Prophecy in the Ancient Near East: A Philological and Sociological Comparison.

Author:Snell, Daniel
Position:Book review

Prophecy in the Ancient Near East: A Philological and Sociological Comparison. By JONATHAN STOKL. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East, vol. 56. Leiden: Brill, 2012. Pp. xvi + 297. $151.

Jonathan Stokl has written a sensible survey of prophecy with a great bibliography. What is missing may be the public view of the phenomena in the ancient world. Is it in fact inaccessible because all we have is scribal remains? But people thought the Jeremiad threats were real, and so too the Mari promises and Neo-Babylonian assurances.

He emphasizes that we are some distance from the spoken words of prophecy in all ancient contexts. The Bible gives us "redacted prophecies," but so do other sources. The author defines prophets as "individuals who receive a divine message, the words of which are understandable without further analysis with a special skill (such as reading livers); the message also cannot be intended for them but for some other individual or group, be that the king or the entire people." He thus excludes dream reports and other omens.

It is of interest that in a later essay in Alan Levenson's Wiley-Blackwell History of Jews and Judaism (2012), Stokl has admitted that this definition may be too restrictive and that "prophecy is an integral part of the system of divination." Still, in this volume he has quite enough to say about people practicing prophecy in his narrower definition.

Old Babylonian Mari's body of texts that refer to possible prophets is larger than the Neo-Assyrian and so has garnered most of the attention, especially of biblical scholars. He examines the terms for prophet and defines Mari's apilum as a professional prophet and prefers to translate it as "spokesperson." He refuses to posit prophecy as a Western Mesopotamian phenomenon since there are attestations in Uruk and Eshnunna in the south and east. In a document Stokl finds "astounding," Yarim-Lim of Yamhad tells Zimri-Lim of Mari that he has decided not to extradite a foreign king who sought refuge with him because his god told him not to, basically breaking ancient Near Eastern custom as stressed in later international treaties. The discussion here may not reflect the complexity of the text (J.-M. Durand, Florilegium marianum VII [Paris: SEPOA, 2002], text 8, pp. 24-27). He found no instances where an apilum is said to have gone into a trance, and so we cannot really say how the prophet became aware of the god's or goddess's words.

In Mari itself the best...

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