Monday, October 10, 2011

Who can stand before Shiz? Inana: She sweepeth the earth before her! (Ether's Song of Death on the Plain--and America's Political Future)

Final Tally

Mighty Men versus Coriantumr
Shared versus Coriantumr
Gilead versus Coriantumr
Lib versus Coriantumr
Shiz versus Coriantumr

All down: Coriantumr versus Nobody

Coriantumr Loses

Because Jared and his brother "came forth" "from the great tower" (Ether 1:33), we turn to the records of ancient Mesopotamia to elucidate the idiom and themes of the Jaredite Book of Ether.

Unswerving Shiz, the Book of Mormon's most terrifying character, has nothing on the Sumerian goddess, Inana, as described by earth's first named poet, the High Priestess Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Agade. A comparison of the poetic language of Ether, prophet-historian of the Jaredites, to the poetry attributed to Enheduanna (a Mesopotamian contemporary of Classical Jaredite civilization) reveals the closest parallels. But why should we make Shiz out to be more terrible than relentless Coriantumr--the ultimate victor, earth's ultimate loser? Let's move toward the bitterest end and compare notes as we go.

He Sweepeth the Earth Before Him!

Now the name of the brother of Lib was called Shiz. And it came to pass that Shiz pursued after Coriantumr, and he did overthrow many cities, and he did slay both women and children, and he did burn the cities.

And there went a fear of Shiz throughout all the land; yea, a cry went forth throughout the land—Who can stand before the army of Shiz? Behold, he sweepeth the earth before him! (Ether 14:17-18; and cf. verse 27).

And we now turn to the Hymn to Inana (Inana C), in the first portion of which, says Professor Sjoberg, "any sign of mercy and love is absent." Moroni, the editor of Ether, arrives at the same conclusion in Ether 12:33-37.

(ll. 11-17) At her loud cries, the gods of the Land become scared. Her roaring makes the Anuna gods tremble like a solitary reed. At her rumbling, they hide all together. Without Inana great An makes no decisions, and Enlil determines no destinies. Who opposes the mistress who raises her head and is supreme over the mountains? Wherever she ……, cities become ruin mounds and haunted places, and shrines become waste land. When her wrath makes people tremble, the burning sensation and the distress she causes are like an ulu demon ensnaring a man.

The editors of a new anthology conclude in some surprise: "The tone of the hymn is so emphatic as to Inana's superiority to all other gods that the composition can only have issued from a religious milieu fanatically devoted to her cult," The Literature of Ancient Sumer, 93. Inana brooks no rivals--not even "the supreme god An" or "the great god Enlil." The word to note is fanatical. Americans are starting to learn the word also.

Raining Blazing Fire

Hymn to Inana (Inana C):

(l. 36) Setting on fire, in the high plain (izi = fire; ra = to beat ~ set; an = high; edin = plain), words which recall the Jaredite Battle of the Plains of Agosh and the burning of the cities by the army of Shiz.

Another hymn, The Exaltation of Inana (Inana B), evoking both flood and fire, echoes Ether's idiom of "throughout all the land; throughout the land; sweepeth the earth":

(l. 11) As a flood descending upon? these foreign lands.
(amaru ed.e: amaru = flood; kur = foreign lands)

(l. 13) Raining blazing fire down upon the land.
(izi barbar.ra kalam.e sheg.a)
(izi = fire; bar = to burn; a = nominalizing particle ~ burning fire; kalam, land; e = upon; sheg = to rain ~ participle)

(l. 18) Beloved of Enlil, you have made awesome terror weigh upon the Land.
(kalam.a = land; on)

Who Can Stand?

Both Inana and Shiz call forth the stunned query "Who can stand"? "Who rivals her?"

The Sumerian wording in Inana C (l. 15) merits a close look: innin (lady) sag (head) ila (raises), kur.ra (mountain + to the) abdirig (superior); aba (who) sag (head) mungaga (gaga ~ gar = to place). Who can place his head in opposition to the lady who raises her head in superiority to the very mountains?

