Filling Holes Lacunae And Time

I’m currently working on two projects, one of some importance and one that, for want of indisputable evidence, is less so. Both are somewhat stalled while I wait for a couple of things from interlibrary loan. So what do I do when my abnormal interests are stalled? I goof around with irrelevant interests. As part of my work on one of my real projects, I’ve just finished my second reading of the snake omens in Šumma Alu. I also have a truly abnormal interest in urine omens. Should I live long enough, some of that work may eventually be published.
One thing that always impresses me when I consider ancients collection like Šumma Alu is just how massive they are and, in their own way, how complete they are. We tend to seek to be thorough by way of generalization. The ancient Mesopotamians pursued the same goal by way accumulation.
Two of my interests came together in the following omen in Tablet 22 of Šumma Alu, line 39. Here is Sally Freedman’s, 12, critical text and translation,
[DIŠ . . .i]š-tin-nu MUŠ ina ŠA3 ABRUD KA-šu [. . .] MU NU TUK- ši
[If . . .] urinates, a snake inside a hole [. . .] his mouth [. . .] he will not acquire fame.
Now there is nothing more tempting than the desire to fill in lacunae. Succumbing to the desire is almost always dangerous. Nearly every time I’ve made the effort, I’ve ended up regretting it. But even with such conscience thoughts, I still couldn’t resist in the case of this omen.
If one looks at a few of the omens that come before line 39, on sees two, lines 35 and 36, that begin DIŠ NA, šumma amēlu. And if one looks at Freedman’s score on page 26, one finds that VAT 10905a i 16’-17’ reads
[DIŠ . . .i]š-tin-nu MUŠ ina ŠA3 ABRUD KA-šu x[. . .q]u? MU NU TUK- ši
Hummm. What could be in the lacuna of the sign string x[. . . . q]u? The x stands for traces of an unreadable sign and the [. . . q]u means that Freedman sees the last part of qu following a sign (or two) that is completely missing. What could the x and the . . . be?
The only thing to go on is context and the -qu?, of course. After several rather monumental failures to find anything that seemed to work, I ran across NAG.MEŠ. What does NAG.MEŠ have going for it other than being two signs? Well NAG.MEŠ stands for the interative (Gtn) form of šāqû, “to irrigate, give a drink, fill, water.” The -qu would be a phonetic complement. One way to read the verb is ištaqqu. But there might only be room for NAG alone. I’d need to see the physical tablet to be sure. NAG by itself is a longish sign, three horizontal wedges long to be exact. In which case, one might simply read išqu with about the same meaning. So here is how I would reconstruct the omen.
[DIŠ NA i]š-tin-nu MUŠ ina ŠA3 ABRUD KA-šu NAG.[MEŠ(?)-q]u MU NU TUK-ši
šumma [amēlu] ištinu îra ina libbi ḫurri pîšu [ištaqqu/išqu] šuma lā irtaši/irši
[If a man] has urinated on a snake inside a hole, [watering] its mouth, he will not acquire fame.
So what are the odds that this reconstruction is correct? Well, I’d place the odds of my restoration of NA at over 50%. And my restoration of NAG? Well, I’d guess that is less than 50%, perhaps less than 25%, perhaps even less.
So do I plan to attempt to restore the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other lacunae in Šumma Alu? No way. (I hope)

Freedman, Sally, If a City Is Set on a Height: The Akkadian Omen Series Shumma Alu ina mele Shakin Vol. 2: Tablets 22-40, Occasional Publications of the Samuel Noah Kramer Fund 19, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum / Babylonian Section, 2006, 6-130