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NANNA is the Sumerian name of the Mesopotamian moon god; his Akkadian name is Sin. Depending on different theologies, he was considered either the son of An (Anu), the nominal head of the pantheon, or of Enlil, the pantheon's real head. In cuneiform, Nanna's name was commonly represented by his sacred number, thirty, corresponding to the number of days in the lunar month. The Sumerian myth Enlil and Ninlil explains how the moon god came to have his dwelling in the sky. Originally he was to be born in the netherworld, but Enlil worked out an ingenious scheme whereby three other gods would be substituted in Nanna's place. Hence he was free to inhabit the sky.

Nanna's consort was Ningal ("great queen"), called Nikkal in Aramaic and Phoenician. Their children were the two other great astral deities, Inanna (Ishtar) and the sun god, Utu (Shamash). In southern Babylonia Nanna's principal cultic place of worship was Ur, while in northwestern Mesopotamia his center was Haran. It is curious that both these cities are associated with traditions about the patriarch Abraham before he entered Canaan (Gn. 11:2732).

Although the moon cult rose with the political fortunes of Ur, particularly during its third dynasty, founded by Naram Sin ("beloved of Sin") circa 2000 bce, Nanna maintained his popularity throughout the entire history of Mesopotamian civilization. The great diffusion of the moon religion in Mesopotamia is attested by the frequent occurrence of Nanna's name in theophoric personal names in all periods and by the numerous hymns and prayers praising him as a friendly and beloved god. Notwithstanding Nanna's popularity, the attempt of the last Neo-Babylonian king, Nabonidus, to place Nanna at the head of the pantheon in place of Marduk did not gain acceptance and indeed met with strong opposition.

Nanna's cosmic function intimately concerned mankind. The moon god lit up the night and measured time. Hence he was viewed as the controller of the night, the month, and the entire lunar calendar. Similarly, observations of the moon and, in particular, reports of the moon's appearances and disappearances constituted the basis for many omens that directly affected the land, the king, and the people. The enigmatic phenomenon of the constant rising and setting of the moon found its echo in the Akkadian epithet of the moon god as "a fruit that arises from itself and produces itself."

A cause for considerable anxiety was the occasional occurrence of an eclipse, which was considered a bad prognosis and spelled nothing but trouble. In the so-called eclipse myth, the phenomenon is explained as resulting from an attack on the moon by seven evil demons. The moon's capture by these demons causes its light to become cloudy. Prayers and sacrifices are therefore necessary to strengthen the moon and keep it free from future attack (i.e., from another eclipse).

In the hymns and prayers there is a tendency to ascribe to Nanna nearly all the qualities attributed to the other celestial deities. He is unfathomably wise, the organizer of life, guardian and leader of mankind, judge of heaven and earth, master of destinies, helper of the destitute and the lonely, and so forth. He is also associated with royalty. Nanna has the ability to confer royalty on kings by means of a divine halo, the same luminous halo that was observed to surround the moon. Furthermore, kings often expressed the wish that the great gods would confer on them a life renewable every month like the moon.

In the moon god's honor a special month of the year, Siwan (the summer solstice month), was dedicated to him. During the third dynasty of Ur, festivals called eshesh ("all-temple" or "general" festivals) were celebrated on the first, seventh, and fifteenth days of the month, corresponding to the phases of the moon.

The symbol of Nanna on cylinder seals and boundary stones was the crescent moon. Because the crescent moon appeared in Mesopotamia with its convexity at the bottom, the idea arose that the crescent was a boat carrying the moon god across the skies. This idea was furthered by the fact that the crescent shape was similar to the shape of the long, graceful boats which wereand are todaythe chief means of transportation in the Mesopotamian (modern-day Iraqi) marshes (Jacobsen, 1976). Not surprisingly, then, another of Nanna's common epithets was "the shining boat of heaven."


There is to date no full-length treatment of Nanna. Åke Sjöberg's Der Mondgott Nanna-Suen in der sumerischen Überliefe-rung (Stockholm, 1960) deals primarily with texts of Sumerian prayers to the moon god up till the end of the Old Babylonian period. The best surveys are still those by Édouard Dhorme, Les religions de Babylonie et d'Assyrie (Paris, 1945), pp. 5460, 8386; by D. O. Edzard, "Mondgott," in Wörterbuch der Mythologie, edited by Hans Wilhelm Haussig, vol. 1, Götter und Mythen im Vorderen Orient (Stuttgart, 1965), pp. 101103; and by Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion (New Haven, 1976), pp. 121127.

New Sources

Black, Jeremy, and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. Austin, Tex., 1992.

Bottéro, Jean. Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia. Chicago, Ill., 2001.

Dalley, Stephanie, trans. and ed. Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh and Others. New York, 1989.

David Marcus (1987)

Revised Bibliography