For the answer--which also embraces the terrible interrogative Who?--we turn to lines 53-4 of the same hymn: "No one":

No one can oppose her murderous battle -- who rivals her? No one can look at her fierce fighting, the speeding carnage.

The Sumerian interrogative aba, marking terrible supremacy--fanatical supremacy--packs rhetorical force: Aba munabsigge? Who can be put up (sig) against (her)? The parallel "Who can stand against the army of Shiz?" takes away the breath. We meet the same cultural milieu in both Ether and Enheduanna. The Prophet Joseph Smith did not borrow this rhetoric of violent desperation from the comparatively tame Old Testament.

In a tigi to Inana (Inana E) we again find answer to the rhetorical question "Who can stand?"

(l. 30) Lady whom no one can withstand in battle, great daughter of Suen who rises in heaven and inspires terror.
(nin me.n.a nugub.a)
(nin = lady; me.n.a =battle, with locative a= in; nu = not; gub = to stand = one cannot stand against)

Exaltation of Inana (Inana B)

(l. 26) In the van of battle [lit. igi me.ta = the eye of battle], all is struck down before you.

The Swift and Speedy Game

Now back to Ether and its terrible swift sweeping:

And so great and lasting had been the war, and so long had been the scene of bloodshed and carnage, that the whole face of the land was covered with the bodies of the dead.

And so swift and speedy was the war that there was none left to bury the dead, but they did march forth from the shedding of blood to the shedding of blood, leaving the bodies of both men, women, and children strewed upon the face of the land, to become a prey to the worms of the flesh (Ether 14: 21-2).

Exaltation of Inana (Inana B)

(l. 28) You charge forward like a charging storm.

Hymn to Inana (Inana C)

(ll. 18-21) She stirs confusion and chaos against those who are disobedient to her, speeding carnage and inciting the devastating flood, clothed in terrifying radiance. It is her game to speed conflict and battle, untiring, strapping on her sandals. Clothed (?) in a furious storm, a whirlwind.

Game? The terrifying word is ene. The idioms for speeding carnage and to speed conflict and battle also eerily echo Ether. We read: (l. 19) gisgisla sulsul (gisla = battle; sulsul =to hasten); (l. 20) shenshen me hab sar akd.e (shenshen = combat; me = battle; hub =foot; sar = run; ak.e = to do/done), that is "battle done at a run." ("And for fun!")

And what natural force sweeps speedy battle? We find three tossed together--at a run: devastating flood, furious storm, whirlwind. Like some terrible broom maker, nature twists strands of maruru (tempest = flood), ud (storm), and dalhamun (duststorm). Dalhamun blows "chaos" and "confusion": it signifies an end to order (John Halloran's Lexicon of Sumerian). All of which compels us to compare the choice of the translators of Inana C (l.55) in describing the tempestuous force of the collected waters as "sweeping"--would they have had any other choice for a force that "leave[s] not a rack behind"?--to the same imagery describing Shiz in the Book of Ether: He sweepeth the earth before him!

(l.55) Engulfing? water, raging [lit. angry], sweeping [lit. ur-ur = collecting again and again? and thus overwhelming] over the earth, she leaves nothing behind [nijnam nudada = anything at all, she not leaves behind].

Better news comes from a prophecy of Enoch:

"And righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood" (Moses 7:62), a prophecy which foretells the coming forth of the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ--including the unavoidable Book of Ether--a sweeping warning to our generation! "And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles," that ye may not "be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come" (Ether 2:11; 9).

On the Wide and Silent Plain

Things only get worse in Ether 15. And here the parallels with Enheduanna, with her oddly beautiful turns of phrase--or is it one continual round of howlings?--begin to startle:

Exaltation of Inana (Inana B)

(ll. 24-5) Because of you, the threshold of tears is opened, and people walk along the path of the house of great lamentation.

Ether 15:

And it came to pass that when they were all gathered together, every one to the army which he would, with their wives and their children—both men, women and children being armed with weapons of war, having shields, and breastplates, and head-plates, and being clothed after the manner of war—they did march forth one against another to battle; and they fought all that day, and conquered not.

