Ancient Semitic religion
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|Deities of the ancient Near East|
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Ancient Semitic religion encompasses the polytheistic religions of the Semitic peoples from the ancient Near East and Northeast Africa. Since the term Semitic itself represents a rough category when referring to cultures, as opposed to languages, the definitive bounds of the term "ancient Semitic religion" are only approximate.
Semitic traditions and their pantheons fall into regional categories: Canaanite religions of the Levant including among them the polytheistic ancient Hebrew religion of the Israelites; the Sumerian–inspired Babylonian religion of Mesopotamia; the religion of Carthage; and Arabian polytheism.
Semitic polytheism possibly transitioned into Abrahamic monotheism by way of the god El, whose name "El" אל, or elohim אֱלֹהִים is a word for "god" in Hebrew, cognate to Arabic ʼilāh إله, which means god.
Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia
When the five planets were identified, they were associated with the sun and moon and connected with the chief gods of the Babylonian pantheon. A bilingual list in the British Museum arranges the sevenfold planetary group in the following order:
- Sin (the Moon)
- Shamash (the Sun)
- Marduk (Jupiter)
- Ishtar (Venus)
- Ninurta (Saturn)
- Nabu (Mercury)
- Nergal (Mars)
The religion of the Assyrian Empire (sometimes called Ashurism) centered on Ashur, patron deity of the city of Assur, and Ishtar, patroness of Nineveh. The last positively recorded worship of Ashur and other Assyrian gods dates back to the 3rd century AD.
Ashur, the patron deity of the eponymous capital from the Late Bronze Age, was in constant rivalry with the patron deity of Babylon, Marduk. In Assyria, Ashur eventually superseded Marduk, even becoming the husband of Ishtar.
The major Assyro-Babylonian and Akkadian gods were:
- Ashur/(Anshar) (Classical Syriac: ܐܵܫܘܿܪ)], patron of Assur
- Ishtar, (Astarte) (Classical Syriac: ܥܸܫܬܵܪ/ܐܸܣܬܪܵܐ), goddess of love and war and patroness of Nineveh
- Nabu (Classical Syriac: ܢܒ݂ܘܿ): god of writing and scribes
- Nergal (Classical Syriac: ܢܸܪܓܲܠ): god of the Underworld
- Tiamat: sea goddess
- Marduk (Classical Syriac: ܡܪܘܿܕ݂ܵܟ݂)
- Hanbi: father of Pazuzu
- Anu, supreme divinity of the Heavens
- Ea, Sumerian Enki: god of crafts
- Sin / Suen, Sumerian Nanna (Classical Syriac: ܣܝܼܢ): moon god
- Shamash (Classical Syriac: ܫܡܫ): sun god
- Bel (Classical Syriac: ܒܹܝܠ)
- Tammuz (Classical Syriac: ܬܲܡܘܼܙ)
Major Assyro-Babylonian demons and heroes were:
- Adapa (Oannes)
- Gilgamesh (Classical Syriac: ܓܡܝܼܓܘܿܣ)
- Lilitu (Classical Syriac: ܠܸܠܝܼܬ݂ܵܐ)
The Canaanite religion was practiced by people living in the ancient Levant throughout the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Until the excavation (1928 onwards) of the city of Ras Shamra (also known as Ugarit) in Northern Syria and the discovery of its Bronze Age archive of clay tablet alphabetic cuneiform texts, scholars knew little about Canaanite religious practice. Papyrus seems to have been the preferred writing material for scribes at the time. Unlike the papyrus documents found in Egypt, ancient papyri in the Levant have often simply decayed from exposure to the humid Mediterranean climate. As a result, the accounts in the Bible became the primary sources of information on ancient Canaanite religion. Supplementing the Biblical accounts, several secondary and tertiary Greek sources have survived, including Lucian of Samosata's treatise De Dea Syria (The Syrian Goddess, 2nd century CE), fragments of the Phoenician History of Sanchuniathon as preserved by Philo of Byblos (c. 64 – 141 CE), and the writings of Damascius (c. 458 – after 538). Recent study of the Ugaritic material has uncovered additional information about the religion, supplemented by inscriptions from the Levant and Tel Mardikh archive (excavated in the early 1960s).
Like other peoples of the ancient Near East, the Canaanites were polytheistic, with families typically focusing worship on ancestral household gods and goddesses while acknowledging the existence of other deities such as Baal, Anath, and El.[failed verification] Kings also played an important religious role and in certain ceremonies, such as the sacred marriage of the New Year Festival; Canaanites may have revered their kings as gods.
According to the pantheon, known in Ugarit as 'ilhm (Elohim) or the children of El (compare the Biblical "sons of God"), the creator deity called El, fathered the other deities. In the Greek sources he was married to Beruth (Beirut, the city). The pantheon was supposedly obtained by Philo of Byblos from Sanchuniathon of Berythus (Beirut). The marriage of the deity with the city seems to have biblical parallels with the stories that link Melkart with Tyre, Yahweh with Jerusalem, and Tanit and Baal Hammon with Carthage. El Elyon is mentioned (as God Most High) in Genesis 14.18–19 as the God whose priest was Melchizedek, king of Salem.
