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Sumerian-Akkadian mythology reaches back to the earliest lists of gods in the third millennium bce and preoccupied the Mesopotamian intellectuals for more than 2000 years. This overview describes four major moments in the earlier phases of that history, each putting in place a different type of cosmic building block: ontologies, infrastructures, genealogies, and interfaces. These four phases stretch from the first mythological narratives in the mid-third millennium down to the late second and first millennium bce, when Mesopotamian materials are reconfigured and adapted for cuneiform scribal traditions in northern Mesopotamia, Syria and the Levant. Rather than limiting ourselves to late, somewhat heterodox recompilations such as the Enuma Elish or the Baal Epic, this contribution argues that the most important and long-lived features of the mythological tradition in Mesopotamia came into existence between 2500 and 1500bce.Like the poetry of a particular language or the usual turns of phrase in a family, the mythology embedded in a particular culture or civilization provides decisive clues to the central concerns of that society. These clues are indirect hints at most, constrained by the need to transmit specific textual materials (mythologems, proverbs, or narratives), while at the same time producing the local pragmatic effects that they are thought to achieve. Surprisingly, then, mythological materials are also usually quite susceptible to translation, giving the unknowing reader the impression that things were not so very different four thousand years ago in ancient Iraq. If we adopt a definition of myth that limits our quarry to “stories about deities that describe how the basic structures of reality came into existence,” excluding thereby .

Article

Lawrence H. Schiffman

The Cairo geniza was a storeroom for no longer usable holy books in the synagogue of Fustat, Old Cairo, where for centuries, old Jewish manuscripts, mostly in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Judeo- Arabic, including also secular documents and communal records, were deposited. In the 19th century, European scholars became aware of this collection and manuscripts were removed to a variety of libraries in Europe and the United States. This material provides those studying the ancient world and ancient Jewish texts in particular with an amazing treasure of documents, throwing light on the history of the biblical text and its interpretation, the Hebrew language, Greek and Syriac versions of the Bible, Second Temple and Rabbinic literature, Jewish liturgy and the later history—political, economic, and religious—of the Jews in the Mediterranean basin. This material has totally reshaped our understanding of these fields. In the area of Bible, these texts illustrate the manner in which the vocalization and cantillation symbols were developed. Hebrew versions of some important Second Temple literature, later found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, had earlier been discovered in the geniza. Many previously unknown Midrashim and rabbinic exegetical materials have become known only from this collection. This material has provided an entirely new corpus of liturgical poetry.

Article

Aren Maeir

Biblical archaeology is defined as the study of the archaeological remains of the peoples, cultures, and periods in which the biblical texts were formed. While in the past biblical archaeology was often seen as an ideologically motivated field of inquiry, currently, a balanced and scientifically advanced approach is common among most practitioners. The large body of research in this field, continuing to the present, provides a broad range of finds, insights, and understanding of the relevant cultures, peoples and periods in which the biblical texts were formed.Biblical archaeology may be defined as the study of the archaeological remains of the regions, cultures, and periods, in which the biblical texts were formed. Modern biblical archaeology does not attempt to prove or disprove the Bible. Rather, archaeological study of the cultures in which the Bible was formed, or which are included in the Bible narratives, can provide a better understanding of the material and intellectual context of the biblical texts. The primary aim, however, is to study the archaeology of these regions, periods, and cultures associated with the Bible, the biblical interface being secondary. Biblical archaeology focuses primary attention on the regions and cultures of the Southern Levant, specifically the region of modern-day Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and southern Syria. Nearby regions such as Egypt, northern Syria, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Cyprus, and the Aegean are within its scope of interest. The main chronological focus of biblical archaeology are the periods in which the actual biblical texts were formed and written down—the Iron Age, Persian period, and Hellenistic period for the Hebrew Bible, about .

