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Soul: Ancient near Eastern Concepts


Neither Sumerian nor Assyro-Babylonian cuneiform sources have left any account, however incomplete, of their psychological ideas, probably because, for these ancient peoples, such ideas were considered self-evident and did not need to be set down in writing. Scholars are thus faced with a difficult situation, which is made still more difficult by the scholars themselves projecting their own cultures onto the subject they are studying, namely their own ideas concerning the body and the soul (in this context see, for example, the title of this article, which is not particularly appropriate to deal with the cultural attitudes of the ancient peoples described here).

Using the meager information provided by the texts, the issue was initially dealt with by Oppenheim andalbeit in a less general mannerby von Soden, both in 1964 (Oppenheim, 1964; revised 1977, pp. 198206; von Soden, 1964) but it remained a peripheral research subject for a long period, with the notable exception of Saggs (1974) and Jacobsen (1976, pp. 155164). In the 1980s important studies finally appeared that dealt with the key aspects of the question and formed the basis for the subsequent systematic treatment (Klein, 1982; Groneberg, 1985; Jacobsen, 1989) in the years that followed.


There are three obvious sources of information on Mesopotamian psychological ideas: (1) the anthropogeny of the Atrahasis poem and an analysis of this compared to other myths of the same sort; (2) details from exorcist rituals to banish or remove evil spirits or funerary rites; (3) the "personal god" and the literature dealing with this.

The Atrahasis poem draws upon traditional themes dealt with elsewhere (Kikawada, 1983) and may be dated to the Old Babylonian period (twentiethsixteenth centuries bce). It tells the story of the revolt of the lesser gods, who are tired of the heavy burden of work, and the resulting creation of the human race to take their place in performing this task, leaving them free to remain with the greater gods. The rapid growth of this new creature, whichlike the godscould not die from old age or sickness, resulted in a disruption of the order of the cosmos and provoked the anger of the king of the gods, Enlil, who tried to wipe out the human race with the universal flood. Ziusudra/Utanapishtim, the archetype of the biblical Noah, is saved in the ark, which floated upon the waters. The growth of the new human race, his descendants, was kept in check by old age and sickness.

The poem's composition centers upon puns, which are of fundamental importance in the anthropogenic story (Bottéro, 1982; Abusch, 1998; Alster, 2002). It should be borne in mind that the pun was a favorite device used by the schools of scribes to develop the hermeneutics of the texts, which the apprentice scribes and their teachers studied and copied (Bottéro, 1992, p. 100). This is the only literary source to deal extensively with the origin and nature of the human being, yet for a long time (the poem was published by W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard at Oxford in 1969: Atram-hasis. The Babylonian Story of the Flood) this source of information was not used because of its hermeneutic wordplay technique, which added to the difficulty inherent in such a poetic text and which was therefore only more clearly explained years later.

In order to create humankind, the gods killed a god with whose flesh and blood they mixed clay to form the new creature. Henceforth, as Bottéro has shown (1982), all the terms employed allow extensive wordplay, providing an interpretative key to the nature of humankind.

The ghost

Abusch (1998), developing these initial ideas, has shown a relationship between the flesh of the god and the ghost (eemmu ), which remained in the underworld for a certain time after the death of an individual. This was the period of time for which the ghost retained its individual identity and that corresponded to the memory those who were still alive had of the dead person. It would clearly be difficult for this to last for more than three generations, that is, to concern older relatives known personally (cf. van der Toorn, 1996, p. 54; Abusch, 1995, revised 2002, p. 272; more generally Abusch, 1998, pp. 372373); other than grandparents (or in exceptional cases, great-grandparents), there remained only the vague memory of ancestors perceived as an indistinguishable single group. The eemmu has been the subject of various articles: see Abusch, Etemmu, in van der Toorn, Becking, and van der Horst, 1999, pp. 309312. It should be pointed out that many scholars, by imposing their own cultural experiences and philosophy, have identified in the eemmu an idea very like the European one of the "soul," disregarding the whole range of beings described to scholars since 1964 by Oppenheim (1964). Finally, in this line of thinking, European in outlook, for the sake of completeness we should mention the work of Chiodi (1994), a work that is inadequate in terms of the conclusions it draws as well as limited in terms of the selective nature of the sources it uses, and the work of Spronk (1986, pp. 96125), wider in scope but with critical weaknesses.

