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The Art of Divination in the Ancient Near East
Reading the Signs of Heaven and Earth

By Stefan M. Maul Translated by Brian McNeil and Alexander Johannes Edmonds

The Art of Divination in the Ancient Near East
This edition is not available yet, but we welcome you to place a pre-order.
Published: 15th August 2018
ISBN: 9781481308595
Format: 9in x 6in

Subjects: All History, Ancient History & Archaeology

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 cried to 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 to know the will of the gods. Those who could afford it sacrificed a flawless sheep, whose liver was used by the ritual priest to divine 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 soothsaying in the ancient Middle East, 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, far from being a cynical ploy of the elite, 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 scientific enterprise that lent these ancient peoples a sense of control over a world populated by fickle forces. These rituals remind us that the desire to know the future is a part of what it means to be human, regardless of time or place.

"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 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

Stefan M. Maul is Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the University of Heidelberg.

Publication Details:

 9in x 6in

  HIS002000, REL072000, REL114000
 Baylor University Press

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