Who Is “You”

I’m still worrying over an Akkadian ritual intended to rid a patient of the pernicious effects of a ghosts, BAM 323:1-38. In addition to multiple instructions, the ritual has two prayers, one for an exorcist (āšipu) and one for the patient (maru). Perhaps I’ll provide a complete translation at some point but, for now, take a look at just the instructions’ verbs and subjects.
you gather . . .
you mix . . .
you make . . .
you give . . .
you place . . .
you stand . . .
you stir . . .
you libate . . .
you erect . . .
you surround . . .
you cover . . .
Then beginning in line 11 without an indication of the reason for the change in person or for the introduction of the exorcist,
the exorcist (āšipu) places . . .
he pours out . . .
he constantly recites . . .
Then after a short incantation ending in line 16, line 17 begins,
you prepare . . .
you cause to recite . . .
Here follows a lengthy supplicant’s prayer. Then beginning with line 36,
you cause to speak . . .
you place . . .
you cause to swear . . .
you say . . .
you bury . . . (but not the patient if you are wondering)
Who is this “you?” At one level, the answer to this question is rather simple. There being no other definition, the intended reader is “you.” The context does not allow that the “you” be the patient. But is the intended reader a/the exorcist (āšipu)? Or is it perhaps someone else, a physician (asû) for example? While a few related texts mention physicians along with exorcists (see Scurlock, 122, n. 594, on BAM 52, BAM 221, AMT), our text says nothing of physicians. I can’t find a ghost text where the physician and the exorcist have clearly distinguishable functions. And then we have a text like BAM 307+ that gives “you” instructions on what to do if both physicians and exorcists fail to cure the patient. To whom are these instructions addressed?
If “you” in our text is the one and only practitioner, why the change from 2nd to 3rd person and back?
For what it’s worth, from a literary point of view, the ritual works just fine without lines 11-16. One wouldn’t miss them if they weren’t there. How it might work as a cure, I’ll leave to more qualified professionals. So it occurred to me that the 3rd person material might be secondary. Over 300 other texts address the same problem often in very similar ways and using many common phrases and expressions. There is obviously a rich history involving these texts, a history that just might show itself in the chance of person in our text. However, I could not find a single example, other than in our text, among the 353 ghost related medical texts published by Scurlock that gives instruction, any instruction, in the third person. They all say “you . . .” Yes, I may have missed something in that many texts but even if I did it still holds that 3rd person instructions are extremely rare.
Hmmm!
Now you understand the context of yesterday’s abnormal request.
Reference:

Scurlock, Jo Ann, Magico-medical Means of Treating Ghost-induced Illnesses in Ancient Mesopotamia, Brill, 2006

One thought on “Who Is “You””

  1. Wow, that’s actually quite interesting, but maybe because I appreciate subtle details like this. It reminds me a lot of things I read in the Liber Linteus in Etruscan, a long text detailing the holy rituals to be performed for particular days in the calendar. Pursuing this change of person along your lines further might be a really great idea that might bear fruit in any ancient language, although it may be very hard to prove.
    In the context of the Liber Linteus at least, person is hard to determine because, in a pro-drop language like Etruscan, pronouns don’t need to be specified (much like in Japanese). So it’s hard to really tell whether a 2nd person is intended. By default, without any other indicators, I’d presume 3rd person is to be understood. Yet the idea that this too could be a secondary compilation from earlier sources like the elusive Libri Acherontici of yore is hard to resist pondering on. These latter works may very likely in turn be from earlier sources from Asia Minor (which is what connects me to your Ugaritic fascinations).
    Anyways, that idea’s got me thinking now. Thank you.

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