Other terms occur repeatedly in the anthropogeny, always linked by puns: the human intellect (ēmu, cf. puns with damu and eemmu ), which stems from the blood (damu ) of the god, while the bodily element comes from the clay. Thus, the flesh of the god (širu ) does not produce the human body. Developing the ideas of Abusch further, we can understand the Babylonian conception of a divine being, "a high ontological density being," as Bottéro has stated (2001, p. 38), a being that, via this "density," was thought of as a luminous splendor (melammu ). This component acted as a support (just as the human physical body, zumru, acted as a support for those elements making up psyche) drawn from the instincts and emotions, linked to the vital forces (and this is the nature of the eemmu ghost). The body of a god thus corresponded to part of the human psyche. This particular part of the psyche may also be found empirically in the "higher" animals (for example, dogs, donkeys), and it is perhaps in this light that an obscure passage of commentary should be interpreted ("commentaries" are notes by the scribal schools, which provide extremely concise explanations, mostly via puns, of myths, rituals, and divinatory or exorcistic texts), in which it is stated that the eemmu of some gods are animals (Livingstone, 1986, pp. 8283, 8889). In the human being too this element represents the individual "animal nature." We know that the ghosts of those who have not had the chance to progress in life, to attain success and maturity, the vital drives and fulfillment of those qualities belonging to an adult, those desires, loves, and emotions linked to manhood and motherhood (children, adolescents), are among the most restless and dangerous ghosts, since this part of the human psychewhether because of inertia or unused energywould wander and haunt the world of the living, generally seeking the fulfillment that premature death had made impossible. The dangerous nature of a ghost that had not been given proper funeral rites was probably consistent with this idea, since these would permit the ghost to pass to the underworld: the ultimate aim of this element of the psyche consisted in reaching the appropriate place, the underworld, after death.

The ability to reason: Human intelligence

Abusch (1998, p. 371) points out that the blood of the murdered god had provided human beings not only with intelligence (ēmu ) but also with their life force (expressed in the poem as the heartbeat, uppu, symbolized by the beating of drums). Both the ego and the self, the origin of which, according to Abusch (1998, p. 378 ff.) is again passed on to mankind from the blood of the god, complete the psychological profile, fitting in with the interpretations that can be inferred from consideration of the personal god. The ego and the self are thus parallel to the flesh of the god, which for its part provides both the physical form and the ghost (that is the "animal" element), making up the death soul. Both parts of the murdered god, flesh and blood (respectively širu and damu ), thus have a part to play, within the context of his divine parentage, in passing on to the new being, created by the mixing of clay, his essential characteristics. It is known that the expression širu u (u = and) damu was commonly used to indicate racial or family origins (van den Toorn, 1996, p. 42; Abusch, 1998, p. 370, fn. 15; Stol, 2000, p. 9), thus making even more clear to the contemporary listener the idea of the divine origin of mankind.

The anthropogeny of the Atrahasis even if restricted only to certain elements, namely those that were of interest to its anonymous authoropens up the possibility of interpreting other human psychological features as well, which appear in other texts. Thanks to the information provided here, the systematic treatment of those elements that the modern Western world would define as relating to the soul or the psychological has recently become possible.

Abusch (1998, pp. 378383) maintains, not without good reason, that the "personal god" (ilu ) corresponds with intelligence (ému ), thought of as that unique ability to think and plan, bestowed upon humans alone among all living creatures. He refers in passing to the Babylonian proverb "when you plan ahead your god is yours, when you do not plan ahead your god is not yours" (1998, p. 379).

Multiple external souls

Yet the personal god represents an even more complex set of realities. On the one hand this includes features beyond intellectual ability, while on the other it goes back to a system of male and female beings (with which it is contrasted, thus explaining its true significance), which symbolize, in the guise of discrete divine figures, fundamental human characteristics (Oppenheim, 1964; revised 1977). On a higher plane, there is the couple ilu ("god": male) and lamassu (female); they can be compared with another couple, ishtaru (female: translated as "goddess," a name that derives from the goddess Ishtar) and šédu (male).

