5. Was there a belief in the afterlife in Sumerian religion?

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Return to *History 8 Mesopotamia Notes

The Sumerians did believe in an afterlife but it was not a happy wonderful paradise. They believed the afterlife was a miserable, grey, dark existence with all their ancestors. They believed that all humans go to the same place after death independent of how they lived their life on earth.

“Human beings simply became wisps within a house of dust; these sad ghosts would fade into nothing within a century or so” (Mesopotamia Computer Exercise).

Enkidu describes the Netherworld to Gilgamesh: “The house where the dead dwell in total darkness. Where they drink dirt and eat stone. Where they wear feathers like birds. Where no light ever invades the everlasting darkness. Where the door and the lock of Hell is coated with thick dust. When I entered the house of dust on every side the crowns of kings were heaped.


“The Sumerian religion was not a happy one. There was no shining golden afterlife, only pain and suffering in Kur. Cosmically located between the earth’s crust and the primeval sea, and incredibly similar in description to the Greek Hades.”

“In most other religions of the region the faithful believer is generally afforded some comfort upon death, though not necessarily equally applied to all those who practice it. Beginning with the Sumerian creation story man is never seen as able of attaining any sort of paradise.“

“Unlike even Egyptian religion, where wealth and status were determinants in the afterlife of the deceased, Sumerian kings were still bound to the same Kur as all mortals.”


“The dead were, in fact, among the most dreaded beings in early Mesopotamian demonology. In a myth called "The Descent of Ishtar to the Underworld," the fertility goddess decides to visit kur-nu-gi-a ("the land of no return"), where the dead ‘live in darkness, eat clay, and are clothed like birds with wings.’”


Michael Urdahl