Who? Me?

I need to return Koch-Westenholz’ Babylonian Liver Omens to the library on Monday, so I thought I’d take another quick look at a couple of things that interested me in passing but to which I hadn’t paid careful attention. Well, here’s one; the apodosis of several omens are in the first person. For example Pān tākalti, tablet 1:21b,
. . . KÚR ana KI.TUŠ.MU SI-sá-ma GAZ-an-ni
. . . nakru ana šubtiya iššir-ma idukkanni
. . . (then) the enemy will charge my camp and defeat me.
Or omen 23b:
. . . ina ŠÀ KUR KÚR NAM.RA È-a
. . . ina libbi māt nakri šallata ušeṣṣa
. . . (then) I will remove booty from the land of the enemy.
Who is the “me” – this “I”? I assume it is the king but is the text itself speaking for the king or is it the bārû speaking as surrogate for the king or is this somehow the king himself?
Another day, another literature search! I’ll let you know if I find something abnormally interesting.

Koch-Westenholz, Ulla Susanne, Babylonian Liver Omens: the chapters Manzāzu, Padānu, and Pān tākalti of the Babylonian extispicy series mainly from Aššurbanipal’s Library (Copenhagen: Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Near Eastern Studies, University of Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2000)

4 thoughts on “Who? Me?”

  1. Glen – The problem with any interpretation is that the apodoses of the vast majority of these omens are in the third person: “the army will be destroyed” or “wherever he goes, that man will have success” or the like or simply a nominal phrase: “victory and booty of conquest.” I do wonder if the first person in these apodoses might reference some antediluvian king like En-men-dur-ana who was taught divine secrets by Shamash and Adad including extispicy.

  2. “The problem with any interpretation is that…”
    Don’t use phrases like this on me. I only hear from them self-defeat and methodological confusion. Occam’s Razor is our guide and we should get past the notion of sighing at the mere EXISTENCE of problems and move on to how to MINIMIZE problems optimally.
    Interpretation is inevitable here. Get beyond our unavoidable need to hypothesize on this problem. What we _should_ be focusing on is finding the _optimal_ solution given what we know. It’s a given that new facts may alter our hypothesis but let’s not poopoo about it and imply irrationally that every interpretation is _equally_ problematic and therefore everything is valueless. Nihilism is an ugly philosophy.
    It appears fairly clearly even from these snippets that the optimal solution is that “me” refers to the person to whom the prophecy is served by the priest, often for the king specifically. This requires the assumption that first and third persons have been mixed but this is a common habit cross-linguistically. We’re not robots, and neither were the scribes so such a mistake is well within plausibility.
    Now, this can serve as our optimal hypothesis while we wait for a better one. If this unsettles you, your task would be to find a better one. Your turn! ;o)

  3. Glen- Two observations:
    First, I’m not as sure as you that “’me’ referring to the person to whom the prophecy is served by the priest, often for the king specifically” is the most parsimonious interpretation of these relativity few formations in a sea of otherwise third person formulations. In such cases the far more usual scribal practice would be to say, “that/this man,” “that/this king,” or “that/this prince” or even annanna mār annanna, “so and so.” The last of these options is a kind of fill in the blank option. You are of course correct that there is common “cross-linguistic habit” regarding the interchange of third and first person expression. However, while the cases of the use of the first person in the apodoses of omens are not frequent, they are common enough and distributed in a way that makes me believe that something else is likely involved. Just now, I’m rather engrossed with another aspect of all this, but at some point I would like to take a close look at all the examples and see if there is some discernible pattern. I think it much more parsimonious to take the “me” in these contexts as self-referencing some real or (on the part of the scribe) imagined diviner. For example, while the evidence is not strong, there is at least some indication that Ashurbanipal did some divination work for himself. I’ve already suggested, both here and in a more recent post to which you commented, that Enmendurana learned some types divination directly from the gods, taught it to others and, with little doubt, was thought to have practiced it himself. The scribal tradition would have preserved some indication of such a thing if it showed up in their sources.
    Second, I’m not as worried about methodological certainty or uncertainty as you seem to be. Sometimes a problem can be so underdetermined that the best we can do is list, without rank, the possibilities. Whether that is the case here we might debate but I am certain that there are times when prematurely converging on a solution in the name of Occam’s Razor is itself a violation of Occam’s Razor. I am quite comfortable with uncertainty in uncertain situations. If this be nihilism, but nihilism with a desire of more or better evidence, so be it. 🙂

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