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Mesopotamia and Egyptian River Valleys
The religious convictions of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian River Valleys were some of the first documented. Although the gods of these two very different civilizations were different, they were results of the natural environment and share internal values connected to the desires and beliefs in the lives of the people. The different desires from these gods influenced their daily practices and beliefs. The Mesopotamian religion was the first documented religion. Sumerian gods embodied the forces of nature: Anu the sky, Enlil the air, Enki the water and Utu the sun and Nanna the moon. During the time of the Semitic people’s domination, prior Sumerian deities were associated with those of the Semitic peoples. Controlled religion was particularly noticeable in archaeological records; cities built temples showing fidelity to the divinity of those who protected the community. Performed rituals by the priests reflect the Babylonian Creation Myth; humankind existed only to serve the gods. Unlike the hierarchy of the priests, common people were believed to have less access to temple buildings but still managed a fair amount of devotion in their daily lives. Common peoples on Mesopotamia placed statues around their dwellings in the hopes that miniature replicas could seek the deity’s favor. There was a widespread belief of magic, using special words and rituals to maneuver the forces of the natural world. Great festivals usually brought together the common and elite peoples of Mesopotamia, otherwise no close relationships formed. Gatherings such as the twelve-day New Year’s festival held each spring in Babylon, the most important city. It was a celebration of the new grains beginning to sprout in the fields. The Egyptian River Valley, otherwise known as the “gift of the Nile”, was a harmonious and flourishing civilization. As a result, the Egyptian gods were a reflection of positive religion and a prominence on positive afterlife. Egyptians considered the king to be a god on earth, the incarnation of Horus as the son of the sun god Re, to represent the dead returning to life. Linking people and the gods, his benign rule ensured the welfare and prosperity of the country. The Egyptian’s conception of a divine king may elucidate the apparent absence in Egypt of an impersonal code of law comparable to Hammurabi’s Code in Mesopotamia. A death of such beloved kings evoked elaborate efforts to ensure the well-being of their spirits on their journey to rejoin the gods. Funerary rites, royal tombs, and validation of kings’ spirits demanded construction of the stepped pyramid. Egyptian religion evoked the landscape of the Nile Valley; the sky rose every day and the river flooded on schedule every year ensuring a bountiful harvest. Intermittent cycles and periodic revitalization seemed part of the natural world. Egyptian rulers zealously built temples and made lavish gifts for the gods, thus much of the wealth went toward religious purposes to maintain the divine kingship and ensure life-giving forces. During great festivals, priests paraded a boat carrying a shrouded statue and cult items of a deity around town, bring vast numbers of people into contact with the deity in an outpouring of devotion and celebration. Little is known about the common people’s day-to-day beliefs and practices. They made offerings to Bes, the god of marriage and happiness, and relied on amulets and depictions of demonic figures to ward off malevolent forces. The Egyptians believed in the afterlife, producing concerns of the physical condition of the dead and a perfection of mummification techniques, mainly performed by the elite classes. The gods of these two ancient civilizations were very much the same. Each god necessitated a particular need related to the environment of either civilization, whether it is prosperity, happiness or a good harvest. Both showed a distinct gap in the practices of the well separated social classes but the desires of all the peoples living in these civilizations were connected and the devotion to the gods showed to help grant these wishes. Two very different ancient civilizations shared a common bond devotion and a sense of protection from the gods they were so loyal to.