Manuals for Chanters of the Aššur (12-14)

These three documents, clearly manuals addressed to the personnel active at the Aššur Temples and the House of Dagan, again relate to the Shebat-Adar cycle. Interestingly, they provide us with more information on these festivities by including what was conceived as its natural continuation, namely, the festival held in the first month of the year, Nisan. Text no. 12, r. 19-22 mentions the journey of Aššur to the akitu house: this not only helps us date the text to a time later than the reconstruction of this temple by Sennacherib, but informs also us that this festival was considered as one and the same with that which took place in the previous months.

The term "manuals" is intended to describe the form in which they were drafted: they directly addressed their interlocutor in the second person singular. They have been also described as a kind of libretto conceived for the kalû, who used them daily for the entire period from Shebat to Nisan in the form of a cultic calendar. In fact, they provided a list of the Sumerian titles of lamentations to sing, accompanied by some indications of the actions to perform.[[7]]

They were directed, thus, to a specific class of temple personnel, the cult­singers, who accompanied the cultic acts throughout the ritual and played a crucial role for its proper performance. They bore the responsibility to assuage the hearts of the angry gods through lamentations and rites of intercession; their duty was not only to foster the reconciliation between men and gods, but also to prevent any evil consequence possibly sent by deities from taking effect.[[8]] Divine anger was greatly dreaded and, if not calmed in time, could have terrible consequences against cities, temples, and individuals. In our sources, four kinds of lamentations and ritual prayers appear, combined in different ways and all designated with their titles: eršemmas,[[9]] šuillas,[[10]] eršahungas[[11]] and other "lamentations" (ÉR.MEŠ) all appear in text no. 12; no. 13 includes ÉR.MES ù ÉR.ŠÀ.HUN.GA.MEŠ šá daš-sur (l. 1), only "lamentations and eršahungas of Aššur"; text 14, quite broken, mentions eršahungas, "lamentations" and eršemmas.

The kalû are mentioned in other ritual texts as well, particularly in those grouped in the first two chapters, as those whom the king "made rise" (MAN LÚ.ŠÚ.MEŠ us-sat-bi) and "seated" (ú-še-šib) — possibly synonymous expressions for "making them start/finish singing" They played an active role during the entire performance and did not limit themselves to the singing, but actively intervened on the cultic stage, attested by the recurrent expression a­gúr-ru GIN-an "you set up a fire brick" in text 12 and KEŠDA tar-kás "you set up a ritual arrangement" in text 13.

The king himself could sing (see text 12, 36': ana LUGAL tu-[šad-bab]), and musical instruments, mostly drums, accompanied the lamentations (see for example the mention of a bronze instrument in 12, 1. 36' and reference to the installation of a lilissu by the chanter in 53, r. 6' and 12').

Finally, the end of text 13 (ll. r. 3'-6') preserves a detailed indication of the rich reward offered to those who accompanied the rites singing the lamentations, further proof of the importance of such element for the entire ritual experience.

7 Maul 2000, 390-391 considered the text published here as no. 12 as an unicum: the present edition, however, shows that this kind of manual must have existed in multiple copies.

8 For an introductory discussion on the role of prayers and hymns in the Mesopotamian religious tradition, see A. Lenzi, Reading Akkadian Prayers and Hymns, Atlanta 2011.

9 See Cohen 1981; Gabbay 2013.

10 Frechette 2012.

11 See Maul 1988.

Stefania Ermidoro

Stefania Ermidoro, 'Manuals for Chanters of the Aššur (12-14)', Assyrian Royal Rituals and Cultic Texts, SAA 20. Original publication: Winona Laka, IN, Eisenbrauns, 2017; online contents: SAAo/SAA20 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2020 []

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