And it came to pass that when it was night they were weary, and retired to their camps; and after they had retired to their camps they took up a howling and a lamentation for the loss of the slain of their people; and so great were their cries, their howlings and lamentations, that they did rend the air exceedingly.

And it came to pass that on the morrow they did go again to battle, and great and terrible was that day; nevertheless, they conquered not, and when the night came again they did rend the air with their cries, and their howlings, and their mournings, for the loss of the slain of their people (Ether 15:15-17).

Hymn to Inana (Inana C)

(ll. 49-55) On the wide and silent plain, darkening the bright daylight, she turns midday into darkness. People look upon each other in anger, they look for combat. Their shouting disturbs the plain, it weighs on the pasture and the waste land. Her howling is like Iškur's [the storm god] and makes the flesh of all the lands tremble. No one can oppose her murderous battle -- who rivals her? No one can look at her fierce fighting, the speeding carnage. Engulfing (?) water, raging, sweeping over the earth, she leaves nothing behind.

The place merits a closer look:

On the wide and silent plain
darkening the bright daylight,
she turns midday into darkness.
People look upon each other in anger,
they look for combat.

The wide and silent plain evokes the settings of Coriantumr's great battles, even as it also recalls Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" (ll. 35-37):

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

And it came to pass that Coriantumr was exceedingly angry with Shared, and he went against him with his armies to battle; and they did meet in great anger, and they did meet in the valley of Gilgal; and the battle became exceedingly sore.

And it came to pass that Shared fought against him for the space of three days. And it came to pass that Coriantumr beat him, and did pursue him until he came to the plains of Heshlon.

And it came to pass that Shared gave him battle again upon the plains (Ether 13:27-29: thence back to Gilgal).

And it came to pass that Lib did smite the army of Coriantumr, that they fled again[!] to the wilderness of Akish. And it came to pass that Lib did pursue him until he came to the plains of Agosh. . . And when he had come to the plains of Agosh he give battle unto Lib (Ether 14:14-5).

And on the morrow they fought even until the night came. And when the night came they were drunken with anger, even as a man who is drunken with wine; and they slept again upon their swords (Ether 15:22).

Around and again the game wheels from Gilgal to Gilgal, Gog and Magog, Akish, Agosh (Semitic, glgl ~ gll, to be round, go round).

The turns of phrase, as of battle, haunt: lu-u lu-ra (man to [ra] man) igi mu-un-suh-re (eye + tear out; that is, they stare intently); inbir igi binduru (they look for inbir, they look for combat, lit. the eye spreads for combat). "Battle again upon the plains. . ."

The silent plain, the sullen stares, the dilated pupils--the berserker moment--and all is broken by the shouts, the cries, and then the howl, then the mournful drum:

Exaltation of Inana (Inana B)

(l. 33) With the lamenting balag drum a lament is struck up.
(bala[n]g anirata ilu imdabe)
(bala[n]g; anir.a.ta: anir = lament; a=genitive; ta = with; ilu = (sad) song; imdab.e: dug = to say ~ chant)

With the thump of the tambor, there tempts the return of the human--but it's too late.

Drums throb, and howlings: Let us revisit the words in Inana C and glimpse the unfathomable workings of translation:

(l. 51) gu ri-a-ta edin-ta (gu = voice; ri = to direct), that is, a "directed voice"--so that's a shout? It seems so. Again (l. 52): sheg gi-a-ni ishkur-gin (sheg = loud noise; gi = to return, send back; -ani = her; ishkur.gin = like the storm god Ishkur), which could read: She echoes back a loud noise like that of the Storm god. But if Enheduanna were an English major, how would she translate sheg? Just as do the editors of Oxford's Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. After all, storms howl: She howls in answer like the howling of Stormwind.

The Path to the House of Lamentation

He saw that there had been slain by the sword already nearly two millions of his people, and he began to sorrow in his heart; yea, there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children (Ether 15:2).

And it came to pass that the people repented not of their iniquity; and the people of Coriantumr were stirred up to anger against the people of Shiz; and the people of Shiz were stirred up to anger against the people of Coriantumr; wherefore, the people of Shiz did give battle unto the people of Coriantumr (Ether 15:6).

