Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Take That With a Lump of Salt

I love salt, so when a link to a suggested scholarly article on an Akkadian "prayer to salt" appeared in my inbox, I was on it right away. In ancient Mesopotamia, salt could be a blessing or a curse. There was a constant fear of the loss of arable lands to salinization. At the same time, salt was essential in seasoning and preserving food (like salted fish) and was often offered to the gods together with incense.

The prayer I read today is a maqlû, or anti-witchcraft text, dating to the first millennium BCE. It is addressed,not to a deity, but to salt itself. Its format is apotropaic boilerplate. The person reciting the spell would insert their own name while burning a lump of salt, possibly together with a figurine representing their sorcerous adversary

You are salt, the one made in a pure place.
For the food of the great gods Ellil appointed you.
Without you, the royal banquet is not set in the Ekur temple.
Without you, god, king, noble, and prince do not smell incense.
As for me [insert name of petitioner] whom spells are seizing,
Whom magical intrigues are afflicting—
Release my spell, O salt! Disperse my sorcery!
Take from me the magical intrigues and,
As I continue to praise the god who made me,
I will continue to praise you

Ellil is a version of Enlil, a high god, and the Ekur (literally "mountain house") is his temple at Ekur. But it is fascinating that it is salt, not a god, whose help is invoked and that is promised continued praise.

Source: Jeffrey Stackert, “An Incantation-Prayer to the Cultic Agent Salt” in Alan Lenzi (ed) Reading Akkadian Prayers and Hymns: An Introduction. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011) 189-195

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