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Ancient ProphecyNear Eastern, Biblical, and Greek Perspectives$

Martti Nissinen

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198808558

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198808558.001.0001

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Prophecy and Gender

Prophecy and Gender

(p.297) 8 Prophecy and Gender
Ancient Prophecy

Martti Nissinen

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter demonstrates that prophecy was a gendered phenomenon, but the prophetic role was not generally gender-specific, which is remarkable in the patriarchal cultures within which prophecy functioned. The chapter approaches the issue of gender and prophetic divination from a comparative perspective. First, a taxonomy of gender of the prophets and deities in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean is presented, followed by a discussion on the agency of the prophets from the gender point of view. The chapter concludes by analyzing the gendered representations of deities and their alleged agency, that of the goddess Ištar in particular.

Keywords:   prophecy and gender, female prophets, transgender prophets, possession, divine agency, female agency, human agency

Prophecy is a gendered phenomenon. The very idea of intermediation implies the “notion of penetration of a human by a divine agent, and casts the prophet into the role of the passive, penetrated, god-possessed female.”1 In the ancient Eastern Mediterranean sources, the agency mediating between the human and superhuman realms is gendered: both the deities and the human intermediaries appear as both male and female. Women can be found practicing both technical and non-technical kinds of divination in the Hebrew Bible and in Greek sources,2 whereas in Mesopotamia, the practitioners of extispicy, astrology, augury, and exorcism are always male.

Among different types of divination, prophecy stands out as the one in which non-male persons feature most strongly. The last three decades have seen a profusion of literature on female prophets and on prophecy and gender in the Hebrew Bible. The purpose of this chapter is to approach the issue of gender and prophetic divination from a comparative perspective. I first present a taxonomy of gender of the prophets and deities in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean, and then discuss the agency of the prophets from the gender point of view. I conclude the chapter by analyzing the gendered representations of deities and their alleged agency, that of the goddess Ištar in particular.

Gender of Prophets: Taxonomy

My statistical survey of the gender of prophets and deities (see Appendix 1) is based on the corpus of texts included in the SBLWAW volume Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East.3 The references to the texts in this paper (p.298) follow the numbering of this volume consisting of 175 texts mostly written in Akkadian and coming from Mari (sixty-eight texts), Assyria (sixty-one texts), and other places in Mesopotamia, but also a few West Semitic sources, one Egyptian text reporting on events that happened in the Phoenician city of Byblos, and a Luwian stela from northern Syria. In these texts, prophets are referred to in a variety of ways. In the letters and administrative documents from Mari, as well as in Assyrian prophetic oracles, prophets are often mentioned by name, but quite as often we encounter references to anonymous individuals, or to a collective of prophets.

The gender of the prophets known by name is consistently indicated, but this is not always the case with anonymous prophets, especially in cases where the prophecy is quoted without a reference to the person of the prophet in question. Prophets whose names are mentioned are referred to in fifty-nine texts, including thirty-three references to twenty-eight male individuals4 and eighteen references to sixteen female individuals.5 In addition, there are eight texts referring to five individual prophets whose gender is not clear, either because the prophet bears the title assinnu indicating an unconventional gender role,6 or because the reference to the prophet’s gender is otherwise ambiguous; this is the case three times in the colophons of Assyrian prophecies7 to which I will return later. Altogether, forty-eight individual prophets are known by their names.

Anonymous prophets whose gender is indicated are mentioned forty-nine times; of these, thirty-five are male8 and fourteen female.9 There is no way of knowing whether the same individuals are mentioned several times in these texts. When prophets are mentioned as a group, the prophets are sometimes referred to as “prophets” without gender specification (ten times);10 as “male and female prophets” (five times, one of which also mentions the assinnus);11 (p.299) or twice as “female prophets” in a ritual text from Mari, and in an administrative list from Assyria.12

When one compares the sources from Mari to those from Assyria, there is a perceptible difference between the gender profiles of prophets: the male/female ratio of mentionings of individual prophets with known gender is forty to seventeen at Mari and nine to fourteen in Assyria. If these figures tell anything at all about the historical factuality, this would mean that at Mari, about sixty percent of the prophets were male, whereas in Assyria, about sixty percent were female.

When it comes to the very meager documentation of West Semitic prophecy, we can observe that two prophets—not only Balaam in the Deir Alla inscription13 but also a person called Qên in the seal-amulet from Deir Rifa14—have male names, and the three others, appearing in the Lachish letters15 and in the Egyptian Wenamon narrative,16 are likewise of male gender. Whether this refers to the preference of male prophets in West Semitic cultures is difficult to judge on the basis of five attestations only. However, the Hebrew Bible, with its five or so female prophets17 compared to the fifty or so male prophets,18 seems to point in the same direction.

(p.300) The gender difference also plays a role when it comes to deities whose words the prophets are said to transmit or whose temples they are affiliated with. Of the 126 Near Eastern cases in which the gender of the deity is evident, a male deity is mentioned fifty-nine times and a female deity sixty-seven times. Again, there are divergences between the sources. In texts from Mari, a male deity is mentioned almost twice as many times (thirty-six)19 as a female deity (twenty),20 while in the case of Assyria, the thirty-three occurrences of a female deity21 (always one of the manifestations of Ištar) drastically outnumber the thirteen cases of male deities mentioned in the texts.22 In the four West Semitic sources in which the divine gender is revealed, the deity is always a male one: Baalshamayin in the Zakkur inscription, Amon in the report of Wenamon, and, presumably, Yahweh in the Lachish letters;23 note also the male god Tarhunza in the prophecy quoted in the Luwian stele of Hamiyata.24

Is there a correspondence, then, between the gender of the prophets and that of the deities?25 According to my statistics, in the cases where the gender of both the prophet and the deity can be detected, male prophets are associated thirty times with male deities and eighteen times with female deities.26 Female prophets are affiliated seventeen times with a female deity and seven times with a male one,27 and the people with ambiguous or undetermined gender exclusively appear as prophets of a female deity, except for one Assyrian text (*71) where Bayâ speaks in the voice of three different gods.

Leaving the statistics based on the text corpus published in Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East, it is worth noting that the pivotal role of women in prophecy is not restricted to the ancient Near East, but can also be observed in Greek literature.28 Greek seers (manteis) who practice divination involving observation of the livers of sacrificial animals and the flight of birds were, as a rule, male. However, unlike in Mesopotamia where technical divination seems to have been a quasi-exclusively male profession,29 there (p.301) are a few hints at women involved in it in Greek sources.30 An epitaph with the inscription “Satyra the seer” (Satyra ha mantis);31 an epigram attributable to Poseidippus of Pella, mentioning “Asterie the seer” interpreting bird signs;32 and a grave stela from Mantinea depicting a woman holding a liver in her left hand.33 All this proves is that the predominantly male domain of divination was not altogether inaccessible to women; in fact, female seers may be under-represented in Greek literature that mostly report the activity of the seers in connection with warfare, in which women did not participate.

While the female seers remain the exception to the general rule, the picture changes when it comes to the delivery of divine messages by non-technical means. As we have already seen, the historically attested Greek prophets who are likely to have acted in an altered state of consciousness are almost exclusively female.34 The Pythias of Delphi, who constituted one of the most highly appreciated and long-lived divinatory institutions in the Eastern Mediterranean, could only be women. A likewise strictly gender-specific role was assumed by the prophetesses of the temple of Apollo at Didyma after the re-establishment of the temple in the 330s BCE, as well as “the priestesses, who were also the prophetesses”35 of the temple of Zeus at Dodona.

The only major oracle site where the prophets seem to have been consistently of male gender was the temple of Apollo at Claros, where, according to Iamblichus, a male prophet prophesied after having drunk water from the holy spring.36 Tacitus calls specific attention to the fact that it is not a woman, as at Delphi, but a male person who delivers the oracular response at Claros, as if this were something unexpected.37 It is noteworthy, moreover, that in mythical sources, the prophets at Dodona appear as male (the helloi or selloi),38 while the historical practice knows only female prophets. In an etiological story recorded by both Ephoros and Proklos, a parallel office of male and female prophets is taken for granted, as if at some point a change from male to (p.302) female prophets took place at Dodona.39 Also at Didyma, the speakers of the oracles were male members of the Branchidae family until the destruction of the temple in 494 BCE.40 Generally speaking, while the technical manteis were mostly of male gender, only very few male persons can be found practicing the prophetic kind of divination in Greek sources; according to Armin Lange, “[p]rophetic manteis occur only in archaic legend. And even there, they are exception to the rule.”41 Such an exception may appear in a third-century CE inscription from Didyma, in which a person called Titus Flavius Ulpianus seems to report a vision of his own.42

Female gender is typical of even other, non-historical prophetic figures in Greek literature, such as the women prophesying the oracles of Loxias (Apollo) in the temple of Phoibos;43 Cassandra in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and in other sources;44 and Manto, daughter of the seer Teiresias and mother of the seer Mopsus, who not only spoke but also wrote oracles.45 A famous case of a legendary female prophetic figure is the Sibyl, who was considered daughter of a nymph and a man called Theodoros. Like Cassandra, she was seen as Apollo’s priest and bride.46 The Sibyl’s original home is Erythrae in Asia Minor, where traces of her cult have been preserved. Local Sibyls start appearing from the late fourth century on. Varro, a Roman writer of the first century BCE knows about no less than ten Sibyls in Persia, Libya, Delphi, Cimmeria (Italy), Erythrae, Samos, Cumea, Hellespontos (Troy), Phrygia, and Tibur;47 of these, especially the tradition of the Cumaean Sibyl is well (p.303) known.48 The Sibylline oracles were considered significant enough to be collected in the temple of Apollo in Rome,49 and they were adopted by even the Jews and Christians.50 Whether the tradition of the Sibyl is based on a historical figure is unknown. Only one piece of information exists to suggest historical prophetic activity in Erythrae: Callisthenes reports on Athenais, a female prophet who came from there to confirm the divine origin of Alexander the Great.51

Outside the realm of cuneiform literature, female deities seem to disappear as oracular deities. The few West Semitic prophets we know are all male, associated with male deities. In Greek literature, again, female prophets are presented as mouthpieces of male deities, Zeus or Apollo (in fact, Apollo can be called mantis52 or the prophētēs of Zeus53), while female deities do not appear as sources of prophetic oracles. The Hebrew Bible endorses only one god, Yahweh, whose image is predominantly male, and whose prophets likewise tend to be men rather than women, despite the few well-known cases demonstrating that the biblical writers did not consider the idea of a female prophet of Yahweh impossible.

