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Chapter 2

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David Perley

Chapter 2 Religions of the Ancient World pp 3065Religion comes from the Latin word religioSome claimed that the word derived from religare to bindas in the unbreakable bond between humans and gods while others found its roots in relegere to go over againA greek phrase meaning to honour the gods by participating in customary practices clearly approximates the roman religio th For the Egyptians described by the greek historian Herodotusthe 5 century BCE greek known as the father of history who In his histories described the religious practices of numerous people as the most pious people of the ancient worldthe true religious practitioners were those who met the following standards spelled out in the new kingdom mortuary text known as the Book of the dead a new kingdom collection of spells based on the earlier coffin texts designed to ensure the resurrection of the dead and their security in the afterworld Its a modern designation the actual title translate as the coming forth by dayThis understanding of religion combined ethical conduct doing justice to other humans with the proper piety towards the godsA roman grammarian of the second century CE defined religious people as those who participated in the states traditional rituals and who avoided superstition superstitioSuperstition was irrational behaviour and might include anything from intentional disregard of standard state practices to improper pursuit of secret knowledge placation of gods based on fear of their malevolence rather than trust in their beneficence or overly emotional engagement with a particular god th When Christians coopted the term religio in the 4 century CE they redefined it to refer solely to their own true faith in a single god reclassifying the old traditions as false not religion but superstitionIn 384 CE symmachus the prefect of Rome attempted to defend the original nonspecific meaning of religio arguing that everyone has his customs everyone his own rites the divine mind has designated different guardians and different cults to different cities4 decades later the theodosian code a compilation of all the laws enacted since the first Christian emperor Constantine outlawed the traditional modes of piety as superstitions and legally defined religion from the single perspective of the Christian churchTraditions at a glanceIn the western context the term ancient world refers to the general region of the Near East and the Mediterranean as it existed in antiquitythe roughly 4 thousand years from the late th4 millennium BCE to the early centuries of the Common Era In that time many religious traditions emerged and evolved sometimes independently and sometimes intersecting with one another Founders and Principal LeadersThe only ancient tradition to identify itself with a specific founder or leader was Zorastrianism and even today scholars disagree on the life and contributions of ZarathustraZoroaster Names of the DeityEach tradition recognized hundreds if not thousands of deities many of which also had multiple aspects Authoritative TextsNone of the ancient traditions had a central text even remotely comparable to the scriptures of Abrahamic religionsCertain texts did become essential components of a canonic tradition Gilgamest in Mesopotamia and Homers Illiad in Greece Noteworthy DoctrinesAll the ancient traditions were polytheistic worshipping multiple gods and all of them sought to promote moralethical behaviourThey all placed equal or greater emphasis on ritual of various types AntiquityAntiquity or the ancient world encompassed a vast territory centred on southwestern asia southern Europe and north Africa but radiating as far as western and central Europe nubia and Ethiopia central asia and ArabiaMajor regions of southwestern asia were Anatolia roughly equivalent to turkey Syria MesopotamiaIraq and iranAnatolia and iran were primarily highlandsSyria included coastal lowlands mountain valleys grasslands and dessertsMesopotamia the land between the rivers was the TigrisEuphrates floodplainFor two millennia north Africa was basically Egypt the narrow floodplain on either side of the Nile but it eventually came to include all the land along the south shore of the Mediterranean seaSouthern Europe consisted of the greek Italian and Iberian peninsulasthe greek and Iberian being relatively infertile areasThis varied landscape supported three basic type of communities desert or highland pastoralists tending herds agriculturalists dispersed across the countryside in rural villages and concentrated urban centresOver time communities were organized on incrementally larger scales urban states territorial states and eventually universal statesempiresThe great age of territorial states was the mid second millennium BCEAnatolia Egypt and Mesopotamia intersected and interacted in Syria the land adjacent to the northeastern Mediterranean
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