Erra (god)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Erra amulet
Amulet to ward off plague inscribed with a quotation from the Akkadian Erra Epic.
MaterialStone, copper
SizeL:1.81 in (4.6 cm)
W:1.25 in (3.2 cm)
Created800–612 BCE
Present locationRoom 55, British Museum, London

Erra (sometimes called Irra) is an Akkadian plague god known from an 'epos'[1] of the eighth century BCE. Erra is the god of mayhem and pestilence who is responsible for periods of political confusion. He was assimilated to Nergal at some point.[2]

Epic of Erra[edit]

In the epic that is given the modern title Erra, the writer Kabti-ilani-Marduk,[3] a descendant, he says, of Dabibi, presents himself[4] in a colophon following the text as simply the transcriber of a visionary dream in which Erra himself revealed the text.

The poem opens with an invocation. The god Erra is sleeping fitfully with his consort (identified with Mamītum and not with the mother goddess Mami)[5][6] but is roused by his advisor Išum and the Seven (Sibitti or Sebetti), who are the sons of heaven and earth[7]—"champions without peer" is the repeated formula—and are each assigned a destructive destiny by Anu. Machinist and Sasson (1983) call them "personified weapons". The Sibitti call on Erra to lead the destruction of mankind. Išum tries to mollify Erra's wakened violence, to no avail. Foreign peoples invade Babylonia, but are struck down by plague. Even Marduk, the patron of Babylon, relinquishes his throne to Erra for a time. Tablets II and III are occupied with a debate between Erra and Išum. Erra goes to battle in Babylon, Sippar, Uruk, Dūr-Kurigalzu and Dēr. The world is turned upside down: righteous and unrighteous are killed alike. Erra orders Išum to complete the work by defeating Babylon's enemies. Then the god withdraws to his own seat in Emeslam with the terrifying Seven, and mankind is saved. A propitiatory prayer ends the work.

The poem must have been central to Babylonian culture: at least thirty-six copies have been recovered from five first-millennium sites—Assur, Babylon, Nineveh, Sultantepe and Ur[8]—more, even, as the assyriologist and historian of religions Luigi Giovanni Cagni points out, than have been recovered of the Epic of Gilgamesh.[9]

The text appears to some readers to be a mythologisation of historic turmoil in Mesopotamia, though scholars disagree as to the historic events that inspired the poem: the poet exclaims (tablet IV:3) "You changed out of your divinity and made yourself like a man."

The Erra text soon assumed magical functions[10] Parts of the text were inscribed on amulets employed for exorcism and as a prophylactic against the plague. The Seven are known from a range of Akkadian incantation texts: their demonic names vary,[11] but their number, seven, is invariable.

The five tablets containing the Erra epos were first published in 1956,[12] with an improved text, based on additional finds, appearing in 1969.[13] Perhaps 70% of the poem has been recovered.[14]

Walter Burkert[15] noted the consonance of the purely mythic seven led by Erra with the Seven against Thebes, widely assumed by Hellenists to have had a historical basis.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Peter Machinist and Jack M. Sasson, "Rest and Violence in the Poem of Erra" Journal of the American Oriental Society 103.1 (January 1983, pp. 221-226) p. 221, prefer to withhold the expectations raised by "'myth', or worse, 'epic'" and simply call it "poem".
  2. ^ Nergal and Ereshkigal: Re-enchanting the Mesopotamian Underworld, 2000, Gateways to Babylon
  3. ^ Kabti-ilani-Marduk’s name has also surfaced in the “Catalogue of Texts and Authors” from the library of Ashurbanipal, published by Lambert in JCS 16.
  4. ^ Erra V, 42-61
  5. ^ Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses: Erra (god). Accessed 03 December, 2013.
  6. ^ Rafael Jiménez Zamudio, '"El Poema de Erra" Ediciones Clásicas(1999).
  7. ^ Among the Greeks the Titans were sons of heaven and earth.
  8. ^ The provenance of some Erra tablets is not securely known. (Machinist and Sasson 1983:221 note 2).
  9. ^ L. Cagni, '"The Poem of Erra" SANE 1.3 (1977).
  10. ^ Burkert, Walter. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influences on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age, 1992, p. 109-10.
  11. ^ However, Cagni as well as Daniel Bodi (Daniel Bodi (1991). The Book of Ezekiel and the Poem of Erra. Saint-Paul. p. 104. ISBN 978-3-525-53736-7. Retrieved 18 July 2012.) state that the Sebetti are individually nameless.
  12. ^ P. Felix Gössmann, editor. Das Erra-epos (Würzburg) 1956. George Smith had published a fragment in The Chaldean Account of Genesis, 1875 as "The Exploits of Lubara".
  13. ^ Cagni, L. editor. L'Epopea di Erra in Studi Semitici 34, (Rome: Istituto di Studi del Vicino Oriente), 1969. Critical edition.
  14. ^ Machinist and Sasson 1983:222.
  15. ^ Burkert 1992:108ff.

External links[edit]