Cults and Priests

The list of priest types as I find them, from various sources: Ashipu - carried out purification by incantation and ceremony in the home of individuals. Protection from demons, disease and sorcery Assinu - castrated priest, cult of Ishtar Baru - type of diviner, observer [of animal entrails etc?] Egisitu - type of cloistered priestess under cultic restrictions from normal marriage and childbirth En or Enu or Entu - title applied to priest king or king, but in later times also borne by high priestly dignitaries. There is some thought this priest was involved with the running the interaction of the temple with other temples. Entu were female [?] high priestess and considered 'chaste', and some were the daughter of the king. ie Enheduanna was an En in Ur. En were the male equivalent.[?] Ensi - female dream interpreters Erib biti - general description for priest, meaning literally 'one who may enter into the temple.' Gala - musicians specialising in performance of balag and other cult songs, probably in choirs accompanied by drums Guda or Gudapsu - unknown. Harimtu - consecrated priestess, cult of Ishtar. Ishib or Ishippu- priests specialising in purification rituals. Ishtaritu - one belonging to Ishtar, cult of Ishtar. Kalu - task was to appease the wrath of the gods with song and music. See Gala. Kulmashitu - consecrated priestess [dancer?] cult of Ishtar. May have been cult prostitute. Type of cloistered priestess under cultic restrictions from normal marriage and childbirth. Kuragru - castrated priest, cult of Ishtar. Lagaru - unknown. Lumahhu - purification priest. Mahhu - high priest, function unclear. Mare ummani - temple craftsman. Mashmashu - carried out purification by incantation and ceremony on public buildings, ie consecration of temples. Protection from demons, disease and sorcery. Mash-shu-gid-gid - diviners specialising in extispicy [tell me what that means!] Muhaldim or Nuhatimmu - temple cooks. Muhhu - diviners , ecstatic prophets [?] Naditu - infertile priestess, cult of Ishtar. Lived secluded life in temple, though could own property and conduct business. Estate returned to the family on death. Naru - Female cult singer. Musicians specialising in solo performance of praise songs, accompanying themselves on stringed instruments. Nas-patri - sword bearers. Pashishu - anointing priest Quadishtu - temple prostitute, cult of Ishtar. Type of cloistered priestess under cultic restrictions from normal marriage and childbirth. Sailu - diviner, askers of questions [prophetic divination?] Sanga - title originally applied to priest king or king, but in later times also applied to high priestly dignitaries. There is some thought this priest was involved with looking after the internal running of the temple. Or generally temple priest and administrator Sha-ilu or sha-iltu - male/female dram interpreters Shakkanakku - city governor with priestly functions. Shamhatu - prostitute [refer Gilgamesh Epic] cult of Ishtar. Shatam - temple administrator. Sheshgallu - well placed priest who may have acted as a supervisor or watchman. Marduk's Sheshgallu even had the power to strip away and restore the kings power (in ceremony only) Ugbabtu - same as Naditu. Zammeru - male cult singer?

