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The Myth of a Sumerian 12th Planet: “Nibiru” According to the Cuneiform Sources (статья на английском)

Шумерская табличка, НибируЭтот материал составлен из двух наиболее интересных статей Майкла С. Хазера, кандидата исторических наук, исследователя Еврейской Библии и древне-семитских языков, университет Висконсин-Медисон. Присутствует анализ шумерских таблиц (например малоизвестной Мул.Апин или «Плуг звезда», которую некоторые источники вспоминают наряду с «Энума элиш») и известной печати VA 243. Включены »The Myth of a Sumerian 12th Planet: »Nibiru” According to the Cuneiform Sources (Миф о шумерской 12-ой планете: Соответствие »Нибиру» клинописным источникам) и «The Myth of a 12th Planet in Sumero-Mesopotamian Astronomy: A Study of Cylinder Seal VA 243″ (МИф о 12-ой планете в шумерско-месопотамской астрономии: изучение клейменного цилиндра VA 243).

The Myth of a Sumerian 12th Planet:
«Nibiru” According to the Cuneiform Sources

Michael S. Heiser, Ph.D. candidate
Hebrew Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Those familiar with either the writings of Zecharia Sitchin or the current internet rantings about «the return of Planet X” are likely familiar with the word «nibiru”.  According to self-proclaimed ancient languages scholar Zecharia Sitchin, the Sumerians knew of an extra planet beyond Pluto.  This extra planet was called Nibiru.  Sitchin goes on to claim that Nibiru passes through our solar system every 3600 years.  Some believers in Sitchin’s theory contend that Nibiru will return soon – May of 2003 to be exact. These followers of Sitchin’s ideas also refer to Nibiru as «Planet X”, the name given to a planet that is allegedly located within our solar system but beyond Pluto.  Adherents to the «returning Planet X hypothesis” believe the return of this wandering planet will bring cataclysmic consequences to earth.[1]

Is Sitchin correct – Is Nibiru a 12th planet that passes through our solar system every 3600 years?  Did the Sumerians know this?[2] Are those who equate Sitchin’s Nibiru with Planet X correct in this view?  Unfortunately for Sitchin and his followers, the answer to each of these questions is no.

This paper will address these questions in the course of five discussion sections:

  • Overview of the scholarship on Nibiru
  • How often and where does the word «nibiru” occur in cuneiform texts?  What does the word mean, and is there an astronomical context for the word in any of its occurrences?
  • What are the cuneiform astronomical sources for our knowledge of ancient Mesopotamian astronomy?  What do those sources tell us about Nibiru? (addressed in the PDF file)
  • If Nibiru is not a 12th planet (and hence not Planet X), what is it? (addressed in the PDF file)
Section One: Previous scholarly work on Nibiru

While scholarly material on cuneiform astronomy is fairly abundant, specific treatments of Nibiru are rare.  The last treatment of Nibiru in a journal article in the English language was in 1961, and was co-authored by the great Sumerian scholar Benno Landsberger, editor of the Sumero-Akkadian lexical lists I reference on my website in conjunction with Zecharia Sitchin’s abuse of Sumero-Akkadian vocabulary.[3] An earlier article in German (1936) dealt directly with the subject, and a recent German article (1990) does likewise.[4] All of these articles were written well after the cuneiform documents / tablets that mention Nibiru as an astronomical body were known, and hence the authors had access to all the pertinent texts.  Other works dealt with Nibiru (see below for sources and footnotes), but only in passing, as their focus was Babylonian astronomy in general.  What you are reading in this present paper is an attempt to synthesize this material and account for all references to Nibiru in cuneiform tablets with an attempt to discern what exactly Nibiru is.

One of the more important sources for cuneiform astronomy that mentions Nibiru is MUL.APIN («The Plough Star»):

Шумерская табличка, Нибиру

Section Two: How often and where does the word «nibiru” occur in cuneiform texts? What does the word mean, and is there an astronomical context for the word in any of its occurrences?

Fortunately for scholars and other interested parties, the work of the studies above and the editors of the monumental Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (= CAD hereafter) have located and compiled all the places where the word «nibiru” and related forms of that word occur in extant tablets.  A look at the CAD entry (volume «N-2”, pp. 145-147) tells us immediately that the word has a variety of meanings, all related to the idea of «crossing” or being some sort of «crossing marker” or «crossing point”.  In only a minority of cases (those references in astronomical texts) does the word relate to an astronomical body.  Below is a brief overview of the word’s meanings outside our immediate interest, followed by specific meanings and references in the astronomical texts.

