“Basic to all religion – and so also to ancient Mesopotamian religion – is, we believe, a unique experience of confrontation with power not of this world. Rudolph Otto called this confrontation “Numinous” and analyzed it as the experience of a mysterium tremendum et fascinosum, confrontation with a “Wholly Other” outside of normal experience and indescribable in its terms; terrifying, ranging from sheer demonic dread to sublime through awe majesty; and fascinating, with irresistible attraction, demanding unconditional allegiance. It is the positive human response to this experience in thought (myth and theology) and action (cult and worship) that constitutes religion.”
“For most religions, especially the most ancient and, as we say, “primitive”, it is impossible to know anything of their beginnings; they are lost in the deep night of prehistory or in the impenetrable form of “parahistory,” of which we have no accounts or documents to orient ourselves. Every religion of this type is ultimately only a reflection of the culture out of which it developed.”
HUMANS have always had a desire either to understand and quantify or to explain all that occurs around them. For the earliest groups who had the time and resources to reflect on the phenomena which took place through the varying seasons, the processes of birth, life and death, sensual pleasures and systems of complex morality; the fears and struggles of a day to day existence being in certain ways facilitated by the settling of the wandering communities and the developments of systems of governance and reflection, allowed for development into the religio-philosophical systems we are aware of through such as the Olympian mythology, the zoomorphic divinities of Egypt, or the monotheism of Judaism surrounded by Cana’anite polytheism. As far as the Ancient World is concerned, however, these are many of the later stages of the organised religions with which we are familiar, but where did such as these begin? Where is the evidence that questioning and attempting to understand the world around them was explained by concepts of the divine – incarnating the ‘Numinous’ as divinities with set abilities, powers and responsibilities in the running of the Universe and explaining what makes the world ‘go round’? Which sites were set aside as sacred – as the homes of the divinities – and why were these sites and geographical situations chosen? Where was the idea of an organised system we would recognise as a religion developed, and under what circumstances? How did the divine hierarchies develop and for what purpose? Where, when and how did the rituals to appease these incarnated numinous powers develop, and why was there such variance in cultures which were neighbours? What role did the development of religion play in influencing the ways in which societies were governed and to what extent was religion used as a tool in the governance of a nascent civilisation by those at the top of the socio-political hierarchies? All of these are questions of major importance in understanding both the development and role of religion and many aspects of the social and political constructs of the earliest civilisations – civilisations which ultimately evolved to the societies in which we live today – though it must be stated here and now that many of these questions are, at present, partially answerable at best, and only theoretically, debated based on scant evidence at worst! This does, however, open some of the most interesting areas of the Ancient World – in attempting to understand the religions and the concept of the religious in the Ancient World, we see the most basic aspects of the cultural development:
“…in its choice of central metaphor a culture or cultural period necessarily reveals more clearly than anywhere else what it considers essential in the numinous experience and wants to recapture and transmit, the primary meaning on which it builds, which underlies and determines the total character of its response, the total character of its religion.”
The concept of the numinous is, however, the only constant – how it was interpreted, understood and represented varied, not only across the varying cultures and civilisations, but also evolving as the civilisations grew, flourished and fell into decay.
Evidence in Archaeology
FINDING evidence in archaeology which is specifically related to a cultic purpose is notoriously difficult, particularly when referring to pre-literate societal structures. What can we look for to guide our association of the foundations of a building or a few stones of a wall with a religious context especially when the settlements are small and the remains seem to indicate that the edifices were of a very basic construction, unlike later where the great temples, the Houses of the Divine, were evident in their structure and in the materials from which these cultic centres were constructed?
It is in many cases virtually impossible to ascertain certain proof of the earliest religious and cultic sites as these would be natural features in the landscape, though there are exceptions. In caves, which likely served as the earliest sanctuaries, there can occasionally be found paintings which were protected from the elements by the living rock. Certainly associating these with religious ideas or practices can be a metaphorical minefield. Examples of cave art dating back to the earliest days of human social structure can be seen at Lascaux in France and Cresswell Crags in Nottinghamshire among other places. These show images of the animals which would have been the standard prey of the hunter-gatherers who drew them – per se this appears to be an innocent pastime. However, these images are found deep in the darkest recesses of these caves, in places which are hard enough to access today with artificial lighting and protective equipment. The artists had none of these, only fire torches, which they would have to bring with them, and painting materials made from natural elements. It is the location which implies a supernatural interpretation to these images. In entering the cave complex, travelling from the light to the darkness, from above ground to the chthonic world, from the omnipresent sounds of the day light world to the almost silence of the cave system, the only sounds being dripping water or the movement of rock, the painters of these prey animals were moving from one world, an open, busy, light ridden, familiar world to the oppressive darkness and silence of the ‘otherworld’. What would the purpose of concealing such detailed and beautiful works of art in specific dark places, inaccessible to the majority populace, and away from all viewpoints (at Cresswell Crags, the artist would have had to lie in an extremely uncomfortable position to create the images)? The questions are, of course, unanswerable as these date from beyond the advent of literacy, but probabilities can be posited. Why choose required prey animals as the images? Are hunter-gatherers simply representing their principle requirements for survival? Very probably. That is not the main question, of course. Of whom are they asking these? THAT is the more important question. With these images, there are none of what might be interpreted a deity or a supernatural being, simply those of those animals which supplied them with food, clothing, tools inter alia. Why choose the darkness and silence of deep underground? What are the most probable associations? The dead are buried in most cultures, either as the body, or as bones after excarnation (removal of the flesh), and certain early human remains do show signs on the surviving bones of the removal of the flesh post mortem – removing that which rots away and leaving the permanent (for them) in the bones. Again, many interpretations have been placed on the excarnation process, from a ritual act of preservation to cannibalism of prisoners – or even cannibalism of the deceased by their descendents so that the essence of the dead might live on in these descendents, consumed in the flesh, though these can only be interpretations based on later knowledge and supposition. The burial of the dead does, however, imply some idea of continuance after crossing the threshold from life to death – from the world of light to the world of perpetual darkness and from above the earth to under its surface – this can give an idea of meaning to the positioning of the images. The most obvious hypothesis is that these were images beseeching the ancestors to help by supplying access to the prey animals in the numbers required. Perhaps this is a broad jump in hypothesis, of course, but a hypothesis which does make sense, on a basic surface level at least.
