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Gods Above, Gods Below: the Supernatural World of Ancient Mesopotamia – six online talks by Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones

posted on 26/10/21


This series of six lectures will explore the religious world of ancient Mesopotamia by examining ancient texts and images which address early belief in the supernatural. Although there was no specific word for ‘religion’ in any of the languages spoken throughout the Near East, belief in gods, demons, spirits and ghosts permeated every aspect of life; there was no distinction between the secular and the sacred. These talks reveal a world dominated by the other-worldly, where gods and mortals interacted, where physicians were exorcists, where the will of heaven was interpreted through the stars and other signs and omens, and where demons and the spirits of the dead inhabited homes, landscapes and sanctuaries. 

They take place every Tuesday from 7th December to 25th January (excluding 21st and 28th December) at 4.30pm (GMT) and, including Q&A, will probably last just under an hour. They are available for viewing for eight weeks after the last episode is streamed (22nd March 2022).

Register for the webinar series for £70

Frequently asked questions

What methods of payment do you accept?

An electronic invoice will be sent to your e-mail address 1–3 working days after you have completed our registration form. Payment can be made online using AMEX, Apple Pay, Google Pay, MasterCard or Visa.

How do I purchase the webinar series as a gift?

Please contact us specifying how many subscriptions you would like and who they are for (we require their full name and e-mail address). We will invoice you directly, and after we have received your payment we will release the webinar joining instructions to your friend(s) or family member(s).

Can I purchase a single episode?

No, unfortunately not. The series must be purchased in full.

How do I join the webinar?

An e-mail confirmation will be sent to you after you have paid for your subscription, which includes your unique link for joining the webinar. Reminder e-mails will be sent to you one day and one hour before each event. We recommend that you download the Zoom software in advance of the first webinar.

Can I watch the live broadcast(s) on more than one device?

Only one device can be connected to the live broadcast(s) at any one time. If you wish to purchase a second subscription, please contact us.

What happens if I am unable to attend the live broadcast(s)? 

A recording will be uploaded to a dedicated webpage approximately two hours after the live broadcast. For copyright reasons, these recordings cannot be made available indefinitely; access is granted for eight weeks after the final live broadcast of the series.

The talks

1. How to Worship a God (7th December 2021)

This lecture provides a background to understanding the context of religious thought and experience in Mesopotamia. We will explore temples and sanctuaries and how the gods were worshipped. We will pay special attention to the animation of cult statues.

2. The Gods Who Are (14th December 2021)

Who made up the pantheons of Mesopotamia? Different cities and cultures adhered to different sets of gods and afforded them varying levels of respect. This lecture introduces the ‘family’ of gods regularly encountered in Mesopotamia and explores the relationship between gods and kings.

3. Back to the Future (4th January 2022)

Divination was an important aspect of life in Mesopotamia. Priests and augers, alongside astronomers and dream interpreters sought to tell the fortunes of kings, nobles and working men and women. This talk highlights the variety of ways in which nature was utilised as a prophet guide.

4. In Sickness and in Health (11th January 2022)

Sitting at the heart of Mesopotamian life was the knowledge that gods and spirits had power over the everyday experiences of mortals, great and small. This lecture looks at health and medicine and notes how medical practice had more to do with ritual than with science. It considers mental illness, too, and highlights the case of king Esarhaddon who, by today’s diagnosis, would be said to be bipolar. How was that condition understood in antiquity?

5. Things that Go Bump in the Night (18th January 2022)

The Mesopotamians were convinced that their world was bombarded by the spirits of the restless dead. Ghosts were frequent visitors. How were they put to rest? How did people ensure that they were harmless? And what about demons? Subterranean devils and monsters were disruptive forces in Near Eastern culture, bringing death and devastation to families and societies. How might one harness the power of a demon and make it do one’s bidding? This talk investigates.

6. Love is a Many Splendid Thing (25th January 2022)

Mesopotamian literature is rich in poetry. We explore the variety of poetic writings encountered in Babylonia and Assyria which focus on love and sex. Magic incantations, love spells, and all sorts of supernatural paraphernalia were employed in the pursuit of love. The erotic poetry of Mesopotamia is remarkably uninhibited and modern in tone and the world of the supernatural is presented as an obvious adjunct to falling in love or finding a bedmate.

Image: Relief panel, c. 883–859 B.C., courtesy of The Met Museum.


Register for the webinar series for £70


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