The Problem With Dumuzi

Back in 2003 a friend introduced me to a book that was soon to inspire the DaVinci Code and set on fire every pre-conceived notion I had about my birth religion and the religion of my ancestors, Christianity.  That book was Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and in it, the authors speculated whether Jesus of Nazareth was the chaste, forgiving messiah who ended crucified on the cross of the Romans or whether he was a politically savvy leader who fooled his enemies into believing he had died.

Little did I know back then that this controversial and faith-shattering suggestion was commonly accepted doctrine in certain religious sects and secret orders of the Middle East, some of religious societies that have a nearly uninterrupted history and tradition since approximately 4,000 BC.   (For more information on this subject I recommend a book by Bernard H Srpingett appropriately titled Secret Sects of Syria and The Lebanon).

Around the same time that I began to get interested in the ideas first raised by Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the DaVinci Code proliferated on all best-sellers lists, giving birth to a number of documentaries, articles, and tv shows all purporting to report “the truth behind the DaVinci Code,” some supporting the ideas in the book, other refuting them categorically.

Then in 2008 Bill Maher put in his two cents with the documentary Religulous. In it, Maher attempts to emphasize the absurdities of all premises behind all religions by interviewing various seemingly cracked leaders of different beliefs, Muslim, Jewish, Christian and lots of other categories in between — all of them having in common with each other the inability to sense that they are playing a part in their own ridicule by offering absurdly stupid answers to their silver-tongued interviewer. Like sacrificial lambs they offer themselves willingly to the scathing fire of satire with nary a clue as to the danger.

What interested me about the documentary, however, was that Maher then procedes to affirm that the birth/death/resurrection cycle of the Jesus Christ of modern Christianity is an old, old myth dating back thousands of years before Jesus is said to have lived.  More explicitly, the idea of a god born of a virgin through divine intervention, whose birth is announced by sages, magis and comets, as a savior of mankind, who then grows up to dazzle his teachers, becomes object of jealousy and is falsely accused of crimes, is soon executed via crucifixion,  descends in spirit upon the dead to save them, then is resurrected in body and ascends to heaven: this myth cycle applies in part or whole to at least six other gods, (Secular Web actually lists sixteen), among them Marduk, Dionysus, Dumuzi,  Mithras, and Horus.

This led me to read up on the old myth for myself and see what I could find out.  Let me spare you what might be a long and painful reading if all you’re interested in knowing is whether or not I believe that Jesus existed.  I find that I cannot answer this question, and that it is probably appropriate that I cannot answer it:  any serious matter of faith requires at some deep inner level a certain degree of acceptance and surrender.  The doubt will always persist: devotion in spite of uncertainty is, I believe, the real definition of faith.

This blog is about the story of the resurrected god and how it began (most likely) with the Sumerian god Dumuzi; it’s not about Jesus and his crucifixion.

But on the subject of Jesus, many writers and scholars have proposed quite interesting and plausible theories.  Of course, the most popular one is that he was the incarnation of God come to redeem us, and the similarity of his life cycle to that of other gods’ myths before him is explained away either as a matter of prophecy, or as coincidence, or as the work of the Devil who spread those stories ahead of time to confuse us.

Some very interesting writers claim that it is possible that Jesus may have existed, but that he was nothing like the Gospels describe.  The aforementioned Holy Blood, Holy Grail, along with other more scholarly treatises claim that Jesus may have well been a married rabbi, that his name was not so much a name but a title conferred upon him by a Semitic sect of the time, the Essenes, which used it to designate their most learned masters, and that this particular learned master whose true name was Joseph may have learned the arts of healing from Hidu gurus as he traveled through India during his “lost” years.  (See The Mystical Life of Jesus by Rosicrucian writer Spencer Lewis)

It is possible that Jesus existed only as a parable: The Laughing Jesus by Gnostic writer Timothy Freke suggests that Christ was an invention of the early Gnostic Christians intended to both mimic and decry the birth/death/resurrection myth of the Babylonian sun god. Freke claims the story of Jesus’s birth and resurrection was in answer to the Marduk/Tammuz cycle of birth, death and resurrection, a way of offering a god of love in response to the god of blood and vice that was worshipped at the time.  

