Essay, Research Paper
Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt are two religions that believed in monotheism. However, they differed in the way they perceived the afterlife and the role they played in the eyes of the gods. Mesopotamians believed did not believe in an after life while the Egyptian did. Mesopotamians also believed that they were created for the amusement of the gods and to do the gods work. While the Egyptians believed that they should have a respect for the Gods and that they became equal to the gods when they died. This difference in beliefs led to a differentiation in the way they lived their lives.
The pharaohs of ancient Egypt were an integral part of religion. They formed a bridge over the chasm dividing the people and the gods. In pre-dynastic times the Egyptians believed that their Pharaoh was the god Horus, son of Re, the sun god. Therefore being a Pharaoh there was nothing that you could not do. He was head of the government and high priest of every temple. In practice officials did their work, in his name. The pharaoh was the most important and powerful person in the kingdom. Most pharaohs were men but some well-known pharaohs, such as Nefertiti and Cleopatra, were women. Because the pharaoh was considered a god, one of his most important roles was as a representative between humans and the gods. Religion was not separated from government in Egypt. The pharaoh not only ruled the kingdom, but was also believed to maintain order in the universe. The regular patterns of nature, the annual flooding of the Nile, the cycle of the seasons, and the progress of the sun that brought day and night, were considered gifts of the gods for the people of Egypt. Art in all its forms was devoted principally to the service of the pharaoh. When a pharaoh died he was believed to be united with the sun and then a new Horus ruled on earth. In later times, around the third dynasty, the kings became “transformed into” gods. The heir to the throne had to undergo a procedure in order to become a god. This procedure included a ritual that merged the king with the god. Belief was that all future kings had two aspects of his being, his physical being and his “ka.” The ka was his spiritual counterpart that was part of the king at birth and remained with him throughout his life. Before assuming the throne a ritual was performed that united the king’s ka and his person. The king and his priests would enter a temple, perform the ritual, and emerge as a god. All of the people would wait outside to witness the miracle of the transformation when the king re-emerged from the temple. In this way was the new king accepted as a god and his word was accepted as law.
Concerning religious matters, directly under the king were the priests. Their duty was to take care of the images of the gods. They also prepared the statues, or images, for the religious festivals. It was the priest s role to read the scrolls before religious events. In later dynasties the priests were the voices of the oracles. Special compartments, called priest holes, were strategically placed inside the temple. The priests were able to speak from these holes unseen by the person asking questions or favors of the gods. Oracles were considered the pinnacle of the decision of the gods. The priests were in charge of the temple riches and granaries. They were on a rotation schedule and might work officially one week out of the month. Their laboratories were in the temples, where they prepared incense and healing potions. Shrouded in mystery, they were seldom seen by the common people unless they were reading magical texts or performing religious rituals. Inside the temple sanctuaries only the king saw them.
The ancient Egyptians were extremely devout in their beliefs. The ancient Egyptians believed that deities, gods and goddesses, influenced everything that happened in nature, including what people did. Because of that, they worshipped many deities. The main god was the sun god Re. The Egyptians prayed to Re and the goddess Rennutet for good harvests. The most important goddess was Isis. She represented the devoted mother and wife. Her husband and brother, Osiris, ruled over farmland and the dead. Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, was god of the sky. He was called the lord of heaven and was often pictured with the head of a falcon. In each Egyptian city and town, the people worshipped their own special god in addition to the major deities. One local deity was Thoth, the god of wisdom and writing. Many deities were pictured with human bodies and the heads of animals. The animal head reminded the people of a real or imagined quality of the animal and made it easy to identify the deity. Most ancient Egyptians prayed at home because the temples did not offer regular services for people. Each temple was either regarded as the home of a certain deity or dedicated to a dead king. They were dedicated to their gods and worshipped daily in many different ways. Their way of life revolved around these beliefs. They had a strong sense of justice and endeavored to do that which was right. The common people abhorred adultery, stealing, murder and lying. They were a highly sophisticated society with values and morals. Magic was commonplace for them as is demonstrated by the wearing of amulets to ward off evil. Magical texts were written in tombs to protect against would-be robbers. Many spells against snakebite have been discovered. Magical spells, rituals and concoctions were used to treat the sick or injured. If the magic did not work it was considered a will of the god, and not a failure of the magic. The people s calm acceptance of the strange and unusual allowed them to reconcile themselves to either natural phenomena or to those things unseen. Every occurrence had spiritual meaning and had a unique god assigned to the act.
A part of the Ancient Egyptian beliefs was that of continued life after death. This belief was rooted in what they observed each day. The sun fell into the western horizon each evening and was reborn the next morning in the east. New life sprouted from grains planted in the earth, and the moon waxed and waned. They regarded death as a temporary interruption, rather than the cessation of life. To ensure the continuity of life after death, people paid homage to the gods, both during and after their life on earth, they mummifying the dead, and they provided equipment in tombs for the afterlife. An ancient Egyptians would provide for the life in the Next World as best as his economic abilities would allow. For example, pyramids and other great tombs were constructed for kings and queens. Other Egyptians, including laborers, had smaller tombs built on top of their graves. This means that a huge amount of information about daily life in ancient Egypt can be found in the tombs. Detailed and colorful scenes on the walls showed Egyptians harvesting crops, tending cattle and fishing. There were also scenes of artisans at their work, including gold workers and boat-builders and domestic scenes of banquets with musicians, dancers and guests. The scenes on the wall also included the dead interacting with the gods. The most frequent scenes were that of the dead talking to the god Osiris who was the ruler of the dead. The Egyptian myth of Osiris was that the dead would be born again in the after life just as Osiris did. Another frequent scene was that of the person s heart being weight against the feather of Maat, goddess of truth. If the person s heart did not balance then they would be devoured by the monster Ammit and die a permanent death. However, if the heart did balance then they would be admitted to the presence if Isis and Osiris and live-forever. Besides the scenes drawn on the walls the tombs also included the physical possessions of the dead. Writing materials were often supplied along with clothing, wigs, hairdressing supplies and assorted tools, depending on the occupation of the deceased. Often model tools rather than full size ones would be placed in the tomb; models were cheaper and took up less space and in the after-life would be magically transformed into the real thing. There were also sculptures of the deceased and food offerings in the tomb. The tombs also contained texts containing prayers, hymns, to guide souls through the afterlife, protect them from evil, and provide for their needs. Passages from these texts were carved or written on walls inside their tombs or a copy of a text was placed in their tombs. Collections of these texts are known as the Book of the Dead. The Egyptians put these things in the tomb because they felt that the spirit of the deceased would need them in the after life.