Article

Chosroes II was one of the most important Sasanian rulers of Late Antiquity. After having prevailed with the help of Emperor Maurice in a civil war against the usurper Bahrām Čōbin, in 591 ce, the king attacked the Roman Empire after the fall of Maurice in 602. By 622, the Persians had conquered Syria and Egypt, but after the failure of the siege of Constantinople in 626, Chosroes, whose empire was attacked in the east by the Turks, was overthrown by dissatisfied aristocrats in 628. After his death, civil wars broke out that decisively weakened the Sasanian Empire in the wake of the Islamic conquests.Chosroes II “the Victorious” (M[iddle] P[ersian] Husrōy Abarwēz)—whose name occurs under the following spellings: Husraw, Khusro, Kisrā, and Khosroes—was the last great king of kings (šāhān šāh) of the Sasanian Empire and, together with the Roman emperor Heraclius and the Prophet Muhammad, one of the towering figures in the turbulent transitional period from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages. He was the grandson of Chosroes I Anōširvān (MP Husraw Anušuwān), with whom he often merged into a single figure in the traditions of the East. Born around .

Article

What makes Alexander Great? His story has captured the imagination of authors, artists, philosophers, and politicians across more than two millennia. He has provided a point of convergence for religious and spiritual thinkers, he has been co-opted as a champion for gender and sexual openness, he represents a paradigm for would-be charismatic dictators (and their opponents), he gives us scientific imperialism and justification for conquistadorial dreaming, and he exemplifies the risks of cultural appropriation. To understand why Alexander resonates so widely across so many different fields of study, interest groups, and media, is an exercise in reception. This Alexander who has captured the imagination is triumphantly equivocal and it is in the plurality of traditions through which this complexity is expressed that his enduring “greatness” lies. The imaginary quality of Alexander is unsurprising because more profoundly than for any comparable individual from classical antiquity, his history is a product of reception from the start: every encounter with Alexander the Great is part of a conversation that depends substantially on accounts and narrative evidence from long after his death, and at the least at one remove from the historians who first and contemporaneously chronicled his life and achievements.

Article

This entry concerns mythological narratives that developed in ancient times in lands extending from the eastern Mediterranean seaboard as far as Central Asia. Whereas the term Near Eastern applies to a range of different cultures—including Mesopotamian, Elamite, Hittite, Canaanite, Hebrew, Urartian, Phoenician, and Egyptian—the expression Old Iranian is used only of ancient Iranian culture as evidenced primarily in the texts of the Avesta, and in certain Old Persian inscriptions and iconography. From the early 1st millennium onwards, as ancient Iranians moved across the plateau into Mesopotamia and beyond, so Iranian culture, including its mythology, interacted with that of the Near East. The ensuing worldviews continue to impact the religions that evolved within the region, specifically, the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions.Mesopotamian myths comprise the earliest literature committed to writing. Alongside the discovery of archaeological sites in which some of the myths are set and of material objects relating to those myths, these texts provide insight into the general ethos, ritual activity, and social structure of the pertinent cultures of Mesopotamia—notably, Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian. The contemporary ancient Egyptians present a similar richness of material and literary culture. In contrast, the Old Iranian myths of the Avesta endured within an oral context until about the 6th century ce, with only cursory allusion to a cosmogony in Old Persian inscriptions, Achaemenid reliefs, and stamp seals.

Article

Jason M. Schlude

Founded and ruled by the Arsacid royal family, the Parthian empire (c. 250 bce–227 ce) was the native Iranian empire that filled the power vacuum in the Middle East in the midst of Seleucid decline. Arsacid interaction with the Roman empire began in the mid-90s bce, eventually established the Euphrates river as a shared border, and was peaceful in nature till 54 bce. In that year, the first of four cycles of Parthian-Roman wars began. Since the Romans carried out the initial large-scale mobilization of troops that introduced most of these wars, it is appropriate to associate these four cycles with the various Romans who coordinated the Roman military efforts: (a) Crassus to Antony (54–30 bce); (b) Nero (57–63 ce); (c) Trajan (114–117 ce); and (d) Lucius Verus to Macrinus (161–217 ce). The fundamental causes for these conflicts were Roman imperialism, which was well ingrained by the 1st century bce, and Parthian imperialism, which accelerated in the 2nd century bce, probably accompanied by the Arsacids’ attempts to present themselves as successors to the Achaemenid dynasty.

