The Sumerians - A Belief in Spirits / A Belief in Sin

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The Sumerians - A Belief in Spirits / A Belief in Sin

Post  dave on Mon Apr 27, 2009 3:32 pm

Like people who were not yet civilized, the Sumerians saw movement around them as the magic of spirits, magic being the only explanation they had for how things worked. These spirits were their gods, and with many spirits around, the Sumerians believed in many gods -- gods that had humanlike emotions. The Sumerians believed that the sun, moon and stars were gods. They believed in a goddess of the reeds that grew around them and in a goddess of the beer that they distilled.

The Sumerians believed that crops grew because of a male god mating with his goddess wife. They saw the hot and dry months of summer, when their meadows and fields turned brown, as a time of death of these gods. When their fields bloomed again in the autumn, they believed their gods were resurrected. They marked this as the beginning of their year, which they celebrated at their temples with music and singing.

The Sumerians could dig into the earth and within a few feet find water. They believed that the earth was a great disk floating on the sea. They called the sea Nammu, and they believed that Nammu was without a beginning in time. They believed that Nammu had created the fish they saw and the birds, wild pigs and other creatures that appeared on the marshy wet lands -- a story of creation around two millennia before the Hebrews would put their own story of the creation into writing.

The Sumerians believed that Nammu had created heaven and earth, heaven splitting from earth as being the male god, An, and the earth being a goddess called Ki. They believed that Ki and An had produced a son called Enlil, who was atmosphere, wind and storm. The Sumerians believed that Enlil separated the day from night and that he had opened an invisible shell and let waters fall from the sky. They believed that with his mother, Ki, Enlil set the stage for the creation of plants, humans and other creatures, that he made seeds grow, that he shaped humanity from clay and imbued it, as it states in Genesis 2:7, with "the breath of life."

The Sumerians believed they had been created to serve their gods, and they served their gods with sacrificial offerings and supplications. They believed that the gods controlled the past and the future, that the gods had revealed to them the skills that they possessed, including writing, and that the gods had provided them with all they needed to know. They had no vision of their civilization having developed by their own efforts. They had no vision of technological or social progress.

They did not believe in social change, but Sumerian priests altered the stories that they told, creating a new twist to old tales -- without acknowledging this as a human induced change or wondering why they had failed to get it right the first time. New ideas were simply revelations from the gods.

The Sumerians did not recognize interpretation. They saw no need for rules of reason. No evidence remains in their writings of their respecting doubt or their seeing any benefit from suspended judgment. They worked their stories about their gods into axioms. Sometime around 2500 BCE, Enlil became the greatest of the gods and the god who punished people and watched over their safety and well-being. Like the gods of other ancient peoples, Enlil was a god who dwelled somewhere. He was a god of place, and that place was the city was Nippur, a sacred city believed to have been inhabited at first only by divine beings.

By around 2500 BCE, the Sumerians had become individualistic enough to believe in personal gods -- gods with whom individuals had a covenant. Individuals no longer prayed just for the community. Sumerian society was dominated by males, and the male head of every family had his personal god. Men hoped that their god would intercede for them in the assembly of gods and provide them with a long life and good health. In exchange, they glorified their god with prayers, supplications and sacrifices while continuing to worship the other gods in the Sumerian pantheon of gods.

Believing that the gods had given them all they had, the Sumerians saw the intentions of their gods as good. Believing that their gods had great powers and controlled their world, they needed an explanation for their hardships and misfortunes. They concluded that their hardships and misfortunes were the result of human deeds that displeased the gods -- in a word, sin. They believed that when someone displeased their gods, these gods let demons punish the offender with sickness, disease or environmental disasters.

The Sumerians experienced infrequent rains that sometimes created disastrous floods, and they believed that these floods were punishments created by a demon god that lived in the depths of the Gulf of Persia. And to explain the misfortunes and suffering of infants, the Sumerians believed that sin was inborn, that never was a child born without sin. Therefore, wrote a Sumerian, when one suffered it was best not to curse the gods but to glorify them, to appeal to them, and to wait patiently for their deliverance.

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