Did Akkadian Omens “Speak”?

I’m still playing around with talking snakes and such. I just can’t quite bring the whole issue to closure. In the Hebrew Bible the snake in Genesis 3 speaks and Balaam’s ass speaks in Numbers 22:21-30. In the latter case the context is rather clearly one of contact with a god who has something to tell Balaam. “And then YHWH opened the ass’s mouth and she said to Balaam, . . .” I’m in the process of bringing together other ancient, mostly Near Eastern, examples of animals talking and I may post a few in the future.
I’ve also taken a somewhat different direction on this. The common wisdom is that the Mesopotamians saw their literate gods as “writing” omens on things like livers and so forth in a way that a properly trained diviner could read them. But do omens also speak?
Side note: if someone reads an omen from say a liver, then of course that person speaks but that’s a somewhat different issue. I’m trying to figure out if omens can “speak” for themselves.
There are several occasions where the Akkadian word qabû, “to speak, say, pronounce” is used in association with omens. For example,

ša ana SIG5 u ḪUL DUG4ú (iqbû) IGI.MEŠ-šá ana imitti šakanama SIG5 ana šumēli šakanama aḫītu (CAD Q, 29)
Concerning good and bad they (protases) speak: (if) its (a ṣibtu’s [a part of a liver]) front parts lie toward the right, it is good; (if) toward the left, misfortune.

I have the complete publication of the text on order from interlibrary loan but it hasn’t arrived as yet so I’m not completely clear of the context but I think this is part of a list of haruspicy omens.
But I just can’t convince myself that this use of qabû is meaningfully related to vocalizing an omen. I wish I could find a clear example. If you know of one, please tell me about it.

4 thoughts on “Did Akkadian Omens “Speak”?”

  1. Eek! A typo: “And then YHWH opened the ass’s mouth and she said to Balaam, […]”. Come to think of it, “ass month” must be December when everybody fights in the toy aisle for Jimmy’s Christmas present. Hehe.
    But more seriously, it’s indeed plausible (even likely) to say from an ancient person’s standpoint that omens “speak” given that omens were believed to be the very messages of the gods. Every rustle of the wind speaks, every bird in the sky, every blemish on a sheep’s liver. The godly grapevine was believed to be all around us mortals if we chose to look and divine.
    As for the usage of qabû for omens, it appears that according to Black (A concise dictionary of Akkadian (2000), p.55), damqu means “good, favourable” as well as “omen”. So when damqu is used with qabû, does it honestly mean “speak *favourably* of”? Or is it more broad: “speak words (both good or bad, both by a human or indirectly by a god through omen)”? I’m not knowledgeable enough in Akkadian to judge.

  2. Whoops, I made a horrible logical error of my own by misreading the reference I gave. (Sleepy!) But still it says clearly that damqu is used of words as well as omens (ie. the words of the gods) and it’s being used with qabû.

  3. Glen,
    Oops, I fixed the typo, thanks. You picked up your own error but it is not as wrong as you might think. You are correct that damqu is used with qabû. Even in the quotation, SIG5 is the ideogram for damqu.

  4. You’re generous. Let me just dust myself off from my fall from grace and try again. :o)
    It’s frustrating that despite the fact that Etruscan religion is so à-propos to this subject of omens and divination, I’ve never yet uncovered their word for ‘to speak’ to test this idea out.
    However I had another flash. Ancient Egyptians were also very religious and obsessed with ritual, come to think of it. Their word for ‘to speak’, *ḏāṭ (written ḏd), is used all the time in religious texts. One would expect that “speaking omens” should surface there too by way of cultural areal influence.
    Along that vein, note also *maṭáw(?) (written md.w) ‘words’ is used also for ‘magic’ or ‘spell’. This might connect with what your saying because the Egyptian cosmos was believed to be created and maintained by this godly magic. Omens, the words of the gods, the Holy Spirit – all potentially the same thing.

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