Jun 28 2016

New publication: Divination as Science A Workshop on Conducted during the 60th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Warsaw, 2014. Jeanette C. Fincke, Ed.



This new book on the scientific nature of divination in the ancient Near East was recently released (June, 2016) by Eisenbraun’s. Reviews and comments are very much welcome.

Bibliographic details:

Divination as Science
A Workshop on Conducted during the 60th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Warsaw, 2014
Edited by Jeanette C. Fincke
Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale – RAI 60W1
Eisenbrauns, 2016
Pp. xi + 172
ISBN: 1-57506-425-1
ISBN13: 978-1-57506-425-3
Your Price: $44.55


There is no doubt that Ancient Near Eastern divination is firmly rooted in religion, since all ominous signs were thought to have been sent by gods, and the invocation of omens was embedded in rituals. Nonetheless, the omen compendia display many aspects of a generally scientific nature. In their attempt to note all possible changes to the affected objects and to arrange their observations systematically for reference purposes, the scholars produced texts that resulted in a rather detailed description of the world, be it with respect to geography (the urban or rural environment on earth, or celestial and meteorological phenomena observed in the sky), biology (the outer appearance of the bodies of humans or animals, or the entrails of sheep), sociology (behavior of people) or others. Based on different divination methods and omen compendia, the question discussed during this workshop was whether the scholars had a scientific approach, presented as religion, or whether Ancient Near Eastern divination should be considered purely religious and that the term “science” is inappropriate in this context. The workshop attracted a large audience and lively discussion ensued. The papers presented in this volume reflect the focus of the sessions during the workshop and are likely to generate even more discussion, now that they are published.

Table of Contents for Divination as Science



Bibliographical Abbreviations

Divination Between Religion and Science, JoAnn Scurlock

Bias in Observations of Natural Phenomena made for Divinatory Purposes, Ulla Susanne Koch

“Šamaš, great lord, whom I am asking, answer me with a reliable ‚Yes!”: The Influence of Divination on the Result of War, Krzysztof Ulanowski

Sheep Anatomical Terminology in the šumma immeru Omen Series and Additional Texts, Yoram Cohen

Some Remarks about the Old Babylonian Libanomancy Texts, Maria Stella Cingolo

The Oldest Mesopotamian Astronomical Treatise: enuma anu enlil, Jeanette C. Fincke

Divination and Religion as a Cultural System, Paul Delnero


General index

Index of texts

For more information, or to order, please visit Eisenbrauns.

Nov 05 2015

Special session: ‘Astronomy in the Ancient Near East’, November 10th at the SEAC conference, Rome

Courtesy of the Agade listserv and Dr. Lorenzo Verderame, the following special session on the ancient Near East will take place on November 10th, during the SEAC (Société européenne pour l’astronomie dans la culture / European Society for Astronomy in Culture) annual conference on Astronomy in Past and Present Cultures, to be be held in Rome, 9-13 November 2015.

More information available at http://www.brera.inaf.it/SEAC2015


Special session: ‘Astronomy in the Ancient Near East’, November 10, 2015

8:00-9:00 Posters Mounting

9:00 – 9:20 J. A. Belmonte, M. C. Pérez Die, L. Díaz-Iglesias Llanos Shrines of Ram-Headed Divinities and Canopus: Skyscaping at Herakleópolis Magna

9:20 – 9:40 A. C. González-GarcÌa, J. A. Belmonte, A. Polcaro A diachronic analysis of monument orientation in the Levant: the Jordanian paradigm

9:40 - 10:00 S. Gullberg The Babylonian Astronomical Diaries: A Graphical Analysis of their Implied Reference System

10:00 – 10:20 A. Jones Eclipses in Greco-Roman Egypt: Trends in Observation, Prediction, and Interpretation

10:20- 10:40 D. Nadali, A. Polcaro The sky from the high terrace: study on the orientation of the ziqqurat in ancient Mesopotamia

10:40 - 11:00 E. Orrelle Identifying transition in ritual power in the Neolithic of the Levant

• 11:00 Coffee break

11:15 – 11:35 S. Pizzimenti The Kudurrus and the Sky. Analysis and Interpretation of the Astral Symbols as Represented in Kassite Kudurrus Reliefs

11:35 - 11:55 E. Ratson Ideal Lunar Velocity

11:55 – 12:15 A. Rodríguez Antón, J. A. Belmonte, A. C. González-Garcìa Romans in Near East: Orientation of Roman towns and forts inmodern Jordan

12:15 - 12:35 S. Shinnar Rabbinic Standards for Accuracy in Lunar Observation: Regulating the Calendar in the Mishnah Rosh Hashanah

12:35 – 12:55 J. Steele Evidence for the Practice of Astronomy and Astrology in the “House of the ašipu’ in Uruk

12:55 – 13:15 L. Verderame Pleiades in ancient Mesopotamia



Oct 31 2014

Book review: Ancient Jewish Sciences and the History of Knowledge in Second Temple Literature


As promised, my review of the 2013 publication Ancient Jewish Sciences and the History of Knowledge in Second Temple Literature, edited by Jonathan Ben-Dov and Seth L. Sanders. New York: NYU Press.

Sep 17 2014

5000 year old lunar monument identified in Galilee



Hebrew University Ph.D. candidate Ido Wachtel has discovered compelling evidence that a crescent-shaped stone structure located in the Galilee was not part of a fortifying wall as previously thought by scholars, but was a lunar monument.

According to Wachtel, and as cited by Livescience:

The shape may have had symbolic importance, as the lunar crescent is a symbol of an ancient Mesopotamian moon god named Sin, Wachtel said. [. . .] An ancient town called Bet Yerah (which translates to “house of the moon god”) is located only a day’s walk from the crescent-shaped monument Wachtel noted.

This is an exciting finding in Levantine archaeoastronomy, shedding light upon the context pre-dating the Hebrew Bible — particularly its polemic against astrolatry, as found in Deuteronomy 4:19, Deut. 17:3, 2 Kings 17:16, and elsewhere.

Mar 25 2014

Conference announcement: The Circulation of Astronomical Knowledge in the Ancient World (Brown University, 12-13 April)

This conference programme was posted to Jack Sasson’s Agade list by John Steele. It looks very exciting.

The Circulation Of Astronomical Knowledge In The Ancient World
12-13 April 2014
Brown University, Pembroke Hall 305

This conference will explore the ways in which astronomical knowledge in the ancient world circulated between different communities of scholars over time and space. This broad theme includes both the transmission of knowledge between one culture and another (eg from the Babylonians to the Greeks, or the Greeks to India), and between different groups in the same culture (eg later authors writing commentaries on earlier works, the communication of astronomical knowledge between different cities, the relationship between ‘elite’ and ‘popular’ astronomy, and the reinterpretation of earlier astronomical traditions by later astronomers). The circulation of astronomical knowledge provides an insight into both the way that astronomy was practiced, learnt and written down and the wider political and cultural connections between different societies.


Saturday 12 April
Morning Session

9:00am Welcome and Introduction

9:30am Francesca Rochberg (Berkeley / ISAW)
The Brown School of the History of Science: Historiography and the Astral Sciences

10:00am Joachim F. Quack (Heidelberg)
On the Contemporaneity of the Seemingly Incongruous, or Why Astral Lore Cannot be Studied in Isolation from the Rest of the Culture.

10:30am Andreas Winkler (Berkeley)
The Transmission of Knowledge in the Ancient Egyptian Astrological Manuals

11:00am Break

11:30am Daniel P. Morgan (Laboratoire SPHERE, CNRS – Université Paris Diderot)
Mercury and the Case for Plural Planetary Traditions in Early Imperial China

12:00pm Ethan Harkness (New York University)
The Popular Face of Astronomical and Calendrical Knowledge in Early China

12:30pm Guan Yuzhen (Brown University)
The Transmission of Knowledge Between Chinese Astronomers in the 2nd Century AD

Afternoon Session

2:30pm Niu Weixing (Shanghai Jiao Tong University / Brown University)
On the Dunhuang Manuscript P.4071: A Case Study of the Sinicization of Western Horoscope in late 10th Century China

3:00pm Song Shenmi (Shanghai Jiao Tong University)
The Twelve Signs of the Zodiac in the Tang and Song Dynasties: A Set of Signs Which Lost their Meanings Within Horoscopic Astrology

3:30pm Kristina Buhrman (Florida State University)
Classical Texts and Post-Hoc Adjustments: The Revival of the Rule Cycle (章) in 12-Century Japan

4:00pm Break

4:30pm Matthew Rutz (Brown University)
Astral Knowledge in an International Age: Transmission of the Cuneiform Tradition, ca. 1500-1000 BC