These statistics show that there was no universal gender correspondence between prophets and deities in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean. Nonetheless, some patterns can be tentatively outlined according to the provenance of the texts. The biblical and West Semitic sources seem to favor the male god/male prophet pattern, while in Greece, the male god/female prophet model prevails. In the texts from Mari, the prophets, regardless of their gender, more often appear as prophets of male than of female deities, and there is a majority of male prophets among them. In Assyrian sources, again irrespective of the gender of the prophet, the deity speaking in prophetic oracles is virtually always female, and female prophets clearly outnumber the male ones.

This variation may well go back to differences in socio-religious contexts and traditions, but it should always be borne in mind that our dependence on written sources impedes a direct access to historical circumstances, and that our image of ancient prophecy is decisively informed by the nature of source materials. Biblical prophecy, for example, cannot be straightforwardly equated with the prophetic phenomenon in the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, even when it comes to the gender ratio of biblical prophets, because biblical prophecy is, ultimately, the construct of biblical writers, reflecting their ideologies. In a similar vein, the Assyrian construct of prophecy clearly favors the state ideology as propagated in temples of Ištar. Hence, both the biblical (p.304) paucity of women prophets and the Assyrian prevalence of Ištar may at least partly go back to an intended construct.

Gender and Human Agency

It is well known from anthropology and the history of religion that, virtually regardless of time and place, women and other non-male individuals occupy important positions related to their alleged receptiveness to divine inspiration and the ability to mediate between the divine and human worlds.54 The prophetic action as such is not gender-specific. Anyone can achieve an altered state of consciousness required for prophesying, and there is no difference between men and women in this respect. The above statistics point in the same direction: in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean, prophecy was open to both, or should we say, all genders.

Whatever local variations there might have been in the relative status of prophets representing different genders, it appears as a continuing pattern that in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean, the prophetic role—like that of a magician55—could be assumed by women and men alike. This cannot be said of most professions; at least in Mesopotamia, femininity and masculinity “were considered two of the divinely-ordained organizing principles by which society was thought to be governed,”56 and this was reflected in gendered professional roles. Technical divination in particular (astrology, extispicy, augury, and the like) was a male domain in which women seem not to have been involved in Mesopotamia. A few female seers (manteis) are known from Greek sources (as discussed above), and some branches of divination are said to have been practiced by women in the Hebrew Bible that mentions the necromancer of En-Dor (1 Sam. 28) and the women who “prophesy” (mitnabbĕ’ôt) in some rather technical way in Ezekiel 13:17–23.57 In general, however, the prophetic role appears to be clearly less dependent on gender than other methods of divination. There must be features in the prophetic and/or magical agency that explain the gender flexibility which makes prophecy a special case of divinatory agency, enabling a socio-religious role that was not gender-specific.

At this juncture, it is necessary to explain the meaning of the concept of agency. As prophecy, by any definition, is a religious activity and is practiced within a religious framework, the prophetic agency should be understood as a (p.305) subspecies of the religious agency, which the sociologist Laura M. Leming understands

as a personal and collective claiming and enacting of dynamic religious identity. As religious identity, it may include, but is not limited to, a received or an acquired identity, whether passed on by family, religious group, or other social entity such as an educational community, or actively sought. To constitute religious agency, this identity is claimed and lived as one’s own, with an insistence on active ownership.58

Although Leming’s definition rises from the modern world (her case study is about woman-conscious Catholic women in America), she underlines that agency “is not practiced in a vacuum but is enacted within specific social contexts,” which, in my view, makes her idea of religious agency equally applicable to other contexts, including ancient sources. Importantly, this definition encompasses both the received tradition and an “active ownership,” thus making it possible to understand religious agency in terms of both transmission and transformation.59

Prophetic agency, therefore, can be understood as instrumental (silenced subjectivity: prophets as passive intermediaries) as well as independent (endorsed subjectivity: prophets as active agents).60 These types of agency are neither gender-specific nor mutually exclusive, because the prophetic agency is ultimately defined by the audience. The agency of one and the same prophet can be regarded simultaneously as instrumental from the point of view of contemporary religious authorities, and independent from that of contemporary critics or modern scholars. When interpreted as passive intermediaries, the actual agency is ascribed to the divinity, whose authority the transmissive action of the human prophet does not threaten. When seen as active agents, the prophets, both male and non-male, are not merely regarded as instruments of the divine agent but also as acting on their own.

Prophecy aims to influence the audience by way of referring to the divine authorization behind the word spoken by the human prophet. Therefore, it has both the transmissive function as reflecting the religious framework known to the audience, and the transformative function, urging the addressees to heed the potentially unexpected divine ordinances. These two functions are characteristic of ancient divination in general; Walter Burkert speaks of a paradox of divination “between establishment and crisis or even revolt, between the integration of divination’s proceedings and representatives into (p.306) the social-political system and divination as a disruptive, revolutionary, sometimes uncontrollable power.”61

The gender aspect of religious, or prophetic, agency is fundamentally dependent on the prevailing gender matrix in the given social context of prophetic activity; in other words, gender matrix precedes prophetic agency, not vice versa. Therefore, whatever observations are made concerning the significance of gender in prophetic goings-on, they must always be measured against the gendered structure of the given (usually patriarchal) society, paying attention to features in prophetic agency that deviate from the standard expectations of gender roles and their enacting.

One conspicuous and potentially significant contextual factor that sets prophets apart from technical diviners is their education or—as our sources suggest—the lack thereof. Extispicy, astrology, and other methods of omen interpretation were impossible to practice without skills that were only obtainable by means of long education in omen literature and in techniques. While female scribes existed in Mesopotamia,62 only male persons are known as practitioners of scholarly divination. There is no indication that any such skills were required of prophets regardless of their gender, whether we look at Mari, Assyria, Greece, or the Hebrew Bible.

Particular techniques were probably needed in prophecy as well, but these could have been learned in temple communities. On the other hand, prophecy was not always a permanent role confined to temples and based on a systematic education but could be assumed by anyone whose divine possession, however transient, was acknowledged by the audience. Anyone could achieve an altered state of consciousness required for prophesying, and there was no difference between men and women in this respect. This may partly explain the gender flexibility of prophecy. The image of prophecy obtainable from Mesopotamian, biblical, and Greek texts alike tolerates individuals who occasionally speak divine words without carrying a prophetic title or otherwise acknowledged prophetic role. At Mari in particular, women report prophetic dreams. Wives, servants and slave-girls are acting as mediators of allegedly divine words in texts from both Mari and Assyria.63

In these cases, the idea of the divine possession as a way for women to act out their otherwise underprivileged agency may suggest itself. The prophetic role enabled women to open their mouths in public because they were expected to talk divine words—not as themselves but as mere instruments of (p.307) gods speaking through them.64 I will soon return to the question whether this deprived them of their own agency altogether.

In the majority of cases, the appreciation of male and female prophets and their sayings is due to their affiliation with temples that provide them with an accredited background. It indeed seems to have mattered where the oracles were spoken: the temples of Apollo at Delphi, Didyma, and Claros, the temples of Annunitum at Mari and Dagan in Terqa, as well as the temple of Ištar in Arbela were acknowledged as sources of reliable prophecy. This is not to say that prophetic agency would never have been acknowledged without such background, but it deserves attention that temples, along with the royal palace, were institutions where women actually had an acknowledged agency as priests, prophets, and in other roles, as members of communities that communicated with other parts of the society.65

Especially in Mesopotamian sources, there are several implications of communication between palace women and women affiliated with temples, and it would be worth investigating to what extent the personal ties between the women in palaces and temples actually contributed to the public role of the prophets, women prophets in particular, in the society at large. Palace women, such as Queen Šibtu and the royal ladies Addu-duri and Inib-šina at Mari,66 and Queen Mother Naqia of Assyria,67 seem to have maintained close contact with temples where prophecies were uttered, and they turn out to have been decisive vehicles, not only of the reception of prophecy in their own times, but also of the political use of prophecy and preservation of prophetic oracles for posterity.

The prophetic role could be assumed continuously. This was most likely the case in the temple of Apollo at Delphi, where the Pythias held a permanent post involving sexual abstinence as a guarantee of their ritual purity.68 Whether lifelong commitments or chastity were required of Mesopotamian prophets escapes our knowledge. However, as we have seen, several administrative documents from different periods use “prophets” (male and female) as classifications that define their place within the temple community in a way that suggests a fixed role and position.69

(p.308) At Mari, some palace women actually seem to have assumed the prophetic role themselves.70 This, among other things, suggests that the prophetic role was not always understood as a permanent function or profession; rather, it was a role that could be assumed according to personal qualifications. This may have been the case with the famous woman with the title qammatum at Mari,71 or the female votaries (šēlūtu), that is, women dedicated to a temple, who are attested as prophets in two Assyrian texts.72 Acting as a prophet was probably not a fixed part of their job description, but some votaries transmitted divine words because of their acknowledged personal ability to achieve the required state of consciousness.

