The people of Israel did not live in a vacuum; their culture was influenced by other societies in the ancient Near East, including those of Canaan, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, and their history intersects at many points with that of the surrounding nations. It is imperative then that students of the Old Testament familiarize themselves with the history and culture of Israel’s neighbors.
Nemet-Nejat, who received her Ph.D. from Columbia University and is an instructor at Yale University, has made that task much easier by providing this readable, up-to-date study of life in ancient Mesopotamia. After three introductory chapters, including a historical overview of ancient Mesopotamia, the bulk of the volume deals with ancient Near Eastern society and culture. Chapters include “Writing, Education, and Literature,” “The Sciences,” “Society, Part I: City Life, Country Life, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Life,” “Society, Part II: Private Life,” “Recreation,” “Religion,” “Government,” “Economy,” and “The Legacy of Ancient Mesopotamia.” The volume also includes a glossary of technical terms and names.
The chapter on religion will be of special interest to students of the Bible, since the Old Testament contains several references to Mesopotamian religion. This chapter discusses the development and composition of the pantheon, representations of the gods, cultic service and worship, festivals, divination, and prophecy.