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Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Religions of the Ancient World

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David Perley

Religions of the Ancient World 1/17/2012 7:30:00 AM  A Greek phrase meaning “to honour the gods by participating in customary practices” means the same thing as the Roman word religio.  Herodotus  The fifth century BCE Greek known as “Father of History”, who in his Histories described the religious practices of numerous peoples.  He said that the most religious Egyptians met standards that were laid out in the Book of the Dead (A New Kingdom collection of spells (based on earlier Coffin Texts) designed to ensure the resurrection of the dead and their security in the afterworld. It is a modern designation. The actual title translates as “the coming forth by day”) o Coffin Texts: Texts (essentially spells based on earlier Pyramid Texts) inscribed on the coffins of non-royal elite Egyptians during the Middle Kingdom, intended to protect the dead traversing the netherworld and to secure an afterlife comparable to that of the (divinized) dead rulers  Pyramid Texts: Incantations (literally “utterances”) originally carved on the walls of the royal burial suites of several late Old Kingdom rulers. Recited by priests during the burial ritual, and later funerary cult rituals, to guarantee the resurrection and well-being of dead rulers.  A Roman grammarian of the second century CE defined religious people as those who participated in the state‟s traditional rituals and who avoided superstition.  Superstition was irrational behavior that might  4th century CE, the Christians redefined religio to refer to only their faith in a single god, and making the old traditions false (the superstitious ones)  384 CE, Symmachus (prefect of Rome) tried to argue that “everyone has his customs, everyone his own rites”  4 decades later, the Theodosian Code made traditional forms of religion as superstition in an attempt to define religion in terms of the Christian church.  Antiquity  Geographically it is South Western Asia (Anatolia:Turkey, Syria, Iran, Mesopotamia:Iraq), Southern Europe (Greece and Italy), North Africa (Egypt).  Its not a coincidence that the area where Christianity and Judaism was created was the most heavily travelled area at the time.  There was a lot of antagonism occurring, which eventually left the Iranians vulnerable to Arab forces, causing the rise of Islam.  Earliest documented civilization was Sumerian (The urban civilization of southernmost Mesopotamia in the late fourth millennium. Their religion was a smaller part of Mesopotamian religion)  Identity in these times was based on place. If someone moved to a new location, they became that nationality. o Greeks and Italians did this differently. Newcomers were not referred to as Greeks, and if a Greek moved, they stayed a Greek. One was only Roman if they lived in the city  Prehistoric Beginnings o Origins of modern humans have been dated as far back as 170,000 years ago. Some scholars believe that humans had symbolic behavior around the same time. o Gobleki Tepe in Eastern Turkey represents the transition from hunter-gatherers to agriculture. No evidence of residential buildings, but many buildings potentially used for ceremonial activities. When the site was abandoned, it was buried beneath tonnes of earth, which can provide a testimony that the place was sacred to them. o Catalhoyuk, an early agriculture town in Turkey. Its unusual structure may reflect a new approach to social integration. It had clear domestic and ceremonial areas. o Ain Ghazal in Jordan had tons to human burial sites, but they were also found to be buried with statues which suggests some kind of public ceremony.  Deities  Most people can recognize the names of the major Greek deities. There are 12 Greek gods.  Enuma Elish: The Mesopotamian creation epic, written in the late second millennium BCE, in which the Babylonian hero-god Marduk triumphs over the forces of chaos, “creates” and orders the universe, and become ruler of the Mesopotamian pantheon. The title means “when on high” and comes from the first two word of the composition. It describes Mesopotamia as a meeting place for 300 gods  Hittites: A people of mixed origin ho turned their homeland of Hatti into a major power between the seventeenth and twelfth centuries BCE. Many of their myths passed into the Greek world. They worshipped the “thousand gods of Hatti”  Egyptian texts and monuments named more than 1500 deities. Mesopotamians had 2500 deities. One Sumerian text refers to 3600 gods. o Not all of these gods were equally god-like. The defining characteristic of these gods was their supreme power. For example, storms.  Hurrians: A people who lived in the regions of northern Mesopotamia and Syria from the early third to the late second millennia BCE, speaking a language unrelated to those of their Semitic and Indo-European neighbors but whose gods and religious practices were highly influential, especially the Hittites.  