Religion, Nature, and Ambiguous Space in Ancient Mesopotamia: The Mountain Wilderness in Old Babylonian Religious Narratives

In: Numen
Laura Feldt University of Southern Denmark, Department of History, Section of the Study of Religions, Campusvej 55, 5230 Odense M., Denmark

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This article discusses the nexus of religion and nature by means of an investigation of the mountain wilderness space in ancient Mesopotamia. Drawing inspiration from theories of social space and the field of religion and nature, it pays special attention to the mediality of the sources embedding the wilderness space by analyzing the literary-narrative form of a set of Old Babylonian, Sumerian religious narratives related to the deities Inana and Ninurta and the heroes Lugalbanda and Gilgamesh. Contrary to previous research, which has seen the mountain wilderness as a dangerous and inimical chaos region, this article argues that the mountain wilderness is also ascribed benign connotations and functions. It is a wild and dangerous region, but it is also naturally abundant, primeval, and harbors forms of agency and force. It is an arena for magical transformation, heroic acts, and for direct communication with the deities. It is thus a more ambiguous space than has previously been recognized, and it should be understood in the context of the social space of the scribal milieu. Finally, the article suggests that cosmology studies and the relationships between natural domains and deities, in the general history of religions, are reconsidered in light of theories of social space and in light of the mediality of the sources.

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