More interestingly still, Freke also claims that Jesus may have been a composite of several enlightened figures of the time, very possibly with much of his life and sayings adapted from rabbi Hillel, one of the most important spiritual leaders of Jewish history.  

I am neither inclined to throw myself off of that steep cliff known as blind faith, nor am I going to pick any one of these many well-argued theories just for the sake of proving myself right and closing the case.  The fact of the matter is that I don’t know.  I don’t think anyone does for sure, even though many claim they do.  As one very wise friend pointed out, it doesn’t matter any more whether Jesus was who we think he was or whether he even existed as a man, or as God, or as a prophet, or as the true Messiah: the story of Jesus is what matters to most people, and the story does exist. It is as solid and real as anything we will ever experience.

And so it is story that now draws my attention: unable to prove whether or not the story has any real foundation in what really happened two-thousand thirteen years ago, I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter.  Nothing is as we think happened.  Anyone studying the function of mind will tell you how our perceptions of what we experience as being our life often proves more flawed, more fantastical, more fictional than our fragile egos can admit.

There are many documented cases, for instance, of people claiming to “remember” traumatic events as substantial and real as, to cite one, a youth spent in a Nazi concentration camp.  The book Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me is an astounding study replete with jaw-dropping case after jaw-dropping case of the mind’s ability to fool itself, to invent narratives that feel as authentic and fresh as our memories of what we ate for breakfast, but that have as much to do with “real life” as a Hollywood Blockbuster.

In effect, to our consciousness, the story is more important than what actually happened. And that is why for some time now I have been fascinated with the story of Gilgamesh — and, connected with it, the story of Dumuzi, one of the many gods on Bill Maher’s Resurrection Club list.  I find that this blog has become longer than I intended, so I will merely discuss the attributes of Dumuzi here and how he has evolved into other gods over time.  In a future blog I will examine the similarities and differences between Dumuzi (and his progeny Adonis, Dionysus, Marduk, Horus) and Gilgamesh (Hercules, Orion) and why I think they are connected in more ways than is openly recognized.

Dumuzi appears in the literature of ancient Mesopotamia even earlier than Gilgamesh.  Sometimes called Tammuz by the Semitic cultures, he is a god associated early on with agriculture and harvest, but later he becomes a god of shepherds, a “lord of the sheepfold,” which, incidentally, was an epithet assigned to every man who rose in power enough to rule the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk, where Gilgamesh also ruled in around 2800 BC.

As far as my research suggests, there are no certain origins for the god Dumuzi.  He was already an “old” god when he was worshipped in Mesopotamian, and probably arrived to the people of Sumer through their ancestors, the Ubadians, who left no written record of their ways and traditions.

There are several peculiarities about the god Dumuzi that interest me, and also paradoxes that link him in sometimes cohesive and sometimes contradictory ways to Gilgamesh.


Dumuzi is derived of two Sumerian words, the first being DUMU (son or child) and ZI (meaning the life force, but also faithfulness). His name is often translated as meaning The Faithful Son, although it could also mean The Son of Life or Child of Life, reminiscent of the Sun card of the Tarot Major Arcana.  Scholars prefer to call him the faithful son, but they believe that the name is derived from a story that is probably lost to us.

As far as scholars can tell, there are two different Dumuzis in Sumerian culture.  The first is known as Dumuzi the shepherd.  This is most certainly the god that appears in the poem titled Inanna and Dumuzi.  In this poem, the god, who is really just a man at this point, is introduced to the goddess Inanna via her brother Utu, the sun god.  Inanna, who is a goddess of fertility, at first objects to the arranged marriage because she had her heart set on Enkidu, a god of harvest.  

In the poem Dumuzi and Inanna, Dumuzi argues his superiority against Enkidu by listing all the things that a shepherd can gift is bride that are of more value then the things that a farmer can offer: wool vs. cotton; milk vs beer; cream and butter vs. grain.  In the end, Dumuzi prevails, and Enkidu backs away from the argument, admitting the shepherd’s superiority.  This story is often interpreted as an allegory for the change from agriculture to farming.

