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Celestial divination in Esarhaddon's Assur a inscription.


The definition of the term "propaganda" here concurs with that employed by Nevling Porter in her study of Esarhaddon's Syrian stelae: Propaganda is deliberate persuasive communication, the goal of which is to convince people to think specific things and perform certain acts that further the objectives of the originator of the communication. (1) In the academic study of propaganda these desired patterns of thought and behavior are often referred to as action. The kind of action that the propaganda desires to elicit determines the kind of propaganda employed. The action and the propaganda that leads to it can thus be divided into two categories: integration and integrative propaganda, and agitation and agitative propaganda, (2) The first primarily connotes the desired effect of making an audience passively accepting of the propagandists' direction and leadership. (3) As Ellul characterizes it, integration stabilizes and unifies the audience and is a long-term undertaking. (4) Though integration is often a goal unto itself, it can also effectively create a fertile and reliable field in which the second kind of action, agitation, can grow. Agitation refers primarily to the behaviors that the propagandist seeks to provoke. (5) It must be emphasized that the desired behaviors, the actions of integration and agitation--and not merely the thought processes that lead to them-are really the end goals of propaganda.

One of the observations noted in the study of contemporary propaganda is that it is not solely directed at the general public. (6) Since specific groups of people have specific political connections and skill sets, it follows that propaganda can be tailored to target not just the general public, but also these particular populations, in order to elicit the actions unique to their groups. Previous studies on the use of texts and visual communication in the Neo-Assyrian period have thus concluded that the Assyrian crown indeed targeted specific groups with carefully focused propaganda.

For example, Reade's study of the Neo-Assyrian palace reliefs argues that these images were strategically situated to address specific audiences, namely, courtiers and foreign visitors. (7) Winter convincingly maintains that the standard inscriptions and their accompanying reliefs seem to carry the same message, but were directed at literate and non-literate groups, respectively. (8) Similarly, Nevling Porter's study of Esarhaddon's stelae from Til Barsip and Sam'al demonstrates that the creators understood the local history of the reception of Assyrian hegemony and fit their images and texts to suit. (9) When it comes to the Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions in general, we can reasonably assume that the implied audience, at least in part, was the literate intelligentsia. (10)


The relative density of references to divination in the inscriptions of the Sargonids is a well-known phenomenon. (11) Such references, of course, provided a general sense of divine support for the monarchs and their specific undertakings. As well, the Sargonids consistently presented themselves as cultivated patrons of, even participants in, traditional Mesopotamian scribal scholarship; the mantic references are a significant facet of this. (12) Yet, in spite of the exceptional attention paid by the Sargonids to mantic activity in the royal inscriptions, specific references to celestial divination in these texts are few and far between. (13) While Sargon II mentioned the positive results of celestial divination in his famous Letter to Assur, (14) and Sennacherib seems to have labeled several gates after celestial features, the first clear reference in the royal inscriptions per se to that mantic practice appears during the reign of Esarhaddon.

The first of these explicit references appears in the beginning of Assur A, Esarhaddon's description of his renovation of the Esarra temple in Assur, and is the focus of my discussion. The text is known from at least nine exemplars: seven clay prisms, one stone tablet, and one clay tablet. (15) As is typical of such royal inscriptions, all of the copies were found deliberately buried in the foundations of various structures in Assur, except for the clay tablet, whose exact provenance is unknown. If Esarhaddon had intended the message of Assur A to be relayed to a general audience, even a literate one, clearly there would have been more effective means of doing so than burying the text in the ground. Perhaps we must assume that the dissemination of the text and its agenda was to be accomplished first in its repeated manufacture and then by word of mouth among individuals who could comprehend the text's specific significance.

In any case, Assur A has several mantic references, all of which confirm the legitimacy of Esarhaddon's activity, not just those which concern celestial divination. (16) The references to hepatoscopy, lecanomancy, and prophecy merely highlight in broad terms the positive or reliable nature of the oracles generated through these methods. In marked contrast, those deriving from celestial divination are manifestly more sophisticated and include rather precise details regarding specific omens. Indeed, the celestial divination references are so specific that we are able to situate them within contemporaneous practice. Against this background, Esarhaddon's assertions in terms of this mantic tradition are revealed to be highly unorthodox and problematic.

Yet, in spite of the difficulties with the inscription's mantics, its technical sophistication is an important indicator of its implied audience; it assumes that its audience had a knowledgeable background in the practice of celestial divination, perhaps even technical training. Winter noted a similar kind of specificity in her study of the development of the narrative program of Neo-Assyrian palace reliefs, that
   the ability to receive the message contained in the program ... is
   a direct function of the effectiveness and clarity of the
   presentation of the message, the "packaging"..., and of the
   cognitive competence of the audience: the stored knowledge brought
   to the situation, ability to understand signs and signals, and
   skill in decoding ... (17)

That is to say, the creator of such an ideologically loaded message (in Winter's case, the designer of the reliefs in Assurnasipal II's palace, in contrast to that of reliefs from later in the period) must understand his audience, and employ an audience-appropriate symbolic system.

Esarhaddon begins to describe his mantically delivered divine approval at the beginning of the text proper, shortly after his own titulary:
d[30 u d]UTU DINGIR.MES mas-su-te
ds-[su] de-en kit-te
u mi-sa-ri
a-na KUR u UN.MES sa-ra-ku
ITI-sam-ma har-ra-an kit-te
it mi-sa-ri sab-tu-ma
UD.[1].KAM UD.14.KAM
u-sa-di-ru ta-mar-tu

In [order] to give the land and the people
verdicts of truth and justice, the gods [Sin and]

Samas, the twin gods, took the road of truth and
justice monthly. They made (their simultaneous)
appearance regularly on the [first] (18) and
fourteenth days. (19)

Koch-Westenholz describes this statement as a "general reference to the auspicious omens of opposition and, probably, conjunction of the sun and the moon on the proper dates. This is a literary phrase like 'may Sin and Shamash bless him without cease.'" (20) Though her characterization has gained some acceptance, (21) there are nonetheless problems with it. While the statement in Assur A is a generalization, it is an intentional generalization of a very specific set of astronomical phenomena and presumes their specific mantic applications: Both of these astronomical events are considered auspicious. For example, SAA 8 409, a report from the celestial diviner Rasili, notes an omen associated with the auspicious beginning of a month:
UD.[1].KAM DINGIR KI DINGIR in-nam-mar
MI.SIG5 sa LUGAL be-li-ia

If (the moon) [becomes visible] on the first day:
reliable [speech]; the land will become happy.
On the [first] (22) day the god will be seen with the
other: good for the king my lord. (23)

Rasili here seems to equate a month which has begun on the first, i.e., in an ideal manner, with the gods (undoubtedly the sun and moon) being seen with each other. The apodoses are appropriately positive. As well, SAA 8 15 reports a solar-lunar opposition on the fourteenth:
1 UD.14.KAM 30 u 20 KI a-ha-mes IGI.MES
a-na da-mi-iq-ti
hu-ud SA-bi ERIM-ni
ina EDIN par-ga-nis NA-is

If on the fourteenth day the moon and sun are
seen together: reliable speech, the land will
become happy. The gods will remember Akkad
favorably; joy among the troops; the king will
become happy; the cattle of Akkad will lie in the
steppe undisturbed. (24)

The variant apodoses (ll. 8-rev. 4) offered by the diviner who wrote this report, the chief scribe Issar-sumu-eres, are all overwhelmingly positive and cover multiple facets of the land, including the status of the religious climate, the army, the monarchy, and livestock.

