CCP 3.5.22.A.b - Ālu 22-23 A

Catalogue information
British Museum
BM 129092
Fs Leichty (CM 31) pp. 165-166

Freedman, 2006aS. M. Freedman, BM 129092: A Commentary on Snake Omens, in If a Man Builds a Joyful House: Assyriological Studies in Honor of Erle Verdun Leichty, A. K. Guinan, Ellis, MdeJ. , Ferrara, A. J. , Freedman, S. M. , Rutz, M. T. , Sassmannshausen, L. , Tinney, S. , and Waters, M. W. , Eds. Brill, 2006, pp. 149-166.

Freedman, 2006bS. M. Freedman, If a City is set on a Height. The Akkadian omen series šumma ālu ina mēlê šakin. Volume 2: Tablets 22-40. The University of Pennsylvania Museum, 2006.: 6-17, 34-49

DivinationTerrestrial omens (Šumma Ālu)

ṣâtu 7c

Base text: 
Ālu 22-23
Commentary no: 
Tablet information
Complete tablet
obv 30, rev 25
10,47 × 7,30 cm
Chaldean / early Achaemenid (late 7th / 6th cent) (mostly "Sippar Collection")
Na’id-Enlil s. Šamaš-aḫḫē-iddin d. m.DIR-U-T[U?]

Biggs, 2011R. D. Biggs, Review of If a Man Builds a Joyful House [Fs Leichty], Journal of Near Eastern Studies, vol. 70, pp. 101-102, 2011.
[On line obv. 28, rev. 19: ūmi ri-qí rather "holiday," BAR-šú rather uššuršu "releases it / lets go of it."]
: 101-102

Frahm, 2011E. Frahm, Babylonian and Assyrian Text Commentaries. Origins of Interpretation. Ugarit-Verlag, 2011.: 52, 54, 80, 194, 196-97, 200, 296, 303-04

Frahm, 2018bE. Frahm, The Perils of Omnisignificance: Language and Reason in Mesopotamian Hermeneutics, Journal of Ancient Near Eastern History, pp. 87-105, 2018.
[On line 42]
: 113

Freedman, 2006aS. M. Freedman, BM 129092: A Commentary on Snake Omens, in If a Man Builds a Joyful House: Assyriological Studies in Honor of Erle Verdun Leichty, A. K. Guinan, Ellis, MdeJ. , Ferrara, A. J. , Freedman, S. M. , Rutz, M. T. , Sassmannshausen, L. , Tinney, S. , and Waters, M. W. , Eds. Brill, 2006, pp. 149-166.

Freedman, 2006bS. M. Freedman, If a City is set on a Height. The Akkadian omen series šumma ālu ina mēlê šakin. Volume 2: Tablets 22-40. The University of Pennsylvania Museum, 2006.: 6-17, 34-49

Gabbay, 2014aU. Gabbay, Actual Sense and Scriptural Intention: Literal Meaning and Its Terminology in Akkadian and Hebrew Commentaries, in Encounters by the Rivers of Babylon: Scholarly Conversations between Jews, Iranians, and Babylonians, U. Gabbay and Secunda, S. , Eds. Mohr Siebeck, 2014, pp. 335-370.
[On line 28-30]
: 353

Gabbay, 2015U. Gabbay, Specification as a Hermeneutical Technique in Babylonian and Assyrian Commentaries, Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel, vol. 4, pp. 344-368, 2015.
[On line 29-30, 32, 42-43, 17: Readings and interpretations, cited as "BM 129029"]
: 350-351, 352-354, 355, 355 fn. 42

Gabbay, 2016U. Gabbay, The Exegetical Terminology of Akkadian Commentaries. Brill, 2016.
[59, 74 (12, 14, 20), 75 (14), 85 (r 19), 110 (r 17), 112 (r 13–14), 113 (r 16), 115 (25), 118 (18), 145 (22–23), 147 (29–30), 154 (7–8), 162 (r 11–12), 223 (r 18–19), 233 (17), 74, 75 (r 5), 97, 145 (13–14), 107–108 (r 7, r 8, r 9, r 11, r 15, 19, r 21, 23), 107, 147 (14–15), 116, 117 (r 2), 74, 75, 77 (10), 64, 107–108 (13), 75, 107–108 (r 10), 134, 147–148 (r 12–13), 27, 66, 80, 210 (12–13)]

