Although considerable attention has been given to the study of demons in the first millennium BCE, or to individual infamous demons such as Lamaštu, there is currently very little research on how these demons were defined and characterised in the earliest of incantation texts, from the late 3rd to the early 2nd millennium BCE. My research aims to rectify this, through studying the role of agents of divinity within Mesopotamian incantation texts, in particular Sumerian incantation dating from the latter days of the Early Dynastic Period (circa 2300BCE), through to the end of the Old Babylonian period (circa 1600BCE). My research is dedicated to identifying, translating, and analysing incantation texts in which agents of divinity feature as a character or key motif.
Within the parameters of my thesis, agents of divinity are defined as supernatural and/or mythical creatures, entities, and other non-divine beings, who are often acting on behalf of a deity in order to fulfil a divine agenda or mandate. This primarily includes demons who feature within Mesopotamian religious and ritual texts as the agents of a deity’s will. Demons within Mesopotamia also serve as anthropomorphised personifications of the unknown and unexplainable, including unexpected child mortality, sickness and disease, bad luck, and natural disasters. Their presence within incantations and wider religious texts is often, therefore, to act as representatives of negative and chaotic forces, and yet also frequently to do so within the authority of a deity.
Through establishing and analysing my own corpus of early incantations, I will be able to create overarching narratives of how the portrayal of demons and other agents of divinity shifted throughout this period. For example, I will thoroughly explore the similarities and differences with how particular demons are described and characterised across the period, as well as identify key linguistic changes or parallels between texts. The aim of my research is to foster further opportunities to study demons and their role within Mesopotamian belief systems, and to create a cohesive edition of key texts for this purpose.