The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity - Catherine Hezser

The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity - Catherine Hezser

2. Public Lamentation in Ancient Mesopotamia

The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity - Catherine Hezser

Sam Mirelman [+-]
SOAS, University of London
Sam Mirelman is lecturer in Ancient Near Eastern Studies at SOAS, University of London. His research interests include music and performance in the ancient Near East, Sumerian literature and Mesopotamian intellectual history. His PhD, Text and Performance in the Mesopotamian Liturgical Tradition (2018, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University) is a study of the performance practice of Sumerian liturgical compositions as shown by the evidence of late manuscripts. His British Academy postdoctoral research project (hosted at SOAS, 2018–) is entitled ‘Sumerian–Akkadian Language Contact During the First Millennium bce’. It explores translation techniques between Sumerian and Akkadian, with a focus especially on ‘exegetical’ translations.


Relatively few studies have examined the elusive question of “popular” religion and cult in ancient Mesopotamia. The sources are sparse, and difficult to interpret. Cuneiform texts provide us with detailed information concerning Mesopotamian ritual practice, particularly for the first millennium BCE. However, such texts generally reflect the official cult, featuring the activities of priests, temple officials and the king. Despite the fact that relevant texts are focused on the ritual practices of elites, occasionally the general inhabitants of the city are mentioned. Such instances of public participation in ritual sometimes refer to public lamentation. For example, the “people of the land” participate in ritual laments during the Eclipse of the Moon Ritual, and during the repair of a cult statue. In addition, it is likely the general population participated as spectators at least, in the performance of regular temple laments during circumambulations in and around the city. Despite the paucity of textual references to the participation of the general population in Mesopotamian rituals, it is unlikely that the textual record fully reflects cultic reality. Although most people were not permitted to enter the temple complex, the general population participated from afar, in their homes or in the cities of ancient Mesopotamia.

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Mirelman, Sam. 2. Public Lamentation in Ancient Mesopotamia. The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 36-57 Aug 2021. ISBN 9781781798768. Date accessed: 07 Dec 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.37991. Aug 2021

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