Genty, 2010aT. Genty, Les commentaires dans les textes cunéiformes assyro-babyloniens. MA thesis, 2010.
: 416

Heeßel, 2001N. P. Heeßel, ''Wenn ein Mann zum Haus des Kranken geht.." Intertextuelle Bezüge zwischen der Serie Šumma ālu und der zweiten Tafel der serie SA.GIG, Archiv für Orientforschung, vol. 48/49, pp. 24-49, 2001.
[BM 129092, r.23: Statt di-na gir-ru-ú lies am Ende di-na gi-ru-ú ŠUB-[ut]; r.24: Statt 3 DIR šu-ut lies 23 mál-su-ut und statt URU ana SUKUD lies URU ina SUKUD, diese Änderungen auch auf S. 330 unter Tafel 23 und 24;]
: 24a

Heeßel, 2007N. P. Heeßel, Divinatorische Texte I. Terrestrische, teratologische, physiognomische und oneiromantische Omina. Harrassowitz, 2007.: 40 ad I 6', 41 ad III 6', 50 ad 38

Peterson, 2009J. Peterson, Godlists from Old Babylonian Nippur in the University Museum, Philadelphia. Ugarit-Verlag, 2009.
[On line o 25: muš = niraḫu]
: 68

Rutz, 2016M. T. Rutz, Anti-witchcraft Prescriptions from Ḫattuša and Nippur, Zeitschrift für Assyriologie, vol. 106, pp. 42-61, 2016.
[On line 28-29]
: 58a

von Weiher, 1998E. von Weiher, Spätbabylonische Texte aus dem Planquadrat U 18. Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1998.
[Edition of a duplicate]
: 76-77

Whiting, 1984R. M. Whiting, Six Snake Omens in New Babylonian Script, Journal of Cuneiform Studies, vol. 36, pp. 206-210, 1984.: 206 fn. 2

Jiménez, 10/2014 (Transliteration)
Jiménez, 10/2014 (Translation)
Jiménez, 10/2014 (Collation)
Jiménez, 10/2014 (Introduction)
Jiménez, 01/2015 (Collation)
Gabbay, 03/2015 (Suggestions)
Jiménez, 06/2017 (Commentary markup)
By Enrique Jiménez | Make a correction or suggestion
How to cite
Jiménez, E., 2014, “Commentary on Ālu 22-23 (CCP 3.5.22.A.b),” Cuneiform Commentaries Project (E. Frahm, E. Jiménez, M. Frazer, and K. Wagensonner), 2013–2024; accessed April 23, 2024, at DOI: 10079/zgmsbr9
© Cuneiform Commentaries Project (Citation Guidelines)

This commentary is preserved in two virtually identical manuscripts from two different cities. The first one, SpTU 5 259 (CCP 3.5.22.A.a), was found during the German excavations at Uruk. The second, BM 129092 (CCP 3.5.22.A.b), was bought by the British Museum in 1937, according to the information in the online catalogue of the British Museum from a Mme. Luiz de Sousa Barbosa: its provenance is in all likelihood Nippur.1 The two manuscripts are identical sign by sign, and apportion the same number of lines to the obverse and reverse. The colophon of BM 129092 mentions Na’id-Enlil, son of Šamaš-aḫḫē-iddin descendant of mdir.u.t[u], as its scribe: the same person copied another commentary tablet probably from Nippur, CCP 3.5.59.

The text contains commentaries on the 22nd and 23rd chapters of the divinatory series Šumma Ālu, both of which are devoted to omens derived from the observation of the behavior of snakes. The commentary is divided into two sections, each dedicated to one chapter: the first one ends in a rubric citing the incipit of Šumma Ālu 22 (l. 26). Curiously enough, only 73 of the 92 omens of that chapter are commented upon. The second section ends with line 51, and is followed by a two line rubric. This rubric refers not only to the previous section but to the entire commentary: after stating that the tablet is a ṣâtu 7c commentary on Šumma Ālu 22 and 23, it describes it as the 23rd “reading” (malsûtu) of the series and provides the catchline of Šumma Ālu 24.


