Lament Over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur

LSUr[1] is the longest of the extant city laments, at a length of 519 lines divided into five kirugus.  Roughly eighty percent of the text is preserved on over thirty tablets.[2]  Michalowski posits that LSUr adapted the structure of CA: the curse is directed not at the city but at its enemies.[3]

LSUr begins with the decision of the high divine council to bring calamity upon Sumer and Ur.  One of the reasons for this calamity may have been overpopulation; in numerous instances the people are said to be “numerous” (41, 123).  The divine decree is “to break up the unity of the people of Nanna, numerous as ewes” (30), and the god Nanna is said to have “traded away his people numerous as ewes” (103).  Familial and social relationships are abandoned or broken as part of the destruction wrought by divine decree (12-16, 93-98).  In another instance, all Ur suffers the same fate, besieged together by Elam (387-405).

The attack on the city results in the dispersion of the people: “Nintu had scattered the creatures that she had created” (24); “Nintu wept bitter tears over her creatures that she had created” (147).  The people are said to have scattered like a school of fish (301,407a).  The people are driven out of their homes (32, 186-87).  Many are killed; others become fugitives and refugees (186-87, 407, 431).  King Ibbi-Sin is taken to exile in Elam (35-37), along with the priests (345) and many of the people (71, 251-53).

The invasion of foreigners is a key part of the calamity, not just because of the attack but also because of the defilement of the city and temple (197).  Foreigners, having overtaken the city, “even chase away the dead” (86).  The city treasures (169) and the temple personnel and sacred articles (446) are carried off.

As in LU, the destruction of Ur in LSUr is ubiquitously described as a great flood/storm (59, 76, 81, 94, 107-08, 113, 163, 175-77, 207, 214, 405, 427, 456),[4] including an adjuration to the storm itself at the beginning of the fifth kirugu (483-91).The invaders wreak indiscriminant havoc just as a flood—no one is spared.

The deities depart the cities of Sumer as the temples are destroyed one by one.  Some of the deities become refugees (207-09), whereas others are said to have gone into exile with their people to Elam (271-78).  The deities lament the loss of their people (147-48, 178-79, 225-42, 273-78).  The restoration of the life and prosperity of the people is the decree of Enlil that triggers the restoration in the fourth and fifth kirugus (461-74; 509-13).


[1] Piotr Michalowski, The Lamentation Over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1989); full text also available here.

[2] Ferris, “Lamentations: 2. Ancient Near Eastern Background,” 410-13 in T. Longman and P. Enns, eds.,  Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 411

[3] Michalowski, The Lamentation Over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur, 9.

[4] Fleming ( “Ur: After the Gods Abandoned Us,” The Classical World 97 [2003]: 5-18.) compares the flood motifs in LU and Mesopotamian universal flood myths such as Atrahasis (14-18).

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About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, living and learning in Eastern Europe…an Old Testament professor and former liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth…eldest sibling to three, brother-in-law to Josh and Hannah…uncle to Marshall.
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One Response to Lament Over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur

  1. Pingback: Best of 2011 | think hard, think well

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