De Horizon in het Licht
van het Mesopotamische Wereldbeeld


Vincent Ongkowidjojo


Verhandeling aangeboden tot het verkrijgen van de graad van licentiaat in de Oosterse Studies: Oude Nabije Oosten

Academiejaar: 2001-2002

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven


Promotor: Prof. Dr. K. Van Lerberghe


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I. Over de schepping: ud an ki.ta bad.a.ta

    De Sumerische overlevering

    De Akkadische overlevering

    Integratie van de horizon in het scheppingsproces


II. De horizon: dšamaš ina išid šamę tappuhamma

    Een taalkundige analyse

        Akkadische begrippen voor horizon en išid šamę in het bijzonder

        De Sumerische begrippen voor horizon

        Een overzicht van de verschillende begrippen

        Een schets van het begrip “horizon” in tekstmateriaal

    Een inhoudelijke analyse

        Literair gebruik van het begrip horizon in Mesopotamische teksten

        De horizon als grens tussen twee werelden

    Het concept horizon in het licht van het Egyptische wereldbeeld

    Een overzicht van de betekenis van het begrip horizon


III. De grenzen van de aarde

    De achtergrond van de Mesopotamische kosmologie

    Het principe van de dualiteit in de Mesopotamische kosmologie

    Het kosmische gebergte

        Oostelijke en westelijk bergen

    De kosmische oceaan

    Hints naar het einde van de aarde uit de literatuur



    De relatie tussen de bergen en de zee

        Een identificatie van de vier wereldoevers

    De begrenzing van het aardoppervlak


IV. Kur het gebergte, de zon en de god van de aarde

    Over het gebergte

        Kur “het buitenland” en kalam “het binnenland”

        Kur en hursag: het gebergte

        De mythologische draagwijdte van kur

    De zonnegod

        Het binnenste van de hemel en de poort naar de onzichtbare wereld

    Enlil kurgal


        De oerheuvel

        Het heiligdom

        De maandnaam itidul.kug = tašrītu

    De symboliek van kur “de berg”




Tekstfragmenten en bronnenmateriaal

    Lexicale teksten


        Išid šamę

        Pāt šamę


        Šupuk šamę







        An.úr : išid šamę

        An.zag : pāt šamę

        An.šŕ : išid šamę

        Ul.hé : šupuk šamę








The horizon is a distant place at the ends of the earth where cosmic mountains and cosmic seas are situated. It is also an existing place of mythological and cosmological significance.

Different words for horizon appear in both Sumerian and Akkadian. Although some words only seem apt for a certain type of text, they usually show little conceptual shading. There are mainly two expressions that with which Mesopotamian People designated the horizon. These are:

    1. the foundation of heaven (an.úr = išid šamę), and

    2. the edge of heaven (an.zag = pāt šamę)

However, the former seems to be the standard expression.


From source material it appears that the actual horizon is situated at the end of the earth’s surface and consists of a broad band of heaven just above the imaginary line where heaven and earth meet. It is in this band that the astronomical phenomena manifest.

The wording an.zag = pāt šamę on the one hand confirms that the horizon forms the boundary of the universe, while on the other hand, the wording an.úr = išid šamę emphasizes the view that the horizon is also the broad band above this boundary. These descriptions correspond to Dutch “horizon” and “gezichtseinder” (“skyline”). Nonetheless, the van Dale dictionary definition limits itself to assigning to the horizon only the apparent line where heaven and earth touch. In spite of this, our modern concept of the horizon also includes that heavenly band.


Remarkably, this skyline is often envisaged as a mountain or mountain range or a cosmic sea. However, a cosmic mountain range is found the most. It is therefore not surprising that the concept of horizon takes over many connotations associated with KUR “the mountain, mountain range”. In this way, the horizon becomes a cosmic place: inaccessible for human beings and inhabited by hybrid beings and deities.

In all this, the sun plays a key-role, since its daily rise at the eastern horizon alludes to the principle of life and his setting at the western horizon alludes to the principle of death. Moreover, the horizon is literally a gate between the world of the gods and the world of mankind. In a metaphorical sense, it is the transition place between the visible and the invisible world. This idea is based on the appearance and disappearance of sun, stars and clouds at the horizon.

The solar god is therefore associated with the horizon in numerous instances and the whole symbolism of a cosmic place seems to be founded on the heavenly travelling of the sun. Nonetheless, also the god Enlil is associated with this place. He is the god who is responsible for the communication between the two worlds that the horizon joins. Guardian spirits such as Huwawa point to the importance of this.


Recalling the prayer of the third house of the bit rimki, quoted in the introduction, this fragment indeed seems to reflect those mythological implications of the horizon as a cosmic space. Every place listed in the prayer corresponds to the horizon, unless perhaps the dulkug of which the location remains doubtful.


The concept of the horizon has been shaped in the minds of the ancients by the particular Mesopotamian geographical situation. This culture individuates itself as a civilization caught in the polarity of cities and wild steppe, in which those cities were built. Everything outside the city has been marked as hostile and as a territory of death. In the east of the plains, the ancient Mesopotamian people saw mountains at the horizon. On the one hand, this was the place where the sun rose every day, but on the other hand, this was also the place where enemy troops always emerged from.

It is this specific situation, almost innate in mythology and worldview, which has lead to the conception of the horizon as we find it in Sumerian and Akkadian texts. The horizon is an extreme boundary of the universe and at the same time a gateway to heaven and underworld. The influence of the landscape, however, remains significant in Mesopotamian world view.


The Horizon in Mesopotamian Cosmology


I. About Creation: ud an ki.ta bad.a.ta

The Sumerian Tradition

The Akkadian Tradition

Incorporating the Horizon in the Process of Creation


II. The Horizon: dšamaš ina išid šamę tappuhamma

A Linguistic Analysis

Akkadian Words for Horizon and išid šamę in particular

Sumerian Words for Horizon

An Overview of the Different Words

Outlining the Concept “Horizon” in Texts

            A Conceptual Analysis

The Literary Use of the Word Horizon in Mesopotamian Texts

The Horizon as Boundary between Two Worlds

            The Concept of Horizon in the Egyptian World View

            An Overview of the Meaning of the Concept Horizon


III. The Boundaries of the Earth

The Background of Mesopotamian Cosmology

The Principle of Duality in Mesopotamian Cosmology

The Cosmic Mountain Range

Eastern en Western Mountains

The Cosmic Ocean

Hints towards the Ends of the Earth from Literary Texts



The Relationship between the Mountains and the Sea

An Identification of the Four World Banks

The Limits of the Earth’s Surface


IV. KUR the Mountain Range, the Sun and the God of the Earth

About the Mountain Range

KUR “the Abroad” and KALAM “the Inland”

KUR and HURSAG: the Mountain Range

The Mythological Scope of KUR

The Sun God

The Inner Part of Heaven and the Gate into the Invisible World

Enlil Kurgal


The Primordial Mound

The Sanctuary

The Month Name itidul.kug = tašrītu

The Symbolism of KUR “the Mountain”


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