The Warrior Creed in the Akkadian Epic of Erra and Ishum (Psalm 35)

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Illustration: The Akkadian Warrior Creed

Peoples of the ancient Near East understood the brutality of war from firsthand experience. In the Bible and elsewhere we see reflections of the dread of its destructiveness, but we also see examples of a “warrior creed” that glorified war and conquest..

The Akkadian epic of Erra and Ishum focuses on Erra (also called Nergal), a god of war, plague and the underworld. In the myth, Erra has been lethargic but threatens to arouse himself and massacre the “black-headed people” (i.e. the Mesopotamians). Erra is urged on by a group of seven warrior gods, but in the end the situation is defused by the counsel of the god Ishum.

Of particular interest is the manner in which the seven warrior gods urge Erra to rouse himself for battle. They inform him that staying home is effeminate and childish; the battlefield is the province in which a man gains honour. The fancy cuisine of the city, they claim, cannot begin to compare with food roasted over embers out in the field or to water drunk from a skin. Furthermore, it is a disgrace to allow weapons to rust or to become covered with cobwebs. They also exhort Erra to slaughter his opponents and thus to terrify the world. Their words probably reflect the militaristic ideology of actual Assyrian soldiers – a perfect example of a warrior creed.

Psalm 35 is strikingly different: a prayer by David for God’s help in battle. Nevertheless, the psalm offers a helpful point of comparison because it illustrates the ideology of David, who was also a warrior. There is no glorification of brutality here; to the contrary, David condemns those who declare war without just cause (35:19-21). As elsewhere in the Psalms, David appealed to God’s justice. Most significantly, by pleading for God to intervene on his behalf. David repudiated the notion of gaining glory for himself by his own belligerence or aggression.


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