A Journey Into the Land of No Return: Death Attitudes and Perceptions of Death and Afterlife in Ancient Near Eastern Literature
By Leah Whitehead Craig
Honors Thesis, Western Kentucky University, 2008
Abstract: Using Adrian Tomer and Grafton Eliason’s Comprehensive Model of Death Anxiety, this paper analyzes literature of the Ancient Near East in order to discover death attitudes of the authors and the culture. This paper will examine works from four languages of the Ancient Near East, and therefore four cultures: Sumerian, Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Hebrew language groups. Texts are examined in English translation, with the exception of some passages in the Hebrew chapter. Images of death and afterlife, particularly regarding the underworld, are described. Tomer and Eliason’s model is used to analyze the images to determine death attitudes of the authors and larger culture. While death anxiety and death acceptance are present in all four groups, death anxiety is most prevalent in regard to a fear of untimely or tragic death, or in regard to regret of having no or few progeny. Literary images associated with the underworld are often gloomy; however, most of the images reflect the reality of the grace or death itself. Death acceptance is reflected in the literature through the themes of living life to its fullest. Therefore, accepting death’s inevitability is often an ideal to strive toward for the authors of Ancient Near Eastern literature.