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109 | 2010
Annuaire du Collège de France 2008-2009
Résumé des cours et travaux 109e année
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Le dieu Assur / La déesse Ishtar

Simo Parpola
p. 1061-1062

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1These two lectures will provide an in-depth analysis of two important but little understood ancient gods: Assur, the supreme god of the Assyrian Empire (c. 1350-600 BC), and Ishtar, the Assyrian goddess of love. Both are often described primarily as gods of war, Ishtar additionally as a patron goddess of sexuality and cultic prostitution. It will be shown that such descriptions totally miss the true essence of these two gods.

2The first lecture, on the god Assur, will first outline the development of Assur from a local numen into a universal, transcendent God. Three main stages in this development are distinguished. First, the last centuries of the third millennium BC, when the Assyrians, as subjects of Akkadian and Sumerian empires, absorbed and internalized the central tenets of Sumero-Akkadian religion and royal ideology. Second, the reign of Šamši-Adad I (about 1800 BC), when Assur was equated with Enlil, the Sumerian king of gods, and became an imperial god. And third, the rise of the Assyrian Empire in the late 14th century BC, when Assur was equated with the god Anšar of the Babylonian Epic of Creation and became a transcendent God of gods revealing himself and ruling the universe through his creations, the manifest gods.

3The relationship between Assur, the manifest gods and the Assyrian king will then be examined in detail. It will be shown that the manifest gods were essentially conceived of as ministers and powers of the supreme God, comparable to the Christian, Jewish and Islamic angels and archangels, while the Assyrian king was regarded as an incarnation of Ninurta, the Assyrian equivalent of the resurrected Christ.

4The second lecture, on the goddess Ishtar, will first review the puzzling and seemingly contradictory picture of the goddess presented by Mesopotamian mythology and religious iconography. This will then be contrasted and compared with the role that the goddess plays in Assyrian prophecy, which can be reduced into two main elements: the mother and protector of the Assyrian king, and the spirit of God speaking through the prophets. It will be shown that these seemingly different roles are interconnected and open a way to understand the essence of the goddess and her multifaceted mythology and imagery. Essentially, she was the life-giving breath of God ensouling the universe. As such, she was not only the mother of all living beings, visualized as the queen of heaven, but also a hypostasis of the human soul, whose heavenly origin provided the basis for a sophisticate theory of the soul and belief in resurrection from the dead. The existence of such a belief in Assyria will be demonstrated through an analysis of the myth of Ishtar’s Descent into the Netherworld and the cult of the goddess, as well as the associated imagery. Finally, the relationship of the goddess to Assur and the Assyrian king will be considered. It will be argued that in her heavenly aspect she corresponds to the Gnostic and Christian Holy Spirit, and was considered in Assyria the feminine aspect of the supreme God.

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Cours et travaux du Collège de France. Annuaire 109e année, Collège de France, Paris, mars 2010, p. 1061-1062. ISBN 978-2-7226-0083-6

Référence électronique

Simo Parpola, « Le dieu Assur / La déesse Ishtar », L’annuaire du Collège de France [En ligne], 109 | 2010, mis en ligne le 27 octobre 2014, consulté le 24 mars 2019. URL :

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Simo Parpola

Professeur, université de Helsinki (Finlande)

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Droits d’auteur

Collège de France

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