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History 3: Antiquity

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  1. 1. Orientation
    12 Steps
  2. 2. Imago Dei: Creation
    13 Steps
  3. 3. The Two Cities: The Fall & Two Lineages
    11 Steps
  4. 4. Look On My Works, Ye Mighty: Babel & Mesopotamia
    11 Steps
  5. 5. The Waters of Life in the Everlasting Hills: Ancient Egypt
    11 Steps
  6. 6. Lekh-Lekha: Abraham & The Patriarchs
    11 Steps
  7. 7. On Eagles' Wings: The Exodus & The Law
    12 Steps
  8. 8. The Sacrifice of Praise: Worship in Ancient Israel
    13 Steps
  9. 9. A House of Prayer for All Nations: Samuel to Solomon
    11 Steps
  10. 10. The Ways of the Father: Prophets & Kings
    11 Steps
  11. 11. I Form Light and Create Darkness: The Exile, Medes & Persians, and Israel's Return
    11 Steps
  12. 12. Beyond Life and Death: India
    11 Steps
  13. 13. Immutable Tradition: China
    12 Steps
  14. 14. Honor Versus Life: Old Japan
    13 Steps
  15. 15. The Smoke of 1,000 Villages: Sub-Saharan Africa
    11 Steps
  16. 16. In Search of the Unknown God: Greek Stories & Early History
    12 Steps
  17. 17. Nostoi & Empire: Greece Versus Persia
    11 Steps
  18. 18. The Glory That Was Greece: The Golden Age
    11 Steps
  19. 19. The One and the Many: The Peloponnesian War & Philosophers
    11 Steps
  20. 20. To the Strongest: Alexander the Great
    11 Steps
  21. 21. Make Straight the Highway: Between the Testaments
    12 Steps
  22. 22. The Grandeur That Was Rome: The Roman Republic
    11 Steps
  23. 23. The War of Gods & Demons: The Conquest of Italy, Carthage, and Greece
    13 Steps
  24. 24. Crossing the Rubicon: The Fall of the Roman Republic
    11 Steps
  25. 25. Pax Romana: Caesar Augustus
    11 Steps
  26. 26. The Everlasting Man: Jesus Christ
    12 Steps
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The following transcript was automatically generated and may contain errors in spelling and/or grammar. It is provided for assistance in note-taking and review.

Well, welcome back. We’re going to take a look today at how the Mesopotamians viewed creation. We’ll actually specifically look at a Babylonian story at the Enuma Elish, and we’ll also talk about the ancient Sumerians and Akkadians, ending with the tale of Gilgamesh. But in terms of the creation story, we’ve already talked about this a little bit. It begins with the heaven and earth that are born out of this kind of watery chaos. So it’s kind of somewhat like Genesis right from the beginning. We also curiously have light existing before the sun. We have the number seven showing up throughout the story. We have an order where the firmament is created, then land, then heavenly lights, then creatures, men and is finalized by a type of rest with the building of a great temple to Marduk.

But that’s really where the similarities end. It’s the differences that are huge. So for example, as I already mentioned in past lectures, the creation begins on the day. That’s what enuma means. So it doesn’t really have what appears to be an absolute beginning. There’s already time going. We also know So for example, there’s already this kind of chaos and there’s apparently these two gods right from the beginning. One is Apsu, who is masculine and the god of the seas. The other is Tiamat, who is feminine and is the god of chaos and disorder. We’re told that within them, they contain all the elements, everything, all the stuff of the universe, and from them, from their union, their marriage, they have children and that creates the god.

So we don’t have a god who’s infinite and separate from his creation, making everything separate from himself and simply out of nothing. And then of course the story takes another turn because Tiamat, that god of chaos, she only prefers chaos and so she decides to destroy all of her children with her monsters.

But thankfully the children have a savior. His name, of course, is Marduk, the god of snakes and dragons who is said in some stories to be born in Shale, or Hell itself.

He’s kind of seen as a resurrection god ’cause he resurrects himself. He suddenly jumps in, fights multiple battles, and kills his mother, Tiamat. And the story takes a rather gruesome turn because he takes her body. And we’re told that he turns half of her, which he nails up above him, he turns that into the heavens, and he takes the other half of her, which he spreads out before him, and he turns that into the earth.

In other words, we have a rather R-rated tale here. I guess the point is this, we have a tale of violence, extreme violence to actually create things. So even though I told you about the order of how they’re created, it’s how they’re created where you see the huge difference. Then Apsu himself is also killed by Marduk and is turned into the sea. You might be wondering, why did he kill Apsu? Well, the tale, other tales tell us that Apsu was already plotting the destruction of his children, just like Tiamat, but his reason was not an obsession with chaos.