These places, whether at the time of their creation associated with anything which we might today interpret as ‘sacred’ or ‘holy’ or whether they served another purpose, were evidently abandoned and forgotten – after all, they survived to be discovered by hazard some 20,000 years later! Other natural places, however, certainly did take on a sacred association as people settled into permanent groups and villages began. These might be mountain tops and high places, sacred pools and rivers or, as before, caves. On the surface, very different places, but they do all have one thing in common – they are all places of transition from one reality to a perceived other. This evident idea of the transference of being from one mundane reality to a complex, supernatural ‘other’ is something which was gradually brought artificially into the settlement or just outside of the settlement as civilisation began in the form of sacred space within a building. The natural places of contact with the ‘other’ were either gradually forgotten, or became great sanctuaries and places of direct contact with the gods or ancestors, places of pilgrimage and, often, political importance as well (cf The Great Oracle of Apollo at the Sanctuary of the Pythia at Delphi in Greece).
How, then, do we begin to distinguish the sacred from the profane in the earliest settlements we can access through archaeology?
The easiest is perhaps to look at the shape of the buildings and whether there be any differences in the materials used from any remains which we can certainly associate with housing – something which is often, though by no means always, an easier interpretation to make – or storage buildings. This may be something as simple as the materials from which the floor of the presumed cultic construction is made, such as at Ain Ghazal where the remains at Beidha thought to be associated with a cultic purpose have a floor of clay rather than a plaster floor.
At whichever site, however, the earliest buildings which archaeologists define as possibly associated with a cultic purpose tend to be no bigger than the housing, despite their materials being different (eg orthostats as opposed to mud brick). These buildings would not have been able to hold a large number of worshippers – this leads to a varying set of possibilities. Did the cults expect there only ever to be a small number of adherents to the divinity to which the religious ‘shrine’ was dedicated (these are arguably not large enough for them to be termed ‘temples’) at any given time? Was the cult restricted in its numbers – either as a minority cult or as an élite cult? Was the building itself what was to develop into the later ‘inner sanctum’ of the great temples, containing the cult statue of the divinity, the totem animal in the form of an idol or, as in the Temple in Jerusalem, an empty, but holy Sanctus Sanctorum which was the dwelling place of the divine animus in spirit form, accessible only to the chosen priestly caste and perhaps a small, select number of the social hierarchs, most particularly the king? Such might well imply that the rest of the community as worshippers would gather outside to honour their singular divinity, pantheon or ancestors, or even that the priestly caste with their select group of rulers were the representatives of the people with the divine and as such carried out all that was requisite to appease the numinous power, the participation of the people not being a necessity, such as is posited as the case in Late Predynastic Egypt. There is, of course the other possibility that the building had no cultic significance whatsoever and was a chamber for a small gathering of elders, or even for storing any surplus goods, the stone construction making it harder to break into. (Of course, either of these does not definitely exclude an association with the divine protection with which a chosen deity would be linked – a council chamber may well have contained a cult statue such that the divine oversaw the deliberations and the decisions taken, or surplus produce was placed under the protection of the divine presence which had given it in the first place, such that all in the community might benefit from it when it was needed; all of these were roles of areas in later temples and organised religions). So, what can then be used to define a building in these earliest settlements as having a likely association with the divine? Again, at Ain Ghazal, we see not quite monumental, but large statuary – statuary which could well be associated with representations of the divine, though again it is impossible to state with absolute certainty as these statues date from the era termed Pre Pottery Neolithic (PPN) which covers the period 9950 – 6410 BC; a period which is divided into shorter segments:
||Period or Culture
|Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN)
IN the Northern Levant Region of modern day Turkey, the site of Göbekli Tepe and that in the Central Levant at Jericho give us the evidence of the earliest settlements both of which have certain aspects which may be associated with the development of early religious cultic processes – these are the two best documented PPNA societies. Jericho shows evidence of fortification walls and towers which, evidently, demonstrate the existence of a complex culture. Under the house floors have been found lime plastered human skulls which, it has been argued, may indicate a form of ancestor worship, though without any more certain evidence, this remains and will continue to remain a hypothesis – it might equally be argued that these are the remains of a sacrifice to protect the house and household, trophies of war, or simply the honouring of the family founders as opposed to worship of the ancestor genus.
Göbekli Tepe, however, does seem to be a more likely area for the evidence to be interpreted in a religious or cultic manner. Here are found huge stone circles consisting of monumental sized T shape pillars, in themselves evidence of a highly advanced level of technical architectural ability, but when combined with zoomorphic reliefs and full sized zoomorphic figures as well as possibly very heavily built female figures carrying stylised serpents, the likelihood of a cultic purpose becomes more evidential.
While the majority of PPNA archaeological evidence is to be found in the Middle Euphrates region, apart from one possible example where aurochs horns have been found in a single circular building at the small settlement of Jerf el Ahmar, which MAY give evidence of a cultic use, there is no definite archaeological evidence of religious connexion with any specific building from this earliest period.
In the Levant, the sanctuary as a definite building in a settlement, seems to be uncertain until the late Chalcolithic, though prior to this we can look at burial practices, such as at the site of Tell Sabi Abyad in the Balikh Valley, some 25 miles south of the Syro-Turkish border in Syria, where Leiden University has carried out extensive digs over the last three decades. The burials give evidence of four specific phases of deposition in the area – A: c.7100-6200 BC, B: c.6200-5900 BC, C: c.5900-5800 BC and D: c.5800-5500 BC. This places the earliest phase in the Initial Pottery Neolithic (7000-6700 BC).
The burials here, containing children and adults, number some 200, crouched position, approximately 1m deep being the norm, though there are variances in position and alignment, as well as both multiple and secondary burials found. That there are grave goods often associated with the burials does, however, indicate the acceptance among this community, of a life after death – otherwise, why give goods required for a continuance of ‘normal’ life? The reburial of bones does also seem to tie in with the possible cultic use of ancestral bones in a form of ritual or with a ritual purpose, though what such might be is impossible to define with any certainty at all. The reburial of bones in ceramic ossuaries which often took the form of a dwelling are found along the coastal Levant, particularly in Israel. These would then be deposited in caves such as at Peqi’in in Galilee where hundreds of such examples with what may be associated grave goods of basalt, ivory and copper and what may be fertility figurines in ‘violin’ form have been found.
