Between the Real and Ideal: Efficacy in an Ancient Mesopotamian Building Ritual

Uri Gabbay, Matthew Susnow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article investigates how ritual transforms the ordinary into something extraordinary. It is the capacity of ritual to differentiate, and to be differentiated from other activities, that provides a group with a framework for seeing what they are doing as being meaningfully different than ordinary. Without the proper focusing lens – ritualization – special nonordinary acts and objects can look very mundane indeed. Furthermore, there is often a stark contrast between what ritual actually does, and what is claimed is being done. This study analyzes a first millennium BCE ritual from Mesopotamia – attested both archaeologically and textually – that deals with preparing and manufacturing various materials and paraphernalia necessary for laying a temple’s foundations, to underscore (1) the fundamental utility of these notions in broadly studying ritual, (2) the processes and mechanisms that transform ordinary materials into special, perhaps “sacred,” products, and (3) how ritual merges the gap between the real and ideal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-427
Number of pages35
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2024


  • figurines
  • foundation deposits
  • Mesopotamia
  • ritualization
  • temple building ritual

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Religious studies

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