When we think about the afterlife today it is easy to categorize the locations after death: Heaven and Hell. As Christians, we have guidelines in which to receive eternal life and we follow the life as Jesus Christ, and according to the Bible, through Him we are saved. Pretty simple to concept, but in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and India, the afterlife is not so easy to grasp. Polytheism, pharaohs, and Buddha will all be prevalent in this exploration of the afterlife in ancient civilizations.
Mesopotamians also called Sumerians believed that the afterlife was a bleak and dismal existence. It was commonly called the House of Darkness and entitled an eternity in the ground. They were polytheistic and the Gods in which they believed in were said to be just like us. In fact, we were copies of divine models, made in the image of the Gods. They were petty and violent. If the Mesopotamians did not worship correctly the Gods would become angry and punished the people. The punishment often took form of natural catastrophes such as droughts or floods (Adler, 11-12). “To avert punishment, the gods had to be appeased with frequent, costly rituals and ceremonies, which were the responsibly of a hereditary priesthood” (Adler, 17). Worshipping of the Gods meant building huge temples called Ziggurats in their name (Adler, 11). The Tower of Babel in Babylon is the temple which gained the most fame through the Bible(Adler , 11). It was built long after the Sumerian epoch (Adler, 11). The certainty of afterlife was not known, but the best approach was to appease the Gods by making offerings and hope for the best in the afterlife (Adler, 12).
The Assyrian Empire could certainly be compared to the Gods in Mesopotamia. The Assyrians were very cruel and thought that they should be worshipped like divine leaders. Tiglath- Pilesar III helped come up with the five pillars of the empire. One pillar was the religious ideology that the Gods wanted territory and war was the duty of all people. Another pillar was to use horror and terror to control people.
Mesopotamian literature was often pessimistic and doubtful of the Gods. In The Epic of Gilgamesh the society is in search of a religious basis for human action, but the main focus of the story is the negligence of eternal life and the defeat of the hero in search of immortality. Lastly, the Sumerians could not get a grasp on nature. With their dependence upon irrigation from the Tigris and Euphrates that constantly faced flash floods and the Euphrates changed course rapidly causing salty soil, not to mention the droughts. There animosity towards the Gods was the basis of their cruelty. Through the Enuma Elish, the Mesopotamian creation account, we see that humans are slaves to the Gods, in every regard.
Just like the Sumerians, the Egyptians were polytheistic, but they differed in many areas. Egyptians had pharaohs that ruled the kingdom of Egypt. These pharaohs were Egypt’s God-Kings (Adler, 24). The...