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Observation of Astral Phenonema

Observation of Astral Phenonema

ina muḫḫi maṣṣarti “Concerning the Watch”

(p.193) Chapter Seven Observation of Astral Phenonema
Before Nature
Francesca Rochberg
University of Chicago Press

This chapter focuses on the importance of visible phenomena in Babylonian celestial divination and astronomy. The corpora of interest are astral omen texts, astronomical Diaries (called the “regular watch”), and eclipse reports. Observation in each corpora resulted in the perception of patterns, regularities and irregularities, and conceptions of how variation is possible. A wide range of speculative imagination stemming from the contemporary local background of ideas about phenomena is seen as a direct consequence of observation and its limits. Such speculative imagination raises the question of the nature of cuneiform observational statements and their relation to Western notions of the real and the objective. It is argued that cuneiform knowledge can take its place in the history of observation without naturalism. Given the high epistemic value of “the watch” and the observation statements produced by the practice of “watching,” observation played an important role in the culture of the scribes. Moreover, it is argued that cuneiform knowledge had an empirical attitude, valuing observation as a source of knowledge, and observing as a procedure for what we recognize as science.

Keywords:   observation, astronomy, eclipse reports, empiricism, astrology, divination, Babylonian astronomical diaries

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