What are some conceptions of Mesopotamian divinity in The Epic of Gilgamesh?

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MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Mesopotamian gods are represented in much the same way as Greek and Roman gods would be a thousand years later. First, many gods are attached to natural phenomena or occurrences. Shamash is the god of the sun (and his wife the goddess of the moon), Ishtar the goddess of both love and war, Ea the god of water and the arts, etc. This is popular in ancient mythologies and polytheistic religions. Monotheistic religions have the same aspects, but since they focus around one god, all natural phenomena are wrapped up in his control.

Second, the gods are heavily personified. They have relationships, they pick favorite mortals to guide (or hold grudges against others and attempt to destroy them), they fight amongst themselves. When Enlil chooses to destroy mankind in the Flood, Ea saves Utnapishtim by telling him to build the boat. When the Flood is at its fiercest, Enlil is safe within his palace, while the other gods are cowered around the gates, soaking and miserable.

Third, the gods are not invulnerable to humans. In Book 6, Gilgamesh rants against Ishtar, and angers her so much that  she calls the Bull of Heaven against him. Yet he & Enkidu kill the Bull, & throw its thigh in her face. She is humiliated and broken, proving that even the divine can be brought down. Similarly, many gods become enraged at the actions of humans, showing that the mortal can influence the divine.