Images for the Imageless : Enzag


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Following Ea‘s, the next of these images for the imageless I created was for Enzag. It is also a companion piece to the one I made for Ea, for reasons both historical and personal that will be detailed below, along with Who Enzag is and what His significances are. Enzag, it should go without saying, is neither a particularly popular Ancient Near Eastern deity nor one with much published material concerning Him.


Image copyright Sarduriur Freydis Sverresdatter. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

The deity known to Mesopotamian peoples as Enzag, Ensag, Enzaga, or Enshag[ag], Whose name likely translates to “The Fair Lord” or “The Sweet Lord” (Al Nashef et al.: 162, 360), or possibly “The Lord Who Makes Good / Beautiful” (see entries for en and sag here), is a deity of Dilmun. Dilmun once consisted of what is now the Kingdom of Bahrain, an island nation situated in the Persian Gulf a short distance off of the Arabian mainland. Together with His chief consort Meskilak (also called Nindilmuna, “The Lady of Dilmun”), and the Goddess Laḫamun Who is described in the great An=Anum Kassite-Babylonian list as “the Sarpanītu of Dilmun” (Al Nashef, 347), Enzag was considered by Mesopotamian peoples to be the chief deity of Dilmun. In Dilmun proper, where He was known as Inzak, He was regarded as a preeminent God of Agaru. (Black and Green, 66; Al Nashef, 346) Agaru was comprised of the coastal territories of what are now Kuwait and the Kuwaiti Island of Failaka, Eastern Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman.


Dilmun was a significant Ancient Near Eastern trade nexus, handling goods from as far abroad as the Indus River Valley. (Crawford and Rice: 72- 73, 82, 86; Jacobsen: 181) Dilmun had become an important part of Mesopotamian trade and inter-“national” politics since the end of the latter’s Early Dynastic Period. (Black and Green, 66) The dialogues and bonds between Dilmun and Mesopotamia were not merely economic and political; they were also religious. We see this demonstrated in the the Sumerian poem of Enki and the World Order, in which Enki bestowed great natural wealth and “a good fate” upon Dilmun, an indispensable and above all cordial trading partner upon whom Sumer relied for the resources it lacked (lines 238 to 241). Meskilak, given in this poem as “Ninsikila,” is named as the tutelary deity of Bahrain as opposed to Enzag, though we may assume Enzag by association given Their consort-relationship. Conversely, the fate of conquest was pronounced for the pre-Persian Iranian Kingdoms of Elam and Marhashi — adversaries and desired territories of Sumer — who were to give over the riches of their lands as tribute to Enlil, and subsequently Sumer. (Crawford and Rice, 34)

Perhaps Enzag’s most famous appearance — albeit a brief appearance — is in the Sumerian poem of Enki and Ninḫursaĝa. In the second part of this poem, Enzag is the final God born from Enki’s pains, specifically Enki’s “side-pain,” through Ninḫursaĝa — these “side-pains” likely being a pun on the Sumerian term zag (lines 303 to 308 of Jacobsen’s translation, p 204; see also p 185). Enki’s various pains were brought on by His consumption of the eight plants which Ninḫursaĝa created from Uttu’s pregnancy-pains, and His inability to give birth as a male deity. (Jacobsen, 185) Enzag is then established as the Lord of Dilmun (line 312 of Jacobsen’s translation, p 204). This recognizes Enzag as a Dilmunite deity, defines a sacred origin for Dilmun itself, and through “friendly subordination” ties Dilmun to Mesopotamia by reframing the former’s chief deity Enzag as the son of two highly important Mesopotamian deities. The late Thorkild Jacobsen explains to us in ‘The Harps That Once . . .’ that this disjointed composite poem “is perhaps best understood as an occasional piece put together to entertain visitors from the island of Dilmun at a banquet at the royal court in Ur,” and that “it takes pains to flatter the visitors with praise of Dilmun’s sacred origins and its god-given worldwide trade relations. It is also, one might venture, tailored to a sailor’s robust sense of humor. Apparently, it was quite popular, for it has come down to us in no fewer than three versions [one from Ur and one from Nippur, with the third being of unknown provenance].” (181)

In Bahrain Through the Ages: The Archaeology, Al Nashef argues that Enzag was the God Who “probably represented the deity of the date palm,” on the basis of an inscription from Rīmum and another from Failaka Island which specify Him as “Inzak of Agaru,” both Bahrain and the Eastern Arabian Peninsula being areas once known for their abundant date palm groves. (346) Although the current state of Bahrain’s biodiversity and agriculture is greatly diminished, and despite the fact that the date palm no longer plays the major role in Bahrain’s arboriculture and economy that it did prior to the mid-to-late 20th century, it nevertheless remains a prominent symbol of Bahrain.


