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2013 When Ritual Meets Art. Rituals in the Visual Arts versus the Visual Arts in Rituals: The Case of Ancient Mesopotamia, in C. Ambos and L. Verderame (eds.), Approaching Rituals in Ancient Cultures. Proceedings of the Conference, November 28-30, 2011, Roma (Supplemento n. 2 alla Rivista degli Studi Orientali Nuova Seria), Rome, pp. 209-226. RIVISTA DEGLI STUDI ORIENTALI LXXXVI

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2013 When Ritual Meets Art. Rituals in the Visual Arts versus the Visual Arts in Rituals: The Case of Ancient Mesopotamia, in C. Ambos and L. Verderame (eds.), Approaching Rituals in Ancient Cultures. Proceedings of the Conference, November 28-30, 2011, Roma (Supplemento n. 2 alla Rivista degli Studi Orientali Nuova Seria), Rome, pp. 209-226. RIVISTA DEGLI STUDI ORIENTALI LXXXVI

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This book analyzes the history of Mesopotamian imagery from the mid-second to mid-first millennium BCE. It demonstrates that in spite of rich textual evidence, which grants the Mesopotamian gods and goddesses an anthropomorphic form, there was a clear abstention in various media from visualizing the gods in such a form. True, divine human-shaped cultic images existed in Mesopotamian temples. But as a rule, non-anthropomorphic visual agents such as inanimate objects, animals or fantastic hybrids replaced these figures when they were portrayed outside of their sacred enclosures. This tendency reached its peak in first-millennium Babylonia and Assyria. The removal of the Mesopotamian human-shaped deity from pictorial renderings resembles the Biblical agenda not only in its avoidance of displaying a divine image but also in the implied dual perception of the divine: according to the Bible and the Assyro-Babylonian concept the divine was conceived as having a human form; yet in both cases anthropomorphism was also concealed or rejected, though to a different degree. In the present book, this dual approach toward the divine image is considered as a reflection of two associated rather than contradictory religious worldviews. The plausible consolidation of the relevant Biblical accounts just before the Babylonian Exile or, more probably within the Exile - in both cases during a period of strong Assyrian and Babylonian hegemony - points to a direct correspondence between comparable religious phenomena. It is suggested that far from their homeland and in the absence of a temple for their god, the Judahite deportees adopted and intensified the Mesopotamian avoidance of anthropomorphic pictorial portrayals of deities. While the Babylonian representations remained confined to temples, the exiles would have turned a cultic reality - i.e., the non-written Babylonian custom - into a written, articulated law that explicitly forbade the pictorial representation of God.
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Mesopotamia, the world's earliest literate culture, developed a rich philosophical conception of representation in which the world was saturated with signs. Instead of imitating the natural world, representation-both in writing and in visual images-was thought to participate in the world and to have an effect upon it in natural, magical, and supernatural ways. The Graven Image is the first book to explore this tradition, which developed prior to, and apart from, the Greek understanding of representation. The classical Greek system, based on the notion of mimesis, or copy, is the one with which we are most familiar today. The Assyro-Babylonian ontology presented here by Zainab Bahrani opens up fresh avenues for thinking about the concept of representation in general, and her reading of the ancient Mesopotamian textual and visual record in its own ontological context develops an entirely new approach to understanding Babylonian and Assyrian arts in particular. The Graven Image describes, for the first time, rituals and wars involving images; the relationship of divination, the organic body, and representation; and the use of images as a substitute for the human form, integrating this ancient material into contemporary debates in critical theory. Bahrani challenges current methodologies in the study of Near Eastern archaeology and art history, introducing a new way to appreciate the unique contributions of Assyrian and Babylonian culture and their complex relationships to the past and present. Copyright