General Meanings of Occurrences Outside Astronomical Texts

Word meaning, of course, is determined by context.  »Nibiru” (more technically and properly transliterated as «neberu”[5]) can mean several things.  I have underlined the form of nibiru for the reader:

«place of crossing” or «crossing fee” – In the Gilgamesh epic,[6] for example, we read the line (remarkably similar to one of the beatitudes in the sermon on the Mount): «Straight is the crossing point (nibiru; a gateway), and narrow is the way that leads to it.”  A geographical name in one Sumero-Akkadian text, a village, is named «Ne-bar-ti-Ash-shur” («Crossing Point of Asshur”).  Another text dealing with the fees for a boatman who ferries people across the water notes that the passenger paid «shiqil kaspum sha ne-bi-ri-tim” («silver for the crossing fees”).

«ferry, ford”; «ferry boat”; «(act of) ferrying” – For example, one Akkadian text refers to a military enemy, the Arameans: «A-ra-mu nakirma bab ni-bi-ri sha GN itsbat”[7] («The Arameans were defiant and took up a position at the entrance to the ford [gate, crossing point]”).  In another, the Elamites are said to «ina ID Abani ni-bi-ru u-cha-du-u”  («[to] have cut off the ford [bridge, crossing way] of the river Abani”).

I think the «root idea” of the nibiru word group and its forms as meaning something with respect to «crossing” is clear, and so we’ll move on.[8]

Nibiru as Referring to an Astronomical Body

The following chart represents a complete listing of the word «nibiru” in astronomical texts and/or astronomical contexts.  If one wants to know what Nibiru as an astronomical body is — according to the Mesopotamians -  one is dependent on these texts, unless, like Zecharia Sitchin, one makes up meanings to prop up a theory.   One either lets the texts tell you what Nibiru is, or one willfully ignores the scribes in favor of Sitchin.  I have, in these cases, given (a) the Mesopotamian text where the word occurs; (b) a Sumero-Akkadian transliteration; (c) a brief translation; (d) the page references to English translations of the Mesopotamian text in which the word occurs, so the reader can check the context and study further.  (Note as well that in Section Three I discuss each occurrence in more detail and in context).  In the following chart, several features of Sumerian-Akkadian transliteration[9] bear explaining — and they are important:

  • superscripted «d” = the cuneiform sign for «god” (Dingir), and so «neberu” may refer to a god (recall that Sumerians and Mesopotamians associated heavenly bodies with deities)
  • superscripted «MUL” = the cuneiform sign for «star” (and so «neberu” is a star – the texts tell us this point blank)
  • subscripted numbers = the numerical reference number for Sumerian signs that can stand for more than one syllable.  This is a scholarly convention for keeping such overlapping signs distinct so the texts can be read accurately.

At the risk of some redundancy, you will notice quickly that Nibiru is preceded by both «d” and «MUL”, and so is referred to as a deity and a star.  As Sitchin himself notes on various occasions (and this is common knowledge to ancient near eastern scholars), ancient people often identified the stars or planets as gods, as though the stars were deified beings.  This is one reason why even in the Old Testament the sons of God are referred to as stars (cf. Job 38:7-8).  In the texts that follow, Nibiru was regarded as a planet (specifically, Jupiter, but once as Mercury), a god (specifically, Marduk), and a star (distinguished from Jupiter).

If you’re confused, you aren’t alone.  This tri-fold (fourfold if you count Mercury) designation for Nibiru is why scholars of cuneiform astronomy have not been able to determine with certainty what exactly Nibiru is.  We’ll go into the problem more in later sections.   One thing is certain from the texts, though:  Nibiru is NEVER identified as a planet beyond Pluto.

The chart below is a scanned page of the larger PDF paper available on my website.  The scan is naturally not as good in terms of quality as a PDF, but it’s readable.  English translation sources are also more complete in the PDF.

Расшифровка "Энума элиш", Нибиру

Again, the Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform texts present a confusing portrait of Nibiru. How can something represent a «crossing» or «dividing» point and be a star, a god, and either Jupiter [Marduk] or Mercury or BOTH? Again, the more detailed PDF file tries to answer this question in a manner consistent with the actual texts.  The texts are considered there in much greater detail.


[1] It is important to note that Sitchin himself does not claim that Nibiru is Planet X or that Nibiru is returning this spring (May 2003).

[2] For readers who are familiar with Sitchin’s use of cylinder seal VA 243 as a defense for Sumerian knowledge of 12 planets, see the webpage on my website devoted to this error and the accompanying PDF file.

[3] The article is B. Landsberger and J.V. Kinnier Wilson, «The Fifth Tablet of Enuma Elish,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 20 (1961):  172ff.  This is the scholarly journal of Near Eastern studies produced by the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.  The Sumero-Akkadian lexical lists (cuneiform bilingual dictionaries) are referenced on my website in the discussion of Sitchin’s idea that words like shamu refer to rocket ships.  The Mesopotamian scribes tell us what these words mean in their own dictionaries (and Landsberger was the scholar who compiled these lists in a multi-volume work [in German]).

