Thursday, 31 July 2014

The European Union: forever rising

The election of Jean-Claude Junker on 15 July 2014 as president of the European Commission represents a very important moment in the long rise of a unified Europe. With this event, the EU has effectively become a parliamentary democracy, not too dissimilar from Germany. It signals the beginning of a new phase of unification and integration. With Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi,  we can expect that this integration will eventually lead to the formation of the United States of Europe. I discuss the implications of Junker's election as well as the long-term prospects for the EU. I also discuss the eschatological implications.

It is said that the best way to hide something is to place it where nobody can overlook it. So often something important happens and most people do not even take notice. Something like that has just happened - some major news channels did not even report on it! A new parliamentary democracy has arrived on the world scene. A new giant has been born. The EU has just elected its first leader. Although there is still a lot of denials, and most commentators have not yet understood or at least spelt out the full implications of this event, a new day has arrived in the long march towards a truly unified union in Europe.

The election of Jean-Claude Junker as president of the European Commission may seem to be just another day in the EU where so many things happen all the time. In fact, it is not. It signals a dramatic shift in power in the framework of the EU away from the European states to the European Parliament. After a long process which took decades to accomplish, the EU has eventually become a parliamentary democracy - not too different from Germany, for example. And this is not the end of the road; it signals the beginning of a new phase in the unification and integration of the European Union.

The resilience of the European project

Doomsayers have often forecasted the decline or end of the European project. I remember the time when the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union as well as the Euro, was signed in 1992. In the period before that treaty was agreed, the Anglo-American media often said that the European project would not succeed and that it was just a matter of time before it would become derailed. After the treaty was signed they went ballistic. It was a step too far, too soon, they said. For months they moaned and groaned.

When the economic crisis of 2008-12 stroke, there were again many voices - especially in the Anglo-American media - who predicted that the EU or Eurozone would break up or at least that it would become a declining power. And again, these academics and commentators have been shown wrong. Instead, the crisis provided the impulse for further integration and both the Fiscal Compact (2012) and the Banking Union, which was recently agreed, was the direct outcome of that crisis. Although the British leader strongly resisted both the Fiscal Compact and Junker's election, the rest of the union (with the exception of the Czech Republic) proceeded in the face of this fierce opposition with these steps towards an "ever-closer" union.

Although the EU has reached a certain limit on the road to the stated goal of "an ever closer union" with the Treaty of Lisbon (signed in 2007), it has at the same time started with a new phase towards further integration. That treaty, which increased the power of the European Parliament and created the posts of President of the European Council as well as High Representative for the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, also signalled the end of the road for Britain. The long process which started with the signing of the Treaty of Rome 1958 had come to its climax. It would not be possible to take all the EU countries further on the road to more integration. But that treaty also contained the seed for a new phase in the unification of Europe.

Junker's election

After the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon, the centre of power in the EU was still firmly in the hands of the European Council, comprised of all the leaders of the states in the EU. This means that the countries which belong to the EU were to a large extent in control of the processes involving the EU. Although they had to involve the European Parliament in discussions about most issues, they could make the important decisions. Especially, they could decide who would be the leader of the European Commission. The commission introduces most of the initiatives in the union as well as drafts for laws to the European Parliament. Now, this has changed.

In the run-up to the last European election, some leaders in the European Parliament introduced the idea of "lead candidates" ("Spitzenkandidaten"). Each party nominated a "lead candidate" to lead them in the election campaign, with a general agreement that the candidate of the party who won the election would become president of the commission. This is also how the German parliamentary system operates. Although the EU treaties do not say anything in this regard, there is also no reason why it could not be done - as long as most countries went along with it. Junker was nominated as the candidate for the European People's Party (EPP) to which the party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel (the Christian Democratic Union) also belongs. When that party got the most votes in the election, Junker effectively became the first choice for President of the European Commission (if he could win the necessary majorities in the European Council and the European Parliament).

Although the European Council was at first reluctant to accept the outcome of the Spitzenkandidaten process, pressure from all over Europe (and especially from within Germany) swayed them to nominate Junker on 27 June as candidate (for the first time a vote was necessary in this regard; Britain was outvoted) - which effectively means that they had given up on their right to nominate that leader. In future, the choice of the people of Europe, who elect not only the various parties to the European Parliament but also the candidates for the post of President of the European Commission, will decide this. The EU will therefore in future have an elected President of the European Commission who is elected in exactly the same manner as the German Chancellor. The only other requirement would be that such a candidate must have a ruling majority in parliament. Junker managed that also: on 15 July he was elected by a large majority in the European Parliament to become the next president of the commission.

