Granted, this is a rather sensationalist headline and I freely admit, it has only a very remote connection to the article here, but there is a certain truth to it. I would not be surprized if a fair number of Sumerian gods originally were real people who got deified in the course of ancestor worship or because several real people got mashed into one through oral history mix-ups and other factors.
Gilgamesh, the main character of the Epic of Gilgamesh, is now no longer regarded as a mythological figure, instead, enough actual historical records have been found, to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he was a real king.
Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia (the article is well sourced, so you can do your own reasearch from there):
Gilgamesh is generally seen by scholars as an historical figure, since inscriptions have been found which confirm the existence of other figures associated with him in the epic. If Gilgamesh existed, he probably was a king who reigned sometime between 2800 and 2500 BC.
Before I continue, here is the epic of Gilgamesh, the first recorded poem (that we are aware of) in the history of our species as a audiobook:
And here it is again, on Sacred-Texts.com for all to read and enjoy: The Epic of Gilgamesh
Now, if you listen to the audiobook and/or read the Epic yourself, you will surely note one thing: The Sumerian gods appear rather human and are not at all omnipotent, they are for lack of a better term very human gods. They are even less powerful and also less capricous than the Olympian or Asgardian gods.
One of the reasons for that is that they are basically first tier gods, very early in the development of codified religion in human culture. They come from a time when human cultures were still very separated and religions were not yet in much competition with one another and there was no need for active proselytization because gods of different cultures and/or ethicities were not in competion, yet.
But I digress.
While listening to the audiobook I recognized some striking similarities and highly interesting differences in context, between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the first few chapters in Genesis:
Here for example the creation and civilization of Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s best friend:
Enkidu was made from clay (just like Adam) and saliva by Aruru, the goddess of creation (Adam got the breath of life from YHW), to rid Gilgamesh of his arrogance. In the story he is a wild man, raised by animals and ignorant of human society (Adam and Eve were pure before the fall) until he is bedded by Shamhat. Samhat was a sacred prostitute and the act of deliberate, sacred intercourse turned the wild man into a civilized man.
Shamhat then becomes Enkidu’s urbane “mother”, teaching him the basics of civilized life, eating, drinking wine, and dressing himself.
In the Bible, the act of eating the forbidden fruit (Eve tempting Adam afer being tempted by the serpent) gives them understanding, of a certain sort which YHW actually does not want, and YHW clearly is not omniscient yet in the early parts of Genesis, because Adam is able to hide from YHW because he is ashamed that he is naked (i.e. He rather wants to be clothed, because being naked is not civilized).
Genesis 3:9 – 3:11:
Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”1And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
Lord God has to call out for man because he does not know where Adam and Eve are and he does not know who tempted them both. This version of YHW is very clearly not yet the all-powerful deity of the new testament and shows the same human traits and weaknesses as the gods of Ancient Sumeria.
So, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, coming from the wilderness and having no understanding is the less desirable state and the tempting woman, the sacred prostitute, is a positive figure, while in the Bible, the tempting woman is the evildoer and his creation having understanding is actually somthing the god in question does not want.
Before I continue, here is some background on Ancient Sumeria, the place were Gilgamesh was king of the city uf Uruk. Sumeria was less of a kingdom as we see it today and more of a collection of city-states, linked by trade and a common culture. The area of Sumer was comparatively densely populated for the Bronze Age with important city-states being the aforementioned Uruk, Eridu, Uruk, Larsa, Isin, Adab, Kullah, Lagash, Nippur, Kish and Ur. Ur becomes really important for the rest of the argument.
Ur and Eridu are the two souternmost cities and Uruk is north-northwest of Eridu.
Now, if you know your Bible (and I guess it is also mentioned in the Q’ran) the first Patriarch, Abraham, was born in Ur, at a time when Ur was still Sumeria. We can savely assume if Abraham was a historical figure (which is actually doubtful), he was aware of the Epic of Gilgamesh and/or originally a follower of the religion of the area (i.e Enqui, Marduk, Inanna were the gods he grew up with). If Abraham is an amalgamation of several people of the area, they lived with those gods in their culture, the point remains the same.
The founder of the Abrahamic religions, starting with Judaism, had the cultural background of Sumer, yet, the mythos of this culture, sexuality being an integral and positive part of civilization, understanding and becoming civilized being a positive thing, was radically turned on its head with the woman becoming the temptress, women being worth less than men according to the Bible, and civilization and having understanding being portrayed as being the result of being tempted to eat from the forbidden fruit.
Why would a clearly life-embracing, life-celebrating and pro-sex culture and civilization then provide the basis of a very repressive family of religions?
I think it is all due to the Bronze Age Collapse:
The Epic of Gilgamesh was originally composed during the hight of the Bronze Age, its Golden Age, if you will. The foundation of Judaism, whicjh is also the basis of Christianity and Islam, came later, after the Bronze Age Collapse.
The city-states of the Ancient Near east collapsed, some of the cities were abanonned, populations declined, knowledge was lost, the collapse led to a transition period which was a comperative dark age. Since agricultural techniques were lost, the ability to sustain large populations was lost as well, a method to controle population growth had to be implemented. A very effective way to do this is to declare sexuality as sinful, make being naked sinful and, since it was most likely men who came up with that, blame it on the women. Also, since the city-states collapsed, blame civilization and idealize the uncivilized population in their “natural” state and here it is, the foundation of the first Abrahamic religion. Rooted in a Bronze Age civilization, but all that was positive about that civilization portrayed as negative and sinful, due to the aftershocks of the Bronze Age collapse.
I think we should go back to the life-embracing roots of Ancient Sumeria, regard civilization as something good and stop feeling ashamed for being ourselves. It is great to have understanding, it is great to be human, this is what is at the core of the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is also at the heart of many pagan and neo-pagan religions.
In Asatru for example (i.e. neo-Viking religion, so to speak and an official religion in Iceland), we are literal descendants of the Gods, Heimdalr in the form of Rig, is the father of all humanity.
We are not sinful, we are great! We can do great things, the old gods are with us, lets get to work!