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The Origins of Faith: The Mesopotamians

The Origins of Faith: The Mesopotamians Part 2

Download this file: Nations Mesopotamians 2

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 the information we have available today. By learning about civilizations and their belief systems we gain a better understanding of where doctrine of eternal life had its origins. Furthermore, we can learn about other belief systems and find out about their origins as well. The net result for anyone reading these articles are: anyone can draw a logical conclusion for themselves, and determine what they want to believe.

I'd like to start by saying we cannot be completely accurate when we talk about the beginnings of civilization, nor the exact belief systems they had. Since we didn't witness things first hand, thing will be missed. That being said, it's with a reasonable degree of certainty the experts (Historians and archeologist) agree that civilization began sometime between 3000 and 4000 years Before Christ (BC). The location of these humble beginnings was in the Mesopotamian region of the world, in an ancient city known as today as Sumer.  This small urban type area was located  in a region we know today as the Fertile Crescent. The crescent region is in the Middle Eastern part of the world. Hear you will find such countries as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Iran and Syria. This region's span is about 700 miles in length. The crescent has the Mediterranean Sea to its southwest, the Black Sea to the 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. If one had to guess the city is dated by the experts at approximately 3500 BC. Among other thing the Sumerians are credited with the oldest of epic heroes know as Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh (formerly Bilgames of ancient Urek or Uruk) was a great hero and is indeed believed to be a real live ancient king, although the stories are great exaggerations. He was ruler of the land of f Uruk. Uruk was written about in the biblical book of Genesis chapter 10 verse 10 and was spelled in the bible as Urek. The standard version of the Gilgamesh epic is dated to 1000 BC. There are some fragments that contain the name of a reviser. His name is Sin-Liqe-Unninni. It's believed this person adopted the earlier versions of the epic and named  it "He Who Saw The Deep."

Bilgames, Gilgamesh and Genesis
The epic of Gilgamesh and the book of Genesis contained in the bible have a number of close similarities (The flood and tree of life stories being most notable). Gilgamesh was credited with embarking on a great journey, to meet the survivor or the great flood that destroys all of mankind. The hero Gilgamesh 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, are part of the oldest version of the poems known as the Bilgames poems, where the epic poem had it's origins (The Bilgames Poems had their estimated origins around 1700 BC and Gilgamesh about 1000 BC). An interesting note is, this and Genesis tell of a great flood that wipes out mankind with the exception of a special family.

It can be asserted that since the story of Gilgamesh contains writings that reference the concept of "Eternal Youth,"  we can reasonably conclude that 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 losses his dear friend Enkidu and realizes that he too will share the same fate as his friend: he will die some day. So, begins the journey to the ends of the earth in search of eternal life in his flesh. Utnapishtim is the Noah type in the ark in that he survives the flood, and the gods grant him eternal life in his flesh. He tells Gilgamesh to go to the bottom of the ocean that surrounds the Far-away, and there he will find a plant that will make him young again. Gilgamesh and his guide Urshanab journey off to their destination where Gilgamesh ties stones to his feet, and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. He then plucks up the plant that brings everlasting youth. As it turns out Gilgamesh is afraid to eat it, and he decides to go back to Uruk and give the plant to an old man there to test it. While on there journey home Gilgamesh and Urshanab stop to rest and eat. But, while they were sleeping a snake comes and eats the plant. Gilgamesh losses out on his chance on immortality. But! Is this where the doctrine of  "Eternal Life" had it's origins, or is this a prehistoric compliment of evidence to the bible story? Let's save that for a later article!

The Sumerian Belief System
Now that we have a small insight of the age and location of the first civilization, what about their gods and belief systems? When 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 the Sumerians had many gods. The object of this section is to put into Summery, the fundementals of what we know based on the information available. It appears that the belief systems of the Sumerian and early Mesopotamia can be summed up in the following:
1. The gods: The Sumerians and Mesopotamians had many gods and the job of the
    human was to please them. However, according to expert opinion there was no
    divine plan.
2. Life: The ordinary human was given a life span in which to live. However, if the
    gods were pleased a longer life could be had, but the outcome was uncertain.
3. Death: All humans were humans were subject to death even Utnapishtim.
4. After life: This was a bleak place that equalized all. A place of despair. It appears
    to have been an eternal dwelling that didn't account for a persons life achieve-
    ments or behaviors, but if a person died as an infant grace was somehow applied
    by the goddess of death and the infant would live well.

