Relating with gods : investigating human-divine relationships in the prayers of Israel and Mesopotamia using a performance approach to ritual

Davis, Ryan Conrad
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The prayers of ancient Israel and Mesopotamia are rare windows into how ancient peoples interacted with their gods. Much work has already been done to describe how social conventions are important driving factors behind these interactions with deities. In order to utilize these observations and further understand the relationships between humans and gods, it is important to understand the ritual environment in which these relationships are created. A performance approach to ritual allows us to properly contextualize the human-divine relationships that are attested in prayers within their ritual environments. In both Israel and Mesopotamia, actions within rituals take place in framed domains; because all social action occurs in framed domains as well, rituals can be profitably compared to other domains, such as theatre or sports. This dissertation uses a performance approach to analyze four different groups of prayers from the first-millennium BCE. Two groups of prayers are from Mesopotamia and are clustered around two rituals: the Akkadian šuilla and the dingiršadabba. The other two groups of prayers come from the Book of Psalms: the individual and communal laments. A performance approach allows us to talk about the rituals that utilize these prayers in two complimentary ways that are similar to how we talk about theatre in Western cultures. We can talk about a theatrical production without discussing what happens on-stage, and we can talk about what happens on-stage while ignoring off-stage elements. Because these ancient Near Eastern rituals are framed domains of action, we can talk about the domains themselves without entering inside of them, and likewise, we can talk about the world inside these domains while ignoring the world outside. This approach helps us better understand the bounded nature of the relationships that take place within ritual domains, and it helps us better understand how the domains themselves influence the relationships within them. This dissertation offers not only new ways to explore human-divine relationships but also new ways for understanding ritual efficacy in the both Israel and Mesopotamia.