Išhtar's Journey: Above and Below
The Mesopotamian goddess Inanna/Ištar is represented in her astral aspect as Venus, the morning and the evening star. In one of her most famous myths, Inanna/Ištar's Descent into the Netherworld, the goddess journeys from the "great heavens above" into "great below," where she passes through seven gates. At each gate, she is symbolically stripped of her divine radiance (melammu) by the removal of her clothing and adornments. The gates in the Netherworld correspond to the gates in the Heavens. Though the myth is traditionally understood as a seasonal etiology, with its common ancient Mediterranean dying-rising god motif, and as the Mesopotamian's conception of afterlife, an earlier astral interpretation explaining the movements of Venus is detectable. This paper examines iconographic representations, archaeological evidence, and mythological and omen texts to trace the parallels between Inanna/Ištar's journey in the Netherworld and the heliacal rising and setting of Venus.
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Dr. Julye Bidmead is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships at Chapman University. Dr. Bidmead received a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in Method and Theory of Religion. She is the author of The Akitu Festival: Religious Continuity and Royal Legitimation in Mesopotamia (2004), Investing Your Humanity (forthcoming 2016) and numerous articles on ancient Near Eastern religions, ritual studies, and gender. Her current book project, Recovering Women's Rituals in the Ancient Near East, explores women's roles and rites of passage in the religions of ancient Israel, Canaan, and Mesopotamia. Dr. Bidmead is currently Education Director and field archaeologist on the Tel Jezreel Expedition in Israel.
Marilyn Love received a B.A. in Religious Studies at Chapman University. She is currently applying for Ph.D. programs in Near Eastern Studies. She is a field archaeologist with the Tel Jezreel Expedition in Israel.