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Shamash, the Mesopotamian Sun God

Shamash, the Mesopotamian Sun God


Shamash, the Sun god, whose rays spring from his shoulder, rises between two mountains. Ea, the god of the waters, (indicated by flowing water in which fish swim) steps over a bull and holds a bird in his hand. Usmu, his two-faced attendant stands behind him. On the mountain to the left of Shamash stands Ishtar, the winged war goddess. An Akkadian cylinder rolled on to wet clay to make a seal. About 2250 BC . (Akkadia was south Mesopotamia, modern southern Iraq.)

Ea was father of the great Marduk, the Babylonian Jupiter divinity, father of their family of gods. He was also the god of the holy purifying waters, ‘Ea’s waters,’ used in ritual purification, a little before Christian baptism was introduced. Ea was the Akkadian name for the neighbouring Sumerian god Enki who was portrayed as half-goat, half-fish, the enigmatic image we still retain for the Goat of Capricorn.

Shamash, the Sun god, was the son of Sin, the Moon, and with Ishtar, Venus, formed a heavenly trinity, though they were not the highest gods. Shamash brought light and righteousness to vanquish darkness and evil. He was the judge of both men and gods. At night, he dispensed justice in the underworld where dead souls live. The great ancient legal code, the Code of Hammurabi, (about 1760 BC ) was supposed to have been given by Shamash to the king.

Usmu may be a forerunner of the Roman god, Janus, who also had two faces, looking opposite ways. Janus represented a door or gateway, ‘ianua’ in Latin, and gave his name to January, the end and beginning of the year, a time to look forward as well as looking back.
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