Bitu (god)

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Bitu or Bidu (formerly read Neti or Nedu) was a minor Mesopotamian god who served as the doorkeeper of the underworld. His name is Akkadian in origin, but he is present in Sumerian sources as well.


The spellings Bitu[1] and Bidu are both used in modern scholarship.[2] The name of the gatekeeper of the underworld was written in Sumerian as dNE.TI.[3] In older sources, it was read as Neti.[4] The reading Bidu has been established by Antoine Cavigneaux and Farouk al-Rawi in 1982[5] based on the parallel with the syllabic spelling Bitu (bi-tu).[3] Multiple other syllabic spellings are attested, including bí-ti, bí-du8, bí-duḫ and bi-ṭu-ḫi.[6] Michael P. Streck suggests that the forms with du8 should be understood as a learned spelling based on the meaning of this cuneiform sign, "to loosen," and on the Sumerian word for a gatekeeper, ì-du8.[5] The name is however derived from the imperative form of Akkadian petû, "open."[7] Based on this etymology Dina Katz argues that the concept of a gate of the underworld, and the descriptions of this location in which it resembles a fortified city, were Akkadian in origin.[8]

In the so-called First Elegy of the Pushkin Museum Bitu's name is written without a dingir sign denoting divinity, though he is classified as a deity in Death of Gilgamesh and elsewhere.[9] The omission might therefore be a simple scribal mistake.[10]

According to Khaled Nashef [de], it is possible that a connection existed between the name of Bitu and that of Ipte-Bitam,[6] the sukkal (attendant deity) of the agricultural god Urash.[5]


Bitu's primary function is that of a gatekeeper (ì-du8).[11] He could also be addressed as the "great gatekeeper," ì-du8 gal.[5] This epithet was transcribed in Akkadian as idugallu.[5] In incantations which were meant to compel demons and ghosts to return to the underworld, a formula placing them under the control of Bitu was sometimes used.[12]

His position in enumerations of underworld deities varies between sources.[1] The First Elegy of the Pushkin Museum pairs him with the legendary king Etana, also believed to be a functionary of the underworld.[9] In an incantation from the middle of the second millennium BCE, he appears between Namtar and Gilgamesh.[13] An Assyrian funerary inscriptions mentions him alongside Ningishzida.[14]

In a single text, the position of the doorman of the underworld is instead assigned to Namtar.[15]


In Inanna's Descent, Bitu announces the arrival of the eponymous goddess in the land of the dead to his mistress, Ereshkigal.[1] He is also tasked with telling Inanna to remove various articles of clothing while she enters through the seven gates of the underworld.[16] In the text Death of Ur-Namma, Bitu is absent, but seven anonymous doorkeepers are mentioned among the underworld deities, possibly as a reflection of the motif of seven gates mentioned in Inanna's Descent.[17]

In the later of the two known versions of the myth Nergal and Ereshkigal, Bitu is the first of the seven gatekeepers of the underworld listed.[15]

The late text Underworld Vision of an Assyrian Prince describes Bitu as a hybrid creature with the head of a lion, feet of a bird and hands of a human.[15]


  1. ^ a b c Katz 2003, p. 401.
  2. ^ George 2003, p. 128.
  3. ^ a b Deller 1991, p. 14.
  4. ^ Kramer 1961, p. 87.
  5. ^ a b c d e Streck 2014, p. 163.
  6. ^ a b Nashef 1991, p. 67.
  7. ^ Katz 2003, p. 174.
  8. ^ Katz 2003, p. 175.
  9. ^ a b Katz 2003, p. 120.
  10. ^ Katz 2003, p. 376.
  11. ^ Katz 2003, pp. 174–175.
  12. ^ George 2003, p. 500.
  13. ^ George 2003, p. 130.
  14. ^ Deller 1991, pp. 14–15.
  15. ^ a b c Streck 2014, p. 164.
  16. ^ Katz 2003, p. 179.
  17. ^ Katz 2003, p. 358.


  • Deller, Karlheinz (1991). "On the Names of some Divine Doorkeepers" (PDF). N.A.B.U. Nouvelles Assyriologiques Brèves et Utilitaires (1): 14–16. ISSN 0989-5671. Retrieved 2022-05-13.
  • George, Andrew R. (2003). The Babylonian Gilgamesh epic: introduction, critical edition and cuneiform texts. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-814922-0. OCLC 51668477.
  • Katz, Dina (2003). The Image of the Netherworld in the Sumerian Sources. Bethesda, MD: CDL Press. ISBN 1-883053-77-3. OCLC 51770219.
  • Nashef, Khaled (1991). "A Further Note on the Name of the Chief Doorkeeper of the Netherworld" (PDF). N.A.B.U. Nouvelles Assyriologiques Brèves et Utilitaires (1): 67–69. ISSN 0989-5671. Retrieved 2022-05-13.
  • Kramer, Samuel Noah (1961), Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium B.C.: Revised Edition, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 978-0-8122-1047-7
  • Streck, Michael P. (2014), "Türhütergottheiten A. In Mesopotamien · Divine door-keepers A. In Mesopotamia", Reallexikon der Assyriologie, retrieved 2022-05-13

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