Friday, May 01, 2009

"I am Adapa, Sage of Eridu" How and Why did Mesopotamian Exorcists Embody their Ancestors?

Rencontre Assyriologique paper, coming to Paris this summer!

The modern “Friday Apostolics” of Zimbabwe actually embody their revealers, speaking as Moses and St. Paul; by contrast, ancient Jews did not directly embody Moses in performance. But did Mesopotamian exorcists become the mythical fish-man who revealed their secrets? The semi-human sage Adapa might be considered the patron saint of Mesopotamian ritual. He also became the mediator of privileged knowledge par excellence—a culture hero for the scribes who managed writing and ritual for Mesopotamian courts. But ritual experts were not satisfied to inherit his knowledge—in certain texts they claim to not just be descended from him but to be him. Beginning with its roots in archaic Sumerian art and ritual, this paper will examine narratives, images, and ritual performances in which Mesopotamian scholars embodied their mythical ancestor. Taking a cue from linguistic anthropology, we will ask on what planes this embodiment was accomplished and what its effects were.