The Art of Divination in the Ancient Near East
Reading the Signs of Heaven and Earth
359 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: August 2018
You stars of Anu, I call on you! You stars of Enlil, turn to me!
You stars of Ea, all of you together, gather around me!
I have offered you a pure sacrifice,
I have scattered pure incense to you,
I have poured out pure beer for you.
Eat what is pure, drink what is sweet!
With these words, the Babylonians invoked the gods of the night as they prepared their sacrifices under a clear, starry sky.
Discovering divine will was a part of everyday life for the people of the ancient Near East. Every state action and every military campaign was preceded by a king’s meticulous ritual that petitioned the gods for a sure answer about the outcome of their endeavors. But royals were not alone in their quest. Wealthy merchants, simple craftsmen, poor widows—everyone wanted and needed certainty for future undertakings. Those who could afford it sacrificed a flawless sheep, whose liver was used by the diviner to determine the answer. Others sought guidance in oil and flour. The desire for certainty in the face of an unknown future unified all classes in the ancient world.
Stefan M. Maul, a noted expert on ancient Near Eastern divination, offers an overview of this fascinating subject. Maul surveys the "art" of divination as it expanded from Sumerian roots to Babylonian mastery, cataloging its evolving methodology—from entrails to astrology—and the class of experts who performed it. He argues that the discernment of the will of the gods, though vital for political counsel, was far from a cynical ploy of the elite: at root this was a genuine attempt to unite Mesopotamian cultures under a common purpose. What seems to the post-Enlightenment world a mere superstition was, in its own way and to its own ends, a robust scholarly enterprise that lent these ancient peoples a sense of control over a world populated by fickle forces. These practices remind us that the desire to know the future is a part of what it means to be human, regardless of time or place.
…an authoritative overview of divination in ancient Mesopotamia. The book is rich in detail, visual aids, and textual citations; it should be required reading for anyone interested in cult and prophecy in the ancient Near East, including Israel.~Andrew R. Davis, Catholic Biblical Quarterly
Students of the Bible and ancient Near East are indebted to Baylor University Press for this English translation of Stefan Maul’s Die Wahrsagekunst im Alten Orient, an important survey and synthesis of the divinatory arts of the ancient Near East. Every page is a testament to the author’s deep knowledge of the original sources and his keen historical imagination. Revelations await the reader in each chapter.~Alan Lenzi, Chair of Religious Studies and Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near East, University of the Pacific
Maul’s book will be of great service to those working on religious phenomenon categorized as divination as well as for those interested specifically in ancient Near Eastern and ancient Mediterranean religions and divination. Biblical scholars, especially those working on ancient Israelite prophecy and prophetic literature, would do well to take into account Maul’s work for any future consideration of prophecy in the Hebrew Bible~Brady Alan Beard, Reading Religion
The signature of Maul’s work is an extensive knowledge of the sources combined with strong historical thinking and a nose for interesting overarching themes. The volume at hand does not disappoint where these points are concerned.~Kim Beerden, Journal of Near Eastern Studies
[ The Art of Divination in the Ancient Near East] meticulously describes the sources, the techniques, the practitioners and the Sitz im Leben of divination in Babylonian and Assyrian society and presents perspectives on its history and development. This is a book that deserves to be read by scholars from other fields of research as well as by student and the interested layman.~Ulla Susanne Koch, Orientalia
In this book Maul allows readers to see the world of Mesopotamian divination from a Mesopotamian point of view. Anybody interested in prophecy—biblical and otherwise—will want to have a copy of this book on their desk.~Jonathan Stökl, Lecturer in Hebrew Bible and Old Testament, King's College London
The Art of Divination in the Ancient Near East is a comprehensive and authoritative view of the central feature of cuneiform scribal knowledge and practice, namely divination from signs in order to gauge divine favor regarding future prospects. This is a book for all readers fascinated by what Maul calls the ‘inseparable fellowship’ of human beings and gods in the ancient Near East, and the place of sacrifice as the origin of divine communication.~Francesca Rochberg, Catherine and William L. Magistretti Distinguished Professor of Near Eastern Studies, University of California, Berkeley