Article

Philippa M. Steele

Eteocypriot (or Eteocyprian) is a modern term referring to a group of inscriptions written in an unknown language of Iron Age Cyprus (attested 8th–4th centuriesbce). The name was coined by analogy with the ancient term “Eteocretan” on the common assumption that Eteocypriot had survived from the Cypriot Bronze Age (perhaps related to a language written in the undeciphered Cypro-Minoan script); this is still often considered the preferred hypothesis, in the absence of any linguistic features that would point towards a relationship with known Indo-European, Semitic, or other languages. Eteocypriot was written in the deciphered (Classical) Cypriot Syllabic script (see pre-alphabetic scripts, Greek), which was predominantly used to write the Cypriot Greek dialect.In the inscriptions, several features belonging to a single language are well established, including a patronymic formula of uncertain morphological status (-o-ko-o-), a set of nominal endings (most famously, o-ti), the meanings of one or two lexemes (e.g., ke-ra-ke-re-tu-lo-se, probably “well-born” or similar) and a few phonological features.

Article

Benjamin Fortson

Old Persian was the Iranian language spoken by the ruling class of the Achaemenid Empire, probably reflecting the Southwest Iranian dialect of Persis (see Persia). It is preserved in documents in a cuneiform script superficially modeled on Mesopotamian (Sumero-Akkadian) writing and first used under Darius I in the late 6th centurybce. As a spoken language, Old Persian was the direct ancestor of Middle Persian and Modern Persian (Farsi). The script was the first cuneiform writing to be deciphered by modern scholars, starting in 1802 with the pioneering work of Georg Grotefend; this laid the basis for the subsequent decipherment of Mesopotamian cuneiform and the languages written in it, one of the most far-reaching achievements of 19th-century science (see cuneiform).Of the two Old Iranian languages that survive in written records (the other being Avestan, the language of the Zoroastrian liturgical texts), only Old Persian is attested to in original documents contemporary with when it was spoken. Most are monumental royal inscriptions, often trilingual (Old Persian, Elamite, Babylonian) in the early period, and have been found primarily in the historical regions of Persis, Elam, and Media. Many of these, most famously the massive trilingual inscribed on a high rock face at Bisotun (Behistun) that records the deeds of Darius I, are of immense value to historians. Though there is evidence of the language throughout the reign of Artaxerxes III (d.

Article

Yosef Yuval Tobi

The beginning of the Ḥimyari kingdom is reckoned at 110 bce, when the tribe of Ḥimyar split off from the Qatabān kingdom in the western Ḥaḍramawt, located in the southern Arabian Peninsula, and established its own capital in Ẓafār, located in southeast of our time Yarim. Starting in the 1st century ce, there were incessant conflicts between the kingdom of Ḥimyar and the kingdom of Sheba, whose seat of government was Ma’rib, until the year 175, when the Ḥimyarites completely conquered the kingdom of Sheba. They had taken over Qatabān some hundred years earlier. The religion of the kingdom, as in all other kingdoms in South Arabia at the time, was polytheist, but during the 4th century, the effects of monotheism began to take hold. No later than 384, King Malkīkarib Yuha’min (r. 375–400) had adopted Judaism as the state religion. The kingdom of Ḥimyar remained in a state of constant war with the Christian kingdom of Axūm in Ethiopia, on the western shore of the Red Sea, while the Ethiopians succeeded in even occupying militarily the city of Ẓafār for a short time. The tension between the two kingdoms reached its peak during the time of As’ar Yath’ar’s reign (more commonly known as Yūsuf Dhū Nuwās) (517–525), who acted ruthlessly against the Christians in his kingdom, especially those in Najrān. Because of this action, the army of Axūm invaded Yemen in 525 at the request of the Christian Byzantine emperor, bringing an end to the Jewish kingdom of Ḥimyar. In 531, Abraha the Ethiopian took over the reins of government in Yemen and expanded his kingdom’s realm of influence further north towards the central part of the Arabian Peninsula. A short time following his death, Persia wrestled control of the kingdom, with the assistance of Sayf Dhū Yazan, who, according to tradition, was one of the descendants of Joseph Dhū Nuwās. In 629, Yemen fell entirely to the armies of Islam.