IN THE ANCIENT MIDDLE EAST Art History: Visions, sorcery, and spirits

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In visions, individuals in the ancient Middle East pursued divine intervention or spiritual guide. The best term used to characterize visitation by deities, the deceased, spirits or gods is growth. There is a multicultural tradition of incubation activities and the approaches differ greatly. Magic divination and witchcraft were used by other people to survive. The dream was the means by which the spiritual world could interact with human beings. The divinity perceived God’s spoken or unspoken will in batches. Divination aided in the discovery of possible events and effects. The procedure also brought appropriate procedures that were necessary information and clarified existing circumstances. The interaction with the god was represented through visions of the ancients. Both women and men engaged in the exercise. The story of magic, divination, and witchcraft taken far-reaching in the ancient Semitic world. The paper looks took an enlightened and fascinating look at the paranormal in the Old Testament. The paper demonstrates the points with remarkable illustration from the Bible and Gilgamesh epics that captures the importance of supernatural powers among the ancient religions and civilization.

Gilgamesh is the king of Uruk who was a one-third human and two-third god. Despite his godliness, Gilgamesh, the king was a cruel despot. He forced people to work on the building and projects through oppression. The process of Gilgamesh humanization began with dreams of envisioning Enkidu. Gilgamesh saw something fall from Anu’s sky down towards him. The object was too heavy, and he could not lift it alone. An axe appears in the second dream where Gilgamesh kisses and embraces it. The dream foretold the arrival of Enkidu who would become Gilgamish’s friend and a sexual partner. Enkidu was a creature living among wild animals and was still in the pre-human stage. Once humanized, Enkidu appears like an axe skillfully manufactured from a meteorite.

In epics of Gilgamesh, Dreams are recurrent in the story and play a major role. Dreams serve as the communication between mortals and gods, anticipating events symbolically and very accurately. Gigamesh dreams foretell the arrival of Enkidu. The Old Babylonian version of the epic considered the dreams as uncommon and extraordinary. However, dream interpretations are not universal but determined or grounded by cultural specific frameworks of the interpreters.

Dreams and Spirits

Predicting the future or divinity is a prominent and most respected practice written in the Bible. The biblical characters in the Old Testament and the ancient world used oracles, spirits, lots, astrology, and prophecy. The Talmudic and Biblical writings indicate the practice of incubation as well as dream divination from religious contexts. The dream was the medium through which to communicate divine realm with the human beings. Dreams among the ancient described the contact with the deity. In the event the dream came true, the people tend to have harmony between their worldview and ethos.

The divinity by lots interpreted God’s spoken or unspoken will. Divination helped in discovering future events and outcomes. Also, the practice brought a better understanding of the present situations. In ancient world divinity and prophetic activities and ranged from haruspicy, astrology, public Oracle. The divinity of dreams was a common practice. The dream involved sleep-dreaming but could also refer to walking and vision dreams. Dreams were the oldest miracle because they were natural divination. The Babylonian Talmud and Hebrew Bible contain important stories of Judaism. The Jews had dream interpreters in foreign courts. Just like dreams lots, the dreams played a major role in the book of Genesis. In Hebrew Bible, particular characters in Israel had the ability to interpret dreams. Joseph dreamt and later interpreted the dream for himself and Pharaoh. At the end of full years, Pharoah had a dream and was standing by the Nile. There came seven sleek and fat cows from the Nile and grazed in the marsh grass. Other seven cows appeared from the Nile looking gaunt and ugly. They stood by other cows on the banks of river Nile Genesis 41-1-7.

The dream forecasted and informed the dreamer of the veracity of his character that got favors from divine powers. Joseph was prophetic and provoked his brothers who later transpired to kill him. ‘Here is the dreamer,’ their brothers shout. Let us kill him now and through him down the pits and see how will happen with his dream’ (Genesis 37). Joseph became an important interpreter to the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was impressed by Joseph for incorrectly interpreting his dream of seven fat and lean cows. Joseph was rewarded with a high-ranking position because he was closer to the God of Hebrew. However, the move diminished the political and spiritual authority of King Pharaoh.

