Dr. Tim Brandes

Project title: The Mesopotamian Concept of Time in Nature and Society of the 1st Millennium BC.

Prof. Dr. Doris Prechel, Prof. Dr. Ursula Verhoeven-van Elsbergen

Dissertation project:

According to Mesopotamian beliefs, the gods created the entire cosmos. In the course of creation, they installed the celestial bodies and assigned to them paths in the sky and cycles of rising and setting. All this was done by the gods for a certain reason: by means of the celestial bodies the course of time was made perceivable. Thus, they gave an instrument to mankind by which men were able to organize their economic and social activities, for example the cult of the gods. However, for the Mesopotamians time was more than just a tool of organization. Time was a phenomenon to which people connected religious beliefs. They also ascribed certain features and qualities to time.

So far in the assyriological research about time, the focus laid in most cases on technical aspects, like the calendar or time measurement. Time as a phenomenon by itself, or the “nature of time” [Fn. 1], has been given comparatively little attention. The aim of this dissertation project is to present an encompassing overview of this phenomenon for the cultural area of Mesopotamian in the first millennium BC. The research focuses on the question what concept of time did the people of Mesopotamia have?

The project is based on the theory of social time according to which groups or societies perceive time by subjective criteria and thus assign features and qualities to it. Although there is neither in Akkadian nor in Sumerian a term for time, which is comparable to our modern, conceptional word, it is possible to extract such features and ideas from written sources. The corpus of sources is composed of different texts and genres, like myths and mythological passages, for example, as well as astronomical-astrological and divinatory texts.

Footnote 1:
Following Dina Katz, Time in Death and Afterlife, 118.

The dissertation project was completed in July 2019.