The exaltation of a holy city in the psalms and in the myths (Psalm 110)

Bilderesultat for dormition abbey mount zion

Illustration: Dormition Abbey Monastery on Mount Zion

An ancient city would often have its own local myth that exalted that city and its patron god above all other cities and gods. These myths served to reassure the inhabitants that their city and its shrine were somehow superior to all others. One such myth comes from Sumerian civilization and was meant to glorify the city of Uruk and its goddess Inanna.

In the myth the god Enki possesses all the qualities of civilization in his city, Eridu. These qualities include, among others, kingship, priestly orders, crafts (carpentry, metal-working etc.), jurisprudence and truth. Curiously, negative elements such as prostitution and deceit are also included among the qualities of civilization. Inanna ventures to Eridu and is welcomed by Enki. While in a drunken state Enki confers upon Inanna the qualities of civilization, described in the story as physical objects. She proceeds to load them onto her boat and sails away. Too late Enki realizes what he has done and tries to retrieve them, but Inanna has already conveyed them to Uruk. Thus Uruk is exalted and the favoured city of Inanna.

In the Bible, and especially in the Psalms, Zion is exalted as the chosen city of God. The difference between the exaltation of Zion and the story of Inanna and Enki is profound. The Sumerian story is pure myth: Abstract qualities are described as physical objects, and gods seek to outwit or overpower one another. In contrast, Zion was exalted because of God’s covenant with David and the promise of a Messiah, a greater son of David who was yet to come. The Messiah would be a king (Psalm 110:1-2) but also a priest (110:4) and warrior (110:5-6). We see a similar exaltation of Zion and its Messiah in Psalm 2. In short, the exaltation of Zion is not grounded in a myth but in a historical event (God’s choice of David) and in hope for the future (the advent of the Messiah).


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