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The Book of Gods & Goddesses
A Visual Directory of Ancient and Modern Deities
The ancient Near East, encompassing the lands of Egypt, the Levant, Iraq and Iran, was the cradle of many of the world's great religions. Among the earliest civilizations to blossom there were the two riverine kingdoms of Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Egyptians relied upon the yearly flood of the Nile, while the Mesopotamians had to contend with the unpredictable Tigris and Euphrates. Forming a buffer state between Egypt and Mesopotamia were the kingdoms of Canaan and the rich trading ports of the Phoenicians. Farther to the east, on the great Iranian plains, arose a succession of mighty empires that ruled Asia from the borders of India to the Hellespont in Turkey.
The Mesopotamian gods changed considerably over time, often following the fortunes of the region itself. The Sumerians had settled in Mesopotamia by 4000 BCE and developed city-states. A thousand years later, they were writing on clay tablets, and their first myths were properly established by around 2500 BCE. Following conquest by the invading Akkadians, and then, around 2000 BCE, by the Amorites, who made Babylon their capital, the gods evolved from being nature powers to a more patriarchal pantheon in which each god had specific functions.
The Egyptians began to settle in the Nile Valley in around 3000 BCE. As rival cities grew, each favored its own god. As the fortunes of the cities changed, so did the functions and mythologies of their gods. Shifts in political power, especially between Memphis and Thebes, and extended periods of internal strife in the second millennium BCE, led to considerable changes in beliefs about the gods. Unlike the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians distinguished between good and evil gods. They also developed a notion of an immortal soul that survived in an afterlife. Not only did the dead become involved in divine struggles between good and evil but they would also be judged according to their behavior.
The lands of Canaan, which lay roughly where Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan are today, were a useful defensive frontier for the Egyptians. Between 1550 and 1070 BCE the Canaanites were under Egyptian control. Canaanites is a broad term, as it encompasses the coastal Phoenicians farther north in modern Lebanon. They were generally farmers who occupied the land crossed by the important trade route between Egypt and Mesopotamia, which also served as a highway for armies and shepherds. The Canaanite gods reflect the needs of a farming culture: fertility, rain and growth were all important.
The lands to the east of Mesopotamia, covering modern-day Iran and Afghanistan, were the seat of the mighty Persian empire, whose prophet, Zarathustra (c. 1200 BCE) taught the worship of the God of Light, Ahura Mazda ...The Book of Gods & Goddesses
A Visual Directory of Ancient and Modern Deities. Copyright © by Eric Chaline. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.