[4] A. Schott, «Marduk und sein Stern” («Marduk and his Star”), Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie 43 (1936):  124-145; Johannes Koch, «Der Mardukstern Neberu” («Marduk’s star Nibiru”), Welt und Orients22 (1990):  48-72.

[5] For the most part in this paper I have not used the standard scholarly transliteration font with diacritical marks.  I have instead tried to spell Akkadian words phonetically for readers.  An exception would be the chart of Nibiru references below.

[6] Tablet X, ii:24.

[7] The «GN” refers to a determinative for a geographic name.

[8] Sitchin of course notes the basic «crossing” meaning in his book.  One just needs a dictionary for this, as the above indicates.  He then supplies – without textual support – the idea that Nibiru is a planet that «crossed” paths with other planets in our solar system on its regular 3600 year course.  The rest of the PDF paper will demonstrate the flaws in this view.

[9] «Transliteration” refers to putting the characters of a foreign language into «English letters and sounds” so as to enable us to verbalize the text.  Translation, on the other hand, is taking that text and putting its meaning into the appropriate words of another language.  At times in printed works dealing with the texts in question the editing / layout differs (e.g., capitalizing or superscripting).

The Myth of a 12th Planet in
Sumero-Mesopotamian Astronomy:
A Study of Cylinder Seal VA 243

* please allow time for images to load!


Readers of Zecharia Sitchin’s books, particularly The 12th Planet, will recognize the seal pictured below under the first point — VA 243 (so named because it is number 243 in the collection of theVorderasiatische Museum in Berlin).  This seal is the centerpiece of Sitchin’s theory that the Sumerians had advanced astronomical knowledge of the planetary bodies in our solar system.  This knowledge was allegedly given to the Sumerians by extraterrestrials, whom Sitchin identifies as the Anunnaki gods of Sumero-Mesopotamian mythology.  In the upper left-hand corner of the seal, Sitchin argues, one sees the sun surrounded by eleven globes.  Since ancient peoples (including the Sumerians according to Sitchin) held the sun and moon to be «planets,” these eleven globes plus the sun add up to twelve planets.  Of course, since we now know of nine planets plus our sun and moon, part of Sitchin’s argument is that the Sumerians knew of an extra planet beyond Pluto.  This extra planet is considered by Sitchin to be Nibiru, an astronomical body mentioned in Mesopotamian texts. Sitchin’s works detail his contention that Nibiru passes through our solar system every 3600 years, and so some believers in Sitchin’s theory contend that Nibiru will return soon. Some followers of Sitchin’s ideas also refer to Nibiru as «Planet X”.

Is Sitchin correct – in whole or in part? Is Nibiru a 12th planet that will soon return? Does VA243 prove his thesis?  Unfortunately for Sitchin and his followers, the answer to each of these questions is no.  What follows are the salient points of the problems with Sitchin’s interpretation of the seal.  A much more thorough (14 pp.) paper with more illustrations and images is available in PDF form.  Nibiru is the subject of another page on my website and lengthier PDF file.

In the discussion that follows, I will demonstrate that VA243 in no way supports Sitchin’s ideas. My reasons / lines of argument for this are:

1)  The inscription on the seal says nothing about astronomy, Nibiru, or planets.

2)  The alleged «sun» symbol on the seal is not the sun.  We know this for sure because it does not conform to the consistent depiction / symbology of the sun on hundreds of other cylinder seals, monuments, and pieces of Sumero-Mesopotamian art.

3)  There is not a single text in any extant Sumero-Mesopotamian text that says the Sumerians or Mesopotamians knew of more than five planets.  There are a number of cuneiform tablets that deal with astronomy, all of which have been compiled and published.  These sources are accessible to the reader, but at varying levels of difficulty (for a brief overview of these materials on this website, go to the Nibiru page / paper.


1)  The Inscriptions

Расшифровка таблицы Ситчина

The seal is transliterated (the Sumero-Akkadian signs in English letters) and translated in the principal publication of the Berlin Vorderasiatische Museum’s publication of its seal collection,Vorderasiatische Rollsiegel («West Asian Cylinder Seals”; 1940) by Mesopotamian scholar Anton Moortgat on page 101.  This book is in German, so I offer the German and an English translation:

Line 1 = dub-si-ga  »Dubsiga” [a personal name of an apparently powerful person[1]]

Line 2 = ili-il-la-at  »Ili-illat” [another personal name, this time of the seal’s owner]

Line 3 = ir3-su       »dein Knecht” [German for "your servant”[2]]

So the full (rather boring) inscription of VA243 reads:  »Dubsiga, Ili-illat, your/his servant.”  Nothing in the inscription suggests anything remotely to do with astronomy or planets.

2)  The Alleged Sun Symbol

In simplest terms, the alleged «sun» in the upper left corner of the seal isn’t a sun, and so the artwork doesn’t depict the sun and our solar system.  It’s a STAR.  We know this because of the consistent sun iconography of Sumero-Mesopotamian art.  In case you’re thinking, «well the sun is a star», the Sumerians and Mesopotamians distinguished these bodies in their artwork.

Here’s the normal sun symbol of Sumero-Mesopotamian art [3]:

Шумерский солнечный диск, Нибиру Закрытый шумерский солнечный диск, Нибиру

Note:  The sun symbol always has either four arms plus wavy lines extending from a «ball» in the middle, or it is a ball with wavy lines.  VA 243 has no wavy lines.  It does not depict the sun.

Below are examples of star symbols.  Stars could have 6, 7, or 8 pts.[4] in Sumero-Mesopotamian art (VA 243 has six):

1/  2/ 3/

1/VA243; 2/ H. Frankfort, Cylinder Seals, Plate  XXXIII-b; 3/ H. Frankfort, Cylinder Seals, Plate  XXVI

One of the most common artistic motifs in Sumero-Mesopotamian art is the depiction of sun, crescent moon, and star TOGETHER, side by side.  This shows they distinguished the symbols (and these bodies.  Hence, to a Sumerian, the symbol on VA 243 was not the sun:

Нибиру, шумерская утренняя звезда

star (L)    moon (C)     sun (R)

Note the wavy lines in the sun symbol; a wholly different style than VA 243.

Увеличенные шумерские рисунки, Нибиру

Note again in the above the wavy lines in the sun symbol (lower right) as opposed to the star at the top; a wholly different style than VA 243.

Is that all?  Hardly.  There are many more examples and images, along with more discussion, in the PDF file on this seal available on my other website.  We also haven’t even gotten to the matter of Sumero-Akkadian astronomical texts, the content of which is flatly opposed to Sitchin’s teachings.

Sitchin’s entire cosmological-mythological system is based on three lines of argument:

(1) The cylinder seal VA 243 and it’s misidentified sun.

(2) The claim that Nibiru lies beyond Pluto and is home to the Anunnaki, neither of which come from the actual texts (see the chart on my Nibiru page).[5]

(3) The «reconstruction” of the formation of our solar system, accomplished by matching the names of gods in Sumerian creation-cosmological texts with planets – and then describing a «cosmic billiards” scenario supposedly conveyed to us in these texts.  Cuneiform astronomical texts never list any more than five planets (seven if one counts sun and moon), and actually tell us which planets are which gods in their mythology.  It should be no surprise that the Sumero-Akkadian planet-god correlations disagree with Sitchin’s.

In regard to these god-planet correlations, here are the Sumero-Akkadian god names and planet names tied to each other in MUL.APIN, an astronomical compendium in two cuneiform tablets (and it’s not incomplete — see the PDF file for scholarly studies on it so you can check the facts for yourself).  Comparing the actual Mesopotamian information with Sitchin once again shows Sitchin’s entire system is wrong — you either believe the Sumerians or him:

Шумерская таблица богов-планет, Нибиру

Addendum:  Mike referenced the artistic depiction of the Pleiades on the show.  Here are two examples (cf. upper right hand corner of second image — which demonstrates that stars could be depicted with BOTH pointed stars AND «balls» in the same seal):

Увеличение Плейяд

[1] Personal email communication on Dubsiga with Dr. Rudi Mayr, whose dissertation was on cylinder seals. Dr. Mayr is also the source of the comment on the second line, which conforms to typical cylinder seal patterns.

[2] Dr. Mayr noted to me in an email that the third line might also read «his servant”, which was his preference.

[3] See Jeremy Black, Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia:  An Illustrated Dictionary (University of Texas Press, in conjunction with the British Museum, 1992): page 168.  This is an excellent reference source.  Dr. Black is a well known Sumerian scholar.  He was formerly the Director of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq and is now university lecturer in Akkadian and Sumerian at Wolfson College, Oxford.

[4] See above source, page

[5] If one wants to disagree with the chart, I invite the reader to simply look up the references to Nibiru in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary and then go look up the English translations in the sources in the charts, as well as the bibliography at the end of this paper.

Оригинал статьи находится здесь: http://www.michaelsheiser.com

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4 комментария к “The Myth of a Sumerian 12th Planet: “Nibiru” According to the Cuneiform Sources (статья на английском)”

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