Model of a liver


After they had sacrificed an animal, the priests would examine the dead creature’s liver, believing that the thoughts of the divinity to whom the animal had been offered were transferred to this organ. In the ancient Near East, the liver was considered to be the seat of thought. Studying the signs in the sacrificed animal’s entrails was therefore likely to provide divine answers to questions about future events on earth. This method of divination by examining the liver – most often of a sheep – was naturally a prerogative of the king. When the examination was complete, the signs observed and their interpretation were recorded on clay models of livers. These models acted to some degree as memoranda for the priests.

the most important feature of the liver, namely the groove found on the left lobe of the liver of the sheep, was called “the presence,” indicating that this is a mark left by the presence of the deity during the ritual. This is explicitly stated in one of the thousands of written omen entries:[4]

If there is a “presence” (in the liver) – the god was present in the offering of the man.

If there is no “presence” (in the liver) – the god was not present in the offering of the man.

Both Shamash (=the Sun god) and Adad (=the storm god) are especially closely associated with the divinatory act of extispicy. Thus, the following prayer from the seventh century BCE is addressed to the sun-god Shamash, asking him to deliver his message as an answer to an oracular question:[2]

Be present within this sheep, place (in it) an affirmative positive answer, favorable designs, propitious and favorable omens of the oracular query of favorable nature by the command of your great divinity, so that I may see (them)! May (this query) go to your great divinity, O Shamash, great lord, and may an oracle be given as an answer.

Group of liver shaped models (Mari)*


  • Date: 1800 BC

  • Material: Terra cotta

  • Item Dimensions: 6.3 x 5.8 x 3.1 cm

  • Archaeological Mission:

  • National Museum Of Aleppo (2011) – Museum Number: ALEPPO M 5157

  • Index Code: Alp 0141

Excavation Site Location

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  • Ivan Starr, Queries to the Sungod: Divination and Politics in Sargonid Assyria (SAA 4; Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, University of Helsinki, 1990), p. 26. Many similar such addresses to the gods can be found throughout the same book (see p. xxviii), as well as throughout Wilfred G. Lambert, Babylonian Oracle Questions (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007), 14-18.

(*) Image source : Wikipedia

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