Mesopotamia: (The Tigris - Euphrates Rivers)

1. Provides an opportunity to study the rise and development of religion in a region of mixed races and cultures which later gave rise to the major monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

2. The Near East: was the home of the Ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians.

a. They were river valley civilizations who had to learn to control the rivers to utilize them.

b. Control of their environment enable cities to be built and civilization to develop with religion as an integral aspect of it.

3. The Sumerians developed views which not only influenced their contemporaries, but also civilizations that would follow them in this region.

a. Principal Concept: the Universe was characterized by order and whatever man could perceive reflected supernatural activity and revealed the divine mind.

b. Major Components of the Universe

1. An - the sky.

2. Ki - the earth -- a flat circular disk surrounded by water above which was the vault of heaven.

3. Lil - the atmosphere or spirit that existed beneath heaven.

c. The Created Universe came from the primeval sea (in which was fashioned the sun, moon, planets, and stars in their divinely ordered and observable paths).

o        On Earth -- came plant, animal, and human life.

4. The superhuman and invisible beings who controlled the great universe were represented in human terms.

a. Like Man: they had passions and weaknesses; ate, drank, married, had children.

b. Unlike Man: they were immortal for "when the gods made mankind they reserved death for humans and kept life in their in their own hands."

5. From surviving texts (Early Old Babylonian Period ca. 1900 B.C.), the Sumerians believed that each cosmic and cultural entity had its own rules and regulations.

a. Purpose: to keep itself going forever along the plan laid down by the god who created it.

b. These were called Me in Sumer:

o        lordship, god ship, crown, the royal throne, kingship,priestship, truth, the flood, weapons, law, art, music, power, hostility, destruction, metal-working, wisdom, fear etc.

c. ca. 2500 B.C. - hundreds of divine names were listed, each classified as a god. (written with a prefix of the sign for the star.

The Supreme Ruler

1. Anu, the god of heaven, was originally the supreme ruler of the pantheon.

a. He was primarily concerned with government (rulership) symbolized by an enthroned horned headdress as a mark of divinity.

b. His principal shrine was Uruk -- after the city of Nippur defeated Uruk, its own god, Enlil or Ellil and his temple Ekur replaced Anu.

2. Enlil (lord of the atmosphere/winds)

a. He was the father (progenitor) to the creation of the sun, moon, vegetation and the implements for the control of the earth were credited to him.

b. In some theologies Enlil was considered to be the son of Anu, in others he was the child of the first divine pair, Enki and Ninki (Lord and Lady of the Earth).

c. Although he was associated with Nippur, he was considered the Supreme God of all Sumer and held the tablets by which the fates of all people were settled.

1. Nippur remained a holy city of pilgrimage throughout Babylonian History.

2. By the second millennium B.C., Enlil's position and function had been taken over by Marduk in Babylonia and Ashur (Assur) in Assyria.

3. Third Leader in the pantheon was Enki (lord of the underworld, also known as Ea, the god of the deep).

a. He ruled the primeval waters and was credited with all wisdom.

b. He favored and helped both Man and the Gods -- knowing all secrets, he instructed Man in everything (knowledge) necessary for life and progress.

c. He could also make known divine plans to mortals--he later became the patron of exorcists and artisans.

4. Marduk -- the son of Enki (Ea) eventually became the head of the whole Babylonian Pantheon (of which Marduk was patron).

a. Marduk's son, Nabu - the patron of science and especially of astronomy and the scribal arts, gained in importance and prominence.

b. Theological School added a twelfth and final chapter to the classic Epic of Creation giving Marduk the descriptive epithets of all fifty major deities.

ie. Adad as "Marduk of Rain" and Sin as "Marduk who illuminates the night" (the moon).

5. A fourth creating deity was Ninhursag or Ninmah (The Exalted Lady and original "Mother Earth") associated in Sumerian thought with Enlil and Ea in the creation of the human race.

The Stars and Planets

1. The Second group of gods consisted of the Moon (Sumerian Nannar, Suen or Sin), the Sun (Sumerian Utu, Semitic Shamash), and the principal planets and the morning star Ishtar (Venus).

2. The Moon (Nannar)

a. In his crescent shape boat, he crossed the night sky dividing the year into months of 30 days.

b. Nannar was a son of Anu (or Enlil in another tradition) and his wife Ningal gave birth to the sun-god and the goddess, Inanna.

3. The Sun (Shamash)

a. He daily crossed the heavens in his chariot dispersing darkness or evil while he shined equally on all.

b. By night, he traveled through the underworld continuing his role as the great judge and "lord of decisions".

c. In Babylonia his symbol was a four-rayed sun, while in Assyria he was depicted by the winged sun-disc.

4. Ishtar

a. Absorbed the functions of many earlier female deities, and her name became synonymous for goddess.

b. She was the patroness of war and love depicted as the Lady of Battle, armed with bow and arrows, wearing lapis lazuli necklace and placing her foot on her symbol, the lion.

c. As the goddess of love in popular worship she was adored throughout the land under various local aspects.

d. From Nineveh, her main temple, her worship spread to the west where this goddess of love and fertility was known as Ishtar Ebril.

