Cassandra’s Colleagues: Prophetesses in the Neo-Assyrian Empire
By Beate Pongratz-Leisten
Journal of the Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies, Vol.1:1 (2006)
Abstract: Generally women tend to be excluded from the record of ancient historiography. However, texts pertaining to the cult show that via a variety of channels – dream oracle, prophecy, necromacy – women could gain access to political agency and participate in power. While the structure and function of the temple did not allow for a significant measure of autonomy for religious personnel, dream oracle and prophecy did allow for the impact of a highly trained professional group on the political performance of the king. At the beginning of the second millennium BCE with the import of Amorite culture into Southern Babylonia, prophecy developed into the dominant instrument of royal ideology and politics. While at that time goddesses became more and more restricted in their roles, they, nevertheless, assumed an increasingly mediatory function between the human and divine worlds. In particular, in Neo-Assyrian times, it was the prophetesses who worked in the service of the goddess Ishtar. Prophecy was anchored at the temple. Consequently, various temples completed with one another in their claim to represent the voice of the gods. The status of the prophesying person as well as of the deity within the divine hierarchy should then determine whether a certain oracle should be considered false or legitimate.