Returning our focus to Assur A, Esarhaddon would have us believe that the sun and moon appeared in happy conjunction on the first of the month and in blissful opposition on the fourteenth on a monthly basis (arhsamma, line 7'). But this was not and could not have been the case. The appearance of the sun and moon in relation to each other are not this regular, and Esarhaddon certainly had to deal with the negative apodoses of such inauspicious phenomena on many occasions. Indeed, lunar-solar oppositions occur frequently on dates other than the fourteenth, and reports and letters which mention this phenomenon are so common that these texts are difficult to date with precision. (25) Nonetheless, because the oppositions are common, there is little doubt that they occurred with relative frequency during Esarhaddon's eleven-year reign. For example, the chief scribe Issar-sumu-eres, who served both Esarhaddon and his son Assurbanipal, writes of a lunar-solar opposition on the fifteenth:
DIS UD.15.[KAM] d30 [u dUTU]
it-ti a-ha-mi-is IGI.LAL
luKUR dan-nu gisTUKUL.MES-su
a-na KUR i-na-sa-a
KA.GAL.MES luKUR i-na-qar
DIS d30 u dUTU la u-qi-ma ir-bi
na-an-dur UR.MAH u UR.BAR.RA

If on the fifteenth day the mo[on and sun] are
seen together: a strong enemy will raise his
weapons against the land; the enemy will tear
down the city gates.

If the moon or the sun does not wait (for the
other), but sets: raging of lion and wolf. (26)

Esarhaddon's summary of the celestial omens of his reign in Assur A contrasts with the mantic crises with which he had to deal, it seems, rather regularly, as attested in the reports and particularly the letters. Nonetheless, his assertion does not serve a polemical purpose. Unlike the public quarrel that the later Nabonidus had with his Neo-Babylonian court diviners, there is no obvious argument in Esarhaddon's inscription, no engagement with a counter-claim or an apology for otherwise unusual interpretations. (27) On the contrary, the Assyrian monarch's announcement serves as a programmatic declaration. The text dates to within the first couple of years of his reign; thus, the statements regarding the consistently positive phenomena cannot be based on a long history of real observations, even if we assume that they were falsely portrayed as universally positive. (28) By stating that the sun and moon always fit into their ideal, auspicious schemes, Esarhaddon is actively denying that he has ever-or will ever-have to initiate the appropriate namburbi to alter an otherwise negative oracular fate. (29)

In propagandistic terms, there is no doubt that this serves an integrative purpose (which seems to be Koch-Westenholz's characterization), assuring the implied audience that Esarhaddon has the gods' approval. (30) But, as a statement clearly directed at literate diviners, it is also agitative in nature. The gods, he stresses, always give the king positive signs. It thus sets a man tic agenda for all diviners who would serve the king: interpret omens positively!

Esarhaddon follows his mantic summary with two other specific celestial omina (i 11'-ii 13). The first specific omen revolves around a set of circumstances involving the planet Dilbat/Venus:
mu'dil-bat na-bat MUL.MES
ina imMAR.TU
[ina KASKAL su]-ut de-a
in-na-mir sa kun-nu
ma-a-te [sa] su-lum
DINGIR.MES-sa ni-sir-tu
ik-su-ud-ma it-bal

Venus, the brightest of the stars, was seen in the
west, [in the Path] of Ea. Concerning the securing
of the land (and) the reconciliation of its
gods, it (Venus) reached (its) secret (place) and
then disappeared. (31)

In this case, Esarhaddon is not inventing a celestial situation out of whole cloth as he is in his previous statement regarding the regular ideal appearances of the sun and moon; rather, the observed celestial phenomenon here described is in fact accurate according to astronomical reconstructions of the night sky as it appeared in 680 B.C.E. (32) This particular omen entails three different astronomical events: 1) Venus rising in the west, in a certain section of the sky known as the Path of Ea; (33) 2) Venus reaching something called its "secret"; and 3) Venus setting. All of these ominous events are attested in the celestial divination omen collections, where they occur in multiple, interconnected forms. (34) In regard to Esarhaddon's mantic interpretation of these celestial phenomena in Assur A, it would be fruitful to delineate that development by examining two of the tablets that contain various Venus omens. The first of these that offers a form of the omen applied by Esarhaddon is K.7936; it lists Venus's potential appearance in the various celestial Paths of Ea, Anu, and Enlil:
DIS muldil-bat ina KASKAL su-ut de-a IGI-ir

DIS muldil-bat ina KASKAL su-ut da-nim IGI-ir

DIS muldil-bat ina KASKAL su-ut den-lil IGI-ir

If Venus becomes visible in the Path of Ea: the
king of Amurra will have no rival.

If Venus becomes visible in the Path of Anu: the
king of Elam will have no rival.

If Venus becomes visible in the Path of Enlil: the
king of Akkad will have no rival. (35)

Notable in K.7936 for our purposes are the associations made between sections of the sky and geographic regions on earth, a feature which is common in celestial divination literature: the Path of Ea with Amurru, the Path of Anu with Elam, and the Path of Enlil with Akkad. (36) Venus's appearance (innamir) in a specific path indicates prosperity for that path's mundane associate.

The direct significance of K.7936 in relation to Esarhaddon's Assur A comes, of course, from line 7: summa dilbat ina harran sUt ea innamir sar amurri sanina ul isi, "If Venus becomes visible in the Path of Ea: the king of Amurru will have no rival." Esarhaddon states that dilbat nabat kakkabi ina amurri [ina harran] sut ea innamir, "Venus, the brightest of the stars, was seen in the west, [in the Path] of Ea" (i 11'-12'- ii 1-2). Thus, though it is not stated explicitly in Assur A, Venus's appearance in the Path of Ea bodes well for Amurru.

These omens as preserved in K.7936 are clearly somehow related to those in another tablet from Kuyunjik, DT 47. This latter tablet adds an important element to understanding Esarhaddon's reference to Venus's celestial activity, namely the mantic significance assigned to the planet's nisirtu. This concept in celestial divination is first attested, as far as we can determine, in the Assur A inscription itself. (37) Apparently sometime around or after the beginning of the seventh century B.C.E., when Esarhaddon's Assur A was composed and copied, a celestial diviner created omens that included specific reference to the planet's asar nisirti (literally "secret place," often translated as "hypsoma") and these, too, were included on DT 47: (38)
[DIS mu]ldil-bat KI ni-sir-ti KUR-ud SIG5 ana
mulUR.GU.LA KUR-ma : 1 2/3 KASKAL GIS

[DIS mu]ldil-bat KI ni-sir-ti la KUR-ud-ma it-bal
KUR ur-ta[h-has]

[DIS ma]ldil-bat ina imMAR.TU IGI-ma KI
ni-sir-ti KUR-ma u i[t-bal]


[If] Venus reaches (her) secret place: favorable--she
reaches the Lion, variant: [she climbs] 1
2/3 beru.

[If] Venus does not reach the secret place and
disappears: the land will suf[fer],

[If] Venus becomes visible in the west, reaches
the secret place, and disappears]:

the gods [will be] reconciled with Amurru.

