Skip to main content



DUMUZI . The god Dumuzi (Akkadian: Tammuz) appears very early in the cuneiform documentation, and an echo of him is still present today, since the month of July in Middle Eastern calendars bears his name. In the history of cuneiform Mesopotamian literatures, the tradition on the god is discontinuous. From the Old-Babylonian period (the twentieth through the sixteenth century bce), nonhomogeneous songs about the god and the goddess Inanna have been found. Thorkild Jacobsen (1976, pp. 2373) gathered them into a single plot, segmented in four sections:

  1. courtship songs
  2. wedding songs
  3. death and lament songs
  4. search and return songs

There is no evidence to ascribe the search and return songs to the god's return from the netherworld, so it must be removed from Jacobsen's otherwise valid reconstruction. The first two sections are clearly connected to that type of hieros gamos in which the king, playing the role of Dumuzi, married the goddess Inanna. It is not known how this rite was actually celebrated, but direct evidence of its historical performance is available, since kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur and of the Dynasties of Isin and Larsa (from the twenty-first through the eighteenth century bce) explicitly declare in their texts that they married the goddess Inanna (in particular, two of them, Shulgi and Iddin-Dagan, left celebrative hymns on regard). The king's personification of Dumuzi and his marriage with the goddess was intended to attract the gods' blessing on the reign. After the wedding the reign would become prosperous in all aspects, including agriculture. Dumuzi is also a character in a "contrast" (belonging to the gender of the debates ) where he, the shepherd, is competing with the farmer to obtain the hand of the goddess Inanna. Two kings named Dumuzi are recorded in the great Sumerian King List (composed during the Isin period); one whose reign lasted thousands of years is included among the antediluvian kings, and the other is included with the mythical kings of Uruk.

After the Old-Babylonian period there was a change in the documentation: only lamentation songs, which mourn the god's departure, were transmitted; Dumuzi as a lover and a bridegroom was almost completely forgotten. Only the authority he took post mortem as a great officer of the netherworld is still mentioned. The gala/kalû priests (related to Ishtar) sang these lamentation songs when conducting funerals, at the beginning of an activity as a prophylaxis against evil entities, and during rituals for appeasing a god when his temple had to be touched for reconstruction or restoration. The change in the tradition coincides with a change in the use of the hieros gamos rite to apply only to marriage between divinities, excluding the form in which the king, personifying Dumuzi, unites with Inanna (for a possible exception, see Nissinen, 2001, p. 103).

At last the myth of Adapa must be considered. The myth tells how Adapa, because of an impious act, had to submit to the verdict of the heaven god An. Dumuzi and Gizzida, a divinity often confused with Dumuzi, were at the gatepost of heaven, as intermediaries with lofty An. The contradiction between the netherworld, where Dumuzi plays a role of responsibility, and the heavenly one is seemingly real, since the anthropomorphic aspect of the divinity is the mere representation of a cosmic power that can be manifested in other forms: Dumuzi and (Nin)gizzida are actually mentioned as constellations in an astronomic text.

Observation on the Documentation

Scholars still debate whether the whole of the love literature is related to the couple Inanna and Dumuzi, or whether a part is formed by merely profane songs, or whether a part is connected with the Hieros gamos. The discussion parallels the debate over the biblical Song of Songs. Because divinities, even in anthropomorphic forms, are not belles lettres characters but representations of cosmic powers, in the love songs the two lovers, even when they are depicted as laymen, are two persons who act under the influence of that particular cosmic power that is love. Under this point of view, the lovers are a manifestation of that cosmic power, and so they play exactly the same role as the anthropomorphic characters of Inanna and Dumuzi (Lambert, 1987, p. 26; Alster, 1999, p. 832; Nissinen, 2001, pp. 126ff.). Consider the exorcist who declares, "I am Asalluhi [/Marduk]," or Gudea who intends to tell his dream to the goddess Nanshe, to have its meaning cleared, but who in reality is given the oracle by the seers and the diviners of the goddess' temple (Waetzoldt, 1998). All these priests participate in the nature of the cosmic power the respective divinities represent. All the love songs, as well as the songs of the king's wedding, must therefore be included in the category of the songs of Inanna and Dumuzi.

