Ishtar - the West Asian goddess
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Ishtar


Ishtar

Ishtar (also called Inanna) was an important goddess of West Asia. Beginning at least by 3000 BC she was worshipped by the Sumerians, and by the Akkadians, and the Babylonians, and the Assyrians. Like most other female goddesses, Ishtar was a fertility goddess, but Ishtar was fiercer and more powerful than the Greek goddesses like Athena or Aphrodite. According to one story, when the Sumerian king Gilgamesh refused to be her boyfriend, she got angry and killed his best friend, Enkidu.

In another story, Ishtar is jealous of her son Tammuz, who brings life to the earth, so she kills him. Then everything on earth dies (like in winter) and Ishtar is sorry, and she has to go beg her sister Allatu, the goddess of the underworld, to let Tammuz come back. But he can only come back for half the year, in the spring and summer - he still has to spend the fall and winter in the underworld. (Compare this to the Greek story of Persephone). People sacrificed animals to Ishtar, and prayed to her in her temples. The Akkadian priestess Enheduanna wrote poems to Ishtar (under her name Inanna).
After most people in West Asia converted to Zoroastrianism and Buddhism under the influence of the Persian Empire, around 500 BC, Ishtar gradually became less important to them.

Bibliography and further reading about Ishtar:

Ishtar and Tammuz: A Babylonian Myth of the Seasons, by C. J. Moore (1996). Easy reading.

Inanna: From the Myths of Ancient Sumer, by Enheduanna, Linda Wolfsgruber, and Kim Echlin (2003). Another retelling of Ishtar stories, for high schoolers.

Gods, Goddesses, and Monsters: An Encyclopedia of World Mythology, by Sheila Keenan (2000). Easy reading.

Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia, by Jean Bottero (2001).

Mithra
Astarte
Enlil
More West Asian religion
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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