See Michael Hudson, “Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land,” Bible Review, February 1999.



The theory of Sumerian democracy was essentially developed by the great Assyriologist and cuneiformist Thorkild Jacobsen (1904–1993) in his years at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute before he left for Harvard. See Thorkild Jacobsen, “Primitive Democracy in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 11 (1943), pp. 159–172 (reprinted in Jacobsen, Toward the Image of Tammuz and Other Essays on Mesopotamian History and Culture, ed. William L. Moran [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970], pp. 157–170); and, “Early Political Developments in Mesopotamia,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 52 (1957), pp. 91–140 (reprinted in Jacobsen, Image of Tammuz, pp. 132–156). The theory is not without its critics; see most recently Walther Sallaberger, “Nippur als religiöses Zentrum Mesopotmiens im historischen Wandel,” in Gernot Wilhelm, ed., Die Orientalische Stadt: Kontniutät, Wandel, Bruch (Saarbrücker Druckerei, 1997), pp. 147–153. The theory also has its defenders; see Gebhard J. Selz, “Über Mesopotamische Herrschaftkonzepte: Zu den Ursprüngen mesopotamischer Herrscherideologie im 3 Jahrtausend,” in Thomas E. Balke, Manfred Dietrich and Oswald Loretz, eds., Dubsar anta-men: Studien zur Altorientalistik, Festschrift für Willem H.Ph. Römer (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1998), pp. 281–314.


Piotr Steinkeller, “On Rulers, Priests and Sacred Marriage: Tracing the Evolution of Early Sumerian Kingship,” in Kazuko Watanabe, ed. Priests and Officials in the Ancient Near East: Papers of the Second Colloquium on the Ancient Near East—The City and Its Life (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1999), pp. 103–137.


See Dietz O. Edzard, Gudea and His Dynasty, The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1997), pp. 26–28. According to Edzard, Gudea, the most outstanding ruler of the Second Dynasty of Lagash, was not deified in his lifetime, because his name is never written with the divine determinative in contemporary documents and he never received offerings while alive. Therefore, when in his great temple hymn he is called “the ruler, the god of his city,” this is a metaphoric expression, meaning that he was the protector of his city or that he was the mediator between his people and the city god.


Shulgi was not the first deified ruler in Mesopotamia, however. The Old Akkadian king Naram-Sin, who preceded Shulgi by about a century and a half, was the first king who assumed divinity in Mesopotamia. Naram-Sin’s empire extended over all of Mesopotamia and beyond, and in order to control the Sumerian city-states in the south, which were opposed to the Akkadian overlord and whose rulers derived their authority from the local city gods, he assumed a divine status, not unlike the Roman emperors in late antiquity. However, Naram-Sin based his divine status on a decision of the citizens of his city, who deified him in a general assembly. Unfortunately, we know nothing about the nature of this first type of divine kingship. After the fall of the Old Akkadian Empire, this divine kingship was discontinued. Shulgi, following the precedent of Naram-Sin, decided in the middle of his reign to introduce divine kingship into Sumer, developing this institution in a unique Sumerian way so that it was accepted by his and future generations.


Jacob Klein, “Sðulgi and Gilgamesû: Two Brother-Peers (Sðulgi O),” in Barry Eichler et al., eds., Kramer Anniversary Volume: Cuneiform Studies in Honor of Samuel Noah Kramer, Alter Orient und Altes Testament 25 (Kevelaer: Butzon & Bercker, 1976), pp. 276–279.


Samuel Noah Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture and Character (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1963), pp. 79–83; see also Jerrold S. Cooper, Sumerian and Akkadian Royal Inscriptions, vol. 1, , (New Haven, CT: American Oriental Society, 1986), pp. 70–74.