Ancient Near Eastern Mythical Law Set

Many ancient civilizations believed in a sacred geometry of the cosmos, an order or code by which all things, temporal and godly, must abide. Perfect harmony was sought in the patterns of the stars, numbers, music and other aspects of nature.

To the peoples of the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia, this supreme order was given the name me (pronounced "may" or "meh"). This name is an Indo-European root which comes down to us in such words as meter, measure and mathematics (also the Sanskrit word maya which represents the illusion or veil of this temporal world).

The word me is usually translated as "law" or "virtue," but may also be rendered as "truth," "wisdom" or "order." Me was associated with the great goddess Inanna (Ishtar, to the Babylonians) and the word is thought to relate to the ancient goddess name ma or mama.

The me was imagined as a codex or tablet of laws set down at creation. This sacred set of tenets was considered to be the final ruling, absolutely unbreakable–even the gods were subject to the me. It was probably quite comforting to the ancient peoples, for whom the universe could be a terrifying and capricious place, to imagine a truth that even the almighty deities themselves had to obey.

Similar concepts of a universal harmony or code of laws have existed in many cultures: the Hindu call it dharma, in Dynastic Egypt the name maat* or met was used, in China, tao was the name often given to the universal order. The Greek concept of moira is also similar (usually personified as a triple goddess and translated as "fate"). Also similar is the Vedic concept of ṛta–the "course" or "way" which ordains all things.

While it was a set of laws, the me was also a collection of the principles of civilization (94 of them, by one count). Some tales say that the high god An gave the tablets of the me to Enki, the wisdom and water god, some say that the god of the air, Enlil gave the me to him. Yet another account records that Enki created them himself. Whatever the case, the goddess Inanna wanted them in order to make her home city of Uruk (modern day Warka) the seat of civilization. The cunning goddess contrived a plan to get them.

Inanna staged a great big banquet for Enki and his pals. At said gala, she got the deity roaringly drunk**. The drunken wisdom god was more than happy to hand over the sacred tablets to Inanna, who rushed them back to Uruk and her overjoyed worshippers. The goddess' worshippers promptly built her a magnificent temple, the so-called "House of Heaven," in honor of the gift of the me.

As the ideas of the Sumerian civilizations spread across the world, they influenced later generations. I think it may be a stretch, albeit a small one, to say that the modern physicists' quest for the theory of everything and the ever-recurring fractals of chaos theory echo across the ages, reminding us of those godly codes so long ago.

*The Egyptian goddess Maat represented absolute truth. Her name implies a changeless, perfect sort of truth and it is probably related to the maternal "ma" syllable found in many languages and also to me.
**The gods were always setting up these banquets and getting each other into all kinds of trouble. Set had a party for his brother Osiris and played "who fits in this coffin," then sealed bro in with lead seals and threw him into the Nile. In Ireland, Bricriu of the Poisoned Tongue had a huge banquet where he managed to set everyone at each others' throats without even being there! My advice to mythological characters: don't attend these things if you can possibly avoid it!

Walker, Barbara, "the Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets" (Castle Books, Edison, New Jersey, 1996).
Eliade, Mircea, "A History of Religious Ideas," vol. 1, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1978).
Campbell, Joseph, "the Masks of God: Oriental Mythology" (Viking Penguin, Inc., New York, 1962).
Wolkstein, Diane and Kramer, Samuel Noah, "Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth" (Harper & Row, New York, 1983).
Dalley, Stephanie, (trans.) "Myths from Mesopotamia" (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989).
Sumerian Gods and Goddesses site: