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"Under a serpent's spell" - Ancient Near Eastern snake cults and conceptions of serpents in the field of intra-religious and inter-religious cultural contacts from the 3rd to the 1st millennium B.C.

This project belongs to:

Project leaders: Rosel Pientka-Hinz
No.: 1-18

The planned thorough investigation into the historical development of snake symbolism and snake cults in the Ancient Near East with reference to the development of cosmological concepts is intended to create a solid basis for further research. In order to illustrate the dynamics of religion within the Near Eastern region as well as the eastern Mediterranean, the following issues will be the focus of further research: How did the people of former times deal with the constant threat which serpents posed? How did they apprehend and master the resulting fear, or even deep respect (in German "(Ehr-)Furcht"), with regard to these awe-inspiring animals? How do these otherwise deadly animals relate to healing and fertility, and are there other aspects of snake cults to be aligned with? And finally, what role did the snake play in the cosmological system of the ancient world? [key words: conception of reality and empiricism, dualism concerning chaos and the restoration of order, communication between human and god, experience of salvation, bipolarity of good and evil, categorization of the world, paradigmatic change, norms and laws.]

Focusing on the diverse forms of snake cults in the Ancient Near East, as well as on the conceptions of serpents embedded especially in mythology, the project's objectives are to demonstrate to what extent neighbouring cultures affected others, and how religious notions might flourish and then disappear. Various forms of cultural contacts, accompanied by a change in and diversification of religious concepts, will be described with regard to their complex geo-cultural setting. The ways and means by which influence was exerted will be revealed, and modes of identification, integration, assimilation and transformation will be detected within a system of increasingly converging manifestations of religion.