The Image of Mesopotamian Divine Healers

Healing Goddesses and the Legitimization of Professional asûs in the Mesopotamian Medical Marketplace


This volume exposes one of the world’s oldest medical marketplaces and the emergence of medical professionalization within it. Through an unprecedented analysis of the Mesopotamian healing goddesses as well as asûs, a diverse group of “healers”, Irene Sibbing-Plantholt demonstrates that from the Middle Babylonian period onwards, the goddess Gula was employed as a divine legitimization model for scholarly, professional asûs. With this work, Sibbing-Plantholt provides a unique insight in processes of medical competition and legitimization in ancient Mesopotamia, which speak to similar processes in other societies.

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Irene Sibbing-Plantholt, Ph.D. in Assyriology (2017), University of Pennsylvania, is a postdoctoral research associate at the Freie Universität Berlin. She has published on the social history of health and healing, death and mortality, and emotions in ancient Mesopotamia.

1 Newly Understanding Healing Goddesses and asûs: Theory and Methods
 1.1 Introduction
 1.2 Rethinking Healing Goddesses
 1.3 Rethinking Mesopotamian Healers

Part 1 The Various Healing Goddesses and Their Relationship to asûs

2 The Origins of the Healing Goddess Gula
 2.1 Gu₂-la₂ and Gula in the 3rd Millennium B.C.E.
 2.2 Disentangling Gula, Gu₂-la₂ and (U)kulla(b)
 2.3 Gula’s Involvement in Healing and Midwifery in the Ur III Period

3 Gula in the 2nd and 1st Millennia B.C.E.
 3.1 Gula in the Old Babylonian Period
 3.2 Gula in the 2nd Half of the 2nd Millennium B.C.E.
 3.3 Gula in the 1st Millennium B.C.E.
 3.4 Conclusion

4 Gula Compared to Other Healing Goddesses
 4.1 Ninkarrak
 4.2 Ninisina
 4.3 Bau
 4.4 Nintinuga
 4.5 Meme
 4.6 Comparative Analysis of the Healing Goddesses

Part 2 Asûs in the Mesopotamian Medical Marketplace

5 An Overview of the Mesopotamian Medical Marketplace
 5.1 Lay and Domestic Healing
 5.2 Folk Healing
 5.3 Professional Healers: The Scholars

6 Rethinking the Term “asû
 6.1 Asû as a General Term: “Healer”
 6.2 Different Types of asûs and Intersections with Other Healers
 6.3 The Functions and Work Environments of asûs
 6.4 Conclusion

Part 3 Legitimacy in the Medical Marketplace: Divine and Human Professional asûs

7 Legitimization as a Response to Competition and the Demands of Clientele
 7.1 Medical Competition and the Need for Legitimization
 7.2 Promoting Erudition as a Scholarly Response to Medical Competition
 7.3 The Professional Asûs’ Solution to Competition: A Divine Image

8 The Process of Gula Becoming the Divine Legitimization of Professional asûs
 8.1 Healing Goddesses and Legitimization before the Middle Babylonian Period
 8.2 Gula Legitimizing Professional asûs from the Middle Babylonian Period
 8.3 Gula Representing Competition between Professional asûs and Other Healers

9 Conclusion and Suggestions for Future Research

The primary readership of the book is ancient Near Eastern specialists, but it will also speak to students and specialists in the social history of medicine, history of science and medicine, medical anthropology, and history of religions.