Late Chalcolithic sites demonstrate a rapid rise in buildings which give better evidence of what can more probably be associated with a religious context – associations of pools and ponds as well as the possibility of the presence of a sacred tree at ‘En Gedi where an unpaved 3 metre diameter circular feature in a courtyard has the remains of an unpaved pool. The idea of the sacred tree was common in the later Bronze and early Iron Ages, associated with the goddess Asherah, depicted between two ibexes (cf XIII C BC Lakhish Ewer which refers to her in the inscription as ‘ilat (goddess)). Near to this was found a fragment of an alabaster vase which originated in Egypt, or was very closely based on an Egyptian original. This idea of a sacred symbol is one unusual to us in the way that the Ancients would have interpreted it (outside of Judaism – an unsurprising truth as many of our concepts are based upon Judaic, monotheistic understandings). While the totem itself represents the divinity, that totem also contains the essence of the power associated with it – hence the frequent later iconography where the totem is either shown as accompanying the divinity, being a part of the anthropomorphic deity or, as in Egyptian representations, the human form bearing the head of the totem animal or even object. Unlike in the Hebrew Bible, where Elohim is associated with the burning bush or the pillar of fire in the desert of Sinai, but is a completely separate entity, not being contained within the bush or the fire:
“An ancient Mesopotamian would have experienced such a confrontation very differently (Moses and The Burning Bush). He too would have seen and heard numinous power, but power of, not just in, the bush, power at the center of its being, the vital force causing it to be and making it thrive and flourish. He would have experienced the Numinous as immanent.” (My bold)
In even later Mesopotamian iconography, an integral part of the power which forms the divine essence can be used as the symbol of the god or goddess – Jacobsen again:
“…the form given to numinous encounter may adjust to the content revealed in it. It may be abbreviated to a single salient feature, as when Inanna, the numinous power in the storehouse, assumes the form of the characteristic gatepost emblem of the storehouse, rather than the storehouse as a whole.”
There must, therefore, have been associated ritual practices which accompanied these developments in cultic buildings and sanctuaries evidenced by these archaeological finds. While we have little evidence other than that which has been found in the grave goods and the repetitive nature of the burial practices, both of these as repetitive acts indicate the ritualistic aspects of such.
What, then, is the purpose of such ritual?
“Compared with less hierarchical systems chiefs and monarchs perform more elaborate rituals at religious ceremonies. Bloch (1974) points out that increased ritualization of behavior is in effect an increased elaboration of authority. Ritual by its repetitive nature in collective situations emphasizes and is in fact a rigid imposition of rules for behaving so that the entire congregation acts out, and accepts, the authority of those in charge of the ritual performance. In this sense, says Bloch, ritual is culturized and symbolic authority. As such it supports authority. Thus, to increase the ritual associated with a local headman’s office, is to increase or to substantiate an increase in his authority.”
This demonstrates the close association of a religious construct with control and power, though to what extent it can be clearly demonstrated that the purpose of religion was control (be that of the elements, the universe or the populace, or all of these combined), or whether its original purpose was to explain and this later developed into the idea of a controlling influence is and will remain an imponderable as such associations are developments from the pre-literate societies and any archaeological evidence is most certainly highly debated.
Ritual, in itself, must, however, serve a purpose, and it influences its surroundings as much as its surroundings influence it. Ashley:
“…ritual is performance that often directs the gaze of its participants toward focal artworks that are constituted through ritual action for ritual performance in that context. The relation between them is not unidirectional (art used in ritual) but reciprocal; ritual creates its artworks while the art or architecture also enables ritual activity.”
This artwork could be seen as dating from the original representations of the prey animals on the walls at Lascaux and moving on to aiming the ritual at the cult statue in the inner sanctum or an abstract representation of that divinity (such as an eternal flame in a ritual vessel) – religious iconography which is both the centre of the ritual and the reflector of that ritual back to the worshipping community.
This idea widens the concept of the theatre of religious practice – the sacred space becomes more than the traditional idea of the temple – an enclosed space which is often cut off from the majority, no matter how large these edifices become (eg the Shrine of the Naos at Karnak or the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Solomon; two immense enclosures but with a small area which was totally sealed off; sealed from the external world, open only to the sacerdotal hierarchy and, significantly, the monarch, and in which the essence of the divinity resided, either in the form of a cultic statue or Elohim in pure essence in Judaism). Then, the combination of ritual which was associated with the personal, day to day life of the divinity (waking, washing, clothing, feeding etc) and which took place in secret became as integral a part of the worship as the public ritual of sacrifice to propitiate the numinous power which took place in the open and was witnessed by the multitude. As well as these which occurred in the sacred enclosures, the early belief systems have associations with high places, often mountain tops, with sacred groves and even with the chthonic depths of caves and ‘deep, dark places’ as explained above, often linked to the divinities controlling weather for the heights, nature and growth with the groves and with death and fear with the caverns or deep, still pools and the Underworld – these are most likely the earliest sacred spaces where the raw power of the elements are encountered, face to face.
This does not, however, imply that the sacred space was a representation of the entire cosmos alone as has been posited, but as having close ties to the natural world around it, again reflecting the idea of the high places, the sacred grove and the dark places. Early Hindu temples are carved into the living rock of the mountains, adapting the natural form to the artistic requirements of the rituals performed there – the question here arises, is it the adaptation that renders the space sacred or simply an adaptation of a space which was already classed as sacred prior to the architectural developments which allowed for such adaptations? Is the space made sacred by the ritual, or are the rituals effective through the sacredness of the space in which they occur? Furthermore, where, as in the case of the Assyrian city of Assur, the urban settlement builds up around the sacred mountain which is per se the house of the god, does the sacred space end? Is the settlement itself classed as a sacred space, sanctified by the presence of the god? Unlike a temple, which is in itself a man made construction and as such is the scared space alone, the walls delineating the end of the sacred space, does something as enormous, permanent and credited as almost divine in itself sanctify all that area around it?
“The supremely sacred places — altars and sanctuaries — were, of course, constructed according to the traditional canons. But, in the last analysis this construction was based on a primeval revelation which disclosed the archetype of the sacred space in illo tempore, an archetype which was then indefinitely copied and copied again with the erection of every new altar, temple or sanctuary. We find examples everywhere of this construction of a sacred place following an archetypal pattern.”
To look at the early conurbations and how they developed alongside the religious life takes us from the small settlements to a more complex and more highly structured society. As the life of the city evolved socially and politically, so did the ideas pertaining to the sacred, both in the physical spaces and the theological concepts.
“…the efforts to achieve and insure divine presence took the form of building temples. The Sumerian and Akkadian words for temple are the usual words for house (é – bitum). They imply between the divine owner and his house not only all the emotional closeness of a human owner and his home, but beyond that a closeness of essence, of being, amounting more nearly to embodiment than to habitation. In some sense the temple, no less than the ritual drama and the cult image, was a representation of the form of the power that was meant to fill it. Like a human dwelling, the temple was the place where the owner could be found. Its presence among the houses of the human community was visible assurance that the god was present and available, that he – as the hymn to the moon god expressed it – “among the (creatures) in whom is breath of life has settled down in a holy abode.”