To provide an explanation for the characteristics of these beings, Oppenheim recalls the anthropolgical theory of "multiple external souls" through which the individual finds fulfilment and relates to the outside world. In this respect he gives examples taken from the classical world, the Bible, and the Gospels in order to show how, albeit using different formulae, other cultures have managed to express psychological ideas of multiple external souls, ideas no more unusual in the Western than in the Mesopotamian world (Oppenheim, 1977, pp. 199201). He compares the Greek eudaimon with the ilu, whose effect can be seen in a stroke of luck, in the unwitting avoidance of danger, thus leading to the adjective ilānû (ilu + adjectival indicator ān, + adjectival genitive ending û ) being coined to describe a lucky person. This particular quality is linked to the reason, although from a Western perspective it is completely different in character. The lamassu, which is harder to relate to a specific aspect of the ego, may be compared to the Greek eidolon, the power that allows individual characteristics of every kind, including physical, to be displayed. Šēdu, the male equivalent of lamassu, is connected with the life force and the sexual, procreative drive of the individual. In this sense it may be compared with the Latin genius. Ishtaru, the counterpart of ilu, should be linked to šimtu, a word normally rendered as "destiny, fortune, fate," all of which are in fact only rough translations. Its meaning may be better understood by translating the word as "destiny," in the sense of the determination of a power (possibly, but not exclusively divine) to act and exert power in the surrounding world; it involves the allocation of personality, necessary in order to find personal fulfillment, completed only with death. We should think of the daimon, as described by James Hillmann in The Soul's Code (New York, 1996, chapter 1). Once again a parallel may be advanced with the Greek moira, but also physis, that is, "nature," "inherent quality"; ištaru is thus the external soul in relation to fate, in terms of the whole range of daily events, of gifts and capabilities, tasks and duties. It is this that grants a human being the šimtu that he will attain in his personal life (Oppenheim, 1977, pp. 201205).

Arnaud (1996) has shown that the ancient Mesopotamians thought that the fetus was formed by epigenesis (that is by the successive accretion of different parts) rather than by germination. The soul should probably be regarded as being formed in the same way as the fetus. Along with the instinctive and emotional element, which is centered in the ghost (eemmu ) after death, there is also the zaqīqu (dream soul: Abusch, 1998, p. 372, fn. 21; Sculock, 2002, p. 1 ff.), which, like the ghost, resides in the physical body. Two other substances should also be mentioned: bāštu and dūtu, the "life force" (bāštu comes from the verb bāšu, "to feel ashamed") and "the ability to plan," respectively (Groneberg, 1985; Saggs, 1974, p. 7).

Finally we should mention the kūbu, "fetus," which, despite being physical, has certain similarities with the eemmu. The kūbu as an unborn child lives in the underworld and individually in its mother's womb. Kūbu was also an underworld deity, a dangerous demon, although it could also be benign and is linked to growth (Stol, 2000, pp. 9, 2933). The world below, acting as a womb or as Mother Earth, accepts the dead and provides energy to those who are coming into being (Abusch, 1995; revised 2002, p. 217). In a certain sense kūbu and eemmu may be regarded as the beginning and end of this process. In this respect the existence of necromantic rites should be noted, showing that, for witches at any rate, ghosts could be used for advantage (Finkel, 19831984; Tropper, 1989), since, like the kūbu, they also possessed certain powers.

The manner in which names are assigned to these things, these "multiple external souls," should not be regarded as an inflexible system of classification that did not change over the millennia. In popular thinking some traits and characteristics may have been understood differently, with certain features emphasized or played down, so that in considering Mesopotamian psychology, we should always allow a certain leeway within the elaborate structure set out here.

