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4 - Mesopotamia

Benjamin R. Foster
Affiliation:
Curator of the Yale Babylonian Collection, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Yale University
John R. Hinnells
Affiliation:
School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
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Summary

Introduction

Sources

Mesopotamian religion includes certain beliefs and practices of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, Babylonians and other peoples who lived at various times in different parts of ancient Mesopotamia, the region corresponding roughly to modern Iraq, from the fourth through the first millennia BCE. The history and cultures of these peoples were mostly forgotten during the early Christian era, save for brief historical narratives of famous kings and cities in the Hebrew Bible, in classical authors such as Herodotus, Diodorus and Josephus, and in scattered excerpts from a lost book by Berossus, a Babylonian writing in Greek in the third century BCE. Beginning in the nineteenth century CE, with the discovery and excavation of ancient Mesopotamian sites and decipherment of Mesopotamian languages such as Sumerian and Akkadian, European and American scholars identified texts, objects and architecture as religious in nature. They used these to reconstruct ancient Mesopotamian religious beliefs and practices in the absence of any continuous or living tradition from ancient times to the present. Inevitably the intellectual concerns of successive generations of scholars, their personal religious commitments and their individual stances, such as piety, scepticism or anticlericalism, had their effect on agendas of research and modes of presentation of Mesopotamian religion in modern studies. Many scholars of an earlier generation took for granted, for example, a higher degree of religious preoccupation and expression among ‘ancient Oriental’ or ‘Semitic peoples’ than among other ancient peoples such as the Greeks and Romans, but generalizations on this order are no longer the basis for serious research.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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References

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  • Mesopotamia
    • By Benjamin R. Foster, Curator of the Yale Babylonian Collection, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Yale University
  • Edited by John R. Hinnells, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
  • Book: A Handbook of Ancient Religions
  • Online publication: 05 June 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511488429.005
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To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

  • Mesopotamia
    • By Benjamin R. Foster, Curator of the Yale Babylonian Collection, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Yale University
  • Edited by John R. Hinnells, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
  • Book: A Handbook of Ancient Religions
  • Online publication: 05 June 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511488429.005
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Mesopotamia
    • By Benjamin R. Foster, Curator of the Yale Babylonian Collection, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Yale University
  • Edited by John R. Hinnells, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
  • Book: A Handbook of Ancient Religions
  • Online publication: 05 June 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511488429.005
Available formats
×