Who hasn’t heard of some unpopular government action and entertained a stray thought about slapping the person who was responsible? In ancient Babylon, that stray thought was actually encouraged to be acted upon.
The Babylonian New Year was celebrated each year with elaborate rituals. The ceremonies lasted for several days, with a special program prepared ahead for each particular day.
Perhaps the most interesting day was the fourth one. It involved the cleaning and purifying of the primary Babylonian temple. The chief priest led the prayers and the sacrifice of a ram. The ram’s body was used in the ritual, known as “kuppuru.” Following this, the priest greeted the king, took away his staff, crown, and scepter and laid them on a chair before the idol of Bel.
That’s when things got really interesting. The priest then dragged the king by his ears to the idol and forced him to kneel. The king was required to say that he had not been neglectful of his requirements, including the conquest of foreign lands; had not commanded that Babylon and its temples be destroyed; forgotten the temple’s rites and obligations; struck on the cheeks holders of special rights or humiliated them; as well as several other promises, all spelled out in a prepared list.
Following the king’s assurance that he had performed his obligations faithfully, the chief priest would slap him hard on the cheek. The priest was required to slap with an open hand as hard as he could. The blow had to be decisive and hard since tears had to flow from the king’s eyes as an indication that the gods found favor with him. If there were no tears, the king was in disfavor, and the people could expect the nation’s enemies descend upon them.
Only after receiving the assurance of a steady flow of tears, would the staff, crown, and scepter be restored to the king.