The melammu

The divine splendor (melammu ) means that the gods are not only similar to, but of the same nature as, the stars (Reiner, 1995, pp. 124). This particular detail is significant when considering the most important divine element within the human being. The key to interpreting this lies in the maqlû, a complex ritual remedy against magic, by which a man who had been fallen under a witch's spell could be purified. Abusch (1995, reprinted 2002), who has provided the most complete and detailed interpretation of the nature, origin, and extent of this ritual, has pointed out that the witch's spell takes place during a dream and that the affected individual ascends to heaven and becomes one of the stars while taking part in the celebration of the ritual (which may perhaps also have ecstatic significance: Abusch, 1995, reprinted 2002, p. 285). The nature of melammu should be considered in this context (Cassin, 1968). The word, along with others related to it (puluhtu, "fear [aroused by the sight of the melammu ]," namirtu, "brightness, light [that is the visible nature of the melammu ]," rašubbatu, "awesomeness," šalummatu, "radiance"), even if reflecting different shades of meaning, has been compared with the Hebrew kābōd, the Greek charis, and the Iranian xvarenâh. Melammu is the splendor that illuminates a god or a temple (although Gilgamesh is also lit up in this way in the Sumerian poem Gilgamesh and Agga ) and that envelops the person or object from which it emanates: in this sense it is a manifestation not only of divine power but also of life energy, understood in terms of charm, beauty, and attraction.

The nature of the Sumerian world

While it is correct that the Sumerian and Akkadian worlds may be regarded as parts of the same single civilization, it is, however, beyond question that the two peoples differ in certain respects, not just synchronically but also diachronically. The ghost, eemmu, is called gidim in Sumerian (from the Semitic qādīm, "ancestor": the Akkadian eemmu is also probably derived from gidim : Abusch, 1998, p. 373). It is not mentioned in the anthropogeny of the Sumerian myth Enki and Ninmah, which is directly related to the anthropogeny of the Atrahasis poemthis has been studied in detail by Kikawada (1983)nor in the bilingual anthropogenic myth "KAR 4," in which the motif of killing of divine beings in order to create the human race appears (Abusch, 1998, p. 369 ff.). While there may be an exact semantic overlap between eemmu and gidim, in contrast we should examine the word lil2, where the similarity with Akkadian terminology is more complicated. In general terms it may be stated that lil, discussed in detail by Jacobsen (1989), is a translation of the Akkadian zaqīqu, which, as well as signifying dream soul, also means "breeze." The term also reappears in the name of the king of the gods, Enlil2, translated as "Lord wind." His realm is the atmosphere, the intermediate element of the cosmos, which at one extreme touches heaven (the home of his father, An), while at its other edge touches the surface of the earth (it is not by chance that the god is called a "trader"). It permits all living beings to exist, and it is indeed the presence of a special kind of wind, the breath, that distinguishes the living from the dead. Enlil is thus closely connected with the movement of air, with the wind, with gusts, and with the breath. The god is regarded as having given life to the universe (life being considered as a breath, napištum, Sumerian zi). In addition, a specific exhalation of breath consists of a word, and it is no mere chance that this is also a feature of the medium, where the spoken word makes clear to the listener the otherwise unattainable thought of the one with whom he is speaking. This idea relates directly to the sacred nature of the word, both spoken and written, and this is what is behind the use of puns by the scribal tradition when commenting on the texts.

The Sumerian and Akkadian languages both use the same term for "word" as for "matter, affair" (Sumerian inim = Akkadian awātu ), and this is relevant to an analysis of the meaning of the term lil2. The comparison with tempests and blasts of wind, even those that bring destruction (signs of the power of Enlil), and less obvious features, such as life and the word, show clearly how objectification matches subjectification and vice versa, an idea which both Oppenheim (1964; revised 1977) and Abusch (1998, pp. 379380) have taken as the basis for their interpretation of personal gods as objectifications of psychological realities, confirming what Eliade (1975, vol. 1, p. 96) had stated in his description of the characteristic features of Mesopotamian religion. Lil2 is also a demon, the wind that brings sickness, developed in two demon figures, Lilû (male) and Lilîtu (female), respectively, incubus and succuba. These are two specters that emanate from those who have died before having the chance to enjoy sex and procreation (Wiggermann, in Stol, 2000, p. 227), but, in a purely internal sense, it is the mind of the sleeper, who moves in the dream while his body lies still and comes into contact with the divine world (Jacobsen, 1989, p. 274), where the name of the god of dreams, Sigsig, is mentioned (the name Sig[s]ig comes from the Akkadian Ziqīqu/Zaqīqu, the god of the "dream soul, zephyr, breeze"; Oppenheim, 1964, pp. 232237: "the winds" or "the ever blowing one"). The dream state, like the atmosphere, has an intermediary nature, if another name of the god of dreams in a text may be interpreted as "Enlil with regards to dreams" (Oppenheim, 1964, p. 233). An evil demon lurking in the night or a benign god, which externalizes a state of mind, the dream illustrates the ambivalent nature that is also characteristic of other beings.

