It is appropriate that the first two volumes in a new series on the history of religion should deal, one with religion in prehistoric times, and the other (the present volume') with its development and diffusion in the Near East, from Western Asia to India, and from North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean to the Aegean and the Graeco-Roman world. As Professor Albright has recently remarked, 'archaeological research has established beyond doubt that there is no focus of civilization in the earth that can begin to compete in antiquity and activity with the basin of the eastern Mediterranean and the region immediately to the east of it -- Breasted's Fertile Crescent. Other civilizations in the Old World were all derived from this cultural centre or were strongly influenced by it; only the New World was entirely independent. In tracing our civilization of the West to its earliest home we are, accordingly, restricted to the Egypto-Mesopotamian area.' (From the Stone Age to Christianity, 1948, p. 6.) Hence the importance of the attention that is now being paid by archaeologists to the Near East, and the significance of the results of these investigations for the history of religion.
To deal in detail with this vital region from first-hand knowledge of each area would require a team of experts in the several cultures confining their attention to their own highly specialized field of research. In the present series, which is to be devoted mainly to the higher living religions, this, however regrettable, was not a practical proposition. Since all that could be attempted here was an overall survey related to the requirements of the prescribed scheme as a whole, a specialist in one region quite naturally would be inclined to concentrate upon his own domain and he would hardly be in a position to view it in relation to the other volumes in the series. Therefore, I undertook to write the book myself as I happened to have had some first-hand acquaintance with Near Eastern and the adjacent religions, and the relevant archaeological data, over a number of years since, after having been trained as an anthropologist, I first worked in this field under the guidance of Sir Flinders Petrie in the earlier part of the century. It was not without some misgivings, however, as my equipment does not include an ability to read the texts in their original scripts. So, like many other interpreters of the documentary evidence, I have had to rely upon the renderings of . . .