The same could apply to sexually ambivalent or intersex people; indeed, the representation of non-male persons other than women deserves full attention. The Greek sources include, to my knowledge, only one reference to the androgynous Scythian prophets, Enarees hoi androgynoi who received their divinatory power from Aphrodite,73 but we should not forget Teiresias, the mythical blind diviner who was endowed with both sexes and who mastered both intuitive and technical types of divination.74

In Mesopotamia, devotees of Ištar called assinnu, kurgarrû, sinnišānu, sometimes also kalû and kulu’u are mentioned in several texts from different periods featuring in different roles including cross-dressing, ritual dance, battle-scenes, healing, lament, and prophecy. The gender performance of these people is unconventional, combining male and female features.75 Two assinnus, Šelebum and Ili-ḫaznaya, are known to have prophesied at Mari, while in Assyrian sources, the gender ambiguity is suggested by three unclear gender specifications in three colophons of the tablet SAA 9 1 containing ten oracles: “Issar-la-tašiyaṭ, a man from Arbela,”76 “the woman Bayâ, a man from (p.309) Arbela,”77 and “the woman Ilussa-am[ur], a m[an] from Assur.”78 Some scholars have expressed their doubts about these colophons as reflecting a real gender ambivalence, suggesting scribal errors as the reason for the ambiguity,79 but I find it improbable that the otherwise very competent and meticulous scribe had managed to create more than one mistake on one and the same tablet, hence I follow Simo Parpola’s readings which to me make a perfect sense.80

The assinnus and their colleagues are impossible to classify in modern gender categories. The sources do not inform us about their sexual orientation or bodily appearance. In recent scholarship, their sexual otherness has been both emphasized81 and disregarded.82 They have traditionally been called “transvestites,” “bisexuals,” even “cult homosexuals,” but these designations are all misleading since they all derive from the modern understanding of “sexuality.” Perhaps the best word to describe them is “queer,” because that is what they were even in the eyes of their contemporaries.83 Their unconventional non-gender or third-gender role was probably not considered “normal” in the sense of the average; nevertheless, their marked difference from other people was divinely sanctioned. They were what they were by divine ordinance, and their very appearance conveyed a message to the people. Their existence had a mythological explanation, and their role was institutionalized because they “existed between myth and reality and embodied the divine Otherness.”84 This was also the justification of their manifest transgression of conventional sexual roles: being neither men nor women, they were not expected to engage in ordinary family life or to conform to the dominant and active sexual role of a male citizen. Rather, they reflected Ištar’s alterity, emulating her power to transgress sexual boundaries, thus highlighting acceptable gender roles by way of manifestly violating them.85

Even though the documentation of the prophetic involvement of the queer people is not very extensive, it nevertheless demonstrates the gender flexibility of prophecy. It also tells about their affiliation with temples of Ištar and their intimacy with the worship of the goddess. They were appreciated as flesh-and-blood manifestations of the alterity of Ištar, hence their social status was due to (p.310) their otherness with respect to gender. The prophetic role (probably unlike their queer role) is not likely to have been their permanent occupation, but as members of temple communities, they could assume this role if they, like the female members of the same communities, fulfilled its requirements.

However fixed and permanent, the prophetic role constituted a specific agency through which the people acknowledged as prophets enjoyed whatever appreciation belonged to that role in their societies. An essential constituent of this role was the idea of the prophets as intermediaries of divine words which, from the point of view of agency, raises the question of whose agency is, in fact, at issue. The cultural theory of divine possession makes the prophets mouthpieces of deities who do not express their own opinions or even use words of their own, but through whom the deities speak.86 According to this theory, the authority behind them was that of the temple and the deity, which, at least theoretically, deprived the prophets of their personal agency altogether. If the prophets were not thought of as representing themselves (or their gender, for that matter), does it make any sense at all to talk about agency in their case, and is there a difference between male and non-male prophets in this respect? A few cases from much later periods may, by analogy, be used to clarify this question.

The Montanist movement in late second- and third-century CE Phrygia is named after its first prophet and leader Montanus, but it is one of the few early Christian movements in which women assumed a prominent position. Characteristic to Montanism is prophecy, and especially the female prophets, who are best known from the texts of Christian heresiologists but for whom there is also some inscriptional evidence.87 Three female prophets, Maximilla, Priscilla, and Quintilla, are well-known leaders of the Montanist movement, but they were not the only women who assumed leadership of the movement. The Montanist prophets are refuted by the heresiologists, not only because of the (wrong kind of) ecstatic behavior of the prophets and their claim to new revelation, but also because of the prominent position of the female prophets who prophesied in public and even tried to lead men.88 Hence the prophetic agency of the Montanist women was not seen as purely instrumental but all too independent by contemporaries.

In the late Middle Ages, there was a heightened interest in prophecy and mysticism, and female visionaries such as Teresa of Ávila, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Caterina da Siena, and Birgitta of Sweden enjoyed a considerable spiritual authority based on their visionary experiences and (p.311) prophetic agency rather than hierarchical authority. In their case, the prophetic activity was socially sanctioned in a way that the women were “excused” their gender because of their divine vocation;89 in this sense, their agency was perceived and acknowledged as that of “the hammer and the flute,” but this neither means the gender did not matter, nor that these women had no agency of their own—quite to the contrary.

The prophetic and visionary powers of women, acknowledged and appreciated as they were and are in many cultures, were sometimes also perceived as threatening to the male religious authority, which may have led to a decline of women’s mediatory roles. In the tenth- to the twelfth-century CE church, some women even exercised roles belonging to the clerical sphere, but from the early fourteenth century on, women’s quasi-clerical roles faded out.90 This demonstrates not only that gender indeed mattered, but also that the women were perceived of as having an independent agency, contrasting the ecclesiastical authority.91

Even in the wake of the emergent Protestantism which generally disapproved of mystics and prophets regardless of their gender, and deprived women of their prophetic roles, there were some who actually prophesied, such as the Anabaptist Ursula Jost who wished to be a prophet, actively sought prophetic visions, and even had them published by her patroness Margaretha Prüss in Strasbourg in the 1520s.92 Ursula presents herself as a prime example of the coexistence of instrumental and independent agency: as the mediator of divine visions, she appeared as the “hammer and the flute” of the divine word, but as an employer of cutting-edge media technology, her agency was emphatically independent.

Female prophecy flourished temporarily also in the British Atlantic dissenter communities in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The position of women prophets and the function of genre varied: among the Quakers female prophets were recognized due to the belief that there was neither male nor female in Christ and they did not attract a following, while some women influenced by Behmenism93 such as Jane Lead (1624–1704) and Ann Bathurst (c.1638–1704) rose to leadership positions as millenarian reformers. However marginal in the larger society, these women were considered by many as female (p.312) representatives of the Divine Wisdom, and their acknowledged instrumental agency gave them the opportunity to execute their independent agency as well.94

A general downplaying of women’s mediatory roles seems not to have taken place in the ancient Near East, where the female contribution to the realm of worship was, by and large, well established. Even the Hebrew Bible, while not recognizing female priesthood, acknowledges female prophets, some of them assuming important roles, such as Huldah in the initial phase of the Josianic reform (2 Kgs 22:14–20), or Noadiah as the primary opponent of Nehemiah (Neh. 6:14). That their number is considerably smaller than that of male prophets, however, makes women prophets look like an exception rather than the rule. To what extent the paucity of women prophets conforms to the historical reality, or reflects a patriarchal bias of the editors of the biblical texts, remains a matter of dispute.95 At any rate, it is evident that in the Hebrew Bible, the agency of the female prophets is consistent with the ideology of the literary construction within which they appear. This can be seen, for instance, in the profoundly Deuteronomistic presentation of Huldah in 2 Kings 22.96

More tangible information of women’s divinatory role as potentially inferior to that of male persons may be drawn from the Mari letters. Esther Hamori has paid attention to the references to the enclosure of the prophet’s “hair and fringe” (šārtum u sissiktum) in letters reporting the prophet’s performance, which are twice as common if the prophet is a woman or an assinnu than if the prophet is a male person. Since these items were used for a ritual verification of the prophecy, this evidence suggests that prophecies uttered by women and the assinnus were thought of as less reliable, hence implying a lower status of non-male prophets.97 Both at Mari and in Assyria, the social standing of women prophets was probably related to their association with influential palace women on the one hand, and to the prestige of their home temples on the other hand.

Even in Greek literature, the legendary female prophet Cassandra is not believed but is accused of being mentally ill, and in early Jewish texts, female (p.313) prophets are often considered unreliable.98 Sometimes, as in the case of the Delphic Pythia, influential positions of women as mediators are well-established and based on a long-term tradition, but this did not necessarily spare them from male criticism.99 Moreover, the oracular process in the sanctuaries of Apollo was managed by the prophētēs and other male temple officials who mediated and, perhaps, interpreted the divine words pronounced by the female prophet to the consultants. The management of the oracles by male personnel probably reduced significantly the independent agency of the Pythia and other Greek female prophets,100 but did not necessarily make them merely passive players.101

Very often the prophetic authority of women dependent on the personal appreciation and qualifications of individual characters, such as the above-mentioned Teresa, Hildegard, Julian, Caterina, and Birgitta, or, to take examples from my home country, some early leaders of Finnish eighteenth-century revival movements like Liisa Eerikintytär,102 and the famous sleeping preachers of late nineteenth-century Finland, Karoliina Utriainen and Helena Konttinen.103 These women were typically individuals who were highly appreciated in their role as mediators, but who did not establish an enduring tradition of female religious leadership. The revival movements were taken over by men, and the preaching while asleep was not continued by subsequent generations of women. This, I think, highlights both the independent and the instrumental aspect of the prophetic agency of these women.

Examples of this kind could be multiplied, and they show how universal a phenomenon women’s involvement in prophetic and related activities is; even in today’s world, the gender dynamics of prophetic agency can be structured along similar lines, for instance, in neo-charismatic movements.104 I am (p.314) tempted to think that religious agency is not merely about culturally determined contingencies in each individual case but something that the cognitive scientists of religion would explain as a universal feature produced by the human mind.105 The chicken-and-the-egg question is, of course, whether the non-gender-specificity of the prophetic role is due to a universal idea of the aptitude of non-male people to divine–human communication, or vice versa.

Whose agency is it, then, that these women are executing? It can certainly be said from the emic point of view, that since the prophets were regarded as mouthpieces of the divine, their own personality was indifferent. The speaker, after all, is the deity, hence the person of the prophet, whether gendered or otherwise, did not matter, and, therefore, speaking with divine voice enabled women and other non-male people to raise their own voice as well. The instrumental understanding of prophetic agency, however, does not sufficiently explain the recurrent appreciation of individual women whose impact was quite evidently bound to their highly personal qualifications, which sometimes provided them with a considerable authority. There is enough evidence from ancient Near Eastern sources, too, that prophets, whether male or female, did not just passively repeat divine words, barely aware of what they said, but really did act as independent individuals.

Both ways, we should not forget the social context within which the prophetic agency was enacted. The instrumental aspect is emphasized in a male-dominated environment where the non-male voice is acknowledged and authorized only as an echo of the divine speech. Even the independent agency, while occasionally intruding into the hierarchical structures of the society, is ultimately dependent on the same structures which in due course harness the prophetic agency to serve its purposes. This can be seen, for instance, in the Assyrian oracles which, as a whole, preach the Assyrian state ideology, hiding the personal input of the prophets, whether female or male.

