AskDefine | Define shamash

Dictionary Definition

Shamash n : the chief sun god; drives away winter and storms and brightens the earth with greenery; drives away evil and brings of justice and compassion

Extensive Definition

Shamash was the common Akkadian name of the sun-god and god of justice in Babylonia and Assyria, corresponding to Sumerian Utu.

History and meaning

The name simply means "sun". Both in early and in late inscriptions Sha-mash is designated as the "offspring of Nannar," i.e. of the moon-god, and since, in an enumeration of the pantheon, Sin generally takes precedence of Shamash, it is in relationship, presumably, to the moon-god that the sun-god appears as the dependent power. Such a supposition would accord with the prominence acquired by the moon in the calendar and in astrological calculations, as well as with the fact that the moon-cult belongs to the nomadic and therefore earlier stage of civilization, whereas the sun-god rises to full importance only after the agricultural stage has been reached. The two chief centres of sun-worship in Babylonia were Sippar, represented by the mounds at Abu Habba, and Larsa, represented by the modern Senkerah. At both places the chief sanctuary bore the name E-barra (or E-babbara) "the shining house" – a direct allusion to the brilliancy of the sun-god. Of the two temples, that at Sippara was the more famous, but temples to Shamash were erected in all large centres – such as Babylon, Ur, Mari, Nippur and Nineveh. Another reference to Shamash is the Babylonian epic Gilgamesh. When Gilgamesh and Enkidu travel to slay Humbaba, each morning they pray and make libation to shamash in the direction of the rising sun for safe travels.
The attribute most commonly associated with Shamash is justice. Just as the sun disperses darkness, so Shamash brings wrong and injustice to light. Hammurabi attributes to Shamash the inspiration that led him to gather the existing laws and legal procedures into a code, and in the design accompanying the code the king represents himself in an attitude of adoration before Shamash as the embodiment of the idea of justice. Several centuries before Hammurabi, Ur-Engur of the Ur dynasty (c. 2600 BC) declared that he rendered decisions "according to the just laws of Shamash."
It was a logical consequence of this conception of the sun-god that he was regarded also as the one who released the sufferer from the grasp of the demons. The sick man, therefore, appeals to Shamash as the god who can be depended upon to help those who are suffering unjustly. This aspect of the sun-god is vividly brought out in the hymns addressed to him, which are, therefore, among the finest productions in the entire realm of Babylonian literature. It is evident from the material at our disposal that the Shamash cults at Sippar and Larsa so overshadowed local sun-deities elsewhere as to lead to an absorption of the minor deities by the predominating one. In the systematized pantheon these minor sun-gods become attendants that do his service. Such are Bunene, spoken of as his chariot driver, whose consort is Atgi-makh, Kettu ("justice") and Mesharu ("right"), who are introduced as servitors of Shamash. Other sun-deities, as Ninurta and Nergal, the patron deities of important centres, retained their independent existence as certain phases of the sun, Ninib becoming the sun-god of the morning and of the spring time, and Nergal the sun-god of the noon and of the summer solstice, while Shamash was viewed as the sun-god in general.
Together with Sin and Ishtar, Shamash forms a second triad by the side of Anu, Enlil and Ea. The three powers, Sin, Shamash and Ishtar, symbolized the three great forces of nature, the sun, the moon and the life-giving force of the earth. At times, instead of Ishtar, we find Adad, the storm-god, associated with Sin and Shamash, and it may be that these two sets of triads represent the doctrines of two different schools of theological thought in Babylonia which were subsequently harmonized by the recognition of a group consisting of all four deities.
The consort of Shamash was known as Aya. She, however, is rarely mentioned in the inscriptions except in combination with Shamash.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.

Shamash in Judaism

see also Gabbai In Mishnaic Hebrew the verb-root for "to serve" is שמש, and the noun-form "servant" is pronounced shamash. The Hanukkah menorah has an extra light, called the shamash, which is used to light the eight proper lights. The shamash is set off from the other lights, so as not to be mistaken for one of their number.
In Yiddish, a shammesh or shammess is an attendant, caretaker, custodian, or synagogue janitor. The slang term "shamus" for a private detective derives from this usage.
The Hebrew words which express the concept of "servant" are entirely unrelated to the Akkadian theophoric name "Shamash" but are loanwords from the ancient Egyptian "sh-m-s" which originally meant "follower" in either a religious or a military sense.
This is the glyph used to represent the Egyptian word for follower - shemes (Gardiner Signlist code T18).

Notes

See also

shamash in Catalan: Shamash
shamash in Danish: Shamash
shamash in German: Šamaš
shamash in Spanish: Shamash
shamash in Persian: شمش (ایزد)
shamash in French: Shamash
shamash in Korean: 샤마슈
shamash in Italian: Šamaš
shamash in Dutch: Shamash
shamash in Japanese: シャマシュ
shamash in Norwegian: Shamash
shamash in Portuguese: Shamash
shamash in Russian: Шамаш
shamash in Swedish: Shamash
shamash in Turkish: Şamaş
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