Ancient Mediterranean Religion

Topics: Ancient history, Mediterranean Sea, Mesopotamia Pages: 361 (131527 words) Published: April 23, 2011
ancient religions

Editorial Board
tzvi abusch
Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Brandeis University

jan assmann
Egyptology Institute University of Heidelberg

harold w. attridge
Divinity School Yale University

mary beard
Faculty of Classics and Newnham College University of Cambridge

john j. collins
Divinity School Yale University

fritz graf
Department of Greek and Latin The Ohio State University

bruce lincoln
Divinity School University of Chicago

david p. wright
Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Brandeis University

A nc i e nt Religions
Sarah Iles Johnston
general editor

The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England 2007

Copyright © 2004, 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Ancient religions / Sarah Iles Johnston, general editor. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-0-674-02548-6 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Religions. 2. Civilization, Ancient. I. Johnston, Sara Iles, 1957– BL96.A53 2007 200.93—dc22 2007016512


Introduction Abbreviations Maps

Sarah Iles Johnston

vii xiii xv xvi

Note on Translation and Transliteration

encountering ancient religions
What Is Ancient Mediterranean Religion? Monotheism and Polytheism Ritual Myth • • • •

Fritz Graf

3 17 32 45

Jan Assmann

Jan Bremmer Fritz Graf

Cosmology: Time and History Law and Ethics Mysteries
• •

John J. Collins

59 71 84 98 112 127 139

Pollution, Sin, Atonement, Salvation Eckart Otto
• •

Harold W. Attridge

Sarah Iles Johnston John Scheid Mary Beard

Religions in Contact Writing and Religion Magic

Sarah Iles Johnston


Jan Assmann and David Frankfurter

155 165 173 181 189 197 206

Mesopotamia Israel Iran
• •

Paul-Alain Beaulieu

Syria and Canaan Anatolia: Hittites

David P. Wright David P. Wright

John J. Collins

William Malandra and Michael Stausberg Nanno Marinatos

Minoan and Mycenaean Civilizations

Greece Etruria Rome
• • •


Jon Mikalson Olivier de Cazanove John North

210 220 225 233 241 253 255

Early Christianity Epilogue Index

Harold W. Attridge

Bruce Lincoln


Sarah Iles Johnston


hen Croesus, the king of Lydia, was debating about whether to attack the Persian Empire, he decided to seek advice from the gods. Being a cautious man, however, he decided first to determine which source of divine advice was the most reliable. He sent envoys to each of the famous oracles in the ancient world (which happened to be in Greece and Libya) and instructed them to ask the gods what he was doing in faraway Lydia one hundred days after the envoys had left his court. He then devised an activity that he was confident no one could guess: he boiled the meat of a tortoise and the flesh of a rabbit together in a bronze cauldron, covered by a bronze lid. When the envoys returned with written records of what each oracle’s god had said, Croesus discovered that only two of them—Delphic Apollo and Amphiaraus—had correctly described his strange culinary experiment. He proceeded to make enormously rich offerings to Apollo (and lesser offerings to Amphiaraus, whose oracle was not as prestigious) and then asked Apollo’s advice. Upon receiving it, Croesus attacked Persia (Herodotus 1.46ff). Croesus’s experiment serves as an apt parable for this volume because it is one of the earliest examples of what might be called religious comparison shopping: rather than simply asking his own experts to obtain the gods’ advice, Croesus checked out all the divine resources within his reach and staked his future on the one that looked best. The general concept should be familiar enough to readers who live in America or western Europe, where...
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