There are two distinct traditions regarding Dumuzi's death. One tells how he was caught by demons who carried him into the netherworld, where he played an important role after his arrival there. Another is included in the finale of the Sumerian poem "Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld." Two versions of the poem exist, one in Sumerian (with minor variations according to local versions) and one in Akkadian. Both versions contain a narrative in which Inanna requestsfor no apparent reasonto penetrate the netherworld. The queen of that kingdom, her sister Ereshkigal, allows Inanna access, ordering the porter to deprive Inanna of a piece of jewelry at each of the seven netherworld gates. Inanna is therefore naked, denuded of her divine powers (her jewels) when she arrives before the queen of the netherworld, and Ereshkigal hangs her, in a condition of suspended life, from a nail. Inanna's faithful vizier, the goddess Ninshubur, obtains help from Enki, who creates two beings to rescue her. These creatures enter the netherworld and gain Ereshkigal's gratitude, and in return they ask for the piece of meat hanging from the nailsuch is Inanna's appearance. But because of the netherworld law that there must be a substitue for anyone leaving its reign, a replacement must be found to in order to set Inanna free. Demons escort Inanna from the netherworld, and she begins looking for someone to replace her. In an outburst of anger she chooses her unlucky husband Dumuzi, who is not displaying signs of mourning for her death, and the demons take him into the netherworld. His sister Geshtinanna generously agrees to replace him for a portion of the year. This is the only known case of Dumuzi's going up, and it represents the god's short sortiesin his role of netherworld officerto bring back haunting ghosts. This function of the god is related to the series of incantations of Ishtar and Dumuzi (Farber, 1977).

Dumuzi's Portrait

Dumuzi was a young shepherd. After his premature death at the hand of demons, he became an officer in the netherworld, where he stayed. There are clues that his ascent in the final part of "Inanna's Descent" is related to his official task (Scurlock, 1992). Dumuzi's character in mythology is rather vague, mixing qualities of Ama-ushum gal anna, Ningizzida, and, in specific cases, Damu (a genuine vegetation god). Songs in his honor praised him with all these and other names, including those of the divinized kings of the Ur III and Isin dynasties (who took part in the Hieros gamos ). The god shows solar traits as well in, for example, his driving the ghosts haunting the living back into the netherworld. Like the sun, he is closely related to kingship, so that for some time sovereigns personified him in the Hieros gamos. It must be remarked that both Dumuzi and Utu are masculine characters very close to Inanna, the former being her husband and the latter her elder brother.

Dumuzi as Dying and Rising God

Tammuz is mentioned in the Bible in a prophecy of Ezekiel (dated between the seventh and sixth century bce). Because the biblical prophet lived in Babylonia, where he was deported after the conquest of Jerusalem, this passage should be considered as belonging to the Mesopotamian cultural area. The evidence for this is that (1) the sun god Shamash is mentioned in the same context and (2) there are no further mentions of Tammuz in the Old Testament. Mentions of Tammuz from periods after the Mesopotamian cuneiform literary tradition are relevant. Lamentations of the Sabians of Harran for the passing away of Ta'uz (Tammuz, identified with St. George by the Christians), are doumented, written in Arabic and dated to the tenth century ce. But the crucial featureextraneous to the Mesopotamian cultural areais the translation of the biblical "Tammuz" of Ezekiel to "Adonis." This translation has influenced scholars' opinions up to recent times. In the Septuagint translation, the name Tammuz was left untranslated, but later Christian authors (Origen, Saint Jerome) rendered it as Adonis. When the first cuneiform texts mentioning Dumuzi/Tammuz were discovered, the ancient identification of Tammuz with Adonis played a decisive role in scholars identifying a pattern of death and resurrection that could not be deduced from the surviving parts of the texts themselves (which, at the time, were but roughly understood). The existence of Tammuz's resurrection, symbolizing the vegetation cycle from sowing (death) to blooming (resurrection), became authoritative. This composite portrait placed him together with other divinities in the Eastern Mediterranean area, including the Egyptian Osiris (whose resurrection is well-established in myth), some Syro-Palestinian divinities, and the mythic-ritual complex of Demeter and Persephone. Dying and resurrecting were common to all these divine figures, hence their current label as dying and rising gods.

