« When Gods Speak to Men: Reading House, Street, and Divination from Sound in Ancient Mesopotamia”

Anne-Caroline Rendu Loisel, « When Gods Speak to Men: Reading House, Street, and Divination from Sound in Ancient Mesopotamia (1st millenium BC) », Journal of Near Eastern Studies 75/2, 2016, p. 291-309.



In Ancient Mesopotamia, the soundscape runs through human daily life and characterizes the city as a place of jnesactivities. In such a society, where any event may be interpreted as a divine sign, hearing a sound (whether it is a voice or a noise) constitutes a way to understand the world and interpret the future. A detailed inquiry into divination treatises may help us to understand the native concepts related to sound and the precise nature of the links between man and his acoustic environment. Engaging in a description of the different Akkadian ways to transcribe a sound, the present paper then investigates one of the interpretative keys at stake in the divinatory system, focusing on the series Šumma ālu and other ritual texts: it will show how the urban network constitutes a crucial factor to in determining the significance of an acoustic omen. A sound in the house is frequently associated with demonic activities, whereas a sound (in particular the egirrû) in the street, a space often ritually prepared, can more often be interpreted as an audible approval from the divine.

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