Be Careful On That Chariot – Misfortune Could Come Of It

More as a matter of diversion than anything else, I’m back working on the equine omens from Šumma Ālu. Each of these omens is abnormally interesting and each has its own set of problems. Here’s an example from what is likely Šumma Ālu tablet 43, CT 40 35-37(K. 3836+7211 +) obv.:8-10.

If (a king or a prince a chariot) rides and splits open his left eye or his left cheek and [blood flows] – Misfortune; the gods and the holy places (parakkē) that [grow large(?)] [will mourn him]. He seeks out the places (ašrat) of the gods and the holy places (parakkē) and he will prosper [ . . ]

Unless your interests are truly abnormal, please skip this paragraph. The stuff in the parentheses near the beginning of the omen is represented by the DITTO sign in the text. Based on the several preceding omens the meaning of the DITTO is nearly certain. The same is true for the reconstructions “[blood flows]” and “[will mourn him].” The reconstruction “[grow large(?)]” is only slightly better than a guess. From Gadd’s autograph it looks like it may read TÁL(?)-šum. But Gadd, pl. 35, put hash marks through what I speculate is a TÁL sign and Nötscher, 20, couldn’t read anything at all. In addition, TÁL equaling Akkadian rapāšūm, here if my reading is correct likely rapšūm, is quite uncommon. CAD P, 145, glosses the Sumerian loanword parakkē, which I translate “holy places,” “dais, pedestal, socle, sanctuary, shrine, divine throne room.” I more or less took the average.
My first reaction to all save the last line of this omen is “No kidding!” If while riding your chariot you split open the side of your head that is misfortunate indeed. But clearly there is more to it than that. These seemingly obvious omens, and there are quite a few of them, generally have portents that go beyond the obvious. I’m sure that’s the case here. While there is room to debate how best to understand the phrase which I translate “He seeks out the places of the gods and the holy places and he will prosper” and it would be nice to know what comes after it, this seem to me to provide a method for mitigating the full effect of the misfortune. Yes, there will be misfortune but if one seeks out the places the gods and the holy places” all will be well. While mitigating actions and rituals are far from ubiquitous, they occur every so often in virtually all Akkadain omen series. For instance, at the end of snake omen whose portent is death, Šumma Ālu 22:1, we read, “If that man desires to live, he should ??? (his) head, (and) shave his cheeks; he will suffer for three months but he will live.” As the Sonny teaches us, “Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, then it is not yet the end.”
If one looks at the preceding omen (obv.: 5-7) one sees, when compared with the omen at obv.: 8-10, an interesting parallel between Marduk and the gods and Ishtar and the holy places.

If (a king or a prince a chariot) rides and the left wheel on his left or the horse on his left splits open his (the king or prince’s) head and blood flows – the hand of Marduk and Ištar; they will mourn him; He seeks out the places of Marduk and Ištar [and he will prosper.]

I’m not sure what, if anything, to make of this parallel usage but I do find it interesting.

Gadd, C. J., Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets, &c., in the British Museum Part XL (London: University of Oxford Press, 1927) (CT)
Nötscher, Friedrich, “Die Omen-Serie šumma ālu ina mēlê šakin,” Orientalia, NS, 51-54 (1930)