An Introduction to Ancient Mesopotamian Religion

An Introduction to Ancient Mesopotamian Religion

An Introduction to Ancient Mesopotamian Religion

An Introduction to Ancient Mesopotamian Religion


In An Introduction to Mesopotamian Religion Tammi J. Schneider offers readers a basic guide to the religion of the peoples living in the region of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers from the beginning of the Bronze Age to the time of Alexander the Great and Darius III. Drawing from extant texts, artifacts, and architecture, Schneider reveals a complex, fluid, and highly ritualized polytheism and describes both its intriguing pantheon of deities and the religious experience of the people who spent their lives serving and appeasing them.


The world of ancient Mesopotamia was filled with a number of deities whose responsibilities and powers shifted over time and place, similar to the political reality of the region. Contrasting and yet paralleling these phenomena is that, like other realms of ancient Mesopotamian civilization, many fundamental components of ancient Mesopotamian Religion continued unchanged for centuries in the region. The basic operating premise for the ancient Mesopotamians throughout all periods of their history is that humans were created and placed on earth so the gods did not have to work. Each deity controlled different elements of the world order, so no one god had full control, and which deity was in charge fluctuated over time and place.

Gaining a clear handle of what constituted ancient Mesopotamian religion is complicated by two principles governing its modern study: that a “Mesopotamian Religion” should not be written, and that there is a Mesopotamian “stream of tradition” beginning as early as the third mil-

1. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia. Oppenheim suggests the reasons for not
writing a Mesopotamian Religion: “the nature of the available evidence and the prob
lem of comprehension across the barriers of conceptual conditioning” (172); both is
sues continue to exist. Despite his cry not to write such a treatise, to some extent in the
pages included under this heading, he proceeds to do so. The power of Oppenheim’s
statement on the field is revealed in a recent study of Mesopotamian religion where
Oppenheim’s claim is invoked in a chapter entitled “The Sources: What We Can Expect
from Them.” See Bottéro, Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia, 26.

2. Oppenheim defines this loosely as “the corpus of literary texts maintained, con-

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