Like a human dwelling, too, the temple called for a staff, for organization and management. The daily service was that of other great houses: the priests were house servants presenting the god with his daily meals, changing his clothes, cleaning his chambers, making his bed for him. Outside were lands belonging to the god and cultivated by other human servants, the god’s retainers. Thus the god – because the temple was his home – was not only near and approachable; he was involved with the fortunes of the community and committed to maintaining it.
Unlike a human dwelling, though, the temple was sacred. The ancient Mesopotamian temple was profoundly awesome, sharing in the tremenum of the Numinous.”
At Uruk, commonly accepted as the first true city, it can be argued that prehistory evolved to history as writing was developed and literacy began. Liverani:
“Out of small and modest cult buildings progressively, but rapidly, developed great temple complexes. They differed substantially from normal houses in size and in architectural and decorative quality, and they acquired a preeminent and central position in the early urban settlements. By assuming economic functions besides cultic ones, these temples appropriated and redefined the old practices of ‘communal storage’, which were already present in the much earlier Neolithic villages. Storage attained very different dimensions, and very different social and ideological values, however.” 
The temples grew as agricultural production grew, and the chiefdom gave way to the state. Along with this, a dedicated pantheon was defined in Mesopotamia. Literacy developed and the Temple bureaucracy which was required to record and control production, requirements and surpluses, broadening the concept of ‘religion’ and its role in the lives of the people, leading to such as the great temple precinct of Inanna. This is, however, on the proviso that the archaeological interpretations are correct – the public buildings in Sumerian towns can only be certainly assigned as temples where there is a dedicatory deposit to the divinity whose home it was. As the temples were the homes of the gods, it is common sense to have them constructed in the same plan as an élite home – a plan which would also be employed by those at the top of the social hierarchy. Moreover:
“JD Forest has made a case for the majority of these large buildings being meeting places and centres of local administration rather than shrines. He sees the ‘altars’ as podia on which the local sheikh would sit to receive petitions or preside over discussions.”
This, combined with the fact that in the early Dynastic Period in Sumer, the two ‘classic’ plans for temples seem to have been abandoned and no specific example of a regular building pattern replaced them, leads to major difficulties in the interpretation of remains to which might be specifically assigned a religious or cultic use.
Gods, Goddesses and Pantheons
IN Pre-dynastic Egypt, the questions regarding religious development are perhaps even more complex. Bárta interpreted examples of rock art at Wadi Sura II as being original representations of Nut (Sky), Geb (Earth), Shu (Winds) and Tefnut (Rains), divinities who would ergo have appeared in their traditional forms at some point between 4,300 – 3,200 BC, though this has been questioned by Gillian Woods in her PhD thesis, pointing out that the Nile Valley supplies no evidence of such evolved deities in any recognisable or definable form throughout the early period. It is in the early part of the Old Kingdom that the standards of Egyptian belief (life after death, funerary procedures and cults, and the interrelationship of the Twin Crown and the gods in the person of the divine Pharaoh) were instigated in a form recognisable at least for those familiar with Ancient Egypt. These were to remain the bedrock of Egyptian religion for some three millennia, though most other aspects evolved and changed, even to the point where conflicting interpretations of divinities and diametrically opposing rituals continued side by side, something which the Greeks and Romans saw as chaos and demonstration of the Egyptian addiction to religious practice. Combine this with the zoomorphic representations of the divinities, and the religion of the Twin Lands would seem decidedly alien to the outsiders. For the Egyptians, who had no real theology other than that this life was but preparation for the next and it was here that they prepared for that life, however long or short that life be, and that balance, incarnate in the goddess Ma’at, was a necessity in the good running of the universe, avoiding Chaos, there was no dichotomy at all in these apparently conflicting beliefs, ideas and practices – these were simply different aspects of the divine reality. The varying levels of cross influence in religious beliefs and practices seen in the other early civilisations such as Mesopotamia, Anatolia and the Levant, and later Greece and Rome, were less evident in Egyptian religion – geographically, Egypt was isolated through being surrounded by scarcely surmountable deserts; culturally, Egypt viewed herself as the most important society, superior to all others. This meant that there was little external influence in the religious beliefs and practices of the Egyptians right up into the New Kingdom and the Age of Empires. Certain external divinities were imported, perhaps most significantly Reshep, a war god, from Canaan (despite there being an indigenous war god, the hawk headed Montu). The first evidence of honour and respect for foreign deities comes from c. 1350 BC when Amunhotep III requested that an idol of the goddess Ištar of Nineveh be sent by King Tušratta of Mitanni to heal an illness. A much later and more complex system of syncretism occurred under the Ptolemies and the subsequent Roman occupation. The Egyptian pantheon was among the largest of any civilisation – by the New Kingdom, the divinities numbered in the thousands – possibly tens of thousands if one includes local gods and goddesses among their number.
Fig 2 Palette of Narmer British Museum Museum
There are, however, early representations of divinities which are at least certain. On the Palette of Narmer, which dates from Dynasty 0, c. 3000 BC (fig 2), we see the cow eared goddess Bat (likely a forerunner of the Great Cow Hathor) and the falcon of Horus (Hrw) as well as the Great Bull (though whether this be Horus, Montu or simply a zoomorphic representation of the power of the Pharaoh is debated).
Divine representations which are part human and part totem animal appear in early iconography in Dynasty I, such as a woman headed serpent at Tell el-Farkha and possibly (though the dating to Dynasty I is disputed) of colossal statues representing the fertility god Min in full anthropomorphic form. Combine this with certain deities always being in human form (Ptah, god of craftsmen, though to confuse matters, he is mummified), others being in a multiplicity of forms (Djehuti (Toth) god of writing and wisdom) as a baboon, an ibis or an ibis headed man, or a single animal representing a multiplicity of gods (most noticeably the hawk – Horus, Re, Montu, Soqar inter alia) or, in the case of a woman with bovine horns being Isis, Hathor or even a queen! The areas which the gods controlled often overlapped – wisdom came under Djehuti and Ptah; creation processes under a multiplicity of gods (Khnum, Atum, Re, Nefertum, Ptah!!!) Sutekh (or Set), dark god of chaos, the Red Land and the killer of his brother Osiris, was also a major divinity in defending the Barque of Re from Apep, serpent of Chaos, as the aged Re travelled through the Underworld overnight, regenerating so that the sun would rise up at the following dawn. When processes of syncretism were developed, combining aspects of various gods into one divine being, the permutations became endless. Perhaps the most renowned of these is Amun-Re, a syncretic god representing the powers of Royalty and the Crown, though such syncretic deities did not remove nor replace the original divinities, nor lessen their power or roles… Gods might have multiple aspects across the country – especially Amun after he became the state god and others which were particularly associated with one place which would be the centre of their cult and often places of pilgrimage, but had temples countrywide (eg Sobeq at Qom Ombo, Khnum at Elephantine, Amun at Thebes etc). The lack of any set theology (despite Egypt’s being a theocracy) and the belief that it was the necessity of correct performance of rituals, the correct words with the correct ritual movements, have led certain scholars to define the Egyptian belief system as a gathering of rituals and magical processes rather than as a true religion. Carry out the correct procedures day in and day out – procedures which experience had taught were pleasing to the divine powers through years of blessing – these would continue to appease the gods and therefore they would continue in their blessings.
