Following Nergal’s piece — which was the first of these “Images for the Imageless” and the last artwork I created during 2015 — I completed my first piece of 2016, of Iškur / Adad, the Mesopotamian analogue of the Levantine deity Ba’l-Hadad. At the end of December, while looking for unused materials with which to create Nergal’s piece, I rediscovered a sketch I had started roughly two years ago, hiding among a bunch of partially-used leaves of art paper.
When I had started this sketch for Adad years ago, I quickly lost my creative drive and direction, and left what little I managed to put to paper alone for fear of ruining it. Upon completing Nergal’s piece a few weeks ago, though, I was finally able to create again, and I finally knew what to do with this long-neglected image.
When I started this composition, I had chosen to use a bull-calf’s head to represent Adad abstractly. This was done on account of storm clouds being referred to as Adad’s “bull-calves” in Mesopotamian material. (Black and Green, 111) Likewise, many Gods in Mesopotamian religions are represented by adult bulls. I wished to distinguish Adad from Them by using the image of a bull-calf.
I also drew a traditional Mesopotamian lightning-emblem on the bull-calf’s face, in lieu of the blaze marking which commonly occurs in many varieties of cattle. Lightning is, of course, Adad’s foremost weapon.
After outlining that part of the sketch in ink, I decided to add a disc above the bull-calfs head. I modeled it after the one shown adorning Adad’s crown on a famous basalt stele dating to the Neo-Assyrian Period, which was discovered at Arslan-Tash in Northern Syria by the French archaeological expedition under François Thureau-Dangin in 1928. (Kalensky, 2008) To me, this particular disc is suggestive of “solarity.” Adad is Himself no solar deity; however, He is part of an important duo to which Šamaš also belongs.
I feel it is important to note here that Šamaš and Adad were very rarely worshiped together in cultic contexts, despite Their functioning together in oracular/divinatory contexts (which I shall expand upon below). Moreover, this particular “divination duo” only occurs within “Semitic” material, with no antecedents being found in Sumerian material either for the pair or for the tamītu texts in which They appear. In Their “Semitic” contexts, both Šamaš and Adad held much more prominent positions in post-Sumerian religions than Their counterparts, Utu and Iškur, held in Sumerian religion(s). It is for these reasons that Lambert argues for the improbability of this “duoship” ever being found in Sumerian material. (Lambert, 1)
In any event, I wanted to suggest the presence/influence of Šamaš in Adad’s piece in a way that was not obvious nor direct, while also tying the piece to an historical image known to represent Adad.
Behind the bull-calf’s head, I decided to show two crossed arrows. They symbolize Adad’s martial prowess; His lightning-weapon (without having to repeat the lightning emblem on the bull-calf’s face); and above all, His “Divine precision.” That is to say, His preeminent role in divinatory accuracy. This divinatory accuracy pertains chiefly to extispicy or reading of animal entrails, but presumably also to oil omens, astrological omens, and mathematics, as enumerated within a Middle Babylonian text concerning Šamaš and Adad’s entrusting of divinatory methodical knowledge to the King of Sippar, Enmeduranki. (Lambert, 4) Adad’s title “Lord of Inspection” refers to this. (Lambert, 5)
In conjunction with Šamaš, Adad is the deity Who presides over the holy arts of divination, as detailed within the Babylonian tamītu texts. Tamītu does not have a coherent etymology nor singular use as a term, as Lambert notes early in his text dedicated to the subject. (5 – 7) They are best described here as documents of technical “yes/no format” questioning directed toward oracles/diviners. Where Adad is the “Lord of Inspection,” Šamaš is the “Lord of Judgment” — “Judgment” not referring to justice in such contexts, but to the fair and authoritative answering of individual cases presented to the duo through oracular/divinatory questioning. (Lambert, 2) It is through Adad — Who receives questions as “Lord of Petitions” and explores yes/no questions as “Lord of Inspection” — and through Šamaš — Who relays the ultimate decision to the oracle/diviner on the matter(s) in question as “Lord of Judgement” — that Divine insight is conveyed. In like kind, it is Šamaš and Adad Who must be petitioned before commencing oracular/divinatory work. This is the case (but not exclusively so) among a variety of local and periodic permutations of Mesopotamian religions, from the Old and Middle Babylonian Periods through the Neo-Assyrian Period, from Bābilim (Babylon) to Mari to Halam-Kallassu (Aleppo). (Nissinen and Ritner, 13 – 77; 89; 137; 144)
Following the arrows, I wrote a form of Adad’s name in Akkadian beneath the bull-calf’s head, preceded by the iconic DINGIR Akkadian Sumerogram, rather than by the more-typical, less-iconic Akkadian AN sign. Using charcoal and pastels, I surrounded His name, leaving some white space around it as a simple aureola, and filled in the remainder of the space with storm clouds.
Upon finishing this work for Adad, I framed it and installed it in my Mesopotamian shrine, beside Nergal’s image and newly-acquired furnishings for this too-long-underlavished sacred space. Very fortunately, inspiration and creative impetus still did not leave me, and I was able to fashion yet more images for the imageless.
Black, Jeremy A., and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.
Kalensky, Patricia. “Stela with the Storm God Adad Brandishing Thunderbolts.” Louvre Museum, 2008. Date of access: 17 Jan, 2016. <http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/stela-storm-god-adad-brandishing-thunderbolts>.
Lambert, W. G. Babylonian Oracle Questions. Winona Lake : Eisenbrauns, 2007.