Goddess of oaths, disease and love
|Major cult center||Ebla, Kizzuwatna|
|Parents||Enlil and Apantu|
Ishara (iara) is an ancient deity of unknown origin from the north of modern Syria. She first appeared in Ebla and was incorporated into the Hurrian pantheon, from which she found her way to the Hittite pantheon. She appears in documents and personal names from Mesopotamia starting with the end of the 3rd millennium BCE, and had temples in Nippur, Sippar, Kish, Harbidum, Larsa, and Urum.
The etymology of Ishara's name is unknown.
Variants of the name appear as Aara (in a treaty of Naram-Sin of Akkad with an Elamite king, possibly Hita of Awan) Uara (in Hittite), and U?hry (in Ugaritic). In Alalah, her name was written with the Akkadogram I?TAR plus a phonetic complement -ra, as I?TAR-ra. In Alalah, as well as in A?nakkum (Chagar Bazar) and Tigun?ni the logographic writing could refer to Ishara, Shaushka or Ishtar, making transcription of personal names from these locations difficult.
While Wilfred G. Lambert considered it possible that Ishara's name was connected to early Semitic root ?hr (dawn), going as far as proposing this as explanation for her association with Ishtar, it is agreed in modern scholarship that Ishara is a pre-Hurrian and perhaps pre-Semitic deity (one of the so-called "substrate" deities from ancient Syria), later incorporated into the Hurrian pantheon. From the Hurrian pantheon, Ishara entered the Hittite pantheon and had her main shrine in Kizzuwatna.
In Ebla, Ishara was one of the main deities, and a tutelary goddess of the ruling house in particular. In that role she was known as "Ishara of the king." She is already attested as a goddess of love in texts from Ebla, and Piotr Taracha goes as far as suggesting it was her oldest function. Alfonso Archi notes that in Ebla she received maces as offering (much like Hadad, Resheph and Hadabal), which might indicate she had an Ishtar-like warlike side too.
Settlements from which the Mesopotamian cult of Ishara is attested include Nippur, Sippar, Ki?, Larsa, Urum and Tell al-Rimah. In Akkadian tradition, Iara was a love goddess; some researchers consider association with Ishtar to be the reason behind this development. Association between Ishara and both Ishtar and Ashtart is well attested in god lists from Ugarit.
Her role as a love goddess is documented in the Epic of Gilgamesh (Tablet II, col. v.28): 'For Ishara the bed is made,' while in Atra-hasis (I 301-304) she is called upon to bless a couple on their honeymoon.
Ishara's original symbol was bashmu (frequently associated with gods of the underworld such as Tispak, Ninazu and Ereshkigal) but later (ex. on kudurru) she was instead symbolically represented by the scorpion. Neither the reason behind attribution of either symbol to her nor why the change occurred are known. In addition to their association with Ishara, scorpions were a symbol of marriage. In his discussion of "ladies of love" (b?let ru'?mi - Inanna, Nanaya and Ishara) Frans Wiggermann additionally points out that she was associated with cannabis.
Due to being a well established goddess in Syria from the third millennium B.C., Ishara was incorporated into the Hurrian pantheon. She was worshipped with Teshub and Simegi at Alakh, and also at Ugarit, Emar and Chagar Bazar. Texts from Ugarit written in Hurrian enumerate the following centers of Ishara worship: "Mari, Tuttul with Emar-Sirae, Mudkin-Nidabe, Yabl?-Ali?e, Na?tarbenne-?idurae, Tunanah-?aydar and Ugarit-Zulude."
In Hurrian context Ishara was closely connected to the underworld goddess Allani, and herself acquired a cthonic character (including a connection to the so-called "former gods," believed to be an ancestral generation of deities residing in "Dark Earth," the underworld); she also developed an association with diseases, p?rticularly so-called "Hand of Ishara." In cult Allani and Ishara functioned as a dyad; worship of pairs of similar deities this way as a common feature of Hurrian religion.
During the hi?uwa festival from Kizzuwatna, meant to guarantee good fortune for the royal couple, she was worshiped alongside "Teshub Manuzi," Lelluri, Allani, two Nupatik gods (pibithi - "of Pibid(a)" and zalmathi - "of Zalman(a)/Zalmat") and Maliya. Instructions for this celebration state the statue of Ishara is to be covered with a red draped garment, while that of Allani with blue.
Hittite texts sometimes use the name "Hamri-I?hara" to refer to her, presumably due to her role as an oath goddess which developed in connection to hamri buildings in Kizzuwatna.Military oaths were particularly closely associated with her.
In purification rituals and oaths she was commonly associated with the moon god (Hurrian Ku?u?, Anatolian Arma). They were believed to punish oath-breakers, mostly by the means of various diseases. The Hittite verb i?hari?h- referred to being inflicted with such an "Ishara ilness." However, Ishara could also be placated with offerings and serve as a healing goddess.
Enlil and Apantu were regarded as parents of Ishara, at least according to a Hurro-Hittite tradition documented in the opening sequence of the Song of Emergence (or Song of Kumarbi), the beginning of the Kumarbi cycle.
Some texts refer to Sebitti as her children, but assyriologist Frans Wiggermann, who studied this group of gods extensively, points out that references to such a connection might be a result of confusion between her and the obscure figure Enmesharra, whose children these seven deities were more frequently identified as.
From the Ur III period onward texts occasionally associate her with Dagan, and in the past some researchers (ex. Wilfred G. Lambert) considered it possible a tradition alternate to the usual view of Shalash as Dagan's wife presented them as spouses. However, it's likely the association was rooted only in shared western origin and thus "foreign" status in the eyes of Mesopotamian theologians, as it isn't attested outside Babylonia, with no sources from Syria, where both of them were more prominent, indicating a strong connection; Lluís Feliu also pointed out that to make the purported connection to Dagan more plausible, Lambert wrongly assumed Ishara is one and the same as Haburitum, deity of the river Habur. According to Alfonso Archi Haburitum was analogous to the goddess Belet Nagar rather than Ishara. Like Felieu he also considers it impossible that Dagan and Ishara were ever regarded as a couple.
Ishara plays a prominent role in the bilingual Hurrian-Hittite Song of Release ("Song" being the standard translation of a Hurrian term referring to mythical compositions), a fragmentary text discovered in Hattusa in 1983, with further fragments recovered in 1985.
The beginning of the poem introduces Teshub (referred to as Tarhunna in the Hittite fragments), Allani and Ishara as the divine dramatis personae. Much like Allani, Ishara is introduced with the epithet "young woman," but she is also called "wordmaker, famous for her wisdom." The events of the myth appear to be a mythical account of destruction of Ebla, seemingly because in spite of the will of its king hostages weren't released. Fragments of the early sections indicate Teshub and Ishara negotiated something, presumably the fate of the city. Due to fragmentary nature of the text its full plot and the roles played by individual deities in the rest of the narrative remain uncertain. An episode describes a feast held by Allani which Teshub attends, the purpose and conclusion of which are unknown. While Allani and Ishara were treated as a dyad in Hurrian religion, she is not referenced there, at least in the known sections.