Defilement, Disgust, and Disease The Experiential Basis of Hittite and Akkadian Terms for Impurity

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Yitzhaq Feder



This article challenges the common tendency in modern research to treat impurity as a religious phenomenon divorced from mundane concerns. Employing the cross-cultural psychological notion of “contagion,” this investigation examines the usage of terms for pollution and purity in Hittite and Akkadian as they relate to distinct domains of human experience, specifically uncleanness, infection, and transgression. Special attention is given to the use of these terms in reference to infectious disease. This analysis demonstrates the real-world experiential basis for notions of impurity and also provides a new perspective to shed light on the peculiarities of each culture (e.g., the absence of an Akkadian term for “pollution”). The article concludes with a detailed excursus on the etymology of Akkadian musukku and its relation to Sumerian (m)uzug.

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