AN is the head of the Sumerian pantheon. In the initial stages of the writing system his name was represented graphically by a star, which the writers interpreted as either the actual name of the god, as the sky, or as an element indicating the divine essence (the general name to indicate god). If it was intended to emphasize the divine nature of a character, the name was prefixed with the sign of an. This determinative does not predate the god An, however, so that it is sometimes difficult to decide whether writers are referring to the god or the sky. The relationship between the god An and the sky has been interpreted in different ways. For some scholars An is identical with the sky; for others they are two distinct entities. The absence of the determinative before his name means, furthermore, that it is impossible to know for certain whether or not An is mentioned in the earliest list of gods, the List of Fara (c. 2600 bce). This begins by mentioning AN, which could be understood as an element indicating divinity or as the god An whom the others follow. Scholars hold different opinions on this matter.
The Akkadian equivalent of the god An is Anu. In the earliest sources this name indicates the head of the Assyro-Babylonian pantheon, a position subsequently occupied by Marduk among the Babylonians and by Ashur among the Assyrians. In later texts he is represented by the divine number d60, the largest number of the sexagesimal Mesopotamian system. The abstract, encompassing all the essential characteristics of Anu's role, is denoted in Akkadian texts by the term anūtu and only bestowed upon other gods in order to stress their particular relative importance.
The laudatory epithets of An/Anu place particular emphasis upon his position as the god and ruler of the skies, the father of the gods and supreme creator of the world, the first and most important of the cosmic triad consisting of Anu, Enlil, and Enki/Ea. An/Anu determines fate along with them. It is An/Anu who retains the original divine ordinances—the me, and he holds the archetypal royal insignia, which he grants to the chosen sovereign. It is not mere chance that literary texts often assert that the power of kingship descends (or descended) from the sky. According to the Code of Hammurabi, as a member of the triad, An/Anu supports the king in the exercise of power and represents part of the divine protection of curses turned upon those who break or revoke laws passed by the sovereign.
Both Sumerian and Akkadian sources constantly stress the superiority of the supreme triad, even when Marduk is elevated to head of the Akkadian pantheon. The latter did not depose the three great gods, but rather, according to the Enuma elish, it was they who elevated the young Marduk and chose him as their leader. The other gods revolved around this triad and their tasks were closely defined and constantly directed by the assembly of the gods, presided over by An. This divine trio devised and carried out the plans that govern heaven and earth, the microcosmos and macrocosmos—"When the gods Anu, Enlil, and Ea planned heaven and earth" (astrological series Enuma, Anu, Enlil, thirteenth century bce)—and they were also in charge of omens.
Epigraphic sources frequently mention the statue of An/Anu, although as with many other gods, his exact representation is unclear. There has been some discussion as to whether he appears among relief figures of the neo-Assyrian period (probably from the reign of Sennacherib, c. 704–681 bce) from Maltai (around 40 kilometers north of Mosul). These include a god represented standing and on the mushhushshu dragon, holding a rope and a hoop in his left hand. Some scholars regard this as An, others Enlil, but the fact that An is mentioned much more often than Enlil in the list of cult statues drawn up in the reign of Sennacherib certainly supports the idea that it is indeed An. The Kudurru of the Kassite period (thirteenth–eleventh centuries bce) portray the symbol of Anu as a headdress with horns. This originally indicated generic divine status.
Understanding his role in Sumerian theo-cosmogony is complex. It is clear from diverse sources that he is a first principle, together with the earth (as well the Kur, the cosmic mountain from which every form of life originated, and the abyssal regions).
According to Jan van Dijk, who retraces the existence of two Sumerian theo-cosmongonies on the basis of the god lists from the theological schools of Nippur and Eridu, the god An did not exist ab aeterno. According to the theology of Nippur, before heaven and earth came into being, there existed a undeveloped world, called uru-ul-la, an "ancient city" that contained "life" in hidden form. The Numina who produced An (the sky), Ki (the earth), and Nammu (the flowing waters) lived here. In contrast, the school of Eridu proposed a dualist first principle, Abzu (the sweet waters) and Tiamat (the salt waters), which produced the sky, the earth, and the flowing waters.
The Sumerian literary texts relate that the earth and sky were directly connected in primordial times. Only after their separation—apparently brought about by An, regarded as the sky yet at the same time distinct from it—and their subsequent union did the actual cosmic process itself begin, bringing about the birth of life on earth, along with the birth of some of the gods who were regarded as their children, such as Enlil, Enki/Ea, Inanna, and Nergal. There is no complete list of the children of An/Anu, but the lists differ, just as he has different wives. In the Sumerian religion, Ki, Ninhursag, Urash, and Nammu are mentioned, while in Assyro-Babylonian versions, the wife of An/Anu is Antu, a name analogous to his own, but also Ishtar. The lists reflect the diverse pantheons of the cities, or their different national histories, or, ultimately, the historical development of the various kingdoms that came one after another in the Fertile Crescent.