The literature and glyptics provide further descriptions of two protective beings, the goddess Lama and the god Utug. These went in front of and behind the individual, guiding him toward sure contact with higher divine realities, namely toward purification and health (one example taken from an exorcism: dUdug-sig5-ga dLama-sig5-ga he2-en-da-sug3-sug3-ge-eš, "May the good [sig5-ga ] Utukku [Akkadian for Udug ] and the good [sig5-ga ] šedu [= Lama : this identification is made in bilingual texts] go with him [the patient])." The goddess Lama was not simply restricted to human beings alone but others also, such as, for example, cities and higher gods (Foxvog, Heimpel, and Kilmer, 19801983). As regards the Udug, this indicates a demonic, not necessarily benign, being: indeed part of the exorcistic texts clearly deals with the casting out of the Udug-hul (hul, "evil"), although it should be remembered that there is also a dingir-hul (dingir = Akkadian ilu, "god").

Particular attention should be paid to the personal god and goddess who are portrayed as divine parents. Klein (1982) has shown how the choice of words clearly distinguishes these two beings from natural parents. The "personal god" (Klein correctly expresses reservations as to whether this is a suitable term to use for the situation to which it refers) is the principle from which humanity originates, to whom he should refer during the course of life. This being should not be thought of as clearly defined, if, as Klein demonstrates (1982, p. 303, fn. 3), the same ruler can call upon different gods as his "parents." Even allowing for the fact that the position of rulers may represent a very special case, that of a king, it should be pointed out that the whole idea may not have been so very different as regards the ordinary individual. The expressions generally used are: (Sumerian) dingir-sag-du3-ni = (Akkadian) ilum bānišu, "his (= the individual human being's) creator god (= the one who begat him) = the god who created him"; (Sumerian) ama-dim2-ma-ni = (Akkadian) ummu bānītišu, "the mother (here a goddess) who produced him"; and (Sumerian) lu2-ulu3 dumu-dingir-ra-na = (Akkadian) awīlu māri ilišu, "man, the son of his god." These external objectifications provide evidence for the existence of a divine principle (albeit divided into two male and female opposites) essential to the human being, evidence that is confirmed by the information in the anthropogenic mythology.

Syria-Palestine, Anatolia

The epigraphic evidence for this region is much less abundant and much more fragmented than that found in Mesopotamia. Even literary evidence is scarcer and less widespread, and it is therefore impossible to provide a similar picture. However, both the fact that Akkadian belonged to the group of Semitic languages spoken in the region, and the geographical proximity of this region to Mesopotamia, which tended to encourage links, lead to the conclusion that the picture was not radically different. It is still not possible, given the nature of the sources, to paint a picture showing the corresponding relationship between the "multiple external souls," as there are only vague references to these. These relate to the word nbš, used in the sense of "soul" (van der Toorn, 1996, p. 232), referring to the soul of a Neo-Hittite king (in the eighth century bce; del Olmo Lete, 1996, pp. 7477), who wants to ascend to heaven and feast with the gods. Nbš is from the same root as the Akkadian napištum (see above), which Saggs (1974, p. 8) had previously linked with the Hebrew nepeš, taken to mean "external soul." Even a quite well-documented term, such as the Hebrew 'ob (usually taken to mean "spirit of the dead," comparable to the Akkadian eemmu ), which could be compared with Western Semitic material, contains ambiguities that make it impossible to provide a consistent interpretation (Tropper, Spirit of the Dead, in van der Toorn, Becking, and van der Horst, 1999, pp. 806809). In the silence of the sources it is nonetheless possible to discern a change in the relation between body and soul (meaning by this simply the part of the human being that is not the physical body). During the second and third millennium bce the distinction between these two elements was emphasized. In Mesopotamia this was clearly illustrated by the Atrahasis poem, when the two elements are mixed together, the divine ingredient, that is, the flesh and blood of the god, with the clay. This distinction is part of the common cultural heritage of the Near East region. The theory concerning this has been stated by del Olmo Lete (1996, pp. 5380) in the context of a study investigating the continuity between Syrian culture of the second millennium and the Western Semitic world of the first millennium. In this study the particular features of the Western Semitic world of the second millennium, as set out in the texts from Ugarit, are compared with the psychological ideas of the Syria-Palestinian culture (and its Punic offshoot in the Mediterranean) in the first millennium.

