When Gods And Ghosts Were Not Supernatural

While discussing the role of gods, ghosts, and demons as causes of disease, Jo Ann Scurlock makes the following abnormally interesting observation,

Ironically, it does not follow that ancient Mesopotamians attributed diseases to “supernatural” causes. Although ancient Mesopotamian gods made the rules of nature, once these rules had been made, even the gods became subject to them. They ate, bathed, got dressed, laughed and wept, awoke and slept, fell in and out of love, engaged in sexual intercourse and begot children, fought battles, went on strike, and even got killed. It follows that ancient Mesopotamian gods, like their ancient Greek counterparts before philosophy redefined them, were in no significant way beyond or outside of nature.
If, therefore, ancient Mesopotamian gods, ghosts and spirits are not “natural” causes in any sense a modern scientist would recognize, neither are they “supernatural” in any sense a modern theologian would recognize; indeed it has long been argued that a characteristic feature of polytheistic religious traditions in general is precisely the “failure” to recognize a category of “supernatural.” If, then, it can be argued that things like migraine-inducing ghosts are “supernatural” causes of disease simply because they do not fit our category of “natural”, it should also be equally valid to argue that they are “natural” simple because they do not fit our category of “supernatural”. At the very least, it should follow that it is not immediately obvious where they should go in our classification system. [references deleted]

I think this classification problem also applies to the god of any monotheistic religion that defines itself, even in part, in terms of contemporary or antecedent polytheistic tradition(s).
The difficulty in differentiating natural and supernatural is likely the biggest cultural barrier in our understanding any text written and propagated before monotheists ceased defining their god in within a polytheistic context. This is true even of texts that we might consider purely secular in content.
A henotheistic theology doesn’t really help us with clarity in classification either. The world of the henotheist is still polytheistic, obscuring what we would categorize as natural and supernatural. The same applies to monotheism when thought of as something directly opposed to polytheism. The sole god simply absorbs the natural elements of the pantheon out of which he arose. He loves, hates, speaks directly, is jealous, sleeps (Psalm 44:24[23], creates, and so forth. If, in context, several of these traits are metaphorical, they only work because their targets lend themselves to natural analogs. The natural continues to intrude on the supernatural and the supernatural continues to intrude on the natural.
Even though the west waited until late antiquity to take them, the first steps toward relegating gods, ghosts, and demons to a distinct supernatural world were also the first steps toward modernity. With the eventual establishment of a clear distinction between the natural and the supernatural, the god(s) was (were) permanently in its (their) place(s) and we in ours.
With the advent of the classifications “natural” and “supernatural”, a very large barrier arose between our cultural origins and us. On the one hand, I mourn the loss; on the other hand, I celibate the liberation.

Scurlock, Jo Ann, Magico-medical Means of Treating Ghost-induced Illnesses in Ancient Mesopotamia, Leiden: Brill, Styx, 2006, 77