By the Syrians as Anat, Arabs as Atar, Greeks as Asarte and the Egyptians as Isis.

1. According to one Babylonian tradition, she descended into the underworld in search of her missing lover Dumuzi (Tammuz) resulting in the loss of fertility in the world.

2. In astrology she was linked with the evening and morning star.

5. The seven major deities held the fate of all -- supported by fifty great gods and spirits (annunaki and igigi) who collectively designated the spiritual forces at work above and in the earth.

Riding on the Storm

1. Assyria: The weather - god, Adad rode the storm, thundering like a bull, his symbolic mount.

a. Forked lighting was held in his hand -- he was the bringer of judgment and destruction by flood.

b. Dual Role: He was also the favorable provider of abundance through rain.

c. In Syria - he was known as Ramman or Rammon (the Thunder) Hadad (Addu) or his Hittite title Teshub.

2. To maintain its political and economic prosperity Assyria held an annual campaign (military).

a. Gods with military characteristics were frequently important.

b. Among these were Ninurta, god of war and hunting.

Legends and Stories

1. Roles and powers of the gods found its expression in legends and stories to account for realities within the universe (cosmos) and current beliefs.

2. Myth of Inanna and Enki:

a. It recounts the transfer of the arts of civilization (the me) from Eridu to Uruk.

ie. an explanation of Uruk as the primary spiritual center of Sumer.

b. Inanna visited Enki in Eridu where he gave her a banquet and then presented her with the me which she loaded on her boat of heaven and carried off.

c. Realizing his mistake: Enki sends his messenger, Isimund,to inform her of his change of mind.

o        attacks by evil monsters do not prevent her from reaching her city safely.

3. Origin of the World: various expressions (myths).

a. Enuma Elish: Babylonian Epic

"When on high", ascribes the creation of heaven and earth to Marduk who fought and slew Tiamat, the dragon of the Deep.

b. Another depiction: A god bound reeds together and spread earth over them, in the manner of the formation of villages in the marshes of southern Mesopotamia.

4. The Origin of Man (related in terms of birth)

a. In one tale, Anu and Enlil act with the cooperation of the mother-goddess Ninhursag.

b. In another Ea and the goddess Aruru create man from clay by the power of the divine word.

c. The Old Babylonian Antrahasis Epic:

1. When Enlil made the lesser gods dig canals and work for the agricultural prosperity on which the feeding of the gods themselves depended, they went on strike against such hard labor.

2. Their complaints were upheld by Anu, and the gods, by an act of birth using the mother-goddess (called Mama or Nintu), made people of clay and blood.

d. The Enuma Elish

1. People were created to serve the gods after Marduk's Victory.

2. Man was created by mingling clay with the blood of a slain god, Kingu.

5. An Enki Myth tells of a "pure, bright, land of the living"--Dilmun in the Persian Gulf.

a. It was a land of peace where there was no sickness or old age, though fresh water was lacking.

b. When the sun-god provides water, this place becomes a true paradise.

c. Ninhursag gives birth to eight plants which Enki eats.

1. She curses Enki who then becomes ill.

2. Ninhrsag is finally persuaded to create eight healing goddesses, one for each of Enki's sick organs.

3. One of these is Ninti (to heal his ribs) which may mean "the Lady who gives life" which is similar to the Genesis account of the birth of Eve.

6. The Rebellion of Man

a. This theme is reflected by the story of the gardener Shukalletuda who committed a mortal sin by seducing Inanna.

b. The Antrahasis Epic

1. People withdrew their labor -- this violation of divinely given work of supplying the needs of the gods, combined with the noise caused by the multiplication of mankind deprived Enlil of his sleep.

2. He tried to solve the problem by sending plagues, famine, and drought, but Enki's intervention enabled men and women to survive.

7. Escape from the Flood

a. The Epics of Antrahasis and Gilgamesh introduce the Flood as divine judgment on mankind.

b. In each the hero is a human who gains immortality by surviving.

c. A warning is given by Enki (Ea) to build a boat in which the family and animals may be taken away.

d. Utnapishtim the Faraway tells Gilgamesh who had just ferried across the waters of death, how he had escaped the Flood.

1. His ship landed on Mount Nisir after he had tested the ebbing (withdrawal) of water by sending out various birds.

2. Enlil was furious that a man had been allowed to escape his destruction, but Enlil was prevailed upon by the gods to grant him immortality.

3. Utnapishtin says to Gilgamesh, "Who will summon the assembly of the gods for your?"

o        through a series of tests he shows how mere man is unable to stay awake for seven days and nights, or to keep hold of the plant of life when once he has attained it.

8. Other epics attempt to explain abnormalities in creation:

a. Such as imperfect human beings or the distinctive character and customs of Bedouin Martu.

b. The calamities and sickness brought by the south wind are the subject of a tale of Ninurta and Asag, the sickness demon.

c. Certain recurrent concepts of journeying, punishment, divine intervention, the plant of life, and the need for the worship and service of the gods should be noted.

Death Is the Human Lot

1. There are many myths which emphasize the human search for life (immortality), but they all end in failure.

o        Death was and is the lot of man.

2. Even Dumuzi, a king of Uruk who was said to have married the goddess Inanna had to die.

o        She sought him in vain and he had to remain to rule the "land of no return".

