Dr. Nostuabuk: The Sheep Liver Controversy

During my childhood in the bright and fragrant city of Sumer, the oracle priests of the different temples would regularly argue which was the most effective way to divide a sheep’s liver. This was usually shortly before the Full Moon sacrifice. Although the priests were dead serious it became a form of public entertainment. Along with the dust formed by the tumult of the struggling priests the sausage sellers cried out their wares and other hawkers made a good profit. There were bloody noses, pulled beards, ripped robes and any number of hefty insults delivered with cracking boxes to the ears. Over time people thought they were doing this in honour of the storm god. Usually the priests of No-Ital would begin by proclaiming that only the equal division of the liver was accurate and any other method was sacrilege. There would be an outcry from the priests of No-Itbetar accusing them of wilfully misreading the cuneiform codex “On the Liver” The wedges of the central glyph did not point to the top as argued by the No-Ital’s but to the left, as that is the normal way to write. Any other interpretation other than that of wholesome division being heresy. At this point the priests of No-Itbetarthanu would shriek that they were all idiots, it was obvious that the wedges of the central glyph pointed downwards and that the king of the mountains’ division was the best as could be clearly read in the codex by any rational person. Finally, no longer able to contain themselves the priests of No-everting shouted that they were all ignorant Elamite barbarians and that the right way was for the wedges of the central glyph to point right, making the Place system the only sensible method of dividing a sheep’s liver. One day a passing sage, Bel-Ami, I think it was, passed through Sumer just in time for the monthly fracas. He roared, “Silence!” You should have heard it. It was worthy of the Bull of En-Ki. There was instant silence. “What is this all about?” he asked. The priests told him. He demanded to see the codex and after carefully viewing it from all sides he asked the priests, “Haven’t you lot noticed that whichever way the tablet is turned it is legible? Ever wonder why this is so?” After that it was quiet in Sumer – for a pre-adolescant almost boring. The hawkers and sausage-sellers moved on to the village of Nineveh…


14 thoughts on “Dr. Nostuabuk: The Sheep Liver Controversy

  1. Ah dear Doctor N! Is this topic still being discussed in the 21st Century? I thought we had thrashed out the merits of the Extispicy House System versus the Whole Goat System regarding the Hepatoscope in ‘House Case’ on my problem page:


    But dear Bel Ami has a point! And I expect that you will shortly be able to prove it for him? 😉

    Offaly yours,
    Detrimentia (Dame C.E.)

  2. Dear knowledgeable Doctor,

    If only those good Sumeritan priests bothered to check on the other side of the tablet, they would have discovered the more advantageous liver division systems, to be used in a variety of rituals:

    1. The All-Covetous system that makes sure you get a much bigger share of the sheep’s better parts.

    2. The Coke system that involves burning and sniffing top quality “incense” during the ritual.

    3. The Companies system, that requires the ceremony to be sponsored by a mighty corporation for marketing and advertising purposes.

    4. The Pour-Fury system, involving bloody wrestling shows with muscular slaves, an attraction for ticket buyers.

    At your service,

  3. Sorry to enter in this, but “Bel-Ami” was the character of Guy de Maupassant novel.
    Are you trying to tell that the French writer was inspired from Sumerian literature?

    Thomas and his guests are really genius… you are opening new roads, astonishing.


  4. While I was deeply concentrated in the reading of my collection of ancient manuscripts, I had a second thought: considering that Bel- Ami in French should be “beautiful friend” – I was the first in my French class (well, this is not exactly like that, but it’s not important), maybe French can derive from Sumerian?
    It could be?

  5. Edward Bellamy (1850—1898) was an American author, prophet and socialist, most famous for his utopian novel, Looking Backward, set in the year 2000.

  6. Oh revered Dame Detrimentia,

    Indeed it is the case. It seems that every century or so there is a periodic relapse…

    your Servant,

  7. Revered Naggie the Clear-sighted,

    I think those priests that were involved in the scrabble, were not of the sensible sort, their vision was to constrained. I am also sure that those who knew better never even appeared for the show. They were busy compiling their notes…

    Yes you are quite right about the Pour-Fury system. It very much later became popular in Rome.

    Your Servant,
    H. Nostuabuk

  8. Bright Margherita,

    No need for apologies. There have been many Bel’s, Belle’s, Bells through out history and in many different languages.

    The sage Bel-Ami was indeed a good friend to Sumer. He was also known as Baalam and Bel-Am.

    Your Servant,
    H. Nostuabuk

  9. Oh, Balaam, aka Bilam son of Beor, the infamous Biblical Prophet from Moab, owner of the speaking donkey who could see angels.

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