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Early Mesopotamian Astral Science and Divination in the Myth of Inana And Šukaletuda

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image of Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions

The Sumerian tale of Inana and Shukaletuda recounts how the goddess Inana is raped by a homely gardener upon whom she seeks and ultimately finds revenge. Though this general plot has long been understood, certain elements of the story have remained largely unexplored. Previous scholarship has often suggested that within Inana and Shukaletuda, the goddess Inana is often described in her astral manifestation (e.g. S. Kramer 1961, 117; K. Volk 1995, 177-179 and 182-183; B. Alster 1999, 687; J. Cooper 2001, 142-144). Nevertheless, to date there has been no systematic treatment of this assumption and this study seeks to fill this gap. It is my thesis that certain events of the story (i.e. Inana's movements) can be related to a series of observable celestial phenomena, specifically the synodic activity of the planet Venus. This also explains the heretofore enigmatic climax of the story, in which Inana crosses the entire sky in order to finally locate her attacker, as a celestial miracle required by the planet Venus' peculiar celestial limitations. Furthermore, since in ancient Iraq the observation of astronomical phenomena was often done for the purpose of celestial divination, I suggest that certain events within the story may be illuminated if situated within that undertaking.


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