Studies in Bible and Feminist Criticism

By Tikva Frymer-Kensky | Go to book overview

26 / Constructing a Theology of
Healing

1997

In ancient Mesopotamia, a person who felt sick would go to a diagnostician, a baru, or diviner, who would investigate the cause of the illness. If he deemed that the cause was “natural,” a chemical imbalance or something like that, then the sufferer would call for a master of herbal medicine. If the baru declared that the illness was caused by witchcraft, then the sufferer together with the ritual experts would perform a long ritual, maqlu, burning effigies of the witch and sending the witchcraft back on the witch's head. If the baru declared that the patient could offer penitential prayers, if the sick person's personal god was angry, he or she could write a letter-prayer asking the god to come back. If the culprits were demons, the patient could exorcise them, and if the patient had done something wrong but didn't know quite what, or had angered some god that couldn't be identified, he or she could perform a phenomenal ritual called shurpu, which contained invocations and prayers for all the gods to stand by and help, a long prayer-litany with the refrain “O Marduk, giving life and healing is in your hands,” and physical rituals to rid the client of the wrongful aura. These rituals were symbolic acts in which you would rub yourself with flour and then scrape it off while reciting the message with words like “As this flour is scraped off, so may the harm (and the disease that it caused) be scraped off me.” Or you would be tied up in knots and then would cut the knots: “As the knots that are tied are loosed, so too the knots that bind my illness.” Or you could peel an onion: “As the onion is opened, so am I opened and rid of all the evil within me.” With every possible diagnosis, there was a prescribed remedy to alleviate the suffering.

In Judaism, or course, there is no diagnostician. Our theology tells us that there is only one cause, God; and what to do is not always so clearly

-381-

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