Dan Levene, a lecturer of Jewish history and culture in the Department of History at Southampton University, came to give a couple of lectures over the past two days about magic in the lives of ancient Jews. The second lecture was a hands on analysis of a magic bowl held by a museum here in Durham. As a group we went through the process of trying to read the aramaic inscription on the bowl to correct a previous transcription and translation. It was very interesting to see scholarship in practice before your eyes.

Here’s a little history on these bowls which generally date from the 3rd to the 7th century CE:

These consist of spells for protection against a wide variety of supernatural entities, demons, ghouls, and ghosts that were thought to be the cause of humanity’s misfortunes. Texts in this collection include spells for the protection of the unborn and new-born baby and for warding off afflictions of the region of the head and belly, evil spirits in general, and human enemies. The magic bowls from which the incantations in this book have been transcribed are a form of amulet which was peculiar to the Mesopotamian regions of modern day Iran and Iraq of the fourth to seventh centuries A.D. These magical texts were individually commissioned by people whose names are usually mentioned within the texts. After having been written by sorcerer -scribes on the inside of earthenware bowls these were buried upside down under the floor of the client’s house. These texts are an early testament to Jewish magical textual traditions, elements of which can be traced throughout history to modern-day practices.

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