From Religions of the Ancient Near East by Helmer Ringgren, Sumerian Section

In Sumerian thought man was created to serve the gods. It was therefore of the greatest importance that this service of the gods should be carried out according to all the rules of the craft. We know unfortunately very little about the way in which the individual carried out his duty. Our documents witness only to the cult as performed by the community through its leaders and specialists. The centre of the communities cultic action was the temple. We know a large number of Sumerian temples through excavations, ranging from small primitive buildings to massive and splendid structures. Common to all of them is an inner room with a niche for the emblem or statue of the god, and a sacrificial altar. At an early date temples began to be built on a terrace or platform. In most of the larger cities there were also temple towers in the form of staircases which were called ziggurats. Their function has not been explained fully; probably there was a small sanctuary right at the top, and it is possible the tower is intended to symbolise the cosmic mountain, or else to form a connecting link between heaven and earth. [refer ziggurat in concepts document] The temple was not primarily a place for religious services in our sense, but rather the dwelling place of the god, where he was thought of being present in a special way among men. It was a place where men could fulfill the service to the god which was their first duty. A line in a hymn to the temple Ekur witnesses to a cosmic symbolism when it says that 'in its midst is the mountain of the aromatic cedar.' The mountain of the aromatic cedar is the mountain where the sun rises, and the whole temple area is regarded as a replica of the cosmic mountain. We get a picture of how a temple was erected in the account of King Gudea of Lagash gives of his temple building. The god Ningirsu showed himself in a dream to the king as a huge man with a divine crown on his head, wings like a birds, and the lower part of his body like a flood wave. He commanded Gudea to build a temple to him. Then a man appeared in the dream who drew a tablet a plan of the future temple. After he had the dream interpreted, Gudea set to work. First, the city and its inhabitants had to be purified; no complaints, accusations, or punishments were allowed. The favour of the gods must be won by lavish sacrifices. Finally, Ningirsu's temple was ready. New rites of purification followed, and sacrifices were made. Temple officials were installed. Then Ningirsu and his consort Baba were united in a holy marriage, and a feast of seven days was celebrated, concluded by a banquet for the great gods. The priests in the temples all had different functions. We have a whole series of different priestly titles, but we know very little of their functions. The highest spiritual position was held by the en priest, while the sanga [shanga] was the administrative head. The priest called Ishib seems to have been in charge of drink offerings and purifications, the gala priests to have been singers and poets. Other classes of priests were called guda, mah, and nindingir, but their duties cannot at present be established. In the temples of Inanna there were eunuchs and hierodules (temple prostitutes), who took part in the cult of the goddess of love. Ancient pictorial records show that the priests often performed their duties naked. Such ritual nakedness is known also elsewhere, but it is not clear how it is to be interpreted. We do not know the daily routine of the temple in detail. We can assume that there were daily sacrifices of animals and vegetables, drink offerings of wine and beer, and the burning of incense. The temple accounts also give us an idea of the deliveries and consumption of goods. We know the names of a number of greater festivals, which vary with the different cultic centres, at which the greater ceremonies took place. Unfortunately we are as a rule very badly informed about the details of the ritual. About the greatest of festivals, the New years Festival, however, we know a great deal. It is clear that the heiros gamos rite, a holy marriage between the king and the goddess of the city, represented by a priestess, was the centre of the festival. The texts show that there was significant local variations, but in large measure the course of the festival is clear.

[Big snip of several pages with examples of text on rite, which is covered elsewhere.]

All the sources, however, agree that the marriage rite leads up to the goddess determining a good destiny for the king. It is also quite clear what this consists in: the text speak of prosperous government, good vegetation, abundant prosperity, victory and success. It is true that expressions connected with fertility predominate, and we must allow for a connection being made by analogy between the contents of the rite, and what it was hoped would result. In other words, the king, by uniting with the life giving goddess of love, ensures life and fertility to his land. But it is clear that a good destiny includes much more too, in fact all that was expected from good government. After the marriage rite itself there followed a banquet, in which the king and priestess presided as representatives of the god and goddess. This was accompanied by music and various amusements. To this context belong a group of texts in Sumerian called adaman-du-ga [often called contest texts]. This is a sort of battle of words or disputation, ie between summer and winter, between farmer and shepherd, between copper and iron, or between pick axe and plough, and the purpose of it is for each party to maintain so much as it can its own value and importance, and seek to depreciate those of the opponents. These poems generally consist of two sections: (a) a narrative framework, which gives a mythological context, often right back in primeval times, and reports the divine judgment which decides the dispute, and (b) the dialogue itself. Probably these controversy dialogues were dramatically performed. They seem, however, not to form an important and central part of the hieros gamos rite itself. It is possible they served more as light relief. It is noteworthy that all the texts speak explicitly of the heiros gamos come from just one period, exactly the same period at which the kings consistently provided their names with the determinative sign for a god or deity. It has therefore been supposed that the celebration of the divine marriage is in some way closely connected with the divinity of the king. On the other hand, it is clear that the hieros gamos was celebrated at other periods too in the history of the Sumerians. There is also , however, an interesting text which connects the New Years Festival and the determination of destiny with the offering of the first fruits. It describes how the king brings offerings of first fruits to the temple of Nanna, and how the god delights in it.

