While object representing deities were common in the ancient world, only statues created under carefully prescribed conditions and with proper rituals were regarded as real images that the deity inhabited. Some images were made of stone, cast of solid metal or molded from clay; however, the primary statues of deities that dominated the temples were usually carved of wood and covered with a thin layer of gold or silver and adorned with precious stones and elegant clothing. The Assyrian king Esarhaddon commissioned a major restoration of temples and images.

Assyrian king Esarhaddon commissioned a major restoration of temples and images. For the creation of cult statues, he brought carpenters, goldsmiths, metalworkers and stonecutters-all skilled artisans knowledgeable in the mysteries-into the temple, and he decorated their images with ornaments and Jewelry.

The ritual that brought the image to life was referred to as the “mouth washing,” which possibly paralleled the work done by a midwife to clean the breathing passage of a newborn. It required the priest to whisper into the ear of the statue and to open its eyes to see and its mouth to breath. The ritual states, “This statue without its mouth opened cannot smell incense, cannot eat food, nor drink water.” likewise, had a ritual called “Opening the Mouth and the Eyes,” which operated with different actions and beliefs, but was preformed to quicken the manufactured image into a living representation of the deity. Similar to the Mesopotamian ritual, the priests disavowed any hand in its manufacture. Priests in both Mesopotamia and Egypt daily attended to the statues-washing, clothing and feeding them as though they were living gods. Praise was offered to their hearing, and priests or prophets would convey messages purportedly spoken by these gods.

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