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Originalverffentlichung in: G. Leick (Hrsg), The Babylonian World, New York/London, 2007, S.

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CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

D I V I N A T I O N CULTURE A N D T H E H A N D L I N G OF THE FUTURE


Stefan M. Maul

n omen is a clea rly defined perception understood a s a sign pointing to future events whenever it manifests itself under identica l circumsta nces. The cla ssifica tion of a perception a s ominous is based on an epistemological development which esta blishes a norma tive rela tionship between the perceived a nd the future. This cla ssifica tion process is preceded by a period of deta iled exa mina tion a nd is thus initia lly built on empirica l knowledge. O m i n a only cea se to be detected empirica lly when a firm conceptu a l link ha s been esta blished between the observed a nd the future which then a llows omina to be construed by the a pplica tion of regula rities. In the Mesopota mia n written sources from the first a nd second millennia BC, omina ba sed on regula rities fa r exceed those ba sed on empirica l da ta . Mesopota mia n schola rs genera lly collected da ta without forma lly expressing the funda menta l principles behind their method. It wa s the composition of non-empirica l omina a s such which a llowed students to detect the regula rities on which they were ba sed without this formula ted ora lly or in writing. Modern a ttempts a t a systematic investiga tion of such principles however, a re still outsta nding. It is interesting tha t there is no Sumeria n or Akka dia n equiva lent for the terms 'ora cle' or 'omen'. Assyriologists use the term omen for the sentence construction 'if x then y' which consists of a ma in cla use beginning with summa ('if') describing the ominous occurence, a nd a second cla use which spells out the predicted outcome. The former is ca lled prota sis (Greek for 'ca use, question'), the la tter a podosis (Greek for 'rendition', 'renumera tion'), following the Gra eco-Roma n divina tion system. Such sentence constructions a re also common in the so-ca lled lega l codes (such a s the Code of Ha mmura bi) a nd in medica l dia gnostic texts without being cla ssified a s omina by Assyriologists, a distinction which proba bly did not occur to a ncient schola rs. The most importa nt form of the oracle was the exa mina tion of entrails of sacrificial a nima ls (extispicy). Like the sponta neous signs a nd other ora cles, extispicy a nd va rious other forms of oracles (see below) had to be performed a nd interpreted by schooled specia lists. Since the mea ning of these signs wa s codified in the sentence structure of 'if x then y', Assyriologists cla ssify them a s oil omina , smoke omina , liver omina , etc. even though the a ssocia ted pra ctices a re rea lly ora cles. 361

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The relationship between empirical observation and the systematic study of regularities has parallels to the working methods of modern science and there are also structural similarities in the f orm of presentation ('scientif ic' systematization). The notion that the world is f ull of signs does not have to imply a belief in the existence of gods, in contrast to the system of oracles. However, at least during the historical periods in Mesopotamia, ominous signs were indeed interpreted as divine revelations and insights into the intentions of the gods. The f uture outcome revealed by the sign was hardly ever considered as irrevocable. Human beings could resort to prayer, sacrifice and incantations in order to soothe the angry gods and to make them revise divine intentions in their f avour. We can see that the future as crystallized in the present was not considered by the Babylonians as created solely by the gods but as the result of a dialogue between man and god, an act of communication that could be initiated by gods or men. Deities could speak directly through the medium of a prophet or ecstatic, or appear in dreams, in order to convey their wishes and directives. They also announced their will by a plethora of signs that had to be read like a written text. Such unsolicited signs, which appeared spontaneously in the sky, on earth, and even on people, were not immediately intelligible by themselves but needed to be read by a trained interpreter of signs who had spent many years learning the highly sophisticated art of divination. Of ten there was no time to wait f or such spontaneous manif estations of the gods' will, as when decisions about important undertakings had to be made which needed divine approval. The human beings could take the initiative and seek f or divine guidance in a variety of ways. The dif f erent procedures used to ellicit the will of the gods are generally called oracles. Rituals, complete with sacrifices and prayers, prepared the way f or communication with the deities. An oracle was always tied to a concrete enquiry about a future event or whether a planned activity would be sanctioned or not. It was also possible to provoke the divine word directly or indirectly through a priestly medium. A consciously evoked dream within the framework of the incubation ritual could also lead to a response. If the dream was not unequivocal, it had to be interpreted. In legal practice the divine will was revealed by the ordeal which was considered proof .

T H E W O R L D AS A S Y S T E M OF S I G N S
The caref ul and detailed observation of nature and environment convinced the Babylonians, long bef ore omina were first written down, that there were connections between apparently discrete natural phenomena which, in their entirety, could allow conclusions as to what could be expected. Since the theistic world view of the ancient Orient did not allow for chance or hazard, this meant that everything was an expression of the divine, creative will which manif ested itself in the world again and again. This form of thinking made it possible to draw conclusions about the divine plans f or the future on the basis of exact observations of the ever changing material world. The f uture as envisaged by the gods could only come into being within and through the material world and the constituents of the material world were united by the common desire to become their will. That is why the dif f erent procedures of divination not only led to identical conclusions but f urnished complementary insights. Hence it was obvious that conclusions based on astral observations could be refined through extispicy, 362

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for instance, or that stellar signs always had to be examined together with terrestrial ones. It was taken as evident that the different sign systems of sky, the earth or the complex surface of a sacrificial animal's liver were all 'saying the same thing'. Such a concept must have been deeply influenced by the Mesopotamian scholars' longestablished habit of bilingualism. The Babylonian interpreters of signs did not only collect signs to predict the future but considered a future that had become present by looking for related signs, or those that may have been overlooked, among events of the past. One product of such a search is a document know as the 'Babylonian Book of Prodigies', which brings together 47 signs of different provenance which collectively led to the 'downfall of the land Akkad' (Kessler-Guinan 2002). The collection known as 'Astronomical Diaries, assembled over centuries, can also be seen as a daring long-term project to record the signs of the world in greater detail (Hunger and Sachs 1988-1996). These 'diaries' were produced in the form of annual reports which record not only astral signs and meteorological data, but also the price of staples, the water levels, ominous terrestrial events, as well as significant historical happenings. The aim must have been to register regularities in world events in order to make such knowledge useful for the political activities of the (royal) client.

