Mesopotamian End Times

by Esteban

“Mesopotamia offers little evidence for a belief in a future end of the world. The only clear reference to this occurs in a third-century BCE work in Greek by Berossus, reputedly a Babylonian priest. He stated that the earth was in danger of ending in fire or flood when the planets were gathered in a straight line in the constellations Cancer or Capricorn.

No earlier Mesopotamian reference to this belief has been identified, so its authenticity as a native Mesopotamian tradition is disputed. Although there are references to good and bad times and to the impermanence of political power in any one city or dynasty, these changes were described not as cyclical but as the result of divine favour or disfavour to individual rulers or their cities.

The Mesopotamians viewed the world in which they lived as different from that of very ancient times, which were separated from the more recent past by the flood. The Mesopotamians believed that the flood would not recur; therefore, in effect the end of the world had already taken place.

They expected the world to endure in the form they knew it, despite individual triumphs and destructions of cities and states. Since the flood had shown that the human race was essential to maintain the living standards of the gods, the gods might reduce the human population through plague or famine, but would never again attempt to eliminate it entirely.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “End of the World,” John R. Hinnells, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, 2007, pp. 184-5.