Mesopotamian religion

Sumerian religion and Babylonian religion Overview map of ancient Mesopotamia. In the fourth millennium BC, the first evidence for what is recognisably Mesopotamian religion can be seen with the invention in Mesopotamia of writing circa BC.

Mesopotamian religion

From then on the cultures of the north and south move through Mesopotamian religion succession of major archaeological periods that in their southern forms are known as Mesopotamian religion, Warka, and Protoliterate during which writing was inventedat the end of which—shortly after bce—recorded history begins.

Politically, an early division of the country into small independent city-states, loosely organized in a league with the centre in Nippurwas followed by a unification by force under King Lugalzagesi c.

The unification was maintained by his successors, the kings of Akkad, who built it into an empire, and—after a brief interruption by Gutian invaders—by Utu-hegal c. When Ur fell, about bce, the country again divided into smaller units, with the cities Isin and Larsa vying for hegemony.

Eventually Babylon established a lasting national state in the south, while Ashur dominated a similar rival state, Assyria, in the north. From the 1st millennium bce onward, Assyria built an empire comprisingfor a short time, all of the ancient Middle East.

Mesopotamian religion

This political and administrative achievement remained essentially intact under the following Neo-Babylonian and Persian kings down to the conquests of Alexander the Great bce. Stages of religious development The religious development—as indeed that of the Mesopotamian culture generally—was not significantly influenced by the movements of the various peoples into and within the area—the Sumerians, Akkadians, Gutians, Kassites, Hurrians, Aramaeans, and Chaldeans.

Rather it forms a uniform, consistent, and coherent Mesopotamian tradition changing in response to its own internal needs of insights and expression.

Cultural background

It is possible to discern a basic substratum involving worship of the forces in nature —often visualized in nonhuman forms—especially those that were of immediate import to basic economic pursuits. This stage may be tentatively dated back to the 4th millennium bce and even earlier. A second stage, characterized by a visualization of the gods as human in shape and organized in a polity of a primitive democratic cast in which Mesopotamian religion deity had his or her special offices and functions, overlaid and conditioned the religious forms and characteristics of the earlier stage during the 3rd millennium bce.

Lastly, a third stage evolved during the 2nd and 1st millennia bce. It was characterized by a growing emphasis on personal religion involving concepts of sin and forgiveness and by a change of the earlier democratic divine polity into an absolute monarchical structure, dominated by the god of the national state—to the point that the pious abstained from all human initiativein absolute faith and reliance on divine intervention.

As a result of this development, since the ancient Mesopotamians were intensely conservative in religious matters and unwilling to discard anything of a hallowed past, the religious data of any period, and particularly that of the later periods, is a condensed version of earlier millennia that must be carefully analyzed and placed in proper perspective before it can be evaluated.

Of greatest significance is the literary evidence, texts written in cuneiform wedge-shaped script on tablets made of clay or, for monumental purposes, on stone. Central, of course, are the specifically religious texts comprising god lists, mythshymns, laments, prayers, rituals, omen texts, incantations, and other forms; however, since religion permeated the culture, giving form and meaning to all aspects of it, any written text, any work of art, or any of its material remains are directly or indirectly related to the religion and may further scholarly knowledge of it.

Among the archaeological finds that have particularly helped to throw light on religion are the important discoveries of inscribed tablets with Sumerian texts in copies of Old Babylonian date c. Of nonliterary remains, the great temples and temple towers ziggurats excavated at almost all major sites—e.

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. 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. 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.

Mesopotamian religion

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.Mesopotamian Religion The cultures of Mesopotamia had a polytheistic belief system, which means that the people believed in multiple gods instead of just one.

They also believed in demons created by the gods, which could be good or evil. Early Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia Share Flipboard Email Print Cylinder seal showing moon god of Ur. PD Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, by Donald A.

Mackenzie History & Culture. Ancient History & Culture Mesopotamian Religion. We can only speculate about early religion. Humanities through the Arts is a high school arts appreciation resource based on national standards and structured to include core content.

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This resource includes information modules on a variety of humanities topics, glossaries, student activities, image galleries, audio . Mesopotamian religion, beliefs and practices of the Sumerians and Akkadians, and their successors, the Babylonians and Assyrians, who inhabited ancient Mesopotamia (now in Iraq) in the millennia before the Christian era.

These religious beliefs and practices form a single stream of tradition. Early Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia Share Flipboard Email Print These four Mesopotamian gods did not act alone, The Foundational Religion of the Ancient Olmec.

Chronology and Advances of the Mesopotamian Society. Learn More About Myth and Explanations for Creation. Interesting Facts About Mesopotamian Religion The Sumerian gods often had human characteristics in that they were sometimes good and sometimes bad.

Although Anu was an important Mesopotamian god, archeologists have yet to find a picture of him.

Mesopotamia - Wikipedia