3. The Mesopotamian view of death and the afterlife is vague.

a. Arallu, "the great land, the house of the shades", lay beneath the earth and was reached by departed spirits by a ferry across the river Habur.

o        This belief is reflected in model boats that have been discovered in some graves.

b. Arallu was the realm of Ereshkigal and her husband Nergal with their entourage of fallen deities and officials. Status depended on one's activity during life.

c. The dead were judged by the Sun, whose passage by night provided their only light, and by Nannar who decreed their lot.

d. The dead were fed and given cool water by the eldest son whose responsibility it was to provide periodic libations and funery meals for his ancestors.

e. If a person's ghost or spirit (etemmu) lay unburied or deprived of sustenance, it would wonder and torment the living.

f. The royal graves at Ur (ca. 2600 B.C.) included between three and seventy-four followers as well as gifts of jewelry, vessels, and musical instruments.

o        This does indicate a belief in the need to provide for life in the hereafter.

Personal Religion

1. The King was the vice-regent of the gods on earth being invested with authority to act on their behalf.

2. He was expected to deal justly and without favor to defend the weak against the strong; and to take the part of the fatherless and of the widow.

a. Ethical considerations were based on what would bring divine approval rather than harm (the wrath of the gods).

b. The proper manner of kingship and life was handed down by tradition and reinforced by texts.

3. The king's life and actions were governed by ceremonies and rituals to protect his purity and person.

a. In certain cases of unfavorable omens, a substitute king would be put on the throne to suffer any ill - fortune or even death.

b. There is no evidence that the king considered himself divine -- some kings had prayers and hymns addressed to them.

4. Individuals could rule their lives like the kings with prayers to a particular deity.

a. Sumerian and Akkadian psalms include hymns addressed to temples and sacred cities.

b. One could address the intercessory goddess Lama who might take the worshipper into the presence of the god (their belief).

c. Protective Spirits (shedu and lamassu) could be invoked.

Counsels of Wisdom: indication of individual responsibility.

Worship your god every day

with sacrifice and prayer which

properly go with incense offerings.

Present your free will offering to your god

for this is fitting for the gods.

Offer him daily prayers, supplication and prostration

and you will get your reward.

Then you will have full

communion with your god.

Reverence begets favor.

Sacrifice prolongs life,

and prayer atones for guilt.

5. A wealthier person could deposit in the temple a suitably inscribed object -- it would be placed near the god's statue as a reminder of the request or thanks for favor received.

6. Gestures of prayer, apart from kneeling and prostration, were the raising of both hands or holding of one hand before the mouth with one's palm towards the face.

The Cult

1. The temple was the focal point of religious activity.

o        The earliest excavated, Enki's temple at Eridu, was a rectangular structure with a niche for the divine statue or emblem, before which stood an offering table.

2. Each temple had a cella, the god being raised on a platform or pedestal in a dark inner shrine before which was placed an altar or table.

3. In a central courtyard beyond the main entrance there might be situated a well (apsu).

a. The building included side-chapels and storerooms.

b. The main entrance of the temple was sometimes set at right-angels to the inner shrine to provide greater privacy.

4. The largest and most celebrated temple was that of Marduk at Babylon called Esagila (the temple whose head is raised high).

a. A massive statue of Marduk and his couch stood (weighing 50 talents of gold).

b. At a lower level, there were 55 chapels dedicated to the remaining gods of the pantheon.

5. At Uruk the temple of Anu (ca. 3,000 B.C.) was raised on an artificial hill consisting of a series of mud brick platforms of decreasing size.

a. Thus developed the characteristic Sumerian Ziggurat or temple tower.

b. Herodotus says the temple tower of Babylon named Etemenanki (the building which is the foundation of heaven and earth) was made of seven layers.

6. The Purpose of Ziggurats is a debated subject.

a. It is a representation of the cosmic mountain, a giant altar, or the divine throne.

b. Here the god was thought to come down to earth.

Priest and King

1. Originally the head of the community, the en, acted as a priest -king, living in the giparu - apartment of the temple.

a. The en would be a man or a woman according to the sex of the deity to whom the temple was dedicated.

b. The goddess Ianna at Urukhad a male en, and the moon-god Nannar at Ur was served a succession of the daughters of Mesopotamian rulers.

2. When the en moved into a secular role and became the ensi (later king) -- the spiritual role was combined with the function of the city-ruler.

o        he had to ensure the maintenance of the proper rites and ceremonies on which the harmony with god depended.

3. The king delegated special duties to specialist priests (shangu) under a superior.

a. Those who entered the sanctuary (erib biti) were accompanied by those who sacrificed, poured libations or anointed the deity.

b. Others were concerned with appeasing an angry god with incantations and exorcisms.

c. Incantation and divination priests worked within and outside the temple, often going to private homes.

4. The Religious Community

a. Around the temple were housed eunuchs, temple slaves, and sacred prostitutes, along with numerous tradesmen.

b. Herdsmen kept the temple flocks and cultivators the fields, until with increasing secularization (after the Old Babylonian Period) their numbers decreased.

c. All activity was backed by a large administrative staff of scribes, storekeepers, and guards.

