Religion in Ancient Iraq: Ritual and Divinity in Early Mesopotamia
This project will analyze the worship of divine statues in ancient Iraq from an indigenous Mesopotamian perspective. At the center of this study is the daily ritual of feeding the gods, which will offer an entry into discussing central aspects related to religious worship, beliefs, gender, and socio-economic contexts of religious systems. A detailed study of this ritual will allow a new understanding of the Mesopotamian notions of divinity, society, gender, and economics.
Modern scholarship of ritual food offerings has been heavily influenced by Biblical polemics against idol worship. Therefore, this project has the potential to illuminate and further our understanding of a wide range of information on key aspects of ancient Mesopotamian religion, society, and economy:
1) Divinity: It was not only the numerous gods and goddesses in their various aspects who received foods; sacred objects, too, were presented with foods. This indicates that in ancient Mesopotamia, divinity could not only inhabit (or be embodied in) divine statues, which became the deity, it could also be transferred to other objects that were in proximity to the god. This observation needs to be studied further to fully comprehend its significance.
2) Economics: The economic and bureaucratic administration of food offerings required an enormous organizational effort. Who provided the food offerings? What happened with the food offerings after they had been consumed by the gods? There are indications that foods were redistributed to dignitaries within the ancient communities, yet it remains to be determined whether redistributions were economically or religiously significant (or both).
3) Society and Gender: Many of the most important priestly offices in ancient Mesopotamia were held by women. In fact, some of the complex administration of food offerings was the task of priestesses. The important role of women in religion has often been dismissed; in fact, male scholars designated many priestesses "temple prostitutes" instead of trying to understand the religious and economic roles that these elite women occupied in early Mesopotamian society. Thus, a fresh look at the evidence allows for a critical re-evaluation of priestesses and their importance for ancient Mesopotamian religion and society.
Brisch, Nicole. "To Eat Like a God: Religion and Economy in Old Babylonian Nippur." In At the Dawn of History: Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Honour of J. N. Postgate, edited by Yagmur Heffron, Adam Stone, and Martin Worthington, 43-53. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2017.
-. "Of Gods and Kings: Divine Kingship in Ancient Mesopotamia." Religion Compass 7, 2 (2013): 37-46. doi: 10.1111/rec3.12031.
-. "Changing Images of Kingship in Sumerian Literature." In The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture, edited by Karen Radner and Eleanor Robson, 706-724. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Publications from the Fellows' Library
Brisch, Nicole (
Winona Lake, Indiana,
To eat like a god : religion and economy in old Babylonian Nippur
Brisch, Nicole (
Of gods and kings : divine kingship in ancient Mesopotamia