Skip to main content

Episode 33 - Amorite 2 A Time of Ritual and Law

This week we look at the somewhat obscure 1900's BCE in Isin, where details will be thin on the ground, but that will just give us more time to focus on the Law code of Lipit-Ishtar and the annual ritual of the sacred marriage between Ishtar and the king. Ishtar, or Inanna's sacred marriage to the kings of Mesopotamia was a major religious rite, and Lipit-Ishtar's law code, especially in comparison with the contemporanious law code of Eshnnuna, tell us a great deal about the daily life and values of the middle bronze age.

I haven't really mentioned the chronological difficulties in dating all these events lately. In addition to the usual amount of uncertainty that surrounds really obscure events from four thousand years ago, there is the added bonus of having multiple dating schemes to work around. You see, historians date all these events by determining the dates of specific key points in history, usually based around astronomical observations, then by counting years through the reigns of kings, their year names, and so on, using events that were mentioned in multiple sources to provide crossovers where the counting becomes uncertain. It is all a super complex mess. By this point in history, however, we are close enough to the reference points provided by Babylonian astronomers that we can date things fairly reliably, as in generally to the year, though often by year we mean a year by the Mesopotamian calendar which actually starts in mid March.

However, these very reference points are contentious, and there are at least five different chronologies that have been used, though most popular are the so called middle and short chronologies. By the short chronology, the reign of Shu-Ilishu at the beginning of this episode actually begins in the year 1920, or sixty four years after the date I gave. Honestly, I have been reading about it a bunch, since the issues begin to crop up all the way at the beginning of history, but all I have been able to determine is that the middle chronology appears to be the most popular in current use, though there are reputable proponents for the short and indeed for an ultra-short and long chronology. Why this matters is because though the middle chronology is generally preferred, it seems that people who specialize in this particular period of history tend to favor the short dates, either because so much of it was published like fifty years ago when those dates were more popular, or for whatever other reason.

Because of this, I am having to convert everything to middle chronology dates for the show, because I don't want to have a long ramble about this in the show itself and because I have been using middle up until now and want to be consistent. I am personally agnostic on the question of which dates are right because I honestly couldn't tell you anything at all about eclipse prediction and tree rings, so middle chronology is more of a default position for me rather than some hard belief.

For the neo-pagans in the audience, this is the link for Ishtar's wedding ritual. Not really sure how you would incorporate it into your practice, but the more orgies we have in this world, the better:

There is a bit of dating uncertainty with Eshnunna's law codex, with some older sources putting it around the mid 1860's and others placing it in the 1930's. I am implicitly going with the older dates in matching Eshnunna's codex to Lipit-Ishtar, but really the main point is that the laws aren't changing in substance from place to place, just in details.