The Extortionate Costs of Funerary Rites in Ancient Babylonia

by Esteban

” … It seems remarkable that the doctrine of Eternal Bliss, which obtained in Egypt on the one hand and in India on the other, should never have been developed among the Babylonians. Of course, our knowledge in this connection is derived from the orthodox religious texts.

Perhaps the great thinkers, whose influence can be traced in the tendencies towards monotheism which became marked at various periods, believed in a Heaven for the just and good. If they did, their teachings must have been suppressed by the mercenary priests.

It was extremely profitable for these priests to perpetuate the belief that the spirits of the dead were consigned to a gloomy Hades, where the degree of suffering which they endured depended on the manner in which their bodies were disposed of upon earth.

An orthodox funeral ceremony was costly at all times. This is made evident by the inscriptions which record the social reforms of Urukagina, the ill-fated patesi of Lagash. When he came to the throne he cut down the burial fees by more than a half.

“In the case of an ordinary burial,” writes Mr. King, “when a corpse was laid in a grave, it had been the custom for the presiding priest to demand as a fee for himself seven urns of wine or strong drink, four hundred and twenty loaves of bread, one hundred and twenty measures of corn, a garment, a kid, a bed, and a seat.”

The reformer reduced the perquisites to “three urns of wine, eighty loaves of bread, a bed, and a kid, while the fee of his (the priest’s) assistant was cut down from sixty to thirty measures of corn.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.