Nocturnal Ciphers: The Allusive Language of Dreams in the Ancient Near East
American Oriental Series 89; New Haven, CT.: American Oriental Society, 2007

This monograph seeks to understand the cultural context and function of word play as employed by ancient Mesopotamian dream interpreters and other divinatory experts. It then uses this context to explain the presence of punning in Akkadian literary and epistolary accounts of enigmatic dreams. This study also examines the later appearance of Egyptian oneirocritic punning and explores the possibility that it represents intellectual exchange between Egypt and Mesopotamia. Building upon these observations, the work then argues that Israelite, and possibly Ugaritic, literary reports of enigmatic dreams similarly depict the punning hermeneutic, and therefore also likely share a mantic context, as well as possible Mesopotamian influence. Finally, this book traces the movement of the punning oneirocritic strategy and its changing cultural contexts into later times and texts, including early Greek and Talmudic literature.

The combined impact of this investigation provides insights into a variety of subjects including the social context of divination and the production of literary texts, the role of writing and script in the divinatory process, the impact of Mesopotamian intellectual thought, the authorship of certain biblical pericopes, the relationship of oneiromancy to prophecy, and the function of ancient Near Eastern literary devices. In so doing, this work draws attention to broader theoretical concerns that confront the study of the ancient world.

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