T H E I M P O R T A N C E OF O M I N A A N D ORACLES IN B A B Y L O N I A N SOCIETY
The extraordinary amount of writing concerned with the 'science of portents' and oracles in the second and first millennia BC reveal that the future was ultimately considered as a threat, something that had to be reified in time in order to deal with it. Mesopotamian omina can be seen as a sort of warning of what was to come rather than an attempt to predict the future. They made it possible to act before the foreseen could actually happen. Divination was, therefore, not an expression of fatalism or a listless resignation. Instead, it allowed shape to be given to an amorphous, in many situations threatening, future. This deprives the at first unfathomable future of some of its dread. After all, the perspective towards the future as revealed by the omen marshalls a human response, a directive that was needed especially when the portents were bad. Omina concretized the future which could then be furthered or prevented by specific actions. In this way, the omen lore fulfilled the purpose of modern trend predications or statistics. A vital difference, however, was the fact that Babylonians considered the appearance of negative signs as the manifestation of an essentially benign divine will. The various oracular procedures made it possible to consider important, or even controversial decisions as not having been made by a possibly errant individual but by the will of the gods. Since the oracles and omina must have enhanced the decisiveness and self-confidence of the rulers who utilized them, they were politically highly important and effective. To what extent the knowledge of diviners was considered to be of hegemonic impact (Pongratz-Leisten 1999) can be seen in the wording of oaths taken by omen interpreters (Durand 1988: 13-15), as well as in the fact that the specialist tablet collections were plundered on royal command (Lambert 1957/58: 44). N or is it surprising that everything to do with omina was seen as 'classified' by large sectors of the population. 363

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After the fall of the Neo-Babylonian empire, the Greeks and Romans used the title 'Chald ean' (a synonym for 'Babylonian') to d esignate the much appreciated Babylonian soothsayers, astrologers, d iviners, incantation priests and scholars. This also shows how much the science of omina and oracles were consid ered the most characteristic trait of Mesopotamian culture d uring classical antiquity.

T H E A R E A S OF C O M P E T E N C E OF T H E VARIOUS D I V I N A T O R Y PRACTICES
Increasingly complex political structures forced the kings to submit their relationship to the god s to a form of permanent scrutiny. Such a practice would be able to d iagnose and soothe any enflamed d ivine wrath before it could unleash its d estructive potential to d estabilize a dynasty and the whole kingd om. Astrology was almost id eally suited to this purpose because the night sky could be observed and 'd eciphered ' at professionally staffed observation posts. In Mesopotamian cosmology, the sky above the earth was seen as its mirror image and its signs concerned 'all four corners of the world '. Accord ing to litetary sources from the first millennium BC, the movements of the stars in all their complexity were consid ered as a stellar script which gave initiates permanent access to the evolving d ivine intentions, to which other method s of d ivination could only have momentary access. T h i s universal applicability of astrology contributed greatly to its popularity d uring the second and first millennia BC. Political lead ers with imperial intentions beyond the Mesopotamian heartland found it an invaluable source of information on a universal scale. In contrast to astral signs, terrestrial signs were perceived within a much more circumscribed rad ius and hard ly observed systematically. Unless they were visible across larger d istances or of such momentous nature that they caused a great stir, such as really weird birth d efects, they were generally not consid ered relevant for political or social contexts on a large scale and only achieved local interest. Terrestrial omina obtained the status of royal or national importance only if they occurred in places visited by the king. A l t h o u g h royal ord inances d ecreed that terrestrial omina should be painstakingly tecord ed , they were only collected systematically if othet omina, for instance an impend ing lunar eclipse, had ind icated a grave d anger for the king. Then more d etailed guid ance was sought to obtain more precise ind ications in ord er to counteract the potential ill fortune by magical means. W e have seen that Babylonian d iviners d id not rely solely on spontaneous signs of nature but solicited provoked responses. Oracles which d elivered d ivine verd icts were particularly popular because they mad e it possible to check whether a planned activity had the god s' approval of not. Especially extispicy became an important royal d evice to legitimize d ecisions and thus it had a great political importance, although it could also be used for private purposes. Other, less costly and time-consuming forms of d ivination were also available, for all levels of Babylonian society.

T H E L I M I T A T I O N S OF O M I N A A N D

ORACLES

Although the achievements of diviners were highly respected and inspired great confi dence, cuneiform sources known as W i s d o m Literature also document the conviction that diviners were unable to deal with all contingences of life within their hermeneutic 364

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f r a m e w o r k . O n the other h a n d , a l t h o u g h literary sources refer t o c i r c u m s t a n c e s w h e r e p e o p l e have d i s r e g a r d e d d i v i n e 'signs', there is n o t a s i n g l e d o c u m e n t w h i c h c h a l l e n g e s t h e f u n d a m e n t a l efficacy o f d i v i n a t i o n . D o u b t s a b o u t t h e c o m p e t e n c e a n d r e l i a b i l i t y o f i n d i v i d u a l d i v i n e r s , h o w e v e r , are a m p l y d o c u m e n t e d in literary a n d n o n - l i t e r a r y sources.

SIGNS OF T H E S K Y : A S T R O L O G I C A L

OMINA

A n exact o b s e r v a t i o n o f t h e s k y was needed for a g r i c u l t u r a l a n d c a l e n d r i c purposes, especially in o r d e r t o c a l i b r a t e l u n a r m o n t h s w i t h t h e solar year. T h e e x p e r i e n c e that c o n d i t i o n s o f t h e s k y , t h e stars, w i n d a n d w e a t h e r c o u l d f u r n i s h u s e f u l i n f o r m a t i o n m u s t have h a d a v e r y l o n g h i s t o r y in M e s o p o t a m i a . Since h i g h l y e v o l v e d o f astral d i v i n a t i o n m u s t g o b a c k t o t h e t h i r d m i l l e n n i u m BC. T o w a r d s t h e e n d o f t h e second m i l l e n n i u m , astral o m i n a ( l u n a r , solar, w e a t h e r , e a r t h q u a k e , p l a n e t s a n d star o m i n a ) w e r e c o l l e c t e d i n an all e n c o m p a s s i n g series called enuma Anu Enlil after its m y t h o l o g i c a l i n t r o d u c t o r y l i n e ( K o c h - W e s t e n h o l z 1995: 7 7 ; H u n g e r a n d P i n g r e e 1 9 9 9 : 14). T h e apodoses o f t h e a s t r o l o g i c a l w o r k all concern t h e w e l l b e i n g o f t h e c o l l e c t i v e a n d the k i n g . It c o n t a i n s n o t o n l y i n f o r m a t i o n a b o u t m i l i t a r y m a t t e r s , harvest y i e l d s a n d t h e fate o f t h e k i n g d o m b u t p r o g n o s e s a b o u t o t h e r parts o f t h e w o r l d . C a t a l o g u e s , as w e l l as a short v e r s i o n , a l l o w e d s o m e o v e r v i e w over t h i s text w h i c h c o m p r i s e s several t h o u s a n d entries. F u r t h e r m o r e , there were excerpts u n d e r d i f f e r e n t h e a d i n g s , as w e l l as c o m m e n t a r i e s , for t h e purposes o f s t u d y i n g a n d t e a c h i n g , as w e l l as for d i v i n a t o r y practice. Astronomically Together with t r a i n e d e x p e r t s called t h e m s e l v e s 'scribes o f enuma Anu s p e c i a l i s t s (asipu) they w e r e r e s p o n s i b l e for Enlil'. the the incantation omen c o m p e n d i a were available a n d t r a n s m i t t e d i n the O l d B a b y l o n i a n p e r i o d , the b e g i n n i n g s

i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f stellar s i g n s , w h i c h a l w a y s h a d t o b e c o n s i d e r e d i n c o n n e c t i o n w i t h tertestrial s i g n s , never in i s o l a t i o n , as t h e M a n u a l for D i v i n a t i o n expressively records. T h e d a n g e r p r e d i c t e d in an astral e v e n t c o u l d be averted by the a p p r o p t i a t e rituals. T h e d e a t h o f t h e k i n g , for instance, presaged b y a lunar eclipse or an e a r t h q u a k e , c o u l d be p r e v e n t e d b y the r i t u a l o f the ' s u b s t i t u t e k i n g ' . T h e idea that t h e p o w e r o f t h e stars i n f l u e n c e s the lives o f i n d i v i d u a l s ( P a r p o l a 1 9 8 3 : x x i i - x x x i i ; B o t t e r o 1 9 9 2 : 1 3 8 1 5 5 ) has great a n t i q u i t y (already d o c u m e n t e d in the H i t t i t e o m e n c o l l e c t i o n s ) b u t t h e earliest c u n e i f o r m p r o t o c o l s c o n c e r n i n g the p o s i t i o n o f stars at the b i r t h o f a c h i l d d a t e o n l y f r o m t h e t h e fifth c e n t u r y BC. T h e c e n t u r y - l o n g a c t i v i t i e s o f B a b y l o n ian astro lo gers exerted c o n s i d e r a b l e i n f l u e n c e o n E g y p t i a n , I n d i a n a n d G t e e k a s t r o l o g y and led t o calculated astro no my d u r i n g the Seleucid-Parthian perio d.

S I G N S OF T I M E
T h e t h e o r y o f g e n e r a l l y f a v o u r a b l e o r u n f a v o u r a b l e d a y s , as w e l l as days a n d m o n t h s that were f a v o u r a b l e o r u n f a v o u r a b l e fo r p a r t i c u l a t a c t i v i t i e s , is d o c u m e n t e d i n the Akkadian h e m e ro lo g i e s a n d m e no lo g i e s kno wn f ro m t h e m i d d l e o f t h e s e co n d m i l l e n n i u m u n t i l t h e end o f c u n e i f o r m w r i t i n g . T h e i n s i g h t that there was a c o n n e c t i o n b e t w e e n t h e f u n d a m e n t a l m e a n i n g o f a s i g n a n d t h e t i m i n g o f its m a n i f e s t a t i o n led to t h e f o r m u l a t i o n o f tules w h i c h co nsidered certain t i m e s t o be o m i n o u s fo r certain a c t i v i t i e s . A m a i n l y m e n o l o g i c a l l y o rdered calendar, d a t i n g f r o m the last t h i r d o f the

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second m i l l e n n i u m a n d k n o w n as iqqur

ipus ('he d e m o l i s h e d , h e b u i l t u p ' ) p r o v i d e s

i n f o r m a t i o n in t h e f o r m o f lists a n d tables as to w h e n a c t i v i t i e s s u c h as b u i l d i n g w o r k s or certain r i t u a l s , w e r e a u s p i c o u s or u n a u s p i c i o u s . S i n c e t h e t e x t was p r e s e n t e d in o m e n f o r m ( ' I f h e b u i l d s a house in t h e m o n t h s x , t h e n . . .') it a l l o w e d o f certain diseases, fires, or i m p o r t a n t astral s i g n s for each m o n t h o f t h e year. quick access as t o t h e f u t u r e s i g n i f i c a n c e o f d a i l y events t h a t w e r e c o n s i d e r e d o m i n o u s , or

