Ancient Mesopotamian
Religion
The western religious traditions (Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam) may be traced to a complex
and evolving array of religious ideas found in ancient
Mesopotamia as far back as 3000 BCE.
Ancient
Mesopotamia
roughly
corresponds to
modern day
Iraq,
northeastern
Syria, and
southeastern
Turkey.
The area known as Mesopotamia—Greek for "land between the rivers"—
encompasses the territory in and around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and
their tributaries. The Sumerians settled in southern Mesopotamia between 5,000
and 3,800 BCE. Shortly after the invention of cuniform writing (around 3400
BCE), semitic-speaking people developed urban centers in Sumer, Akkad,
Babylonia, and later in Assyria.
5,000-3,800 BCE: small
farming communities
3,800 BCE: urbanization and a
king-like ruler in Uruk, the
dominant city in Sumeria at the
time.
2900 BCE: Sumer had
developed into a relatively
stable collection of over 30
city-states.
Agade
The
The
The
Uruk
Jemdat
Early
Period
Ur III
Period
Dynasty
Nasr
Period
(2370-2112):
(3800-3200):
Period
(2112-2000):
Period
(3200-2900):
King
(2900-2370):
Dominance
Sargon
Power
Slowed
builds
shifts
Control
of Uruk,
down
to
famous
Ur,
shifts
urbanization,
urbanization
where
city
to Kish,
Agade
Urand
Nammu
stability
unitesbuilds
brought
Sumer
andthe
widespread
and
and
tofamous
the
the
temple
region,
northern
Ziggurat
flood
construction
kings
regions
intemple
the
deified,
region
ofatAkkad,
Ur.
royal
Amorites
tombs
thereby
conquer
constructed
the Sumerians
increating
Ur, and
around
a famous
powerful
2000
King
empire
BCE
Gilgamesh
and establish
rulesthe
Babylonian Empire.
Ziggurat Temple
Built by Ur-Nammu between 2113 and 2096 for the worship
of the moon god Nanna.
Some Primary Sources of
Mesopotamian Beliefs
• Enuma Elish or Eridu Genesis (extant tablet
circa 2200-2000 BCE): Sumerian cuneiform
tablet that provides an account of creation
and a universal flood.
• Epic of Atrahasis (extant tablet, circa 17th
century BCE): story of creation preserved in
Assyrian and Babylonian scripts.
• Tablet XI of the Epic of Gilgamesh (extant
tablet, circa 12th BCE)
Sumerian Religious Ideas
By 3000 BCE the Sumerians had a
developed cosmology and religious
system.
This developed out of earlier ancestor
worship and the worship of heavenly
bodies and forces of nature.
Cosmology
The Earth is a flat
disk surrounded
by empty space
and enclosed in an
over-arching
heaven, forming a
dome-like cover.
A watery abyss
surrounds the
earth on all sides.
The Gods
Prior to the first millennium, Sumerian
religious beliefs were largely polytheistic.
The Sumerians believed in and worshipped
multiple hierarchically arranged deities or
gods.
The deities in the Sumerian pantheon of gods
typically began as “local” gods.
Particular Sumerian cities would have their own
central deity (e.g., the god An is associated with
Uruk, the god Enki with Eridu).
With time, certain local deities emerged as
more global-type deities and the Sumerians
developed an account of the origins of the
gods, the universe, and humans.
The chief gods of the Sumerian pantheon created
the rules of Sumerian society to which all people
were expected to adhere.
There was a direct link between the existence
of the gods and Sumerian morality.
The Creation of Humans
The divine origin of moral codes was
itself intimately connected to Sumerian
belief in the divine creation of humans.
According to ancient
Sumerian texts (such as
Enuma Elish), humans
were created so that the
gods would have
servants.
Humans were created
from the clay of the
earth.
“Mix the heart of the clay that is over the abyss,
The good and princely fashioners will thicken the
clay,
You, [Nammu] do you bring the limbs into
existence;
Ninmah [earth-mother or birth goddess] will work
above you,
The goddesses [of birth] . . . will stand by you at
your fashioning;
O my mother, decree its [the newborn's] fate,
Ninmah will bind upon it the image (?) of the gods,
It is man . . . .” (Enuma Elish, Nippur Tablet)
The Sumerian beliefs about the gods provide
important insight into the value system of the
ancient Mesopotamians.
Fertility
Protection in War
Wisdom
Reverence for the Earth
Small agrarian communities would naturally develop
these values.
Polytheism to Monotheism
Religious beliefs in the ancient Mesopotamian
world underwent an interesting evolution
toward a universal, central deity, as both a
power in the universe and an object of worship.
This was instrumental to the rise and spread of
monotheism throughout the Mesopotamian
world, the belief in and worship of one
personal Supreme God.
1. In the third millennium there is a
tendency toward a “syncretistic
theology,” subsuming in one god the
characteristics of many.
2. During the Akkadian period (2300
BCE), we find the deifying of kings, the
divinity of a central human figure.
3. In the Babylonian
creation epic Enuma
Elish (circa 2000 BCE),
the god Marduk is
elevated to the status of
the primary god, even
above Enlil. The text
gives Marduk fifty
names that represent the
qualities of distinct gods.
4. The Assyrian
national god Assur,
which bears an
interesting conceptual
resemblance to
Yahweh (God) in the
Old Testament,
replaced Marduk
around 2000 BCE.
5. By 1000 BCE monotheism was
widespread through the Mesopotamian
world, as illustrated especially by the
monotheism of the Hebrews (in the
religion of Judaism) and the Persians
(in the religion of Zoroastrianism).
Sources
•Hilprecht, H.V. 1910. The earliest version of the Babylonian deluge story and
the temple library of Nippur. The Babylonian Expedition of the University of
Pennsylvania, Series D, Volume V, Fasc. 1. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania.
•Prince, John D. and Frederick A. Vanderburgh. 1910. The new Hilprecht
deluge tablet. The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 26:
303-308.
•Tigay, Jeffrey H. 1982. The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic, Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press
•Jacobsen, T. 1976. The Treasures of Darkness : A History of Mesopotamian
Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press.
•Bottéro, J. 2004. Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
•Lambert, W.G. and A.R. Millard. 1999. Atrahasis: The Babylonian Story of the
Flood, Eisenbrauns.
•Kramer, Samuel Noah. History Begins at Sumer. Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday / Anchor, 1959.
•Harris, Stephen L. 2011. Understanding the Bible. 8th edition. New York:
McGraw Hill. See chapter 3, “Ancient Near East.”
Descargar

Document