Several kinds of comments are encountered in this text. First, glosses explaining basic aspects of philological interpretation occur on several occasions. Thus the defective writing ú-še-di-ma (ŠĀ 22 21) is rendered fully as ú-šá-am-de-e-ma (l. 15) and the logogram mud-su is rendered syllabically as ú-gal-lit-su (l. 50).

Another common type of explanation is introduced by a relative pronoun (ša), which explains the behavior either of the snake or of the man that features in the omen. This explanation can be based on a philological equivalence. For instance, line 13 explains the omen “(Snakes) intertwine” (iktapilū) (ŠĀ 22 20) as referring to “(the snake) that crosses the (man’s) neck,” a fanciful rendering of the first part of the equation gú ì-ak-a = kitpulu in the lexical list Ḫḫ II 288. Alternatively, comments introduced by ša may may provide a more nuanced interpretation of the omen without any apparent philological basis. So, e.g., in line 50 the omen “If a snake enters a man’s house” (ŠĀ 23 105) is said to refer to (the snake) “which enters a man’s house while he is with a group of people.” Similarly, in l. 15 the verb šupšuqu, “to suffer,” is said to refer to “he who is hungry and thirsty” (note that here the explanandum is only inserted after the explanation, an uncommon phenomenon).

A related hermeneutical technique in this commentary attempts to reinterpret omens by specifying what are, in fact, general statements. Thus line 17 interprets the common apodosis eklet namrat, lit. “it is dark, it is bright,” as “referring to a humble man” (ana muškēni qabi), i.e. as an oblique reference to the rise in society of a humble person. The exegete also tries to justify some of his interpretations by appending a gloss to them. Thus a particularly fanciful rendering of an apodosis is justified by means of the equation dumu = bušû “a son is a possession” (probably a metonymy).


In other cases the commentary tries to prove that the omens are consistent, i.e. that their apodoses can be “deduced” from their protases. An example of this can be found in ll. 24-25, an explanation of the omen “If a snake falls on a man’s shoulder, he who backs up a man shall die” (diš muš ana bu-di na šub-ut mu-kil ku-tál-li na ug₇, from ŠĀ 22 73). The term “shoulder” (būdu) from the protasis is connected with “back” (kutallu) from the apodosis and this connection is justified in line 25 by means of a series of equations, the precise significance of which remains unclear.

Occasionally the commentary provides alternative explanations for omens. For instance, lines 19-20 explain the line diš na? muš gaz-ma ti-ma ana šà ḫabrud* ku₄ first as “referring to (the man) who kills a snake, carries it and buries it,” stating that ti means “to take” (leqû, understood as a synonym of “to carry”). This interpretation is followed by an alternative one: since ti also means “to live,” the omen can refer to the snake that “survives and slips into a hole.” Both interpretations are, according to the ancient commentator, equally possible.

Some termini technichi used in the text, besides the aforementioned ša, are aššu, šanîš, and ša iqbû.

This commentary contains two previously unrecognized citations from Babylonian literature. The first and most straightforward one occurs in the explanation of the omen “If a man sees a snake and kills it, his fears will not approach that man” (ŠĀ 23 9). This prognosis is said to be applicable to “[a day] which is propitious to kill”; then an aššu clause explains which day that is. It refers, we are told, to the 20th of Ayyāru, a day that in the Babylonian Almanac is said to be propitious for killing snakes2.

