The explication of a certain social concept - Divinity - requires an investigation into the motives of its origin and development; the degree of its circulation among peoples and the extent of assimilating it by the human mind should be explored. To do this would demand it return to the first moments when the reasons for its appearance arose. However, the task of uncovering the concept of divinity in those days is not an easy one, simply because the early beginnings of this concept are pre-historical. At the start of our recorded history, 3500 BC, we find a mature and complex theological doctrine in Syria. Remarkably, those beliefs and the concept of Divinity were so developed in the 3rd millennium BC that their basics and teachings, rites, rituals and even hymns remained unaltered until the coming of Islam.
The ancient man of Natural Syria had lived on his land since the oldest times: he thus knew (the time of beginning), explicated the universe and connected his present of the fourth millennium B.C. with his mythological past. His first outlook at the universe, his stories interpreting his world and the origin of existence in addition to the first happenings that accompanied the stage of genesis had all formulated the first origins in his mythological thought. His mythological stories carried over to us the memory of the time of genesis, of a lost paradise, where man does not get old or sick. It carried, above all, the idea of the universe renewal and re-creating it through the rituals. Other stories related the intervention of (high forces) (lords) in favour of man on the earth, organizing his life and training him in agriculture, irrigation, architecture and other arts.
Especially in the valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates, along the Orontes and Barada rivers, in Mari, Ebla and Damascus and on the Syrian coast, from Gaza in the south to Ugarit in the north through Tyre, Sidon and Gib'el as on the land of Palestine in Jericho, Gezer and Urshalim (Jerusalem), the ancient man of Natural Syria left a rich, efficient mythological thought that had a great influence on the history of both the human culture and religious thought.
In this context, the term (mythological thought) does not mean fables or superstitious stories as understood by the ancient Greeks; it rather denotes the new definition of (mythology), i.e. the stories and happenings considered by the ancient people of Natural Syria as (true) or even (sacred); the heroes of such stories were (high forces), the time of which was that of the beginning, the time satiated with effective and creative forces.
The mythological ideas are then sacred stories and happenings that took place at the time of beginning, relating the acts of high or supernatural powers. Such ideas tell only of what actually happened, and explicate what was being and existent; this is why they are true stories from the viewpoint of the ancients who formulated those stories and sanctified them. In other words, mythology is the history of the acts of (high beings) and is considered both true and sacred. A mythology is not in history or part of it; it is, instead, what established it at a certain time, the mythological time, the time of beginning. Through getting acquainted with mythology, we get acquainted with v the origins of things.
The ancient man expressed his feelings and attitudes towards the supernatural powers through those mythological stories; his mind was disclosed to absolute truths, essential to the human existence but latent in man's feelings and behaviour. Through the experience of getting acquainted with the absolute facts, man managed to recognize the absolute values that give meaning to his existence.
More interesting is the significant and effective role of these stories in man's life. They have, for the first time in history, thrown light on the (high) values and contributed to laying the moral bases of man's life, forming thereby the sacred history of society through expressing the revelation of God to humans and His intentions towards them.
In short, the mythological thought was the product of man's first outlook at the universe and the world in the early stages of his consciousness, in an attempt to interpret the universe and the origin of existence. In his first steps towards intellectual maturity and development, man did not have the adequate tools of investigation or the right means of thinking that would help him fathom the depths of existence and deduce the relevant objective facts. The mythological stories were, therefore, his expression of thinking of the active, original forces latent behind the aspects of existence, and of the ways of their influence on his life and being.
In such sacred stories, we come across the main lines of productive and creative thinking and of organized efforts aiming at the study of nature, man and life. They express man's eternal longing for elucidating the obscurities of life and the hidden secrets of the universe.
Meditating on the past life of the ancient man, one notes that man, since the very beginning of conscious thinking, had been pondering over the universe surrounding him, attempting to understand the absolute beginning of existence and its essence and to comprehend the forces that worked on the process of genesis and creation. This man's attempts came as a kind of intuitive probing into the global power behind the process of creation and a gradual true search for the facts. But when he first tried to formulate his interpretations, he lacked the ability of organized, coherent reasoning. He, therefore, resorted to devising his explications of the universe and creation in an imaginative, story-telling tradition: this is what we call today the mythology of (Genesis) or (Creation) or (Origins).