5. Like Man, the gods required regular supplies of food and drink which were set out before them each morning and evening.

a. The choicest meat was provided from sacrifices (niqu)--selected parts, the lungs and livers were examined for omens.

b. Statues also received fresh ornaments and garments for their particular festival day.


1. Special sacrifices and feasts were made on days sacred to a particular deity.

2. These were in addition to regular feasts days on the first (new moon), seventh, fifteenth (and later twenty-fifth) days as well as the day of the full moon (shabatu) and its disappearance (bubbulu).

a. The Sumerian Calendar differed in each major city -- so it provides evidence of local festivals.

b. At Lagash, the first month (March-April) was the Feast of Eating the Barley of the god Ningirsu and the sixth month was the Festival of Dumuzi.

3. The major festival was that of the New Year (akitu) celebrated at Babylon, Uruk, and Ashur by inviting all the gods of the surrounding region to come in.

a. On the first day: rites began at dawn and were followed by sacrifices and the making of special statuettes.

b. On the fourth day: recitation of the Epic of Creation began with special prayers to Marduk.

c. On the fifth day: the king bathed in pure river water before entering the temple dressed in fine linen.

1. After prayers he opened the doors to the priests and administered the morning sacrifice.

2. Later in the day - he was approached by the Chief Priest who struck the king on the cheek after the royal signia had been removed.

o        If there were tears (all was well) for Marduk showed that he was pleased and all would be well with the land.

3. The king prostrated himself in prayer and his royal regalia was restored before he offered the evening sacrifice.

d. On the eighth day: the king took the hand of Bel (the god earth) to lead him out of the temple along the sacred procession route followed by the visiting gods, priests, and populace.

1. The special New Year festival house, upstream on the river bank outside the city, was reached via the Ishtar Gate and a trip on a decorated barge.

2. Here the gods decided the fate of the country for the following year and reenacted Marduk's victory over the forces of evil.

3. The festival ended after the celebration of sacred marriage between Marduk and his corsort Sarpanit.

Sin and Suffering

1. The Babylonians listed all categories of observed phenomena including errors which could bring divine retribution (ie. sickness, trouble, or even death).

o        a sinner is one who has eaten what is taboo to his god, who has said no for yes or yes for no, who has falsely accused a fellow-man, who has scorned his god, caused evil to be spoken etc.

2. Sin could be remitted by a penitential psalm, prayer or lament, or discharged by an expiatory sacrifice in which the lamb is substituted for the man.

3. When the cause was unknown or a disease caused by a ghost or demon, the purpose of the ritual was to transfer the evil into an inanimate object.

4. The priest could also be called when ever it was necessary to gain power over an enemy or supernatural dangers that threatened a building.


1. It was believed that the will of the god(s) could be learned -- since what went on in heaven was reproduced on earth, one only had to observe and examine the evidence to find the answer.

2. Astrology

a. The listed, qualified, and interpreted events on earth in relationship to the position of heavenly planets.

ie. flood, revolution, death of a king etc.

b. Horoscopes were not included until the 4th Century B.C.---the Babylonians can be credited with the early development of astronomy.

3. Other Methods of Divination

a. Observation of patterns formed in the liver and lungs of a slaughtered animal.

o        commonly used when state decisions had to be made (ie. warfare or international agreements).

b. Examination - observation: by physicians and exorcists of moles and mannerisms of individuals especially in their speech and walk (gait).

o        their work laid the foundations toward the development of true science.

c. Diviners also noticed the patterns of oil or water, or the flight of birds and the movement of animals.

4. Over a hundred tablets record omens from public happenings -- from which history developed.

a. As with most religious practices, they were related to the king.

b. Form of omen texts: if x happens, then y will come to pass.

o        this form became the basis of recorded case law.

5. All legal decisions and agreements were ratified by an oath before the gods and subject to their penalty.

6. Since law and order were identified with truth and justice (kittum u mesharum) -- these were the responsibilities of the gods, king, and man -- the whole of life was thought as a unified religious exercise.

o        Near Eastern Attitude that the universe was characterized by order -- the separate parts unified into the whole.


1. Archaeological remains of Ancient Egypt relate more to religion than to secular life.

2. The Egyptians consciously aimed at permanence in their tombs: a pyramid was a "house of eternity" (The Book of the Dead).

3. The pyramid seemed the best method of achieving this permanence and endurance.

a. The first one was the step pyramid of Djoser in the Third Dynasty.

o        probably the first stone building in history.

b. Earlier - the Egyptians buried their dead in a structure mostly of brick which is today called a "mastaba", from the Arabic word meaning bench.

c. Around the pyramid was an elaborate complex of other stone buildings intended for use in religious ceremonies during the burial and afterwards.

d. The main concept in the step pyramid was to ascend to the heaven and to the sun.

4. In the Fourth Dynasty, the design of the pyramid was altered in favor of a true pyramid.

a. The worship of the sun at Heliopolis was the inspiration for the pyramid.

b. An ancient conical stone called the benben had been worshiped as the object on which the sun first appeared.

