Friday, April 20, 2012

Sumerian Origins - Religion

I will begin my review of the Sumerian religion with the following assumptions: that the Bible is a correct and true record of the history of man; that the posterity of Noah formed the first civilization following the flood; that the land of Shinar mentioned in the Bible is equivalent to the land of Sumer; and that Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah, was the first king following the flood, and the first king of the Sumerians.
Sumerian Votive Statues
If the above assumptions are correct, then the original and true religion, passed down through Noah after the flood, was taught in its purity to his posterity, and any deviation from these principles was a result of apostasy and false doctrines.
The religion of the Sumerians, as we find it recorded in their writings, was an apostate version of the earlier teachings of Noah. Nimrod, in his complete apostasy and rebellion against God, changed the doctrine, introduced pagan ideologies, and completely turned his people away from the true knowledge of the living God, to a religion of fables, idols, and false gods. He was the originator of the world's pagan religions that have proliferated in the earth to the present day.
The Jaredites would have been exposed to these religious practices, and may have even participated in them to a certain extent (although I personally doubt that this was so, at least in the case of Mahonri Moriancumer). We can see the results of this influence over time when we see many of these false practices and traditions spring up among the Jaredite cultures in the New World (I will discuss this in more detail later). These practices and traditions must have been perpetuated either directly through members of the original party, or  second hand from the original records that the people brought with them (see Ether 8:9).
Nimrod-Wikipedia Commons
Nimrod used his position of power and influence to turn the people away from the religion of the patriarchs, to one which met his needs and goals of dominion. The historian Josephus tells us: He [Nimrod] also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power.1
The Jerusalem Targum (a Hebrew translation of the writings of Moses into the Aramaic language) has some interesting information regarding Nimrod's influence on the Sumerians: “He [Nimrod] was powerful in hunting and wickedness before the Lord, for he was a hunter of the sons of men, and he said unto them, ‘Depart from the judgment of the Lord, and adhere to the judgment of Nimrod!’ therefore it is said: ‘As Nimrod [is] the strong one, strong in hunting, and in wickedness before the Lord.’” 2  Again it quotes him as teaching: “Depart from the religion of Shem, and cleave to the institutes of Nimrod."
As mentioned earlier, I assume that following the flood the people were instructed in the gospel as taught by Noah and his followers. But within four hundred years (by 2000 BC) the Sumerians, under the influence of Nimrod, had apostatized and become polytheistic believers in a multitude of gods of varying rank and importance. There was a hierarchy of the gods, with a triumvirate of three being the most important. Each natural phenomenon, such as the creation, mountains, sea, etc was represented by an individual deity. There were gods specifically assigned to things such as love, fertility, war, and the various trades.
Each city had its own founding god which was supposed to prosper and protect the community, except in the cases where the people had offended their deity and had to suffer his wrath.