Theories on the Dying God

The Tammuz that emerged from philological research was forced into a preconceived pattern of dying and rising fertility gods, based on what was known about the connection between Adonis and Tammuz (François Lenormant in 1874). This identification began with the Akkadian version of "Ishtar's Descent to the Netherworld"the first myth to be foundeven if its meaning was far from certain. References in the Akkadian myth to the vegetative seasonal cycle provided evidence for what scholars already assumed, namely Dumuzi's inclusion in the dying and rising god class. Two opinions developed about this cycle. One, first proposed by the Assyriologist Lenormant (in 1880), identified the sun as the main character of the cycle. The second, following Sir James George Frazer's path (The Golden Bough in 1890 and Adonis, Attis, Osiris in 1905), saw the life cyclein particular the vegetal oneas the deep meaning of that myth. A third line of thought located the myth's meaning in both the solar cycle and the vegetative one (indications of this direction can be found in Lenormant himself and in Barton in 1902). At the beginning of the past century Marduk joined the rank of these divinities; he was explicitly compared with Christ by Heinrich Zimmern, who in 1906 published the first exhaustive research on the Babylonian festival of Akitu, Zum babylonischen Neujahrsfest. Zimmern misunderstood some passages (which are not fully clear even today!), and thought that after Marduk was imprisoned (which Zimmern took to mean "death"), he was resuscitated. The scholar drew comparisons with New Year celebrations from other cultures to reach a parallel with Christ's passion. His thesis was expanded by Stephen Herbert Langdon (1923), who interpreted Marduk's apotheosis, the Enuma elish, and the Akitu festival, within the same cultural context as "Ishtar's Descent to the Netherworld," Tammuz's fate (since he was thought to alternate with the goddess in sojourning on earth), and the Hieros gamos rite. As Assyriologists advanced in their studies, they toned down some of this excess but nonetheless inclined to follow the underworld-agrarian interpretation. They considered Dumuzi to be a vegetation god; therefore, in the holy marriage the king was performing a fertility rite to restore life after the death of wintertime. Thorkild Jacobsen (1962) presented the most exhaustive exposition of this theory, linking it to the village society of the fifth and fourth millennium, before the rise of the city-state, when survival depended on the actions of natural agents. He compared the "intransitivity" of the gods from that era to the "transitivity" of the great gods of the third millennium, in the age of the fighting city-states. Ugo Bianchi became interested in Dumuzi while researching the origin of the mystery cults and Gnosticism. In Bianchi's opinion, four phases followed in sequence. First cults developed similar to those of Tammuz, followed in the order by the mystery cults, the so-called mysteriosophic cults, and Gnosticism. Bianchi saw Dumuzi as the earliest manifestation of the dualism that reached its apex in Gnosticism, and which is opposed to Hebrew and Christian monotheism. To further his theory, Bianchi (1965) accepted the intransitivity of the Dumuzi myth, relating it to the character of Adonis, as in Jacobsen's fatalistic-vegetative interpretation.

The pattern of the dying and rising gods has been reconsidered and re-interpreted. Henri Frankfort (1948) has the distinction of being the first to differentiate Osiris from other divinities in the supposed class of dying and rising gods. Based on new studies, the western Semitic Baal and the Phoenician Eshmun and Melqart have been reconsidered and recognised as prototypes of divinised dead sovereigns (del Olmo Lete, 1996).

Advancing studies opened new perspectives on Dumuzi as well. After Oliver R. Gurney's article (1962), which critically examined Langdon's, Anton Moortagart's, and Adam Falkenstein's positions, Bent Alster (1972) confirmed the myth's connection with kingship and the absence of references to the vegetative cycle. A by-form of Dumuzi, worshiped in Lagash in the third millennium and older than any mention of Dumuzi in that town, the god Lugal-URU-KAR2, has been shown to be related to kingship and to be extraneousness to the vegetation cycle, so indirectly confirming the genuine features of Dumuzi (Pisi, 1995).

