Syracuse University
Fall, 2016

REL 301 
Ancient Near Eastern Religions & Cultures

Time: 3:30-4:50 on
Tuesdays & Thursdays

Place: Hall of Languages 211
Instructor: Jim Watts (PhD) 
Office: Hall of Languages 501 
Office Hours: TTh 2-3 pm and by appointment
E-mailjwwatts at
Phone:  443-5713 
Teaching Assistant:
Office: HL 514
Office hours

Course Description:  The ancient Near East produced the oldest written texts in the world, along with much art and other artifacts. They provide a window into the ways of life, rituals, beliefs, hopes and fears of people living 2,500 to 5,000 years ago and illustrate the interplay between religion and human culture in all its various forms. This course will explore the interaction of culture and religion by examining the social contexts of ancient religious ideas and practices through close readings of texts from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine and Israel. 

Audience: Students interested in ancient history, culture, and religion and wanting to fill Humanities and Writing Intensive core requirements, as well as majors and minors in Religion, Jewish Studies, History, Literature and Art History.

This course meets the Writing Intensive requirement of the Liberal Arts Core.

Goals: Through this course, students will: 

  1. use the context of ancient Near Eastern cultures to think both critically and imaginatively about the nature of religion as a basic response to and expression of the human condition;
  2. recognize and appreciate the difficulties and possibilities in undertaking a coherent, disciplined study of ancient religion, and to become aware of the diversity of perspectives within that study;
  3. come to a distinct yet corrigible conception of "religion," and to be able to recognize its appearance not only within ancient religious institutions of diverse cultures, but also in other social/cultural forms; 
  4. develop an understanding of ancient Near Eastern cultures as key instances in the diversity of human religious phenomena, and become fluent in interpreting and describing them.

Course Requirements:
The course consists of class discussions, lectures, student projects, and, most of all, readings. This course is a reading course, and students' completion of all reading assignments is essential for their success. Assignments, discussions, lectures and tests all presuppose that students have read carefully and on schedule the assigned readings. Questions to guide students' reading can be found by clicking the topic headings in the schedule below.

Attendance and participation in discussions is expected of all students and will influence evaluation of their work (5%), which will also be based on their performance on daily quizzes (15% total), and four research papers (20% each). The grades of late papers will be reduced by one grade level (e.g. B to B-). Missed quizzes cannot be made up, but the lowest five quiz grades will be dropped from the total.

The grading scale is: A+ = 100, A = 95, A- = 92, B+ = 88, B = 85, B- = 82, etc. Students may check their grades online through the Blackboard Learning System. Incidents of plagiarism or cheating result in no credit (0) for the test or assignment and may result in further disciplinary action (see academic integrity statement below).

Academic Integrity:
The Syracuse University Academic Integrity Policy holds students accountable for the integrity of the work they submit. Students should be familiar with the Policy and know that it is their responsibility to learn about instructor and general academic expectations with regard to proper citation of sources in written work. The policy also governs the integrity of work submitted in exams and assignments as well as the veracity of signatures on attendance sheets and other verifications of participation in class activities. Serious sanctions can result from academic dishonesty of any sort. In this course, students found cheating on a test or assignment will receive zero (0) credit for that test or assignment. For more information and the complete policy, see

Class-room Behavior: A successful learning experience depends on students' behavior in class, as much as on the quality of their work and on the teacher's presentations.

  • We encourage energetic discussion of relevant topics and expect different opinions among class members, but always express your ideas with respect for those who might disagree with you.
  • Arrive on time. If you must be late, enter quietly. Do not leave during class except for medical emergency.
  • Turn off cell phones, laptops, and tablets. If you wish to use an electronic device for class work (notes, assignments), you must sit in the front row of the class. Texting, e-mailing or web browsing during class are grounds for dismissal from that day’s class.

Religious Observances Policy:
SU's religious observances policy recognizes the diversity of faiths represented among the campus community and protects the rights of students, faculty, and staff to observe religious holidays according to their tradition. Under the policy, students are provided an opportunity to make up any examination, study, or work requirements that may be missed due to are religious observance provided they notify their instructors before the end of the second week of classes. For fall and spring semesters, an online notification process is available through MySlice/StudentServices/Enrollment/MyReligiousObservances from the first day of class until the end of the second week of class.

