Woman-ordination and the Female Prophets in the Ancient Near Eastern religions


Anyone who wants to study this topic will have to look at the question of female prophetism in cuneiform texts from especially Mari, Ebla and also Emar.

Ebla is old, maybe in the times of Abraham and his sons, Mari is during the Egyptian colonialization of the Levant or the oppression period of 400 years since 1850 BCE. Emar is during the time of Moses or the Late Bronze period.

For the Mari city during the time of Zimri-Lim and prophetism there one investigates texts ca. 1740 BCE. For Ebla it could be to 2154 BCE and for Emar it may be around 1460 BCE. The Mari texts will be used for Mari, the Ebla text by G. Pettinato and P. Matthiae are used and for the Emar text one can see D. Arnaud and also Akio Tsukimoto of Japan.

Various terms are used for the word prophet in the texts. Consensus do exist but also debatable offshoot views regarding these terms and their proper meaning. The term for professional female prophets in Old-Babylonian Akkadian is apiltu (during the time of Zimri-Lim of Mari in 1740 BCE), while raggintu is the term used in Neo-Assyrian texts from Niniveh in the days of Esarhaddon (just after Isaiah  until 650 BCE during the days of Ashurbanipal). At Ebla it is said by G. Pettinato that he saw in TM 74G.454 the word na-bí-ú--tum. J. Stökl mentioned that scholars like Kitchen (2003: 384) and Hess (2007: 83) keep citing Pettinato although it was not published.

Two other terms are also used for the prophets, (Old Babylonian 1740 BCE) muḫḫūtum or maḫḫūtum (Neo- Assyrian 680 BCE).

Daniel Arnaud translated for Emar the word munnabiātu as prophetesses. The four texts from Emar are: The four texts are: (1) Emar 373:97’, Arnaud (1986: 353, 360); (2) Emar 379:11-12, Arnaud (1986: 375); (3) Emar 383:10’, Arnaud (1986: 377); and (4) Emar 406:5', Arnaud (1986: 402-403) (see Stökl : 48 footnote 9).

The verb nubbû is found eight times at Emar.

At Mari there are 70 texts talking about prophecy (Stökl : 49). Two titles are used namely the apiltum which is considered by some to be a professional prophet and also the muḫḫūtum which is seen as an ecstatic female practitioner.

The source that is used here is biased towards pro-feminism strategies for the interpretation of the cuneiform texts. Thus, Stökl is constantly trying to downplay the translations of Parpola and Huffmon of cuneiform texts in the Neo-Assyrian city of Niniveh displaying transgender cases. For example, a certain individual Baia is spelled with a female determinative in two cases but in a third text it says Baia is “son of Arba-el”. Stökl complained that Parpola reconstructed every letter of Baia’s name, so it cannot be sure if Baia is referred to in the first place in this text. Parpola also listed examples of cross-dressing in a transgender way at Niniveh. In another case Ilussa-amur's name is spelt with a female determinative in two texts. In one of these, Parpola restores a male gentilic. If Parpola is correct, this is a problem for female roles at the temple. In a third case, the name Issār-lā-tašȋat, the gender determinative in front of her name is under debate. Irrespective of that question, the biological gender of Issār-lā-tašȋat itself is probably a male: Edzard differed saying that the female form of the name would have been Issār-la-tašiṭṭȋ' (Edzard 1962: 126, op. cit Stökl 55). Stökl is quick to argue that the transgender appearances in the texts are due to copyist errors.

So there are two sets of scholars on the cuneiform texts and transgender presence in the cult: those who deny it and says it is the result of copyist errors (Stökl) and those who consider them reality of transgender practices in the cult, namely, cross-dressing and acting and speaking like females by men (Parpola and Huffmon).

With this situation, the concept of female prophetism is in jeopardy since one is not sure whether all the so-called females were transgender men acting as females, or vice versa, females acting as males. Stökl tend to think there were two groups the female prophets and the male prophets and that the female prophets prayed to the female goddesses and the male prophets prayed to the male gods.

Scholars interested in this topic need to know that the transgender roles of men and women in the cult of surrounding nations of Israel was the topic of study not only of Parpola and Huffmon but also other scholars investigating the role of the gula-priest for example over a period from Early Bronze to the Persian periods. Emesal Sumerian was a dialect of the gay practices in the cult of the ancient times.

The modern problems of LGBTQH is not modern. It is as old as the world. The position of the Bible against it, is not just a pie in the sky construction countering modern “progressive thinking”. It was countering degenerative thinking and lifestyles. That position still stands.



J. Stökl, (2010). Female Prophets in the Ancient Near East. In Prophecy and Prophets in Ancient Israel. Proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar. Edited by J. Day. New York: T&T Clark. Downloaded from academia.edu.