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23 The Omen of Sneezing in Pagan Antiquity

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Chapter Summary

Sneezes were widely regarded as god-given omens, and that the significance and interpretation depended chiefly upon one or more of the following factors: the position of the sneezer, especially with reference to the person who receives the sneezing as an omen; the time of the sneeze; and, in certain cases, the physical condition of the sneezer. As Pease remarks, "Omens, upon analysis, may be seen to be of two sorts, the one pointing backward and corroborative of what has taken place, the other pointing forward and prophetic of the future". This applies to omens in general, but also to sneezes in particular. It is this religious aspect of Greek and Roman sneezing lore that is the background of the early Jewish polemics against seeing sneezes as divine omina. It was the ascribing of divinatory function to sneezing in pagan circles that made this whole phenomenon suspect to Jewish eyes.

Keywords: god-given omens; Jewish polemics; omen of sneezing; pagan antiquity



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