The Metaphysics of Mantic/Prophetic Authentication Devices in Old Babylonian Mari

Justin Johnson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


One of the more surprising aspects of the early mantic and prophetic traditions documented in the letters from Old Babylonian Mari is the use of pieces of hair and the fringes of garments as a means of authentication. This paper argues that the choice of 'hair' (šārtum) and 'fringe' (sissiktum) as authentication devices is motivated by a particular metaphysics of communication with the divine, namely the idea that winds or breezes carry messages from the netherworld to the ordinary world of everyday life. The two terms in question (šārtum and sissiktum) pun on terms for 'wind' (šārum) and 'little breeze' (sissikum) in order to recall the metaphysical underpinnings of the corresponding mantic or prophetic inspiration, but add the feminine ending *-t- order to form substantives that refer to objects that are tangible and concrete.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAkkade is King
Subtitle of host publicationA Collection of Papers by Friends and Colleagues Presented to Aage Westenholz on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday 15th of May 2009
EditorsGojko Barjamovic, Jacob Dahl, Ulla Koch, Walter Sommerfeld, Joan Goodnick Westenholz
Place of PublicationLeiden
PublisherNederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)978-90-6258-329-4
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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