Interesting Questions
The fun of this research is the ability to speculate on the questions of what if! So let's speculate on some doctrinal concepts. Let's say a person "like yourself" wanted to follow this belief systems, what difficulties would be encountered along the way?
* If a person were seeking the eternal life or the life after death experience described
   in these writings, one of the immediate problems encountered would be the lack of
   a divine plan provided the gods. While a  long list of gods does exist a divine plan
   is missing completely.
* The next hurdle would be the that many of the writings are either destroyed, much
   of what remains are incomplete and damaged with text  missing. Therefore, to de-
   velop a complete doctrine at this point would be close to impossible. We would
   have to up the uncovering of more clay tablets.
* The next obstacle for the person wanting to put their faith in this belief systems
   is a  real toughy. It appears the  gods didn't want humans to live with them in their
   place of residence. Humans were to be lorded over then disposed of into the realm
   of despair. There too, they were lorded over by the goddess of death.
* You would have to ask yourself: what would be the point of pursuing the
   construction of their doctrinal belief systems, other than a point of historical
   interest? The best humans would get from serving these gods was a longer
   life, but no eternal life in their flesh nor a pleasant after life.
* As best we know, it appears during this time period the writings about
   "After Life" are bleak and dismal at best.  The gods of Sumer did not offer
   an after life to humans. Death only offered equalization. In other words, slave
   or king, good or bad, death rewarded its victim with a resting place of utter
   despair. The dead were covered in ash surrounded by darkness a bleak
   depression. This too can be seen in the epic of Gilgamesh. Enkidu the dear
   friend of Gilgamesh is dying, and just before death he describes the place of
   death as he makes entrance to it and envisioning it. Enkidu refers to it as a place
   of darkness covered in ash, and the crowns of kings are piled in heaps and non
   can escape it.
* Utnapishtim received eternal life, but what if he were killed. For instance,
   Gilgamesh was prepared to do battle with him. What if Gilgamesh killed
   him? Where would Utnapishtims' eternal life be then?
* Could a god be killed? Bilgames slew the bull of heaven, and Huwawa (also
   known as Humbaba) the keeper of the cedar forest. These were not gods but
   certainly very special creatures. What happens to them after death?
* Is the 1000 BC standard version of Gilgamesh evidence  that a great flood really
   happened, or perhaps the tree of life evidence that these are not just folklore but
   a portal into history?

Thinking about these things are fun and entertaining, and it should also be noted that when we talk about such serious subjects as "Eternal Life" in one form or another, we are talking about belief systems that people all over the world entrust their eternal soul to (if we have one). It's important to note what our objective is. That is to test the beliefs so as to sum up the matter in the hopes of finding the purist truth.

I wonder! Is it hard to believe that the Sumerian and Mesopotamian people of the day considered the writings of Gilgamesh and its reference to Utnapishtim (the Noah type from the Bible) and "Eternal life" in the flesh based on becoming young again through eating of a plant (the  "Tree of Life" type from the bible) a valid and credible doctrine. I know that myself as a Christian, do consider and look for the possibility of other great prehistoric stories (perhaps changed through the telling of time) an evidence of greater truths; that is the story of the garden of Eden, The great flood of Noah, the prophecies of the messiah and God visiting His people. These are all fantastic stories and I am always criticized for believing them. While I believe the story of Gilgamesh is a version of past events handed down by verbal communication, I also believe it may be just one more evidence that a tree of life existed and the great flood did occur.

The writings of Bilgames and Gilgamesh provides some insight regarding the entertainment of the people of Sumer and Mesopotamia, and their gods. It is also interesting that these writings may show what the Sumerian and Mesopotamian people expected may come of them after the death of their earthly bodies. Unfortunately for the ancient people of Sumer it is reasonably evident that an after life full of darkness, ash and depression was there fate in the "After Life." While there are small similarities of certain character types that we have noted, namely: Noah and Utnapishtim. As best we know, the death of this doctrine was technically complete with the destruction of Nineveh. Now that we know with a reasonable understanding that the doctrine of "Eternal Life" did not emanate from the doctrines of ancient Mesopotamia, we can put Sumer behind us along with our epic hero Gilgamesh and march forward the history searching for "Eternal Life." Thank you for reading to

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