S01 – Cultural Transfer: Religion


  1. Mary Radoslavova Bachvarova (Willamette University)
  2. Annette Zgoll (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)
  3. Michèle Louise Meijer (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
  4. Lawson Younger, Jr. (Trinity International University: Divinity School)
  5. Daisuke Shibata (University of Tsukuba)
  6. Eleanor Robson (University College London)

Paper Titles with Abstracts

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“Come from Wherever You Are": Methods of Borrowing and Methodology in Comparative Studies of Greek and Near Eastern Religion
Mary Radoslavova Bachvarova (Willamette University)

Much work has been done discovering and analyzing parallels between Greek and Near Eastern literature, but very little attention has been devoted to why and how the parallels developed, and methodological discussions about comparative analysis have been primarily focused on how to determine whether a set of parallels is unique enough to prove borrowing. Some arguments have been made for the so-called "Orientalizing Period" (750-650 BCE) as the time for transfer of literary motifs, as this is the earliest that direct contact between Assyrians and Greek-speakers can be proven, but this creates serious problems for explaining borrowings into the Homeric corpus, at least for those scholars who do not follow a late date (after Hesiod) for the texts. However, another approach now beginning to be utilized is interested as much in the means of transfer as in its results, and it accepts that direct transfer from Akkadian to Greek is not the most likely route of transfer, at least for motifs that show up in the earliest Greek authors. Thus, among the issues that must be addressed is how the repeated transfer from one language to another was carried out. In this contribution, I use one particular type of verbal art, the "come from wherever you are" invocation, which was both a means of transfer and the thing transferred, using the Hurro-Hittite evocations from Hattusa (CTH 483, 484, 716), Hurrian incense prayers from Ugarit (RS 1.034 + 1.045, 24.285, 1.007, 24.278), Sappho (Fragments 2, 35 and the testimony provided by Menander Rhetor 334.26-32), and Rg-Vedic prayers (e.g., 1.108). Focusing on "where," "why," "when," "who," and "how" moves us from simply citing parallels to understanding the push-pull factors that caused the constituents of verbal art to move across languages and space in the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. In this case, we can discuss what the popularity of this type of verbal art tells us about how gods were imagined to be situated in the supralocal social systems of their worshippers, and how that conception drove the transfer both of gods and of the means to move them.

An unusual Mesopotamian concept of the afterlife, and the 'afterlife' of this concept in other ancient cultures
Annette Zgoll (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)

Imaginations of life after death are mostly gloomy and intimidating, according to Ancient Near Eastern sources. However, there are some rare, more positive perspectives to be found. It is important to analyse these, and to investigate the 'afterlife' of these positive ideas in other ancient cultures.

Through the Gates of Hell and Back Again. On the Question of Influence between the Cults of Ištar and Greek Cybele
Michèle Louise Meijer (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

During recent excavations in the ancient Greek city of Hierapolis in western Asia Minor, archaeologists located the Plutonium mentioned by the classical writers Strabo and Pliny the Elder: a subterranean cave emitting deadly vapours and therefore in ancient times considered to be an entrance to the Netherworld. Strabo and Pliny report about the cave that while birds and bulls that are led into it drop dead immediately, the galli priests of Cybele, ‘who are eunuchs’, can enter unharmed. The archaeologists soon discovered that the deadly vapours described by these ancient writers are still active: several birds flying near the opening of the cave died. A recent report furthermore reveals that the deadly vapour is in fact a high CO2 concentration and explains how the galli priests might have found a way to circumvent the danger while performing their ceremonies. To an Assyriologist this story about devotees of a goddess who can enter the Netherworld unharmed sounds familiar. In the text Inanna/Ištar’s Descent to the Netherworld, Ištar’s devotees go down to the Netherworld to save the goddess, who is trapped there. In my paper, I first discuss the similarities between the cults of Ištar and Cybele with respect to these trips to the Netherworld based on textual and material sources. Next, I address the question often asked in such comparative enterprises between Greek and Mesopotamian cultures: are we dealing with influence or merely with similar but independent developments due to the Aegean-Asian cultural continuum? Other similarities between Ištar and Cybele’s devotees, such as a non-binary gender identity and the performance of loud music and war dances, have been noted before but remain largely unexplained. Taking into account these other similarities as well as circumstantial evidence of possible intermediaries and cultural interaction in the area, I argue that influence is the most likely explanation for these similar instances of going through the Gates of Hell… and back again.

The Identification of the Deity Aramiš/Aramis of Qarnē/Qarnīna/Qarnayim
Lawson Younger, Jr. (Trinity International University: Divinity School)

Until 2012, a deity named Aramiš/Aramis was primarily known through a theophoric element in personal names and a fragmentary mention in the Esarhaddon Succession Treaty. The deity’s identity remained a mystery. But with the discovery of the Esarhaddon Succession Treaty from Tell Taʿyinat, an association with the city of Qarnē/Qarnīna/Qarnayim came to light. This paper will propose an identification of this deity based on the available data found in the personal names, toponymy, and iconography.

A Middle Assyrian Manuscript of a therapeutic Treatise “Prescriptions of Adapa”
Daisuke Shibata (University of Tsukuba)

The excavations at Tell Taban (Syria) unearthed one nearly complete Middle Assyrian tablet, which is basically a duplicate of Neo-Assyrian BAM 209 from Assur, a manuscript of the third tablet of a therapeutic series, šumma amēlu šerʼān kišādišu ikkalšu šugidimmakku. My paper examines the textual history of the therapeutic treatise, which is written on the new Middle Assyrian manuscript and its duplicates from the first millennium, and then considers the Babylo-Assyrian scholarship in the Assyrian periphery during the second millennium.

Introducing the Nahrein Network for the sustainable Development of History, Heritage and the Humanities in post-conflict Iraq and its Neighbours
Eleanor Robson (University College London)

What can antiquity, history, and heritage contribute to rebuilding lives and livelihoods shattered by decades of war and terror in the Middle East?
The AHRC GCRF-funded Nahrein Network (2017–21), based at University College London, the Ashmolean Museum Oxford, and the University of Kurdistan Hewlêr (Erbil), aims to provide viable answers to this pressing question through collaborative research and reflective practice. Its partners include the Universities of Baghdad and Mosul, Basrah Museum, and UNESCO Iraq, as well as the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, the Council for British Research in the Levant, the British InstItute at Ankara, and the Iran Heritage Fund.
In this talk I will outline the five major aims of the Network, from better understanding the current situation to delivering real improvements in the prospects of people in Iraq. I will also explain the operation of its Visiting Scholars scheme and Grants Fund programmes, which are open to applicants until 2020. I will also reflect on the challenges of working at the intersection of aid and research and ask how the intellectal heritage of the ancient Near East can be reclaimed as local as well as international property.

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