The Origins of Faith: The Mesopotamians Part 1
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By Pastor Richard Beobide
We are in the search of the doctrine eternal life!
If you've read the time line of history article then you've learned some interesting facts about the development of the time line and how simple it is to understand.
In this article our objective is to learn about the beginnings of civilization and the belief systems that were present according to information we have available. By learning about these civilizations and their belief systems we gain a better understanding of where the doctrine of eternal life had its origins, and furthermore we can learn about other belief and find out about their origins as well. The net result for any person reading these articles are: anyone can draw a logical conclusion for themselves, and determine what is best to believe.
I'd like to start out by saying that we cannot be completely accurate when we talk about the beginnings of civilization nor the belief systems they had. Nothing is certain, and when it comes to the subjects discussed in these articles it's better to be safe and have an open mind. That being said, it is with a reasonable degree of confidence the experts (historians and archeologists) agree that civilization began somewhere between three thousand and four thousand years before the birth of Christ. The location of this humble beginning was in the Mesopotamian region of the world in an ancient city known as Sumer. This small urban type area was located in a region called the Fertile Crescent. The Crescent region is in the Middle Eastern part of the world. Here you find such countries as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. It spanned approximately seven hundred miles in length. The Fertile Crescent has the Mediterranean Sea to its southwest, the Black Sea to its North and the Caspian Sea to its northeast. The regions soil was fertile. It was and still is today fed by the Tigres and Euphrates rivers. To date Sumer is considered the oldest of all civilizations, and if one had to guess (and I stress "guess") the experts date this city at approximately 3500 BC. Among other things The Sumerians are credited with the oldest epic hero to date; Gilgamesh!
Gilgamesh (formerly Bilgames of ancient Urek) was a great hero and is indeed believed to be a real life ancient king. Although the stories are great exaggerations. He was ruler of the land of Uruk. The land of Uruk was written about in the Bible, and was spelled as Erech (this brief Biblical writing can be found in the book of Genesis chapter 10: Verse 10). The standard version of the epic of Gilgamesh is dated 1000 BC. Fragments of the writings actually contain the name of the reviser. His name was Sin-liqe-unninni. It is believed this person adopted the earlier versions of the epic and named it "He Who Saw The Deep."
As we discuss the Epic of Gilgamesh it cannot be helped but to notice some of the interesting similarities between it and the Book of Genesis in the Bible. The two stories that most everyone notice are the flood and the tree of life. In Sin-liqe-unninni's revised story Gilgamesh, the hero was credited with embarking on a great journey to meet the survivor of the great flood that destroyed all of mankind. The hero Gilgamesh also ties stones to his feet and sinks to the bottom of the ocean to pluck up the plant that brings eternal youth. According to expert opinion, neither the flood nor the plant of everlasting youth is part of the oldest versions known as the Bilgames poems. Bilgames is where the epic of Gilgamesh had its origins (Bilgames origins are estimated about 1700 BC and Gilgamesh dated approximately 1000 BC). The similarity between Gilgamesh and Genesis is that a great flood wipes out all of humanity with the exception of a special family. Also the hero searches for a plant that provides everlasting youth while the book of Genesis tells of a story about a tree of life.
It is often asserted that since the story of Gilgamesh contains writings that reference the concept of "eternal youth" we could reasonably conclude this would be at least among the first documented references to a form of "eternal life" through the use of "eternal youth." In the Epic of Gilgamesh our hero looses his dear friend Enkidu and realizes that he will share the same fate as his friend, and he too will die some day. So begins the journey of Gilgamesh to the ends of the earth in search of eternal life in the flesh.
If you should take the time to read the Epic of Gilgamesh you will learn of Utnapishtim who is the Noah type survivor of the flood written about in the Biblical story. The difference with Utnapishtim is that the gods secretly grant him eternal life in the flesh by the use of everlasting youth. Gilgamesh learns of Utnapishtim and makes his way to the Noah type in the hope of learning the secret of his everlasting life. He tells Gilgamesh to go to the bottom of the ocean that surrounds the Far-Away and there he will find the plant that will make him young again. Gilgamesh and a guide named Urshanab journey off to their destination where Gilgamesh ties stones his feet, and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. He plucks up the plant that brings everlasting youth. Our hero decides to be cautious about eating the plant immediately. Instead he chooses to go back to Uruk and give the plant to an old man there to test it. However, as they make their way back to Uruk, Gilgamesh and his guide stop to eat and perhaps enjoy a little rest. As they were resting and sleeping a snake came and ate the plant. In the end our hero looses out at his chance of immortality.
The story of Gilgamesh is a wonderful story and it's a very worthwhile read to anyone interested in the topic of everlasting life. Perhaps if you're interested in stories of antiquity this is certainly a great read. In this article however, we are going to address the possibility of whether the doctrine of "Eternal Life" had its origins here or in some other document. We can also consider if the Epic of Gilgamesh is a prehistoric reference to the same flood noted in the book of Genesis.
Today we have this and other references of the Sumerian life styles. So, let's look into their belief systems and see if we can understand what comfort the ancient people of Sumeria may have enjoyed from their religions.
The Sumerian Belief System
Now that we have a insight of the age and location of the first civilization, What about their gods and belief systems? If you read the writings of such things as the code of Hammurabi (which we do not address here), or the Epic of Gilgamesh you realize that the Sumerians had many gods. The object of this portion of this article is to put into summery the fundamentals of what we know based on the information available.
It appears that the belief systems of the early Sumerian and Mesopotamian people can reasonably be summed up in this way:
The gods: The Sumerian and Mesopotamian people had many gods and it was the job of the humans to please them. However, there does not appear to be any divine plan.
Life: The ordinary human was given a life span in which to live. However, if the gods were pleased with an individual a longer life could be granted. However, the outcome was uncertain.
Death: All humans were subject to death. Even in the Epic of Gilgamesh Utnapishtim (the Noah Type) could have been killed.
After Life: This was a bleak place that equalized all humans. A place of despair. It appears to have been an eternal dwelling that did not account for a person's life achievements or behaviors, but if an infant died grace was somehow applied by the goddess of death and the infant would live well.