Wednesday, March 26, 2003

JEWISH INCANTATION BOWLS FROM IRAQ: Lest a few readers wonder why Iraqi antiquities are getting so much attention on a blog on ancient Judaism, it's worth mentioning one small group of (many) Jewish antiquities from Iraq: the Aramaic incantation bowls. These were buried upside-down in the doorways to people's houses and other places to scare away demons and, sometimes, for other purposes. I discussed them briefly in this online lecture on ancient magic from some years ago. Gideon Bohak has a nice exhibition of ancient magic texts from the Special Collections Library of the University of Michigan, including some "Babylonian Demon Bowls" (none are clearly Jewish - Mandaeans and indigenous polytheists also produced the bowls - but the photos will give you an idea of what they look like). Here's a photo of another inscribed bowl from a Library of Congress exhibition. Scholars doing intensive work on the bowls include Shaul Shaked and Rebecca Lesses. I found an abstract of an article by Lesses on women and the bowl incantations in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, but full texts of the articles for this volume are not yet posted on the site. Rebecca, you should get on their cases about this. Mark Geller teaches a course on the Aramaic Incantation Texts at University College London. A review of a 1993 edition of Jewish incantation bowls by Shaked and Joseph Naveh can be found here and a review of new edition of texts by Dan Levene (which I haven't yet seen) is here. Follow this link for a bibliography of works on the Aramaic incantation bowls. In my book Descenders to the Chariot: The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature, I discuss the bowls in relation to early mystical traditions in chapters one and eight. There is a major collection of incantation bowls from Nippur at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Nothing on the website mentions them, but maybe that will change when this page on the Babylonian Section is finished. And we are promised another website on Aramaic, Mandaic, Syriac, and Pahlavi incantation bowls in the Schøyen collection, but it too remains under construction for now.

Heres a sample of what the incantation bowls sound like:

This bowl is appointed for the sealing of the house 2and of the wife and of the son of DDYNWY son of 'YSPNDRMYD, that there may depart from him the tormentress 3and bad dreams. I raise and I lift up a vessel; it is a work that has been made 4like that which Rav Joshua bar Perahya sat and wrote against them: a dismission against all the demons, devas, 5satans, liliths, and no-gooders that are in the house of DDYNWY son of 'YSPNDRMYD. Again, he wrote against them an eternal dismission 6in the name of letter from within letters, letters from within letters, letters of the name, blank space from within blank space, by which were subdued 7heaven and earth and the mountains, and by which the heights were uprooted and by them were delivered up sorcerers, demons, devas, satans, liliths, and no-gooders, 8and by which he crossed over from the world and ascended above you on high and brought against you spells of destruction for destruction and brought (them) out to bring you out 9of the house of DDYNWY son of 'YSPNDRMYD and from all that belongs to him. You are divorced by the dismission, and it is bound and sealed and resealed, just as the demons of old did not break their word 10and the men of old who were not diverted. Again, bound, sealed, and resealed is this dismission in the name of YH YH YH YH YH YH YH ;'. Amen. Amen. Selah.

11Sealed and guarded are the house and residence of DDYNWY son of 'YSPN[DRMYD] from the tormentress and bad dreams and curse. And may his wife and son be sealed and guarded 12from the tormentress and bad dreams and curse and vow and sor[cerers . . .] . . . Amen.

(Montgomery 32/33; translation from Descenders to the Chariot pp. 222-23)

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