Thursday, May 17, 2018

A horse-racing curse in an Aramaic amulet

ARAMAIC WATCH: Ancient Jewish gambler’s chariot race curse found in decoded 5th Century scroll. A nailed-shut amulet uncovered in Turkey in the 1930s, written in Jewish Aramaic and newly translated, pleads for help from Balaam's ass at the track (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).
When a typical nailed-shut 5th century curse scroll was uncovered by the University of Princeton in a 1930s excavation under the hippodrome in the city of Antioch (now in Turkey), the team of archaeologists didn’t realize what a unique find they had in hand.

It would take almost another 90 years to discover that the amulet, made of thin lead, is the only known example of a curse written by Jews against a chariot horse racing competitor.

In the curse, written in a Jewish dialect of Aramaic in Hebrew lettering, the gambler beseeches God and his panoply of angels to thwart the competing horse and cause him to “drown in the mud,” said Tel Aviv University doctoral student Rivka Elitzur-Leiman, who recently deciphered the miniature 8.8 x 2.1 cm lead tablet.

I am currently working on a new English translation of the late-antique Hebrew magical tractate Sefer HaRazim ("The Book of the Mysteries"). It includes a magical rite for making race horses swift. But I agree that (as far as I know) this new Aramaic amulet is the only surviving ancient Jewish cursing rite that involves horse racing.

This discovery is also covered in an article in Haaretz by Ruth Schuster: Ancient Scroll Shows Jews Tried to Hex Chariot Races in Turkey 1,500 Years Ago. Ancient Greeks and Romans were notorious for their elaborate curses but a metal tablet with a hex in Aramaic is the first evidence that the Jews indulged too, Israeli researchers say.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.