Samuel Kramer, one of the prominent authorities on the Sumerian culture, gives us a more positive view of the Sumerian religion. He presents his material from a humanistic viewpoint in which religion is only a cultural phenomena, and all religions are of equal value in their own right. His opinion is that the Sumerians predated the Jewish scriptures, and are therefore the source for Biblical stories such as the creation and the flood. This position is prevalent among most near eastern scholars. We, of course, counter that Noah predated the Sumerians, and taught the same religion that was later revealed through Moses.
However, Kramer does present extensive factual information about the Sumerian religion, which is of value in our study of the Jaredites. The following quotes are from his book The Sumerians.  The numbers following the quotes refer to the specific locations in the Kindle edition of that book.
“The Sumerians developed religious ideas and spiritual concepts which have left and indelible impress on the modern world … On the intellectual level Sumerian thinkers and sages … evolved a cosmology and theology which carried such high conviction that they became the basic creed and dogma of much of the ancient Near East (1449).”
The Sumerian priests and holy men developed a colorful and variegated complex of rites, rituals and ceremonies which served to please and placate the gods as well as provide an emotional valve for man' love of pageantry and spectacle. [They] created … the richest mythology of the ancient Near East, which cut the gods down to human size, but did so with understanding, reverence … originality and imagination (1449).”
The Sumerians envisioned their gods as living, powerful, immortal beings embodied in human form. Each was assigned specific duties from the grandiose creation of the universe, down to the mundane supervision of irrigation canals.
The Sumerian gods, as illustrated graphically by the Sumerian myths, were entirely anthropomorphic; even the most powerful and most knowing among them were conceived as human in form, thought, and deed. Like man, they plan and act, eat and drink, marry and raise families, support large households, and are addicted to human passions and weaknesses. By and large they prefer truth and justice to falsehood and oppression, but their motives are by no means clear, and man is often at a loss to understand them (1510). Though invisible to the mortal eye, [they] guided and controlled the cosmos in accordance with well laid plans and duly prescribed laws. The great realms of heaven, earth, sea, and air; the major astral bodies, sun, moon, and planets; such atmospheric forces as wind, storm, and tempest; and finally, on earth, such natural entities as river, mountain, and plain, such cultural entities as city and state, dike and ditch, field and farm, and even such implements as the pickax, brick mold, and plow each was deemed to be under the charge of one or another anthropomorphic, but superhuman, being who guided its activities in accordance with established rules and regulations (1465). By the middle of the third millennium B.C. at the latest, we find that hundreds of deities ... existed among the Sumerians (1524). An, the heaven god, was at one time conceived by the Sumerians to be the supreme ruler of the pantheon, although in our available sources reaching to about 2500 B.C. it is the air god, Enlil, who seems to have taken his place (1531).”
The Sumerian pantheon 6 was … conceived as functioning as an assembly with a king at its head; the most important groups in this assembly consisted of seven gods who 'decree the fates' and fifty deities known as 'the great gods.' But a more significant division set up by the Sumerian theologians within their pantheon is that between creative and non creative deities, a notion arrived at as a result of their cosmological views. According to these views, the basic components of the cosmos are heaven and earth, sea and atmosphere; every other cosmic phenomenon exists only within one or another of these realms. Hence, it seemed reasonable to infer that the deities in control of heaven, earth, sea, and air were the creative gods and that one or another of these four deities created every other cosmic entity in accordance with plans originated by them (1481).”
Man's duty was to serve the pleasure of the gods, being constantly a victim of their capricious whims and desires. After death his outlook was bleak being exiled to a dark, dreary netherworld.
The Sumerian thinkers ... 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 he 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).”
The major components of the universe … were heaven and earth; indeed, their term for universe was an ki, a compound word meaning 'heaven earth.' The earth was a flat disk surmounted by a vast hollow space, completely enclosed by a solid surface in the shape of a vault 1454.”
The first thing created was a primeval sea.
In this primeval sea was somehow engendered the universe (that is, 'heaven earth'), consisting of a vaulted heaven superimposed over a flat earth and united with it. Between them, however, came the moving and expanding 'atmosphere' which separated heaven from earth. Out of this atmosphere were fashioned the luminous bodies, the moon, sun, planets, and stars (1463).”
They felt that the gods were not likely to pay attention to a lowly mortal or give heed to his pleas. So an intermediary was necessary. A personal god who could approach the principle gods on his behalf and present his petitions for assistance.
Kramer tells us: “So, as in the case of kings, man must have an intermediary to intercede in his behalf, one whom the gods would be willing to hear and favor (1626).  [They] contrived and evolved the notion of a personal god, a kind of good angel to each particular individual and family head (1627). It was to him, to his personal deity, that the individual sufferer bared his heart in prayer and supplication, and it was through him that he found his salvation (1628). All that the Sumerian expected of his personal god was that he speak in his behalf and intercede for him in the assembly of the gods whenever the occasion demanded and thus insure for him a long life and good health. In return, he glorified his god with special prayers, supplications, and sacrifices, although at the same time he continued to worship the other deities of the Sumerian pantheon (3751).”
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One interesting pagan invention of the Sumerians was the idea of the votive statue. One could create a statute of oneself in the attitude of worship and prayer.  This would be placed in the temple and it would supposedly be accepted by the gods as if one were actually there praying in person. This of course would save a lot of time and effort. The wealthy could easily afford such luxuries while the poor generally could not.
The Sumerian theologians ... conceived of the idea that the statue represented the ruler, or even some other high official, standing before his god in unceasing prayer (3697). On the votive inscriptions, the husband not infrequently includes his wife and children, that is, he dedicates the object to the deity not only for his own life but also for that of his wife and children (3254).”
These statutes often appear in the nude as the Sumerians thought nudity symbolized innocence and purity. Similar statutes have been found in the New World suggesting the transfer of this cultural trait.
Regarding the Sumerian temples or ziggurats Kramer observes:
The outstanding feature of each city was the main temple situated on a high terrace, which gradually developed into a massive staged tower, a ziggurat, Sumer's most characteristic contribution to religious architecture (994).”
The temple was the largest, tallest, and most important building in the city, in accordance with the theory accepted by the Sumerian religious leaders and going back no doubt to very early times that the entire city belonged to its main god, to whom it had been assigned on the day the world was created (1002).”
The temple ... played practically no role in the administration of justice, except as the place where oaths were administered (1166).”
The temples atop the ziggurats were the domain of the elite and the priestly class. The general populance were not allowed there but had to observe the rites from below. The priests often wielded great power and influence that at times rivaled that of the royalty. The temples were assigned a portion of the community lands which were controlled by the priests and used for their support and the upkeep of the temples.
Archaeological evidence indicates that “The early rulers of Sumer were customarily accompanied to the grave not only by some of their most precious personal possessions but by a considerable human retinue as well (1669).” A poem relating the death of the Sumerian hero Gilgamesh refers to “all [those] who "lay with him" in his "purified palace" [ie his place in the netherworld following death] ... his wife, son, concubine, musician, entertainer, chief valet, and household attendants (1677).” All these unfortunate individuals had apparently been slain and buried with him so he could have company in the world of the dead. We see a carryover of this practice in some of the royal tombs in the Americas.
But why was this pagan religion so popular that it became the template for numerous copy cat ideologies around the world?  Cleon Skousen, in his book The First 2000 Years, gives us some interesting insights into this religion instituted by Nimrod.  He is speaking of a later period, but the pagan traditions had been practiced over many hundreds of years and relied on the same inducements.
"The amazing popularity of heathen idolatry can never be understood unless a study is made of the ritual which was practiced. Heathen ritual was frequently devoted almost exclusively to the stimulating and satisfying of human passion. The words adultery and idolatry both come from the same derivation." The heathen re­ligions institutionalized immorality.  As one authority points out: 'Sacramental fornication was a regular fea­ture of (heathen) religious life.'"
"Some Bible students find it difficult to understand why ancient Israel would continually fall for the snare of idolatry as practiced by neighboring nations. The scrip­ture says they would plant 'groves' and set up images in spite of everything God had said against it from the beginning. But this takes on greater significance when we learn that the groves were the convenient centers for the deification of sensual practices. Sexual gratification was not only condoned but under heathen influence it was also given sanctified sublimation as part of the religious rites. Here was the secret snare of idolatry to ancient Israel. It was not so much the worship of images that tempted Israel, for that was nothing; rather it was the temptation of riotous indulgences which were sensually alluring once they had been tried."4
The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that the Babylonians (who likely adopted an earlier practice of the Sumerians) required all women to serve one day as a prostitute in the temple of Aphrodite.5  In Sumerian religion this goddess was known as Inanna or Ishtar.
Quoting Skousen again: "In addition to immoral practices, the heathen priests almost universally adopted sadistic devices to satisfy the morbid appetites of their worshipers. This included the sacrifice of human beings by burning or slaughter ... [such] practices included the binding of a human being to an altar [refer to the Book of Abraham for an example]. The priest began his devilish chant which ended in the stroke of a razor-sharp knife which dis­emboweled the victim. As the thoracic cavity was opened the priest pulled the beating heart from its roots and held it up before the blood-spattered image."4

