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RELS303 Ancient Religion: Egypt to Mesopotamia (Advanced)

The religious practices, beliefs and texts of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Levant, ca. 3000–300 BCE.

In this paper we explore the religious ideas and practices of three civilisations of the ancient world: their gods and goddesses, their temples and priests, their attempts to communicate with the divine and to exercise power via magic, as well as their foundational myths and their expectations concerning the afterlife.

Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Levant (Syria, Palestine/Israel, Phoenicia, the Transjordan) fascinated early European explorers and scholars, their long-lost religious texts shedding light on the world in which Judaism, Christianity, and Islam later evolved. While demonstrating such influences, the paper will focus on understanding Ancient Near Eastern religion in its own right and in relation to debates within recent scholarship.

Paper title Ancient Religion: Egypt to Mesopotamia (Advanced)
Paper code RELS303
Subject Religious Studies
EFTS 0.1500
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2019
Domestic Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for 2019 have not yet been set
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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18 200-level RELS or BIBS points
RELS 203
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Theology

Open to all students with an interest in religion or the ancient world.


Dr Deane Galbraith (

Teaching staff

Lecturer: Dr Deane Galbraith
Course Co-ordinator: Associate Professor Will Sweetman

Paper Structure

The paper begins with overviews of the gods and their origins, according to the foundational myths of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Levant. Then we explore a selection of topics:

  • Goddesses
  • Temples, sacred space, and time
  • Oracles and prophecy
  • Popular religion and magic
  • Creation myths
  • Kings, heroes, and giants
  • Death and the afterlife

Teaching Arrangements

Five hours of lectures per week for five weeks.

All lectures will be streamed and recorded and made available to distance students.

Weekly tutorials on campus and by Zoom videoconferences.


There is no required textbook for this paper. The course reader contains all the required readings (available in pdf and print).

Graduate Attributes Emphasised

Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Scholarship, Critical thinking.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this paper, students should be able to:

  1. Describe, and appreciate the limitations of, the textual and material evidence (architectural, archaeological, artefactual, iconographical, funerary and memorial) for religion in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Levant
  2. Describe and analyse ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Levantine myths of the origin and nature of gods and goddesses, the creation of the universe, the creation of human beings, hero figures, and death and the afterlife
  3. Understand various critical methods employed by scholars to analyse ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Levantine religion and evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of those methods
  4. Write a clear, persuasive, critical, and knowledgeable essay on a current issue in the study of ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, or Levantine religion
  5. Analyse the power structures and political interests supported by ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Levantine myths, religious beliefs, practices, and institutions
  6. Articulate the strengths and weaknesses of positions in the academic disciplines related to the study of the ancient Near East

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Not offered in 2019

Teaching method
This paper is taught through Distance Learning
Learning management system