5. At the end of the Old Kingdom, a new type of tomb appeared in Upper Egypt.

a. It was cut into the rocky cliffs -- a chapel cut into the upper rock face led to a shaft which in turn led to the burial chamber.

b. This plan was used for many Pharaohs of the New Kingdom including Tutankamum.

c. The text of Amduat (The Book of Him Who Is in the Underworld) describes the nocturnal journey of the sun-god through the underworld until dawn brings his emergence in the world above.

o        The dead king was believed to accompany the sun-god on this journey, and to emerge with him in a new dawn-- a guarantee of his survival after death.

Writing: significant part of the advance made at the beginning of the historic era (ca. 3,000 B.C.)

1. The Egyptians regarded the god Troth, the scribe of the gods, as the inventor of writing, but they also associated it with the goddess, Seshat, the archivist of royal annals.

2. Inscriptions on stones preserved the names of persons buried in tombs, and they added short spells which ensured the perpetuation of offerings as well as the eternal fortune of the deceased.

o        Inscriptions in stone were believed, by their permanent presence, to ensure the magical endurance of the physical and spiritual blessings mentioned.

Historical Context

1. Lower and Upper Egypt were unified by Menes ca. 3100 B.C., and with union Egypt's central religious dogma, divine-kingship.

2. For 2,000 years -- Ancient Egypt was characterized by divine kingship, concern with an after-life, and a rather unorganized complex of gods.

o        Cultural Stability.

3. The Old Kingdom ( ca. 2700-2200 B.C.)

a. The Memphite Theology (Theogony) was developed to justify the new, unified kingdom centered at Memphis.

b. The god of Memphis, Ptah, was the god of creation -- Ptah created Atum, the supreme god of the older universe.

o        Also creating the other gods by an idea in his head and command on his tongue.

c. 2,000 years before the Hebrews and the Greeks, the Egyptians appear to have come up with the idea of a "first spiritual cause".

4. The Middle Kingdom (ca. 2050-1800 B.C.)

a. The government was centered in Thebes, and religion began to go through a process of democratization.

b. The distance between the pharaoh and the common people narrowed -- the middle classes gained the privilege of the afterlife and a chance to participate in ceremonies that had been confined to the Pharaoh and few priests.

c. There was an effort to elevate the more important gods, and a rise in the worship of gods in the form of animals.

o        An intermediate period (1800-1570 B.C.) ended the Middle Kingdom with a century of domination by the Hyksos who were probably from Syria.

5. The New Kingdom (ca. 1570-1165 B.C.)

a. The period saw Egypt becoming a true empire stretching to the Euphrates River.

b. Speculation of monotheism during this period is a significant religious development.

c. Amenhottep IV (1369-1353) believed that Amon Re (Ra), the sun god, was the only god.

d. He became Akhenaton and Amon became Aton (Aten) -- this belief was forced on the people by the pharaoh, but it did not out live his life.

The Amarna Revolution

1. Akhenaton believed that a true god (creator) had created all men, whatever the country, speech, or skin might be.

2. This was a remarkable step toward Universalism from the leader of a people who were ethno-centric.

e. The Amon Hymns which date from the reign of Ramses II (1290-1224 B.C.).

1. Belief that the first creator god must be mysterious.

2. Amon -- he is far away, absent from the underworld, so no gods know his true form.

3. A consciousness of the true nature of divinity by denying that creatures can represent it adequately.

Local Gods

1. Historical and political conditions always had a clear impact on religious trends in Egypt.

a. With political unification the god of the Capital became the leader of all the gods and his cult tended to assimilate the others.

b. The dominance of the cult of Horus, the falcon god who was identified with the living Pharaoh, meant that the royal cult assimilated other falcon cults.

c. The victory of Upper Egypt over Lower Egypt is depicted as happening under the guidance of Horus.

2. The Egyptians avoided the deletion of local traditions even when assimilation occurred.

a. As a result, there appears to be some confusion and contradiction, as in different concepts of creation and burial beliefs.

b. A variety of beliefs seems to be thought to have fortified and enriched one's spiritual experience.

Creation Myths

1. The doctrine from Heliopolis seems to have been the most widely accepted.

a. The primal creator was the god Atum who was identified with the sun god Re.

b. Atum emerged from a chaos of waters called Nun -- and appeared on a hill and procreated, without a consort, the deities Shu (air) and Tefenet (moisture).

c. Shu separated the sky from the earth, so that Geb (earth) and Nut (sky) came into being.

d. A natural procreation: the children of Geb and Nut - Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys.

2. Physical creation began with the emergence of land from water.

o        Common to see existing villages looking like elevated islands in the surrounding water (flooding of the Nile).

3. Another aspect concerns the creative power of the first god Atum.

a. Atum whose name means "The Perfect One" is said to have come into existence by himself.

o        he is self-gotten.

b. Atum's hand is personified as a goddess (the word hand is feminine in Egyptian) and in one text god describes himself as bisexual -- "I am he who engendered Shu; I am he-she."

The Doctrine of Memphis

1. Bisexuality is also occasionally ascribed to Ptah, the creator god of Memphis.

2. The creation of the world is said to have been planned by the god's intelligence by his spoken word.

(ie. the later Greek doctrine of logos.)

3. The creation of living beings, as opposed to the cosmos, is often ascribed to the artisan god, Khnum who fashioned peopled on his potter's wheel.

