A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Mythology by Gwendolyn Leick

By Gwendolyn Leick

The Dictionary of old close to jap Mythology covers assets from Mesopotamia, Syro-Palestine and Anatolia, from round 2800 to three hundred BC. It comprises entries on gods and goddesses, giving facts in their worship in temples, describing their 'character', as documented through the texts, and defining their roles in the physique of mythological narratives; synoptic entries on myths, giving where of foundation of major texts and a short heritage in their transmission throughout the a while; and entries explaining using expert terminology, for things like different types of Sumerian texts or different types of mythological figures.

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Sample text

She descends to the underworld, the very domain of Death. Mot admits to having eaten Baal and for a long time Anat entreats with him. Finally she seizes Mot, ‘she splits him with a knife, sieves, burns, grounds and mills him’ and finally ‘sows him in a field, (where) the birds eat his flesh’. [gap] El is asked to perform a dream-oracle; should he dream that ‘the heavens rain oil and the wadis run with honey’, it will be clear that Baal is still alive. El does indeed dream in this manner and he rejoices and sends Anat to Šapaš in order to enlist her collaboration in the further search for Baal.

The Babylonians inherited the culture and religious structures of the Sumerians. The scribes of the Old Babylonian period copied and translated a number of Sumerian mythological texts (see Ištar’s Descent, the Flood-myths and parts of the Gilgameš epic). But there is also much that owes more to Syrian or Amorite concepts than Sumerian tradition (see the myth of Harab, the rise of Marduk and Nabû). While hymns and prayers and other ‘proto-philosophical’ compositions developed the concept of morality, justice and personal piety, ‘mythography’, the writing of new myths, though certainly not a new genre in Mesopotamian literature, was used to explain and dramatize the modification of the official pantheon (Nergal and Ereškigal; to some extent Enuma eliš).

In the most famous ‘Epic of Creation’, the Babylonian Enuma eliš, the elevated position of the god Marduk is justified by his decisive actions in illo tempore. There is great variety in the narrative sequences, even the divine personalities involved. However, there seems to be one concept which underlies most cosmogonic texts. It is the notion that there is a dynamic tension between chaos and order. Chaos is unformed, unnamed, inert. Yet it is pregnant with the possibility of order and has to give birth to a successively more differentiated system which finally constitutes ‘civilization’.

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