The prophetic action as such is not gender-specific, hence it is not necessarily, and primarily, women’s agency the female prophets execute but, rather, prophetic agency in so far as the action is presented as part of the prophetic activity. This notwithstanding, gender does matter because prophecy appears as one of the few public, socially appreciated roles that were not inextricably linked with male gender and, therefore, could be assumed by non-males even in a patriarchal society. The female contribution to different kinds of divine–human communication is of remarkable significance in the history of religion. This may be understood as implying the gender neutrality of the religious agency but, on the other hand, it also exhibits specific domains where non-males are allowed to transgress the socially sanctioned gender-based boundaries.

(p.315) Gender and Divine Agency

As much as the human agency, more or less gendered, can be seen by today’s scholars as the driving force behind the prophetic phenomenon and institution, the ancient audiences of prophecy perceived of it as based entirely on a superhuman, or divine agency. As one of the branches of the art of divination, prophecy was one of the channels of an alleged divine–human communication, in which the human prophet’s action, whether male or non-male, was indeed understood in an instrumental manner. Divine agency, of course, is something that can only be believed; however, if divine agency is taken for granted, as was and is done everywhere where the concept of divination has a meaning, agency can be attributed to divine beings on the basis of the humans’ own experience of agency.106

The gendered theological model that prevailed everywhere in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean (which is not primarily a matter of “polytheism” but of a gendered image of the divine),107 raises the question of the role of gender in the divine prophetic agency. As we have seen, both male and female deities can be found as divine speakers of prophetic oracles. The following deities are mentioned by their names in the extant Near Eastern texts as the source of prophecy or as the tutelary deity of the prophets:108


  • • Adad (**50, 61)

  • • Adad of Aleppo (**2, 135i)

  • • Adad of Kallassu (*1)

  • • Amon (*142)

  • • Amu of Ḫubšalum (*49)

  • • Aššur (**84, 85, 86)

  • • Baalshamayn (*137)

  • • Dagan (**3, 9, 12, 15, 16, 20, 25, 30, 31, 34, 37, 46, 53, 60, 62, 65a)

  • • Dagan of Ṣubatum (*63)

  • • Dagan of Terqa (**7, 9, 38, 39)

  • • Dagan of Tuttul (**19, 135j)

  • • Enlil (*135b)

  • • Itur-Mer (**41, 55/59) (p.316)

  • • Marduk/Bel (**47, 71, 106, 112, 118d, 118e, 118g)

  • • Milcom (*136)

  • • Nabû (**71, 118d)

  • • Nergal (*55/59)

  • • Nusku (**115, 118f)

  • • Šamaš (**4, 48, 50a)

  • • Sin (*118f)

  • • Tarhunza (*143)

  • • Yahweh (**139, 141)


  • • Annunitum (**7, 8, 10, 22, 23, 24, 42, 58)

  • • Banitu (*78)

  • • Belet-biri (*43)

  • • Belet-ekallim (**19, 21, 45)

  • • Diritum (*18)

  • • Ḫišamitum (*5)

  • • Inanna (**135a, 135b)

  • • Inanna of Girsu (*119)

  • • Inanna of Zabala (*135g)

  • • Ištar (**51, 52, 97, 118, 123, 118c, 135b)

  • • Ištar of Arbela (**68, 69, 70, 71, 73, 75, 76, 77, 80, 81, 87, 88, 90, 91, 94, 100, 101, 107, 113, 114)

  • • Ištar of Bišra (*50b)

  • • Ištar of Nineveh (**50a, 107)

  • • Kititum (**66, 67, 67a)

  • • Lady of Kidmuri (*99)

  • • Mullissu (**72, 81, 92, 94)

  • • Nanaya (**134, 135a)

  • • Ninḫursag (**29, 56/57)

  • • Šauška of Nineveh (*121)

  • • Urkittu/Lady of Uruk (**83, 135o)

  • • Zababa (*135b)

  • • Zarpanitu (*118e)

This list immediately reveals that, according to the available sources, one god and one goddess stand out as principal Near Eastern deities of prophecy: Dagan, who appears in twenty-three of the fifty-seven cases where a male deity is involved, and Ištar in one form or another, who is the goddess of prophecy in no less than fifty-five out of sixty-six occurrences of female deities. At Mari, Dagan is the deity in almost two-thirds of the cases involving a male god (23/36). In Assyria, Ištar is the sole female deity of prophecy, appearing in her different local manifestations, such as Mullissu (Ištar of Nineveh), Lady of (p.317) Kidmuri (Ištar of Calah), and Urkittu (Ištar of Uruk). Also at Mari (Annunitum), Ešnunna (Kititum), and Babylonia (Inanna, Nanaya), the most important female oracular deity is an Ištar goddess.109

The two main corpora of prophetic texts, hence, give the impression that prophetic activity was centered in the temples of Dagan and Ištar without, however, having been restricted to them. The evidence coming from other sources is too meager to warrant similar conclusions regarding other Near Eastern societies. It deserves attention, however, that in the few West Semitic cases from Ammon, Hamath, and (probably) Judah, the oracular god is always the state god, which corresponds to the “henotheistic” or “monolatric” pattern of worship in these societies.

In Greece, as has been noted above, the principal oracular gods are Apollo and Zeus. Locally, a few other gods and ancient heroes are mentioned as giving oracles,110 but it is quite exceptional to find female deities in this function. The Greek sources only know of an oracle of Hera Akraia in Perachora,111 another of Gaia in Aegira,112 and yet another of Nyx in Megara.113 None of these counted among major oracle sites. Only Perachora is archaeologically attested, and only Aegira involves a female prophet, but the reference seems to be inspired by the analogy to the Delphic Pythia rather than historical circumstances. The prevalence of male gods as Greek oracular deities, hence, also appears as an established and gendered cultural pattern.

We have seen that, even though there is no universal gender correspondence between prophets and deities, the female deity/non-male prophet pattern clearly prevails in Assyria, and male deity/male prophet pattern seems to be the standard pattern in the West Semitic world, as far as the small number of sources yields a realistic picture of the historical phenomenon they reflect. What difference does it make, then, whether the speaking deity is male or female, and is the gender of the prophet significant in any way with regard to what the gods say?

Only the prophetic corpora of Mari and Assyria allow comparisons between the utterances of male and female oracular deities. The foremost topic of prophetic oracles in both corpora is the reign of the ruling king. The divine support for the king is affirmed by gods and goddesses alike and conveyed by (p.318) both male and non-male prophets, at Mari as well as in Assyria. The god Adad of Aleppo claims to have restored Zimri-Lim to his father’s throne,114 while the goddess Diritum declares that the Upper Country is given to him.115 The establishment of the rule of Esarhaddon is incessantly asserted by Ištar116 and, on the occasion of his enthronement, also by Aššur;117 the proclamation of Assurbanipal’s kingship has been preserved only as words of Ištar.118 Another principal theme of prophecies, the destruction of enemies, is similarly non-gender-specific, abundantly proclaimed by male and female gods and prophets.119 Cultic instructions and criticism, too, can be found in different gender configurations,120 and the same is true for political advice.121 So far, thus, the divine prophetic agency does not show any clear traces of gender-specificity of any kind.

This, however, is not the whole truth about gender and divine agency in ancient Near Eastern prophecy. What really makes difference in this respect is the gender-specific language attached to the goddess Ištar especially in the Assyrian sources. Belligerent language and warlike appearance, usually perceived of as markers of masculinity, may seem ill fitting for a female deity, but in the case of Ištar, “the most warlike among the gods,”122 they form an indispensable part of her image. As a liminal figure, Ištar—who without doubt was identified as female and not as a hermaphrodite123—was “the place of all extremes”124 with formidable destructive powers but also with great sexual allure and excessive femininity.

The Assyrian Ištar is not particularly well known as executing motherly care or other parental functions; however, this is the role she has been given often enough in the Neo-Assyrian prophetic oracles to make it one of the central metaphors used of her in this material.125 In Neo-Assyrian oracles, the Ištars (p.319) of Arbela and Nineveh present the Assyrian king as the “creation of their hands” (binūt qātīšina).126 Esarhaddon, as the legitimate heir of the Assyrian throne, is called “son of Mullissu” (Mullissu is another name of Ištar of Nineveh),127 and Assurbanipal receives the message: “You whose mother is Mullissu, fear not! You whose nurse is the Lady of Arbela, fear not!”128 Ištar declares herself as the father and mother of Esarhaddon, whom she raised between her wings;129 while Assurbanipal, in another context, claims he knew no father and mother but grew up in the lap of the goddesses. He even calls Mullissu his mother who gave birth to him.130 Sometimes the deity’s motherly function is mixed with that of a midwife or wet nurse who carries the king on her hip, breastfeeds him, and hushes him like a baby.131 This imagery reflects the Assyrian royal theology especially in Neo-Assyrian times and is not restricted to prophetic texts;132 however, the motherly imagery is especially common in prophecy, probably because it gives the best possible expression for the prophetic agency of Ištar combined with the extraordinary relationship between the goddess and the king.

Of the various manifestations of the goddess, Ištar of Arbela appears as the goddess of prophecy par excellence. This reflects the significance of the temples of Ištar and the temple communities in Arbela.133 Especially during the reigns of Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal, “the Lady of Arbela” or “Ištar who dwells in Arbela”—often together with her alter ego, Ištar of Nineveh, also known as Mullissu—is one of the most frequently mentioned deities in letters, inscriptions, and prophecies.134 The temple of Ištar of Arbela, Egašankalamma, was one of the major temples in Assyria,135 not only the abode of traditional secret lore136 and awesome festivities,137 but also of prophecy. (p.320) Seven out of fifteen Neo-Assyrian prophets known by their names come from Arbela,138 and two prophets who come from outside of Arbela speak the words of Ištar of Arbela.139 Her words are paraphrased also in the inscriptions of Assurbanipal.140 All this indicates that Ištar of Arbela at this time was a national deity, not just one of the many local manifestations of the goddess. The most specific feature of her portrait is her being the primary god of prophecy.

Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal had without any doubt a distinctive relationship with Ištar of Arbela and her worship. Her temple Egašankalamma was the object of both kings’ special devotion.141 The prophetic scene described by Assurbanipal in his inscription on the war against Elam (*101) serves as a good illustration of the ideology of prophecy and the theology of Ištar, presenting her as the creator and mother of the king in a language reminiscent of the above-quoted prophecies.