S IGNS

OF T H E

EARTH alu

Terrestrial o m i n a and the collection summa

T h e u n u s u a l b e h a v i o u r o f a n i m a l s , e x t r a o r d i n a r y h a p p e n i n g s in a n d a r o u n d t h e h o u s e , peculiarities o f p l a n t s , w e r e all c o n s i d e r e d to p o i n t t o w a r d s forces t h a t m a y c o m p r o m i s e t h e safety o f h u m a n existence. U n b i d d e n s i g n s o f this n a t u r e w e r e p r o b a b l y o b s e r v e d , c o l l e c t e d a n d p o n d e r e d as early as t h e p r e h i s t o r i c a l p e r i o d . K n o w l e d g e o f the h i d d e n c o n n e c t i o n s b e t w e e n terrestrial s i g n s a n d t h e i r effects o n h u m a n b e i n g s were considered o f such i m p o r t a n c e t h a t o m e n c o m p e n d i a l i s t i n g such s i g n s a n d t h e i r o u t c o m e s were already w r i r t e n d o w n in t h e O l d B a b y l o n i a n p e r i o d . T h e y can b e seen as precursors o f the very c o m p r e h e n s i v e c o l l e c t i o n o f terrestrial o m i n a t h a t are first d o c u m e n t e d for the e l e v e n t h c e n t u r y BC ( F r e e d m a n 1 9 9 8 : 1 3 ) b u t f u l l y represented b y t h e m u c h later texts in the l i b r a r y o f t h e N e o - A s s y r i a n k i n g A s h u r b a n i p a l . T h i s series, c o m p r i s i n g at least 1 2 0 t h e m a t i c a l l y d e f i n e d tablets a n d m o r e t h a n 1 0 , 0 0 0 entries, was called after its i n i t i a l l i n e summa alu ina mele sakin ( ' w h e n a c i t y is b u i l t o n h i g h g r o u n d ' ) . T h e m a j o r i t y o f s i g n s in this c o l l e c t i o n w e r e g a t h e r e d f r o m t h e n a t u r a l u r b a n a n d rural e n v i r o n m e n t o f the M e s o p o t a m i a n p o p u l a c e a n d n o t t h e royal c o u r t . A p a r t f r o m signs o r i g i n a t i n g f r o m the i m m e d i a t e surroundings o f the h u m a n h o m e ( w i t h i n the house, i n a n i m a l s , a n d in o t h e r v a r i o u s m a n i f e s t a t i o n s o f a n d a r o u n d t h e h o u s e , tablets 1 - 5 3 ) , t h e series is d e d i c a t e d t o o m i n o u s s i g n s w i t h i n t h e c i t y , t h e fields a n d g a r d e n s (tablets 5 4 - 6 0 ) , i n rivers a n d watercourses (tablets 6 1 6 3 ) ,
an

trle

birds of the and

s k y ( t a b l e t s 6 4 7 9 ) . O t h e r s e c t i o n s are d e v o t e d t o t h e b e h a v i o u r o f h u m a n s

a n i m a l s (tablets 8 0 8 7 , 1 0 3 - 1 0 4 ) . T h e o r i g i n a l k e r n e l o f t h e c o m p o s i t i o n m u s t have been h o u s e a n d c i t y o m i n a , h e n c e t h e j u s t i f i e d n a m e o f t h e w h o l e c o l l e c t i o n as 'If a c i t y ' ( t a b l e t s 1 - 8 8 ) . O t h e r sections o f w o r k t h a t e n u m e r a t e i n t e r p r e t a t i v e rules for oracular p r o c e d u r e s a n d are therefore n o t u n p r o v o k e d o m i n a , m u s t b e later a d d i t i o n s . I t also n o t e w o r t h y t h a t t h e m a j o r i t y o f t h e a p o d o s e s o f h o u s e a n d c i t y o m i n a c o n c e r n t h e w e l l - b e i n g a n d h e a l t h o f t h e p e r s o n s in w h o s e h o u s e h o l d t h e y w e r e o b s e r v e d , rather t h a n royal or p u b l i c c o n c e r n s . T e r r e s t r i a l s i g n s d i d n o t refer t o an u n a l t e r a b l e f u t u r e s i n c e t h e d i v i n e r s w e r e t r a i n e d t o avert t h e p o t e n t i a l m i s f o r t u n e before it c o u l d h a p p e n , w h i c h is w h y a l m o s t all t h e m a i n t h e m a t i c sections c o n t a i n rituals ( M a u l 1994). redemption

D e s p i t e t h e e n o r m o u s s c o p e o f t h e terrestrial o m e n series, t h e user was a b l e t o n a v i g a t e it w i t h t h e h e l p o f c a t a l o g u e s a n d t h e m a t i c a l l y ordered s h o r t versions. N u m erous excerpts a n d c o m m e n t a r i e s p r o v e t h e e x t e n t o f its usefuleness to scribes a n d scholars. T e r r e s t r i a l s i g n s , q u i t e u n l i k e the h e a v e n l y s i g n s c o u l d n o t be o b s e r v e d s y s t e m a t i c a l l y . T h e r e f o r e , e x t r a o r d i n a r y o c c u r e n c e s h a d t o be r e p o r t e d t o t h e k i n g i f t h e y were s u s p e c t e d t o c o n c e r n t h e p u b l i c welfare. W r i t t e n reports a b o u t s u c h s i g n s are k n o w n

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f r o m t h e O l d B a b y l o n i a n , as w e l l as t h e first m i l l e n n i u m BC. T h e y were i n t e r p r e t e d , at least d u r i n g the latter p e r i o d , b y the i n c a n t a t i o n specialist, the asipu. T h e h e r m e n e u t i c p r i n c i p l e s o f i n t e r p r e t a t i o n w h i c h c a n n o t be r e d u c e d to s i m p l e f o l k rules r e m a i n to be i n v e s t i g a t e d . V a r i o u s ' h a n d b o o k s ' w a r n p r a c t i o n e r s n o t t o c o n s i d e r terrestrial signs w i t h o u t c o r r e l a t i n g t h e m t o astral ones.

