The Origin Of Divination – Part 1

One of the abnormally interesting questions is the origin of Mesopotamian divination. By this I don’t mean its anthropological or historical origin but rather what did the ancient Mesopotamians think of its origin?
Like many such things, the ancient sources are not quite as clear or complete as we might like. Two documents appear to address this question. I will take up one of them in this post. K.2486 +K.3646 + K.4364 and duplicates is in every way an abnormally interesting text. In Lambert’s, 132, translation it begins,
3. Šamaš in Ebabbarra [appointed]
1. Enmeduranki [king of Sippar].
2. The beloved of Anu, Enlil [and Ea].
4. Šamaš and Adad [brought him in] to their assembly,
5. Šamaš and Adad [honored him],
6. Šamaš and Adad [set him] on a large throne of gold,
7. They showed him how to observe oil on water, a mystery of Anu, [Enlil and Ea],
8. They gave him the tablet of the gods (tuppi ilāni), the liver (takālta, lit. stomach), a secret of heaven and [underworld].
9. They put in his hand the cedar-(rod), beloved of the great gods.
For the sake of understandability, the first three lines are out of order in the translation. I added the Akkadian glosses and the English gloss (“lit. stomach”).
Enmeduranki, aka Enmendurana, an antediluvian King of Sippar, learned lecanomancy (oil on water) and extispicy, or perhaps more specifically hepatoscopy, from the gods Šamaš and Adad. While cuneiform texts (and inscribed models) concerning extispicy are extremely numerous, lecanomancy is but poorly witnessed in Akkadian texts.
Enmeduranki may have received the technology of extispicy in written form (tuppi ilāni). Lambert, 133, worries about this.

But the problem of just what tuppi ilāni takālta [in line 8] means remains. Most probably tuppi is singular, but since both tuppāni and tuppāti are attested as plurals, a plural tuppī is possible. As a singular it cannot refer to tablets of liver omens, due to the large number of these in all periods. Perhaps an inscribed liver model is meant, and when the author lived there was one ‘canonical’ type believed to have come ultimately from the gods.

On takālta meaning “liver” rather than “stomach (bag)” Lambert, 133, cites Ḫargud (B IV 66), uz ukin.gi4.a = ta-kal-tu = ḫa-šu-u. But ḫa-šu-u generally means “lung.” One might also want to cite the Izbu commentary which reads, “ta-kal-tú = lib-bi, ga-bi-du, “takaltu = heart (or, more generally ‘entrails’), liver.” See CAD T, 61. I would point out that a real as opposed to a model liver might well be intended by “tablet of the gods.” Note the Shuilla prayer to Shamash (Shamash 1:15), ina libbi immeri tašaṭṭar šīra “on the entrails of a sheep you inscribe the omen.” In any case, it is quite clear that the knowledge of extispicy came from the gods.
In part 2, I’ll take a look at the origins of Mesopotamian astrology and a few related things.

Lambert, W. G., “Enmeduranki and Related Matters.” JCS 21 (Special Volume Honoring Professor Albrecht Goetze [1967]), 126-138

One thought on “The Origin Of Divination – Part 1”

  1. Prophecy by oil on water? That’s a new one on me but doesn’t surprise me. I don’t recall any mention of such a practice among Etruscans but then Etruscanists dwell almost exclusively on the more reknowned haruspicial rites. This piques my curiosity though. The Etruscans must have indulged in the same thing since the religions are related.
    “By this I don’t mean its anthropological or historical origin but rather what did the ancient Mesopotamians think of its origin?”
    Yes! I always ponder on the fragmented accounts of the “origin of haruspicy” myth among Etruscans and their connection to the eastern traditions. The Romans report that the Etruscans believed that the boy-god Tages, who emerged from the fields one day, took the time out of his day to teach the art of prophecy to farmers and to the Etruscan people who assembled to hear him speak.
    “Tages” is probably the same god as Epiiur (displayed on one mirror as a baby with wings), the son of Heracle (= Greek Heracles) and grandson of Tinia (sun god, lord of all gods). In Bronze Age Mediterranean beliefs as a whole, the sun god is the source of illumination, whether that be physical, mental, or spiritual. So the sun in general was believed also to be the lord of knowledge and prophecy, as well as their progenitor, just like Shamash was in Babylonian belief.
    It seems to me that the equivalent of Epiiur-Tages in Babylon would be Dumuzi. Are there perhaps related connections between Dumuzi and prophecy? In this text you quote, it’s Adad (storm god) instead. Interesting because I think the Etruscan equivalent of Adad would be Tinia Thneth (Thundering Tinia), merely one of the three faces of the sun. Confusing but fascinating.

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