Disability-Related Accommodations:
Students who are in need of disability-related academic accommodations must register with the Office of Disability Services (ODS), 804 University Avenue, Room 309, 315-443-4498. Students with authorized disability-related accommodations should provide a current Accommodation Authorization Letter from ODS to the instructor and review those accommodations with the instructor. Accommodations, such as exam administration, are not provided retroactively; therefore, planning for accommodations as early as possible is necessary. For further information, see the ODS website, Office of Disability Services

Textbooks (available at the campus bookstore in Schine Student Center): 

  • Coogan, Michael D. Stories from Ancient Canaan. 1st or 2nd ed. Westminster, 1978, 2012. (=SFAC)
  • Foster, Benjamin R. From Distant Days: Myths, Tales, and Poetry of Ancient Mesopotamia. Bethesda: CDL, 1995 (=FDD)
  • Foster, John L. Ancient Egyptian Literature: An Anthology. Austin: U. of Texas, 2001. (=AEL)
  • Holland, Glenn. Gods in the Desert. Rowman & Littlefield, 2009. (= Gods)
  • The Jewish Study Bible: Tanakh (New Jewish Publication Society Version)
  • or New Oxford Annotated Bible (New Revised Standard Version)

Topics & Assignments: Readings from the textbooks appear by abbreviated title and page numbers; readings from biblical books are marked BIBLE and appear as book title (italics) and chapters; readings marked HANDOUT appear on Blackboard under the "Documents" tab; and assignments on the internet are underlined in blue  (click the active link). Further resources on ancient Near Eastern history, religion and culture may be found by at
Topic Date Assignment (due by class on date listed)
Introductions T Aug 30
Origins of writing
in BIRD!
Th Sep 1
Gods xxiii-xxx; AEL xi-xxi; FDD 1-8; SFAC 1-23 (meeting on the 6th floor of BIRD LIBRARY in the LEMKE ROOM)
History & Religion: Mesopotamia T Sep 6 Gods 99-109, 131-136; Mesopotamian Kings FDD 165-211; “Royal Prayers” FDD 272-87; Amarna letters; Letter of Ashuruballit;
Th Sep 8
Gods 111-118; “Creation Epic” FDD 9-51.
History & Religion: Egypt
and Paper Workshop (Sep 15)
T Sep 13 Gods 3-14; “Longing for Memphis” AEL 44-47; “Testament of Amenemhat” AEL 85-88; “Instruction of Merikare” AEL 191-204; “Prophecy of Neferty” AEL 76-84; Cultural Chronology of Ancient Egypt (skim all pages, but see pictures at left)
Th Sep 15 Gods 15-23, 37-55; “Senusert” and “Ramses” AEL 94-99; “Hymn to Osiris” AEL 102-109;
History & Religion: Syria-Palestine T Sep 20 Gods 191-198, 219-25 ; “Kirta” SFAC 52-74; Letter about Abdu-Heba; Letter from Abdu-Heba of Jerusalem; Bible: 2 Samuel 6-7; 2 Kings 18-20; 24-25; Ezra 1, 3, 6-7;
Th Sep 22 Gods 199-212, 228-237; “Baal” SFAC 75-115; Bible: Psalm 82; Exodus 1-3; Isaiah 45; Mark Smith, "Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts;
Humanity and Creation T Sep 27
Paper # 1 due (paper topics)
Th Sep 29 “Dialogue” FDD 295-97; “Who has not sinned?” FDD 326-27, “Piteous Sufferer” FDD 328; "Lament to Amun" AEL 123; “Tale of Sinuhe” AEL 124-48; Bible: Genesis 12-14; Psalms 42-43.
T Oct 4

Gods 26-36, 122-129; 212-218; “Shipwrecked Sailor” AEL 8-16; “Hymns to Re & Amun” AEL 118-21; “Hymn to Shamash” FDD 254-61; Bible: Genesis 1-3; Psalm 8

