I like to read about ANE (ancient Near Eastern) history, especially that part of it where the antecedents of our judeo-xian worldview can be traced. In a blog devoted to studies of the Hebrew bible and OT tradition, specifically, a post where the borrowings of genesis from the Gilgamesh epic were being discussed, one scholar conceded that: "My own research suggests that the ancient Hebrews creatively drew from the
creation myths of the ANE world, and reinterpreting them with a "new twist," invented a loving, caring, God in contrdiction to the fickle, quarreling, and un-caring gods of the source-myths."

My jaw practically dropped to the floor.

The entire post: http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-hebrew/2000-January/006066.html

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My own understanding of Mesopotamian (Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian) religion, is that humans were created to tend the estates (crop fields, temples, cities) of the gods -- and make no mistake, *everything* belonged to them! The king served basically as a 'high priest' -- that particular god's human representative.

I guess that if you look at it from *that* perspective, you're right.

I know that Israelite religion grew out of a common base in Canaanite religion, but as you also said, I couldn't find-out if worshippers in the Canaanite religions viewed their deities in the same way the ancient Jews did. Maybe *that* branch of Semitic religion (West Semitic) was different than the East Semitic worship of the Babylonians and Assyrians.

It's a rather simplistic post because the similarities in the Genesis and Gilgamesh flood stories are substantive, while the differences are incidental.  One point to consider, though, is that the Babylonian gods wiped out humanity for making too much noise, thereby preventing the gods from sleeping well.  Humankind was a nuisance.  The Genesis account does add a moral dimension because God destroys humans for their wickedness and violence.  Then, too, the gods of the polytheistic religions seldom present a united front.  Enlil insists on destruction; the god Ea warns Utnapishtim in a dream to build a boat and save his family.  Enlil is petulant and cruel, but Ea is merciful.

Consider, too, the Greek gods.  Zeus constantly cheats on his wife, Hera.  In one case he takes the form of a swan and rapes the beautiful young Leda, who gives birth to two sets of twins, boys named Castor and Pollux and girls named Helen and Clytemnestra.  Helen is married to Menelaos, king of Sparta, until three goddesses quarrel over a trinket, a golden apple, and bribe a prince of Troy who judges a beauty contest among the three.  Aphrodite promises the prince, Paris, the most beautiful woman in the world for his wife, blithely ignoring the fact that Helen is already married and that all the Greek princes and kings have sworn on their honor to defend her marriage, so when Helen runs off with Paris, it results in a ten-year war, the deaths of thousands of men, the destruction of a great civilization, the murder of little boys, and the rape and enslavement of the Trojan women.  And Clytemnestra, Helen's twin, helps her lover, Aegisthos, assassinate her husband, the great king Agamemnon, which leads to revenge by her son, Orestes.

So Zeus gets his rocks off and thousands of people die.  Humans were just collateral damage.

Admittedly, Yahweh was a genocidal maniac, a god mad with jealousy toward pagan idols, but he chose the Jews, and helped them conquer the land he had promised them.  The pagan gods played favorites, but seldom stayed on one side for long, and thousands died for their whims.  Yahweh, from the Judeo-Christian point of view, was like a stern patriarch, loving his children and protecting them but punishing them severely with plagues, conquests, enslavement, and whatnot for their misbehavior.

You gave my post the label 'simplistic,' which as criticism is a value judgment, implying that in its 'simplicity' it was not accurate. You followed that by saying that: "... the similarities in the Genesis and Gilgamesh flood stories are substantive, while the differences are incidental," implying that I had somehow insisted that the opposite was true, which I had not. This is really confusing, as I had not mentioned this particular subject at all, so as criticism, I didn't see how it applied to my post.

I then wondered if by saying that, you meant that I'd implied that certain, concrete cultural  'artifacts' in Judaic religion in no way owed their origin to earlier Mesopotamian cultural artifacts, such as the flood in Genesis being an adaption of the Gilgamesh flood story. It was hard to tell if that was what you meant, as you said it without offering a 'bridge' to explain its relevance to my own statements. The fact that I had not been arguing that specific artifacts in Mesopotamian religion were never absorbed into Judaic religion, but in fact had made a broader, simpler (there's that word again!) overview of a basic difference between the natures of Mesopotamian religion and early Judaism: that in the former, humans were the chattel of the gods, and thusly could be objectified, and so were treated the same as you and I treat any inanimate object we own, and in the later, that this was not the case. So, this still left me confused, as your statement couldn't argue that I'd 'gotten wrong' the narrow picture, or specifics, as I'd been arguing for the broad picture. Your refutation, then, seems to be refutation for its own sake, with no target to land on. In fact, when you went on to say that: "One point to consider, though, is that the Babylonian gods wiped out humanity for making too much noise, thereby preventing the gods from sleeping well.  Humankind was a nuisance," this seemed to be a concrete example of my own argument, that the Mesopotamian gods saw humans as chattel. So, this further adds to the confusion of what exactly the target of your criticism was.

