Ancient Religion the First Few Millennia BCE Research Paper

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Ancient Religion

The first few millennia BCE were transformative times throughout the Near East. Ugaritic (Caanite), Biblical (Israelite), Hittite, Mesopotamian and Egyptian literature reveal common themes, shared motifs, and similar cultural norms and values in spite of the differences that distinguish each region from the other. Core themes that ancient Near Eastern sacred and allegorical literature reveals include the role of monarch as either divine or semi-divine; the strict gender roles and social hierarchies; and the dynamic relationships formed between ruler and people; versus ruler and gods. The social and symbolic universes of the ancient Near East were also strongly and unapologetically patriarchal. In addition to social and moral themes, Ugaritic (Caanite), Biblical (Israelite), Hittite, Mesopotamian and Egyptian literature from the first and second millennia reveal the shift from a henotheistic worldview, cosmology, and theology, to a monotheistic one that would firmly take root.

Leadership remains one of the most critical issues in ancient Near Eastern societies, not least because of the continual threat of invasion, war, and tense encounters with neighboring societies. For example, the Hyskos had invaded Egypt and succeeded at infiltrating the society until the expulsion. The expulsion is described in ancient Egyptian texts as being a direct product of successful divine leadership by a series of pharaohs fighting against the "Asiatics." In the text translated as "The Expulsion of the Hyskos," the narrator describes the pharaohs unequivocally as gods, using the terminology and symbolism that appears throughout the region such as that of the Bull: "The Wild Bull…the time of the Lord of the Two Lands," (1st page). Likewise, the exploits and victories of Thut-mose III are described in "The Battle of Megiddo," which reveals an even stronger worldview of the divinely endowed ruler. Links to the divine realm help to legitimize earthly leadership, which serves a direct political, sociological, and psychological function in the community.

Imagery and symbolism of the Bull appears and reappears throughout the literature of the Ugaritic (Caanite), Biblical (Israelite), Hittite, Mesopotamian and Egyptian worlds. "The Battle of Megiddo" mentions the "Mighty Bull" that is Horus, who was not a god whose form took the shape of the Bull; this shows that the Bull was a symbol of masculine, patriarchal power in general. Bulls also convey imagery of male fertility and sexual potency, as well as patriarchal power. This is why the Father -- Son relationship is also a major theme running throughout Ugaritic (Caanite), Biblical (Israelite), Hittite, Mesopotamian and Egyptian literature. In "The Battle of Megiddo," Re is described as the Pharoah's father. The divine father usurps the worldly father, for the pharaoh. The divine and mundane worlds are interconnected, at least on the level of upper management.

Patriarchy is a theme as strong in Canaanite/Ugaritic and Biblical texts too. In the Baal text, the god El is also called "The Bull," and is the father of Baal (Part I). Like Pharoah Thut-mose III, the leader is not only patriarchal, he must also prove himself via a series of military conquests. Therefore, the political leader also becomes an allegorical hero, providing a role model of masculinity that prevails throughout ancient Near Eastern culture. The story of Kirta further underscores the importance of patriarchy in the divine and human realms.

There is a macrocosm/microcosm framework in the literature of the Ugaritic (Caanite), Biblical (Israelite), Hittite, Mesopotamian and Egyptian worlds. What happens above, happens below; the mundane realm is a parallel or reflection of the divine and spiritual universe. Yet also these two worlds intersect and connect via the Patriarch. These texts all omit the worldview of the common people; the worldview of the King is that of intermediary between the divine and human realms.

Thus, the relationship between father and son is projected onto the divine realm. El is the Canaanite Patriarch, but it is El's male progeny that are the Lords/Fathers/Patriarchs of their people. The literature also reveals that gods are both personal and transcendent. For example, in Kirta, El asks, "Why are you weeping, Kirta? / why does the Gracious One, the Lad of El, shed tears? / Does he want to rule like the Bull, his father, / or to have power like the Father of Men?" The tone and diction of this passage is tender and loving, much as a father would comfort his son. Because El belongs to the realm of the divine, and Kirta to the humans, the relationship is metaphysically complex. El is depicted as a personal god, at least for Kirta. As the editor/translator of the Kirta points out, the relationship of father and son is also expressed in Biblical texts including II Samuel 7:14; and Psalm 89:26.

In Egyptian literature, god (or God in the case of Amon), assumes more transcendent characteristics even when the deity is portrayed as a divine patriarch. Unlike the Ugaritic/Canaanite texts, the Egyptian texts lack the tender, sensitive father-son relationship theme. Similarly, deity is depicted as transcendent more than immanent. The relationship between a transcendent god and the mundane world is distant, which parallels the relationship between the pharaoh and his people. Moreover, Egyptian literature reveals a stronger divine element to the managerial position of Pharoah. Whereas the Canaanite kings like Kirta and Baal are certainly blessed and receive a sort of "godfather" in El, the pharaohs are depicted as being co-rulers with the gods they worship. The pharaoh takes care of the mundane world, and serves as a spiritual intermediary for the wishes of God. The close bond between the earthly pharaoh and the divine does not preclude the pharaoh's worship. In "The Hymn to the Aton," Amen-hotep IV starts with a vibrant "Praise of Re Ha-akhti, Rejoicing on the Horizon, in His Name…god as sun…" Moreover, the emphasis is more on transcendence than on immanence, more on divine but detached power than on the compassionate type of personal power ascribed to El. Amon is the "creator of seed in women / Thou who makest fluid into man."

Amon, like El, have become core gods in their respective pantheons. Their place in the literature is becoming central; their roles are stronger and they interact more with the pharaohs and kings. The shift from pure polytheism to pure monotheism, via henotheism, is taking place. When Amen-hotep IV worships the sun-disk, he does so with little if any room left open for lesser deities. "O sole god, like whom there is no other! / Thou didst create the world according to thy desire, / Whilst thou wert alone…" Amon is "sole" and "alone," clearly signifying a monotheistic status for the creator god. Whether Amen-hotep IV would have permitted other deities to intervene more directly in the affairs of humans as El does is not evident in the Egyptian texts. However, the Hittites remain squarely polytheistic while these theological changes are taking place in the Egyptian and Canaanite worlds. The Hittite text the "Telepinus Myth" contains a colorful cast of divine characters, some of which (like the Sun-God) may be more powerful than others in a divine hierarchy but none of which emerges as a supreme god. Even so, the father-son theme remains extant in the cosmological and theological structure of the Hittite universe.

The literature of the Ugaritic (Caanite), Biblical (Israelite), Hittite, Mesopotamian and Egyptian worlds depicts worship, rite, and ritual in remarkably similar ways, showing some cultural continuity. Animal sacrifices and incense burning are the means by which the divinely endowed rulers communicate with the gods. Rituals are reserved for the province of the elite, too, as it is only the pharaohs and kings who are shown to be engaged in direct communion with the realm of the deities via their sacrifices and incense burning. This is especially true in Egypt, where Thut-mose refers to burning incense in the inner sanctuary -- a sacred space that is physically…

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