Historians specialized in the history of the Ancient Mideast used to study each region of Natural Syria as a culturally and politically independent entity; this made their studies come under the names of the regions studied.
Unfortunately, such historians were either unable, or deliberately ignored, to see the cultural - apart from the historical - unity of Natural Syria. This unity always attached the Mesopotamian basin to the Mediterranean, and the heights of the Assyrian Mountains to the Arabian Desert Arc. We, therefore, consider Natural Syria as "one understandable historical unity" like historians Toynbee and Oswald Spengler. It is a unity of the same ethnic background and a unity in the philosophy of life: historically, it is impossible to understand one part of this unity without understanding the integration of all parts in the whole.
Most specialists in the Mideastern History see that successive waves of immigrants from the Arabian Peninsula and the Syrian steppe have for 3000 years traveled northwards to settle in the various regions of Natural Syria between the Heights of Mesopotamia in the east and the Mediterranean in the west and between the upper Mesopotamian mountains in the north and the Red Sea in the south. In each time, the following wave was certainly influenced by the cultural legacy of the former, and usually melted with it in one cultural melting-pot. On this basis, cultural, intellectual and economic interaction took its natural course. Into this course, new cultural currents always flowed to spread their rays of knowledge and consciousness over the Western Mediterranean Basin and the neighboring regions including Asia Minor and parts of the Atlantic. The similar characteristics of these waves justify the hypothesis saying that they came forth from one ancient common homeland to settle in Syria in the historical times.
On the linguistic level, the dialects of these waves of immigrants must have branched from one common mother tongue; otherwise, it would be impossible to understand or believe the common geographical homeland or the one cultural, historical origin, apart from the similar, sometimes identical, concepts in social and mythological beliefs. In fact, the resemblance among the Babylonian, Assyrian, Amorite, Canaanite, Aramaean and Arabic tongues cannot be ascribed to casual acquisitions or borrowings that might have been obtained in the passage of time; such similarities can be explained only in the light of one hypothesis, i.e. having one common origin. This belief induces to considering those people, in their different waves, as originally composing one large cultural society. The common cultural traits among them must, therefore, have been the result of both originality and historical interaction.
On the geographical level, Syria is obviously a natural distinctive homeland, with natural distinctive borders. It is a rectangle-like region of cultivable land along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, surrounded by high mountains in the north and east, a huge desert in the south and a sea in the west. It is thus a naturally independent coherent entity, despite the interior natural contrasts that perhaps facilitated political partition during certain historical phases, but could not even halt the unification of linguistic, mythological or social conceptions; these commonly shared conceptions paved the way towards further cultural interaction in one intellectual and cognitive melting-pot. Thus, the essence of the geographical unity of Syria made the politically divided parts interdependent on one another: every movement or thought in one part therefore had its influence on the other parts.
Moreover, this geographical unity is mutually reinforced by an originally common social life that distinguishes the people of Ancient Syria from the others in terms of thinking, ways of expression and the general mental trends. It is also invigorated by the historical unity that accompanied, and was attached to, its social unity in its incessant development and cultivation.
I believe is that the name 'Syria' derives from Ashur that reached its zenith of glory between 1200 and 616 B.C. It is well known that the civilization of the Assyrian Emperor had the utmost political, economic and cultural influence on the Mid-East in that era. The Assyrians in fact controlled the whole of Syria. Since then, its name became Assur or Athur, The Greek name of Assyria was well known in the Ancient World, particularly in Greece that had strong links for learning and trade.
In the year 523 B.C., the Persian Emperor, Dara the First, had controlled Assyria and other parts of Egypt and India. He divided the Persian Empire into twenty states, one of which was Syria that extended between Harran in the north and Sinai in the south; he called it Athoura Arabaya. At about this time, the well-known Greek historian, Herodotus, used to move in various parts of the ancient civilized world writing their history; the name of Syria appeared in his writings.
When the Macedonian Alexander the Great destroyed the power of the Persian Emperor, Dara the Third, in the battle of Isos, 323 B.C., and Syria was thus occupied by the Greeks, the land extending between Taurus in the north and Sinai in the south, and between the Mediterranean in the west and the Mesopotamian Basin in the east, was also called Syria. In the period of the Roman occupation, 56 B.C., the 'Roman' state of Syria extended between the Euphrates and Egypt; it remained like this until the end of the Ottoman occupation of Syria in 1918.
