A characteristic feature of Assyro-Babylonian religion was the repeated use of conventionalized phrases to address and describe the gods. Often, religious texts such as prayers and ritual incantations consisted of little more than the heaping up of such epithets. If the gods were indeed culturally postulated superhuman agents, divine epithets were the actual cultural postulates being made regarding them. This paper presents the results from a survey of divine epithets applied to the deity Shamash in a large corpus of Assyro-Babylonian religious texts. The epithets are categorized according to their conceptual content and underlying ontology, and a quantitative analysis of their use and distribution within the corpus is performed. On this background, some of the predictions made by Pascal Boyer regarding the role of evolved, intuitive ontologies in the formation and transmission of religious concepts, are discussed. It is concluded that while Assyro-Babylonian concepts of the divine do seem to fall rather neatly into the basic ontological domains proposed by Boyer, violations of intutive ontological assumptions do not seem to play the prominent role that his theory predicts.
Past Minds: Studies in Cognitive Historiography, 2011