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Publisher's Summary

Step back to a time when the mysteries of the universe could seem overwhelming. Cycles of nature kept predictable time with the sun, the moon, and the stars, yet crops failed, disease struck, storms ravaged, and empires fell without warning. In the region surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, people responded to such tumult with a rich variety of religious beliefs.
From these beliefs, we get some of Western civilization's most powerful texts: the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Hebrew Bible, the Greek epics of Homer, Ovid's Metamorphoses, and the New Testament, among many others. Composed largely of stories of human interaction with the divine, these narratives gave ordinary people a window into the unfathomable realm of the sacred.
Archaeological remains show that ancient peoples also responded with a complex array of religious rituals, and their temples, cultic statues, funerary goods, and household devotional items are among the world's greatest cultural treasures.
Using such textual and archaeological evidence, these 48 marvelous lectures explore the religious cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world, from the earliest indications of human religious practices during prehistoric times to the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity in the 4th century of the Common Era.
You'll discover the religious traditions of a wide range of civilizations, including the ancient kingdom of Egypt; ancient Mesopotamia; ancient Syria-Palestine, including Israel and Judah; Minoan civilization on the island of Crete and the successive civilizations of the Greek mainland; and the city of Rome, whose empire dominated the entire Mediterranean world at the end of the ancient era.
©2005 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2005 The Great Courses
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By Christopher on 11-11-13

Some good moments, but ultimately disappointing.

This course makes some attempt to give a comparative perspective on several of the religions of the ancient Mediterranean. The religions covered are mentioned in the publisher's summary, and if you know very little about the religions covered, you will no doubt learn something about each, as I did. However, some major mediterranean religions are left out, most notably Phoenician/Carthaginian religion; also absent is any treatment of Celtic or Iberian peoples' beliefs. Only the briefest mention of the Etruscans as well.

This is especially grievous in light of the large amount of time spent on Judaism and Christianity; these are no doubt Ancient Mediterranean religions, and thus worthy of some coverage, but they -- Christianity especially -- are covered in more detail than for instance the beliefs of classical Greece; this is unfortunate given that Christianity and Judaism are covered in-depth by so many other Great courses lectures, and are bound to be more familiar to most listeners besides.

There is also very little time devoted to the rituals and actual practice involved in each religion, and too much spent on discussing stories told in the context of ancient religion that are not actually religious documents, such as the various ancient epics. As much as I love the Epic of Gilgamesh, this doesn't seem like the place for a close reading of it; more information about each of the ancient Mesopotamian gods would have filled that time better.

However, if you know very little about ancient Mediterranean, this wouldn't be a bad place to start. And if you are primarily interested Christianity, this course would be a great place to learn about the context that gave rise to it. I definitely learned many things from this course, but I can't help feeling that I could have learned a lot more.

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22 of 22 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Katherine on 06-07-17


A very well done and expansive great course, and particularly interesting topic. I've read many books and articles on ancient mythology, Ancient Mediterranean religions and ways of life but this course really filled in some holes. The professor brought up interesting nuances that connect the religious practices of the ancient Mediterranean as a once living, thriving place and society and really brought out the cultural exchange that gives a realistic glimpse into this past world. There is plenty more to discussed on this subject but I definitely learned a great deal and stayed engaged throughout the entire course. I waited a long time to purchase this course because I thought it might rehash a lot of stuff I knew, but it didn't.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Davide on 07-07-14

Contextualised overview on religion and philosophy

If you could sum up Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World in three words, what would they be?

Informative, fascinating, revealing.

What other book might you compare Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World to, and why?

No idea, this was the first book I listened to in this genre.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

Placing religions in the ocntext of civilisations made the book very interetsing, ot me to understand things I had not really picked up on during my primary and secondary studies. The distinction between philosophy, religion and to some extent magic is also eligtening.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

No, just made for interesting reading.

Any additional comments?

Hebrew religion could be looked into more shematically, but I suppose it is compòlicated and beyond the objective of this particular book; also, I would have been keen to find out osmething more about the Persian Empire's religion(s).

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