Ann Marie Dlott & Colleagues,
Shrewsbury Public Schools, MA
In Mesopotamia, each town and city was
believed to be protected by its own, unique deity or god. The
temple, as the center of worship, was also the center of every
Around the year 2000 B.C., temple towers
began to be built to link heaven and earth. The towers, called
ziggurats, were very large, pyramid-shaped structures on top
of which the temple was built. The ziggurats were built of mud
bricks with 3 to 7 terraced levels.
The Mesopotamians believed that these pyramid
temples connected heaven and earth. In fact, the ziggurat at
Babylon was known as Etemenankia or "House of the Platform
between Heaven & Earth". The ziggurats were often decorated
with pillars and other ornamentation.
At first, religious events were held at the temple. Later, as
a priesthood developed, the temple became the center of both
religion and learning for the entire community.
GODS AND GODDESSES
The people of Mesopotamia had very many
gods, called dingir in Sumerian. Their gods and goddesses looked
and acted just like people. They had feasts, marriages, children,
and wars. They could be jealous, angry, joyful, or kind. The
gods and goddesses had supernatural powers.
Every single city had its own patron god
or goddess who owned everything and everyone in the city. Everyone
was expected to sing hymns, say prayers, make sacrifices and
bring offerings to the local temple (ziggurat) for the gods.
The people trusted the priests and the priestesses in the temples
to tell them what the gods or goddesses wanted, and they dutifully
carried out their wishes. They believed that the gods could be
annoyed at what you did and punish you, or they could be pleased
and reward you.This made the leaders in the temples almost as
powerful as the kings.
In Mesopotamia the people looked to religion
to answer their questions about life and death, good and evil,
and the forces of nature. The dingir followed themes, or divine
laws, that governed the universe. The Sumerians believed in divine
order, that is, everything that occurs is preplanned by the gods.
There were four all-powerful gods that
created and controlled the universe. An was the god of heaven,
Enlil was the air-god, Enki was the water-god, and Ninhursag
was the mother earth-goddess. Each of these gods created lesser
gods who were also important in Mesopotamia. Utu, the sun-god,
lit the world with rays shooting from his shoulders. He moved
across the sky in a chariot. Nanna was the moon-god who used
a boat to travel by night.