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Shang State Religion And The Pantheon Of The Oracle Texts

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Chapter Summary

This chapter aimed to compose an outline portrait of Shang &t;state religion&t; and its pantheon of deities, and the interest of this exercise naturally relates to the position of the Shang as China's first historically documented state. One can come to understand that Shang was ancestral to later eras of Chinese culture and brings those expectations to our primary body of recovered contemporary data, the late Shang oracle texts. The oracle texts were composed to answer questions very different from those asked today, and the portrait of the spirit world they convey seems unfocused and inconsistent in the terms of analysis one sets. During the last centuries of the Shang, when oracle texts were inscribed, a shift in the object of oracle divination occurred, with religious practice in that medium coming to focus almost entirely on a pantheon confined to royal ancestors and rituals of sacrifice to them.

Keywords: archaeology; China; culture; divination; oracle texts; pantheon; Shang state religion



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