The Universe in Pre-Philosophical Mesopotamia

The Universe in Pre-Philosophical Mesopotamia
The Ancient people were also curious to discover the nature of the universe, how it came to existence and developed, only they used different methods. Let’s see what they came up with!First of all the following question arises: what does Pre-philosophical thinking consist of? This thinking consists of old writings that contain profound thoughts about divinity, the world, man and society. However, these ideas are expressed in a religious language that combines reality with fiction. Therefore, an expert needs to approach this subject with much needed caution. Once you overcome this obstacle you are exposed to a rich culture that was once a way of living.

So, how was the universe seen in Mesopotamia? From the poem entitled "Gilgamesh" we find out that in the beginning the earth and sky were united. It is not mentioned if these elements are eternal or have their origin in another more superior form. Neither does it say who eventually divided them. The clues are few and we need to search more written material. Other sources talk about some sort of "earth-sky mountain" or about a god named Enlil who was born in the union of earth-sky and was design to separate them. That is the reason why humans have earth under their feet and blue sky above them, with air in the middle. In a list of gods we find the goddess Nammu mentioned as the mother who gave birth to earth and sky and represented as an abyss of water. From all this we can come up with a probabilistic image of the Sumerian representation of the universe. It all started from an abyss of sweet water that gave birth to the earth and sky, united into a whole in the shape of a mountain. From their union came Enlil who latter separated them. However, this is how experts interpret nowadays the Sumerian cosmogony and therefore it may differ from what these ancient people really believed.

Similar ideas and images appear in the Babylonian cosmogonies. In one of these, the skies were created by Anu. Another mentions the separation of the skies and the earth. A third one refers to a time when everything was "a sea". This last one is probably a reinterpretation of the sweet water abyss found in the divine Sumerian lists. In the beginning there was fresh water and salt water (represented by the gods Apsu and Tiamat), both mixed in an indistinctive whole. From this liquid chaos the gods appear or were created. The first gods were the product of an act of creation. They "came up" from the initial "water couple" through a process similar to what we would call emanation. Only latter on, the relatively more developed gods were created by being born. There is almost no information regarding the two gods, named Lahmu and Lahamu. After them, we have Anshar who represents all the "superior elements" and Kishar who represents all the "inferior elements". A fight breaks out between the old and the new gods generated by the incapacity of the old gods to adapt to the evolving world. Tiamat threatens to kill her decedents. Freighted, the new gods put their hopes in Marduk who eventually kills Tiamat in combat. The body of Tiamat served as material for the formation of the universe. Marduk cuts her in two and takes one half to make the sky and the other to make the earth. Then, one of the allies of the defeated goddess has his wrists cut and from his blood mankind is created. What an illustrative image: man has divine blood in his body and at the same time it is the blood of a god that has been defeated. This reflects the duality of the human being, capable of the highest actions and the lowest behavior, keeper of truth and a deposit of incertitude and false ideas.

Therefore, the gods, the earth and the humans are all part of the cosmos. They have their origin in the same primitive matter and are involved in the cosmic evolution. Cosmogony combines with theogony. The profane is absorbed in the sacred.

The Sumerian and Babylonian people have their merit in the fact that they had constructive influences on the thinking of the first Greek philosophers. But not only that, they offer their version of insight regarding the way in which man builds a relationship with the universe.

Instead of conclusion, it is interesting to see the parallel (of course limited) between what the apostle Paul says in the Bible regarding the way the Universe was formed and the fact that we see here water having a decisive role. Paul says: "But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water" 2 Peter 3:5 It is our own responsibility to inform ourselves and find the truth!

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