Myths: Death and Ressurection of Ningishzida

Ningishzida’s journey to the nether world

Note: Ninazu might be Namtar. It is whoever serves as throne bearer for the underworld.

1 Ningishzida, as the god of the dawn and the dusk, had a difficult task ahead of him that he did not want to perform. He was to go down into the underworld and allow for a time of darkness. This meant that he needed to lay down his life in order that the order of the universe could be maintained. Even gods could die.

2 “Come on board. We are about to set sail and time is short.” The galla demon brought his barge to the dock and urged haste. The paople waiting on the dock with Ningishzida were anxious and nervous. The death of Ningishzida was the death of the daylight.

3 “Please have compassion. I am still a young man. Don’t force me to go in a dark cabin covered as though by a blanket.”

4 Lord Ningishzida was not alone on the barge that was to head to the underworld. Stretching out a hand to him were Ishtaran of the bright face, the master of the battle net Alla, and the kings Shude and Kibura. Death could take the clever, the strong, and the powerful alike.

5 Ama Shilama, Ningishzida’s young sister was unwilling to see him go. She rushed towards the bow of the barge and cried out in lamentation. She removed the cover from over the boat’s cabin and looked upon Ningishzida who was trapped within.

6 “You are like Damuzi in his youth. Let me come with you,” she pleaded to her older brother. “This barge is vast and magnificent. I want to be by your side.” She asked the same of Ningishzida’s companions on the boat, they had been her kinsmen in life.

7 “Look upon Ama Shilama your sister and kinswoman.” The Galla demon called to Ningishzida and the others on the boat and instructed them to be attentive to the young woman at the dock.

8 “I sail with a demon who has torn me from the land of the living like a thresher. He has bound my hands and my arms. Why would you want to sail with me?” Ningishzida looked upon his sister with compassion and spoke to her.

9 “This river we sail upon is the Id-Kura. It’s water is undrinkable.” Ningishzida continued to tell her of the rigors of the underworld that he would face. He told her of some of the trials that awaited the dead. “You can’t weave cloth from the wool of the sheep in the underworld. Even if my mother digs a canal and offers me all of that water, I will not be able to quench my thirst with it. I will have a particularly difficult time in the underworld. I will be unable to drink only the offering waters of the spring time, they will go instead to the tamarisks. I will not sit in the shade intended for me, and I will not be able to marvel at the beauty of the ripening dates. You would hate to be in my place.”

10 “The malevolent demon should accept something. There should be a limit on the troubles of the land of Kur for you. Let him have the jewels and fine things that I possess, and let him go easy on you. The people you leave behind care for you, surely their loss must mean something to this demon.

11 “Don’t pull the stakes just yet. Let the young woman come aboard.” The demon called to the boat workers who were attending to the stakes at the boat’s bow and stern. The demon thought that he might be able to catch one more prize before he departed down the Id-kura and to the land of the dead.

12 As the demon had suspected, Ama Shilama set foot upon the barge. As she did this her doom closed in upon her. She was now too a citizen of the underworld. She would never grow older, and her loved ones would now be forced to mourn her as well.

13 The great Galla demon announced his prize to the heavens and the lands of the living. His great victory taunt echoed through the lands and down the river to the underworld. “Hear my voice and be afraid. Lock your doors against me cuty of Ur. Lock your shrines against me. I am your true king.”

14 Hearing this, the god Ninazu son of Ereshkigal and the Bull of Heaven, took up his holy Lapis-Lazuli scepter and put on his holy robe of office and crown. He climbed up to the realm of the living and challenged the claim of this upstart demon.

15 Turning to Ama Shilama the great god took her off of the boat. “You will not be coming to my mothers house just now. My mother is harsh when she needs to be, but she is not heartless. She has decided to let you continue your life out of her love.”

16 When Ningishzida’s sister had been taken from the boat, it was now time to deal with the independent Galla demon. “It is true that you are a powerful demon, but you over reach your station. You are an extension of the underworld and that is all. If you doubt my words then perhaps you would like to compare yourself against me. I hold the office of throne bearer for the realm of Kur.”

17 With the buisness done, Ninazu returned to his task of healing. The living returned to mourning the fallen god. Ningishzida continued to drift down the Id-kura river as a corpse bound for the underworld. The sun set and dusk could be seen throughout the land.

18 Ningishzida traveled through the underworld, he passed through the defiled portions, and into the great fortress Urugal. He approached the great throne of Ereshkigal. Once there, he was given a place at her feet.

19 “Your journey through the defiled places of my realm have left their impression on you. Wash the dust of the road from your hair. My servants will wash your feet and present you with clean sandals. You will not be staying in my realm for all time.”

20 Ningishzida washed his head, ate choice foods, and drank choice wines. He sat at the feet of the queen, and rested from his long journey. When he was done he was given a throne to sit upon. This throne brought him back to the land of the living.

Ningishzida the dying god

There are a number of gods who are considered to be dead and alive at the same time. Dumuzi and Geshtinanna are two of these, and before Gilgamesh made a change to things, the bull of heaven was another.

That Damned Chair

This chair, or one just like it, shows up elsewhere in the mythology. This is the chair that Nergal uses to escape the underworld in the Nergal and Ereshkigal myth.

Reincarnation and Resurrection

The idea of reincarnation is appealing to many, and so it is tempting to fit what one wants to see into what we find in myth. The truth is that the Sumerian underworld was not seen as heaven, it is not hell, it is not Valhalla, and it is also not a gate to reincarnation.

In the above myth Ningishzida isn’t made young again by coming back to life. He is a god and has no use for such a thing. He is not returned to the world of the living by way of birth. He is the god of the dawn and dusk he is returned the same way he left, through a magic chair and a splash of color across the horizon.

But what if it was such an obvious concept that they didn’t bother to write it down? Really? We’re talking about the people who carved inscriptions on the heads of nails. They would have written it down. What they did write down was about the eternity of the underworld. It is not that we have a lack of evidence to support reincarnation in Sumerian belief, it is that we have evidence to the contrary.