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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Sumerian Standing Male Worshiper (MET)

Standing male worshiper MET DT850

Sumerian Standing Male Worshiper

This Standing Male Worshiper carved from gypsum alabaster is shown with clasped hands and a wide-eyed gaze. It was placed in a temple and dedicated to a Sumerian god, to pray perpetually on behalf of the person it represented. This statue is one of twelve figures known collectively as the Tell Asmar Hoard dating back to 2900–2550 BC and was discovered in 1933 at Eshnunna in eastern Iraq. It is historically unique because it is one of a few definitive examples of the abstract style of Early Dynastic temple sculpture.

This figure derived from the Sumerian culture and was created to worship an early Mesopotamia god. The  Sumerians believed that gods were physically present in nature and experiences of daily life. Enlil was considered the most potent Mesopotamian god, during the period, this statue was created. Enlil, later known as Elil, was the ancient Mesopotamian god of wind, air, earth, and storms. He was the chief deity of the Sumerian pantheon and was later worshipped by the Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians.

Enlil plays a vital role in the Sumerian creation myth. According to Sumerian religion, he separates heaven from earth, making the world habitable for humans. In the Sumerian Flood myth, Enlil sent the flood to exterminate the human race, who made too much noise and prevented him from sleeping.

Sumerian Religion

The religion practised by the people of Sumer, the first literate civilisation of ancient Mesopotamia, was one in which they regarded their divinities as responsible for all matters of the natural and social orders. The Sumerians believed that the universe had come into being through a series of cosmic births. The primaeval waters gave birth to the sky and the earth who mated together and produced a son who separated heaven from earth and claimed the earth as his domain. Humans were then created, but heaven was reserved exclusively for deities.

Before the beginning of Sumerian kingship, the city-states were ruled by priests and religious officials. Kings supplanted this role, but priests continued to exert influence on Sumerian society. Early Sumerian temples were simple, one-room structures, sometimes built on raised platforms. Towards the end of Sumerian civilisation, these temples evolved into ziggurats which were tall, pyramidal structures with sanctuaries at the tops.

Sumerian religion profoundly influenced the religious beliefs of later Mesopotamian people and was retained in the mythologies and religions of many Middle Eastern culture groups. Scholars of comparative mythology have noticed many parallels between the stories of the ancient Sumerians and those recorded later in the early parts of the Hebrew Bible.

Reflections

  • Was this worshiper created to worship the god of the Sumerian Flood story who sent the flood to exterminate the human race?
  • Were the first sculptures created by humans expressions of religious impulses?
  • If religion was pervasive in Sumerian religion, how did Kings supplanted the ruling priests and religious officials?

Exploring Ancient Near Eastern Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Sumerian Standing Male Worshiper

  • Title:               Sumerian Standing Male Worshiper
  • Date:              2900–2600 B.C.
  • Period:           Early Dynastic I-II
  • Geography:   Mesopotamia, modern Tell Asmar
  • Culture:         Sumerian
  • Medium:        Gypsum alabaster, shell, black limestone, bitumen
  •  Dimensions: 11 5/8 x 5 1/8 x 3 7/8 in. (29.5 x 12.9 x 10 cm)
  • Museum:       Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Sumerian Culture

  • Capital:         Sumer
  • Geography:  Near East, Middle East
  • Period:          Late Neolithic, Middle Bronze Age
  • Dates             4500 – c. 1900 BC

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“A troubled mind makes you sick.”
– Sumerian Proverbs

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Photo Credit: [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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