Foundations of Western Civilization

Creation myths, such as those of the Ancient Egyptians and Sumerians, can be said to have developed as a response to fundamental questions concerning the role of the human being in the universe, from issues concerning his origins to his destiny. At the same time, in both traditions, as well as in ancient civilizations in general, there is a prominent role conferred to the divine and the sacred. In this regard, Ancient Egypt and Sumerians’ religious beliefs and creation myths can be understood in terms of the crucial role gods play in the lives of the people.

Yet in both cultures, there is a further similarity: the interaction between the divine realm and the world realm becomes ambiguous. Hence, for the Ancient Egyptians, “recognized no hard-and-fast boundary between humans and gods.” (21) In much the same manner, for the Sumerians, “there was no fixed boundary between them and humans.” (14) When considering the creation myths of both civilizations, which employed heavy interaction between god and human, it can be said that there is an extent to which human existence becomes a part of the divine plan and life. Namely, to account for the success and the greatness of their respective civilizations, a thesis could be developed that this greatness was interpreted as a form of providence, wherein the affairs of these civilizations are subject to direct intervention from the Gods. Hence, the absence of “boundaries” means that both civilizations detected a sense of the sacred in their very origin.

This is not to suggest that there were no differences in creation myths and religion between Egypt and Sumer. For example,  in Egypt, “the pharaoh was to be obeyed as a man given power by the gods and venerated as a god who dwelt among men.” (21) Egyptian thus takes this idea of divinity to its extreme, by envisioning the Pharoah as himself a god: interaction between the human and the divine is indistinguishable at the point of the Pharaoh. The Sumerians employed creation myths, but did not envision their rulers as gods, their mythical heroes instead interacting with gods.

Accordingly, the creation myths of the Egyptians and Sumerians serve a similar function: to explain the existence of both civilizations. Since these were great civilizations, they detected an element of godly interaction in everyday life to account for their splendor. However, the Egyptians presented a radicalized version of this interaction, by giving the Pharaoh a divine status.

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