Inanna at this point is smitten by Dumuzi, and decides that she will marry him. In another poem, their wedding night is described with earnest erotic details.  Dumuzi gives her fifty orgasms on their first night together.  Inanna then turns her spouse into a God – and crowns him king of Uruk.

A few books on Babylonian astrology suggest that Dumuzi may have been associated with the pre-Babylonian constellation of the Shepherd.  The crook of the shepherd was Dumuzi’s symbol and also a symbol of kingship.

*Added on 5/22: (For association of Dumuzi with the constellation of Orion/”The Shepherd of An” see Mystical and Mythological Explanatory Works of Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars By Alasdair Livingstone, p. 138-139 as well as charts and further theories on the Dumuzi’s story and its connection to the movement of stars in “Betrayed lovers of Istar – Studies in Historical Anthropology.” **

However, Dumuzi is also sometimes called Ama Ushumgal Ana.

** Added on 5/22 for association of Ama Ushumgal Ana with Dumuzi consult the British Museum, The Harps That Once -Sumerian Poetry in Translation, and various other readily available sources of Sumerian literature**

The name translates as follows:

AMA: mother

USHUMGAL: dragon/great serpent

ANA: heaven/heavenly

The use of the feminine gender-determining AMA leads to speculation that Dumuzi may have at some earlier time represented an androgynous deity, or else, he may have been associated with a different constellation, perhaps with Draco.

** Added 5/22 The association of Draco with Dumuzi is pure speculation and to prove it would presuppose an understanding of pre-Babylonian star knowledge, as well as the position of the stars in the cosmos over 6,000 years ago or more — which I certainly do not possess. However, Ushumgal is most certainly the Sumerian name for dragon. I invite the reader only to imagine possibilities.**

Furthermore, in some texts, Dumuzi is also called The Bull of Heaven.  Epithets concerning bulls are numerous in Sumerian literature, applying to almost anyone with viril attributes; nonetheless, what’s curious is that Bull of Heaven in Sumerian is GUGALANA, who, accidentally, is also the god of death, married to Ereskigal, queen of hell, and also the god that Gilgamesh slaughters in the Sumerian poems with the help of Enkidu. (the scholars assure us this is a different Enkidu from the one who competed with Dumuzi for Inanna).

Dumuzi is also said to be the twin of Geshtinanna, who is the goddess of wine. Dumuzi had a connection to the sacred vine.

Another Dumuzi was the one listed in the Sumerian King List as the king of Uruk right before Gilgamesh took the throne, and he has the accompanying epithet of “the fisherman.”  Scholars say that they are uncertain whether Dumuzi the fisherman or Dumuzi the shepherd was the Dumuzi who established the practice of the Hieros Gamos or Sacred Marriage rites, which in Sumerian was known as the Akitu.  This uncertainty is a bit unsettling, especially when it comes to trying to date some of the literature that makes any mention of the sacred marriage, since Dumuzi the Fisherman lived tens of thousands of years after Dumuzi the Shepherd.

Finally, one scholar suggested that DUMUZI may have been more than just the name of a god: it may have well been a title or honorific name.  Thus, it is possible that DUMUZI might have designated a king, or a prince, or a chosen anointed of a special rite dedicated to the goddess.


In the Sacred Marriage rite, a priestess representing Inanna the goddess was symbolically married to the king in an elaborate rite that lasted seven days.  At the start of the rite, the idol of the god Dumuzi was taken away together with the king and hidden for seven days.  He then re-emerged as “resurrected,” and the people opened the floodgates to irrigate the fields. The king, as Dumuzi, would couple with the priestess who played the role of Inanna.  Here we see as the return of Dumuzi was associated with the harvest and crops in spite of the fact that he is called “the shepherd.”  Dumuzi’s return here is symbolic of the earth’s renewal, another clue that his cult/persona is much more ancient than even the records we now own, which date back to around 4,000 BC.

In the poem titled The Descent of Inanna, we are introduced to Dumuzi’s role as a chthonic god, although, as far as I understand, it is hard to say whether the poem preceded the marriage rites or whether it was written later, perhaps to revive or justify a tradition much older than the written word.

