“Festivals and Calendars of the Ancient Near East” by Mark E. Cohen

Festivals-and-Calendars_1024x1024Mark E. Cohen. Festivals and Calendars of the Ancient Near East. Bethesda: CDL Press 2015, pp. 483, $50 (hardback).

*I’d like to express my gratitude to CDL Press for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

In 1993, Mark E. Cohen published his seminal work titled The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East (Bethesda, 1993). A little over twenty years later, he has now produced an entirely new analysis of ancient Near Eastern calendars and ritual. It is wrong to say “new edition”, though, because it is not a new edition based on the previous; rather, Festivals and Calendars is an entirely new work which takes into account recent scholarship (especially cuneiform tablets and other research) and offers intriguing and valuable analysis for scholars.

Because the work is primarily a nitty-gritty analysis of ancient ritual and calendars, I will primarily focus on one of his conclusions and its significance. As one actively interested in ancient Israelite practices and the Hebrew Bible, the following is of much value to myself and people within my field. Unlike in his first work Cultic CalendarsFestivals and Calendars places the first month of Emar in the spring (contra Fleming 2000). And while R. Hess and B.C. Babcock demonstrate similarities between the zukru festival and pesach, they are limited because, in their reconstruction of the Emar calendar, the calendar begins in the fall. Consequently, by demonstrating that zukru and pesach occurred in the same period and month, Cohen cogently elucidates valuable parallels between the Emar zukru festival and Israelite pesach festival:

  • They both occur at the full moon, the first month, and last seven days.
  • Both concern fertility of herds.
  • The ritual instruction is parallel
  • Both festivals involve smearing blood on the entrance (Emar) or doors (Israel). This is significant in consideration that, according to Exodus, the sacrifice and feast occur within the household. Thus, the primary difference is that one occurs on a macro scale, and the other on a micro.
  • Linguistic similarities between zkr, Hebrew for male, and zukru, for which Cohen suggests the translation as male animal.

These similarities are, of course, more detailed in his work. My point, though, is to draw emphasis on the significance of these connections. Already the relationship between the Emar zukru and Israelite pesach has garnered attention. Now, through Cohen’s analysis, we are provided with invaluable insight into possible ancient Israelite influences.

Of course, beyond this point, Cohen expands on and adjusts many previous conclusions from Cultic Calendars. Cohen has, yet again, provided scholars with an important resource and analysis of ancient Near East calendars and ritual. Although the work is fairly dense, it provides an excellent view of the multitude of rituals throughout the ancient Near East. And while most people likely won’t sit and read through the whole book as I did, it is nonetheless an integral addition to any serious ancient Near East or Hebrew Bible scholar. For the price of $50, one attains a work that should be addressed in every consideration of calendars and ritual matters. I highly recommend this work not only as a reference for research but also as an important book to your collection.

Though it isn’t nearly as exciting, I should note two typos for publisher:

“This, of cource, does not preclude a linguistic relationship…” (279)

At footnote 225 in the chapter “Standard Mesopotamian Calendar”, there is no period after the statement, “the defeat of Tiamat” (443).