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. 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 snakes.
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 dù-šú as bušāšu izzibšu, “(his possessions) shall abandon him,” and equates the verb ezēbu with dù, an equation unattested elsewhere. The preserved manuscripts of Šumma Ālu 22 read here either tùm-šú or, more convincingly, tag₄-šú, thus revealing that the origin of the equation of dù 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.