Friday, September 16, 2005

The Gods Who Walk Among Us

"Birds skipped among groves of date palms along the marshy banks of the Euphrates in the year B.C. 3500. As the sun arose above Sumer, the alluvial desert of the Middle East came alive with agricultural activity. In a valley forged between the twin rivers of the Tigris and the Euphrates, magnificent walled cities awoke to the chatter of busy streets and marketplaces. In what the Greeks would later call "Mesopotamia" (between the rivers), the world’s first great trade center and civilization had developed. The opulent Sumerian cities of Ur—the home of Abram—Uruk, and Lagash, had become the economic machines of the ancient Middle East, and industries from as far away as Jericho near the Mediterranean Sea, and Catal Huyuk in Asia Minor, competed for the trade opportunities they provided. Laborers from the biblical city of Jericho exported salt into Sumer, and miners from Catal Huyuk prepared obsidian, used in making mirrors, for shipment into the ancient metropolis. But while the prehistoric people of the East looked to the Sumerians for their supply of daily bread, the Sumerians themselves gazed heavenward to the early rising of Utu (Shamash), the all-providing sun god, as he prepared once again to ride across the sky in his mule-drawn chariot. And, in B.C. 3500, Utu was not alone among the gods.
By now the Sumerian pantheon provided the earliest known description of organized mythology, consisting of a complex system of more than 3,000 deities and covering nearly every detail of nature and human enterprise. There were gods of sunshine and of rain. There were vegetation gods, fertility gods, river gods, animal gods, and gods of the afterlife. There were the great gods—Enlil (prince of the air), Anu (ruler of the heavens), Enki, (the god of water), and so on. Under these existed a second level of deities, including Nannar the moon god, Utu the sun god, and Inanna, the "Queen of Heaven." Having so noted—and this is the big question—where did the gods of Sumeria come from?
Since the religion of Sumeria was the first known organized mythology and would greatly influence the foundational beliefs of the forthcoming nations of Assyria, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and others, this question has interested scholars and historians for more than a millennium. Specifically, where does one find the historical beginning of the ancient gods of Sumeria? Were the Sumerian deities the product of human imagination, or the distortion of some earlier prehistoric revelation? Were they the "mythologizing" of certain ancient heroes, or, as some New Age followers suggest, the result of an extra-terrestrial "alien" visitation whose appearance gave birth to the legends and mythological gods? More importantly, did the gods of Sumeria reflect the emergence of a real and spiritual power operating through pagan dynamics, or were the gods purely the creation of primitive imaginations?
There are three competing theories regarding the origin of the early mythological gods: 1) The Euhemerus View; 2) The New Age View; and 3) The Biblical View. The Euhemerus View was based on the historical theories of the Greek scholar Euhemerus who claimed that pagan gods originated with certain ancient and famous kings who were later deified. The more widely accepted theories—the New Age View and the Biblical View—have succeeded to become the popular authorities regarding original paganism, and are therefore the focus of our attention. What can we learn from these two theories?


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