Yesterday, Aren Maeir posted a report of his and his team’s publication of an abnormally interesting jug fragment – several nicely joined sherds – from Late Bronze Age Tell es-Safi. The jar has a depiction of a scorpion along with other design features. One, only very partially represented design, may be of a caprid – a goat or the like. The report lists a small but important set of pots from other locations in the Levant that depict scorpions. It also references several other iconographic representations of scorpions from the larger Near East and a two sided stamp seal from Tell es-Safi itself. And it notes the association of the scorpion with the goddess Išara in Mesopotamia and with “the goddess Serket/Selket, and at times, with the god Seth” in Egypt.
The team concludes that the “two creatures” on the jar likely reflect a fertility motif. After all, both the scorpion and the caprid were associated with fertility.
Without more evidence and reflection, I see no reason to differ with the team’s interpretative suggestion. However, when I see things like this my abnormal mind often turns to divination; not that divination isn’t also sometimes connected with fertility. “If a snake eats itself, causing tooth (induced) [tail(?)] pain(?) by its mouth, a man’s wife will give birth to a male child (Šumma Ālu 23:23).”
Mesopotamian divination provides another context in which one finds scorpions (and goats). Following Sally Freedman’s enumeration of the “canonical” Šumma Ālu tablets, tablets 30 and 31 deal with scorpions. While it’s on my long term “to do” list, I haven’t looked at these tablets as yet. As part of her reconstruction of the series, Freedman, 20, published their incipits and I have her work handy. The evidence for these incipits comes largely from ancient catalogues and colophons but, because for their fragmentary nature, not, in every case, from the individual tablets themselves. The very fragmented incipit of tablet 30 reads only, [DIŠ] G[ÍR.TAB . . .]; [šumma] zu[qaqīpu . . . ]; “[If] a sc[orpion . . . ].” Even with only a part of the GÍR sign readable there is no reasonable doubt that the omen deals with some action of a scorpion. The incipit of tablet 31 is complete. It reads, DIŠ GÍR.TAB MURU(B)4 SAG.DU-šá RA-su i-lem-man; šumma zuqaqīpu qabal rēšišu izaggatsa ilemman; “If a scorpion stings him (i.e. someone) in the middle of his head, it will be trouble (turn evil).” Who would have guessed? This is another of one those omens whose portent seems rather obvious but whose fuller meaning may go beyond the obvious. I’m not sure what, if anything, this might have to do with the Late Bronze Age Tell es-Safi/Gath jug but it’s fun to think about.
Maeir, A. M., Shai, I., Uziel, J., Gadot, Y., and Chadwick, J. R., “A Late Bronze Age Biconical Jar with a Depiction of a Scorpion from Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel,” in M. Gruber, S. Ahituv, G. Lehmann and Z. Talshir, eds., All the Wisdom of the East: Studies in Near Eastern Archaeology and History in Honor of Eliezer D. Oren, (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 255; Fribourg: Fribourg Academic Press, 2012), 249-364.