“You are not fit to live among us!”
My feet dangled above the marble floor as Father held me by the throat like a weed plucked from his favorite garden bed. There was no point in resisting his grip. He was Enki, god of creation; maker of man and keeper of the divine wisdom. Here in heaven, he held a sacred position among the gods that could not be challenged.
He lifted me higher and the floor beneath me cracked, split, and fell away, revealing a dark pit with flecks of swirling starlight within.
“Tammuz, my son, you are a spoiled child! For this, I banish you to the mortal world until you learn a lesson in humility!”
He let go and the cold void swallowed me whole. Suddenly, I was falling. Down. Down. Down to the world below. The divine light that surrounded every god trailed behind me. I followed it with my eyes to the gate of heaven where Father stared down at me with golden eyes shinning bright as the flanking stars of Orion’s belt. I cried a final plea but the gate slammed shut, sending thunderbolts arcing across the sky. I shut my eyes and accepted my fate.
Dizzying, numbing, yet somewhat exhilarating, the sensation of my impact was unlike any I had felt before. As soon as I was able, I opened my eyes, and wobbled to my feet. All gods are skilled astrologers, commonly using the constellations to not only share prophecies, but also navigate the world. Though it had been almost a millennia since I last walked the mortal world of Sumer, I looked up into the starlit sky and knew myself to be near the city of Umma.
“You are a fledgling bird staring at the sky thinking it to be its master just because you have wings!”
Father’s words resounded in my mind like the striking of a ceremonial bell. “He thinks I cannot be humble. I’ll show him,” I said aloud, “I will go the humans and live as they do.”
I walked many miles through the desert and reached Umma by morning. With the rising sun behind me, the guards didn’t dare challenge my pass through the wide gates. Instead, they lowered their heads in a show of both fear and indifference. The people of the city did the same. Though I was only a foot taller, I was a giant among them. They stared at my golden trinkets, marveled at how the sun made my skin seem as if it were cast from bronze, and were in awe of how I walked with a perfected grace that could only be described as welcomed summer breeze. They followed behind me like lost sheep as I made my way to the palace where the king was already awaiting my arrival. As soon as he saw me, he bent the knee and bowed his head low.
“I am King Ibbi-Suen of Umma. You are welcome here.”
Everyone knelt and repeated that I was welcome.
“I am Tammuz,” I said, voice echoing like rolling thunder, “I have been sent by my father, Enki, god of creation. Show me why I should choose Umma to be my patron city.”
The king snapped his fingers and the royal coffers were opened. Servants brought many chests of untarnished gold, large jewels, and swords inlaid with magical talismans before me but I waved them away.
“I have no need for such gifts.”
The priests poured honeyed wine over a lit brazier and sacrificed a healthy bull to my name. The room filled with a appeasing scent of burnt offerings but I crossed my arms.
“Such things are expected from your kind.”
The king looked dismayed.
“Please, Great One, our city is plagued with sickness and drought. We saw your coming as the gods answering our prayers.”
He had such pleading sorrow in his heart.
“Show me,” I commanded.
He took me down the street to an infirmary where a long line of sick gathered, awaiting care. They looked frail, with eyes filled with forgotten hope.
Mortals can be such pitiful things.
Then I hatched an idea. One that might get be back into heaven. I pointed to one of the sick men.
My voice boomed and he obeyed, kneeling before me. I placed a hand over his forehead and focused my energy into him. Color returning to his skin, his face blushed with new found life. Tears welled within his eyes.
“Thank you Tammuz, great benefactor of mankind!”
I smiled, having done a good deed. One by one, I healed them, swelling with pride as each one ran off crying tears of joy. A crowd gathered and marveled at my miracles. When there were no more, the king asked if he could show me something else. I nodded and he led me atop the northern watchtower that rose high above the city walls. Stretching far toward the horizon were withering farmlands.
“See how brittle the soil is,” he lamented.
I pointed to a green patch out in the distance.
“What about that place over there?”
“That is Eshkar’s farm. He is the only one among us who is able to grow a decent yield and gives most of his harvest to the poor and hungry. ”
The king and I then visited each farm. At each one, the land owner pleaded with me for help.
“Please, Great Tammuz, I have tried everything but the crops won’t grow. My family is starving.”
I placed a hand upon their desolate field and the dusty topsoil darkened as if it had been watered by a passing storm. Tiny sprouts burst from the ground in neat rows.
When I went to Eshkar’s farm, he knelt before me but did not beg as the others did.
“Eshkar, your king informs me that you are a devout man.”
“I am,” he said.
“Then why do you cast me away like some unwanted beggar.”
“You are not unwelcome, Tammuz, but I would rather work my field and see it grown by my hand.”
The king shot him a vengeful glare but I eyed him, curiously. Withered by decades of hard work under the hot sun, his skin was dark as baked bread. Strands of silver peppered his ragged beard. He was thin but not sickly, with sinuous muscles and vibrant eyes, full of life.
“Forgive him, Tammuz, his mind is cooked by the sun. Please, by your leave, let us return to Umma. A feast is to be held tonight in your honor.”
We departed and the king talked about Umma as I watched Eshkar walk his fields with his three sons. There was an unforgettable peace about him that lingered with me, captivating my attention like an unsolved riddle.
That night, drums beat as dancers moved their way through the crowd; The whole city celebrated my decision to stay in Umma. As I stuffed my face with roast lamb, fresh bread, and delicious fruits, the king bowed and swept his hand over the mass.
“Behold,” he mused, “The Games.”
The crowd parted and two teams of large men stood shoulder to shoulder. A leather ball was thrown between them.
They scuffled, muddying the ground with sweat and blood while they passed the ball from one end of the court to the other. The people cried out after every play, creating a palpable energy surround the field.
“Do you like this?” the king asked.
“Then we shall play it for you every day.”
That night, I stared up at the stars through an open window in my royal chambers. I thought I would see the gates of heaven open up and hear Father calling me home. I waited and waited, but fell asleep disappointed.
I started a routine of healing the sick and tending to the fields. Wives cried tears of joy as I brought their husbands back from the brink of death and cured disease in their young. Farmers offered sacrifice to me, slitting the throats of their choicest beasts and burning their blood upon an altar. Every night was more feasting, with games extending far into the night. The city dynamic changed. No longer did people spend the day working, all business reoriented upon celebration and games. When this started to strain the cities resources, I used my powers to turn one loaf of bread into many, repopulate the cows and lambs, and turned water to wine. People rejoiced and sang hymns honoring my miracles, pleasing me greatly but, every now and then, I would return to Eshkar’s farm to ask if there was anything he needed. He always shook his head no. Once I pointed to his chickens and said, “I can make them lay golden eggs. No longer would you be poor.”
Again, Eshkar shook his head.
“I have everything I need.”
The gates of heaven remained shut, leaving me lamenting every night spent in the mortal world.
“How much more do you want, Father!”
Years passed and the people of Umma experienced unimaginable wealth and prosperity, becoming the envy of their neighbor’s eye. Then one morning, I awoke more tired than usual. I thought this to be the product of too much wine and too many nights spent in the company of mortal women, but when I went to heal the sick, my god-like powers waned.
“What’s wrong, Divine One?” King Ibbi-Suen asked, taking notice of how my muscles strained with each miracle.
“Nothing!” I snapped, but I was a terrible liar.
Fall came early, bringing violent storms that blotted out the sun, staining the world gray. Every miracle I performed chipped away at my power. My golden aura started to lose its divine luster. My eyes dulled. When the day came that I could no longer perform miracles, the city fell into a panic.
“What are we to do?” said the royal advisor, “We have already eaten through all of our stores and the apothecaries have no medicine prepared for the sick.”
“Silence!” The king demanded, “Tammuz will take care of us.”
I nodded and managed to replenish the food stores one last time but then fell into a week-long coma. All hell broke loose. Unfamiliar to living in moderation, the people starved. The king lost control as soon as the food riots began. Blood flowed through the streets, followed quickly by disease. When I awoke, my aura was no longer present. I felt cold and alone.
“Father!” I cried, “Save me!”
But all I heard in response were echoing cries of pain. Using what little power I had, I disguised myself as a beggar and escaped the city. As I ran across the barren fields toward Eshkar’s house, I looked behind me but my heart filled with shame as I saw smoke billowing above Umma.
“What have I done?”
I did not reveal my true identity but Eshkar took me in, fed me, and said that if I was to stay, I would have to pull my weight. I nodded and suffered his family’s lifestyle of little food and hard days out in the field. It took a while for Umma to recover from the damage I had done. Many died but Eshkar was there, lending a helping hand to all in need. He taught others how to survive and rebuild, giving away just enough so people would not starve. Though he did not pass out miracles, it surprised me how content he made them, always smiling and never shy to share a laugh. I only heard Eshkar’s eldest son complain once.
“Father, why do we help the same people who laughed at us for choosing a rugged life when Tammuz made things so bountiful?”
“We cannot blame others for their blindness and helping them is the right thing to do.”
Years passed. Slowly I found myself no longer looking up at the night sky expecting the gates of heaven to open. Instead, I enjoyed the night sky for what it was; something that made even gods feel small. I fell asleep with a content smile, accepting of my fate. It was shortly after this that I finally understood why Eshkar never accepted my help. I pulled him aside one night after supper.
“You weren’t lying when you told Tammuz you had everything you needed.”
He pointed toward Umma and said, “He healed the sick and added to its bounty, but in the process, he turned a hardworking people into beggars who no longer wished to take care of themselves. Gods never think of such things.”
I looked down at the ground feeling nothing but guilt.
“I suppose he thought himself selfless by handing out miracles yet he did it for his own selfish reasons. He should have appreciated their suffering and learned the value of moderation.”
Eshkar smiled and suddenly, his eyes flashed gold.
“That is how lessons are best learned, through hardship. Isn’t that right, son?”