The mechanics of retribution in Hittite, Mesopotamian and ancient Israelite sources

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This paper reevaluates the anthropological theory, still common in Near Eastern studies, that the belief in gods represents a later evolutionary stage which emerged from the more primitive notion of impersonal forces and taboos. Against this conventional view, an analysis of scribal and literary conventions used in Mesopotamian, Hittite and Israelite texts to describe oath-curses and bloodguilt reveals a growing tendency to depict divine retribution as a mechanical or automatic process. In addition to the importance of this study for the anthropological study of religion, it deals with broader questions pertaining to the dependency of cultural explanatory schemes on linguistic and literary conventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-157
Number of pages39
JournalJournal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • bloodguilt
  • curses
  • divine agency
  • oaths
  • retribution
  • taboo

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Religious studies


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