The Dictionary

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OMENS AND ORACLES. The evidence for the use of omens and oracles in Egypt begins with the New Kingdom, but the practice could be considerably older. Oracles were used for official appointments, and some pharaohs attribute their elevation to the oracle of a god (usually Amun). Hatshepsut sought the oracular pronouncement of Amun on the best route for an expedition to Punt. The use of oracular consultation might therefore be expected in the context of warfare. There is, however, little direct evidence for it. Pharaohs state that a god (usually Amun) commanded them to “conquer” (as Thutmose III did); or they prayed to a god during battle (as Ramesses II did at Qadesh), but there is no reference to requests to oracles for advice on strategy or when to campaign. Generally, the conduct of war, and its successful outcome, was the responsibility of the pharaoh, even if he had divine aid. Whether, in practice, pharaohs did seek oracular advice is a different issue.

The evidence from Assyria during the Late Assyrian Empire (ninth-seventh centuries BC) is very different. A huge number of oracle and omen texts survive. These are mostly addressed to the sun-god Shamash and seek advice on the best time to launch a campaign; where it should be directed; and whether it would be successful. Very specific requests are common. The responses were mainly given through divination and examination of the entrails of sacrificed animals. An important group of detailed omen texts relates to the conduct of the war of Esarhaddon with Taharqo.

OSORKON (fl. c. 850–785 BC). High priest of Amun and crown prince, son of the pharaoh Takeloth II. A series of inscriptions carved during his pontificate records benefactions to the god, but also the violent suppression of unrest in Khmunu (Hermopolis) in Middle Egypt and in Thebes. The prince, who was also a general and Governor of the South, seems to have resided at the fortress of Teudjoi on the border of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The opponents Osorkon faced are never personalized, but are generally assumed to represent a civil war and appearance of a rival ruler in Thebes. The first rebellion was in year 11 of Takeloth II when the land “had fallen into turmoil.” Osorkon suppressed Khmunu before advancing on Thebes. The text states that various “irregularities” were judged and the guilty executed and burned. The “cataclysm” came in year 15 when the “children of rebellion . . . stirred up strife” in both south and north. This seems to have continued for several years. Osorkon went to Thebes in year 25 of his father’s reign, in a religious capacity, but renewed hostility broke out. Events are now dated by the reign of Sheshonq III, which overlapped that of Takeloth II. After a long period in which nothing is recorded, Osorkon and his brother the general, Bakenptah, again appeared in Thebes and “overthrew everyone who fought against them.” This was in year 39 of Sheshonq III. Shortly after, Sheshonq III died, and, in all probability, the High Priest Osorkon now ascended the throne, as Osorkon III.

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