The Theological Vision of the Tākultu Ritual

The unique way in which the divinities of the Assyrian heartland were conceived in the tākultu ritual merits further attention. Although the genre of the god lists did not motivate the tākultu's sequence of topographical entries, the geographical mapping of Aššur's empire in the tākultu ritual has a theological underpinning of a different kind. All tākultu text variants begin by listing the divinities of the Assyrian cities Aššur, Nineveh, Calah, and Arbela, effectively defining the heartland of Assyria proper with Aššur at its very center. The particular theological expression of these texts cannot, however, be considered purely pragmatic. The names of the patron deities of these cities and some other deities are juxtaposed with Aššur, as in Aššur-Ištar, Aššur-Adad, Aššur-Tiara, Aššur-Lahmus, Aššur-Lahmus, Aššur-Conqueror, and Aššur-Šakkan-Tišpak. Assyria's heartland is thus expressed theologically, and the patron deities and other city deities of the region are represented as extensions of the chief god Aššur. Jan Assmann coined the term hyphenation for this type of divinity in the context of Egyptian theology,[[53]] which must be understood as a tool of systematic description, as there was no such thing as hyphenation in writing in either Egypt or in Mesopotamia. In both cultures the names of the divinities are written side by side such as in Aššur-Enlil or Horus-Re. As a theological strategy, the juxtaposition of divine names does not imply the same sort of identification as it does in the case of the translatio Graeca. Instead, the second divine element defines a quality or particular manifestation of the divinity.

In Assyria, the concept of hyphenation is first apparent during the reign of the Middle Assyrian king Tukultī-Ninurta I, under whom the name Aššur-Enlil was introduced in an effort to consolidate Aššur's rank as supreme deity while simultaneously demoting the former Sumero-Babylonian chief god Enlil to a secondary position. Because Enlil epitomized the concept of rulership, called Illilūtu, the newly introduced hyphenated name Aššur-Enlil qualified Aššur as the supreme god of Assyria. Excluding the case of Aššur-Enlil, however, hyphenation does not signify that Aššur assumes the qualities of other deities.[[54]] On the contrary, the theological intention in such cases is to define juxtaposed divinities as extensions of Aššur's agency and thereby to concretize and broaden his scope of action.[[55]] Hyphenation in the Assyrian cultic context of the tākultu ritual should thus be understood as a sophisticated and typically Assyrian variation on the invocation of a divinity, directed at expressing its particular form of agency. The expression of agency in the invocations performed during the tākultu ritual — such as in Aššur-Adad, signaling "Aššur-acting-as-the-storm-god-Adad," Aššur­ Ninurta, signaling "Aššur-acting-as-the-warrior-deity-Ninurta," and Aššur-Enlil signaling "Aššur-acting-as-the-supreme-god-Enlil" — explains the tākultu ritual's deviation from the list of divinities presented in the Assur Directory. The second element in the hyphenated name represents the modifying function defining a particular feature of Aššur's agency. Hyphenation should thus be understood as a variation of the theological "summodeism" found in hymns of the first millennium BCE, particularly those addressed to Marduk and Ninurta concerned with broadening the scope of divine agency.[[56]] According to Mark Smith, summodeism is a form of theism in which "deities are regarded as aspects or functions of a chief god, with political power often key to its expression."[[57]] Smith regards summodeism as a theological response to the growth of empires, which supplants the notion of divine translatability that is characteristic of the era of a multiplicity of powers in the ancient Near East during the second millennium BCE.

As is clear from the Sumero-Babylonian case, the supra-regional pantheon developed from an amorphous mass of divinities into an integrated whole and was structured after socially familiar patterns such as the family, the royal court and its retinue, and incipient bureaucracy to form a coherent system of action. Polytheism reflects this kind of coherent system of action (Handlungssystem) in which every divinity contributes according to their skill-set to guarantee the functioning of the cosmic order; this system is in continuous flux, reflecting changing historical conditions. In the summodeism of the god lists or hymns of the first millennium BCE, the accumulation of various roles, functions, and qualities in one deity marks the developing consolidation of divine power in one divine agency. The following oft quoted passage from a first millennium god list must suffice to illustrate the case:

Uraš (is) Marduk of planting
Lugalidda (is) Marduk of the abyss
Ninurta (is) Marduk of the pickaxe
Nergal (is) Marduk of battle
Zababa (is) Marduk of warfare
Enlil (is) Marduk of lordship and consultations
Nabû (is) Marduk of accounting
Sîn (is) Marduk who lights up the night
Šamaš (is) Marduk of justice
Adad (is) Marduk of rain
Tišpak (is) Marduk of troops
Great Anu (is) Marduk
Šuqamuna (is) Marduk of the container
[ ] (is) Marduk of everything.[[58]]