In the book of Amos, the Lord God in a dream showed the prophet what will come of Israel. God was forming a swamp of locusts at the beginning of spring and crops were sprouting. Behold, the crop was after the King’s mowing. The swamp of locust was to eat up the vegetation on the land. However, Amos begged God not to release the swamp of locust because Israel could not stand without food. God changed his mind about the punishment (Amos 7:1-9). In chapter 8:1-16, a basket of fruit summer appeared, and the Lord spoke to Amos. It was the time the Lord could no longer spare the people. Many of the people would die and be buried in silence. Another dream by Amos appears in chapter 9:1. The prophet saw the Lord standing beside the altar and proclaimed ‘Smite the capitals so that the thresholds will shake, and break them on the heads of them all! Then I will slay the rest of them with the sword; they will not have a fugitive who will flee or a refugee who will escape’.

In the book of Ester Mordecai dreamt during the reign of Ahasuerus. He was part of the captive King Nebuchadnez′zar brought with him from Jerusalem. There were rises, earthquake confusion, and turmoil around the earth. Two great dragons appeared ready to fight, and their roar terrified the people around them. The roaring of the dragons made every nation prepare for war. The righteous nation was in trouble after the day of gloom and darkness reached. The nation cried to God, and from their cry, there was enough water, the sun rose and lowly was exalted. Mordecai saw what the Lord was ready to do and after waking up he tried to understand the meaning of the dream (Ester 11: 2-12).

Magic

Magic was carried out by the human to alter nature or destiny probably to instill fear or awe in its thorough audience spectaculars deeds. Differentiating divine inspiration and magic was difficult. The story of Moses in Exodus 7-12, Moses witnessed the ten plagues that engulfed the people of Egypt. God aided Moses’ miraculous works, but the first two were similar to what Pharaoh’s sorcerers could perform (7:10-11). The distinction between magic and miracles are not clear. However, it is clear that when people use their powers to perform paranormal actions not sanctioned by God, the actions are not miracles but magic.

Women, Dreams, and Divination

The Bible has sketchy content about women as dream interpreters. Mesopotamian literature suggests professional female dreamers existed among its culture. There are speculations that divinity originated from Mesopotamia in ancient East and earliest use in Hebrew. The Mesopotamian culture allowed female interpreters and divination. It is not clear, however, whether the female prophets in Hebrew literature received information through dreams. In Jeremiah (29:8-9), Babylonian Jews were not to listen to the female dreamers thus were feminine in original Hebrew. The Bible has brief information about female magicians and subsequently, rejected. ‘You shall not allow the sorceress to live’ (Exodus 22:18). The women in antiquity such as Deborah and Miriam were portrayed as prophetess or sorceress. Such women were associated with negative or positive forms of magic because they could use magical charms for certain purposes. In Genesis 30: 14-15, Rachael used Mandrakes as a type of magical aphrodisiac to help in curing infertility.

Conclusion

In the pagan literature, women are associated with unacceptable magical practices. The Greek literature had women and men practicing magic and carried out dangerous activities such as summoning up the souls of the dead and forces them to answer some questions. The female prophets in the Jewish literature allude to magic. The Old Testament has women prophets such as ecstatic Miriam during the exodus. The prophet tried to challenge the authority of Moses over the Israelites (Exodus 15:12). Similarly, Deborah was a prophetic Judge that lived during the transitional period for the Israelite tribe (Judges 4). A female necromancer in 1 Samuel and practiced the unacceptable magical practices. The Bible stated that “No one shall be found among you who make a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead”(Deuteronomy 18:10-12).

Bibliography

George, A. R. 2010. The Babylonian Gilgamesh epic: introduction, critical edition and cuneiform texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

George, A. R., and Francis Mosley. 2010. The epic of Gilgamesh: the Babylonian epic poem and other texts in Akkadian and Sumerian. London: Folio Society.

Jacobus, Helen R., Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme, and Philippe Guillaume. 2013. Studies on magic and divination in the biblical world. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10870767

Noegel, Scott B. 2008. “Mesopotamian Epic”. 233-245.

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