Fluid bodies in the ancient Near East: animal-human continuities

One of my arguments in The Sacred Economy, at least in the chapter called ‘On Fluid Bodies: Clans, Households, and Patrons,’ is that the ancient Near Eastern clan included both human beings and domestic animals in a continuum. I base this on the ‘bestiality’ laws, which assume such continuity, since they appear within the framework of what are called ‘incest’ laws. ‘Incest’ here includes both blood and non-blood human relations, as well as your expected sheep, goat, cow, pig, and dog.

Some more evidence has come to light, from the method of recording in the late Uruk period (late fourth millennium). There, clay tablets  list rural and estate labourers, distinguishing between male and female, age groups (children are ‘womb-sucklers’), and their groupings. The curious thing is that exactly the same method is used for recording animals, down to the common term for ‘herd’.

Late Uruka

So where were the boundaries? A stronger one was between ruling class human beings and those who tilled the soil and herded the sheep and goats. But the most noticeable boundary was between wild animals and domesticated animals-humans. The clan certainly did not include those wild types, unpredictable as they were and outside the bounds of what counted as part of the tribe.

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5 thoughts on “Fluid bodies in the ancient Near East: animal-human continuities

  1. Which “incest laws” are you referring to?

    And what does your interpretation mean for the wild pig or goat which your Ancient Mesopotamian might see on the side of the road. They’re not kin – so fair game for a quick shag?

      1. So Syria-Palestine and Anatolia? Is this what you are terming “Mesopotamian”? Oh hang on – you’ve changed the wording in your post from “Ancient Mesopotamian” to “Ancient Near Eastern”. Well, that’s a start, but there are further problems.

        What possible grounds do you have for associating laws in Uruk from ca 3000 BC with laws in Syria-Palestine from ca 500 BC? (Surely not “the economic base is much the same throughout”, I hope.)

        And is the distinction between domestic animals and horses/mules in the Hittite laws to be found in Leviticus 18?

        It sounds like you’re competing with Calum Carmichael for “novel” theories about sex laws of “the ancient Near Eastern”.

  2. So Syria-Palestine and Anatolia? Is this what you are terming “Mesopotamian”? Oh hang on – you’ve changed the wording in your post from “Ancient Mesopotamian” to “Ancient Near Eastern”. Well, that’s a start, but there are further problems.

    What possible grounds do you have for associating laws in Uruk from ca 3000 BC with laws in Syria-Palestine from ca 500 BC? (Surely not “the economic base is much the same throughout”, I hope.)

    And is the distinction between domestic animals and horses/mules in the Hittite laws to be found in Leviticus 18?

    Are you competing with Calum Carmichael for “novel” theories about sex laws of “the ancient Near Eastern”?

    1. The legal tradition is extremely conservative, since they copied from one to the other, and Hammurabi’s laws were themselves copied for centuries, if not millennia. Apart from the sense they themselves had of profound continuity, you need to read a bit more to see how common the ground was.

      Dear Calum: one of the most conservative and atrocious books one may read in a long time.

      Oh yes, and then there’s the horse-kissing omen from Babylon …

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