If Your Teacher Asks You

Since I have it at hand, I thought I’d better take a little time and browse the whole of Koch-Westenholz’s compilation of Mesopotamian extispicy texts. Even among the ancient commentaries, there is a somewhat boring repetitiveness. This is true of most omen series. In general, each short section, often a single line, of a commentary begins with “if (šumma)” followed by something to do with the liver, followed by a comment on how to understand the reading. “If the erištu is as big as a sprout, like a small peas, it is adverse (‘:12)” is typical. An erištu, in this context, is a small, abnormal mark or perhaps a swelling on the liver. Koch, 48, renders it “Request” after the more pedestrian meaning of the word. A pun on erištu seems to come up in this material from time to time but that’s the subject of another post.
But one section begins,
Šumma ummānka iša’aka . . . (i:46)
If your teacher asks you:
Then comes a series of questions concerning why () this or that reading is appropriate given this or that set of circumstances. These questions appear to go on for 16, sometimes broken, lines. Then, while very broken, the text returns to its more normal structure.
I’m not sure what to make of this but I did find it abnormally interesting. The commentaries are quite clearly intended to instruct a diviner on how to interpret various possible misunderstandings in the omen series and/or tradition on which they comment. But did that instruction include sample questions that a master might ask? Certainly this speaks to the compositional history of this commentary but I’m not exactly sure what it says.

Koch-Westenholz, Ulla Susanne, Babylonian liver omens: the chapters Manzāzu, Padānu, and Pān tākalti of the Babylonian extispicy series mainly from Aššurbanipal’s Library (Copenhagen: Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Near Eastern Studies, University of Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2000)