Thursday, October 11, 2007


October 10, 2007

The Babylonian Empire:

Amorite King Hamurabi in 1792 BC turned Babylon from a fragile town to a powerful kingdom. He was the first to recognize that power need not rely on brut force.

Diplomacy and cunningness.

He created the Old Babylonian Empire that stretched from Persian Gulf into Assyria.

Sumerian traditions were maintained.

Babylonian scientists extended the Sumerian work in astronomy and maths.

The Babylonians expanded commerce and a common cultural zone based on the growing use of writing and a shared language.

A new government strength expressed in the legal system and public buildings.

Roots of monotheism:

Hamurabi elevated the local deity Marduk to the dominant god of the Empire even if old deities were not eliminated. Thus he united diverse populations under one god.

A god that through order (as opposed to the Sumerian God of chaos) helped the predict and control the environment. Hamurabi’s legacy kept the kingdom alive for two more centuries and its influence was immense in forming kingship in the Near East.


The Hebrews

A Semitic people influenced by Babylonian civilization settled about 1600 BCE migrating from Mesopotamia.

Some moved into Egypt where they lived as a subject people. Moses, on the 13th c. led them to Palestine to a promised land.

First clear record in the 11th c. when they emerge with a self-conscious culture.

The Hebrew religion:

In Hebrew history, the passage to monotheism was limited at first as only one group believed in Yahweh.

Even if it is attributed to Moses, monotheism most probably is connected with the Levites, a tribe with unique claims in priestly authority and enjoyed higher literacy among the Hebrews.

The House of David politically united all Hebrews in Jerusalem in the 10th c.

Early leaders emphasized a strong creator God as most powerful among other divinities for prayer and loyalty.

This divinity through the prophets urged Jews to abandon the worship of other gods and receive the Torah (a holy law).

Keeping the law would ensure divine protection and guidance. Hence the Jews regarded themselves the chosen people. Until the 10th c. they worshiped gods even of the neighbors Cannaites such as god El. Even Solomon, son of David, included altars of Astar in his temple.

Prophets were messengers, both political and religious figures who helped the Hebrews survive as a people.

It was against the threat of the Assyrian god Assur that prophets professed monotheism.

Even prophet Jeremaih who taught in the 7th c, preached against foreign cults.

Already from 8th c. Hebrew monotheism contributed to Western religious thought.

i)Yehwah was not part of nature or humanlike, thus he could be conceived in abstract terms,
ii) Yehwah had appointed humans to be the rulers of nature by divine mandate,
iii) Yehwah implemented universalizing ethical rules and moral behavior as in the case of Noah and the ten commandments and,
iv) Yehwah put forth ritualistic demands such as abstaining from labor on the 7th day.
v) Yehwah had a power far different from the traditional Gods of the Middle East and Egypt. A divinity orderly and just and people knew what to expect.

For the Hebrews, religion was a system of life, not simply rituals and ceremonies.

Divine law was spelled out in the Torah and other writings from 9th to 2nd c. BCE.

Moral duty did not bind Hebrews in their relations with foreigners though.
After Solomon’s death the ten northern tribes abstained from the cultic activities in Jerusalem and they were eventually eliminated by the Assyrians, 20.000 of them captured, the famous lost ten tribes.

The southern kingdom of Judah survived as an Assyrian vassal state.

Hebrew prophets:

Amos and Hosea, before the fall to the Assyrians in 722, Isaiah and Jeremiah before Judah’s fall in 522 to Chaldeans, Ezekiel and second Isaiah who prophesized by the waters of Babylon.

Three doctrines: i) absolute monotheism, ii) Yehwah is a god of righteousness ii) Yehwah demands ethical behavior from his Hebrew people above all, not ritual and sacrifice.

The Hebrew religion:

The Hebrews saw God’s guidance on all of human history. Eventually all peoples would be led by God.

But God’s special pact was with the Hebrews and there was no attempt on converting others.

Thus, moral duty did not bind Hebrews in their relations with foreigners.

Due to this limitation the people and their faith survived but it remained a minority.

Influence on Christianity and Islam.

The Persian Empire:

In the sixth c. B.C., the Persians emerge into history under prince Cyrus, who became the king of all Persians in 549.

Cyrus took Babylon without a fight in 539. The Chaldean Empire was dissolved. The Hebrews were free to return to Palestine.

Darius ruled in 521-486. He divided the Empire into satrapies that enjoyed certain autonomy. He allowed subject peoples their local institutions while imposing a common currency.


Buddhism, Judaism and Zoroastrianism were the known religions.

Zaratustra or Zoroaster, the first really theologian in history, developing a full religious system. A universal religion.

One supreme god in the universe, Ahura-Mazda, the ‘wise lord’, who embodied light, truth and righteousness. Ahriman was the counter-deity, treacherous, malignant, leading the forces of evil. The struggle between good and evil.

It was a personal religion as opposed to public religions related to politics. However, it was made important for the Persian rule and its tolerance, since it advocated that individuals are free to chose to sin or not. Those who lived honestly would be rewarded in afterlife, the others would be punished.

Similarities to Judaism and Christianity.

Besides influence on Judaism and Christianity, it also affected Greeks encouraging them to think of religion in more universalistic and personal terms.