Activity: Talk or presentation types › Invited talk
The German philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) described the emergence of Greek, Indian and Chinese philosophy, as well as Hebrew monotheism and Zoroastrianism as parallel, though independent developments of the Axial Age (that he dated to 800-200 BC). According to Jaspers free intellectuals, philosophers and prophets were the main drivers of the innovations of the Axial Age, which laid the foundations of values and beliefs that are still valid today. However, what about Mesopotamia, the “cradle of civilization”? For many historians of philosophy or intellectual history Mesopotamia remains terra incognita, as they, and many Assyriologists themselves, are convinced that the great contribution of Mesopotamia to world history was the invention of writing. Then innovation seems to have stopped. One of the main arguments against Axial Age breakthroughs in Mesopotamia was that there were no free intellectuals in Mesopotamia who had the capacity to criticize traditional values and develop new ways of thinking, because all intellectuals were servants of the despotic, oriental king. However, the Mesopotamian corpus of texts is massive and enables us to better understand later developments and their originality. In my lecture I want to re-asses the assumption that no breakthrough took place in Mesopotamia, not without questioning the idea of this Axial Age breakthrough, present textual evidence for critique and finally offer some thoughts about the position of the critical intellectual in Mesopotamian societies.