An important shift in power has happened in the EU. The leaders of the countries which comprise the European Council have lost their powerful hold over the European Commission. In future, the president of the commission would not serve their interests per se, but rather that of parliament. Although Junker presented his program for the next few years to the council, he also held meetings with all the parties in the European Parliament to convince them that he would take their interests into consideration. He is therefore especially responsible to parliament. If he loses his majority in parliament, he would also lose his job.

Although the European Council suggests candidates for the various posts on the commission, the final decision must be negotiated with the president-elect of the commission. These candidates must also appear at hearings of parliament who decides if they are suitable candidates. Since the commission is henceforth responsible to the European Parliament (via their president) and the laws which the commission proposes are negotiated in close consultation with parliament, the MEC's (Members of the European Parliament) would probably gain the upper hand in this process. Although the parliament does not initiate laws on their own as in other parliamentary systems, they have gained a large measure of control over this process.

We can therefore say that the EU has become a parliamentary democracy where parliament elects the president of the commission and is directly involved in the whole process of law-making. In future, the President of the European Commission will effectively be a "prime minister", the commission will operate as the executive arm (i.e. like a cabinet), the European Council will operate very much like an Upper House or Senate whereas the European Parliament is effectively the Lower House of Parliament.

As elected president of the commission Junker would have more power than the various leaders of the EU, even the German Councillor, since he is duly elected to that post! Whereas they are elected merely in their respective countries, the president has been elected by all the peoples of the EU. Junker himself is a very experienced politician, who was the prime minister of Luxembourg from 1995-2013 and headed the Euro-group from 2005-2013. He has both the authority (being elected) and the experience to stand up to the leaders of the EU countries. With him, the EU would become a coherent and powerful force on the world stage.

The future of Europe

When the leaders of the EU agreed to nominate Junker as president of the commission, they also accepted that some countries, like Great Britain, would not participate in any further integration. They agreed that the expression "ever closer union" in the EU treaties allows for different paths of integration for different countries. Countries like Britain who do not want deeper integration, therefore do not have to participate in any further integration, but can also not stop other EU countries from pursuing such a path. This means that the future EU would incorporate various levels of integration, with Britain (if she stays in the union) at the lowest level.

In his acceptance speech in parliament, Junker spelt out what he has in mind for his term at the helm. He accentuated that further integration would take place in the framework of the Eurozone. He said that the countries which share the euro must have their own budget and be "represented by one single chair, one single office". We can, therefore, expect that a single post for Eurozone affairs would be established - maybe even in the next few years. He praised those European leaders who in the past played important roles during the dynamic periods of EU integration, namely Jacques Delors, Francois Mitterand, and Helmut Kohl - the commission president, and the French and German leaders, respectively. On the other hand, Junker has previously mentioned that he is willing to renegotiate Britain's position in the EU. So, while the Eurozone would begin another process of integration, some countries in the EU, like Britain, would become even less integrated. This will eventually lead to different zones of integration in the EU.

In my opinion, this new phase, which has started with the election of Junker, will eventually lead to the United States of Europe. The Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, who is one of the leading lights in the EU after his good performance in the last EU elections and who just took over the rotating presidency of the EU, presented his vision for Europe in his State of the Nation speech in May 2014. He called courageous leaders to work towards a United States of Europe: "For my children’s future I dream, think and work for the United States of Europe". He appealed to EU leaders to show "not in the cold language of technocracy, that a stronger and more cohesive Europe is the only solution to solve the problems of our time.”

The formation of a true United States of Europe would take many years to construct. The period from the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1958 to the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon took more than 50 years! We can expect this new phase, which effectively started with Junker's election (since the European Parliament will now start playing a more dominant role), to also take many years to complete. But eventually, some countries in the Eurozone will also, just like Britain now, reach the limit of their willingness to surrender more power to Brussels.