Birth omina
T e r a t o m a n c y ( f r o m G r e e k teras ' m o n s t e r ' a n d manteia ' p r e d i c t i o n ' ) , the p r o c e d u r e o f d e r i v i n g i n s i g h t s i n t o the f u t u r e f r o m t h e m a l f o r m a t i o n s o f n e w b o r n h u m a n s a n d a n i m a l s , was o n e o f the m o s t i m p o r t a n t B a b y l o n i a n d i v i n a t i o n m e t h o d s . T h e appearance a n d f o r m a t i o n o f b i r t h defects {izbu) were regarded as c o n c e r n i n g p r i m a r i l y the f u t u r e o f t h e w h o l e c o u n t r y a n d h e n c e the k i n g s h i p . T e r a t o m a n t i c c o m p e n d i a were already w r i t t e n in the O l d B a b y l o n i a n p e r i o d b u t t h e first c o m p r e h e n s i v e c o l l e c t i o n , c o n s i s t i n g o f 2 4 tablets, c o m e s f r o m t h e l i b r a r y o f A s h u r b a n i p a l a n d was called summa izbu ('if a b i r t h defect') ( L e i c h t y 1 9 7 0 ) . T h e protases deal w i t h all t h e varieties o f p o s s i b l e c o n g e n i t a l m a l f o r m a t i o n s . A s m e n t i o n e d , the m a j o r i t y o f t h e apodoses concern the k i n g . T h e f e w e x c e p t i o n s w h i c h d o c u m e n t p r i v a t e usage m a i n l y refer t o the person i n w h o s e h o u s e h o l d the m a l f o r m a t i o n o c c u r e d . A n izbu was e x a m i n e d b y a baru 'seer', a specialist in t h e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f e x t i s p i c y . S o m e t i m e s , an izbu o b s e r v e d in the c o u n t r y was p i c k l e d a n d sent t o t h e c i t y for a m o r e d e t a i l e d e x a m i n a t i o n . T h e r e are texts f r o m the first m i l l e n n i u m w h i c h c o n c e r n t h e p u r i f i c a t i o n rituals t h a t h a d t o be p e r f o r m e d in t h e h o u s e w h e r e the b i r t h defect h a d h a p p e n e d .

SIGNS ON H U M A N BEINGS: O M E N C O L L E C T I O N S AS A I D S I N T H E E X A M I N A T I O N OF H U M A N B O D I E S
B a b y l o n i a n healers c o u l d also m a k e use or a c o m p r e h e n s i v e c o l l e c t i o n of s o - c a l l e d d i a g n o s t i c a n d p r o g n o s t i c o m i n a w h i c h were c o m p i l e d in t h e e l e v e n t h c e n t u r y BC a n d t r a n s m i t t e d i n t o t h e S e l e u c i d p e r i o d . T h e y c o n t a i n e d t h o u s a n d s o f entries des c r i b i n g s y m p t o m s (in t h e p r o t a s i s ) w i t h c o m m e n t s a b o u t the chances o f recovery a n d t h e n a t u r e o f t h e disease c o n c e r n e d ( i n t h e a p o d s i s ) ( H e e f M 2 0 0 0 ) . A s soon as the d e i t y w h o had sent the a f f l i c t i o n was i d e n t i f i e d b y m e a n s o f t h e o m e n c o l l e c t i o n , the i n c a n t a t i o n specialist c o u l d p r o c e e d w i t h the t h e r a p y . T h i s c o n s i s t e d as m u c h o f a r e c o n c i l i a t i o n w i t h t h e g o d s achieved b y m a g i c - r e l i g i o u s m e a n s as m e d i c a l t r e a t m e n t i n t h e m o d e r n sense. N u m e r o u s m e d i c a l - t h e r a p e u t i c c u n e i f o r m texts s h o w clearly that t h e B a b y l o n i a n s c o n s i d e r e d b o t h t r e a t m e n t s as a s i n g l e , h o m o g e n e o u s discipline. V a r i o u s c o m p e n d i a o f p h y s i o g n o mi c o m i n a a n d others w h i c h are concerned w i t h h u m a n b e h a v i o u r p r o v i d e d p r o g n o s e s a b o u t p o s s i b l e life e x p e c t a n c y , the general state o f health, t h e character a n d t h e social s t a n d i n g o f t h e i n v e s t i g a t e d p e r s o n . O m i n a c o n c e r n i n g w o m e n refer t o f e r t i l i t y as w e l l as p r o g n o s e s for her f u t u r e h u s b a n d a n d his h o u s e h o l d . T h e p h y s i o g n o m i c o m e n c o l l e c t i o n served d i v i n e r s as a t e a c h i n g a n d reference w o r k for the s c r u t i n y o f h u m a n b e i n g s . It was t h u s m u c h in d e m a n d at c o u r t , o n occasions w h e n p e o p l e were a b o u t t o be a d m i t t e d t o the i n n e r circle a r o u n d the k i n g , achieve h i g h office, or g e t m a r r i e d t o a h i g h status person.