According to a Sumerian theo-cosmogonic tradition expressed in the Song of the Hoe, Enlil separated the sky and the earth, and An took the sky for himself, while Enlil took the earth. It has been proposed that the tool used to effect this separation was the hoe, but this is not universally accepted (Wilcke, 1972/1975, p. 36). If it were so, it would be possible to make comparisons with the Hittite version of the Song of Ullikummi (c. 1200 bce, belonging to the so-called Kumarbi cycle) and with the Greek Theogony of Hesiod. In the current state of scholarship, such theories do not seem tenable, since the hoe appears to have been created by Enlil not to separate the earth and sky, but to allow the creation of the human race and as a working tool for humankind, to whom it had been given. In contrast to the Sumerian texts, in the Akkadian work Atrahasis (1800 bce onwards) the origin of the allocation of the sky to the god An came about via the "casting of lots" by An, Enlil, and Enki.
Still, in the realm of theo-cosmogony, the Akkadian documents, especially the god lists, provide various lists of Anu's ancestors. The two most famous are the TCL XV from the Old Babylonian period (nineteenth to sixteenth centuries bce) and An=Anum from Babylon, which was edited during various periods from the Old Babylonian onwards. The latter opens with a list of twenty-one divine couples, "fathers and mothers of Anu," with the following section devoted to the ancestors of Enlil (forty-two in all). TCL XV, after a list of fourteen pairs of divine ancestors, mentions Anu, several of his epithets, and his court. Four ancestors of An also occur in the Babylonian poem Enuma elish : Lahmu and Lahamu, and Anshar and Kishar. Of these, only Anshar (but with the name Alla) is also mentioned in the short version, edited in Akkadian, concerning the birth of the worm.
The reference in An=Anum to the god A-la-la—one of the ancestors of Anu, as well as the theomachy described in Enuma elish, indicates that the latter work may have been linked with Hesiod's Theogony and the Hittite theogony known as the Kingship in Heaven. The Hittite text tells of a struggle for divine succession as follows: Alalu r Anu r Kumarbir the storm god. Anu is not regarded as the son of Alalu, however, while in the An=Anum list he is listed among Alalu's twenty-four ancestors. Furthermore, according to the Hittite text, Alalu is the father of Kumarbi, the god who castrated and overthrew Anu. Diverging from the Hittite poem, the Enuma elish does not describe a single removal or overthrow, in that Anu is here portrayed as the first ancestor of a divine generation that will emerge victorious in the struggle against the primordial gods, headed first by Apsu and then by Tiamat.
Only in the theological commentaries of the Achaemenid (seventh to fourth centuries bce) and Greek periods (fourth century bce) do the principal gods of the pantheon, including Anu, meet a violent end at the hands of Bēl-Marduk. In contrast, in the Seleucid period (fourth to first centuries bce), Anu, Enlil, and Ea return to the head of the pantheon.
Only in two Sumerian works is the appearance of humankind upon the earth attributed to An, namely in the prologue of the Hymn to Eengurra and in the Sumerian King List. In the latter, An re-creates humankind after the flood and in conjunction with Enlil.
An/Anu was the poliad god of the city of Uruk, the seat of his main sanctuary, Eanna (house of heaven). He was also honored in other cities, such as Lagash, Ur, Dilbat, Kish, Ashur, and Nippur. It has been debated whether his cult was already in evidence during the age of Fara; it has been documented from the third millennium bce. Even if changing events led to a diminution of its importance, though never to its complete oblivion, An's cult nonetheless remained strong until the Seleucid era. Documents of this period describe in detail his cult and the ritual of the New Year's festival of Akītu.
As far as personal theophoric names are concerned, it is difficult to retrace An's name with certainty, since it is difficult to determine whether the sign AN represents the sky or the god. Nonetheless, it has been found in Sumerian, Akkadian, and Aramaic theophoric sources, as well as in Hittite, Hurrite, and Ugaritic ones. As far as Sumeria is concerned, it is worth recalling that many sovereigns of the first dynasty of Lagash had the sign AN contained within their names. Besides, an analysis of these theophoric names shows that the god has an active role in the sphere of kingship (Bauer, 1998, pp. 514–515). This aspect brings us to the problem of the so-called inactivity of An/Anu. In the current state of scholarship, An/Anu does not seem to fall into such a category, since he has a cult, is mentioned in personal names, and is also in evidence outside of Mesopotamia. Although there is a lack of documented hymns and prayers addressed to him, he plays a full, active, and central part in the myths, even if contemporary scholars do not associate them with him. His presence is constantly seen at all the worldly events in which the gods intervene, so that he cannot be defined as an abstract and elusive god. It should also be mentioned that in a prayer for the king (RS 79.025) found at Ugarit and Emar and written in Sumerian, in the section "Blessing of Gods with their Special Gift," Anu and his gift are invoked: "May Anu satiate you (the king) with opulence of life!"
Because of his supposed inactivity, An has been likened to the Hittite god of the same name, to the Greek Uranus, and to the Ugaritic El. An shares various aspects with the Semitic El: their names contain the idea of god and the abstract shows the essential aspects of their function. Both are regarded, albeit in different ways, as the father and king of the gods, they are both the final divine court of appeal, and they both preside over the assembly of the gods. This last point is standard in Mesopotamia among the Hittites, at Ugarit, in the Bible, and in Greece (Burkert, 1999, pp. 26–27). An, as the sky, may be linked with similar cosmic entities in the Near East, in Anatolia, and in Greece, but their roles are not absolutely comparable with An's, even if in some cases they are considered divine, receive offerings, govern treaties, and are associated with swearing oaths.
Mesopotamian Religions, overview article; Sky, article on Myths and Symbolism.
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Silvia Maria Chiodi (2005)
Translated from Italian by Paul Ellis
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