Gods of the Nile and Sun

1. The Egyptians saw that the Nile and the Sun were responsible for the fertility of the land.

2. The beginning of the flooding of the Nile in July was signaled by the appearance of the star Sirius with the sunrise.

a. Sirius was called Sothis, a goddess, who symbolized the vegetation produced by the fertilizing flood.

b. The crocodile god Sebek and the personified year had similar association.

c. The god Osiris, in his funeral context, had a close connection to both the Nile and vegetation.

3. The sun was Re of Heliopolis who was associated with Atum in the form of Re-Atum.

a. Re was also associated with the sky god Horus (the falcon god whose name means the "Distant One") as Re Herakhty.

b. A deity depicted with a man's body but the head of a falcon.

4. Re's chief symbol was the obelisk and like Horus was associated with the living Pharaoh as the "son of Re".

a. Ideas of justice and world-order were associated with Re, and the goddess Maat (truth, justice, order) was regarded as his daughter.

b. The word of the Pharaoh was Maat.

The Helpers of the Dead

1. From the Old Kingdom: Anubis, Sokaris, Khentamenthes, Wepwawet, and Osiris were believed to help the dead.

2. Anubis who is depicted as a wild dog or jackal was associated with the process of embalming the dead (ie. judge of the dead).

3. Osiris emerges from a position of relative obscurity to one of prominence.

a. Memphite Theology: primarily a god of the dead, he identified with the dead pharaoh.

b. To show that the Pharaoh's sovereignty continued after death as Osiris ruling the realm of the dead.

Animal Cults

1. Animal cults are a basic part of Egyptian religion, and their origin is associated with the environment of Africa's river valleys.

2. Anthropomorphic gods came from the region of the eastern delta, the Land of Goshen (ie. Semitic influence).

3. What is unique in Egypt is the revival and extension of these cults in the subsequent history of Egypt.

4. The Apis Bull of Memphis was originally an autonomous cult, and later associated with major gods (Re, Osiris, and Ptah).

a. The Ptolemaic Period: the Osiris-Apis cults was the basis of a new cult of Sarapis intended for the Greeks of Egypt.

o        Sarapis did lose the bull shape of Apis.

b. There is also a series of gods that are personified abstractions: Sia (understanding), Hu (utterance), and Hike (magic).


1. Gods wee often grouped in nines like the pattern of Heliopolis-another favorite pattern was the triad (3's) in which a chief god was linked to a spouse and a son.

2. Memphis: Ptah, Sakhmet, and Nefertem. Thebes: Amun, Mut, and Khons.

3. Another Memphite triad: Ptah, Sokaris, and Osiris.

a. They are the three male funerary deities that are joined together.

b. The unique character is that the three are considered to be one unity.

Egyptian Worship

1. The Egyptian Temple from the Middle Kingdom followed a common plan.

a. A large rectangular space was enclosed by a high wall, and the entrance gate was blanked by two big pylons (often being two towers).

b. First, one entered a large open courtyard with colonnades on three sides; from here there was access to a covered hall; a third unit, behind the hall, was the inner sanctuary where the statue of the god was placed in a shrine placed on a boat.

c. Only the pharaoh or the most important priests were allowed to enter the inner sanctuary.

2. Daily Liturgy: two versions are extant.

a. It began with the purification of the priests in the sacred pool near the temple.

b. Entering the temple, the priest lit a fire are prepared a censor with charcoal and incense.

1. He proceeded to the statue making proper offerings to the god -- then the god was undressed, purified, and dressed again.

2. A sacred banquet followed before the statue was replaced in its shrine.

c. Two ideas are linked with the offerings:

1. They are regarded as pleasing gifts, and are identified with the Eye of Horus.

2. When slain victims are involved, they are identified with the enemies of Horus and Osiris (ie. Seth and his followers).

d. Distinctive rites were found in special festivals of the pharaoh and the gods.

1. The pharaoh's jubilee-festival, called Sed which reenacted ritually the unification of Egypt under Menes.

2. The Festival of Opet for the Theban god Amun was a journey of Amun with his consort Mut and their son Khons from their temple at Karnak to Luxor and back.

3. Funeral Rites

a. Great importance proper ritual was attached to the burial of the dead because their future life depended on it.

b. The dead were always buried never cremated.

o        The Rite of Opening the Mouth: included acts of purification and offering, but the central ceremony was touching the mouth conferring new life for all bodily functions.

c. The preservation of the body was viewed as essential (the concept of the Ka) through the process of mummification.

1. It entailed the removal of the brain and intestines, and, in the case of males, the sexual organs.

2. The removed organs were kept in four jars which were protected by the four sons of Horus.

d. Doctrinally this process was a reflection of what Anubis did to Osiris, so the dead person was identified with Osiris.

1. Amulets were usually placed within the wrappings of the mummy, and special importance was attached to the heart scarab which was placed on the chest.

2. The heart was considered the center of spiritual understanding, and it was not removed like the other internal organs.

o        a short text on the scarab requested the heart not to testify against the dead in the judgment of Osiris.

