So this is a big question for you Karen. How many gods are there? How could I possibly answer that? There are very, very many gods in Assyria.The basic idea is that every town, every city is centred on a temple, and that temple is the house where a particular god lives. So at an absolute minimum we have as many gods in Assyria as there are cities. But then most gods would have a partner. So on the whole, the Assyrians believed in monogamy, and so they also thought that their deities were paired up, so you'd have a god and a goddess. And typically, they would have a child, sometimes they would have two or so, you know, very, very much the nuclear family. So in a way you could therefore say at a minimum you would have as many gods as there are cities times three. But then the larger cities would have several temples, with several deities, or several divine families. So basically, we are quickly, of course, talking about hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of deities. Some of these deities would be worshiped in multiple temples across the lands and others would be very, very specific only to one particular place. So it's impossible to answer really, but we are definitely talking of hundreds, hundreds, and hundreds and hundreds. There's another state in the Middle East which flourishes in the late second millennium, so a couple of hundred years before the time that we're interested in here, which is the 900 to 600 B.C. And it's the kingdom of the Hittites. And one says that the Hittites said, that they worshiped a thousand gods. And you if you asked an Assyrian rather than me, he or she would probably also say a thousand gods. But not all of them were equally widespread, not all of them had as many worshipers as others, and some were definitely far more important and had many, many more temples than others. Okay. So there's a word that you've used multiple times in that answer, which is temples. Can you please tell me, as if I have never heard the word before, what actually is a temple? Yeah it's true of course, when I say temple, the Assyrians would have said, “house of a particular god”. So they sort of basically is it in a nutshell. A temple is where a god is thought to live, and, at the same time, the temple is also a representation of the deity. So that building is seen to a certain degree, as a second being. The temple has a name, its individual components have names, the door would have a name, the lock would have a name. So it's seen as much more than just a building; it's very much seen as a living creature in a way that is an aspect of the deity but at the same time is also the deity. So that’s quite quite complex and complicated. And so, the temple functions in this way as part of this divine being and on the other hand, it is very much of course architecture, it is a building and it tends to be one of the largest, if not the largest building in a given city. And, it tends to be also in the centre or in a central position within that settlement and it serves very much as the nucleus of the community. So, the community comes together in that temple to worship the god or the gods. Okay. So this actually leads directly to my next question, which is, because in these couch talks we're talking about the average Joe in ancient Assyria. So what role do these temples play in the life of an average citizen? Yeah, well, talking about average Joes and average Janes, one has to probably differentiate here. So first of all, while the temple is at the centre of the community and, you know, functions as this place where the community comes together in worship of the deity, that doesn't mean that everyone could enter the temple, or all parts of the temple. But a fair number of people would be involved in the worship of the deity. The Assyrians didn't have a clergy in the same way that maybe Christians, or Jews, or Muslims have a clergy. The differentiation between the worshiper and the priest is far more oblique, it's not as black and white. Lots of people would contribute to the worship of a deity and therefore would fulfil priestly functions. And ultimately, everyone who contributed to that worship could be described as a priest. But, that worship centres very much on a kind of daily re-enactment of the gods' life, focusing very much on meals. So that means that participating in worship could mean cooking particular dishes, brewing beer, or pouring wine. Singing is also very important. Dressing the statue that stands in for the deity, of course. So worship is more like a play than a service, a church service or something like that, that is focused very much on a member of a clergy explaining the world to the community. That's not at all what the Assyrians did. For them worshiping is providing for the deity or the gods, we have talked about the fact that they are often seen as living in a family context. The temple is seen as the house of the deity, and more than anything the god is meant to be drawn to the temple by experiencing this care that the people, that the worshipers provide there. Because the god at the same time is of course numinous, isn't really tied only to this place. The god can go anywhere, but the worshipers, the community, want to go to be present as much as possible in their city, in their temple, and therefore make it very attractive for the deity to be present because there is the wonderful meals that are being cooked and that are thought to be consumed by the deity by smell. Yes. It's of course quite handy because it means that even after the deity has consumed the meal, you still have all the food and that is then shared in the community. So there are certain links of course to forms of worship that one is quite familiar with, this eating together and so on. But it's a form of a ritual play, you might want to say, that brings together a community and some of these communities are very large. We are talking about cities with several thousands, or dozens of thousands of inhabitants, coming together in a very elaborate feast that then is shared also by the members of that community. So everyone who contributes to this has access to the temple, but that is not necessarily really everyone in the community. So typically, what develops is a sort of tradition that certain families have certain tasks in the temple, and there always needs to be someone who takes care of this. And of course, some of these feasts for the gods are very simple. If it's a small town, if it's a small shrine, if we are talking about several hundreds of worshipers, then we are not talking about a feast that involves, you know, slaughtering multiple oxen and dozens of sheep every day. But when we talk about the big temples, then we definitely are talking about a feast of that dimension. And on the whole, it focuses very much on the men of the community, not the women. There are, to a certain degree one can really say they are excluded from this entirely, to the extent that when, for example, in terms of the liturgy, in terms of the singing that is required, you want someone to sound like a woman you will have a man sing in a woman's voice. So that's quite, quite important really, because that means that a big part of society is not really playing any role in this elaborate feast every day. And that's why festivals are very important. So I'm interested