I foresee that eventually there would be a third phase in European unification and integration. This is the phase when the United States of Europe would become an empire. In this regard Europe would proceed in the same manner as Britain and the US (and many others before them) who first became unified entities (Scotland joining England in the union of Great Britain; the northern and southern states joining after the Civil War) and then became empires (who would dispute that the US is effectively an empire although they do not always show the same enthusiasm to project power?). Until now the EU only projected soft power. I believe that the new phase that has just begun would require the EU to also develop a hard component in its power projection. Countries like Germany would slowly but steadily leave behind their reluctance to engage military. In the empire phase, this projection of hard power - in an ever more unstable world - would become dominant.

One can expect that the empire phase would start in the same way as the current phase, namely with a change in the leadership structure of the united states in Europe. Although Junker's election provides the EU effectively with a prime minister, this role falls far short of the power that the presidents of France or the USA, for example, has. They do not only have control over the day to day affairs of their countries (this role is often assigned to a prime minister who stands under the authority of the president); they also have effective control over foreign and military affairs. In my opinion, the United States of Europe would also eventually appoints (or elects) such a leader, be it an executive president, king or even emperor. We should not forget that Europe has a unique history in this regard going back to the old Roman Empire. It is possible that future generations would see themselves as the heirs to that empire.

Which countries would proceed along this road? These would be the countries that are the most willing to relinquish sovereignty. These countries would be those who are willing to join their economies and eventually join forces politically. In this regard, we can take the countries who are willing to introduce a financial transaction tax (FTT) as a barometer. They want to introduce a tax which is supra-national and would create a European tax-base. This is one of the most important characteristics of sovereign states: they can tax their citizens. On 6 May 2014, ten out of the initial eleven participating member states (all except Slovenia) agreed to seek a "progressive" tax on equities and "some derivatives" by 1 January 2016. They aim for a final agreement later in 2014.

Eschatological implications

Christians have been expecting for many centuries that the Roman Empire would be reborn at the end of days. They interpret the prophecies in the Biblical books of Daniel and Revelation in this manner (see [1] for the different views). Although we are definitely not even close to that happening, it seems that the developments in the EU are slowly but steadily moving in that direction. There can be no doubt that Junker's election is a very important step along that path. If my interpretation is correct, we have just entered a totally new phase in the unification and integration of the EU which can lead to the formation of the United States of Europe in accordance with many pronunciations in this regard (Renzi is not the only EU leader talking like that) and eventually to an European empire.

At this stage, those who are sceptical about the eschatological dimension could argue that it is a mere coincidence that Europe is rising again. This may be the case. Over time the picture would become clearer. The prophecies referred to give particular details - and we can watch out for the time when those things start happening [1]. These details include the appearance of ten leaders/countries at the helm of a re-established Roman Empire (i.e. the ten "horns/toes" of the prophecy) as well as the Antichrist who will appear in the period directly before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Although many antichrists have appeared in the past, it seems that the prophecy speaks of a particular person who will appear right at the end of days. I do not think that the appointment or election of a president (or king or emperor) to lead a  future United States of Europe would be the Antichrist, but I do think that the growth of that empire could eventually lead to the point where such a leader appear.

The problem for our generation is that these things lay in the distant future and it is unlikely that we would live to see it happening. The type of evidence that could possibly sway the sceptic would therefore not be forthcoming in the near future. The success of the unification of the EU, in spite of great resistance and against all odds (i.e. contra many predictions in that regard by learned academics and commentators), is, however, a good reason to be open-minded and to not dismiss this possibility out of hand. The fact that so many other countries have followed exactly the same path to become empires (in the last few centuries: Britain, the US in all but name), with the difference that Europe has a great history in this regard, seems to suggest that the EU could very well also proceed along that path. If we take the Roman history of Europe into account, it seems quite possible that future generations could take inspiration from that. They could eventually view themselves as the descendants of those great and mighty leaders (Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar etc.). All of this seems to suggest that we have good reason to think that this interpretation of the prophecies is correct and that they will eventually be fulfilled in this manner [2].


The election of Jean-Claude Junker as President of the European Commission is a very important moment along the way towards an "ever closer union". Although it might seem to be just another event among many others happening in the EU, it is, in fact, a watershed moment. To some extent, the power has shifted from the leaders of the EU states to the European Parliament. The EU has effectively become an elected parliamentary state. This introduces a new phase in the integration and unification of the EU which will probably lead to a United States of Europe. Although many doomsayers have predicted the end of the union or the Eurozone as we know it, I have consistently said over the past three decades that we will see exactly the opposite, namely that the EU will become stronger and stronger (based on my interpretation of the prophecies). This is exactly what has happened so far.