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S IGN S

D U R I N G S LEEP: D R E A M

OMINA

Procedures c o n c e r n i n g d r e a m i n t e r p r e t a t i o n are m e n t i o n e d in the oldest c o m p r e h e n s i b l e c u n e i f o r m t e x t f r o m M a r i , d a t i n g f r o m t h e m i d - t h i r d m i l l e n n i u m BC ( B o n e c h i a n d Durand 1992). A m a n t i c a l l y i m p o r t a n t d r e a m w h i c h was n o t i m m e d i a t e l y clear, say t h r o u g h a d i v i n e m e s s a g e , h a d t o b e i n t e r p r e t e d regardless o f w h e t h e r t h e d r e a m had been s o l i c i t e d t h r o u g h t h e i n c u b a t i o n r i t u a l or appeared s p o n t a n e o u s l y . T h i s was d o n e b y t h e barum A k k a d . sa'ilu(rn), 'seer', as w e l l as b y m a l e a n d f e m a l e ' q u e s t i o n e r s ' ( S u m . ensi, w h o clarified t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p b e t w e e n t h e d r e a m c o n t e n t sailtum)

a n d f u t u r e h a p p e n i n g s , n o t least t o a l l o w c o u n t e r m e a s u r e s t o b e t a k e n i n t i m e . D e s p i t e t h e g r e a t a n t i q u i t y o f M e s o p o t a m i a n d r e a m o m i n a , there are f e w tablets o u t s i d e A s h u r b a n i p a l ' s l i b r a r y w h i c h p u t t o g e t h e r i m a g e s a n d e v e n t s seen i n d r e a m s , a n d t h e i r m e a n i n g . A s h u r b a n i p a l ' s e d i t i o n , k n o w n t o us as the ' T h e A s s y r i a n D r e a m B o o k ' , was c a l l e d iskar Za/iqiqu after t h e d r e a m - g o d Z a q i q u / Z i q i q u a n d c o m p r i s e d The 11 tablets ( e d i t i o n : O p p e n h e i m 1 9 5 6 ) . M a n y o f t h e d e s c r i b e d d r e a m m o t i v e s d o n o t occur in real life or transgress a g a i n s t e x i s t i n g m o r a l a n d e t h i c a l standards. i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s c o n t a i n e d in t h e a p o d o s e s a l w a y s c o n c e r n p r i v a t e m a t t e r s as w e l l as p r o g n o s e s a b o u t success, h e a l t h a n d life e x p e c t a n c y . A separate c h a p t e r c o n c e r n e d the dreams of the k i n g and their m e a n i n g . D r e a m s b y t h i r d persons t h a t w e r e c o n s i d e r e d i m p o r t a n t h a d t o b e r e p o r t e d t o t h e k i n g a n d t h e n i n t e r p r e t e d (see, for i n s t a n c e , D u r a n d 1988: 4 5 5 - 4 8 2 ) . A prognosis s u p p l i e d b y a d r e a m i n t e r p r e t a t i o n c o u l d b e m a d e m o r e precise b y a d d i t i o n a l d i v i n a t o r y p r o c e d u r e s . T h e r e were n u m e r o u s r i t u a l s t o p r o c u r e d r e a m o m i n a , as w e l l as those m e a n t t o avert t h e p r e d i c t e d misfortune.

I N V E S T I G A T I O N OF S A C R I F I C I A L A N I M A LS , OF T H E I R E N T R A I L S ( E X T I S P I C Y ) , T H E I R L I V E R S (HEPATOS COPY)
T h e o b s e r v a t i o n o f a sacrificial a n i m a l ( g e n e r a l l y a s h e e p ) d u r i n g a n d after the sacrifice, t h e i n s p e c t i o n o f its carcass a n d i n n e r o r g a n s , was first d o c u m e n t e d in M e s o p o t a m i a in t h e t h i r d m i l l e n n i u m a n d t h e n spread t h r o u g h o u t t h e A n c i e n t N e a r East a n d the classical M e d i t e r r a n e a n (though not to E g y p t ) . It p r o m i s e d insights into future h a p p e n i n g s as w e l l as d i v i n e a p p r o v a l or d i s a p p r o v a l for i m p o r t a n t d e c i s i o n s . It w a s h e l d in h i g h e s t e s t e e m d u r i n g all p e r i o d s o f M e s o p o t a m i a n h i s t o r y because it p r o v i d e d for t h e rulers t h e u l t i m a t e l e g i t i m a t i o n for d e c i s i o n s c o n c e r n i n g p o l i t i c a l , m i l i t a r y , p e r s o n a l a n d r e l i g i o u s m a t t e r s . T h e e x a m i n a t i o n o f t h e sacrificial sheep, w h i c h e s t a b l i s h e d a d i r e c t l i n e o f c o m m u n i c a t i o n b e t w e e n m a n a n d g o d , h a d sacra m e n t a l character a n d w a s p e r f o r m e d as a r i t u a l b y a p r o f e s s i o n a l d i v i n e r . T h e sacrifice was d i r e c t l y related t o t h e i n t e n t i o n o f the sacrificer. A l m o s t i n n u m e r a b l e n u m b e r s o f c u n e i f o r m tablets d o c u m e n t t h e v a r i o u s f o r m s o f sacrificial d i v i n a t i o n , f r o m t h e O l d B a b y l o n i a n p e r i o d o n w a r d . A p a r t f r o m t h e tablets that c o n s t i t u t e d a sort o f ' h a n d b o o k ' w h i c h d i v i n e r s a n d t h e i r s t u d e n t s c o p i e d a g a i n a n d a g a i n for reference a n d t e a c h i n g p u r p o s e s a n d w h i c h were c o l l e c t e d i n t o s o m e t i m e s very larg e series o f o m e n c o l l e c t i o n s a n d o m e n c o m m e n t a r i e s , there were i n c a n t a t i o n s for t h e r i t u a l c o n t e x t o f such d i v i n a t i o n (Starr 1 9 8 3 ; L a m b e r t 1 9 9 5 ) , as w e l l as d e t a i l e d i n s t r u c t i o n s for such rituals ( Z i m m e r n 1 9 0 1 , N r . 1 - 2 5 and N r . 71-101).