The houses of the gods, prior to the introduction of monumental temples in the Third and Fourth Dynasties, are extremely hard to work out. The very earliest sites were most likely caves or dark places which were associated with magic and supernatural occurrences. There are possible representations of early cult structures on ivory labels from the First and Second Dynasties which, if such be correct interpretations, may well have been temporary structures which might be erected as required. The practice of religion in the Early Dynastic Period seems very much something which was conducted by the King and the upper echelons of his entourage, and had very little to do with the ordinary people and their everyday lives. Presumably, as long as the King carried out the correct rituals to the correct gods at the correct time, life for the populace in the Nile Valley would continue in its benevolent form and all would be well. Local cults honouring the genus loci would be the responsibility of the populace in that village or area, small shrines being all that was required (though certain of these shrines, as pointed out already, would grow in importance and might even become a great state cult – the earliest Tabernacle at the greatest temple complex in Egypt at Luxor was a small shrine to Montu, hawk- headed or taurean god of war). The importance of an individual deity as a genus loci can be found in their names or titles (Nekhbit – Lady of Nekheb) and their importance to the populace can be found in personal names – nineteen Early Dynastic names contain ntr (god) or ntrt (goddess) and a multiplicity are theophorous (they bear the name of a divinity). Such theophorous names continued throughout Egyptian history (Montuhotep, Meriamun inter alia), and were, indeed, not a specific of Egyptian nomenclature – in Mesopotamia, are found names translating as;
‘I-was-spared-on-account-of-Ishtar’, ‘May-I-not-come-to-shame-O-Marduk’, ‘Assur-knew-my-loyalty.’
A multiplicity of names calling on the gods was a common across the Levant, Cana’an, and even the monotheistic Israelite-Judean Kingdoms – any names containing –El for example.
As with divinities such as Nekhbit, names of deities could often be associated with place – in the Phoenician pantheon, particularly at Tyre, the chief god was named Melqart – a name which, in Punic, is M’alq Qart – King of the City, and the chief god of the Assyrian pantheon, Aššur, was tied with the city and the mountain of Assur – to the point that the mountain was his only full temple in Assyria, even after the capital was transferred to Kalhu.
Another common incarnation of the divine was that superimposed on the heavenly bodies. Evidentially, the easiest and most obvious were the sun and the moon. For the Egyptians, the Sun was associated with a number of divinities – Re, the original king of the gods, Atum, the Aten. The Moon was the god Khonsu and the star Sirius was associated with the goddess Isis. For the Mesopotamians and peoples of the Levant, the Sun and Moon had a variety of names, eg Shamash for the Sun and Sin for the Moon (after whom the name Sinai comes) but rather than Sirius, it was Venus as the Morning or Evening Star which was believed to be associated with their goddess Ištar/Astarte. This also gave associations with certain professions in Mesopotamia through perceived aspects of the heavenly bodies’ ‘actions’. As the sun travelled across the heavens each day, looking down on the Earth, Shamash was linked to professions which also involved travelling – merchants, sailors, soldiers, heralds. These were key professions in the early Semitic societies – the former two brought the raw materials from distant lands and sold the surplus produce of their home society, boosting the economy; the soldier travelled either on ensuring peace throughout the kingdom or conquering new lands; the herald carried the King’s decrees far and wide, consolidating Royal power and bringing stability to the nation. This political stability was supported by the influence of Shamash, reflecting the stability of the Heavens, justifying the position of the King and the state:
“Most exalted of the gods,
Shamash, the sun, who holds in his hand the life of the land…
Daylight, chief herald on the mountain ranges,
Herald of the brightening sky…
He sustains campaigners and travelling merchants in foreign lands,
Foreign lands render up lapis and silver to the travelling merchants,
Cedar forests yield virgin timber, boxwood, cypress, standing tall,
Like splendid standards,
Fit for a prince to adorn his house.
He loads up his barge with aromatics, oils, honey,
The goods that merchants bring…”
This hymn dates back to around the time of the birth of Sargon of Akkad, already demonstrating the widespread trading area exploited by the Akkadians – lapis from Afghanistan, cedars from Lebanon, aromatics (perfumes and incense) from Dilmun (likely Oman or Yemen). All these safe journeys and successful trading expeditions were associated with the blessings of Shamash. As Shamash was royal, mercantile and military power, Sin, the moon god, was a much more secretive deity. His wonder, however, was great for the Akkadians – whereas the sun was unchanging and unflinching, the moon waxed and waned, representing renewal and autonomous recreation. The silver light of the full moon decreased to the finest crescent in the night sky – a barque traversing the darkness, a diadem of power or the horns of the Great Heavenly Bull, all of which were linked with Sin. He was also associated with oracles – engraving the will of Heaven in the livers of sacrificial animals, and this fast became a standard part of political policy for the Mesopotamian monarchy throughout its history. It is likely that this dedication to the oracular function of Sin is the explanation for the close link and devotion that the Akkadian royal family showed to this deity, though this is hypothesis only. Even one of the greatest Mesopotamian kings had, in his name, an association with the lunar deity – Sennakherib means ‘Sin has replaced a brother’. There must have been a death of a prince, replaced with Sennakherib after appeal to Sin.
IN the early Ancient Near East, however, the majority of gods were much more closely related to a city state, and the city state with its patron deity. There were, as we have seen, gods which were worshipped across the entirety of the existence of the civilisations, such as Marduk of Babylon and Shamash the solar deity – Ba’al, the major Phoenician god, and his consort, Tanit, Astarte/Ištar and Isis had a transnational aspect, adopted in a multitude of cultures, but the majority remained localised deities. Their roles changed and were adapted depending on the city or the area where they held sway – the major gods in one city would play the dominant role in their cultic centre, but would give way to the same role of the dominant deity in another cultic centre. The myths became ever more complex and interwoven over time, the roles of the gods varying according to the political landscape and the dominant city state at any given time. When a city fell, however, it was not seen as the defeat of a deity or that deity’s cessation, but rather that the patron deity had abandoned the home city and left its temple, hence leaving the city vulnerable. This even went as far as the practice of ‘godnapping’ – the cult statue of the patron in a defeated city would be carried off with the rest of the spoils, but, unlike the melting down of the Great Menorah after the sack of Jerusalem and the Great Temple by the Romans, the idol would be taken to the home temple of the victorious city, and, though in a lesser position, would be honoured and offered worship throughout her or his residence in the victor’s temple. An example of this is when, after the defeat of Babylon, the cult statue of Marduk, who had become the state god of Babylonia, was ‘godnapped’ and took up ‘residence’ in Assyria.
