Sun worship goes back to the first civilization known to man, the Sumerians. Sumer consisted of about a dozen independent city-states that had no political unity. The cities fought constantly among themselves, each trying to control the others. The Sumerians believed that their cities belonged to their gods. For this reason the temple was not only a place of worship but also their center of government, trade, and sometimes education.
The Sumerians came from the east perhaps as early as 3,000 B.C, to the swamps at the head of the Persian Gulf. As they were establishing themselves in this area they drained the swamps, developed cuneiform, the earliest form of writing, and invented the wheel. The Sumerians eventually divided themselves into little self-governed city-states.
Each Sumerian State was believed to be under the rule of a local god or goddess, and the priesthood oversaw the Sumerian's complex religion. High Priests represented the gods on earth, one of their jobs being to discern the divine will. The priests ruled from their ziggurats which were tall temples of Sun baked brick with outside staircases leading to a shrine on top.
In their primitive culture every divinity (god) is imagined as a celestial being. Historians believe this is because in their religious traditions the gods and goddesses radiated a bright light. Within their culture there existed two triads of gods, the first considered great gods were named: An, En-lil, and En-ki. The second triad, the triad of Planetary gods included the Sun god named Utu. Utu was not considered to be a great god. The other two gods of the Planetary triad were named Nanna - Suen (the moon) and Inanna (Venus).
The Sumerians believed that the gods were responsible for cosmic order, (Which is the order or balancing of the stars and planets). This order was interpreted to mean that man must obey their commands. However men were not considered as the god's slaves, but merely servants to the gods. The animal sacrifices that were made to the gods were ones of homage and offering.
The Sumerians believed their gods influenced everything they did. They assigned human characteristics to their gods such as love, war, mercy, foolishness, and other human characteristics.
Even the Sumerians great festivals celebrating the New Year or the construction of a new temple, had a cosmological structure. This is shown in their temples and cities, for it is believed that the plans or models for these structures pre-existed in the cosmos observed in the ancient sky.
Sumerian culture and religion is based on the natural order of the cosmos with the Sun god's role a minor one. This however is only the beginning of Sun worship.
We know very little about the early Semitic religions, but it seems that the Semites that invaded Mesopotamia completely abandoned their religion in favor of the Sumerian religion. Sumerian religion was polytheistic; that is, the Sumerians believed in and worshipped many gods. These gods were incredibly powerful and anthropomorphic; that is, they resembled humans. Many of these gods controlled natural forces and were associated with astronomical bodies, such as the Sun. The gods were creator gods; as a group, they had created the world and the people in it. Like humans, they suffered all the ravages of human emotional and spiritual frailties: love, , hatred, anger, and regret. Among the god's biggest regrets was the creation of human life; the Sumerians believed that these gods regretted the creation of human life and sent a flood to destroy their faulty creation, but one man survived by building a boat. While the story of the destruction of the earth in a great flood is nearly universal in mythology and religion, we can't be sure if the Semites had a similar story or took it over from the Sumerians. This is, of course, a question of contemporary significance: according to Genesis, the originator of the Hebrew race, the patriarch Abraham, originally came from the city of Ur.
Although the gods were unpredictable, the Sumerians sought out ways to discover what the gods held in store for them. Like all human cultures, the Sumerians were struck by the wondrous regularity of the movement of the heavens and speculated that this movement might contain some secret to the intentions of the gods. So the Sumerians invented astrology, and astrology produced the most sophisticated astronomical knowledge ever seen to that date, and astrology produced even more sophisticated mathematics. They also examined the inner organs of sacrificed animals for secrets to the god's intentions or to the future. These activities produced a steady increase in the number of priests and scribes, which further accelerated learning and writing.
Sumerian religion was oriented squarely in this world. The gods did not occupy some world existentially different from this one, and no rewards or punishments accrued to human beings after death. Human beings simply became "wisps within a house of dust" these sad ghosts would fade into nothing within a century or so.
©Copyright 1998 Elizabeth
Beckett, Holly Bernitt, and Vishwa Chandra.