  He was the Bel of Babylon, son of divinity, revered as the "Prince of light," the conquerer of the dragon, the redeemer of kind and bestower of life. He was also the divinity of the planet Jupiter.  His symbol is often found at the beginning of medicine and magic formulas."  An incantation to him would be as such: (Wilder, page 18-19)
“Merciful one among the gods, Generator who brought back the dead to life, Silik-mulu-khi,§ the king of heaven and earth, * ,_. May the invalid be delivered from his disease, Cure the plague, the fever, the ulcer." (Wilder, page 18)
Incantations like this were very important to Babylonian medicine, as they comprised all the healing powers of the priests (also called physicians, wise men, iatroi, magoi).  "They taught the convalescing patients to believe their cure to have been wrought by the divine operation itself."  (Wilder, page 18-19)
“Disease of the bowels, disease of the heart, The palpitation of the heart;
Disease of the vision, disease of the head,
Malignant dysentery ;
The humor which swells, -
Ulceration of the veins, the micturition which wastes,
‘Cruel agony which never ceases,
Spirit of the heavens, conjure it,
Spirit of the earth, conjure it."
Ainyama:  God of healing. (Baas, page 26)

Thrita:  Physicians were his disciples.  He was the "good physician," and he was highly esteemed by physicians.  He was the god that they worshiped. (Baas, page 26)

Baalti:  Supreme god of Akkadians (Baas, page 27)

Assur:  The god of Assyrians, and the god where from their name is derived.

Nintu:  She was the wife of Anu and the mother of all gods who created humans from clay. She is also the goddess of childbirth. ( She was Lord of the earth. (Sigerist, page 410)

Kingu:  The second husband of Tiamat.  In her quest to destroy the other gods, she created a mighty army and set Kingu as its head, according to, "Kingu."  He fled when he saw Marduk coming against him.  When Tiamat was defeated, he was taken captive and executed. The god Enki created humans from his blood. 

Naram-Sin:  The moon god. (Sigerist, page 385)

Ninib:  A god worshiped by physicians. He was Enlil's son, and he was a healing deity. He was also worshiped by patients for healing. (Sigerist, 433)

Gula:  A god worshiped by physicians.  She was a "consort" to Ninib, and she was also a healing deity. "She was a physicians who resurrected the dead by touching them with her pure hands. She was the goddess of potions and poisons and the dog was her emblem. "(Sigerist, page 433)

Ninazu:  He was the "Lord of Physicians," and another great healing deity. (Sigerist, page 433)

Shamash:  The sun god from whom Hummarabi received the laws. (Sigerist, page 387, 399)

An:  Lord of the sky and his main temple was at Uruk.  He was a chief god but had little influence over human life. (Foster, page 39)

Dumuzi (Tammuz): He was brother of Marduck and god of vegetation, flocks, cattle and food. You might worship him in hopes that your food will be plentiful, but also that it will be safe and not be infected with poisons that have the potential to cause disease and suffering.  He was married to Inanna

Ishtar (Innana, Inanna):  She was the goddess at the side of Murduk, and was the goddess of love. (Sigerist, 385-6) She became prominent as early as 4,000 B.C., and was born out of the minds of the people of Urek.  She ultimately became one of the most powerful of all the goddesses of ancient Mesopotamia.  She presided over sexual fruitiness and regeneration.  She was married to Dumuzi, and at the beginning of each year the king of each city-state would climb to the top of the main temple in his city-state (a ziggurat), enter a special room, and perform a celebration in honor of the marriage of Dumuzi and Inanna.  This would keep their marriage strong, for it was this marriage that allowed for the year to continue, and also this marriage that ensured health and productivity of the land and all the people of the city-state and all of Mesopotamia.

There are over 3000 other Mesopotamian gods, although this is enough for our medical history.  I just wanted you to have an idea of what it would be like if you lived during this era of mankind.  You'd spend all your days worshiping these gods, and even fearing them.  

These gods even spoke to the people through the gentle breeze, through the chirping of the birds, through the  position of these birds in relation to your house, through the position of the stars and planets, through the position of bumps and scars on your body, through the size of internal organs (particularly the liver) of sacrificed animals, through the location of abnormalities on organs, and by dreams.  Often a priest or priestess was summoned to interpret these voices, or what we more commonly refer to as omens. 

Ironically, some believe mythology of other civilizations copied, to some extent, Mesopotamian mythology.  The Egyptian Isis and the Greek Aphrodite are very similar in nature to Ishtar. Enlil might have been copied in the creation of the Egyptian God Re and the Greek god Zeus.  Or, perhaps, all of these gods were one and the same, with unique names depending on where you lived.

The blessing of the gods for health was often sited by the people in their regular talk, and in their letters. As we often sign our letters with words such as "be well," or "best wishes," or "keep the faith," the ancient Mesopotamians might use words such as "May Shamash and Marduk give thee health," or "May Ninib and Gula give to the king my lord happiness and health."

May all the gods be with you. 

References:  See post "2000 B.C.:  Assyrian physicians will treat your dyspnea"
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