I’ve been speculating about speculation in the study of ancient texts and how explicit one should be in noting it in one’s own work. Specifically, I’ve been speculating about historical and linguistic arguments that depend on evidence of questionable relevance. If you look at my CBQ paper on the Hebrew expression מַשְׁתִּין בְּקִיר, “pisser against a wall,” the validity of my argument centers in large part on whether or not you think certain omens in the Assyrian Dream Book are evidence for a correct understanding of the Hebrew trope. The paper more or less assumes that they are and proceeds to explain their exegetical significance. But there are three different speculative issues. First, the very idea that some extra biblical material in a different language and to some extent from a different culture can inform a Hebrew trope is speculative. Even if one thinks that there might be such evidence, one might question my claim that those omens are evidence for an understanding of מַשְׁתִּין בְּקִיר. If you don’t think these omen are evidence for understanding of the Hebrew then you must of necessity think my proposed understanding is incorrect or at best fortuitous. Finally, even if you do think the omens provide relevant evidence, you still might fairly disagree with my interpretation.
The situation is somewhat different in the case of my recent essay on the Mesopotamian origins of Homeric augury. I just send it off for review and hopefully for publication. Here the scholarly discussion has assumed that extra Homeric material may explain something about the origin of Homeric augury. For some time scholars have compared Homeric augury with Anatolian (Hittite) augury and, in the case of Högemann and Oettinger, 17, have argued against Mesopotamian origins. My essay cites Akkadian omen texts that Högemann and Oettinger either didn’t know or that they didn’t take into account. I think there is little doubt that the texts I cite are evidence for the origin of Homeric augury. The speculation in this essay applies only to how I use this evidence in answering the question and not to whether or not these omens are evidence for an answer. I doubt anyone would question their evidentiary relevance.
In this regard, the essay that I’ve been finalizing for the last several months (!) stands mid way between my essay on מַשְׁתִּין בְּקִיר and my essay on Homeric augury. Here I think the case for evidentiary relevance is stronger for an association between a collection of Akkadian omens and the role of the snake in Genesis 3 than was the comparable association in my pisser essay but not as strong as the case in my Homeric augury essay. But it is exactly in this that I have a problem. On the one hand, I had no problem saying (in two footnotes) that the thesis of my pisser paper was speculative and didn’t really argue for evidentiary relevance. Not to put too fine a point on it, my argument was basically that my interpretation was no worse than any other and better than some. On the other hand, I felt that the evidentiary relevance of the Akkadian omen material for Homeric augury was self-evident and didn’t feel a need to argue for it or point to any speculative elements with regard to its use. I hope the peer reviews think the same thing. But in the case of this snake essay, I’m in a quandary. Should I argue for evidentiary relevance or should I just let the unfolding discussion speak to such relevance? Rhetorically, I think an implicit approach is the best way to go; but from a scholarly prospective, I think I should make the argument more explicit and identify the extent to which the Akkadian material is and is not of evidentiary relevance. Hmmm
Smith, Duane E., “Pisser against a Wall: an echo of divination in Biblical Hebrew?” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 72:4 (October 2010), 699-717. (If you’d like a copy of this essay and don’t have access to it, please let me know.)
Smith, Duane E., “Portentous Birds Flying West: On the Mesopotamian origin of Homeric augury,” forthcoming somewhere (I hope). (If you’d like a copy of the latest draft of this essay, please let me know.)