Prehistoric Religion

Prehistoric Religion [E. O. James].

Vegetation cultus in ancient Near East = transition > hunting/food gathering > cultivation of edible plants and/or breeding herds, flocks =

“…the ritual control of fertility and food production was concentrated on the crops, the sequence of the seasons and the breeding and rearing of cattle, sheep, goats…even though hunting often lingered on side by side with husbandry and domestication.” (181).

These new ceremonies = social structures, religious organisations = adapted to requirements of agricultural/pastoral mode.

Fertile Crescent – apparent – 5th millennium. Food production supplanted food gathering. Examples = Tells – Sialik (western edge of Iranian plateau); Qalat Jarma (Kurdish foothills); Hassuna (Assyria); Merimde (north of Cairo). Plus – Badari and Deir Tasa = Middle Egypt. And other favourable localities in the ancient Near East.

Oases = hunting/fishing + tilling land, growing grain, keeping sheep/cattle = hunting dropped – background

“…until finally it was abandoned as a means of subsistence in the agricultural or pastoral communities, the fertility of the soil and the succession of summer and winter, spring-time and harvest, together with the associated pursuits, became the centre of interest and of the ritual organisation.” (182).

Thus – critical seasons = ritual response – ensure success in food-producing activities. Overcome – unpredictable elements outside human control. Thus =

“…a ritual technique was devised for the twofold purpose of overcoming sterility and promoting fertility in man, beast and crops, around which a mythology developed in terms of a death and resurrection drama.” (182).


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