M. M. Fritz (2003, pp. 291301, 370) has shown how Dumuzi (and Amaushumgalanna, who is identified with him) is a distinct divine character not to be confused with Damu and Ningizzida. Both the latter gods are vegetation divinities, and because Damu was also worshiped as a healing god, some scholars thought that there were two distinct gods with the same name. Now Fritz uncovers evidence that this is not the case and that Damu was a single divine character who contained both qualities of healing and vegetation god. It is evident from the documentation Fritz adduced that the peculiar features of Damu do not match those of Dumuzi, and therefore, the latter cannot be considered a vegetation god (Fritz, 2003, p. 370). Nonetheless, in particular circumstances (which Fritz describes) Damu and Ningizzida may be included in the same context with Dumuzi (Fritz, 2003, pp. 249268).

Is the Mythical Complex of Inanna and Dumuzi a Religion Apart?

As mentioned, in The Treasures of Darkness Thorkild Jacobsen identified Inanna's and Dumuzi's songs as manifestations of "intransitivity." In the previous edition of this Encyclopedia he outlined the character Dumuzi's "passivity":

Dumuzi was generally visualized as a young man or boy. Under some of his aspects he is of marriageable age; in others he is younger, a mere child. He is dearly loved by the women who surround himhis mother, sister, and later, his young bridebut there is no evidence to assume that his cult was predominantly a women's cult [Fritz, 2003, pp. 353359]. The love songs of his wooing and wedding are all love songs to him or are self-praise of the bride hoping her body will please him; there are no love songs of his to Inanna. Correspondingly, the laments for him are by his mother, sister, and widowed bride, never by a father. One may also cite here Ezekiel 8:14: There sat women weeping for Tammuz.

The intransitivity and passivity of the Inanna and Dumuzi complex differentiate it from a religion centered on the pantheon of the divine characters who transitively and actively operate in the cosmos. This opinion of Jacobsenfor completely unrelated reasonsis shared by other great interpreters of Mesopotamian thought. Both Falkenstein (1954), on an evemeristic ground, and Jean van Dijk (1971), who compared the hunters' cult to that of the farmers and breeders, who worshiped respectively Enlil and An, considered independent the mythological complex of Inanna-Dumuzi from the remaining religious beliefs. The myth's connection with kingship could provide a clue to this peculiarity. An active principle (Dumuzi), by his union with the goddess (Inanna) of the Venus planet (the crepuscolar nature of which, between day and night, represents the passage between opposites, here from heaven to earth), borrows Venus star's power of manifestation, spreading it all over the earth (this radiation is similar to the biblical Glory or the Hindu shakti ). When this role is over, this power is cast into the netherworld, where it exercises its strength, since everything earthly is bound for death. It is from this pattern that the king's role derives, not because he is his people's leader, but because he is the conduit for divine power from heaven and therefore becomes the distributor of it over the earth. The autonomy and peculiarity of this pattern enabled its wide scattering outside Mesopotamian religion. A shadow of it could still be found in the fourth century ce, when the emperor Julian expanded philosophically the cosmological aspects of a peculiar version of the myth of Attis and Cybele (Mander, 2001). The Inanna and Dumuzi complex serves as a bridge between the human and the divine, between life and death, and between unity and multiplicity. Kingship is an essential component because it connects heavenly will and human society.

See Also

Adonis; Dying and Rising Gods; Inanna; Kingship, article on Kingship in the Ancient Mediterranean World; Mesopotamian Religions, overview article.


Bianchi, Ugo. "Initiation, mystères, gnose." In Initiation, edited by C. J. Bleker, pp. 154171. Leiden, 1965.

Del Olmo Lete, Gregorio. El continuum cultural cananeo. Barcelona, 1996.

Falkenstein, Adam. "Tammuz" Compte Rendu de la Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale 3 (1954): 4175.

