Ancient Mesopotamia: Religion and Gods
Mesopotamian religion, beliefs and practices of the Sumerians and Akkadians, . The Uruk Vase, with its representation of the rite of the sacred marriage, the. So important a center was Nippur that it survived, intact, into the Christian and then the . Marriage of Inanna and Dumuzi Gates of the Necronomicon: Sumerian Anunnaki in Mesopotamian Religion and the Babylonian Magical Tradition ( Sumerian Religion: Secrets of the Sumerians, Babylonians & Anunnaki Gods of. Sumerian religion has its roots in the worship of nature, such as the wind and water. . we can see echoes of Sumer in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition today. .. The two consummate their relationship and with their exercise in fertility , the.
The Uruk Vasewith its representation of the rite of the sacred marriage, the Naram-Sin stela inscribed commemorative pillarthe Ur-Nammu stela, and the stela with the Code of Hammurabi Babylonian king, 18th century bcewhich shows at its top the royal lawgiver before the sun god Shamash, the divine guardian of justiceare important works of art that may be singled out. Other important sources are the representations on cylinder seals and on boundary stones kudurru sboth of which provide rich materials for religious iconography in certain periods.
Detail of the stela inscribed with Hammurabi's code, showing the king before the god Shamash; bas-relief from Susa, 18th century bce; in the Louvre, Paris. Thus, for all periods before the 3rd millennium, scholars must rely on scarce, nonliterary data only, and, even though writing appears shortly before that millennium, it is only in its latter half that written data become numerous enough and readily understandable enough to be of significant help.
It is generally necessary, therefore, to interpret the scarce data of the older periods in the light of survivals and of what is known from later periods, an undertaking that calls for critical acumen if anachronisms are to be avoided. Also, for the later periods, the evidence flows unevenly, with perhaps the middle of the 2nd millennium bce the least well-documented and hence least-known age.
As for the difficulties raised by differences in the ways of thinking between modern people and the ancients, they are of the kind that one always meets in trying to understand something unfamiliar and strange.Religious Beliefs of the Ancient Sumerians
A contemporary inquirer must keep his accustomed values and modes of thought in suspension and seek rather the inner coherence and structure of the data with which he deals, in order to enter sympathetically into the world out of which they came, just as one does, for example, in entering the sometimes intensely private world of a poem, or, on a slightly different level, in learning the new, unexpected meanings and overtones of the words and phrases of a foreign language. Sumerian literature Mesopotamian literature originated with the Sumerians, whose earliest known written records are from the middle of the 4th millennium bce.
It constitutes the oldest known literature in the world; moreover, inner criteria indicate that a long oral-literary tradition preceded, and probably coexisted with, the setting down of its songs and stories in writing.
It may be assumed, further, that this oral literature developed the genres of the core literature. The handbook genres, however, in spite of occasional inclusions of oral formula—e. The purpose underlying the core literature and its oral prototypes would seem to have been as much magical as aestheticor merely entertaining, in origin.
In magic, words create and call into being what they state.
The more vivid and expressive the words are, the more they are believed to be efficacious—so by its expressiveness literature forms a natural vehicle of such creativity. In ancient Mesopotamia its main purpose appears to have been the enhancement of what was seen as beneficial.
With the sole exception of wisdom literaturethe core genres are panegyric in nature i. That praise is of the essence of hymnsfor instance, is shown by the fact that over and over again the encomiast, the official praiser, whose task it was to sing these hymns, closed with the standing phrase: They praise not only in description but also in narrative, by recounting acts of valour done by the hero, thus sustaining and enhancing his power to do such deeds, according to the magical view.
In time, possibly quite early, the magical aspect of literature must have tended to fade from consciousnessyielding to more nearly aesthetic attitudes that viewed the praise hymns as expressions of allegiance and loyalty and accepted the narrative genres of myth and epic for the enjoyment of the story and the values expressed, poetic and otherwise.
Hymns, mythsand epics all were believed to sustain existing powers and virtues by means of praise, but laments were understood to praise blessings and powers lost, originally seeking to hold on to and recall them magically, through the power in the expression of intense longing for them and the vivid representation of them. The lamentation genre was the province of a separate professional, the elegist. It contained dirges for the dying gods of the fertility cults and laments for temples and cities that had been destroyed and desecrated.