I have divided the long road towards full unification into three phases. The first phase resulted in the formation of the EU with a powerful European Parliament, a President of the European Council as well as a High Representative for the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The second phase, which started with Junker's election, would lead to the formation of a United States of Europe. The last phase would lead to the rise of a European empire, which could view itself as heir to the Roman Empire. It is within this context that the Biblical prophecies regarding a re-established Roman Empire may go into fulfilment. Although this would clearly take many years to happen, it seems that we have good reason to think that it would eventually come to pass.

[1] The rise of the final world empire: the different views
[2] Bible prophecy: predicting the distant future?

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

An introduction to ancient Sumerian religious literature

Readers of this blog will know that I have posted various essays in which I made reference to the ancient Sumerians and their influence on the Biblical tradition. In this essay, Johan Coetser discusses the ancient Sumerian religious thinking in more detail. He gives special attention to one of the first literary documents ever produced, namely the Kesh Temple Hymn. The oldest copies of this poem, which belongs to the genre of songs glorifying temples, date back more than four thousand years to 2600 BC. This gives us some insight into the ancient world where Abraham's family lived more than a thousand years before the time of Moses.
‘‘[T]he efforts to achieve and ensure divine presence took the form of building temples’’ - Thorkild Jacobsen
About 5500 years ago the Sumerians settled in southern Iraq on the alluvial plain between the two rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris. There they established the world's first urban civilization centred on the great city of Uruk. The Sumerians are remembered, among other things, as the people who were the first to write. The first traces of writing appear in about 3500 BC and took the form of pictographs on clay tablets. Gradually these developed into the well-known cuneiform script that produced the first know literature by 2600 BC.
At first, the script was mostly used for administration and business purposes. Soon afterwards, however, the earliest wisdom sayings, like The Instructions of Shurrupak, as well as religious literature, like The Kesh Temple Hymn, were produced. Unlike today, these documents were not meant to be read by the wider population since very few people could read and write. Instead, this was the privilege of a small literate elite who spoke the Sumerian language and used that script. As part of the curriculum for trainee scribes they studied and copied these early documents.
The documents that the Sumerians produced more than four thousand years ago provides us with a unique opportunity to peek into the minds of those ancient people. One of the genres produced by the scribes was temple hymns, of which the Kesh Temple Hymn is an example. Four fragments of the hymn were found at Tel Abū Salābīkh in Iraq dating to about 2600 BC [1]. Over the next 800 years this document was continuously copied and by the time of the Old Babylonian period (c.1800 BC) we have a hymn that shows little difference from the archaic copies.
The Kesh Temple Hymn describes the temple dedicated to a goddess called Ninḫursag or Nintu. Ninḫursag was one of the four great gods/goddesses worshipped in ancient Sumeria, together with Enlil, An and Enki. The name Nintu refers to her role as goddess of birth-giving. In the hymn, her temple is described with various metaphors which capture its glory and glamour. It tells how the head of the Sumerian pantheon, Enlil, originally gave permission to build the temple. The hymn describes the various parts of the temple, the gods living there and the personnel who served them.
Ancient temples were more than a place of worship; they were part of the economy of the city where they were situated. Temples held vast tracts of land worked by slaves and freedmen, producing surplus grain. They gave loans in silver, employed women as weavers and sold the products. The kings gave offerings to the temples and many other worshippers gave dedications. The priests administered oaths between parties and kept business records for merchants. They themselves also participated in trade. Temples were central to the Sumerian civilization and had a variety of functions. The most important, however, was that temples served as places of human-god interaction. We will now discuss this in more detail.
The use of metaphor in the Kesh Temple Hymn
One of the important aspects of Sumerian poetry is the extensive use of metaphor. The Kesh hymn is no exception. Various metaphors and similes are used to describe both the temple and the goddess [2]. Naomi Miller said it well: "Metaphors were basic to Sumerian poetic expression" [3]. Hirchman, following in the Jungian tradition, suggests that metaphors were born from the deepest human psyche: "Humans were now able to think metaphorically: archetypes became cognitively available to us [4]. And Moser suggests "Analyzing metaphors thus not only gives us tactic knowledge and mental models which shape the individual understanding of the self, but also the cultural models provided by language to express individuality, self-concept and the 'inner world'" [5].
Although the Sumerian metaphors include a far wider domain than we can reconstruct, the language of the Kesh Temple Hymn gives us a glimpse into the thoughts of those ancient people. It allows us to see something of their world. We can explore one of these metaphors used in this hymn to depict the temple, namely that of the boat. We read that the temple is
"Like the princely Mag-ur boat floating in the sky
Like the pure Mag-ur boat provided with a ...gate
Like the boat of heaven, foundation of all the lands
Cabin of the banda-boat which shines from the beaches..." [6].