Farber, W. Beschwörungsrituale an Ishtar und Dumuzi. Wiesbaden, 1977.

Frankfort, Henri. Kingship and the Gods. Chicago, 1948.

Langdon, Stephen Herbert. The Epic of Creation. Oxford, 1923.

Van Dijk, Jean. "Sumerische Religion." In Handbuch der ReligiongeschichteBand 1, edited by J. P Asmussen and J. Læssøe, pp. 435436. 1971.

Waetzoldt, Hartmut. "Die Göttin Nanse und die Traumdeutung."Nouvelles Assyriologiques Brèves et Utilitaires 60 (1998).

For Sumerian love songs, see the full edition in Yitzhak Sefati, Love Songs in Sumerian Literature (Bar-Ilan, 1998) and the studies by Bent Alster, "Marriage and Love in the Sumerian Love Songs," in Mark Cohen et al., eds., The Tablet and the Scroll: Near Eastern Studies in Honour of W. W. Hallo (Potomac, Md., 1993), pp. 1527. On the reconstructed myth of Dumuzi and Inanna, see Thorkild Jacobsen, "Toward the Image of Tammuz" in W. L. Moran, ed., Toward the Image of Tammuz and Other Essays on Mesopotamian History and Culture (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), pp. 73101, and The Treasures of Darkness (New Haven, Conn., and London, 1976), chapter 2. On love in Mesopotamian literature, see W. G. Lambert, "Devotion: The Languages of Religion and Love" in M. Mindlin et al., eds., Figurative Language in the Ancient Near East (London, 1987), pp. 2540; G. Leick, Sex and Eroticism in Mesopotamian Literature (London and New York, 1994); M. Nissinen, "Akkadian Rituals and Poetry of Divine Love" in R. M. Whiting, ed., Mythology and Mythologies, Melammu Symposia II (Helsinki, 2001), pp. 93136. On Dumuzi's death see Bent Alster, Dumuzi's Dream (Copenhagen, 1972), and for lamentations on his departure see Mark E. Cohen, The Canonical Lamentations of Ancient Mesopotamia (Potomac, Md., 1998). On Dumuzi as an officer in the netherworld, see J. A. Scurlock's "K 164: New Light on the Mourning Rites for Dumuzi?," Revue d'Assyriologie 86 (1992): 5367. For insight on Dumuzi in later times up to the tenth century, see J. Hämeen-Anttila, "Continuity of Pagan Religious Traditions in Tenth-Century Iraq" in A. Panaino and G. Pettinato, eds., Ideologies as Intercultural Phenomena, Melammu Symposia III (Bologna, Italy, 2002), pp. 89108. For discussions of Dumuzi's nature, see Oliver R. Gurney, "Tammuz Reconsidered: Some Recent Developments," Journal of Semitic Studies 7 (1962): 147160, and Bent Alster, "Tammuz," in K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, and P. W. van der Horst's Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2d ed. (Leiden, 1999), pp. 828834; and P. Pisi, "Il dio LUGAL-URUxKAR2 e il culto degli antenati regali nella Lagash pre-sargonica," Oriens Antiquus Miscellanea II (1995): 140. For information about Dumuzi's relationship with other cultures see Pietro Mander, "Antecedents in the Cuneiform Literature of the Attis Tradition in Late Antiquity," Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 1 (2001): 100149; Pietro Mander, "Il contributo di U. Bianchi allo studio del pensiero mesopotamico antico" in G. Casadio, ed., Ugo Bianchi. Una vita per la storia delle religioni (Rome, 2002), pp. 87143; and M. M. Fritz, " und weinten um Tammuz"Die Götter Dumuzi-Ama'ushumgal'anna und Damu, Alter Orient und Altes Testament, Band 307 (Münster, Germany, 2003).

Pietro Mander (2005)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Dumuzi." Encyclopedia of Religion. . 21 Aug. 2018 <>.

"Dumuzi." Encyclopedia of Religion. . (August 21, 2018).

"Dumuzi." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved August 21, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.