August 15, 2012

Divination: The “Primary Institutional Means Of Articulating The Epistemology Of A People”

Alex Nice reviews Amar Annus ed, Divination and Interpretation of Signs in the Ancient World in Aestimatio 9 (2012), 53-65. I’ve cited various papers in the Annus volume from time to time. The whole review is abnormally interesting but I found Nice’s final paragraph in which he quotes Peek the most telling: telling both in regard to the Annus volume and in regard to divination.

Above all, this is a volume which argues for the significance of divination as a semiotic system which should not be relegated to the realms of ‘superstition’ or ‘magic’ but which, as Peek [1991, 2] has suggested, can be viewed as the ‘primary institutional means of articulating the epistemology of a people’.

I suppose I need to add the Peek volume to my reading list.

Does Peek’s observation have relevance to the Hebrew Bible? I think it does. The Hebrew Bible outlaws many forms of divination and modifies others in significant ways. The primary means of determining the mind and will of the god, the primary means of divination, in the Hebrew Bible are the proclamation of Torah and prophecy. As such the proclamation of Torah and prophecy (often based on oneiromancy) fulfill the function of other forms of divination and therefore appear to me to provide the “primary institutional means of articulating the epistemology of a people.” Obviously this is not a complete thought but I do think it an abnormally interesting place to begin a thought process on the role of Torah and prophecy in the Hebrew Bible.

Via Rogueclassicist


Annus, Amar, ed., Divination and Interpretation of Signs in the Ancient World, The Sixth Annual University of Chicago Oriental Institute Seminar (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 2010).

Peek, Philip M. “Introduction: The Study of Divination, Present and Past” in P. Peek ed, African Divination Systems: Way of Knowing (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 1-22.

Posted by Duane Smith at August 15, 2012 1:07 PM | Read more on Hebrew Bible |

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