Ezekiel 34 – Israel’s Shepherds & Sexuality and Religion in the Sumerian Hymns to Ishtar

You would think they would know how much You frown on sexual perversion after what You did to Sodom and Gomorrah.  Hugh Hefner would have fitted in well back then.

These guys worshipped false gods and goddesses that were made out of wood or metal, and it appears that somehow sex was involved at times.

Cylinder seal impression.
A carved stone cylinder was rolled across a wet clay tablet to form an official, individualized seal. This one shows the winged goddess Inanna standing above the sun god Utu as he rises, using a saw to cut his way through the mountains.

To her left is an unidentified hunter/warrior god. To her right is Enki, the god of the Abzu (the underground water table) surrounded by water and fish. Beside him is Isimud, his two-faced minister. The writing in the background identifies the seal as belonging to Adda, a scribe.

What I’m wondering is if they worshipped the idol under their names or was there also a certain faith that they believed in?  I’m curious to see…

Ezekiel 34
Israel’s Shepherds

1 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

2 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?

“Shepherds of Israel” – those responsible for providing leadership, especially the kings and their officials, but also the prophets and priests.  Ezekiel had earlier singled out the princes, priests and prophets for special rebuke.

To call a king a shepherd was common throughout the ancient Near East.  For David’s rise form shepherd to shepherd-king.

Mesopotamian Goddess Ishtar / Inanna
Classic and Classy Goddess on Marble Base

In her characteristic breast-offering pose, Ishtar / Inanna stands 11.5 inches high (29cm) in this bonded stone statue that weighs about 4.5 pounds. This is a large and lovely museum replica quality piece, just like the original More about this well-known pose below.

Bonded Stone.
They still make these statues and you can purchase this one for $64 – WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE!

3 Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.

4 The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.

5 And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.

“There is no shepherd” – a picture used often in the Bible, e.g., Mk 6:34).  It is likely that Jesus drew his language in John 10 from this chapter.  His picture there is consistent with the kings of old who took the royal title “Shepherd.”

That title is used most often in the context in which the king provides for his flock and protects his flock from those who would harm it.  Jesus altered the royal language by laying down His life instead of killing the wolf.

6 My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.

7 Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD;

8 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock;

“Beast of the field” – hostile foreign nations.

9 Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD;

10 Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves anymore; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them.

11 For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.

12 As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.

“Out of all places” – Babylon wasn’t the only place where the Israelites had gone.

As his wife god Dumuzi Inanna in Sumerian sculpture.
His constant companion was Ningizzida , both guarding the gates of heaven. He was a mortal, and his marriage to Inanna ensured the fertility of the earth and fertility of the matrix.

But later, due to the unscrupulous behavior of Tammuz to Inanna, it sends it to the underworld during the six warmer months. Upon returning, coinciding with the autumnal equinox, it gave its name to the month of the calendar of ancient Mesopotamia in his honor.

“Cloudy and dark day” – the day of the Lord came upon Israel when Jerusalem fell in August of 586 B.C.

13 And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.

14 I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel.

“I will feed them” – see Is 40:11; Jn 10:11.

“In a good pasture” – thee images for those who would lead a people appear often  in the ancient Near East.  Tukulti-Ninurta I (c. 1245-1208 B.C.) in a royal inscription spoke of “the king” as one who shepherds his land in green pastures with his beneficent staff.

15 I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD.

16 I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.

“The fat and the strong” – those with power who had fattened themselves by oppressing the other “sheep.”

17 And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats.

“Rams and…goats” – people of power and influence that were oppressing poorer Israelites.  This prophetic word shows the same concern for social justice found elsewhere in the prophets.

18 Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet?

19 And as for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet; and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet.

20 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD unto them; Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle.

21 Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad;

22 Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle.

23 And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd.

“My servant David” – a ruler like David and from his line.  In Jn 10:24, the people ask, “If thou be the Crist, tell us plainly,” to which Jesus responds in v. 25, “I told you.”  He was the Christ, the son of David.

24 And I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the LORD have spoken it.

25 And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods.

Canaanite God: Baal

“Covenant of peace” – all of God’s covenants aim at peace.  This covenant (the “new covenant” spoken of by Jerusalem, 31:31-34) looks to the final peace, initiated by Christ (Phil 4:7) and still awaiting final fulfillment.

“Peace” (Hebrew shalom) is more than absence of hostility; it is fullness of life enjoyed in complete security.

“Sleep in the woods” – often dangerous.  The phrase “none shall make them afraid” is stock language for the shepherd sections of the Old Testament and most importantly, in the merger of shepherd language with covenant language.

26 And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing.

27 And the tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase, and they shall be safe in their land, and shall know that I am the LORD, when I have broken the bands of their yoke, and delivered them out of the hand of those that served themselves of them.

“Bands of their yoke” – the bands were bars that were wooden pegs inserted down through holes in the yoke and tied below the animal’s neck with cords to form a collar.  The entire picture represents foreign domination.

28 And they shall no more be a prey to the heathen, neither shall the beast of the land devour them; but they shall dwell safely, and none shall make them afraid.

29 And I will raise up for them a plant of renown, and they shall be no more consumed with hunger in the land, neither bear the shame of the heathen any more.

30 Thus shall they know that I the LORD their God am with them, and that they, even the house of Israel, are my people, saith the Lord GOD.

31 And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord GOD.

Sexuality and Religion

in the Sumerian Hymns to Ishtar

Oholah & Oholibah, the Wicked Prostitute Sisters
Now her sister Oholibah saw this, yet she was more corrupt in her lust than she, and her harlotries were more than the harlotries of her sister. (Eze 23:11)

The sexual imagery employed by Ezekiel to demonstrate the apostasy of Israel and Judah is quite explicit.  Equating the lovers of Oholah (Samaria) and Oholibah (Jerusalem) with the foreign nations of Egypt and Assyria.

 Ezekiel made use of Hosea’s image of Israel and Judah as prostituting women.  The link the prophets established between sexuality and paganism could hardly have surprised the Israelites.

They saw the evidence all around them and knew that from ancient times many of the gods of the nations were known to have highly erotic characteristics.

The Sumerian goddess Inanna, who later merged with the Akkadian goddess Ishtar, was the preeminent goddess among the Mesopotamians.  In the mythology of Inanna/Ishtar, she is associated with prostitution.

The explicit nature of Ezekiel 23 is in many ways evocative of Mesopotamian texts that praise Ishtar.  In one of these texts Ishtar meets her lover, Dumuzi (Tammuz).  Referring to her sexual parts as “a well-watered field,” she asks, “Who will plow it?”

Inanna, the goddess of love and war, with a lion.
No other image of Inanna better illustrates her dual nature. She is depicted as a goddess of love, “showing some leg”; while the lion and the weapons of battle (maces) seen rising up behind her shows that she is also the goddess of war. In all of ancient mythology, no other deity is the goddess of love and war combined.

The eight-pointed star (Venus) is another symbol associated with Inanna. This image is in photographic reverse.

The answer is that “Dumuzi will plow it for you.”  Another text praises Inanna’s breasts as “a fertile field.”

Many of these texts may have been associated with a ritual involving sacred prostitution.  Such rites were performed with regularity on the assumption that doing so would evoke the goddess’s blessing.

Although it cannot be certain of the extent to which Ezekiel may have been thinking of Inanna/Ishtar in his caustic portrayal of Jerusalem and Samaria, it is interesting to note the sexually explicit parallels between Ezekiel 23 and the numerous hymns to this Mesopotamian deity. 

…how many Cults, Sects, or Religions existed in the time of Ancient Man, before Jesus was born?