His reason was that his children were too noisy. Very similar to the flood story told by the Mesopotamians. Well, then Marduk decides to create man. And his first plan is to just make man, to fashion him. But the god Ea, who’s kind of this chief overarching god himself– don’t ask me where he comes from– but the god Ea tells Marduk that we shouldn’t just create man. Someone should die for man. So we get a Christ-like story here, but it’s not to save man who’s been created good and saved by God’s free will, it’s to create man. So in other words, man is created out of suffering. When the god Kingu, who was actually also a son of Tiamat and who was supposed to become the chief god, he was a rival to Marduk, they kill him and they use his blood mixed with clay to create man.

So we have some similarities to Genesis here in terms of blood being a sign of life, in terms of man being made of dust and of clay, but it’s not this kind of free will gift or this creation that God gives by his own power. Instead, it comes out of suffering and out of death. So you really can’t call the creation good or the creation of man good. Furthermore, if you recall from earlier, man is created to serve the gods so the gods can actually rest. And then Marduk orders the building of his chief city, this is the Babylonian epic, so they of course call his chief city, Bab-ili or Babylon, the gate of the gods.

And it ends with a great temple being made and dedicated to Marduk rather than a Sabbath rest that man can actually enjoy. Well, that’s kind of a good background for us to understand the Mesopotamians because we see that they’re really obsessed with the material world. This will make sense because their material world was always changing. And in fact, we’ll talk about the first two great cultures, the Sumerians and the Akkadians. The Sumerians, which that word is probably associated with Shinar, where you see the whole tower of Babel story occurring, it’s where you see Nimrod cities and so forth. But one thing we know about the Sumerians is that they tried to keep track of time and develop calendars and things like that, but the way they kept track of time, especially year after year, their method of history was to market often by catastrophes, things like floods and things like earthquakes.

Or they might try to market by the great accomplishments of kings, or sometimes they would market by things they saw in the nighttime sky, things of astronomy.

Actually, that last one is the most helpful because those are things we can often trace. Because astronomy is mathematical, we can predict things like when a comet will reappear. But one of the earliest records we have, the Sumerians, is the famous Sumerian king list. It’s a record of different kings that certainly has some kind of mythical and legendary elements to it. We do have a flood in it, for example, but there are eight kings that show up before the flood, but they each reign for incredibly long time, such as 43,000 years. But curiously, their reigns all start in Eridu, seen as that oldest of cities, perhaps even connected to one of King’s descendants, Erad. Not really sure, there’s a whole lot of ways we can look at this. But one thing we’re told about the kings is that each of them fell, and the kingship was then taken often to a different city. It’s one of the themes of Mesopotamian culture that as grand as a city is, it doesn’t last. Things fall apart, things end, and that’s just the way it is. The Sumerian kingless then tells us after these eight kings that then the flood swept over, and afterwards the kingship was taken to Kish, or possibly Cush, which is where Nimrod is from, it’s his father’s name. It’s quite possible that this is also should have been Sargon who was from Kish. At least that’s one idea which I think is viable. But we then begin to see how the kingship reigns begin to fall off, very much like the lives of the patriarchs in Genesis, they begin to get shorter and shorter and shorter.

The earliest of the writings of the Sumerian king list dates to about 2100 BC, and it seems to be associated with a king of Uruk named Utu-Hegau, who called himself the “Lord of the Four Quarters of the Earth.” In fact, taking a look at Uruk is very helpful here, because Uruk was one of the first great powerhouses. Its architecture suggests that the people had abandoned villages, had abandoned country life for the city. It’s also the city that’s associated with Gilgamesh, who might have actually been a real-life king. Someone who tried to take over the city of Kish and was unsuccessful twice, but successful on the third time, with the help of the young and not the help of the old.

Kind of showing that it’s always the new and the younger that is the ideal in Mesopotamian culture. But the city of Uruk was quite advanced. It had incredible irrigation, it had things like water tanks for storing water, it may have had extensive gardens, we’re not really sure, but that is one idea. It also had multitudes of public buildings and public temples, many of which were dedicated to the goddess Inanna or Ishtar. She was the goddess of love, the goddess of beauty, the goddess of marriage, she was kind of like Aphrodite and was curious about the city is is that they also made buildings from things like concrete and as far as we can tell the earliest usage of that material something that was made by bricks that have been baked and then ground up into powder and then combined with gypsum and water but we can begin to see their dedication to a Nana or to Ishtar if we take a look at something like the Worca vase.

Worca being the town that’s there today. This is a vase that at the bottom layer shows us the plant life, the tigris and the euphrates, kind of the fruitfulness of the area.