According to Simo Parpola, the prophecies presenting Ištar as the wet nurse or the mother of the king142 should be understood, not merely as metaphors, but as referring to their upbringing as royal infants in the temples of Ištar in Nineveh and Arbela.143 This practice may have begun only with Esarhaddon whose mother Naqia seems to have maintained a close contact with the prophets of Arbela.144 If this theory is correct, it explains much of the special significance of the goddess Ištar, the outstanding religious position of the city of Arbela, and the special appreciation of prophecy during the rule of these two kings. In the case of Arbela, the (assumed) prophetic agency of the goddess was successfully administered by women of the palace and temple—queens, prophets, and other devotees of Ištar. Measured against the observation of Sarah Melville that “[n]ot only do the Assyrians refer officially to the king’s women with intentionally impersonal language, but they also tend to ignore the relationship between royal mothers and their children,”145 one is tempted to ask how much the backstage agency of these women actually influenced the structures of Assyrian religion and royal ideology.

(p.321) The exclusive relationship between the Ištar and the Assyrian king (or crown prince) has its roots in the ancient Mesopotamian tradition of alliances between female deities and kings. Within this framework, as Beate Pongratz-Leisten has demonstrated, the goddess may assume the role of the beloved of the king in the sacred marriage, as well as the roles of divine mother, wet nurse, and midwife.146 All these roles are emphatically and inevitably gendered and can be assumed by female deities only; however, they imply more than just the aspect of motherliness and fertility. While in the sacred marriage, the love between the goddess and the king (or even between a divine couple) bestows the king with the divine love and an intimate relationship with the divine world,147 the role of the goddess as the (adoptive) mother of the king creates a familial tie between the king and the gods, and that of the midwife presents her as supervising the birth of the king and being its first witness.148 In all these functions, the goddess is the mediatrix between the divine and human worlds, the one who transfers divine knowledge and favors to the people through the person of the king. This is the gendered divine agency of Ištar even in the case of prophecy.

The function of the female deity as mediatrix of the divine knowledge also belongs firmly to the concept of the divine council (Akk. puḫur ilāni) known all over the ancient Near East. Within this concept, the goddess often appears as the “diviner of the gods,” that is, the divine figure who mediates the decisions of the council of gods to humans, and this makes the concept of the divine council significant also with regard to the gendered divine agency in prophecy.149 The following quotation is not from Neo-Assyrian prophecies but from the oracles of Kititum (Ištar) to Ibalpiel II, king of Ešnunna:

O king Ibalpiel, thus says Kititum: The secrets of the gods are placed before me. Because you constantly pronounce my name with your mouth, I keep disclosing the secrets of the gods for you.150

The message of this oracle, probably pronounced on the occasion of Ibalpiel’s accession to the throne,151 is that the divine council has decided that the throne of Ešnunna belongs to Ibalpiel. The goddess Kititum, informed of the “secrets (niṣirtu) of the gods,”152 functions as the divine intermediary, who constantly communicates the arbitrations of the council of gods to the king. The same pattern is attested a full millennium later in Neo-Assyrian prophecy, where the goddess in her two manifestations as Ištar of Arbela and Mullissu (p.322) makes the following statement to Assurbanipal by the mouth of the female prophet Dunnaša-amur:

In the assembly of all the gods (ina puḫur ilāni kalāmi) I have spoken for your life. My arms are strong and will not cast you off before the gods. My shoulders are always ready to carry you, you in particular. I keep desiring your life with my l[ip]s […] your life, you increase life.… [In the assembly] of all the gods I incessantly speak for your good.153

In this text, the role of the goddess as mediatrix is combined with her maternal aspect: Assurbanipal is described as the “creation of their [i.e. both Ištars’] hands” (binūt qātīšina), and the oracle is replete with the goddesses’ compassion towards Assurbanipal.154 Again, it is the intimate relationship between the king and the goddess that ultimately counts before the divine council.

The idea of the female deity’s intimacy with the world of the humans, as well as her prophetic agency within the divine council, is not restricted to Mesopotamian sources but, interestingly and importantly, finds a clearly recognizable echo in the figure of Lady Wisdom in early Judaism.155 Lady Wisdom’s lovers, like those of Inanna/Ištar, are both divine and human.156 The language used of her in Proverbs 8:22–31 subtly suggests an intimate relationship with God, something that Philo of Alexandria develops further in his description of the cosmogonic union between Wisdom and the creator, as the result of which Wisdom receives the seed of God and becomes the mother and the wet nurse of the universe.157 In Wisdom of Solomon, too, Wisdom and God are presented in terms of a divine marriage: Wisdom is called God’s paredros (Wisd. 9:4), who lives in a symbiōsis with him, her function being the mystis of God’s knowledge (8:3–4).158 But she is also the companion of her student, King Solomon, who is engaged in a love relationship with her (6:12–25; 7:7–14; 8:2–21); this compares well to the virtual equation of Wisdom with a wife in Proverbs 8:35 and 18:22.159

(p.323) Ben Sira (Sir. 51:13–30 = 11QPsa XXI 11–17) also describes the young man’s burning desire for Lady Wisdom; especially the original Hebrew text uses euphemisms that do not even try to veil the sexual connotations of the relationship between the two. Even God is involved in this love affair, because “Those who serve her serve the Holy One; God loves those who love her” (4:14). By virtue of this love, the divine knowledge will be revealed to the lover by Wisdom herself: “When his heart is fully with me, I will set him again upon the straight path and will reveal to him my secrets (mstry)” (4:17–18 Heb.). Lady Wisdom’s key position in revealing divine secrets160 is so closely reminiscent to Ištar-Kititum’s role in the oracles to Kings Ibalpiel of Ešnunna and Assurbanipal of Assyria that it cannot be coincidental but must belong to the same ancient Near Eastern tradition.

What, then, has all this divine–human intimacy to do with divine prophetic agency? In Mesopotamia, both prophecy and the sacred marriage were vehicles for conferring divine knowledge and creating a close relationship between gods and the king, and through him, the people.161 Even in Jewish sources, the ultimate purpose of the intimate liaison between God and the wise man is to become acquainted with divine knowledge (often read: Torah); the love affair with Wisdom symbolizes the closest possible proximity to God himself. According to Alan Lenzi, Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22–31 “is implicitly a messenger sent by Yahweh to humanity and therefore can communicate to mortals her unique cosmological knowledge”; dwelling among humanity she is a “uniquely qualified prophetic-like messenger from Yahweh bearing his wisdom to them.”162

The prophetic aspect comes into play with the position of Lady Wisdom in the heavens, blatantly similar to that of Ištar in the Assyrian divine council. That Lady Wisdom’s dwelling was with (other) divine beings is well known from various sources, such as the Aramaic Book of Ahiqar where she is said to be set in heaven and exalted by the Lord of the holy ones (that is, of the divine council),163 and, possibly, in the putative source texts of one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 4Q491c, where an anonymous speaker claims to be “in the assembly of gods” (b‘dt ’lym), “with gods” (‘m ’lym) and “in the congregation of the holy ones” (b‘dt qdwš).164

(p.324) The clearest evidence, however, is provided by the book of Ben Sira,165 where the self-praise of Lady Wisdom is introduced as follows: “In the assembly of the Most High (ekklēsia hypsistou) she opens her mouth, in the presence of his host she declares her worth” (24:2). The source of this idea can hardly be anything else than the common Near Eastern concept of the divine council, and it is easy to see how similar the position of Wisdom is to that of Ištar in the Mesopotamian divine council—especially because it is the divine knowledge, that is, Torah, that Wisdom transfers to the people: “All this is the book of the covenant of God Most High, the law which Moses imposed upon us as inheritance of the assemblies of Jacob” (24:23). In the scenario of Sirach 24, prophetic agency is enacted in both forms, as divine agency in the activity of Lady Wisdom, and as human agency executed by Ben Sira himself who identifies himself as “a rivulet from her stream,” whose task it is to “pour out instruction like prophecy (didaskalian hōs prophēteian ekcheō), and leave it to all future generations” (24:30–1); in the words of Ben Wright, “although Ben Sira stops short of stating outright that his teaching is the product of revelatory activity, the comparison ‘like prophecy’ comes about as close as one can.”166 All this follows the pattern of the prophetic transmission of divine knowledge as we know it from the Near East, involving the divine council, the divine mediatrix, the prophet, and the audience. Even the aspect of erotic intimacy (sacred marriage, if we prefer) is not absent from Sirach 24, where Lady Wisdom describes herself with imagery inspired by love lyrics, most probably by the Song of Songs (24:13–22).167

These texts demonstrate that there was a place for the female divine agency—prophetic agency in particular—even in the monotheistic theological model of early Judaism. The significant points of comparison with Mesopotamian patterns of divine–human communication suggest that the position of Lady Wisdom in early Judaism is rooted in a strong cultural pattern involving the concept of the divine council and the role of the goddess as the mediator.

The concept of “divine agency” presupposes the idea of divine beings as meaningful actors influencing everything that happens on the earth. Whether or not one thinks of divine beings as “really” existing, the idea of divine agency indeed exists in the texts discussed above. They were written in a world where nothing was perceived as coincidence, and the acquisition of superhuman knowledge by means of divination was considered an indispensable tool in coping with risk and uncertainty. Within this conceptual framework, prophetic agency, among others, fulfilled an important function in mediating the (p.325) divine knowledge indispensable for running any earthly business, a state or an empire in particular.

The divine world, like the human world, was conceived of as gendered, and so was the agency mediating between these two worlds—not in the form of an exact gender correspondence between the deities and their prophets, but structured in each case according to the prevailing cultural pattern. The remarkable feature of the prophetic agency is its non-gender specificity which, however, does not mean it was not gendered. Within the male-dominated, hierarchical society, the prophetic agency could be claimed and enacted by male and non-male persons alike, and the sources show no drastic differences between the prophetic agencies of male and non-male persons. Nevertheless, gender difference does not fade away completely. At Mari, for example, the words pronounced by a female prophet seem to have been confirmed by technical divination more often than those spoken by male prophets. In Assyria, again, the religio-political power of the temples of Ištar probably bolstered the position of non-male prophets and other devotees.

The prophetic activity of non-male persons, sometimes transgressing the boundaries of the standard patriarchal gender role structures, was socially sanctioned as an instrumental and transmissive agency in which the person and, consequently, the gender of the prophet were a matter of indifference. This, however, enabled the prophets, the non-male ones in particular, to raise their voices even in a way that was not purely instrumental. Under the aegis of the deity believed to act as the actual agent (and under the control of religious authorities, the earthly administrators of the divine agency), both male and non-male prophets could execute an independent and transforming actorship in their societies.


