Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, pp. 585–6:
In ancient agricultural societies, it was common to personify the phenomenon of the death of vegetation in the winter (or in the acme of summer heat) and its rebirth in the spring (or with the coming of the rains). The personification took the form of a deity who died and was taken into the underworld, from which he was later rescued by another deity. It was customary for women to bewail the death of the deity at fixed times of the year and then to rejoice loudly over the rebirth and resurrection.
To modern Westerners, the most familiar form of this sort of tale is found among the Greek myths. This tale tells of Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture, and her daughter Persephone. Persephone is stolen by Hades, the god of the underworld, and Demeter seeks her all over the world. While she seeks, all vegetation dies and winter comes over the world. Eventually, Demeter finds Persephone and a compromise is reached. Persephone may stay with Demeter part of the year and with Hades the rest, and this explains the recurring cycle of growth and death and growth again.
The Babylonians have a myth of this sort, too; one that long antedates the Greek version, of course, and goes back, in fact, to Sumerian days before the time of Abraham. In the Sumerian myth, Dumu-zi (the name which later became Tammuz) is the brother and lover of Ishtar, the goddess of earth and sky. Tammuz is killed by a bear while hunting, or, perhaps, through some thoughtless act of Ishtar, and must descend into the underworld. Ishtar follows and ransoms him only with the greatest difficulty.…
(The Babylonians called the month of the summer solstice Tammuz in honor of the god and the Jews borrowed the name. This heathen god, despite Ezekiel, is still honored in the Jewish calendar today, just as Western calendars contain the month of March, a name used freely by Jews and Christians alike though it honors the pagan god Mars.)
The Tammuz myth spread along with agriculture and always it was to the women that its rites particularly appealed. After all, in primitive societies it is the women who are most concerned with agriculture. In the western half of the Fertile Crescent Tammuz was called "Lord" (Adonai). This was "Adonis" in the Greek version of the name and Greek mythology adopted the tale of Tammuz when they told of Adonis, the young lover of Aphrodite, who was killed by a boar to the goddess’s infinite distress. (And gave us the word "Adonis" to represent any extremely handsome young man.)