in this very much and this sort of leads me to the question, Do women get to participate in religious festivals, and can you talk a little bit about religious festivals in more detail? Yeah. So what we've discussed so far, is this routine worship that happens basically every day. The god needs to eat every day. The god also needs to be bathed every day. The god needs to be dressed every day. The god needs to go to sleep every day. So that happens every day. All taken care of by men? Yes. And that all happens in the temple, behind closed doors if you will. There is a certain audience for this, those are the people that are basically contributing to it, but this happens inside the temple. As we said, women typically are not part of that at all. So the religious festivals take care of that problem, in that, religious festivals typically incorporate processions whereby the gods leave the temple and come out into, at the very least, their city. And sometimes they also leave the city and travel to other temples, visit other deities, and then are of course visible to everyone. And they typically are then represented by statues. And everyone can see this. The whole point of these festivals is that the community can see the God, can encounter the God. Some of these festivals then involve elements that we don't quite know how to envisage, for example races. How gods race each other? We don't quite know how that works. Is this people carrying the statues that are doing the racing? We really don't know. And our outings of the divine couple. The god and his spouse visit a garden and dine there, and feast there, and sleep there. Is this done with the statues on their human stand-ins? This is quite unclear, really. But I do have a question about this. Could these outings have happened spontaneously or did they all take place as part of a like a set festival calendar? No. They definitely didn't happen spontaneously because the preparation would have been very intense. This is very much part of a calendar, and the religious festivals would therefore have a very very important role in structuring time for people. In time making, if you want. The religious calendar would be very very static. That's key. Certain things would have to happen at certain times. And one of the most important festivals is the New Year festival, which starts the new year making the link between the festivals and the calendar, very obvious of course. And the new year, in Assyria starts in spring, when everything starts to grow of course. And there were different New Year festivals in different temples. But when states incorporated certain regions with important temples and therefore important ritual calendars, the state in our case, the Assyrian state, tended to incorporate these festivals into the overall state calendar. That’s quite important. And therefore sometimes, there were adjustments made in very old traditional cultic calendars, because the state required it. But nothing ever happened spontaneously, of course. To go back to the capricious god Adad who we talked about last week. He wouldn't make a sudden decision one spring that, perhaps in the summer, he would make a visit to another. I feel like this is a fairly important question. How does all of this that you have just discussed relate back to the Assyrian king? As we said, these religious festivals, the role of the temple in the community in a given city or region, is very important. The Assyrian Empire, as a state that grows, that expands, often faces the situation that an important shrine, an important temple, is brought under Assyrian control. So what to do? One way of going about this is to just ignore this and let people do what they've always done, and let this be their regional festival. Another completely different approach is to make this part of the state calendar, and that happens quite often really. And then, we have the Assyrian king immediately now in equation, because as soon as the Assyrian state decides that a temple or a festival or a deity requires state attention, that means that the king becomes part of the worshipping community, whether the original community likes this or not. And that means then that the king adopts the temple, takes on duties, but also rites. And on the surface, that's quite nice for the temple because invariably there will be building works. The king renovates the shrine, but of course, also inscribes then his own inscriptions into the temple, becomes very much part of the fabric of this house of the god. We've already described how intricate the relationship between the deity and its building is. So when the king builds the temple, or helps build the temple, then of course, the king becomes part, not only of the temple, of the cult, but also in the way of the God, like a virus. On the other hand, the king also then contributes to the sacrifices, these daily sacrifices. Invariably, when the Assyrian state and the Assyrian king becomes involved, the deity gets a much nicer feast, much more food is served, much better food is served. But of course, the king then also is entitled to share this meal. Again, the king is then very much part of the entire fabric. The festivals also become part of the state calendar requiring then the presence of the king. The king will observe certain functions. The king, like everyone else, can take on certain priestly functions. And of course, will then take on the most important ones. And when that happens, the community to an extent loses control, independence if you will, but benefits because the attention that the state and the king lavish on to the cult, of course, give it larger prominence, attract more worshipers. Such a deity might then perhaps become of interest to communities elsewhere and might get additional temples in other cities, and so on and so forth. But, the temple, the cult, the deity would no longer be tied only to their own community, to their own city, to their own temple. And so therefore, we can distinguish between temples and gods that are of interest to the Assyrian state, and temples and gods that have no interest to the Assyrian state. And both can flourish equally, within the state, but only one of those two categories is sort of under the eye of the king. Precisely. On the whole, you could say a temple that is not incorporated into the state cult, can flourish as much as temple that has been incorporated. But, it has far less involvement from the state, to fear or to expect, depending on how you see that. The Assyrian state is not regulating these temples. A temple that is not part of the state cult might be economically less well off. Some communities might deliberately seek to attract the attention of the Assyrian state, because of course it would then mean that you would have a new building with multi-coloured glazed bricks at the facade, gigantic doorways with bronze decorations, nice guardian figures at the gate, like this one. You know that the temple would definitely benefit from this attention. On the other hand, of course, the king would then be very much be the first worshiper in a way. The most prominent worshiper. But the important thing is, in the Assyrian Empire, there were deities that were part of the state cult and others that were not. And to their worshipers of course, they could be equally important.