A 10 fils coin dating to the reign of Isa bin Salman Al-Khalifah (1965), showing a date palm on the obverse with “Government of Bahrain” written above. Image source.

For the above reasons, I opted to depict Enzag holding a young date palm in His hand. While research has shown a very likely connection between Enzag and the date palm as His symbol, and although it is fairly common knowledge that effectively all Mesopotamian deities are assigned some particular Divine animal whatever Their other symbolic associations, I have not yet been able to track down a particular Divine animal for Enzag. Rather than simply depict Him with a bull — a Divine animal common to a great many Ancient Near Eastern deities — I decided to show Him wrapped in a sharkskin, since a number of shark species were once plentiful in the waters surrounding Bahrain. (Sharks are unfortunately no longer so plentiful, primarily due to destructive sand-dredging and pollution.) In a similar fashion to the many so-called “Storm Gods” in Ancient Near Eastern religions, I wished to show Enzag as a slayer of dangerous sea-beings which threaten Ordered Creation (e.g., as with Tiamat and her slayer Marduk in the famous epic Enûma Eliš). Unlike Marduk, Enzag presides over an island, and so this concept of “conquering the primaeval ocean and its chaos and creating Order from it” is doubly significant to Him. In Modern conception, the shark is one of the most feared and fearsome denizens of the briny deep, and in my opinion makes for the perfect candidate to convey this particular concept.

Enzag is mentioned within a modest number of hymns and other Mesopotamian documents hailing from beyond Bahrain, particularly among those of Babylonian origin. Some of these name Enzag as the “Nabû of Dilmun.” (Al Nashef et al., 347) Tenable evidence of Enzag’s worship appears as far abroad as Elam. (Black and Green, 66; Al Nashef et al., 348 – 349) Dilmunite Enzag was possibly included at Dur Untash/Susa (Modern Shush), a cult center of the native Elamite deity Inšušinak. We know this from an inscription at Susa dating to the Old Babylonian Period wherein He is mentioned (phonetically rendered as En-za-ag, incidentally similar to the phonetic spelling I used in my piece) together with Enki / Ea and Inšušinak. (Al Nashef et al., 348) We also know this from the frequent occurrence of Enzag’s name in personal theophoric names within that area during the same period. (Al Nashef et al., 348) Incidentally, Nabû, with Whom Enzag became associated, also had a presence in the Dur Untash-Susa area. (Tudeau, 2013)

We should bear in mind that the degree of relation between Dilmunite Enzag and Elamite Enzag is not altogether certain, though direct relation is very possible. Al Nashef maintains that “the occurrences from Susa suggest that Inzak [Enzag] was an indigenous deity in that area.” (348) Bearing that in mind, it’s nevertheless probable that, given the significance and degree of interaction between these Ancient Near Eastern polities, Dilmunite Enzag’s and Elamite Enzag’s sameness in name is no mere coincidence, and any and all foreign origins for Enzag were not emphasized by Elamites. Assuming “sameness,” Enzag was likely treated as a “native” deity by Elamites due to the integrative nature of the phenomenon of religious syncretism. As Rainer Albertz and Rüdiger Schmitt astutely point out concerning this phenomenon in Family and Household Religion in Ancient Israel and the Levant : “When it [syncretism] is successful, foreign elements are accepted as part of the borrowing religion and no longer seen as alien; otherwise, they are rejected . . . that a certain religious or cultic element was of syncretistic [ergo foreign] origin one hundred or five hundred years earlier often does not explain its significance [nor its interpretations and presentations] in the present religion.” (47)

Having dealt with the basic historical details surrounding Enzag, I shall address the personal motivations and meanings behind this piece.

Why Enzag? It may seem like an exercise in “religious hipsterism” and “God-collecting,” trends that are understandably much reviled in “Pagan” and polytheistic communities, but there are actually decent reasons for it.