(1) Kraemer 2013: 291.

(2) For the Hebrew Bible, see Hamori 2015; for the Greek sources, see M. A. Flower 2008: 211–39.

(3) Nissinen 2003a. The numbering of the texts in Appendix 1 corresponds to the forthcoming second edition of this volume.

(4) Mari: Abiya (*2), Iṣi-aḫu (*5), Lupaḫum (**9, 53, 62), Qišti-diritim (*18), Irra-gamil (*33), Ḫadnu-El (*35), Iddin-kubi (*35), Iddin-ili (*43), Timlû (*45), Atamrum (*48), Ili-andulli (*54), Ea-maṣi (*55/59), Irra-gamil (**55/59, 65), Ea-mudammiq (*56/57), Qišatum (*60), Išḫi-Dagan (*63); Assyria: La-dagil-ili (**77, 80, 88), Nabû-ḫussanni (*78), Tašmetu-ereš (*91), Quqî (*104), Nergal-šallim (*118e?); other texts from Mesopotamia: “Boatman” (*134); Aḫu-waqar (*135d), Sin-muballiṭ (*135e), Sin-iqišam (*135f); Eḫlip-Adad (*135i); West Semitic texts: Balaam (*138), Qên (*141a).

(5) Mari: Ḫubatum (*10), Innibana (*14), Aḫatum (*24), Ayala (*36), Zunana (*37), Kakka-lidi (*41), Šimatum (*44), Annu-tabni (*58); Assyria: Sinqiša-amur (**69, 82), Remut-Allati (*70), Issar-beli-da’’ini (*74), Aḫat-abiša (*75), Urkittu-šarrat (*81), Mullissu-kabtat (*92), Dunnaša-amur (**94, 95), Mullissu-abu-uṣri (*111).

(6) Šelebum (**7, 8, 23), Ili-ḫaznaya (*22).

(7) Issar-la-tašiyaṭ (*68), Bayâ (**71, 79), Ilussa-amur (*72).

(8) **1 (2x), 3, 4, 16, 19 (2x), 25, 29, 30, 31, 32, 34, 38, 39, 40, 47, 51, 61, 64, 65a, 108, 118c, 119, 130, 135a, 135c, 135h, 135j, 135k, 135o, 139, 141, 142, 143.

(9) **7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 20, 27, 42, 50b, 109, 113, 114, 115, 135g.

(10) **26, 46, 49, 50, 97, 98, 99, 122, 137.

(11) **1, 17, 105, 118, 123.

(12) **52, 110.

(13) *138.

(14) *141a. The name is interpreted as a cognate of the Hebrew proper name qayin (Gen. 4:1) and the tribal name qayin/haq-qênî. The lack of the letter y indicates that the name on the seal appears in a contracted form qên (see Hamilton 2009: 71–3).

(15) **139, 141.

(16) *142.

(17) The following women carry the title nĕbî’â in the Hebrew Bible: Miriam (Exod. 15:20); Deborah (Judg. 4:4), Huldah (2 Kgs 22:14–20), Noadiah (Neh. 6:14), and the anonymous woman in Isa. 8:3. For most recent treatments of these women, see, e.g. Hamori 2015; Grabbe 2013; Tervanotko 2013; Williamson 2010; Gafney 2008; Dias Marianno 2008; I. Fischer 2002; Ackerman 2002.

(18) In addition to the fifteen male prophets to whom the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible are attributed, the following thirty-four male persons are attested in the Hebrew Bible as prophesying or carrying a prophetic title: Aaron (Exod. 7:1), Abraham (Gen. 15:1, 4; 20:7), Ahijah the Shilonite (1 Kgs 11:29; 14:2, 18), Asaph (2 Chr. 29:30), Azariah son of Oded (2 Chr. 15:8), Balaam (Num. 23–4), Daniel (Dan.), David (2 Sam. 23:1; Neh. 12:24, 36; 1 Chr. 22:8; 2 Chr. 8:14), Eldad (Num. 11:27), Eliezer son of Dodavahu (2 Chr. 20:37), Elijah (1 Kgs 17–19; 2 Kgs 1; Mal. 3:23; 2 Chr. 21:12; Sir. 48:1–3); Elisha (1 Kgs 19:16; 2 Kgs 3–9; 13:19), Gad (1 Sam. 22:5; 2 Sam. 24:11; 1 Chr. 21:9, 29:29; 2 Chr. 29:25), Hanan son of Igdaliah (Jer. 35:4), Hanani (2 Chr. 16:7–10), Hananiah (Jer. 28), Heman (1 Chr. 25:5), Iddo (2 Chr. 9:29, 12:15, 13:22), Jeduthun (2 Chr. 35:15), Jehu son of Hanani (1 Kgs 16:7, 12; 2 Chr. 19:2), Medad (Num. 11:27), Micaiah son of Imlah (1 Kgs 22; 2 Chr. 18), Moses (Deut. 33:1, 34:10; Josh. 14:6; Ps. 90:1; Ezra 3:2; 1 Chr. 23:14, 30:16; cf. Hos. 12:13; Wisd. 11:1), Nathan (2 Sam. 7:2–4, 12:25; 1 Kgs 1; Ps 51:21; 1 Chr. 17:1, 15; 29:29; 2 Chr. 9:29, 29:25; Sir. 47:1), Oded (2 Chr. 28:9), Samuel (1 Sam. 3, 9, 15:10; 1 Chr. 9:22, 26:28, 29:29; 2 Chr, 35:18; Sir. 46:13–20), Shemaiah (1 Kgs 12:22; 2 Chr. 11:2; 12:5, 7, 15), Shemaiah of Nehelam (Jer. 29:31), Uriah son of Shemaiah (Jer. 26:20), and Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah, sons of Jeduthun (1 Chr. 25:3). Note also the several anonymous male prophets (nābî’, bĕnê ha-nĕbî’îm, or ’îš hā-’ĕlohîm) in Judg. 6:8, 13:6–10; 1 Sam. 2:27; 1 Kgs 13 (two prophets), 20; 2 Kgs 2; 4:1, 38; 5:22; 6:1; 9:1, 4; 23:16–18; 2 Chr. 25: 7–9, 14–16.

(19) **1 (3x), 2, 3, 4, 7, 9 (2x), 12, 15, 16, 19, 20, 25, 30, 31, 34, 37, 38, 39, 41, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 50a, 53, 55/59 (2x), 60, 61, 62, 63, 65a.

(20) **5, 7, 8, 10, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 29, 42, 43, 45, 50a, 50b, 51, 52, 56/57, 58.

(21) **68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 87, 88, 90, 91, 92, 94, 95, 97, 99, 100, 101, 107, 113, 114, 118, 118c, 118e.

(22) **71 (2x), 84, 85, 86, 106, 112, 115, 118d (2x), 118e, 118f, 118g.

(23) **137, 139, 141, 142.

(24) *143.

(25) So Stökl 2009 on the basis of Assyrian and biblical texts.

(26) Male prophet, male deity: **1 (2x), 2, 3, 4, 9, 16, 19, 25, 30, 31, 34, 38, 39, 47, 48, 53, 55/59 (2x), 60, 61, 62, 63, 65a, 135i, 135j, 139, 141, 142, 143; male prophet, female deity: **5, 18, 19, 29, 43, 45, 51, 56/57, 77, 78, 80, 88, 91, 118c, 119, 134, 135a, 135o.

(27) Female prophet, female deity: **10, 24, 42, 50b, 58, 69, 70, 74, 75, 81, 82, 92, 94, 95, 113, 114, 135g; female prophet, male deity: **7, 9, 12, 20, 37, 41, 115.

(28) See Hagedorn 2013.

(29) Note that in two Neo-Assyrian oracular queries (SAA 4 321 and 322), the enquirer appears to be an unidentified female writer. The last lines of both queries present a unique formula: “disregard that a woman has written it and placed it before you.” I am indebted to Saana Svärd for this reference.

(30) See M. A. Flower 2008: 212–15; Bremmer 2008: 149–50.

(31) SEG 35.626. This epitaph, found in Larissa in Thessaly, dates to the third century BCE.

(32) Poem 6 in Acosta-Hughes, Kosmetatou, and Baumbach (eds) 2004, also dated to the third century BCE.

(33) For this late fifth-century BCE stela, see Möbius; see also the image in M. A. Flower 2008: 213 (fig. 18).

(34) See “Prophets as Intermediaries” in Chapter 1 in this volume.

(35) Ephoros, FGrH 70 F 119 = Strabo 9.2.4: tas hiereias tautas d’einai tas prophētidas (cf. Proklos in Photius, Bibliotheca 239.321b–322a).

(36) Iamblichus, De mysteriis 3.11; cf. Pliny, Nat. 2.232. See “Prophetic Performance in Greek Sources” in Chapter 5 and “Prophets and Temples: Greek Sources” in Chapter 6, both in this volume, and cf. Busine 2005: 48–52. Even though there are no direct references to ecstatic practices in the extant oracles from Claros from the first through fourth centuries CE, one fragmentary strophe in the oracle for Kallipolis (*9 in Merkelbach and Stauber 1996: 21) has been interpreted in terms of prophetic ecstasy; see Oesterheld 2008: 162, 165–6: “Wie mir in Eingeweiden […] des Mundes […] eine kleine […] den Kampf […] bedrückt ist das Herz.”

(37) Tacitus, Ann. 2.54.

(38) e.g. Homer, Iliad 16.122–35.

(39) Thus Kowalzig 2007: 347, who connects the arrival of the female prophets historically with the move of the sanctuary from Thessaly to Dodona; it is written that “most women, whose descendants are now the prophetesses” accompanied the shrine, subsequently acting as priestesses for it (Suidas in Strabo 7.7.12). It should be noted that while Sophokles (Trach. 1164–72, cf. Od. Akanth. 456) knows both male and female prophets, Herodotos (2.55) is completely silent about the selloi.

(40) They are always referred to as “the Branchidae of the Milesians” by Herodotus (1.46, 92, 141, 157; 2.159; 5.36; 6.19), which, admittedly, does not indicate the gender of the speakers of oracles with certainty; cf. Morgan 1989: 27.

