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Religions of the Ancient World

Religions of the Ancient World

A Guide

Edited by Sarah Iles Johnston

ISBN 9780674015173

Publication date: 11/30/2004

Religious beliefs and practices, which permeated all aspects of life in antiquity, traveled well-worn routes throughout the Mediterranean: itinerant charismatic practitioners journeying from place to place peddled their skills as healers, purifiers, cursers, and initiators; and vessels decorated with illustrations of myths traveled with them. New gods encountered in foreign lands by merchants and conquerors were sometimes taken home to be adapted and adopted. A full understanding of this complex spiritual world unfolds in Religions of the Ancient World, the first basic reference work that collects and organizes available information to offer an expansive, comparative perspective.

At once sweeping in scope and groundbreaking in format, the Guide eschews the usual encyclopedic approach, instead presenting, side by side, materials from ten cultures and traditions. Thus specific beliefs, cults, gods, and ritual practices that arose and developed in Mediterranean religions--of Egypt, Anatolia and the Near East, Mesopotamia, Iran, Greece, and the Roman world, from the third millennium to the fourth century C.E.--are interpreted in comparison with one another, and with reference to aspects that crisscross cultural boundaries, such as Cosmology, Myth, Law and Ethics, and Magic. Written by leading scholars of ancient religion, the essays in this guide sketch the various religious histories, raise central theoretical issues, and examine individual topics such as Sacred Times and Spaces; Prayers, Hymns, Incantations, and Curses; Sin, Pollution, and Purity; Death, the Afterlife, and Other Last Things; Divination and Prophecy; Deities and Demons; and Sacred Texts and Canonicity.

Clearly and stylishly written, grandly illustrated, this comprehensive work welcomes readers as never before into the diversity and interconnections of religion in the ancient world.


  • Comparative study of ancient cultures--especially ancient religious conceptions--has evolved in recent decades, and this volume meets an important desideratum in light of scholarly advances... 'Key Topics' is the most distinctive feature of the book, and one that will make this reference tool valuable for many years to come, especially when used together with the first two parts for comparative purposes...This volume contains a wealth of information.

    —Bill T. Arnold, Review of Biblical Literature


  • Sarah Iles Johnston is the College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Religion and Professor of Classics and Comparative Studies at The Ohio State University.

Book Details

  • 736 pages
  • 8 x 10-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press