[DIS mu] 1 dil-bat ina im MAR.TU IGI-ma KI
ni-sir-ti <la> KUR-ma u [it-bal]

DINGIR.MES KI kur MAR ki i-sab-b[u-su]

[If] Venus becomes visible in the west, does
<not> reach the secret place, and [disappears]:

the gods will be ang[ry] with Amurra. (39)

Clearly, Venus reaching its asar nisirti is generally auspicious, particularly if the planet sets when in that celestial location. If the planet does so in the western sky, the positive nature of the phenomenon is aptly applied to the west, i.e., Amurru. Of course, Venus's appearance in its secret place in the west is precisely the astronomical situation described in Assur A: dilbat nabat kakkabi ina amurri [ina harran] sut ea innamir ... nisirtu iksudma itbal, "Venus, the brightest of the stars, was seen in the west, [in the Path] of Ea ... it reached (its) secret (place) and then disappeared" (i 11'-ii 2, 5-6). Here as well, though it is not stated plainly by Esarhaddon, the mantic significance of Venus's movements is especially auspicious for Amurru.

To summarize, the activity of Venus in Esarhaddon's Assur A draws on an assemblage of omens related to the planet's appearance in the Path of Ea in the west, its reaching its secret place, and then its disappearance. All of these elements are attested in the omen literature cited above, and all of them bode well for Amurru.

The third mantically significant celestial activity observed and reported in Assur A concerns the planet Mars:
mu sal-bat-a-nu pa-ri-is
pur-se-e kur MAR.TU.KI
ina KASKAL su-ut d e-a
ib-il si-in-da-su
sa da-na-an mal-ki u KUR-su
u-kal-lim gis-kim-bu-us

Mars, the giver of decisions of the land Amurru,
shone brightly in the Path of the Ea (and) it
revealed its sign concerning the strengthening of
the ruler and his land. (40)

I am unfamiliar with an omen describing the appearance of Mars in the Path of Ea from either the published omen compendia or from the reports and letters. A bright Mars (ba'alu) is, however, normally a bad thing. For example, Bullutu summarizes the planet's ill quite succinctly:
DIS d sal-bat-a-nu u-ta-na-at-ma SIG 5 ib-il-ma

If Mars becomes faint, it is good; if it becomes
bright, misfortune. (41)

The planet's general malice extends to its mundane associations; Mars is malevolent, and it is associated with countries that are malevolent to the diviner and his royal clients. In the Great Star List, a celestial divination compendium whose composition is usually dated to the Sargonid period, the planet is associated with one of the traditional enemies of the Land:
ul MAN-ma ul a-hu-u ul na-ka-ru
ul sar 6-ru ul HUL ul KA 5.A ul NIM.MA ki
u sal-bat-a-nu
7 zik-ru-su

The Sinister, the Strange, the Hostile,
the Liar, the Evil, the Fox, the Star of Elam.


Seven are its names. (42)

In the tradition of the Great Star List, then, Mars is to be mundanely associated with Elam. As is the case with many such divinatory associations, however, there are multiple traditions. The diviner Rasili, for instance, understands the planet as referring to either of the traditional eastern or western foreign enemies of the Land, and writes to the king:
mul sal-bat-a-nu MUL kur MAR.TU ki

Mars is the star of Amurra. (43)

In Assur A, Esarhaddon states in no uncertain terms (in contrast to his description of relevant Venus phenomena) that Mars's mundane association is Amurra: salbatanu paris purse amurri, "Mars, the giver of decisions of the land Amurra" (ii 6-7).

In light of the omens cited above, Esarhaddon appears to make a mantically powerful case for the divinely ordained legitimacy of his reign. The stars are right. Nonetheless, the obvious problem with the celestial phenomena observed and reported in Assur A is that they are not, in fact, propitious for Assyria, which is normally identified as Subartu in the mantic tradition; they are, rather, an euangelion for Syria and the West (i.e., Amurra)! Thus, we are left with two questions. First, why does the king choose to report these particular celestial phenomena and to comment upon them? Certainly there was other notable astronomical activity that could have been featured as the focus of divinatory attention. Second, why does he choose to cite these particular omens to interpret those phenomena? Any celestial diviner-indeed anybody-worth his salt would have noted that Amurra is not Assyria. The answer is based, I believe, in this text's propagandistic, agitative function, as it was in regard to the positive framing of solar-lunar oppositions (in i 3'-10').

The apodoses of Venus omens feature a range of concerns. Nonetheless, there is an unsurprising focus on agricultural (and occasionally sexual) fecundity. For example, of the seventy-two apodoses found in the so-called "Venus Tablets of Ammisaduqa," forty-three deal explicitly with the status of crops or rainfall. (44) Thus the auspicious appearance of the planet at the beginning of the reign of the king is to be taken as a sign that, with his rise to the throne, the Land's gods will be reconciled (sulum ilanlsa) with it, and as a result the goddess plans on rewarding it with ample and secure agricultural produce. This blessing is to be taken, thenceforth, as a mantic given. Subsequent ominous events should be based on the "fact" that the goddess has already visibly shown her approval of Esarhaddon's kingship.

As for the appearance of the red planet in Assur A, a prominent Mars, as stated above, is normally trouble. But Mars' mantic malice is by no means random; rather, it is normally presented in terms of violence (such as the initiation of conflict, particularly with foreign enemies) and as bringing about the destruction of livestock, presumably via disease. In either case, his bright appearance should not be understood in good terms. Nonetheless, Esarhaddon would have his audience believe that the planet's exceptional luminosity at the initiation of his reign is, in fact, a positive omen. The decision/oracle (purussu) of even that god has been appropriated by the king. If even Mars is on the king's side, how can anyone be against him? Diviners should take note: The red planet's pervasive pestilence has been purged!

But this inscription's most stunning mantic claim is that, with relation to both the Venus and the Mars omens, Assyria is to be identified with Amurra. No modern commentator to my knowledge has dealt with this identification, and almost every later known mantic association militates against it. Certainly, it is conceivable that lying behind this association is the possible Aramean descent of the Sargonid line, or at the least Esarhaddon's predilection for Harran. (45) Nonetheless, Assyria's consistent divinatory identification in contemporary texts is Subartu. As the Assyrian diviner Nabu-ahhe-eriba explains to the king, in what must have been an excruciatingly obvious exegetical moment: aninu Subartu, "We are Subartu." (46) The diviners are normally not that boorish, however, and they typically assume that the king understands the association. As for the identification of Amurru, the Babylon-based Assyrian diviner Mar-Issar explains to Esarhaddon:
i-su-ri luum-ma-ni ina UGU kurMAR.TU
me-me-e-ni a-na MAN EN-i'a i-qa-bi-i-u
kura-mur-ru-u  kurha-at-tu-u
u kursu-tu-u sa-nis

Perhaps the scholars can tell something about
the (concept) "Amurru" to the king, my lord.
Amurru means the Hittite country (Syria) and
the nomad land or, according to another
tradition, Chaldea. (47)

How, then, should we explain this problem in Assur A? The omen in Esarhaddon's inscription is deliberate and specific. It is not merely a general assertion that the gods favor the king. Since the real knowledge of celestial divination otherwise shown in the inscription is too good, it would be silly to say simply that the king (or his agent composing the inscription) does not know what he is talking about. On the contrary, the king knows precisely what he is doing. In terms of propaganda, the text is to be considered both integrative and agitative. By establishing that the gods have mantically shown their support for Esarhaddon's reign, the king is presenting himself as the uncontested, divinely approved monarch. This comforting assertion establishes the king's authority and legitimacy and thus serves an integrative function.

