The Epic of Gilgamesh

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The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient artifact from Sumerian literature. There actually was a King in Sumer by the name of Gilgamesh, who lived at about 2700 BC. The Epic casts Gilgamesh as a ruler and great hero and cast as being part man and part god. The story has Gilgamesh set off with a companion in search of cedar wood to bring back to their woodless land. His companion is killed during a violent storm. The Sumerian Epic blames the death upon the storm god, Enlil. Gilgamesh then searches for the plant that restores youth, a recurring theme throughout centuries of literature. The Epic concludes with Gilgamesh dying.

The text points out that the Epic is deeply pessimistic and provides insight into the Sumerian understanding of the universe. The gods are normally benevolent, but at times the gods exercised their power to carry out the harsh mandates of the deities. The gods of the Sumerians were viewed as setting the standards by which people had to live.

Maat

The ancient Egyptians believed in an ethical concept known as Maat. The text notes that the term is translated by Egyptologists as meaning “right order”. This right order was said to be mandated by the gods and if a king maintained maat and acted according to it, the king could not be evil or act improperly. The text states that most societies understood the importance of proper discipline, but that maat is an attempt to control moral behavior. This concept is an example of the higher level of thinking taking place in ancient Egypt. Maat also demonstrates itself to be a clever tool to promote and maintain social order and political control. This is a common religious theme throughout history .

Exodus

The Israelites that had been living in Egypt decided to return to Israel due to harsh conditions. The were led in this journey by Moses and this occurred around 1240-1230 BC. The text notes that this event was the most critical formative event in Jewish history. Moses organized all the tribes of Israel and some Canaanites into one group that was bound by a covenant to a god they called Yahweh, in English. This covenant is of course the ten commandments that establish a baseline for moral attitudes throughout much of the modern world. This is also critical because historians view this as the first time that a civilization in the western world embraced the concept of monotheism, one and only God.

The text also notes that this appears to be the first intervention of religion into the private behavior of human beings. More tha the ancient codes, these commandments respect people over property, provides for protection of the oppressed, and reinforces respect for ones parents. The text notes that “the historical reality of Moses, the fact that his laws were connected with the experience of a people, and the power of ethical concerns of that people have given the faith of Israel an immediacy to which Sumerian or Egyptian religion could hardly pretend”.

Zoroaster

Zoroaster was the prophet who formed the Persian faith. It is believed that lived around 600 BC. Zoroaster was a Persian King and often served as a priest, claiming to have received his authority from the god of the Persians, Ahura Mazda. Zoroaster himself was not considered to be divine, but he taught that the supreme god, Ahura Mazda, a god of light had created the world and directed the seasons and heavens. Zoroaster is important because his concept of a god that created the world, the light and the darkness, appears to have influenced later Judaism, which in turn has influenced the Christians as well.

Homer

Homer is name attributed to the author of some of the most famous Greek Renaissance epic poems. These epic poems tell of the exploits of Greek heroes who had led the war against Troy. The Trojan Wars were around 1250 BC and the epic poems are estimated by scholars to have been written around 750 BC. The Homeric question is then, did Homer write these...
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