- CHAPTER THREE PRIESTHOODS OF THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST The Ancient Near East was populated by a large number of ethnic groups more or less related, if not always by language, at least by geo-graphy, culture, and religion. Their special connection with Israel is an additional reason for treating their priesthoods under one heading. A further grouping being desired, we have adopted that which practical reasons recommend rather than theoretical considerations. A. PRIESTHOODS OF MESOPOTAMIA The peoples of Mesopotamia, mainly the Sumerians, the Babylonians, and the Assyrians, have many important features in common affecting their culture, their government, and their religion. They also differ in several respects and their history extends over a long period. The follow-ing exposition, it is hoped, will remain aware of this complex picture. a) Mesopot,a,mi,a in m ancient Setting According to jts Greek etymology “Mesopotamia” is the land “be-tween the rivers,” the Euphrates, namely, and the Tigris, in western Asia. The name is used in the Bible to translate A.ram-nakaraim, “Syria of the Two Rivers” (cf. Gen 24 :10; Jg 3 :8, 10).1 The site of the tower of Babel, “a plain in the land of Shinar” (Gen 11 :2) is also located in Mesopotamia.* Of Nimrod it is said : “The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech and Akkad, all of them in the land of Shinar” (Gen 10:10; cf. Dn 1:2). The name “Akkad” is reflected in the use of the term “Akkadian” to denote the Semitw language and population of southern Mesopotamia, as distinct from that of Sumer. In the time of Abraham (c. 2000-1700 B.C.) Mesopotamia and Egypt were the two great political and cultural centers of Western Asia. With the coastal strip of Syria-Palestine joining them they formed “the Fer-tile Crescent”, which during the period following 2000 B.C. was invaded 1 See R. T. O’Calla.gha.n, Aram Naharaim. A Contribution to ehs Hutory of Upper Muopotamia in ths aecond MiUeni’ll,m B.O. Ana.I Or 26 (Rome, 1948).
which during the period following 2000 B.C. was invaded 1 See R. T. O’Calla.gha.n, Aram Naharaim. A Contribution to ehs Hutory of Upper Muopotamia in ths aecond MiUeni’ll,m B.O. Ana.I Or 26 (Rome, 1948).
PRIESTHOODS OF MESOPOTAMIA 45 by nomads or semi-nomads from Arabia. These Semites formed the bulk of the peoples later called Amorites, Babylonians, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Canaanites, and Israelites. The term “Semites” has been coined of course from the name Shem, one of Noah’s sons (cf. 5:32, 10:1). In the “Table of Peoples” (Gen 10) the Canaanites, although Semitic, are listed as descendants of Ham (Africa), presumably because Canaan was long under Egypt’s influence. The “Sons of Japhet” (Gen 10 :2-5) can be referred broadly to the Aryans or Indo-Europeans living mostly in Asia Minor. The Semitic language groups include Northeast Semitic (Babylo-nia and Assyria) : Akkadian, with Babylonian and Assyrian dialects; Northwest Semitic (Upper Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine): Aramaic, Ugaritic, Canaanite, Phoenician, Hebrew; Southern Semitic (Arabia, Ethiopia): Arabic, Ethiopic. The economy and culture of Mesopotamia deeply influenced the life and beliefs of the Palestinian population, Israel included. “Out of Meso-potamia came the arts of irrigation, of cuneiform writing, of architecture and sculpture, of city-state organization, of efficient business trans-actions. It produced magnificent textiles, finely carved gems, and seals. It codified law, and evolved modes of worship which left a deep imprint on the Hebrews. They lived in Mesopotamia during the Exile; and there much of the Old Testament as we know it took form. Out of Mesopota-mia swept the conquerors most dreaded for centuries by Palestine the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Chaldeans.”1 From Gen 11:31 we learn that Abraham’s family emigrated from “Ur of the Chaldeans * to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there.” In Haran, or Paddan-aram (“field of Aram”) lived Rebekah’s brother, Laban, “the son of Bethuel the Aramean” (Gen 28:5). For several centuries the people of Northwestern Mesopotamia are referred to in cuneiform texts as Amurru, i.e. “West-erners.” “This became, apparently, a general term applying to speakers of various Northwest-Semitic dialects found in the area including, in all probability, those strains from which later sprang both Hebrews and Arameans.”3 The Amorites** appeared in South Western Asia in the latter half of the 3rd millennium B.C. In Abraham’s time, Amorite kings ruled in almost every state of Mesopotamia, including Mari of the later period. The Amorites were a distinctive people although they wrote in a Black’a Bible Dictionary (London, 1954), p. 439. 8 J. Bright, A Hiatory of larael (Philadelphia