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Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Prince Gudea: The First Prophet in History

Prince Gudea
A statue of Gudea, prince of the independent kingdom of Lagash in the late 3rd millennium, is pictured during the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum on November 11, 2017 on Saadiyat island in the Emirati capital.
KARIM SAHIB / AFP

Youssef Sharqawi

Iraq is known as one of the regions that founded mythological epics and religions. It is no wonder that this country, full of civilisations, gifted us with the first prophet and the first sacred temple in recorded history, the E-ninnu temple built by the prince and prophet Gudea.

Prince Gudea, the Sumerian, lived in the age of revival, and he saw the god in his dreams, demanding from him, talking to him, commanding him and revealing to him. Thus, the experience of revelation in recorded history was ancient, nearly five thousand years ago. Gudea also built the first sacred temple in recorded history at the command of the god he saw in his dream.

The second Lagash dynasty was one of the Sumerian dynasties that ruled during the Gutian occupation, as the occupation did not spread throughout the country. Prince Gudea is considered one of the new Sumerian age of revival kings that followed the Akkadians’ rule in the late third millennium BC. He is the twelfth king of the dynasty, who ruled between 2144 and 2124 BC.

This king was called “Ensi”, and the word in Sumerian means: Prince. Also, his name in Sumerian means “the messenger or the one called by the god, or “the receiver of revelation”, meaning “the prophet”, as he mentioned in his writing on one of his statues that the chief deity of the city of Lagash Ningirsu chose him from among 216,000 men. He, and the people at that time, considered himself as the god of the city of Lagash.

Some researchers say that his name was introduced to the Arabic language in the form of “jad/yajod”, that is, “gave/gives”, and “Gudea” turned into the name of God in other languages. He is the “messenger” that God sent to humanity to guide them to the path of goodness. Thus, Gudea, as the researchers discovered, was the first prophet sent in history, whom God gifted to humanity, leaving behind preserved books and not transmitted words.

The notion of God appearing to humans in a dream was a well-known phenomenon in the Fertile Crescent, as it is mentioned in the epic of King Crete from the Ugaritic texts that God appears to him in a dream and promises him great offspring. In the text, God appeared to Gudea in a dream and spoke to him and asked him to build temples.

The great spiritual experience that Gudea lived and left to us in the cuneiform writings prompted several researchers to consider him the first prophet sent in history. The dream he left us in the writings in which God asks him to build a temple made them believe that the temple is the first sacred temple built in recorded history.

The study of the cuneiform scripts that he left reveals many other things, as Gudea points out in one of them that he is the son of the god Nunkish zida, one of the gods of the city of Lagash. In another, he mentioned that he had visited the temple of the goddess Gatumdug, whose name in Sumerian means “the one who brings good milk.”

Gudea offered a prayer at her statue after speaking to her, saying: “I have no mother, you are my mother, I have no father, you are my father, you received my seed and gave birth to me in all sanctity.”

Therefore, Prince Gudea was born from parents, each of whom represented the role of a god, and such an assertion indicates that Gudea was born from the sacred marriage. It is a ritual that was the embodiment of divine marriage, performed between a high-ranking priestess who plays the role of a fertility goddess and a priest who plays the role of a fertility god. Therefore, Gudea’s claim that his mother is the goddess Gatumdug and his father is the god Nunkish zida is entirely consistent with his writings that he is the god of the city of Lagash and that “Ningirsu” chose him to be the successor to Prince “Ur-baba”, to take over the rule after him.

The prince left us the oldest written dream in history, which he narrated to his scribes, and they wrote it down on the board. He sought help from the goddess Nanshe, so he travelled. He went to her statue and offered his prayer (it was said elsewhere that she was a woman whom Gudea called the Lady who interprets dreams, possibly a priestess of Nanshe Temple).

Gudea said: “Oh Goddess Nanshe. Your words are firm, wiser than everything. You are the gods’ dream interpreter, and you are the mother who interprets dreams. In the dream, I saw a man who was as huge as heaven and earth. As to his upper part, he was a god. At his right and left, there crouched a lion. He commanded me to build him a temple, but I did not fully understand him. Then the sun shone onto me from the horizon, and I saw a young woman whom I could not recognise. She was wearing a crown on her head and holding a Stylus in her hand and a metal plate on which the promising stars of the sky were drawn. A second hero was present. He held a slab of lapis lazuli and the ground plan of the temple to be built in his hands. The hero placed before me a brick mould and a carrying basket. Next to him was a beautiful tree with birds singing their time, and next to my god (Ningirsu), and a donkey gesturing with its hoof.”

Gudea finished telling his dream, and the goddess Nanshe answered: that the giant man, who was as huge as heaven and earth, is my brother Ningirsu, and he commanded you to build his temple – the E-ninnu. The sun that shone onto you from the horizon is your god, Nunkish zida. The young woman is your sister, goddess Nisaba, instructing you to lay out the temple astronomically aligned with the holy stars.

The hero who held a slab of lapis lazuli with the ground plan of the temple drawn on it is the god Nindub, bestowing you with the plan of the temple. The beautiful tree and the birds on it mean that you must work day and night, without a taste of sleep until you finish. The donkey standing next to your god, gesturing with its hoof, is you, as you are supposed to work eagerly and patiently on building the temple.”

We know from the remnants of urbanism that Gudea did what he was commanded and built the temple of the E-ninnu, according to the divine measures he received in a dream. He built a temple in Lagash and then in Ur and Uruk.

Gudea named himself “Gudea, of the immortal name, Prince of Lagash, the shepherd, the one called from the heart by the god Ningirsu, the one who sincerely looks upon by the goddess Nanshe, bestowed with power from the god Nindara, gifted wit wisdom from the god Baba, the child born from the goddess Gatumdug, the one granted with the great sceptre from the god Ik Albama, the one profusely gifted with life from the god Shul Shaka. The one holding his head up in the council (the citizens’ council), appointed by the god Nunkish zida”. His usual title, which appears in most of his writings, is as follows: “Gudea, Prince of Lagash, the man who built the E-ninnu temple to the god Ningirsu.”

He has many sculptures in the Louvre Museum, the Museum of New York and others. “His fingers were sculpted very gracefully as if they were the fingers of a musician, and his nails were trimmed in a classic elegant manner. His intertwining hands are very difficult to imitate”, says Zuhair Saheb in his book “The Myth of the Short Time.”

Sources

  1. Chapman, Angela. “Gudea and the Gods: Intersecting Policy and Prophecy.” Studia Antiqua 6, no. 1 (2008). Link: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/studiaantiqua/vol6/iss1/9
  2. Rachid, F., Prince Gudea, Dar Al-Hurriya, Baghdad, 1994. Arabic link: https://www.neelwafurat.com/itempage.aspx?id=lbb93583-53847&search=books.
  3. Baqer, T., Introduction to Old Civilisations. Dar Al-Warraq, 2009. Link: https://www.goodreads.com/ar/book/show/11199884.
  4. Al-Naseri, S., From the Iraqi Sculptures’ History: Statues of Gudea the Prince of Lagash. 2018.

 

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