I’ve been thinking about who gets addressed by whom in Mesopotamia medical rituals like BAM 323:1-38. Here’s my translation of the practitioner’s incantation,
Oh Ghost (or) anything evil, from this day you are expelled from the body of so and so, son of so and so. You are driven out, sent away and banished. The god who placed you (there) (and/or) the goddess who places you (there) has driven you out from the body of so and so son so and so, the patient.
This incantation is part of a ritual that seeks to rid the patient of a “dead man,” i.e. a ghost, or something evil and, therefore, to rid the patient of the accompanying physical symptoms. Notice that the practitioner addresses the ghost directly. But also notice who the practitioner doesn’t address: the god and/or goddess who drives out the evil thing or the god who judges the case of the patient. That divine judge is Shamash. He has authority over the minor god or goddess who placed the ghost in the patient and who, as a result of the ritual, drove it out. Except for the patient’s prayer, the whole ritual focuses directly on ridding the patient of the underlying cause of his physical symptoms and properly disposing of that cause by transferring it to a figurine and then burying it in a pot in some abandoned place. Again, except for the patient’s prayer, the ritual ignores the symptoms and the authoritative god(s) and focuses on the underling direct cause of the sickness, the ghost.
But the patient directs his prayer to Shamash and not to the ghost or the evil thing that possesses him and directly causes his symptoms. He prays to an properly authoritative god. In fact, in a large plurality if not a majority of these kinds of medical texts, that divine authority is Shamash. I’ve provided a compete translation of this patient’s prayer elsewhere. Not completely ignoring the role of demons, the patient descries his physical symptoms to Shamash and begs for a positive verdict in his case, relief from his symptoms.
At a purely formal level, this reflects the pattern of how a modern doctor and his or her believing patient approach a set of symptoms. The doctor addresses the underling cause while the believing patient prays to the appropriate god for relief. Claude Levi-Strauss rejoices.
Speaking of such incantations in general, Scurlock, 74-5, says,
From the cases where it is clearly indicated which person was the reciter, it appears that the parent delivered personal appeals to the gods for help, whereas the exorcist administered the ritual oaths and was also responsible for reciting the appeals which refer to the patient in the third person.
She does cite a few cases, LKA 81:3-4 for example, where the patient prays directly to the ghost or evil thing. But these cases are very exceptional.
There are a couple of items in the patient’s prayer that have abnormally interesting counter parallels in certain elements of Biblical prayers. I plan to address these in a future post. If you’re wondering, I use “counter parallels” to designate cases where one would expect an expression in one literature that takes on a nearly opposite expression in some other literature and in just those cases where it is reasonable to expect that the culture that produced the one set of expressions was in some way cognizant of the other.
[Note to the impatient: My next post on wild oxen, unicorns, and rhinoceros is still pending. The official reason is that I’m awaiting a couple of additional things from interlibrary loan. The other reason is that I’m still of about three or four minds on why the Old Greek says what it says. The good news is that this is an improvement from being of five or six minds. But I’d like to get it down to one or two minds before I post. So for now I must continue to leave you impaled on the horn of a μονόκερως.]