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Zisurrû, meaning “magic circle drawn with flour,”[1] and inscribed ZÌ-SUR-RA-a, was an ancient Mesopotamian means of delineating, purifying and protecting from evil by the enclosing of a ritual space in a circle of flour. It involved ritual drawings with a variety of powdered cereals to counter different threats and is accompanied by the gloss: SAG.BA SAG.BA, Akkadian: māmīt māmīt, the curse from a broken oath, in the Exorcists Manual, where it refers to a specific ritual on two tablets the first of which is extant.[2]

The ritual[edit]

The zisurrû, a word ultimately derived from Sumerian, was used as a defensive measure and drawn on the ground around prophylactic figurines as part of a Babylonian ritual to thwart evil spirits, around a patient's bed to protect against ghosts or demons in much the same manner in which bowls thwart demons and curses, or as a component of another elaborate ritual.[3] It was a component in the Ritual and Incantation-Prayer against Ghost-Induced Illness: Šamaš,[4] and also the Mîs-pî ritual.[5] In the ritual tablet of the Maqlû incantation series, it instructs “Thereafter, you encircle the bed with flour-paste and recite the incantation sag.ba sag.ba and the incantation tummu bītu (“Adjured is the house”).”[6] It occurs in a namburbi performed when preparing to dig a new well and appended to tablet seventeen of the Šumma ālu series.[7] It is incorporated into the Kettledrum rituals, where the circle of flour surrounds the bull whose hide is to form the drum skin.[8] The encipit én sag.ba sag.ba also appears in the Muššu’u ritual tablet,[2]:233 line thirty-eight.[9]

The circle is rationalized in commentaries as representing certain protective deities, LUGAL.GIR.RA and Meslamtae’a according to one.[10] In other rituals a circle might be painted in whitewash or dark wash on either side of a doorway for apotropaic purposes. The choice of flour was crucial to the purpose of the ritual, with šemuš-flour reserved (níĝ-gig) for repelling ghosts, wheat-flour for rituals invoking personal gods and šenuḫa-barley to encircle beds, presumably to counter disease-carrying demons.[11]

In the ritual against broken oaths, a catalogue from Aššur gives the incipits of the two tablets as én (abbreviation for én é-nu-ru) sag-ba sag-ba and én sag-ba min sil7-lá-dè.[2]:231 The colophon line of the first of these tablets, which has been recovered, reads KA-INIM-ma ZÌ-ŠUR-ra NIG-ḪUL-GÁL BÚR.RU.DA-kam. The text describes measures to repel, thwart or imprison demons, such as trapping them in a covered fermentation vat.[12]

Primary publications[edit]

  • G. Barton, H. C. Rawlinson (1875). The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia; Vol. IV: A Selection from the Miscellaneous Inscriptions of Assyria et Bd. R. E. Bowler.  pl. 16 no. 1
  • R. Campbell Thompson (1903). Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets, &c. in the British Museum, Part 17.  pl. 34–36, line-art.
  • R. Campbell Thompson (1904). "The tablet of the Ban; tablet "V"". The devils and evil spirits of Babylonia, vol II. Luzac and co. pp. 118–125.  transliteration, translation.
  • H. Zimmern (1914). "Die Beschwörung "Bann, Bann" (sag-ba sag-ba)". Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie. 28: 75–80. doi:10.1515/zava.1914.28.1.75. 
  • Gerhard Meier (1936–1937). "Keilschrifttexte nach Kopien von T. G. Pinches. Aus dem Nachlass veröffentlicht und bearbeitet". Archiv für Orientforschung. 11: 365–367. JSTOR 41634968.  transliteration, translation
  • W. H. Ph. Römer (1989). "Eine Beschwörung gegen den 'Bann'". In H. Behrens; D. Loding; M. T. Roth. DUMU-E2-DUB-BA: Studies in Honor of Åke W. Sjöberg. pp. 465–479. 
  • W. Schramm (2001). Bann, Bann! Eine sumerisch-akkadische Beschwörungsserie. Gottingen: Seminar fur Keilschriftforschung. pp. 20–72.  text: A1.


  1. ^ zisurrû CAD Z, p. 137–138.
  2. ^ a b c M. J. Geller (2000). "Incipits and rubrics". In A. R. George; Irving Finkel. Wisdom, Gods and Literature: Studies in Assyriology in Honour of W.G. Lambert. Eisenbrauns. p. 233. 
  3. ^ Charles G. Häberl (2009). "The Production and Reception of a Mandaic Incantation". Afroasiatic Studies in Memory of Robert Hetzron: Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting of the North American Conference on Afroasiatic Linguistics. Cambridge Scholars. p. 133. 
  4. ^ Duane Smith (2011). "A Ritual and Incantation-Prayer against Ghost-Induced Illness: Shamash". In Alan Lenzi. Reading Akkadian Prayers and Hymns. Society of Biblical Literature. pp. 197–215. 
  5. ^ Jean Bottéro (1975). Annuaire 1974/1975. École Pratique des Hautes Études, IVe Section, Sciences historiques et philolgiques. pp. 99–100. 
  6. ^ Tzvi Abusch (2002). Mesopotamian Witchcraft: Towards a History and Understanding of Babylonian Witchcraft Beliefs and Literature. Styx Publications. pp. 102, 168. 
  7. ^ A. R. George & Junko Taniguchi (2010). "The Dogs of Ninkilim, part two: Babylonian rituals to counter field pests". Iraq. LXXII: 135. 
  8. ^ Beatrice L. Goff (Jan–Jun 1956). "The Rôle of Amulets in Mesopotamian Ritual Texts". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 19 (1): 8. JSTOR 750239. 
  9. ^ Barbara Böck (January 2003). "When You Perform the Ritual of 'Rubbing'": On Medicine and Magic in Ancient Mesopotamia". Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 62 (1): 6, 8. JSTOR 375913. 
  10. ^ C. Leonard Woolley (Oct 1926). "Babylonian Prophylactic Figures". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (4): 706. JSTOR 25221062. 
  11. ^ M. J. Geller (1990). "Taboo in Mesopotamia: A Review Article". Journal of Cuneiform Studies. 42 (1): 108. JSTOR 1359877. 
  12. ^ Stefan M. Maul (1992). "Der Kneipenbesuch als Heilverfahren". In D. Charpin; F. Joannès. La circulation des biens, des personnes et des idées dans le Proche-Orient ancient: Actes de la XXXVIIIe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale (Paris, 8-10 juillet 1991). Paris. pp. 393–394.