PRINT Summer 1989


THE MEMBERS OF ANCIENT SOCIETIES, fragile societies whose survival depended upon powers they could not control, sought to transcend their worldly limitations through encounters with what they perceived as the simultaneously wonderful and terrifying source of those numinous powers, described by Rudolf Otto as mysterium tremendum et fascinans. Men and women sought the gods’ assistance in assuring their survival; the gods, in turn, according to ancient Mesopotamian texts, for example, relied upon men and women for worship and sustenance. All power, cosmic and human, then, was part of an integrated continuum.

The move from a belief in a henotheistic cosmos, one in which a hierarchy of gods functions as a group, to the monotheistic vision of ancient Israelite religion is fundamental for the later development of religion in the West. While humanity in the Mesopotamian texts functions as a slave

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