Philo states that the union of El Elyon and his consort resulted in the birth of Uranus and Ge (Greek names for Heaven and Earth). This closely parallels the opening verse of the Hebrew Bible, Genesis 1:1—"In the beginning God (Elohim) created the Heavens (Shemayim) and the Earth" (Eretz). It also parallels the story of the Babylonian Anunaki gods.
When the Most High ('Elyōn) divided to the nations their inheritance, he separated the sons of man (Ādām); he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the sons of Israel.
Rather than "sons of Israel", the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, suggests the "angelōn theou," or "angels of God", and a few versions even have huiōn theou (sons of God). The Dead Sea Scrolls version of this suggests that there were in fact 70 sons of the Most High God sent to rule over the 70 nations of the Earth. This idea of the 70 nations of Earth, each ruled over by one of the Elohim (sons of God), is also found in Ugaritic texts. The Arslan Tash inscription suggests that each of the 70 sons of El Elyon was bound to their people by a covenant. Thus, Crossan[who?] translates:
The Eternal One ('Olam) has made a covenant oath with us,
Asherah has made (a pact) with us.
And all the sons of El,
And the great council of all the Holy Ones (Qedesh).
With oaths of Heaven and Ancient Earth.
- Noll, K. L. (2001). Canaan and Israel in Antiquity: An Introduction. A&C Black. p. 187. ISBN 978-1-84127-258-0.
[A patron god in an ancient Near Eastern religion held a unique position among the gods] as the most powerful and the most just of the gods, who ruled the divine realm as he ruled the human realm, often with the approval of a council of divine 'elders' who legitimated his right to rule as patron god (as in the book of Job 1—2). [...] Other gods were subordinate to, and partners with, the divine patron, just as the human aristocracy and commoners were expected to be subordinate to, and supportive of, the human king. The pantheon was usually quite complex, often including hundreds or even thousands of gods.
- Mackenzie, p. 301.
- "Brief History of Assyrians". AINA Assyrian International News Agency.
- Parpola, Simo (1999). "Assyrians after Assyria". Assyriologist. Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, Vol. XIII No. 2.
The gods Ashur, Sherua, Ishtar, Nanaya, Bel, Nabu and Nergal continued to be worshiped in Assur at least until the early 3rd century AD; the local cultic calendar was that of the imperial period; the temple of Ashur was restored in the 2nd century AD; and the stelae of the local rulers resemble those of Assyrian kings in the imperial period.
- Dalley, Stephanie, Mari and Karana: Two Old Babylonian Cities (2002), ISBN 1-931956-02-2[page needed]
- Dalley (2002)[page needed]
- Robert Francis Harper (1901). Assyrian and Babylonian literature. D. Appleton and company. p. 26. Retrieved 27 June 2011.
- Thorkild Jacobsen (1978). The treasures of darkness: a history of Mesopotamian religion. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-02291-9. Retrieved 27 June 2011.
- "ETCSLhomepage". Etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk. 24 October 2006. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
- Gray, John, "The Legacy of Canaan the Ras Shamra Texts and Their Relevance to the Old Testament", No. 5. Brill Archive, 1957; for a more recent discussion see Yon, Marguerite, The City of Ugarit at Tell Ras Shamra, Eisenbrauns, 2006.
- Smith, Mark S., The origins of biblical monotheism: Israel's polytheistic background and the Ugaritic texts, Oxford University Press, 2001.
- J. Pons, Review of G. Pettinato, A. Alberti, Catalogo dei testi cuneiformi di Tell Mardikh - Ebla, MEE I, Napoli, 1979, in Études théologiques et religieuses 56 (1981) 339—341.
- "Canaanite religion". Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 April 2014. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
- "The Enuma Elish: The Babylonian Creation Myth". Crivoice.org. 11 November 2011. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
- "ENUMA ELISH - Babylonian Creation Myth - Theories". Stenudd.com. Archived from the original on 22 November 2011. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
- Sharpes, Donald K. 'Lords of the scrolls: literary traditions in the Bible and Gospels'. Peter Lang, 2005. ISBN 0-8204-7849-0, 978-0-8204-7849-4
- Gunkel, Hermanh (2006). Creation and Chaos in the Primeval Era and the Eschaton: Religio-Historical Study of Genesis 1 and Revelation 12. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. p. 198. ISBN 978-0802828040.
- Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria (1915).
- Moscati, Sabatino (1968), The World of the Phoenicians (Phoenix Giant)
- Ribichini, Sergio "Beliefs and Religious Life" in Moscati Sabatino (1988), The Phoenicians (by L.B. Tauris in 2001)
- Thophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, The World Wide School, Seattle (2000)
- van der Toorn, Karel (1995). Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. New York: E. J. Brill. ISBN 0-8028-2491-9.
- Media related to Ancient Semitic religions at Wikimedia Commons