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IOSOT 2022

Travel and Divination Inquiries in the Hebrew Bible and Epigraphic Sources

David S. Vanderhooft (Boston)


Travel was a dangerous undertaking in the ancient world. Merchants, spies, warriors, royal officials, migrants, pilgrims, and itinerants of all kinds faced threats in many forms. These included, among others, ambush by brigands or robbers; national enemies; thirst, hunger and exposure; demons; not to mention lions, snakes, and scorpions. What any person required during a period of travel was divine guidance and protection, which could come in different forms. Divination and travel therefore appear together somewhat often in biblical and epigraphic texts.

The present paper will offer new insights about several biblical and epigraphic texts that closely connect travel and divination. It will then highlight how liminal places of divination functioned as loci for travelers to obtain or confirm oracular responses to divination requests for safe conduct. The liminality of these places suggests the possibility that they were positioned to facilitate the safe transit of travelers from a region controlled by one god into that of another.