To identify its distinctive important features, we should examine the Ugaritic mythological series "Baal and Anat" (del Olmo Lete, 1995). This is the broad story of the struggle between life and chaos (considered as death), which has echoes in Mesopotamian mythology, even if they are very distinct and distant, such as the poems concerning the conflict of the god Ninurta against the demon Asakku in Sumerian (called lugal- e) and Akkadian, and the Akkadian poem, which is derived from this, on the apotheosis of Marduk, the Enuma elish. It consists of three poems: "The Battle of the God Baal with the God Yam," "The Palace of Baal," and "The Battle between the god Baal and the God Mot." The mythological series as a whole is the story of the changing rule of the universe. In the first instance the three sons of the supreme god El, Baal, Yam, and Mot, divide up the three tiers of the cosmos, namely the earth, the sea, and the underworld. But the peace is short-lived. The first poem describes the victory of Baal over the god of the sea, Yam, who represents primordial chaos, like the goddess Tiamat in the Enuma elish. The second poem concerns the challenge of Baal, who has become the king of the gods, against his enemy Mot, following the construction of the palace that Baal has had the god of craft, Kothar, build for him as the seat of his rule of the cosmos. Baal is defeated in battle, goes down to the underworld, and is eaten by Morte (Mot). The gods all planned the disappearance of Baal, who on this occasion acts as a symbol of life of which he is patronconfined between the two extremes of birth and death. Since life on earth is struggling under the oppressive heat, his "sister" Anath goes off to look for her "brother"; he has the powers of a weather god and can make life thrive once more. The goddess, enraged, confronts and defeats Mot, tearing him to pieces. Baal is thus freed and able to escape from the stomach of his enemy. But Mot also comes back to life and the two gods confront each other once more. Finally the conflict is resolved by a judgment, handed down by the god El, that persuades Mot to return to his own realms.