IN Egypt, there were different parameters, as the Twin Lands had been unified under Narmer, the Scorpion King, in the third millennium BC. The various nomes had their own gods and temples; the early unification of Egypt into one political entity allowed for localised deities to take on a supra regional, or even national level. Horus and Osiris, the two main gods associated with the Pharaoh, were the main example of this due to the cult of the divine king, an incarnation of Horus when alive, becoming an Osiris post mortem. Osiris’ combined roles as King of the Underworld and Lord of vegetation and plant growth gave him a particular importance both as a Royal god and as a giver of food in the agrarian society of the Nile Valley. The Royal association of these gods was also a key aspect in the ‘correct’ balance of all that was required for ‘good governance’, represented by Ma’at, the Feather of Truth. The gods associated with the Royal Capital of Thebes, particularly Montu, Mut and Amun-Re all at one point or another rose from localised cult to national importance and worship through Royal patronage. The iconography of the entire Dynastic Era in Egypt has a leitmotiv of the Pharaoh in the company of assorted divinities – worshipping and honouring the gods, much as would be expected, but also being greeted and honoured by the gods, both in their roles as the living Pharaoh and in the mortuary temples and tombs where the recently dead Pharaoh is welcomed into the company of the collected divinities as an equal. Statuary was also a key religious / propaganda tool throughout the kingdom. Fig. 3 shows the Pharaoh Amunhotep III being protected by the crocodile god of Qom Ombo, Sobeq. The Pharaoh is a much smaller figure than the seated god, emphasising the power of the divinity. The king wears the false beard and the cobra on the nemes headdress, though these are his only royal trappings, and he wears nothing which would be directly associated with godhood. Sobeq’s image, however, wears the atef crown consisting of many royal/divine symbols – the ostrich feathers, the solar disk of Re in the centre, the ram’s horns, associated both with Amun as the royal god and Khnum, the creator potter. Sobeq is holding the ankh, symbol of divine power and of being given life by the gods. The two figures are so close that Sobeq appears to have his left arm round the Pharaoh’s back (though this is appearance, as the left hand is seen nowhere). This statue is a perfect demonstration of the symbiosis of the royal personage and the divine personage in all forms.
Fig.3 Amunhotep III being protected and honoured by Sobeq – Cairo Museum
In the Mortuary Temple of Seti I, wall engravings of the new Pharaoh, Ramses II show him offering to the collected triad of Osiris in seated, mummified form and wearing the atef crown, Isis with bovine horns and solar disk, and Horus wearing the pschent double crown of the Twin Lands. Unlike in the statue, the Pharaoh is the same size as the gods, though in his actions (offering worship) he is evidently the supplicant. The Pharaoh is wearing the blue khepresh crown. Above the king can be seen the goddess Nekhbit in her form as the Great Vulture, protectrix of Upper Egypt, the Crown the king wears bears the raised cobra – symbol both of Pharaonic power to punish and the goddess Wadjet, protectrix of Lower Egypt and the Delta region. The king is offering a tray on which are a small statue of the deceased king wearing a feathered crown and in a position of worship in front of a pillar which bears the hawk head and solar disk of Re, the original royal god and king of the gods. The casket which separates the Pharaoh from the gods carries a small figure in the zoomorphic jackal form of the funerary divinity Anubis. The gods both carry the ‘was’ sceptre of divine power and both they and Isis carry the ankh. Isis has her right hand raised in a movement of both greeting and honouring the Pharaoh.
Fig. 3 Mortuary Temple of Seti I
The Pharaoh here is carrying out a magical ritual which was required for the safe passage of the ka (soul) of his father to the presence of the benevolent gods of the Fields of Reeds – the Egyptian heaven. Wearing the khepresh crown and in royal long kilt, he is representing not only royal power, but also the country and ergo the people in this ceremony of honour and collective grief. These images, unlike the highly coloured paintings in the tombs which were decorated in honour of the dead and to assist their passage through the trials to the next life, were very brightly painted and decorated the walls of the Great Temples which would be visible to all who worshipped or visited the temple – a demonstration of the piety of the king, that he fulfilled his duties to the gods, both personal (cf fig. 4 where the king is carrying out the daily cult rituals for the gods and abasing himself by kowtowing before the gods) and on behalf of all the people, but also that the gods bless and show favour to the Pharaoh, and in the symbolic representation of royal power, to Egypt as a whole and all her people.
Fig. 4 The King carries out the daily cults – Temple of Karnak
IN Anatolia (especially Hatti), Mesopotamia and across the Levant, syncretism was again a common practice, though perhaps not to the same extent as in Egypt and it occurred in a transnational or transcultural sense as opposed to combining native deities. The Hittites had their own pantheon, but also syncretised the Hurrian god Tešub and the Mesopotamian god Enki. As the cultural and economic ties between the various Ancient Near Eastern, Mesopotamian and Levant states expanded, then the transference and transmutation of the pantheons increased. This might explain why the Storm/War gods tended to be dominant in the separate pantheons and had similar if not identical iconography. There is also evidence that other deities came from the East via trade and cultural links with the Indo-Aryan civilisations in modern day Pakistan/India, though this was in a limited period (Kassite rule at Babylon) and the eastern deities remained officially at least subservient to the indigenous Mesopotamian deities.
As societies developed and the concept of Empire came into being, the gods also travelled farther and farther afield from their natal cities or states. In the Iron Age, we see the Egyptian goddess Hathor being syncretised with both Astarte and Anat in the Cana’anite pantheons, and after a major deportation of Egyptians to Nineveh we find evidence of a syncretism of Horus and the Mesopotamian god of wisdom and literacy, Nabu – oddly enough, not Djehuti (Toth) as would perhaps be expected. This was something which was to continue across the Graeco-Roman period as well.
