Most of these religions were polytheistic, which means that they acknowledged many gods and demons. Once admitted to the pantheon (a culture’s collection of deities), a god could not be eliminated from it.
He or she had gained ‘ ‘ divine tenure.’ ‘
Each polytheistic culture inherited religious ideas from its predecessors or acquired them in war. For example, what Nanna was to the Sumerians (the moon god), Sin was to the Babylonians. What Inanna was to the Sumerians (the fertility goddess and queen of heaven), Ishtar was to the Babylonians. The Romans simply took over the Greek gods and gave them Roman names. Thus the Roman god Jupiter was equal to Zeus as sky god; Minerva equaled Athena as goddess of wisdom; Neptune equaled Poseidon as god of the sea; and so forth. In other words, the idea of the god was the same; just the culture wrapping was different. So one ancient culture could absorb the religion of another without changing stride or breaking step. Each culture not only claimed gods of a previous civilization; it laid claim to their myths and made them its own, with only minor changes.
The chief gods were often associated with some phenomenon in nature. Thus, Utu/Shamash is both the sun and the sun god; Enki/Ea is both the sea and the sea god; Nanna/Sin is both the moon and the moon god. The pagan cultures made no distinction between an element of nature and any force behind that element. Ancient man struggled against forces in nature that he couldn’t control, forces that could be either beneficent or malevolent. Enough rain guaranteed a bumper crop at harvest, but too much rain would destroy that crop. Life was quite unpredictable, especially since the gods were thought to be capricious and whimsical, capable of either good or evil. Human beings and gods participated in the same kind of life; the gods had the same sort of problems and frustrations that human beings had. This concept is called monism. Thus when Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handwork,” it mocks the beliefs of the Egyptians and Babylonians. These pagan people could not imagine that the universe fulfilled and all-embracing divine plan.
The Egyptians also associated their gods with phenomena of nature: Shu (air), Re/Horus (sun), Khonsu (moon), Nut (sky), and so on. The same tendency appears in the Hittite worship of Wurusemu (sun goddess), Taru (storm), Telipinu (vegetation), and several mountain gods, Among the Canaanites, El was the high god in heaven, Baal was the storm god, Yam was the sea god, and Shemesh and Yareah were the sun and moon gods respectively. Because of this bewildering array of nature deities the pagan could never speak of a “universe.” He did not conceive of one central force that holds all together, and by which all things exist. The pagan believed he lived in a “multiverse.”