'Enlil delighted in the feast, and determined for him a good fate, The mother who had put him in the world, the great queen Ninlil, greeted him, Su'en spoke to Enlil and Ninlil: He prayed them to determine the fate of Siniddinam for a distant future: May the life of the humble herd be prolonged through your just word May a life forever be determined as his just fate, May a share of eternal life be given to him May he make great the name of the this year Years of enjoyment, days of life, months of peace, let us determine for him, In his palace you shall prepare for him in abundance the delights of body and heart.'

We know the names of various other festivals, and we have lists of the sacrifices which were offered upon them. But we have no detailed information about their exact content. Names of months such as the 'month of eating gazelles', or the 'month of the eating of the Barley of Ningirsu', 'the month of the house of sheep shearing' give us some allusions, but unfortunately nothing more. There are also statements that the new moon was celebrated with a feast of three days, and that a special sacrifice was offered at the full moon. The myth of Dumuzi's death and return to life has already been discussed. [refer appropriate section] There is every reason to assume that the texts which deal with it are in fact a ritual for an annual feast, the main theme of which was lamentation over the death of the god, the goddesses search for the missing god, and joy over his final return. There are signs that similar themes were also connected with other gods (at least with Enlil and Ishkur), and that these rites were carried out in summer, when the water was scarce, and the life of nature went through a critical period. Jacobsen [noted Sumerologist] points out that in any case, many of the Sumerian kings were identified with Dumuzi after their death, and that in the litanies often show a special interest in the place where the dead god lies, ie where his grave is. He draws the conclusion that we have here the idea of the ruler as a magical source of fertility, the powers of which still pour out after his death from his grave. There is another group of laments which have sometimes been compared with the Dumuzi songs, and therefore need to be dealt with here. These are laments over the fact that a god has abandoned his sanctuary and that the temple and the city have been destroyed. The most explicit of these is the lamentation over the destruction of Ur. This speaks despairingly of the catastrophe that has overtaken the city: the moon god has left his temple, the city has been devestated by enemies (Elamites), the population laments bitterly, Ningal, the consort of the moon -god, bewails the destruction of the temple through the curse of An and Enlil. How can you live, the poet says to her, when your city lies in ruins and no offering is made in your temple, no feast scelebrated at your altar? Your city laments before you. You have left your house. How long will you stand aside? May Anu and Enlil soon decide that you may return to your city. Another text from the time of King Ibbisin describes the devastation which befell Sumer through the wrath of the gods: public order has been destroyed, the enemy rules, and animals and crops fail. A lament over Nippur ends on a more hopeful note with the restoration of the city of Ishmedagan. A further development of this category is represented by the text which is called the Curse of Agade. [refer relevant section. Commentary on this snipped] We can perhaps assume that these songs were accompanied by special ceremonies of lamentation occasioned by historical events. In the case of the lament for Agade in particular is of great interest, for it shows how historical catastrophes were interpreted as a result of the wrath of a deity. In all the examples quoted it is also characteristic that the prosperity of the city in intimately connected with the presence of the god in his temple; this is why the destruction of his temple is so great a disaster. But there is also a tendency toward the stereotyping of the lament theme, and the question has been raised whether the devastation of the city and temple is in some cases a symbolic and ritual nature. This is especially the case where the lament deals primarily with the disappearance of the god: his return should then mark the restoration of good fortune. This was the decisive point for Witzel when he arranged a large numbe rof such songs under the heading Tammuz liturgies. In a number of cases we find descriptions of how Enlil's word (or storm or tempest) gives rise to devastation. On Witzel's theory this devastation will have been represented symbolically in the cult each year, and regularly followed by the restoration of normal circumstances in the temple. Since the translations on which he builds are uncertain, and in many cases definitely wrong, it would be wise to await the results of future discussions on this question. The longer texts of which we have given an account are in fact treated by Kramer and Falkenstein as referring to historical events.