The image of a sickle-shaped boat floating in the sky brings the moon to mind. The reason is that the so-called Ma-gur boat belonged to the moon god Nanna (also called Suen/Sin). This boat was used to take the yearly produce from the city of Ur to the temple of Enlil, which was situated in Nippur [7]. The waxing and waning of the moon depict fruitfulness. This corresponds with the temple as a place of fruitfulness and production, linked to the changing seasons.
The mythical theme of the voyages of the gods is depicted on many cylinder seals [8]. The image of the moon god's boat would have meant a lot more to those ancient people than to us. The partial glimpse of the meaning of the metaphor allows us to see that the idea of fertility was important to the Sumerians; in fact, it was crucial for their survival. Droughts and floods were a real threat that could lead to famine. They needed the goodwill of the gods to ensure a bountiful harvest. As such, the image of the Mag-ur boat moving on the canals that crossed the land, spreading the bounty of the harvest in its wake, depicted the temple as a source of fertility.
These are some of the ideas behind the complex metaphors and similes of the Sumerians of which the full meaning is still inaccessible to us today. We can, however, see that the idea that the gods were the source of fertility, was crucial in the mind of these ancient people. The temple was the place where god and human could meet to negotiate the god's favour and blessing on society.
Music in the Kesh Temple Hymn
Music played a very important role in worship all over the ancient world. The Kesh Temple Hymn was therefore also meant to be sung [9]. We learned a lot about this aspect of their worship from the Cylinders of the priest Gudea, who lived in the city of Girsu in the south of Sumer during the end of the third millennium BC. He even had a director of music. Needless to say, music features prominently in a temple hymn that he wrote for the temple of the god Ningirsu [10]. We read in the hymn
"With his divine duties,
namely to soothe the heart,
to soothe the spirits
To dry weeping eyes:
To banish mourning from the heart...
Gudea introduced his drum, Lugal-igi-uš,
to lord Ningirsu" [11].

The purpose of the recitation of the hymn was to invoke the presence of the gods. The great Sumerologist Thorkild Jacobsen writes: "Poetry was another means of invoking the presence of the powers, for word pictures, too, created the corresponding reality" [12].
The Kesh hymn mentions music made both by singing and the use of instruments
  • They recited the e-šub and uru-šub (verses)...
  • The pašeš beat on the (drum)skin...
  • The bull’s horn is made to growl;
  • The drumsticks are made to thud.
  • The singer cries out to the ‘ala’ drum;
  • The grand sweet ‘tigi’ drum is played for him.
  • The house is built; its nobility is good [13].
Singing hymns of praise comes naturally to us. This was also true in ancient times. Music was part of the pageantry of the rituals that involved offerings to the gods. One can say that the music in itself was an offering to the gods. It allowed humans to conduct ritual actions vital to the well-being of the country.
Various instruments were used, especially various kind of drum. Other instruments included the harp, lyre and various kinds of the flute. Sir Leonard Woolley found a beautiful lyre decorated with a bull’s head in excavations at Ur in 1923. It is currently to be seen in the British Museum. Instruments were important enough to merit their own names as we can see from the quotation from the Cylinders of Gudea where the drum is called Lugal-igi-uš. All this was done with the worship of the gods in mind and to secure human prosperity. To have the gods on your side meant no famine or foreign invasions.
The temple was a place where the gods were invoked to help humans prosper. Daily offerings were made to keep the gods happy. The Kesh Temple Hymn also mentions this
"The temple consumes many oxen.
The temple consumes many sheep" [14].