This outline of the myth clearly shows, on two levels, the way that life alternates, both in an abstract sense, in contrast with death, and in terms of the cycle of the seasons, the alternating fertility of plant and animal life (W. Herrmann, Baal, in van der Toorn, Becking, and van der Horst, 1999, pp. 134136). Yet the most dramatic adventure of the god Baal goes even further. He is given the epithet rpu ("healer"), not only because he has overcome death (Mot) but also because (it should not be forgotten that the word baal means "lord") he is the first of the rpum, the dead kings who are the ancestors of the sovereign (W. Herrmann, Baal, and H. Rouillard, Rephaim, in van der Toorn, Becking, and van der Horst, 1999, respectively pp. 135 and 692700; see "Kingship in the Ancient Mediterranean World, Syria and Palestine. Including Israel"). These characteristics of the god Baal are clear in the texts from Ugarit (fourteenth and thirteenth centuries bce), but their origins may be much older: some of the soteriological features of Baal can be traced back to texts from Ebla (twenty-fifth century bce), in which Fronzaroli has managed to find the forerunner of Saint George confronting the dragon (Fronzaroli, 1997a, 1997b; on the closeness of the two divine figures, Hadda, main character in the texts examined by Fronzaroli, and Baal, see W. Hermann, Baal, in van der Toorn, Becking, and van der Horst, 1999, p. 132). Besides, Baal is also a mlk (Ugaritic = malik ) chief "adviser" (del Olmo Lete, 1996, p. 56), leader of a group of chthonic beings called the mlkm (= Akkadian mālikū, plural). When the king dies, he becomes a mlk and, as such, becomes one of the group of mlkm. The Old Babylonian ritual kispu from Mari, a city on the Euphrates, refers to the mālikū and is consistent with the Ugaritic cultural passages in this regard. The mythological pattern in the story of the descent to the underworld and resurrection of Baal, the relationship of this god with both the kings and the rpum and mlkm too, when the kings themselves are also included in these last two groups, provides the outline of a Western Semitic idea that is clearly apparent in the Ugarit texts and with which similar information from subsequent periods should be compared. Nor should we disregard the Hittite concept of the kingship, summarized in the euphemistic expression DINGIRLIM-iš kišari, "he has become a god," to indicate the death of the king. In the west, therefore, both in Syria and in Anatolia, the deification of the sovereign after his death was a distinctive cultural feature, which is only partially paralleled in Mesopotamia. In the first millennium the textual evidence becomes even more scarce; however, it is possible to employ both the archeological evidence as regards funerary rites, paying particular attention to the tophet of Punic cities in the west, as well as the biblical and classical sources dealing with the molk sacrifice and the alleged sacrifice of children (del Olmo Gete, 1996, pp. 5361). The tophet, a graveyard area where the cremated remains of dead children were buried, shows that passage through fire had acquired the ability to convey to eternal life those who had not had the time to become a part of the normal life of society. The apotheosis and beatific vision of the dead kings, both the kings of Ugarit (who were not cremated in the second millennium) and those of the Hittites (who have handed down to us texts concerning funerary cremation rites in the second millennium) and Neo-Hittites (in the first millennium), were extended in the first millennium to dead children: a socially downward shift that changed eschatology, increasing the division between the physical body (which was to be destroyed by burning) and the incorporeal part of the individual, which was to be dispatched to its proper divine place (del Olmo Gete, 1996, p. 61). Yet the funeral pyres both of Melqart (Sergio Ribichini, Melqart, in van der Toorn, Becking, and van der Horst, 1999, pp. 563565) in particular (Melqart, whose name, mlk qrt, means "king of the city," is called "Baal of Tyre"), as well as those of Dido and Hannibal, show that the fire constituted a ritual life-giving moment (Melqart is called the "Herakles of Tyre" and, like the Greek hero, he passes into the fire). One of the most important differences related to cremation: in Mesopotamia destroying the body did serious harm and could deprive the dead person of his identity (Abusch, 1998, pp. 372378; but del Olmo Gete, 1996, pp. 6869, interprets part of the same evidence in precisely the opposite way). The Hebrew world too developed differently. The Old Testament condemnation of these ideas, which were considered an abomination, show how the Hebrew cultural environment, consistent with its monotheist creed, did not develop in the same way as, starting from the Canaan cultural beginnings, was typical of the other peoples of the region.

See Also

Baal; Canaanite Religion, overview article.


Since Oppenheim (1964) provided a general outline of this, the subject has not been comprehensively dealt with and scholarly research has been restricted to specialist publications. An extensive bibliography is therefore necessary for the reader who wishes to assess and thoroughly examine the topics discussed here. In order to show the way in which the study of the subject has developed, the bibliography is given in chronological order.

