The corpus of tablets published here saw two major editions previously, those of J.A. Knudtzon, Assyrische Gebete an den Sonnengott 1893, and of E. Klauber, Politisch-Religiose Texte aus der Sargonidenzeit (1913). A more recent survey of these materials is that of J. Aro, first presented as a paper at the Fourteenth Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale (1965) and published in La divination en Mésopotamie ancienne (CRRAI 14, 1966), pp. 109-117. This paper drew attention to the new materials which had come to light since the publication of the works of Knudtzon and Klauber, notably in the excavations conducted by King (later assisted by R. Campbell Thompson) at Nineveh in 1903-1905.

The corpus falls into two distinct groups: queries placed before the sun god Šamaš, and extispicy reports. The former are mostly from the reign of Esarhaddon; the latter, from that of his son, Assurbanipal. Each of the two groups is distinguished by its own formal characteristics, which have been discussed extensively by Knudtzon, Klauber, and Aro, so that only brief descriptions and additional remarks need be offered here.

The queries in particular are distinguished by their distinct opening and closing formulas, as well as by an extensive chain of formulas beginning with the word ezib, "disregard," whose main purpose seems to have been to eliminate any misunderstanding, untoward event, mishap, or cultic impurity caused by thought, word or deed, which might affect the outcome of the extispicy.[[1]] The tablets on which the queries were written are characterized by their large, coarse appearance, and by the equally large, coarse shape of their cuneiform writing, which usually runs broadside, across the rectangular tablets. Exceptions to this rule, such as there are, are to be found mostly among the reports from the reign of Assurbanipal. No. 320 (photo EANE p. 208) may serve as an example of a tablet written in a clear, neat Assyrian hand.

The queries were placed before the god Šamaš, often with another clay or papyrus document containing the name of the person about whom the query was made and/or other relevant details.[[2]] Omens derived from the extispicies performed, if included at all, always follow the query, and are placed wherever there is space left on the tablet, usually on the side, or following, or in between the closing formulas. As a result, this part of the text is often written in a smaller script, sometimes perpendicular to the main body of the text. In some cases, no omens are included at all; in other cases, two and occasionally three extispicies are recorded. Relatively few of the queries are dated.

In the extispicy reports, on the other hand, the query usually follows the list of omens; and is on the whole brief. In contrast to the queries, the reports generally also present a summary of the unfavorable protases after the omen section, although this practice is not always followed. Most, if not all, reports appear to have been originally dated. Both reports and queries draw their omens from the major extispicy series and compendia of the first millennium such as the Bārûtu and the large compendium KAR 423.

This corpus of queries and reports is unique to the later Sargonids, Esarhaddon and his son, Assurbanipal, and appears to have been specifically produced for the needs of these two monarchs. The formal difference between the queries and the reports is possibly due to an evolution of the former into a simpler format, rather than to different traditions.[[3]] The early texts from the reign of Assurbanipal (i.e. those which can be dated between the years 668-657 B.C.) are, with the exception of no. 299, in no way different in form from those of Esarhaddon. The later ones (i.e. those which can be dated to the years 652-650 B.C.) are the much simplified "reports." The apparent hiatus is probably due merely to accident. The best represented eponym in the reports is Sagabbu (651 B.C.).

FIG. 1. Šamaš: Maltai rock carving (reign of Sennacherib).

The subject matter of these queries and reports reflects some of the most immediate or pressing concerns of the later Sargonids, such as the intentions or activities of an enemy or enemies, named or unnamed; the loyalty of serving officials or of prospective appointees to sundry offices, specified or unspecified, of the realm; illness in the royal family, and the like. In the case of Assurbanipal, queries concerning the outcome of his struggle with his rebellious brother, Šamaš-šumu-ukin, king of Babylon, and related matters, form the major topic of the reports. As a source of history, the importance of these texts is enhanced by the fact that they are free of the kind of tendentious editing which characterizes the annals and related royal records, or the self-serving interests permeating the correspondence of courtiers. The diviners may have manipulated some of the results of the extispicies, but not the facts stated in the queries placed before the god of justice.

All this is not to imply that queries to the gods have been unknown in Mesopotamia prior to the reigns of the later Sargonids. Far from it. Queries are attested, in fact, as early as the Old Babylonian period.[[4]] Queries to sundry gods are also embedded in the introductory formulas of Kassite extispicy reports.[[5]] There is also an unquestionable similarity in the formulary of the Sargonid queries and another divinatory genre, also consisting of queries, the tamītus, some of which, as we now know, go back to the OB period,[[6]] and with which the Sargonid queries share numerous features in the formulary. It is clear, then, that the formulary of the Sargonid queries goes back to much older traditions.

1 Some of Klauber's remarks concerning the difficulties in defining the meaning of the imperative ezib in these texts (PRT, p. xv) are still valid. In some cases, e.g. "ezib that an unclean person has performed extispicy in this place," the intended meaning seems to be "forgive, overlook"; in other cases, however, such as where enemy action is referred to e.g. "ezib that they (may) plunder the open country and inflict a defeat" (44:18), such a rendering is clearly out of the question. We have accordingly chosen the neutral rendering "disregard," holding that there was a functional difference between the standard and non-standard ezibs, the latter purporting to narrow down the scope of the query, the former relating to the diviner's concern to "neutralize" any harmful circumstances or unfavorable conditions jeopardizing the outcome of the extispicy.

2 Cf. Tadmor, Unity and Diversity (1978), p. 143, and CRRAI 25 (1982), p. 453f.

3 Cf. Aro, CRRAI 14 (1966), p. 115f; see, however, notes on nos. 279, 290, 299 and 319, below.

4 See Nougayrol, JCS 21 230 N r.7ff; ARM 2 22:28ff.

5 See Reiner, AS 16, p. 248 n. 5.

6 See Lambert, CRRAI 14 (1966), p. 119ff.

Ivan Starr

Ivan Starr, 'Introduction', Queries to the Sungod: Divination and Politics in Sargonid Assyria, SAA 4. Original publication: Helsinki, Helsinki University Press, 1990; online contents: SAAo/SAA04 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2020 []

Back to top ^^
SAAo/SAA04, 2014-. Since 2015, SAAo is based at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Historisches Seminar (LMU Munich, History Department) - Alexander von Humboldt Chair for Ancient History of the Near and Middle East. Content released under a CC BY-SA 3.0 [] license, 2007-20.
Oracc uses cookies only to collect Google Analytics data. Read more here []; see the stats here []; opt out here.