(41) Lange 2007: 480. Lange’s examples include Helenus (Il. 7.44–53), Theoclymenus (Od. 17.160–1; 20.350–7), Amphilytus (Herodotus 1.62–3), and Teiresias (Od. 10.494–5; 11.150–1; Sophocles, Ant. 998–1014; Oed. tyr. 297–9, 300–4). For the technical manteis in archaic legend, see Bremmer 1996.

(42) DI 277.13–20; see Fontenrose 1988: 203–4.

(43) Euripides, Melanippe Desmotis fr. 494; cf. Hagedorn 2013: 104–5.

(44) Aeschylus, Ag. 1072–1340; cf. Pindar, Pyth. 11.33 where she is called mantis, and the narrative of the Hellenistic historian Antikledes who tells about how she received the gift of prophecy while being left in a sanctuary as a child together with her brother (Antikledes, FGrH 140, fr. 17). According to Bremmer 1996: 103, she is “clearly a relatively late, poetical creation and not a reflection of an existing type of prophetess.” For Cassandra, see also Tervanotko forthcoming; Trampedach 2015: 197–9; Hagedorn 2013: 106–14; Neblung 1997; Schein 1982.

(45) Diodorus Siculus 4.66.6. Her name literally means “prophetess”; cf. Hagedorn 2013: 114–19.

(46) For the Sibyl(s), see Parke 1988; Graf 1985: 335–50.

(47) Thus according to Lactantius, Inst. 1.6.8–12.

(48) See Parke 1988: 71–99.

(49) e.g. Suetonius, Aug. 31.1.

(50) For the Sibylline oracles, see, e.g. Buitenwerf 2003; Parke 1988: 1–22; Graf 1985: 343–5.

(51) Callisthenes in FGrH 124 F 14.

(52) Aeschylus, Ag., 1203.

(53) Aeschylus, Eum., 614–19.

(54) See, e.g. Grabbe 2013.

(55) For male and female sorcerers (kaššāpu/kaššāptu), see Sefati and Klein 2002.

(56) Zsolnay 2009: 107; see also Asher-Greve 2002.

(57) See Hamori 2013; 2015; cf. Stökl 2013b; Bowen 1999.

(58) Leming 2007: 74.

(59) Cf. Leming 2007, 88.

(60) I owe these two aspects of agency to Hovi 2011: 199: “1) Agency as transmission, effectuation, representation: rhetorically silenced subjectivity, ‘working as God’s instrument,’ 2) Agency as subjectivity, independent action, decision-making: implicit accent on subjectivity, ‘the authority of a Christian as an independent individual’” (my translation).

(61) Burkert 2005: 43 (= 2011: 153).

(62) See, e.g. Lion 2001; for Neo-Assyrian evidence, see, e.g. SAA 7 24 r. 2 mentioning six female Ar[amean] scribes.

(63) e.g. the “spouse of a free man” in *20; Aḫatum, the servant girl of Dagan-malik in *24; the slave girl of Bel-aḫu-uṣur in *115.

(64) For the possessed women’s “instrumental agency,” see Keller 2002; for a critical review of her theory, see Stökl 2008; 2011.

(65) For the royal women’s position and agency, see Teppo 2007a, 2007b; Svärd 2008, 2015; Melville 2004.

(66) See, e.g. Dalley 2002: 97–111; Malamat 1998: 175–91; Batto 1974: 8–21.

(67) See Melville 1999; Svärd 2008: 31–3; Šašková 2010: 153–4, 170–1.

(68) Rather than implying an imagined sexual relationship with the god Apollo (thus Sissa 1990; cf. Trampedach 2015: 203), the “virginity” of the Pythia has to do with her need to be free of bodily pollution. “The best way to accomplish this would have been to forbid the Pythia from engaging in sex at all during her term of office” (Johnston 2008: 42; cf. M. A. Flower 2008: 224–5).

(69) i.e. *67a (Old Babylonian), *110 (Neo-Assyrian), *119 (Ur III), *123 (Middle Assyrian), *130 (Neo-Babylonian), *135c, *135h, *135j (Old Babylonian), *135o (Neo-Babylonian); see “Legal and Administrative Texts” in Chapter 2 in this volume.

(70) Thus Addu-duri, King Zimri-Lim’s mother (*42), Zunana, an otherwise unknown servant of the king (*37), and Šimatum, Zimri-Lim’s daughter (*44).

(71) **7, 9, 13.

(72) **74, 114. For the šēlūtu, see Svärd 2008: 70–80.

(73) Herodotus 4.67.1–2.

(74) For Teiresias, see Lange 2007: 473–5, 477–80; Brisson 1976, 2002: 116–30; Ugolini 1995.

(75) The sexual status and religious function of the assinnu and the kurgarrû has been a matter of debate for a long time. In the most recent discussion, some scholars emphasize their “third gender” role (Peled 2014; 2016) while others disregard the sexual aspect in favor of the martial role they play in cultic performances (Zsolnay 2013; cf. Stökl 2013a). Yet others regard them as ecstatic devotees of Ištar participating rituals, the purpose of which was salvation for the initiates (Parpola 1997: xxxi–xxxvi; Lapinkivi 2004: 155–66), or, with more modest theological connotations, representatives of liminal sexuality under the aegis of Ištar (Esztári and Vér 2015: 11–21; Assante 2009: 34–49; Teppo 2008; Nissinen 1998b). Saana Svärd and I argue that the primary context of the performance of the assinnu was the worship of Ištar, and the liminal gender was but an aspect of his performance as a member of the worshipping community. Other aspects, such as the martial and prophetic roles, belonged to the status of the assinnu as well. See Svärd and Nissinen, forthcoming.

(76) *68 i 28–9 (m!d15—lata-ši-ia-aṭ DUMU URU.arba-ìl); the masculine determinative preceding the name is written over an erased feminine determinative.

(77) *71 ii 40 (MÍ.ba-ia-a DUMU URU.arba-ìl); the discrepancy here is between the feminine determinative MÍ and the attribute DUMU “son/man.”

(78) *72 iii 5–6 (MÍ.DINGIR-ša—a-m[ur] URU.ŠÀ—URU-a-[a]); here the nisbe form indicating the domicile of the prophet can only be reconstructed as masculine, hence it contradicts the feminine determinative.

(79) See Stökl 2009: 96–8; 2010: 55–6; 2012a: 122–3; 2013a; Weippert 2002: 33–4.

(80) Parpola 1997: 5, 6, 7; cf. pp. il–l. Note that the scribe, in fact, has himself corrected the determinative in the case of Issar-la-tašiyaṭ.

(81) Thus Peled 2014; 2016.

(82) Thus Zsolnay 2013.

(83) For the concept of “queer,” see Hornsby and Stone (eds) 2011; Stone 2001; Jagose 1996.

(84) Teppo 2008: 87.

(85) For Ištar’s alterity, see especially Bahrani 2001: 141–60. Cf. Esztári and Vér 2015: 7–17.

(86) e.g. Keller 2002.

(87) See Marjanen 2013; Humm 2009: 152–81. The Montanists are mentioned, among others, by Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 5.15–19; Hippolytus, Haer. 8.19; Epiphanius, Pan. 48–9; and Tertullianus (e.g. Jejun. 1) who differs from other heresiologists by his more favorable attitude towards Montanism; for the inscriptions, see Tabbernee 1997.

(88) e.g. Origen in Fr. 1 Cor. 14:36; see Marjanen 2013: 141–3.

(89) See Stjerna 2009: 12–13; cf. Snyder 2007: 282.

(90) See especially Macy 2008; cf. Bynum 1982: 9–21, 250–4; 1987: 21–3.

(91) Bynum 1987: 23: “The period was one of deep hostility to visionary and mystical males as well. But the ambivalence of church authorities and theologians about women mystics also reflected virulent misogyny.… Woman’s religious role as inspired vessel had come to seem utterly different from man’s role as priest, preacher, and leader by virtue of clerical office.”

(92) For her, see Stjerna 2009: 17–22.

(93) Behmenism was a movement inspired by the teachings of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624), a German theosopher and theologian, according to whom the divine gender included a female aspect, the Divine Wisdom. For Behmenism in England, see Gibbons 1996.

(94) For the seventeenth- to eighteenth-century female prophets in the British Atlantic world, see Bouldin 2015. According to her, “prophecy always remained most useful to those on the fringes of the society because it allowed them to make the claim that their message should be heard since it came from God. This was especially true of female prophecy, which gave women the opportunity to travel, speak publicly, and publish writings in a time when entrance into the public sphere was difficult” (Bouldin 2015: 190).

(95) e.g. I. Fischer 2002 believes that the impact of women prophets in ancient Israel was much more significant that the editors of the biblical texts want to admit. Stökl 2009, on the other hand, thinks that the prevalence of male prophets in the Hebrew Bible corresponds to the male gender of Yahweh and is, therefore, not the construction of the editors.

(96) For Huldah, see, e.g. Scheuer 2015; Ilan 2010; Weems 2003.

(97) Hamori 2012. The texts in question are **10, 11, 13, 14, 24, 27, 36, 42 (woman), 8, 23 (assinnu), 2, 25, 29, 39 and ARM 26 226 (man).

(98) e.g. Aeschylus, Ag. 1202–14 and Apollodorus, Epitome [Ep.] 3.7.5 on Cassandra; Sibylline Oracles [Sib. Or.] 3.814b–816a on the Sibyl; Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum (Pseudo-Philo) 9:9–10 on Miriam; Jub. 27:1–7; 35:6–9 on Rebecca; see Tervanotko forthcoming.

(99) Cf. the rather slanderous downplaying of the Delphic Pythia in the 2nd century CE by Aelius Aristides, who claims the Pyhtian promanteis cannot even remember what they prophesied (Or. 34–5).

(100) Cf. Raphals 2013: 275; Graf 2009: 590. Cf. Ustinova 2013: 40: “While most ancient ancient Mediterranean cultures tolerated ecstatic prophecy as a marginal phenomenon only, in Greece its institutionalization in oracular sanctuaries was the utmost the polis society could do to regulate the mysterious sphere of the prophetic mania.”

(101) Cf. M. A. Flower 2015: 299; Maurizio 1997: 75.

(102) See Sulkunen 1999; I have found no references to her in literature written in English. Liisa Eerikintytär (Eerontytär/Eriksdotter) was a shepherd whose powerful religious experience in 1756 while reading Arthur Dent’s The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven (translated into Finnish) made her a leader of an ecstatic movement in southwestern Finland. The movement, whose leadership was soon taken over by men, is still alive in a much less ecstatic form, known as “rukoilevaisuus” (the “Prayerful”).