From the mythological texts of Mesopotamia, we can easily recognize that the ancient man of Natural Syria had reached a firm belief, the tenor of which was that the universe and all creation were made by a supernatural power, apparent in its strongest aspects in the time of beginning, transforming the universe from its condition of chaos into order and then creating man and helping him to understand and interpret the origin of things. This creative power was given in different ancient communities or cultures different epithets designating the meanings of (Creator), (The Universe Maker) or the (Master), the (High) or the (High Master). The Sumerians seem to have been the first people who mused on the nature of the universe, its source, order and the relationship among its parts. They tried to get to know the absolute timeless beginning of existence, to perceive the forces that acted on its genesis and to comprehend the essence of existence and the origins of things. It also seems that a form of culture in Mesopotamia began to take shape and integrate in the middle of the fourth millennium B.C. In this epoch, the perception of the Mesopotamians took a special form: they initiated a postulation on (Genesis and Creation). This postulation was later adopted as a theory by peoples of the ancient Mideast and became an essential part of the historical religions that followed. In this theory, the Mesopotamians tried to explain the source of cosmic elements, for which they established a well-connected chronological order. They said there was a beginning, which they considered a sort of (first causation). This beginning was not but a condition of (chaos). The question they then posed was: how did the universe come out of (chaos)? How did it become as it stands (now)? They were taken by the crucial facts of creation and the creatures; they had the urgent eagerness to investigate this fact: how did it occur and how was it incorporated?
The beginning, the state of chaos, that preceded Genesis and Creation was a kind of (first waters) or (a primeval sea); they seem, according to the mythological texts available to us, to have raised many questions about the source of that water; they most likely believed in its timeless, eternal existence. From this (sea) came forth the cosmic mass composed of the Heaven and the Earth. Enlil - The High Master (God, in our concept) separated them; he then enriched the Heaven with planets and stars and the Earth with creatures. A Sumerian text talks of:
"The Lord, in order to bring forth what was useful,
The Lord whose decisions are unalterable,
Enlil, who brings up the seed of the 'land' from the earth,
Planned to move away heaven from earth,
Planned to move away earth from heaven."
Obviously, this theory that represents the Sumerian's earliest perception of, his outlook and contemplation over, the natural forces, understands existence as coming forth from an initial liquid substance - which means that the world, before it attained its present order, was in an absolute, static chaos of water, formless, infinite and timeless. When An decides to rebel against the static forces of chaos and confusion for the creation of an ordered world, the universe comes forth from the chaotic formless mass: it takes shape; order gets established and time begins.
The Babylonians and Assyrians have adopted the Sumerian (mythological) beliefs in relation to the theory of (Genesis and Creation). This made such mythological texts reach us clearly and almost in full. Most famous of these texts is the epic of Enuma Elish (When Above) that was discovered in the library of King Ashur Bani Ba'1 (668 - 626 B.C.) in Nineveh. These epics start to describe the greatly chaotic waters, from which primitive creatures came into existence ahead of which there was an appalling creature in the form of a dragon; this was Ti'amat.
A long, long time passed before the Supreme Power, Marduk, i.e. the Great Master (God, in our concept today) managed to put an end to the power of chaos and to establish order in the universe. Thus, a conflict takes place between Marduk and Ti'amat, the formless chaotic power; Marduk, armed by the elements of Nature adapted to reason and wisdom, wins the battle. For, when Ti'amat opens its mouth to swallow him, he pushes the wind onto its face; its belly gets swollen and it becomes unable to open its mouth; Marduk then sets forth a dart into its interior; the dart tears out its heart; its body is divided into two parts: one is raised to Heaven; the other is dropped down to the Earth. Marduk then turns to creating the creatures: he made the stars and planets; he formed the day and the night; he created man and all the other creatures.
Interestingly, the Babylonian Priest, Berossos (3rd century B.C.) i summarized the Babylonian concept of Genesis and Creation by saying:
"There was a time in which all was darkness and water, wherein ' strange and peculiarly shaped creatures came into being.... Over all these (creatures) ruled a woman... in Chaldean, Thamte, meaning in Greek (the sea). Ba'l came and clove the woman in two;... out of one half of her he formed the earth, but with the other half the sky;... reduced the universe to order, formed men and animals, .. the stars, the sun, the moon and the (other) planets."
