While doing research for a paper I’m working on, I ran across a couple of interesting passages from Rabbinic literature. The first is from Sifrei Deuteronomy 171. It offers examples divination.
For instance, if he says that bread has fallen from his mouth, his staff from his hand, a snake passed on his right and a fox on his left and his tail crossed his path [which are considered bad omens], or if he refuses to do something because it is the New Moon, or the eve of the Sabbath, or Saturday night. [emphasis added]
The Babylonian Talmud’s Sanhedrin 65b repeats some of the above and further says that “charmer” “applies to one charms large objects, and to one who charms small ones, even snakes, and scorpions.”
As yet, I haven’t had opportunity to check these two passages in the original, so I’m not exactly sure what words and expressions they use in crucial places. But even without looking at the original a couple of things are striking.
Consider this. An Akkadian omen begins “šumma šēlebu (KA5.A) ina ḫarrāni ana imitti amēli ētiq . . ., “If a fox on the road crosses to the right side of a man . . . (apud CAD Š2, 269a)” I need to get my hands on this text (Uruk 33:6) to see if there is a complimentary “left side” omen and to see the apodosis.
And then there are these two complimentary omens from Shumma Alu ina Mēlê Shakin.
- 22:16 If, between the first and the 30th of Nisannu, a snake turns from a man’s right side to the man’s left in the street – harsh misery will carry that man off to his enemies.
- 22:17. If, between the first and the 30th of Nisannu, a snake turns from a man’s left side to the man’s right in the street, he will die either from the goring of an ox or the sting of a scorpion.
The Sifrei Deuteronomy passage seems to me to reflect the some understanding of what we see in Akkadian omens.
And then there is the snake-scorpion ordering of the examples in the passage from the Talmud. Shumma Alu ina Mēlê Shakin tablet 22 is the first of five tablets dealing with snake behavior. Two tablets dealing with scorpion behavior follow these five tables immediately. Together they are the first seven tablets of an over twenty-five tablet series of omens concerning animal behavior.
Am I claiming that the Rabbis knew the Akkadian omen series directly? No. But the culture in which they worked sure seems to have had some kind of memory of such things. I’d like to know just how detailed that memory was.