SPECIAL TOPIC: Fertility Worship of the Ancient Near East

I. Reasons For

A. Ancient humans began as a hunter-gatherers, but as nomadic life became settled, the need for crops and herds developed.

B. Ancient Near Eastern inhabitants were vulnerable to the forces of nature. As civilizations developed around the major bodies of fresh water they became dependent on the regular order of the seasons.

C. The forces of nature became gods who needed to be supplicated and controlled.

 

II. Where and Why

A. Fertility religions developed in

1. Egypt (Nile)

2. Mesopotamia (Tigris and Euphrates)

3. Canaan (Jordan)

B. There is a basic commonality among the fertility cults of the Ancient Near East.

C. The changing and unpredictable seasons and weather conditions caused the development of myths using human/divine analogies as the basis of life in the spiritual realm and on earth.

 

III. Who and How

A. Who (the gods and goddesses)

1. Egypt

a. Isis (female)

b. Osiris (male)

2. Mesopotamia

a. Ishtar/Inanna (female)

b. Tammuz/Dumuzi (male)

3. Canaan

a. Ba'al (male)

b. Asherah, Astarte, Anath (female)

B. Each of these pairs were mythologized in similar ways

1. one dies

2. the other restores

3. the pattern of dying and rising gods mimic the annual cycles of nature

C. Imitation magic saw human sexual unions (i.e., marriage of the gods) as a way of insuring fertility of crops, herds, and people

 

IV. The Israelites

A. YHWH's people were warned (i.e., Leviticus and Deuteronomy) to avoid the fertility cults (especially of Canaan).

B. These cults were very popular because of the superstition of human beings and the added incentive of sexual activity.

C. Idolatry involves the blessing of life to be sought in cultic or ritual ways instead of a personal faith and trust in YHWH.

 

V. Suggested Reading

A. W. F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel

B. J. H. Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt

C. James G. Frazer

1. Adonis, Attis, Osiris

2. Folklore in the Old Testament

3. The Worship of Nature

D. C. H. Gordon, Before the Bible

E. S. N. Kramer, Mythologies of the Ancient World

 

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