Astral Sciences in Mesopotamia

Astral Sciences in Mesopotamia

Astral Sciences in Mesopotamia

Astral Sciences in Mesopotamia

Synopsis

Astronomy and astrology, or the astral sciences, played an enormous, if not a key role in the political and religious life of the Ancient Near East, and, later, of the Greek and Roman world. This is the first comprehensive and up-to-date account of the origins of the astral sciences in the Ancient Near East. Every type of Sumerian or Akkadian text dealing with descriptive or mathematical astronomy, including many individual tablets are thoroughly dealt with. All aspects, such as the history of discovery, reconstruction, and interpretation come to the fore, accompanied by a full bibliography. At that the reader will find descriptions of astronomical contents, an explanation of their scientific meaning and the place a given genre or tablet has in the development of astronomy both within the Mesopotamian culture and outside of it. Because celestial omens are intimately related to astronomy in Mesopotamian science, these are also discussed extensively. The material is arranged both chronologically and thematically, so as to help make Astral Sciences in Mesopotamia a reference work on the subject in its truest sense.

Excerpt

This is a book about the origins and the development of the astral sciences in Mesopotamia, sciences which exercised an enormous and continuous influence on the contiguous cultures (Egypt, Greece, the Hittites, Syria, Palestine, Iran, and India) in antiquity, and on the numerous successors of these major civilizations in later periods. While we refer occasionally to these influences as illustrations of how others understood and used Mesopotamian astronomy, we have not attempted completeness in such references.

Nor have we attempted to deal as exhaustively with the astral omens as we have with astronomy. The project that Otto Neugebauer initiated in 1937 to produce in collaboration with others editions of cuneiform texts dealing with mathematical and observational astronomy and with the celestial omens has been substantially completed for the first two categories, and much has been learned about these texts and what they mean; this is summarized in the second section of this book. But, while some progress has been made in publishing reliable omen texts relating to the Moon, to the Sun, and to the constellations and planets, vast numbers of such tablets still await scholarly investigation. We have, therefore, simply indicated the general contents of this enormous literature, and refer the reader for the present to the commendable preliminary exposition of astral omens published recently by KochWestenholz [1995]. Future versions of this Handbuch should treat this important material thoroughly once it and its history has been more completely understood. Similarly, it should be possible in this successor volume to reflect a deep and comprehensive understanding of Babylonian astral magic which has been magisterially surveyed by Reiner [1995].

What this volume does attempt to cover is the astronomical material found in the tablets of both omen texts and purely astronomical texts from the earliest times—the Old Babylonian period of, probably, the first half of the second millennium B.C.—down to the latest—the period of the Parthian control of Mesopotamia in the late first century A.D. This massive amount of material is arranged both chronologically and topically within the chronological framework.

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