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Ancient Religions by Ms. Sarah Iles Johnston

By Ms. Sarah Iles Johnston

Non secular ideals and practices, which permeated all facets of lifestyles in antiquity, traveled well-worn routes through the Mediterranean: itinerant charismatic practitioners visiting from position to put peddled their talents as healers, purifiers, cursers, and initiators; and vessels adorned with illustrations of myths traveled with them. New gods encountered in overseas lands by way of retailers and conquerors have been occasionally taken domestic to be tailored and followed. This choice of essays by means of a individual overseas workforce of students, drawn from the groundbreaking reference paintings faith within the historical international, bargains an expansive, comparative standpoint in this complicated non secular international.

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Yet even in ancient Greece we can regularly see a ritual only through a glass darkly, since public rituals received more attention in our sources than private rituals, and the tradition often concentrated on the less “normal” aspects of rituals. Still, it is especially the study of Greek ritual that has been most innovative in recent decades, with Walter Burkert leading the way. From the middle of the 1960s onward, he started an approach to ritual that in the course of time would combine a variety of approaches, such as functionalism and structuralism as well as narrative and symbolic modes of analyses—an eclectic tradition also embraced by the present author.

The gods, above all the sun-gods (Shamash in Mesopotamia, Re in Egypt), watched over the keeping of the laws and acted as judges. In Egypt, moreover, there is the idea of a general judgment of the dead, which constitutes a first step toward a theologization of justice. But it is true that no god other than YHWH or Allah ever acted as legislator. The idea of justice is divine, but the formulation and promulgation of specific laws is the task of the king. In Egypt, the laws were never codified, and Mesopotamia had law books but no law codes.

Such as the one that opened and closed the symposium, they were much more visible in the eastern monarchies; this has been seen as asserting social superiority through the royal gesture of conspicuously squandering wealth. Libation vessels with elegant long spouts thus become important items in Bronze Age Anatolia and Mesopotamia—but also, at about the same time, at the royal courts of Shang and Chou China. This should teach us how easily a similar function—to turn libation into a conspicuous act—generates a similar form.

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