Recorded: February 18, 2020
Event: Contextualizing Iranian Religions in the Ancient World - 14th Melammu Symposium
Citation: Rubio, Gonzalo. "Axial Anxieties: The Politics and Theology of Temple Destruction in the Achaemenid Empire and the Ancient Near East," Contextualizing Iranian Religions in the Ancient World - 14th Melammu Symposium. February 18, 2020.
by Gonzalo Rubio (Pennsylvania State University)
Axial Anxieties: The Politics and Theology of Temple Destruction in the Achaemenid Empire and the Ancient Near East
The so-called daivā inscription of Xerxes (XPh) is preserved in several duplicates on limestone tablets: two in Old Persian, one in Elamite, and one in Babylonian, all from Persepolis, and a fifth witness, in Old Persian, from Pasargadae. In this text, Xerxes claims to have reestablished the worship of Ahuramazdā after destroying a sanctuary of the daivā (daivadāna). In spite of some speculations, this daivadāna is unlikely to correspond to a temple in Babylon or in Athens. It is more plausible that this place of worship was in Iran itself. In this historical and geographical setting, the content of the daivā inscription can be retroactively read in the context of the Young Avesta as evidence of an early, state-promoted form of Mazdaean henotheism or monotheism, an alleged phenomenon usually placed within the modern historiographical construct popularized as the “Axial Age.” There is, nevertheless, a broader milieu for such activities. The destruction of temples and shrines, as well as the forcible seizure and asportation of statues of deities (godknapping), can be seen as a political exploitation of theological devices to impose political hegemony. In fact, the motif of temple destruction is rather common among Assyrian kings, as in the cases of Sargon II in Urartu, Sennacherib in Babylon and Sippar, and Assurbanipal at Susa. Such aggressions against foreign or local cults were part of larger exercises of state violence, as in the notorious case of Nebuchadnezzar and the Jerusalem Temple. It would seem as if first-millennium Mesopotamian kings took as much pride in ravaging some temples as they often took in reconstructing others. In the Achaemenid case, a particular theopolitical discourse seems to have tried to secure hegemony by manufacturing homogeneity as an instrument of legitimacy.
About the Speaker
Dr. Rubio is an Assyriologist whose work focuses on the languages (Sumerian and Akkadian) and civilization of Ancient Mesopotamia. His research and publications deal with Sumerian grammar and literature, early Semitic languages and comparative Semitics, the cuneiform writing system, Mesopotamian history, and various aspects of Ancient Near Eastern cultures, from Anatolia to Mesopotamia and Iran.
In 2012-13, Dr. Rubio was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities for his project on Early Dynastic literary and ritual texts from Ebla and Mesopotamia. In 2015, he delivered the Rostovtzeff Lecture Series at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW), in New York University, on “Sumer in the Mesopotamian World.” A book based on these lectures will be published by Princeton University Press. Dr. Rubio also continues work on his edition and study of the Sumerian literary corpus from the period of the Third Dynasty of Ur, a corpus that was already the subject of his Ph.D. dissertation. He is currently coediting three collective volumes on Mesopotamian culture, economy, and society, to be published by De Gruyter.
Dr. Rubio is a Senior Fellow of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, at New York University, and the President of the International Association for Comparative Semitics (IACS). He is also the general editor of the monograph series Studies in Ancient Near Eastern Records (SANER, published by Walter de Gruyter) and the editor-in-chief of the series Languages of the Ancient Near East (LANE, published by Eisenbrauns). From 2006 to 2012, he served as Chair of the Ancient Near East section of the American Oriental Society. Moreover, he also serves on the boards of several scholarly journals and research institutions.
At Penn State, Dr. Rubio regularly teaches courses on Ancient Near Eastern languages (Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite), as well as on the history, cultures, religions, and literature of the Ancient Mediterranean, including comparative and cross-cultural seminars on early writing systems, ancient law and economy, early state formation, and language history.