SHU.MU = Rocketships?
Zecharia Sitchin and others who parrot his work insist that there are rocket ships in the Sumerian texts. Not so.
As I note elsewhere on this website, the ancient Mesopotamian scribes created their own dictionaries. Lists of words are a common feature among the thousands of Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform tablets which have been discovered by archaeologists. Many are just groupings of common words, while others represent an inventory of the word meanings of the languages used in Mesopotamia. These "lexical lists", as scholars call them, were indispensable to the 19th century scholars who deciphered the Sumerian and Akkadian texts, for they were used to compile modern dictionaries of these languages. Today all major lexical texts have been published in the multi-volume set, Materials for the Sumerian Lexicon, begun by Benno Landsberger in the 1930s. It is indeed a rare instance where ancient dictionaries of a dead language form the core of the modern dictionaries used by scholars of today. Such is the case for the ancient languages of Sumer and Akkad. Mr. Sitchin avoids these resources, which explains why his "translations" are so odd.
The Meaning of Sumerian “MU”
On pages 140-143 of The 12th Planet, we read that Mr. Sitchin defines the Sumerian MU as "an oval-topped, conical object," and "that which rises straight." Mr. Sitchin cites no Sumerian dictionary for these meanings. A check of the dictionaries contained in Sumerian grammars and the online Sumerian dictionary reveal no such word meanings. But why trust modern scholars when we can check with the Mesopotamian scribes themselves?
In his technical but stimulating study of Sumerian and Mesopotamian terminology for the cosmos, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, Mesopotamian scholar W. Horowitz lays out the meaning of the Sumerian word “MU” directly as the Mesopotamian lexical lists have it. In discussing the meaning of the Akkadian word “shamu,” in his book, Horowitz gathered all the lexical list data for that word. What follows below is his layout. Note that the word “MU” in the left-hand (Sumerian) was among the cuneiform dictionary entries for “shamu.” A discussion of the meanings follows the entries. Briefly, “shamu” in Akkadian here means “heaven” (or part of the sky/heavens) or perhaps “rain.” According to the scribal tablets themselves, the meaning is not "that which rises straight,” or “conical object” (i.e., “rocket ship”). This is the verdict of the scribes themselves, not this writer. The red explanatory insertions are my own:
The Meaning of SHU.MU (shumu)
Mr. Sitchin goes on to claim (p. 143) that the Sumerian syllable MU was adopted into Semitic languages as "SHU-MU," which he translates as "that which is a MU" (by implication, “that which is a rocket ship”). Allegedly, "SHU-MU" then morphed into Akkadian shamu and Biblical Hebrew shem. We will consider the Akkadian word first, and then the Hebrew word.
Does Akkadian shamu come from Sitchin’s "SHU-MU"? Does Sumerian even have a word that means "that which is a MU"? Contrary to Mr. Sitchin, Akkadian shamu does NOT derive from SHU-MU, nor does shamu mean "that which is a MU."
First, Mr. Sitchin's translation of shu-mu presupposes that "SHU-" is what's called in grammar a "relative pronoun" (the classification of pronouns in all languages that mean: “that which”). Mr. Sitchin is apparently unaware of Sumerian grammar at this point, because the Sumerian language does not have a class of pronouns that are relative pronouns! One need only consult a Sumerian grammar to find this out, such as John L. Hayes, A Manual of Sumerian Grammar (p.88).
Second, there are no texts in Sumerian and Akkadian that have "rocket" or "fiery rocket" or "cone shaped" for shumu. See for yourself. Here is a video of me searching through the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary and the Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary for “shumu” to see if it is a rocket ship. These tools are the elite lexicons for Akkadian and Sumerian available to scholars in the fields today — and they are free online.
The Meaning of "ME"
To begin his argument, Sitchin quotes the following lines from an unnamed text (p. 130; why doesn't he give sources?). The text is most likely from the Descent of Inanna:
She (Inanna) placed the SHU.GAR.RA on her her head.
She arranged the dark locks of hair across her forehead.
She tied the small lapis beads around her neck.
Let the double strand of beads fall to her breast,
And wrapped the royal robe (PALA) around her body.
Although the word "ME" is not in this text, Sitchin insists that the SHU.GAR.RA is a space helmet. The object is surely some type of headgear, as is evident from the statuary Sitchin reproduces in his book (p. 132). That it involves SPACE TRAVEL is a fabrication, based on some presumed connection between it and a passage he quotes on page 136, which describes the ME that Enlil fastens to Inanna's body, objects which Inanna wears for her journeys in the "Boat of Heaven" (and so, for Sitchin, space gear or a space suit). Enlil announces to her:
You have lifted the ME
You have tied the ME to your hands
You have gathered the ME
You have attached the ME to your breast
O Queen of all the ME, O radiant light
Who with her hands grasps the seven ME
Where's the space travel part? That comes with Sitchin's interpretation of the "Boat of Heaven" in which Inanna rides - the MU. Inanna TAKES the ME's with her on her trip in the MU. Naturally, Sitchin's interpretation of the above depends on whether the MU is a flying craft, which even the Mesopotamians would deny (see above).
The word ME in other Sumerian texts describing Inanna's journey wearing the SHU.GAR.RA is used dozens of times for objects that are NOT worn. Specifically, the famous text Inanna and Enki deals with Inanna's desire to "possess the ME" of Enki. In this work, ME can refer to: (a) abstract ideas, like rulership, godship, shepherdship, priestess-ship, the throne of kingship, dishonesty, kissing, extinguishing fire, etc.; (b) activities, such as love-making, prostitution, slander, plunder, writing, leather-working, arguing, mat-weaving, and washing; and (c) concrete objects, like a black dress, hair, a sheepfold, descendants, etc.
This data is what leads scholars to define "ME" as either "cultural norms (which can be stored like concrete objects) or banners that represent these objects or ideas" (see "Inanna and Enki," pp. 518ff. in The Context of Scripture, vol 1: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World, ed. W. Hallo and K. L. Younger; Brill, 2000). What would love-making have to do with flying in a spaceship? Hair? Washing? Etc.! In all, there are 94 "ME's" in the above text, NONE of which have any clear connection to flight.
For more specific study of the word "ME", see:
Gertrud Farber, Der Mythos "Inanna und Enki" unter besonderer Berucksichtigung der Liste der ME, Studia Pohl 10 (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1973)
Gertrud Farber, "ME" in Real-lexikon der Assyriologie
Richard Averbeck, The Cylinders of Gudea, pp. 417-433 in The Context of Scripture, vol 2: Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World, ed. W. Hallo and K. L. Younger (Brill, 2000)