The second quotation occurs in what is probably the most sophisticated commentarial note of this text. It aims at explaining a conflicting prognosis: in the base text, the fact that a snake “coils around the door and bolt (sikkūru) of a man’s house” is said to foretell either the expansion or the abandonment of the house. The commentary then explains that one of these prognoses refers to the noble and the other to the humble (line 43), an explanation justified by the commentator by means of a clause beginning with the terminus technicus aššu, “because.” This clause is in fact a quotation from an incantation that refers to another uncrossable threshold, the “strong magic circles (šutukkū dannūtu) of Ningirzida.” The aššu line is probably intended to support the commentator’s bold attempt at explaining both the positive and the negative prognosis as applicable to different social classes. To do so he refers to another line where there is an uncrossable threshold, an incantation that describes a magic circle in which the “bolt” (sikkatu) together with the “noble” (dannu = kabtu, cf. Izbu Gurru Mahīru 71) and the “humble” (šutukku, which is said to mean sikkatu, whose logogram, gag, is contained in maš.en.gag), are mentioned.


In some cases the preserved manuscripts display a better reading than that of the Vorlage of the two copies of the commentary. This is the case with e.g. l. 21, where the commentator explains the apparently meaningless bušāšu -šú as bušāšu izzibšu, “(his possessions) shall abandon him,” and equates the verb ezēbu with , an equation unattested elsewhere. The preserved manuscripts of Šumma Ālu 22 read here either tùm-šú or, more convincingly, tag₄-šú,3 thus revealing that the origin of the equation of and ezēbu was the commentator’s familiarity with the corpus of divination. Another case in which the text’s Vorlage was defective appears in line 22: there the difficult uštāniḫ-ma, “it is dejected” (said of a snake) from the only preserved manuscript of Šumma Ālu 22 47-48 appears in both copies of our commentary as a meaningless uš-ta-aḫ-ma, which is then explained with the equally meaningless ú-ši-iḫ-ma.

In line 13 the base text is cited by means of the terminus technicus ša iqbû. However the explanation was apparently missing in the Vorlage, a fact that the author indicates by means of the unusual expression “it was not preserved in the tablet” (ina ṭuppi ul šalim).

The tablet was collated in January 2015.


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Fs Leichty 165-166 [commentaries]

o 1o 1

SAG.DU-su ú-ḫar-ra-ár : x [x x x] SAG.DU [x x x x] x [x x] x

o 22

[TE]-MEŠ-šú ú-gal-lab : TE-MIN!(A-)šú KIMIN? [:"] le-e-tu x x x : 3* [ITI]-MEŠ -[ta-pa-áš-šaq]

o 33

x x x MEŠ x x x-lu?-ma pu-- im-šu?-x [x x] x x x x : [x x x x]

o 44

x x x [x x x x] NA ŠUB šá it-ti MUŠ.SAG.[KAL x x x] x ŠÀ an [x (x)]

o 55

[x x x x x x NA] BI GISKIM* giš : ina giš? [x x x (x) :] MÚRU [DAM u DAM]

o 66

MÚRU [x x x x x KUD]-MEŠ NU TI-MEŠ : ip-[par-ra-su-ma] ul i-bal-lu-ṭu

o 77

UKKIN AL*-[GAZ : pu-uḫ-ru x x] x-ku? : GAZ : ḫe-pu-ú : BEma GIG BEma is-sal-la-

o 88

GIG [: (x x) sa-la-]-ú : is-sal-la- : i-mar-ru-uṣ : * ina itiBÁRA TA U₄ 1.KAM

o 99

[EN U₄ 30.KAM] MUŠ ina SILA TA! ZAG ana GÙB is-ḫur BI ina KUR KÚR-šú du-lu₄ GIG TÙM

o 1010

[(is-ḫur) : GIŠ].ḪUR : e-ṣe-ri šá-niš i-ti-iq šal-šiš il-lik : GIŠgi-.ḫa-ášḪUR* : ḫa-x-(x)-x : a-la-[ku?]