The offerings were administrated by a plethora of priests. The Kesh hymn mentions a remarkable number of different types of priests working in the temple. Even the man playing the drum was considered to be a priest.
  • Whose nu-eš priest are the sacrifices to the E-anna (E = house; anna = of heaven)
  • The lugalbura priest...stepped up to the temple
  • The good en-priest..held the lead-rope suspended
  • The atu priest held the staff
  • The ...brought the gathered waters [name missing in text]
  • The... took his seat in the holy place [name missing in text]
  • The enkum bowed down in prayer.
  • The pašeš beat the (drum) skin.
  • They recited the e-šub and uru-šub verses [15].
After invoking the presence of the gods, it was time to placate them to do their duty toward humans. The reason why the gods created humans was that they can provide the gods with food and drink. Elaborate meals were offered at least twice a day before the cult statue of the god. This included drink-offerings. The god's image was enclosed by a curtain, allowing it to eat and drink without being observed by humans. When the god was finished eating, the meal was taken to the royal table for the king to eat [16]. This act of worship was not available to ordinary citizens.
Wealthy persons had small statues of themselves made, inscribed with a prayer, which they placed before the cult statue. This allowed them to offer continuous prayer before the god and ask for blessings. The offerings maintained the relationship between man and god and kept the blessings flowing. Failure to do this could be catastrophic, causing the god to abandon the city - with horrifying consequences. The offerings and rituals had to be maintained at all times in order to keep the gods happy.
One of the most important types of priests was the En priest/priestess. The most famous among these was the princess Enḫeduanna, who became the En-priestess of the moon god Nanna at Ur during the early years of the Akkadian period (c.2300 BC). This post was so important that it was held only by members of the royal family, who in this case was a daughter or sister of the reigning king.
The name Enḫeduanna means "lady gift of heaven". She is the first known poet in history and became famous for her poetry [17]. The En priestess lived in the so-called giparu (holy precinct) at Ur and was the human mate of the god [18]. Her primary duty was to pray and intercede for the life of the king. On a secular level, she also administrated the large estates of the giparu. Some of these priestesses, like Enannatumma and Enmegalanna, were later worshipped in their own right [19].
Ninḫursag of Kesh
We can now meet the lady (goddess) of the Kesh temple, Ninḫursag. Her name is usually interpreted as "lady head mountain". It has also been proposed that the name could be translated as "lady of the mountain of the gods" [20]. In the Kesh Temple Hymn, she is also called Nintu. As such, she represents the goddess of birth. In the hymn, she is depicted as sitting curled up in the cela, the holiest part of the temple:
"Ninḫursag, like a great dragon, sits (in its) interior
Nintu, the great mother, has brought about its birth
Ninḫursag, its lady has taken a seat in its..." [21]

The goddess is here depicted as a snake or dragon. The Sumerian word for dragon is ušumgal and means literally "great snake". Much later, in Greek times, the word drakon was still used to describe a great snake [22]. The temples of goddesses were also sometimes described as great snakes, as we can see in the collection of Sumerian temple hymns by Enḫeduanna:

"Keši, valiant (city)...of heaven and earth,
Like a great poisonous serpent, installing fear,
house of Ninḫursanga, built on an awe-inspiring place" [23].

The snake was associated with the underworld and the earth. Even in Greek times, the snake remained a symbol of the underworld. It was especially goddesses who were linked with snakes [24]. The snake was a powerful symbol for regeneration because it sheds its skin from time to time. As a symbol, it was used as a metaphor for the fruitfulness of the earth and was especially apt for the goddess of birth-giving. The use of the snake as a symbol for regeneration goes back to the Neolithic age (the new stone age c.8000–4000 BC) and continued as a metaphor for regeneration until Greek and Roman times.
In our hymn, however, the goddess is not only described as a snake, but also as a lion. As Nintu, the ‘great mother’ she was responsible for the ‘birth’ of the temple
"Keš tempel borne by a lion,
whose interior the hero has embellished,
Nintu, the great mother has brought about its birth" [25].

