Omens and prophecies, or "technical" versus "intuitive" divination, present researchers with a valuable window into ancient Near Eastern thought. Recent scholarship on these texts has focused on philological and cultural questions, but little attention has been paid to considering omens and prophecies as features of cognition. Such an approach has considerable potential, however, since the few millennia that separate us from the peoples of the ancient Near East are not sufficient for the evolution of radically different brain or sensory morphology, allowing us to safely argue that their systems of cognition were effectively identical to our own. This study considers how omens and prophecies from Mesopotamia and Israel reflect a cognitive effort to evaluate the empirical world as a complex system, utilizing the "logico-scientific" and "narrative" cognitive modes described by Jerome Bruner. It expands on Bruner's descriptions by detailing features of both modes, and demonstrates that omens and prophecies can be distinguished in how they use logico-scientific and narrative thought: omens beginning as logico-scientific induction which then shifts into narrative under the influence of a belief in divine causality, and prophecies operating purely as narrative based on deduction, sharing with omens a belief in divine causality. Considering divination
Journal of Ancient History – de Gruyter
Published: Dec 1, 2015
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