And above that we begin to see animals. And then above that we see all of these men of ancient Uruk bringing gifts to Inanna, this goddess who’s also shown and the worka mask made of this beautiful white marble that probably was on a statue and probably had some kind of beautiful stone or maybe even some gems for eyes and for her brow as well.

But one thing that we also begin to see here in this city is we see the concentration of power, all being blessed by Ishtar as the idea.

One of the ways we see the concentration of power is quite simple, we see those bevel-rimmed bulls, the first mass production in world history of something.

These were very simply made, they were rather crude in their shape and so forth compared to other bulls of the ancient world, and they almost seemed disposable.

What’s curious is the symbol for a ration like you would give a worker or a slave or a soldier is the symbol of a bevel-rimmed bowl in cuneiform.

And of course as we’ve already talked about we see these kinds of bowls we see this kind of artwork from from Uruk and Sumeria we end up seeing it all over the Middle East as part of that Uruk expansion something that we think may have actually occurred after Babel because these peoples either conquered previous people built their own civilization or lived in their own isolated neighborhood as if they could not easily share the same culture or perhaps the same language as their neighbors.

But we also see the power of the Sumerians and how they want to display power in something such as the Stele of the Vultures.

This is a stone sculpture you can see here which is depicting a certain King Aenatum after he had just conquered Umma. You see here vultures flying away with the heads of enemies. You see here destruction but you see him taller than everybody else demonstrating his power. And then there’s a cuneiform text that reads, “He heaped up piles of the enemy’s bodies on the plains and they prostrated themselves and they wept for their lives.” This is kind of the general nature. We see this over and over again in Mesopotamian art. We see this domination. We see this, we see little mercy in the actual art or in the actual display of kingly power. On the other hand, we do see beautiful things. They decorated many things with lapis lazuli, everything from seals to jewelry to sculpture to whole temples themselves. This was something I already mentioned came all the way from Afghanistan and would have required a great deal of effort and time to get it down into Mesopotamia.

Because it was so costly, they actually create the world’s first synthetic material. They create artificial lapis lazuli by combining things like copper, green malachite, blue blue azurite, and heating it up in a kiln until they get this new material.

We’ve already mentioned concrete, we also see the making of bronze out of Mesopotamia, we even see the making of primitive glass out of Mesopotamia.

So they begin to make all kinds of different materials. Of course, some of the art can be very playful. So for example, we have a toy from Eshnunna, also a Sumerian city, which appears to be like a pull-along toy, with wheels and in the shape of a ram and perhaps something else.

Either way, as much as we see the playfulness of Sumer, we also see the problems that it had in terms of its oppressive system of taxes.

In fact, we have a curious character in ancient Sumer named Uruk-Agin, who was this early reformer who were told, “Reduce the taxes, reduce the number of tax collectors,” and one of these ancient cuneiform tablets says that, “He established amaji, or freedom. The widow and the orphan were no longer at the mercy of the powerful.” It actually becomes a very curious theme of protecting the weak. We see that as an interest in Mesopotamia, but it’s kind of the exception. And it’s not the same as most of the stelas that show these kings conquering brutally whoever gets in their way. As for Erechagena, he only reigned for apparently eight years until he was overthrown by a rival who probably had help from his own noblemen.

This opens the doors for the Akkadian Empire, which as far as we can tell was founded by Sargon of Akkad, or Sargon the Great.

He’s the world’s first true emperor who not only conquered much of Mesopotamia, but also went to the mountains of modern-day Iran and into the mountains of modern-day Turkey, meaning his empire and his influence stretched massively.

We’re told that he controlled his empire by first of all, controlling a few curious things. He controlled the measurements of things, he controlled the language, and he controlled writing. He began to make them all the same. When you do those things, when you can control such basic things as that, you have a huge amount of sway over a culture. And of course, Targon also had that massive army that ate before him daily. But his empire doesn’t really get to its grandest extent until his grandson, Naram-Sin. Now, Naram-Sin is a curious character because we have one of the most famous artworks of all of Mesopotamia in his Victory Stella that tells about his conquest of a mountain tribe.

Once you notice a few things about this, first of all, you’ll be able to see who Naram-Sen is right away because he is much, much bigger than everybody else there. This is called hierarchical scale. It’s showing him to be the most important person because he is simply the largest. But you also need to notice that he is ruthlessly conquering his enemies, stepping on them, kicking them off the mountain. You’ll see various weapons in various parts of his enemies themselves who are either dead or dying. It’s also remarkable because the gods are represented as these like stars or perhaps a sun and star up in the sky. They’re kind of distant. And rather than the gods showing up as figures wearing their crowns, Naram-Sin is wearing the crown, showing the bull horns that usually was actually read by the gods themselves.

