Sumerian Vs Egyptian Deities Essay, Research Paper
Sumerian vs Egyptian Deities
The Sumerian and Egyptian cultures developed a rich and detailed mythology over the thousands of years of their existence. Each culture developed its own complex, polytheistic system of deities and worship. There are many aspects of both of these two culture’s gods that are similar, but for one to truly understand the relationship between these two cultures one must delve deeper and look at the differences.
The Sumerians had four leading deities known as creating gods. These gods were An, the god of heaven; Ki (Kiki), the goddess of earth; Enlil, the god of air; and Enki (who later became Ea), the god of water. Like these “creator gods”, most Sumerian gods are the personification of local elements and natural forces. (Kramer) The Sumerian gods were grouped into three levels indicating their importance and power. The highest level was that of the primary deities or creator gods who were created for creating all life on earth life. The next level of gods were known as “The Seven Who Decreed Fate”. This group not only consisted of the four primary deities but also included Nanna, his son Utu, the sun god and a god of justice, and Nanna’s daughter, Inanna, goddess of love and war. Most of the gods were in the next level that was known as the fifty “great gods” or the Anunna. The bottom level consisted of lower gods, demigods, and in some cases heros. Sumerians believed humans were created as labor saving devises for the gods. Each family and town had a patron god that might interven in troubled times to help the people. Most towns also had a ziggurat in which they worshiped that city’s god. The ziggurat also served as the home of the high priest. The high priest was considered divine and it was his job to tell the people the other gods’ will. This was usually done by reading sheep or goat entrails.(Siren)
One myth known as the “creation myth” sums up a lot about how the Egyptian gods were created. In this myth, it tells of a time when there was nothing but a powerful being called Nun. Nun was so powerful that a shining egg arose from her, which was Ra. Ra was thought to have been so mighty that he willed his children into being. The first was Shu, who was considered the god of the space and light between the sky and the earth. Next Ra created Tefnut, who was the personification of the moisture of the sky. Then the god of the earth, Geb was created. Next Nut was created. Nut was the goddess of the daytime sky, but was later the goddess of the sky in general. The final god to be made was Hapi, the ancient Egyptian god of the Nile. After all of the gods where created, Ra created men and went down to earth in human form to rule as the first pharaoh of Egypt. (Egypt Mythology)Unlike the Sumerian belief in a group of gods creating everything, Egyptians believed Ra created the earth and living things. Also Egyptians, like the Sumerians, believed that their religious leaders were actually gods themselves. Egyptians did not believe that there was a patron god for each city although each god had a city that was considered their center of worship. Also, unlike the Sumerians, the Egyptians did not have a complex system of levels for their deities, although some deities defiantly stand out as being the prominent gods. This is probably because those gods were thought to have affected the everyday life of the Egyptians. Egyptian gods were worshiped in huge temples that were scattered throughout Egypt. In many of these temples hieroglyphic writings about many Egyptian gods, because of this we now know an enormous amount of information about this cultures’ gods. (Ions) The same can be said for the Sumerians who left cuneiform tablets that told us much about this ancient civilization.
There are many aspects of both of these two culture’s gods that are similar, but for one to truly understand the relationship between these two cultures one must delve deeper and look at the differences. Both the Egyptians and the Sumerians worshiped many gods that are the personifications of local elements and natural forces. Each culture hade a special god for the major life sustaining elements such as water, air, and light (sun). On the other hand, each culture developed individual myths and ways to worship their gods. In conclusion, the religions of these two ancient civilizations has left a permanent mark in history and has set the standards for future religions.
Egypt Mythology. Emory University and Memorial Art Gallery. Oct 7. 1996. (29 Apr. 1999)
Ions, Veronica. Egyptian Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books. 1982.
Kramer, Samuel Noah. Sumerian Mythology. Harper & Brothers. New York, 1961
Siren, Christopher. Sumerian Mythology FAQ (version 1.11html),1992,1994 http://pubpages.unh.edu/~cbsiren/sumer-faq.html#A1.1 . (Oct. 3, 1999)