Who was the demi-god Tammuz?It would appear that historical figures from shortly after the Flood, still imbued with strong genetics and powerful personalities, gathered cults around them and convinced their followers that they were deities on par with the Creator-God. Generations later, the stories spread across the world, adapting to different cultures and climates, but retaining a basic thread. And so the mythologies of Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, Babylonia, Canaan, Egypt, and Greece resemble each other. The story of Tammuz is no exception.
The oldest claim of a character named Tammuz is of a Sumerian king and shepherd named Dumu-zid or Dumuzi. He was said to be the fifth king before the Flood and ruled for 26,000 years. The next mention is of a fisherman/king who ruled around 2700 BC, directly before Gilgamesh. There is also a legend that Tammuz was the son of Queen Semiramis, born after the death of his father Nimrod who built both Babel and Nineveh (Genesis 10:8-12). But many believe that Nimrod is another name for Gilgamesh, further convoluting the matter. It is possible that the legend of the demi-god Dumuzid/Tammuz originated from one of these personalities, but we don't know.
In the 3rd or 2nd millennia BC, the Sumerians taught that a young, handsome shepherd was born to one of the chief gods, Enki, and the goddess of sheep, Duttur. The goddess Inanna fell enamored with Dumuzid and took him for her consort (she was the goddess of love, fertility, and warfare, but never marriage). The Akkadians taught much the same thing in the 2nd and 1st millennia BC, although the shepherd was named Tammuz and his lover was Ishtar (also known as Asherah and the Queen of Heaven). To the Akkadians, Enki was known as the Ea who rescued the family of Utnapishtim (Noah) in "The Epic of Gilgamesh."
The trouble started when Inanna/Ishtar went to the land of the dead. There are at least two conflicting stories as to why Ishtar went down to the underworld. One says that Tammuz was killed by underworld raiders and Ishtar went to bring him back to life. The more common myth, however, starts with Ishtar's desire to take the underworld from her sister Ereshkigal. The Anunnaki, judges of the underworld, tried and convicted Ishtar for her hubris, sentencing her with death and declaring that her dead body would be on display, hanging from a nail.
Unfortunately for the rest of the universe, while Ishtar was dead there was no sexual activity or procreation of any kind. Ea saw the problem with this and bartered a deal. Ishtar could return to the land of the living, but she had to find another soul to take her place in the underworld. The replacement could not be someone who was mourning her death. She could find no one, god or human, until she came to her own throne room where Tammuz sat, dressed in fine robes instead of the more appropriate sackcloth and ashes.
For his lack of devotion, Ishtar sent her demons after Tammuz. He hid at his sister Geshtinana's, but the demons found him and dragged him to the underworld. In time, Ishtar regretted her rash actions and mourned the loss of Tammuz. The gods capitulated, declaring that Tammuz and his sister would alternate, with one in the underworld while the other was with the living.
The Greeks, who never met a foreign god they couldn't adapt, also had their Tammuz in Adonis. It was said that Aphrodite arranged a king to impregnate his daughter. It's unclear if Aphrodite fell in love with the beautiful son or if she felt guilty for her part in his conception, but she put him in a box and gave him to her sister Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, for safe keeping. Persephone opened the box and also fell in love. The sisters fought over Adonis until Zeus declared Adonis had to spend four months with Persephone, four months with Aphrodite, and four months with whomever he chose (he chose Aphrodite). Either Artemis or Ares (accounts vary) sent a boar that killed Adonis. Aphrodite was so consumed by grief that Zeus allowed Adonis to continue to spend part of the year among the living.
The Egyptians had a different take in Osiris and Isis. Isis was a benevolent goddess who was devoted to her husband/brother Osiris. Osiris' brother Set killed him in an attempt to take his throne. In one story, Set tore Osiris into pieces, Isis found most of the pieces and, with the help of a golden phallus, brought him back to life long enough to impregnate her with Horus. In a slightly different version, Isis found Osiris' intact body in a lead-sealed box (the origin of the sarcophagus) which had been absorbed by a tamarind tree being used as a palace pillar. Isis brought Osiris back to life and became pregnant with Horus, but Set found Osiris and killed him again, tearing his body into pieces. Isis found the pieces, wrapped them in cloth, and buried him properly. Horus eventually defeated Set. The gods were so moved by Isis' devotion, they made Osiris the god of the underworld. To reflect his resurrection and second death, he also became the god of the Nile (whose ebbs and flows bring crops), reincarnation, and the life-and-death cycle of agriculture.
Out of the common thread of death and resurrection came the association of Dumuzid/Tammuz/Osiris/Adonis as the god of fertilization, rebirth, and agriculture. Although he started as the Sumerian god of good grass, healthy lambs, and plentiful milk, later cultures considered him the god of grain. His annual death in the Middle East lined up with the start of the killing heat and drought at the summer solstice. Women mourned his passing in hopes their cries would ensure his return and the return of the earth's fertility. It is these cries God referred to in Ezekiel 8:14-15: "Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the LORD, and behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then he said to me, 'Have you seen this, O son of man? You will see still greater abominations than these.'" In fact, the Hebrew month of Tammuz still marks the time older cultures mourned for the god of fertility. In earlier times, however, Tammuz was worshiped in a different way. Sumerian kings were said to take on the identity of Tammuz and mate with the priestess to ensure a bountiful harvest.
Arabic myth has a slightly different take. Poetry from the 9th to 11th centuries AD says Tammuz enticed the king to worship the planets and zodiac. For his heresy, Tammuz was killed several times by horrific means, but came back to life after each death but the last. In the 10th and 11th centuries, Arabic women still mourned the death of Tammuz. Arabic literature also mentions the similarities between Tammuz and the Christian St. George who is said to have died several times while being tortured for his refusal to disavow Christ. St. George finally died for good when he was beheaded.
Some claim that Tammuz was also the origin of the story of Jesus. The main similarity pointed out is death and resurrection. The differences are striking, however. Jesus was raised by God, not rescued from the underworld by a faithful lover (Acts 2:32). He did not die multiple times (Romans 6:10). He was not worshiped as the god of the underworld or the god of agriculture. And He did not die once and for all after numerous resurrections (Psalm 16:10).
The story of Tammuz does not disprove the story of Jesus. It does illustrate mankind's desire to understand and take control of the natural world upon which we are dependent. Jesus did not come to bring healthy lambs or corn or the rich waters of the Nile. And He did not die because of a lover's jealousy. He died to save us from our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). He was raised again because God accepted His sacrifice. And He brings life not to crops but to our souls (John 3:16).
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