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Religion in Ancient Mesoptamia - Book Report/Review Example

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This book review focuses on analysis of the book entitled Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia, that was written in 2001 by Jean Bottero. The overall theme of this book is an exploration of the religious ideas that were so important to one of the earliest known civilizations of the world. …
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Religion in Ancient Mesoptamia
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Review of Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia by Jean Bottero. The overall theme of Bottero’s Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia (2001) is an exploration of the religious ideas that were so important to one of the earliest known civilizations of the world. The region is fascinating for scholars of early religion because it contains so much excellent material for analysis. The main types of evidence cited are the many splendid monuments and buildings that have been excavated by archaeologists, and the existence in the world’s museums of some half a million clay tablets containing all kinds of written text (Bottero, 2001, p. 22). The detail that is available from these tablets gives modern scholars a much better insight into the lifestyle of the people than just the monuments on their own. By putting together architectural and textual information, it is possible to gain a good understanding of the ideas that underpinned Mesopotamian society such as theocentric behavior, an emphasis on kingship and
The oldest texts are among the most interesting, consisting of religious hymns and songs, and some mythical stories, dating from around 2600 BCE. The author explains some of the difficulties in deciphering and interpreting the ancient languages such as Sumerian and Akkadian, not least because some of the sources have survived in a crumbling and fragile condition.
The book is written with commendable enthusiasm, and it brings to life the supposed rituals and practices of the people which have been gleaned from such diverse sources as stone inscriptions, tablets containing lists of god names, and various narratives describing heroic, sometimes half-divine characters from myth and legend. Male and female deities and priests seem to have equally high status. It is possible to see the precursors of both Greek polytheism and Judaeo-Christian monotheism in this book because the author outlines the way in which believers perceived a pantheon of gods arranged in a distinct hierarchy. Some gods are more powerful than others, and certain myths such as a catastrophic flood were passed on to later cultures. In a system known as henotheism, worshippers tended to “encapsulate all sacred potential into the particular divine personality whom they were addressing at a given moment” (Bottero, 2001, p. 42). While the Mesopotamians themselves were not monotheistic, this tendency can be interpreted as a step on the way towards monotheism which arose much later in the Middle East.
By comparing early lists of gods, and mythological material written over many hundreds of years, it is possible to trace development over time in religious beliefs and practices. Bottero’s book provides very helpful background to the understanding of classic literary texts from this period which deal with topics such as the creation, the great flood and Gilgamesh (Dalley, 1989). The supremacy of the innovative Sumerian culture gives way to an Akkadian era, and the author traces shifts of emphasis as political factors and the management of a growing empire become more important. Bottero describes the role of these related two cultures as that of a beacon, shining forth key religious beliefs such as the superiority of the gods, their role as lawgivers, and the whole concept of service/reward on the one hand and sin/punishment on the other (Bottero, 2001, p. 205). Bottero’s factual reporting of evidence is tied to a convincing psychological explanations of behavior and this makes his work a fascinating contribution to our understanding of early religious thinking.
Bottero, J. (2001) Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia. Translated from the French by T. L. Fagan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Dalley, S. (1989) Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh and Others. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Read More
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