In the Descent of Inanna we see Inanna again intent on visiting her sister Ereskigal who is the queen of the underworld (hell).  The pretext for visiting Ereskigal is so that Inanna may offer her condolences for the death of Gugalana (since Gugalana doesn’t die until after Dumuzi’s death, it’s curious to note that the chronology of these myths is not linear, but circular or spiraling).

To get to Ereskigal, Inanna has to pass through seven gates of hell, and at each gate she has to give up one of her prized possessions or symbols of power, until she appears completely  naked and vulnerable at the feet of her sister, and of the ‘seven sages’ or seven great gods who were supreme in the Sumerian pantheon.  Inanna is then accused of having conspired to overthrow Ereskigal from the throne of hell, found guilty, executed and “crucified” in the sense that her corpse is then hung on a peg at the mouth of hell.

Because Inanna is the goddess of life, everything dies on earth while she’s in the underworld.  Worried about the fate of the earth, the god Enki devises a stratagem to win Inanna’s corpse back from Ereskigal and revives the goddess by pouring upon her “the waters of life,” but all the same, the rules of hell won’t permit Inanna to leave hell without finding a substitute to take her place.  Inanna returns to the world of the living and, seeing Dumuzi on the throne of Uruk resplendent and indifferent to her absence, she points the death finger on him, hurling her demons upon him.

The demons pursue Dumuzi across the land. At first he seeks refuge with his sister Geshtinanna, but the demons find him there.  He escapes again, turning into a stag by Utu’s mercy, but the demons find him again and tear him to pieces as they drag him to hell.  Inanna tries to recover all the pieces (seeding, perhaps, the later myth of Horus in Egypt, or influenced by it, depending on which version of history you believe).

Eventually, Inanna forgives Dumuzi and commands his release. Still subject to the rules of hell, her spouse needs someone else to step into his place.  Dumuzi’s sister, Geshtinanna, goddess of wine, agrees to take his place for six months of the year.  For the other six, Dumuzi sits in the underworld, next to Ereskigal, as judge of all new souls entering the realm of the dead.


We see again Dumuzi in another Sumerian myth concerning eternal life.  In this poem called Enki and Adapa, Adapa is a mortal man, the most beloved human son of the god Enki, who is a god of wisdom.  Enki has instructed Adapa in the heavenly arts but Adapa accidentally incurs the wrath of the gods.  Enki sends him to heaven to make amends.  Adapa finds Dumuzi and another god guarding the gates of heaven.  Adapa, under Enki’s instructions, jokes with Dumuzi that the people of earth are looking for him, a joke that is missed on me, but that apparently earns enough of Dumuzi’s good will that the god lets him into heaven and vouches for him before the greater gods.  The supreme gods offer Adapa the waters of immortal life, but the man refuses to drink because Enki had priorly instructed him that anything he eats or drinks in heaven would kill him. Thus, by subterfuge, Enki prevents his own beloved son from achieving immortality.

In a Nabatean version of the story, Dumuzi is the bringer of a new knowledge, teaching the people about the seven planets and the true movements of the stars.  This enrages a king who puts him to death “in a cruel manner” several times. Dumuzi returns to life each time, until at last he dies.


Dumuzi returns to the literature as god Marduk.  Marduk is not the original Babylonian god’s name.  His is also a composite name of Sumerian/Akkadian words, although there is no certainty around which.

The most popular theories say that Marduk is a degeneration of the words AMAR UTU.

AMAR: the young calf, the son or kid

UTU: the sun god

But here are some other possibilities:

MARTU: He Who Came From The West.

AMAR UDUG  son of the demon

AMAR DUG: son of the storm

Marduk is officially the founder of the city of Babylon (KADINGIRRA in Sumerian, meaning Gateway To The Gods) although Babylon existed as a small tell for at least a thousand years before Marduk built its gates and (re)established the Hieros Gamos so entrenched Babylonian tradition.

In Babylonia MARDUK was known by yet another name: BEL or Lord.  The Fifty Names of Marduk is a document of a later dating that tries to explain Marduk’s sudden arrival to the pantheon by claiming that all the other gods are merely other names by which the god Marduk is known.

The half human/half god attribute of Dumuzi is transferred to Marduk’s wife, Serpanitum and Marduk becomes the only god to have married a mortal woman.

