Tammuz: The Hottest Month

There, the women sit and make the Heated God cry.

Ezekiel 8:14

Tammuz was a Babylonian god. He began as a shepherd, became a farmer, and married Inanna, the Goddess of Desire. When her time came to go down to the Underworld, she sent her husband to die for her.

His followers mourned his passage each year during the hottest month. As the fertile growth of his spring marriage withered beneath the blazing sun, women gathered beneath his statue at the temple. There, his lead eyes melted until he wept.

Ezekiel warned the Israelite women against this idolatry. They renounced their God of Heat. But somehow, the month of his festival took on his name. And every year, on the 17th of his month, we mourn and fast and weep.

This year, on the 17th of Tammuz, a heat wave swept over the globe, bringing temperatures in England to 104˚F for the first time in recorded history. Wildfires scorched the Iberian Peninsula, while roads melted in China and Tunisian grain crops burned.

A litany of other tragedies has fallen on the same date, from Moses’ destruction of the Tablets of the Ten Commandments to the Romans’ breaching of Jerusalem’s walls. There are always reasons to fast.

I like to think, though, that somewhere beneath all that history, we’re mourning for the loss of spring.

Lately, it’s felt like everything is on fire. For one: the Supreme Court decided in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn the precedent set in 1973 by Roe v. Wade. The right to an abortion is no longer protected by the Constitution. The flames may spread: same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, and contraception have been threatened by name.

Already, multiple states U.S. have banned abortion. Some have made it a crime to get one, give one, or offer any form of assistance. Bounty hunters in Texas can receive cash from the State for suing anyone from doctors to Uber drivers. In a country obsessed with meritocracy and moral dessert, many people are discovering for the first time what it means to called a criminal for acts they don’t consider a crime. Many others have known this lesson their whole lives.

And all I can think of is that image of women face-to-face with riot police in Mexico City, burning with anger, demanding that their rights be enshrined into law. (It worked.)

Twenty-five hundred years ago, Inanna’s cult raised up hymns to their goddess for hunting down and murdering a man who raped her. But a few centuries later, the Queen of Heaven found herself unseated. Followers flocked to a new throne, of the Virgin Mother — and her son.

In Judaism we have a different cautionary tale. Adam cast aside his first wife, Lilith, for refusing to lie beneath him. God fashioned a new woman out of Adam’s own rib — Lilith had argued that she and Adam were equal, because they were made of the same dirt.

Lilith escaped. She became a demon of folklore, who visits men at night to spill their semen and women to kill their children. She is the inverse of the virgin mother. She is not meant to be a role model.

The Israelite women wept for Tammuz, for the world that burned. But it was Inanna who sent him to die for refusing to mourn when she was presumed dead, Inanna who decreed he remain below for six months of the year, who reasserted her power over the farmer who owed her everything and created the seasons.

If Lilith had been their mother and not Eve, would the women still have mourned his loss?

Lilith, Inanna, and the women of Mexico City say: Welcome to summer.

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