The Egyptians believed that the bodies of the dead had to be preserved for the next life, and so they mummified (embalmed and dried) corpses to prevent them from decaying. After a body was mummified, it was wrapped in linen strips and placed in a coffin. The mummy was then put in a tomb. Some Egyptians mummified pets. They believed that each person had a life force or ka, which continued to live after a person died. It was important to preserve the body so that the ka could still recognize it. The ka needed to return to the body because it was still dependent on food to keep living. Food offerings were left in the tombs, which the ka would inhale and the priests would then eat. If the body were destroyed then the Ka would use one of the many statues that were left in the tomb. Therefore the more statues there were the better the assurance of continued life. The ka was only one part of the three parts of the soul. Ba was another part of the soul. Ba is represented as a human-headed bird that leaves the body when a person dies. The face of Ba was the exact likeness of that of the deceased person. The third part of the soul was the Akh. Akh is the spirit of Re, which encapsulates the concept of light, the transfigured spirit of a person that becomes one with light after death. The opposite of Akh is Mut, (dead), the state of a person who has died but has not been transfigured into light.
Unlike Egypt, Sumerian states were believed to be under the rule of a local god or goddess, and a bureaucratic system of the priesthood arose to oversee the ritualistic and complex religion. High Priests represented the gods on earth. The priests ruled from their ziggurats, high rising temples of sun baked brick with outside staircases leading to the shrine on top.
The Sumerians had four leading deities, known as creating gods. These gods were An, the god of heaven; Ki, the goddess of earth; Enlil, the god of air; and Enki, the god of water. Heaven, earth, air, and water were regarded as the four major components of the universe. The act of creation, it was held, was accomplished through utterance of the divine word; the creating deity had merely to make plans and pronounce the name of the thing to be created. To keep the cosmos in continuous and harmonious operation and to avoid confusion and conflict, the gods devised the me, a set of universal and unchangeable rules and laws that all beings were obliged to obey.
Next in importance to the creating deities were the three sky deities, Nanna, the god of the moon; Utu, the sun god; and Inanna, the queen of heaven. Inanna was also the goddess of love, procreation, and war. Nanna was the father of Utu and Inanna. Sumerian poets composed numerous myths about the exploits of Inanna. Another god of great importance was Ninurta, the deity in charge of the violent and destructive south wind. One of the most beloved deities was the shepherd god Dumuzi, the biblical Tammuz. Dumuzi was originally a mortal ruler whose marriage to Inanna ensured the fertility of the land and the fecundity of the womb. This marriage, however, according to a myth whose denouement has only recently come to light, ended in stark tragedy when the goddess, offended by her husband’s unfeeling behavior toward her, decreed that he be carried off to the netherworld for six months of each year hence the barren, sterile months of the hot summer. At the autumnal equinox, which marked the beginning of the Sumerian New Year, Dumuzi returned to the earth. His reunion with his wife caused all animal and plant life to be revitalized and made fertile once again. Each New Year the Sumerians celebrated the marriage between Dumuzi and Inanna. The high point of the celebration was a ritual wherein the king impersonated Dumuzi; Inanna was impersonated by one of her leading priestesses.
The Sumerians worshipped hundreds of gods, with each city having its own patron deity. The principal gods, such as Enlil, the god of air, were too busy to bother with the plight of individuals. For that reason, each Sumerian worshipped a particular minor god or goddess who was expected to interact with the major gods, these gods were considered their personal gods.
The Sumerians did not believe in an after life and were realistic about the limits of human goodness. They accepted that gods were not always nice, yet still above question.
The soul and center of each city-state was its temple to the patron god. The Sumerians believed that the god owned the city-state and was the divine ruler and protector of the state. Part of the land was farmed directly for the god. The remaining land was farmed by the temple staff or by farmers who paid rent to the temple. Rents and offerings paid for temple operation and supported the poor. Many priests, priestesses, singers, musicians, sacred prostitutes, and eunuchs conducted Temple rites. Sacrifices were offered daily to the gods
The Sumerians believed that human beings were fashioned of clay and were created for the purpose of supplying the gods with food, drink, and shelter, so that the gods might have full leisure for their divine activities. Life was considered humanity’s most precious possession, even though it is beset with uncertainty and haunted by insecurity. Egyptians praised the after life because they looked upon it as a rebirth. The Sumerians dreaded death because they believed that when human beings died their spirits descend to the netherworld, where life is more wretched than on earth.
The concepts of the afterlife in these cultures were drastically different. These differences in the belief of the after life shaped the differences in their everyday life. The Egyptians, who believed in the after life, did not fear death. The Sumerians on the other hand did not believe that life after their physical body died would be a happy one so they did not look forward to death.