But the specific divinatory claims also agitate. The Venus and Mars circumstances serve as examples of how the king expects his diviners to approach ominous phenomena throughout his reign. By appropriating the Amurru association for Assyria, Esarhaddon is stating that all omina, if they are positive, should be considered for application to the king and Assyria regardless of the hermeneutical gymnastics required. And while there would have been skeptics among the diviners regarding the applicability of these omens to the king, Esarhaddon could, in this paradigmatic instance, point to the fact that his reading of the phenomena, however outlandish it might have seemed, played out in reality. To paraphrase the omen: malku u matisu idninu, "The ruler and his land grew stronger." Indeed, Esarhaddon secured his throne and restored the temple to the god Assur. After all, the fulfillment of an oracular fate is the truest test of a prognostication.


Since propaganda's ultimate goal is to motivate groups to undertake specific action that favors the circumstances of the propagandist, it is important to ask if there is any evidence that the community of celestial diviners received Esarhaddon's programmatic assertions and incorporated them into their thought and acted on them. Ideally, I would like to present a detailed statistical analysis of the omens cited for application in the reports to Esarhaddon, with a breakdown including the percentage of positive/negative apodoses correlated with particular celestial diviners and the diviners' respective physical loci. That is, however, outside the scope of this modest study. What I can point to in this limited foray are examples of diviners blatantly breaking the rules of mantic hermeneutics. While these methods of exegesis are admittedly rather flexible, there are, nonetheless, certain rules that tended to be applied nearly ubiquitously, and the diviners themselves were undoubtedly conscious of them. (48) So, when a particular diviner bends or breaks these rules, it is sometimes obvious, and I suggest that in such cases unorthodox mantic practice might be best understood as the diviners' response to royal propaganda.

The diviners in the king's employ were charged to observe and report anything that could be mantically significant, and this often included phenomena that were inauspicious. As the Babylonian diviner Zakir writes:
us-tah-ha-a NITA.ME

If the moon is surrounded by a halo, and the
Scorpion stands in it: entu-priestesses will be
made pregnant; men, variant: lions will rage
and cut off traffic. (49)

This omen is clearly negative and the diviner assumes that his client, the king, will recognize it as such. But Zakir cannot simply push the target of the omen off to a hostile neighboring state (which is another method for diverting an omen's target, as we will see below); while lions/men harassing traffic is a misfortune which could befall any nation, other nations do not have entu-priestesses. Nonetheless, the diviner writes that it should cause the king no concern:
it-tum ul ta-lap-pat
as-su ma-as-sar-twn sa LUGAL
ana LUGAL EN-fa ds-pu-ra

The sign does not affect (us). Because of the
king's watch I wrote to the king my lord. (50)

He does not say just how he arrives at this conclusion, but it is clear that he has casually dismissed the portent as irrelevant. He does note, however, that the sole reason he is reporting it is because it is his responsibility to do so. (51)

Occasionally the unorthodox nature of an oracle is so egregious that even the diviner himself feels the need to explain his interpretive logic. In the much-discussed SAA 10 112, for example, we see the Babylonian celestial diviner Bel-usezib deliberately bend the traditional method of interpreting an omen so that it would result in Esarhaddon's favor during a campaign against the Manneans. (52) The diviner discusses the possible oracular significance of the benchmark lunar appearances: the crescent moon at the beginning of the month, and the full moon on the fifteenth or sixteenth of the month. The king should be concerned, at least according to the normal rules of omen interpretation:
DIS 30 NU IGI.LAL-ma us-ka-ru IGI-ri nu-kur-ME

If the moon is not seen but the crescent is seen,
there will be hostilities in the land. (53)

As noted in Esarhaddon's mantic program introduced in Assur A (above), the appearance of the full moon on the fifteenth, rather than the fourteenth, is not welcome news:
UD.15.KAM 30 u 20 KI a-ha-mes IGI.MES
KUR dan-nu [sup.gis]TUKUL.ME-su ana KUR IL-a
KA URU-ka KUR ina-qar

(If) the moon and the sun are seen together on
the fifteenth day: a strong enemy will raise his
weapons against the Land; the enemy will tear
down your city gates. (54)

Now, according to the normal rules of exegesis, the matu/KUR should refer to Esarhaddon's land (i.e., Assyria; or at the very least Akkad/Babylonia, by extension Esarhaddon's land). The enemy (nakru/luKUR) should refer to foreign enemies of the Land (matulKUR). (55)

Earlier in his letter, however, Bel-usezib has turned these principal exegetical associations on their heads, indicating to his master in no uncertain terms how he believes the omens to follow should be understood:
... ki-i us-ka-ru
su-u ki-i UD.15.KAM in-na-mar u ki-i UD.16.
in-nam-ma-ru lum-nu-um su-u ina UGU

su-u a-sar luKR ina UGU KUR i-te-eb-bu-u
KUR HUL-nu an-na-a i-zab-bil ...

Whether it is a crescent, or whether it appears
on the fifteenth, or whether they (the moon and
sun) appear on the sixteenth day, it is an evil
portent, and it concerns the Manneans. Wherever
an enemy attacks a land, the land will carry this
evil portent. (56)

Any of the possible lunar phenomena, Bel-usezib concedes, are negative omina. But the diviner maintains that the king has nothing to worry about, because in such situations the matu/ KUR does not a priori refer to Assyria/Babylonia, but rather the matu/KUR is the land that is being attacked, whatever region that happens to be; and that land is to bear the negative consequences of the observed omen. That is to say, in this particular situation Esarhaddon, as the aggressor, is in fact the nakru/luKUR, while the defending nation, Mannea, is the matu/KUR!

This is a dramatic reorientation of the normal hermeneutical conventions: As noted, normally the Land (matu) refers to the country of the Mesopotamian monarch, while the foreigner/enemy (nakru/luKUR) is just that; and certainly the original author of the omen intended it this way. Bel-usezib, however, has twisted the omen rather dramatically. His reading is not a slender alteration of hermeneutics resulting in a subtle alteration of meaning. On the contrary, the diviner completely reverses the application of the omen!

How do we evaluate Bel-usezib's novelty in interpretation? Lanfranchi maintains that the diviner was engaging in normal, if pioneering, scholarship. (57) Alternatively, Koch-Westenholz considers the man a "crackpot." (58) While not dismissing these possibilities entirely, I suggest that the diviner was properly responding to Esarhaddon's propaganda campaign. He was finding a way, in spite of the pressure of the interpretive tradition that he inherited, to apply otherwise negative omina to the king's benefit. This does not exclude blatant sycophancy, incompetence, or methodological innovation on Bel-usezib's part. On the contrary, it contextualizes it.

Another possible example of the effects of Esarhaddon's propaganda can be seen in one of the diviners' reports interpreting the celestial events that took place around the sixteenth of Adar, 669 B.C.E., about a decade into Esarhaddon's reign. (59) Both Saturn and a bright Mars, it seems, were observed in a lunar halo. The Babylonian diviner Rasili sees this as good news for the king:


DIS 20 ina TUR [30 GUB ina KUR kit-tu GAL]

DUMU it-[ti AD-sic kit-tu i-ta-mi]
sa-lam [kis-sa-ti]

SA-su GUB-ma]

If the moon is surrounded by a halo, and [two
stars stand in the halo with the moon]: a reign of
[long] days.

