The religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians were the dominant influence in the development of their culture. The Egyptian faith was based on a collection of ancient myths, nature worship and countless deities. The lives of the Sumerians were dedicated to serving the gods in the form of man-made statues. There was no organized set of gods; each city-state had its own patrons, temples, and priest-kings. The Sumerians were probably the first to write down their beliefs, which were the inspiration for much of later Mesopotamian mythology, religion, and astrology. The Sumerians believed that the universe consisted of a flat disk enclosed by a tin dome. While the Mesopotamians had nothing to climb with the pyramids, they did use and build ziggurats for religious purposes.
Both civilizations focused on religion. Egypt believed in many gods. The gods that Mesopotamia believed in tended to be absolute rulers to whom the people owed total devotion. In both civilizations, religious leaders were given very high status and held in high esteem. Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt are two religions that believed in monotheism. Both Egypt and Mesopotamia were polytheistic, that is, they believed that their worlds were ruled by more than one god. Both civilizations believed that the gods created them. Both cultures also believed that they themselves were created for the purpose of serving their gods. Both worshipers took their names from the numerous gods and cults that honored the deities, and the priests of both religions wore no special clothing, made daily offerings at temples, and held annual festivals open to the public.
Mesopotamian religion viewed humans as servants of the gods, who had to be appeased in order to protect them. The Egyptians believed that the gods created all humans, but they were also controlled by the principle of maat or order. Unlike the followers of the Mesopotamian religion, the Egyptians had a strong belief in the afterlife, which they expressed by building elaborate tombs like the pyramids. The Sumerian afterlife involved a descent into a shadowy underworld to spend eternity in a miserable existence as a Gidim (ghost). The Egyptians believed that their gods had created Egypt as a kind of refuge of good and order in a world full of chaos and disorder. The chief god of much of Mesopotamia was the sky god Enlil; later the worship of Enlil was superseded by the worship of the Babylonian god Marduk. For the Egyptians, Amen-Ra was the most powerful deity, head of the pantheon. The statues of winged bulls were a protective symbol related to the Mesopotamian god Sin, while the ankh, a kind of cross with a loop on top, was a prominent representation of life in ancient Egypt. The Enuma Elish tells the Mesopotamian story of creation and explains how Marduk became the chief of the gods. The Egyptian Book of the Dead was a guide for the dead, setting out magical spells and incantations to be used to pass judgment in the afterlife. Ancient Nippur was the site of Enlil’s main temple, while Babylon was the location of Marduk’s sanctuary. Thebes and the Karnak temple complex were home to the worship of Amen-Ra. In the modern world, remnants of these early religions can be seen in the pyramids of Egypt, tombs of the pharaohs, and in the ziggurats of Mesopotamia, temples of the gods. The New Year Festival was an important event in the Mesopotamian religion, while the most important festival in Egypt was Opet. Because Egypt was the “gift of the Nile” and generally prosperous and harmonious, the Egyptian gods tended to reflect a positive religion with an emphasis on a positive afterlife. In contrast, Mesopotamian religion was grim and gloomy. The prayers of ancient Mesopotamia demonstrate the lack of relationships with gods and goddesses who viewed humans with suspicion and often sent calamities to remind everyone of their humanity. Such was the message found in the epic of Gilgamesh.
Although the religions of both civilizations shared many similarities, the differences were enormous. The most notable are the importance and belief in life after death and the relationship between the gods. Because of these differences, we believe, civilizations were different because in the early days, civilizations revolved around their beliefs and values, but unfortunately, there was an end to these great civilizations.