Consequently, we observe that the name of Syria appeared in the First half of the first millennium B.C. Before this date, the region had no other name, whether political, or geographical. It only consisted of city states and kingdoms inhabited by various peoples of the region.
Awareness of the "Master", the "Most High" in Natural Syria
In the Stone Age, Man was the captive of his material surrounding, which he could not comprehend or understand. Therefore, he lived as influenced by, rather than influencing, the natural phenomena he faced. In fact, he was helpless and even suffered from a feeling of anxiety and insecurity. In other words, man was overcome by the forces of nature. But the human nature contains the seeds of consciousness that open up at various degrees and within certain limits in accordance with the environment and time. The attempts of explaining and accounting for the natural phenomena must be as old as the appearance of Man on the earth. However, the beginning of Man's consciousness seems to be connected with his sense of the questions: why? And how?
Comparatively, the ancient man of Syria (the environment) seems to have begun very early (time) to contemplate (the opening up of the seeds of consciousness) the universe surrounding him and the natural phenomena acting upon this environment. The first feeling seems to have developed into recognition that man is connected with the universe and forms part of it. He felt that Existence was a language, but vague and intricate, quite difficult to discern or comprehend. The great azure embracing the universe in vastness and height from the endless horizon behind which the sun rises and the moon glistens, and through which the stars sparkle, made him stand in awe of this (universe). The casual events that troubled the normal order of the environment like lightning, thunderstorms and thunderbolts to the earthly sudden occurrences like floods and earthquakes, had an impact on his feeling, very much like that of the bell ringing on the slumbered. This contemplation mixed with awe and raised in the man of Ancient Syria the first philosophical questions: Who created this universe? Who organized it? Who motivates the forces of nature? Are such forces part of Nature or outside it?
The ancient Syrian man's thought of contemplation did not pivot on obstacles, but was connected with the reality of his life: he tried to decipher the vague phenomena challenging his perceptions: he attempted to encompass the movements of nature for the explication of existence and uncovering the secrets concealed in it; he mused over the active forces and the way and extent of influence these forces exercised on life and the universe.
The incessant attempts of man to interpret the principles of nature and classify them, and to find the connection between the stimuli and the natural phenomena represented by the external world movements occupied the mind of the Syrian man since he awoke from his ignorance and started to climb the ladder of consciousness (See Frankfurt, 1946). He always hoped to be able to control Nature or its phenomena to avoid its dangers. This attitude was motivated by the need for security and protection.
He always desired to get informed of the universal order, of the cause of natural movements and the vague purpose of existence which would enable him, he hoped, to account for the various phenomena and relate them to logical causations.
Exhausted by his attempts to explicate the natural phenomena and the occurrences of the universe and wearied by his queries about the causations, this ancient man felt anxious, weak, and helpless. His conscious mental power did not develop adequately to enable him to interpret those natural phenomena and their turnovers. He stood helpless against the forces of Nature; he felt the authority over natural movements was inaccessible to him.
Though the ancient man instinctively recognized the impossibility of the occurrence of something without a reason, he did not have the sufficient mental capabilities to understand the vindications and causations of events. In the early stages of his consciousness, man did not have the necessary knowledge or the right mental expertise that would qualify him to understand the Laws of Nature. Consequently, he did not perceive ostensible reasons of the happenings he saw and by which he was influenced; this was why he ascribed such events and phenomena to hidden, colossal powers. He thus believed in powers beyond the visible and the tangible world. Above all, he presupposed the existence of conscious perception in this Super Power. To him, every action was done by an actor, and this absolute super power had a reason for everything that happened in the whole universe.
Interestingly enough, the ancient man of Syria recognized quite clearly in the history of civilization that this supernatural power was not of the same essence or constitution of the material Nature. It is an active, influential, power, different in behavior and procedures from any material, tangible, power.
The forces of Nature do not have the freedom of choice in acting, whereas the supernatural powers are sensible, self-possessed, forces that act according to their will and choice.
As the ancient man of Syria believed or recognized that the various natural phenomena such as thunder, lightning, floods, rain, etc., had a living and lively superpower behind them, he began to define and classify the natural agents that were of obvious influence on his existence; he gave these agents titles and attributes that conformed with his understanding of the agents and his relationship with them. In other words, he personified these agents by giving them appropriate epithets.
It is obvious that it was man's relationship with Nature and its forces that dictated the epithets given to natural agents and designated the degree of their significance. Such epithets usually expressed the appearances most similar to man's acts: this was a kind of classification of the principles observed by man and according to which Nature worked. I believe that our understanding of the epithets given to natural principles helps us identify the actual relationship between the daily activities of man, on the one hand, and his mental exercises and divine beliefs, on the other.
