Goddesses in Context: On Divine Powers, Roles, Relationships and Gender in Mesopotamian Textual and Visual Sources.

Author:Gadotti, Althena
Position:Book review

Goddesses in Context: On Divine Powers, Roles, Relationships and Gender in Mesopotamian Textual and Visual Sources. By Julia M. Asher-Greve and Joan Goodnick Westenholz. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis, vol. 259. Fribourg: Academic Press, 2013. Pp. xii + 454, illus. 106 [euro].

J. Asher-Greve and J. Goodnick Westenholz's Goddesses in Context provides an exceptional overview of the extant epigraphic and artistic evidence about Mesopotamian female deities. The strength of the volume is in its methodological approach. As the authors state, "[t]he premise of this study is that combined analysis of textual sources, visual images and other material and contextual evidence produces a more differentiated picture about goddesses than focusing either on images or on texts alone" (p. 9). The task the authors undertake is vast not only in content, but also in timeframe, since they survey material from the late Uruk period to the late first millennium B.C.E. The result is a much-welcomed study on Mesopotamian goddesses, with ample discussion of primary sources and secondary literature. Asher-Greve and Westenholz thus provide us with yet another exemplary work, displaying the rigorous scholarship to which they have accustomed us over the years.

After the obligatory introductory remarks, in chapter one (pp. 15-28) the authors review the literature on gender theory and gender issues and address their relevance for the topic at hand. Chapter two, by Westenholz, discusses the epigraphic evidence on the "Plethora of Female Deities" (pp. 29-135). The author begins by emphasizing that "[a]ll Mesopotamian deities underwent a continual process of reinterpretation and syncretism, mutation and fossilization, fusion and fission. These processes were based on the principle of fluidity of divinity" (p. 29). Understanding the fluidity of the divine allows for a more thorough investigation of the various female deities who populated the Mesopotamian pantheon.

The survey begins with the Late Uruk period, a stage of profusion which saw the emergence of the goddesses. Although only six goddesses are identifiable in the sources--Nanse, Ezina, Nisaba, Inana of Zabalam, the triple goddess Inana of Uruk, and an unnamed birth goddess (p. 44)--this state of affairs changes in the ensuing Early Dynastic period. At this time, god lists, literary and administrative documents, and royal inscriptions document a plethora of goddesses. Surprisingly, BaU is absent from this discussion, and...

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