Mesopotamian temples commanded considerable manpower to work the agricultural estates, the various workshops, administration, and general maintenance of buildings and equipment. The service of the cult, the care for the divine statues residing in inner precincts of the temple, the daily offerings, and the liturgies also demanded considerable personnel. There was no general distinction between those who worked in the “secular” sector and those who performed “priestly” functions. In fact, a number of sacerdotal functions could be carried out on a part-time basis (so-called prebends). Those who had any contact with the sacred precincts of the temple had to ensure that they were in a state of ritual purity, attained by ablutions as well as by the incantation of purificatory formulas.
   Some categories of priests, especially those with intimate contact with divine statues, had to fulfill specific physical, ethical, and psychological requirements to qualify for the profession. Like scribes, certain high-status categories of priests belonged to families where the office passed from father to son. Literacy was mandatory for most cult specialists, who had to be knowledgeable in liturgical procedures, chants, and prayers. Highly trained staff performed exorcistic and healing rituals, solicited and interpreted omens, and advised the king. Some classes of temple personnel wore distinguishing clothing, hats, and other accoutrements that are depicted on cylinder seals or in Assyrian reliefs. Ritual nudity, as shown on Early Dynastic plaques, was discontinued after the Akkadian period. The daily services included musicians, singers, cult performers, and dancers, both male and female.
   Agreat number and variety of professional titles for temple personnel have been preserved in the administrative records as well as in lexical lists, but it is not always clear which function was implied at any given period. The highest office in the administrative hierarchy during the Uruk periodwas that of the EN.In the Predynastic period, this was used as the title of the city ruler, especially at Ur; in later times, however, it denoted purely cultic responsibility. Great prestige was given to the office of the female EN (Akkadian entu), who served the moon god (see NANNA) at Ur and who was often of royal blood. During the Old Babylonian period, the institution of the naditu women, who lived in a cloisterlike enclosure, flourished. The function of many other female cult specialists who appear in administrative, omen, and literary texts remains obscure.
   See also RELIGION.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.

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