If the sun [stands] in the halo [of the moon: there
will be tmth in the land], the son [will speak the
truth with his father; universal] peace.

--The moon was surrounded by a halo [and
Saturn stood in it]. (60)

First, Rasili deals with the conjunction of Saturn and Mars in the lunar halo, citing an omen that describes two unspecified stars appearing in such a configuration with the moon. The lack of specificity in the omen allows for its application here. Then the diviner cites another omen, whose protasis describes the appearance of the sun within a lunar halo, a seemingly impossible event. In a manner typical of the exegesis of the celestial diviners, one celestial feature can be equated with a certain set of other features. This method broadens the possible phenomena to which any particular omen can apply. In this particular case, Rasili has equated the sun with Saturn, a common connection. (61)

The diviner goes on to deal with the other star that was observed in the celestial halo:
DIS 30 TUR NIGIN-ma mui[sal-bat-a-nu ina
SA-su GUB]

ZAH bu-lim ina [KUR DU.A].BI me-re-[su]
kurMAR.TUki TUR-[ir]

If the moon is surrounded by a halo, and [Mars stands in it]: loss of cattle; in [the who]le [land] cultivated fields] and dates will not prosper; Amurru will diminish.
DIS 30 TUR <NIGIN-ma> mulSUDUN ina SA-su
mulSUDUN mulsal-bat-a-nu

If the moon <is surrounded> by a halo, and the
Yoke star stands in it: the king will die, and his
land will diminish; the king of Elam will die.

--The Yoke star means Mars. (62)

It is the red planet that was seen there, and this might not be good. Rasili cites two omens he believes apply in this situation. In both cases, possible apodoses are quite negative and could cause concern for the king. In the first case, two possible apodoses indicate the loss of livestock and agricultural produce for the whole land. This is not a problem, however, because Rasili ties the possible apodoses to a third that directs these disasters to the west, to Amurru. The second omen describes the appearance of the Yoke star (mulSUDUN/niru, normally equated with Bootes) in a lunar halo, another apparent astronomical impossibility. (63) Again, the first apodosis is terrible: "the king will die, and his land will diminish." But the diviner makes it clear that it is not the king and his land, i.e., Esarhaddon and Assyria; rather, it is the king of Elam and his land that will suffer. In case it was not obvious by this point, Rasili then states what should have been evident: The Yoke star in this omen is to be identified as Mars. (64)

Rasili then summarizes the results of his reading of the celestial phenomena:
mulsal-bat-a-nu MUL kurMAR.TUki
HUL sa kurMAR.TUki u NIM.MA[ki]
SIG5 sa LUGAL be-li-[ia]

Mars is the star of Amurru; evil for Amurru and
Elam. Saturn is the star of Akkad. It is good for
the king [my] lord. (65)

As in Assur A, Mars is associated with Amurru--however, in line with orthodox hermeneutics, Amurru is not to be taken as code for Assyria. (66) Rather, the land of Esarhaddon is Akkad, here not to be equated with Assyria per se but with Babylonia, over which the Assyrian monarch rules. While Rasili's reading does not overtly respond to the details of Esarhaddon's propaganda in Assur A, nonetheless, his desire to interpret celestial phenomena plausibly understood as ominous in an auspicious manner should not merely be understood as toadying. I suggest, rather, that it is the result of the king's multi-faceted propaganda campaign, of which Assur A is but an example, to orient prognostications positively towards the monarch's benefit.

If Rasili's hermeneutics, though skewed toward the king, are nevertheless within the spectrum of acceptable mantic practice, the prognostication offered by another Babylonian diviner, Sapiku, is exegetically egregious. The diviner begins his reading by noting the full moon on the sixteenth of the month:
DIS UD.16.KAM 30 u 20 KI a-ha-mes IGI.MES
ina E.GAL-su
a-na SID.MES ITI U-ta-sar
GIR KUR ana KUR-su GAR-an KUR sal-ta-nis

If on the sixteenth day the moon and sun are
seen together: one king will send (messages of)
evil to another king; the king will be shut up in
his palace for the length of a month; the step
of the enemy will be set towards his land; the
enemy will march around victoriously. (67)

At first glance, Sapiku seems to be offering the king a negative understanding of this phenomenon. In light of Bel-usezib's prognostication above (SAA 10 112), I suggest that Sapiku, too, assumes that the nakru here should be understood as Assyria, while the matu has to be its enemies, particularly since a full moon on the sixteenth is a positive omen consistently applied to Subartu/Assyria. (68) The fact that the diviner ends his reading on an overwhelmingly positive note supports this understanding.

Sapiku then applies some of the same omens Rasili applied above, namely, Mars in a lunar halo and the sun in a lunar halo (notably, he does not equate the Yoke/mul SUDUN/ niru with Mars, as Rasili did). (69) Thus far, the diviner has applied his omens more or less responsibly. But the way in which he concludes his reading is surprising. Sapiku explains to the king, in direct contrast to Rasili's orthodox associations, that Mars stands for Assyria, while Saturn is for Amurru:
d sal-bat-a-[nu MUL sa] kur SU.BlR 4.KI ba-'i-il
u sa-ru-ru na-si SIG 5 M kur SU.BIR 4.KI su-u
un-nu-ut u sa-ru-ru-su ma-aq-tu
HUL sa kur MAR.TU ki ti-ib <<KUR>> KUR
a-na kur MAR.TU ki ib-ba-as-si

Mar[s, the star of] Subartu, is bright and carries
radiance; this is good for Subartu. And Saturn,
the star of Amurru, is faint, and its radiance is
fallen; this is bad for Amurru; an attack of an
enemy will occur against Amurru. (70)

As stated, this is in conflict with the typical associations applied by his colleagues. It is, I would argue, at least a partial response to the propaganda vision of celestial divination presented in Esarhaddon's Assur A. There, Esarhaddon maintained that Mars was the star of Amurru, and that Amurru meant Assyria. After at least a decade of identifying Subartu rather than Amurru as Assyria, Sapiku has no desire to make this claim. However, Esarhaddon's other programmatic assertion--that a bright Mars (salbatanu ... ib'il) (71) bodes well for Assyria--is adopted by the diviner and is applied to the astronomical situation in order to create an auspicious reading. This can be understood as a result of effective agitative propaganda on Esarhaddon's part.


If we categorize the Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions as true propaganda directed toward the literate intelligentsia, we have to identify the desired outcome, the action which the particular presentation of celestial divination by the propaganda campaign was intended to provoke in its audience. The most obvious is simply integration. The king is presented as the pious recipient of the gods' mantic guidance. The fact that he receives accurate guidance, as evidenced by the successful outcomes of his application of that counsel, indicates that the gods support him. Furthermore, if the gods support him, so should the audience.

I suggest, moreover, that the presentation of celestial divination in the royal inscriptions, such as Esarhaddon's Assur A, was also meant to be agitative, in that it seeks to elicit specific behavior from his audience. By framing the mantic counsel provided by the gods as always auspicious, it was meant to color future interpretations of mantic phenomena in the king's favor. The cheery prognostications offered Esarhaddon by Zakir, Rasili, and Sapiku are, in a sense, rather typical, even if their hermeneutics are sometimes acrobatic. As Koch-Westenholz notes, the celestial diviners of the Neo-Assyrian period demonstrate a certain "tendency to see things from the bright side," framing their readings in a positive light whenever possible. (72) I do not argue with this assessment. I contend, however, that this penchant for optimism is not merely the reflex of an opportunistic or competitive initiative. Rather, the diviners are, at least in part, responding to the propaganda of the crown. Esarhaddon (or his propagandist, i.e., the scholar who composed the inscription) deliberately and systematically calibrated his own image in the royal inscriptions to elicit the specific mantic tone in which he wished the diviners to frame their forecasts.