(103) See Stjerna 2001; Lindblom 1973: 13–18; Voipio 1951; Puukko 1935.

(104) Cf. Hovi 2011: 193 (English abstract): “Even when gender roles are defined as per fundamentalist Christianity, attitudes to personal experience and the impact of the individual spiritual gift overridingly govern actorship.”

(105) For a cognitive view on divination, see, e.g. Pyysiäinen 2009; J. Sørensen 2007.

(106) Pyysiäinen 2009: 41–2: “Humans have immediate experience of their own agency and also attribute agency to others whose behavior shows regular patterns.…Agency can also be (counterintuitively) transferred to natural objects and artifacts”—and, of course, to divine beings. For God as supernatural agent, mainly from the Christian point of view, see ibid., 95–136.

(107) Cf. Stökl 2009: 99. Even in Simo Parpola’s “monotheistic” model of the Assyrian religion (see Parpola 2000) the image of the divine is gendered, since different manifestations of the one God Aššur are both male and female, Ištar among the foremost of them.

(108) The list includes also the cases where the name of the deity is not mentioned but the deity is otherwise recognizable to a high degree of probability; see Appendix 1.

(109) I will not delve deeper into the question of whether these designations of female deities denote separate but related deities (S. L. Allen 2015) or aspects and manifestations of Ištar (Parpola 1997), although my own analysis gravitates towards the latter alternative.

(110) These include, e.g. Amphilochus in Mallos (Pausanias 1.34); Dionysos (Pausanias 10.33), Heracles in Bura and in Hyettos (SEG 26.524), and Tiresias, whose oracle site, according to Plutarch, was abandoned (Plutarch, Mor. 5.434c).

(111) Strabo 8.6.22; see Friese 2010: 380–1; Menadier 2002; Dunbabin 1951.

(112) Pliny, Nat. 28.147 mentions the oracle of Gaia at Aegira, located in a cave where a priestess, having drunk bull’s blood, descended to utter prophecy; see Friese 2010; 372; Ustinova 2009: 88.

(113) The only reference to this is Pausanias 1.40.6; see Friese 2010: 377.

(114) **1 (male and female prophets), *2 (male prophet).

(115) *18 (male prophet); cf. *21 (Belet-ekallim, unknown prophet).

(116) e.g. *71 (genderwise ambiguous prophet), *73 (unknown prophet), *75 (female prophet), *77 (male prophet), *80 (male prophet).

(117) **85, 86 (male prophet); cf. Bel *106 (unknown prophet).

(118) **92, 94 (Mullissu and Ištar of Arbela; female prophets).

(119) Cf. Mari: **19, 38, 47 (male god, male prophet); **5, 18 (female god, male prophet); *22 (female god, assinnu); Assyria: **85, 86 (male god, male prophet), **88, 101 (female god, male prophet); **69, 74, 81, 82, 94 (female god, female prophet); **68, 79 (female god, genderwise ambiguous prophet); *100 (female god, unknown prophet); *118g (male god, unknown prophet); *135b (female gods, unknown prophet).

(120) Mari: **4, 25, 30, 31 (male god, male prophet); *29 (female god, male prophet); Assyria: **80, 88 (female god, male prophet); *99 (female god, unknown prophet); **111, 113 (unknown god, female prophet).

(121) Mari: *4 (male god, male prophet); **7, 9 (female god, female prophet); Assyria: *107 (female god; unknown prophet); *115 (male informant on the alleged word of a male god by a female prophet).

(122) *101 v 44.

(123) See Groneberg 1986.

(124) Bahrani 2001: 159; for the paradoxical character of Ištar, see Bahrani 2001: 141–60.

(125) See Parpola 1997: xxxvi–xli; Weippert 1985: 62–4 (= 2014: 65–7).

(126) *94:5, r. 2.

(127) *73 iv 2, 21.

(128) *92 r. 6.

(129) *82 iii 26–7.

(130) SAA 3 3:13, r. 14.

(131) “I am your great midwife, I am your excellent wet nurse” (*72 iii 15–18); “Like a nurse I will carry you on my hip. I will put you, a pomegranate, between my breasts. At night I will be awake and guard you; throughout the day I will give you milk, at dawn I will hush you” (*92 r. 7–10).

(132) Cf. the references in Parpola 1997: c n. 177–86.

(133) See Nissinen 2001.

(134) Ištar of Nineveh and Ištar of Arbela are two distinct manifestations of the goddess who sometimes, nevertheless, seem to virtually merge together; cf. S. L. Allen 2015: 141–99 and Porter 2005 who emphasize the distinctiveness of the two goddesses. The identities of the two Ištars may originally have been more separate, but seem to move towards a shared agency in the time of Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal at the latest, when they seem to have been regarded as manifestations of one Ištar (Parpola 1997).

(135) See Menzel 1981: 6–33; George 1993: 90 (no. 351). No traces of the temples of Arbela have been discovered, because the site has not been excavated and the center of the modern city of Erbil is built above the 30-meter accumulation of settlement layers. For recent excavations at Erbil, see Nováček 2010: 179–85. Cf. also Ur et al. 2013.

(136) The text SAA 3 38, “The Rites of Egašankalamma,” is a further representative of the genre of mystical texts deriving from the Babylonian tradition (SAA 3 34–40), for which see Livingstone 1986.

(137) Cf. the Hymn to the City of Arbela (SAA 3 8) and the reference to a qarītu banquet of Ištar in SAA 13 147.

(138) Aḫat-abiša (*75), Bayâ (**71, [79]), Dunnaša-amur (*94), Issar-la-tašiyaṭ (*68), La-dagil-ili (**77, 83, 88), Sinqiša-amur (*69), Tašmetu-ereš (*91); note that Dunnaša-amur and Sinqiša-amur may be one and the same person (Parpola 1997: il–l). In addition, the letter *113 reports a prophecy delivered by a woman in a temple probably located in Arbela.

(139) Urkittu-šarrat from Calah (*81) and Remutti-Allati from Dara-aḫuya (*70).

(140) i.e. in his accounts of the campaigns against Mannea (*100) and Elam (*101).

(141) Esarhaddon: RINAP 4 77:8–11 (Leichty 2011: 155); Assurbanipal: Borger 1996: 140 ii 7–8. Esarhaddon visualized his enduring presence in this temple by letting his doubled image be placed on the right and left sides of Ištar; see SAA 13 140 and 141.

(142) Cf. **73, 82, 92; *118a, etc. In his hymn to the Ištars of Arbela and Nineveh, Assurbanipal calls himself “product of Emašmaš and Egašankalamma” (SAA 3 3:10).

(143) Parpola 1997: xxxix–xl.

(144) She is addressed several times in the prophetic oracles (**74, 75, 78, [83], 90); cf. Nissinen 1998a: 22–4; Melville 1999: 27–9.

(145) Melville 2004: 54.

(146) Pongratz-Leisten 2003: 132–6.

(147) See Pongratz-Leisten 2008; Lapinkivi 2008.

(148) Cf. Pongratz-Leisten 2003: 150–5.

(149) See, with more evidence, Nissinen 2002a. For prophecy and the divine council in the Hebrew Bible, see also Lenzi 2008: 233–71.

(150) *66:1–8.

(151) For this text, see Ellis 1987.

(152) For the “secrets of the gods” in this text, and in prophecy and divination in general, see Lenzi 2008: 55–62; 2014: 68–77.

(153) *94:16–24.

(154) Cf. Dialogue of Assurbanipal and Nabû (*118a), a text written by the same scribe and deriving from the same historical situation (Assurbanipal’s war against his brother Šamaš-šumu-ukin) as *94. In this text, Assurbanipal pleads with Nabû not to leave him “in the assembly of those who wish him ill” (ina puḫur ḫaddānūtīšu line r. 3; cf. lines 6, 22, r. 4) and Nabû asserts: “My pleasant mouth shall ever bless you in the assembly of great gods” (ina puḫur ilāni rabūti line 26; cf. line r. 11). The reason for Nabû’s intercession is that Assurbanipal, who in his childhood “sat in the lap of the Queen of Nineveh” (line r. 7), “grasps the feet of the Queen of Nineveh” and “sits next to Urkittu” (lines r. 2–3). For this text, see Atkinson 2013; de Jong 2007: 412–13; Pongratz-Leisten 1999: 249–60.

(155) For the figure and functions of Lady Wisdom, see, e.g. Schroer 2000; Lang 1975.

(156) For the following, see Zimmermann 2008.

(157) Philo, Ebr. 30–6: mētēr kai tithēnē tōn holōn (31).

(158) Wisd. 8:4: mystis gar estin tēs tou theou epistēmēs.

(159) Cf. also Prov. 4:5–8 and 4Q185 2:8–15. For Lady Wisdom in the Dead Sea Scrolls, see Crawford 1998.

(160) See Beentjes 2012; B. G. Wright 2012.

(161) Cf. Pongratz-Leisten 2008: 68–9.

(162) Lenzi 2008: 361.

(163) TAD C 1.1:1 (Porten and Yardeni 1993: 36–7): “To gods, moreover, she is pre[c]ious; Wi[th her…] kingdoms. In heav[e]n she is set, for the Lord of the holy ones exalted [her]” (’p l’lhn yq[y]rh hy/‘m[…]l […] mlkwt’/bšm[y]n šymh hy/ky b‘l qdšn nš’[h]). For the passage, see Weigl 2010: 73–9, who reconstructs the second sentence ‘m[h] lm[r’hm] mlkwt’ “Ge[meinsam mit ihrem Herr ist ihr] die Herrschaft” after Kottsieper 1990: 12, 20.

(164) 4Q491c 1 5–8. The speaker is, actually, a male character. Since, however, the passage in the so-called “Self-Glorification Hymn” here and similar passages in 1QHa XXVI, 4Q427, 4Q471b+4Q431 probably go back to an earlier source, it is possible that the speaker has been masculinized in the course of transmission; see my arguments in Nissinen 2015a: 173–6.

(165) For the following, see Nissinen 2009b.

(166) B. G. Wright 2012: 236.

(167) I have argued in Nissinen 2009b that Ben Sira knew the Song of Songs and utilized its imagery as a part of his construct of Lady Wisdom; in spite of the criticism of Beentjes 2015, I still think that the links between the texts are too many and detailed to be purely coincidental.