4. A Priestly Caste

a. In funeral rites the chief part was played by the priest who was a reflection of Anubis.

b. Originally the priests were appointed by the Pharaoh, but in the New Kingdom they became hereditary.

c. These professional priests were called "the servants of god", and below them was a class of lay priests who were called "pure ones". (ie. administrative functions.)

d. The role of women was subsidiary -- ie. providing music and dancing.

1. In Thebes, the chief Priestess of Amun had the title "god's wife" and was the leader of the female-music makers who were regarded as the god's harem.

2. She was associated with the goddess Hathor (sexual love and music).

3. In the 23rd Dynasty and afterwards, these priestesses were practically rulers of a theocratic state.

5. Moral Concepts

a. Instruction of Ptahhotep: proper conduct and moral order was established at the time of creation by Maat.

b. From funerary inscriptions, we see a belief in judgment after death and moral conduct that is linked to it.

"Never did I say anything evil to a powerful one against any people, for I desire that it might be well with me before the Great God. I gave bread to the hungry, clothes to the naked."

c. Belief that everyone after death would face a "weighing of the heart" before Osiris.

1. Representations: in one of the scales as a symbol of Maat (truth) is shown, in the other the heart of the deceased -- if a balance is achieved, he gains eternal happiness.

2. If balance is not achieved, he is devoured by a monster: "The Devourer of the Dead".

6. Life After Death

a. Identification with Osiris was seen as the main hope of immortality.

o        from the Middle Kingdom this privilege was extended to everyone.

b. Symbols of renewal of life: vegetation, the sun setting and rising.

c. This belief in life after death is one of the primary reasons that allowed Egyptian religion to last into the sixth century, A.D.


1. Western Iran was subject to influences from Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome -- the East from the influence of India and even China.

o        Iran has stood as a bridge between East and West.

2. ca. 1,000 B.C. Aryans moved into Iran from the North and Northwest, by 800 B.C. occupied the land.

o        The religions of India and Iran, both under Aryan influence, display a number of similar characteristics. (Mithras for instance), their concept of cosmic order is similar, and their rituals have many common features.


1. Zarasthustra or Zoraster is believed to have worked in northeastern Iran, by tradition dated 628-551 B.C.

a. Very little is known (details) of his life -- his teachings caused hostility and he was forced to flee.

b. In his new home he found a disciple in a local ruler, Vishtaspa, and Zoraster became a figure of some importance in local affairs.

c. Tradition records that he was murdered in his seventies.

2. Zoraster's teachings have come down to us in seventeen of his hymns, The Gathas.

a. God is the Wise Lord, Ahura Mazda, the one who creates heaven and earth -- he has nothing to do with evil, and establishes life, and creates men and women.

b. He is opposed by Ahriman, the evil spirit, the destructive force who is characterized by the Evil Mind, the Lie, and Pride.

3. People must choose between these twin spirits:

a. If they follow the path of evil, their lives are full of evil thoughts, words, and deeds.

b. If they follow the path of truth, they share in the Good Mind and attain integrity, immortality, devotion and the kingdom that are all aspects of God.

4. Last Day of Judgment

a. This conflict is not eternal -- Men and Women will have to submit to "the great test" by fire, and "justice shall be realized".

ie. Spiritual Paradise.

b. All who work by just deeds and spread the wise teachings will be saviors.

5. Zoraster did not break completely with the "Old Order-Tradition"- he simply refashioned it.

a. In the old fire-ritual he saw a symbol of light and the cosmic law of God.

b. Some aspects of God are adaptations of Aryan ideas: the idea of Truth for example.

c. He also used the customary imagery of individual judgment at death.

6. Sources

a. The holy book of Zoroastrianism is the Avesta -- it was probably not written until ca. Fifth Century, A.D.

b. It is not extant: hymns of Zoraster (Gathas), the main liturgical texts (The Yasna and Vendidad), other hymns (The Yashts), and prayers.

c. In the Ninth Century, A.D., a number of Zoroastrian books were written to defend the "The Good Religion" against Christian and Islamic Propaganda.

The Concept of God

1. Zoroastrianism teaches that the "System, Order, Principle, and Rule" which is seen in the heavens and on earth makes us recognize the infinite being of the Almighty Lord.

2. God cannot be responsible for evil. Evil is a substance, as is good, and both are taken back to a first cause, God and the Devil.

3. The Devil, who has always existed, is responsible for all evil in the world. -- The two are fundamentally opposed substances and they inevitably come into conflict.

4. In the Conflict of Good and Evil there are respective forces.

a. Amahraspands (or the six Bounteous Immortals).

1. They represent aspects of God such as integrity, Immortality etc.

2. They sit before the throne of God, have a special place in Zoroastrian ritual, and guard the elements of the world (fire, earth, water etc.).

b. Yazatas (the Adorable Ones)

1. In theory the number of Yazatas is legion, but certain ones dominate (probably old Aryan figures).

2. Both the Amahraspands and Yazatas are compared with archangels and angles in Christianity.

c. The Forces of the Devil

1. They are hordes of demons and evil spirits, and they are not depicted in individual terms.

2. They are viewed as being Apostasy, Anarchy, Vile Thoughts, Disobedience, Hunger and Thirst, and, above all the Lie.

Zorastrian Concept of the World

1. The history of the world is the history of God's conflict with the Devil -- it is divided into four periods, each of three thousand years.

a. In the first two periods, God and the Devil prepare their forces.

b. In the third period, they come into conflict.

c. In the last period, the devil is finally defeated.