When the ancient man of Syria started to settle in an agricultural society and depend in his new type of life on the availability of water and irrigation, he became more conscious of the interrelationship between the continuity of life and the natural phenomena surrounding him. He felt the need for controlling his environment more and more. This led him to an understanding of the causal relationship between the sun, for instance, and the living beings on both the positive and negative levels. Thus the Sun determined the seasons of cultivation, sowing seeds, and mowing. This induced him to believe that the Sun was a (High), (Heavenly) being; he therefore, added to the inscribed name of the Sun the sign of a star as a symbol of one hidden power behind the material appearance, with unlimited influence. In addition to his being a material entity, the Sun was a (High), (Supreme) power. But to the ancient man, the Sun as a shining substance was not different from being a (High), (Heavenly) power.
The ancient man also recognized the causal relationship between thunder and raining clouds sending down water to fertilize the land and form the springs and rivers. This rain might be too heavy and thus cause floods and destroy the crops or even eradicate the dams. This power that blared down on the earth was called (Hadad). It was at times a generous, beautiful power showering down rain that carried fertility and resurrected life for all beings, and a damaging, destructive power at other times. Hammurabi, in his vocations against whoever violated his laws, expressed the two sides of (Hadad) by saying:
May Hadad the master of abundance,
The irrigator of heaven and earth, my helper,
Deprive him of the rains from heaven,
(And) the floodwaters from the springs!
May he bring his land to destruction
Through want and hunger; may he
thunder furiously over the city and
turn his land into the desolation of a flood!
This same man also recognized the causal relationship between the Sun and thunder (Hadad ), between the rain and the water springs on the one hand and the land fertility, the green meadows and the flowering of plants, on the other. In return, he perceived the relationship between the Sun and dryness, aridity and perishment as represented by (Mot) (Death).
Moreover, the ancient man of Syria had reflected the acts of Nature on his life ever since he became aware of the universe around him. To him, the favorable acts of Nature were a moderate climate and productive seasons; the mischievous ones were waste, floods, earthquakes, and dryness. The former stood for good, the latter for evil. He appointed the residence of the former in 'Al-'ali' (the High), i.e. in Heaven, and of the latter in the Underworld, i.e. Hell.
The analysis of the epithets of some supreme powers reflects the extent of the influence of certain heavenly bodies like the sun and the moon and the natural phenomena like thunder, rain, the river and the sea, on the man of ancient Syria. This man did not see Nature as a dispirited, vacuous entity, but rather as full of life. This was why he personified such objects or entities in living forms, giving each a well- defined character, with its actions and reactions and with a self- possessed, private will. So, he saw in every natural phenomenon a character and a (power), to which he responded with his own psychological reactions: he made himself nearer to it and his behavior compatible with it; he classified its movements and organized his relations with those movements, giving each of those objects the epithet that suited his perception of it.
He perceived the functions of the invisible powers, which excited in him a feeling of solemnity and reverence, as part of the Universe Management; each power had his/her own specialty and well-defined norms of behavior. Hence, he believed in the existence of a huge, collective organization of all high powers on the Earth and in the Universe. Through the texts that reached us from the ancient Syrian civilizations, we know that man then talked of relations among the natural phenomena as if they were social relations, and of a system they followed in performing their functions - very much like present day management of states.
It is observable that bestowing epithets on the forces of Nature was a sort of figurative personification for the purpose of designating their aspects, or a form of expression of man's notion of the Laws of Nature. The star system, which he added to the natural force or phenomenon, denoted the order that took care of the natural material existence, preserved its properties, and conducted its activities. It also indicated the principle or law hiding behind the appearance and the authority lying behind the matter. It symbolized the power of action in the natural phenomena. The classification of the invisible forces and exercises lying behind appearances was usually made after a repeated series of observation, in harmony with the same principle the scientific mind would follow in classifying the laws of Nature and identifying their relations.
The man of ancient Syria believed in the potency and efficiency of the hidden forces latent in the natural phenomena. He thought that Nature was run, and its potency directed, by them, and that the fate of the Earth was controlled by such forces and subjected to their judgements. He, therefore, gave them his traits and morality; but he still distinguished these forces from those forces resting in Heaven; however, he embodied them in human, feminine and masculine, forms, and sometimes in animal or both human and animal forms. He gave them special symbols which he placed in his temples, and considered those temples sacred homes for the natural forces to rest in during their symbolic presence on the Earth.
