Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sumerian Origins - Government

"By the late 4th millennium BC, Sumer was divided into about a dozen independent city-states, which were divided by canals and boundary stones. Each was centered on a temple dedicated to the particular patron god or goddess of the city and ruled over by a priestly governor (ensi) or by a king (lugal) who was intimately tied to the city's religious rites (Wikipedia)."  These city-states were constantly in conflict and vying for supremacy over Shinar as a whole (2405). 
According to  the histories, the kingly rule began in Kish which was one of the first cities established in the plain of Shinar (383).  This was a city established by the patriarch Cush (thus Kish) and he may have been the king of this city, although the records indicate it was a king by the name of Etana (585).   

It appears that the Sumerian government was essentially a monarchy, although the king did not have unlimited power, but had to get the approval of the assembly for certain actions such as war.  Kramer suggests that there were two auxiliary bodies or assemblies subordinate to the king; one of the nobility, and the other consisting of commoners (1049).  

Most scriptural records, such as the Book of Jasher and the Bible, indicate that Nimrod was the first king following the flood.  This appears to have been a popular anointing following his victorious campaigns against the enemies of the Cushites.  

"And whilst he was reigning according to his heart's desire, after having conquered all his enemies around, he advised with his counselors to build a city for his palace, and they did so.  And they found a large valley opposite to the east, and they built him a large and extensive city, and Nimrod called the name of the city that he built Shinar, for the Lord had vehemently shaken his enemies and destroyed them.  And Nimrod dwelt in Shinar, and he reigned securely, and he fought with his enemies and he subdued them, and he prospered in all his battles, and his kingdom became very great.  And all nations and tongues heard of his fame, and they gathered themselves to him, and they bowed down to the earth, and they brought him offerings, and he became their lord and king, and they all dwelt with him in the city at Shinar, and Nimrod reigned in the earth over all the sons of Noah, and they were all under his power and counsel (Jasher 7:42-45)."

Nimrod also seems to  have had popular support and input from his followers in planning and erecting the great tower.  "And all the princes of Nimrod and his great men took counsel together; Phut, Mitzraim, Cush and Canaan with their families [note that these are all descendants of Ham], and they said to each other, Come let us build ourselves a city and in it a strong tower, and its top reaching heaven, and we will make ourselves famed, so that we may reign upon the whole world, in order that the evil of our enemies may cease from us, that we may reign mightily over them, and that we may not become scattered over the earth on account of their wars.  And they all went before the king, and they told the king these words, and the king agreed with them in this affair, and he did so (Jasher 7:21-22)."

From the above quote we can see that the family of Ham may have dominated Sumerian society.  Nimrod may have appointed his fellow Cushites to positions of power in his administration, giving them choice lands and other advantages.  However there were many of the other family groups represented in his kingdom, some by choice, and others through compulsion or conquest.  In at least one case Nimrod appointed a member of the Shemites to a position of power.  Terah, the father of Abraham, was given the responsibility of Nimrod's army and was a highly trusted official in his government.  "And he [Nimrod] placed Terah the son of Nahor the prince of his host, and he dignified him and elevated him above all his princes (Jasher 7:41)."  
From later records we learn that the rule of law was highly regarded among the Sumerians and each individual jealously guarded his rights to the extent he was able.  The Sumerian tablets tell us that even the king could not arbitrarily confiscate the property of another, but had to purchase it through legal means.  Kramer: "Written law played a large role in the Sumerian city. Beginning about 2700 B.C., we find actual deeds of sales, including sales of fields, houses, and slaves (1070)."  

We have a number of examples of legal codes that were compiled by different kings for the orderly governance of Sumerian society.  The first recorded code that we have from the tablets is that of Ur-Nammu from the 3rd dynasty of Ur. The most famous of these codes is the one inscribed on stone by the Babylonian king Hammurabi in about 1800 BC.

The Sumerians developed the philosophy that kings were divinely appointed and chosen, thus initiating the notion of the "divine right of kings."  It appears that each city-state had its own king.  These different kings were vassal kings to the most powerful king of the confederation of city-states, usually Ur.  The royal position, or kingly authority, was viewed as a possession and could be carried off by a conquering rival king.

