Book: The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity
Chapter: 2. Public Lamentation in Ancient Mesopotamia
Relatively few studies have examined the elusive question of “popular” religion and cult in ancient Mesopotamia. The sources are sparse, and difficult to interpret. Cuneiform texts provide us with detailed information concerning Mesopotamian ritual practice, particularly for the first millennium BCE. However, such texts generally reflect the official cult, featuring the activities of priests, temple officials and the king. Despite the fact that relevant texts are focused on the ritual practices of elites, occasionally the general inhabitants of the city are mentioned. Such instances of public participation in ritual sometimes refer to public lamentation. For example, the “people of the land” participate in ritual laments during the Eclipse of the Moon Ritual, and during the repair of a cult statue. In addition, it is likely the general population participated as spectators at least, in the performance of regular temple laments during circumambulations in and around the city. Despite the paucity of textual references to the participation of the general population in Mesopotamian rituals, it is unlikely that the textual record fully reflects cultic reality. Although most people were not permitted to enter the temple complex, the general population participated from afar, in their homes or in the cities of ancient Mesopotamia.