Naturally, heaven was on top of the forces lying behind the natural phenomena; it was, therefore, the loftiest and most influential among them. But, "What was heaven?" Before this question tackled his brain, the Mideastern ancient man depended wholly on the universal forces in accounting for the happenings in his life. In accounting for the natural phenomena, he presumed the existence of a vague world beyond the corporeal, tangible one. To his incorporeal world, his brain resorted in explicating every phenomenon he could not account for through his sensual experimentation. He usually relied on this unearthly world that was meager and unsettled as much as on his logical and scientific perception of the natural phenomena.
In fact, the relation between this ancient man of Syria and the incorporeal world developed into a daily, close, and friendly sort of relation, which was a reflection of the relationship between the various incidents and the laws of Nature. If the relationship between these laws and the apparent happenings in Nature was inevitable, a separation of the ancient man's brain from his incorporeal world-related feelings was impossible at a time when this absolute, incorporeal world was his only reference for the explanation of natural laws and motions.
With this question about Heaven in his mind, the ancient man of Syria mixed with the incorporeal world through his love to discover the unknown and to uncover the secrets of the huge universe embraced by Heaven. He was particularly attracted by the unsurpassable, great order organizing the work and movement of all forces in an exceptionally balanced system of phenomena (e.g. the movements of the stars and the recurrence of seasons). This order seemed to him to be the basis of biological life.
In addition to the feelings of reverence, solemnity and awe inspired by Heaven, the ancient man of Syria uncovered the authority of Heaven over the Earth and the very place he lived in. This made his concept of the gigantic power that administers the human and natural affairs of the Universe associate with the Highest and Heaven. He consequently got more and more absorbed in reading or deciphering the cosmic events logically and comprehensively to deduce inclusive laws, sometimes through comparisons, and via the recurrence of incidents at other times.
At this stage of his consciousness, he perceived himself as a temporal and historical being. Man's consciousness of himself was accompanied with his awareness of the Universe and the titanic forces acting on it. With the extension of the mental range through the variation of experiences, the growth of consciousness, the recognition of intangible codes and relating effects to causes, the ancient man of Syria stepped up to a vision-like sort of contemplation: he more comprehensively assimilated the Universe and adopted one reason for the Universe being what it is He concluded that Existence as such was independent to Man and his achievements, and that in Heaven resided a power independent to the will of Man; it was this Power that made this Universe and managed it, and, above all, created Man.
Everybody is influenced by it and nobody could change its course or modify its order. In this Power, the ancient man of Syria presupposed the existence of absolute authority, the authority of creating and that of destroying (i.e. life and death).
He also presumed that this power cared for his affairs. In attempting to come closer to this Power, lying beyond the Universe organization, he moved from the tangible to the metaphysical, meeting thereby the Absolute represented by the loftiest image of reverence, awe, greatness and potency.
It is obvious that associating the idea of this power with 'Height' and Heaven in the ancient man's mind connotes a sensitive relationship between man and the distant, cosmic existence. This relationship expresses itself through the supreme, lofty feelings ever attracted towards the cosmic absoluteness. This denotation still prevails in most cultures of the world: the residence of God is high in Heaven; even the word heaven is equivalent to that of God in the majority of world languages. In Arabic, the term 'Sama' (i.e. Heaven) derives from the verb 'Sama' which means (rose and went up). In their vocations to God, all people usually raise their hands towards Heaven Prayers in most, if not all, religions are directed to "the Father in Heaven". An African prayer says: "Where the sky is, God is there, too".
This Power, the Absolute Authority, inspired by Heaven, was called by the Sumerians in lower Mesopotamia An' (i.e., the Master - Heaven). The Akkadians gave it the epithet of High - (Al'ali), before the historic times. The Babylonians described it by the term (Marduk), i.e. The Great Mastery and so did the Assyrians in their dialect: Assure - The Mastery. However, what is interesting is that the Sumerians initially considered 'Heaven' both as an independent entity and a power so their term, An, denoted both Master and Heaven at the same time. With the passage of time, the 'entity' separated from the power and Heaven became only the residence of the Power, An. On the other hand, the Akkadians, from the very beginning of their theological thinking, considered heaven the Home of (Al-'ali) - The High.
Awareness of 'God' in the mind of the Ancient Man of Natural Syria