Reviews of

Mantik im Alten Testament

In Ancient Israel, Ancient Near East, divination, HB/OT, Mantik, Rüdiger Schmitt, Ugarit-Verlag, William L. Kelly on June 17, 2016 at 3:17 am


2016.06.11 | Rüdiger Schmitt, Mantik im Alten Testament, Alter Orient und Altes Testament 411, Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2014. pp. xi + 212. ISBN: 978-3-86835-100-2.

Review by William L. Kelly, University of Edinburgh

Many thanks to Ugarit-Verlag for generously providing a review copy.

Divination is a topic which has enjoyed a growing amount of attention in contemporary scholarship, especially the relationship between divination and prophecy in the Hebrew Bible. Scholars now recognise that ancient prophecy was not an isolated phenomenon; it existed within a larger complex of religious ideas, symbols and practices related to communication between humans and gods. In Mantik im Alten Testament, Rüdiger Schmitt examines the practitioners, instruments and discourses related to divination in the Hebrew Bible. Schmitt is already a contributor to this area of research, e.g. as with his Habilitationsschrift published as Magie im Alten Testament (AOAT 313, Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2004). These two works are closely related; as he notes in the foreword, Mantik im Alten Testament is like a companion volume to Magie im Alten Testament. Schmitt has tried to avoid redundancies in Mantik im Alten Testament by referring the reader to his 2004 work for fuller discussions of research and method. This aim is understandable, though it does weaken Mantik as a standalone work. Still, interested readers will find a great deal of useful information distilled into this handy volume. 

Five chapters divide the book: ‘Kapitel 1: Stand der Forschung’ (pp. 1–28); ‘Kapitel 2: Mantische Spezialisten und mantische Praxis im Alten Testament’ (pp. 29–90); ‘Kapitel 3: Medien instrumenteller Mantik’ (pp. 91–119); ‘Der Diskurs um legitime und illegitime Mantik im Alten Testament’ (pp. 121–57); ‘Mantik in der Religionsgeschichte Palästinas/Israels’ (pp. 159–73). Each chapter is meticulously subdivided, which makes the book easy to use as a reference.

In the first chapter Schmitt outlines the research context for key subjects and terms, particularly magic, divination and prophecy. The chapter begins with a series of definitions, beginning with ‘magic’. Whereas older scholarship studied ‘magic’ from an etic perspective, as a lower form of religion based on superstition out of which more ‘civilised’ beliefs and practices evolved, more recent research examines religious phenomena according to an emic perspective. Schmitt uses the case of the lexeme kāšap and related terms in the Hebrew Bible, such as ’ōrěrě-yôm, lḥš, nḥš, ḥober ḥaber, ba‘al lāšōn, ‘îš lāšōn, and a variety of loanwords (p. 2; see Schmitt 2004, pp. 107–22) to illustrate the point: though descriptions of ‘magic’ may be negative, even severely so, it shares the same conceptual framework as divination and prophecy. These religious practices are part of the same system of meaning, practices and symbols related to cosmic knowledge and correspondences between human and divine spheres. In Hebrew Bible scholarship, this view is a part of the paradigm shift which took place in the study of prophecy; Schmitt neatly summarises how scholarship has moved away from stressing the particularity of the prophetic phenomenon in ancient Israel to placing it within a broader context of religious practice. Summarising the new view that prophetism is a typical form of divination, Schmitt concludes, ‘Ein Prophet ist ein Mantiker ist ein Prophet’ (p. 14). After a short discussion of necromancy (pp. 14–17), Schmitt then surveys current scholarship on divination and prophecy in the ‘background’ cultures of the Hebrew Bible, namely, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Ugarit and Iran. From this survey of current scholarship, Schmitt concludes that ‘magic and divination are no longer perceived as more or less “obscure” marginal phenomena, but rather as central forms of religious practice that are firmly embedded in their respective religious symbol systems’ (p. 27).

The main body of the work follows in three main parts, each focusing on a particular aspect of divinatory practice in the Hebrew Bible: the practitioners, the instruments and their legitimacy.

