By 2000 B.C. the religions of Mesopotamia had just about lost the teachings of the Sethites and were largely under the influence of the primitive beliefs of two groups of invaders, the Bedouin Semites who had filtered in from the western desert and the barbarian horsemen who had come down from the north.
But the custom of the early Adamite peoples in honoring the seventh day of the week never completely disappeared in Mesopotamia. Only, during the Melchizedek era, the seventh day was regarded as the worst of bad luck. It was taboo-ridden; it was unlawful to go on a journey, cook food, or make a fire on the evil seventh day. The Jews carried back to Palestine many of the Mesopotamian taboos which they had found resting on the Babylonian observance of the seventh day, the Shabattum.
Although the Salem teachers did much to refine and uplift the religions of Mesopotamia, they did not succeed in bringing the various peoples to the permanent recognition of one God. Such teaching gained the ascendancy for more than one hundred and fifty years and then gradually gave way to the older belief in a multiplicity of deities.
The Salem teachers greatly reduced the number of the gods of Mesopotamia, at one time bringing the chief deities down to seven: Bel, Shamash, Nabu, Anu, Ea, Marduk, and Sin. At the height of the new teaching they exalted three of these gods to supremacy over all others, the Babylonian triad: Bel, Ea, and Anu, the gods of earth, sea, and sky. Still other triads grew up in different localities, all reminiscent of the trinity teachings of the Andites and the Sumerians and based on the belief of the Salemites in Melchizedek’s insignia of the three circles.
Never did the Salem teachers fully overcome the popularity of Ishtar, the mother of gods and the spirit of sex fertility. They did much to refine the worship of this goddess, but the Babylonians and their neighbors had never completely outgrown their disguised forms of sex worship. It had become a universal practice throughout Mesopotamia for all women to submit, at least once in early life, to the embrace of strangers; this was thought to be a devotion required by Ishtar, and it was believed that fertility was largely dependent on this sex sacrifice.
The early progress of the Melchizedek teaching was highly gratifying until Nabodad, the leader of the school at Kish, decided to make a concerted attack upon the prevalent practices of temple harlotry. But the Salem missionaries failed in their effort to bring about this social reform, and in the wreck of this failure all their more important spiritual and philosophic teachings went down in defeat.
This defeat of the Salem gospel was immediately followed by a great increase in the cult of Ishtar, a ritual which had already invaded Palestine as Ashtoreth, Egypt as Isis, Greece as Aphrodite, and the northern tribes as Astarte. And it was in connection with this revival of the worship of Ishtar that the Babylonian priests turned anew to stargazing; astrology experienced its last great Mesopotamian revival, fortunetelling became the vogue, and for centuries the priesthood increasingly deteriorated.
Melchizedek had warned his followers to teach about the one God, the Father and Maker of all, and to preach only the gospel of divine favor through faith alone. But it has often been the error of the teachers of new truth to attempt too much, to attempt to supplant slow evolution by sudden revolution. The Melchizedek missionaries in Mesopotamia raised a moral standard too high for the people; they attempted too much, and their noble cause went down in defeat. They had been commissioned to preach a definite gospel, to proclaim the truth of the reality of the Universal Father, but they became entangled in the apparently worthy cause of reforming the mores, and thus was their great mission sidetracked and virtually lost in frustration and oblivion.
In one generation the Salem headquarters at Kish came to an end, and the propaganda of the belief in one God virtually ceased throughout Mesopotamia. But remnants of the Salem schools persisted. Small bands scattered here and there continued their belief in the one Creator and fought against the idolatry and immorality of the Mesopotamian priests.
It was the Salem missionaries of the period following the rejection of their teaching who wrote many of the Old Testament Psalms, inscribing them on stone, where later-day Hebrew priests found them during the captivity and subsequently incorporated them among the collection of hymns ascribed to Jewish authorship. These beautiful psalms from Babylon were not written in the temples of Bel-Marduk; they were the work of the descendants of the earlier Salem missionaries, and they are a striking contrast to the magical conglomerations of the Babylonian priests. The Book of Job is a fairly good reflection of the teachings of the Salem school at Kish and throughout Mesopotamia.
Much of the Mesopotamian religious culture found its way into Hebrew literature and liturgy by way of Egypt through the work of Amenemope and Ikhnaton. The Egyptians remarkably preserved the teachings of social obligation derived from the earlier Andite Mesopotamians and so largely lost by the later Babylonians who occupied the Euphrates valley.