Prophets & History Th Oct 6
Gods 226-228, 264-273; “Prophecies” FDD 213-20: Bible: Exodus 6-8, 19; Deuteronomy 5; 1 Kings 17-19; Micah 6; Zoroaster, Yasna 12
T Oct 11
“Aqhat” SFAC 27-47; “Erra” FDD 132-63; “Lament for a City” FDD 324-25; Bible: Deuteronomy 28; Lamentations 1; Nehemiah 9
Th Oct 13
Hammurabi's Law (read selections); Law & Order; “Eloquent Peasant” AEL 183-85, “Poor Man of Nippur” FDD 357-62, “Land for the Birds” FDD 375-76; “Righteous Sufferer,” “Babylonian Theodicy” FDD 298-323; BIBLE: Exodus 20-22
Music T Oct 18 Music; Hurrian Song from Ugarit; Theatre
Paper # 2 due
(paper topics).
Economics Th Oct 20 “Little Pepi” AEL 32-43; “At the Cleaners” FDD 355-56; Slavery; "Wages and Prices"; "Food"; "Market Scene""Grim Secret"; HANDOUT on exchange, gift, & tribute; “Hymn to the Nile” AEL 110-17; “Hymns and Prayers” FDD 221-28; Bible: Leviticus 25
 Education  T Oct 25 Gods 182-84; “Dissipated Scribe” and “Minna’s Lament” AEL 48-54; “Ptahhotep” AEL 186-89; “Ashurbanipal” FDD 282; “Why do you curse me?” FDD 363-64; Psalm 1
Th Oct 27 Gods 86-91; “Wisdom of Amenemopet” AEL 206-228; “Anzu” FDD 115-131; “Hymn of Akhenaton” AEL 1-7; “Leiden Hymns” AEL 149-168; Bible: Proverbs 8,
 Gender & Sex T Nov 1
“Portrait of the Queen” AEL 100-101; Man and Woman; Hatshepsut slide show; HANDOUTS “Queen's Rights” and “Exaltation of Innana” by Enheduanna; “Counsels of Wisdom” FDD 377-80; Letter from Kadashman; Genesis 16, 21; Proverbs 31; “Egyptian Love Songs” AEL 17-31, “Love spells" AEL 90, FDD 331-43, 351-54; Bible: Song of Songs 3-4
Th Nov 3
Gods 23-26, 47-49, 118-122; “Hymns to Gula & Ishtar” FDD 229-246; Divine lovers FDD 344-50; Hosea 2; HANDOUT on cult prostitution & sacred marriage
Magic, Prayer and Ritual T Nov 8 Gods 85-86. 177-182 “Magic & Divination” FDD 228, 252-53, 262-65, 393-432; Bible: Deuteronomy 18:9-22; 1 Samuel 28
Th Nov 10 Gods 77-85; 167-175, 257-264, 273-276; “Prayer to Marduk” FDD 247-48, “Hymns and Prayers” FDD 221-26, “Personal gods” FDD 267-71; “Letter Prayers” FDD 293-94; Bible: Psalm 6, 11; Isaiah 38; Exodus 40; Leviticus 1
Architecture & Art T Nov 15 Temple models
Paper # 3 due
(paper topics).
Th Nov 17
Stonework; Portraiture; HANDOUT Jacobsen, “Graven Image”; Louvre tour of Egyptian art.
Nov 19-27 No Classes
 Death 1 T Nov 29 Gods 57-65; HANDOUT "Autobiography of Harkhuf";  Valley of the Kings;  Mummification ; Middle Class tomb; Gods 149-153, 239-242; “Elegy for a Woman” FDD 329; “Flood Story” FDD 52-77; Bible: Genesis 6-8; “Family Ghosts” FDD 227; “Prayer to Nabu” FDD 249-51; Syria's Cult of the Dead
Th Dec 1
Gilgamesh (all); Gods 136-148, 153-154, 184-188;
Death 2, and Influences & Survivals T Dec 6
Gods 65-75, 91-96, 242-244; “King Unis” AEL 64-69; “Pyramid Texts” AEL 70-75; “Power From the Four Winds” AEL 91-93; “Pahery” AEL 169-177; “Harpers Songs” AEL 178-82; "Man vs. Soul” AEL 55-6; Ecclesiastes 6
Th Dec 8 Gods 154-165, 245-256, 277-284; “Stories of Ishtar, Nergal, & Adapa” FDD 78-101;  Osiris Cult; Bible: Isaiah 24-25; HANDOUT on Mummy worship
Final Paper Due T Dec 13, 5 pm Paper #4 due (paper topics).