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.
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
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
A Roman grammarian of the second century CE defined religious people
as those who participated in the state‟s traditional rituals and who
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
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
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
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.
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
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
o Not all of these gods were equally god-like. The defining
characteristic of these gods was their supreme power. For
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
o Classical myth talked about humans being flawed from the
beginning. Some talk about beginning with some sort of
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