Just How Figuratively Should We Take This?

But indeed, ask please the domestic animals,
And they will teach you;
And the birds of the heavens, they will tell you.
Or speak to the earth, she will teach you.
And the fish of the sea will recount to you,
Who does not know among all of these,
That the hand of Eloah has done this?
          Job 12:7-9 [Loren Fisher’s translation]
For the last couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time studying Akkadian omens from series like Šumma Ālu and the more I study these omens, the harder it is to take this Job passage all that figuratively.
Look at this from the Old Babylonian version of Šumma immer.
If a sheep, its mucus is runny – the flood will arrive (YOS 10, 47:17).
I could have cited four tablets worth of omens regarding things having to do with domestic animals from Šumma Ālu: tablet 41 (more on sheep), 42 (oxen), 43, (horses, mules, etc.) and 49 (pigs). And that doesn’t even cover cats and dogs. Tablets 45-48 do that.
Or this from Tablet 79 of Šumma Ālu,
If a man is about to sacrifice to his god and a falcon flies from the man’s left to the man’s right; that man, his god will not receive his sacrifice (CT 40,48:20-21).
A total of 16 Šumma Ālu tablets deal with birds. Each tablet has about 100 omens.
And yes, Šumma Ālu tablets 54-62 deal with stuff regarding the earth and the land and tablet 63 deals with fish.
Sure, there are several hard issues with my comparison that need addressing before one can be very definitive. But . . . .

5 thoughts on “Just How Figuratively Should We Take This?”

  1. It’s an interesting interpretation and within possibility given all the other pre-biblical pagan traditions that the Bible preserves.
    On the other hand, the mere idea of Nature “speaking” to us Her wisdom isn’t a unique concept since it’s found the world over, regardless of the presence or absence of developed augurial traditions. It would be helpful to the argument to find a direct correlation between this passage and a passage in Babylonian or Egyptian.

  2. Thanks for the comments and the encouragement
    Many Akkadian omens whose protases involve domestic animals, birds, the earth, and fish have apodoses regarding health and/or the destruction of households. In other words, they foretell the specific problems Job is having. For this post, I decided not to reference them. Please wait for the sequel. It may be a while but there will be a sequel. For those who just can’t wait, consider this from Šumma Ālu tablet 79. “If, in a man’s house, a man becomes ill, in the morning behind the house of the patient a falcon flies from the right outer corner to the left outer corner, that patient, his disease will lengthen. (CT 40,48:33-34).” And there are even closer examples.

  3. I haven’t commented much lately, just like I’m struggling to accomplish a blogging minimum, but I swear, Duane, yours is always some of the most fascinating stuff in my feed.

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