A. L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization (Chicago and London, 1964); rev. ed. completed by E. Reiner 1977, pp. 198206. W. von Soden, "Die Schutzgenien Lamassu und Schedu in der babylonisch-assyrischen Literatur," Baghdader Mitteilungen 3 (1964): 148156. Elena Cassin, La splendeur divine: Introduction à l'étude de la mentalité mésopotamienne (Paris, 1968). H. W. F. Saggs, "'External Souls' in the Old Testament," Journal of Semitic Studies 19 (1974): 112. Mircea Eliade, Storia delle credenze religiose, vol. 1 (Florence, 1979); originally Histoire des croyances et des idées religieuses (Paris, 1975). Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness (New Haven, Conn., and London, 1976). D. Foxvog, W. Heimpel, and A. D. Kilmer, "Lamma/Lamassu," in Reallexicon der Assyriologie, vol. 6, pp. 446453 (Berlin and New York, 19801983). Irving L. Finkel, "Necromancy in Ancient Mesopotamia," Archiv für Orientforschung 29/30 (19831984): 117. Jacob Klein, "'Personal God' and Individual Prayer in Sumerian Religion," Archiv für Orientforschungen 19 (1982): 295306. Jean Bottéro, "La création de l'homme et sa nature dans le Poème d'Atrahasîs," in Societies and Languages of the Ancient Near EastStudies in Honour of I. M. Diakonoff, edited by M. A. Dandemayev et al., pp. 2432 (Warminster, U.K., 1982). I. M. Kikawada, "The Double Creation of Mankind," in Enki and Ninmah, Atrahasis I 1351, and Genesis 12, Iraq 45 (1983): 4345. Brigitte Groneberg, "Eine Einführungsszenze in der altbabylonischen Literatur: Bemerkungen zum persönlichen Gott," in Keilschriftlichen Literaturen, edited by K. Hecker and W. Sommerfeld (= XXXII Rencontre Assyriologique Innternationale) (Berlin, 1985), pp. 93108. Aldasir Livingstone, Mystical and Mythological Explanatory Works of Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars (Oxford, 1986). Klaas Spronk, Beatific Afterlife in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near East (= Alter Orient und Altes Testament 219) (Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany, 1986). J. Tropper, Totenbefragung im Altrn Orient und im Alten Testament (=Alter Orient und Altes Testament 223) (Neukirche-Vluyn, Germany, 1989) pp. 47109. Jean Bottéro, Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and the Gods (English translation, Chicago and London, 1992).Tzvi Abusch, "Ascent to the Stars in Mesopotamian Ritual: Social Metaphor and Religious Experience," in Death, Ecstasy, and the Other Worldly Journeys, edited by J. J. Collins and M. Fishbane, pp. 1538 (Albany, N.Y., 1995) (= T. Abusch, ed., Mesopotamian Witchcraft [Leiden, 2002], pp. 271286). Silvia Maria Chiodi, Le concezioni dell'oltretomba presso i sumeri (Rome, 1994). Erica Reiner, Astral Magic in Babylonia (Philadelphia, 1995). Gregorio del Olmo Lete, "Semitas occidentales," in Mitología y Religión del Oriente Antiguo, vol. 2/2: 45222, edited by Gregorio del Olmo Lete (Barcelona, Spain, 1995). Karel van der Toorn, Family Religion in Babylonia, Syria and Israel (Leiden, 1996). Arnaud, D., "Le fœtus et les dieux au Proche-Orient sémitique ancien," Revue de l'histoire des religions 213 (1996): 123142. Gregorio del Olmo Lete, "El continuum cultural cananeo," Aula Orientalis Supplementa 14, Sabadell (Barcelona, 1996). Pelio Fronzaroli, "Il serpente dalle sette teste a Ebla," in Alle soglie della classicità il Mediterraneo tra tradizione e innovazione. Studi in onore di Sabatino Moscati, edited by E. Acquaro et al., pp. 11351144 (Pisa and Rome, 1997) (= 1997a). Pelio Fronzaroli, "Les combats de Hadda à Ebla," MARI 8 (1997): 283290 (= 1997b). Tzvi Abusch, "Ghost and God: Some Observations on a Babylonian Understanding of Human Nature," in Self, Soul and Body in Religious Experience, edited by A. I. Baumgarten, J. Assmann, and G. G. Stroumsa, pp. 363383 (Leiden, 1998). K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, and P. W. van der Horst, eds., Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2d ed. (Leiden, 1999). Marten Stol, Birth in Babylonia and the Bible. Its Mediterranean Setting (Groningen, Netherlands, 2000). Jean Bottéro, Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia, translated by T. L. Fagan (Chicago and London, 2001). Bent Alster, "ilu awilum: we-e i-la, 'Gods: Men' versus 'Man: God'Punning and the Reversal of Patterns in the Atrahasis Epic," in Riches Hidden in Secret Places: Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Memory of Thorkild Jacobsen, edited by T. Abusch, pp. 3540 (Winona Lake, Ind., 2002). J. Scurlock, "Soul Emplacements in Ancient Mesopotamian Funerary Rituals," in Magic and Divination in the Ancient World, edited by L. Ciraolo and J. Seidel, pp. 16 (Leiden, 2002).

Pietro Mander (2005)

Translated from Italian by Paul Ellis

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