Inside the temple, in the cela (most holy), was the cult statue made of wood and plated with gold and/or other precious metals. The idea of being born was also applied to the cult statue, which was given life through a ceremony called mis pi or "mouth washing". On this occasion, the equipment of the artisan who made the statue was ceremonially thrown into the river - while he proclaimed that his hand did not make the statue [26].
After receiving the spirit of the god, the cult statue became the living embodiment of the god, who, at the same time, remained present in heaven. Great care was taken of the statue because of the fear that the god could leave it if it was damaged. The statue was dressed in costly robes. People visited it to present their petitions, in the same manner, that they petitioned the living king. On certain occasions, the statue would travel by barge or chariot to visit the cult centres of other gods.
The cult statue was the supreme focus of the temple and stood centrally in the worship of that god. It was hidden from profane sight in the cool depths of the cela, adored in secret, away from the bustle of the wider public. If the city lost a war, the cult statue was carried away into captivity to the victor’s land. When this happened, it was necessary to restore the cult statue to secure blessings for the city again.
The heavenly dimensions of the temple
The Sumerian temple had a cosmic function, bringing heaven and earth together. While the top of the temple was in heaven, the bottom was anchored in the abyss [27]. The Sumerians called the abyss ‘abzu’, envisioned as an underground sweet water lake. It was the realm over which the god Enki ruled. It has been suggested that the temple was pictured as a boat adrift on the waters of the abzu [20]. The Sumerians also used the metaphor of a mountain to express the temple's cosmic dimensions: the temple was rooted deep in the earth with its top reaching like a large mountain high up into heaven. We read (about the Kesh temple?)
"Growing up like a mountain, embracing the sky...
Temple, great shrine reaching the sky
Great, true temple, reaching the sky
Temple, great crown, reaching the sky
Temple, rainbow, reaching the sky
Temple, whose platform is suspended from heaven’s midst
Whose foundation fills the Abzu..." [28]

At the end of the hymn, it is reaffirmed that the temple was the place where man and god interacted. Although ordinary citizens could not enter the temple, they benefited from its presence in their midst. The temple was the source of abundance and divine blessing, bringing heaven close to the realm of man:
"To the city, to the city, man, approach!
To the city Keš, man, approach.
Its hero Aššir, man, approach!
Its lady Nintu, man, approach!
(well) constructed Keš, Aššir, praise!
...Keš, Nintu, praise!" [29]