This stands in stark contrast to von Soden's evaluation of Esarhaddon, in which the monarch is merely a superstitious pawn of manipulative "astrologers." (73) But it is also a modification of Parpola's more cautious appraisal, that Esarhaddon's diviners were primarily guided by their own professional ethics. (74) We know that a diviner could knowingly break with his ethics when it was expedient, (75) and I propose that in the cases discussed above Esarhaddon's celestial diviners were following the lead of their monarch, so that their activity would, perhaps, bring additional royal favor. This belief was founded on the king's stated designs, as expressed in such texts as Assur A.

There is more than this, however. In conforming to the agenda set by the king, in acting on his propaganda, the diviners themselves were transformed. As Ellul notes,
   For action makes propaganda's effect irreversible. He who acts in
   obedience to propaganda can never go back. He is now obliged to
   believe in that propaganda because of his past action. He is
   obliged to receive from it his justification and authority, without
   which his action will seem to him absurd or unjust, which would be
   intolerable. He is obliged to continue to advance in the direction
   indicated by propaganda, for action demands more action. (76)

Though Ellul's words are rather dramatic, they nonetheless ring true. Though at first the diviners were not the initiators, but were, rather, the targets of the propagandist, when they began to offer readings that mantically confirmed the gods' support for the crown, they too became satellite propaganda agents. (77) They became locally based, living witnesses of the image the king wished to project. The potential in such a situation for a robust feedback loop of positively oriented divination results and mutual manipulation between the king and his scholars is, I think, quite manifest.

My evaluation leads to a further issue. I have argued that Esarhaddon could manipulate the mantic system to his benefit, but it is still unclear whether he was a true believer in celestial divination. In Koch-Westenholz's evaluation:
   It has been suggested that ominous events, cleverly manipulated,
   were cited merely to allay the fears of the rank-and-file soldiers
   on a campaign, or to justify what the king wished to do anyway.
   This is most unlikely. Propitious omens may indeed have been put to
   effective use in royal propaganda; but all available evidence
   suggests that the kings themselves believed in divination just as
   sincerely as everyone else. (78)

What I have maintained here is that, more than simply using the academic results of divination for propagandistic purposes, the Assyrian monarch sought to manipulate the results of the mantic process for his own benefit. Can this be reconciled with the idea that Esarhaddon seemed genuinely to believe in the validity of the practice as a method which could reveal the will of the gods?

Though we should always remember that the inner thoughts of any ancient personage are only accessible to us through our reconstructions of their words and deeds, I would answer this question in the affirmative, even in light of this study. As Koch-Westenholz has noted, certain of Esarhaddon's diviners--Balasi and Nabu-ahhe-eriba, for example--had no misgivings about offering him negative readings. (79) A large number of letters sent to the Assyrian monarchs originating with Assyrian scholars suggest the performance of, or offer advice on, a namburbi. This is witness to the fact that Esarhaddon did not trust all of his diviners equally. Levels of trust were not solely linked to loyalty and scribal competence. The model I present here supposes that Esarhaddon treated his diviners based on the particular ways in which he thought them useful. This fact was recognized previously by Oppenheim; it seems some scholars, for example, were solely responsible for celestial observation sans interpretation. 80 Those he was closest to were the ones he took seriously when it came to mantic and ritual matters that were of substance to the well-being of the state. They gave him honest divinatory counsel to which he responded ritually (in terms of performing appropriate namburbis, etc.) and/or in terms of policy, and he compensated them appropriately. (81)

Other diviners in the king's employ served as alternative observers of astronomical phenomena and, ultimately, as targets of and eventually agents of the king's propaganda. This is similar to Oppenheim's conclusion that it was really only the diviners at the central Assyrian court that had influence on the king's policy decisions. (82) But it adds another dimension. While the crown benefited from the data they collected, the interpretations they offered, and any new techniques they developed, the scribes were, as the product of the king's propaganda, the scholarly manifestation of the gods' patronage of Esarhaddon. Their presence in the traditional intellectual centers across the land, such as Babylon, Borsippa, Uruk, Nippur, and Kutha, meant that they had a robust potential as agents of Assyrian propaganda within important administrative circles.

This is related to the idea, fully developed by Nevling Porter, that Esarhaddon capitalized on the Babylonian model of ideal kingship for the purpose of maintaining his hegemony in the south. (83) I maintain, however, that this was done more aggressively than via simple patronage of ancient Babylonian institutions, and that the king did not just passively project an image in stone reliefs and clay tablets. In asserting this desired image in his own inscriptions Esarhaddon actively and systematically encouraged diviners to find mantic justification for his authority. (84)



I would like to thank Gary Beckman, Alan Lenzi, Jonathan Stokl, and two anonymous reviewers for their outstanding comments, corrections, and advice. In addition to this, I am grateful to Benjamin Miyamoto for his editorial assistance.

(1.) Nevling Porter states, "By proposing that Esarhaddon's three stelae should be included in the discussion of Assyrian propaganda, I mean to suggest that the visual and verbal imagery of the stelae was designed less to inform than to persuade, and that the stelae appear to have been designed at least in part to influence the political attitudes and behaviour of audiences in the cities where the stelae were erected" ("Assyrian Propaganda for the West: Esarhaddon's Stelae for Til Barsip and Sam'al," in Essays on Syria in the Iron Age [Louvain: Peeters, 2000], 144). For a survey of categorized definitions of the term, see Randal Marlin, Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2002), 16-21.

(2.) Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell, Propaganda and Persuasion, 3rd ed. (London: Sage Publications, 1999), 11-12. In line with the rest of his influential study, Jacques Ellul maintains that integration can only occur in modern societies (Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes [New York: Knopf, 1965], 74-75). Though these useful analytical labels are often employed by scholars working with more contemporary materials (as recently as Marlin, Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion, 36-39), they are rarely employed by those who use the heuristic to approach ancient Near Eastern cultures. I believe them to be useful and appropriate labels and will use them throughout this work.

(3.) Jowett and O'Donnell, Propaganda, 12.

(4.) Ellul, Propaganda, 75.

(5.) Jowett and O'Donnell, Propaganda, 11-12.

(6.) "The traditional propaganda audience is a mass audience, but that is not always the case with modern propaganda. To be sure, mass communication in some form will be used but it may be used in conjunction with other audience forms such as small groups, interest groups, a group of the politically or culturally elite, a special segment of the population, opinion leaders, and individuals" (Jowett and O'Donnell, Propaganda, 286-87).

(7.) Julian Reade, "Ideology and Propaganda in Assyrian Art," in Power and Propaganda: A Symposium on Ancient Empires, ed. Mogens Trolle Larsen (Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1979), 338-39.

(8.) Irene J. Winter, "Royal Rhetoric and the Development of Historical Narrative in Neo-Assyrian Reliefs," Studies in Visual Communication 7 (1981): 19-21.

(9.) Nevling Porter, "Assyrian Propaganda for the West." See also her Images, Power, Politics: Figurative Aspects of Esarhaddon's Babylonian Policy (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1993), 105-17 (especially 116).