Do we find evidence of any of these Sumerian traditions among the Jaredites in the Americas? 
The Jaredites, and neo-Jaredites, built a multitude of massive stepped pyramids of adobe and stone which were used for religious purposes.  
These pyramids may have been used as the site for human sacrifice.  We have evidence of this in later pre-conquest times.  
The Jaredites were idolatrous as depicted in their art work and sculptures.  
The formative peoples of the Americas were apparently polytheistic having a variety of different gods.
There are instances of elite individuals being accompanied in their graves by other victims.  
There are examples of votive statutes among the art work of the formative era peoples of the Americas.  Some of these appear in the nude as do some of the Sumerian ones.  They are also bearded as were the Sumerian men.  
We don't have many references to Jaredite religion, however there are clues that they may have reverted back to earlier Sumerian practices.  For example we find a reference to a "high priest" who murders the king and assumes the crown.  Such an official reminds us of the priesthood among the Sumerians.  

1.  Flavius Josephus. The Antiquiities of the Jews. Ch. 6:2.
2. accessed 4-10-12
3.  Clark's bible commentary ch. 10
4. Skousen, Cleon. The First 2000 Years. p. 244.
5.  Herodotus Histories. 1.199, translation by A.D. Godley (1920).
6.  The pantheon, the Annunaki (
The majority of Sumerian deities belonged to a classification called the Anunna (“[offspring] of An”), whereas seven deities, including Enlil and Inanna, belonged to a group of “underworld judges" known as the Anunnaki (“[offspring] of An” + Ki). During the Third Dynasty of Ur, the Sumerian pantheon was said to include sixty times sixty (3600) deities.
The main Sumerian deities were:
Anu: god of heaven, the firmament
Enlil: god of the air (from Lil = Air); patron deity of Nippur
Enki: god of freshwater, male fertility, and knowledge; patron deity of Eridu
Ereshkigal: goddess of the underworld, Kigal or Irkalla
Inanna: goddess of warfare, female fertility, and sexual love; matron deity of Uruk
Nammu was the primeval sea (Engur), who gave birth to An (heaven) and Ki (earth) and the first deities; eventually became known as the goddess Tiamat
Ninhursag: goddess of the earth
Nanna: god of the moon; one of the patron deities of Ur
Ningal: wife of Nanna
Ninlil: an air goddess and wife of Enlil; one of the matron deities of Nippur; she was believed to reside in the same temple as Enlil
Ninurta: god of war, agriculture, one of the Sumerian wind gods; patron deity of Girsu, and one of the patron deities of Lagash
Utu: god of the sun at the E'barbara temple of Sippar
A good depiction (in Spanish) of the relationship of the Sumerian gods can be found at


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