Practitioners are the focus of chapter two, ‘Mantische Spezialisten und mantische Praxis im Alten Testament’ (pp. 29–90). Schmitt discusses the various mantic specialists and practices found in the Hebrew Bible, most importantly the nābî’/něbî’āh. The term is analysed in the various corpora of the Hebrew Bible (e.g. Pentateuch, Deuteronomistic History, etc.) with the conclusion that the pre-exilic meaning of the term included a wide range of ‘official’ diviners (p. 42). Related words are then discussed in turn: ḥōzeh, rō’eh, ’îš hā’ělōhîm, ḥōlēm ḥālôm, (’ônēnîm, and ‘ôdēd. After this Schmitt looks at the lexemes related to divination in the Hebrew Bible which are mostly polemicised, namely qesem, nāḥaš, r’ bkbd, bqr, and yrh, all the while stressing the close connection these words share with nābî’/něbî’āh. Schmitt then discusses the various divinatory practices in the Hebrew Bible, maintaining the distinction between ‘intuitive’ and ‘technical’ means of divination in the process. The ‘intuitive’ practices mainly relate to visions, ecstasy, trance and dreams. A section on necromancy is supplemented with excursive comments on the underworld, the status of the dead, and the ancestral cult and family religion in ancient Israel. Further subsections on sickness as omens, natural omens and astrology, performative ritual symbols, ‘official’ and ‘popular’ forms of mantic consultation, and finally in priestly judgments as in Deut 17:8–13 and Num 5:11–31 complete the chapter. In sum, Schmitt does a fine job in this chapter of corralling a wide range of evidence, terminology and practices related to divination in the Hebrew Bible.

In the third chapter, ‘Medien instrumenteller Mantik’ (pp. 91–119), Schmitt makes use of archaeological findings to discuss the various instruments and media used in mantic activity. First he discusses the ’ōb as an instrument used in necromancy, particularly the domestic cult of the dead. Practices related to the casting of lots, such as ‘ūrîm and tummīm, as well as gôrāl, are linked to divinatory procedures (cf. Lev 16), as well as items such as dice discovered in the shrine sanctuary of Tel Dan (p. 95). Idols and household gods, těrapîm, are also connected to divinatory practice (e.g. 1 Sam 15:23; Zech 10:2); Schmitt suggests that anthropomorphic terracotta figurines discovered at sites such as Megiddo, Mareshah, Lachish and Jerusalem, should possibly be identified as těrapîm (p. 99). Various other items known from archaeological finds are cited by Schmitt as possible divinatory instruments: mulets (gillūlîm, see Ezek 14:1–11), masks (cf. 1 Sam 9:13), liver models (such as those found at Ebla, Ugarit and Hazor), cups and bowls (cf. Gen 44:5), the ’epôd (see 1 Sam 23:9; 30:7), and arrows and staffs (see 2 Kgs 13:14–19; Ezek 21:26: Hos 4:12), and wool (see Jdg 6:36–40). This chapter is especially useful and thought provoking due to its integration of text and archaeology.

The fourth chapter, ‘Der Diskurs um legitime und illegitime Mantik im Alten Testament’ (pp. 121–57), moves on to the issues of authority and legitimacy as they relate to divination. Here Schmitt’s goal is to go beyond a simple dichotomy of ‘true and false’ prophecy and to include the Hebrew Bible’s wider discourse on divination. He divides his discussion according to corpora of the Hebrew Bible, beginning with Deuteronomic and Deuteronomistic traditions, including Jeremiah. Deuteronomy is of primary importance, especially the Prophetengesetz of Deut 18:9–22, which Schmitt describes as an attempt by elites and officials, after the exile, to clamp down on divinatory practices that were previously used to legitimate kings and rulers. The idealised prophet in Deut 18:9–22 is like Moses, accountable to and authorized by God alone (pp. 121–24). This law is then programmatic for other texts in the way they legitimise or delegitimise prophets according to this utopian picture; for example Jer 23:9–32 is a text which is a literary re-use of material and themes from Deut 13.2–6 and 18:9–22. Schmitt then discusses the discourse regarding legitimate and illegitimate forms of divination in the Holiness Code (esp. 19:26, 31; 20:6, 27), the prophetic literature (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Zephaniah and Zechariah), and 1–2 Chronicles — and the extent to which these texts do or do not depend on Deut 18:9–22. In my view, this chapter was not as satisfying as the others; quite a few texts are discussed in a small amount of space, and a more detailed textual discussion would have been helpful in a few places.