(10.) Hayim Tadmor, "Propaganda, Literature, and Historiography," in Assyria 1995: Proceedings of the 10th Anniversary Symposium of the Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, ed. Simo Parpola and Robert M. Whiting (Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 1997), 332; cf. J. A. Brinkman, "Through a Glass Darkly: Esarhaddon's Retrospects on the Downfall of Babylon," JAOS 103 (1983): 41; Nevling Porter, Images, Power, Politics, 116; and E M. Fales and G. B. Lanfranchi, "The Impact of Oracular Material on the Political Utterances and Political Action in the Royal Inscriptions of the Sargonid Dynasty," in Oracles et propheties dans I'antiquite, ed. Jean-Georges Heintz (Strasbourg: De Bocard, 1997), 113.

A. Leo Oppenheim maintained that some version of the contents of the royal inscriptions must have been disseminated orally to the general public, even if only unofficially ("The City of Assur in 714 B.C.," JNES 19 [1960]: 143). Tadmor's caveat, that there is no actual evidence for an official mechanism for a public dissemination, needs to be taken seriously ("Propaganda, Literature, and Historiography," 332). Nonetheless, the fact that information from the royal inscriptions somehow spread despite their cuneiform character can be maintained on the grounds that specific tropes typical of that genre seem to have been used and polemically abused by Judahite prophet-scribes. See Peter Machinist, "Assyria and Its Image in the First Isaiah," JAOS 103 (1983): 719-37; and Shawn Zelig Aster, "The Image of Assyria in Isaiah 2:5-22: The Campaign Motif Reversed," JAOS 127 (2007): 249-78.

(11.) For an overview of prophecy in particular, see Martti Nissinen, References to Prophecy in Neo-Assyrian Sources (Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 1998). For divination in general in the Neo-Assyrian royal court, see Cynthia Jean, "Divination and Oracles at the Neo-Assyrian Palace: The Importance of Signs in Royal Ideology," in Divination and the Interpretation of Signs in the Ancient World, ed. Amar Annus (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 2010), 267-75. For a discussion of the quasi-use of celestial divination in the Neo-Babylonian inscriptions of Nabonidus, see Paul-Richard Berger, "Imaginare Astrologie in spatbabylonischer Propaganda," in Die Rolle der Astronomie in den Kulturen Mesopotamiens, ed. Hannes D. Gaiter (Graz: GrazKult, 1993), 275-89.

(12.) Steven W. Holloway, Assur is King! Assur is King! Religion in the Exercise of Power in the Neo-Assyrian Period (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 83-90.

(13.) For overviews, see Ulla Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology: An Introduction to Babylonian and Assyrian Celestial Divination (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculum Press, 1995), 152-61, and Beate Pongratz-Leisten, Herrschaftswissen in Mesopotamien: Formen der Kommunikation zwischen Gott und Konig im 2. und 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. (Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 1999), 38-46.

(14.) TCL 3; for discussion, see A. Leo Oppenheim, "The City of Assur," 133-47; and F. M. Fales, "Narrative and Ideological Variations in the Account of Sargon's Eighth Campaign," in Ah, Assyria ... Studies in Assyrian History and Ancient Near Eastern Historiography Presented to Hayim Tadmor, ed. M. Cogan and I. Eph'al (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1991), 129-47. While the text is quite similar to the royal inscriptions in style, content, etc., I am not including it in my discussion here, since its implied audience is rather uncertain (Oppenheim, "The City of Assur," 138; Koch- Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology, 153-54; Pongratz-Leisten, Herrschaftswissen, 30-39; David Brown, Mesopotamian Planetary Astronomy-Astrology [Groningen: Styx, 2000], 14 n. 31). Oppenheim, for example, maintained that the letter was to be read publicly for the citizens of Assur itself ("The City of Assur," 143). The celestial phenomena described and their mantic interpretation present several problems similar to those of Aasur A.

(15.) For these and the following archaeological data, see the summary chart in RINAP 4, 119-20.

(16.) RINAP 4 57 ii 12-13, 14-26; iii 42-iv 6.

(17.) Winter, "Royal Rhetoric," 29.

(18.) The reconstruction of "1" in the brackets is offered by Francis Rue Steele without explanation ("The University Museum Esarhaddon Prism," JAOS 71 [1954]: 4); he is followed by Koch-Westenholz (Mesopotamian Astrology, 155) and Pongratz-Leisten (Herrschaftswissen, 41). This reconstruction appears probable for two reasons, however. First, the missing sign would have been located in a rather slim space between two fragments (UM 32-33-5 and Ass 12260 + VAT 8411), and it seems unlikely that there is space for anything larger than a single vertical wedge, particularly since the beginning of the following KAM sign needs to fit in the gap as well. Second, there is specific positive mantic significance placed on both the first and fourteenth, when the "gods appear together" (i.e., the sun and moon are either in opposition or conjunction), as evidenced by the omina cited below. In contrast, Leichty offers no reconstruction of the obscurity (RINAP 4 57 i 9'), while Borger suggested "13(7)," though this was clearly a guess (Borger, Ash 2 [section]2 i 37).

(19.) RINAP 4 57 i 3'-10'.

(20.) Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology, 155.

(21.) E.g., Pongratz-Leisten, Herrschaftswissen, 41.

(22.) Campbell-Thompson was also unclear as to the reading here, transliterating ana UD ... DINGIR in-nammar (RMA 46a). The photo (available through the CDLI: reveals that the tablet presents difficulties. Nonetheless, the fact that the omen is being read in conjunction with an omen regarding the first of the month seems to indicate that this must be the meaning.

(23.) SAA 8 409: 1-4.

(24.) SAA 8 15: 6-10, rev. 1-4.

(25.) E.g., SAA 8 23, 91, 92, 134, 136, 173, 202-203, 306; SAA 10 94, 105, 125, 135.

(26.) SAA 8 24: 1-7.

(27.) For Nabonidus' public argument with his diviners, see Peter Machinist and Hayim Tadmor, "Heavenly Wisdom," in The Tablet and the Scroll: Near Eastern Studies in Honor of William Hallo, ed. Mark E. Cohen et al. (Bethesda: CDL Press, 1993), 146-51.

(28.) Two of the copies of the inscription are dated to 679 B.C.E. (RINAP 4 57).

(29.) For namburbis during Esarhaddon's reign in general, see Claus Ambos, "Rituale fur einen Fruhaufsteher: Die Ersatzkonigsrituale fur den assyrischen Herrscher Asarhaddon," in Die Well der Rituale: Von der Antike bis Heute, ed. Stefan Weinfurter et al. (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2005), 51-58.

(30.) Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology, 155.

(31.) RINAP 4: 57 i 11'-12', ii 1-6.

(32.) Hermann Hunger and David Pingree, MUL.APIN: An Astronomical Compendium In Cuneiform (Horn: Ferdinand Berger und Sohne, 1989), 146-47.

(33.) For the Paths of Ea, Anu, and Enlil, see the brief discussion in Erica Reiner and David Pingree, Emma Anu Enlil Tablets 50-51: Babylonian Planetary Omens, Part 2 (Malibu: Undena Publications, 1981), 17-18.

(34.) The exact nature of the relationships between omen collections, such as those discussed here, is often difficult to ascertain, to be sure, and it is quite conceivable that all these examples cited are merely contemporary variations of the same list of omens. For a discussion of these and other related tablets, see Erica Reiner and David Pingree, Babylonian Planetary Omens, Part 3 (Groningen: Styx, 1998) (henceforth BPO 3), 1-2, 199-208.