Hymn to Inana (Inana C)

(ll. 39-48) …… she performs a song. This song …… its established plan, weeping, the food and milk of death. Whoever eats …… Inana's food and milk of death will not last. Gall will give a burning pain to those she gives it to eat, …… in their mouth ……. In her joyful heart she performs the song of death on the plain. She performs the song of her heart. She washes their weapons with blood and gore, ……. Axes smash heads, spears penetrate and maces are covered in blood. Their evil mouths …… the warriors ……. On their first offerings she pours blood, filling them with death.

In Ether 15 Inanna again "performs the song of her heart" washing "their weapons with blood and gore...... Axes smash heads, spears penetrate and maces are covered in blood":

The Song of Death on the Plain

And it came to pass that they fought all that day, and when the night came they slept upon their swords.

And on the morrow they fought even until the night came.

And when the night came they were drunken with anger, even as a man who is drunken with wine; and they slept again upon their swords (Ether 15: 20-22).

And...and...and (repeated five times). And it came to pass that eventually nothing came to pass; Lincoln's "awful arithmetic" has summed its sum.

She Performs the Song of Her Heart

Hymn to Inana (Inana C)

(ll. 30-1) She abases those whom she despises. The mistress, an eagle that lets no one escape.

Wherefore, he did pursue them, and on the morrow he did overtake them; and they fought again with the sword. And it came to pass that when they had all fallen by the sword, save it were Coriantumr and Shiz, behold Shiz had fainted with the loss of blood.

And it came to pass that when Coriantumr had leaned upon his sword, that he rested a little, he smote off the head of Shiz.

And it came to pass that after he had smitten off the head of Shiz, that Shiz raised up on his hands and fell; and after that he had struggled for breath, he died.

And it came to pass that Coriantumr fell to the earth, and became as if he had no life (Ether 15: 29-32).

The rest is silence; for who remains to strike the sad song of the balang? who to howl lament?

A Warning

The songs of Inana tumble out of time. Of what piquancy are they today? The timeless wars of Mesopotamia: Do they really have any anything to say about our wars today? even our Mesopotamian wars? The Tigris and the Euphrates change course; kingdoms fall; kingdoms rise. There is nothing new under the sun.

Except the Book of Mormon, that is. Ether presents us with a new story, but we write our own ending. The Gog-and-Magog battling of Coriantumr and Shiz comes as a warning to America today. It comes as a warning against our paralyzing anger, our drunken refusal to call a halt, to compromise. We sleep in anger and rise to march. Forget the hungry generations. The Valley of Gilgal and the Wilderness of Akish, Agosh and Ramah, the edin and the hill: these are American places, as yet unchanged, ever awaiting--and just around the corner.

We write our own ending.


Transliterations and translations of the hymns to Inana may be found on the online resource:

Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Ebeling, J., Flückiger-Hawker, E., Robson, E., Taylor, J., and Zólyomi, G., The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (, Oxford 1998–2006.

Concise introductions to The Exaltation of Inana (Inana B) and a Hymn to Inana (Inana C), including discussion of the thorny matters of attribution and dating, may be found in Jeremy Black, Graham Cunningham, Eleanor Robson, and Gabor Zolyomi, The Literature of Ancient Sumer (Oxford, 2004), 92-9 (Hymn to Inana) and 315-20 (Exaltation of Inana).

I have also consulted Ake W. Sjoberg, "in-nin sa-gur4-ra: A Hymn to the Goddess Inanna by the en-Priestess Enheduanna," Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie 65 (1975), 161-253. The quotation "Any sign of mercy and love is absent," is found on p. 162.

Analysis of Sumerian Words:

"There is no dictionary of the Sumerian language": Such is the bad news which greets every student of Sumerian. The good news is that it is great fun to study a language without a dictionary--witness the success of the Rosetta Stone series. After a few seminars, (a little) vocabulary sinks in. It therefore came as a surprise to find English "translations" instantaneously appear over the highlighted words of the transliterated texts in the ETCSL. Some of these words are old hat, most new; I'll take them all.

Copyright 2011 by Val Hinckley Sederholm

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