Religion is a phenomenon that is inseparable from human society. It brings about a set of emotional, ideological and practical elements that are pervasive in the social fabric of any society and characterizable by a number of features. these include the establishment of intermediaries in the relationship between humans and the divine; the construction of ceremonial places for worshipping the gods and practicing ritual performances; and the creation ritual paraphernalia. Investigating the religious dimensions of ancient societies encounters problems in defining such elements, especially with regard to societies that lack textual evidences and has tended to lead towards the identification of differentiation between the mental dimension, related to religious beliefs, and the material one associated with religious practices, resulting in a separation between scholars able to investigate, and possibly reconstruct, ritual practices (i.e., archaeologists), and those interested in defining the realm of ancient beliefs (i.e., philologists and religious historians).
The aim of this collection of papers is to attempt to bridge these two dimensions by breaking down existing boundaries in order to form a more comprehensive vision of religion among ancient Near Eastern societies. This approach requires that a higher consideration be given to those elements (either artificial -- buildings, objects, texts, etc. -- or natural -- landscapes, animals, trees, etc.) that are created through a materialization of religious beliefs and practices enacted by members of communities. These issues are addressed in a series of specific case-studies covering a broad chronological framework that from the Pre-pottery Neolithic to the Iron Age.
Nicola Laneri is Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Catania, Italy.
Introduction: Investigating archaeological approaches to the study of religious practices and beliefs Nicola Laneri I. Sacred Nature Animal Burials and Cult of them in Margiana Nadezah Dubova Identifying sacrifice in Bronze Age Near Eastern iconography Laerke Recht Cult and the Rise of Desert Pastoralism Steve Rosen Standing Stone Monuments of Early Bronze Age Jordan Ann Andersson Late Chalcolithic Mesopotamia: towards a definition of sacred space and its evolution. Pascal Butterlin II. Housing the God A sanctuary, or so fair a house? In defense of an archaeology of cult at Pre-Pottery Neolithic Goebekli Tepe Oliver Dietrich and Jens Notroff Where to Worship? Religion in Iron II Israel and Judah Beth Alpert Nakhai The Jezirah communal places of worship. Ritual activities and social memory during the Early Bronze Age Stefano Valentini Open spaces around the temples and their ritual use: archaeological evidence from the Bronze and Iron Age Levant Stefania Mazzoni Ritual Circumambulations in the Cuneiform Texts. An Overview Amalia Catagnoti A Temple Lifecycle: Rituals of Construction, Restoration, and Destruction of Some ED Mesopotamian and Syrian Sacred Buildings Licia Romano III. The Materialization of Religious Beliefs and Practices Religion as practice in Neolithic societies Trevor Watkins Casting the sacred: Chalcolithic metallurgy in the southern Levant Isaac Gilead& Milena Gosic How better understanding of ritual practices can help the comprehension of religious feelings ? Laura Battini Archaeological Correlates of Pious Societies Daniel Snell