Monday, April 23, 2012

Sumerian Origins - Philosophy and Attitudes

Samuel Kramer explains: “On the level of ethics and morals, the documents reveal that the Sumerians cherished ... goodness and truth, law and order, justice and freedom, wisdom and learning, courage and loyalty in short, all of man's most desirable virtues and qualities (3356). “The Sumerians, according to their own records, cherished goodness and truth, law and order, justice and freedom, righteousness and straightforwardness, mercy and compassion, and naturally abhorred their opposites, evil and falsehood, lawlessness and disorder, injustice and oppression, sinfulness and perversity, cruelty and pitilessness (1596). Mercy and compassion were treasured and practiced to judge from the numerous references to the special protective treatment accorded to widows, orphans, and refugees as well as to the poor and oppressed (3358).”
One attitude, that can give us an insight into the motivations of the Jaredites, is the Sumerian drive for prestige and superiority. This seems to have been a major motivating force in the Sumerian culture, with its accompanying stress on competition and success. 
Kramer observes: “While all peoples and cultures cherish life and value it dearly, the Sumerians clung to it with particular tenacity because of their theological conviction that after death the emasculated spirit descended to the dark and dreary nether world, where life was at best but a dismal, wretched reflection of life on earth (3341). Closely allied to the love of life was the value put on material prosperity and well being. The Sumerians prized highly wealth and possessions, rich harvests, well stocked granaries, folds and stalls filled with cattle large and small, successful hunting on the plain and good fishing in the sea (3344).”The S
"One of the major motivating forces of Sumerian behavior [was] the drive for superiority and pre eminence with its great stress on competition and success (3180). The pursuit of wealth, no doubt, played an important role in Sumerian life (3356).”
The Sumerians could never have come as far or achieved as much either materially or spiritually, had it not been for one very special psychological drive which motivated much of their behavior and deeply colored their way of life the ambitious, competitive, aggressive, and seemingly far from ethical drive for pre eminence and prestige, for victory and success (3366). [This] drive for superiority and prestige deeply colored the Sumerian outlook on life and played an important role in their education, politics, and economics (3408). The aggressive penchant for controversy and the ambitious drive for pre eminence provided no little of the psychological motivation which sparked and sustained the material and cultural advances for which the Sumerians are not unjustly noted: irrigation expansion, technological invention, monumental building, the development of a system of writing and education (3410).”
Another important aspect “of Sumerian culture, [was] the emphasis on law and legality, the penchant for compiling law codes and writing legal documents. [This] has long been recognized to have been a predominant feature of Sumerian economic and social life (3396). The extraordinary importance which the Sumerians attached to law and legal controls is due, at least in part, to the contentious and aggressive behavioral pattern which characterized their culture (3399).”
We can observe these same characteristics repeatedly in the Book of Ether – the competing factions, the lust for power, the rivalry, the greed. Normally this is only described in terms of the rulers, but it was probably a characteristic of the commoner as well.
In comparison with other groups “The Sumerians considered themselves a kind of 'chosen people,' 'the salt of the earth,' as it were (3641).” On the other hand, in line with their religious beliefs, they didn't have much hope for an after life and their expectations of this one were bleak. “The Sumerian thinkers, in line with their world view, had no exaggerated confidence in man and his destiny. They were firmly convinced that man was fashioned of clay and created for one purpose only: to serve the gods by supplying them with food, drink, and shelter so that they might have full leisure for their divine activities (1589).  
"When [the Sumerian] died, his emasculated spirit descended to the dark, dreary nether world where life was but a dismal and wretched reflection of its earthly counterpart (1591)”
"What would the Sumerian do in the face of adversity? “The proper course for a Sumerian Job to pursue was not to argue and complain in face of seemingly unjustifiable misfortune, but to plead and wail, lament and confess, his inevitable sins and failings (1623).”

Stefan Maul, a prominent German Assyriologist, gives us an interesting insight into the Sumerian psyche.  He observes: "-- it is clear that from the perspective of a Babylonian [that] the past lay before him or 'faced him,' while the future was conceived as lying behind him. In our own modern conceptual world, the opposite seems to be self-evident: we look into the future, while the past lies behind us. Continuing with this line of thought, we might say that while we proceed along a temporal axis 'headed towards the future,' the Mesopotamians, although they also moved on a temporal axis in the direction of the future, did so with their gaze directed towards the past. The Mesopotamians proceeded, so to speak, 'with their backs forward,' that is, facing backwards into the future. Without wanting to overburden this image, one could say that the attention of Mesopotamian culture was directed towards the past and thus ultimately towards the origins of all existence."
Such a philosophy seems to be evident among the Jaredite people.  From their desire to be ruled by a king, to the daughter of Jared's reference to ancient traditions to solve her father's desire for power, we find many examples of such a world view among them.  Other examples might be the return to building ziggurats to be used in their religious rites, human sacrifice to placate the gods, return to the pagan practices of Nimrod, the concept of "axis mundi," the pattern of youngest son as king, carving stone stelae, etc.


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