5:00pm John Steele (Brown University)
The Circulation of Astronomical Knowledge Between Babylon and Uruk

Sunday 13 April

Morning Session

9:00am Zackary Wainer (Brown University)
Tablet 4 of the Series DIŠ Sîn ina Tāmartišu and Traditions of Mesopotamian Interpretive Eclipse Schemes

9:30am M. Willis Monroe (Brown University)
The Micro-Zodiac in Babylon and Uruk: Seleucid Zodiacal Astrology

10:00am John Z. Wee (University of Chicago)
Late Babylonian and Greco-Roman Medical Astrology

10:30am Break

11:00am Toke Knudsen (SUNY Oneonta)
Omens and Omen Series in Mesopotamia and India: Issues of Transmission

11:30am Zoë Misiewicz (ISAW)
Assyrian Lunar Omens in Byzantium

12:00pm Clemency Montelle (University of Canterbury)
Hypsicles of Alexandria and his Little Book of Rising Times

Afternoon Session

2:00pm Alexander Jones (ISAW)
Interpolated Observations in Ancient Astronomy

2:30pm Kim Plofker (Union College)
What, if Anything, is Greek About Aryabhata’s Mean Motions? An Examination of the Controversy

3:00pm Closing Remarks

The conference is free and open to all.


Jan 16 2014

4000 year old calendrical tablet unearthed

Currently being displayed at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, this 4000 year old silt cuneiform tablet, inscribed in Akkadian, contains a schedule listing activities taking place during a week in the month of Shevat, highlighting its Babylonian antecedents. Are any readers of this blog planning to visit the exhibit? If so, I’d enjoy reading your comments.

Sep 15 2013

Recent Book: Living the Lunar Calendar


Recent Publication:

Living the Lunar Calendar
Edited by Jonathan Ben-Dov, Wayne Horowitz, and John M Steele

This 2012 publication is a rich collection of papers by the editors, as well as Lawrence Schiffman, Sacha Stern, Robert Hannah, and others on the topic of lunar calandars in cultures including the ancient Near East, Christianity, Judaism, China, Japan, ancient Greece, America, and Russia. These papers engage topics including the variability of the lunar calendar, and the effects of this variability and the changing beginning of the month upon religious holiday planning, record keeping, etc. The table of contents of this excellent volume may be found here.

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Jul 20 2009

Upcoming solar eclipse (July 22, 2009) — of science and superstition

Solar and lunar eclipses have captured both the popular and religious imagination through the millennia. Eclipse records — and myths inspired by eclipses — date back to the earliest historical epochs. These include a multitude of cuneiform tablet eclipse calculations from Mesopotamia, where total solar eclipses served not merely as awe-inspiring events, but as vital religious omens as well.

Today, eclipses are well understood from a scientific standpoint. However, folk traditions surrounding eclipses remain a part of many cultures around the world, as the following articles in the Globe and Mail (Canada) and The New York times attest. In India, for example, one belief is that pregnant women should remain indoors during an eclipse, so as to avoid any harmful effects upon the fetus.

This week’s solar eclipse will begin on July 22nd at 00:51:17 (Universal Time) off the Indian coast, and is notable due to its extremely long maximum totality period of 6 minutes and 39 seconds. That won’t happen again for nearly 150 years.

Those interested in following the eclipse path may be interested in the following sites:




Mar 06 2009

Behind the curtain. . .

Just a quick peek behind the workings of this blog. I’m currently spending much of my time reading materials in preparation for my comprehensive exams. (a.k.a. qualifying exams) For now, as has been the case for a few months, until these exams are completed, I only have a limited amount of time to devote to Chaldea (i.e., I’ll post whenever I can). I thought I’d bring a notable source I’m working with to the attention of others in similar fields.

For those interested in cultural perceptions of the heavens in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, ancient Israel, Persia, Greco-Roman cultures, as well as early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, I highly recommend The Early History of Heaven, by J. Edward Wright. (2000, Oxford University Press)

I first took it out of the library in 2003, but soon found it indispensable, so I bought a copy. It’s a very thorough overview of the important writings and beliefs about heaven and/or the heavens (including heavenly cosmography) in these cultures, and it incorporates archaeological findings as well as textual sources. It is difficult to distinguish between astronomy proper and astral beliefs in many ancient civilizations; this book provides the reader with a solid awareness of the background views of the cosmos in these cultures, thereby setting the stage for later evolutions in cultural astronomy.

Have a good weekend, all!