Babylon didn't have astronomers in today's sense, but their star gazers may have been the first to predict astronomical events using mathematics.
Although Babylonians helped lay the groundwork for astronomy, they also tried predicting the future by sacrificing animals in a form of divination called haruspicy.
I'd be surprised if examining a sheep's liver to see what Nergal has in mind caught on again: but items like Ouija boards were popular in my youth, and probably still are.
Stunts like that may help explain why I wasn't the most popular chap in my circles, and that's another topic.
Playing with a Ouija board wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done: but I'm not wracked with guilt and shame about that little escapade, either. I may even have achieved the goal I had in mind at the time: showing how a modestly skilled trickster could manipulate the board.
If I'd been trying to contact spirits — even as a teen, I knew that was a really bad idea.
We're expected to trust in Providence, and to use our brains. (Catechism, 2115)
(Witch of Endor by Nikolai Ge, 1857; via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
Back when Nineveh was a thriving city, someone recorded Saul's uneven performance as Israel's first king.
Around the time that Achish made David his bodyguard, Philistine troops had camped near Shunem. Saul deployed his forces on Mount Gilboa, a few miles to the south. From accounts in 1 Samuel 28, the Philistines had a huge force.
Back then, kings were a bit more personally involved with military action than most of today's national leaders. Saul was there on Mount Gilboa, with his army: facing a very real threat to his personal well-being. That may help explain how he reacted.
"When Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he was dismayed and lost heart completely."By this time the prophet Samuel had died, leaving Saul ruling the people of Israel. Saul had apparently taken some of his duties seriously. Among other things, he "... had driven mediums and fortune-tellers out of the land." (1 Samuel 28:3)
(1 Samuel 28:5)
After expelling them from the land, you'd think Saul would know better than to consult a medium: but fear can crush common sense.
You've heard the story. Saul went to Endor incognito, asked a medium to conjur up Samuel's ghost, and asked the dead prophet for help. Again: Saul should have known better.
The interview didn't go well, from Saul's point of view. After reminding Saul that he'd violated God's law, Samuel informed him that by the next day he and his sons would be dead. (1 Samuel 28:13-19)
April 29, 2012)
Once I'm dead, though, I can't be dragged back by someone with a Ouija board. Not unless God sends me, which isn't likely.
"Human beings cannot communicate at will with the souls of the dead. God may, however, permit a departed soul to appear to the living and even to disclose things unknown to them. Saul's own prohibition of necromancy and divination (⇒ 1 Sam 28:3) was in keeping with the consistent teaching of the Old Testament. If we are to credit the reality of the apparition to Saul, it was due, not to the summons of the witch, but to God's will; the woman merely furnished the occasion." (Footnote 1, 1 Samuel 28)Saul's trouble didn't start with his trip to Endor, by the way. While Samuel was still alive, he'd told Saul to wipe out Amalek.
Saul thought God had told him, through Samuel, to wipe out Amalek: completely, killing everyone and destroying everything, right down to the sheep and camels. (1 Samuel 15:3, and see Footnote 1)
Two-dozen-plus centuries later, we've learned that we're supposed to love our neighbors, not kill them; the Geneva Conventions put the still-tenuous weight of international law behind that principle; and that's yet again another topic. Topics. (April 18, 2012; June 16, 2011)
Instead of following what he thought were orders from God, Saul decided to keep the best sheep and oxen as a sacrifice to the Lord: and had the unmitigated gall to tell Samuel that he'd carried out God's orders: even after Samuel pointed out that "all" means "all." (Samuel 15:13-28)
God is good, God is merciful, but God can play hardball. And that's — another topic. (May 5, 2013)
- "Getting a Grip About: Technology and Magic"
(March 13, 2013)
- "Skeletons in the Closet, Darkroom Ghosts, and Getting a Grip"
(September 18, 2011)
- "Faith, Reason, and Exorcisms"
(May 17, 2011)
- "Italy's Big Earthquake, Divination, and the Five-Day Forecast"
(May 11, 2011)
- " 'If you must see ghosts ...' Materialism, Being Spiritual, and Uncle Deadly"
(December 18, 2009)
(From The Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd (1923); via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)