Note: This is a post written by Chris H. (@unicornwiz) in response to a recently published piece by @GodlessEngineer entitled “Inanna’s Descent Matches Jesus’ Passion Narratives.” Chris can be reached on Twitter or at his email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well, today I’m going to do a basic treatment of Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld for one specific reason: because Godless Engineer has made a ton of mistakes and clearly does not understand the myths that he discusses. Instead of relying on someone wholly and entirely unqualified to talk on the matters (as GE does with Richard Carrier), I will be relying on the works from noted scholars like Lapinkivi, Jacobsen, and Mettinger.
The Descent and the Pertinent Passages
Inanna’s descent comes to us from primarily from two sets of texts. The first is Sumerian, the older, and tells the story of the great goddess Inanna, who in her hubris, wishes to take control over the netherworld. Inanna wears these great clothes and items of power and then demands entrance into the underworld. Ereshkigal the ruler of the underworld then orders her servants to remove one of the items at each of the seven gates to the underworld. Inanna is then stripped of those items and led to the underworld, where, in her pride, she attempts to usurp the throne of the underworld from Ereshkigal. In doing so, however, a great punishment is enacted by the Annuna gods (the judges in the underworld) and she is condemned. As a result, she is killed and then she is transformed into a slab of meat, which is then hung on a hook (as a butcher hangs meat out). After three days and three nights, mourning rituals begin, and to cut the story short, she is eventually resurrected after receiving the grass (or pasture) and water of life, she is partially revived, and then for her to truly return a substitute must be offered. As a result, Dumuzi is eventually chosen.
The Akkadian version is somewhat different. Like the Sumerian, Ishtar (while largely equivalent to Inanna, there are important differences in iconography and depiction in texts) goes to the underworld and at each gate is stripped of an article of powerful clothing. At the last gate, she is entirely exposed and in anger she lashes out at Ereshkigal. As a result, Ereshkigal cries to her servant to imprison her and then release 60 diseases upon Ishtar. Ishtar is then apparently transformed into a waterskin (lines 98-99) and then eventually she is revived also with the water of life. Afterwards, the text implies the bilocation of Tammuz would occur.
Godless Engineer and The Descent
Godless Engineer makes innumerable mistakes when discussing the Descent of Inanna. First of all, she is not abandoning her throne, but attempting to increase her dominion in the Sumerian account. Jacobsen’s translation specifically states, “the goddess had / from the upper heaven / her heart set / on the netherworld.”1 GE’s position of her abandoning her throne is not quite accurate. As a sign of her trying to retain power, she clothes herself in seven items of her offices, a sign of her power. She also does not make a prophecy about her death but makes provisions in case it occurs. There is a difference. A Prophecy is that which is a matter of fact, that which WILL happen. Inanna does not state that it will happen but makes sure to contemplate what would happen IF it happened.
She also is not crucified. Jacobsen’s translation reads, “Killed she was, and turned / into a slab of tainted meat, / and the slab of tainted meat / a man hung from a peg.”2 This is not a crucifixion but more closely describes the fate of the animals during the butchering season (chopped and hung from a hook), as Jacobsen’s introduction to this notes.3
As Mettinger notes, it is also not three days and nights until she is resurrected, but until mourning rituals begin.4 GE, like Carrier, has simply misread and misunderstood the texts entirely.
The Akkadian variant (i.e. the one closest to Jesus’ lifetime) also is even less like Jesus. Here, Ishtar is not even hung on a hook, but is imprisoned and seemingly transformed into a water skin, after being infected with the 60 diseases. Here she is revived by a man who drinks from the waterskin, coming in contact with her body thus (lines 98-99). Lapinkivi further notes that this is paralleled in a different myth where Ishtar turns an old woman, Bilulu, into a waterskin as well.5 The Akkadian variant makes no mention of Ishtar creating a provision in case of her failure, either. Thus, the closest account to Jesus does is lacking this.
The Queen of Heaven, Inanna/Ishtar, and the Old Testament
There are a lot of problems that pop up as a result of the passages that mention the mysterious “Queen of Heaven.” Here, GE attempts to identify this figure (found in Jeremiah 44:15-26 and Jeremiah 7:18) as being Ishtar/Inanna. The identification is conjectural, however. Unbeknownst to GE, the title “Queen of Heaven” is applied to numerous goddesses of the ANE, including: Anat, Asherah, Qudshu, Shapshu, and Ishtar/Inanna. In short, this singular title could be any of them, and the identification cannot be supported by the epithet alone. William G. Dever identifies her with Astarte (the West Semitic variant of Ishtar),6 and what is notable is that West Semitic Astarte has absolutely no myth associated with a descent into the underworld. Tilde Binger identifies this figure in Jeremiah as Asherah.7 The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible identifies all the figures listed above as possible suspects (Anat, Asherah, Astarte, Ishtar, Qudshu, and Shapshu).8 It is also even possible that this was a syncretistic deity of many goddesses, and so shouldn’t be identified with any one deity.9 So, GE’s identification is weak.
His only actual connection to be made is with Tammuz in Ezekiel 8:14. However, this makes no mention of the descent of Ishtar/Inanna, nor even of any return or bilocation of Tammuz. It simply notes the common mourning rite that took place. So, it doesn’t really support GE’s position at all, at best only in the loosest senses.
Jesus and Inanna
So, as we can see, all of the parallels GE was spouting before can be rather summed up in terms of parallelomania.10 Inanna’s descent into the underworld was not a forsaking of her power, but an attempt to expand it in her hubris, an attempt to control the underworld. She did not make a prophecy about her death, but a provision in case it occurred (provision against hypothetical, not statement of fact). She is not crucified, but is killed, transformed into a slab of meat, and then hung on a butcher’s hook. She also is not resurrected after three days, instead it is mourning rites that are performed after three days. The time of revival is not specified. Furthermore, Inanna being stripped of her clothes does not parallel the tortures of Jesus. Inanna’s stripping of clothes has to do with her power being removed resulting in ultimate doom for her, which has dire consequences afterward, Tammuz would be forced into the underworld upon her return as a substitute. Jesus’ torture and death, however, is the exact opposite, since that brings him directly to be translated and therefore come into heavenly glory entirely. They are literally polar opposites in every literary thematic fashion. Lastly, despite what GE says, Jesus would never and is not ever an agricultural god. He is not associated with vegetation cycles or fertility or with vegetation weather patterning or flooding. He is not an agricultural god in any sense, and never would be, regardless.
The arguments from Godless Engineer simply do not appear to hold up when one looks closely at the myths that he discusses, or the Biblical passages. Instead, many of them are thematically opposed to what Godless Engineer (and by fiat Richard Carrier) have claimed and attempted to argue, in parallel with Jesus.
1 Thorkild Jacobsen, The Harps That Once… (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), p. 206
2 Jacobsen, 1987, p. 215
3 Jacobsen, 1987, p. 205
4 Tryggve Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, 2001), p. 189
5 Pirjo Lapinkivi, Istar’s Descent and Resurrection (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2010), p. 83-84
6 William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), p. 233
7 Tilde Binger, Asherah: Goddesses in Ugarit, Israel, and the Old Testament (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), p. 116n19. This is also held by M. Dijkstra in Only One God (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), p. 114.
8 S.V. “Queen of Heaven,” in Karel van der Toorn, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, Second Edition (Leiden: Brill, 1999), pp. 678-680
9 Vriezen, “Archaeological Traces of Cult in Israel,” in Bob Becking, et al, Only One God (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), p. 69
10 Samuel Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” Journal of Biblical Literature 81.1 (1962), pp. 1-13
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