It is observed that chaos of the beginning in the Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Canaanitic mythology of Genesis was represented by a dragon killed by the High or Supreme Master (God) before initiating the process of Genesis and setting the universe in order. In the Sumerian mythology, for example, Enki overcomes the dragon of chaos, Kur; in the Babylonian mythology, Marduk kills Ti'amat and reduces the universe to order; Ashur does the same in the Assyrian mythology. In the Canaanitic mythology, the chaos of the beginning was represented by "a seven-headed, crooked serpent, leviathan", which was killed by Ba'1 before the time of Genesis, too. In the Epic of Genesis and Creation, Enuma Elish, Ti'amat and those fighting on its side were described by expressions leaking evil and ferocity: "Ti'amat roars"; "its' wrath is appalling"; "it intends to do evil"; "it creates terrifying serpents for its battle"; "its teeth are sharp"; "it fills its veins with poison" and "has horrible dragons".
What is observable is that the rabbis of Israel, when putting down their history - their holy book - The Torah, during the Babylonian exile, quoted, among many other things from the Babylonian and Canaanite legacy, the story of Genesis and Creation. But they naturally attributed the role of killing the dragon of chaos to their god, Yahweh. Prophet Isaiah says: "In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan, the piercing serpent, even Leviathan, that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea" (27/1). The same reference is found in Job:
Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and parks of fire leap out.
Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron.
His breath kindles coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth. (Job, 41: 19-21)
The Torah writers' expressions used in describing the dragon of chaos, Leviathan, were very much similar to those used by the Babylonians and Canaanites (See Psalms: 74/13 and 89/9; Job: 26/12). At this point, reference to several important aspects of the Babylonian doctrine in Genesis and Creation should be made:
1) The Babylonians, through reasoning and contemplation, reached an understanding that the condition that preceded Genesis and Creation was a state of Chaos (primeval waters).
2) The first water was saturated with the principle of life. This concept, it is observable, was known to the Canaanites in Western Syria, who believed that water was the source of every living thing. Sanchoniathon (11th century B.C.) commented on this philosophy by saying: "There was watery chaos in the beginning". Thales the Canaanite (639 - 546 B.C.), the founder of the Ionic School, explained and taught this to the Greeks.
3) The universe was formed from a watery chaos; but it is dynamic and eternal.
4) There is in the high sky a power that organized anarchy and established order; consequently, the cosmos took shape and its constituents became distinct.
5) The primeval waters were chaotic and formless. The action of creating and organizing the universe did not obtain quietly and peacefully (as it did in Egyptian mythology); it was rather based on conflict; the Babylonians recognized that creation and organization could not be performed without conflict with the primeval substance - watery chaos, or without fight against the forces of anarchy. When the Babylonian began to reckon the changes of Nature, he perceived that incessant motion was the essence of life, or that living Nature is based on the principle of incessant motion, and every motion in life indicates a conflict between two forces. As life is in incessant motion, conflict is there in the essence of life. The first manifestation of conflict in the Babylonian mythology was between chaos and order.
Creation was thus a product of a cosmic conflict in which order had victory over chaos. They presupposed preexistence, but in a chaotic manner; so the cosmos does not begin with creation, but with organizing what was chaotic, with setting order. This notion in the Babylonian epic was basic to the understanding of the universe in the ancient, eastern Mediterranean basin: it is the victory of the universe as one ordered whole over chaos. Interestingly, the Babylonians recognized that violence was not a condition for victory in a conflict; victory is achievable through reason and wisdom represented by knowledge and insight.
6) The ancient Babylonian had both actions and reactions as to the natural events; but he was not a slave in his reactions or an initiator in his actions; he did not fear Nature to the degree of surrendering to its forces, but wanted to share it in administering its affairs and running the world in which he lived. It is 'here and now worth mentioning that the ancient Babylonian did -not -reach his beliefs via inspiration or acceptance of secrets as is the case with the holy books of historical religions, but through reasoning, speculation and deducing results from causations.
Genesis and Creation in Ancient Syria