Giglamesh: Historical ruler of the city of Uruk, who became the subject of a series of Sumerian stories that were formulated during the Old Babylonian period into a unified narrative commonly known as the Epic of Giglamesh. o Along with Romulus, he was a hero elevated to gods in Mesopotamia and Rome.  Ascclepius: A god of healing. Worshipped throughout the classical Mediterranean world. His most important cult centers were at Epidaurus in Greece and Pergamum in Asia Minor. In Roman times, those seeking cures would spend the night in one of his temples, where he was expected to appear in a dream and either cure them immediately or advice them on a treatment.  Ahura Mazda: “Lord Wisdom” or “The Wise Lord”. The pre-eminent male divinity of early Zoroastrianism.  Many gods had multiple identities. For example, Zeus had 9 different names. It is unknown if they are all for him, or several different gods.  The earliest gods correspond with natural phenomenon. Such as the sun, wind, water, etc.  Each city usually had its own deity with a spouse. Eventually several cities were connected through complex family relationships of deities.  Amun: The principal Egyptian state god. Initially known as the “hidden god”. He was elevated to the status of a major god during the Middle Kingdom and identified with Re as Amun-Re. Finally in the New Kingdom Amun-Re became the ruler of the gods and the physical father of the pharaohs, undergirding both the Egyptian state and the cosmos.  Greek gods were usually human, and Mesopotamian gods were usually animals of some kind.  Vesta: The Roman goddess of household and hearth. Typically worshipped by women and served by priestesses as the Vestal Virgins who maintained the sacred fire that secured the safety of Rome itself.  Isis: The best known of all Egyptian goddesses. She was first mentioned in Old Kingdom texts, where she was associated with rulers in both life and death. In later myth she was the devoted sister and wife of Osiris and the loving moth or Horus. During the Ptolemaic and Roman eras, Isis took on the functions of numerous other deities and became a universal goddess, worshipped throughout the Mediterranean world.  Myth  Myths served several functions in the ancient world. They entertained, acculturated, moralized, explicated, startled, inspired, mocked, and mirrored. Offered insight into human nature, social and political relations, and cosmic operations.  Ancients used analogical methods to explain how transformation came about: o The first was nature. Especially in the daily circuit of the sun, and the annual changes of season. o The second was human behavior. Some things came through sexual intercourse, and others came through spoken word, or labor.  Osiris: The Egyptian god, depicted as a mummy wearing a crown, elevated to the position of ruler of the realm of the dead during the Middle Kingdom. New Kingdom texts portray him as the preeminent judge of the dead, a belief that gained in significance in the later periods of Egyptian history and presumably influenced the understanding of divine judgment in Judaism and Christianity.  Another Egyptian creator-deity was Ptah, the city-god of Memphis. He brought everything into existence through thought and speech. First was the thought, then the word.  Ancient Cosmology o Hesiod: The eighth century BCE author of „Works and Days‟ and „Theogony‟. One of the two primary sources for the standard portraits of the Greek Gods.  Said that the first order of creation was the divine. o Egyptians, Greeks, and Mesopotamians all envisioned a 3 part world: heaven, earth and a netherworld (Also known as the afterworld or afterlife, the netherworld was the region that the spirits of the dead entered. While netherworld envisions the land of the dead as lying beneath the earth, the land of the dead could also be located in the heavens). o Atrahasis: A long narrative poem from Mesopotamia, composed during the Old Babylonian period and named for its hero. It includes mythological accounts of the creation of humanism their almost complete annihilation via a flood, and the re-creation of humanity though the life cycle of birth, marriage, and death. o Tiamat: The female monster who represented primeval chaos and was subdued by Marduk in Enuma Elish. The name „Tiamat‟ is related to tehom, the Hebrew word translated as ‟the void‟ or „nothing‟ in the first verses of Genesis. o In a world where order was very important, it was essential to establish responsibilities for the gods. Each god was assigned a specific responsibility. o There are not many Egyptian accounts on the creation of humans. Among them are two coffin texts (inscribed on the coffins of the elite but non-royal Egyptians during the Middle Kingdom). o Classical myth talked about humans being flawed from the beginning. Some talk about beginning with some sort of “original offence” o Homer: The eighth century BCE author of „Iliad‟ and „the Odyssey‟. The other primary source for the standard portraits of Greek gods.  Said that humans always want more than they have, and are consistently overrated in their own intelligence. o According to Egyptian myths, Humans and gods lived together until the humans rebelled against their lower status  Hathor: Egyptian cow goddess associated both with creation (lo
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