According to Assyrian literature, Marduk is the savior of humankind, having fought the supreme demon Tiamat.  He is trapped after a subterfuge designed by his enemies, and like Horus, he is buried alive.  There follows the “ordeal” period of Marduk’s imprisonment in the underworld, where he both pardons sinners and also battles demons.  His son, Nabu comes to his rescue, and Marduk is then resurrected.

Later we see again echoes of this theme in the god Dionysus, a god whose name means “running through the trees.” Although worshipped widely in Greece, Dionysus origins are not Greek, and scholars aren’t certain where the cult may have begun. I will mention here, without any scholarly claim, that Sumerian culture was said to have spread as far north as Turkey, suggesting to me that Dionysus may have been a surviving remnant of the Dumuzi of Sumer.

In terms of the similarities: Dionysus is also a chthonic god, one who traveled to hell to rescue his mother.  He was cursed by a goddess, after which he ran for a long time through the wilderness, subject to the demons of madness that pursued him.  He then wondered through the world and into India, where he learned special healing.  He came back to his goddess bringing the new knowledge with him like the Nabatean Dumuzi. Like the pre-Sumerian Dumuzi he’s also associated with wine, with the harvest, with sacred trees, and with death and rebirth.

Dionysus was called “lord liberator” because his cult, which encouraged wildness of behavior, was supposed to free men from their oppressions.

Furthermore, in the Greek pantheon there is also Adonis, who, like Dumuzi, is mourned every year by women on the night of his death, the god who is killed by a boar (in some versions, a stag) and loved and mourned both by Persephone (of the underworld, like Ereskigal) and Aphrodite (of love, like Inanna). Additionally, there are Scandinavian, Irish, Egyptian and many other cultures who worship a god whose story echoes Dumuzi in one variant or another.  


Dumuzi is most likely the oldest of the model of the chthonic god of death and rebirth, but he is not just the prototype for the Christ cycle of death and rebirth for the salvation of the soul; he is also simultaneously the prototype for the fallen angel, the man glorified into divinity and then betrayed or betraying his gods and cast low by them into hell.  In much iconography, Dumuzi is portrayed with ram horns. Often he is associated with the sun, the burning light, the bright star.

He is the fisher of men, the shepherd and the sacrificed god, bringer of new knowledge.  But he is also the luminous fallen one, the cosmic serpent, the god of chaos and master of magic.  He is God Lord and he is human.  He is the destroyer of devils and also a devil.

What is most fascinating to me is that since the beginning of civilization man has felt the longing to explain and justify the cycle of birth and death through the allegory of the dying god and his dual nature.  The story has grown like a tree, taking on many limbs and roots, perhaps suggesting that story is soul, a living thing that grows and evolves with us as we try to grapple for a hold on a reality that always seems to elude us.  The story of the dying god is one that has compelled us for 6,000 years or more.  What it teaches us about who we are is something that should transcend the boundaries of our superstitions and prejudices: it should inspire us to contemplate the mystery like a koan, breaking down the fetters of mind and serving as a gateway towards transcendence.

Published by laura

I'm the author of two short story collections, a story cycle, and a collection of short memoirs. I am an educator, literary translator, journal editor, and writing coach.

8 thoughts on “The Problem With Dumuzi

  1. The shepherd is not a Babylonian constellation and Draco does not correspond to Dumuzi either if you look up Mulapin it gives you the real constellations. I also suggest you consider reading good academic material for an understanding of the culture and mythology of the region. There is nothing in Judaism and Christianity that cannot be sourced back to the culture and mythology of Sumeria/ Messopotamia or Babylon. There was no need to borrow what was already part of their culture.

    1. Thank you for reading my post. Your tone sounds annoyed or angry. However, I never said that Dumuzi was a Babylonian God. Babylon is a much later civilization than the one I’m treating here. Dumuzi, as I said, was already an old god in Sumer. As far as I know, and I’ve consulted a great deal of books and articles on this subject, both academic and for the general public, the Sumerians, and the Babylonians, did have a Shepherd constellation. Here is one source that affirms it: John H. Rogers, “Origins of the ancient contellations: I. The Mesopotamian traditions”, Journal of the British Astronomical Association 108 (1998) 9–28. There are other sources, but it’s beyond the scope here to list them here. There is also a constellation of GAM possibly a Shepherd’s crook.

