Ningishzida (middle figure) bringing Adapa of Eridu to Anu (on throne at right)

Ningishzida was a Mesopotamian deity, worshiped in the city of Gishbanda which lay near Ur in the orchards of the Fertile Crescent.  It seems that he was originally a tree god (the name Ningishzida means “lord of the sacred/giving tree” in Sumerian, the first known written language), but he became associated with fertility, the underworld, and the healing force of nature. I wish I could tell you more about Ningishzida, but, remember how I mentioned Sumerian was the first known language?  Surviving texts concerning Ningishzida are ancient.  The texts were baked into clay tablets and these have become smashed and broken.  When translated they look like this (roll over the links along the left side for source identification and click any of the “GI” links for English translations). There is beauty, nature, the underworld, and magic.  There are serpents and lions and glowing portals, but the meaning is unclear (to say the least).

The “libation vase of Gudea”, dedicated to Ningishzida (21st century BC). the double helix depicts the deity.

Yet if the combination of fertility, a magical tree, the Fertile Crescent, and a serpent do not seem immediately familiar to you, perhaps you should peruse the book which comes free with the hotel room (you don’t even have to read very far).  Scholarly tradition asserts that the Pentateuch was written before or during the Babylonian exile of the 6th century. The author/authors seem to have used Mesopotamian sources for the portions which deal with creation and primeval history.

The Caduceus

Ningishzida is portrayed as either a serpent with the head of a man, or, more frequently, as a double-headed serpent coiled into a double helix.  It is believed that the Greeks also made use of this symbolism in their myth of the caduceus, the wand of Hermes/Mercury which is associates with theft, deception, and death (for Mercury was a psychopomp who led souls to the underworld with his staff).  Of course contemporary people are familiar with the double helix as well.  We know that DNA, the fundamental blueprint of life is latticed together on a double helix.  It is strange that the first use of this symbol is a mysterious Sumerian tree/snake god who apparently also appealed to Jewish scholars during the Babylonian captivity.

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