Religion in the Ancient Middle East

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• Part 2: The Hebrews and Their One God
Part 3: The Persians and the Rest

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Part 1: The Sumerians and Their Successors

The Sumerians believed that the forces of nature (rain, wind, floods) were alive. The people couldn't control these forces of nature, so they worshipped them as gods. The people also believed that they were living on Earth only to please the gods.

The Sumerian gods included Anu, the ruler of the gods; Enki, the god of earth; and Enlil, the god of the air, who separated heaven and earth. Enlil it was also who gave the Sumerians their knowledge of farming.

Each Sumerian city also had its own god. The focus of the city was the ziggurat, a large temple, that was the home of that city's god. The priests who worked in the ziggurats were the only ones who knew the will of the gods, so they were very powerful. For example, the city's god owned the land, but the priests made decisions of how to run that land.

The Akkadians, Amorites, and other civilizations that conquered Sumeria and other areas of Mesopotamia adopted Sumerian religious customs, giving the Sumerians' gods names that the new rulers and their people would recognize.

The Phoenicians also believed in gods that were responsible for parts of nature, such as rain and wind. For example, Baal, the storm god, was the second most important Phoenician god, behind El, the chief god.

The Phoenicians also believed in a life after death, as did their neighbors the Egyptians. Both peoples embalmed their dead and wrapped them in linen; the Phoenicians placed the bodies in stone coffins in hillside cemeteries.

Next page > The Hebrews and Their One God > Page 1, 2, 3

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