I have a problem with this essay: Describe what it meant to be a “good person” in the world of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Hebrews.Include quotes from the Primary sources and trace the development in each culture by referencing important dates or events.I really need help with this essay. Please help!! ::)
Hi history_ky. While I can't write your essay for you, and I'm not well-versed in these areas of history, I can perhaps point you in the right direction. I'm guessing your professor wants you to indicate specific things that people in these civilizations would do in terms of their religion. Pay special attention both to ritual and to morality. Ask yourself whether there was a moral code in Mesopotamian religions, and contrast this with what you find among the Hebrews. You'll find some things to compare and contrast.
Carol, I think the answer would be “no” – there was no “moral code” as we know it in Mesopotamian religions. There was Hammurabi's code, but that of course was a body of legal restrictions or obligations rather than one which pertained to personal morality. We all know that the Hebrew religion contained instruction on personal morality.
Phid I have to disagree. I'm pretty sure there were moral codes embedded within Mesopotamian religions, we just can't systematize or standardize them as we would like. We have to assume the Sumerians, Akkadians, and Neo-Babylonians relied on oral traditions for their religion as it was still practiced on a localized even tribal level. Just because they were centralized civilizations, they were not “urban” by our standards, and only the very elite had access to any forms of writing. Moral codes, I would argue, are a necessary requirement for any burgeoning society no matter how simple or complex it may be. Furthermore, it is highly possible that many records did not survive in the same manner as Hammurabi's Code. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a prime example of a moral code embedded within existing literature. The Sumerians didn't have a “Bible” as we know it, but rather a collection of writings and traditions, that were combined to form their civic religions.
Alright, you’re forcing me to dig up some information to back what I said. 🙂 This is good because the semester is starting now and I should know this when we cover the ancient Near East.According to historian Thomas F.X. Noble, Sumerian/Mesopotamian culture had religion which “was pessimistic and fatalistic; it had no ethical dimension at all.” Speaking of the Epic of Gilgamesh, he states that “It contains a mythical account of the civilizing process and a poignant reflection on mortality as the irreducible element in the human condition.”
I think this backs up what I am saying. It’s not that people didn’t believe in any innate sense of right or wrong, it’s just that they didn’t believe the gods would punish them or reward them for their vicious or virtuous behavior on earth. That is, their religion didn’t dictate behavior to practice or behavior to avoid. As for Gilgamesh, it seems that it is more of a philosophical or existential examination than a tale in which man is punished or rewarded by the gods. So even if there was morality within the Epic, a connection to religion is not necessarily within that framework.But perhaps you know of other/more recent scholarship which asserts a moral component within Mesopotamian religions? If so, my ears are open.
Okay I did some digging and the Descent of Inanna into Hell is perhaps a morality play embedded in Sumerian religion. I don't have time tonight to get known scholars who have written about this, but you can get the gist of Inanna on Wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inanna and I found a bibliography to investigate since you have JSTOR access here: http://ikhet-sekhmet.livejournal.com/14211.html. Sorry I can't do more tonight.
I have not yet found the answer, but this is interesting about what he says (2006) about twentieth century scholarship on the issue:[html][/html]Still, he doesn't talk about morality among people as connected to religion. Duty toward the gods is one thing; duty toward one another, which in turn has divine repercussions, is another. That is the thing I'll have to read up on.
I don't disagree with his statements here. Mesopotamian religion was fatalistic just as was the Greek and Roman religions which were based on Fate and Fortuna. I guess it's merely an interpretation of what “morality” is. Fear of gods can be interpreted as “moral” because showing respect to authority is some form of moral conduct….at least ethical. My issue is it is somewhat irresponsible to make umbrella statements when concerning the ancient world because our sources are very limited. Furthermore, comparing and contrasting the Hebrews with the Mesopotamians is somewhat misleading because the Hebrews were more closely related to Egypt than the Levant. I do highly agree with his statement about the importance of ritual in maintaining order. We have to remember that these were civic religions as well as spiritual ones.
In many religions people saw the gods as beings that were arbitrary and capricious–beings that at times lacked morality. (Look, for example, at the adulterous practices of Zeus.. For that matter look at how religious prostitution was a part of many ancient religions. )
Due to their view that the gods were arbitrary and capricious as well as “toyed” with man for pleasure the people feared the gods. They offered sacrifices to appease them.The Hebrews saw their relationship with God very differently. They did not see Jehovah as being arbitrary or capricious, rather they saw him as a person interested in their well being. A person who rewarded them for obedience and punished them for disobedience.
I’m revisiting this thread because I saw some incredible lectures which discussed how Jews behaved at the time of Christ. Basically, it was quite different from the way we think of Judaism today. To be a “good Jew” 2000 years ago meant that you followed the Jewish law. In other words, Judaism was based on practice. Contrast this with Christianity, which is based on belief, or a creed.
The Jewish law contained a list of rules/regulations by which one needed to abide. Breaking ritual purity laws may require purification, but it did not necessarily mean that a person did anything morally wrong, or even voluntary. Touching a corpse, for example, led to ritual impurity, and those of the priestly class were required to be purified before entering God’s presence. This seems to be part of the context to the story of the Good Samaritan and why the Levite and the priest avoid the person who appeared to be dead.