When A Snake Is A Harbinger of Peace Or A Son

I’m making what I hope is my final pass (for now) through the omens in Šumma ālu having protases that refer to a man, a woman, and a snake. Almost all of these omens have negative outcomes – “they will divorce, they will die” or the like. Omen 29 of tablet 23 is typical.

DIŠ MUŠ ana MÚRU DAM u DAM ŠUB-ut-ma DU8 [. . .-z]u-uz-zu DAM u DAM TAG4.ME UGx.UGx
Šumma ṣeru ana qablu muti u aššati imqut-ma ipṭur [ . . . iz]uzzu mutu u aššatu izzibū imātū
“If a snake falls in the middle of a husband and wife and leaves [. . .] they will separate, husband and wife will divorce; they will die.”

But the very next omen, omen 30, seems to have a positive portent.

DIŠ MUŠ ana MÚRU DAM u DAM ŠUB-ut-ma BI SU x i [. . .] DU8 SILIM.MI GÁL-šú KUR x x
Šumma ṣeru ana qablu muti u aššati imqut-ma šû iri’ab (?) x i [. . .] ipṭuru salimu/i ibaššu mātu (?) [x x. . . .]
“If a snake falls in the middle of a husband and wife and it replaces(?) [. . .] it leaves, there will be peace for him; the land will be [ . . .]”

Yes, I did try other understandings of the bi and the su signs but none of them made as much sense (to me) as the ones I adopted. I’m not sure if there is room for something like ana ištēn iturra, “will be of one accord,” after mātu. But such a reading might go well with salimu/i ibaššu. See Leichy, Šumma Izbu, 8:91.
Freedman is a little more conservative in her interpretation of this omen.

DIŠ MUŠ ana MÚRU DAM u DAM ŠUB-ut-ma bi su x i [. . .] DU8 SILIM.MI GÁL-šú kur x x

Which she translates:

“If a snake falls in the middle of husband and wife and gets away, [. . .], there will be goodwill for him.”

She still sees a positive portent. Notice that I don’t dispute any of her readings. Without seeing the actual tablets, there would be no grounds for me to dispute her readings. I just attempt to figure out what the hard ones might mean in Akkadian. Because of the (as always) ill placed lacunae it is hard to know the exact differences between the activity of the snake in omen 29 and omen 30. But just because a snake appears don’t assume it’s a bad thing. In fact, under the right circumstances (whatever they are) you might just have a son.

DIŠ MUŠ ra-man-šú ik-kal GAR-un ka mi na [. . .] ina KA-šú DAM NA NITA Ù.TU
Šumma ṣeru ramanšu ikkal iškun (?) ka mi na ??? [. . .] ina pīšu aššāt amēli zikara ullad
“If a snake eats itself – establishment of . . . [. . .] in his mouth; the man’s wife will give birth to a male child. (Tablet 23, omen 23)”

Note: in the convention used for this post, capital letters represent ideograms, lowercase italic letters represent phonograms or normalizations, and lowercase non-italic letters represent signs without any commitment as to how they might be understood.

Freedman, Sally, If a City Is Set on a Height: The Akkadian Omen Series Shumma Alu ina mele Shakin Vol. 2: Tablets 22-40 (Occasional Publications of the Samuel Noah Kramer Fund, 19; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum / Babylonian Section, 2006)
Leichty, Erle, The Omen Series Šumma Izbu (Locust Valley, NY: J.J. Augustin, 1970)