Theorizing Religion in Antiquity - Nickolas P. Roubekas

Theorizing Religion in Antiquity - Nickolas P. Roubekas

8. Ancient Mesopotamian Scholars, Ritual Speech and Theorizing Religion without "Theory" or "Religion"

Theorizing Religion in Antiquity - Nickolas P. Roubekas

Alan Lenzi [+-]
University of the Pacific
Alan Lenzi is Associate Professor and Chair of Religious Studies at the University of the Pacific, Stockton CA, USA. He specializes in the study of ancient Assyrian and Babylonian scholarship, literature, and religion during the first millennium BCE. His books include a monograph entitled Secrecy and the Gods: Secret Knowledge in Ancient Mesopotamia and Biblical Israel (Helsinki, 2008), a text edition of Ludlul Bēl Nēmeqi: The Standard Babylonian Poem of the Righteous Sufferer (with Amar Annus; Helsinki, 2010), and two edited volumes: Reading Akkadian Prayers and Hymns: An Introduction (SBL Press, 2011) and Divination, Politics, and Ancient Near Eastern Empire (with Jonathan Stökl; SBL Press, 2014).

Description

There is no word in the Babylonian language for “religion” or “theory.” This fact is not surprising since the scribes rarely discussed abstract concepts that we find useful for organizing our existence. For example, there is no general word for “music,” “law,” “art,” “science,” or “culture.” There are, however, many words for ritual speech, and there is very good evidence for how the ancient scribes classified and organized many of these texts they label as such by function and/or genre into series and ritual complexes. As J. Z. Smith has emphasized, taxonomy or classification is fundamental to cognition, and religions are powerful classificatory engines. This paper surveys the evidence for labeling and organizing Mesopotamian ritual speech, with emphasis on the Akkadian materials of the first millennium BCE. If there is evidence that discourse with accompanying ritual actions directed to non-human, non-obvious beings was labeled and organized distinctly from discourse directed to humans, might we see therein the beginnings of a tacit theory of religion, despite the absence of the words “theory” and “religion”?

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Citation

Lenzi, Alan. 8. Ancient Mesopotamian Scholars, Ritual Speech and Theorizing Religion without "Theory" or "Religion". Theorizing Religion in Antiquity. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 153-175 May 2019. ISBN 9781781793572. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=27968. Date accessed: 24 Jun 2019 doi: 10.1558/equinox.27968. May 2019

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