The duty of the priests was to ensure that the gods were happy; that the lines between heaven and earth were kept open. In this regard, they functioned similarly to the retainers at the king’s court. The cult statue was treated as a very real and important person. The god in the statue was the source of all blessings to the larger community. Although ordinary citizens were not allowed to enter the temple and there was a huge distance between cult and citizen, they still benefited from the god's presence in their community. They worshipped from afar and only saw the god at special festivals and when it was brought forth to visit other gods.
The Sumerians, however, also worshipped their gods in a more personal manner, namely as the personal gods who were worshipped by particular families. These gods spoke for the individual in the council of the gods. They trusted in their personal gods for their daily spiritual needs. Being discarded by your personal god meant great suffering. You had to do everything in your power to live in peace with your god.
It is clear from this short journey through the Kesh Temple Hymn that those ancient people did not share our religious mindset. The gods were awesome personages who had to be carefully handled to prevent them from becoming angry and withholding their blessings on which the city depended.
Music and ritual were part of their lives; they kept the gods happy with offerings. Cult statues were revered like a king or queen and treated with great respect. The metaphors that were used to describe temples and gods had meanings for the ancient Sumerians which we can only partially access - as we can see from the metaphor of the boat. Since ancient times worship of the gods were very important for the well-being of the state. Disasters that befell the city were the consequences of botched relationships with the gods. A whole genre of lamentation was developed in response to this, namely to soothe the angry deity’s heart and to lure him/her back to his/her place in the temple.
The ancient Mesopotamians did a lot to maintain good relationships with their gods and feared the consequences if such relationships broke down. The fall of a city like Ur (the city of Abraham), which was sacked by the Elamites (c.2004 BC), was ascribed to the goddess abandoning the city. She did that because a decision was taken by the council of the gods to destroy the city.
The Kesh Temple Hymn gives us some insight into ancient Sumerian religious thought and how different it was from modern conceptions [30]. This should serve as a warning that we should be careful not to read ancient texts like the Bible as if they were written from a modern perspective. Although this is the world that Abraham left behind when he moved to Canaan, the Biblical worldview still has more in common with the ancient world of the Sumerians than with our own.
[1] Alster, B.1976. On the earliest Sumerian literary tradition. Journal of Cuneiform studies 28 (2):112.
[2] Ehrlich, C.S. 2009. From an Antique land: An introduction to Ancient Near Eastern Literature. p22.
[3] Miller, N. 2013. Symbols of Fertility and Abundance in the Royal Cemetary at Ur. American Journal of Archaeology 117 (1):128.
[4] Hirchman, E.C. 2002. Metaphors, archetypes, and the biological origins of semiotics. Semiotica 142 (1):316, 317.
[5] Moser, K. 2000. Metaphor Analysis in Psychology - Method, theory and fields of application. Forum Qualitative Soziafforschung/ Forum Qualitative Social Research 1(2).
[6] Gragg, G.B. 1969. The Kesh Temple Hymn, in A. L. Oppenheim (ed). Texts from Cuneiform Sources. p168.
[7] Ferarra, A. J. 1973. Nanna-Suen's journey to Nippur. p203-5.
[8] Jacobsen, T. 1976. The Treasure of Darkness: A history of Sumerian Religion. p7.
[9] Galpin, F. 1937. The music of the Sumerians and their immediate successors the Babylonians and Assyrians. p51.
[10] Polin, C. 1954. Music of the Ancient Near East. p160.
[11] Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Fluckiger-Hawker, E., Robson, E., & Zólyomi, G. 1998. The building of Ningirsu’s temple (Gudea cylinders A and B). The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature ( lines 1048-1057.
The Cylinders of Gudea contains the longest Sumerian temple hymn. It tells about the building of the Eninnu temple for the god Ningirsu and is dated to c. 2100 BC.
[12] Jacobsen, T. 1976. The Treasure of Darkness: A history of Sumerian Religion. p15.
[13] Gragg, G.B. 1969. The Kesh Temple Hymn, in A.L. Oppenheim (ed). Texts from Cuneiform Sources. p239.
[14] Gragg, G.B. 1969. The Kesh Temple Hymn, in A.L. Oppenheim (ed). Texts from Cuneiform Sources. p171.
[15] Gragg, G.B. 1969. The Kesh Temple Hymn, in A.L. Oppenheim (ed). Texts from Cuneiform Sources. p174.
[16] Schneider, T.J. 2011. Introduction to Ancient Mesopotamian religion. p104.
[17] De Shong Medeaor, B. 2009. The Sumerian Temple hymns of Enheduanna: Princess, Priestess, Poet. p19.
There is a debate about the authorship of the works attributed to Enheduanna. I believe she wrote the poems herself.
[18] Black et al. 2006. The Literature of Ancient Sumer. p316.
[19] Weadcock, P.N.1975. The Giparu at Ur, in Iraq 37 (2):101-104.
[20] Personal conversation with Willie Mc Loud.
[21] Gragg, G.B. 1969. The Kesh Temple Hymn, in A.L. Oppenheim (ed). Texts from Cuneiform Sources. p173,175.
[22] Ogden, D. 2013. Drakon: Dragon myth and Serpent cult in Greek and Roman worlds. p2.
[23] Sjǿberg, W. 1969. The Collection of the Sumerian Temple Hymns, in A.L. Oppenheim (ed) Texts from Cuneiform Sources. p22.
[24] Ogden, D. 2013. Drakon: Dragon myth and Serpent cult in Greek and Roman worlds. p6.
[25] Gragg, G.B. 1969. The Kesh Temple Hymn, in A.L. Oppenheim (ed). Texts from Cuneiform Sources. p172.
[26] Walls, N.H. 2005. Cult image and divine representation in the Ancient Near East. p57,63.
There is some debate as to whether temple buildings should be understood in terms of birth-giving or not.
[27] Edzard, D.O. 1987. Deep-rooted skyscrapers and Bricks: Ancient Mesopotamian Architecture and its Imagery in, M. Mindlin, Geller & Wansbrough (eds). Figurative language in the Ancient Near East. p13.
[28] Gragg, G.B. 1969. The Kesh Temple Hymn, in A.L. Oppenheim (ed). Texts from Cuneiform Sources. p167,169.
[29] Gragg, G.B. 1969. The Kesh Temple Hymn, in A.L. Oppenheim (ed). Texts from Cuneiform Sources. P175.
[30] Readers who are interested in reading the full text of the Kesh Temple Hymn can google The Electronic Text Corpus of The Sumerian Language.

Author: Johan Coetser

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