o 1111

[du-lu₄ :] bi--tu₄ : MUŠ ina SILA -te-eṣ-bi-šú : šá ú-man-du IGI-ma MUŠ la ig-lu-ut

o 1212

šu TÉŠ.BI KAR-šú : TÉŠ.BI : bal-tu₄ : bal-tu₄ : bu-nu : KAR : e-zeb šá-niš šu TÉŠ.BI KAR-šú

o 1313

šá Eú ina ṭup-pi ul šá-lim: ik-tap-pi-lu <:> ì!(MIN-)ak-a : kit-pu-lu : šá it-ti-qu

o 1414

šá-niš 2 MUŠ-MEŠ -šum ṣa-al-tu₄ : 3 ITI šú-nu-ti -ta-pa-šaq-ma : ina ITI šá ana da-[li]-x ṭa-a-bi

o 1515

šá i-bir-ru-ú u i-ṣa-am-mu-ú šu-ú šup-šu-qu : ú-še-di-ma : ú-šá-am-de-e-ma

o 1616

ú-še--ú-ma : KIN.KIN : ši-te--ú : bu--ú : ina -reb EN.TE.NA : dan-na- : ku-ṣu

o 1717

ek-let nam-rat : a-na muš-ke-ni qa-bi : šá-lum-mat : bal-tu₄ : du-ú-tu₄ : bal-tu₄

o 1818

du-ú-tu₄ : bu-nu : nam-ḫa-ra DIR-ma : ki-ma dugA.GÚB.BA tu-ka-ni-ma

o 1919

* NA? MUŠ GAZ-ma TI-ma ana ŠÀ ḪABRUD* KU₄ : šá MUŠ i-du-ku-ma -šu-ú iq-bi-ri : TI :* la-qu-u

o 2020

[x x] ib-luṭ-ma ana ŠÀ ḪABRUD* KU₄ : TI : ba-la-ṭu : NÍG.ŠU-šu -šú KIMIN<(NÍG.ŠU-šu)> -šú DUMU-šú GU₇ : NÍG.ŠU-šú -šú :

o 2121

[iz]-zíb-šú : iz-zib-šú : : e-ze-bu : DUMU-šú GU₇ : bu-šu-šú ik-kal : DUMU : bu-šu-ú

o 2222

[x] : ṣe- : lem-nu : -ta-aḫ-ma : ú-ši-iḫ-ma : UR₅ta : šu-a- : ina KI.KAL DU₈*-šú

o 2323

[-šum] šá ma-diš ina muḫ-ḫi-šú i-ku-šú : im-ṣur : im-šur : il-lik : i-tak-kal : DU.DU : it-ku-lu

o 2424

[DU].DU : mit-ḫu-ṣu : * MUŠ ana bu-di NA ŠUBut mu-kil ku-tál-li NA UG₇ : bu-di : ku-tal-la

o 2525

[mu]-kil ku-tál-li NA : ku-tal : MUŠ.dMUŠ : ni-ra-ḫu : MUŠ ŠU-MIN NU GAR ma-gal ár-ki

o 2626


o 2727

[*] MUŠ ana UGU NA šá di-na ge-ru-ú ŠUBut di-in-šu GÍD.DA GÁL : iṣ-bur-ma : is-si-ma

o 2828

ZI.ZI : ṣa-bar šá iṣ-ṣur : MUŠEN ZI.ZI : ši-si- šá iṣ-ṣur : U₄mi ri- : U₄ 29.KÁM

o 2929

[U₄mu] šá d30 la ú-šu-uz-zu : * MUŠ NA IGI-ma GAZ-šú NA BI a-di-ra-tu-šú NU TE-MEŠ-šú

o 3030

[ina u₄-mi šá a-na] da*-a-ku ṭa-a-bu IGI-ma i-duk : -šum U₄ 20.KÁM šá itiGU₄

r 1r 1

[x x x x x x x x x x x x x] x : ši-gu-ú DUG₄si-ma NAM.BÚR*.BI* DUG₄?si?