As some of my longtime readers may recall — though at the time I was not at liberty to disclose any significant details — my husband was stationed in Bahrain nearly three years ago, at the tail-end of the Operation Enduring Freedom war. Bahrain is, in its current state, an inhospitable place both ecologically and socially-politically, and a place that is (to my knowledge) still embroiled in a terrible civil war, between Bahrain’s Sunni elite and the brutally oppressed, disenfranchised, predominantly Shi’a populace. Bahrain is one of the places I once longed to see, and so I pressed my husband with questions about one of the historically significant lands I haven’t had the opportunity to see outside of Near Eastern history textbooks. In the years following his return and the conclusion of OEF, and with the declassification of much of the military’s goings-on there, my husband told me more stories about Bahrain. Some of them bizarre, many of them horrific in their description of the state of Bahrain and the incredible misfortunes of those who live outside the gated communities protected by veritable walls of police, and all of them were stranger and worse than what I already knew about the place and its circumstances. There was at least one instance I remember my husband telling me about, when the US forces stationed there, as the “guests” of the King of Bahrain, almost came to blows with demonstrators who came too close to base.

Without miring this entry in the woeful and gruesome details, there were numerous points in my husband’s stories which impressed upon me how fortunate he was to have returned safe, unmolested by Bahraini police the few times he journeyed off-base to explore the (disgustingly decadent and overdeveloped) “green zones” in Manama, unharmed by Bahraini civilians, undamaged by Bahrain’s incredibly harsh climate, untouched by deadly Omdurman scorpions.

Bahrain is, moreover, a place where pre-Islamic religions will decidedly never be meaningfully revived, a place whose pre-Islamic archaeological sites are constantly threatened. Saar temple is an eroded ruin of a ruin. A number of Bahrain’s historical sites are critically endangered by one of its few remaining domestic industries: construction and development. There are Bahraini scholars and conservationists who do care very deeply about Bahrain’s patrimony, contrary to the popular misconception that “Arab-Islamic people don’t care about their pre-Islamic histories,” but the force of their caring is sadly not enough to preserve what remains of it in the face of modernization. Enzag is almost entirely forgotten, and His Dilmun no longer exists. His date palms are no longer as numerous and don’t fruit in the land the way they did up until a few decades ago. The waters surrounding Bahrain are steadily becoming marine deadzones. Bahrain’s aquifers are salinating. Bahrain’s people groan under an incomprehensible weight of human suffering. Bahrain is, by all appearances, little more than scorching heat, dust, and misery now.

My husband prayed to one of the Gods of my understanding, Set, during his time in that desertified land — a natural, understandable, and by no means “unworthy” choice, given the circumstances and Set’s more popularly understood associations. However, I’ve since come to suspect that Someone more intimately connected to Bahrain itself was responsible before and perhaps in addition to Set. Set was prayed to, thanked, and glorified, but until recently Enzag was entirely overlooked. Making this piece for Enzag was my humble, inevitably insufficient, stab-in-the-dark, better-late-than-never way of saying, “Thank You for not letting Your doomed place claim the person I love and need most in life, when he was at Your mercy. Your doomed place likely won’t live again, and You are no longer living in worship there, but Your image will live in worship in my household shrine, and Your name will always be a living thing whenever it crosses my lips, Enzag, for the incomparable gift of my husband’s life.”



Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford. “Enki and Ninḫursaĝa,” translation 1.1.1. The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. 2006. Date of access: 21 Jan., 2016. []

“Enki and the World Order,” translation 1.1.3. The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. 2001. Date of access: 26 Jan., 2016. []

Albertz, Rainer, and Rüdiger Schmitt. Family and Household Religion in Ancient Israel and the Levant. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2012.

Al Khalifa, Shaikha Haya Ali, K. Al Nashef, et al. Bahrain Through the Ages: The Archaeology. Edited by Michael Rice. London: KPI, 1986.


Black, Jeremy A., and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

Crawford, Harriet, and Michael Rice. Traces of Paradise : The Archaeology of Bahrain, 2500 BC – 300 AD. I.B. Tauris, 2005.

Horry, Ruth. ‘Enki/Ea (god)’, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, ORACC and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2013 []

Jacobsen, Thorkild. ‘The Harps That Once . . .’ : Sumerian Poetry in Translation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.

Stone, Adam. ‘Enlil/Ellil (god)’, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, ORACC and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2013. []

Tudeau, Johanna. ‘Nabu (god)’, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, ORACC and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2013 []


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