The laments for temples—which, as far as is known, go back no earlier than to the 3rd dynasty of Ur—were used to recall the beauties of the lost temple as a kind of inducement to persuade the god and the owner of the temple to restore it. Penitential psalms lament private illnesses and misfortunes and seek to evoke the pity of the deity addressed and thus to gain divine aid.
The genre apparently is late in date, most likely Old Babylonian c. The core genres of Mesopotamian literature were developed by the Sumerians apparently as oral compositions.
Writingwhich is first attested at the middle of the 4th millennium bce, was in its origins predominantly logographic i. Even as late as the beginning of the Early Dynastic III period in southern Mesopotamia, in the early 3rd millennium bce, the preserved written literary texts have the character of mnemonic memory aids only and seem to presuppose that the reader has prior knowledge of the text.
As writing developed more and more precision during the 3rd millennium bce, more oral compositions seem to have been put into writing. With the 3rd dynasty of Ur a considerable body of literature had come into being and was being added to by a generation of highly gifted authors.
Fortunately for its survival, this literature became part of the curriculum in the Sumerian scribal schools. It was studied and copied by student after student so that an abundance of copies, reaching a peak in Old Babylonian times, duplicated and supplemented each other as witnesses to the text of the major works. Fifty or more copies or fragments of copies of a single composition may support a modern edition, and many thousands more copies probably lie unread, still buried in the earth.
Myths The genre of myths in ancient Mesopotamian literature centres on praises that recount and celebrate great deeds.
The doers of the deeds creative or otherwise decisive actsand thus the subjects of the praises, are the gods. In the oldest myths, the Sumerian, these acts tend to have particular rather than universal relevance, which is understandable since they deal with the power and acts of a particular god with a particular sphere of influence in the cosmos.
Tammuzthe power in the fertility of spring, dreamed of his own death at the hands of a group of deputies from the netherworld and how he tried to hide himself but was betrayed by his friend after his sister had resisted all attempts to make her reveal where he was. Her attempt failed, and she was killed and changed into a piece of rotting meat in the netherworld. It took all the ingenuity of Enki Lord of Sweet Waters in the Earth to bring Inanna back to life, and even then she was released only on condition that she furnish a substitute to take her place.
On her return, finding her young husband Dumuzi feasting instead of mourning for her, Inanna was seized with jealousy and designated him that substitute. The fly told his little sister Geshtinanna where he was, and she went in search of him. The myth ends with Inanna rewarding the fly and decreeing that Dumuzi and his little sister could alternate as her substitute, each of them spending half a year in the netherworld, the other half above with the living.
He lay with her in spite of her pretending to protest and thus engendered the moon god Su-en Sin. For this offense Enlil was banished from Nippur and took the road to the netherworld. Ninlil, carrying his child, followed him. On the way Enlil took the shape first of the Nippur gatekeeper, then of the man of the river of the netherworld, and lastly of the ferryman of the river of the netherworld.
Thus three additional deities, all underworld figures, were engendered: The myth ends with a paean to Enlil as a source of abundance and to his divine word, which always comes true. At that time all was new and fresh, inchoate, not yet set in its present mold. There Enki provided water for the future city of Dilmun, lay with Ninhursag, and left her. She gave birth to a daughter, Ninshar Lady Herbon whom Enki in turn engendered the spider Uttu, goddess of spinning and weaving.
Ninhursag warned Uttu against Enki, but he, proffering marriage gifts, persuaded her to open the door to him. From the semen seven plants sprouted forth.
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These plants Enki later saw and ate and so became pregnant from his own semen. Unable as a male to give birth, he fell fatally ill, until Ninhursag relented and—as birth goddess—placed him in her vulva and helped him to give birth to seven daughters, whom Enki then happily married off to various gods. The story is probably to be seen as a bit of broad humour.
Not only the birth of gods but also the birth, or creationof the human race is treated in the myths. Enki remembered the engendering clay of the Apsu i.
At the celebration of the birth, however, Enki and Ninmah both drank too much beer and began to quarrel. Ninmah boasted that she could impair a human shape at will, and Enki countered that he could temper even the worst that she might do. So she made seven freaks, for each of which Enki found a place in society and a living. He then challenged her to alleviate the mischief he could do, but the creature he fashioned—a prematurely aborted fetus—was beyond help. The moral drawn by Enki was that both male and female contribute to the birth of a happy child.
