Biblical Archaeology Review 31:2, March/April 2005

Before Tea Leaves: Divination in Ancient Babylonia

By William W. Hallo

Babylonian Liver Omens: The Chapters Manzazu, Padanu and Pan Takalti of the Babylonian Extispicy Series Mainly from Aššurbanipal’s Library (Ulla Koch-Westenholz CNI Publications 25)

(Copenhagen: Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Near Eastern Studies, University of Copenhagen, Museum Tusculam Press, 2000), 543 pp. + 49 plates, $100

The administration was determined to go to war, but it lacked the necessary public support. Fortunately there was timely intelligence, especially from southern Iraq, that victory was assured. Am I referring to the CIA and Washington in 2003 C.E.? No, this is Nineveh in 652–648 B.C.E., the administration was headed by King Ashurbanipal, and the intelligence came from a diviner who had studied the liver of an animal slaughtered for that purpose. This common practice is the subject of Danish Assyriologist Ulla Koch-Westenholz’s Babylonian Liver Omens, which is primarily a scholarly translation and presentation of cuneiform texts devoted to hepatoscopy, or divination by means of the liver, the favored organ for extispicy (divination from sheep entrails).

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