r 22

[x x x x x x x x x x gi]-na-a .A.BI : UDmu ma-la dUTU nap-ḫi

r 33

[x x x x x x x x x ú]-ḫab-ba-ab : ḫa-ba-bu : ḫa-ṣa-nu : ḫa-ba-bu : na-šá-qa

r 44

[x] x x mi na-áš-kun ri-gim : MUŠ rit-ti GAR-ma GIM UR.MAḪ i-ram-mu-um

r 55

      ri-gim <<:>> šá-kin-ma : ri-iṭ-ṭu : ri-gim : ana ŠÀ TÚG KU₄ : a-na ŠÀ -eḫ-ṣi šá-niš <<⸢x x x x⸣>>

r 66

[a]-šar ši-si-ti šak-na-ti* : EN UMUŠ* BI SAG.TUK ba--ṭi TUKši : mu-kil re- ba-la-ṭu TUKši : ḫa-ṭi-*

r 77

le-mut- : ḪUL UZU-MEŠ ḫa-ṭu-tu₄ pár-du- ḪUL-MEŠ NU DÙG.GA-MEŠ : GUB.GUBaz : šá ú-šu-uz-zu-ma la zak-ku-ú

r 88

[*] MUŠ ina É ŠUB-ma DU.DUak : šá a-na ḪABRUD*-MEŠ u É-MEŠ la ir-ru-bu : NUNUZ* -tak-na :

r 99

šá ina É ul-la-du : BÚN.BÚNaḫ : ú-nap-pa-aḫ : i-ziz- : e-ze-zi-

r 1010

šá ez-zi- i-šá-as-su-ú šá-niš šá šá-- i-šá-as-su-ú : ana kiš-šá-tu₄ : ana sa-ár-

r 1111

up-ta-nar-rad : šá ÉRIN!-MEŠ ina bi-ri a-ḫa-meš ú-par-ra-du -šum ga-la-tu₄ šá ÉRIN!-MEŠ

r 1212

[šá-niš] up-ta-nar-rad : up-ta-na-al-làḫ : * MUŠ ina É NA gišIG gišSAG.KUL NIGIN-ma

r 1313

[a]-na? BADe NU SUMin É BI DAGAL KIMIN<(É)> BI ŠUBdi : ana kab-tu dum- ana MAŠ.EN.GAG lum-nu

r 1414

-šum šu-tuk-ku dan-nu-tu₄ šá dNIN.GÍR.ZI.DA : šu-tuk-ku : sik-kát* : * MUŠ-MEŠ GIL-MEŠ : it-gu-ru-

r 1515

PÉŠ* : ḫu-si-ri : * MUŠ ina É bu-ʾu-ra : šá mim-ma šá kap-pi sag-[x x x]-ru

r 1616

i-dam-mu-um : šá ši-si-ti <<:>> ma-a-du : dul-la : bi-ki-tu₄ : dul-la : ta--ḫi

r 1717

gi-nam-ma : ka-a-a-ni- : DIŠ MUŠ ina É IGI : šá GÌR-MEŠ-šú ú-še-eṣ-ṣa-a

r 1818

sa-da-ru : ka-a-a-nu : an-ta : tap-pu-ú : * MUŠ MUNUS ina a-sur-re-e ina la e-de-e

r 1919

      DIBsu-ma BAR-šú MUNUS BI DINGIR TUKši šá Eú -šum MUŠ u MUNUS ud-dim-šú-nu

r 2020

* MUŠ ana É KU₄ šá ina UKKIN UN-MEŠ ana É i-ru-bu : MUD-su : ú-gal-lit-su

r 2121

* MUŠ ina UGU giš iṣ : šá ir-bi-ṣu-ma la it-bu-ú : ÉŠ-su-nu : áš-lat-su*-nu*

r 2222

ṣa-a- šu-ut pi-i u maš-a-a-al- šá KA um-man-nu šá ŠÀ <*> ina itiBÁRA U₄ 1.KÁM la-am

r 2323

      GÌR-šú ana KI GARnu ù * MUŠ ana UGU NA šá di-na ge-ru-ú ŠUB[ut]

r 2424

23 mál-su-ut * URU ina SUKUD GARin NU AL.TIL * MUŠ ina UGU giš?? [NA iṣ]

r 2525

IM.GÍD.DA mI-dEN.LÍL A-šú mdUTU-ŠEŠmeš-MU A mDIR-u-tu?1

1The reading of the last name follows a suggestion by E. Frahm.

Photos by Enrique Jiménez

Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum