In ancient Mesopotamia, asipu (also āšipu or mašmašu), were scholars and practitioners of diagnosis and treatment in Tigris-Euphrates valley of Mesopotamia (a modern-day Iraq) around 3200 BC. Some have described asipu as experts in "white magic".[1] At the time, ideas of science, religion and witchcraft were closely intertwined and formed a basis of asiputu, the practice used by asipu to combat sorcery[2] and to heal disease.[3] The asipu studied omens and symptoms to formulate a prediction of the future for a subject and then performed apotropaic rituals in an attempt to change the unfavorable fate.[4]

Asipu directed medical treatment at the Assyrian court, where they predicted the course of the disease from signs observed on the patient's body and offered incantations and other magic as well as the remedies indicated by diagnosis.[5]

Asipu visited sick people's houses and were tasked with predicting the patient's future (e.g. he will live or she will die) and also to fill in details about the symptoms that the patients may have disregarded or omitted.[6] The purpose of the visit was to identify the divine sender of the illness based on the symptoms of a specific ailment.[7]

Asipu also acted as advisers on risky, uncertain and difficult decisions. Asiputu was unusual for that period in history because asipu did not claim to foresee the future but approached the construction of advice through a repeatable, consistent process of identifying important dimensions of the problem, considering alternatives and collecting data. The practice was similar to modern balanced methodology in hazards risk management where alternatives were marked with plus or minus signs depending on favorability.


  1. Kuiper, Kathleen (2010). Mesopotamia: The World's Earliest Civilization. The Rosen Publishing Group,. p. 178. ISBN 1615301127.
  2. Abusch, Tzvi. Mesopotamian Witchcraft: Towards a History and Understanding of Babylonian Witchcraft Beliefs and Literature. p. 56.
  3. Brown, Michael (1995). Israel's Divine Healer. Zondervan. p. 42.
  4. Launderville, Dale (2010). Celibacy in the Ancient World: Its Ideal and Practice in Pre-Hellenistic Israel, Mesopotamia, and Greece. Liturgical Press. p. 482. ISBN 978-0-8146-5734-8.
  5. Oppenheim, Leo (1977). Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization. University of Chicago Press. p. 304. ISBN 0226631877.
  6. Horstmanshoff, Herman. Magic And Rationality In Ancient Near Eastern And Graeco-roman Medicine. 2004. p. 39.
  7. Horstmanshoff, Herman (2004). Magic And Rationality In Ancient Near Eastern And Graeco-roman Medicine. p. 99.

Further reading

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