Ancient Mesopotamia Polytheism

Mesopotamian and Sumerian myths told of numerous gods, such as An (god of the heavens), Enlil (god of the air and storms), Enki (the god of water and the earth), Ninhursag (the goddess of the earth), and Inanna (the goddess of love and war). Further, certain gods represented various jurisdictions of the Mesopotamian Empire, such as Ashur, the patron god of Assyria, and Marduk, patron god of Babylon.

In terms of religious practices, every shrine in Sumeria was named after a single god; for example, the E’anna temple in Uruk was named after Inanna. With the extension of the Sumerian civilization into surrounding areas, these gods became part of a single family of divinities known as the Anunaki.

The numbers of gods in the (or each) pantheon also differ from text to text, sometimes referring to ‘fifty great gods’ and sometimes to as many as three hundred. It is likely that this confusion arises because of changing roles allocated to various pantheons over time as part of a ‘creative editing’ process underpinned by political and religious motives, a subject to which we will return in the next paper; for example, it appears that the Igigi tend to be the younger gods who appear primarily in the later Akkadian works, while the Anunnaki are the older great gods of the Sumerians.

The Sumerians worshipped a god named An as their primary god, equivalent to heaven – the word “an” in Sumerian means “sky”. An’s closest cohorts were Enki in the south, Enlil in the north, and Inana, the deification of Venus, the morning (eastern) and evening (western) star. The sun was Utu, the moon was Nanna, Nammu or Namma was the Mother Goddess, probably considered to be the original matrix. There were hundreds of minor deities.

The Sumerian gods each had associations with different cities, and their religious importance often waxed and waned with the political power of the associated cities. The gods were said to have created human beings from clay for the purpose of serving them. The gods often expressed their anger and frustration through earthquakes and storms. The gist of Sumerian religion seemed to imply that humanity was at the mercy of the gods.
Mesopotamian religion was polytheistic. It had elements of ancient animism as well. It was “primitive” religion when compared to Judaism. Sceptical, non-believing scholars try to paint early Judaism as polytheistic, but there is no solid evidence for this. Judaism appears from its inception to be a fully developed monotheism, with out all the superstitions of Mesopotamian religion and the fantastic (and unbelievable) stories of gods and their petty intrigues.

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Ancient Mesopotamian Polytheism and Gods, Religious Beliefs