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Protocols about specific oracular rituals and the letters exchanged between rulers and their advisers, dating from the second and first millennia BC, allow a deep insight into the practice of sacrificial divination. The ritual instruction tablets for the diviner (barum), trace the origin of extispicy to Enmeduranki, the first prediluvian (mythical) king of Sippar. He had been granted access to the 'secret of heaven and earth' by the gods Shamash and Adad, to pass it on to 'the sons of N ippur, Sippar and Babylon' (Lambert 1998). Around the turn from the second to the first millennium BC, the written sources about sacrificial divination underwent a process of large-scale systematization, most likely in response to the increasingly powerful role of Mesopotamian kings, who demanded a comprehensive and reliable system of divination. This process culminated with the edition of a work called iskar baruti (Koch-Westenholz 2000: 27-31), which brings together thousands of sacrificial omina on some 100 tablets, sub-divided into ten series. King Ashurbanipal, who declares in a colophon that he made copies with his own hand 'in the assembly of scholars', had the first-known examples of the massive compendium in his library (Jeyes 1997). The series describes in great detail the outer appearance of the sacrificial sheep, the shape of its entrails, and particularly the 'topography' of the liver, gall bladder and the lungs. It was made easy to use by the list form of the individual tablets and by catalogues. For the purposes of further studies and for practical purposes, there were numerous excerpts (Koch-Westenholz 2000: 437-473). The apodoses of the omina almost exclusively address the concerns of the king and the state: the well-being of the royal family, catastrophes and good harvest, wealth of the kingdom, epidemics and, last but not least, success in warfare. The huge importance of the omen collection for the exercise of kingship can be seen by the fact that Tukulti-Ninurta I ordered the confiscation of extispicy tablets on the occasion of his Babylonian campaign (Lambert 1957/58: 44) and by the efforts made by Ashurbanipal to assemble all relevant texts in his library. Oracle questions from the Old Babylonian period (Durand 1988: 24-34, 44-46 and passim) and the first millennium (Starr 1990) also document the enormous political importance of sacrificial divination at Mesopotamian courts. They also show that strict secrecy surrounded not only the object of enquiry but the knowledge of the discipline as such, which constituted vital 'hegemonic knowledge'. A considerable proportion of royal enquiries concerned decisions of a military and strategic nature and many must have been made during campaigns. Others were meant to clarify the success of a war, the development of threatening situations in the provinces and occupied territories. Private queries generally concern the health and well-being of the person consulting the oracle but there are also some about the likely outcome of business ventures. Occasionally there are questions concerning the fidelity of a wife. Prayers and rituals frequently refer to the inner organs of the sacrificial sheep as a 'tablet' inscribed by the gods which reflects the hermeneutic basis of extispicy. The richly structured surface of the liver was seen as a text, rather like the night sky, which described the human world in an initially incomprehensible but ultimately accessible manner. The various observed individual phenomena were like the ideograms of the cuneiform script which have more than one reading (and meaning), the correct one of which is made clear only through context. An oracular result could be classified 369

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Figure 25.1 Old Bab ylonian clay model of a sheep's liver, c. 1700 BC. The text refers to the ominous implications of any mark in that place (courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum).

as auspicious (positive), unclear, or unauspicious (negative). In the worst case, as in the absence of a certain sign on the liver (Leiderer 1990: 24), it meant that the deity was absent and refused to enter into communication with the person commissioning the oracle. Some of the more unusual results were considered to be highly dangerous and the negative effects had to b e averted b y specially constructed rituals. The Mesopotamian practice of sacrificial divination had a widespread influence. Collections of omina from Mesopotamia were found at the courts of Anatolia, Syria and Iran as early as the second millennium BC and they were translated into different languages (Hi trite, Hurrian, Ugaritic). Ancient Israel practised it under Mesopotamian influence, as did the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans.

OTHER

ORACLES

The inspection of (sacrificial) b irds ('ornithoscopy') involved the appearance of the b ody of a dead and plucked b ut unopened b ird where spots on the skin were given particular attention. Existing omen compendia from the Old Bab ylonian period show 370

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the hand ing l

of the future

that this form of divination was also used by kings and generals since not a few refer to future wars or warn of enemies (edition: Durand 1997). The patterns made by oil poured into a bowl of water (lecanomancy, from Greek l ekdne 'bowl') was also considered as an ancient divinely sanctioned practice. It appears that the plant oil used for the oracle was seen as a sacrifice to the gods, and thus a vehicle of divine communication in itself. The diviner poured oil on the water filling the basin and then more water on top of the oil. The oracular result was derived from the colour, the direction and form of movement the oil made. Oil and water were seen as opposing forces and their collision triggered movements understood as a fight between two principles. The inherent hermeneutic principle of the oil omina can also be revealed by the fact that one could elicit information about the relationship between two people by pouring out a few drops of oil 'for' these persons and then examining how they behave towards each other (edition: Pettinato 1966). L ibanomancy (from Greek Itbanos 'incense'), the method of using incense to gain insights into the future, is first known from the third millennium BC and omen collections are, so far, only documented in four Old Babylonian tablets (Finkel 1983/84). Here, too, incense was seen as an offering to the gods who then communicated their will by means of its substance. The diviner sprinkled flour or incense into a container with glowing coals and observed the shape of the resulting fire or smoke. While some of the apodoses provide answers for private queries, the majority show clearly that military leaders consulted this oracle on royal command. They were technically easy enough to perform even in the midst of battle. Aleuromancy, divining by means of scattered flour (from Greek dl euron 'flour') is, so far, only known from a single late Babylonian omen tablet (Nougayrol 1963). There is little evidence that oracles concerning birds in flight played an important role in Mesopotamia, unlike in Anatolia. Unsolicited signs concerning flying birds, however, were carefully observed. Popular forms of folk divination which everybody could undertake were doubtlessly important during all periods of Mesopotamian history but because they were easily accessible they rarely entered the written evidence.

