click here to follow the link

Alternative title:

The Mesopotamian eschatology. The cult of the dead in literary and archaeological sources dated III-I millenium BC.

Subject and Keywords:

eschatology   Mesopotamia   cult of the dead


The following elaboration is devoted to the topic of Mesopotamian eschatology and the cult of the dead in literary and archaeological sources dated III-I millenium BC. Above all, the work shall include a discussion of Sumerian and Akkadian texts and discoveries. However, there will also be references to the Egyptian, Canaanite or Israelite traditions. In Mesopotamia, death was considered the human destiny given from the gods, therefore a frequent designation of death was "to go and meet one's destiny". However, mortality did not mean human annihilation - their spirit kept living on after death, but in the underground world. The Mesopotamian underworlds were, however, a gloomy land, full of ashes, without access to fresh water and food. And since it was believed that the spirit of the deceased person kept its earthly needs after death, such as the need to satisfy hunger and thirst, it was obvious that, in the land of the dead, such a person could not satisfy these needs by themselves. In order to do this, they needed their living relatives who were supposed to be their guardians. Their task was to make offerings to the ghost so that it had something to drink and something to eat and could be happy in the underworld and take care of the living members of their family. Otherwise, the hungry and thirsty spirit could turn into an apparition seeking revenge and torment its relatives or even bring diseases upon them, thus demanding the due offerings. It is therefore not surprising that the residents of Mesopotamia very strongly cultivated the relations with their deceased relatives. They have proceeded with this ever since the moment of the death and funeral of a family member, performing many activities with their corpses (inter alia cleaning, anointing and dressing the body, careful burial, first tomb gifts) which were to help the deceased reach the underground world and show to them how much the members of their family care for them and respect them, this including especially the sons. These people were considered the inheritors and it was above all their duty to keep the memories of the deceased alive. The deceased were still treated as members of the family, therefore they were often buried under the household floors. One room, that above the deceased person's tomb, served the function of a home chapel were people prayed and made offerings to the deceased. The situation was similar in the case of deceased rulers - they were also entitled to posthumous respect, but their cult was performed in palaces and temples and took on much more lavish forms than in the case of regular citizens. The literary sources on eschatology and the cult of the dead were not, however, only literary fiction and regular tales, but had a specific reflection in reality. The proof for this are the archaeological excavations handled in the ancient Mesopotamia region (modern Iraq), during which many home chapels, tomb offerings, valuables, as well as human remains, have been discovered. This advocates the statement that family relations were extremely strong amongst the residents of Mesopotamia and the cultivation of the relations with the ancestors was one of the elements of the cultivation of one's own identity. The following work consists of three chapters. The first one is devoted to the topic of Mesopotamian eschatology (the concept of death, the description of the underworld). The second one describes mourning customs and rituals; the third one describes literary sources regarding the cult of the dead, and describes the archaeological sources regarding the cult of the dead.

Date issued:




Abstract Language :