      I don’t know about Draco. That was just a speculation — and I think it’s clear that I’m only speculating from the language in my blog. If I thought I was going to be exposed to academic examination, I would consult more ancient star lore, but again, I think all that is besides the point, as my only intent was to muse on the many identities of this ancient and alluring god.

      As for your other comment “There is nothing in Judaism and Christianity that cannot be sourced back to the culture and mythology of Sumeria…” that’s exactly my point, my friend. Perhaps you misunderstood what you read here.

      1. The Sumerians are much older but we only have access to the Babylonian constellations, we can guess the Sumerian ones from that since we know Judaism used Sumerian Calandar, Damuzi or Tammuz has always been a part of Judaism. it is in the month of July and correseponds to Helical rising and setting of stars.

      2. Yep. The MULAPIN is 14th century, thousands of years later. I’m really not in my comfort zone when talking about stars, but I assume you’re taking into account the shift in the constellation that would have been present in a sky thousands of years older? What I was getting at in my post was that we really don’t know when Dumuzi began, and that his cult may even predate Sumerians. It is my (admittedly vague) understanding that the rise of the constellations would have corresponded to different seasons then. His later association with a sky dragon baffles me. And my bad if I’m completely off here. As I said, this is beyond the scope of what I am looking at.

  2. There are stories upon stories, myths, theology, ideas about God, and myriad ways of interpreting the One Most High God, the creator of all creation, the Source of Love. Then there is the actual, felt Presence, the experience of the Power of God that cannot be denied. In a class called “Meditation and Mandalas” I was trying to follow the instructions to visualize buddha in my third eye when Jesus came to me and said, “Come to Me you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” At his words a warmth started in my belly and rose upwards. When the heat got to my heart it exploded like fireworks and I felt chains breaking. The meditation ended and I cried tears of God and I have never been the same. Is Jesus real? Yes. Is Jesus alive and present in the world? Yes. Is Jesus the manifestation of the entire deity, the fullness of God? Yes. How do I know? Because the POWER for transformation, transmutation and transfiguration came when Jesus appeared to me. Now all there is is the presence of Christ and my perception has completely changed: my eye has opened (single eye, full of light = body full of light), my ears have open so I can hear the voice of God, my heart has opened to compassion, my mind has expanded to the Mind of Christ, and my body has miraculously healed and been made whole. “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory” 2Peter1:16-17

    1. Thank you for sharing your beautiful experience here and for reading my post. I have heard many beautiful stories like these from people of all creeds and of course I also have had my own experiences. What I think is that each of us has the potential to reach that divine state however best we are able to overcome our intellect and be earnest towards the longing. The fact that it was Jesus who answered you is a beautiful thing, but doesn’t really disprove what I was trying to say. If you were born in a Christian tradition it is much more likely that you reach transcendence through Christ than through Buddha — whether or not the vision you had was of the actual Christ of history or just your own heart speaking to you, that is a matter of semantics. God has reached to you in the way you understand God, but what works for you may not be what works for others or even what they see.

      I would say that whatever God is, God has many forms, many ways of manifesting to others. That is why I say that it seems hardly relevant anymore whether we follow a historical figure that actually lived or whether we follow our own idea of Him, one that we carried over from ancient cults that we clung to because, like children, we needed our safety blankets — perhaps that’s what you’re saying as well, I’m not sure. Ultimately, it’s the earnestness of faith that gets us there, as yours got you to where you are, and mine got me to mine. I will never spar with anyone on the existence of God or the authenticity of an experience. But trying to put a definitive label or a blanket explanation on something, that to me is a dangerous thing to do.

      As for Dumuzi, he is a historical interest to me: to understand why such a paradigm has perpetuated itself so often on the human psyche is probably one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves — regardless our personal spiritual path. Maybe one day we will all be brave enough to question our dogmas and alight instead on our experience of transcendence.

      Many blessings to you for your beautiful words. And thank you.

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