Cylinder Seal Impression of Sumerian God Enki (water spouting out of shoulders)
Looking at late 19th, 20th and early 21st century Western and Far Eastern cultures, one might think religion, worship, and morality have nothing to do with the mainstream of civilization—which is in both hemispheres transforming into increasingly arbitrary legal systems constraining their people into new forms of serfdom. On the other hand, Middle Eastern fratricidal religious warfare is once again spreading havoc, destabilizing both the West and East. Technology is geometrically increasing the pace and stakes.
When civilizations’ gods are trashed, new gods will rise—or, perhaps, the old ones with new faces.
We see all these political schemes leading toward universal enslavement within huge, atheistic, unresponsive, bureaucratic and dictatorial governments—enabled by technology to strangle freedom.
George Orwell’s book 1984 has proven prophetic. We are already there.
But, in truth, we don’t really know what’s coming next. And mankind never has.
6,000 years ago, mankind was unaware that the prior 14,000 year trend of increasingly well-watered global warming—which had extricated us from the last Ice Age and its hand-to-mouth-subsistence over the prior 100,000 years—had now topped out and begun to cool, precipitating a drought in the northern hemisphere. People groups were moving as the technology of irrigated farming and metallurgy emerged.
- The fertile savannah of northern Africa relapsed into the Sahara desert and its displaced hordes moved south into stasis or east to the Nile basin where conditions were ripe for population growth.
- The lush Eurasian Steppes began to cool and dry, forcing the horse hunters to mount those horses and go west to invade Old Europe, now drought weakened but not mobile or a match for riders.
- Horse hunters in the central Steppes between the Urals and Caucasus headed east (watch map) into Mongolia and China, and south past the Caspian Sea into Anatolia, Iran, Mesopotamia and India.
- The weather and world of 6,000 year ago was on a drier, cooler trajectory there, and elsewhere.
Who really knows what the gods were before that weather change, deep in prehistory 6,000 years ago? But, if they really were what we would call gods, then they were immortal, impervious to weather, with an agenda. We see evidence predating that 5.9 Kya event by 4,000 years, where hunter-gatherers devoted a huge and revolutionary effort toward constructing and maintaining the massive temple complex at Gobekli Tepe over a 2,000 year period from 12,000 to 10,000 years ago. That, alone, testifies that mankind long ago realized they were not independent of Something Big and Other—worship was afoot when the Persian Gulf was a small estuary at the southeast end of a now-submerged 900-mile-long river valley.
We should not look cynically at those people 12,000 years ago. Those were the people who took mankind out of hand-to-mouth subsistence and into the full-stomach Neolithic Revolution. Virtually all of us in 2018 would quickly starve to death if faced with the conditions those people started with. There was a reason they worshipped something worthy of such a herculean effort, and paid tribute to whatever it was.
The nature of the worshipped deities of the Neolithic Middle East began to emerge with the Ubaid around 6,000 years ago and spread west into the Jazira, and ultimately into the Hellenic and Latin cultures: the same gods with different names but essentially unchanged. On the other end of the Fertile Crescent, Egypt put a radically different face on their worship until repeatedly conquered from Mesopotamia and Europe.
But, I’m researching a novel set 5,800 years ago in Central Asia—still 800 years prehistoric. What do I know about the gods of that time? I have some ideas about those of the Ubaid, because theirs evolved into those of the historic Sumerian civilization, of which there are records. However, the gods of those Proto-Indo-European-speaking horsemen are a complete mystery—as Churchill would say, wrapped in an enigma.
Concepts of the PIE pantheon did not crystallize in the later historic period, because inferences can only be made through linguistic suppositions from word roots in later developed Indo-European speaking cultures, far afield of the Steppes. Nonetheless, I must make a calculated guess that, since many prominent gods of the Sumerian pantheon are recognizable in later Indo-European speaking Greek and Roman pantheons, their PIE forbears of the Steppes didn’t contribute much new to their pantheons.
Moreover, today’s three monotheistic religions all evolved from a Mesopotamian expatriate from Ur named Abraham.
That’s where I’m at on researching the religious side of my characters in the developing book.
Thanks for visiting,
R. E. J. Burke