Some of the duties of the king were to protect the city militarily, to build up the city and keep it in repair (this included the important duty of building and maintaining the temple complex), to maintain and construct the vital canals, to insure the well being of the city and populace by placating and appeasing the gods, to collect tax revenues, to sit in judgement of the people, and to carry out the official ceremonial rites associated with his position.
The king sat in judgement of important cases brought before him, however it is likely that there were lower courts and judges who were involved in common complaints.  An interesting example of the former is the case brought before Nimrod by Terah, Abraham's father.  In a fit of righteous indignation, Abraham had destroyed all of his father's idols.  His father brought him before Nimrod to be tried for this "crime."  Nimrod passed the death sentence on Abraham for his insolence and rejection of the official gods of the kingdom.  But through miraculous means Abraham is rescued (Abr. 1; Jasher 12). 

A large number of scribes served as administrative officials in palace and temple, recording historical events, court proceedings, serving as legal representatives, composing deeds and other contracts, etc.  
The expenses of the palace and government was financed through taxation.  Non payment of assessed taxes could result in incarceration.  

The priests and temple officials were apparently not involved directly in government affairs, but probably exerted significant influence.  The temple controlled a significant portion of the public lands and administered oaths in legal proceedings.  It may also have been involved in the collection of taxes, and served as a storage area for surplus grain.  And of course, it dominated and controlled the religious rites and ceremonies.  Some scholars have suggested that the Sumerians had a totalitarian theocracy - that the priests and temple group wielded great power.  But Kramer disputes this conclusion and feels the temple group did not have that much political influence (1016).

Reading between the lines of Sumerian history we get the feeling that there was great deal of rivalry, jealousy and competition in the governing bodies.  Kramer comments: "The passion for competition and superiority carried within it the seed of self destruction and helped to trigger the bloody and disastrous wars between the city states and to impede the unification of the country as a whole, thus exposing Sumer to the external attacks which finally overwhelmed it (3412)."  We can definitely see this cultural trait evolving among the Jaredites with their "secret combinations," their assassinations, and their inordinate love of fame, power and wealth.  Kramer continues:   "If I am not mistaken, hatred played a rather dominant role in Sumerian behavior. As will be shown later, the Sumerian political, economic, and educational institutions were deeply colored by aggressive competition, by a drive for prestige and pre eminence, which must have inspired a high degree of hatred, scorn, and contempt (3320)."  

Many of these characteristics were probably embodied in the royal personality.  It was believed that he had been chosen by the gods, he had great wealth and power, and he was known throughout his realms.  Kramer: "[An example of this] drive for victory, prestige, and glory on the political front are the numerous self laudatory royal hymns in which the Sumerian king recites his own virtues and achievements unblushingly and uninhibitedly in rather hyperbolic and extravagant language (3407)."  Perhaps these hymns are forerunners of the egotistic displays of regal statuary in Mesoamerica and their praise of the king and his reign.  

Slavery was a recognized institution in Sumer and it is likely that a significant portion of the public works was accomplished with slave labor.  Kramer: "Slavery was a recognized institution, and temples, palaces, and rich estates owned slaves and exploited them for their own benefit (1056)."  A majority of slaves would have been prisoners taken in war.  

How did the Sumerian citizen feel about his city, country and culture? Kramer says: "Patriotism, love of country, and particularly love of the home city, was a strongly moving force in Sumerian thought and action. Love of the city state naturally came first in time and was never altogether superseded by love of Sumer as a whole. The inhabitants of a city were known as its "sons" and were considered a closely related, integrated unit. Normally, they took pride in their city, god, and ruler and were ever ready to take up arms in their behalf (3309)." 

Jaredite parallels:
There are several examples of royal assassinations among the Sumerians which may have foreshadowed events in the Americas and fostered the "secret combination", but I will need to research this area more thoroughly. 
Governance  by a king was an early preference among the Jaredites, even though their first leader and prophet warned against it (Ether 6:22-23).  Following its introduction, governance by monarchy was the universal pattern throughout Jaredite history.  There are intimations of the notion of "divine right of kings" among them.
We can observe one interesting pattern among the Jaredites.  A majority of the sons, chosen by their fathers to succeed them as king, were the youngest son.  This unusual pattern seems very strange until we remember that Nimrod was the youngest son of Cush and may have establish such a pattern in the Sumerian culture. 
It seems that slavery was an accepted practice among the Jaredites, at least under some kings.    

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