History of Ancient Near East Religion
The School of Theology and Religious Studies offers courses in Ancient Near Eastern Cultural and Religious History. The teaching is of a superior level and all professors actively engage in contemporary scholarship.
The former Faculty of Theology had a rich tradition of teaching Semitic languages before the Second World War, when the eminent scholars Alexander von Bulmerincq, Uku Masing and Arthur Vööbus were professors. After the reopening of the faculty, international collaboration has gradually ensured that the University of Tartu has earned a reputation as a research centre.
International colloquia, seminars, and small conferences are often organised in Tartu. For example, the conference of the international Melammu project, which investigated Mesopotamian cultural heritage, took place in Tartu in 2015.
Scholars currently active in research and teaching at the school include Amar Annus, Peeter Espak, Thomas Kämmerer, Vladimir Sazonov and, as of 2017, Saana Svärd, a visiting professor from the University of Helsinki. Anu Põldsam is the current lecturer of Jewish Studies and Elo Süld is the lecturer of Islamic Studies.
The cornerstone of Ancient Near Eastern Studies is the study of texts and artefacts and therefore, the main emphasis of teaching is on culturally important languages such as Sumerian, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Hittite, Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic.
Ancient Near Eastern cultures have lengthy detailed textual records, which is unique in world history. The corpora of data uncovered from the ancient texts can be used by as a laboratory setting for cultural theorists, historians of religion, and scholars in many other fields.
For many phenomena in the Middle East, the Mesopotamian culture stands at the very beginning of cultural evolution, which has now lasted for thousands of years. Ancient Mesopotamian religion, literature, and knowledge provide a cultural legacy for later periods and other cultures. The Mesopotamian influence on the Hebrew Bible, has gained a wider acceptance during the last two decades and it can be asserted that one cannot understand the Hebrew Bible without using Ancient Near Eastern evidence.
The religious history of the Ancient Near East is studied in the School of Theology and Religious Studies using philological, literary, and intertextual methods. The scholarship also embraces some of the methods of the cognitive science of religion.
Peeter Espak specialises in the early periods of Mesopotamian religious history and Sumerology. The religious history and the cuneiform texts of the first millennium is the area of expertise for Amar Annus. Mesopotamian political history and ideology is covered by Vladimir Sazonov and Thomas Kämmerer is a linguist, studying ancient Mesopotamian and Ugaritic texts.
Recent publications by the teaching staff include the books by A. Annus The Overturned Boat (2016); P. Espak, The God Enki (2015) and V. Sazonov Die Assyrischen Königstiteln und -epitheta vom Anfang bis Tukulti-Ninurta I und seinen Nachfolgern (2016).
Scholars in the school also study later periods such as the history of the Church of the East, with patristic literature and the history of Islamic times. The Arthur Võõbus Centre was recently established to offer institutional support for these later studies.
The School of Theology and Religious Studies offers a pleasant and exciting environment to engage with Ancient Near Eastern Studies from the Sumerian times to Islamic history.