Friday, December 1, 2023

Nimrod's Sumerian Wife


Dr. Alice C. Linsley

Nimrod was a Kushite kingdom builder (Gen. 10:8-11) who left the Nile Valley and established a territory in Mesopotamia. One of his principal cities was Uruk (Erech). He married a daughter of a Sumerian ruler named Asshur. She named their first-born son Asshur, after her father. The word “Assyria” is derived from the royal name Asshur. Asshur the Elder is the son of Shem. Asshur the Younger is the son of Nimrod.  

The wedding of Asshur’s daughter to Nimrod would have been a grand affair that solidified political relations between the royal families of Nimrod and Asshur. The ceremony probably took place at the palace in Uruk, on a channel of the Euphrates River between 4000-3200 B.C. The site of Uruk (Unug in Sumerian, Erech in Hebrew Torah) is known today as Warka. Settlement at the site began in the Ubaid period (c.5500-4000 B.C.). Uruk was the largest settlement in Mesopotamia at the time that Nimrod ruled.

The name of Nimrod’s wife is not found in the Bible. According to the historian Eusebius, Nimrod's wife was called Semiramis or Sammur-amat. However, this queen lived long after the time of Nimrod. She was the wife of the Neo-Assyrian ruler Shamshi-Adad V (r. 824-811 B.C). She was the queen regent between 811 and 806 B.C., holding the throne for her young son Adad Nirari III until he reached maturity.

Given what is known about the marriage patterns of the early Hebrew, it is likely that Nimrod's Sumerian wife was a cousin and that they shared common ancestors. That explains why Nimrod’s firstborn was called "Asshur" after his maternal grandfather, a Sumerian ruler. This feature of the early Hebrew marriage and ascendancy pattern is shown in the diagram above. The ruler's cousin bride named her firstborn son after her father.

The practice of marrying high-status women to form political alliances and to become established in a new territory is illustrated by Nimrod’s marriage to a Sumerian princess. Nimrod was a Kushite kingdom builder (Gen. 10) and his marriage to Asshur’s daughter is evidence of the close connection between the rulers of the Nile Valley and the rulers of Mesopotamia, two early riverine civilizations.

By the time Nimrod married a daughter of Asshur, long-distance trade had become a source of wealth for the Mesopotamian lords and ladies. Ships coming from Bahrain (Sumerian "Dilmun") brought wool, gold, copper, lapis lazuli, and carnelian to the Sumerian cities of Ur, Nippur, and Uruk. As early as 7000 B.C., the island of Bahrain served as a major trade depot with its own commercial seal. Ancient documents speak of Dilmun's trade in gold, silver, ivory, sesame oil, wool, carnelian beads, lapis lazuli, and copper. One document details a cargo of eighteen tons of refined copper purchased in Dilmun. Dilmun was a maritime connection between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.

Sumerian ships brought cargo to Dilmun and to port cities in the Indus valley. Ships sailed southeast on the Tigris or Euphrates to the Persian Gulf, making stops at the port city of Dilmun, passing the Oman Peninsula, and entering the Arabian Sea. From there the ships sailed northeast on the Indus River to Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Trade in lapis lazuli and carnelian beads ran between Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and Afghanistan as early as 4000 B.C. Indus seals with Harappan inscriptions have been found in Mesopotamia. Indus pottery and seals have been found along the maritime routes between the Indian subcontinent and Mesopotamia.

The Sumerian city of Erech is mentioned in connection with Nimrod in Genesis 10:10. As early as 5000 B.C., Eridu was an important trade center in southern Mesopotamia. The Sumerian King List cites Eridu as the “city of the first kings”, stating, “After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridu”.

Archaeologists discovered a 4,000-year-old boat at Uruk. The boat was constructed out of organic materials, probably marsh reeds, and covered in bitumen, a tar-like substance used for waterproofing. This technique was used in the construction of Noah’s ark (Gen. 6:14).

This was a period of monumental construction by the Mesopotamian rulers. The ziggurat at Uruk was a pyramidal structure that dates to around 4000 B.C. It was dedicated to the High God who was called Anu. Anu’s symbol was the sun. The White Temple of Anu was built on top of it between 3500-3000 B.C. Anu’s counterpart was Ra, the High God of the Nilotic Annu people.

Asshur and his royal household enjoyed opulent riches and were served by craftsmen of great skill. These artisans crafted ritual objects to be used by the royal priests. These include the Warka Vase, the marble Mask of Warka, the earliest known naturalistic sculpture of the human face. The mask is also known as the "Lady of Uruk" and was found in the temple precinct of Inanna in Uruk.

Inanna receiving offerings from a priest.

The Sacred Vase of Warka (shown above) is the oldest known carved-stone ritual vessel (c.3200 B.C.). It was one of a pair of alabaster vases. It was discovered in 1934 by German excavators in the temple of Inanna in Uruk. The image on the Vase of Warka shows Inanna receiving offerings from a priest with a shaved body, a practice typical of the priests of the Nile Valley.

Nimrod's wife likely was a devotee of Inanna, the Sumerian version of Hathor. Inanna, like Hathor, was often shown wearing a headdress of bull horns. Both goddesses appear to have been venerated as early as 4000 B.C. Hathor's worship began long before Egypt became a political entity.

Nimrod's wife would have had authority over at least one water shrine dedicated to Inanna. High status women had administrative responsibilities at the water shrines. The water shrines were under the control of regional lords, but visitors were welcome to drink the water, and to take a ritual bath (similar to the Jewish mikveh). Women came to these places seeking to conceive and deliver healthy children. They prayed and made offerings to Inanna/Hathor.

The Sumerians and the early cattle herding Nilotes have so much in common that it is difficult to distinguish between them. It is likely that the rulers of ancient Sumer had more in common culturally and linguistically with the peoples of East Africa and Arabia than with the peoples of southern Europe. The Sumerian and Akkadian languages share many common roots and Akkadian is the oldest known Semitic language.

Nimrod's homeland was in East Africa. He is designated a son of Kush in Genesis 10:8. As a sent-away son, he established a territory of his own in Mesopotamia by marrying a Sumerian princess. This couple enjoyed a life of opulence and prestige. They were among the first lords and ladies, and people of great influence and power in the ancient world.

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