Step-by-step instructions on how to transform a statue into a god are inscribed on this clay handbook for Babylonian priests. Dating from the sixth century B.C.E., the cuneiform inscription was copied by the Babylonian priest Iddina-NabuÆ, whose name appears at the end, from a tablet written by the scribe NabuÆ-etel-ilani for Marduk’s temple in Babylon. The scribe may well have had firsthand knowledge of the ritual. He was the son of an incantation priest who may have taken part in the Washing (or Opening) of the Mouth (Miµs PiÆ) ritual, believed to bring cult statues to life.

The inscription begins:

When you wash the mouth of a god, on a favorable day in the biµt mummi [workshop], you set up two holy-water vessels. (You place) a red cloth in front of the god and a white cloth to the right of the god. For [the purification gods] Ea and Asalluh_i you set up offering-tables.

You perform mouth-washing on that god and for that god you set up an offering table.

You raise your hand and recite three times the incantation, “Born in heaven by your own power.” You recite three times before that god the incantation, “From today you go before your father Ea,” and you take the hand of the god and…[text missing] a ram. You recite the incantation, “As you grew up, as you grew up from the forest,” (while going) to the riverbank from the house of the craftsmen [carrying] a torch in front of the god. Seat (him) on a reed-mat, and you set his eyes toward sunset. You set up a reed-hut. For Ea, Asalluh_i and that god you set up offering-tables.

You libate best beer; you open the thigh of a ram, and you place inside an axe, a nail, a saw, a tortoise and turtle of silver and gold; you bind it up and throw it into the river.

Before Ea you pronounce three times, “King, lord of the deep,” and raise your hands and recite three times the incantation, “Enki [Ea], king of the Apsu,” and you libate beer, milk, wine (and) honey. You perform mouth-washing, and three times you pronounce the incantation, “He who comes, his mouth is washed,” and dismantle the offering-tables.

You take the hand of that god, and in the orchard in the midst of the reed-standards you seat him on a reed-mat on a linen cloth. You set his eyes toward sunrise.

During the ritual, the craftsmen who sculpted the statue are ceremonially disassociated from their work. Their hands are symbolically cut off with a wooden knife:

You bind their [the sculptors’] hands with a “headband” and cut (them) with a knife of tamarisk wood. “I did not make him (the statue), Ninagal (who is) Ea (god) of the smith made him,” you make (them) say. You open the eye of that god.

At the end of the ceremony, the offering tables are dismantled and the statue—now a god—is led to his temple by the priests, who chant prayers along the way:

You take the hand of the god and you recite the incantation, “the feet sprinting over the ground, the feet sprinting over the ground…” (and) “as he walked through the street,” all the way to that god’s temple. At the door of the god’s temple, you make an offering. You take the god’s hand and make him enter, and (going) to the sanctuary you recite the incantation, “My king, to your heart’s content.”

From Christopher Walker and Michael B. Dick, “The Mesopotamian miµs piÆ Ritual,” in Born in Heaven, Made on Earth, ed. Dick (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1999).