Was Dust Their Food and Clay Their Bread? Grave Goods, the Mesopotamian Afterlife, and the Liminal Role of Inana/Ishtar

In: Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions
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Abstract

Many literary texts portray the Mesopotamian netherworld as unrelievedly bleak, yet the archaeological evidence of grave goods suggests that there may also have existed an alternative way of thinking about the afterlife. An analysis of the types of objects found in burials indicates that many people may have anticipated a less harsh form of existence after death. Furthermore, iconographic allusions to the goddess Inana/Ishtar in certain burials raise the possibility that this deity may have been associated with the descent of human dead to the netherworld. The occasional presence of her image and iconography in funerary contexts does not necessarily imply a belief that Inana/Ishtar would personally grant the deceased a happy afterlife, but it may provide an allusion to her own escape from the undesirable netherworld of literary narrative. Inana/Ishtar's status as a liminal figure and breaker of boundaries also may have encouraged Mesopotamians to associate her with the transition between life and death.

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