By contrast, the political and cultic realities of Aššur, Nineveh, Arbela, and Calah — the Assyrian heartland — are expressed by the various invocations of Aššur in Nineveh, among them Aššur-Aššur as the carrier of Assyrian identity, Aššur-Enlil to index his rank of supreme deity, and Aššur-Ištar representing the mediation of Aššur's divine command. In Assyria, hyphenation represents a sophisticated variant of the summodeism elaborated by Assyrian scholars in an attempt to combine theology with the spatial dimension of political realities. The invocation of the various aspects of Aššur's agency in the tākultu ritual combines an emphasis on the space represented by the gods of the various cities of the Assyrian empire with the notion of divine agency as an integrated and coherent scheme in which the god Aššur constitutes the overarching and binding principle. Invoking Aššur with this kind of hyphenation in the temples of Aššur, Nineveh, Arbela, and Calah thus establishes the unlimited potential of Aššur's agency and its ability to absorb other gods as extensions of his body and his scope of action. The implied conceptualization of the gods as a fundamental unity comprising complementary and interdependent parts functioning like a single body is further apparent in expressions like "Aššur and the great gods," which does not grant the other gods with identities separate of that of Aššur. As discussed by Simo Parpola,[[59]] religious expressions of this kind reflect the political relationships that tie the king to his governors and demonstrate the deep interconnectedness of power structures, political ideology, and religion.

The tākultu ritual's centripetal dynamic rests exclusively on the invocation of the gods of the empire. This invocation is reminiscent of the invocation of the divinities of the respective treaty partners as witnesses to oath swearing in international treaties, which is preferred to the physical participation of delegations, envoys, or divinities sent as representatives from the periphery to the center. With its long lists of north Syrian, Hurrian, Urartian, and Elamite divinities, the tākultu ritual demonstrates the authors' deep engagement with textual and cultic traditions, turning the tākultu ritual into a deeply intellectual experience. The tākultu ritual is not concerned with fostering a common identity for the peoples represented by the divinities of the various cities. It lacks any tangible sensory experience, which is generally associated with cultic performance as a means of creating and fostering a community.[[60]]

Instead, as a scholastic ritual, the tākultu constructs Assyrian identity by mapping Aššur's agency onto a mental topography of the Assyrian heartland by means of hyphenated names, in the process drawing divine agency from the conquered regions of the empire into the imperial center through the invocation of the names of their local divinities. Beyond the offerings made to the gods, the only other physical materialization of divine agency is represented in language in the form of the blessing that the gods are to speak in favor of the city of Assur, Assyria, and the king. By replacing the god Aššur in the original trinity of god­ city-land with the figure of the king, the blessing heralds the king's function as the human agent and extended arm of the god Aššur (mutîr ṭēm A[N.Š]ÁR, as stated in the Tablet of Destines from the time of Sennacherib.[[61]]

53 Assmann 2004, 17-31.

54 This suggestion was made by Parpola, SAA 9, p. LXXXI, fn. 13.

55 Pongratz-Leisten 2011; similarly Parpola 2000, 66, who classifies the Assyrian gods other than Aššur as hypostatized powers and attributes.

56 Smith 2008, 170ff.

57 Smith 2008, 169.

58 CT 24 50 translated in Lambert 1975b, 98; Smith 2008, 171-172.

59 Parpola, 2000, 168 n. 7.

60 For the creation of such communities by means of pilgrimage see for instance the various essays assembled in J. Elsner and I. Rutherford, Pilgrimage in Graeco-Roman and Early Christian Antiquity. Seeing the Gods (Oxford, 2005).

61 George 1986, 134 (K 6177+8869 = Text B 13).

Beate Pongratz-Leisten

Beate Pongratz-Leisten, 'The Theological Vision of the Tākultu Ritual', Assyrian Royal Rituals and Cultic Texts, SAA 20. Original publication: Winona Laka, IN, Eisenbrauns, 2017; online contents: SAAo/SAA20 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2020 []

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SAAo/SAA20, 2014-. Since 2015, SAAo is based at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Historisches Seminar (LMU Munich, History Department) - Alexander von Humboldt Chair for Ancient History of the Near and Middle East. Content released under a CC BY-SA 3.0 [] license, 2007-20.
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