Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World : The Great Courses: Comparative & World Religion

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Glenn S. Holland
  • Series: The Great Courses: Comparative & World Religion
  • 24 hrs and 35 mins
  • Lecture

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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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- Christopher

Interesting Information, Dull Delivery

The Great Courses on Tape is a wonderful way to learn, but this isn't one I'd recommend for just anyone.

Holland is a good teacher, but unfortunately, not an engaging one. If you don't care much about the topic specifically, you're going to be bogged down. He has a tendency to repeat things that he's just said, which is useful if you have students taking notes, but not particularly helpful in something which will be listened to by someone who can just rewind if they missed something.

In other words, he'll say something like

"Religions in the ancient world were focused on the relationship between the gods, and humanity. There was an expectation that humanity would sacrifice to the gods, and in return, the gods would in turn provide for and protect their worshippers. So, humanity will sacrifice to the gods, and the gods protect their worshippers."

Now don't get me wrong. He isn't a bad teacher. Yes, his voice is a bit monotonous, and he repeats himself, but he knows this subject. He knows what we need to know. He doesn't waste time. One of my favorite lecturers in Great Courses, for example, is John McWhorter, but he has a tendency to go off on tangents. One lecture, for example, featured a nearly minute-long discussion of how he thought it would be funny to push a dog off the Titanic. McWhorter's great, but if you want to take this seriously, stuff like that can get you thinking "Well, get to he point."

For me, I was in that exact opposite position. I like diversions and tangents enough, provided you get back eventually and have something a little funny or interesting to say. But repetition and excessive focus on something bothers me, and I find myself saying "Yes, yes, you can move on..."

If you want a thorough, in-depth discussion, then this is a good way to go. If you KNOW you'll like the subject matter, and you only care about the detail of the discussion, then this is worth your time to download.

Ultimately, this is one that should be listened to only if you intend to take your education seriously. It isn't light, driving-to-work listening.
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- Matthew Steele

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-08-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses