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Religion and Power: Divine Kingship in the Ancient World and Beyond

  • Broadcast in Religion
Cosmic Philosopher

Cosmic Philosopher

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Organized by Nicole Brisch-The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1155 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637-February 23–24, 2007

Kingship, especially the sacred aspects of the office of a king, has for a long time fascinated scholars in a variety of fields such as history, religious studies, or area studies. Kingship (or any kind of absolutist power) and its close relationship to and use of religion for the purpose of legitimizing power seem an almost universal concept in human history. Frazer’s famous work The Golden Bough: A Study in Religion and Magic has been highly influential on the topic of sacred or divine kingship and continues to be so until today (e.g. Quigley 2005).

The application of Frazer’s study to the civilizations of the ancient Near East is, however, problematical. His interpretation of sacred kingship was strongly influenced by Christian imagery (Feeley-Harnick 1985). Frazer made a certain form of regicide in which the divine king is sacrificed to ensure continued fertility and prosperity for the community a central element of divine kingship. This form of regicide, however, does not seem to play an important role in all of the societies that exhibit the phenomenon of divinization of the king.

Among the earliest civilizations that exhibit the phenomenon of divinized kings are early Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. Therefore it is all the more surprising that ancient Egyptian-to a lesser extent-and ancient Mesopotamian kingship are often ignored in comparative studies of the phenomenon of divine or sacred kingship.

Mesopotamia: Elohim The first Mesopotamian ruler who declared himself divine was Naram-Sin of Akkad. Naram-Sin reigned sometime during the 23rd century BCE but the exact dates and duration of his reign are still subject to research. According to his own inscription the people of the city of Akkad wished him to be the god of their city.

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