Offerings and Sacrifices
The relationship of the profane world to the divine was one which relied on the concept of giving and receiving. If a people wished to receive the intervention and blessings of the gods, then there was the understanding among the devout that they would be expected to offer something to the gods in return. This is not necessarily for concrete goods, however – none expected, as far as we can evidence it, that piles of gold or foodstuffs would simply appear on the altar or in the temple storerooms overnight. The need for security, for water enough to drink and cultivate, for protection from foreign tribes, from illness, from famine; these were much more immediate concerns for early civilisations trying to build up their settlements. As the urban settlements grew, political stability, military success, and mercantile and economic growth were added to these. In exchange, the gods received worship, adoration and gifts in the form of sacrifice. As mentioned above, the earliest evidence so far discovered which might be interpreted as sacrifice can be found in the cave paintings at sites such as Lascaux. The offering is in the form of the ritualistic works of art in a concrete sense, but also, it may be posited, in the ‘pilgrimage’ – the act of going through the difficulties of squeezing through tight, dark spaces, of maybe taking a wrong turn and being lost forever, of transporting the equipment needed to produce the ‘sacrificial’ images, the inevitable cuts, bruises, possibly broken bones which would accompany the ‘pilgrimage’ both to and from the ‘sacrificial’ site. The expectation that the ancestral animae would look favourably on the undertakings and difficulties of those petitioning their intervention in finding enough food animals was possibly an expectation of the artists and their communities. There is another possibility, either as a separate interpretation, or as a conjunct of the petition to the ancestors – one which is still used in certain animistic belief systems today – an apology to the spirits of the animals which have died or are about to die to supply the human community with that which they need. Plains native peoples in America are known to have apologised to the spirit of a bison prior to its death, an intercession between the animus of the bison and the Great Spirit.
As the complexities of pantheons consisting of deities with specific responsibilities grew up, the expectations of the said divinities regarding that which was sacrificed to them evolved. Where a specific profession would have specific requests or thank offerings to make, the object sacrificed might vary (the classic example of this is in Genesis – the story of Cain and Abel; the farmer is expected to sacrifice the first fruits of the harvest in thanks, the shepherd the fattest and fittest of the new lambs).
The altar on which the intercessory sacrifice would be offered was not, however, usually in the inner sanctum of the Temple, but in an open space in the temple precinct. There are a number of purposes to this. On a purely practical level, the smells and sounds would be awful. The blood, the defecating animal, the panicked cries, the smoke of the burnt offerings… On a different level, however, which would make more sense to those who were participating in the sacrifice, either as worshipper or as the conducting priest or priestess. The open space allowed for the whole company of the heavenly pantheon to look down on the sacrifice and see the honour with which the patron deity was being worshipped – a sacrifice within the sanctuary itself would be visible only to the deity whose House the Temple was. This would be expected to raise the kudos of the divinity of whom the request was being made, and as such render a positive answer more likely. The smoke and incense of the offering would rise up to the Heavens, nourishing the god or goddess being honoured (the deities seem to have always been nourished by inhaling the essence of the sacrifice in the smoke of the burnt offering) accompanied by the prayers, hymns and petitions of the worshippers. Such a public sacrifice brought the people who worshipped the divinity together, uniting them all as one people – even if in private they had a personal devotion to another or other deities – something which had a strong political and sociological outcome in bonding the community together in worship of their city’s or state’s divine protector or protectrix. The ritual, which may well have included the participation of the king and the royal family, the élite, both bureaucratic and military, and the aristocracy when carried out to honour the protecting deity at the great festivals, was thus enhancing the divine patronage for the governing class and system. This can be, as in Marxist ideas, interpreted as keeping the populace in its place, but this can also be challenged as a modern interpretation on a system very far removed from ours. In a world where everyone looked to the ruler for protection and help in keeping the numinous powers appeased and positive, the role of the monarch or hierarch was of an importance we find hard to credit. The role was imperative for the survival of the state, and the survival of the state was imperative for the prospering of the people – such that in certain cultures (most especially Egypt) the monarch was not simply a chosen representative of the heavenly powers, but was himself an incarnate deity as explained above. As the greatest and most important High Priest of the country and intercessor with the gods and goddesses of the pantheon, the Pharaoh was not simply the most important political figure in the Twin Lands, but also the most important sacerdotal figure – even to the extent that the Pharaoh as king might worship himself… not pure arrogance, but making perfect sense where the king as the main high priest and a mortal human is worshipping the divine essence incarnate in him as the immortal living Horus and deceased Osiris, ensuring the blessings of the Royal Gods on Egypt and the continuance of their patronage – two completely separate entities combined in the personage of the Pharaoh.
There were, however, also altars in the inner sanctums. These would be required for the libations and all associated with the daily life of the god and the rituals which this entailed. These would not be rites and rituals which were important for the people, the general élite nor for the well being of the State on a political level – though they certainly would be important in the appeasement and well being of the deity. The cleansing of the cult statue, the food and drink offered to the god or goddess, the dressing of the cult statue in the best of clothes, fresh and cleaned or even new each day, the personal offering of incense on a brazier, even the light allowed to shine in the inner sanctum, were all necessary parts of the daily worship of the god or goddess. Indeed, many of these practices are still to be found in modern Hindu temples, where parts of the daily rituals are openly accessible to the worshipping community, and parts are carried out in private, witnessed only by the chosen Brahmins and the cult statues of the divinities.
Sacrifice was always required to be of the best that the worshippers had to offer – again, referring back to the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis, Elohim’s blessing is given to the sacrifice which was of the best of the first fruits – it was withheld where the sacrifice was not the best available. It was the expectation that, where the worshippers both honoured and petitioned the divinity with the best of that which the divinity had given them in the first place, the divinity would be pleased enough to return that gift manyfold as an act of benevolence to its people. This does, however, lead to what was classed as the ultimate sacrifice – that of another human being or human beings. It is a hugely contentious subject and the morality of such a sacrifice is to modern day understanding unquestionable – but in this, are we again imposing our modern day values on the ancient societies where such would have been viewed very differently. The ancient peoples lived in a very different world to ours – it was filled with threats, pain and suffering – illness was brought by daemons or as a punishment; famine, drought, natural disasters, military defeat, life for most was short, brutal and painful; these were absolutes for these people. The gods who controlled these aspects of life were often very capricious and seemed to view humans as, at best, playthings which gave them gifts and worship, and at worst as a pest which caused annoyance and was there to be crushed as and when an angry divinity chose. Where two of these numinous, absolute powers fell out and conflict ensued, it was their adherents who did the fighting and the dying, as, were the gods to go to war themselves, the forces they would unleash would have only one consequence – the destruction of the universe and all in it. This sort of a universe might, on certain occasions, require the ultimate sacrifice, the extremes of which were witnessed in the Aztec civilisation in Mesoamerica where hundreds and on occasion thousands, would be sacrificed on the altars of the rather bloodthirsty pantheon, especially the sun god. In its earliest times, the definite purpose of any specific use of human sacrifice is almost impossible to ascertain – indeed, it is only within the context of the find that a likely interpretation of purposeful human death can be made.