You went on to give some specific examples from Greek religion, seemingly designed to show the same attributes of the Greek gods as being possessed by the Mesopotamian gods -- their treatment of humans as if they were objects, or objectivized, rather than as beings with the right to live their lives unmolested by their whims. The examples were entertaining in and of themselves, but is rather far afield of the context of Semitic religion, unless you, too, are positing a 'simplified' generalization.

Damn, I thought all these myths were true!  They were ancient cultures' way of explaining the world in which they lived, when life was nasty, brutish, and short.  Their gods could be temporarily swayed by sacrifices, but for the most part they didn't much care for humanity.  Yahweh doesn't seem to like humans much, either; he kills them in bizarre ways, often for minor offenses.

I wouldn't ask scientists to try to verify ancient myths; they are literary creations.  Did you think I believe in them?  I was just offering a slightly different slant on Yahweh, one that I hoped would shed some light on why anyone would think Yahweh was loving.  He chose an entire people and entered into a covenant.  He sounds like a psychopath to me, but some of the pagan polytheistic gods seem more like sociopaths.

S'cuse me, but I have to go sacrifice a bull to Mithra before the moon wanes.


Speaking of Mithra... A part of the initiation ritual of Mithra worship, as practiced in the Roman Empire, was to stand in a room below another room, with a grate separating the two. A lamb was sacrificed in the upper room, and the blood was allowed to wash down over the initiate. Does anyone think this may be the origin of the concept of 'being washed in the blood of the lamb?'

Bud, the Mithra event would come to mind for this even in Christianity. There is yet another that most forget. Sometimes when the sheep gave birth she would die and the lamb would live. The shepherd would then slit the throat of the dead mother and pour her blood on a nursing sheep nearby so the newborn would nurse from that mother. They would then have the same smell. The newborn would nurse and survive because of the blood of the lamb.

As for the song, Elisha Hoffman wrote it in 1878. Later, Woodie Guthrie even had a version of the song that seemed more realistic and practicle. This may be because Guthrie was an activist.

I find it amazing that many people I run onto today still believe in a worldwide flood. What proof do they have? The fact that floods of this type are mentioned in many cultures and written into tales and stories. It doesn't matter to them that the stories are different. They say it points to a worldwide flood. I keep wanting to ask them if there is a big bathtub drain at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Let's look at flood stories a minute. I'm an ancient person talking about judgement and punishment by way of water. That story is likely to turn up in many cultures at different times. What do you expect to turn up, the atomic bomb?

I think it was H W Armstrong I read as a teenager, who posited that the annihilation by atomic bomb was predicted in Revelations. 

Floods are and were so common, it would be more surprising that flood stores were not part of folklore.

The concept of God is so vague and incoherent that it permits the believer to project whatever attributes he admires onto that concept. I'm sure that conservative evangelicals believe that God is a member of the Tea Party.

I saw a good documentary The Bible's Buried Secrets

It's mostly about biblical archaeology, but they do say some things that support the idea that Judaism was more ethical than the religions from which it came. 

First, the Israelites probably originally came from Canaan, people who rebelled against unjust government.  So they may have started out with an ideal of freedom.

Also, the documentary more or less credits the Jews with inventing monotheism. 

At first, the Jews were "henotheistic", that is they worshipped one god but didn't think the other gods were unreal. 

But later Judaism developed into monotheism. 

Monotheism is potentially more ethical than henotheism, because a monotheistic God is a God for all humans.  This paves the way to a concept that everyone has rights, not just your own tribe. 

Monotheists don't necessarily follow their concept of a universal God to its natural consequence of universal human rights, but in time they may. 

I was reading in 2 Kings the other day the story of King Josiah's discovery of the Book of the Law during the renovation of the Temple. It seems that the Hebrews had their religion pretty much all wrong and that the Temple was used not only for the worship of Yahweh but for the worship of other deities as well. Josiah embarked on a campaign of religious cleansing that involved destroying altars all throughout Judah, but also the slaughter of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pagan priests. This invention of monotheism came a lot later than Moses, not until around 600 BCE.

Psalms says there is nothing new under the sun.  There is some truth to be found in the bible.




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