Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Comparison of ancient Mesopotamian belief about the afterlife with those the ancient Egyptians.

            “The  land  between  the  rivers”, which  is  known  as  Mesopotamia  lies  in  between  Tigris  and  Euphrates  rivers  around  5000  B.C.E.  The  basis  of  Mesopotamia  is  on  the  Fertile  Crescent  where  now  recognized  as  the  Iraq . And  the  Egypt  was  built  in  the  fertile  area  on  both  sides  of  Nile  River.  As  the  both  of  the  civilizations  based  on  a  river  valley,  there  are  many  similarities  and  differences  between  Mesopotamians  and  Egyptians.   Some  of  the  similarities  both  civilizations  had  were  belief  in religion, unit  of  time  and  measurement . Both  believed  in  God. There  are  many differences  in  Mesopotamians  and  Egyptians  more  than  similarities.  Among  them, the  social  structure,  the government, architecture  and  engineering  skills,  geography,  degrees  of  exposure  to  outside  invasions  and  beliefs.  Among  the  differences  they  had,  the  belief  about  the  afterlife  plays  a  vital  part  because  they had  completely  different  attitude  about  the  afterlife.

            First, focusing on land between Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Mesopotamians were pessimistic people because they believed that the God will punish them if they don’t obey and respect to the God. Mesopotamians were influenced by the God as well as Egyptians, but Mesopotamians thought that afterlife would be a bleak, dismal existence in the lower dark world. They had felt that they had nothing to look forward to in their after lives. Even there had been a popular saying among Mesopotamians as “life is hard and then you die”. It shows that they don’t have any hope for afterlife. Written evidence can be provided about the afterlife from the Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2000 BCE): After death, the human person goes to the netherworld as an etemmu (ghost or shade). In this,  The “shade” is a ghostly double of the human person, and the netherworld is a gloomy subterranean realm. It shows that they have some tiny image about afterlife as a shade.

The epic of Gilgamesh provides many details about the Mesopotamian civilization. Once, Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s best friend has stated, "'There is a house whose people sit in darkness; dust is their food and clay their meat. They are
clothed like birds with wings for covering, they see no light, they sit in darkness. . . .I saw kings of the earth, their crowns put away for ever. . . .now like servants...'" (92).
This conveys that Enkidu’s grim view of the afterlife. Moreover, Gilgamesh had said that only thing he couldn’t defeat was the dead.” Gilgamesh,whither rovest thou? The life thou pursuest thou shalt not find, When the Gods created mankind, Death for mankind they set aside……..   Unlike Egyptians, Mesopotamians concerned themselves more with literary records of their spiritual beliefs. And also Mesopotamians had a concept of hell, while Egyptians only had seen the gloomy side afterlife.
Second, looking at ancient Egyptians’ attitudes towards the afterlife, we can find out that they had many ideas about the afterlife. They were also very obedient and respectful to the God like Mesopotamians. Every Egyptian believed in life after death. They thought that life was more abnormal than the death, and they knew that only human species are only aware of that the physical life must end. Egyptians practised the art of body preservation which is also known as the mummification. The reproductive cycle made them believe about the life after death.
A lot of tombs were created to continue Egyptians’ present life after death also. They build pyramids to keep mummies with the all equipments they need to spend a better life after death. It shows the great creativity of Egyptians. Even today engineers can’t find how they made pyramids which are the most powerful structure. Getting into the afterlife required a lot of work. The gods were demanding of good and righteous
behavior. Therefore, in every tomb was placed the Book of the Dead. This was a collection of spells and prayers that supposedly helped the dead through the many dangers on the way to the afterlife. It also contained instructions for proper conduct before the gods in the afterlife.
Egyptians used body preservation art expecting to continue their present life with happiness without obstacles. Therefore, dead bodies were turned into mummies. There were many religious beliefs about the after death among ancient Egyptians. They had said “ If you are an Egyptian, you don’t have just one body and soul”. And also they believed that to be immortal the memory and name also should be eternal. Furthermore, they believed that the visible body which is known as the “khat” needed to be mummified for the rebirth.

They had many words regarding life after death. The spiritual partner of the body is called as “sahu”. The shadow is called as “khaibit”. Moreover, the heart ab  was the seat of intelligence while soul is called as “Ba”. The animated sprit by the emotions, imbue, represented by the head of the deceased on the body of a bird. Furthermore, it is said that a higher spiritual aspect, Akh, is the divine spirit in each one of us represented by three sacred ibis which separated from the body after death and dwelled among the stars.
One of the most famous concepts in Egypt ancient belief is the “ka”, or the double of the man. It is similar to a ghost. It is the image if the person, how they visualize a human being after death. They never guaranteed the eternity or immortality because they had to follow the Maat which is called as the natural order. Maat cannot be changed as it is up to the  God. And also they believed when a pharaoh died, he became a Osiris who is known as the God of the death. After death, Ka had to report to the Osiris for the final judgement whether the death person should be given an eternal reward or a punishment. Most anticipated reward, and since the ka could not exist without the body, after death, the people worked hard to preserve the dead body. The eternity had seen as
"an endless procession by the ka of the deceased through the heavens and the gods' abodes there. In
the company of friends and family, watched over by the protective and benevolent gods . . .There was
no need to work and no suffering. Such was heaven." (Adler 27-28).

When comparing and contrasting the ancient Mesopotamian belief about the afterlife with those the ancient Egyptians, we can say that Mesopotamians didn’t have a good idea about after death. It’s because of the sudden floods of Tigris and Euphrates.  Those uncertain floods damage farming and people. Therefore, they didn’t have a certainty about their lives, but the Egyptians didn’t have the sudden floods because the Nile River overflowed only in predictable time period of the year. Therefore, they can ready for floods to minimize the destruction. Due to many reasons, Mesopotamians and Egyptians had adopted different attitudes about the death and life after death.

·         The text book of “Civilization past and present”
·         Life after death: A History of the Afterlife in Western religion by Segal, Alan F.

1 comment:

  1. Apologizing for the way I have written the references.