Dumuz , the Sumerian shepherd god Dumuzi, known as Tammuz in the Bible, was the patron and protector of mortal shepherds and son of the sheep goddess, Duttur. In the Sumerian kings list, an ancient text listing the kings of Sumer, he is identified as a shepherdking who lived just after the great flood. In myths, Dumuzi was known as a fertility god.

The Sumerian Text

In the Sumerian poem “Dispute Between the Shepherd and the Farmer,” Dumuzi, the pastoralist, and Enkimdu, the god of irrigation and cultivation, were both suitors for the hand of the goddess Inanna. The god Utu, Inanna’s brother, favored the shepherd, citing him as a good provider. But Inanna preferred the farmer. Dumuzi responded by claiming his animal products were better than the farmer’s produce.

The two suitors met on a riverbank, and Dumuzi provoked a quarrel. Enkimdu, who was the god-king of the dyke and canal, refused to compete any further. Dumuzi, confident that he would win the hand of the goddess, offered friendship to his foe. Enkimdu accepted the offer and said he would bring wheat and beans and barley from the threshing floor to Dumuzi. As for Inanna, he would bring her whatever she pleased. Though the end of this story has been lost, it is clear from other stories that Dumuzi marries Inanna.

Dumuzi’s Dream

The death of the shepherd god is recounted inseveral myths. In the poem “Dumuzi’s Dream,” the god went out into the countryside, where he had a terrible dream. Terrified, he called upon his sister, Geshtinana, to interpret it for him. She told him that the dream foretold his death. Dumuzi was then hunted by evil demons. He fled into the tall grasslands, telling only his sister and a friend of his hiding place. His sister remained loyal, but his friend, who was bribed by the demons, revealed his whereabouts.

The demons encircled Dumuzi as if he were an animal and tried to snare him in their nets. Finally, they captured and bound him. Dumuzi prayed to the sun god, Utu, reminding him that he was his brother-in-law and appealing to his sense of family obligation. Dumuzi asked Utu to turn him into a gazelle so that he could swiftly flee from the demons. Utu showed mercy and changed Dumuzi into a gazelle. Dumuzi escaped, but the demons pursued and captured him again.

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Once again Dumuzi appealed to Utu, who changed him back into a man. Dumuzi escaped the demons and sought refuge at the home of an old woman. Entering her house, he told her that he was not just a man but the husband of a goddess. He asked for food and drink and begged for help.

After pouring out water for him and sprinkling flour, the old woman left the house. When the demons came near and saw the woman outside, they reasoned that Dumuzi must be inside the house. They captured him and once again bound his hands and arms. Dumuzi raised his hands toward heaven and repeated his prayer to Utu. Utu again turned him into a gazelle and helped him to escape.

Finally, Dumuzi sought refuge in the sheepfold of his sister, Geshtinana. Upon seeing him approaching, Geshtinana began to scream. Her outcry was so loud that it covered the heavens. She lacerated her eyes, face, ears, and buttocks. All of her wailing attracted the attention of the demons. One by one, seven demons entered the sheepfold. They destroyed the animals and killed the shepherd god.

Dumuzi in the Underworld

Dumuzi’s entrance into the underworld is recounted in the Sumerian myth The Descent of Ishtar. The goddess Ishtar, the Akkadian counterpart of Inanna, decided to go to the netherworld, a place of no return. There she was stripped naked, like a dead person, and turned into a corpse to be hung on a hook like a piece of meat.

Revived by magical attendants sent to the netherworld by the god Enki, Ishtar was permitted to leave on condition that she would provide a substitute in her place. Arriving back in heaven, she found that her husband, Dumuzi, was dressed in festive rather than mourning garments.

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Determined to punish him for such insolence, she designated Dumuzi as her substitute. Demons attempted to bring him to the netherworld. Once again, as in the poem “Dumuzi’s Dream,” the shepherd god appealed to his brother-in-law, the sun god, Utu, for aid. Utu came to Dumuzi’s rescue and helped him escape.

The text is broken at this point, but it appears that Dumuzi was recaptured, made a prisoner, and returned to the netherworld. Ishtar, who now repented, wept bitterly for her husband, but to no avail. Dead in the netherworld, he was left to spend six months of the year there, alternating his term of imprisonment with his sister, Geshtinana.

Other Tales of Dumuzi

In a poem called “Inanna and Bilulu,” the goddess seeks revenge against an old woman known as Bilulu. Inanna believed that Bilulu had killed her beloved Dumuzi. She killed the old woman and turned her into a water skin to hold cold water when traveling in the desert. Thenceforth, Inanna was a protective goddess of the desert.

Dumuzi’s residence in the underworld wasalso mentioned in the Sumerian myth The Death of Gilgamesh. The role of Gilgamesh, the
Sumerian hero-king, is equated with that of Dumuzi.

Dumuzi is also featured in the Akkadian myth of Adapa. After being called to account due to his misguided action against the south wind, Adapa is ordered to appear in heaven, where he encounters Dumuzi as a gatekeeper to heaven.

Storytellers can use these myths in several ways, emphasizing the feminist elements of Ishtar’s quest, and even the shamanistic parallels. In addition, Dumuzi should be familiar to those who are familiar with the Greek tale of Persephone, but the Sumerian tales also can make exciting telling on their own.