BIBL IOGRAPHY
Bonechi, M. and J.-M. Durand 1992 'Oniromancie et magie a Mari a I'epoque d'Ebla', in: Franzaroli, P. (ed.) Literature and Literary Language at Ebla, Quaderni di Semitistica . Universita di Firenze, Florence 18, 151-159 and PI. I--II. Bottero, J. 1992 Mesopotamia. Writing, Reasoning, and the Gods. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Durand, J. M. 1988 Archives Royales de Mari, Vol. 26/I. Paris: Editions recherches sur les civilisations 1997 'La divination par les oiseaux', Mari: Annates de Recherches Interdisciplinaires 8, 273-282. Ebeling, E. and F. Kocher 1953 Literarische Keil schrifttexte aus Assur. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag. Falkenstein, A. 1966 ""Wahrsagung" in der sumerischen Uberlieferung', in: CRRA 14, 45-68. Finkel, I. L . 1983/84 'A New Piece of Libanomancy.' Archiv fur Orientforschung 29/30, 50-55. Freedman, S. M. 1998 If a City Is Set on a Height. The Akkadian Omen Series Summa Al u ina Male iakin. Volume t: Tablets 121, Philadelphia: Samuel Noah Kramer Fund. HeeBel, N. P. 2000 Babylonisch-assyrische Diagnostik. Alter Orient und Altes Testament 43, Munster: Ugarit Verlag. Heintz, J.-G. (ed.) 1997 Oracles et Propheties dans l'antiquite. Actes du Colloque des Strasbourg 15-17 juin 1995. Paris: Boccard.

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Hunger, H. and D. Pingree 1999 Astral Sciences in Mesopotamia. Handbuch der Orientalistik, 1. Abteilung 44. Band, Boston: Brill. and A. Sachs 19881996 Astronomic al Diaries and Related Texts from Babylonia. Vienna: Osterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Jeyes, U. 1997 AssurbanipaTs barutu, in: CRRA 39, 61-65. Kessler-Guinan, A. 2002 'A Severed Head Laughed: Stories of Divinatory Interpretation', in: Leda Ciraolo, Jonathan Seidel (eds), Magic and Divination in the Ancient World. Ancient Magic and Divination II, Leiden: Brill, Styx, 7-40. Koch-Westenholz, U. 1995 Mesopotamian Astrology. An Introduc tion to Babylonian and Assyrian Celestial Divination. Copenhagen: Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Near Eastern Studies: M useum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen. 2000 Babylonian Liver Omens. Copenhagen: Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Near Eastern Studies: Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen. Labat, R. 1965 Un calendrier babylonien des travaux des signes et des mois (series iqqur ipus), Paris: Librairie Honore Champion. Lambert, W. G. 1957/58 'Three Unpublished Fragments of the Tukulti-Ninurta Epic'. Arcbiv fiir Orientforschung 18, 3851. 1995 'Questions Addressed to the Babylonian Oracle. The tamitu-texts', in: J.-G. Heintz (ed.) Oracles et propheties dans I'antiquite, 8598. 1998 'The Qualifications of Babylonian Diviners', in: S.M . M aul (ed.), Vs. R. Borger, CM 10, 141-158. Leichty, E. 1970 The Omen Series summa izbu, TCS 4. Leiderer, R. 1990 Anatomie da' Schafsleber im babylonisc hen Leberorakel. M iinchen/Bern/Wien/San Francisco: Zuckschwerdt Verlag. M aul, S. M. 1994 Zukunftsbeu'dltigung. Bine V' ntersuchungaltorientalischen Denkens anhandder babylon assyrischen Loserituale (Namburbi). Baghdader Forschungen 18. Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern. Nougayrol, J. 1963 'Aleuromancie babylonienne', Orientalia Nova Seria 32, 381386. Oppenheim, A. L. 1956 The Interpretation of Dreams in the Anc ient Near East. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 46/3, Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society. 1974 'A Babylonian Diviner's M anual', Journal of Near Eastern Studies 33, 197-220. Parpola, S. 1983 Letters from Assyrian Scholars to the Kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal, Part IT. Commentary and Appendic es. Alter Orient und Altes Testament 5/2 Neukirchener-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag. Pettinato, G. 1966 Die Olwabrsagung bei den Babyloniern. Rome: Istituto di Studi del Vicino Orienre, Universita di Roma. Pongratz-Leisten, B. 1999 Herrschaftswissen in Mesopotamien. Helsinki: the Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project. Reiner, E. 1995 Astral Magic in Babylonia. Philadelphia: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 85/4. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society. Rochberg-Halton, F. 1998 Babylonian Horoscopes. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 88/1. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. Starr, I. 1983 'The Rituals of the Diviner', Bibliothec a Mesopotamic a 12. 1990 Queries to the Sungod. State Archives of Assyria 4. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press. Zimmern, H. 1901 'Beitrage zur Kenntnis der babylonischen Religion', Assyriologische Bibliothek 12, Hinrichs'sche Buchhandlung Leipzig (Reprint: Zentralantiquariat der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, Leipzig 1975).

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