(35.) K.3601+:7-9 (BPO 3 213-14; cf. K.7936:7-9; BPO 3, 210-11).

(36.) For such associations, see Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology, 98.

(37.) The role of Esarhaddon or his celestial diviners in innovating the term itself is unclear. See Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology, 52 n. 3, and Klaus Koch, "Neues von den babylonischen Planeten-Hypsomata," WO 31 (2000/2001): 46.

(38.) Most recently, Klaus Koch has rejected the label hypsoma, since the use of the term does not correspond to the classical definition ("Neues von den babylonischen Planeten-Hypsomata," 46-71).

(39.) DT 47: 27-32' (BPO 3, 232-33).

(40.) RINAP 4 57 ii 6-11.

(41.) SAA 8 114, rev. 3.

(42.) Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology, 198-201, lines 236-40.

(43.) SAA 8 383, rev. 5.

(44.) Erica Reiner and David Pingree, Babylonian Planetary Omens Part 1 (Malibu: Undena Publications, 1975), 13-14. Crop production and rainfall = Apodosis types 1-5, 9, 13, 16, 17, 23-27 (omens nos. 2, 6, 12, 15, 30b, 31a, 32ab, 41, 52-55; 23b, 27a, 28b, 31b; 21; 30a; 7, 51; 34; 1, 57; 26b, 28a, 29b, 36, 39; 59; 8, 9, 17, 18, 46,47, 50, 60; 26a; 19; 45; 5; 40). Further examples may be found in BPO 3.

(45.) For a brief discussion of the idea of the Sargonids' Aramean extraction, see Earl Leichty, "Esarhaddon's Exile: Some Speculative History," in Studies Presented to Robert D. Biggs, June 4, 2004, ed. Martha T. Roth et al. (Chicago: Oriental Institute), 189-91. For Sargonid patronage of Harran, see Holloway, ASSur is King!, 388-425.

(46.) SAA 8 60: 4

(47.) SAA 10 351:19-23.

(48.) Brown, Mesopotamian Planetary Astronomy-Astrology, 157.

(49.) SAA 8 307: 1-5.

(50.) SAA 8 307: 6, rev. 1-2.

(51.) See Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology, 66. Another Babylonian diviner, Munnabitu, also reflects on his responsibilities to Esarhaddon:
LUGAL te-e-mu il-tak-na-an-ni um-ma EN.NUN-a
u-sur u mim-ma sa ti-du-u

qi-ba-a en-na mim-ma sa ina pa-ni-ia  ba-nu-u it sa-lam
KUR ina UGU LUGAL  be-li-ia

ta-a-bu a-na LUGAL al-tap-ra

The king gave an order to me: "Keep watch for
me, and whatever you know tell me." Now I
have written to the king whatever appears
auspicious to me, and the
well-being of the land is good,
in respect to the king
my lord. (SAA 8 316, rev. 12-14)

While the epistolary context makes Munnabitu's comments admittedly somewhat telegraphic, on the face of it the diviner seems to understand his obligation to the king as reporting strictly propitious omens (see discussion in A. Leo Oppenheim, "Divination and Celestial Observation in the Late Assyrian Empire," Centaurus 14 [1969]: 114-15; and Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology, 65-66). Nonetheless, a scan of this diviner's other reports (SAA 8 316-22) shows that he has no qualms about reporting negative omens to the king, even going so far at one point to suggest the performance of a namburbi to obviate the oracular fate portended by a lunar eclipse. I am tempted to postulate that, were the order in which these reports were written apparent, we might see a development in regard to how Munnabitu appreciates his role in counseling the king (i.e., towards a more jingoistic character), but this is entirely speculative.

(52.) This summary is based on the lengthy discussion in Giovanni B. Lanfranchi, "Scholars and Scholarly Tradition in Neo-Assyrian Times: A Case Study," SAAB 3 (1989): 99-114. See also Brown, Mesopotamian Planetary Astronomy-Astrology, 157-58; and Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology, 148-49.

(53.) SAA 10 112: 21.

(54.) SAA 10 112: 23-24.

(55.) Lanfranchi, "Scholars and Scholarly Tradition," 108-9.

(56.) SAA 10 112:4-8.

(57.) Lanfranchi, "Scholars and Scholarly Tradition," 111-14.

(58.) Mesopotamian Astrology, 149.

(59.) For a discussion and summary of the reports related to this, see Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology, 140-51, 180-85.

(60.) SAA 8 383: 1-6.

(61.) See the discussion of the logic behind this association in Brown, Mesopotamian Planetary Astronomy-Astrology, 69-70.

(62.) SAA 8 383: 7-10, rev. 1-4.

(63.) Cf. MUL.APIN I iv 31-39; i.e., the list of stars in the moon's path does not include this constellation.

(64.) This equation also found in the Great Star List (Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology, 190-91, line 102).

(65.) SAA 8 383, rev. 5-8.

(66.) RINAP 4 57 ii 6-11.

(67.) SAA 8 491: 1-4.

(68.) Cf., SAA 8 82, 102, 111, 177.

(69.) SAA 8 491: 5-9.

(70.) SAA 8 491, rev. 7-12.

(71.) RINAP 4 57 ii 6-11.

(72.) Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology, 144.

(73.) Wolfram von Soden, Herrscher im Alten Orient (Berlin: Springer, 1954), 125.

(74.) Simo Parpola, Letters from Assyrian Scholars to the Kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal, Part II: Commentaries and Appendices (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1983), xvii-xx.

(75.) For example, in SAA 10 179 the haruspex Kudurru explains to Esarhaddon that, under duress, he had performed a fraudulent extispicy. See discussion in Nissinen, References to Prophecy, 133-35.

(76.) Ellul, Propaganda, 29.

(77.) Similarly, see Mario Liverani, "The Ideology of the Neo-Assyrian Empire," in Power and Propaganda: A Symposium on Ancient Empires, ed. Mogens Trolle Larsen (Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1979), 302.

(78.) Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology, 161.

(79.) Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology, 144-45.

(80.) Oppenheim, "Divination and Celestial Observation," 118.

(81.) On the matter of compensation, see the brief discussion by Oppenheim, "Divination and Celestial Observation," 115-17, and Brown, Mesopotamian Planetary Astronomy-Astrology, 45. As for the namburbi, the ritual is only mentioned five times in the reports, three times by Assyrian diviners (SAA 8 71, 82, 206) and twice by Babylonians (288 and 320). The vast majority of references to performing a namburbi come, of course, from the letters of the Assyrian scholars (see index in SAA 10, 349 for references).

(82.) Oppenheim, "Divination and Celestial Observation," 120-21.

(83.) Porter, Image, Power, Politics, especially 77-117.

(84.) In a sense, this aspect of the royal inscriptions functions in a manner opposite to material such as the Kuthean Legend of Naram-Sin, a cautionary tale composed by religious professionals that warned kings to respect the will of the gods as related by diviners so that they would be victorious in warfare (for the text, see Joan Goodnick Westenholz, Legends of the Kings of Akkade: The Texts [Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1997], 263-368). In contrast, the royal inscriptions caution the diviners that the gods have shown their approval of the king by virtue of his victory on the field of combat. Thus, they should respect the king's divinely mandated authority and interpret the omens "correctly."
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Author:Cooley, Jeffrey L.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Essay
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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