2. At Creation the devil broke through the barrier of the sky, and attacked Man and Beast with disease and death.

ie. the Devil is only capable of destructive power.

3. At the moment of the Devil's apparent victory, Man and Beast gave forth seeds which gave rise to both human life and vegetation.

o        the perpetuation of the good of creation, and the defeat of the Devil was assured.

4. The World belongs to God and His Creation.

a. Matter (physical substance) is not evil or alien to the world -- it is the Devil not Man who is alien to the World.

b. The Devil can have no material form, but remains in the World trying to destroy God's work.

Men and Women in the World

1. Fravashi: the human forms of God are free agents.

a. They may choose God or the Devil -- if they choose right, they assist God in his ultimate victory.

b. They accept the world for what it is, God's World.

2. Zoroastrians do not contrast the spirit from the flesh as St. Paul (Christian Tradition) does.

a. The soul and the body are a unity, and to withdraw from the world as a monk is to reject God's World.

b. Asceticism is as great a sin as over-indulgence.

3. Men have a religious duty to take a wife, have children and so increase the Good Religion.

ie. Judaism and Christianity - similarity.

4. Health is a gift of God, bodily health is to be sought by all - a healthy body enables Man to do good works.

5. Zoroastrianism has a strong social ethic -- works is the "salt of the earth".

a. A person's character is expressed not only by what he does, but also by what he thinks.

b. People must overcome doubts and evil desires with reason, greed with contentment, strife with peace, falsehood with truth.

The Formal Expression of the Zoroastrianism's

1. Zoroastrians have, as a part of their daily dress, symbols to remind them of their religion.

a. First is the sacred thread, the Kushti with 72 threads symbolizing the chapters of The Yasna.

o        This is untied and reknotted several times a day express-ing both a moral and a religious resolution.

b. Second, they wear the sadre, the shirt, symbolizing the religion.

c. The priests wear white robes with turbans and masks over their mouths during certain ceremonies to avoid defiling the sacred fires with their breath.

2. There are prayers for the five divisions of the day, for example at sunset, and ceremonies for all the great moments of life: birth, puberty, marriage, childbearing, and death.

3. Death is the work of the devil, so the corpse is the home of demons.

a. The more righteous the deceased the more powerful the demonic work has been.

b. To cremate or bury the corpse would defile the elements, so bodies are exposed in the "Towers of Silence", dakhmas, where they are devoured by vultures.

4. Before all major acts of worship one must undergo a purification ritual -- confession of sins is also often made.

5. There are two central rites: the fire ritual and haoma sacrifice.

a. The Fire Ritual

1. Fire is the symbol of the son of Ahura Mazda, and must be kept free from all defilement.

2. Neither the sun or unbelieving eyes must see it, and it is preserved in a fire temple.

3. The chief fire is the Bahram, or king of fires, which is crowned and enthroned.

b. The Haoma Sacrifice

1. It is a plant as well as the god Haoma on earth.

2. The god is pounded and from the juice comes the drink of Immortality.

3. The offering (drink) is at once god, priest, and victim, and the faithful consume the divine sacrifice in anticipation of the sacrifice at the end of the world which will make all humans immortal.

The Goal of History

1. At Death, one's actions are weighed in the balance -- if the good outweighs the bad, one passes onto heaven; if not to hell.

2. Eternal Hell is an immortal teaching in Zorastrian eyes--the purpose of punishment is to reform so that on the day of resurrection all may be raised by the savior to face final judgment.

3. When all are pure, the Devil and all his works are destroyed and the distinction between heaven and earth is overcome so that all may worship and live with God in the full glory of his creation.

The Impact of Islam

1. The Islamic Empire incorporated Iran in A.D. 635 -- often the fighting there seemed to be very little more than organized persecution.

2. To advance materially in society, one had to become a Muslim--so many converted to Islam.

3. The situation became so difficult in Iran that groups of the faithful emigrated to India forming Zorastrian Communities.

Influence of Iranian Religion

1. Small numbers of Zoroastrians today (1976) -- just over 125,000 in India and 25,000 in Iran.

2. Importance: Zoroastrianism, has in fact, played one of the major roles in world religious history.

3. Zoraster was known and respected in Greece at the time of Plato, and worship of Mithras spread throughout the Roman Empire.

4. Mithras worship spread from Iran to the Magas of India in the 6th Century A.D. and after, but before that Zoroastrianism may well have stimulated the growth of a savior concept in the form of Maitreya-Buddha.

5. It has played an important role in the religion of Islam helping to transform it into an International Religion with the growth of the mystical movement, the Sufis, and the savior concept.

6. Greatest Influence: has probably been on the development of Judaeo-Christian belief.

a. Biblical Scholars: widely accept that the later Jewish concepts of devil, hell, an afterlife, the resurrection, the end of the world, and the savior imagery were influenced by Zoroastrianism.

b. Religiously- Iran has served as a bridge between the East and the West.