“I am a messenger of Nanaia!” A Babylonian prophet as a sign of the times (133 BC). Valedictory lecture by R.J. (Bert) van der Spek, professor of Ancient Mediterranean and West Asian history, 10 October 2014, 15.45h in the ‘Aula’ of the VU University (Vrije Universiteit) Amsterdam
In October of the year 133 BC a certain sailor appeared in the streets of Babylon claiming to have a special relation with the gods, especially the goddess Nanaia from the city of Borsippa. “I am a messenger of Nanaia!” he cried. Much to the dismay of the local temple authorities he acquired a lot of followers. Probably this self-appointed prophet was killed. Why is this event so telling and a sign of the times? The year 133 BC was a turbulent year in the Mediterranean and West-Asian world with comparable phenomena everywhere. In Sicily, Rome, Pergamum (now Turkey) and Jerusalem we find revolutionary leaders with prophetic gifts, who had to pay for it with their lives. Can we speak of a Zeitgeist? The event took place in the middle of the so-called Hellenistic Age, that is the period after Alexander the Great (†323 BC in Babylon), which is seen by some as the preparatory period for the coming of Jesus Christ. It is the time of the emergence of private religion, of religious movements led by enthused leaders outside and sometimes in opposition to the accepted state religions. This lecture shows that ancient history should not be restricted to Graeco-Roman history. An interdisciplinary approach is a requirement for good research and the Near Eastern languages are as important as Greek and Latin. The Mediterranean and the Middle East are closely intertwined.