The aborted fetus lacked the contribution of the birth goddess in the womb. This myth begins with a description of the young king, Ninurta, sitting at home in Nippur when, through his general, reports reach him of a new power that has arisen in the mountains to challenge him—i. Ninurta sets out in his boat to give battle, and a fierce engagement ensues, in which Azag is killed. Afterward Ninurta reorganizes his newly won territory, builds a stone barrier, the near mountain ranges or foothills the hursagand gathers the waters that used to go up into the mountains and directs them into the Tigris to flood it and provide plentiful irrigation water from Sumer.
The hursag he presents as a gift to his mother, who had come to visit him, naming her Ninhursag Lady of the Hursag. Some of them, who had shown special ill will toward him, he curses, and others he trusts and gives high office in his administration. These judgments give the stones their present characteristics so that, for example, the flint is condemned to break before the much softer horn, as it indeed does when the horn is pressed against it to flake it.
After long speeches of self-praise by Ninurta, further addresses to him calmed him and made him enter his temple gently. Epics The genre of epics appears generally to be younger in origin than that of myths and apparently was linked—in subject matter and values—to the emergence of monarchy at the middle of the Early Dynastic period. The works that have survived seem, however, all to be of later date. Akkadian literature The first centuries of the 2nd millennium bce witnessed the demise of Sumerian as a spoken language and its replacement by Akkadian.
However, Sumerian much as Latin in the Middle Ages continued to be taught and spoken in the scribal schools throughout the 2nd and 1st millennia bce because of its role as bearer of Sumerian culture, as the language of religion, literature, and many arts. New compositions were even composed in Sumerian. As time passed these grew more and more corrupt in grammar. Akkadianwhen it supplanted Sumerian as the spoken language of Mesopotamia, was not without its own literary tradition.
Writing, to judge from Akkadian orthographic peculiarities, was very early borrowed from the Sumerians. By Old Babylonian times c. The prestige of Sumerian as a literary language, however, is indicated by the fact that translations were rarely, if ever, allowed to supersede the original Sumerian text. The Sumerian text was kept with an interlinear translation to form a bilingual work.
The continued study and copying of literature in the schools, both Sumerian and Akkadian, by the middle of the 2nd millennium led to a remarkable effort of standardizing, or canonizing.
The origins of human beings according to ancient Sumerian texts | Ancient Origins
Texts of the same genre were collected, often under royal auspices and with royal support, and were then sifted and finally edited in series that henceforth were recognized as the canonical form. Authoritative texts were established for incantations, laments, omens, medical texts, lexical texts, and others.
In myths and epics, such major and lengthy compositions as the Akkadian creation story Enuma elish, the Erra myth, the myth of Nergal and Ereshkigal, the Etana legendthe Gilgamesh epic, and the Tukulti-Ninurta epic were reworked or re-created. They constitute a high point in the genre of wisdom literature.
From the 1st millennium bce the rise of factual historical chronicles and a spate of political and religious polemical writings reflecting the rivalry between Assyria and Babylonia deserve mention.
Very late in the millennium, the first astronomical texts appeared. Myths The Akkadian myths are in many ways dependent on Sumerian materials, but they show an originality and a broader scope in their treatment of the earlier Sumerian concepts and forms; they address themselves more often to existence as a whole. But after Enki and the birth goddess Nintur another name for Ninmah had created humans, they multiplied at such a rate that the din they made kept Enlil sleepless. At first Enlil had Namtarthe god of death, cause a plague to diminish the human population, but the wise Atrahasis, at the advice of Enki, had human beings concentrate all worship and offerings on Namtar.
Namtar, embarrassed at hurting people who showed such love and affection for him, stayed his hand. He was the patron deity of Girsu and one of the patron deities of Lagash. Enki was god of freshwater, male fertility, and knowledge.
He was the father of Utu and one of the patron deities of Ur. Ningal was the wife of Nanna,  as well as the mother of Utu, Inanna, and Ereshkigal. Ereshkigal was the goddess of the Sumerian Underworldwhich was known as Kur. An was the ancient Sumerian god of the heavens.
He was the ancestor of all the other major deities  and the original patron deity of Uruk. Sumerian mythology and religious practices were rapidly integrated into Akkadian culture,  presumably blending with the original Akkadian belief systems that have been mostly lost to history.
Sumerian deities developed Akkadian counterparts. Some remained virtually the same until later Babylonian and Assyrian rule.