Mourning for Tammuz (Ezekiel 8)

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Illustration: Tammuz, alabaster relief from Ashur

Among the pagan rituals the prophet Ezekiel was shown in Ezekiel 8 was a group of women “morning for Tammuz” (8:14). Numerous pagan religions feature a dying-and -rising god (such as Tammuz, Baal or Osiris), whose restoration comes about partly through the aid of his consort (partner) goddess (Ishtar, Anat or Isis, respectively, for the previous examples). The myths of the dying gods are not all the same; each is distinctive, and the various versions of these myths are sometimes contradictory and dificult to unravel. Tammuz was sometimes regarded as a Mesopotamian version of the fertility god Baal but actually appears to have been a relatively minor shepherd god – who may or may not be thought to have returned from the dead.

It is clear that the cult of Tammuz was of very ancient origin, from Sumer. Even so, it persisted for millennia in the Near East and was especially popular, for unknown reasons, with women. One text from the Seleucid period (after 300 B.C.) contains a liturgy of the goddess Ishtar (also known as Inanna), who was weeping over him. This text contains echoes of Sumerian lamentations from 2000 years earlier. Indeed, the Tammuz cult still existed among Sabean women in the tenth century A.D. Although the women in Ezekiel 8 could have been professional mourners in the employ of the temple, it appears that they were ordinary people who had been swept up in a popular religious cult that had particularly strong appeal to women.


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