“In itself, it is of no importance that a given ritual should appear “unethical,” “revolting” or “barbaric” to a given scholar; opinion and science are two different things … it is when the scholar proceeds to argue that, because a ceremony or ritual is revolting (to him), it ought, therefore, to be explained away as the relic of an even more barbarous age, or rejected as an interpolation of “popular” origin, that one finds oneself involved in all sorts of errors of fact.”
For where this as a practice first occurred, we must turn to archaeological evidence of human deaths associated with religious and cultic practices – and this is an important distinction; the first evidence of human deaths seem to be associated primarily with funerary practices in Early Dynastic Egypt and the Royal Tombs at Uruk. The ceremonial burial of the ‘victims’ here, does question whether these were sacrifices in the sense explained above.
At Uruk, as discovered by Sir Leonard Woolley, 16 tombs of royal personages were excavated in which other human remains were found – some containing over seventy skeletal remains. These tombs date from c. 2900-1700 BC, beginning in the earliest years of the Dynastic Era and ending in the earliest years of the Old Babylonian Period. An example is Tomb PG 789, assigned to King Abargi. In this were found some 63 sets of human remains of mixed gender, all situated in different positions within the funeral pit. On the ramp down lay the remains of six soldiers (copper helms and spear points) guarding the tomb. Two wagons drawn by cattle with human remains around them, nine female remains in elaborate costumes of precious materials lay against the wall, and in between the rest of the human remains as well as a large number of animal bones. Woolley interpreted this as a group who chose to accompany their lord to the next world – the women dressed in their finery – the remains of a great feast, music played until the last minute after the ‘sacrifices had taken poison from the cups scattered around them. Then, the priests came down, slaughtered the cattle and the grave-pit was buried to seal the tomb. While this fanciful account may seem to bear more resemblance to a Hollywood ‘sword and sandals’ epic, the archaeological evidence, on the surface, does tie in well with such an interpretation. There are, however, some skulls with pike holes in them – a rather more violent ending, though not necessarily one which excludes the voluntary nature of the ‘victims’ – there may have been a requirement for such a death of a male and a female in the funeral rituals. Other evidence of adult human sacrifice is highly debatable – often it is through a combination of human bones alongside animal bones found in sacred sites. While these may be evidence of the ritual placing of dismembered human corpses, perhaps of prisoners of war – it is known that bones of ancestors were removed from their graves in order to be used in specific ritualistic practices and then reburied – perhaps these individual bones were simply a deposition which was part of the construction of the sacred site.
A more disturbing find to the modern mind comes from the site of Tell Umm el-Marra in Northern Syria where funerary installations have been found which contain not adult, but infant remains alongside puppies and equid skulls. It has been posited that these youthful and infant sacrifices were used as a ritualistic purification process, though, with the strong likelihood that child sacrifice was a norm in the Cana’anite and Phoenician religious practices, its purpose as no more than a ritualistic purification process seems perhaps too narrow an interpretation.
While in the Ancient Near East and Mesopotamia, the definite statement of actual human sacrifice is extremely difficult as there is no indisputable iconographic evidence, in Early Dynastic Egypt, there is one group of possible images (figs. 5a and b) of human sacrifice through bleeding from the chest of a bound victim, the blood being collected in a bowl for an evident ritual purpose.
fig 5a from Hor-Aha’s tomb at Abydos – ivory label – theoretical reconstruction of two partial finds (Ellen F. Morris)
fig 5b From Mastaba 3035 at Saqqara Djer
(Images from Crubézy and Midant-Reynes, 2000, 38 in Performing Death)
The question here, on the proviso that this be a correct interpretation of the labels, is who the sacrificial victims were. Are they volunteers, chosen from the populace, prisoners of war, or true victims? Even that they appear to be bound is not necessarily exclusive of voluntary victimhood – the sacrifices are not being held by anyone else, as would have been expected were they enforced victims – even bound, a sacrificial victim who is unwilling will thrash about and struggle – even a willing victim will automatically curl up to protect the chest area and the heart – the areas here apparently being slashed open. Again, however, such an interpretation must be taken in context and with a very large pinch of salt – might this be a blood sacrifice, and even a willing one, but NOT a sacrifice where the sacrifice dies. A limited exsanguination of perhaps a member of the royal family, a virgin or even the Crown Prince / new Pharaoh might equally be interpretations – sacred blood which was required for the purification of the tomb, perhaps.
This is a basic introduction, and I hope it has stirred the readers’ interest in this fascinating field which falls under Ancient History, Theology, Anthropology and Sociology – I would fully recommend that you look at the works cited in depth – there are a plethora of more detailed works freely available on sites such as academia.edu or in pdf format under a Google scholar search.
This is where I shall stop this post and will continue for the Mediterranean regions at a later date.
Altaweel and Squitieri, (2018) Revolutionizing a World, UCLA
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Raja and Rüpke (eds) (2015) Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World, Wiley Blackwell
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Images – Wikimedia open access
 Jacobsen, 1976, 13
 Bottéro, 2001, 5
 Jacobsen, 1976, 4
 Cf.Whitehouse, 2001: 166 in Raja and Rüpke, 2015, 1
 Rollefson, 2000
 From Potts, (ed) ANE Archaeology Vol I, 2012, 397
 Plug et al, Tell Sabi Abyad, Syria: Dating of Neolithic Cemeteries in Radiocarbon, Vol 56 Nr 2, 2014, 543-554
 Gal et al 1999
 Ussishkin, 1980 in Potts (ed) 2012, 412
 Dever, 2005, 222-232
 Naveh, 1982, 33-35
 Rowan, YM 2012, 266
 Jacobsen, 1976, 6
 Jacobsen, 1976, 7
 Cohen, R in Claessen and Skalnik (eds) 1978, 63
 Ashley, K, 1992, 10
 Eliade 1996, 371–72
 Jacobsen, 1976, 15-16
 Liverani, 2006, 23
 Crawford, 2004, 75-76
 Crawford, 2004, 76
 Bárta, 2010
 Woods, G, 2015, 1
 Herodotus, 2, 37: ‘The Egyptians are religious to excess, beyond any other nation in the world.’
 Wilkinson, 1999, 262
 Nemet-Nejat, 1998, 175
 Muses, 50-51 in Foster, 2016, 136-137
Foster, 2016, 137
 Bryce, 2004
 Kynard, 2015, 54
 Altaweel and Squitieri, 2018, 243
 Whitney Green, AR, 1975, 189