But it’s also curious because we have the crown of Naram-Sin, which is the bull horns. Something that was normally only worn by the gods themselves. And then of course, we have an inscription by him, or about him rather. It says this, “When all the four quarters of the world were hostile to him, he remained victorious in nine battles in a single year, because of the love Ishtar bore for him, and took captive those kings who had risen against him.

Because he’d been able to preserve his city in a time of crisis, his city asked from Ishtar that he be the god of their city in Akkad.

And they built a temple for him, Naram-sen, in the center of Akkad.” So we begin to see that the people, the leaders of Mesopotamia are seen as gods based upon what they actually do, based upon military might.

And then of course, Akkad just kind of disappears. In fact, we never actually found the city itself, but based upon the culture that it actually had, that we found in other places, it appears to have been abandoned overnight.

For example, the site of Shekna in Syria, which is seen as an Akkadian settlement, has all of these stones that are right in the process of different stages of being cut or dressed ready to be built into something, they suddenly are covered up by layers of dirt.

And there’s really a lot of pottery found here suggesting that they were building the city and no one was regularly living there yet. What we do know about the Akkadians is that they suffered invasion from invaders from the north known as the Gutians. This then led to the Sumerians coming back, who once again begin to centralize things, codifying things such as language, such as writing, such as the calendar and so forth.

And then they have various cities that rebel, and their whole civilization once again collapses, only to be replaced by the Babylonians. Well that leads us really to one of the most important stories of this time period and that’s the tale of Gilgamesh which our oldest accounts of date back to at least 2100 BC It’s a Sumerian tale about this ruler of Uruk who we’re told was one-third man and two-thirds God Not really sure how that works but that’s what we’re told about him We’re told that he had this marvelous strength, this incredible body that was given to him by the gods, but he used his strength not just as a king to conquer others, but he used it to rule over his people to do whatever he wanted, specifically to take whatever woman he wanted.

And so the gods hear the complaining of his own people, and so they send him an equal, the character of Enkidu. And in fact, when Enkidu and Gilgamesh first meet, they have a wrestling competition where they find they are equally matched. And Gilgamesh, who first hates Enkidu, then loves him because he says, “Enkidu, in you I see myself.” In other words, we actually begin to see that Gilgamesh is quite a self-centered character, but this was the ideal of a Sumerian and really a Mesopotamian leader.

Well, they have their adventures together. They end up slaying various monsters and creatures together, but because they slay one too many, and they slay one that is loved by the gods, and because Gilgamesh spurns the advances of Ishtar, the gods decide that Enkidu has to die.

And as Enkidu is dying, Gilgamesh feels incredible sadness, and at first you think, “Ah, such a touching story, how he feels sadness for Enkidu,” which he does, But then he primarily feels sadness for himself because he knows that someday he also will die. In fact, we’re told that he has a restless heart. And so, he goes on a quest. He goes on a quest to find immortality because he has heard that there was someone who survived the ancient flood. This Utnapishtim is his name, this Noah-like character who is living forever. He goes on this quest. He actually meets Utnapishtim, he’s told, “Hey, there’s this special fruit that comes from a plant. “If you dive down and grab it and eat it, “you will live forever.” So he dives down, he grabs it, and then before he has a chance to eat it, curiously, a serpent comes and eats it instead.

Gilgamesh has to return to Uruk, having failed in his quest. And this is where we really see the messages and kind of the hopelessness of Mesopotamian culture. We see it earlier when Enkidu, for example, was dying. He’s told by the gods, “Enkidu, cheer up. “You ate bread, you drank wine, you wore beautiful clothes, “and you won fame. “What more could you ask for?” When Gilgamesh returns home and he realizes he’s failing in eternal life, he assumes, “Well, this is just my fate.” And so he praises his city, telling someone else to, quote, “Inspect its foundations. “Examine its brickwork. “See, it is not of burnt bricks. “And did not the seven wise men lay these foundations?” In other words, he points to the grandness of the city and says, “Look, this is what life is really about.” In fact, the gods tell us that the heroes and the wise men, mankind himself, that like the new moon, they have their waxing and their waning.

Everything comes to an end, and there’s nothing afterwards. We also see this on a tablet from another ancient Sumerian city, the city of Ur, where the character of Abram comes from. It records it like this, “Who has seen a reign of kingship that would take precedence forever, that would last forever? The reign of kingship has been long indeed, but it had to exhaust itself.” In other words, it’s a Mesopotamian idea that things just come to an end, and that’s it.