Finally, Schmitt offers a discussion of ‘Mantik in der Religionsgeschichte Palästinas/Israels’ (pp. 159–73), focusing on the socio-religious function of divination in its ancient context. It was especially in contexts of social, political, economic or personal crisis when divination was sought after and practised; war, death, sickness, drought or natural disaster were all occasions for diviners to fulfill their societal role and function. The contexts where divination took place ranged from official state religion, to family religion, to ‘group-related’ religion, to scribal education and to judicial procedure (pp. 160–62). Schmitt summarises the historical development of the discourse regarding letitimate and illegitimate divination (pp. 166–170), and criticises the dominance of comparisons between the Hebrew Bible and examples of ‘intuitive’ divination (i.e. Wenamon, Zakkur stele, Deir-‘Alla inscription, Mareshah ostraca) at the expense of an appreciation for the broader context of divinatory practice in Israel and Palestine. Schmitt concludes the work with a look ‘forward’ into the Hellenistic and Roman periods and he points to the practice of interpreting omens in natural phenomena as a significant source for understanding divination in Qumran texts and Josephus.

The book concludes with a good bibliography and several indices: ancient, personal and place names, modern authors, and primary sources. As mentioned above, the clearly delineated structure of the book lends itself well to using it as a reference work. One can easily navigate the table of contents to find comment on particular issues, lexemes, or phenomena relevant to one’s interests. One minor feature which is missing from the volume is an index of drawings (Abbildung, or Abb.) and figures (Figuren, or Fig.). As an aid to other readers — or a future edition — I have listed them here:

Abb. 2.1: Siegel des Beschwörers (llḥš) (p. 47)

Abb. 2.2: Ezechiel-Darstellung aus Dura-Europos (p. 52)

Abb. 2.3: Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Die Hexe von Endor (1526) (p. 70)

Abb. 3.1: Würfel aus dem Altarraum im Heiligtum in Dan (p. 95)

Abb. 3.2: Männliche Terrakotte aus Marescha (p. 100)

Abb. 3.3: Lachisch Level III, Locus 2066 (p. 101)

Abb. 3.4: Lachisch Level III, Locus 4150 (p. 101)

Abb. 3.5 und Abb. 3.6: Köpfe männlicher Terrakotten aus Lachisch (p. 102)

Abb. 3.7 und Abb. 3.8: Männliche Köpfe vom Tell en-Naṣbe (p. 102)

Abb. 3.9, 3.10 und 3.11: Männliche Köpfe aus Jerusalem (p. 102)

Abb. 3.12a: Lachisch Tomb 1002 (p. 104)

Abb. 3.12b: Lachisch Tomb 223 (p. 104)

Abb. 3.12c: Lachisch Tomb 218 (p. 104)

Abb. 3.12d: Lachisch Tomb 244 (p. 104)

Abb. 3.12e: Lachisch Tomb 120 (p. 104)

Abb. 3.12f: Lachisch Tomb 102 (p. 104)

Fig. 3.13: Hortfunde Beerscheba Loci 844 und 859 (p. 105)

Abb. 3.13: Maske aus Hazor, Locus 6225, Str. 1b (p. 107)

Abb. 3.14: Hazor, Area A, Stratum V, Locus 44 (p. 107)

Abb. 3.14 [sic]: Lebermodell Hazor 2, MB II B (p. 110)

Abb. 3.15: Lebermodell Hazor 3, MB II B (p. 111)

Abb. 3.16: Lebermodell Hazor 17, MB II B (p. 111)

Abb. 3.17: Siegel des śr hyr (p. 114)

Abb. 3.18: Pfeilspitze KAI 21 (p. 115)

Abb. 3.19: Jerusalem, Area G, Locus 967, house of the bullae (p. 117)

Abb. 3.20: Elfenbeinstäbchen aus Megiddo, EZ I A (p. 117)

With this volume, Schmitt has made a welcome contribution to a still-growing area of research. In my view, the strongest feature of the book is the way it assembles together a large amount of linguistic and archaeological data and builds a rich and multifaceted picture of ancient divinatory practice in Israel and Palestine. It is to be recommended.

William L. Kelly
New College School of Divinity
University of Edinburgh

will.kelly [at]



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