Sirrush bas-relief in the Pergamon Museum.
The mušḫuššu (𒈲𒄭𒄊; formerly also read as sirrušu, sirrush) is a creature depicted on the reconstructed Ishtar Gate of the city of Babylon, originally dating to the 6th century B.C. It is a mythological hybrid, a scaly dragon with hind legs like an eagle's talons and feline forelegs. It also has a long neck and tail, a horned head, a snakelike tongue and a crest.
The form mušḫuššu is the Akkadian nominative of the Sumerian 𒈲𒄭𒄊 MUŠ.ḪUS, lit. "reddish snake" sometimes also translated as "fierce snake"; or loosely[by whom?] as "splendor serpent" (𒈲 MUŠ is the Sumerian term for "serpent". The reading sir-ruššu is due to a mistransliteration in early Assyriology.).
Bel and the Dragon, a deuterocanonical Biblical text, relates a story that Koldewey thought involved a sirrush. In a temple dedicated to Bel (Nebuchadnezzar's god), priests had a "great dragon or serpent, which they of Babylon worshiped."
Daniel, the protagonist of the Book of Daniel, was confronted with this creature by the priests in the apocryphal text. (see Additions to Daniel) They challenged him to match his invisible God against their living god. Eventually, Daniel poisoned the creature.
German archeologist Robert Koldewey, who discovered the Ishtar Gate in 1902, seriously considered the notion that the sirrush was a portrayal of a real animal. He argued that its depiction in Babylonian art was consistent over many centuries, while those of mythological creatures changed, sometimes drastically, over the years. He also noted that the sirrush is shown on the Ishtar Gate alongside real animals, the lion and the rimi (aurochs), leading him to speculate the sirrush was a creature the Babylonians were familiar with. The creature's distinctly feline front paws seemed incongruous, and gave Koldewey some doubt. However, In 1918 he proposed that Iguanodon (a dinosaur with birdlike hindfeet) was the closest match to the sirrush (Sjögren, 1980).
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